the kind of world where we belong @henrysinclair
the state of teenage blues

WARNING:

There is something in this chapter that some people may find triggering or upsetting. I don't want to say exactly what it is here because it's an aspect of the story that's revealed, but if you scroll down the bottom, there's an explanation. So, you can decide if you want to look ahead and see what it is or not. I will say what it is not here though: it has nothing to do with abuse of any kind, or sexual assault, and it is not graphic. It's a one line reference to something that happened in the past, with some bigger implications.

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He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Judith wouldn't kid herself into thinking she had a voice anywhere near as good as any member of the Jackson 5, but she threw herself into it completely nevertheless.

Singing along with the radio was one of those things that always had her kids squirming in their seats uncomfortably (which was maybe why she liked to do it when she dropped them off for school). But, even though they would never admit it, she knew that they'd get into it just as enthusiastically as she did if they thought no one was watching. They were just getting to that age where everything their parents did embarrassed them, and that was okay.

Just like it was okay that her eldest was slumping in his seat like that.

Usually, her oldest son was the one who went along with it the most. When they weren't around other kids his age, he would join right in. He knew every word to her Aretha Franklin tape—the one Charles had bought her as an apology after a fight over socks—and anyone that ever rode in the car while it played knew he did. It was kind of funny, for all everyone groaned about the pain of raising teenagers (Pauline at the grocery store always gave her a pitying look when he came up in conversation), her thirteen year old was barely giving her any trouble.

Then again, maybe she was just a little bit more appreciative of her son. Not that she thought that other mothers didn't love their kids as much as she did hers, it was just that maybe… maybe she was a little bit more forgiving. Maybe she didn't notice the way hormones and growing pains made him a little rougher around the edges. And maybe… maybe it was because she almost didn't get to see him be a teenager at all.

What they'd done today had reminded her of that.

Judith reached out and turned the dial, flooding the car with even more of the upbeat Christmas music.

Oh, you'd better watch out
You'd better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why

On that second to last line, Judith reached over and gently squeezed her son's cheeks with one of her hands—halfway expecting her teasing gesture to make him break and smile, like it usually would. Or maybe he would whine a little, get annoyed that she was cramping his style. That would be okay too.

Instead, he just turned his head and pulled away.

Judith's cheery façade slipped for a moment, and it was quiet between them. But, just as quickly as it disappeared, it was back in place, and she was smiling when she turned down the music; throwing a sideways glance over before she spoke.

"You know, Santa isn't going to bring you any presents if you keep frowning like that," she said lightly, and it wasn't until a long and quiet moment had passed did she look over and see that her son was still in the exact position as he had been before; slumped in his seat and staring out the window with a far too serious expression.

"What? Not even a "Santa isn't real" for your Mom?" Judith tried again, lightly elbowing him and hoping that would coax out some sort of reaction.

And it did.

Or, maybe it didn't.

Maybe her words hadn't gotten him to say anything at all. Maybe he hadn't heard a single thing she'd said. Maybe the only reason he spoke now was because he had finally decided on what he wanted to say. Decided on whatever he'd been thinking about so deeply.

"I'm never doing that again."

It was said so simply that Judith didn't even register it at first—her son could've just made some inane observation about the weather, it wouldn't have sounded any different. It took a moment for his words to truly take shape in her mind and for her to realize what he was saying.

For it to hit her.

Judith's mouth went dry and her fingers tightened around the steering wheel as if her car would get away from her if she wasn't careful.

The doctors had warned her that stuff like this would probably happen, and… and she'd known from experience. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was the fancy term for it, but she didn't need to be a psychiatrist to grasp what was happening. When people lived through something so horrible, they were permanently changed. It was like any other injury—it healed, but it left a scar, and things could get a little rocky when they were reminded of it. They'd get upset, angry, they could even lash out. Even when they were doing better, even years afterwards, even…

Charles still had nightmares.

And now… now her baby.

Judith took a deep, calming breath.

Now was not the time to get wrapped up in her own pain, not when her son was still looking out the window with that horribly solemn expression. She needed to remind him that he was safe and that that chapter of their lives was behind them, she needed to bring him back to the cheery boy she raised, she needed to…

She needed to be his mom.

"I know this is tough," Judith said finally, her low voice breaking the tense silence while her attention remained focused on the road (mostly because she wasn't sure she could keep it together if she looked at her boy right now), "I know that… I know that it hurts. But… We owe that man a lot. And even if it's hard to see him because it reminds us of what happened, we just need to remember that's past us now and… And that we're not doing it for ourselves."

Judith swallowed hard but pushed on. No matter how difficult it was for her to talk about, she knew that it was worse for her baby to live, and she needed to get this out because of that.

"He doesn't have a family to spend the holidays with, or to exchange presents, or to watch Christmas movies. But, he's the one who made sure that our family will get to have that, and we can be the ones that get to make sure that he'll at least have some special pecan pie at Christmastime. We'll never be able to repay him for what he's given us, not really. But that's okay, because if we can make his Christmas just a little bit brighter, then he'll know how thankful we are."

Judith reached across the seats to grab her son's hand and she felt a rush of relief when he didn't pull away.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, baby?"

She finally looked over at him again, and found that his eyes were still glued to his shoes and that his expression hadn't changed—it was still as grim as it had been when she'd first noticed that something was wrong. But, he nodded nonetheless, and Judith counted that as a win.

She turned back to the road; feeling some weight off of her shoulders. Not all of it, it would never fully disappear, but she already knew that and it was light enough now that she could sigh out of something like contentment.

"So, I'm thinking meatloaf for dinner, what do you say?" Judith asked, ready to move past this and get back to the Christmas spirit that she and her family loved so much. But, after a quiet moment had passed, it was suddenly obvious that her son wasn't debating whether or not he could convince her to get pizza right now (he definitely could).

Her voice broke the silence a split-second before she glanced over and, maybe if it had been the other way around, she wouldn't have said anything. She would've realized that she'd misjudged the situation not moments ago. She would've known that this was far from over.

"Henry?"

His expression had changed.

But, it wasn't the face of the sweet and caring boy she'd raised. It wasn't that smile she just knew would break some hearts sooner rather than later. Hell, it wasn't even the miserable frown or angry sneer she would've expected from a child dealing with their past trauma.

Instead, when he looked her in the eye, she only saw one thing.

Resolve.

"I'm not going to see Hopper again," Henry said, his jaw set and his voice unyielding, "Ever."

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"Jesus, what—what happened?"

With attention diverted, Henry slumped further in his seat, like he was trying to make himself as small as possible (no small feat for a guy his height). For the most part though, it worked, and his rapidly closing off body language went mostly unnoticed; Joyce Byers had the eyes of nearly every person in the station.

Except for the ones that mattered the most to Henry.

"Why are they wearing handcuffs?!"

Joyce's shout was loud enough to pull Hopper's attention to her, and Henry felt a sigh of relief leave him involuntary. Now that he was no longer being stared at by the Chief of Police, he could actually breathe again.

"Well, your boy assaulted a police officer, that's why," Callahan replied, and Henry rolled his eyes before he could stop himself. Maybe it wasn't in his best interest to openly disrespect the cops that had arrested him, but they weren't exactly making it easy on him.

"Take them off," she demanded, Callahan opening his mouth to reply. But, he didn't have a chance to get out what was undoubtedly going to be a condescending no, because a new voice cut in.

"Henry didn't do anything."

The attention that Joyce had commanded not moments ago was easily moved over to Nancy, especially since she stood up. Suddenly, everyone was focused on her clenched fists and sharp voice.

"Nancy," Henry said lowly, trying to warn her, but the last syllable was barely out before she was speaking again.

"Henry didn't do anything," she repeated, a tinge of desperation to her expression as her eyes flitted back and forth between Joyce and Hopper, "He was standing with me during the fight—"

"The fight? What fight?" Hopper interjected with a furrowed brow. But, Nancy just shook her head harshly, like she couldn't accept anyone throwing her off her rhythm.

"Henry wasn't a part of it," her words were coming out a little wet now, a little faster, and maybe just the tiniest bit hysterical, "Neither of us were. We were just standing there because we didn't know what to do. But, they arrested him and not me. And, you—" Callahan took a step back with his hands up defensively when Nancy pointed at him, "You didn't even try to catch Steve or Tommy and they-they were fighting and they spray painted The Hawk. You just arrested Henry and that's not fair. Henry didn't do anything wrong. He never hurt anybody. He's better than you are, you fucking—!"

"Nancy!"

Henry's voice honestly bordered on a yell, but maybe it was for the best; it stopped Nancy before that last, damning word could leave her lips.

For a second, Nancy was still, before it all seemed to sink in. Her eyes widened and her cheeks pinked, as if she just now realized what was about to come out of her mouth. She looked between each person around her, like she was trying to figure out exactly how many people knew what she was about to say, before she dropped back down into her seat and her gaze went to the floor.

The stifling silence stretched on for a long moment.

Henry tried to focus on the pattern of the carpet, but all he could really think about was the way his stomach was twisting in knots. He had no idea if anyone else realized what Nancy was about to call them, but even if they didn't know the exact word, it was blatantly obvious to everyone there that it was going to be insulting.

And yeah, they deserved that. They honestly deserved to be called something worse. And everything Nancy had said was completely accurate. But, Henry had a bad feeling that he was going to end being the one who paid the price for her outburst.

"That true?"

Henry's eyes jerked up off the ground as Hopper's voice shattered the silence. His question was relatively quiet compared to what had come before it, but it hit far harder. Just one look at Hopper's face let him know that his low words were the precursor to something much worse, and clearly Callahan saw it too by the defensive stance he took.

"Listen—"

"Un-cuff them," Hopper said simply.

"Chief—"

"Un. Cuff. Them."

All at once, any restraint that he'd been displaying before was gone, and Hopper's voice seemed to boom across the entire the station; leaving the room unsettlingly hushed in its wake. Even though he was basically the last person who would have this anger directed at them, Henry still felt his face go hot and he found himself sinking further down in his chair.

Callahan shrunk under Hopper's deadly glare (rightfully so), but before he could shuffle over and remove the cuffs, Powell stepped in.

"Chief." Hopper's scowl only made him pause for a second, "You're going to want to see something first."

Henry looked away from the scene unfolding in front of him to glance at Nancy and Jonathan, both wearing confused expressions similar to his own. It wasn't until there was a thump of something heavy on the desk in front of them did they look back over and realize exactly what was going on.

Henry's eyes widened and his back went straight before he could even consider moderating his response for appearances. They had found the box of monster hunting supplies he and Jonathan had put in the trunk of the Oldsmobile before everything with Steve. And yeah, that made him nervous; it was bad news for them getting out of this situation anytime soon. But, honestly his reaction was mostly because the idea of these guys digging around in his car felt violating.

"What is this?" Joyce wondered out loud, Hopper's frown deepening as he gently moved something around in the box and peered inside.

"We found it in Sinclair's trunk," Powell explained, something burning in Henry's chest at the accusatory look he sent him.

"You arrested me for no reason, and you also went through my car?!" He replied, Powell raising an eyebrow at his tone.

"Care to explain?" Hopper asked, dead serious as his attention turned away from the box and over to Henry.

Henry saw how Nancy opened her mouth to respond, probably with some sort of lie about camping or something. Or, maybe she'd just let the whole truth spill, he had no idea what her plan was, if she had one. But, Henry didn't really linger on it—he couldn't. Instead, all he could focus on was the way all the officers were staring at him expectantly, like they were just waiting for him to admit he was guilty of some terrible crime. And he couldn't stop thinking about the way Powell had looked at him when he'd gotten upset, as if his outrage was damning evidence, and not just the result of being treated like he'd done something wrong, even though, you know, he hadn't!

Before Nancy could say anything, Henry slumped back into his seat with a bitter expression fixed on Hopper.

"None of that is illegal, and I can show you the receipts from the surplus store. So, it's not really any of your business."

And, somehow, the words Henry had said at a volume that boarded on quiet left the room in a shocked silence just like Hopper's thundering voice had.

For a long moment, the station was still. Every single person was wearing an expression of complete and utter disbelief. Like they were waiting for Hopper to burst into laughter and let them know that this was all an elaborate prank, or for Henry to shed his skin and reveal that he was actually an alien. They looked like they were desperate for any explanation for what had just happened.

It was clear Nancy wanted to say something; probably demand that Henry explain why the hell he'd just said that. But, she didn't do anything other than stare at Henry, and that was most likely because she couldn't find it in herself to do much more.

Henry didn't spare a glance. Not for Nancy, or Jonathan, or anyone else that was staring at him like he'd just grown two heads. His eyes were fixed on the man in front of him. He didn't look away from Hopper, even though he'd just said something so bold to a man known for his short temper. Just met his stare with his own sour and petulant gaze.

"What did you just say to me?" Hopper finally said, his low voice horribly slow and measured.

"I said," Henry replied, his words just as deliberate and thickening the tension in the air to a nearly unbearable heaviness, "It's not any of your business."

"Okay," Hopper replied after a moment, nodding a little bit, "You. My office. Now."

Henry rolled his eyes and a muscle visibly twitched in Hopper's jaw.

"You wouldn't even believe him if he told you," Jonathan cut in, his voice tinged with desperation. Whether it was because this whole situation was getting to him, or if he was just concerned for his friend, Henry didn't know. But, it was enough to pull everyone's attention off of Henry and to him.

Hopper frowned and his gaze flashed between the teens before he spoke; his voice coming out just the slightest bit less heated.

"Why don't you give me a try?"

.

He wouldn't stop staring.

There had been a reprieve—in the middle when everything had tumbled out—when Hopper's attention had been split between the three teens and the blurry picture of the monster. But, now… Henry wasn't checking, he wasn't looking up from where he was picking at the fraying threads on the chair, but he could feel it. He could feel the way Hopper was staring at him, like he was trying to figure him out. Like he knew there was something there that he didn't grasp.

Henry hated it.

Joyce and Jonathan were just loud enough that Henry could hear their muffled sounds, but not enough that he could decipher what was being said outside of the office. It saved the room from falling into complete silence though, so it was better than nothing.

"Nancy."

Both teens started a little at the way Hopper's voice disrupted the stillness the room had fallen into when the Byers had taken their conversation outside, but he didn't acknowledge it.

"Could you give me and Henry here a minute?"

Nancy's eyes widened slightly, and they flickered over to Henry, then to Hopper, and then back to Henry again. Henry chanced a glance over the desk and saw how utterly unimpressed Hopper appeared to be, but he didn't dwell on it—instead looking over at Nancy and nodding slightly, even though he really didn't want to.

He wasn't going to force her to directly disobey Hopper, no matter how little he wanted to be alone with him.

Nancy sent him a sympathetic look, and gently patted his shoulder as she passed him on her way out.

The door softly shut behind her and Henry went back to ignoring Hopper's stare.

"I'll talk to Callahan and Powell. They shouldn't have arrested you."

"Okay."

The sound of the clock ticking seemed to echo.

The chair groaned when Hopper sat back in it and he audibly sighed, but Henry said nothing. He wasn't going to throw him a bone. He wasn't going to be the one who initiated anything. He hadn't been the one who'd asked for privacy, why should he be on the hook here?

Idly, Henry realized how much he hated this office.

"Your girlfriend seemed reluctant to leave."

"She's not my girlfriend." Was out of Henry's mouth before he could fully consider what Hopper had said. Before he could realize that the end of the sentence had curled up into a question. Not about Nancy, no—Hopper thought he knew that for sure. It was about something else. Something that made Henry's throat tighten uncomfortably.

Hopper just raised an eyebrow like he didn't fully believe him, but he dropped it.

"Are we going to talk about how you had that stuff in the back of your car?" Hopper said instead, and it took everything in Henry not to roll his eyes.

"Why would we?" He replied, more mumbling than speaking, "You already know why. And again, it's not illegal for me to have a bear trap."

"Okay," Hopper replied, his voice becoming a little bit more heated, "Are we going to talk about the attitude?"

Henry's jaw clenched, but he didn't say anything—just slumped further in his seat and focused even harder on the stray threads. He could hear how Hopper's sigh was far more frustrated now, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"It might not be illegal for you to have the stuff in that box, but it's illegal for you to carry that gun that isn't yours." Henry's head shot up before he could stop himself and Hopper raised his eyebrows, "Yeah, I saw the boxes of .38s in there. I know at least one of you kids has one."

"Are you going to arrest us?" Henry asked, Hopper rubbing his face in irritation.

"No," He replied forcefully, letting his hands drop back down on the desk with a soft thump, "I'm just trying to make you understand that what you three got mixed up in isn't some game you play with your friends."

"I kind of got that idea when I saw that thing eating a deer," Henry replied, unable to keep his own slowly rising anger out of his voice. How dare Hopper think that they weren't taking this seriously? After everything they'd been through? After what he and Nancy had seen on the other side of that tree?

"This is a lot more than one monster," Hopper said, his voice getting louder and louder as he went on, "The Department of Energy is involved. The government."

"Do you want me to fake some surprise for you?" Henry replied, painfully sarcastic, "It's not going to be very good, because the government being a part of this too is the least surprising thing that's happened to me all week."

"Can you take this seriously for a goddamn second?!" Hopper said, slamming his hand down on his desk and making Henry jump, "They planted a fake body to get me to stop digging into Will's disappearance, and they'll do worse if you get in their way. A lot worse."

Henry dropped his eyes back to the ground—refusing to meet his gaze again after that—and the office was filled with tense silence for a long moment.

"Why are you telling me this?" He finally muttered.

"I am trying to look out for you," Hopper said, his voice notably lower and more restrained than before. Like he'd realized he was becoming too angry and was consciously pulling back. Like he'd noticed how it had made Henry retreat.

"Well, stop," Henry said, a muscle working in Hopper's jaw.

"Stop?" He replied, not nearly as loud as before, but just as heated, "You want me to stop? Just let you be stupid enough to piss these people off? This is important, Henry, do you understand that?"

"If this is so important, why did you send Nancy out of the room?" Henry replied, letting his words hang in the air for a moment before his eyes flickered up to Hopper, while his face remained angled down towards the floor, "Why are you telling me this? Only me?"

That question had the effect that Henry had been expecting and—after the pair held eye contact for a long, quiet moment (a challenge)—Hopper sat back in his seat; visibly displeased.

Henry smiled.

But, it wasn't one of those winning smiles that Nancy and Jonathan were learning to coax out of him. The ones that were always readily available for his family. No, this smile rarely made an appearance. It was something tighter. Harsher. Meaner.

"That's what I thought."

"Henry—" Hopper said, putting his elbows on the desk and leaning forward. But, before he could get the next part of his sentence out, Henry was pushing himself up off the chair.

"Alright, I'm done," he said simply, heading towards the door before there could be any sort of response. But, he hadn't quite made it when Hopper's cool words cut through the air.

"So, I'm not allowed to worry about you throwing away your life? The one you're lucky to have?"

Henry's hand froze before it could reach the doorknob.

It was a long moment before he replied, but there was no way for Hopper to know if that was because he was debating whether or not to ignore what had just been said, or if it took him that long to remember how to speak.

"There it is."

Henry's voice was soft and low, but it traveled across the room and hit Hopper hard enough to force a frustrated sigh past his lips. Those words hung in the air for a few more seconds before Henry turned back around with his eyes glued to the floor and his expression wiped clean of the sardonic smile— replaced with something sullen.

He'd thought that maybe, when Hopper hadn't taken the first chance, that neither of them would bring it up. That it would just remain as the backdrop of everything they did—always there, but never acknowledged. That he wouldn't have to deal with this on top of everything else that was going on.

He just wasn't that lucky.

"… Listen," Hopper started, his voice heavy, "I know this is… hard. But, believe it or not, I have your best interests at heart."

"No, you don't," Henry replied, his voice thick as he shook his head and still refused to meet Hopper's gaze, "You don't know me. You—You're not my father. You don't know what my best interests are."

"Well, right now I think I have a pretty good idea," Hopper countered, far less sympathetic, "I don't need to be your dad to know that keeping you from getting yourself killed is a good call."

The steely countenance that Hopper had adopted not a moment ago became tinged with concern at Henry's reaction. A harsh inhale seemed wrack through his whole body like a sob, even though his eyes were only a little glassy, and his stare turned up to the ceiling as if he was trying to find anything in the room to hold onto.

It was suddenly apparent that Henry was severely upset.

"Hey, kid…" Hopper said, completely unsure of how to proceed. Or even what was wrong.

"I don't need this," Henry said, his voice quick but barely above a whisper, "I don't need you to save me from myself."

"That's not—" Hopper cut himself off and rubbed his eyes again, "This is bigger than any of us, and I'm just looking out for you."

"Because I'm the kid you pulled out of the Quarry."

Henry was the one who said it.

Henry, whose face screwed up when people made any allusions to the incident and always evaded any questions about the Chief of Police, was the one who'd said it. Sure, Hopper might've been the one who'd pulled it on stage, but Henry had just thrusted it into the spotlight. He'd been the one to bring it out of subtext.

Not because he wanted to though, but because he had to. After four years of it always being there in the back of his head, he thought it might actually kill him.

"Henry—" Hopper began, sounding tired.

"That's the reason, isn't it?" Henry interrupted, catching Hopper's eye and raising his brows in challenge, "That's why you think you have some sort of responsibility towards me?"

"I do," Hopper replied, his expression darkening a little when Henry snorted out of disbelief and turned away slightly, "Hate to break it to you, kid—I care a little bit about what you do with the life you almost didn't have."

"That's only because I was the kid whose life you could save."

The moment that left his lips, Henry knew he'd crossed a line.

It was quiet, deadly quiet. The kind of quiet that scared you a lot worse than anything the other person could ever say. Hopper just looked at him blankly, and Henry's wide eyes met his gaze before he found it in himself to pull away and focus his attention down at his shoes.

He shouldn't have said that. It was true, and he'd known it for a long time, but he shouldn't have said it.

"I'm not stupid," Henry finally said, desperate to break the tense silence, "I know the dates. I know you'd only been back in Hawkins for a few months. I—"

"Shut your mouth."

Hopper's voice was slow and cold, and Henry did as he said.

The deadly quiet returned, but only for a moment.

"I don't know what your problem is, but you'd better fix it before it gets you into a situation you can't get out of," Hopper warned in a low and even voice. But, when Henry offered nothing in return but a clenched jaw and a glassy-eyed stare aimed at the carpet, Hopper pushed himself out of his chair and began to pace; his voice quickly starting to rise and shake, "You know what? I'm sorry. I'm sorry for caring just a little bit about the kid who'd be dead if it weren't for me. I'm sorry for feeling a tad responsible for your wellbeing."

There was that feeling again, like in the woods with Nancy and Jonathan. That heat that lit up inside of Henry and threatened to burst out like a volcanic eruption. Only this time, Hopper's harsh words made it move at a breakneck speed—threatening to spill over the first time he gave one of those scornful apologies.

But, it wasn't just because of what Hopper was saying right now, was it?

"Hell, you know what? I'm sorry for saving your life! I'm sorry for pulling you out of the water after your dumbass decided to play on the cliffs! I'm sorry for making you the kid who fell off the Quarry and lived!"

Hopper threw his arms out and yelled so loud that there was no way that anyone in the station couldn't hear him.

"I'm sorry!"

The rational parts of Henry's brain knew that he should just walk away right now, but they were no match for the fire that had been building up inside of him since the beginning of Hopper's tirade.

"I'm not!"

Except, no, that wasn't right.

Not just since the beginning of this tirade.

This fire had been growing inside of him for a far longer time than that. It had been growing unchecked for years. It had been slowly taking up more and more space inside of him, and had gotten so large and so strong that whenever anyone mentioned Hopper, it burned. And maybe Henry could've gotten it under control earlier and kept it down to a level that was manageable, but he hadn't, because he hadn't wanted to.

And now…

It had been growing for so long, and now there was no holding it back.

"I'm not the kid you should feel responsible for, okay?!" Henry exclaimed, his hands curling into fists and his eyes threatening to spill over, "I'm not the kid who you managed to save from some tragic fucking accident!"

It had been growing since Hopper had asked to speak to him privately.

"I'm not the kid you could save."

Since his mother had made him deliver that pie.

"Because I'm not the kid who fell off the Quarry and lived!"

Since the first time he'd heard how his name had changed.

"I'm the kid who jumped!"

"Don't pretend like the reason that you're miserable has anything to do with me, or Nancy, or Jonathan."

The pounding in Steve's head seemed to get worse as he replayed everything that had happened in the past hour and half. Sure, the memory of the beating he'd gotten from Jonathan aggravated all of the physical pain, while the image of Nancy's hurt expression made everything inside of him ache, but somehow, what was really making his ears ring was the echo of the words that had left Henry's lips.

Henry fucking Sinclair.

Honestly, where did that guy get off? They weren't friends. He didn't know him. He'd barely ever even spoken to him. Hell, Steve was pretty sure that yesterday in Nancy's garage was the first time they'd ever been alone together. And what had happened? Henry had laughed at him while telling some elaborate lie about why he was there so he could screw his girlfriend behind his back.

So, yeah, forget him. He didn't know anything about Steve, or how he felt, or his friends. He was just some douchebag who hurt other people because he was miserable. He was just the kind of person who laughed to be mean. He was just projecting all of his problems onto Steve. He was just—He—.

Henry fucking Sinclair.

Steve kicked a tire on his car (Carol didn't even bat an eye) before he huffed and sat down on the trunk.

Who was he kidding? None of that shit was true.

For starters, Henry hadn't been laughing to be mean. It was obvious to anyone who'd been there. The way Henry had laughed… He wasn't doing it to be a jerk, he just thought it was funny. Which was fair, it'd been ridiculous—those mallets had just gone everywhere, then they wouldn't stay when he put them back, and maybe… Maybe Steve had hammed it up a little at the end there to keep him laughing. But, that was only because Henry had just been to some kid's funeral and Steve had figured he'd needed to be cheered up a little. Didn't matter. What did was that Henry hadn't been laughing to be mean.

Also, Henry wasn't a douchebag. Ask anyone at school, and they'd only have nice things to say. It was almost ridiculous. It felt like it didn't matter where Steve was, Henry would somehow pop up in conversation, and the reactions would all be the same: everyone saying how great he was or how much they liked him. Steve would always play along and mutter something that fit in with the rush of positivity, but it left a bitter taste in his mouth. Not because he felt like he was lying, just… He didn't even know if he was telling the truth.

Steve had been right about exactly one thing: they weren't friends. They'd never really spoken to each other before, except for Nancy's garage and light small talk when a social situation called for it. They were barely even acquaintances, they didn't know each other.

And that didn't bother him.

Really, it didn't. It didn't bother Steve that the guy everyone thought was so great seemed to be completely uninterested in him. Who cared if Henry would rather ditch out on his girlfriend than come to a little get-together at his house? If Henry didn't want to be his friend, then he didn't have to be. Steve didn't care what he thought about him. Henry didn't like him, whatever. It didn't bother him.

It didn't.

What did bother Steve was that they were acquaintances at best, they'd never spoken more than a few sentences to one another, Henry had never given him the time of day, but in the alley…

How had he known all that?

"You owe me a dollar-twenty."

Steve took the painkillers and the Coke from Tommy without a word—popping a few in his mouth and pressing the cold can against the only spot on his head that wasn't an open wound. It still hurt, a lot, but he could hardly find it in himself to care right now.

"Don't worry, he'll need more than aspirin when we're done with him." Tommy clapped him on the shoulder, and still Steve said nothing; far too busy thinking about everything that had happened in the alley. Trying to put together a puzzle he was starting to feel like he didn't have all the pieces for.

"Yeah, if the creep ever gets out," Carol added, "The cops should just lock him up forever. Did you see the look on his face?"

Even though Steve didn't spare a glance for the dramatic recreation of the fight happening to his right, her words had started to seep into his mind and they somehow began to fill in the blank spaces that had been leaving him stumped.

"He probably had that same look on his face when he killed his brother, right?" Tommy said, and for the first time since he'd plopped down on his car, Steve let his eyes slide towards other two. Only for a moment, though.

Just long enough to see the smiles on their faces.

"Oh, God. I just got an image of him making that face while he and Nancy are screwing," Carol said, playfully disgusted before she cackled along with Tommy.

Steve's face was beat halfway to hell and they were laughing.

Steve's girlfriend had maybe cheated on him and they were laughing.

Steve was miserable and they were laughing!

"Carol, for once in your life, shut your damn mouth!"

It burst out of him before he could even really think about it, and in the quiet moment after—when Tommy and Carol looked at him with such blatant shock—he waited for a rush of regret.

It never came.

"Hey, what's your problem, man?" Tommy demanded, Steve's jaw tightening as a realization hit him.

He didn't regret snapping at Tommy and Carol because he hadn't.

It didn't really count as snapping when you'd been thinking about saying it for years.

"You're both assholes," Steve said, finally understanding that this was a bridge he'd been itching to burn, "That's my problem."

"Are you serious right now, man?" Tommy said in utter disbelief.

"Yeah, I'm serious," Steve replied, sliding off his car and taking a few steps away from them, "You shouldn't have done that."

"Done what?"

"You know what," Steve retorted, spinning around in time to see how Tommy's eyes lit up in response.

"You mean call her out for what she really is?" He replied, Steve's jaw somehow tightening even more, "Oh, that's funny, because I don't remember you asking me to stop."

"I should've put that spray paint can right down your throat," he hissed, and as he and Tommy stared each other down, it occurred to him that instead of feeling like a squabble with a friend, this felt like a fight with someone who'd more than earned it.

"What the hell, Steve?" Carol interjected, and again, when Steve looked at her—his friend since childhood—all he really saw was someone who constantly made him feel and act awful.

"You know," Steve said, still angry, but also thoughtful, "Neither of you ever cared about her. You never even liked her, because she's not miserable like you two. She actually cares about other people."

"Oh, god," Carol said, letting her head loll back for a moment before she straightened out and looked at Steve with an incredulous expression, "You weren't actually listening to that bullshit Sinclair was saying, were you?"

Steve knew his silence was damning, but he couldn't find it in himself to deny the truth.

"Jesus, man." Tommy couldn't have rolled his eyes harder, "First you're saying Nancy should get a free pass on being a slut, and now it's that Sinclair was actually right when he gave that whole speech to distract you from the fact that he fucked your girlfriend. How pathetic can you get?!"

"Shut your damn mouth, Tommy," Steve replied, getting back in his face. Although, he wasn't entirely certain what part of that sentence had pissed him off the most.

"Or what?" Tommy countered, shoving Steve.

"Or I'll—"

Steve went to push Tommy back, only for him to grab his jacket and pin him up against the car. Steve's eyes went wide in shock, but all he saw in the expression of the guy he'd thought was his friend for so long (but was rapidly realizing was far from that) was anger and contempt.

"Or what?" Tommy repeated, his voice much calmer now; the steely kind that came from someone who was unafraid and wanted you to know it, "You gonna fight me now, too? Because you couldn't take Jonathan Byers. So, I wouldn't recommend that."

A tense moment passed—neither boy breaking eye contact—before Tommy let go of his jacket.

Steve considered it for a moment.

He considered throwing that punch. He considered knocking Tommy on his ass. He considered…

But, he didn't.

And it wasn't because he would undoubtedly lose, or because the idea of his busted face getting anymore hurt made him want to throw up a little. If that had been all it was, he would've done it. The way those would sting didn't outweigh the way his pride would. Those weren't good enough reasons not to.

The reason the little voice in his head (the one that wasn't completely someone else, but also wasn't entirely his own either) offered was, though.

It's not going to make you feel better.

Steve set his jaw, but rather than knocking Tommy on his ass like he might've if this confrontation had happened this morning (except, maybe not, because he probably would've never had the guts if he hadn't been led to it), he just turned to his car; doing his best to block out the ongoing commentary.

"Here, let me get the door for you, buddy," Tommy said, slamming it hard and making it so the rest of his words came muffled through the rolled up window, "That's right. Run away, Stevie-boy!"

It still stung, but it was nothing compared to the pain that had been swirling in his chest since the alley. But, what should have hurt—the fact that he'd had to break ties with people he'd thought of as his best friends—didn't even register. When he pulled out of the parking lot and peeled out into the open road and left Carol and Tommy behind him, all he really felt was resolve.

Only once they were specks in his rearview mirror did he allow himself to wonder where exactly he was heading. He'd just destroyed everything with his only two friends (a good call, but still), and he couldn't have screwed things up worse with his girlfriend (if he could even call her that anymore). What was left? Who could he go to now? Hell, where to even start with making things right?

No sooner did Steve wonder that, did the answer hit him.

Henry fucking Sinclair.

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SPOILER:

Henry reveals a past suicide attempt from when he was a kid.

1. should have known it wouldn't last 2648 0 0 2. biggest loser alive 6008 0 0 3. omission and boldfaced 5736 0 0 4. emotional overload 5969 0 0 5. no going back 6770 0 0 6. should i stay or should i go 7230 0 0 7. good friends, and bad ones 7390 0 0 8. the state of teenage blues 7113 0 0 9. last in the box 8324 0 0 10. maybe together we can get somewhere 7983 0 0 11. strong, fast, and fresh from the fight 10450 0 0 12. i got a taste of love in a simple way 11111 0 0 13. give it to someone special 9425 0 0