the kind of world where we belong @henrysinclair
last in the box

The cops took his cigarettes.

It was the first truly concrete thought that popped into Henry's head.

Before, there had just been a mush of emotions without any real coherency sloshing around. If anyone could read his mind like in Lucas's comics (something that was feeling more and more likely), they probably wouldn't be able to decipher any of it. Henry certainly couldn't; he was just trying to survive the terrible waves of panic, anger, and misery that washed over him. He allowed his instincts to take over, and his feet led him past the averted eyes of the officers and out the station doors.

The moment the cool outdoor air entered his lungs, his mind started to sort itself out, and what it offered him was simple.

The cops took his cigarettes.

That's what his brain chose to focus on.

Not what had just transpired inside the police station, not what had just happened between him and Hopper, not what had just wormed its way out of the deepest recesses of his mind and forced itself out of his mouth.

Henry dropped his face into his hands as the memories from just moments ago hit him again at full force.

The one thing.

The one thing he'd always sworn to keep to himself.

No one knew this. No one. Not Lucas, not Barb, not the fucking doctors that had set his broken bones. From the moment he'd woken up in the hospital bed decidedly not dead, and had looked up to see his mother crying over him, he'd known not to say what had really happened that day on the quarry edge. It was a secret, his secret, and it'd stayed that way; he'd never told a soul, and he'd never intended to.

And now…

Now…

God, he needed a cigarette.

Someone cleared their throat.

It was so soft that if it hadn't been coming from right beside him, Henry might've missed it. He was so wrapped up in his anxiety that he almost did. But, the sound was just enough to pull him out of his spiral and, when he raised his head, he was expecting to find someone hovering over him. But instead, his field of vision was completely occupied by what was directly in front of his face:

A box of Camels and his red lighter.

Henry looked at them for a moment as he processed what he was seeing, before his gaze drifted further up and he finally made contact with the familiar, gently concerned eyes that had followed him when he'd stalked out of the station not even a minute ago.

"They were in the box they took from your car," Nancy explained without Henry having to say a word, "I thought you might want to smoke."

Something like a smile pulled on Henry's lips, although it wasn't quite there yet, and he wordlessly took them. It was quiet as Nancy sat down beside Henry on the hood of the Cutlass while he shook a cigarette out of the box and stuck it between his teeth. It was only once he'd lit it and had a good long pull did he say a word; looking out towards the building across the street rather than over at his friend.

"How much did you hear?"

"Just that there was yelling," Nancy replied simply, "Mostly Hopper."

A shaky sigh escaped Henry, but he didn't acknowledge Nancy's silent questions, just stared down at the cigarette between his fingers.

That was better than them hearing. He knew that. What he'd said had only been heard by the man he'd spat them at. A man he suspected wouldn't tell anyone what had happened in that office, unlike everybody else in the station who had nothing better to do than gossip. Because if they knew, if goddamn Phil Callahan knew, then they'd go around town telling anyone who listened that Henry Sinclair had tried to—.

It was better.

So why didn't he feel better?

"I'm sorry."

Nancy's words were just odd enough to jolt Henry out of his thoughts, and after a moment of trying to piece together what the hell that meant, he looked over at her with confusion clearly written on his face. Of all of the things that could've come out of Nancy's mouth, he wouldn't have guessed that.

"For leaving you alone in there," she explained, shrugging a little and looking down at where her hands were twisting in her lap, "I should've—I should've known better. I should've stayed with you."

Everything that had happened continued to rest heavily on him, but Henry felt something inside soften a little as Nancy's words sank in.

"Don't be sorry," he said gently, Nancy looking up in time to see him shake his head a little, "It's… I didn't want you to stay in there. Besides, it wouldn't have even made a difference; he would've just yelled at both of us."

"Well, he's an asshole," Nancy bit out, enough venom in her voice for Henry to know that had been seething in her for a while—probably ever since she'd first heard the yelling. But, he didn't respond in kind; he wasn't vicious. Instead, he spoke lightly, like what he was saying was completely casual.

"Don't you mean pig?"

Nancy's eyes widened and she snapped to look at Henry with a shocked expression. He met her stare without hesitation, and for the first time since he'd laid eyes on Hopper, he was able to smile. It wasn't one of his special smiles, it was a little too small, a little too weighed down, but it was a smile nonetheless.

It was quiet for a moment as it sank in, but before too long, a laugh forced its way past Nancy's lips and she buried her red face in her hands.

"I can't believe I was about to…" She trailed off, and when she lifted her head again, the pink in her cheeks and the smile on her features hadn't disappeared. She laughed again, softer this time, and Henry couldn't help but join in. In hindsight, it was pretty funny, even though it had felt far from it when he'd frantically cut her off from (justifiably) insulting the cops to their faces.

The conversation lulled, but that was okay; Henry felt sort of comfortable.

He couldn't be completely comfortable; he hadn't been since he'd first heard that Will Byers was missing. But, he felt a lot more relaxed than he had in the past hour or so. Sitting next to his friend, laughing together, had softened everything.

But, then the silence settled, and the full weight of what had happened—what was happening—slowly started to press down on him again. The words he'd spoken not ten minutes ago rang in his ears, the knowledge of what he'd done, how it had all come out, echoed in his mind, and anxiety twisted in his stomach.

Henry raised the cigarette to his lips for another desperate puff.

His rapidly declining mood must have been noticeable, because Nancy's expression shifted into something that mirrored his. Something far less light.

"Henry…" She murmured gently, as if she didn't want to want to scare him away.

But, she didn't continue.

Instead, once the silence following her soft utterance of his name had fully sunk in, her hand slowly moved to find his.

And even though it took a moment, he closed his hand around hers without a word.

It was quiet.

Neither one said a thing, and if it had been just them, the silence might've stretched on for eons. But, they didn't exist in this universe alone, and the sound of the door to the station swinging open and the familiar drag of shoes against pavement was disruptive enough.

Although, it wasn't unwelcome.

Neither turned to look, but neither had to—they already knew who was walking across the parking lot to stand beside the car.

"Want to join the miserable monster hunters?"

Jonathan sat down next to him without a word, and Henry took that as a yes.

"Is your mom okay?" Nancy asked softly after they'd all had a moment of quiet together. Henry glanced out of the corner of his eye to see Jonathan's reaction, but he stopped after a brief second—the expression on his face was just making him feel worse.

"Yeah," he said after a few beats of silence, his words soft to keep his voice from breaking, "She's… She's fine, I think. Angry that I almost got myself killed doing something behind her back right after we had a funeral for my brother but, yeah. Fine."

Jonathan had that look on his face again, the same one he'd had when they'd been sitting in the police station right after the fight. Carefully curated blankness. The kind that could only come from someone who'd spent years perfecting it. Henry could spot it a mile away—he'd slapped a smile on enough times in his life to know what a mask looked like.

"Jonathan…" Nancy said, quite similar to the way she'd said Henry's name not even a full two minutes ago, although this time it was pretty clear that she meant to follow it with something. But, Jonathan just looked all the more empty and gave her absolutely nothing to work with.

Henry could feel the way Nancy was floundering a little, but he didn't turn to watch. Instead, he just studied the half smoked cigarette in-between his fingers thoughtfully for a moment, before he reached down and stubbed it out on the curb. When he straightened back up, his eyes were looking out towards the distance again.

They stayed there when he reached out and wrapped his newly freed hand around Jonathan's.

Jonathan tightened his grip without a second of hesitation, as if this had been what he'd been waiting for. Or, maybe what he'd been hoping for. It didn't really matter though, because they'd gotten here regardless, and the three teenagers were quiet as they sat together on the hood of the Cutlass, hand-in-hand.

"Hey!"

All of them tore away from each other—feeling like they'd been caught in a compromising position—and whipped around to see the two familiar adults stalk out of the station.

Hopper didn't even look at him.

He looked different from how he had ten minutes ago, when Henry had stumbled out of his office. Sure, he'd been far more focused on getting the hell out of there to really pay attention to how his words were received, but he wasn't oblivious. Henry knew that, in the moment—when it had all come spilling out—the normally stoic expression of the Hawkins' Chief of Police had been replaced with something a lot more open. Something that let Henry see what the truth did to Hopper.

That was gone now, replaced with a familiar stony façade.

Henry didn't know if that was good or bad.

Either way, his throat tightened.

"Where's your brother?" Hopper demanded, completely focused on a teenager that was undoubtedly not Henry.

"What?" Nancy replied, completely at a loss.

"Your brother! Mike!" Hopper's voice boomed across the parking lot, "Where is he?!"

"I—I—" Nancy stuttered, sending lost looks to her friends and only finding expressions that mirrored hers, "I don't know. Probably at home. Why?"

"Get in, all of you," Hopper said in lieu of an explanation, jerking his head towards the backseat as he wrenched the car door open, "Now."

Nancy quickly slid off the hood, even though she wasn't sure if her urgency was because she was concerned for her brother, or because Hopper had that kind of effect on people. But, despite the fact that she was moving fast, she didn't make it even halfway across the parking lot before she realized that something was off.

There was only one person beside her.

Henry had spent these moments lighting himself a new cigarette.

He hadn't shifted an inch.

He didn't even glance at his friends, just blew smoke and stared at his shoes. It was almost like he hadn't even heard Hopper. Nancy's brow furrowed and she looked over at Jonathan, but neither had any time to say a word.

"Let's Go!" Hopper interrupted, drawing everyone's attention to him with his thundering voice.

Nancy and Jonathan moved towards him without even having to think about it. But, Henry didn't seem to have the impulse to follow those commands like they did. The only thing that changed were his eyes; they weren't focused on the ground anymore. They'd found Nancy's instead.

"I'll follow," Henry said simply, sticking the cigarette in between his teeth and swinging around to pull the driver's door open.

No one had fully processed what was happening until Henry had disappeared inside of his car.

Nancy looked back over at Hopper, expecting for him to be enraged that Henry had just openly defied what was certainly an order. But, the only thing she found was restraint. Whatever he was feeling—anger like Nancy suspected, or maybe something entirely different—was hidden. Hopper ducked into his car without a word, and it felt like they'd rewound a few seconds and were watching it all again.

"Jonathan, Honey, come on," Joyce said, trying to bring everyone's attention back to the matter at hand. Jonathan took a step towards his mother without even thinking about it.

But, he didn't take a second one.

Instead, he looked at Nancy with those expressive eyes, and even though they'd only really known each other for a few days, she knew what was running through his head without him having to say a single word.

It was the same as what was running through hers.

They didn't say it, they didn't need to—they just moved back the way they'd came without paying any attention to the people they'd just turned their backs on.

In one smooth movement, Jonathan pulled the door of the Cutlass open, the pair slid into the front seat, and he slammed it shut behind them.

All of which caught Henry by surprise.

It was obvious by the way he straightened up in his seat and his eyes widened that he hadn't been expecting this at all, and it suddenly occurred to Nancy that maybe the reason he'd gotten into his car was because he'd wanted to be alone.

Maybe it was less about wanting to be away from Hopper and more about being away from everybody. Maybe he needed some time to himself after whatever had happened in the office. Maybe she and Jonathan were intruding.

Maybe he didn't want them there.

Henry's eyes flitted between the two people squished into the front seat beside him, while Jonathan and Nancy waited for his response. Waited for acceptance, rejection, or (most likely) a wordless shrug—Henry was polite, he probably wouldn't tell them to get out of his car, no matter how bad he wanted to.

But, instead of any of that, or even just starting the engine, Henry answered their unspoken question in a way that left no room for confusion.

He smiled.

A true blue Henry Sinclair smile.

And Nancy and Jonathan were incapable of not smiling back.

"Ready?" Henry asked, a sort of energy to the way he spoke, like he was trying to keep it under control, but he was just too excited. It was just as infectious as his smile, and when Nancy and Jonathan replied, it wasn't just in unison—it was enthusiastic.

"Ready."

.

"You enter the throne room. You're surrounded by mountains of glittering riches; gems, coins, and treasures you couldn't have imagined in a million years. It's dazzling. It's awe-inspiring. It's perfect in every way."

"Except for the throne of itself."

"It's made of pure gold, with diamonds encased in it, and should be the perfect place for a King to reside. But, there's no one sitting on it. The King is nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only other person in the whole room is a man who stands beside the throne, wearing shining silver armor. He approaches you."

They were breathlessly still.

No one could guess what would come next; they couldn't imagine who this man was or why the throne was empty. But, they all knew that it was important. That this would shape their futures, that this would likely alter their course forever. The anticipation made the quiet moment following those words stretch on for an eon.

Actually… It wasn't just the anticipation.

This quiet was stretching on just a little too long.

"I said. A man who stands beside the throne. Wearing shining silver armor. He approaches you."

"Oh, right, sorry."

Lucas rolled his eyes, and couldn't help the unimpressed expression that took over his features as he watched his older brother stumble off the coach and pad over to stand beside the kitchen table. He was already in his pajamas, and he brushed some chip crumbs off of his weathered Prince t-shirt as he made his way over.

This wasn't exactly the dramatic moment Lucas had been imagining when he'd written this campaign.

"Um," Henry started eloquently, before reaching into his pocket and straightening out the piece of paper he'd pulled out of it, "Welcome travelers."

"I told you to memorize it!" Lucas exclaimed, outraged as he gestured towards the handwritten script his brother was holding.

"I was busy!" Henry defended himself, Lucas rolling his eyes dramatically before he gestured for him to continue, "Jesus, you do a guy a favor…"

"Would you just read it?" Lucas replied waspishly to Henry's muttering; around the table, Mike, Dustin, and Will exchanged glances and forced their smiles down.

"Okay, okay," Henry said, looking back down at the paper, "Welcome travelers, I am a Knight of Coldhaven—Lucas did you make up this name? It's awful."

One of the boys broke (no one was certain which, but it was probably Will) and it set off the others; their attempts to squelch their amusement failed and they burst into giggles. But, it was well drowned out by Lucas's groan.

"Read it!" He demanded, Henry muttering "okay" under his breath a few times before he started again. Although, now his reading was colored by muffled snickering—once the floodgates had opened, there was no going back.

"Uhhh, okay, right. I am a Knight of Coldhaven. I imagine you're here to see my master—King Thian—but I'm afraid that he's gone. Vanished in the night. We haven't been able to find him, and it's been many days. I have begun to fear the worst." Henry's eyes hadn't lifted from the script once, and every line came out stilted and unnatural, "Perhaps you were brought here for a greater purpose. Perhaps you will be the key to finding our lost King. Please, we are overwrought with fear—That's so not how that word is used."

"Okay, okay, forget it!" Lucas exclaimed, snatching the paper out of Henry's hands while his friends dissolved into laughter again, "You suck at this."

"It's not my fault your script's like that," Henry replied, sounding the tiniest bit like he was personally offended by what Lucas was saying, "Carrie Fisher couldn't have sold those lines."

"I don't know, maybe it's just a miscast," Dustin interjected, his tone now pivoting to thoughtful as he brought his hand up to his chin and considered Henry, "I don't buy you as a knight."

"Hey!" Henry replied, his lips curling upwards a little bit—clearly not taking this one to heart. Maybe he just didn't care too much about what a twelve year old had to say about his likelihood of being a knight in a fantasy tabletop game.

"You gave your mom a kiss goodbye," Mike added, Henry making a playfully offended sound and putting his hands on his hips, "You called her 'Mama.'"

"Okay, cool, anyone else want to tear me apart? Will?" Henry asked, but instead of piling any insults on top, Will just giggled behind his hands—only his bright eyes peeking out. Henry turned back to the others with his chin turned up a tiny bit, "Well, for your information, I could be a knight. I can be heroic."

"Really?" Lucas replied, his tone filled with complete and utter disbelief, "Name one time."

Henry opened his mouth to reply without hesitation, but no sound came out.

"Yeah, exactly," Lucas said when it became clear that Henry had nothing to offer, and he didn't shrink in the slightest under the glare he got in response.

"Besides, there's a lot more to being a knight than being heroic," Dustin pointed out, "Knights have to fight and kill people. They're total badasses."

"I'm badass!" Henry replied, his voice raising an octave.

It was dead silent for a single second, with all four boys looking at him with big, bright eyes and blank expressions.

The room erupted into laughter.

Henry made another insulted noise—this time a whole lot less playful—but it was completely lost in the cacophony of the four boys howling. Mike and Dustin laughed loud enough to reverberate, while Lucas's laughter was so hard that it was silent. Only Will wasn't completely losing it, and even he was giggling. Hell, in the living room, Erica laughed along.

"Screw you guys!" Henry exclaimed over the ruckus, all too serious now, "You know, Mom left me in charge! I could not order pizza!"

The kitchen went quiet immediately and again, all four boys just looked at him with their big, bright eyes. But now, their faces were pictures of innocence.

Henry stood stiff for a second—desperately clinging to his conviction—before he sighed and his shoulders drooped.

"What toppings do you guys want?"

.

"So, this-this girl. She's the one they're after?"

The cigarette rattled around in the box ominously before it hit his hand, and Henry sighed inaudibly. Part of him mulled over the idea of just sticking it back in the carton and saving it. Given how the day was going, he might need it later more than he did right this second.

"The government is trying to get her back," Hopper cut through his reverie, and his deep voice seemed to echo despite the coverage of trees surrounding them on this all but abandoned backroad.

Henry stuck the cigarette between his teeth and lit it in record time.

"And somehow Mike is a part of this?" Nancy exclaimed, throwing her arms out slightly, but enough that Henry felt the urge to lean back so as not to get smacked.

"Witness puts them together," Hopper replied coolly, Nancy shaking her head disbelievingly, "You saw those men at your house and the helicopters—they're after them."

"This is insane," Nancy muttered, turning her back on the group and taking a few steps away. Henry didn't say anything—nothing to say—but he watched her with sympathetic eyes as he blew a puff of smoke.

Nancy had been struggling ever since she'd seen how her house had been taken over by some shady looking people in suits. She'd ranted about how ridiculous it was the moment they'd gotten back in the car to drive to a more secluded area, and just hadn't stopped. In fact, now that they were discussing what their next step was with Joyce and Hopper, she'd only gotten more agitated.

Henry didn't blame her. He was having a hard time wrapping his head around it too, but the evidence was undeniable: somewhere along the way, Mike had gotten mixed up in all of this.

Something knocked at the back of his head.

Even though he pushed it away and tried to ignore that it was ever there in the first place, a cold feeling filled his stomach, and not even nicotine seemed to help.

"We need to find them first." Hopper pulled Henry out of his thoughts and brought him back to the subject at hand, which was somehow a relief.

"Can you think of any place that he might've gone?" Joyce interjected, Nancy's eyes widening a little when she realized that was directed at her, "Somewhere your parents wouldn't know about?"

"I-No," Nancy answered, Henry hearing a sigh of exasperation from Hopper and visualizing his expression, even though he didn't turn to see.

"C'mon, Nancy, this is important," Hopper said, something rumbling in his chest as he spoke—the precursor to anger.

Nancy sensed it as well, and with her mouth slightly ajar, she visibly wracked her brains for something—anything that could serve as an answer. But, as the seconds passed, it became more and more obvious that she didn't have anything to offer.

"We don't really talk," Nancy finally replied, clearly distressed—overwhelmed by the situation and upset that she didn't know enough about her brother to help.

Thankfully though, someone else did.

"I might."

Uneasiness flooded Henry as every eye flashed to him, but he powered through it. Finding this girl and Mike was more important than his comfort. Just like how it was more important than the horrible chill that ran through him when he admitted that he might know where Mike would run to.

"I'm not sure," Henry said, his gaze hopping from person-to-person all while avoiding the one he really should be speaking to, "But… Sometimes they hang out at the junkyard. They don't really talk about it. I mean, the only reason I know is because Will's bicycle chain got caught on something there once and broke."

"Will's bike chain's never been broken," Joyce replied, looking at him like she wasn't sure why he would even say that in the first place.

"Yeah, it was," Henry replied bluntly, "I know because I fixed it."

"Hey, hey," Hopper cut off Joyce's reply before it could even start (although, looking at her expression, she might not have had any), "Let's focus here. The junkyard?"

Hopper turned to look Henry dead-on, and it suddenly got a whole lot harder to push past his discomfort.

He knew, he knew, how important it was to find these kids before the government did. But, with Hopper's eyes on him, all he could think about was what had happened back at the station. How it'd all gone down in the office. What he'd said—

"Henry."

It suddenly occurred to Henry how much Jonathan looked like his mom.

Joyce and Jonathan both had emotional eyes, and obviously felt things hard. Harder than most people. The only difference was that Jonathan tried to cover it up, probably a survival technique, while Joyce let it out for anyone to see. Maybe that's why he hadn't been too prickly when he responded before, even though Joyce had distrusted him so blatantly that it was almost insulting—she set off the part of his brain that kicked in whenever he interacted with Jonathan and... and Will.

It seemed that the Byers were able to dip into a well of goodwill in him that he'd never even known he had.

And, maybe it was also why he didn't feel defensive or even uncomfortable when Joyce looked at him now, with concern written all over her features. Because it was familiar.

Because it was what had been in Jonathan's eyes when they had driven from Nancy's house to Henry's. When he'd admitted that he'd overheard everything that had happened between Henry and Nancy the night before. When he'd said it was okay.

Because it was what was in every scribble of crayon that made up the Invincible Teen.

Because Henry could tell it was genuine, it was good.

When he spoke again, he didn't answer to Hopper.

He answered to Joyce.

"If I were them, that's where I would go."

The words lingered in the still air. Henry didn't look away from Joyce, and maybe it was partly because he wasn't sure he could stand to see how anyone else was looking at him right now, but also it was because her expression was gentle. Something he could use right now.

"Okay." Hopper's voice cut through the silence, "Go to the Byers, I'll meet you there."

He said it so simply that it took a moment to fully register in their minds. It wasn't until he'd turned away and started heading towards his car did any of them really comprehend it, and it took even longer to piece together some sort of response.

"Where are you going?" Joyce demanded, Hopper glancing back at her.

"To get those kids."

Everything Henry had been trying to push away suddenly burst to the surface.

It was like a dam broke—hitting far harder than it would've if he hadn't shoved it down in the first place—and he was forced to consider what he'd so desperately tried to ignore. And, what he feared would happen, happened.

He realized that he was 100% right.

He could just continue to ignore it. He knew he could. It might not even hurt to ignore the very real—very likely— possibility that had overran his brain. It might all turn out fine.

Or, it might not.

As soon as that crossed his mind, Henry moved automatically; dropping his half-smoked cigarette to the ground and stubbing it out under his shoe. He didn't even stop to explain, just grabbed his keys out of his pocket, shoved them into Jonathan's hands, and hurried towards the last place in the world that he wanted to be right now.

"What're you doing?" Hopper demanded, Henry pulling the passenger door shut behind him.

"If you show up by yourself, they'll get scared," Henry said, looking to see Hopper glare out the windshield with an exasperated expression, "The government is after them, why would they trust the chief of police?"

"And what? Mike Wheeler and this girl, you think they'll trust you?" Hopper countered, turning to look Henry dead-on.

Only, unlike before, it didn't stop Henry dead in his tracks—it didn't make him spiral as he relived what had happened. In fact, he didn't even think of it. The cold in his stomach was making everything else inside of him heat up.

"It's not just Mike, okay?!"

Hooper didn't immediately reply to Henry's snap, and it was quiet during the seconds in-between. What had built up in him not moments ago disappeared just as quickly, and Henry suddenly felt very tired. He sighed a little and raised a hand to rub at his face for a second—his focus sliding to the dashboard.

"What are you talking about?" Hopper demanded, a hint of heat to his own words, but Henry couldn't even muster up the energy to feel annoyed at that.

"If Mike's involved, then so are his friends. So is Lucas," Henry explained, his exhaustion bleeding into his voice, "They've all been acting weird. I just thought it was because of Will, but now..."

Henry allowed his words to trail off into silence as the weight of what was happening fully hit him.

His brother was a part of this nightmare.

And he hadn't been around to keep him safe.

He felt sick.

"They'll trust you?"

Hopper's words pulled Henry out of his thoughts, and when he instinctively looked over, he didn't find exasperation or anger like he'd grown accustomed to. Hopper's expression was even, and it was obvious that he was considering what Henry had said—he wasn't dismissing this.

"If we show up," Hopper said, looking Henry in the eye, "They'll trust you enough to come with us?"

This time, Henry didn't have to be so overcome with emotion to make eye contact; he just didn't feel like he had for the past four years.

He didn't feel like he needed to look away.

"Yeah," Henry replied, his voice low, "They will."

Hopper looked at him for a moment longer, like he was searching for something.

Either he wasn't able to find an excuse to send Henry off to the Byers with the others, or he found exactly what he was looking for, because when Hopper turned away, it wasn't to look out the windshield while he grumbled at Henry to get out.

It was to put the car in drive.

.

Usually, it was kind of nice when the kids were out of the house.

It was actually pretty rare that all of them were gone and Charles was home. There was usually at least one underfoot, and even if they weren't in the same room as him and Judith, he could pretty clearly hear whatever it was that they were up to. And, when he couldn't, that usually meant he should start getting worried.

Not that his children bothered him that much—they were pretty good kids—but a guy liked to be alone with the woman he married every once in a while, and also some peace and quiet on occasion.

But, today… even though all the kids were out, it was just him and Judith, and the house was quiet, he was far from feeling peaceful.

"Then he left. He just left."

Charles wondered if he'd ever gone for a drive at a more inopportune moment in his life.

"I mean, Barb being missing? He wouldn't lie about that, would he?" Judith said, a sort of insistence to the way she spoke, "And-And who would he let drive his car?"

"I don't know," Charles answered honestly, although it took him a moment, "I would've said only you and me, but…"

But, now I don't know what to think.

It was quiet for a moment, and not in the way that Charles liked. It was a heavy silence, and Judith lowered her face into her hands in a movement that he wished he wasn't so familiar with.

"Judy, Baby," he murmured, getting up out of his seat and moving to the one beside his wife, "It's alright."

"No, it's not," Judith replied, the passion from before gone and replaced with what sounded like helplessness.

"Honey, he's just getting older," Charles said, wrapping his arm around her and rubbing gently, "I'm surprised it wasn't earlier. I was way younger than him when I first started running off and scaring my parents. We're long overdue."

"Charles," Judith hissed, sending him a look before she sighed and the heat ebbed away again, "Henry's not like that. He's not like you or me, he's… He's always been a little different. And-And sure, he's kind of distant, but not like this. He doesn't sneak out or lie or act all erratic. He's such a good boy, he wouldn't…"

"He wouldn't do this unless he thought it was important."

Judith's head snapped up in surprise, and Charles found that he felt the exact same way. Those words had come out of his mouth without them even consciously occurring to him. Just tumbled out, like it was natural. Obvious.

It was quiet as it sunk in, as they both grappled with the truth they hadn't been aware that they'd even known, and it was until there was a loud knocking that either of them moved.

Both jumped at the noise and looked at each other with wide eyes; it wasn't that odd for someone they didn't expect to be at their door, but in the moment it felt significant.

After taking a second to gather himself, Charles heaved up out of the chair and headed down the entryway. He rolled his eyes as another knock came—loud and insistent—and he muttered something about patience before he pulled the door open.

Now, Charles liked to think that he was a polite man. Said please and thank you, would give directions to anyone who needed it, and even if someone was on his front porch when he really wanted to be left alone, he'd always be amicable. At least greeted them, asked them how they were doing, tell them he wasn't interested in their version of Jesus, and then send them on their way.

In this moment, he did none of those things.

Instead, he just stared without even thinking of hiding how taken aback he was.

For starters, it was pretty clear that this kid wasn't a door-to-door salesman of religion or anything else. He was a white teenager probably around Henry's age, with hair that Charles knew was in style, but personally thought was silly. Charles knew he'd seen him around before (it was a small town, it would be weirder if he hadn't), but he couldn't place who he was, let alone why he was standing on his porch. But, none of that was why he had forgotten all of his manners and stared.

What had stolen any words from his mouth was the kid's face.

He looked like someone had taken him by the hair and dragged him against the concrete, it was so bad. Whatever had happened to this kid, he'd gotten a thorough ass kicking, and something told Charles that the other guy wasn't faring quite so bad.

Charles hadn't seen someone this bruised up in years, and the fact that it was some unknown teenager who'd been knocking on his door had thrown him off kilter. He couldn't imagine what this kid was going to say (except maybe "Call 911"), but he doubted it would make this situation any clearer.

"Is Henry here?"

Well, if nothing else, he'd been right; that didn't make it any clearer.

It just made it more baffling.

"Um…" Charles offered, his brain taking a moment to kick into gear, "Nope."

The kid looked disappointed, but not particularly surprised, which made Charles wonder what the hell he thought Henry was up to right now. He then nodded in acceptance—the front strand of his hair bouncing with him— and there was a slight furrow to his brow when he spoke again.

"Could you—Next time you see him, could you tell him I'm looking for him?" He asked, Charles frowning a little; spotting an issue with this plan right away.

"I don't know who you are though, son," he pointed out, although he supposed if he said "some kid who looked like he was hit in the face with a brick was around looking for you" Henry would probably be able to figure it out. Especially since Charles was starting to think that maybe… nah.

"Oh, oh right, sorry," the kid stumbled over his words a little bit, and Charles wondered if maybe he had a concussion, "Steve. Steve Harrington."

Now, that rang a bell.

Harrington, that is. John Harrington was a business owner that Charles's work occasionally came into contact with. He'd never personally had to collaborate with him, but that was a blessing going off of what his coworkers had told him. Besides, he'd been aware of him in high school, and in the words of his darling wife, John Harrington was "the biggest douchebag to ever walk the halls of Hawkins High."

Speaking of his wife's opinions, there had been a Sandra Jenson in Judith's grade in school, who she still referred to as "that piece of work." Charles knew she'd ended up marrying into the Harrington family, that they'd had a kid around Henry's age, and that he'd probably seen him around town or at some school function. But, Henry had never mentioned him, so he'd never really had a reason to think about the Harrington boy.

But, here he was now.

Standing on his front porch.

Asking for his son.

With his face beat halfway to Hell.

"I'll, um, I'll let Henry know that Steve Harrington is looking for him," Charles offered, and the kid's eyes widened slightly, as if something had just occurred to him. He seemed a little slow on the uptake, but that could've just been the concussion.

"To talk!" He interjected hurriedly, throwing his hands up like he was defending himself, "Not anything else! All I want is to talk."

No way.

Charles felt his jaw slacken the slightest bit, and he looked over the kid with new eyes. What had occurred to him earlier and had been quickly rejected suddenly popped back into his head. Because now, now that a kid who looked like he'd gotten his ass kicked—Steve Harrington (son of an acclaimed douchebag and a tiring social climber)—had said that all he wanted to do with his son is talk, now he wondered what exactly the alternative was.

This time, when Charles spoke, the words came out much slower.

"Okay. Next time I see Henry, I'll let him know that Steve Harrington is looking for him just to talk."

The tension in Steve's form dropped just a little, like it really was that important that the message he was sending Henry was clear, before he smiled a bit (or maybe his face just softened slightly) and nodded.

"Thanks," he said, and it seemed to occur to him about a half a second later to add, "Sir."

"Well, you're welcome," Charles offered, not sure of what else to say—if what he suspected was true, what could he say?

The kid offered one last polite smile before he turned, hopped off the Sinclairs' porch, and headed towards the car (a BMW, god Judith was right about these people) parked in front of their house.

Charles shut the door, and he was still for a moment, just staring at the square designs on the brown wood; trying to absorb everything that had just happened.

Finally, he headed back towards the kitchen, where Judith was still sitting at the table.

"Who was it?" She asked, her brow furrowing a little at the expression on Charles's face.

"You remember Sandra Jenson?" Charles asked, Judith muttering something under her breath, "And John Harrington?"

"Ugh," She said, her nose crinkling, "Why?"

Charles opened his mouth to reply, but he found that the explanation he wanted to give was nowhere to be found. He didn't even know what had just happened, not really, and he had no way of relating it back to his wife.

Finally, he settled on the only thing that was on his mind right now. The question that had been in his head from the moment a beaten up Steve Harrington had uttered the name Henry Sinclair.

"Our son doesn't get into fights, does he?"

.

"What now?"

Lucas's voice was low, and it shattered the uneasy silence that had taken over the bus once the helicopters had flown into the distance. Even he didn't know if he spoke quietly because he didn't want to somehow accidently alert the Bad Men (no matter how unlikely that was), or if saying it any louder would make it more real.

Because, even without getting an answer from his friends, he knew they were all on the same, awful page.

They had no idea what to do now.

"We could leave our bikes, go on foot," Mike said, ever the leader—always looking for the next step, "They won't be able to find us in the woods, and they wouldn't be able to see us with the helicopters."

"We'd never make it," Dustin replied, shaking his head slightly as Lucas grimaced a little at the suggestion, "Besides, even if we did, then what?"

"Get to the Gate," Mike replied, a little more heated now, like he couldn't understand why they weren't getting this, "Find Will."

Lucas and Dustin exchanged a look, and the silence that took over the bus felt far more loaded than it had been before.

Sure, they'd all like to get to the Gate, go to the Upside Down, and find Will, but how? The Bad Men were looking for them and they were everywhere. Getting into their base would be practically impossible, let alone navigating to the Gate. And finding Will in the Upside Down? All while the Demogorgon was lurking? No way.

And, if by some miraculous chance, they managed to pull it all off and bring Will home, then what? They'd still be fugitives, and the Bad Men would still be after Eleven. They couldn't go home and they couldn't bring Will home.

They were backed into a corner here.

There was no way out.

The helplessness that Dustin and Lucas were feeling must've been apparent, because Mike suddenly stood up with his shoulders thrown back, almost like he was offended by the fact that his friends were losing hope.

"Hey!" Mike exclaimed, putting his hands on his hips, "What did we do when we were trapped in the caves with that Mimic? And we hit a dead-end? Did we just give up?"

"The only reason we won that campaign was because Will felt bad," Dustin replied, Eleven's brows furrowing slightly as she tried to understand this alien topic of conversation, "He pulled some real deus ex shit. That's why he doesn't DM anymore, remember?"

"And this isn't Dungeons and Dragons!" Lucas interjected, hopping to his feet and throwing his arms out, "This is real life! If we mess it up, it's not our characters that get hurt, Mike!"

Mike looked at him with wide eyes before he slowly lowered them to his shoes, and even though he stood by what he said, Lucas couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit bad. It had clearly hit him harder than he'd meant it to.

Mike sat down heavily on one of the seats and rested his elbows on his knees—never raising his eyes.

"He made up a knight," Mike finally said, his voice weighing down the air in the bus, "He didn't want us to be sad."

Lucas's and Dustin's eyes dropped to the ground, and even though she didn't fully understand what they were talking about, Eleven was perceptive enough to recognize the tone, and her expression lowered a little too. The atmosphere on the bus was crushing as the four kids contemplated how badly screwed they were.

And, if the sound of tires on grass was any indication, it would only get worse from here.

They exchanged panicked looks before all four of them rushed over to the window; looking out just long enough to catch a glimpse of a car they didn't recognize pulling into the junkyard. They didn't even have to see the men in suits driving to know exactly who it was.

The Bad Men.

The kids ducked down behind different rows of seats and chunks of metal all while praying that they hadn't been seen. Lucas strained to hear what was happening, but Dustin's whispered expletives kept him from picking up on anything until he shushed him.

Once it was silent in the bus, they could all just barely hear car doors slam shut, but the sound of shoes treading on grass was too soft to be made out until it was frighteningly close.

Lucas held his breath as he heard someone stalking around the perimeter of the bus and the door squeaking as it was pulled open. He made eye contact with Dustin across the aisle, and both exchanged terrified looks, but neither made a move. All any of them could do was hope that the Bad Man would just glance inside and leave without looking any further.

But, they all knew that they weren't that lucky.

The step creaked and the entire bus shook a little as it accommodated extra weight.

Lucas couldn't help but squeeze his eyes shut—a leftover childhood belief that if you couldn't see them, they couldn't see you.

Just leave, just leave, just leave, justleave, justleave, justleavejustleavejustleavejustleave.

"Lucas."

Lucas's eyes flew open and before he even had a chance to think about it, he popped up out of his hiding place. He wasn't even afraid, despite the fact that he didn't fully comprehend what his subconscious had recognized so easily.

Brown eyes met brown eyes—the same eyes—and both widened at the sight of the other.

One pair in shock and one pair in relief.

Lucas couldn't hide his astonishment, and he wasn't even close to being able to say anything. To ask the questions his brain demanded answers to. Instead, he just stared with eyes as round as plates and his jaw slightly slack as his brain struggled to reconcile what he was seeing with what he thought he knew the reality of the situation to be.

If Lucas had been able to tear his gaze away, he would've seen that his friends were in the exact same condition as he was. Because they all knew enough to understand what was happening right now. To be shaken to the core by what they were seeing.

"Are you okay?"

Henry. Lucas's big brother, Henry.

It was Henry who had found them in this junkyard, it was Henry who'd stepped aboard the bus, it was Henry who was looking at them with gentle, concerned eyes.

None of them even tried to answer.

He took a step towards them, but the bus started to rattle again before he could take a second one. All of the kids recoiled without even seeing who it was, but nothing compared to the way Henry reacted.

It was Henry who snapped to attention.

It was Henry who whipped around towards the door.

It was Henry who pointed a gun at the intruder.

And it was Henry who lowered the gun when he saw who it was.

"We need to go."

Hopper, the Chief of Hawkins Police, Hopper.

Henry nodded a little, and the pair shared a look that felt far more communicative than what should've been occurring between them. Lucas had many memories of his brother evading Hopper as a topic of conversation, let alone seeing him in person. It had been like that for years. And now? Now they gave each other significant looks?

And somehow that wasn't the weirdest thing happening right now?

"What the hell is going on?!" Dustin exclaimed, the first of the kids to find their voice.

"What's going on is that we're getting out of here," The Chief's voice echoed throughout the bus, seeming to shake it just as much as their added weight had. But, despite his commanding presence, none of them made a move.

His parents and Henry had been warning Lucas to be wary of cops since as long as he could remember, but it wasn't just that. If it had been, then the other kids would've followed right after Hopper. They all stayed in place, and there was a reason for that.

Hopper looked a hell of a lot like a Bad Man.

Sure, he wasn't wearing a suit, but he was carrying a badge. Not the same one, but in the neighborhood. And, if there was anything that any of them had learned since they'd first found Eleven in the woods, it was that they couldn't trust anyone even in the vicinity.

Hopper sure acted like he was trustworthy, but so did a lot of people that weren't. Was it impossible that he was a Bad Man? Or, maybe he was just doing what they told him to?

It wasn't.

No one moved a muscle.

"Hey."

Henry's voice shattered the uneasy silence, but even though it was far calmer than Hopper's, it wasn't enough. Everyone was still.

Henry's eyes danced from each kid—without a hint of anger or frustration—before they landed on Lucas, and his worried expression suddenly softened. It wasn't an unfamiliar look, but it also wasn't something Henry wore all the time. It was private, the kind he'd have when they were alone and Lucas was telling him some story from school or about a problem the Party was having. Understanding, gentle, and maybe a tad indulgent.

And, even though it was directed at Lucas, it was familiar to all the boys—each had seen it at least once.

"I'm in your corner."

It was directed at Lucas, but all of them followed Henry off the bus.

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