Author's note: So I know that a lot of people have asked for another installment in the Secret Crush universe... and this is very much not that. I'm sorry if anybody is disappointed :( but I wanted to explore something a little different this time. I love you guys a lot and I really hope that you enjoy this story. Please review and let me know what you think. :)

Chapter One: The Non-Disappearance of Will Byers

"Don't turn away from it this time," Papa told her right before she sank down into the Bath, the lukewarm water surrounding her body, the rest of the world falling away from her as they shut the door tight.

Eleven always tried to do what she was told. It was the most important rule and the best way to make sure she wasn't sent to the Room.

Of course, Papa hardly ever sent her to the Room these days, not since she had gotten strong enough to knock down those guards. Papa said it was a bad thing that she had done, hurting those men, that most little girls who did a thing like that would taken away from their papas and punished forever, but that because she was important to the Project, he would protect her as long as she was a good girl and did what he asked.

She didn't know what the Project was, exactly, only that it had been going on for a very long time, and never seemed to end, and that it made her Papa and the men who visited him very excited. There were always new tests for her to do. When she did well, her Papa would smile and say Well Done Eleven, and she would think maybe it was over now, but it never was. There was always another test.

Right now, the test seemed to have to do with finding the strange creature she had discovered a few days ago in the Bath. Whatever this thing was, it frightened her so much that she almost refused to comply with her Papa's directions. She was rarely sure of anything - the world was so confusing, and so little was ever explained - but she was sure that nothing good could come of contacting this creature. Her Papa said it couldn't hurt her, but it was so big, and strange, and hungry, in a way that Papa just didn't understand.

It felt wrong to think there were things Papa didn't understand. A year or two ago, the idea would never have occurred to her. But she had recently come to the conclusion that there were, in fact, things he did not know. Otherwise, why would he send her to the Bath to listen to strange men in heavy coats? Why would he ask her all those questions about what she saw in her dreams?

Eleven felt the darkness spread out around her and listened for the harsh, raspy breathing of the creature. When she located it, she felt a shiver go up her spine. It was even more disturbing than she had remembered. She saw its silhouette in the grey distance and approached it hesitantly, ignoring the terror that had begun to build in her stomach.

She was just a few feet from the creature now, and remembering her Papa's instruction, she dutifully reached out her hand, hoping that once she touched whatever it was, the test would be over and Papa would smile and say Well Done Eleven and maybe he would help towel her hair dry before she was sent to bed.

Instead, she heard a voice come though so loud it shook her eardrums, making the creature vanish into thin air just before she reached it. "HELLO, THIS IS SCOTT CLARKE, TESTING, TESTING, ONE TWO THREE,"

She looked around, bewildered, and saw a mustachioed man in a sweater vest fiddling with the dials of some electronic device, speaking excitedly into a microphone. "I'm here in Hawkins, Indiana, and I've just turned on our new Heathkit Hamshack. Is anybody out there? Testing, testing." He tapped at the microphone. "Boy, the kids are gonna love this," he said to no one in particular.

Eleven stared at the man, bemused. He didn't look anything like the men in the lab, or the men Papa had asked her to search for before. He seemed friendly, and she wondered what he was doing and what exactly he was testing.

She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do, so she walked towards him and tugged on his sleeve. "I'm here," she said.

He didn't notice the tug on his sleeve, but he did seem to have heard her, because he jolted forward and fiddled with the dials some more. "Hello there!" he said into the microphone. "Where are you radioing from?"

She wasn't sure what "radioing" meant, or how to explain "where" she was. "…The Bath," she said finally.

"Oh my goodness!" he said, seeming distressed. "You'll get electrocuted using a radio in the bathtub. Get out of there right away! Are your parents home?"

"My parents… home?" she repeated, confused. "I don't know. What… what is home?"

"Didn't copy that, please repeat," he said, leaning forward.

"What… is home?"

"Um, well, home is…" he began. Suddenly static filled her ears and she was blinded by bright white light. The next thing she knew she was being hauled up from the Bath, her Papa looking at her with clear and wounding disapproval.

"Eleven, didn't I ask you to remain focused?" he asked, his voice cold.

Her eyes began to fill with tears. "I… I tried, Papa."

"Maybe the Room will help you clear your head…" he said casually, sending icy fear racing down her spine.

"No, no Papa, please, let me try again, I'll do better next time, I'll find it, please don't send me away…" she began to babble excuses, even as her knees nearly buckled from exhaustion.

He smiled slightly. "Well, tomorrow, you will try harder, won't you?"

She nodded vigorously. "Yes papa, yes."

A few miles away, Mike Wheeler waved goodbye to his friends and mourned the end of another glorious weekend of comic books and Dungeons and Dragons. He'd planned the campaign out so perfectly - it was probably one of his best - but thanks to his mother and the fact that it was a school night, they'd had to wrap up just when the story was getting good. He hadn't even gotten a chance to bring out the Demogorgon.

He looked up at the night sky, dawdling for a moment before he was forced to return inside to the crushingly boring reality of life in the Wheeler house. When he was with his friends, he felt like he could be anyone, could create worlds out of thin air, but when he was at school or with his family, he felt boxed in, trapped. He wasn't Mike the storyteller, Mike the dungeon master, but instead Mike the science geek, the perfect son, the dorky younger brother. No wonder he spent more time in the basement with his friends than anywhere else these days.

Will Byers rode his bike past Hawkins National Laboratory almost every single day without giving a single thought to what might be happening inside, and tonight was no exception. He was simply too busy enjoying the cool November air on his face, mentally rehashing the day's campaign. He wondered if Mike really was going to bring out the Demogorgon. He never was able to resist adding in a plot twist at the end.

Will pedaled slowly through the woods, imagining what it might be like to actually be a wizard. He'd like to throw a fireball or two at Troy, the bully at school who always bothered them and called him queer. He pictured Troy with his hair and eyebrows singed off and chuckled to himself.

When he reached his house, all the lights were out and there was no sign of his brother or his mom. He sighed and rolled his eyes. They must have both taken extra shifts and forgotten to tell each other, again. He let himself in and turned on all the lights, suddenly finding the darkness creepy.

Will put on the mixtape Jonathan had made for him and poured himself a bowl of cereal while he sang along to the music.

So you gotta let me know

Should I stay or should I go

He smiled as he munched on his cereal. Music - especially the music Jonathan gave him - always helped when he was home alone. A house as old as the Byers' always made creaking, squeaking noises at night, and Will had a nervous temperament, tending to interpret every odd sound as a potential home invader or poltergeist. So loud, pounding music actually helped drown out the quiet, so he could stay calm while he waited for his mom or his brother to return.

He turned up the volume another few notches and lay down on the couch, letting his eyes drift closed as he snuggled under a blanket. They'll be home soon.

The next morning dawned cold and clear. Jim Hopper watched the sunrise over Hawkins Lake from the overlook next to his trailer. He had been out here for an hour already. Sunrises used to make him feel something, fill him with a sense of - if not optimism, at least some sort of perspective, some freedom from his petty little life. But lately, he just felt numb most of the time. Maybe it's the pills, he thought to himself dully as he stared at the colors filling the sky.

He finished his cigarette and re-entered his trailer to get ready for work, going through the motions until his head began to clear.

He studied his figure in the mirror, his tired eyes and five-o-clock shadow contrasting unpleasantly with his shiny badge and sheriff's hat. He cringed at his shabby appearance.

Hawkin's finest, he thought sardonically, not for the first or last time.

"Where the hell are they?" Joyce Byers muttered as she scoured her living room for her car keys. "Jonathan?"

"Check the couch!" her son exclaimed, keeping an eye on the scrambled eggs he was cooking as he glanced over to her bag on the kitchen counter, checking to see if he could spot the missing keys.

"Got them!" Joyce crowed, rushing into the kitchen to give Jonathan a goodbye kiss. "Okay, sweetie, I will see you tonight." She looked around the room in confusion. "Where's Will?"

Jonathan shrugged, scooping the eggs out of the pan and onto a plate. "I didn't get him up yet, he's probably still sleeping."

"Jonathan! You have to make sure he's up!" Joyce said, rolling her eyes.

"Mom, I'm making breakfast," Jonathan said defensively.

"I've told you this a thousand times," she muttered as she rushed to her youngest son's bedroom.

"Will, come on honey, it's time to get up!" she called, barging into Will's room and clapping her hands.

Will jolted out of bed, sleepy-eyed. "It's morning already?" He mumbled, wiping his mouth.

Joyce smiled and mussed his hair. "I'm off to work, honey. Have a great day at school. Oh, and Jonathan made breakfast, so get up and eat some before it gets cold."

"Okay, Mom. Love you!" he said. She grinned and shut the door, leaving him to groan in exhaustion and struggle out of bed, staring blankly at his closet. He had a feeling he was going to be late for school.