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of vodka and cherry slurpees

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Murray Bauman has a soulmate.

Just like everyone else, he’s had a soul song in his head for as long as he can remember, and the same song will be playing in his soulmate’s head.

He’s always been… fascinated, to be honest, with the concept of soulmates.

He’s always believed in them. Sure, it’s a bit ridiculous, that a song in your head can decide whom you’re destined to fall in love with, but he believes it.

He believes it because his parents didn’t hear the same song, which explains a lot.

[Years later, he still believes it because Nancy Wheeler was humming under her breath when she thought no one could hear, and Jonathan Byers was whistling the same melody]

Unfortunately, for Murray, it’s not that simple, which is fucking typical, to be honest.

His song has lyrics. While most songs are instrumentals, it isn’t uncommon for a soul song to have lyrics.

No, that’s not the problem.

The problem is that his song isn’t in English.

It’s in fucking Russian.

Of course it is, which is just his luck.

He lives his life with soft Russian whispers and acoustic guitar chords constantly echoing in his head.

He buys every book on learning Russian that he can find, filling three boxes and getting strange looks from wary employees.

He fixates on everything Russian, everything Soviet, and the more he learns, the more paranoid he becomes.

They’re already here. The Soviets are already in America. He’s sure of that. He grows more convinced by the day.

He simultaneously fears, despises, the Soviet incursion and longs for the day he finds his soulmate.

The paranoia whispers almost as loud as his soul song, and Murray knows that his soulmate is an enemy of his country.

He knows that it’s likely that his soulmate will try to kill him.

The rational part of his brain reasons that he’s not a soldier, he’s just another American asshole. The paranoid part of his brain agrees that he’s not a soldier, but he’s far from a typical American asshole.

He’s an American asshole with more knowledge about Russia than he knows what to do with. He’s a paranoid journalist whose articles have already been picked up by a couple of smaller papers. And one paper that isn’t so small.

They’ve already noticed him, he’s sure of it.

He packs up his books and disconnects his phone.

He builds an actual bunker, which soothes his paranoia. They won’t find him here. He’s got cameras, his line is secure, he’s off the grid. He’s out of sight.

The only people who can find him are the people he allows to find him. He believes in his abilities, and above all else, in his paranoia.

[Months later, he still believes it because Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers show up on his doorstep, just as he had expected and just as he had hoped, and give him the key to everything]

He hides.

He studies.

He becomes as omniscient as is possible for a man in his position, a man with his access. He becomes a private investigator as an excuse for his investigations.

He drinks more vodka than water, and it soothes his paranoid mind because it teaches him when to think straight and when to dilute his thoughts.

Vodka’s Russian.

He’s fluent in Russian, but he still doesn’t understand parts of his soul song, a melody that even vodka doesn’t quiet.

He’s fairly certain at this point that Lyosha is a name, or a nickname, or maybe some obscure word that hasn’t made its way to America yet.

It might not mean anything at all. It might be some slang term, or just a filler. Wouldn’t that be fucking typical.

But Murray doesn’t think it means nothing. He thinks it means everything.

And then Will Byers disappears.

And then Barbara Holland is dead.

And then Will Byers returns.

And then he’s hired to find out the truth about Barbara Holland’s death.

And then the Russian threat is real, and there’s a girl with a shaved head who just might be a Russian operative, and he no longer has time to think about Lyosha.

And then he allows two teenagers to find him.

Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers give him the missing puzzle pieces. They give him everything.

The Russians may not be responsible, but if they aren’t aware of what’s happening in Hawkins, his name isn’t Murray Bauman.

[Days later, he still believes it because Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers gave him something that the American government was trying to hide, and if two teenagers figured it out then the Russians definitely know, and there’s not enough vodka in the world to silence the paranoia that sends him under a table and keeps him there, trembling, for hours]

For a long time, he hears nothing but his paranoia and his soul song and the occasional call from his mother, asking about his paranoia and his soul song.

For a long time, he hides and listens to his soul song and wonders when they will meet and hopes that his soulmate won’t try to kill him.

And then Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers show up on his doorstep, which isn’t unexpected. Jim Hopper is someone he has allowed to find him in the past. Jim Hopper has proven himself trustworthy in the past.

They show up with Alexei No Family Name, and they compromise everything he’s built.

Alexei, a Russian traitor. Alexei, who loves cherry slurpees and Looney Tunes. Alexei, who has an elegant mind and doesn’t mind repeating himself as Murray attempts to translate concepts he’s unfamiliar with.

Alexei, who laughs wholeheartedly with Murray when he realizes that Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers aren’t fucking.

Alexei, who both aggravates and soothes his paranoia, because he’s a Russian scientist but he’s also kind.

Murray Bauman doesn’t hate Alexei No Family Name.

Alexei’s eyes light up when he smiles with his whole face, and it makes Murray a little less bitter and jaded and suspicious.

Alexei puts him at ease, although the paranoia is shrieking in his mind, and Murray is able to ignore it for the first time in years.

Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers go to look for their kids, as if they actually believed them when they said they’d be at the festival.

If Murray knows anything about that band of troublemakers, he knows that they won’t be at the festival. They’ll be wherever they need to be to save the shitty town they call home.

[Hours later, he still believes it because they wouldn’t have succeeded without every single one of them, and any one of them would die for any of the others, and they’re a family, and he no longer believes that isolation is necessary for survival]

But he doesn’t say anything, and it’s selfish. He wants them to go off and leave him alone with Alexei, so that he can see the Russian light up under the neon and amidst the cacophony of an American celebration.

And Alexei lights up. He smiles, so pure and genuine, and Murray is at peace.

Until he slips up and leaves Alexei alone in order to get him a corn dog.

He hears Alexei’s excited calls after he wins a rigged game, and he grins as wide and pure and genuine as Alexei, and it’s the first time in years he’s been so happy without letting his paranoia take over.

Alexei’s got a huge plush from fucking Looney Tunes because of course he does, and Murray’s too busy looking at the plush and Alexei’s smile to notice the other guy, and he doesn’t realize something’s wrong until Alexei’s smile melts off of his face, until his face warps into something Murray’s never seem on the cheerful scientist’s face before.

And then he sees the blood, and his own blood runs cold.

The only thing he can do is rush to Alexei, pull him away from the crowd, shrug off his shirt and press it firmly against the wound.

“Don’t you dare,” Murray demands roughly, glaring at Alexei. “You’re not dying.”

Alexei manages a weak cough as his eyes swim with fear and desperation. “I cannot— leave me, go after him.”

“Shut up, you Russian bastard, I’m not going anywhere,” Murray said fiercely, “You’re not dying. Not on my watch.”

“It hurts,” Alexei whimpers, clutching weakly at Murray’s wrist. “I cannot fight, it hurts so much.”

“Don’t focus on the pain. Think about something else, something good,” Murray insists, grasping at straws, desperate for any way to keep him talking, keep him awake, keep him breathing. “Your soulmate, think about her. Have you met her yet?”

“No,” Alexei says weakly. “We have never. I hear the song, it is so loud now.”

“Focus on that! You can’t die yet, not until you find her.”

“Murray,” Alexei says slowly, hesitantly, “there is no her.”

“But you said—” Murray cuts himself off as he realizes. “That’s all the more reason to survive. He’ll need you. You need to be there for him.”

[Minutes later, he still believes it because his whole world changes and he can’t do it alone]

“I can hear it,” Alexei mumbles, and starts humming faintly.

It doesn’t even take a second for Murray to recognize the melody.

It’s the melody that triggers his paranoia, and the melody that soothes it.

It’s the melody that drove him to the bunker with three boxes of books.

“Alexei,” Murray breathes.

Alexei stops humming. Alexei looks at Murray, pain and confusion and desperation.

“And I will carry you home, for a home with Lyosha is my only desire,” Murray murmurs.

“That’s— Murray, that is my song,” Alexei says softly, marveling, wondering, hoping.

“It’s my song, too,” Murray tells with a smile. “You’re not going to die, Lyosha. Not while I’m here.”

“When the end seems near, do not abandon hope, for it is not your time quite yet,” Alexei quotes with a grin, wincing from the pain. “I will not leave you yet, Murachka.”

[Hours later, he still believes it because Alexei is still alive]

When the dust settles, they’re both still alive.

Murray can’t remember the last time he’d really been at peace, not like he is now.

He’s found his soulmate, and they survived the end of the world together. Shared trauma and all that.

The bunker is compromised, but it’s still safer than anywhere in Hawkins. For now, at least.

With his paranoia shrieking in his mind, he calls the rest of them — the ones who are left, anyway — to the bunker to discuss what’s coming next.

We can’t let the gate get opened again,” Jonathan Byers insists, dead on his feet, fire still burning in his eyes.

Is there anything we can do to seal it permanently?” Joyce suggests, dead on her feet, extinguished fire flickering in her eyes.

“Lyosha, can we seal the gate permanently?” Murray asks.

“No,” Alexei sighs, “It is another dimension. Think of it as a window. You can close the curtains, but they shift, and light comes through. There is no way to prevent it.”

We can’t close it forever,” Murray translates. “It’s not possible.

We need to watch it, then,” Steve says with a shrug. “Keep an eye out for weird shit.

“Is it possible to just stick around town, watching for unnatural things?” Murray suggests.

“Yes, I suppose, but it would be a lot of work to maintain surveillance on an entire town, Murachka,” Alexei warns.

That would work, but it wouldn’t be easy,” Murray tells, “We’d all need to stick around.

Jonathan looks away, and Joyce bites her lip as she looks at the ground.

It’s the only way,” Murray growls, glaring at Joyce. “I get it. You’re grieving, and everything reminds you of him. Tough. You need to live with the pain, and bring back the fierce Joyce Byers who yelled at the American government and practically kicked my door down because her magnets weren’t working.

Dude,” Robin exhales slowly. “That was harsh.

“Murachka,” Alexei sighs, “I do not know what you said, but it sounded rude.”

“I’m telling it how it is, Lyosha. She needs some tough love,” Murray insists, “Joyce, we need you. We need your help, and Jonathan’s, and we need someone to stand in as chief of police until Hopper finds his way back.

Hopper’s dead, Murray,” Nancy says slowly.

Murray snorts. “The Jim Hopper I know wouldn’t have let his soulmate watch him die. He would have done anything to spare her from that. Trust me, he’s out there. Lyosha, how likely is it that Hopper survived?”

“Ah, I think it is likely,” Alexei assures, smiling at Joyce. “Hopper, he had enough time, he knew that there would be an explosion. He could have entered the portal, and he could have survived.”

Lyosha agrees. Hopper could have made it through the portal before the explosion,” Murray tells firmly. “He’s out there, and he needs someone to take care of our town. It can only be you, Joyce Byers.

[Days later, he still believes it because he knows Jim Hopper and Jim Hopper wouldn’t have left his soulmate, let alone left his daughter]

If Alexei thinks that he could have survived,” Joyce chews on her lip, struggling to keep her voice level, “then I’ll stay.

Alright, I’m interrupting for a minute, we need to address the elephant in the room. Murray, we,” Robin gestures to herself and Steve, “may not be fluent in Russian, but I know enough about nicknames to know that something’s going on here.

“She caught the nicknames,” Murray murmurs quickly. “What do you want me to say?”

Alexei smiles as he takes Murray’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “The truth, Murachka. I’m not ashamed of you.”

“In that case, would you look at that? Someone caught on,” Murray chuckles, “We’re soulmates.

You two?” Nancy demands, raising an eyebrow. “I didn’t think you had a soulmate.

I thought it was Hopper, to be honest,” Robin grins knowingly, “but I clocked you immediately, Murray.

I didn’t know that I was, you know, until this Russian idiot started humming my song,” Murray snorts, “How the hell did you know?"

Robin simply shrugs. “You looked at him like there was no one else in the world that mattered.

Yes, fine, you called it, I’m gay, we’re not done talking,” Murray snaps, subtly squeezing Alexei’s hand. “We need to set up a temporary schedule until the dust clears. I’m talking weekly checks on every hotspot in Hawkins, checked by at least two different people at two different times.

Is that necessary?” Joyce asks anxiously.

Absolutely,” insists Steve, of all people. “It’s absolutely necessary. I’m not losing another member of my family to this. I’ll take one of this week’s checks.

And I’ll take the other,” Nancy offers, “We can set up something permanent later, once the kids are feeling better. We can meet up every week or something and go over what we’ve seen.

Murray, will you be able to handle driving down every week?” Joyce asks.

Murray glances over at Alexei. “This is your last chance to change your mind. Are you sure?”

“Murachka, I’m sure,” Alexei insists fondly. “You are needed here. I will be near the magnet lady, and they have the cherry here. We’ll be fine.”

The paranoia shrieks a protest, but Murray doesn’t give in. “Well, Joyce. You compromised the bunker, so I’ll be relocating within the week. I’ve heard there’s a nice, abandoned road on the outskirts of Hawkins. Apparently there’s some old building out there that needs a bit of work, but it would make a decent bunker. Know who owns that crappy piece of land?

The shitty old place down towards the lab?” Steve asks, leaning forward and grinning. “Dude, I won the deed in a bet. It’s all yours if you want it.

You own— you know, I’m not even surprised,” Robin sighs.

Murray Bauman, moving to Hawkins with his male Russian soulmate,” Nancy shakes her head with a soft laugh. “Who would have guessed it?

Murray barks out a laugh, taking a sip of his cherry slurpee. “Stranger things have happened.