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A Haunted Home

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            With keys weighing heavily in his hands, Steve opened the door to his new home. He would need to buy furniture, and a bunch of candles. This house was all he could afford, after all. His father was a jerk, there was no doubt about that. Anyone could tell you that John Harrington was a jerk. What they didn’t know, was that he was verbally and physically abusing his son. His mother hadn’t cared either and would often scold Steve as if he had done something wrong. It took Steve forever to process what his parents were doing was wrong. Steve’s whole bout of popularity had been his way of controlling his life. It had taken breaking up with Nancy and a girl named Barbara dying for him to figure out his life. Now, he was freshly graduated with his graduation money all going straight towards a house. The house he currently stood in front of.

            The thing was, no one in Hawkins or outside of Hawkins would buy this house. People claimed it was haunted. Will Byers, a kid, had gone missing around his house one night during a terrible thunderstorm. The house had been struck by lightning and hadn’t had great electrical work since then. A year after the kid went missing, he was declared dead, and Joyce Byers and her eldest son Jonathan had moved to Maine with her boyfriend Bob for a new start.

            That was a year ago, and there had been twenty two tenants before Steve. All twenty two had run out screaming within a week each. Each claimed they saw the ghost of Will Byers. Many people came, and many people left. No one could prove there was a ghost in the house.

            Steve was just that desperate to buy the house cheap.

            “Home sweet home,” he sighed as he unlocked the door and stepped into the house.

            The door slammed behind him the minute he was inside. A light flashed to his left. And Steve just let out a tired sigh as he leaned against a wall and sank to the ground. He wasn’t afraid of a ghost. He was afraid of his future.

            He fell asleep curled up on the ground, back pressed against the wall.

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            “That was literally the eighteenth application we filled out,” Steve sighed as he licked the last envelope. He was honestly surprised he still had any spit on his dry tongue. “Are we done yet?”

            “For now,” Nancy nodded at him.

            Nancy Wheeler, his ex-girlfriend. It just hadn’t worked out between them, especially when Barbara Holland had died. They had remained friends though, despite the heartbreak they had brought each other. And she had been his rock as he finally got out of his terrible living situation. His new one wasn’t any better, but she was helping.

            “I could come over,” she hummed as they went to the post office to mail the applications. “Help you clean up.”

            She had gotten permission to borrow cleaning supplies for Steve to use from her own house. Neither of them could currently afford the supplies, and Steve was saving up his money to buy food. With no fridge or electricity, it was hard to store anything cold, or cook anything. He was limited to what he could store, which was a curse and a blessing. But the cleaning supplies was nice. The house needed it.

            “No,” Steve shook his head. “Not here. Not till I’m settled.”

            “Wait,” Nancy eyed him quizzically. “You don’t actually believe those rumors, do you?”

            Steve shrugged and shoved the envelopes in the mailbox. With a casual wave goodbye, Steve headed back to his new house. He quickly set the cleaning supplies out and began to dust around the house. With no furniture, it wasn’t too hard to finish that particular job. He was back in the living room in no time. He had to stop as he stepped back into the living room.

            “What the heck?” he breathed out.

            There, in the living room, on the window, was a cloth floating on its own. Cleaning the window. Steve stumbled back into the wall, and the rag quickly dropped. And where it dropped, the silhouette of a boy stood there, looking shocked.

            Steve bolted out of the house in seconds.

            He was halfway to town when he finally tripped over a rock and tumbled harshly to the road. It was only then, as he caught his breath and his bearings, that he realized what he saw. He had only seen that face a few times when had dated Nancy, but there was no mistaking it.

            The face of Will Byers.

            Taking a deep, shaking breath, Steve pushed himself to his feet and began the trek back to the house. His knees were scraped, and his ankle throbbed, but he ignored it. There was something a little more pressing to deal with at home. But it wasn’t his home, was it?

            “Will?” he called as he pushed open the door. “Will Byers?”

            Nothing.

            “I promise I won’t freak out again!” Steve called into the house. “I swear! I was just a little startled! But I appreciate the help!”

            Steve thought there was going to be no response, but then the dining room light flickered, and the silhouette of Will Byers was standing there. There were tears in his eyes, and he looked so desperate.

            “Hey,” Steve cooed, crouching in front of the boy. “Don’t cry. Okay? I’m right here.”

            “You’re not afraid?” Will sniffed, his voice sounding a little hazy and strained.

            Steve shook his head, letting a smile spread on his face. “A little freaked out,” he shrugged. “But no, I’m not afraid.”

            And then the tears came a bit harder as he sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands. Steve had absolutely no idea how to comfort a ghost when they couldn’t be touched. So he leaned close and whispered encouraging words to the small boy.

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            “So no one found your body,” Steve hummed as he flipped through his page of notes. “You went home that night. The storm struck. You don’t remember what happened. Then you were a ghost. And there was no body.”

            “Pretty much,” Will nodded. “I tried to talk to Mom and Jonathan. But Jonathan brushed me off, and Mom thought she was going crazy. They just kind of moved away.”

            Steve ran a hand through his hair. “We’re missing something,” he mumbled. “And I bet it has to do with your missing memories. Any idea how long you black out for?”

            “I got home around 9:30 at night,” Will mumbled. “I woke up as a ghost the next morning. Around 6, when I normally got up for school.”

            Steve winced. “That’s at least eight hours of time when you blacked out. This isn’t going to be easy.”

            Will frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

            “You thought I’d just leave your death unsolved?” Steve grinned at Will. “I need something to do, and you clearly need closure. So we are going to get just that.”

            “But I can’t leave the house,” Will protested. “And my mom, Jonathan, and Chief Hopper searched the entire house. They searched the shed too, and all my usual hiding places.”

            “So you might have died some place unknown,” Steve jotted that down. “And Chief Hopper took the case. Any idea why?”

            “His daughter,” Will mumbled after a moment. “Sara. She died of cancer when she was seven. I think mom might have mentioned she would have been my age too. I reminded him of her.”

            Steve jotted that down on a separate sheet of paper. “Right,” he hummed. “Tell me about everyone you know. Someone is bound to know something about you.”

            The list was incredibly long, but it had a place to start. Several, actually. He decided to start with the Wheeler’s.

            “Steve?” Karen questioned. She never liked him much, not after he slept with her daughter, but she respected her daughter’s boundaries to a certain degree. “Would you like me to get Nancy?”

            “Actually,” Steve let out a deep sigh. “I was hoping I could talk to Mike, and his friends if they are here. If that is alright?”

            “Steve?” Nancy called as Karen let him in. “What’s wrong?”

            “I’m not sure yet?” Steve mumbled as he followed Karen to the basement.

            To his relief, all three of Will’s friends were there. Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, and Dustin Henderson had been Will Byers’ best friends when he had still been alive. In fact, Will had mentioned they tried to solve the case themselves with no luck. But also in the room was new kids Jane “El” Hopper and Max Mayfield. Will had never met them personally, but the boys had brought them both by the house, never going inside. None of the five kids were sure what to make of Steve’s appearance in the basement.

            “I was hoping to ask you guys questions,” Steve began a bit awkwardly. “About Will Byers.”

            “You want to mock him too?” Mike sneered instantly.

            “What?” Steve bulked. “No! I’m living in his old house. I’d actually like to know more about the kid.”

            “How can we trust you?” Lucas shot back. “You were a popular jerk.”

            Steve pursed his lips as he watched the kids, but El put a hand on Mike’s shoulder.

            “He’s just curious,” she muttered. “See?”

            She vaguely motioned to Steve’s face. Steve wasn’t sure what that was supposed to do, but it was enough for Mike and the others to calm down. They all sank onto the couch, and Steve pulled a chair from the table to sit across from them. He vaguely noticed Nancy and Karen hadn’t left yet either, but Mike started talking before he could process this.

            “He was our best friend,” Mike mumbled out, not meeting Steve’s gaze. “Our cleric.” Will had mentioned that, had described D&D to him too. They stayed up all night just talking about Will’s favorite things. “He was the kindest of all of us too.”

            “He liked art,” Dustin added, motioning to drawings on the wall. “Specifically drawing. We hung up some of his pictures.”

            “People made fun of him too,” Lucas sighed. “Called him queer and a fairy. He pretended it didn’t bother him though. He was tough like that. Never striking back.”

            “Troy and James were jerks,” Dustin sniffed. “Always picking on us but picking on Will the most.”

            Steve quickly jotted those names down.

            “You have that picture, right?” Max asked as she quickly got up and moved to a shelf. “That one with you guys and Will?”

            Max quickly returned with a picture she placed in Steve’s hands. It was a picture of the four boys at a science fair. They looked so young and happy in the picture, it made Steve smile. Then he noticed the date on the banner. 1983, a few weeks before Will went missing.

            “Is this you’re most recent photo?” Steve questioned, unable to peel his eyes away from the picture.

            “Ah,” Karen spoke up from behind them. “No. I have that upstairs.”

            “Where?” Steve demanded as he jerked up in his chair and turned to face her.

            Karen was not moving fast enough as she led him upstairs and towards the picture. Steve stared at it a few minutes before he thanked the kids, Karen, and Nancy. Then he was in his car and headed back home.

            “Will!”

            The boy was quick to appear, and Steve studied Will as he had the pictures.

            “Steve?” Will’s voice shook.

            “I don’t know how,” Steve breathed out. “But something is wrong.”

            He took a breath, watching Will carefully.

            “I think you’re still aging.”

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            Will was, in fact, still aging. It gave both boys a sense of hope, but they weren’t sure what that hope was for. Regardless, Steve continued his duel process of applying to at least eight jobs a day and then asking people questions about what they remembered about Will.

            Meanwhile, Will had taken it upon himself to make sure Steve didn’t do anything stupid. The younger Byers boy began to help Steve regulate his food, water, and money so that Steve would be able to survive. He also made Steve stop driving because gas was far too expansive for Steve to survive on his graduation money. So Steve walked now, not that he minded much.

            They took care of each other.

            Especially after the incident.

            Steve had, tiredly and completely out of it, walked through Will’s ghost. The younger boy had vanished, and Steve had thought nothing of it at the time. Until the seventh day without Will. Steve was in complete hysterics by that time. It was after the seventh day that Will came back rather dazed and Steve had just sobbed at his feet for hours, much to Will complete panic. Steve vowed he would never let anything touch Will after that.

            Steve, currently, had Troy and James sitting in front of him in the park. It had been a hassle to get the two boys to talk to him, but he knew Troy’s mom, and she had been kind enough to make the two boys meet up with Steve.

            “He was a fairy,” Troy spat. “All shy and dainty like one too.”

            “Okay,” Steve hummed, tapping his pen against the notepad. He’d heard that same phrase so many times he was sick of it. “Do you remember anything about that day? I realize it was a long time ago, but was there anything off about Will?”

            “No,” Troy scoffed. “He was excited about that dumb game he and his loser friends always played.”

            “Anything off around him?” Steve pressed further. “Like, someone hanging out around him?”

            “Why do you care?” Troy snapped, clearly done with these questions. “He’s dead. Has been dead. Why does it matter?”

            “Wasn’t Lonnie Byers at the school?” James suddenly spoke for the first time.

            “I don’t know,” Troy quipped back.

            “No, no,” James grabbed Troy’s shoulder so that they could look at each other. “Remember? He was at the school asking about some sort of paperwork or something. And Mr. Clarke came out and praised Will and showed off his work or something.”

            Troy stared at James for a minute. “Why do you remember this?”

            “Because Byers ran away when he saw his dad, remember?” James continued. “He and his friends came around the corner and he just panicked and ran off. We ran after him and teased him about daddy issues.”

            Lonnie was a character no one in Hawkins was fond of. Joyce Byers had been a kind, but odd woman. There were rumors that she had been popular in high school back then too. When word spread that Lonnie was cheating on Joyce, well, the rumor mill went nuts. Lonnie left, and Joyce was revealed as the strong women many people once knew.

            The problem was, no one had seen Lonnie since the divorce. Until now.

            “Thank you,” Steve breathed as he raced back to his house.

            Will had not mentioned Lonnie, and Steve was curious if Will even remembered the instance at the school. He was dead set on asking. But he had to stop. Because there was a police cruiser in Steve’s driveway, and his door was opened.

            He quickly bolted into the house, fearing for Will. But Will was nowhere in sight. Instead, three officers were inside. One was in his kitchen, glancing through his food, and it looked like he had eaten some of it judging from the crumbs on his face. The other two were in the living room, glancing around the completely empty space.

            “What are you doing?” Steve demanded, startling all three men.

            “Geez, kid,” Chief Jim Hopper staggered after jumping. “Why are you scaring people like that?”

            “I don’t know,” Steve’s voice turned bitter. “What are you doing in my house?”

            “You live like this?” the officer next to Hopper motioned to the empty living room.

            “Yes,” Steve bit. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t touch my food.”

            The third officer quickly put down a box of crackers after a harsh growl from Hopper. Steve was still tense, using the time that Hopper berated one of his officers to search for Will. He needed to make sure that they hadn’t walked through Will. Much to Steve’s relief, Will made himself visible long enough for Steve to see him while the officers were looking away. With a sigh, Steve leaned against the wall and sank to the ground.

            “What are you doing here?” he asked again, feeling defeated for some reason.

            “Well,” Hopper hummed as he sank down next to Steve. “We heard you were looking into the Will Byers’ case.”

            Steve shrugged at that, carefully clutching at his pen and notebook. He didn’t look at Hopper though, just stared at the ground.

            “Have you gotten far?” Hopper tried.

            Steve shrugged again. Still not meeting Hopper’s gaze.

            “Kid,” Hopper sighed and lifted Steve with a gentle hand to Steve’s chin. “Come on. Work with me here. What have you got so far?”

            Steve gently pulled his notebook from his pocket and handed it to Hopper. As Hopper flipped through his notes, Steve felt the presence of Will by his side. It was a comfort.

            “Did my dad send you?” Steve asked softly.

            Hopper was silent for a long time before he shook his head. “No. Your father didn’t send me.” There was a pause where neither man said anything, but Hopper soon placed the notebook in Steve’s lap. “These are good kid. You’ve become a real investigator.”

            Steve shrugged again. He just wanted to know why Hopper was here.

            “Guess I’ll just get to the point,” Hopper sighed. “Kid, I’m thinking about hiring you.”

            Steve’s head shot up at that.

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            Steve got the job, much to his surprise. He was going to be the assistant secretary at the police station. Hopper had plans for him though. Like, once Steve was settled into his own house, he was going to try and send Steve to the police academy. Steve wasn’t quite sure what he thought of two weeks outside Hawkins, but he wasn’t going to argue either. He had a job, and he could finally buy food, and maybe furniture.

            Flo was easy to listen too, and she was really good at explaining everything too. Steve was answering phone calls and filling out reports before noon. Which left a problem.

            “Hey kid,” Officer Powell, the officer that had not raided Steve’s food, placed a hand on his shoulder. “We were going to get lunch. Care to join?”

            Steve had to shake his head. He barely had the money at the moment to buy groceries, and he wasn’t going to get his first paycheck for another two weeks. There was no way he could afford lunch at any place they went, even if it was just a fast food place.

            “Of course he would,” Hopper’s hand grasped the back of Steve’s jacket and hoisted him up. “Come on kid. I’m paying for the both of us.”

            Steve shook his head. “You don’t have too.”

            “Course not,” Hopper muttered. “I also didn’t have to adopt Jane, but she’s the best thing that ever came into my life. Now let’s go.”

            Hopper practically dragged him into Benny’s and wouldn’t let Steve do his own ordering. Steve just kept paling at the price of the food Hopper ordered for him, but he said nothing. There was no way he could afford this. Hopper, Powell, and Callahan all talked about funny stories, and Steve picked at his food. Hopper had it boxed up and payed for it.

            Steve hadn’t thought he was serious.

            “Kid,” Hopper sighed as he caught Steve eyeing the box of food in wonder. “Let’s face it, you need help. You’re living in a run-down house with no working electricity, barely enough money, and no furniture. When Jane said I should hire you, I thought she was nuts.”

            Well that explained a few things. Steve had been positive he hadn’t put in an application to the police station. At least he knew he wasn’t crazy. Though that was debatable. He had a ghost in his house who was better at finances than he was.

            “But then she told me about you looking into Will Byers,” Hopper continued. “At first I thought you were crazy. Looking into the case of a dead boy. But then I let Jane talk me into visiting you and I realized that something was wrong. You needed help, and I want to help.”

            Hopper patted Steve’s shoulder and offered a kind smile as they pulled back into the station.

            “Go ahead and eat,” Hopper motioned to the box. “You need it.”

            Steve ate at his desk, slowly, still unsure of what to make of the situation.

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            Will remembered nothing of seeing Lonnie at school that day, much to Steve’s frustration. He wondered if the kids had lied to him. Even worse, Steve was struggling to even find word of Lonnie. With work, he hadn’t had the time to talk to Mr. Clarke about the incident until today.

            “Actually,” Mr. Clarke hummed. “I did see Lonnie. Showed off some of Will’s science projects and art work. Can’t say Lonnie was too pleased about them though. He just kind of glared at them, I guess.”

            Steve jotted all this down eagerly. It was the second confirmation that Steve had received about Lonnie since Troy and James. Lonnie had been there the day Will had vanished. It could have been nothing, but there was hope too. Hope for an answer, and maybe a way to at least find Will’s body.

            He wasn’t sure what else there was to hope for.

            A few hours later found Steve bored at his desk on a slow day in the office. Flo, much to Steve’s surprise, plopped a giant box down on Steve’s desk.

            “I know how much you’ve been looking into the Will Byers case,” she began. “I figured it couldn’t hurt to let you look through the files.”

            Steve was already digging through them the moment the name Will Byers left her lips. He studied them for hours, completely unaware of the time passing. By the time he finished, several people were clocking out and switching shifts. And he had one burning question.

            “Why did no one interrogate Lonnie Byers?”

            “Sweetie,” Flo sighed softly. “There is no point making a person a suspect when they weren’t near the scene of the crime.”

            “No one has seen Lonnie Byers in Hawkins since he divorced Joyce,” Powell added as he put his hat on his head.

            “That’s not true,” Steve protested. “To kids, Troy and James, said they saw Lonnie at Hawkins middle the day Will went missing. The science teacher Mr. Clarke confirmed it.” It was as Steve was presenting his facts that Hopper walked out and caught the exchange. Steve didn’t notice because he was flipping through his notes. “Mr. Clarke even said he shared a conversation with Lonnie about Will.”

            Hopper was suddenly gripping Steve’s shoulders. “Are you sure?”

            In response to the sudden action, Steve dumbly handed his notebook to Hopper.

            “You think Lonnie did something?” Will asked as Steve explained his findings.

            “Don’t know,” Steve shrugged. “But hey, I got you something.”

            And Steve pulled a pack of paper and a bunch of crayons from his backpack. Hopper had gotten the back pack for Steve recently, and Steve watched Will’s face light up as he handed the ghost kid the objects.

            Will could not touch living beings, but he could touch inanimate objects. And the one thing Steve had learned from everyone was that Will liked art. It would give the kid a way to pass the time. With a soft smile, Steve went to take his laundry to a nearby lake. It was the only way he had to do laundry without power. There were a lot of things Steve had learned to deal with.

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            A knock on Steve’s door had him startled. He never got visitors because most people had been too afraid to go near the house. Regardless if they believed the rumors or not. He had been chilling in Will’s room, placing up pictures in the bedroom whenever Will drew them. Will had an active imagination, and there were all sorts of weird things on his wall. Like a rainbow spaceship, a thing called a Demogorgon, and even an alternate dimension.

            The knock came again as Steve pushed himself off the floor, leaving Will to draw.

            “Hey?” Steve muttered as he was greeted by Nancy, five kids, and someone else Steve kind of recognized. “What’s up?”

            “Steve, this is Jonathan,” Nancy began. “Jonathan Byers. He was hoping, maybe, that he could see the house. We all were.”

            Steve gaped at Jonathan for a moment, already noticing the similarities between Jonathan and Will. The eye color, the nose, the slight similarity in facial structure. He remembered Jonathan from school, but not all that well.

            “Sure,” Steve nodded after a moment of awkward staring. “Yeah. Just, give me a minute.”

            Will was peeking from the bedroom wide eyed as Steve left the door cracked.

            “Do you want to tell them?” Steve asked, keeping his voice low.

            “I-” Will tried to voice, but his words died, and he nodded.

            With a nod back, and Will vanishing for a moment, Steve opened the door.

            “I don’t really have furniture,” Steve rambled as Jonathan walked in first. “Can’t really afford it right now. Though I’m trying. I hope you don’t mind sitting on the floor. But you can look around if you like.”

            Mike was already leading the other four back to where Will’s room had been. Steve bit his lip, waiting for one of the boys to recognize the drawings on the walls and floor. But Jonathan was suddenly behind Steve, looking extremely sincere.

            “Thank you,” he breathed gently. “For letting me come home.”

            Steve softened. “It was you’re home first. You and your mom are welcome anytime.”

            “What the heck!”

            Mike was suddenly storming out of the room, picture clenched in his hands.

            “Where did you get these?” Mike demanded angrily as he waved the pictures around.

            “Will,” Steve shrugged. “He drew them.”

            Jonathan instantly grabbed the papers at those words and looked through them. He frowned at them, clearly not recognizing the pictures, but recognizing the style of his brother. Jonathan quickly tore through the house, going to his brother’s room and looking at the display of paper, crayons, and drawings that were scattered about.

            “What are you playing at?” Jonathan demanded.

            “Nothing,” Steve stated firmly. “Will drew these. Right kid?”

            “Yeah.”

            There was a varying degree of reactions from the group as they all took in the ghost version of Will. All were pretty interesting, but Steve hated Jonathan’s reaction.

            “Is this some sort of joke?” the older Byers demanded with tears in his eyes. “Something to make you laugh? Because this isn’t funny.”

            “Jonathan-” Will tried, but his own words failed him.

            “Look at him,” Steve motioned to Will. “Really look at him. Can’t you see it?”

            “See what?” Mike snapped, looking more than ready to punch Steve in the face.

            “Older.”

            Now everyone was looking at Jane. She stepped forward, circled Will, then turned to the others.

            “He’s older,” she repeated. “Older than in Mike’s picture.”

            “She’s right,” Dustin stated. “Dude, puberty hit you good.”

            “Is it puberty if I’m a ghost,” Will asked skeptically.

            No one had time to answer that question because Jonathan had staggered forward, arm reaching for his brother. Steve quickly intervened, grabbing Jonathan and pulling him back.

            “You can’t touch him,” Steve shook his head quickly at Jonathan’s cry of protest. “He’ll disappear for a week or more, and I really don’t want to test that more than I already have.”

            “But you’re really dead?” Max asked from beside Lucas.

            Will and Steve exchanged a look and shrugged.

            “We don’t know,” Will admitted. “It could be I am dead. But we aren’t sure.”

            Steve nodded suddenly frowning. He watched as he slowly let go of Jonathan and let the brothers meet on the floor. Jonathan sobbed as he looked into the ghost version of Will’s eyes. Even Steve could tell how desperate Jonathan was to touch his brother again. To hold him.

            “That’s why the picture threw you off,” Dustin suddenly slapped his forehead. “Because you had been seeing Will since he moved in, and you were trying to help him.”

            “Yep,” Steve popped the word in his mouth.

            “Have you found anything?” Dustin pressed.

            And Steve had to purse his lips as nodded. He couldn’t show them. Hopper had asked to borrow his notebook, but he could tell them what he had learned.

            “We think Lonnie has something to do with it,” Steve stated. “With Will’s disappearance. And this too.”

            He motioned to ghost Will. And that began a long conversation on what Steve had learned about the day Will had vanished.

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            “Perhaps it had something to do with the lightning,” Mike muttered.

            Explaining had taken a long time, and the group had all pitched in to buy food as it was nearly dinner. Will sat beside Jonathan and Mike, smiling at them both as they tried to come up to an answer as to why Will was a ghost. There had been some outlandish theories, but this was one that actually had something to do with that day.

            “What do you mean?” Nancy pressed.

            “Well, everyone knows Will went missing on the night of a terrible storm,” Mike continued. “So what if he was running away from Lonnie and got caught in the storm.”

            “And the lightning hit him!” Lucas added quickly. “While he was running. Will, you might have been hit by lighting!”

            “Like Barry Allen!” Dustin exclaimed jumping up front where he had been sitting. “But it didn’t give you supper speed.”

            The last part was said a bit sadly.

            “Maybe not super speed,” Max added, frowning in thought. “But definitely a super power. Like some sort of out of body experience.”

            “But if he’s outside his body,” Nancy muttered in thought. “Wouldn’t the body be gone by now? Like, don’t bodies decay? It’s been two years.”

            “Unless the body is being preserved,” Mike pointed out. “If Will didn’t still have a body, then how would he still be here?”

            “So, like a cooler or something,” Dustin muttered. “Some place for Will’s body to be stored where it wouldn’t decay, and it wouldn’t be found.”

            “But someone would have found the body, right?” Jonathan asked, clearly becoming desperate with this news.

            “Unless it was buried,” Steve frowned. “Somewhere where people wouldn’t have noticed, but some place that lightning struck.”

            They all jumped as a knock came to the door. And Will quickly vanished as Steve raced to the door.

            “You need to come to the station,” Powell stated frantically. “The chief brought Lonnie in for questioning.”

            There was a random scuffle as everyone quickly stood up and raced out the door with Steve. Steve had just enough gas to get half the group to the station as Jonathan took the other half. He locked eyes with Will, giving a gentle nod, before he was driving down the streets.

            Steve had never personally met Joyce Byers before. He had seen her at Melvald when she worked there, but he had never actually talked to her. Now here he was, waiting for Hopper to give to begin the interrogation as they watched from the other side of the glass. And Steve knew her son. Knew him like the back of his hand in a sense. Will was, without a doubt in Steve’s mind, his best friend.

            “You started looking for him?” Joyce asked as Steve greeted her. “You reopened the case?”

            “I did,” Steve nodded at her. “I also bought your house. You are welcome to visit any time you wish. Jonathan has already stopped by.”

            “And have you-”

            Joyce stopped herself, but Steve already knew what she was going to ask. He could see it in her tears. He could see it in her eyes. For the last two years, everyone had called her crazy.

            “I have,” Steve nodded, making Joyce’s head snap up. “I’ve seen his ghost. And Jonathan and the kids just saw him today.”

            And Steve let Joyce sob into his chest, holding her as he often wished he could with Will whenever the youngest Byers cried. Steve couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to lose a child, or to be called mad for believing the outrageous.

            “He misses you so much,” Steve whispered to her. “And he’s sorry you had to go through this. He wants to see you.”

            “Can I?” she asked.

            And Steve only got to give a small nod because then they were watching Hopper suddenly quiz Lonnie. It takes a while. Far longer than Steve would have liked. But Lonnie caves.

            “Fine!” Lonnie shot. “You want to know what happened? I went to the house and then my stupid kid got home three hours later as I had been on the porch in the storm. He saw me and ran, so I chased him.”

            “Any reason why Will would have run?” Hopper asked, interrupting the story.

            “Take your guess, Hop!” Lonnie snapped. It took a bit more arguing to get Lonnie back on track. “So we were running, and we were in some part of the woods, I don’t know. But then lightning starts coming really close and before I know it, the kid is being struck by lightning. He wasn’t moving, and I had an old cooler from a friend in my car that I was trying to get rid of. So rather than take the blame for the kid’s death, I shoved him in the cooler and buried him.”

            “Where was this?” Hopper demanded.

            “I don’t know,” Lonnie exploded. “It was near the house! But that is all I know!”

            Steve had to tune out the rest because his mind was racing. He’d gone on walks in the woods near Will’s house. He’d studied it.

            “Hopper!” Steve burst into the interrogation room. “I need you! Now!”

            “What, kid?” Hopper growled. “We are this close to finding Will. This close to bringing him home. What do you want?”

            “I need you to go to the house,” Steve stated firmly. “Take Joyce, Jonathan, Nancy, and the kids, and go to the house.”

            “There is nothing at the house,” Hopper protested. “Seriously, let me just keep pressing.”

            “Please,” Steve stated, yanking on Hopper’s arm. “I know what I am doing, but if any of this is going to make any sense. I need. You. To go. To. The. House. Please.”

            With a sigh, Hopper gathered up the named people and set off for the house. Steve quickly gabbed a shovel, counted his money, and bought gas. Then he was on the road again.

-------------------------------------------

            There was a slight path type thing that led from the Byers house to the quarry. Will had told him about it one time and Steve had gone searching for it. But just off that path was a spot that wasn’t like the rest of the woods. It was black, charred from what Steve thought might have been a fire.

            He now knew it had been lightening. It covered a good portion of land too. Just black for a large part of the walk into the woods, spilling slightly over the path. It made the perfect spot for someone to run away with.

            There was, however, one spot that was brown mixed with black. An oddly mutilated rectangle of ground that might have been dug up. And that was the same patch of ground Steve found himself furiously working at. He wasn’t sure how long he had been digging, but it had been late at night when he started, and it was nearly dawn now.

            The clang he heard made Steve’s heart start racing.

            “Will,” he breathed as he shoveled harder than he had been, uncovering the box.

            It was, in fact, a rather large cooler. Just wide enough to fit a skinny sized boy, but there was no way it was long enough with Will’s current height as a ghost. The other thing that had Steve worried was if the cooler had actually been kept cold, but the ground itself was freezing to the touch, so Steve was a little less worried. It was like the lightning strike had wanted to keep Will alive.

            “Will,” he sobbed out as he opened the cooler to find the boy’s limp body. “Will?”

            Will looked like he had been squished into the cooler, his body incredibly cold to the touch. If Steve didn’t know any better, he’d think Will was dead. But the body has aged, just like the ghost. Steve has his own jacket off and wrapped around the body instantly. He has no idea how to fix this. But the least he can do is bring Will back his body. So he carefully tucks Will’s body in the back of his car and makes for home.

-----------------------------------

            Jane is the one to open the door, staring at the body in Steve’s arms as he stepped inside. Will’s ghost was surrounded by the sleeping forms of his friends and family. Even Hopper was curled up near Joyce and Jonathan. It had been a long night, for all of them.

            “That’s me,” Will breathed quietly as Steve set the body on the ground. “That’s really me.”

            “Yeah,” Steve sniffed. He wasn’t sure when he had started crying again, or if he ever stopped. “I found you. Just like I said I would.”

            And slowly, hesitantly, Will reached out a hand to touch his body. The ghost version of Will released a bright light, making Jane and Steve look away for a moment. As it died down, they both turned to stare at the body that was hacking up it’s lungs.

            “Steve?” Will managed to get out through coughs.

            And Steve let out a laugh as he threw his arms around Will, rocking the boy as he held him patted his back.

            “Steve?” Will asked again, without the cough.

            “Yeah, buddy?” Steve pulled away to look into Will’s very much alive face.

            “I want a hamburger,” Will stated.

            And Steve laughed, waking up everyone else as he hugged Will again.

            Will was home.

            Alive.

            Steve couldn’t stop smiling as Will practically flew into his mother’s arms. Most of the others were crowding Will, but Hopper was suddenly behind Steve, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. Steve just beamed up at his boss before looking back to catch Will’s eyes.

            Will Byers was very much alive.

Chapter Text

            Will was human again, and he very much enjoyed the cheeseburger that his friends put their money together to buy. But they had a problem. Lonnie had confessed to burying Will’s body. His very dead body. So how were they supposed to get Will back into society. Hopper had talked about isolation, but Steve had argued that Will had been isolated for the last two years and shouldn’t be forced to stay inside. So, Steve wracked his brain for days, sitting in Will’s room to think with the younger boy doodling on the floor. Steve thought better that way. Finally, on the eighth day of thought, Steve had an idea.

            Which is why Will sat in his mother’s arms, very much alive, at the police station as Steve gave his “testimony” to Hopper, complete with Will’s added input. All discussed before-hand without Hopper there. Hopper had not been happy about it, but it was necessary for the Chief, and everyone else, not to be present when the testimony was given. They needed the surprise element.

            “Well, when I bought the house, I went for a few walks,” Steve confessed gently, not a complete lie. “As you know, I couldn’t really afford any furniture and was lucky to afford the house. So I entertained myself by walking around outside. And I came across this one area with an old rusted cellar, and I heard crying. I just sort of passed it off as nothing because of all those dumb ghost stories and with no where else to go, I wasn’t going to let anything scare me off.”

            “So you didn’t think to investigate?” Hopper asked, playing his part.

            “Of course not,” Steve shook his head. “Those ghost stories were just rumors. It could have been the wind or an animal. Besides, it sounded far away. Why would I investigate someone else’s property?”

            Will was leaning into Joyce’s shoulder, hiding his face. Probably trying to hide a smile. Steve liked to think he could read Will enough to be able to read the kid who had become his best friend. He had to wonder if Will felt the same way, though.

            “Continue,” Hopper sighed, brushing off questions from Powell and Callahan.

            “Well, like I said, I didn’t have anything better to do,” Steve confessed firmly. “I had been applying for jobs and cleaning the house, but there wasn’t much else to do, and I had to ration food. So, out of boredom, I decided to look into the Will Byers case. You know, to pass the time. I dated Nancy, and I knew that Jonathan and Nancy’s brothers were friends. So I started there. Talked to classmates, Joyce’s boss, Jonathan’s boss and teachers. Will’s teachers. It was Will’s bullies, Troy and James, who told me about Lonnie. Then I got a job here and didn’t have time to talk to Mr. Clarke, but I got to it eventually. Then Flo let me flip through the case files and you know what happened after that.”

            Hopper nodded, leaning forward just a bit. The first half had been mostly truth, Hopper knew this. The crying part had been added and now Steve had to sell the story of Will’s return. If this didn’t work, Hopper may need to arrest Steve for lying. And Will would have to come up with a story on his own.

            Steve took a deep breath. “Well, when Lonnie confessed, I had a feeling I knew where he had buried Will. So I figured I should at least get the body back. You know, give the Byers’ the closure they needed. Return the body of their son and brother. So there was a spot in the woods where there was clearly a fire, or in this case, a lightning strike. Just complete charred over, but there was a spot where brown and black dirt mixed, so I dug there. And there was the cooler, just sitting there. Only it was empty.”

            Hopper stopped and blinked. “What?”

            “That’s what I said,” Steve pointed, into the story whole-heartedly now. Even Powell, Callahan, and Flo were eager to hear more of what happened. “So I was confused and a little freaked out. Because, there are ghost stories about this kid, and what if he really is a ghost?”

            “Was he?” Callahan blurted out.

            “Don’t be ridiculous,” Steve shook his head, looking at Callahan like he grew a second head. “Lightning can’t do that.”

            Will let out a sound that could have been mistaken as a sob, but Steve knew to be a laugh. He turned to Will instantly at the sound.

            “You don’t have to hear the rest if you don’t want, Will,” Steve offered, his voice suddenly soft. “I know you lived this.”

            Will shook his head, playing along, but still hiding in his mother’s arms. “No, I need to be here.”

            Steve nodded, still in character. Hopper had to applaud his acting.

            “So then I was sitting there, kind of confused,” Steve continued, a bit slower this time, less eagerly. “And then I heard it again. The crying. I’d been hearing it any time I went for a walk, and suddenly, I just went to the sound. I don’t know why, maybe part of me knew, but I went back to the storm cellar and the crying was still going, and I just looked at the lock and hit it with the shovel. It didn’t break, but the crying stopped, and there was a slight sound from inside. So I just kept hitting the lock, hoping it would break, and the chain must have been more rusted than the cellar itself because it broke. Then I went inside.”

            Hopper would need to see the sight, so Steve had done extensive research to make sure everything was authentic. There was, in fact, a storm cellar near the cooler with everything Steve was about to describe.

            “And there were shelves of food, some open and some not. A few jugs of water were both full and unused, expertly hidden. And then there was Will, chained to the wall just enough for him to reach everything.”

            Steve had gone to great lengths to fix things, to make it seem like Will had been there for the last two years, alone and scared.

            “There was a man,” Will stated shaking as he got into his own character, not quite looking at anyone. “There was a man there that night. And he dug me up, and I woke up and he startled, and he wasn’t sure what to do with me so he threw me in the cellar and just left me there. I don’t know who he was or what he wanted, but he just left me there. I was alone, and I was afraid he would come back and hurt me. I don’t think he came back, but I was so scared.”

            Will sold the last bit quite nicely, Steve supposed, and the kid looked the part. Extremely pale, thin, afraid of his surroundings, and voice still a bit scratchy from little use of his physical vocal cords. And the story was easily sold to the three who knew nothing of the events with Will Byers and his time as a ghost. Hopper went to check the cellar with Powell and Callahan and Steve. He patted Steve on the shoulder, congratulating him on his efforts.

            By dawn the next morning, all of Hawkins knew about Will being alive and Steve’s discovery of the lost boy and the act of bringing him home.

--------------------------

            Steve had been arguing with Joyce for about three weeks, and had decided to win the argument in an act no one saw coming. The argument was what to do with the house. The house had been Will’s childhood home, and his only life line for a long time while a ghost. Why that was the case, Steve wasn’t sure, but the house was important to Will. But everyone in Hawkins, including the recently returned Byers family, knew that Steve had nowhere else to go. Nor the money to buy a new house. Joyce very actively refused to take the house back from Steve. So Steve won the argument by throwing the house back on the market.

            Everyone completely freaked out when he told them, because dinners at the Wheelers had become a thing after he saved Will. And Will had been shoved into the basement with Steve in order to talk sense into the guy. It didn’t work. Steve refused, and the Byers bought the house a few days later.

            “You could stay with us,” Joyce tried, a last-ditch effort to help Steve. “Here. With us.”

            “You don’t have the room to house me and your family,” Steve brushed it off. “I’ll be fine.”

            Steve had already sold his car, and he figured he could survive in the storm cellar if he needed shelter. It was well protected. But what Steve wasn’t expecting was for Hopper to show up at the Byers house with El. He just assumed that the two were there to help the Byers move in, even though they had already hired movers from the compensation money the government gave them. Which was odd, but Steve wasn’t planning to look into it. However, Hopper walked up to Steve and took his bag of clothing. Some of his only belongings. Then El was tugging on his hand.

            “We’re adopting you,” El beamed brightly at Steve. “Come on. I want to show you our home.”

            Steve’s gaze snapped to Hopper at that, and his boss was beaming at him. “I’ve got him, Joyce. Don’t worry.”

            Will quickly gave Steve a hug, telling him he would visit later, and then Steve was in Hopper’s car. El chatted happily, as if Steve had always been a part of their family, and Hopper just beamed. Steve couldn’t help but smile at the girl too. She was so pure, and full of a wonder Steve had lost long ago.

            The house was nice, a small little house just on the edge of town. El said Hopper liked isolation and they had lived in a cabin until Flo told him it was no place to raise a child. So they lived in a house smaller than the Byers house, cozy for them. The living room and dinning room were one room, and the kitchen was separated by an arched room. There was door to the basement in the kitchen. There was a hallway with three rooms. One so clearly Jane’s, one that must have been Hopper’s, and a third that threw Steve.

            “Will helped,” El smiled up at Steve. “He told us what you liked.”

            There were a few basketball posters, all with Steve’s favorite teams. A nice twin sized bed with a bed side table and lap. An empty notebook and pencil on the nightstand. A desk was by the window, and closet next to the bed. A small alcove with a mirror and a small dresser was in the corner by the door out of the room. And then there was a bookcase too, more notebooks and a few books Steve had come to like while dating Nancy and a few the kids had left because he “had to read them”. There was even a radio with music Steve liked and some Will told him he needed.

            He turned to Hopper and El, tears in his eyes. “Thank you,” he breathed, meaning it more than anything. “Thank you, I-”

            He couldn’t bring himself to say much else, but he let Hopper hug him, let his boss hold him in an embrace his father would never give him. And he sobbed like he never would in front of his parents. No one had cared this much for him except Will. So Steve sobbed at the unfamiliar feeling that made him feel as if everything was right with the world.

-------------------------------

            “Your music taste sucks,” Will stated firmly.

            “My music taste does not suck,” Steve protested. “Your music taste sucks.”

            “You wish,” Will scoffed. “Tell him, El.”

            “Your music taste sucks, Steve,” El said instantly.

            Steve flopped back on his bed dramatically, as if he had been shot. “My own sister against me!” he wailed bitterly. “Why must this world be so cruel?”

            El hit him in the face with a pillow. It was just a thing now, Will being at their house, being around Steve. Had been for the last three weeks, nearly a month. El and Steve had started to jokingly call each other brother and sister within that time too. But then El asked if they could really be brother and sister, so Steve consented because he can hardly say no to El. Unless she wants Eggos for dinner. He puts his foot down there because the girl has no meat on her bones and Eggos are not going to get her anywhere. Most people just assumed Will hung with Steve because he had saved the boy, but really, the two were friends. Best friends, and Will had made sure that Steve knew that they were in fact best friends.

            “Because your music taste sucks,” Will said again, this time slipping a cassette into the cassette player and beginning to play his mix tape. “You need better music, then life won’t be so cruel.”

            Steve stuck his tongue out at Will, causing Will to do the same and El to laugh. But as Steve pulled out the notebook on his bedside table, both of the younger to grew serious. It was full of notes they had gathered on the thunderstorm that night. People’s accounts, newspaper articles, and all sorts of other events that had them bothered about that night Will became a ghost. Like the fact that everything seemed to point back to Hawkins Lab in some form or fashion. When El found out, she broke down in tears.

            “He was bad,” El had said, reminding Steve she was not Hopper’s biological father. “Papa hurt me. He took me from my mama and ruined her mind. He used me, and now I’m different. Doctor Owens took me away from there, tried to get Papa in jail, and he gave me to Hop. But Papa got out. He came back, and then he never came back. I don’t want him to come back.”

            Hopper was working late that night, Hawkins Lab was unguarded, and the three were going to break in and get answers. Too much had been going on, and as they passed the time, Steve watched as Will laid down on the bed. Shutting his eyes, the lights flickered momentarily, and then Will was a ghost once more. A blink of the lights, and Will was back in his body. He could never hold the form for long. No one else knew about Will’s new gift, and the three had agreed to keep it among themselves.

            They needed answers, and they were going to get them, no matter the cost.

            Halfway across town, two people sat on a bench outside of a graveyard. They were silent, for a moment. Both had just spent a considerable amount of time in the graveyard before realizing the other had been there. Both had looked at different stones, roughly for the same reason. They just, didn’t know what to say.

            “It just doesn’t seem real,” Jonathan confessed, breaking the silence between them. “Having him back. I feel like I’ll suddenly wake up one day, be back in Maine with Bob, and he’ll still be dead.”

            “You’re lucky to have him back,” Nancy smiled, though sadly. “To have him still there. There’s nothing wrong with being in shock.”

            Jonathan nodded, still not meeting Nancy’s gaze. Then his head snapped to hers. “If there was any way to get her back, I would help.”

            “I know,” Nancy nodded. “But this isn’t like Will. She still had a body. A very dead body.”

            “Yes, quite dead.”

            Both Nancy and Jonathan turned to see a man dressed in an old suit, rather odd combed back hair with a bald spot, and a stupid grin on his face. He stepped towards them, offering a card.

            “Murray Bauman,” the man introduced. “Reporter, detective, expert in the supernatural, and hired by the Hollands to discover what killed their daughter. And I have some questions for you, Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers.”

            “Whatever you want, we can’t give,” Jonathan instantly became protective. He wasn’t going to let his brother become even more of a freak show. “So back off. We don’t need your alien conspiracies.”

            “So you’ve heard of me,” Bauman grinned wider. “Alright then. Let me put things into perspective. Eight bodies showed up all over Hawkins, one boy goes missing, and they all died at different times. Rather large distances apart. At least, according to the government workers who wouldn’t let anyone near the bodies and kept Chief Hopper from searching. So, tell me, why would the government get involved?”

            Nancy and Jonathan shared a confused glance before shaking their heads at Bauman.

            “A cover up, of course,” Bauman declared as if he were surrounded by idiots. “After all, all eight of those bodies became dead bodies at the exact same time. The night Will Byers went missing.”

            “What are you talking about?” Nancy demanded.

            “Think about it, Mrs. Wheeler,” Bauman tapped his own head, still grinning. “Suddenly, Will Byers goes missing on the night of the thunderstorm. And when did Will go missing?”

            Nancy seemed to stop as realization crossed her face. “The night of the storm.”

            “The same was said of all the others who found family members who wound up dead,” Bauman grinned, tapping Nancy’s forehead this time. “So why the connection?”

            Jonathan nearly lost his brother. Nancy lost her best friend. Seven other people were killed that day, ripped away from their families on the night of that storm. A lightning storm. No rain. Just lightning. They needed answers. And Murray Bauman seemed the most likely to get them.

            In he basement of the Wheeler house, Dustin had called an emergency party meeting. El was currently grounded and staying with Steve, and she took the whole rule thing seriously, so she couldn’t come. And Will wasn’t invited because this discussion was about him.

            “So, if Will was a ghost, could others be ghosts,” Dustin asked, starting the discussion.

            “Don’t be ridicules,” Lucas scoffed. “I think we’d know if there were more ghosts in Hawkins.”

            “Yeah, but Will had a body to return too,” Dustin pointed out. “So, if the others have bodies that slowly decayed and faded, then they couldn’t return. And according to Mrs. Byers, Will didn’t show up as a ghost right away. It took him time.”

            “Well, if there are ghosts, where would they go?” Max asked skeptically. “I mean, wouldn’t they haunt their homes or something.”

            “Not necessarily,” Dustin threw a book on ghosts onto the table. “Some ghosts need something to hold onto, and bodies were often frozen for a period of time. Now, bodies generally go into the ground instantly or they are cremated. So if a body is what tied people to the world, then they would have nothing to return to. At least, in this plain.”

            “In this plain?” Mike asked in confusion.

            Dustin thumped another book onto the table. “The astral plain is a space where a soul can travel. People try for years to accomplish the act of separating their body and their soul for the chance to glimpse this space. No one is actually sure if anyone has really traveled to this plain. But it’s possible. And I think that is what El does. Travel to the astral plain when she uses her powers. Her body has been honed enough to gain the ability to release her soul and return on a thought.”

            It made sense to the others, now that they thought about it. They had been calling the space El visited the void, because it was like her soul leaving her body to travel to a dark place. And it could be the astral plain.

            “So the voices El started hearing in that place,” Max gaped, realizing where Dustin was going with this. “That could be what she was hearing. Ghosts of other people. The souls of people without bodies.”

            “Cool, right,” Dustin grinned at them.

            At the sherriff’s office, Hopper was glaring down a man. A man that had lost all respect in Hawkins, but still thought his soft voice could help him get whatever he wanted. It got him out of prison, but Joyce Byers was not to be swayed, and Hopper’s staff clearly didn’t trust this man either. Hopper was glad for that.

            “You realize your son went through something quite traumatizing,” Doctor Martin Brenner was saying. “I can help him adjust. Get him the therapy he needs. Perhaps being in his old house is hurting him.”

            “My son is just fine,” Joyce snapped. “What on Earth makes you think I would put my son in your care. Anyone with a brain knows what you did to Jane, how you used her. And now you’re asking me to just hand over my son? For what? To be your next experiment? If you think I will let you anywhere near him, then you have another thing coming.”

            Brenner sighed, this discussion not going anywhere. The moment the man was out the door, Hopper was barking orders.

            “I want someone watching him for as long as he is here,” Hopper growled. “I want someone keeping an eye on Will, El, and the Byers. We keep them safe and out of Brenner’s hand. Flo, get ahold of Doctor Owens. This man should not be in Hawkins and he knows it.”

            Everyone rushed to do something, but Hopper had a sinking feeling in his gut. Grabbing Joyce, they went to her house. Then his own house. And ending at the Wheelers and finding the other kids, that feeling got worse.

            “They’re missing?” Mike demanded. “What do you mean they’re missing?”

            “Steve was watching them,” Hopper hissed. “And if they took Steve, too, there are going to be problems.”

            “Guys,” Max called as the group continued to fight. “Guys! Look, they probably just went to Hawkins Lab. Steve has been making notes in his notebook for weeks about the place. And Will has been asking about it, so they probably just took off there. They want answers or something.”

            The group eagerly piled into Hopper’s blazer and took off. Not only was Steve’s car there, but so was Jonathan’s. And a few government cars. Things were not looking good.

--------------------------

            “Any ideas?” Steve asked El as they explored the lab hallways.

            El’s face became determined, and she nodded. She led them expertly down several hallways and through several doors until they passed an arched elevator. It took all of Hopper’s teaching on how to fix a breaker-box for Steve to get the elevator running, and then they were headed down. Down into some sort of hidden basement.

            “Papa kept this place hidden,” El explained. “He didn’t want visitors finding out.”

            Child experimentation was illegal, of course this place would have been hidden. That didn’t mean it was any less creepy. In fact, it made Steve feel sick. El had lived down here. Forced to do whatever Brenner wanted her to do. To be his perfect little lab rat. He hated it. And if he ever met Brenner, he was going to punch the man in the face.

            “This way,” El stated.

            Steve and Will exchanged a look, bracing themselves for answers, and followed El. Their moment had them a good distance behind El, so when she turned the corner and screamed, they both dashed to get to her. Steve took one glance into the room and turned both kids away, shielding them from the sight. There were dead bodies everywhere. Melted and decayed into the floor as if they had been burned and never touched.

            “Steve?”

            “No,” Steve shoved both kids at whoever the adult with them was, and reached for Nancy and Jonathan. “No. Nancy, don’t look.”

            Too late. Nancy caught a glimpse and screamed just as loud as El. Her head was instantly buried in Jonathan’s chest, and Jonathan was pulling the younger two into his side. Steve slowly stepped into the room and stared at the generator thing that was positively fried.

            “An electrical fire?” Steve questioned as he observed the burns.

            “More like an electrical storm,” the man stated. “Somebody must have really wanted this place to stay hidden if they didn’t get rid of the bodies.”

            “That would be correct, Mr. Bauman.”

            Turning around, Steve only had to look at El’s terrified and resigned expression to know who this new man and his team were. And, as promised, Steve punched Doctor Martin Brenner in the face. He didn’t care that there were several guns on him now. All he cared about was that this man had hurt his little sister.

            “That was quite rude, Mr. Harrington,” Doctor Brenner sniffed. “I thought you of all people would have better manners. Considering your father is a rather large supporter of our organization.”

            “Guess it takes one abusive jerk to know another abusive jerk,” Steve growled back, moving to stand protectively in front of Jonathan, Nancy, Will, and El. “My father and I have cut all ties with each other. But I doubt he mentioned that, especially the part where he threw me in a hospital for a week.”

            “A pity,” Dr. Brenner stated. “Your father had hoped to marry you off and provide your child as our next subject.”

            “Over. My. Dead. Body.”

            “That can be arranged, Mr. Harrington,” Dr. Brenner smiled, almost softly. “But you have better use to us alive. Especially with the drugs your father cleverly placed in your body. We’ll just need to take you, and the two children.”

            There was a moment of panic, everyone tensing as Brenner slowly turned to give the orders to grab the three named and kill the other three. Only, Jonathan spoke up.

            “This machine,” Jonathan blurted out, causing Dr. Brenner, and everyone, to freeze. “It’s what caused the storm that night, right? It malfunctioned or something.”

            Dr. Brenner sighed and turned around to face them. “It did indeed. I suppose we have time. This machine was meant to bring on the next stage of my experience. You see, we tried septic tanks in order to create these children, a way to numb the body, but there was only one success. Eleven, of course. The Doctor Owens had to come along and find out, taking her away. It will be good to have her back.”

            El shuttered, and Steve used one arm to press her into his back, out of Doctor Brenner’s line of sight. He used his other arm to do the same with Will. He knew, of course Brenner knew. But how much did Brenner know?

            “This machine was created to create a certain amount of electrical energy to deliver a soft shock,” Doctor Brenner continued. “One meant to numb the body and release the soul. Sending it to the astral plain. We were still working out the bugs when a wire snapped, and a powerful electrical storm soon hit all of Hawkins. Of course, I was in jail at the time, so there wasn’t much I could do. But as this project didn’t exist, I had the bodies left, and the deaths faked. But when I heard of the disappearance of Will Byers, I was rather intrigued, though I could not get into Hawkins for a long time to see for myself.”

            “And then Will came back,” Steve finished with a growl and a sharp glare. “Because of that, you had the perfect excuse to appeal to those ‘in charge’ and come see for yourself.”

            “Of course,” Brenner beamed. “And now I see what a success he was, I simply had to do come. I must keep my experiments together. One must be careful with their life work. Grab them.”

            “Byers, now!”

            Suddenly, Will and El disappeared. Steve turned to Brenner and grinned, taking in the horrified expression on Brenner’s face.

            “We’ve been practicing for weeks,” Steve explained. “Do you honestly think I would have let Will and El anywhere near the very thing or people that nearly killed them? You’re a fool, Doctor Brenner, and even if you take me, you will never find the two. Ever.”

            “It doesn’t matter,” Brenner tried to scoff, though he was clearly furious. “We’ll just take you.”

            “Try it,” Steve tested. “Their bodies may not be here, but you’ve seen El’s power yourself. You know what she could do. All Will has to do is bring her back here and her powers would be magnified.”

            The anger became pure fury in a matter of seconds. “You rat!” Brenner yelled, suddenly grabbing Steve by the front of his shirt. “You will pay for this! I’ll make sure that you have those children and you will be forced to watch as I mutilate everyone last one! You will suffer to the point you beg for death! I will-!”

            Brenner did not get to finish that sentence because Mr. Bauman had suddenly appeared next to Brenner and just sort of, clapped. In a matter of seconds, too quickly for Steve to process, Brenner fell to the ground and his grip slackened. Tears fell down the man’s face, and his mouth hung open as if to scream, but nothing came.

            “Freeze!”

            Steve’s hands instantly went into the air, along with the several startled people with guns, Nancy, and Jonathan. But Bauman delivered a swift punch to Brenner’s head. The man fell limply to the floor.

            “Ah,” Bauman pulled out a flask of something strong smelling. “I love psychology. All you got to do is let a person get angry, then deliver a loud sound to near the head.” He paused to take a swig of whatever he had in the flask. “The nerves flay themselves since their too high and the victim is paralyzed. These are the things they don’t teach you in school, kids.”

            Steve ignored Bauman in favor of meeting Hopper. The man had barreled towards them, quickly grasping Steve in a tight hug and then looking him over.

            “You okay, kid?” he asked softly, like a father.

            “Yeah,” Steve nodded. “I’m okay.”

            “El?” Mike called, slightly panicked. “Will?”

            “Here!”

            Everyone startled as the two suddenly materialized into existence. Except Steve, who had grown used to this prank. Steve just laughed.

-------------------------------

            “We’d been doing this practice thing for weeks,” Steve was explaining after everything had settled. “Will had fallen asleep on my bed the first time it happened, completely freaked us out, but he only held it for a few seconds before he had to snap back. Too long out of his exposed body could have killed him.”

            “My powers were similar,” El kept going for Steve. “I could go into the place, but not let my soul leave from there.”

            “Astral plain,” Dustin blurted out. “You were in the astral plain.”

            “Is that seriously important right now?” Hopper snapped, making Dustin shrink back. He then turned to the three. “What were you all thinking?”

            “We need answers,” Will pointed out. “I may not have been a ghost anymore, but I could still become a ghost.”

            “It took me three hours to get Will to stop being hysterical,” Steve explained, looking pained. “That was not a fun day.”

            “So we got the cooler and used it for testing,” El added.

            That was not where Steve wanted to go with this conversation. After Doctor Owens finally showed up, Doctor Brenner was carted away for good. And Nancy and Jonathan both pulled out tape recorders. They had gotten the whole conversation on two separate tapes. Steve’s father was also, as he was told, currently being arrested. Steve then gave everyone instruction to meet at the Byers house, “because it’s our hub,” Will had pointed out. And then he went and got El and Will out of the cooler in the cellar where Will had been “held captive.”

            “This is ridiculous,” Hopper grumbled. “You know what? We’re going to all just go home, go to bed, and pretend this never happened.”

            “No!” Dustin protested. “What about the souls trapped in the astral plain after the lightning storm? We can’t just leave them there!”

            Hopper was very seriously done with the situation. Literally. But then they were grabbing radios and blindfolds as Dustin explained his research. It was entirely plausible, so El was going to check. It was sometime of just sitting in silence with only El’s soft whispers as she called into the astral-plain-void-thing. Most was her calling people to her and then getting them to free themselves and move on. Many were names none of them knew, others were names that were familiar but unknown. And then;

            “Barb,” El breathed.

            Nancy?

            Nancy needed this, so Steve ushered most of the others out of the room. He left Jonathan to stay by Nancy’s side. He hadn’t forgotten the crush the two had on each other, and he knew Nancy would need someone by her side. It just wasn’t meant to be him.

            A few moments later and Jonathan was asking Steve to come into the room.

            For what it’s worth, Steve, you aren’t as a bad a guy as I thought you were.

            Steve could only chuckle sadly.

            Take care of yourselves. All of you.

            Then El pulled off her blindfold, and they all knew she was gone. Finally at peace.