Hello! This was written for @elevenknope who came up with the idea, and @itcouldbendoritcouldbreak and @1980s-jean-ralphio who both came up with the idea of El’s room and Mike not wanting to leave Will’s side. I hope you guys like it! Thank you for letting me use your brilliant minds! Enjoy!
Hawkins National Laboratory was too sterile for its own good.
The cloying scent of antiseptic and overpowering blast from the air conditioner were more than enough to set Mike’s teeth on edge as he sat at Will’s bedside. It was cold. There was a blanket across his lap that was far too thin and his sweater did little to keep out the chill. Idly, he wondered why all medical facilities found it necessary to freeze their occupants to death. Did they think it was funny? Were they trying to grab more patients by inducing hypothermia? It seemed like such an unwarranted use of funding that could have easily gone towards providing more comfortable furniture. His chair, for instance, was a rickety old thing, cushioned only by cheap styrofoam covered in plastic, and his butt ached from the stiffness. He’d long stopped being able to process anything from his fingers.
But that part wasn’t from the chill.
Will’s grip was vice-like - a trembling, desperate attempt to keep hold of something, and Mike wasn’t about to tell him to let go. If anything, he held on just as eagerly, hoping to transfer what little body heat he could manage to his friend in an effort to induce some type of coloring other than chalk. Will was nothing more than a still-breathing corpse.
They were alone.
For the first time in what felt like years, the room was devoid of other people. It was almost a relief to be free of the questions and the shouting and the nonstop conversations he wasn’t allowed to have a voice in, but with that loss came the all-too unsettling void of sound only broken by the beeping of Will’s heart monitor. Mike would have been tempted to turn it off if doing so wouldn’t bring a stampede of people back into the room.
He’d much rather be alone with Will than surrounded by adults who couldn’t understand that the more incomprehensible words tossed into the aether the more terrified Will got. Mike wasn’t about to put his friend through that. He already had enough shit on his plate.
“Mike?” Will’s rasping call snapped his attention away from his discomfort and back into the real world.
Condensation had gathered along the inside of Will’s oxygen mask, and Mike struggled to smile as he leaned in. God, it was so hard to hear him. “Yeah, Will? I’m still here.”
Will smiled - tremulous, as if he had to put in all his energy just to make the effort. “I-I know. I c-can feel your h-hand.”
“Heh, is it warm?” Under normal circumstances, Mike would have made a joke about how at least one of them could, but Will was the type of person who would instantly let go after that, and Mike knew Will needed the connection more than he needed the circulation.
The smaller boy nodded. “Y-yeah. Really w-warm.”
“Good. I’d turn off the air conditioning, but knowing me I’d probably set off some sort of alarm.”
Will’s eyes brightened, overshadowing the fog for just a moment, and a tiny weight lifted from Mike’s chest. “Y-you would.”
“And they’d definitely throw me out after that,” he continued, hoping to keep the joke alive.
“Can’t h-have that.”
“Nah,” Mike shook his head. “So holding hands is really the best we’re going to get.”
“I-I don’t m-mind. It’s nice.”
Nice. Mike had to swallow back bile. He could see the way Will’s body quivered under the blanket. His friend was in agony. It wasn’t hard to notice, and the doctors (the horrible, evil doctors who didn’t have an ounce of compassion anywhere in their horrible, evil bodies) refused to give him anything for the pain, citing they didn’t know what type of effect the medicine would have on him.
Bullshit, Mike hissed in the back of mind. They just wanted to study him. They didn’t want Will to get better because if Will got better they would have to let him leave, and if Mike knew anything it was that the scientists of Hawkins Lab never let anyone of interest leave. No, they locked them away and kept them separated from their friends and family and any inch of happiness and - no. Stop.
It wouldn’t happen. Not to Will. He’d never let it happen to anyone else. Will wouldn’t be like-
“Mike?” Will shook his hand weakly. “A-are you okay?”
Shit, he really had to work on controlling himself better. He tossed Will another smile, hoping it looked real. “Yeah, I’m okay. How ‘bout you?”
Will shrugged one shoulder. The sleeve of his hospital gown pulled awkwardly to reveal a bony shoulder. “O-okay,” but his body must have chosen that moment to remind him that he was anything but because his face contorted in obvious pain and he sucked in a whistle of air through his teeth.
His grip tightened.
“Will?” Mike half-stood from his chair. He was ready to sprint across the hall and grab a doctor if need be, no matter how convinced he was of their malicious intentions.
An eternity of harsh breathing passed before Will finally shook his head and relaxed his hold. “I-I’m alright. Really,” he added upon seeing Mike’s disbelief.
“You’re not alright, Will.” As if that wasn’t evident enough by the oxygen mask, hospital gown, and current location.
God, Mike wanted to get out of here.
This place just…he shivered. Chills ran down his spine.
“Ca-can you t-tell me something funny?”
Mike could feel the way his brow furrowed in confusion. Funny? It was hard to think of anything funny right now. Granted, that was probably why Will wanted it; anything to take his mind off the pain if only for a second.
But what could possibly be funny at a time like this?
He looked around the room. All fresh white paint and bright lights and beeping machines. Everything was new, as if the old was something to be washed away. It was hardly the most delightful atmosphere. The air was stale with the scent of illness and the video camera hanging from the ceiling didn’t so much as make the room feel secure as it did a cage at the zoo. For all Mike knew, there were a dozen Hawkin’s scientists on the other side of that camera just watching them, recording everything they said and did for future analysis.
For perhaps the first time, Mike understood what it meant to be completely on display. Enough so, at least, that a little girl felt perfectly okay with undressing in front of a total stranger.
He ground the thought to a halt with enough speed to leave skid marks.
Nope. Not going there again.
It wasn’t funny.
But what to say? Will needed this. He couldn’t leave him hanging, but this place just seemed to sap happiness right out of the air as if it were a vacuum of depression. No wonder El had been so-
But the thought wouldn’t leave. El not understanding privacy. El not knowing what a friend was. El’s fear of adults. El not knowing how to tell time or articulate or even speak to them about what hell she had gone through.
Her tiny, tinny laugh as he made her swing back on the La-Z-Boy in the middle of his empty living room. The way her eyes glazed over with unfamiliar happiness as he said goodnight to her. Heck, even her complete lack of enthusiasm for his Yoda impersonation was endearing in hindsight.
A light went on in his head.
“I once did my Yoda impression for El before we, you know, knew. She, ah, wasn’t impressed.” Was that funny? He hoped it was funny. He hadn’t done humor in what felt like years.
The snort that erupted from under Will’s mask was enough to send Mike’s heart soaring. “I w-wonder why,” his best friend teased, and Mike rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
“I didn’t know, okay?”
Will raised a delicate eyebrow. “You h-had a real J-Jedi living in your house and you did y-your Yoda impr-pression?”
“What part of ‘I didn’t know,’ aren’t you getting?” Mike glared, but it was the teasing sort that had his friend not even bothering to hide his grin.
Not that it would have mattered. It was hard to see Will’s mouth behind the fog gathered along his mask anyway.
Once again, this place sucked the joy out of everything.
Will must have sensed it because he was suddenly silent, sunken eyes focused on Mike as if trying to find something buried there. His fingers - so cold, so skeletal - squeezed around Mike’s warmer ones.
Mike almost couldn’t feel it and it wasn’t because his fingers were numb.
Will was getting weaker.
It was a shattering realization. His breath was stolen from his lungs as if ripped out by some otherworldly force and Mike had to physically restrain himself from bolting out of the room. He was selfish. So, so selfish, he thought, as he held on just that much tighter, gluing his hand to Will’s so that the doctors here would have to use a crowbar or some sort of strong acid to make him let go. Anything to keep himself anchored to this room. How could he think to run? How could he possibly contemplate leaving Will here at the mercy of people who only saw him as a walking cadaver and not a living child? He bowed his head to keep himself from throwing up.
Oh God, he really might vomit.
“Mike?” But the voice wasn’t Will’s. Will was as quiet as the corpse that had been dragged out the quarry all those lifetimes ago. No, this voice was softer, higher pitched even though Will was the only one of their friends who’d yet to reach puberty.
It was fleeting, too. Incomprehensible, like a whisper that had traveled too long in the breeze.
Or, more to the point, a ghost left haunting the halls.
He could see her, curled up in the corner like some sort of phantom. Dressed in a hospital gown to match Will’s, she had never looked smaller. Her smell, usually maple syrup, had been replaced by rubber and metal and nothing, and the warmth Mike had always associated her with now surrounded him only with the bone-aching chill of absence.
She was everywhere. Her feel, her smell, her image. She was imprinted into this place as much as any tile or brick - as much a part of the building as an inanimate object. Because that’s all she’d ever been here: an object.
One who could do extraordinary things. One who could help them win a war. One who could move things with her mind and tear holes between worlds. She was an object, an experiment, a nameless subject.
But never, ever a child.
She screamed. It bounced off the walls and traveled through the halls in an unearthly wail that only served to rip his heart from his chest. He bit his lip so hard it was a wonder it didn’t bleed and Mike belatedly wondered how Will couldn’t hear it. She was so loud; how could everyone else be so deaf?
And then she was gone.
Wait, no. She was next to him. Beside him. Across from him. She was curled up on Will’s bed, bony fingers clinging to the little stuffed lion toy Jonathan had grabbed in his rush for something to help his brother. They were sharing it - two messed up lab rats garbed under the disguise of children.
Maybe it was the other way around.
Mike tried to shake the image away. It wasn’t real. She wasn’t here. He knew that because he knew where she was, and she had hair now, and living people didn’t leave ghosts behind.
So why wouldn’t she go away?
Why was she here - in this too small room, with its too small bed and a lion toy made for toddlers?
“Mike?” She called again, sound absorbed into the walls so that no one from the outside could ever hear her.
Why did -
Mike stopped. He was suddenly inextricably struck by how at home she looked. She knew this room. She knew Will’s room as if it were own.
Unbidden, the thought came. This was El’s room.
The fresh paint suddenly made a terrible sort of sense.
Mike started, leaning forward towards the phantom of El, but the words died on his lips. She was gone, vanished as if she’d never been there to begin with.
This time she didn’t come back.
“Mike?” That was Will this time. His brows were scrunched along a forehead dotted with too much sweat - a feat considering how cold the room was - and he eyed his friend with open concern. “W-what’s wrong?”
Everything. Mike wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Everything was wrong.
Because how dare they? How dare they place Will in this room? A room where the men and women here only ever viewed an experiment. How dare they make El live here for so long that even alive she haunted the place?
Anger coursed through his body like an inferno, and he sent a glare to the camera that would have melted the skin off a Demogorgon. He hoped someone was watching. He hoped they knew exactly what they’d done.
He hoped they regretted it with every fiber of their being.
It’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault, he repeated in his head, even as he calmed his expression so as not to worry Will. “Sorry, just tired,” he reassured, and it wasn’t even a total lie. He was tired, but he was tired and terrified and so goddamn angry that it hurt to breathe.
But Will didn’t need to know that. It wasn’t Will’s fault. It was this place. It was the people in this place - the people who came here every day and thought it was okay to experiment on children like something out of Nazi Germany. It was all their fault. It was their fault El had been used. It was their fault the gate had been opened. It was their fault Will was suffering. It was their fault El had been forced to sacrifice herself to a literal monster.
It was all their fault. And they thought it was okay to place Will in this room where only an experiment had ever lived.
Eleven had been a test subject. Test subject number eleven. What did Will’s chart say? Was it twelve? Thirteen? Fourteen? Was it higher or lower? Or maybe because he was so different they’d moved onto using Greek. Test subject alpha. Test subject beta.
He slid his eyes surreptitiously to Will’s uncovered forearm.
Good. It had better stay that way.
El haunted these halls. He didn’t know the specifics of what had been done to her, but then he didn’t need to. This room told him enough. She had been an experiment, and as Mike held tighter to Will’s trembling hand he made himself a promise.
No matter what happened, no matter how much he was threatened or coerced or pushed, he would not leave. He wouldn’t so much as budge.
El had never had anyone to help her, but Will Byers did.
My Philosophy professor is giving my class our first real exam tomorrow. And all the questions are going to be open-ended. Meaning that there are no multiple choice questions at all. And pm if I forget one word in a response I’ll get that whole question wrong. And he didn’t give us a study guide ?? or let us know what the test is going to ask??? He just told us to study our notes (which are all based on his lectures and nothing from the textbook) which I have like 20 pages of. So yeah I gotta study 20 pages of notes for 17 questions lmao.
And since he doesn’t give us any assignments for some freaking reason my grade in his class is based solely on his two pop quizzes and this exam and I gotta maintain a minimum of a 3.5 gpa to keep my scholarship. So I’m stressed tf out.
Quick little thing of Clark fucking Tim and that’s really all you need to know! Enjoy!
“You know, people are going to start talking.”
It wasn’t late. Just past three in the afternoon when Clark showed up to his hotel room all the way out in San Francisco where he was staying for a conference that weekend. Tim had been surprised Clark took long enough to say hello before he was pressing him up against the nearest wall, kissing him like mad and lifting him up with a tight grip to his thighs.
“About us. About you.” Tim was smiling, gaze locked onto the tacky framed photo on the opposite wall the hotel used as decoration. Clark was currently attacking his throat; sucking bright marks into his skin and making Tim gasp every time he clamped his jaws closed to bite him. “They’ll start to gossip.”