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in the darkest little paradise

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The Creel House is creepy. Way creepier than any of them had expected.

With three floors and high ceilings, it’s huge, bigger on the inside than one could feasibly imagine, and dark, far too dark for the middle of the day. Dead leaves and old papers rustle across the rickety floorboards under their feet, the wind blowing through the cracked windows to stir them up, the creaky old panes creating a chilling whistle that has Nancy’s arms breaking out in goosebumps. An emptiness fills the place, one which seems menacing and ominous, making the shadows beyond the reach of their flashlights move and jump like ghoulish spectres.

It's not the kind of place Nancy would ever dream of entering alone, no matter how useful it could be to figuring out exactly what’s happening in Hawkins. It feels like a chasm, a yawning ravine of uncertainty that could house any number of horrors (and she’s seen enough of those to last a lifetime); a place any sane person would take one look at and swiftly walk back the way they came.

But, she supposes as she chances a look back at the people following her into the atrium of this creepy fucking house, after everything they’ve been through—plus the fact that they’re doing this in the first place—it’s likely none of them are completely sane anymore.

That doesn’t stop them from being probably the closest thing Nancy’s had to a family since her parents’ divorce. Dustin, Steve, Lucas and Max—all of them are a part of her now, just as Mike, Jonathan, Will and El are too. Just as she’s a part of all of them, irreparably and undeniably.

That’s the silver lining of trauma, she guesses. That shit bonds you for life.

The beams of their flashlights sweep across the room, uncovering tatty curtains, ripped-to-shit armchairs and what Nancy’s pretty sure is an overturned piano stool, but could be absolutely anything based on how dirty and broken it is. She takes a step forward, squints into the darkness.

Over by the fireplace, her light catches on a set of stairs next to an absurdly long and dim corridor. The steps are winding and they disappear behind themselves, and the sight of it sets Nancy’s brain whirling into action. She turns back to the rest of the group.

“We need to split up, start looking around.” Her words get her five flashlights aimed directly at her face and she blinks, momentarily blinded, before they all redirect to the floor.

“Ok, how do we do the splits? Pairs?” Steve asks and Nancy nods. There are six of them and three floors to cover—three pairs should work just fine.

“I call Steve!” Dustin exclaims, raising his hand and looking excitedly at his best friend. Nancy suppresses a grin. It’s cute that no matter the setting, no matter that they’re in what could aptly be described as some kind of haunted mansion, Dustin’s always happy to spend time with Steve.

“Great, so I’ll go with Max and—” Nancy begins as the boys high-five but she’s cut off by Lucas.

“Uh, actually, me and Max need to talk, so we’ll be a pair.” The boy says sheepishly, sending a furtive look over at his redheaded ex. Nancy sighs but nods; those two need to get their shit together before their constant arguing starts to interfere with the investigation.

“Ok, so Lucas and Max, Dustin and Steve, so that leaves me and—”

Oh.

Oh, shit.

“—Robin.”

Fuck, this was what Nancy had been trying to avoid. She’d hoped Steve and Robin would pair off and she’d end up with one of the kids as her buddy. Hell, she’d even take the awkwardness of walking round the house with Steve over having to partner up with Robin.

In the six months since Starcourt, they’ve done nothing but butt heads. What had originally been alliance forged in the face of monsters and Russians and crazy, possessed step-brothers had fallen apart, morphed into a hostility that grows within Nancy every time she so much as looks at the other girl, so much as hears that stupid husky voice.

She can’t pinpoint when or where or why it had started. All Nancy knows is that one day her and Robin were fighting side-by-side, the next they were sniping at each other every chance they got.

All she knows is that she doesn’t like Robin Buckley.

She doesn’t like her sarcasm or her weird sense of humour. She doesn’t like the way she challenges her in front of the group, always suggesting a different plan or pointing out the flaws in Nancy’s. She doesn’t like her closeness with Steve, how they giggle and whisper together like little kids, how they make Nancy feel like an outsider, excluded from secrets just for the two of them. She especially doesn’t like the way Robin looks at her—all intense and unreadable—and likes even less the way those looks make her feel; scrutinised, puzzled out, perceived.

There’s something else, too: Robin’s a lesbian.

Ok, backtrack, it’s not that Nancy’s homophobic. At least, she doesn’t think she is. It’s just that Robin being into girls, and being so proud of it as well, stirs up this itchy, antsy feeling in Nancy’s stomach that she just can’t pin down. It’s not…bad, exactly, but it feels far more vulnerable than she’s comfortable being with herself, let alone with anyone else, so she tries her very best to ignore it.

So no, Nancy does not like Robin Buckley. She doesn’t like her attitude or her intelligence (though she does grudgingly respect her for it) and she certainly doesn’t like her too-pretty, too-searching eyes that make her feel all topsy-turvy inside. And she doesn’t exactly know why she hates her so much, just that the other girl gets under her skin, so she’s content in their rivalry. Plus, hating Robin is a good way to blow off steam, and why mess with one of the only coping mechanisms she has?

The room goes uncomfortably silent for a moment as the rest of the group realise Nancy and Robin are going to have to pair up. It’s not a surprise, really—everybody knows they don’t get along. Neither of them try very hard to keep their hatred under wraps. But Nancy can’t stand the awkward quiet, so she claps her hands together and forces some steadiness into her tone.

“Ok, so we’ve all got a partner. Who wants what floor?”

She very deliberately keeps her eyes away from Robin as Lucas volunteers to take the ground floor with Max, as Dustin chimes in that he wants to see a ‘creepy attic’ and Steve claps his shoulder and agrees to search the second floor.

“Great. Robin and I will take the first floor then.” She nods, trying to fill herself with some semblance of confidence, both for searching this scary old house and for surviving the next few hours alone with the girl she hates.  “Let’s go.”

-----

The first floor proves to be a bit of a maze, with two corridors leading left and right away from the staircase, lined with more rooms than Nancy thought could be possible in one house. There’s an open area at the top of the stairs in between these corridors and she stops there a while, Robin behind her, before turning decisively and heading to the right.

She doesn’t know if Robin follows her. She doesn’t really care.

The first room she searches (they search—as it turns out, Robin did follow her) is what looks like a child’s bedroom. The faded wallpaper is just decipherable as pink, and there’s a dollhouse in the left corner that, while neglected and dusty, is still beautiful. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for exactly, but she looks all the same, rifling through drawers and pockets, scanning the floor and walls for blood or odd markings. Robin follows suit without a word passed between them and before long, they’ve checked the whole room and found jack shit.

For the next half an hour or so, not much changes.

She and Robin search the seemingly endless rooms for clues in silence and come up empty-handed each time, before they move onto the next room and start combing all over again. It’s tedious and boring, and the house gets less scary with every room they enter. The only thing that’s different by the time they reach the bedroom at the end of the corridor is that Robin, for some fucking reason, has started humming.

Nancy doesn’t know the song—doesn’t want to know the song, just wants Robin to shut up already—it’s probably by some stupid indie band Steve’s got her into, but it grates on her nerves, nonetheless. She wants to snap at the other girl, tell her to shut the fuck up and focus, but the rational part of her mind tells her that now is not the time for bickering. They’re on a mission for information, vital information that could help in the battle against whatever it is they’re fighting this time, and she shouldn’t derail that just because Robin’s being annoying (as per fucking usual).

That rational voice in her head gets quieter and quieter and the longer Robin hums.

She’s still humming as they move on to the last room on the corridor, what appears to be a study of some kind, and Nancy’s irritation mounts with every muffled note. She immediately goes to search the desk, sure (hopeful) that if they’re going to find anything useful today, it’ll be in here.

As she rifles through the drawers, flicking through old, faded documents that aren’t helpful in the slightest, her peripheral vision catches on Robin (still fucking humming) crouching in the middle of the room. She’s got her flashlight aimed at this one spot on the ground and she’s staring at it intently, but Nancy can’t see for the life of her what it is that’s so goddamn interesting and as she reaches the bottom of another dusty draw, she snaps a little.

“Are you gonna help?” She asks, proud of just how much venom she’s managed to inject into her tone. Robin’s head darts up and her eyes narrow.

“I am helping.” She sends back, coated in just as much venom as Nancy’s question had been, and drops her gaze back to the floor. Nancy rolls her eyes so hard it hurts.

Leave it. Just leave it be and get to work.

She takes a deep breath and dives back into the drawers. And Robin starts humming again. Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Her frustration grows as she discards more and more useless paper, her movements becoming harsher as she jerks out armfuls of pointless documents and Robin reaches what she thinks is the chorus of the song for the sixth time. But she keeps breathing, keeps hoping.

When she reaches the bottom of the last drawer, empty-handed and fresh out of patience, she finally breaks. Slamming the drawer shut, she snaps her eyes over to Robin, now scanning the walls with her flashlight, and glowers.

“Will you stop humming for one goddamn second?”

Robin turns her head, flashlight still pointed at the wall, and glares right back.

“I’m just trying to lighten the mood.” She retorts, and Nancy feels that itchy feeling bubble in her stomach at the husk of her voice. It only serves to make her more irritated.

“Yeah well, don’t.” She practically snarls before storming out of the room.

The door slams against the wall, shaking on its rickety hinges as she flings it open and strides out into the hallway. Robin, because apparently her day can’t get any worse, follows her.

“What is your problem with me?” Robin calls, hot on her tail as Nancy walks back towards the stairs. The tone of her voice is incredulous, like she just can’t believe Nancy’s being so ridiculous, and it makes Nancy’s blood boil.

She clenches her jaw. Tries to keep cool.

“I don’t have a problem with you.” And the lie almost has her doubling over with laughter. Anyone with eyes can see that she hates Robin, anyone who’s been in the same room as them could tell you of the mutual animosity that radiates off of them.

Even Jonathan, thousands of miles away on the other side of the country, knows about her and Robin’s rivalry. He’s heard about it over the phone so much he’s stopped bringing the topic up—tired, he’d said, of having to listen to Nancy being so oblivious to her own feelings. She’d had no idea what he meant by that and she hadn’t bothered to ask (a little scared, maybe, of what his answer might’ve been). Anyways, her and Jonathan are broken up now, the distance having put too much of a strain on the relationship, and even though Nancy would consider him one of her closest friends, it’s not like he knows her inner thoughts—those thoughts that she’s tried so hard to repress—or anything. No. Totally not.

“Uh, yeah, you do.” Robin retorts, like it’s obvious (it is). Somebody give the girl a medal. “You’re always huffing and rolling your eyes at me.”

“I don’t do that.” She doesn’t know why she’s continuing to deny this, but the ball is rolling now and she can’t stop it. They’re halfway down the corridor now and Nancy just wants to finish the search, rejoin the others and go home, preferably to never see Robin ever again.

Robin ploughs on.

“You give me dirty looks all the time and you always find an excuse never to be alone with me.”

They’re almost to the top of the stairs now.

“That’s not true.” Gaslighting may not be her best move, because she totally does all of those things and denying it is sort of making everything worse, but she keeps forging on.

“Yes it is, Nancy!” Robin cries and Nancy snaps for the third time.

She whirls around, turning to face Robin in the open area between the two corridors. Above them, she can hear Dustin and Steve thumping around. Below them, Max and Lucas are apparently having a screaming match of their own. Good, she thinks a little violently.

In front of her, Robin is staring at her accusingly, looking just as annoyed as Nancy feels. Her eyebrows are raised, mouth slightly open and her cheeks are flushed in anger. It highlights her freckles, Nancy can’t help but notice. She looks even prettier like this, her brain supplies, totally unhelpfully, and she pushes the thought away before it can distract her.

“Oh my god, will you just drop it?” She replies, raising her chin in defiance.

Silence settles over them for a moment. Robin glares at her and she glares right back, even as the other girl’s eyes harden, even as they settle into something angrier than Nancy’s ever seen from her.

Then, after a tense few seconds—

“Is it because I’m gay?” Robin’s voice is cold and defensive, the voice of someone who’s fought this fight too many times before. “Is that why you hate me so much?”

Nancy’s heart sinks a little in her chest. Sure, she doesn’t like Robin, but that doesn’t mean she wants the girl to feel like she isn’t accepted for who she is. There’s hatred and then there’s downright cruelty, and homophobia, to Nancy, is the latter.

She hates Robin. She isn’t cruel.

“I don’t care that you’re gay, Robin.” She sighs out, trying to put as much sincerity in her tone as she can muster. “That’s not it.” Robin, eyes still hard and furious, takes a step closer.

“Then what is it?” Her voice is raised and her eyes are fiery and Nancy can tell she’s pissed now. And Nancy allows her to be angry over the fact that she thought Nancy was homophobic, because who wouldn’t be angry about that, but then her own anger sets in again.

She’s said her piece. And Robin isn’t listening. Robin, it seems, wants to have it out, right here, right now. On their fucking information retrieval mission inside of the creepiest fucking house Nancy’s ever seen. Robin wants this fight at the most inconvenient time possible. They’re supposed to be combing this goddamn house for clues, relics, anything to help them in what could be another fight for their lives. And here Robin is, derailing them.

Nancy finally fucking snaps—for real, this time.

“Fine. Fine!” She yells, throwing her arms up in the air, breathing short and fast. “You wanna know what it is, you wanna know why I don’t like you?”

“Oh, please, enlighten me.” Robin spits back and takes another step closer, eyes ablaze.

“It’s because you’re an asshole!” Nancy cries, words forceful and feeling like a weight being lifted off of her chest. Robin scoffs and anger seethes in Nancy’s veins. Her fists clench and her nostrils flare and every bit of irritation, annoyance and dislike she’s felt towards the girl since they first met bubbles to the surface.

“Oh, I’m the asshole?” Robin snarls, all faux-shock and spitting anger but Nancy’s too lost in her own fury to even register it.

“Yes! You’re such an asshole! You contradict everything I say and you never take anything seriously; case in point, today.” She gestures wildly at the rooms behind her and Robin’s eyebrows fly even further upwards. She ploughs on.

“You’re sarcastic half the time and arrogant the other, Steve never shuts up about you and the kids all think you’re amazing when really, you’re just a jerk! God, you drive me crazy!”

She finishes her rant panting, glaring up at Robin who, shit, is very tall and also a lot closer than Nancy thought she’d be. Fuck.

Blood roars in her ears as Robin stares down at her, eyes dark like Nancy’s never seen them before. Something buzzes in the limited space between them, a dizzying combination of anger, relief, exposure and something else that Nancy refuses to acknowledge. Her heart is pounding from her speech, from the fury that courses through her veins and god, does it feel good. To be able to just be angry, to be absolutely fuming and not have to justify herself. To not have to be prissy little Nancy, who shuts up and says nothing, lets her anger fester. To be Nancy Wheeler, bold and brave and absolutely, unapologetically furious. It feels fucking incredible. And then—

Robin’s eyes flick down to her lips. It’s just for a moment, for a tiny split-second, but it happens.

Anger clashes with that antsy feeling churning in her stomach and before she knows what she’s doing, Nancy grabs Robin by the collar of her jacket, yanks her down and smashes their lips together.

The kiss is messy, fuelled by fury and unbound wanting. Nancy’s still so mad she could scream and their teeth clack together before they can really get into it, but, she realises between anger and relief, it feels righter than anything she’d ever done with Steve or Jonathan. Adrenaline rushes through her body and she holds on even tighter, keeping her mouth pressed up against Robin’s—the girl she hates (wants), the girl who drives her crazy (in every possible way), the girl who is so fucking pretty it makes Nancy want to scream it from a rooftop.

Said girl pulls back after a few seconds, Nancy’s hands still fisted in her collar. All the anger that was in her eyes is gone, replaced by shock and confusion.

“Nancy, wait, wait.” She breathes, and suddenly Nancy’s scared. And it makes no fucking sense because ten seconds ago, she was certain she despised Robin—but now, against all logic, she feels like if she doesn’t kiss her again, she’s going to lose her fucking mind.

Is this what it’s supposed to feel like? What it was supposed to feel like all that time with Steve and Jonathan? Was I supposed to want them like this? Want them so bad I feel like I’m on fire?

She shakes a little with the revelation and grips onto Robin’s jacket a little tighter.

“Are you…was that…what?” Robin is panting, her voice high and squeaky and fumbling as she babbles, and fuck if it isn’t the cutest thing Nancy’s ever heard.

“I don’t know.” She mumbles in return. “I don’t know, I just…” She sighs and drops her forehead, leaning it against Robin’s. The contact soothes her some, quiets a little of the rabid panic that was beginning to flow through her mind. She’s blanking a little, has no idea what to do, so she closes her eyes and asks for what she wants.

“Kiss me again.” She mumbles, voice shaky but sure. Robin sucks in a breath, nose bumping up against hers.

“Are—are you sure? I don’t wanna make you—” Robin rambles before Nancy interrupts.

“Robin. Kiss me. Please.”

When they come together again, it’s gentler. Their lips meet and it’s still like a supernova goes off in Nancy’s brain, but the actual kiss is much softer and Nancy’s world shifts on its axis. Robin’s hands are tender as they come to rest on her hips, tender as they handle her. But it’s not like Robin believes she’ll break, no—it’s like she fully believes she is strong, tough as nails, but that she also believes Nancy deserves to be treated like a princess. To be revered. Cared for. It makes Nancy’s heart swell within her chest.

The kiss feels better than anything ever has. That’s true physically—because ok, damn, Robin is a good kisser; her hands feel fucking amazing on Nancy and her lips are near-heavenly—but also true in a way that strikes home so poignantly it almost brings tears to her eyes.

Sometimes, Nancy feels likes she’s slipping on a second skin. A persona. A mask. There were people she never hid around, like Barb and Mike when they were little. But for the most part, she plays a role. She’d done it with Steve—rebellious girl-next-door who was down for everything and never got mad—and even to a certain extent with Jonathan; the badass monster-killer who shot guns like it was nothing and risked her life without batting an eye. And parts of her are like that, she’s sure. But only parts of her, never the whole.

This doesn’t feel like just a part of her. This—Robin’s mouth opening against hers, tongue sliding against hers as she squeezes at her hips—feels like her. Kissing this girl, this frustrating, brilliantly pretty, wonderfully intelligent girl, feels more like Nancy than she’s felt in a long while.

She feels like herself. And that’s as terrifying as it is exhilarating.

They pull back after a while, when air becomes necessary, and Robin grins down at her so brightly Nancy thinks she could give the sun a run for its money. She can’t help but grin back, holding back nervously overjoyed giggles.

“We should probably keep looking around.” Robin murmurs, nudging Nancy’s nose with her own affectionately. She hums her agreement and they separate from each other.

As they start down the right-hand corridor and enter the first room, Nancy’s mind refocuses on the mission at hand. She starts to look through drawers, check wardrobes, scan the walls. Her mind is laser-sharp again, direct and purposed. But her heart, her pounding, giddy heart is singing.

She’s not sure what she and Robin are to each other now, what their shared moment makes them. But as she looks up, Robin catches her eye and shoots her a shy smile.

And Nancy’s heart beats for what they could be. Together.