Henry didn't remember falling asleep.
He didn't remember much of anything really. When he opened his eyes that morning, the first thing he really registered was confusion. Because this wasn't his bed, or his room, and the warmth against his body certainly wasn't coming from one of his siblings who crawled under the covers with him after a nightmare.
No matter how close he was with Erica and Lucas, they really weren't the type to cuddle.
After a few moments of racking his sleepy brain for answers, he finally managed to get himself to just look around, and the shot of adrenaline he got when he realized where he was woke him up better than any cup of coffee ever could.
Oh, god, had he hooked up with Nancy Wheeler last night?
If he was anyone else, that would make the most sense. It explained why he was in her room, why she was running her fingers over the back of his neck, and why he'd been sleeping with his head in her lap. And, even though it was him, there was a split second where he wondered if he'd gotten really drunk and decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Fortunately, no matter how few hours his brain was running on, it was able to put that particular fear to rest. No, he had not slept with Nancy Wheeler last night. Well, literally he had, but he hadn't had sex with her. One, because that wasn't something he would ever do in his entire life, no matter how blasted he was. Two, he was starting to remember just how he ended up here.
It was all coming flooding back to him: the funeral, the target practice, the woods, that place, that thing, and—.
"Oh, you're awake."
Nancy's soothing voice offered a great contrast to the whirlwind raging in Henry's mind, but did very little to calm it. Because no matter how gentle her voice was, or how nice feeling the weight of her hand on the back of his neck was, or how warm it was to lie against her, he'd told. He'd done the one thing he swore to never do. The one thing he knew could destroy his entire life.
But, her voice was gentle, and her hand was resting on the back of his neck, and his head was cushioned on her lap.
He'd told, but he was still here.
Why was he still here?
Now he remembered.
That explained it.
Explained Nancy's kindness and her physical affection. Explained his dehydration too.
That fear was slipping away now, the adrenaline was starting to wear off, and it was all being replaced with a strong feeling of discomfort. He honestly didn't know what to do now. He'd spilled his guts, she'd accepted it, they'd both cried.
He never thought he'd get this far.
Finally, he settled on sitting up. That seemed like a good first step. He stretched a little and readjusted on the bed for a moment before turning his attention back to Nancy.
It was quiet as Henry searched for something to say. "Thanks for being cool with me being gay, and sharing your bed, and crying." Yeah, no. For one, that was the most pathetic thing he'd ever even thought about saying. Also, it'd been hard enough to spit out those words at night after a traumatic event. The morning after, without his emotions riding so high… His stomach twisted in embarrassment when he thought back to what he'd said and how he'd acted. He didn't want to take it back, not exactly, he just wished he could change what happened a little. Change how he'd acted.
He was nowhere near having something to say and it had been quiet for way too long. Of course, he considered, he wasn't the only one in this not-conversation. Nancy could start. And just as suddenly as that thought occurred to him did he realize that she might be just as unsure as he was. He'd never come out to a girl he barely knew and then cried in bed with her all night, but he really doubted Nancy had ever had someone come out to her, let alone the whole crying and bed sharing thing.
Nancy was finally the one to move past it. But, not with words, just with a small smile. Henry didn't try to return it, because now that he was looking at her—really looking at her—he noticed just how tired she looked.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" He asked, Nancy's attempt at a pleasant expression disappearing.
"Every time I shut my eyes I saw…" Nancy cut herself off and swallowed hard, and Henry reached out to take her hand in his. This time, he was the one to smile faintly, but it was enough. For now.
It was quiet between the two of them for a moment, but before either could break that silence, Henry was reminded that there was someone else in this bed when Jonathan's sleepy face lifted out of the pillow.
"What're you doing?" Jonathan said, his voice gritty with sleep, and Henry noticed for the first time that Nancy was holding a book in her other hand. Not a fun one she could be distracting herself with, though; a school book.
"Oh, I was…" She took a deep breath before steeling herself, "That place. I think—It was eating there, I think it lives there."
"They suit each other," Henry said, his voice coming out more bitter than he'd prefer.
"But… Will and Barb…" Nancy's voice came out small, and Henry felt his throat constrict at that. Their hands tightened around one another's without either consciously thinking about it.
"My mom said she talked to Will." Jonathan's voice cut through both of their anxieties, "If he's alive, there's a chance Barbara is too."
"That means they're trapped…" Nancy whispered, Henry removing his hand from hers to wrap it around her waist; he was finding it easier to be physically affectionate now. He wasn't going to dwell on which event had brought that about.
"We came back," Henry finally said, pulling Nancy's and Jonathan's attention to him, "Maybe they can too."
"You want to go out there again?" Jonathan asked incredulously, and Henry's eyes dropped to the bedspread. Because the answer was a big fat no, but… he couldn't bring himself to say that. He didn't even want to admit how utterly terrified he was just thinking about going to that place. He didn't want Nancy and Jonathan to know that he was a coward.
"Maybe we don't have to," Nancy said softly, "When we saw it, it was eating a dear. Meaning it's a predator, right?"
"I mean, I guess?" Henry offered, unwilling to commit to anything when it came to this creature.
"And it seems to hunt at night like a lion or a coyote," Nancy continued, gesturing towards the book, "But, it doesn't hunt in packs like them. It's always alone, like a bear. And at Steve's, Barb cut herself. And then, last night, the deer was bleeding too."
"It can smell—or-or sense blood." Henry murmured, mulling over the pieces of the animal kingdom that came together to create this thing, "Like a shark."
"Theoretically," Nancy agreed softly.
"But, that means we could test it," Jonathan pointed out, the weight his words held not dawning on him until he said them. The three teenagers exchanged wide eyed looks, each of them wondering if the other two were actually considering this idea.
"We'll need to be ready," Nancy finally said, breaking the silence with a certainty Henry didn't feel. But, even so, he nodded just like Jonathan.
Nancy's doorknob rattled and broke the three of them out their thoughts; all of them jumping before they realized that the door was locked.
"Honey, are you up?" Mrs. Wheeler called from the hall.
"Yeah, I'm… I'm getting dressed," Nancy replied, her voice breathless from the surprise,
"I, uh," Mrs. Wheeler hesitated, like she truly didn't know how to speak to her, "Made some blueberry pancakes."
"I'll be down in a second."
They listened as Mrs. Wheeler's steps faded and Henry watched as Jonathan and Nancy pulled their hands apart, but didn't comment on it.
"Your mom doesn't knock?" Jonathan finally said, with a tinge of amusement that rarely made an appearance. Henry's lips curled upwards, even though it really wasn't that funny, and Nancy chuckled too. Maybe it wasn't really about what he'd said, maybe they all just needed a reason to smile.
"I need to go home."
Nancy and Jonathan looked over at him with horrified surprise on their faces. He only realized after the fact how those words must sound.
"For like, half an hour," he added, watching as both of their shoulders dropped and they breathed a sigh of relief, "I need to change. And… my parents, I…" It was Henry's turn to sigh, only this time it wasn't relief that fueled it, "Also, I need to go get my car."
"I'll get it."
Henry and Nancy looked over, becoming the two unable to hide their surprise, and Jonathan just shrugged as he pulled on his jacket.
"I'll drive you to your house, then I'll get it," he said, managing a small smile, "We're going to need a reliable car and yours probably runs better than mine."
Henry hummed doubtfully, drawing soft chuckles from the other two teens.
"I can help," Nancy piped up, "I can drive the other car or—."
"No, you stay here," Jonathan interrupted, Henry frowning but not commenting on the hint of urgency in his tone, "Eat breakfast, it's better if your parents think nothing's wrong."
Nancy looked over to Henry for confirmation. He just shrugged in response. If Jonathan felt the sudden urge to step up and take charge, he wasn't going to fight it.
"Okay, sure," she finally said, softer than before, "Just… don't be gone too long. I don't…"
The boys exchanged a knowing look before Henry reached out and placed his hand on Nancy's shoulder.
"We'll be back before you know it," he promised softly, Nancy looking up at him through her lashes before she nodded, "Enjoy those blueberry pancakes."
Nancy scoffed and shrugged his hand off before the pair giggled. When Henry looked over, Jonathan was smiling too, without the hint of anything other than amusement in his eyes.
"Ready to go?" Henry asked, crossing the distance between the two of them.
"After you." Jonathan gestured towards the open window.
"What? Need me to break your fall?" Henry replied, sticking one leg out and ducking through it despite his words.
"I just want you to get caught by the neighbors first."
The moment Henry sat down in Jonathan's Ford LTD, he realized that he'd been completely right; his Cutlass could run circles around this thing.
Not that it was a bad car, it was just old and didn't have someone like Henry looking after it (he didn't see that as bragging, just the truth). Actually, now that he was really paying attention and listening to it, this thing wasn't beyond the point of no return. Just some tune ups here and there, maybe some replaced parts, you wouldn't even be able to tell how much it'd been through. He could have this old girl back to its former glory in no time.
And yeah, Henry knew that he was fixating on the car to keep himself from breaking down over the events of the past twenty-four hours, but frankly he didn't care. If focusing on the sounds of what was undoubtedly the brake pad indicator rubbing against the rotor was what he had to do to keep himself from bursting into tears, then damn it, he'd listen.
What he hadn't considered though, was how that blocked out the rest of the world. When his head was in the clouds—or more accurately, under a hood—he didn't quite pay attention to his surroundings. So, he didn't notice the strange tension that was slowly filling the car as he and Jonathan silently made their way down the road.
At least, he didn't notice until it snapped.
"I wasn't asleep."
"What?" Henry asked, truly confused as he looked over at Jonathan. He'd only kind of heard that, and it was already a pretty vague thing to say. But, clearly it held some weight, going off of Jonathan's serious expression and nervous body language. What—?
"Last night. When you— talked to Nancy. I wasn't asleep."
Last night, he'd just taken Nancy's word, assumed that everything said was private. That was stupid. A mistake he never used to make. But, he'd just been so overwhelmed and it had been tumbling out of him before he could really think about it. He hadn't spared a moment to consider that Jonathan might hear it too.
"I—I thought you were going to tell her you liked her or something, I don't know. By the time I realized what was actually happening it was too late and—" Jonathan huffed softly, sounding frustrated, but not with Henry, "Sorry. I'm sorry. I know you didn't want me to know."
It was quiet for a moment, and Henry kept his eyes on the stray thread he kept picking at on his jacket. He really wasn't sure what to say. "I forgive you" forgive him for what? Wasn't his fault that he'd overheard what two other people in the same bed as him had said. "I'm sorry" what the hell was he sorry for? He didn't do anything wrong. "Yeah, I'm one of those scary homosexuals they talk about on the news and, yeah, I shared a bed with you, but don't worry I promise I'm not interested. Please don't tell anyone else this very sensitive information, I don't want to get beat up," felt like the closest to the right thing, but just thinking about saying it made his throat burn. Those words felt like a betrayal, he just wasn't sure to who.
"Hey." Jonathan's voice pulled Henry out of his thoughts, and he looked over to see the oddly soft look he was sending him, "I'm not— It's okay. Really. It's okay. I'm not going to tell anyone."
It was quiet again, but Henry didn't feel the need to look away this time. Instead, he met Jonathan's eyes when he glanced away from the road and saw that there was no lie in them. He meant it, completely and genuinely. Without really thinking about it, Henry smiled a little. Jonathan returned it, and it felt like enough.
"I can't believe I doubled the amount of people who know last night," Henry said, mostly joking but unable to keep his real feelings out of it. Jonathan's expression turned into something closer to a frown, but not negatively so. He was just considering it.
"Who else knows?" He asked, before it seemed to dawn on him that might not be an appropriate question, "You don't have to answer that if you don't want to."
"It's fine," Henry said, with a shrug, "Barb, for one. And my brother, Lucas."
"How did you know it was okay to tell them?" Jonathan asked, sounding just the tiniest bit more invested than Henry would've expected, "How did you know they'd be okay with it?"
"Well, I didn't with Lucas," he admitted before he considered the question. He could tell Jonathan actually wanted to know—that he wasn't just making conversation—so he really thought about it. He wanted to be truthful, he wanted to say it right, if only because he might not get another chance.
"I just… I was really young. Like, 12—" he didn't miss the way Jonathan's breath came in the tiniest bit sharper, but he didn't really think about it, "—and I'd realized it a couple of months earlier. I was still trying to figure out how to live knowing that I… I suddenly felt like I had to tell someone, and Lucas and I were always pretty close, plus he couldn't really kick me out or anything. So, I just… I took a chance. I felt like I had to. Looking back on it, I can't believe I told my eight year old little brother such a huge secret, but... It worked out."
It was quiet for a moment. Henry hadn't thought about it in a while, but he really was lucky. It had been hard at first. Lucas hadn't really known what it meant, and Henry nearly couldn't admit it to himself, so explaining it to someone else was damn near impossible. But, even when Lucas didn't understand, he'd kept his promise. He never told anybody. It had been four years and he still hadn't.
"What about Barb?" Jonathan interrupted his train of thought, But Henry didn't mind. He'd been getting soppy dangerously close to a lot of unpleasant memories. What he did mind though, was the question.
"Barb… I… She…"
Henry sighed, and returned to that thread. There was no way he could say this, no way he could keep his promise to Barb while still being truthful to Jonathan.
"She is too, isn't she?"
Henry's head snapped up without thinking and he realized too late that there was no way he could play that reaction off. It had been too sudden. His expression was too open and his eyes were too wide to hide the truth. He desperately tried to remember every conversation he'd ever had with Jonathan about Barb, tried to figure out what he'd said to give it away. When he'd blown it.
"That night, in the woods at Steve's," Jonathan said, answering Henry's unspoken question, "I saw her sitting on the diving board, and she looked… When I took her picture, I could tell that she was saying something, something important, but I couldn't tell what. I didn't realize until you said that she knew. Then it all sort of… made sense."
"I promised her I'd never tell anybody," Henry said, his voice small and tight.
"And you didn't," Jonathan reassured him, but he didn't relax. Things were still too much in the air, there was still too much that could go wrong.
"You can't tell Nancy."
"Promise," Jonathan replied, looking over with that same sincerity as before. He meant it.
Henry let out a shaky sigh of relief. It was one thing for his carelessness to result in people knowing about him, but Barb… He couldn't be the reason anyone—Nancy—knew that she was a lesbian. The guilt might actually kill him.
It was quiet again, but this time it felt like it was for Henry's benefit more than anything else. Like Jonathan was giving him a moment to bring it all back under control. Henry took a few calming breaths, and he felt his pulse slowly return to normal.
The exhaust sounded loose, Jonathan really should fix that.
"If…" Jonathan's hesitant voice brought Henry back to the present, and he looked over to see how his fingers were worrying the leather on the wheel, "You said you didn't know if Lucas would be okay with it. What if he wanted you to know he would be?"
A beat of silence.
"What?" Henry asked, unable to comprehend what the hell he'd meant by that. Jonathan sighed, exasperated with himself, before he tried again.
"Just… What could someone do that would let you know it was safe to tell them?"
"Um…" Henry said with a frown, understanding the question better than before but still feeling rather lost. He looked over at Jonathan with a speculative expression, unable to stop himself, but he didn't ask and Jonathan didn't offer anything. So, he turned his mind back to trying to figure out an answer, "Well, I guess I would feel better if I knew they, you know, didn't hate gay people. Like, talking about Elton John liking men and not being weird about it."
Jonathan hummed and Henry looked over to see a surprisingly serious expression on his face. Like he was really absorbing this information, like it was important.
It suddenly occurred to Henry that maybe it was.
"But, I wouldn't do that too much," he said hurriedly, feeling like what he was saying wasn't good enough, "I wouldn't constantly be talking about how great gay people are. It would feel—pointed. It would make—make me feel like they were trying to push me to tell them. I would… I would probably freak out a little."
"Okay," Jonathan murmured, thinking it over, "Makes sense."
"But, I might still not tell you," Henry warned, trying desperately to communicate what he'd experienced in four years' worth of hiding his sexuality, "I didn't tell Lucas because he was a perfect brother, I didn't tell Nancy because she was my best friend. I told them because I felt like I would lose my mind if I didn't. And if… If I hadn't felt that way, I wouldn't have told them. Even if I did have the perfect brother who I knew would accept me, I don't know if I'd tell him. It's got nothing to do with him, it's just about me. And he can't change that, can't force it out of me, no matter how nice he is about it."
Jonathan looked over at him with a funny expression and it occurred to him that maybe that last bit had been a tad obvious, but Henry couldn't bring himself to care. Jonathan had asked, and he'd be damned if he didn't give him the best advice he could.
A moment passed, and neither of them said a thing. Neither needed to. No point in saying what they both already knew.
"We've been sitting in your driveway for five minutes."
Henry looked up to see that yes, at some point they had parked next to his house. He'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts and the conversation that he hadn't noticed.
Henry felt his mouth run dry as he took in the seemingly normal front door. Actually, it was normal. It was just the fact that he wasn't that was making him nervous.
"Everything okay?" Jonathan asked, Henry heaving a heavy sigh in response.
"To be perfectly honest I'd rather double the amount people who know again than talk to my mom right now."
"Where have you been?"
Henry raised an eyebrow at his brother's tone as he hung his jacket up on the hook. While he'd expected to be accosted the moment he opened the door, he hadn't exactly expected it to be by Lucas.
"Well, geez, Dad. Did I miss your curfew?" He asked, maybe a little sharper than he would've liked. It had been a long couple of days and it was getting harder and harder to stay pleasant. Out of the corner of his eye, Lucas frowned.
"Mom was freaking out all night."
Henry stopped in his tracks as the weight on his shoulders suddenly became nearly unbearable. He knew that would be the case, he knew ditching out overnight would get that reaction from his parents, but it still ached to hear it confirmed.
"Is she home right now?" He finally asked, his tone a little more muted than before.
"No," Lucas replied, a hint of disbelief on his features when Henry sighed in relief, "Erica had a doctor's appointment."
"Well, then I'll be sure to leave before she gets back," Henry said without really thinking about it, hopping up the steps without paying attention to the way Lucas's jaw dropped in response.
"You're just going to leave?" He demanded, following Henry up the stairs, "Without telling her you're okay?"
"Do me a solid and tell her I was here?" Henry asked, rounding the corner into his room with his brother hot on his heels.
"No!" Lucas exploded in response, loud enough that Henry turned around, just in time to catch the horrible cocktail of anger and sadness on his brother's face, "No! I'm not going to cover for you after you take dad's gun and disappear all night!"
"Lucas…" Henry said, sighing heavily and feeling so, so tired.
"You can't do that," Lucas persisted, shaking his head harshly, "You can't, not after Mike and Dustin… You can't."
Henry looked up to see a stricken look on Lucas's face and realized that the way his brother was acting wasn't just about him being gone. He'd missed something.
"Lucas…" He said again, his tone much gentler than before, "What happened?"
Lucas shook his head again, and guilt wormed its way up Henry's throat. He should've considered that maybe his mother wasn't the only one who had freaked out all night. Clearly, something had happened while he was gone, something with Mike and Dustin. The boys had falling outs from time to time, and Lucas was always upset about it for a day before they all got over it. Usually, Henry just had to pat him on the shoulder and remind him that they were his friends and they loved him, no matter how dick-ish they were acting. But right now, after everything that had happened with Will… That wasn't good enough, Henry knew it.
But, with that acknowledged, he didn't know what to say. He couldn't seem to find the words that he knew his brother needed to hear right now. What usually came so naturally felt impossible.
Henry rubbed his face, painfully aware of the way Lucas watched him, as he searched for something to say. Something that might smooth this all over. Make it all better.
There wasn't anything.
"Are you and Jonathan Byers dating?"
Henry's head snapped up and Lucas looked at him with an expression that was deadly serious.
This wasn't a joke.
"What on Earth would make you think that?" He demanded, and Lucas looked a little affronted. Like he'd insulted his intelligence by asking that.
"Jonathan's never had any friends before, but now you two are acting all friendly," Lucas said in a tone that Henry never wanted to hear his little brother use, "You walked away to sit alone together at the funeral, then you disappeared all night, and then you guys sat in the driveway for like half an hour before you came in."
Again, he couldn't think of a single thing to say, because…
That made sense.
"You could tell Mom that you slept over at his house to help with his grief or something," Lucas offered as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, clearly just taking Henry's stunned expression as a confirmation, "She might be less mad if she thought you were helping someone. I mean, she's still going to kill you, but maybe not as bad."
"I... That's… That's actually a pretty good idea, thank you," Henry said, Lucas smiling at the praise and nodding his head to say you're welcome, "But, I'm—I'm not dating Jonathan Byers."
"Then why have you been hanging out with him so much?" Lucas asked, raising an eyebrow, "Why'd he drive you home after you were gone all night?"
Henry opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, he was hit with a sudden, terrible realization.
Oh, good god.
Him dating Jonathan Byers made so much more fucking sense than the truth.
Lucas nodded sagely, as if he'd expected as much.
"People always said stuff like that about Jonathan, but I didn't pay attention to it because…" He shrugged, before his nose scrunched up, "But, I feel like you could do better."
"I…" Henry started, feeling completely and utterly lost in this conversation, in this life, "Need… to… change. I need to change."
He put his hands on Lucas's shoulders to usher him out of the room, trying to ignore how his brother continued to prattle on about his relationship with Jonathan.
"I mean, he's nice, but he's weird. He reads, like, Breakfast of Champions for fun." Lucas spun around once he was standing on the other side of the doorway, "Plus, he only listens to music they don't play on the radio. And, I mean, The Talking Heads are fine or whatever, but I don't think he likes Prince and Madonna like you do."
Henry felt no guilt slamming the door in his little brother's face.
"Also, he once said that people who'd rather go to parties than stay at home with a good book are shallow and probably secretly unhappy!" Lucas called, his voice muffled through the door, "I just thought you should know that!"
Henry leaned his head on the door, feeling more exhausted than ever before, and didn't move until he heard Lucas's footsteps retreating down the stairs.
Instead of dwelling on—on all that, he chose to walk over to his closet and begin to pull some stuff out. He passed by his favorite shirts—wouldn't want to get them ruined—or anything that was made of lighter material. Finally he settled on a flannel that his dad had insisted he get because "you need to own one, Henry," and a pair of jeans. Once he'd gotten all that on and had laced up his boots, he grabbed one of his heavier jackets out of the closet; not because it was particular cold, but because he supposed that it would be better to be wearing something thicker when… when…
What was he doing?
Henry sat down heavily on his bed as everything hit him all at once.
In the midst of waking up in an unfamiliar room and having to deal with two new people knowing the truth about him, somehow thoughts of what exactly went down last night had gotten muddled and lost. But now? Now that he was sitting alone in his bedroom with nothing to distract him?
This was insane.
Monster hunting, that's what he was doing. He was going honest-to-god monster hunting. And he hadn't even really questioned it! Just went along with Nancy and Jonathan, hadn't really spared a thought to how he was putting himself in the line of fire of that thing.
It could tear him apart, no doubt in his mind. He'd be just like that deer. And for what? To help Nancy and Jonathan? He barely knew them! They hadn't exchanged more than a few sentences before a few days ago! To get rid of that creature? That wasn't his responsibility! There was no reason that he had to be the one to deal with it! To bring Will and Barb back? He'd been to that place, saw what it was like, and let's face it, they were already dead!
Henry fell backwards on his bed and looked up at the ceiling as he considered it. He hadn't admitted it before, not even to himself, but… If Will and Barb had been caught by that creature, then they'd probably been dead near instantly. And even if they somehow got to that place without immediately getting torn apart by that thing… he'd only been there briefly, but… Nothing could survive there, not for long.
They were dead. They had to be. There was no point to this stupid plan he'd concocted with Nancy and Jonathan. They were just going to get killed too. Barb and Will were dead!
Do you actually believe that, or do you just want it to be true?
He wasn't sure where that came from, what deep recess of his mind pulled that out, but it caused an immediate visceral reaction. Disgust and guilt and whole plethora of other negative emotions welled up inside him, and his expression twisted into an affronted scowl. Why would he want his best friend and a sweet kid to be dead?
The same reason you were glad Jonathan took pictures of Nancy from the woods.
The front door opened.
It was distant enough that he might not have caught it on a normal day. But, today wasn't normal; he was lying on his bed surrounded by devastating silence. Well, that part wasn't out of the ordinary. Him noticing it was.
He moved without really thinking about it, and he made his way out of his room and down the stairs as the realization of exactly what type of person he was continued to crush him.
His mom was in the kitchen, putting away a bag of groceries while Erica sucked on a lollypop at the table. Mrs. Sinclair didn't see him when he rounded into the room, but Erica did; his little sister's eyes widening comically as he came into view.
"I'm gonna go sit outside," She said, already slipping out of her chair and heading towards the door.
"Okay, Honey," Judith replied, sounding distracted and not even looking back at her daughter. Henry knew this mood, this slightly frenzied preoccupation with menial tasks. It's what happened to his mom when she was worried. Like, if she couldn't control a situation, she could damn well control the contents of her fridge and the state of her linens.
Guilt gripped his throat like a vice, but Henry swallowed hard and forced past it.
Judith whipped around, and Henry had no idea if she was surprised because of the sudden voice or because of who it belonged to. For a moment, she just looked at her son as if she was seeing a ghost. Henry didn't see that, though. He was too busy staring at her shoes, his shoulders hunched, searching for something to say. Everything felt… inadequate.
Then, all at once, the silence ended and she rushed forward to pull Henry into a tight hug. He sunk into it, not realizing how badly he'd needed this after—after everything until just now. Without even knowing, he'd spent the last twelve hours desperate for his mother to hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay.
But, he was only going to get one of those things and he knew it.
"Where have you been?" Judith demanded, pulling back with her hands on her son's shoulders to try to catch his eyes with her desperate gaze, "You were gone all night! Your father and I were worried sick!"
"I, um…" Henry started, trying to remember the lie that Lucas had concocted on his behalf, but finding nothing. Instead, he just put his hands over his mom's, desperate for any little comfort.
When had this happened?
When had he stopped being able to talk to his family? When had he stopped being able to tell them what they needed to hear? When had he stopped being able to do the one thing he was any good at?
"Henry," Judith said, her stern voice cutting through his thoughts like a knife, "Where were you last night?"
Henry didn't answer, and never once looked up from the floor.
He'd never done anything like this before, and even when he did do something that upset his parents, he always owned up to it. Nodded his head, apologized, and took the punishment. It was one of the things he knew made his parents think of him as "such a good young man." He liked that, he liked that he made his parents happy; they were the ones who were there for him, so he did everything he could to make it easier on them.
God, he wished he could do that right now. He wished he could make his mama happy and then get the support he was so desperate for.
But, he couldn't.
Maybe that's why his mother's expression turned stony. Because this wasn't like him, because she wasn't seeing her son right now. Or, at least, she wasn't seeing the son she knew.
"This is not okay," Judith said, taking a step back and leaving Henry feeling terribly alone, even though he was just standing in the middle of his kitchen, "This is completely unacceptable."
She was right. He knew it. He also knew he was making that much worse by not giving his mom an answer and refusing to look her in the eye.
He wanted to say something, anything, to make this stop. He wanted bridge the gap between them. He wanted to get another hug and tell her how scared he was. How he was facing something so much bigger than him. How he was terrified of what was going to happen.
How he couldn't do this.
And how he was horrified of what that said about him.
But, instead of saying any of those things, or even some lie that would make this situation just a little bit better, he just… He said nothing. He just kept looking at the floor and said nothing.
"You cannot just disappear all night," Judith continued, "Especially after what happened to the Byers boy."
Ironic that she'd bring that up, since the truth was that he'd spent all night in the woods with Jonathan Byers looking for Will Byers. Well, looking for that thing that took him, but same difference.
"We were at that poor boy's funeral and you just thought it would be perfectly fine to leave and not tell any of us where you were going?!"
Huh, he had done that, hadn't he? Spent all night in the woods, that was. Stole his dad's gun and went looking for some creature without a face. Then he followed right after Nancy through the tree and into that other place. He'd barely even thought about it.
"One of Lucas's best friend's is dead, Henry, do you understand that? Do you understand that Lucas is experiencing grief right now?"
Weird because when Steve had confronted Jonathan, he'd been so relieved to find out it was for a good reason. Because, he didn't have to really deal with how he was too much of a coward to stand up for Jonathan. He'd been absolved from doing the right thing.
"The last thing he needs is his big brother walking out the door with barely a goodbye and vanishing on him. Do you understand how not okay that is?"
Ever since he was a kid, he'd thought of himself as a coward. Constantly terrified that someone would find out the truth about him. Turning to nicotine to keep from tearing himself apart because of the fear. Keeping everyone at an arm's length, afraid that if they got any closer they'd see through the façade.
Always feeling like he was right there on the edge of the Quarry again.
So scared of living life as the person he was.
"He was upset, Henry. He came home from the Wheelers upset and you weren't here to help him. You weren't here all night."
But… a coward doesn't go into the woods at night looking for a monster. A coward doesn't follow a girl he barely knows—no, no, stop it, tell the truth. A coward doesn't follow his friend into a monster's den. A coward… A coward doesn't admit the truth about himself.
"He doesn't talk to me or your father like he does to you, you know that."
Maybe he wasn't a coward.
"He needed you, Henry."
Or, at least, he wasn't one when it counted.
"I hope whatever you were doing was worth it. Worth abandoning your brother, and worrying your parents, and being grounded for at least a month."
And it counted right now.
His mom cut off in the middle of her tirade, and the anger she'd been exhibiting for the past few minutes was gone just like that. Maybe she hadn't expected him to say anything, just take whatever she said and accept it, but she certainly hadn't expected him to say that.
"What?" She asked.
For the first time since the beginning of this conversation, Henry raised his gaze from the floor and looked his mother in the eye.
It was quiet for a moment as Judith's eyes scanned her son's face, looking for any tell that this was just some sick joke. He wished that there was. He wished he could give her that. But, he couldn't. He couldn't be what his mom wanted right now. He couldn't even be what she needed.
He had to be himself.
"I'm sorry," Henry finally said, utterly genuine, "I… I didn't mean to disappear on you. It just happened. A lot happened last night. I was—I am trying to find her. But, that doesn't excuse what I put you, and Dad, and Lucas, and Erica through. I'm sorry. Really. I mean it."
Judith nodded wordlessly, clearly still processing this new information, and her eyes lowered as she ruminated on it; factored it into everything she already knew to be true, and likely mentally lessened the punishment she was going to level on him. But, that didn't matter. She wouldn't after what he said next.
Henry took a deep breath, because that had been hard to say. That was… That wasn't something a coward would do. But now…
Now it was time to be brave.
"But, I'm not staying."
Judith looked up sharply with wide eyes, and Henry couldn't blame her. He could hardly believe he'd said it either.
"What did you just say?" Her voice was low, cautionary. The kind of tone that sent him and his siblings into hurried apologies. And, god, a part of him wanted to do that. Wanted to mutter that he was sorry and run right back up the stairs to wait it out in his room. Forget about Barb and Will, forget about the monster and that place, forget about…
The sound of tires on pavement pulled his attention to the window over the sink, and he watched as his car pulled into the driveway. Through the windshield, he could see Jonathan and Nancy, side-by-side, and he realized something that he should've the moment he became friends with Barb.
It was easier to be brave when you weren't alone.
His jaw set and he felt his shoulders go back before he looked down at his mother. It was easy to forget when all he ever did was slouch over desks and lean against walls, but Henry was 6'2.
In that moment, he looked every inch.
"I'm not staying," Henry repeated, his voice even and strong but not harsh, "You can ground me for the rest of my life if you like, I'll deserve it, but I'm leaving. And I'm not coming back until this is finished."
Henry didn't shy away from eye contact, just looked at his mom with nothing but determination written on his features. He was unwavering. There was nothing she could say, nothing she could do, that would make him stay. He was going to finish this, one way or another.
And, while everything about Judith broadcasted how shocked she was in this moment, there was something else. Something in her eyes. Something that she herself probably didn't even realize was there.
Something like pride.
"I've got to go," Henry said, walking without hesitation towards the door.
"Henry…" Judith said weakly, like she was at a total loss of what to say. He didn't blame her, he wasn't entirely sure where this was coming from either.
"I'll try to call," he said, offering what he could. As he headed towards the door, he passed the living room, where (previously unbeknownst to him) three pre-teens stood.
Mike and Dustin both had eyes as wide as dinner plates, but neither looked more shocked than Lucas. Of course, he knew just how out of the ordinary this was. Sure, the other boys where aware that Henry wasn't the type to talk that way to his parents—hell, they'd teased him about being a "Mama's boy" when they'd stayed for dinner and Judith had dropped a kiss on his head. But, no one else on the planet knew exactly how radical this was more than Lucas.
Henry wasn't even embarrassed.
Instead, he looked at their shocked expressions and spoke with an authority he didn't know he had.
"Stay out of the woods."
The three boys nodded (Henry might've even heard a muttered yes, sir from Dustin), and who knows if they'd actually listen to him or not. But, Henry didn't care. Because even though he was heading out into an uncertain future, even though everything he knew to be true about the universe had been completely flipped last night, and even though he was Black and gay in a world that hated both, he wasn't scared.
Because he was heading out to a car where his two friends were waiting for him; because now that he knew what the problem was, he could fix it; because he was Henry Sinclair.
And for the first time in his life, he felt like Will had been right to call him the Indestructible Teen.