"I still think we should've told someone. Mrs. Byers, at least."
Henry hummed thoughtfully as he turned down the last street of their drive. Nancy had been apologizing for Steve's presence in the garage for most of the trip, but when Henry told her to forget it, he really meant it. One, because it wasn't her fault—she hadn't know he was going to drop by—and two, because he really didn't think there was anything to apologize for. It had all worked out; when he'd swung back around, she'd been ready to go.
"Yeah, me too," Henry agreed, glancing away from the road to send Nancy a significant look, "But… It's his mom, you know? Not really our place."
"Yeah, I guess," Nancy replied softly, before she straightened in her seat slightly, like an idea had occurred to her, "Hey, when we were talking yesterday about Barb, you asked if my mom had talked to Hopper. Do you know him? Because maybe if you talk to him, he'll—."
The car suddenly jerked to the side of the road and came to a hard stop. For a split second Nancy wondered if they'd swerved to miss hitting something. But, Henry put it in park (with a little more vigor than the gear shift required), and slipped out of the car.
"I don't know Hopper," he said, his voice even, but unlike anything Nancy had ever heard from him before. Henry Sinclair was many things, but emotionless was not one of them.
After a moment of confusion, Nancy got out of the car as well and hurried after Henry since he was already heading out towards the clearing that Jonathan had told them about. It was a quiet walk, Nancy fiddling with the strap on her shoulder and sending sideways glances towards Henry, who didn't once look away from where they were heading. She'd upset him, she could feel it. She just didn't know what she'd done.
A loud boom cut through the silence, and both teens jumped; Nancy unthinkingly putting her hand on Henry's shoulder. For a moment it was apprehensively quiet, before another one echoed through the forest. But, instead of tensing up again, Henry released that fearful gasp he'd been holding and a small smile worked its way onto his lips.
"Something tells me Jonathan is that way," he said, pointing in the direction of the sound, and even though Nancy still wasn't entirely sure what they'd heard, she found herself relaxing too.
It wasn't until they made it to the field did she realize, and she watched with growing amusement as none of Jonathan's shots found their mark.
"You're supposed to hit the cans, right?" She called, maybe a little proud that comment got Henry to chuckle and coaxed a small smile from Jonathan.
"No, actually, you see the spaces in between the cans?" Jonathan said as they neared him, "I'm aiming for those."
"You're a regular sharpshooter," Henry replied, Jonathan huffing out a small laugh.
"Either of you shot a gun before?" He asked, Nancy sending him a look.
"Have you met my parents?" She asked, before her attention was drawn to what Henry pulled out of his waistband.
"A few times, with my dad. It's been a couple of years now, though," he offered, grabbing the box of ammo out of his pocket and beginning to load the gun with an ease similar to the one he had when he tinkered inside his car. It was all mechanics, in the end.
"Yeah, I haven't shot one since I was ten," Jonathan said, reloading his gun a lot less elegantly than Henry, "My dad took me hunting on my birthday. He made me kill a rabbit."
"A rabbit?" Nancy said as Henry sent a startled glance Jonathan's way. While he wouldn't put it past Lonnie Byers to make his son kill something, he couldn't imagine Jonathan doing it. Not even now as a teenager, let alone as a child.
"Yeah," Jonathan said, the look on his face letting Henry know that he was spot on about his temperament, "I guess he thought it would make me into more of a man or something. I cried for a week."
"Jesus," Nancy whispered, Henry humming softly in agreement.
"What, I'm a fan of Thumper," Jonathan said, misreading their reactions and going on the defensive. Something that Henry had begun to suspect was an integral part of his personality.
"Your dad," Henry clarified, Jonathan sending him an incredulous look, "That's messed up."
"Your dad didn't make you shoot anything?" He asked, and if it were anyone else, Henry's hackles would've gone up and he'd say something with an edge to it. But, it wasn't anyone else, it was Jonathan Byers. And instead of feeling defensive, he just felt… sad.
"We would go to a range, I just shot targets," Henry replied, his voice strong but his eyes dropping to the gun in his hand, "My dad was in Vietnam, he wouldn't… He doesn't want me to ever have to shoot anything."
It was quiet for a moment and Henry returned to loading his father's gun. He should tell him—something sometime soon. Let him know that he appreciates him. That he's doing a good job.
It was easy to forget how good he had it with his parents. His dad would never make him shoot a rabbit, hell, Henry had had to beg him to let him try at the range. Then his dad had drilled gun safety into him, had made sure Henry wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else.
He'd let him shoot it because he wanted his son to be happy, but had taught him how because he knew it was his job to keep his son safe.
Yeah, he was a pretty good dad. Better than most. And the things he wasn't getting right, well… it's not like Henry was giving him much of a chance. He didn't know.
But, he never would.
"I guess my mom and dad loved each other at some point, but…" Jonathan said, calling Henry's attention back to the present, although he obviously wasn't the only one caught in thoughts about his home life, "I wasn't around for that part."
Nancy held her hand out and after a moment of surprise, Jonathan passed his gun to her.
"Uh, just point and shoot," he offered, Henry snorting and leaning in until he was almost cheek-to-cheek with Nancy. Both of them were too focused on the positioning of the gun to notice how Jonathan looked between them and then dropped his eyes to his shoes.
"Hold it like this," Henry murmured, readjusting her hands ever so slightly, but without hesitation, "And look down the sight."
Henry took a step back and admired how Nancy had taken to aiming a gun immediately. He remembered his dad having to critique twenty different things before he'd been good to go. And sure, maybe he wasn't noticing anything wrong with Nancy because he hadn't shot one in ages, but she looked right.
"I don't think my parents ever loved each other," Nancy offered, still lining up the can.
"They must've married for some reason," Jonathan said and, without meaning to, set off those dark thoughts that plagued Henry at night.
He knew that wasn't this situation, he knew it, but his brain would take the smallest opening and send him spiraling.
"My mom was young. My dad was older, but he had a cushy job, money, came from a good family. So they bought a nice house at the end of the cul-de-sac, and started their nuclear family," Nancy said, not knowing how she was causing Henry's throat to tighten with each word. How her description danced terribly close the fears that were always at the back of his mind.
"Screw that," Jonathan said.
"Yeah," Nancy replied, "Screw that."
She pulled the trigger, the can went flying off the stump, and something in Henry released. Maybe it was the loud sound that broke his stream of consciousness, or maybe it was hearing the soft bitterness in the other teens' voices, but his anxiety was suddenly gone. It was weird. Not even a cigarette got rid of it that quickly.
Rather than dwelling on that though, he clapped Nancy on the shoulder and smiled at her. She was proud of herself, and he didn't blame her; first try was impressive. But, there were still a few cans on stumps, and he supposed he should take a turn.
Although he was rusty, the lessons his dad taught him at the range had stuck with him. A few breathless moments passed, and his shot found its mark.
He lowered the gun with a satisfied smile, before he turned and saw how Jonathan and Nancy were both looking at him. His expression morphed into something lighter. Playful.
"Don't look at me, my parents love each other very much."
The three teens trekked through the woods without much of a destination in mind, just trying to stay within the mile radius that Jonathan had mapped out. Thankfully, Indiana weather hadn't drifted into cold territory yet, and all they needed were jackets. Henry didn't know if he'd be able to handle walking around like this if the temperature had dropped like it usually did in November.
Honestly, it was sort of nice. Like a nature hike. If it weren't for the guns and whatever it was they were hunting.
"You never said what I was saying," Nancy said, breaking the comfortable silence with words directed towards Jonathan, "Yesterday, you said I was saying something and that's why you took my picture."
"Oh, uh," Jonathan said awkwardly, "I don't know…"
A soft, but involuntary sigh left Henry's lips. He didn't think the other two heard it, but it had caught him by surprise. He wasn't entirely sure where it had come from.
"My guess…" Jonathan started, and Henry found himself wishing he just left it at the lie about not knowing, "I saw this girl, you know, trying to be someone else. But, for that moment… It was like you were alone, or you thought you were. And, you know, you could just be yourself."
He was suddenly reminded of when he tried to do homework but Lucas kept interrupting him to talk about a new comic or something. Lucas didn't mean any harm, but it still bothered him a little. Why it was happening right now, he didn't quite know.
"That is such bullshit."
Although he knew Jonathan's reaction to that was probably a little funny, Henry didn't get to see it because at some point his even pace had pulled him a few steps ahead of the other two. Probably around the time they slowed down to have this conversation.
There it was again, that feeling. It was a little hotter this time, at the bottom of his stomach.
"What?" Jonathan stammered, and Henry didn't need to turn around to know that they'd stopped in their tracks.
"I am not trying to be someone else," Nancy said, Henry slowing but not stopping. It was spreading now; the heat in his stomach had reached his chest, "Just because I'm dating Steve and you don't like him—."
"You know what? Forget it. I just thought it was a good picture," Jonathan snapped back, Henry able to hear the telltale crunch of leaves, although neither one caught up with him.
"He's actually a good guy," Nancy said, Henry's mind flashing to the croquet set and the feelings subsiding, although it was only for a moment, "The other day, with the camera… He's not like that at all. He was just being protective."
"Do you blame him?" Henry thought grimly, before he recognized they'd stopped again and the fire returned to taking him over. Slowly. Inch by inch.
"Yeah, that's one word for it," Jonathan muttered bitterly, and Henry rolled his eyes. He knew his camera was important to him and that the Byers weren't the most affluent, but come on, man.
"Oh, I guess what you did was okay," Nancy replied, voicing Henry's internal monologue.
"No, I never said that," Jonathan said, sounding like he was back in his usual defensive stance. Although this time was probably for a better reason than imagined slights.
"He had every right to be pissed—."
"Okay, alright, does that mean I have to like him?" Once again, the two teens behind Henry had come to a stop. He would be making a lot of time on them right now, if it weren't for the leaden heat weighing him down; keeping him from moving much at all. A part of him idly wondered if they somehow managed to forget he was here.
"Listen, don't take it personally, okay? I don't like most people. He's in the vast majority," Jonathan hissed out, and Henry rolled his eyes again. Sure, sometimes Jonathan could be okay, nice even, but this version of him—the nihilistic douchebag—Henry didn't care for.
"You know, I was actually starting to think that you were okay," Nancy said, almost sounding a tiny bit hurt. Henry found himself rolling his eyes for the third time in thirty seconds.
"Yeah?" Jonathan challenged.
"Yeah. Yeah, I was thinking 'Jonathan Byers, maybe he's not the pretentious creep everyone says he is,'" Nancy said, but Henry barely heard her.
Because, there it was.
The heat had reached the base of his throat.
It wasn't stopping.
"Well, I was just starting to think you were okay," Jonathan replied, not knowing how his words coaxed the fire in Henry higher and higher; right to the top, "I was thinking 'Nancy Wheeler, she's not just another suburban girl who thinks she's rebelling by doing exactly what every other suburban girl does. Until that phase passes and they marry some boring one-time jock who now works sales, and they live out a perfectly boring little life at the end of a cul-de—.'"
"WOULD BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP?!"
Jonathan and Nancy jumped, both startled, but Henry didn't care. It was too late for that. Maybe if they'd looked at him with those alarmed doe eyes earlier, it would've abated. But, it was out now, and there was no putting it back in.
"God!" He exclaimed, looking between the two of them with frustration and accusation and anger. Nothing outweighed the anger, "Are you two really having this stupid, petty argument?! Right now?! Because, you know, personally, I'm more worried about finding the missing kid and my best friend!"
Nancy and Jonathan both looked like they'd been slapped, but Henry still couldn't bring himself to care. He couldn't remember the last time he'd yelled like that, he wasn't sure he ever really had. Maybe in private, maybe as catharsis when no one else could hear, but not at someone. He wasn't the type, and he'd never really had a reason to—at least a reason that he could act on. But, he'd done it now, and there was no undoing it. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to.
Henry swung around and turned his back on the other two, fully intending to continue walking, before he heard Nancy scoff behind him.
"So, that's how you refer to her?" She said, the accusation in her voice making Henry's jaw clench, "Interesting. I'll keep that in mind. Don't know why I'm surprised, since you wouldn't go to Steve's with her."
Henry turned to face her with a harsh glare, one he'd never levelled on Nancy before. Again, maybe not on anyone. He never let his emotions be this visible, but now that he'd started, he couldn't stop.
To Nancy's credit, she only hesitated for a second before she returned it with her own.
"She didn't want me there," Henry said, Nancy scoffing again.
"Bullshit," she spat, "Barb really likes you, okay? And she's my best friend, so I'm not going to let you string her along or whatever it is you're doing."
A tight and bitter laugh rang through the forest, one that was so full of acid that Jonathan winced.
"Typical!" Henry announced, with a mockery of a smile on his face, "Typical, typical, typical! Such typical—."
He caught the words right before they escaped.
Immediately, even his sneer slipped away and all that was left was a stone cold glare. He turned around and started walking again; angry at himself for almost letting that out, and angry at Nancy for pushing him to that point.
That had been close, way too close.
"Oh, okay, sure, shut down and storm off like every other time you get upset," Nancy yelled at his back, "Which can be at any little thing apparently! Hell, bring up Hopper watch you stomp away!"
Henry came to a sudden stop and swallowed hard. It wasn't Nancy's harsh words that had frozen him, though. It was what followed: Jonathan's soft, but appalled "Nancy."
He shouldn't be surprised. He really shouldn't. But, after the way Nancy had spoken about him earlier, he'd hoped that maybe both of them didn't know. That maybe he would get lucky.
Henry turned to see Nancy's confusion, and how Jonathan said nothing to clear it up. Instead, he just looked at Henry cautiously, like he wasn't sure how he was going to respond. Like he was nervous that he'd turn the fire he'd focused on Nancy onto him. What he got instead though, was a shrug.
"Don't let me stop you, Jonathan," Henry said, fake flippancy not even beginning to cover the bitterness in his voice, "It never stopped anyone else in Hawkins from talking."
Jonathan looked at him warily for one more second, maybe trying to gauge if he was setting him up for a trap, before he turned to Nancy. He didn't stop glancing at Henry as he spoke, though; treading very lightly.
"Hopper was the one who pulled Henry out of the Quarry."
"What?" Nancy said, more lost than ever as she looked between Henry and Jonathan.
"Yeah, I was, uh, really lucky he happened to be there," Henry said, sounding like he didn't think he was lucky at all, "Even did CPR for the twenty minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive. My mom makes him a pie every Christmas. She used to make me take it to him, but now she just does it herself."
"I don't understand…" Nancy said softly, all of the fire in her voice gone.
"Yeah, well, you don't have to," Henry snapped, but it was hard to keep it up now. That moment had passed, and there was only what was left. He felt tired, like he'd just ran a marathon or something. Finally, Henry sighed.
"Can we just… Can we just go find this thing? Please?" He asked, and after a moment, Jonathan and Nancy both nodded. They were still for a few seconds longer before they started to walk again.
This time, the silence wasn't so comfortable.
They hadn't recovered from that, not even once the sun had gone down. They just continued to hike through the dark woods in silence. They stuck close together though, but that was just because all of them were nervous. About getting split up, and about what they'd come here for.
Henry kept running his nail back and forth over a ridge on his flashlight. It was the best he could do for a nervous tic right now; it wasn't a great time to pull out a cigarette.
After hours of walking, Nancy stopped and brought both boys' attentions to her
"What, are you tired?" Jonathan's taut tone revealing that he had not gotten over what Nancy had said earlier. Henry was closer to her though, and from one look at her expression he could tell that this was a lot more than fatigue.
"What is it?" He asked, Nancy glancing at him before looking off into the darkness.
"I heard something."
Nancy sent them a nervous look before heading towards it, with Jonathan and Henry following soon after.
Fortunately or unfortunately, it wasn't what they were looking for. It was a deer. Henry felt his stomach drop as he realized what they'd heard was its pained whimpers, and he took in its bloody body with increasing nausea. God, how could anyone go out of their way to kill these things?
"It's been hit by a car," Nancy said, her voice a reflection of the feelings coursing through Henry, "We can't just leave it."
Nancy looked down at the gun in her hand, raising it slightly despite the tears in her eyes, but before she could even truly aim it, Jonathan held his hand out.
"I'll do it," he said, and his jaw clenched at the looks he got in response, "I'm not nine anymore."
And while that hinted at a whole boatload of issues, Henry was mostly just happy this didn't fall to him.
The three of them stood up—looking down at the suffering animal with heartbroken eyes—and Jonathan pointed the gun at the deer. A moment passed, and then two, and even though he'd just celebrated not having to be the one to do it, Henry heard himself saying "Jonathan, I can—."
"No," Jonathan cut him off, his voice shaky, "I can do this."
Jonathan took a deep breath, the kind you take right before you do something you really don't want to, and Henry anticipated the sound of the shot. Only, it never came. Because the deer was gone.
The three of them stumbled back, none of them comprehending what had just happened. It took a moment for any of them to start moving again, and then they only crept forward slightly; staying close to each other as they followed the blood smears on the leaves.
"Do you guys see any more?" Henry asked, taking the silence as a no.
"Henry?" Nancy said softly, pulling his attention away from a funny shaped stick that had startled him and to where her flashlight shined, "What… What is that?"
Henry frowned, looking at a hole in a tree trunk, filled with somethings stringy and wet.
"I don't know," he replied, moving forward a little, but not too much. Something told him not to get too close to this thing. He turned to get Jonathan's opinion, but he wasn't there. He must've wandered off in some other direction.
Nancy and Henry kneeled down to try to get a better look so they could figure out just what they were looking at.
There was blood on the bottom in there, just like there'd been blood on the leaves out here. Which meant that the deer…
"It can't be…?" Henry started, looking over to share a baffled look with Nancy. Was it in the tree? Was that a type of predator or something? One that stuffs its meals in trees?
"Jonathan?!" Nancy called out, but when no reply came, she turned back to the gash. For a moment, both of them just looked at it, before the sound of something hitting the ground cut through the silence.
She had dropped her bag.
"Nancy…" Henry started, but it was too late, she was crawling forward into the hole, "Nancy!"
She didn't listen to him and kept going, much farther than she should've been able to. The tree was big, but not that big.
For a moment, Henry was still. He didn't want to. He really didn't want to.
He swore and followed her.
Being inside of this thing was a million times grosser than looking at it, and that had been pretty bad. He pushed through the dripping strings of god knows what until he ended up on the other side of the tree.
Or at least, what should've been the other side of the tree. But, it couldn't be.
With the exception of Nancy, this place was all wrong.
It was hazy, and the air was heavy and thick with something that made it hurt when he breathed. Some particles floated around them, almost like snow, but they seemed suspended in place. Like they were caught in whatever gas or smoke that surrounded them. And the trees—which had been a little intimidating at night, but lovely the rest of the time—were now knotted monstrosities looming over them.
"What…?" Nancy started, not even able to finish her question. Henry didn't know what to say either. What happened?
Henry stepped forward, even though he kind of wanted to crawl right back through that hole. This felt wrong. It felt like they shouldn't be here.
But, he didn't say that, and just followed Nancy. No matter how bad this place made him feel, no matter how his flashlight flickered, he couldn't just leave without her. If he could power through this, he could probably push himself through anything. It couldn't get much worse.
And yet it did.
Because Nancy turned her flashlight and there it was.
She didn't need to tell him what it was, because Henry realized immediately. There was no other option. It was what Nancy had seen in the woods behind Steve's house, what Mrs. Byers had seen in her house.
And it was eating the deer.
They both froze when they saw it, but they also knew instinctively that they needed to leave now. After a moment of shocked horror, they began to walk backwards, not taking their eyes off of the thing tearing into the deer with a disgusting fervor. Slowly, slowly they moved away. But, it wouldn't matter, because Nancy's shoe would still find that twig, and that snap would still alert the creature that they were there.
What had been called a "man with no face" twisted towards them, and Henry was suddenly struck by the fact that it had far too much face.
He screamed, Henry would admit it, but so did Nancy before they both took off.
For a moment, all they did was run, trying to put as much distance as they could between themselves and that thing. Henry didn't know what it would do if it caught them, but he had to imagine they'd end up similar to that deer.
That thought alone caused his breath to shorten, which was bad when you were running. Before he could collapse though, they heard a familiar voice, sounding close but strange.
"Nancy?!" Jonathan's voice echoed, "Henry?!"
"Jonathan!" Henry called, hoping to catch sight of him even though he knew he wouldn't be much more help against this thing.
"Where are you?!" Nancy yelled.
"I'm right here!" They heard in response, but no matter where they turned, they didn't see him.
"Jonathan!" Nancy cried out again, but Henry didn't echo it, because in his search for Jonathan, he had found something else.
"Nancy," he said, catching her attention before he pointed out the familiar gash in a tree. He didn't understand what they'd done, or where they were, but maybe if that's how they'd gotten here…
Clearly, Nancy agreed, because she dashed towards it with Henry on her heels. She got down on her knees before sending a nervous look back towards Henry, which he appreciated the sentiment of—he didn't want to be alone here either, not even for a second—but disliked how it wasted time.
"Go," he insisted, Nancy nodding slightly before she crawled forward and out of sight. Henry followed soon after, but it quickly became clear that either this was a different tree, or something had changed.
It was hard this time, those disgusting strings were getting in the way, there was a film of some weird substance that didn't give easily, and the space felt smaller. It was like the tree was re-growing or something. But, that didn't make any sense. Then again, none of this did.
Henry continued forward, knowing he must be getting close, but when he struck a hand out towards what he assumed to be the other side, a sheet of thick goo didn't give. It stayed taut and unbroken, no matter how he pushed. He was right there, he could feel it, but he couldn't get through. And, was it just the claustrophobia, or was it getting smaller in here?
Oh, god. He was stuck.
This thing was going to close up around him and he was going to suffocate inside of a tree. Or, worse, he was going to get spit back out on the other side, and he'd be stuck in that awful place with that thing.
Oh, god. He was going to die.
Henry pushed as hard as he could, but it just wouldn't give. He was so, so close to being through it. His fingers were nearly pushing it to its breaking point, but he couldn't do it. He wasn't strong enough. He couldn't do it.
Something wrapped tightly around his hand through the film and pulled.
He wasn't strong enough to do it.
He was through, and it didn't hurt to breathe, and the trees looked nice, and there was nothing floating in the air around him. But, most important of all, there were Jonathan and Nancy, with their hands still around his; looking like they'd been just as scared as he'd been.
Nancy surged forward with Jonathan following only a second later, and Henry found himself in an embrace so tight it hurt. He didn't care. He returned it just as hard.
None of them said anything; they just regained their breath and reassured themselves that they were here.
They were safe.
At least, for now.
The hot water beating down on him should've relaxed his muscles, but he suspected that there was nothing on the planet that could do that right now.
He'd been hesitant to get into the Wheeler's shower; he really didn't want anyone other than Nancy to know he was here. But, he had to wash himself and he wasn't going home tonight. After being in that place—he reached forward and turned up the water temperature to something uncomfortable— he couldn't be alone.
He tried to push those thoughts away, the images of that thing tearing into the deer, but they kept forcing their way back. Eyes open or closed, it was all he could see.
Once he had scrubbed himself to the point of discomfort, Henry turned off the shower and stepped out. Ted Wheeler was a smaller man than him, both in height and build, but he much preferred wearing snug pajamas to what he'd had on earlier. He might burn those.
He slipped out of the bathroom and managed to make it back to Nancy's room without getting caught; sighing in the slightest amount of relief when he shut and locked her door behind him.
"You good?" Jonathan asked, Henry shrugging slightly. He didn't think he could really lie about that right now, "You can have this sleeping bag, I'll just—."
"Can you two just come over here, please?" Nancy cut in, the desperation in her voice so similar to what Henry felt right now. He understood, he might've even suggested it.
Getting into Nancy Wheeler's bed wasn't exactly where Henry had expected his life to take him. But, right now, it made more sense than most of the things happening around him.
Neither of the boys got under the covers, Jonathan laid right on top of them while Henry was on the sheets because Nancy had that corner of the duvet tucked under chin. It was a tight squeeze; it would've been even if they'd all been shaped like Nancy. But, both boys were broad shouldered—even if Jonathan didn't seem like it from how often he slouched— and there was barely enough room for the three of them. They were all pressed against each other one way or another, and there was no readjusting without upsetting someone else. But even so, it almost wasn't weird. If it had just been Nancy and Henry, the two people who went there, it wouldn't have been. But, Jonathan was uncomfortable and it was coming off of him in waves.
"Do you want the lights off or—."
"On," Nancy and Henry replied at the exact same time. Jonathan softly agreed and it was quiet.
It was quiet for a very long time.
Henry knew because he didn't fall asleep. He couldn't. Hours passed and he stared at Nancy Wheeler's ceiling, unable to shake what had happened tonight.
He'd almost died.
He knew it, he just did. If he and Nancy hadn't been fast enough, or if that tree had closed up a little sooner, then that thing would've killed him. Or worse, he would've been stuck in that place, running for his life.
Henry had spent a lot of time thinking about what Hell was like. Getting himself ready. But, nothing could've prepared him for that place.
And that's where Barb and Will were.
He felt like throwing up. Thinking about his best friend and the sweet kid that cried at The Return of the Jedi in that place made his stomach twist into knots. They must be so scared… Or, they were until that thing—.
Henry might actually be sick.
They could be dead. They could've died there. He could've died there. He still could. Who knows, maybe that thing will come into this room tonight and drag him out of bed, back to that terrible place, and he would die scared. He'd die alone. He'd die—.
He'd die with only Lucas to remember him.
The real him.
"Nancy?" Henry's voice broke, even though it was quiet, but he didn't care. He needed to talk to her. The pressure coming from inside was too much, and he felt like he would shatter into a million pieces if he didn't let it out.
"Yeah?" Nancy said, confirming his suspicions that she couldn't sleep either. He would've been surprised if she'd managed to after tonight.
"Is Jonathan awake?" He asked, hearing Nancy turn slightly to check.
"I don't think so," she whispered, softer now.
"I need to tell you something," Henry said, his voice coming out more desperate than he wanted. But, he couldn't stop himself; this had to happen, one way or another.
"Okay?" Nancy said, accepting of whatever it was. Henry could feel heat start to build behind his eyes.
"You know how earlier, you said you wouldn't let me 'string Barb along' or something?" He asked, Nancy sighing.
"No, no, just. Let me finish," He cut off her apology and took a deep breath, trying to bring himself back under control. It didn't work, "It wasn't like that between us. It never was. It never could be. We both knew that."
"Okay?" She said, sounding more confused now, but open. Like she was willing to listen to whatever it was he had to say.
God, Henry was going to cry.
"Nancy…" he said softly, the words stuck in his throat. He sniffed a little too loud.
"Henry," Nancy turned over, concern in her voice and likely on her face if he could bring himself to look at her. Instead, he focused on the words he couldn't say, the ones that were right there but just wouldn't come. The fear that gripped him whenever he even thought about telling someone had him in a chokehold now, but he was certain he would break if he didn't get this out.
Then, there was Nancy's voice, so soft, and so kind, it hurt, "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
A rush of words, said so quickly that they couldn't quite sink in right away. But, they were said. They were out, and the ungodly pressure inside of him lessened. It wasn't completely gone, but it was manageable. All because he'd said two little words.
Henry couldn't remember the last time he'd admitted it out loud.
Maybe that was for good reason, because the room was silent. Just their breathing, nothing else.
He didn't know what reaction he'd been expecting from her, but a moment of shock made sense. He'd be pretty surprised too. In a town like Hawkins, being like him meant a lot more than liking boys. It meant acting a certain way, talking a certain way. Henry hadn't ever been those ways, some just because he wasn't, and others because he'd forced himself not to be. Nancy being shocked was a good sign honestly, it meant he was keeping it hidden.
He wondered if she'd kick him out.
Out of the bed, at the very least. It was almost ironic, that she'd probably prefer to share a bed with a guy who was interested in sex with her over a guy who'd never, under any circumstances, want to touch her like that. But, at the same time, he understood the logic. Nobody wants to share a bed with a dirty queer.
She might kick him out of the house. That wouldn't surprise him either. It would hurt, and since he'd left his car at the woods, he'd have to walk home, so he'd be terrified. But, he wouldn't be surprised.
He didn't think she'd tell anyone. Nancy didn't seem like the type. But, who knows, maybe he'd found a soft spot, and she'd tell everyone that Henry Sinclair was a... But, she'd have to explain why he told her, and why he was in her bed, so he doubted she would, even if she wanted to.
Nancy readjusted and Henry's breath caught in his throat. He didn't realize how scared he was until that moment, it was like having just a little of the damned weight gone had distracted him from the primal fear twisting in his gut.
But, in that moment, there was nothing to be scared of. She was just pulling as much of the duvet as she could out from under Jonathan's sleeping form. Miraculously, he didn't wake up, but Henry didn't have time to really process that, because Nancy was covering him with the blanket. The same one that she was under.
Henry frowned and blinked a few times, before he rolled over to face her. He suddenly wished the lights were off, because this was too much. He couldn't do eye contact right now; he couldn't look directly at that gentle expression. He couldn't handle that.
Henry looked down to the bedspread and rubbed his nose. After a moment of studying the floral sheets, he saw how Nancy raised her hand out of the corner of his eye, and he couldn't help it, even though he tried—he flinched. Just a little, he barely moved, but Nancy noticed and paused. It didn't stop her though. After a moment, she placed her hand on his face and gently rubbed circles on his cheek with her thumb.
Henry looked up and made eye contact again, and for a moment the two teens looked at each other. Neither one said anything, they didn't need to, and Henry found himself breaking the number one rule of how to keep people from finding out the truth. But, he supposed it didn't matter now. Nancy knew. She hadn't kicked him out for being gay. She wouldn't kick him out for crying in front of her.
Henry's body shook with the first of what would likely be many sobs, but that didn't stop him from noticing the sniffs coming from the girl next to him. Maybe it was sympathy, or maybe her own emotional overload, or both, but the result was the same. Nancy was crying too.
The hand on his cheek disappeared, but it was so she could wrap her arms around his neck. He should've hesitated, worried that it would be taken the wrong way or that she wouldn't want someone like him to touch her, but Henry found himself wrapping his arms around Nancy's waist and pulling her closer without even thinking about it. Nancy didn't mind, just buried her face in his shoulder, which Henry mirrored.
It was quiet except for the muffled sounds of their tears. There was no going back from this, from any of this, and maybe that was part of the reason they were crying. Because even if they found Barb and Will, there was no undoing what they'd seen, and what they'd gone through. Just like how there would be no undoing the pain Henry had experienced ever since the day he realized how he felt when he looked at boys.
But, there was no going back from this moment, either. Two teens that had barely known each other a week ago had just been through the impossible, and the painful. But, here they were. Henry had bared the part of him he'd kept hidden from everyone but his brother and the girl who was just like him, to someone he barely knew. He'd trusted her with his life in the woods, and now he was trusting her with the truth. The latter had been the bigger gamble. But, it had paid off, because instead of every terrible scenario Henry could imagine, Nancy had just pulled him close. There was no undoing that.
He was sobbing, but Henry felt much better than he had before.