It was weird being back in Hawkins after all this time. Sure, she’d been home occasionally during college, breaks and holidays. But after she’d graduated those visits had dwindled each year and now it’s been at least two years since she’s been back, if not more. The drive from Boston is long but she doesn’t want to be stuck in Hawkins for 10 days without a car and can’t justify the cost of a plane ticket, room, and a car rental.
Her breath catches as she drives past the ‘Welcome to Hawkins’ sign. There’s a reason she’s avoided this place all these years. And while she'd always thought of herself as brave, she can admit that she ran from Hawkins, ran from everything here, when she left for college and never looked back. And she's always proud of what she did here—the Upside Down changed something in her forever. But leaving small town Indiana for Boston and the world of journalism is something she’ll never regret. She left a lot behind though when she didn’t look back after high school.
The bed and breakfast on the town square is kitschy in a way that rubs at her senses, but it was cheaper for the long week than Hawkins’ one motel and the thought of staying with her mom for 10 days made something in her shudder.
After checking in and getting settled in her room she sits down on the alarmingly large and pink bed and takes a deep breath. It’s Mike and El’s wedding; one of the few things that could have drawn her back to Hawkins. She hadn’t even been back for Christmas the last two years, celebrating in Chicago one year and Boston the other. But they’re getting married back here where it all began and it's turned into a week-long endeavor with last minute items, gatherings, the rehearsal dinner, and then the actual ceremony.
She glances at the alarm clock on the nightstand—just after three. She’d made good time, but the long drive yesterday and today is weighing on her. Her mom was expecting her for diner before 6, which gives her just enough time to take a quick nap and then freshen up.
It’s 5:45 by the time she’s getting in her car, sun still shining brightly in the summer heat. She’d showered and thrown on a sun dress and clipped her hair up in deference to the heat but hadn’t bothered with more than a touch-up of her lipstick. Driving through Hawkins is like a walk down memory lane, everything looks the same, if weathered and smaller to her grownup eyes.
She brakes at a four-way sign, coming to a slow stop, and is surprised when she sees Jonathan and Steve chatting outside the police station. Seeing the two of them unearths something she thought she'd locked away almost a decade ago. She likes to tell herself she’s moved on, from them, from Hawkins. And she had; she'd made friends, had more than her share of semi-serious boyfriends. But the things she’s kept hidden, the things that changed her and created her journalistic drive and independent streak, were things no one outside of Hawkins could understand. There was always a space, a chasm, in every relationship she had—it had kept friends from becoming best friends, boyfriends from becoming more.
So, she'd thrown herself into reporting over the years. The newsroom wasn’t always an easy place for a female in the 90’s, but she'd earned enough respect over the years, didn’t put up with shit from anyone, that it had become home. She'd earned a reputation for the odd stories, for finding and believing in a story when no one else would. Another part of Hawkins left inside her; conspiracies were easier to see and believe when you’d seen monsters from another dimension and little girls experimented on by the government. She has a home and a life in Boston, one painstakingly built over the last 9 years; but coming into Hawkins, brings the pang of loss to the forefront of her mind.
Jonathan and she had tried after he moved away their senior year, but thrice weekly phone calls and monthly visits soon dwindled to weekly phone calls and then every other week. She was mostly to blame, throwing herself into schoolwork and college plans. By the time graduation rolled around it had finally fizzled out. They’d called after graduation and shared plans but, even though she was going to be in Boston and Jonathan at NYU, they never talked again.
Steve though she’d seen off and on throughout that time, often with Robin or one of the kids in tow. He was still living at home, but she heard through the grapevine near the end of senior year, after Hopper had miraculously wandered home, that he’d headed into the force as a deputy under Hopper. Back then she would have never admitted it, but she avoided him as much as possible that year, trying to lock everything behind her.
They both glance over as she comes to a stop and for a moment their eyes all meet. Nancy doesn’t know how to react, doesn’t know what to do as they all stare at each other. After a wash of recognition flitters over their faces, both Steve and Jonathan smile at her, wide and open, and they both raise their hand in a wave. A car behind her honks and startles her thoughts away. She awkwardly does a quick wave and then takes off towards her childhood home.
As soon as she parks in front of the house the door flings open and Holly comes rushing out, her mom trailing behind.
“Nancy!” Holly shouts before wrapping her in a hug. Nancy’s filled with a sense of love and guilt—it’s been six months since she’s seen Holly in person. She’s still growing like a weed and looks so grown up. She’ll be starting high school this fall and Nancy feels like she’s missed it all.
It’s just the four of them for dinner, Holly and her mom carrying the conversation while her dad sits quietly, nodding along occasionally. Nancy answers so many questions from both of them, always with shorter answers than her mom wants.
“So, what happened to Jeremy?” Karen asks as she brings out desert.
“Mom,” she sighs, “you know we broke up, I told you that.”
“I know, sweetie, but you never said why. You never have a reason for any of them.” She chastises as she sits down with pie.
“We just didn’t work out; we wanted different things.”
“You’re not getting any younger you know, Nancy.”
“Mom!” She cries, exasperated. “I’m happy with my career and my life. I’m not going to settle for some guy just so I’m not alone.”
“I just worry about you, Nancy. All alone out there.”
“It’s been nine years, mom; at some point you need to let it go.”
“You’re my daughter, I don’t ever need to let you go.”
Holly sticks her tongue out when their mom says that and laughs at Nancy’s eye roll. Nancy reaches over to tousle her hair affectionately.
“I should get back soon, mom. It’s been a long couple of days.”
“Okay, honey. You sure you’re okay staying there, we’ve got room here.”
“I’m fine mom. You’ve got enough going on, and I’ve got some work to do as well. Do you need anything picked up or done tomorrow?
“You’re coming to the picnic, right? Mike and El insisted on having it. Just the ‘old crew’ they said.”
“Yes, he called me about it. It’s out at the park by the lake, right?”
She nods as she carries dishes to the sink, cleaning up after dinner. “Call your brother tonight and see if they need anything for it, I’m sure he’d appreciate it. They’re staying up at Hop’s old place tonight to get ready.”
“I will. Bye, dad!” She hollers into the living room where he’s settled into his chair. She gets a brief nod and eye contact before he’s back to the television. Holly hugs her quickly before running up to her room. Nancy starts inching towards the door, hoping for a quick exit, but Karen grabs her into a big hug before she can make it.
“It’s so good to see you, hon. I’m so glad you’re back. Now, remember to call Mike tonight. And, here,” she says, slipping a piece of paper into her hand. “Hopper’s number. And Steve’s. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you as well,” she tacks on with a smile.
Nancy doesn’t acknowledge her mother’s ridiculous attempts but simply hugs her back and heads out the door.
She sits in her car for a few minutes, getting her bearings back, before she turns the ignition over and heads back towards the center of town. It isn’t late but she feels tired after dealing with her mom for the first time in person in six months. She always forgets how much more draining she is in person, doesn’t like to admit, even to herself, that distance from her was part of the appeal of Boston.
There’s a phone in her room at the bed and breakfast and she calls the number for Hopper.
A gruff voice answers on the third ring.
“Hey, Chief. It’s Nancy. I hear Mike is there?”
“Nancy, it’s good to hear from you. He is here. You’re coming tomorrow, right?”
“Good. It will be good to see you.” Just her parents and Holly had come to Boston this year for Christmas and so she hadn’t seen Hopper since the Christmas before when they were all in Chicago with Mike and El.
Mike hops on the phone and they talk for a few minutes and she agrees to pick up a few last-minute items for him on the way tomorrow, and somehow agrees to show up early to see them and help set up.
She and El talk then for a few minutes before she says goodnight and hangs up the phone. The piece of paper her mom had given her sits next to the phone and the second number on it stares back at her. Seeing him and Jonathan on that street corner had been a shock, even though it shouldn’t have been. She knew they were both invited to the wedding and knew Steve still lived in Hawkins. But seeing the two of them, grown up and yet still looking the same, talking to each other had stirred something inside of her. Transported her back to combined feelings of lust, giddiness, and terror that encapsulated her high school years. Grabbing the paper, she stuffs it in her purse and puts her pajamas on before climbing into bed.
The picnic isn’t supposed to start until three and according to Mike, everyone who is “in the know”, along with their immediate families, will be there. It’s been ten years since Starcourt mall and the final showdown they’d had with the Upside Down. And while she knows Hopper and Murray were still in touch with Dr. Owens, knew it hadn’t fully gone away, they’re ragtag group of monster fighters had been left in peace.
She leaves shortly after noon and swings by Bradley’s Big Buy on the way. While it’s been upgraded some in the last ten years, it’s still eerily reminiscent of all that went down and being in the store still puts her on edge. Grabbing the plates, napkins, chips, and beer that Mike had asked for as quickly as she can, she heads out and to the park.
It’s good to see Mike and El; it’s been too long. They spend an hour catching up on things and discussing last minute pieces of the wedding. It’s going to be simpler than Nancy would have expected, and she’s sure her mom is disappointed, but Mike doesn’t care about most of it and, outside of the dress and a party, El doesn’t see the appeal. It’s refreshingly simple after some of the weddings Nancy has attended in the last few years; especially since she’s a bridesmaid. They head over to the park after a while and set up food and drinks, getting grills lined up for the burgers later.
People start trickling in around three and everyone greets each other and mingles back and forth, catching up with hellos and hugs. Nancy, by default of being there early, hovers near Mike and El by the picnic tables and gets to say hello to everyone as they first arrive. Almost everyone is shocked and pleased to see her and she gets enthusiastic hugs from all the Hawkins’ residents and introductions to significant others that she hadn’t met.
Steve is one of the first to arrive and he’s laden with sacks filled with food and drinks to add to their already large piles. After setting everything out on the table he claps Hopper on the back, hugs both El and Mike, and then turns towards her. His face is soft and open as he greets her.
“Hiya, Nance,” he says, pushing the hair out of his eyes and grinning at her. And it’s like she’s taken back in time to all those years ago when she first fell for him. She manages an awkward wave but is luckily saved by the arrival of Dustin and him yelling Steve’s name from the parking lot.
A few minutes later and it’s the same awkwardness again. Joyce, Jonathan, Will, and another man climb out of a car and head over. Joyce hugs her fiercely when she sees her and spends a few minutes exclaiming over how good it is to see her. She and Jonathan stare at each other for a moment before he smiles and greets her. Will pops up behind her to shake her hand and introduce her to his boyfriend; apparently, she’s the only one who doesn’t know him as they’ve been together almost 5 years.
It’s tiring in a way. Sure, it’s nice to see everyone but she feels like the odd one out, the center of attention in an otherwise tight group. Knows it her own fault, but still feels like the smile is pasted on her face.
Later, after everyone has eaten and gone back to socializing, she's brought up short as she watches everyone interact, seeing how much she has actually missed. She watches as Steve greets Erica’s boyfriend as if they’re old friends. It had taken her a few minutes to even place Erica as Lucas’ little sister all grown up, but she, and her boyfriend, had obviously kept in touch with Steve. Will, playing the part of best man, has brought his boyfriend as well and, again, Steve greets them and Jonathon familiarly. She's gravitating towards that group and the conversation comes into focus.
“How’s the new job, Ben?” Steve asks. “I know you were excited about it starting the last time we talked. And what about that other surprise?”
Jonathan at least looks as surprised as she feels by the questions, by Steve’s ease with the couple.
“What surprise?” Jonathan asks, eyes focused in on Will.
“Thanks, Steve, way to ruin it.” Will replies, grinning sardonically at him before turning to Jonathan. “We haven’t told mom yet so keep it quiet, but Ben’s offer included the opportunity to move to their Chicago office and we think we’re going to take it,” he ends with a smile.
Jonathan grins and wraps his brother in a big hug. “I bet Mike will love you being in the same city, eh? I know I will. And you’ll be so much closer to mom.”
“Yeah. L.A. was great, but never felt quite like home,” Ben says, trading smiles with Will. Mike suddenly shouts Will’s name from across the grass and they both turn to glance before excusing themselves. She hovers as she watches them saunter off, hand-in-hand. She realizes how much she’s missed in the last decade and almost bolts away but the slight shift of her body draws Steve’s attention.
“Hey, Nance,” Steve says, smile soft as he catches her eye. Jonathan turns towards her, smiling in a way that is somehow welcoming and awkward at the same time; something so very Jonathan.
“Steve. Jonathan. How are you two?”
“Nancy, I know I didn’t say it earlier, but it’s really so great to see you,” Jonathan says, reaching out and wrapping her in a quick hug.
Steve’s next with a larger, more boisterous hug, “Glad you could make it up early for this shindig.”
She isn’t quite sure how to react, how to carry this conversation with her two exes. They manage for a few minutes though, catching up on where they’re living, working, and big life events. Steve is still in Hawkins and still on the police force. He’s got his own house and volunteers at the middle school twice a week. Jonathan had just recently moved to Chicago to be closer to everyone and open his own studio. Nancy told a few stories about recent assignments she’d worked on.
The silence between them had just started to turn from comfortable to tense when Joyce and Hopper, arms linked, and Nancy wondered if that was new, came over and pulled Steve and Jonathan away.
“Just for a second, Nancy!” She promised with a smile. Nancy smiled back but took her window and headed over to her mom and Holly and got lost in conversation with them.
She begged off slightly after 7, telling her mom she had some work to do and wanted to try to catch up on some sleep. There are a few quick goodbyes, but she doesn’t catch everyone, including Steve and Jonathan, and quickly makes her exit while she can.
On the way back to the bed and breakfast she stops for a bottle of wine and some snacks and then settles in her room for the night. The book she’d brought with her sits abandoned on the dresser and she eyes it and her research before deciding on a bubble bath. She slips into the hot water and settles down, taking sips straight from the bottle as she forces herself to relax.
On Monday, she gets a call from her mom mid-morning as she’s buried in research for her current article. There’s some emergency and she needs to meet El at the dress shop. When she gets there, Max and Holly are there as well.
“Sorry, Nancy. I had a freak out and tried to call Mike and got your mom. She called you since it was a ‘girl thing’.”
“The tailor screwed up her dress,” Max says quietly with a huff. “We were trying to reassure her but didn’t get very far. But now that you’re here maybe you can get her to calm down and then we can put our bridesmaid dresses and see how we look standing next to El.”
“Okay. El, let’s see the issue and maybe we can make it work. Then we’ll line up with all our dresses on and you can start dreaming about Saturday.”
It’s not quite the disaster she expected it to be, but for whatever reason the dress is the only thing El seems to care about. They work through the misunderstanding with the tailor, get the bodice fixed, all try on their dresses and El’s smile is blinding. Even with everything she’s only there a couple of hours and everyone is calm and happy as they all leave, each toting their dress.
It’s after one though and she hasn’t eaten yet today so she runs in to place a to-go order at the diner and waits at the counter for her salad and burger. Her story is still waiting in her room, calling to her. She’s walking out of the diner, mind unfocused, when she crashes into someone. She looks up and sees Jonathan. They both blush and stammer out apologies, standing awkwardly on the sidewalk.
“It really is good to see you, Nancy,” Jonathan says after a moment of silence.
“You, too,” she says, honestly if not painfully.
“We didn’t get much of a chance to talk yesterday. How’s Boston?” He asks as they take a step in unison towards her car, he walks alongside her as they head to the parking lot.
“It’s good. Sometimes I forget how long I’ve been there, 9 years, it’s a different life there than here.”
“Nine years is a long time,” Jonathan replies softly, and an ache hits her gut. She thought she’d done the right thing back then, leaving this all behind her. But sometimes she forgets that she left people behind as well.
“Jonathan…” she says softly, turning towards him.
“No, Nancy,” he says firmly, quietly. “It’s in the past. It is good to see you though,” he tacks on with a small smile as he waves and walks away. She watches until she can’t see him anymore before she sighs and climbs into her car and heads off.
Tuesday starts off the same, but she heads to the diner to sit down this time, meeting Mike, El, and Holly for brunch. They laugh, chat, and catch up for a couple of hours before the three of them head off. Nancy orders another cup of coffee and works on organizing her research for a bit before she decides to wrap it up. She wants to kick her luck as she spots Steve entering the diner with another deputy as she’s paying her bill.
“I cannot catch a break,” she mumbles under her breath. The cashier raises his eyebrows at her, but she waves him away with flushed cheeks.
Steve holds the door open for her as she leaves and steps outside after her. They pause outside the door, at an awkward impasse for a moment. Steve takes his hat off and runs a hand through his hair.
“I was thinking it would be nice for the three of us to get together. You, me, and Jonathan. I can cook us dinner tomorrow night, we can catch up properly.” His face is so earnest that Nancy doesn’t know how to say no. “And I know you don’t have anything for the wedding because I already spoke to Karen and she promised me your schedule was clear tomorrow night.
“I’ll bet she did,” escapes from her mouth before she can stop it. Steve lets out a sharp laugh and leans against the pole on the sidewalk, head tilted towards her.
“6:00 tomorrow, I’m cooking. Number 74 over on Euclid. It really will be nice to catch up, Nance,” he tacks on as he saunters back inside.
Her mom takes her out for dinner Tuesday evening, just the two of them. Nancy loves her mom, but they’ve been on different wavelengths her entire life and they can’t seem to find the shared ground. Nancy talks about her recent stories she’s written and shares some funny anecdotes from her neighbors in her building. Karen catches her up on the gossip of Hawkins.
“Steve’s still single you know. Such a catch; the moms of Hawkins are always trying to set him up, but he just doesn’t seem that interested. Such a good boy though, helping out at the middle school. I still remember everything he did for Mike and his friends.”
“Mom,” She sighs.
She continues on as if she hasn’t even heard her. “Though I do hear that he and Jonathan keep in touch now. Isn’t that funny? Your two ex-boyfriends. Jonathan is still single from what Mike says as well. And his new studio over in Chicago is pretty popular.”
“Yes, mom. We’re all grown up and successful, it’s very nice.”
“But still all single,” she says with a frown, as if that piece negates all the other good the three of them have done.
The pasta and wine settle nicely in her stomach though and she slips into be that night calm and content.
There are in fact wedding errands to run on Wednesday, but her mom calls her early in the afternoon and promises she’ll be done ‘in time for your dinner reunion’. Nancy takes it all with a smile and helps her mom schlep items over to the rental hall where the wedding and reception are being held. Despite the chastisement she gives herself, she takes a shower, re-dresses, re-applies her makeup, and does her hair before she heads over to Steve’s. There’s no reason to fuss over it she tells herself, it isn’t a date, and both Steve and Jonathan will be there. She still put on her nice jean skirt and the dressy yellow top she’d brought.
Pulling up in front of number 74, she eyes the house. It’s small and modest but kept up. The lawn is nicely mowed and there are flowers in the window boxes. She knocks on the door and, to her surprise, Jonathan opens the door and ushers her in. He’s dressed up more than she ever remembers seeing him, in nice jeans and a black button up shirt. There’s a faint sound of music coming from another room and the smell of pasta sauce and garlic lingers slightly in the air.
Steve pokes his head out from what she assumes is the kitchen and greets her with a holler and a smile. She waves and her and Jonathan follow. Steve’s in front of the stove, stirring something in the pot. He’s cleaned up after work it looks like, in slacks and a pale pink polo shirt.
“Jon can you open the wine while I grab the bread out of the oven?” He asks, nodding towards the bottle on the counter as he grabs oven mitts and pulls a pan out of the oven. The kitchen is small, but it looks well stocked and well used.
“The table’s set,” he says with a jerk of his head towards the next room, “grab a plate and we can dish up.”
She follows his direction and heads through the doorway into the dining room. It’s small, the four-person table taking up most of the room, but it’s painted a nice brown color and has two small windows looking out over the small backyard. Grabbing a plate, she heads back to the kitchen.
A few minutes later and they’re all settled at the table with food and wine. Jonathan raises his glass in a silent salute and she and Steve follow suit.
“To the original monster fighting trio,” Steve says with a smirk.
Conversation doesn’t flow between the three of them, but it isn’t too awkward; just slow and painful, safe topics broken up by tense pauses. She’s sipping her second glass of wine as the last bites linger on her plate.
“How’s being a police officer?”
“It’s good. It was the right place for me after high school,” Steve says with a sigh. “I needed somewhere to land but wasn’t ready to leave those little shitheads. They still seemed so small back then.”
“I do still love it. But I’ve been thinking about moving; maybe a bigger city.”
“Really?” Jonathan asks, surprise evident on his face. “I didn’t know you were considering it; you haven’t mentioned anything.”
“I feel like my ties to Hawkins are slowly lifting. No monsters, no kids, even my parents are gone south now. Think maybe I could do some more good somewhere else.”
“You could,” Jonathan agrees, reaching out and squeezing Steve’s hand. Nancy watches the two of them interact, realizes how much she must have missed.
“When did you two become friends?” The words come out harsher than she meant them to and she stands up abruptly, instantly wishes she could take them back. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come here tonight, this was a mistake.”
“No, it wasn’t Nancy, sit down,” Steve says, voice as harsh as she’s ever heard it.
“I left all those years ago,” she says, hands twisting in her lap. “Not just this town, but you two.”
“Yes, you did.” Jonathan says, an agreement but not an admonishment.
“And I was bullshit long before that,” Steve replies with a wry grin. “But, Nancy, we’ve both accepted and put it all behind us, moved on, but I don’t think you ever did. This place haunts you still, dodges your steps.”
She thinks of Jeremy, Susan, Cal, Ben, Paige... all the friends and boyfriends that she's never been able to fully commit to.
“How’d you guys do it? How do you leave something like that behind and connect with people who don’t understand it?”
“By having people who do understand it still around.”
“You know Sunday wasn’t that unusual; we all get together every summer and remember and celebrate,” Steve reminds her, and she thinks of every time she turned down the invitation, every time she told Mike no.
“And sometimes you find someone worth telling. Ben knows—he wouldn’t be able to understand Will enough to love him if he didn’t.”
“And, well, maybe start slow. Walk around Hawkins and remind yourself that it isn’t all bad here. Visit your family. Talk with us. Maybe just close the door on the Upside Down instead of the entire first eighteen years of your life.”
They sit quietly for a minute, letting the small argument digest between them, before Steve stands up and grab their plates.
“I’ve got dessert, nothing fancy, I’m a better cook than baker, but stay here and I’ll bring it out.”
The conversation over brownies is lighter—they talk about some of their favorite movies and music out lately, weird people they’ve encountered at their jobs, updates on other family members and friends.
“So you and Robin were never…?” She asks after he casually mentions her moving to St. Louis. He half chokes on the bite of brownie he’d just taken and coughs a few times before answering.
“No. I thought you knew that all those years ago. You did see her show up with her girlfriend on Sunday, right?”
She flushes slightly. “Yeah, I just didn’t know if that was a recent development or not.”
“Robin was, still is, my best friend.”
The ice seems to break a little more after that and they delve into some even funnier and stranger stories between them—her and Jonathan sharing exploits from college and Steve impersonating some of the odder people he’s met while handling police business. It isn’t like it used to be between her and either of them, but something breaks between the three of them, or perhaps fixes. She feels a bit like a teenager again finding a best friend or a crush for the first time, but in an adult way that slots perfectly into her life.
It's a slow goodbye by the time they check their watches and realize how late it is. Jonathan heads off first, with hugs for both of them and soft smiles. Nancy hangs back, wanting just a moment with Steve, a moment to hopefully stabilize her thoughts.
They’re standing on Steve’s front steps, something she’d never imagined, and she gives him a hug.
“I have missed you, Nance,” Steve says softly, breathing into her neck. “Everything you believed in and stood for. You were the perfect complement to me back then, calm when I needed it, but scorching my fires when they called for it. And so fearless.” He pulls away slightly, staring into her eyes. “Jonathan started to fill in some of those spaces over the years. I think, at first, we clung to each other because we didn't have you. It was a poor substitute. But I ended up liking the guy. And now he's a constant. I almost kissed him last summer,” he confesses quietly, as the secret it is. “Had been thinking about it for a while. But every time, your face flashed, and I couldn’t quite reconcile it all.”
“What are you saying, Steve?” Nancy asks, quiet and confused.
He huffs out a breath, not quite a laugh. “I don’t know, Nance. Just know this, it is, truly, really great to see you.” He presses a kiss to her cheek and turns away, walking through the front door.
Nancy stand for a moment on the steps, confused and lost. Her hand presses up against her check where Steve’s lips had pressed. Jonathan’s smiling face echoes through her mind. They’re both twirling in her mind, a circuit of confusion, as she heads towards her car and back to her room for the week.
She and Jonathan had arranged to meet Steve for lunch on Thursday at the deli just on the outside of town, and she shows up fifteen minutes early and with a large smile on her face. Jonathan trickles in shortly after her and they exchange hugs and greetings before Steve hops out of his police cruiser in the parking lot and joins them. They order as a group and Steve pays for their food before either of them can protest loud enough and asks for it to go. Nancy quirks an eyebrow at him and he shrugs.
“It’s a nice summer day, we can go somewhere where we won’t get stared at by everyone.”
“To go it is,” Jonathan pipes in, small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
“Unless one of you wants to ride behind the bars, we should probably take one of your cars,” Steve says with a smirk on his face and Nancy promptly jingles her keys at them and heads to her car. She can’t, in that moment, think of anywhere to go other than the park from Sunday, so she turns her car in that direction.
It’s warm but not hot and she pulls a blanket out of the trunk of her car and they lay it out under a tree in the shade. They sit down, pulling out their food, and settle in. There aren’t a lot of words as they begin, food taking precedent, but it’s a comfortable silence as they sit with the sun on their faces.
As the food disappears though, the conversation grows. And it’s reminiscent of the night before, awkward and slow, but delving into things that matter. More serious conversations than just casual stories. And it fits; it’s easy today, easy like it used to be. They aren’t young and fighting for their lives anymore, but they’re still connected. They’ve each grown, matured, and the things that used to divide them have melted away and those that connect them seem even stronger.
Steve’s in his uniform, on duty, and while the radio has been silent, they know he can’t spend the afternoon with them. They dawdle a bit longer in the sun, before they reluctantly stand and head back to the car.
After they drop Steve back off to his car, she and Jonathan run a few errands, picking up random things from stores on the list that Nancy’s mom had given her that morning. They talk as they make their way around town, more serious conversations than they’d allowed before.
“There hasn’t really been anyone else. Lots of failed attempts, but they all wanted more than I could give them. I couldn’t ever figure out how to tell someone about Hawkins, but I couldn’t stand them not knowing. The secrets drove everyone away. I still think about what I had with each of you, still miss it.”
“We were young and going through some serious stuff, it creates a bond. But that’s just it, we were so young.” Jonathan’s eyes are sad and serious as he watches her.
“Still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been so scared, if I hadn’t retreated into myself and then left and never looked back.”
“We’ll never know. But maybe that isn’t what matters,” Jonathan says calmly, and Nancy tilts her head towards him in a question.
“We’re back here, together, all three of us. Matured, grown, but still connected. It was a long time ago, Nancy. We grew up and moved on. We put it behind us but didn't forget. These adults that we are now, the relationships we build, they’re sturdy. What Steve and I have, what we've managed to create between us, was forged in fire.”
“Have you two…?” She asks, voice trailing off, not sure if she really wants to ask it, really wants an answer.
“We've danced around it since practically the beginning. But I don't think it ever felt quite right, quite complete. But I think you being here, you being back…” he trails off with a sigh, pushing his hair out of his eyes in frustration. “I don’t know how to explain it, I just feel like everything’s clicking into place.”
She nods and loops her arm through his, leaning her head briefly on his shoulder. She feels it too, doesn’t know what it is or what it means, but she’s felt more herself in the last two days than the last few years combined.
“Think Steve would get mad if we showed up at his house with pizza and some movies tonight?” She asks with a smile.
“No. No, I think he would love that.”
They bombard Steve as he’s leaving the police station and inform him that they’re coming over.
“And if I’d already had plans?” He asks with a wide smirk.
“You’d cancel them,” Nancy pipes in, smile in place, “because we’re more important.”
Steve’s smirk softens into a smile as his eyes dart between Nancy and Jonathan. “Yeah, you are,” he says softly, and Nancy’s heart skips a beat. She feels more than sees Jonathan’s shoulders sag next to her as he releases whatever tension had been holding him up.
Steve ducks back into the station and calls in an order and then Jonathan hops into Steve’s car and rides with him while Nancy heads over to pick up the pizza and meet them back at Steve’s.
It’s even easier than lunch, than the night before, as they squeeze onto the couch, Nancy in the middle, and eat pizza and watch movies. They throw popcorn at the tv at some point and all sink slowly into the couch, and each other, as the night goes on. She stops herself from falling asleep leaning against Jonathan with her feet tucked up under Steve’s thigh; knows she has to get back to her room and a good night’s sleep.
They hug on the front steps, night air still warm, and they’re lingering, none of them wanting to say goodbye. But she finally drags herself away, eyes stuck on Steve, bathed in the warm light shining through the open front door. The turn of the engine covers her sigh as she waves and drives off.
Friday starts off quiet. She wakes up late and works on putting together some research she has into coherent stories. She thinks a lot, off and on. Thinks about the men that Steve and Jonathan have grown into, the woman she has become; how it all ties back to this town and all that happened here.
The afternoon is spent helping her mom—they’re hosting the rehearsal dinner in their backyard and tables need set and food needs prepped. It’s mindless, but luckily her mother is too frazzled to even attempt conversation with her outside of instructions and demands.
Friday night is the rehearsal dinner. She bathes, does her hair and makeup, puts on the nice dress she’d brought with her and shows up. It’s quick, a flimsy 30-minute double run through in the ceremony room before they head to the Wheeler’s house for the buffet and conversation. It’s practically the same group as Sunday but Nancy feels more relaxed now, more secure. She flits between groups and greets everyone, nursing her beer and simply enjoying the atmosphere.
As the night is dwindling down, she catches Steve and Jonathan standing near the driveway, deep in quiet conversation. She watches them for a few moments, takes in their body language and smiles. So engrossed in watching them, she doesn’t hear Mike approach her, doesn’t notice until his shoulder bumps against hers.
“They’re good guys,” he tells her. “Both of them.”
“Ha!” Nancy exclaims. “I remember you very much disliking Steve the entire time we dated.”
“Yeah, well. I was a dumb kid then, so was he. Think we all were to some extent. He’s more than proven himself since then. Jonathan as well. They’ve both missed you over the years, too. Tried not to put me in the middle, but they both always asked about you. I always knew you were too much for just one of them,” he says almost casually, smirk on his face as he heads back towards El.
Nancy spends a moment looking after him in confusion trying to parse his words. She wants to call after him, ask him to explain himself, ask him if he’s serious. Both Jonathan and Steve had hinted at it a well, she thinks. They’re vague comments about not being complete, not feeling right. She’s not sure she understands it fully, not sure she’s brave enough to. But, as she watches them, heads tilted towards each other, smiles on their faces, she wants to be.
Saturday morning, she wakes up, smile lingering on her face, and starts to get ready for the day. Whatever else is on her mind, her little brother is marrying the love of his life today and she couldn’t be happier.
It’s later now and she is collapsed in her chair leaning against Steve with her feet in Jonathan’s lap; tired from dancing and standing almost continuously for the last 4 hours. There’s been champagne, wine, and beer all night and Nancy has barely left their sides. They’ve each danced with her a few times, all three of them had danced to the fast songs together, and they’d simply enjoyed each other’s company. The wedding was a perfect balance of Mike and El – intimate and odd. And everyone’s smiles we’re blinding, not just the bride and groom.
There is so much that ties this group together; and they’re all closer for it. And Nancy can’t believe that she tried to run from it, tried to hide and bury it as if that would remove it from her memories. All it had done was drive a wedge—in herself and between these people.
The music is slowing down and the crowd has dwindled. Mike and El are gone, but a lot of the old gang is still left. Nancy is happy; content in a way she hasn’t felt in years; hasn’t felt in more than glimpses since Will Byers first went missing. She knows she’s tipsy but knows too that it isn’t the cause of this happiness, the deep feeling of rightness that has settled into her bones over the last two days. The new All-4-One song filters over the speakers, the one the radio has been playing almost constantly and she both loves and hates. But it’s slow and it resonates with her in ways she hasn’t wanted to acknowledge since she first heard it a few weeks ago. She finishes her (fourth? fifth?) glass of wine in two quick swigs and sets the glass down.
“Dance with me,” she says, standing up slowly and stretching. Steve and Jonathan both tilt their heads towards her.
“Both of you. I want to dance with my boys.”
It isn’t elegant; they aren’t sure what they’re doing, and Jonathan is visibly nervous as he keeps his eyes on the remaining guests as they try to shuffle in an odd triangle-based circle. Nancy is just happy to be there and finally puts herself between the two boys, arms around Steve’s neck, head leaning back on Jonathan, and pulls Steve’s arms around Jonathan, sandwiching themselves together.
She kisses Steve, then Jonathan. Chaste kisses, they are still in public, but they linger, and she wants to press close between the two of them. She doesn’t quite understand it, just knows it, feels the rightness of it.
“Let’s leave. I’ve got a bottle of wine in my room.”
The wedding reception is at the rental hall off the center square and it's only about 4 blocks to her bed and breakfast and they stumble down the street, arms wrapped around each others’ waists.
Both Jonathan and Steve have their suit coats draped over their arms, sleeves rolled up but ties still on. It brings back odd memories of high school and she does her best to shake the memories away, to concentrate on the now.
There is a bottle of wine in her room, it wasn’t just a ploy; it’s just something cheap she'd picked up at the small store in town. It sits on the bureau in plain sight. But once she pulls them in the room, as Steve quietly clicks the lock on the door behind them, it's the last thing on her mind.
Her hand is in Jonathan’s, tugging him towards her and their lips crash. It's as desperate and passionate as their first kiss more than 10 years ago. It isn't long before she pulls back, catching her breath as she smiles at Jonathan. Steve is still, paused in front of the door with his eyes locked on them. Her breath hitches as their eyes lock, as her arousal notches up even further at the heated look in his eyes. His suit coat is off, lax in his fingers, but his suspenders and tie catch her attention as she sidesteps Jonathan and approaches him. Her hands slip under the suspenders, feeling his muscles and the thumping beat of his heart. He takes the initiative and leans down and practically engulfs her, arms pulling her against him and lips latching onto hers. He walks her backwards and suddenly his arm is gone, reaching out and pulling Jonathan into their orbit. Nancy can't stop the noise that leaves her as Steve's mouth moves from hers to Jonathan's, as their first kiss comes to fruition right in front of her eyes.
“All or none. It doesn't work any other way,” Steve says, low and breathy. "Yes or no?"
“Yes, always a yes for you two,” Jonathan says, still gripping Steve's shoulder with one arm and Nancy's waist with the other, holding on as if trying not to float away.
Nancy's eyes flick from Steve to Jonathan and back and it's as if everything suddenly makes sense, every missing piece when she was with each of them or someone else.
“Yes,” she breathes out, “holy shit, yes.”
She wakes up warm and definitely confused the next morning. There are limbs pinning her down and it takes a few moments for her thoughts to clear enough to remember staggering back to the bed and breakfast with Steve and Jonathan. Her eyes blink slowly open and she’s met with two distinct skin tones, two very different arms thrown over her middle from opposite sides.
She's not sure what to think as her brain wakes more and more. There's no denying that last night wasn't only hotter than anything she'd ever done before, but that it had felt so right, being tucked between Steve and Jonathan. But can it work, can it be real outside the walls of this room, or outside the confines of a bed? A part of her, that part that ran from Hawkins and never looked back, wants to call bullshit, just like she did all those years ago. Wants to scream it and run away.
But she doesn’t.
She remembers the strength she found facing down monsters, standing side by side with these two. And that strength, its been gone for a while now, maybe just in hiding, but she thinks she’s found something worth fighting for, something worth finding it again. Her mind slips to the offer letter from the Tribune, shoved under papers in her home office back in Boston, that she’s been too uncertain to consider, and smiles, mind almost made up. And it isn’t just strength that settles her back in that bed, that finds her arms wrapping around both of them.