A.N.: Sorry I've been super MIA friends! I've been off fighting crimes and finishing a Master's degree and adopting 14 llamas. (Ok, maybe only one of those is true.) But I also managed to binge watch and fall in love with Stranger Things recently, particularly all the angsty teenagers involved. All characters and referenced events belong to the brilliant Duffer Brothers. Enjoy.

XXX

The warm light of the lamps glinted softly off the twin pointe shoes in front of him. The small silver charm lay atop the coiled spill of the necklace's chain and Jonathon Byers could focus on nothing else. Not his erratic heartbeat or the monster kidnapping kids in the woods or certainly not the girl quietly lying beside him.

Definitely not that.

The house was silent around them. What could have been a normal night in a normal town if normality hadn't shattered in the wake of Will disappearance. In the scream that fractured his internal organs as Nancy called to him from the other side. And Nancy. Laying here beside him. Where this reality, the reality of her breathing beside him, could only be true in the wake of a nightmare.

She shifted slightly, making nearly no noise as she settled. He suddenly felt over aware of his breathing. How loud each intake and exhale of breath seemed in the still air.

He slowed his breathing, counting the seconds as he inhaled and exhaled, hoping the quiet might help her sleep.

He wouldn't sleep. He'd protect her. Even if the monster couldn't reach them here.

XXX

His breathing appeared to stop.

Nancy jerked up and turned toward him in the second between heartbeats, her own shuttering in her chest, as she imagined him disappearing into nothing, stolen between this dimension and the next. Jonathon twitched violently away from her, not so far as to fall of the bed, but far enough to confirm that she'd scared the crap out of him. His heavy eyes were wide, the dark circles he always carried more prominent in the dead of night, but he said nothing, accepting her reaction. Waiting.

She collapsed down into the pillows, facing him this time, amidst the restarting of her heart. "You stopped breathing," she murmured, by way of explanation.

Jonathon looked oddly guilty, but said nothing. His swallow, showy and prominent, betrayed his nervousness. But he remained by her, as she'd requested.

He watched her as she shifted back into the blankets, and she glanced up once or twice to catch his eyes before his focus returned to her necklace which had fallen into the tangles of her hair. Nancy pulled the charm free with gentle fingers, her attention glad to have a focus away from his soul-dark eyes.

"Did you know I used to do ballet?" Nancy asked, fingering the little shoes. She remembered how Steve had thought they were some kind of flower when he first played with them. His fingers tracing the line drawn by the thin chain around her neck. A small stab of guilt pricked her heart at the memory and she continued, her words chasing the thought away.

"It took up too much time though, and I needed to focus on school work. But... Sometimes I miss it, you know? The routine, the focus. I really liked it." She realized she was rambling. "It's been a few years though, so you probably didn't know, but I—"

"I know." His voice was soft and quiet; his eyes like dark shadows as she looked at him with surprise. And caution.

He glanced down at the charm in her hand awkwardly. "Will used to..." He paused. "Used to complain about it." He met her gaze, "when Mike had to go to your recitals. It got in the way of their campaigns." His voice trailed off into the quiet, as did his gaze.

Nancy nodded, looking back at the charm in her fingers, before letting it fall onto the pillows between them. Silence feel between them, and she laid her head back down. His eyes were directly in front of her now, but his gaze was cast down. She closed her own again, listening to his breathing, focusing on the light behind her eyelids to keep her memories of the darker world at bay.

A soft chime echoed in the hall and she felt Jonathon flinch, her own body too used to nocturnal sounds of her home to be alarmed. Instinctively, she reached a hand towards him. He was still and warm beneath the shoulder of his t-shirt, and she felt suddenly calmer than she had since she'd tumbled down the rabbit hole into the hellsphere.

Nancy opened her eyes. His gaze was still cast down. His breathing went silent again, as if her hand was a rabbit he was afraid to startle.

She scooted closer to him, as gentle as his voice had been, and settled down once more. She tucked her head beneath his, her palms now pressed against his chest. His heartbeat was erratic beneath her fingertips, but still it calmed her, and she released a breath that carried the magnitude of her fears.

XXX

Jonathon was more scared now than he had been in the woods. His senses heightened and adrenaline coursing, he imagined he could destroy the monster in one fell swoop were he to encounter it now.

His arms were pressed tightly to his sides, her body warming his chest and shins and neck where she pressed lightly against him. For this one terrifying moment, he could forget the fear for his brother, the fear for his mom, the fear of the creeping, killing thing in the woods by his home, and focus on the fear searing through him when Nancy's breath hit the skin above his collarbone.

Jonathon closed his eyes and wondered, not for the first time, what death felt like. If it was like this, a moment hanging between desire, terror, and despair.

"Jonathon."

His name came out slowly upon her exhale, and he realized, no.

Death was his name wrapped in her whisper. Each syllable heaven-bound after a kiss from her lips.

"Can you put your arm around me?" Her words were nothing more than air, but they echoed around him like rattling walls. He clenched his fists, his body both more and less than his control over it.

"I…" He started, but the words were lodged somewhere between his teeth and the scream of her name in the woods. He inhaled. He swallowed. "I don't… know…"

I don't know how.

Jonathon's words couldn't struggle through the chasm between his mind and his body, but she could. She did. One warm hand cuffing his wrist, pulling it beneath the blanket around them and tucking it against her back.

Her palm returned to his chest. Her t-shirt was soft beneath his fingers. Nancy released the smallest sigh and it tickled the skin of his neck. He stayed impossibly still.

Long minutes past, minutes that lasted between star births and supernova, and Nancy's breathing stayed soft and calm. Eventually, Jonathon's own jolting heartbeat managed to even, amidst all thoughts to the contrary. He breathed out, quietly, for what felt like the first time in hours. His mind uncurled slowly from sheer, frozen panic. He glanced quickly at the resting girl in his arms, her tawny curls a sea around him, and felt awed.

Nancy was a power to be reckoned with, he was well aware. He compared the view of her now, her tight shoulders, her loose hair, her eyes shut tight, to the memory of her standing stern with gun, her palms tight around a baseball bat. He couldn't understand how all her bravery and tenacity and the awesome power of her sheer will could feel so delicate beneath his arms.

He wouldn't sleep. He would protect her. Even if he knew she could protect herself.

XXX

Nancy inhaled softly, knowing that sleep would continue to evade her.

Jonathon smelled of wet earth and fabric softener and sweat. He was real. He was so real. His arm around her waist. His neck against her cheek. His heart beneath her palms. The simplicity of his life beating beneath his skin. His presence impossible and soothing. She knew the warmth of his body would keep the nightmares from closing in.

And for an instant, she felt safe.