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You and I

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They had been at this for hours. 

Joyce had gone upstairs, leaving Hopper downstairs with Murray and Smirnoff. Smirnoff was watching the television, a shit eating grin stretched across his face. Hopper shook his head at the sight and knew that there was no point in trying to get anything out of the man when everyone was this tired. They had walked for God knows how many miles in the heat. The sweat was pouring off his body just thinking about how hot it was, not to mention all the bugs that seemed attracted to him and only him. Hell, when he sat back against the couch and thought about it, that was just the tip of the iceberg for how insane their day had been. He felt a soft smile tug a his lips as he thought of how Joyce had lost her temper at Murray when they first arrived. 

“What’s got you smiling?” Murray asked, coming from the kitchen and handing Jim a drink before plopping down on the couch. 

“Hm? Nothing,” Jim replied. He gave the man a nod and glanced down at the drink in his hand. He frowned, realizing it wasn’t alcohol.

“Spare me, Jim Hopper,” Murray glared at him, taking a swig at his drink. “You haven’t so much as cracked a smile until now.” 

“Well, forgive me if recent events have kind of soured everything.” 

Smirnoff let out a fit of laughter at whatever he was watching, causing Hopper to roll his eyes and gesture to his obvious annoyance. 

Murray ignored him, pushing his glasses up. “I think a certain little lady upstairs is the cause for your sudden spike in giddiness.” 

Hopper set his drink on the counter and shrugged. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“I don’t? Joyce goes upstairs to do whatever she is doing, maybe taking a shower? And I can only imagine the explicit direction your thoughts have most definitely taken.” 

“Woah!” Hopper felt his voice getting loud, catching the attention of Smirnoff. The Russian merely glanced at them and then turned his attention back to the television. “That is not at all what I was thinking about!” 

“Really?” Murray laughed. “Then please tell me how you weren’t thinking about Joyce.” 

Hopper glared at him. “Fine. I was thinking about her. But, Jesus Christ, cut me some slack. I wasn’t thinking about her in your shower.” Hopper grimaced as saying the words brought a mental image to his mind. Joyce’s naked body standing underneath the showerhead as hot water cascaded down her body. The steam from the heat rising around her. Her hands rubbing up and down her body, the soapy water dripping down her skin. The way her breasts would look as the water-

Hopper suddenly shifted in his seat, attempting to hide his growing arousal. “I was thinking about how she bossed you around earlier.” 

Murray considered his words. “Yes, she’s rather bossy.”

“Yeah,” Hopper said slowly, wondering where his friend was going with this. “She is.” 

Murray gave him a long look. “Despite her screaming at me when you all first arrived, I can see that she’s a kind person.”

Hopper nodded slowly. “What makes you say that?”

“Well, for starters, it would take someone incredibly kind to help heal you.” 

Hopper sucked in air and found himself choking uncomfortably. What the fuck? Why would Murray even say something like that? 

“I see the way you both look at each other,” Murray continued, watching with indifference as Hopper recovered from his little choking bit. 

“We aren’t looking at each other like anything” Jim said, his tone serious.

“Oh, come on. You mean to tell me that you two aren’t a thing?”

“No.”

“Not even just hooking up?”
“Jesus, Murray. Shut up.” Hopper said, glancing up at the stairs. “Drop it before she hears you.” 

“Ah, I see, I see! Something must have happened to cause all this turmoil between you two.” Murray reasoned, clearly not worried about Hopper’s fear of Joyce overhearing them. “That's the second indication that led me see how kind she is.”

“What?” Hopper found himself speaking lowly. He knew he had a dangerous look in his eye. He could feel Smirnoff gazing between the two of them with interest, his annoying show forgotten.

Murray leaned forward, stating it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Kind people are kind because they know the world isn't.” 

Hopper looked at him, bringing his hand up to rub his beard. He wasn’t appreciating where this conversation was going. It was entering sensitive territory. He considered what Murray said and almost found himself laughing bitterly. He swallowed down the anger as he thought of what Joyce had gone through with Lonnie. He had seen the marks. He had seen some of those fucked up scars that she kept hidden so well under long sleeves. He had seen the cigarette burns and the scared look in her eye when he gazed upon them for too long. The physical pain that fucker put her through was what made her kind? Not to mention the emotional pain of having to try and live with verbal and physical abuse. That made her kinder?  

Everything she went through losing Will and having everyone think she was insane. People making jokes. People thinking she had lost her mind as she told them her son wasn’t really dead?  Everything she is still going through with the loss of Bob. She had watched her boyfriend get ripped into by those dogs. Watched his bloodied hand reach out to her. All that fucked up shit made her kinder? 

Hopper felt himself clenching the edge the couch. As he thought of everything, he realized how much an asshole he had been the last few hours. He was hurt from being stood up. He really liked Joyce and was embarrassed from everything that happened. But as he thought about everything that had happened, he found himself getting less angry and a little bit more guilty. She had been so worried about those magnets, so worried about having to relive everything they had already gone through with Will...It was no wonder that she stood him up. Yeah, his feelings were still hurt, and he was not really sure of how Joyce felt for him, but he felt a lot of his anger towards her melting away. 

She really was kind. But, Hopper didn’t think she was kind because of her past. No. Joyce was just one of those people that was inherently nice.She saw the good in people, maybe even people who didn’t deserve it. Maybe that’s what Murray meant moments ago.  It would take someone incredibly kind to help heal you. Hopper knew he was a broken man. He knew that his past was something that had deeply hurt him, and that because of that he wasn’t able to open up like he should, and still, Joyce was always standing there with him. She never made him feel like less. She never made him feel broken. 

She made him feel whole.

Joyce knew what it was like to suffer, and perhaps that alone didn’t make her kind, but it made her understand. She understood how fucked up the world could be and how fucked up it could leave you feeling. It didn’t matter who you were either. She had been nothing but kind to this dumbass Smirnoff. He thought back to how she had been trying to communicate with him about her magnets and fought the urge to smile at how absurd everything was right now. 

“Yeah, um,” he cleared his throat. “Joyce is tough.”” 

Murray gave him a look. “I mean, I know she has been through because her kid told me some, but-” 

“No, you have no idea.” Jim growled out, suddenly becoming defensive. He knew how private Joyce was, and she already seemed rather wary with Murray, considering he had in fact pointed a gun in their faces. He had no idea what all Jonathan and Nancy had told him when they came for their visit, but he would bet they didn’t cover everything in detail  He didn’t want Joyce to feel like he was betraying her trust. 

“I’m just saying, Hopper, you don’t seem-”

“No,” he hissed out. “Stop. Joyce has been through some shit you can’t even imagine. That’s all you get to know. That’s all you deserve to know. Your job isn’t to try and analyze her, or me, or our god damn relationship. Your job is find out what Smirnoff here knows about the Russians and their weapon. So, I think you will kindly back off. And seriously, you better not say a word to Joyce. If you say anything to her, and I mean anything, it won’t be pretty.”

Murray gave a sigh and shrugged. He could tell Hopper was in love with this woman, that much was obvious. He could also tell there were a lot of issues stemming from something they haven’t discussed, because their incessant bickering was starting to get on his last nerve. 

“Did you guys figure anything out?” Joyce’s voice broke their tension as she walked down the stairs. 

“Oh, um…” Hopper stuttered, looking at Joyce. He shifted on the couch again and seemed to be at a loss for words. He seemed utterly flustered, like a kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. 

Murray rolled his eyes. “We were just talking about how kind you are.” 

Joyce scrunched her nose and looked at them skeptically. Hopper’s face was a bright shade of red, a mixture of embarrassment and what was predictably anger. 

Murray let out a laugh. “Kidding. We figured out that we’re all really hungry. Hopper is going to go to Burger King.”

Hopper gaped at Murray and then opened his mouth to protest when Joyce cut in. 

“Hmm, that sounds nice,” Joyce gave them a small smile, clearly recovering from Murray’s previous statement. “Did you ask Alexei if he wanted anything? We should probably get him something. I’m sure he’s hungry.” 

Hopper shot an irritated glance at Murray, who simply gave him a quick wink. 

Chapter Text

Hopper opened his eyes as light from outside began to peak through the curtains that hung in their bedroom. He squinted, letting out a soft sigh as he tried to adjust to his settings. The house was silent, so either the kids were all still asleep, or they already left the house to go and have some type of summer adventure.He felt a familiar heat radiating out from next to him and turned his head to glance at the woman who was curled up beside him. She was facing him, one hand at her side, the other outstretched so that she was almost touching him. 

Jim felt his heart swell at the sight.  

There were infinite reasons why he could love her. Yes, that much was certain. Hopper could create a list of reason after reason why he was in love with Joyce Byers and he was incredibly sure that he would run out of paper before he could even get halfway done. She had saved him, both physically and mentally. There had been a piece of him missing for a long time. He tried filling himself with pills and alcohol to numb the pain. He tried fucking his way through the town, just to try and feel something. No matter what he tried, nothing seemed to work. 

Nothing seemed to work until he saw her smile. Her smile, damn , her smile was a sight that could knock him off his feet. After they saved Will from the Mind Flayer Hopper found himself stopping by Melvad’s at least every other day just to stop in and try and see a glimpse of that smile. She had several smiles, and he had taken to trying and learning each and every one. It had been hard after Bob, but one day Will pulled him aside and told him how his mom only seemed to laugh when Hopper was around. 

After that, he made it his goal to try and do whatever he could to try and see her happy.  She saved him from the demons inside his head, so it was only fair that he could try and do the same. 

But, Joyce also saved him from the demons that appeared before their very eyes. He had helped her save Will,  but she saved him twice. Once from those God damn vines, and the other from those God damn Russians. How she and Murray had managed to save him from that prison was beyond him. He shouldn’t have been surprised that they were clever enough to save him. No, if any two people could have done what needed to be done, it was definitely the two of them. With Joyce’s tenacity, Murray’s intelligence, and both their eccentricity, he knew from the moment he was taken that they would find him. 

What surprised him was the way Joyce had clung to him when they rescued him. The way she had smiled at him as if he was the one that saved her. The way her hands cradled his face like it did all that time ago when she and Bob had saved him. Except this time, she was smiling with this overwhelming emotion and she pulled him so close and that’s when he knew that nothing was going to tear them apart. It was in that moment he knew that she felt the same way he had been feeling for what felt like an eternity.

At that thought, Jim shifted his body in the bed and grabbed her outstretched hand, lacing their fingers together. 

Joyce’s eyes slowly fluttered open and she was flashing him a sleepy grin, her nose crinkling in that adorable way that never failed to make him smile in return. “How long have you been staring at me?”

“Not long enough,” he said, tugging her closer. 

She accepted his invitation and slid her body closer to his. She threw one leg over his hips and buried her face into the crook of his neck. He felt her breath and it sent chills down his spine. He let out a small gasp as he felt her lips on his shoulder. She pressed feather like kisses onto his skin, moving to his collar bone, and then up his neck. Her tongue flicked out, slowly licking and sucking at the sensitive flesh. 

“Joyce,” he groaned, his hands moving to pull her up so that she was fully straddling him. 

“You know it isn’t nice to stare,” she said, pulling away from his neck due to his movement. She beamed down at him. She brought her hand up to his cheek and brushed it with her thumb. She trailed it down and brought it to his lips, pulling his bottom lip down playfully. 

“It’s also not nice to tease,” he said, his voice deep with his sudden growing arousal. 

“Well, I guess we’re even then,” she gave him a cheeky grin and swiveled her hips. 

Hopper instinctively grabbed her hips at her movement and suppressed a groan. 

Joyce ,” he said her name again, closing his eyes. He squeezed her hips with his hands, letting them slowly start to roam up under her shirt. 

Jim ,” she giggled. 

He opened his own eyes at the sound of her laughter and gazed up at her. Her hair was a chaotic mess, brown waves hanging down around her face. Her eyes were shining and he couldn’t help but to reach up and pull her down and crash his lips against hers. She let out another giggle and melted into his kiss, opening her mouth to give access to his tongue. 

“I love you,” he breathed out, his hand cradling her head. “So, so much.”

She pressed her lips back to his before whispering, “I love you, too, Hop.”

Chapter Text

The last time any of them had to deal with something from the upside down was almost two years ago. Life had returned to a sense of normalcy.  After Hopper’s return from Russia, he and Joyce fell into a steady relationship. Although they found themselves co-parenting El, their relationship development was slow to start. Hopper returned with a lot of emotional baggage, and it was Joyce’s turn to be there for him. However, instead of avoiding their growing feelings for another, they decided to try and work through things together, and now were officially a couple.

They had been living together for six months when Hopper was called to come in and help on some police work out of town. It wasn’t the first night he had spent without Joyce, as he was occasionally called into the station at night for some absurd emergency, but it was the first time he had been away from home for this long since he was a prisoner in Russia. It was the end of the second day, nearing the third night, when Hopper pulled himself away from the other officers to make a phone call home. He glanced over at the clock and grimaced as he realized how late it actually was. It was a quarter past eleven on a school night. Surely Will and El would be asleep, and he couldn’t imagine that Joyce was awake either. 

Still, it had been over twenty-four hours since he last spoke to any of them and he couldn’t deny the paranoia brewing inside him. He knew he was being irrational, but the other part of him reminded him that actually was being entirely rational. His family had been to hell and back. They were all plagued with their own nightmares, having suffered their own miseries over the past few years, and Hopper would be damned if he didn’t admit that he was worried about something happening while he was away. He had been hesitant to go, and probably wouldn’t have gone if Joyce hadn’t given him reassurance after reassurance. 

Hopper knew he shouldn’t call this late, but the longer he stood by the phone, the more his mind started to race with endless possibilities. Maybe Will was back in the upside down. He was stuck again somehow and the gate was closed so they wouldn’t get to him. He was running out of time and he needed Hopper to come save him. He thought of how pale the boy had looked all that time ago, wincing as he remembered the Mind Flayer possessing his small body. He tried to think about something else, but then his thoughts drifted to El. What if Brennar was back? What if he was back and he found El and he was performing his sick tests on her? What is she was gone and he had no way of getting her back? And Joyce. What if she was having a nightmare? Who would be there to help her come out of it? What if she was having a panic attack because one of those creatures was back and she wasn’t able to defend herself? 

What if...what if...

He was dialing the home phone number before he could even stop himself. The first ring hit his ear and he felt a small sense of relief. 

Then came the second ring.

 Then the third. 

Hopper felt himself tensing up and knew his knuckles were growing white from his grip on the phone. As the fourth ring started, an extremely sleepy voice answered the phone. 

“Hello?” Joyce muffled into the phone. 

“Hey,” Hopper felt the tension flood his body. Her voice brought his spiraling thoughts back into control They were safe. His family was home and they were safe. His heart was still pounding and he could feel the erratic thud in his ears. “It’s me.”

“Jim?” she asked, seeming more awake once she realized it was him. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, yeah everything's fine,” he assured her. “Just haven’t heard from you in a while.”

Her soft laughter came through the phone,“I told you that you didn’t need to worry about us.” 

“Can you blame me?” he asked, his tone a little more serious than he intended. 

Joyce ignored his question. “I miss you,” she said, her voice sounding delectably sweet. 

Jim grinned and brought his free hand up to run it through his hair. “I miss you, too.” 

“When are you coming home?” she let out a soft sigh, and he could imagine her leaning against the wall in that over-sized blue t-shirt she slept in.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he said. “Everything should be wrapping up within the next few hours, so I should be able to drive back at some point tomorrow. How are things there?”

“You’ll be relieved to know that things have been completely uneventful. El went to stay the night with Max, so it’s just me and Will here.”

“And nothing suspicious has happened?” he found himself asking. “There haven’t been any problems?” A part of him cringed at how crazy and paranoid he sounded, but he simply couldn’t stop himself. After everything that happened to him as a prisoner his mind tended to conjure up many scenarios. He blamed the drugs they had him on. Those damn drugs made him hallucinate some messed up shit. It had all felt so real and he was certain it had left him with emotional scars that forced him to think the worst would really happen.

“No,” she said. “Well, actually, there is this one problem that-”

“What?” Hopper hissed out. “Why didn’t you call me? Joyce, you said you would call me if something happened!” 

“Hop, calm down,” Joyce said quickly. “I was just saying that the only problem is that the bed feels really empty without you.”

“Oh,” he breathed out.

He let out an exhale and felt himself start to calm down. 

“Yeah,” she spoke quietly. “So stop stressing about us and get back to work so you can come home and keep me warm at night.” 

Hopper let out a small chuckle at that and shook his head. “I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t be. I’ve been worried about you, too. It’s just what we do now.” 

“I know. I know that this is how normal life should be and I need to try and move on from everything, it’s just all-”

“Hop,” she cut him off. “You don’t owe me an explanation. If you want to call me at three in the morning to check on us, I’ll understand. But, I promise, everything is okay.” 

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, yeah.”

“Now, as much as I would love to talk to you more, I do work early tomorrow, and I have a big empty bed all to myself that’s calling my name.”

“Only for one more night,” he said as a reminder, more for his own benefit than hers. 

“Only for one more night,” she repeated. 

Hopper set the phone down and glanced out the window. Although this trip was proving to be hard on him mentally, he felt a small sense of peace from the conversation. He allowed himself to think that maybe, just maybe, he really didn’t have to worry about demogorgons or evil scientists trying to kill his family. It was a strange thought, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever get to a place where he wasn’t worried about the Upside Down, but he was hopeful that one day it wouldn’t be so consuming. 

But, for now, he would continue on with his worries until he was back home. 

Chapter Text

Joyce walked into the bathroom and began to take off her clothes to take a quick shower before work. She pulled at her night shirt and turned to see her reflection in the mirror, the image before her making her freeze in place. Her mouth fell open and she brought her hand up to her neck. Her fingers ghosted over the red marks that were already beginning to fade to purple. They trailed down her neck and onto her chest, painting her breasts in various shades of bruising color. 

“Jesus, Hopper,” she whispered as she examined the love bites he had left on her last night. She knew they hadn’t exactly been gentle, but she certainly didn’t think he had been sucking at her skin hard enough to leave so many marks. 

Shaking her head, she continued to undress. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her body and made her way to the bedroom. Hopper was already up and getting dressed. He was still in his black boxers, having thrown on his undershirt and was beginning to put on his police uniform. 

“You shower already?” he asked, buttoning up his shirt. 

“No, I got distracted by something.” 

Hopper didn’t look up at her, not noticing the coloring on her skin. “Oh? Something interesting happen in the bathroom?” his voice was slightly amused, teasing her. 

“I was going to shower when I discovered that apparently I was sharing the bed with a leech last night!” 

This made Hopper snap his head up. He took a step towards her, his eyes looking at her neck. He reached out his hand and pulled the towel down, his hands tracing over the marks as hers did previously. However, the feeling of his large calloused hands touching the sensitive skin brought an overwhelming heat grow within her. 

Joyce parted her lips and watched him.

His thumb moved down her chest and soon his hand covering her breast. His eyes made their way back to hers and an enormous grin overtook his face. His eyes were suddenly dark with desire and he seemed completely and utterly aroused by the sight. 

“You’re grinning, but what do you expect me to do with this?” she frowned at him. “I don’t even know where to begin covering all this up!” 

“You don’t need to cover up them up,” he said, bending down to press his lips to the marked skin on her neck. 

Joyce let out a soft moan and felt the towel starting to slip off her hips. She closed her eyes at the feeling of his lips pressing softly and considered his words. 

“I can’t go to work with hickies covering my neck and chest,” she said, but the protest sounded weak to her own ears as she felt herself being guided to the bed, her legs hitting the mattress and causing her to fall onto it. The move allowed Hopper to move his mouth down her neck and onto her chest. His tongue was swirling, delicately tracing over the marks that he made a few hours ago. 

“No one will see your chest,” he mumbled against her skin. 

“My neck,” she whispered, her hands going to his hair. She threaded her fingers into it, pulling as his mouth covered her left nipple. She let out a soft cry, arching her back as he sucked, his teeth grazing over her. 

“Let people see,” he said lowly. “Let people know that you’re mine.” 

Joyce let out a laugh at his suggestion. “Yeah, you say that now, but we both know how trashy it can look.” 

“Hmm, don’t care,” his mouth moved over to give attention to her right breast. 

“Jim,” she whined, her hands tensing in his hair again. “This isn’t high school. You can’t give me hickies!” 

He glanced up at her, moving his face so that his lips were close to hers. “If you don’t like them, I won’t do it again. I didn’t mean to leave so many marks. I just- God, I just get carried away with you.” 

That comment made her blush and before she could react, his lips met hers and they were soft and warm. His kisses in the morning were always sweet, showing more love than lustful passion. They were quite possibly her favorite kisses from him to receive, but she couldn’t let them continue to get carried away. She could feel his own growing arousal pressing against her hip through the thin black material he wore. She found her mouth parting at she thought about it and she soon felt his tongue entering, playfully teasing hers. Joyce let out a groan and felt her hands come up to try and push him away. She knew she was letting things get escalate into dangerous territory, but they needed to get ready for work.  

“Hmm,” she hummed against him, breaking away. “I do like them. I like them very much,” she admitted as she thought about how his eyes darkened at the sight of her. “But not where people can see them.”

Hopper let out a noise that she couldn’t quite decipher. It sounded like a mixture of amusement but also pleasure. “Okay, got it. All future hickies will be below your neck.”

Joyce flushed at the thought and smiled up at him. “I’m going to have to wear turtle necks for the next couple of days because of you.”

“Well, it’s getting cold, so maybe you should thank me for helping keep you warm,” he joked, his eyes going to look back at her neck. 

“Alright, alright,” she pushed at him again, seeing from his expression where he wanted things to go. “I have to go shower and leave soon.” 

Hopper pulled back with a slight frown, rolling off of her so that she could get up from the bed. “Want me to join you? I see a lot of places below your neck that need my attention.”

Joyce shook her head at him, despite the thought sounding way too appealing. However, she knew if Hopper joined her, they would both be late for work. She turned to look at him, seeing the disappointed look on his face. His eyes caught her and he gave her a curious look as he saw her eyes shining with mischief. “This way you can have something to look forward to for later”

Hopper watched as the bathroom door closed, and Joyce heard him let out a soft chuckle as he tried to collect himself to go to work. She smiled to herself as she turned on the water to get ready for her day. 

She didn’t look so bad in turtlenecks anyways. 

Chapter Text

Hopper watched as the kids started dissipating from his line of sight. They were all going to Murray’s where they would be safe until all this shit was over. He watched as Mike trailed behind El and Max, and despite having some issues with the boy, he was glad to know he would be there to comfort El. El was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but she was hurt, so he figured he could be there for his daughter until Hopper and Murray were able to return. 

He felt a presence at his side and saw Joyce coming to stand next to him. She let out a sigh and glanced over at him. He furrowed his brow, wondering why she was standing there and not going off with the kids. That was the plan. At least, that was the plan inside his head. They hadn’t discussed it per say, but Hopper assumed that everyone was on the same page. El and Joyce were going to be out of harms way. They were going to be safe, and he was going to finish this once and for all. 

“What?” Joyce asked him, her voice slightly confused. 

“What are you doing?” he couldn’t help the anger that slipped out. 

“What do you mean ‘what am i doing’?” she gave him a look. “I’m waiting for you to be ready to go.” 

No. 

No. 

Did she seriously think he was going to let her come with them to sneak onto the Russian base and destroy the machine and close the gate to the Upside Down? Did she really think he was going to let herself be put in more danger? 

“Joyce, you’re not going. End of story.” he stated in a serious voice that didn’t leave room for argument. “Now, get out of here and don’t keep the kids waiting.” 

Joyce glared at him and put her hands on her hips. She looked like she was formulating a response, but Hopper didn’t bother waiting to hear what she had to say. He wasn’t arguing with her about this. If he had any say at all, she was going to Murray’s. He pushed himself up and began grabbing things to head to the place Dustin had told them about. 

“I’m coming!” Joyce called out. “I was the one who told you about the magnets in the first place!” 

Hopper ignored her, looking over to Murray. 

“Ready to go?” he asked, glancing as the man was fiddling with a walkie talkie. 

His friend gave him a weary look. “Listen, Jim...I’ve been thinking it over and I really think we should consider altering the plan.” 

Hopper felt his jaw clench. “I swear to-” 

“Hop, this isn’t a debate,” Joyce cut him off.  “Murray and I talked it over and-”

“Yeah, it’s not a debate because you’re not fucking going.” he didn’t look at her and started walking off. Despite what he just said, he felt the two of them following after him and he felt himself really starting to lose his composure. 

“Murray, tell him that I need to go,” Joyce said, practically jogging to try and keep up with Hopper’s long strides. 

Jim rounded the corner and looked at her incredulously. She really thought Murray was going to butt in and help her?  Ha! Murray didn’t usually help people he just met unless there was something in it for him. It had taken years for Hopper to earn his trust. “It’s a two man operation. Two!”

“Yeah, well, change of plans,” she bit back at him.  

“Change of plans?” Hopper scoffed. She was being utterly ridiculous. Why couldn’t she just listen to him? He was only doing this to protect her and she was looking at him like he was the bad guy in all of this. 

“Yeah. Will you explain it to him, please?” Joyce asked Murray for help again. 

Hopper was surprised when Murray came to her aid. 

“We have two options here, Jim. We can turn the machine off or we can explode it,” he said quickly, trying to explain their train of thought. 

Hopper checked his gun, really fighting to keep his composure. He had known Joyce for what, two days? And here he was, already siding with her over him.  “Oh yeah? Says who?”

“Says the man who built it!” Murray screamed out at him as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. 

“Yeah, and we wanna explode it!” Joyce chimed in. 

“Or else our heroic efforts will be for naught! This is a three-man operation, Jim, not two.”

“Yeah, three!” 

Hopper let out a groan and shoved the doors open. 

“When?” he spun around, making the two of them stop in their tracks.

“Pardon me?” Murray asked, clearly not following. He exchanged a quick glance with Joyce. 

 “When the hell did you two decide all of this was going to happen?” Hopper hissed. 

Joyce looked startled at this and Murray simply rolled his eyes. 

“Jim, we can discuss the fine details later if it pleases you, but right now we really need to get going,” Murray said irritably. He shoved his way past Hopper and started making his way towards the elevator. 

Hopper grunted and glared at him, his eyes slowly coming back to look at Joyce. She was looking at him, waiting to see his reaction. 

“Please, please, don’t do this,” he found himself speaking softly. He gazed down at her, taking in her tiny frame and large tired eyes. 

Joyce’s expression changed and she gave him a small frown. “I’m not letting you do this without me.” 

“They killed Alexie,” the sound of Smirnoff’s real name coming off his lips surprised them both. “They killed their own man, and they won’t hesitate to kill you either.” 

Just suggesting the idea out loud was enough to make his fists clench and his body feel cold all over. 

“Hop, I know what we’re up against,” she reached out a hand and placed it on his arm. He closed his eyes at the feeling of her delicate hand on him. “We went to the Upside Down together, I think we can handle this.” 

“Murray and I can handle this,” he opened his eyes and gave her a hard look. 

“Well, I’m coming anyways,” she said evenly. 

“Why?” he growled out at her. “Why are you so hellbent on coming with us, Joyce?” 

“Because last time you went without me I almost lost you !” Joyce cried out, snatching her hand away from him. 

Hopper felt his mouth fall open at her words. He felt like a deer in headlights as he watched her face break with emotion. Her eyes looked glossy at the admission and she bit her lip in frustration. 

“Joyce…” he said her name. He wasn’t sure what else to say. He hadn’t expected her to admit something so honest and intimate. 

“No!” she shook her head. “You went down there and those vines almost killed you! You made me stay behind at the lab and that psychopath giant beat you until you were unconscious! I can’t do that, Jim! I can’t lose you...” 

Hopper’s eyes widened as it dawned on him. She was afraid of losing him just as much as he was afraid of losing her. 

“If you want it to be a two man job so bad then you stay behind!” she jutted a finger at him, her anger filling the room. 

“Stop being ridiculous,” he narrowed his eyes at her. “If you think for a moment that I would let you do this without me…”

“Then why are you always trying to do things without me?” she cried out. 

“Because I can’t lose you either! ” he shouted. 

Joyce flinched at the volume, but he watched as her face softened. The same realization he had come to moments before seemed ot have clicked in her mind as well. She stepped forward and suddenly pulled him into a hug. Her small arms tightened around him and she buried her face into his chest. Hopper instinctively wrapped his arms around her and let out a sigh, all the tension fleeing his body. 

This was it.

 They both just admitted that they couldn’t lose each other. They were hugging, and Joyce felt so small and soft in his arms. He shifted, and she glanced up at him, their eyes locking. 

Hopper knew this wasn’t the time. This wasn’t how he wanted to do it. He was going to take her on a date, make an entire evening out of it. She wasn’t like all those other women, and he wanted to do things right with her.  But she stood him up. She stood him up and he was beginning to think that maybe he was misreading the signals. However, he knew he wasn’t misreading anything right now. The way her body was pressed against his. The way her chocolate brown eyes were looking at him, pupils dilating. The way her breath hitched as he began to lean down. 

She said she couldn’t lose him. 

His lips were moving closer, and he watched with great pleasure as she closed her eyes. 

She wanted this. 

She wanted him. 

He could feel the warmth from her radiating and his lips were ghosting over hers. They were only centimeters apart when the obnoxious voice of Murray came crashing down on them. 

“Hey, lovebirds! Stop fooling around and let’s go!” 

Joyce quickly pushed away. She stumbled backwards and her cheeks flushed red. She was looking down, crossing her arms. 

Hopper closed his eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. He flicked open his eyes, gazing down at Joyce. He licked his lips and fought back the urge to groan.  He was so close to kissing her. So close to having that physical conformation that he had been longing for. 

“I, uh- I guess we should go,” Joyce mumbled. She turned from him and began scurrying off to Murray. 

Hopper cursed lowly and followed after them. 

He realized that this meant he lost the argument. Although it pained him to think about, Joyce was coming with them. There was no way he was talking her out of it. They didn’t have time. Jesus, what he wouldn’t give for just one more second. Despite what he wanted, Joyce was going with him to some secret Russian base and he had to pretend like it wasn’t eating away at him. 

He had to pretend like he hadn’t just almost kissed her. 

He had actually almost kissed her. 

The mere thought was enough to send his mind reeling with possibility. 

He wasn’t sure what plan Murray and Joyce apparently hatched behind his back, but he knew two things for certain: first, he was going to close that god damn gate. He didn’t care what it took, they were going to seal it shut and it was never going to open again.

Then, he was going to kiss Joyce Byers, and nothing was going to stop him.  

Chapter Text

The Wheeler family was hosting a small party in celebration of the ‘summer beginning’ and various people were scattered all around. It was just an absurd excuse for Karen to hold a get together and show off how wonderful everything was going for her. Joyce wasn’t bothered by the woman’s persistent need to give off an air of a perfect family and a perfect life. If anything, she respected her for always trying so hard. No, Joyce was bothered because of how overwhelming it all was. 

It had been almost two years since Will disappeared and people still couldn’t stop talking about it. She was tempted to stay at home, but her children had insisted she come. They didn’t want her sitting at home another night, focusing on the past. She would have said no to anyone else, but they were both looking at with that look...She figured she could handle one night out.

When they first arrived, people eyes were lingering a bit too long. She could see people leaning to whisper to one another, looking at her son as if he was a ghost even though it had two years . Joyce found herself thinking of all those kids who called him Zombie Boy and tried best to push down all the thoughts that could stir up. She assumed that once other people began to arrive, their attention would turn to something other than her or her children. 

However, the night was young, and people in Hawkins didn’t seem to have anything else to talk about. 

“Oh, look, Joyce is here!” a woman dressed in a flimsy blue dress gave a fake smile

“Well, you saw that Will was here,” another whispered, her brown eyes flicking over to the other room where the children were hanging out. “You know she won’t let him go anywhere without her since what happened.”

“It’s crazy if you ask me,” the lady in the blue dress flipped her blonde hair. “I bet her kid ran off because of how she acts. You remember what Lonnie was saying…”

“Yeah, he said she painted a Ouija board in her house!” a third lady pipped in. “Donald even said she purchased like twenty boxes of Christmas lights!”

“But what about the funeral they had?” the other woman asked. “You think she made up his death and all that?” 

 Joyce tuned them out and brought the dull red punch to her lips and forced herself to take a long sip. It was brimmed to the top with several pieces of crushed ice that Ted has lazily plopped into her solo cup. The room temperature drink was contrasting with cold ice cubes and it was causing her cup to sweat in a way that only seemed to bother her. She stared intently at the water dripping down her cup and wiped away furiously at it with the palm of her hand. 

She hated when drinks did this. This is why they should have refrigerated the punch before hand. Or maybe Ted shouldn’t just be giving out ice cubes in such large quantities! Honestly, what was he thinking? Didn’t he realize how expensive ice could be? Probably not! He probably doesn’t think about the price of ice cubes because he’s never had to think about something so insignificant because he has always had a sturdy job and that’s why he put so many god damn ice cubes in her cup and that’s why her palm is all wet, and oh god, why didn’t she just use her sleeve instead of getting her hand all wet? She pulled her sleeve down and tried to wipe away the residue, furrowing her brow as she tried to concentrate. 

Joyce, breathe.

She was trying her hardest to keep herself together. She knew she was hyper fixating on something to keep herself grounded. She really didn’t care about something so trivial, but it was taking all she could to not start breaking down, to no let her anxiety consume her...Clearly she wasn’t doing that great of a job though, because she could feel Hopper’s eyes watching her every move.

“You don’t have to stay here and watch over me like a hawk,” she mumbled, watching idly as he stepped towards her and reached out to take the cup away from her. He quickly turned and tossed it into the trash can. She leaned back against the wall and crossed her arms, biting her bottom lip with her teeth. 

“I know,” he shrugged, leaning against the wall and staring down at her. 

“Seriously, Hop,” she rolled her eyes. “I’m fine.”

“I heard you,” he said sincerely. “But, I’m also hearing a lot of bullshit gossip.” 

Joyce blinked at him before shaking her head. It didn’t matter. She didn’t want any of it to matter. All she cared about was that Will was home, he wasn’t possessed, and she didn’t give a damn about what anyone said otherwise. 

“We can leave whenever you want,” Hopper said lowly so that she was the only one to hear him. 

She glanced up at him, her eyes wide. We can leave. He would really leave this party if she wanted to? It wasn’t the first time she had caught on to him speaking that way. It had started a little before they started taking Will to see Sam Owens. At first it wasn’t always the most consistent thing, but as of recent, they were always we. They were always a unit in his eyes. They were a team, and Joyce had certainly noticed the looks he had been giving her. The way his eyes were always so warm when he looked her. The way his expression was always so soft.

It comforted her. 

But it also frightened her. 

She liked Hopper. She really did. That’s what made it so difficult. She liked him more and more every time she was with him, and she was scared that she was going to jump into something she couldn’t handle emotionally. After everything with Bob...That all takes a long time to heal from, and what if she isn’t completely healed? Does she even deserve happiness after everything that happened? Jim certainly deserved somebody who had their shit together, and Joyce? She never seemed to have her shit together. She didn’t want to mess anything up with him. She didn’t want things to change because she truly didn’t think she could live without him at this point. 

She’d rather only have part of him than none of him. 

Maybe it was selfish. Maybe she was denying something that could be great. But what happened when it wasn’t great anymore? Lonnie was great...until he wasn’t. She couldn’t handle the fallback. She couldn’t handle them not being we. So much so that it scared the hell out of her. 

She hated that she did this. She hated it more than she hated that awful sweaty cup that was still lingering in her mind because she really wanted to think about that and not let her mind run rampant with thoughts like these. She hated that she let fear control her. She always let her mind go down paths of terrible outcomes, and that’s probably the reason she let herself stay in the house every night she had off. She was guilty. So unbelievably guilty and instead of trying to move on she let that guilt consume her. 

Bob wasn’t her fault, but sometimes she felt like it was. 

She couldn’t afford to love someone else, because what if she lost them?

Lonnie left her. She had put up with so much shit, endured so many years that had taken a toll on her, and yet she still stayed. She didn’t give up on people. She never did. She didn’t love him anymore, but a part of her remembered what it was like to be in love with him. She remembered the good with Lonnie, and it gave her hope that always made her stay. Then, he left her. Lonnie Byers fucking left her. 

Bob left her, too. He wasn’t the type to walk out, and that’s why she let herself feel safe. She felt safe in their relationship and perhaps that’s why she was still so shaken over him. But he left her, too. 

She couldn’t lose Hopper. 

Stop letting fear control you. 

Joyce looked at Hopper and took in his form. He was so tall, his presence alone was so assertive and domineering that is surprised her when she really surveyed him. She forgot how intimidating he could be. He was never like that to her. Yeah, she was him as bigger than her, but she never saw his size as something to fear. Lonnie left her with enough scars to teach her that men couldn’t be trusted, but it was so different with Hopper. 

Then what are you afraid of? 

She trusted him. She trusted him so much, so why couldn’t she let their relationship turn into something more? She knew he wanted to. He hadn’t expressed it outloud, but she could see it written all over his face. 

We. 

Was it really better to only have half of him? 

She could have all of him. She could be with him and she could let that fear dissolve into comfort. She could have him, and maybe he wouldn’t leave her behind like everyone else had. Maybe he would be there and maybe she could do it. Maybe she could let herself feel again… 

“Earth to Joyce,” Hopper’s voice called out to her, his large hand coming to rest on her shoulder. “You okay?”

She glanced at his hand, her body trembling slightly from the contact, before looking up at him. “Yeah, sorry. I just- you got a smoke?” she found herself asking. 

He gave a small chuckle, reaching into his pocket. “Hmm, yeah. But it’s not filtered, so you’re not going to like it.” 

He pulled out the container and flicked out a single cigarette for her to take. 

“Want to go sit outside with me until the kids want to leave?” she gave him a small smile, grabbing the cigarette.  

“Sure, yeah,” he smiled back at her. “This party is pretty lame anyways.” 

Joyce led the way to the door and brought them outside. There were a few chairs scattered around, so she sat down and held out the cigarette expectantly towards Hopper. He brought out his lighter and quickly did as she wanted. Joyce brought the cigarette to her lips and took a small inhale, hoping that taking a smaller puff would help her not cough. Unfortunately, a few seconds later she began coughing as she exhaled and tried to hand it back to Hopper. 

He laughed at her and took it, taking a drag himself. The cigarette seemed to calm him and he gave Joyce a long hard stare. 

“You know not to listen to them, right?” Hopper said, his voice suddenly very serious. 

“Hop,” she sighed out his name.  

“No, Joyce,” he glared at her. “They don’t know the first thing about you or your family, so don’t listen to any of the shit they say.” 

“Okay,” she nodded, seeing that he was clearly worked up about it. “I was bothered a little at first,” she admitted. “But then I started thinking about something else.”

“What?” he asked, letting smoke exhale through his mouth. 

“You.”

Suddenly, Hopper began coughing with the cigarette, looking a lot like Joyce did a few moments ago. She laughed at him, earning her a scowl. 

“What about me?” the desperation in his voice not lost on her ears. 

“You think of us as a unit.”

“Well, yeah-” he started, his face scrunched up in confusion. 

“And at first it really frightened me,” she watched as his face dropped. It looked like she had stabbed in right in the heart, so she quickly scrambled the next part to try and fix his expression. “But I started thinking about it, and it’s not being with you that scares me. It’s being without you.” 

“Joyce, you won’t ever lose me.” 

“No,” she whispered. “You can’t promise me that.”

“I can try to-” he tried again, only to watch as she stood up and made her way towards him. She took the cigarette out of his mouth and then promptly crawled into his lap. She curled against him, pressing her face into the crook of his neck. He wrapped his arms around her, his eyes widening in shock from her actions. 

“I’m afraid to be without you,” she repeated. “And for a while I’ve been pushing you away.”

“Hey, I understand,” he soothed, rubbing his hand slowly up and down her arm. “I understand.”

“No, Hop, you don’t. Those women, they say all those things and that’s whatever. The whole town can say I’m crazy, they can think that, and I don’t care. It does make me anxious. A lot of things make me anxious and afraid. God, I feel like I’m afraid all the time. I’m afraid, until I see you. You make me feel okay. You make me feel like I can have another chance, and I’m tired of trying to push that away.”

Hopper pulled her face away from his neck and looked into her eyes

“You won’t ever push me away,” he said. “I’ll be here, Joyce. I’ll be here until you’re ready. You make me feel like I can have another chance, too”

Joyce smiled at him and rested her head against his chest, curling up against him. She glanced up at the stars and heard the faint sound of music coming from inside. She knew they couldn’t actually stay out here until the party was over. It would raise too many questions and she really didn’t want to have to deal with anymore gossip than she already had to. But, this moment...

She didn’t feel guilt as he held her closer.

Nor she she feel fear. 

All she felt from him was love.  

Chapter Text

The cold brush of wind painted his face and sent chills down his spine. Never in a million years would Hopper have chosen to leave the comfort of his warm house on a Saturday in the middle of January to go and try to ice-skate on the lake. When El and Will burst into the bedroom that morning already wrapped up in scarves with their hats and gloves, yammering on and on about how everyone else had already had the chance to go and skate at the lake, Hopper had a hard time saying no. Not only were his children practically begging as if their very lives depended on it, the mention of ice-skating seemed to brighten Joyce’s sleepy eyes considerably. So, predictably, Hopper found himself standing in the snow, fumbling with the ice-skates he had purchased for the occasion. 

“Do you know what you’re doing?” El giggled at her father. Joyce was helping El lace up her skates and Hopper saw her nose crinkle in delight as she gave him a sideways glance. 

“I’m figuring it out,” he waved her off, fighting off his own smile. 

Will was already out on the lake skating around with considerable ease. He was wobbling a bit as he began to take some turns, but Hopper could tell that it wasn’t his first time skating. 

“Where’d you learn to skate?” Hopper called out to the boy, taking a tentative step towards the lake. 

“Oh,” Will cast a quick glance at his mom. “Mom taught me.”

Joyce gave her son an encouraging grin and slowly walked El over to Will. The girl was having trouble trying to keep her balance and quickly grabbed out for Will’s hand as Joyce let her go. Hopper watched as Will started to try and give instruction to his new sister, the two of them laughing as El almost toppled them both over. 

“Be careful!” Joyce warned them. 

 She stood watching them for a few moments longer before turning to look at Hopper. Her gaze went down to his poorly tied skates. “I’m going to have to fix that for you.”

“I never knew you were such a skating expert,” he teased as she bent down to help him. He looked at her with a playful smile. Her movements were quick and he really was impressed with how familiar she seemed with this. 

“Hmm, well there’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she tugged on his laces and gave him a coquettish smirk. 

“Oh, I seriously doubt that,” he shook his head, enjoying her flirtatious attitude. 

She stood up and gave him a sultry look. “You’re all done. I guess I’ll just go take care of myself now, since your’re finished first.” 

Hopper’s eyes widened as he realized the double meaning of her words. 

“That’s how you want to play this?” he asked, his voice suddenly rough. 

“Play what?” she asked innocently. She turned her attention to her her skates and began to lace them up. Hopper watched her tug on her own laces and felt himself swallow. He wasn’t sure why the action was so attractive to him, but he suddenly didn’t care about skating anymore. In fact, his mind was going down a very different direction. He wouldn’t mind fucking Joyce while she wore those skates. Maybe using those laces to tie her up. Yeah, they would see who would finish first then. 

Joyce stood up, looking at him expectantly. “You ready?” 

Hopper cleared his throat and gave a small nod. He couldn’t think about all that right now. He would have plenty of time to plan all that out later. The children would surely be going to bed early, clearly worn out from today’s adventure. 

He took a tentative step onto the ice and stumbled a little. He hadn’t been ice skating in years . The last time he went skating was probably back in junior high. It just wasn’t something he enjoyed all that much. He was tall, even back then, and trying to keep his balance with a thin blade on ice wasn’t exactly a specialty of his. 

Joyce raised an eyebrow at him. “Need some help?” 

Hopper was about to tell her no. He wasn’t one to ask for help on things. He could usually figure them out on his own and he certainly hated to be shown up by others. However, it really had been ages since he skated. He truly wasn’t sure how to proceed without falling face first onto the frozen lake and probably busting his nose. 

“Yeah, you’re the master,” he gave her a wink. 

A small red flush was barely visible on her cheeks as he made that comment. She let out a small laugh and extended her hand to him. Her gloved hand fit into his and she tugged him forward. Her gloves were too thin, he realized quickly, and he made a mental note to buy her a better pair soon. He knew better than to make a comment right now. Joyce hated that he was always trying to buy her stuff. Although they were married, she disliked money being spent on her. He knew it stemmed from years of having to sacrifice her own stuff so that the boys could have more, but Hopper was more than willing to buy her whatever she wanted. It had certainly caused them a few arguments in the past. 

“You just have to move your feet like this,” she said to him, nudging him slightly to make him focus. 

Hopper tried to mimic her movements. His movements were much bigger than hers, and although she was clearly much more skilled, he seemed to be setting the pace. He appeared to be getting the hang of it, and soon enough, they were moving at a halfway decent pace. 

“Yeah! Just like that,” she nodded. “See, you’re a natural!” 

“Sure,” he snorted. “Looks like the kids are having a good time.” Hopper nodded in the direction of El and Will. 

El was no longer holding onto Will’s hand. She seemed to have picked up some basics, but was now intently watching Will as he tried to balance on one foot. He was waving his arms frantically as he did so, making a big show out of it. El starting clapping her hands and Will set his foot down and took a big bow. 

“It’s really nice to see them like this,” she said softly. 

Hopper glanced down at her and nodded. These were the moments that made everything worth it. Hearing the laughter of his children as they actually got to act like children was the most uplifting thing in the world. The two of them had been through so much the past few years. They were young teenagers now, but they had seen more than most people would see in their entire lifetime. 

They had a lot of bad days.There were times when El became so frustrated with her lack of progress into the natural world that she lashed out at them. She shut down and it was so hard to try and help her. She pushed people away because she wasn’t always sure how to let them in. Adjusting was difficult for her. She was still trying to catch up from all those years in the lab, and on top of that dealing with raging hormones that resulted in uncontrollable tears. Hopper really felt out of his element with this and was so thankful that he had Joyce there by his side to try and help. 

For every bad day that El had, Will seemed to suffer at night. He was often plagued with nightmares. He woke up screaming in the middle of the night, crying to his mother about the things he had seen. Hopper knew it was just flashbacks to everything that had happened to the kid. That didn’t stop Will from waking up in a cold sweat, sobbing out to his mom that the Mind Flayer was going to come back and get him. Joyce had been wary at first that it could be something more, but El assured them that the gate was closed forever. 

They all had trouble believing that sometimes. 

Sometimes Hopper wasn’t sure who the nightmares affected more, Will or Joyce. She had her fair share of night terrors, reliving memories that plagued her with insurmountable guilt. He couldn’t count how many times he woke up to find her whimpering in her sleep, or sometimes not even in the bed at all. She would drag herself to the bathroom and hide out there as she tried to pull herself back into reality. 

Hopper was more like El. He was too angry. He hated what his family had been through. He hated how much they had to sacrifice in order to get to where they were. The anger was consuming and sometimes he found himself lashing out as his daughter does. 

Progress was slow, but they were surely making it. The good days that seemed few were becoming more and more frequent. They were all healing. They were finally starting to move on from everything and as Joyce said, it really was nice to see them like this. 

Hopper continued watching the kids and their silly antics, not really paying attention to his own skating. He didn’t noticed that his feet had slowly moved too close together, the blades catching one another. 

“Jim!” he heard Joyce’s panic as he felt himself stumbling forward. 

He tried to let go of her hand as he toppled down. He tried, but he simply wasn’t quick enough. Hopper smacked down onto the ice and felt Joyce land half on his side and half on the ice. Despite the flash of pain he felt from the impact, he spun around and sat her up, his eyes scanning over her. 

“Jesus, Fuck- I’m so sorry. Joyce, I’m so sorry.” his hands were roaming up her sides and he tried to see if could see any visual injury.  “Are you hurt?”

She looked stunned. Her eyes were wide as she glanced at him. Hopper didn’t see any physical injury, but he couldn’t be sure. He took the brunt of the fall, and he was sure he might not even bruise from it.  However, she was considerably smaller than him... He felt himself starting to panic at her silence, but then a small smirk tugged at her lips. He felt relief flood through him as she started laughing. Her laugh was infectiously loud and he couldn’t help but join in. 

“God, I didn’t realize how uncoordinated you are!” she gasped out in between giggles. 

El and Will had made their way over to them and El was laughing as well. 

“I wish we could’ve got that on camera! Jonathan would’ve loved to see that!” Will teased his mother. 

“Dad!” El chuckled. “You’re really bad at this.” 

Hopper shook his head. “I got distracted. Really, my teacher should have been paying closer attention.” he shot Joyce a look of mock annoyance. 

She rolled her eyes at him and then started to push herself up from the ground. Will skated closer and offered his hand. He helped pull her up from the ground and let out a laugh as she started to brush some crushed ice from her jacket. 

Hopper pushed himself off the ground slowly, trying to keep his balance as he stood. El hovered near him for a moment, making sure he didn’t fall again.Once she felt like he was standing with enough stability, she gave a small nod to Will. 

“You didn’t have to take mom down with you,” she stuck her tongue out at Hopper as she began to skate away, Will racing after her. 

Hopper sent her a good-natured glare as he felt Joyce skate up next to him. She offered him her small gloved hand again and he was hesitant to take it. 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, watching as she grabbed his hand despite his trepidation. 

“I’m okay,” she gave him a sincere smile. “I don’t mind going down, as long as you do first.” 

Hopper actually let out a gasp at that and quickly shot a glance over to the children. They were too far away to hear her, off skating in their own little world.  He knew his eyes had darkened and he looked back to her and she was giving him a look of innocence. He watched as she bit her bottom lip, waiting for his reply.  

“Are you trying to kill me?”he breathed out, tightening his hand around hers. 

“We’re just skating, Hop,” she said impishly. “Geez, get your mind out of the gutter.” 

Hopper closed his eyes, letting out a deep chuckle as she tugged on him to keep skating. He smiled as he heard Will and El’s laughter picking up again. 

They had a lot of bad days, but today…

Today was good. 

Chapter Text

“I have to call Lonnie,” Joyce said lowly, casting a glance between Jonathan and Hopper. 

The two of them bristled at her suggestion, Jonathan sending her a scowl before succumbing to a deep sulk, while Hopper sent her an icy glare and clenched his jaw. Neither of them protested as she collected herself from the couch and made her way to the phone. 

Will was alive. 

 He was back from that awful, hellish world, and he was safely asleep in his room. Joyce desperately wanted to crawl into her own bed and wake up into a reality where everything was back to normal, however, she knew that word would be out soon. Will Byers was back from the dead and Joyce didn’t want Lonnie to be the last to find out. 

He wasn’t a good father, but he deserved to know. 

Her hand trembled as she dialed his number and she waited as the phone began to ring. She knew it was terrible of her to hope he wouldn’t answer. She wasn’t even sure what to say. Part of her knew that the only reason she felt she should call was on the fact that he never answered. She felt safe in knowing that she could feel like she was doing the right thing without actually having to do it. She could justify that she did try to call him and tell him, only that he didn’t answer. 

Joyce should have known that would be too easy. For once in his miserable life, Lonnie Byers actually answered the phone. 

“Hello?” he asked, sounding as if he had just woken up from a drunken slumber. There was a faint noise in the background that sounded like the television, but it could’ve been his teenager girlfriend yelling something out to him. 

“Hey, it’s me,” Joyce said, sighing into the phone. She wasn’t sure if the appropriate reaction was to scream or laugh at the fact he answered.  

Jonathan widened his eyes and shot the Chief a bewildered expression. He also seemed surprised that his father managed to pick up the phone. Hopper understood, pursing his lips at the boy and then looked to Joyce. 

“Joyce? Is this about earlier?” Lonnie’s tone shifted to aggression as he recognized the her voice. “I don’t feel like arguing about it. My mind is made up. Will is dead and I’m getting the fucking money.”

“No, it’s not about earlier.” Joyce frowned. “But, like I said, you aren’t doing that. You don’t even have a case anymore.”

“What are you even talking about? Of course I have a case! I don’t need your permission to do this. He was my son, too.” he pointed out to her as he usually did when they had an argument over the kids. He always wanted to claim they were his children when it was convenient for him. Otherwise, it was ‘those kids are your fucking problem, not mine.’ 

“You don’t have a case because he isn’t dead,” she breathed out. She sounded calm and this surprised her. She felt that all of her frantic and high stress energy and been used up. She felt like a broken record, telling people that Will wasn’t dead, and now for the first time she was saying it to someone and it was one hundred percent true. 

“This shit again? Really?” Lonnie cursed into the phone. “Joyce, we had his damn funeral. They found his body. Why are you still being like this?” 

“No, Lonnie,” she said. “I’m not being like anything. I’m telling you, Will is alive. He is here at the house!” 

“Let me talk to Jonathan,” Lonnie said evenly, the irritation seeping into her ears.  

Joyce glanced over at her eldest son. “What? Why?” 

“Just give him the phone!” 

Joyce motioned for Jonathan to come over to the phone. Her son stood up and walked over, straightening his posture as he prepared to talk to his father. 

“Hello?” Jonathan said. 

“I fucking told you that your mother needed help,” he spat out. “She’s going crazy and you’re enabling this behavior by not letting me take her to someone who knows how to handle this.” 

“She’s not crazy!” Jonathan yelled, suddenly feeling very defensive. “Will is alive!” 

“Seriously? Jonathan, tell me you aren’t falling for this shit. This is exactly the reason-” 

“Come over here for yourself and see!” Jonathan said. “Mom’s not crazy!” 

“Fine,” was all Lonnie muttered before hanging up the phone. 

Jonathan slammed the phone on the wall and then turned to look at his mom. She had moved over to the couch and was fumbling with a cigarette. 

“Is he coming?” she asked. 

“I don’t know.” Jonathan admitted, leaning back against the wall and slowly sinking down. 

She nodded and lit the cigarette, taking a long drag. She glanced up at Hopper and gave him a small, but tired smile. “You don’t have to stay. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”

Hopper rolled his eyes. “You were ready to murder Lonnie last time he was here. I’m not leaving you alone with him.”

“I think we can manage,” Jonathan cut in, sending Hopper an annoyed glare. 

“Yeah? Well, tough shit, because I’m not leaving.” 

The teenager scowled at him before standing up hastily. He muttered something about going to check on Will and left the room. Hopper gave a low sigh, but he knew not to take the kid’s anger personally. He knew his relationship with his dad was shitty, and he almost lost his brother, so tensions were understandably high. 

Joyce and Hopper were met with a small silence after the sound of the door clicking shut to Will’s room. Hopper began to pull out his own cigarettes and cast a glance around the house. It truly was a wreck. The letters were still all over the wall. The Christmas lights were still dangled all around. Plus, the hallways had clearly been lit on fire so there was that mess now to deal with. Although Hopper disliked Lonnie, he had to admit that to an outsider, the house did look a little…off. 

“Hop, you really don’t have to stay,” Joyce said softly. 

He turned towards her and gave a small shrug. “I want to stay.”

“Thank you,” she said. Her voice was sincere that is made his chest feel incredibly heavy. 

“Joyce, really, it’s nothing,” he shook his head at her. 

“No, not for this. Well- yes, for this, but-” she stumbled a bit and then gave him a shy smile. “I mean thank you for believing me. Nobody believed me. They all thought- still think- that I’m crazy for the things I’ve been saying.”

“Hey, you’re not crazy. You were right.” he said, placing a large hand on her shoulder. 

“Yeah, you found out I was right because you actually believed me. You risked everything- your career, your life- all because of the insane things I was saying that nobody else believed.  I just- thank you. Hopper, really, thank you. ” her voice cracked and she felt herself starting to tear up. “My boy is alive because of you.” 

Hopper wasn’t sure how to respond to this. He hadn’t expected Joyce to be so sincere with him, but he should have seen it coming. Joyce was an emotional person. She was good at telling people how she felt and making them feel her words. She had no problem expressing if she was angry or upset. She never cared if the way she felt made her seem weak to others. It was something Hopper had always admired her for. He was terrible at expressing how he felt. He was good at pushing people away and bottling everything up inside. 

“Wasn’t just me who saved him,” he said lightly. 

Although it had been a long time since they had been around each other, Joyce knew that Hopper wasn’t comfortable with moments like this. She knew his mind was on Eleven. She could see the pain eating away at him when they learned of her demise. He clearly wasn’t okay, and she knew she shouldn’t push him into this, but she really just wanted to help him. 

“She was a brave girl. I feel awful that she sacrificed herself for us.”

Hopper shifted at her statement, tensing a little. “There was no other way.” 

“I know,” Joyce said. “We all had to make a lot of choices, and not all of them were easy. I just- I want you to know that it’s okay to feel awful about how things ended for her, but you shouldn’t blame yourself. Her death isn’t on you.” 

Hopper recoiled at her words and he stood up abruptly. “Jesus, Joyce. I’m not...I don’t feel guilty. I did what had to be done and your son is back, so can we just drop it?” 

“No,” she said simply. “I want you to know that I’m here for you, like how you’ve been there for me these past few days. I can see that you’re hurting.” 

He shook his head. He seemed stunned by her words and she knew that if Lonnie wasn’t possibly coming over, Hopper would have been out the door without looking back. 

“I’m fine,” he grumbled out at her. 

“Okay,” she sighed, crossing her arms. “You can’t push people away forever, Hop.” 

He let out a bitter laugh. “You’re really going to lecture me about pushing people away?” 

Joyce flinched at the harshness of his tone and frowned. She knew where this conversation was going, and she wasn’t really in the mood for decisions she made when they were teenagers. She set her lips in a line and looked away from him. “I doubt Lonnie is going to come. You should just go.” 

No,” he all but shouted at her. “I push people away, okay? I know that I do. I don’t talk about my feelings because it’s easier to deal with them myself. But, fine. Fine ! Since you’re being so damn insistent. I feel like shit. I gave away that little girls location so that we could get your son. She is dead and it’s all because I wanted to help you,” he pacing angrily around her couch and Joyce’s eye widened. “I did all of this because I wanted to help you! And I can’t help but wonder, why? Why was I willing to risk the life of some little girl just to maybe have the chance to save some little boy? What kind of person does that?”

“Hop-”

“And then it dawned on me. I did it for you. It’s always been you, Joyce. I’ve always been doing stupid shit for you. You consume me. You’ve always been that way for me. If it had been anyone else’s child…” 

“You would’ve done the same thing,” Joyce shouted back at him. “You would’ve done the same damn thing! You didn’t do this for me. You did this because you’re a good person. You gave away Eleven’s location, but you and I both know that you didn’t give it away without every intention of protecting her! You did it to get information, but you were going to save them both. That’s the kind of person you are. You weren’t okay with her death and that’s why it hurts! If you were a bad person, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But, if it really makes you feel that much better, go ahead and blame me. I can handle it. Just leave and let me deal with Lonnie first and then you can have your turn next!”

The silence that followed her words was painful. 

Hopper looked at her with wide eyes. He looked utterly hurt and he was staring at her in shock. His mouth was slightly ajar and he simply seemed to stunned to know what to say. Joyce felt her own pulse thudding heavily from getting worked up. She knew she shouldn’t have said that. She shouldn’t have pushed him to this point, but dammit, she just wanted to help him! Comparing him to Lonnie was cruel, but Hopper seemed to think that he was an awful person for his choices. If he wanted to act like he was just some awful lowlife, than he should be able to handle being compared to the likes of her ex husband. 

Joyce was staring at Hopper, her eyes challenging him to see that he wasn’t like that. 

Before she could register anything, Hopper was back to the couch and pulling her into a hug. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I don’t blame you. I just- I’m an idiot.” 

Joyce remained tense for a short second and then relaxed into his hug and ran a comforting hand along his back. 

“You’re not a bad man, Hop,” she whispered. “I’ve known enough bad men in my life, and I promise you aren’t one.”

“Do you think…” he began to wonder out loud. “Do you think there is a chance that she’s still out there?”

As he finished his question, there was a loud pounding sound from the door, followed by several curses from Lonnie Byers. Joyce sprung to her feet and shot Hopper an apologetic look before moving to open the door. Hopper stood up and followed her, registering the sound of Jonathan emerging from Will’s room. 

Joyce hadn’t really registered his question quick enough before Lonnie arrived. She didn't think there was any chance the girl was still alive. The way the children described her battle with that creature made her feel certain Eleven was gone. There was no way someone could survive that. 

Hopper, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. The only thing he was sure of was that he wasn’t like Lonnie. 

Joyce was right...He wasn't a bad man. 

He didn’t give up on people. 

And he certainly wasn’t going to give up on Eleven. 

Chapter Text

“Joyce!” Lonnie tried to turn the door knob, only to confirm that it was locked. “Joyce! Open the goddamn door!” 

He pounded his fists onto the wooden door and found himself growing increasingly impatient. It was cold as shit outside and his ex wife seemed to be taking her sweet ass time. Lonnie moved his hand to try and open it again, when Joyce swung the door open. 

She looked a bit flustered as looked up at him. “Lonnie?” she said, her body blocking his entrance to the house. Her brown doe eyes were staring at him with bewilderment. 

He rolled his eyes at her stance and walked through her, shoving her to the side so that he could walk inside. “Don’t act so surprised to me, babe.” 

He entered the house, shivering as he realized that inside wasn’t much warmer than out. The house pretty much looked the same as when Joyce had pitched a bitch fit and thrown him out. He saw Jonathan glaring daggers at him as usual. He was lingering in the hallway and seemed like he was just looking for a fight. Kid was always pissed off at him for something. It was fucking annoying. So what if he wasn’t winning any ‘father of the year’ awards...Did that mean the boy had to act like he was a monster? 

Lonnie cut his eyes away from Jonathan, deciding to let it slide, and then realized something quite obvious. If it had been a snake, he would have been dead twenty times over. -Shit, maybe he was drunker than he thought. The chief of fucking police was sitting on the couch, giving him a death glare that matched Jonathan’s. 

“Hopper?” Lonnie couldn’t hide the confusion in his voice. “What the hell?” he spun around to look at Joyce, who had shut the door and was approaching him. “You called the police? Are you serious?” 

Joyce furrowed her brow and shook her head. “No, just listen-”

“I’m sorry about all this, Jim,” Lonnie said sincerely. “Joyce just isn’t in a good place right now. That’s why I’m here. She called me saying all kinds of crazy shit. Jonathan hasn’t been helping matters. Will’s death has hit us all hard, you see? They really shouldn’t have called you and bothered you at this hour.” 

Hopper just stared at him, trying to think of how he was going to try and respond. He could already sense that this wasn’t going to end well. Besides, Hopper certainly didn’t feel like responding with words…

Luckily, Jonathan seemed to have a lot to say to his father. “Hopper’s here because he helped us find Will. He didn’t give up and he found him.”

“Yeah,” Lonnie agreed, glancing over at Hopper with exasperation. “He found his body in the fucking lake.” 

“No, that’s just want you want! You’d rather he be dead so that you can get that money!” 

Lonnie sent a glare in Joyce’s direction as their son said this. Why was she always telling Jonathan everything when none of it even concerned him? She treated him like he was an adult when he clearly still behaved like an incompetent little brat. Maybe if he should have pushed harder when the kid was growing up. Joyce always wanted to baby him, and she always intervened when Lonnie tried to show the kid a lesson like his own father had taught him. It was Joyce’s fault their kids were a bunch of pansies. Hell, all of this was Joyce’s fault. 

“You think I want my son dead?” he hissed, jutting a finger at Jonathan. “I told you that I’m not the asshole here. I’m the only one accepting the death and trying to help out all of us. Who do you think I’m trying to get this money for? Your mother is the one that’s wasting all the money on these Christmas lights. I mean for fuck’s sake, she put a hole in the side of the house trying to find Will! How am I still the bad guy? I’m trying to sue those jackasses and your mom is drawing the fucking alphabet on the wall!”

Joyce bit her lip and frowned as the comment seemed to agitate Jonathan. She sent a wary glance over at Hopper and saw that Lonnie was successfully working both men up. 

“All you ever do is gaslight her!” Jonathan screamed. “You’ve been gaslighting her for years!”

Lonnie laughed.. “Gaslighting?  Jonathan, look at the house!”

“If you think Will is dead than why did you even bother coming?” 

“You told me to come over, remember? You’re starting to sound like her. You both clearly need me to step in.” 

Jonathan was coming down the hallway now, his fists balling up. “Say one more word about us being crazy.” 

“Or what? You’re going to fight me?” Lonnie smiled at him, patronizing him with a single flash of his teeth. “You really want a rematch after last time? Pretty sure your mother is a better fighter than you. She might cry like a little bitch, but she isn’t a pussy !”’

“Give me a reason, Byers,” Hopper stood up, cocking his head to the side. He’d heard enough and had no intention of staying silent anymore. He figured he would let Jonathan get his frustration out, but enough was enough. He wasn’t going to sit there and let Lonnie threaten and bully everyone around. “Give me a reason to kick your ass right now and take you to the station.”

Lonnie turned to Hopper and was about to open his mouth to say some smart comment when Joyce stepped in. 

“Lonnie,” Joyce said, physically putting herself between him and the other two men.  Hopper cringed at the movement and wondered how many times she had done that throughout the years. “Just forget this. Will is here . He’s in his room. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Joyce started towards his room, not waiting for him to respond, and motioned for Lonnie to follow her. He shook his head, swallowing down his anger that had quickly escalated, and made his way to the hallway. He shot a glance at Jonathan and didn’t even bother looking back at Hopper. He stood and waited for Joyce to open the door. 

He felt his stomach drop as he took it in.

Will was there

His son was there in his room. He was under the covers and he looked like absolute shit. His skin was pale and he honestly resembled a ghost. He had sweat on his forehead and he seemed mildly uncomfortable. He glanced at his wrist and saw the hospital band wrapped around it. Lonnie would have thought that he was dead if he couldn’t clearly so the rise and fall of his chest. 

“How?” he asked. 

“I told you he was alive,” Joyce said. 

“But, how? How the fuck is he alive? His body- They found his damn body!”

“It wasn’t his,” Joyce said, ushering them out of the room as Will began to stir at the sudden loudness of his father’s voice. She was surprised he had managed to stay asleep during all of this, but it just really went to show how exhausted he still was.  “They made a mistake.”

“A mistake? How do you make a mistake like that?” he grunted out. He felt like the room was spinning as he tried to wrap his mind around it. 

“I don’t know,” she said, glancing down the hallway. She made a face at Hopper, wondering how much she could say. “It doesn’t matter, thought. All that matters is that Will is alive and he’s home.” 

Lonnie looked down at her. He was a tall man, towering over her by several inches. His height was something he had always used to intimidate her. She glared up at him and tried to stand her ground. 

“Somebody has to pay for this mistake, Joy,” he hissed lowly, stepping closer to her. “You don’t tell me my kid is dead, let me have a damn funeral, and then tell me he isn’t dead without there being some kind of consequences.” 

Lonnie stared at her a second longer and she could smell the stench of whiskey wafting from his lips. He sneered at her before barreling down the hallway. Joyce stood in her place and watched as he strode up to Hopper. 

“You’re the one that found him!” Lonnie yelled at Hopper, coming to stand face to face with him. Joyce quickly remembered that Hopper was a few inches taller than Lonnie. He never used his size to intimidate her, so she often forget that he was a giant, even to normal sized people. 

“Yes, I found a child’s body. I didn’t identify it. I was told it was Will, and I just reported the information.” Hopper stated calmly. His face remained passive but his hands were twitching. 

“Bullshit!” Lonnie spat. “Do you know how much that funeral cost? Am I going to get any money for that since you fuckers are so goddamn inept at doing your job?”

“Everything is always about money with you,” Jonathan shook his head. “You barely even chipped in. I’m the one who had to plan the funeral to begin with.”

Joyce winced with a flash of guilt and Lonnie spun around to look at his son. His face was devoid of any feeling of wrongdoing and only filled with fury. “You told me you saw the body!” 

“Lonnie, stop!” Joyce said, moving from the hallway. “We saw the body, and I told you it wasn’t Will. You didn’t believe me-”

“And you! How long has our son been in the hospital? I saw the hospital band on his wrist. How long has he been alive? How long did you wait to call me and tell me this?”

“I’ve been telling you for days that he wasn’t dead!” 

“Yeah,” he scoffed. “Forgive me for doubting someone who isn’t all that credible.” 

“Seriously? Lonnie-” 

“You can’t be trusted, Joyce. I don’t care that you were right and that Will’s back. It was your shitty parenting that got him lost in the first place! You can’t even watch him without him running off or whatever the hell he did. I thought I could leave these kids with you, but it’s become obvious I can’t. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to have to file for full custody of Will and Jonathan. You’re fucking crazy, and with all this...” he gestured wildly to the house.  “I doubt I’ll have trouble convincing anyone that you’re not capable of watching the kids anymore.” 

“Crazy?” Joyce felt something in her snap. She had gone to hell and back to keep her children safe and she wasn’t about to just sit here and let Lonnie come in and threaten her or her children. He couldn’t just waltz in and threaten to take them away. “I’m crazy? You keep calling me crazy! Well, I’ll show you fucking crazy !”

He must have recognized the familiar anger in her eyes and something in him seemed to snap as well.

She felt Lonnie’s palm connecting with her face before she could even try to make the first strike. He hit her hard, and she felt her face already stinging from the impact. She stumbled backwards a bit and let out a small cry of pain. She had seen the hit coming from the darkness of his eyes, and yet she still wasn’t fast enough to try and block it. 

As she opened her eyes and tried to recover herself, she immediately saw Hopper on top of Lonnie. His fist was drawn back and all she could do was watch as his fist pummeled down. 

He punched him, the smack of his fist colliding with his face ringing out into the silence. 

Lonnie struggled against him and Joyce saw blood trickling down from his brow as Hopper punched him again. 

And again. 

And again.

And again- until Lonnie wasn’t struggling, his body slack against the floor, and Joyce simply couldn’t take the sight anymore. 

“Hop!” She rushed to him and put her small hand on his arm. He tensed at her touch and then slowly relaxed. His shoulder slugged and he glanced down at Lonnie’s still body.  His face was already turning purple from fresh bruises and his brow was splattered with spots of red. Joyce took Hopper’s fist in her hand and examined it, seeing his own injuries from what he had done to Lonnie. 

“Jonathan, get some ice,” she told him quickly as Hopper winced from her touch. 

Her eldest son was standing silently awe-struck in the corner and nodded, staring at Hopper with wide eyes. He lingered for a second longer before dashing into the kitchen. 

Hopper glanced at Joyce, who was still crouching down beside him, and brought his finger up to her lip. He wiped at it and she saw his finger was now painted in blood. 

“You’re bleeding,” he whispered. 

He wiped at her lip again and she let him. His hand stayed at her lip for a fraction of a second too long. His blue eyes were looking into hers, searching for some sign that she was upset with him. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch, letting him know that it was okay. More than okay, really. 

“Here,” Jonathan came running back in, causing the two of them to part. He approached Hopper and placed the ice to his hand. 

“Sorry, kid,” Hopper said lowly, grimacing as he applied the ice-pack. 

“Sorry?” Jonathan raised a brow. “I wish you had been around to do that years ago.”

The lightness in his tone was joking, but they all knew how serious his comment was. 

Hopper gave him a small smile. “Yeah, me too.”

Jonathan let a smirk tug at his lips and nodded at the Chief. His earlier resentment toward him hanging around was melted away into gratitude. 

Joyce, however, wasn’t smiling. She was staring at Lonnie and she was anxiously tugging at the sleeve of her shirt. 

“Hey, why don’t you go check on your brother?” Hopper suggested. “No way he’s still asleep now.” 

Jonathan stood up and cast a look over to his mom. “Yeah, sure.” 

Hopper waited until he was back in Will’s room before turning his attention to Joyce. He watched her for a moment and let out a sigh. 

“Joyce.”

She flicked her eyes over to him. “Hop, he can’t- he can’t take them away. He can’t take my boys away from me.”

“He won’t. I promise. I won’t let him.”

Joyce shook her head, tears starting to brim at her eyes. She wasn’t sure how she had any tears left to cry, but they always seemed ready to fall recently. “They’ll believe him. Hop, they’ll believe him over me. They always believed him over me. I don’t- He’s right. Everyone thinks I’m crazy.” 

“You’re not,” Hopper said. “You’re not crazy, and he isn’t getting anywhere near your kids. I’ll make sure of it.” 

“What are you-” 

“I’ll make sure of it.” he repeated firmly, gazing at her intently. “He’s never getting near your kids, and he’s never laying another fucking hand on you. Got it?” 

“Okay,” she said quietly. Her shoulder slumped and she tried to blink away her tears.”I’m so sorry, Jim.”

“Stop,” he let the ice-pack fall to the ground and gathered her in his arms. “Don’t apologize to me for this.” 

“I just-”

“No, Joyce. You don’t ever have to apologize to me,” he said. “Go get some rest. I’m going to take care of Lonnie and then I’ll come back over in the morning.” 

Joyce nodded, untangling herself from him and standing up. “You know that you don’t have to come back. If you wanted to be done with all of this, I won’t hold it against you.”

Hopper gave her a long look. Her comment was true. He could walk away from all of this and never look back. He technically didn’t have any reason to keep helping. Except the fact that he didn’t want to be done with all of this. He didn’t care how many people said Joyce was a lunatic, he wasn’t going to walk away and let her deal with everything alone. He wanted answers. He wanted to know why all this happened and everything that went down in that lab. He wanted to see if Eleven was still out there.

He didn’t want to be done with Joyce.

Hopper almost told her his thoughts. He almost let it all spill out. But instead he began to gather up Lonnie to take into the station. 

“I like coffee,” he said simply. 

Joyce gave him a half smile, watching as he picked up her ex husband.“Coffee sounds good.” 

 

Chapter Text

Dr. Owens was stepping out of the hospital room as he became increasingly aware of the heavy footsteps that were hot on his trail. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Jim Hopper was joining him in his departure. Dr. Owens let out a soft sigh and snuck a glance at Joyce, who was hovering over her son. She was speaking to the boy softly and running her hands through his hair with a mother’s care that warmed the doctor’s heart.

 He felt sorry for them.

Will wasn’t getting any better and it was clearly taking a toll on everyone.  They had been coming to regular appointments for some time and if anything, things only seemed to be getting worse. Will was having more episodes and nothing could really be explained. 

He watched the pair of them until the door closed and Hopper’s massive frame stepped into view. 

“Things have to get better,” Hopper said, his voice cold and blunt. 

The doctor bristled at these words and although he wanted to maintain his professionalism, he couldn’t help but to look at Hopper with slight offence. “What exactly do you think I’m trying to do here?” 

“I’m not so sure anymore,” he crossed his arms and sent a glare that narrowed his usually large blue eyes. Sam Owens was not easily intimidated. He had been dealing with men like Jim Hopper all his life who thought they could play this tough guy act and somehow he could magically present a cure to their problems. Why did people always think doctors were hiding the solution to helping their patients? He wanted to help Will just as much as anyone.  

“You want to take the boy somewhere else? Be my guest.” Dr. Owens said, rolling his eyes quickly. It was enough to show that he was exasperated, but showed he didn’t plan on letting this escalate into something obscene. “We all know how wonderful Chicago was.”

“Chicago. Here. Wherever. It doesn’t seem to matter.” he shrugged. “None of you know what the hell you’re doing.”

“You know this isn’t an exact science. At least we know what Will went through. Chicago can’t even begin to know even the most rudimentary basics of the situation, and we both know he won’t get real help there. I know this is hard for everyone, but you have to give this sort of thing time.” 

“No- I just- Sam, I really need this to get better.”

Dr.Owens blinked, processing why Hopper suddenly sounded so desperate. Gone was his vibrato of a man who meant business, and here he stood as a man who seemed like he was gasping for air.  Dr. Owens knew that Will was a child, and that most people wanted to help sick children, but there was something so gut-wrenchingly personal in the way Hopper had uttered those words.

He wasn’t naive enough to miss the tension between Hopper and Joyce.  He wasn’t quite sure how anyone could miss it. However, he thought the tension that was excruciatingly palpable between them was simply a passion that didn’t quite go beyond sexual desire. Now, watching Hopper practically drown in front of him, he realized just how clearly he had overlooked the signs. 

Hopper was always there, and he certainly didn’t need to be. Dr. Owens wrote it off for the man’s weird, almost obsessive, need to be in control. He needed to be in charge, and Joyce seemed relieved to have him there. Hopper liked power, and he seemed to have no problem walking around this hospital, telling the staff that they needed to work harder. He seemed to do whatever he wanted, except for when Joyce told him otherwise. He was in control, until Joyce stepped in and had something to say. Dr. Owens hadn’t given it too much thought, but maybe he should have. 

He should have thought more about the glances they exchanged when he told them news about Will. The way Joyce would look at Hopper like he would know what to do, and how his gaze always seemed to tell her that they would get through this. He should have questioned the way Hopper was always close to her, never leaving her side for too long. If they pulled Joyce out for private information, it would only be a matter of time before he was tracking her down, always muttering ‘ just wanted a visual .’ He should have wondered about how Joyce could fall asleep with her head on Hopper’s shoulder while they sat at Will’s bedside, his arm wrapped around her protectively. 

He should have thought about it, and he would have seen how painfully obvious it was...

“You love her.” 

Dr. Owens said this softly. He came to the realization so suddenly that he couldn’t help but to say it out loud. He looked at Hopper, unsure of how he would feel about this. The man held his gaze, steady and unyielding, confirming the words he had just spoke. 

“Does she know how you-”

“Joyce needs this to be over,” Hopper told him, his voice harsh as he cut him off. “Will needs it to be over, too.”

“You should tell her,” Dr. Owens said carefully. 

“It’s been long enough with you’re constant observations and it feels like no real progress has been made.” he ignored him. “I’m trying to be reassuring, but Joyce is liable to walk soon if things don’t start getting better. I don’t know how much more time any of us are willing to give you.”

The threat was empty and they both knew it. 

They had no where else to go. 

Dr. Owens decided to brush it off and try to steer the conversation towards Joyce. It was lighthearted advice and he truly thought they could make a good couple. They would certainly have passion. “I’ve seen the way she looks as you, and-” 

“How about instead of trying to involve yourself in my goddamn personal life, you go and do your job so we never have to come back here again, okay?” Hopper clearly wasn't discussing the matter with him. 

Dr. Owens stood there, watching as Hopper gave him a final hard look and then opened the door forcefully, striding back inside to be with Joyce and Will. He tried to process what he had just discovered and found himself chuckling as he imagined the dance Hopper and Joyce were finding themselves entangled in. He gripped his clipboard and shook his head, thinking about how he could have been so blind. 

As much as wanted to continue to ponder about their relationship, Hopper’s words were haunting him. 

He really needed to help Will Byers. 

But, maybe he could try and help Hopper and Joyce along the way. 

Chapter Text

Joyce was miserable. 

Really, she was probably being a bit dramatic, given she had certainly been through much, much worse. However, she was cramping so bad in the middle of Melvald’s that she truly wanted to curl up into a ball and slip away into nothing.  Her period was usually something she managed with mild disdain. She wasn’t one to whine and complain her problems, but today was proving to be a challenge. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so drained from it. 

“Joyce!” Donald called out to her from the back. “Can you start tagging the items in aisle nine before you clock out? Just make sure you keep watch on the register in case someone comes in!” 

“Yeah,” she yelled halfheartedly. 

Joyce grimaced and moved from behind the counter. She trudged her way to the aisle and began to tag the items that were going on discount. She felt like she had practically tagged every single item in the store since the mall had opened up and swept away all regular business. Donald had been increasingly stressed and seemed to be on edge all the time. 

She was trying to be accommodating, her own worry starting to fester as she realized all the business at the mall might result in her needing a new job, but he was really starting to become a tyrant. If she did one thing wrong, she was subjected to a speech on her work ethic and how she needed to be working harder than ever or he might have to look into cutting the staff back. It was an idle threat and they both knew it. There was only one other employee that had managed to hold onto their job, and with such a small staff, Joyce knew that the only way she was going to lose her job was when Melvald’s officially ran out of business. But, this didn’t stop him from going on and on about how important it was they be at the top of their game.

“Oh, and Joyce!”  Donald shouted. “I need you to pick up a double tomorrow!”

Joyce let out a sigh. She certainly needed the money, but the thought of being on her feet another minute was excruciating. She wasn’t sure she could handle a double shift tomorrow. She wasn’t even sure she could handle what was left of this shift. 

She was tagging the items in the aisle, mulling over this information when she heard the bells at the front door chime out. Donald yelled out her name again, as if she was not capable of hearing the bells herself. She bit her lip in annoyance and made her way out to the front of the store. 

She smiled as she saw Hopper standing near the register, his back to her. He was in his police uniform, his brown pants tight and alluring. She couldn’t help but let her eyes trail down his figure, resting her gaze to check out his ass. She bit the inside of her cheek and continued to take in his form.  

She gulped. 

First she was in pain, and now she unbelievably horny. Seriously, just at the sight of him? She scolded herself, trying to gain some type of control of the scandalous thoughts now racing in her mind. 

He must have heard her approaching because he turned around and gave her a big grin. 

“Hello, stranger,” he greeted her, a mischievous glint in his eyes. She immediately recognized that he was in a playful mood. It was refreshing that things had fallen back into routine after everything with the Russians and whole mall fiasco. Hopper almost died, and she wasn’t sure how things would go from there. She wasn’t sure if he would really still want to go out with her, but, true to his word, they went on their date to Enzo’s and everything had been smooth sailing from there. 

“What can I help you with today, Chief?” she asked innocently, trying to go along with him. 

He beamed down at her and bent down to give her a quick kiss. 

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” she whispered, motioning to the back where Donald was rummaging around. 

Hopper gave her an unimpressed look. “You’re technically off the clock now.” 

She gave him a tired smile and walked past him to grab her belongings. She called out to Donald that she would see him in the morning and she waited until she heard his grumbled reply. She felt Hopper’s eyes on her as she walked past him and out towards his car. 

“You look a little pale,” he commented as he opened the car door for her, a frown forming on his perfect face. “You feeling okay?”

“I’m always pale,” she shrugged and climbed into the seat. 

He seemed unconvinced and pursed his lips. He shut her door and walked around. He got into the seat, starting the car and quickly pulling them out of the parking lot. He gave her a sideways glance, still filled with complete skepticism about her appearance. 

“I’m just exhausted today,” she offered, knowing he wasn’t going to let it go. 

“You haven't been sleeping well?” he asked, alarm rising in his voice. She grimaced, knowing he was thinking of the nightmares she had told him about what felt like so long ago. 

“No, it’s not that. Really, Hop, I’m okay.” 

“You know that you can call out sick? They invented sick days for a reason.” 

“I knew I could make it through the shift, and I did,” she sent him a mild glare. “I don’t need a lecture. I’ve been doing this without you long enough to manage myself. You don’t need to come and tell me to take a sick day like you’re the boss of me. That’s the exact opposite of what I want you to do. Besides, I’m not even sick, so stop worrying about it in general.” 

“I know- just- I was just asking,” he seemed affronted by her sudden irritated tone. 

She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. “I’m sorry. I don’t- I’m not sick. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It’s just been a really long day and I really am tired of standing on my feet. I just want to go home and not think about working a double tomorrow.” 

Hopper made an annoyed grunt. “That asshole is really making you work another double? Joyce, you seriously gotta tell Donald to fu-” 

“I need the money, and it’s not like he has anyone else to do it.” she reminded him before he could finish his opinion. 

“You just look like you’re ready to fall on your face.”

“Gee, thanks, Hopper.” she said. “You’ve really been giving me loads of compliments tonight. It’s no wonder I’m letting you stay in my bed tonight.” 

He winced at her sarcasm and apologized immediately. “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant that Donald is overworking you. You can keep telling me you aren’t sick, but cut me some slack, I know you aren’t feeling good.”

She looked over at him and bit her lip in contemplation. Should she tell him? They hadn’t been dating that long and she knew some men didn’t want to know about women and their ‘issues’. But, Hopper wasn’t like that, was he? Lonnie certainly was. He didn’t want to know, and he often accused her of being a total bitch when he found out it was her time of the month. It often caused a lot of problems, and she really didn’t want this to be a problem. Maybe she should just have him drop her off at home and let him think she was coming down with something. 

No, Hopper wasn’t like that. 

At least, she hoped he wasn’t like that. 

“I’m on my period,” she said, hating herself for sounding so juvenile. 

“What?” Hopper widened his eyes and glanced over at her with shock. 

“I’ve been cramping all day. I’ve randomly felt light-headed on and off, and I just want to go home and cry for thirty minutes and then I’ll be good to go,” she sighed, refusing to make eye contact with him. “That’s why I look like shit. I feel like it.”

Hopper was silent for all of five seconds and Joyce was already regretting saying anything at all. Clearly she had been wrong and he was probably thinking of ways to get out of sleeping with her tonight. 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have- I don’t know why I told you that. I understand if you don’t want to stay over and I’m sorry that I’ve been acting bitchy.” 

“Why wouldn’t I want to stay?” he gave her a confused look. 

Joyce opened her mouth, her cheeks starting to burn. 

“When we get to your place, I’ll make you a bubble bath,” he said thoughtfully. “I think you still have some wine left from the other weekend, so I’ll get you a glass of that, too. Don’t worry about dinner or anything. I’ll have Jonathan call in some take out. I’m sure El and Will won’t mind. You can take some time and just decompress.” 

Joyce was left flabbergasted in the passenger seat, unsure of how to even reply. She figured at best that Hopper would be indifferent towards the situation. It never occurred to her that he would want to do something like this for her. 

“What about later?” she found herself asking, her cheek flushing crimson as she thought of how tight his ass looked in those pants. 

His eyes were on the road, but she could see the desire pooling in them as he heard her question. “Well, I’ve been planning on eating you out all day, so I’m pretty sure that’s what’ll happen later.” 

“Oh,” Joyce breathed out, smiling a little. “Okay.”

“All that sound good?” 

“It sounds perfect, Hop.”

“Hey,” he reached out his hand to hold hers. “You don’t have to be afraid to tell me anything. Okay?”

Joyce squeezed his hand, nodding. 

She really didn’t know what she did to deserve him.  

Chapter Text

 “I wasn’t jealous,” Hopper scowled, crossing his arms. He sank into the couch, the new cushions feeling soft beneath him. He felt Joyce snuggle up next to him, her cold skin pressing onto his warm. He immediately adjusted his arms and wrapped them around her, pulling her closer. He never understood how she could always be so cold. 

“Oh, please!” Joyce giggled. “You were thinking about Scott Clark more than I was.”

“I was not.” he grumbled again, his face not quite portraying how done he wanted to be with this conversation. He looked down at Joyce and fought urge to smile as he saw her nose crinkling with amusement.

“You were jealous,” she poked him playfully. “You kept mentioning him even when we were in the middle of the woods with…” 

Hopper sighed and rolled his eyes, quickly giving in before she could start to think about Alexei. That was a topic that never ended well and  he was sure neither of them wanted to talk about the death of the Russian man. “Okay, okay. Maybe, in some subconscious way I was a little bit bothered, but I wasn’t jealous.” 

“I’ll take this as a small victory,” she relented, leaning up to give him a peck on the cheek. “I just still don’t understand why you would be jealous of Scott Clark.” 

“Really?” Hopper couldn’t believe her sometimes. It seemed so obvious to him. He had been so angry at her for standing him up to be with another man and he didn’t understand how she didn’t see how Scott Clark was exactly the thing he was afraid of. 

“He certainly doesn’t have your muscle,” Joyce ran her index finger along the length of his forearm, her touch causing him to stiffen with pleasure. 

“He’s pretty brilliant,” he said softly. He was using the same words she had used to describe Scott. The same words that made his blood boil and his heart feel like it was going to ripped out of his chest. 

Joyce picked up her finger and frowned. “Yeah, he’s smart.” She was studying him, her brow furrowed as she tried to think why he would choose to say that. He watched as her beautiful brown eyes widened with realization and she started to pull away. “That’s why you were jealous…” 

She picked one smart man, and why wouldn’t she pick another one? Bob the Brain was out of the picture, but that didn’t mean Joyce wouldn’t still want to go for some genius nerd that could actually relate to Will. Murray has even said it in the car. Hopper probably reminded her of a bad relationship. 

Hopper wasn’t like Bob Newby or Scott Clark. 

And that terrified him. 

He thought he was finally breaking through with Joyce and then instead of going to Enzo’s, she was going to Scott to ask him for help on those goddamn magnets. 

“Jim,” she breathed out, and then suddenly she was back to him, throwing her leg over him to straddle him. “Scott is brilliant, but he isn’t you.

Hopper felt her lips against his and he closed his eyes. 

“Scott Clark wouldn’t have been able to do half of the things you did,” she whispered, pulling his bottom lip with her teeth. His hands sank to grab hold of ass and he gave it an encouraging squeeze. “He couldn’t have beat up those men. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to find out half the information you did. Scott doesn’t know anything about Larry, and he doesn’t know Murray. He wouldn’t have been able to save us.”

“Yeah,” he shrugged, shifting his gaze to look away from her. “Doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried.” 

“I kind of liked seeing you jealous,” Joyce admitted, a sly smile pulling at her lips. 

Hopper flicked his eyes back to her and have a low chuckle. “Really? You said I was being a gigantic ass.”

“Oh, well you were,” she nodded.. “But it also made me realize how serious you were about me. You’ve never really been the jealous type.”

Hopper smiled at her and ran his hands up to her hips. “Usually I feel secure in where in where I stand in a woman’s life.” 

“I don’t make you feel secure?” she opened her mouth and let out a mock gasp. Hopper shook his head and pulled her closer, pressing a series of kisses onto her neck. Joyce let out a more genuine gasp this time, her head falling back to give him more access. He trailed his lips up her neck, slowly pressing kiss after kiss until he reached her jawline. The feeling of his beard against her skins made her flush with arousal. Before she could react, Hopper pushed her off him and suddenly had her pinned down beneath him. 

His lips were back to hers, and she felt his tongue pressing in, begging for entrance. She parted her lips and halfheartedly tried to suppress a groan as he swirled his tongue inside her mouth. She felt his hips pressing down into her, the feeling of his own arousal increasingly present. He had one hand supporting his weight, and the other was moving cradle her hip. He slowly drug it up her stomach and was soon cupping her breast.  While her mind was starting to become a fuzzy mess, she brought her hands up to push him away and try and regain some sense of control. 

“Well, you make me feel secure,” she told him sincerely, her breathing still slightly erratic. His eyes were dark as he looked down at her, his hand wandering back up her stomach. “You make me feel safe, and that’s something a man like Scott Clark could never do.”

Hopper grinned down at her, her words hitting him deep. He thought back to the lab when he opened up and told her how important that was to him. Joyce had been through hell, and all he wanted was to make her feel safe. He wasn’t a genius like Scott Clark, or a saint like Bob Newby, but he was exactly what she wanted.

Chapter Text

“Shit, you’re bleeding” Hopper cursed, his large hands moving frantically up her body. He pressed onto her stomach, the red pouring from the wound painting a screaming scarlet color onto him with ease. “ Shit !” 

“Hop…” she whined out his name, her lip trembling. “You have to go. You have to get to the kids.” 

He was painfully aware of Murray and Alexei standing behind him, their eyes wide with horror. Murray’s white shirt was covered with her blood, and his face was pale. Alexei had tears in his eyes, but there was a mask of rage bubbling over. They were standing there, seemingly in shock. 

“Jim…” Murray’s voice broke out and Hopper felt the chills running up his spine and he fought the urge to retch. 

He couldn’t remember how they got here. 

One moment everything was fine. They were going on a date to Enzo’s and then all of the sudden those damn magnets starting falling....He couldn’t think straight. Everything had been too much... They were just at the fair to see if the kids were there. That’s all. They just wanted to find their children and the fucking Russians were there instead. 

He only left her side for a second. 

He should’ve known better. 

He was fucking cursed. 

He was a black-hole. 

“Jesus, fuck , Joyce!” he hissed out harshly. “We aren’t leaving you behind, got it? I’m not leaving you here to die!” 

Joyce let out a sigh and fluttered her eyes. He could feel her body going limp and the panic in him began to rise. 

“You have to go get help!” He screamed out at the men who were staring behind him. Alexei was muttering something in Russian, his fists clenched as he stared at Joyce.“Stop standing there and do something! Go get the car!” 

“Okay, y-yeah, help.” Murray stumbled over his words. Hopper heard him speak to Alexei, and soon the two were gone, their voices growing faint. 

“Joyce,” his hand went up to her face and he fought the urge to cringe at the blood that covered his hands. “Open your eyes. You have to keep your eyes open.” 

“Hurts…” she whispered. 

“I know, I know. You just gotta hang on. Okay? You have to hang on, Joyce.” 

He didn’t even realize that the tears were forming in his eyes until it was too late, the feeling of them gliding down his face made him feel worse. 

“I need you to stay,” he said. “I can’t- I can’t do this without you. Any of this. I need you to stay.”

“He shot me,” she opened her eyes slowly, the pain etched onto her features made his heart clench. 

“Yeah, he did,” he nodded, sliding his hands underneath her. 

“He shot me,” she repeated, the severity of her situation seeming to sink in as she breathed out shakily, her hands trembling. “I’m...cold.”

“Shit!” he scrambled, quickly removing his shirt. He took his shirt and wrapped her in it, pulling her close. “I’m going to pick you up now and take you to the car, okay?”

“The kids…” she said, letting out a small cry as he lifted her up. Her body felt small and frail against his, and he felt himself letting out a stream of curses as he realized a swarm of people had surrounded them, likely gathered because of all the shouting he had with Murray and Alexei. He ignored them, shoving his way past them, cradling Joyce in his arms. Most of them parted for him, whispering to each other in panic. 

“The kids are going to have to wait just a bit longer,” he spoke softly. “We’re going to get you to the hospital.”

Her failure to argue made him all that much more concerned. He was practically sprinting to the car, and as he approached, he screamed at Murray to get them there as quick as possible. He was then in the back seat, Joyce laying limply against him. 

“Do you think-” Murray started to say, but Hopper was having none of it. He could see their grave faces and he couldn’t handle hearing what they had to say. 

“Just drive!” he said, the seriousness of his voice deafening. He heard the roar of the engine as Murray pressed on the gas. 

Alexei said something to Murray, and the man glanced at Joyce in the car mirror before giving a small shake of his head. Hopper couldn’t bring himself to ask what they were saying, so he looked down at Joyce and tried to keep her awake. 

“Hey, you gotta talk to me. Just keep talking so I know you’re still with us.”

She stirred a little and opened her eyes. “Did you kill him? The man...who shot me?” 

“Yes.” he said gruffly, looking at her. 

She nodded slightly and her eyes started to close again.

“Keep talking,” he ordered her gently. 

She let out a small whimper, and he could tell she was trying her hardest to do as he asked. She kept them closed for a moment, and he was about to tell her again when she opened her eyes wider than before. “I’m sorry, Hopper. I’m so sorry.” 

The sight knocked the breath out of him and he opened his mouth. “Joyce. Stop apologizing. Everything is going to be okay.”

“I wanted to go on that date with you,” she said. “I wanted to go.” 

This knocked him even further off his feet. That’s really what she was apologizing for right now? 

“Okay, I know. I know how you feel, Joyce. That’s why it’s been frustrating, because I know how you feel. But don’t apologize, got it? We’re going to go on that date, and everything is going to be okay. We’re going to find the kids and we will figure everything out.”

“If I don’t make it, you have to tell Will and Jonathan-”

Stop, ” he shouted at her, cutting her off. “You’re not going to die!” 

“Jim-” Murray tried to intervene, the heaviness in the way he said his name was like a punch to the gut. 

“Drive the car!” he roared up at him before glancing back to Joyce, his hands caressing her hair. 

Her eyes were closing, and he felt his tears starting to fall again.  

“You’re not going to die…” he whispered. “You’re not going to die...”

Chapter Text

She tried to peel her eyes open slightly, slowly welcoming the bright light that pierced her vision. All she could see was white. She remembered pain and so much red...She could remember voices, the feeling of hands cradling her. She had been so cold, and now she felt like she was on fire. She felt like her body was dripping in sweat, and she didn’t understand why all she was able to see was harsh light.

 Where was she? She tried desperately to open her eyes fully and heard a small whimper. 

Oh, God, that’s me. 

The sound of herself crying out brought in a rush of memories. They had been at the fair. The Russians had shown up, and she was with Murray and Alexei. They hadn’t known what was happening until it was too late. That Russian man shot her. He shot her and she couldn’t move. She remembered Alexei grabbing onto his shoulders, tackling the man with the gun to the ground. Alexei was screaming out to Murray, who then was running over to her, his hands immediately shooting to her stomach. It was then that she felt the pain. She felt her knees give out, and everything had become so blurry...She could still make out Hopper barreling towards them. The sound of expletives from his mouth…

She couldn’t remember what happened after that. 

She was trying to recall what happened, her memory a haze. There were snippets she could make out, but everything was incoherent. She was still trying to open her eyes, the struggle to do so was becoming overwhelming and she wanted to give up. She was almost convinced to succumb back into the slumber that called out to her when she remembered the whole reason they went to the fair to begin with. 

The children. 

Her eyes flicked open at that. 

“Will! Jonathan!” she cried out, their names coming out of her mouth so quietly that it shocked her. She tried to push herself up as she called out, immediately groaning at the pain that engulfed her entire abdomen. 

“Joyce!” Hopper’s voice came out rushed, his body immediately at her side. His hands were on her and he was already gently guiding her back down. “Shh, it’s okay. You can’t move like that.” 

“The kids?” she insisted, her mind swirling as she twisted her face in pain, her own hand flying to her stomach as she let out a harsh breath. 

“They’re okay,” he was looking down at her with a mixture of emotions that she couldn’t even begin to comprehend in her state. “Everything’s okay.””

She nodded at him, the relief of this news easing her down from the anxiety that was building up. She blinked a few times, her eyes still adjusting to the fluorescence of the hospital room. 

“You’ve been out for two days,” he said, shaking his head slowly in disbelief. “You were rushed into surgery when we got here, and…” the tightness of his body frightened her. His eyes were dark, and he looked down at her as if his entire life depended on this moment. “I had to leave to go to the kids, and they… they weren’t sure if you were going to make it.”

Joyce tried to process this, but it was hard to wrap her mind around. She had really been unconscious for two days? Where were her boys? Where did Hopper even go to find the kids? Where was El? Had they really solved this entire ordeal while she had been here at the hospital? Had she really almost died? There were so many questions she had, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask them. She was increasingly becoming aware of the pain, and she could feel the drugs impacting her. Everything felt a bit dizzy, and she felt lethargic as she simply watched Hopper with large eyes.

“I thought I was going to lose you,” his hand tentatively went to hers, and he hovered, looking for confirmation that it was okay. “You had me worried sick, Joyce. Still am.” 

Joyce gave him a small smile, opening her hand for him to take. His fingers locked with hers, and she felt her smile grow as she remembered the way his hand felt on the fair ride. It was so much bigger than hers, so much rougher. Yet, she felt safe in his hand. She felt protected. His hand clasped around her and she gave him a small squeeze. 

“I should’ve listened to you to begin with,” he told her, a sad smile pulling onto his own lips. “I’ve been acting like such an ass because I was hurt, but then, I almost lost you.” 

“You didn’t,” she said, forcing herself to speak. “I’m still here, Hop.” 

“I almost did,” he repeated, his eyes misty. 

She squeezed his hand again, looking up into his eyes. He was staring down at her, the openness and vulnerability taking her breath away. She felt his other hand come up to her face, his thumb rubbing against her cheek. The motion was comforting, and she felt her eyes closing. 

 “It’s been hell without you,” he said, a bit of lightness about him. She could imagine a smirk tugging at his lips and was tempted to peek a glimpse, but the rhythmic movement of his thumb was just so comforting. “I’m not good with all these emotions, and let me tell you, everyone has been emotional. Even Murray was in here balling his eyes out.”

Joyce tried to imagine Hopper offering comfort to everyone and she started to laugh. However, the laughter died on her lips as soon as it came, swiftly being replaced by a blunt wince. 

“I need to get the doctor,” Hopper said suddenly, his hand starting to pull her away. “They need to know you’re awake. I’ll also call Murray and tell him to bring the kids. They just went home about half an hour ago... I’ll be right back.”

“Wait,” she tightened her grip on him, making him stay. He looked down at her, his face filled with alarm. She licked her lips and ignored the dryness of her throat.  “Did I ruin your shirt?”

“What?” he furrowed his brow. 

“That ridiculous shirt you had,” she attempted to have some humor in her voice, but she really just sounded exhausted. She was trying her best to make him not worry. She could feel the stress radiating from him, and usually it was her job to be full of anxiety and his to reassure. She was positive the only reason she wasn’t losing her mind with sheer panic right now was because of the drugs.

 Joyce couldn’t imagine what she would have done if the situation was reversed.  She also knew that he didn’t do well with hospitals. She was in considerable pain, but she wanted him to know she was okay. 

She wanted him to know she was still here. 

“Oh, yeah,” he said, shrugging a bit. A confused expression still painted on his face. “But don’t worry about it. It wasn’t important.” 

“You need to get a new one,” she said, the demand in her tone clearly evident, despite the low volume. “For our date.”

There was a brief silence that followed, and she didn’t need to open her eyes to know he was shocked by her words. She could imagine his eyes widening and his mouth parting, trying to think of how to respond. 

“You still want to go...” his disbelief was mixed with a tinge of boyish excitement.

“Yeah, I do,” she smiled softly, the darkness calling out to her as she desperately tried to stay awake. He must have noticed her struggle, because she felt him straighten up and his uneasiness was beginning to radiate once more.  

 “As soon as you get out of here, we can go out whenever you’d like” he was speaking quickly. “But first, let’s focus on getting you better, yeah?” 

She agreed easily enough, nodding her head slightly, her mind becoming garbled. She felt his hand pull away from hers and she was left listening to the faint sound of the door clicking shut. She desperately wanted to stay awake. She wanted to show him that he could stop worrying. She didn’t want to make this harder on him than it already had to be. But, she was losing the fight, and she simply didn’t have the energy to try and wait for him to come back. 

She faded back to sleep before he returned. 

Chapter Text

“What are you doing for dinner tomorrow?” Joyce found herself asking tentatively, her eyes wandering up to stare into his. She swore his eyes reminded her of the ocean, and it was oh so easy to get lost in his sea. She found that she didn’t mind drowning in his eyes. The openness in them brought her a comfort that she couldn’t quite describe. 

His leg was practically touching hers, their closeness making her mind feel empty and yet swirling with a million thoughts all at once. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” he brought his hand up to the back of his head, rubbing gently. It was a nervous tick of his. One of the few he actually had. He didn’t get nervous often. She noticed this about him, and he seemed to do it a lot around her.  She had been observing a lot about him recently, little traces of their youth ever present. She remember how he would do the same thing in high school, rubbing his head as he tried to think of how to reply to someone. 

She was surprised at how tense he suddenly seemed to get at her inquiry.  Her question seemed to have caught him completely off-guard. She thought she was reading the signs correctly. He had been coming to her work almost daily, stopping by to eat lunch with, or sometimes to just check in and see how she was doing. He was showing up to her house, offering to fix the things that had been destroyed from all the events with the Upside Down. He always seemed to be there for her, and she was almost certain that Jim was interested in her. 

She could obviously see how nervous he got around her. The way he would stare at her as if she were a dazzling star in the sky. She felt this pull towards him, and she felt like he did too. When they were together, things just felt easy. She knew she could confide in him. She felt like she could trust him, and she definitely didn’t trust easily. He genuinely listened to her, and he didn’t dismiss her concerns. He looked at her like she was normal, like she had value...

She wasn’t sure why he wasn’t make the first move, and she was getting a bit impatient waiting on him. That’s why she decided today at lunch she would finally ask Hopper out for a proper date. 

“Well, I was just thinking…” she felt very unsure of herself now, biting her lip. She saw his eyes flicker down, lingering for just a second too long. A slight blush threatened to bloom across her cheeks and she gave him a shy smile. “If you aren’t doing anything...”

Hopper blinked, looking down at her with an emotion she couldn’t place. He stayed silent, his eyes quickly making their way to their lunch that sat on the bench. He was taking too long to formulate and answer, and she knew what that meant. Joyce felt herself flinch, quickly reaching for the food as something else to focus on. She quickly unwrapped the sandwich and began looking through its contents as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. 

“Joyce, I-” he seemed a bit flustered, a clear amount of pain on his face as he clearly was trying to come up with a nice way to let her down gently. “I don’t think-”

She was such an idiot. 

“Just forget I said anything!” she cut him off quickly, trying desperately to hide her embarrassment. 

How could she be so stupid? Why would Hopper like her? She really had nothing a man like him would want. Two children, an asshole ex, irrational anxiety… Why did she think lunch meant he liked her? Friends have lunch all the time. Friends check in on you. Hopper was just a friend. He could have any woman in town he wanted and she really thought Jim Hopper could ever want someone like her? Someone so broken, so damaged, so... crazy. 

He just feels bad for you. 

She was such an idiot. 

Joyce stood up suddenly, knowing that her face was flushed. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him as she tried to come up with some excuse to flee. 

“Joyce, wait,” Hopper started, but she couldn’t stomach the thought of hearing the truth. She could accept that he didn’t want her, but she certainly didn’t want to hear it from him right now. 

“I have to go. I, uh... Donald has been complaining about me taking too long of lunch breaks and I’m not super hungry,” she turned on her heel, practically sprinting to the store so that she could try and hide out in shame. 

She couldn’t believe how wrong she had been. She really thought Hopper liked her. But, of course, she had to go and ruin it. He was trying to be nice to her and she really thought… Joyce fought the urge to cry, shaking her head. 

What she didn’t know was when she left Hopper on the bench, an overwhelming sense of anger and sadness took over him.

 He wanted to go to dinner. He wanted to say yes. He wanted Joyce so much. But it wasn’t safe. There was still a lot going on, and he had to keep her safe. As much as it pained him, he had to keep her at arm’s length. 

She couldn’t be with him. It was simply too dangerous right now. 

She couldn’t know about El…

He cared too much about Joyce to put her at any kind of risk. 

Hopper let out a deep sigh, trying to reassure himself that this was the only way to keep everyone safe.