STEVE / 1986

Hopper and Joyce both suggested Rose and Nine and Jane all stay in Indianapolis for a few more days just to play it safe. Steve agreed, and stayed with them, even more overprotective of Rose now that he had almost lost her.

Hop, just as concerned about Jane, ordered them not to leave the hotel room. Rose frowned about it initially, wanting to show Steve all of the palaces she used to hang out, but she was so physically and mentally drained that it ended up never being a problem.

She had not slept well in the hospital, claiming it smelt too much like the lab for her comfort. But the hotel smelt like stale cigarettes and citrus air freshener, so Rose took the opportunity to nap constantly. Sometimes it was in the bed, sometimes it was curled up in the armchair, and other times Tack would lay with her on the floor.

"Do you think she's okay?" Steve asked her friends after she had drifted off against him.

"Are you kidding?" asked Yaya. "They have her on narcotics and her only responsibility is to sleep all day and occasionally get up to eat something."

"Yeah, I'd go as far to say she's living in the lap of luxury, my friend. I'm a little jealous," added Tack.

After a few days, they drove back to Hawkins; Steve and Rose and Nine and even Tack, who had missed Rose and had grown sick of spending time alone while Yaya and Alisha worked their 'grown up' jobs bartending.

When they got back to the house, Tack let himself in, followed by Nine. Rose made her way up the front steps next to Steve, but stopped short in the doorway.

"You okay?" Steve asked.

Rose did not respond, letting her eyes wander around the front room while her brows gradually drew further and further together. Just before he could ask her again, she closed her eyes and used her hand and the wall to lead herself to the kitchen.

Her fingers roamed the counters and cupboards, grazing over the cups that had found a new home on the bottom shelf and knocking over Lucas' old supercom in the corner and finding the small plant she kept in the windowsill above the sink (miraculously still alive after no one had been around to water it for nearly a week). Finally, she opened her eyes and looked around until her gaze landed on Steve.

"It all feels the same," she told him. He nodded like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "It doesn't look it, though… It doesn't look how I remembered."

"Is that good or bad?" Steve challenged.

Her eyes curiously wandered the house around her once more. Just as Steve thought she had decided not to answer, she did, meeting his eyes again and giving him a half smile. "I'm not sure."

They had made it back just in time for June Fletcher's funeral, a concept neither Nine nor Rose fully grasped. There was quite the turn out. It seemed as if the entire populations of Hawkins and Ameswood showed, though most had probably never actually known her. Hell, Steve and Rose and Tack had never actually known her. But they went anyways.

When the service was over, Steve noticed Hopper, Jonathan, and Nancy all talking to a boy he just barely recognized from the halls of Hawkins High. He was tall with an average build, though he slouched as if he wished he was not. His skin was tan and freckled, even in the dead of winter, and his unkempt hair was a dark blond. He looked in Steve's direction when Hopper pointed.

The group of four made their way over to Steve, Tack, Rose, and Nine. After giving Steve a slight nod - acknowledging that he recognized him, too - the unidentified boy's tired green eyes bounced back and forth between the faces of the twins.

"Uh, Nine," Jonathan started. "This is Alex... Alex, this is Nine."

Nine looked to her sister, and they communicated briefly with nothing but glances and subtle gestures, which was even more unsettling for Steve to watch than what he had witnessed just an hour before they left for Illinois.

After the seemingly telepathic conversation was over, Nine dropped the grip she had been holding on her sister's sleeve, and Rose stepped back along with Steve and Tack. "Alex?" she asked in a quiet voice. Though her face showed no signs of it, the look behind her deep blue eyes gave her away; She was breaking inside.

"Yeah," said Alex, his own voice thick with pained exhaustion.

Her brows pulled together and her eyes narrowed as she studied his face. "You look like her," she decided, echoing the sentence she had heard a thousand times since reuniting with her twin.

Alex glaced quickly to Rose, who was still hovering even after stepping back. "You look like her."

"Yes. Sisters," Nine agreed, looking to her twin briefly before turning back to Alex. She spoke slowly, carefully stringing thoughts and feelings together as best as she could. "But June almost felt like a sister, too. Brave."

Alex nodded slowly, trying to blink back tears and bite down emotions. After a drawn out beat, he closed the distance between them and pulled her into an awkward hug. But to everyone's surprise, Nine hugged him back. Just barely, but it was a stark contrast to just standing there with limp arms.

"Chief Hopper told me everything that happened," Alex told her. "You're brave, too."

And at that, every barrier Nine had built up, every wall or facade, every face of steel armor or sculpted stone, all cracked and crumbled and demolished. It was as if she had been a ticking time bomb that finally broke down in the arms of a stranger. Or maybe in her mind, Alex really was not a stranger at all. She began crying for June and for Alex. For Brenner and Owens. For her twin sister and herself. For all that this life had handed them.

"Sorry," she murmured into his shirt as he tightened his grip around her shoulders. No one knew what she was sorry for, whether it was for June or for crying or for both, and no one asked.

Alex glanced to Rose. Tears stained his cheeks, too. But it was Rose's turn to be the strong one. She put on Nine's stone mask, but underneath it her heart aching for her sister. Steve could tell by the way she locked her jaw and grasped Steve's hand so tightly that he nearly lost feeling in his fingers.

When the moment was over and Nine steadied her emotions, Hopper invited everyone - Alex, Nine, Rose, Steve, Nancy, even Tack - over to his cabin to look the files he had collected from Owens' basement. Or at least the ones that had not been submitted to evidence.

But Rose did not want to go. She did not want to know what Owens or Hawkins Lab had to say about her, so she went back to the house with Tack, who was still blissfully unaware as to the half of it.

The rest of them met up at Hop's cabin, splitting off into teams. Jonathan and Alex went through June's files and while Joyce went through Will's and Hopper and Jane went through the latter's. Nancy took Nine's and Steve took Rose's and they ended up working with each other because of all the overlap. Nine floated around, asking and answering questions.

Steve was busy reading about a dream Rose had when she was twelve - in it she fell from a great height but Nine was the one who got injured from it - and what the imagery might have meant when he was interrupted by Nancy.

"Steve," she called. "Look at this."

She was holding a picture in her hand. In it, two identical girls with buzzcuts, bare feet, and hospital gowns stood up straight against a wall that marked their height. They were young, maybe Holly Wheeler's age. The one on the right's face would have been perfectly expressionless if not for the small smirk of her full lips as she looked into the camera. The one on the left chewed her lower lip and watched her twin out of the corner of her eye.

"That one's Rose," Steve said confidently, pointing to the girl on the left.

"How can you can tell?" Nancy asked, narrowing her eyes at the image. "Or are you just guessing?"

Steve took the picture and flipped it over. Sure enough, '03/03/1971: 010 (left) and 009 (right)' was written across the back.

"Told you," he boasted, flipping the picture back over to examine it - or more specifically six-year-old Rose - further.

"It's sweet how much you care about her," Nancy told him with a distantly familiar sincerity in her voice.

But Steve really did not want to have this conversation with her, so he reached over and dug through one of the stacks of files until he found a folder with his name on it next to the word 'manipulation'. He plopped it in her lap in hopes it would shut her up even though Steve had already determined that all of the files in front of them were - in the spirit of spending time with Nancy Wheeler - bullshit.

Steve had confirmed that Owens was full of shit, or at the very least mostly wrong, the moment he saw Rose again in the hospital. He saw her and the stitches above her eyebrow that was sure to leave a scar - the placement a mirror image of Steve's own - and the purple bruise across her cheekbone reminiscent of the one she had received night they met, and Steve just knew. And then she had looked at him. She had looked at him with those damn eyes and smirked as if she knew, too.

It's entirely possible that his initial attraction to her had been something else entirely out of either of their control, but that was all it was. An initial attraction. A first impression, a strange pull, an instant sense of trust. But even then an initial attraction had nothing to do with the forever Steve already knew he wanted to spend with Rose.

Her powers had been pulled away, and her ability to 'manipulate' went along with it, but still Steve felt the same. He loved her. More than anything, he loved her. Because she was soft and warm and caring. She was curious and bright and honest. She was adorable and little badass and incredible. Because her laughter tasted sweet and her fingers fit between his like pieces of a puzzle and her smile could save his life probably. Because she chose to love him. And he chose to love her, too. Maybe, just maybe, the first day it was out of his hands, but it had been is decision every day since. Because she was his, completely. And he was hers, entirely. Everything else was details, and everything Owens thought he knew about them was bullshit.

Nancy read through the file, front to back, and told him exactly that. "You know this is all bullshit, right?"

For the first time, he was glad to hear the word come out of her mouth. And for the first time since the night she spat the term over and over, they genuinely smiled at each other.

Not too long after, the world was preparing for 1986. Everyone ended up at Steve and Rose's house on New Year's Eve, even though the first thing they had ever determined about each other was that neither of them liked parties. Alisha and Yaya had come down from Indianapolis, and Nancy and Jonathan came over and brought Alex. The little shitheads showed up, too, and Steve found it interesting to watch the connections everyone made.

Yaya and Nine looked like they had been best friends their entire lives, and Max seemed to fit right in. Jane was excited to see Nancy and Nancy was excited to see Alisha, who kept glancing in the direction of Alex, who stood in a corner with Jonathan the whole time. Will was mesmerised by the art he saw when Tack rolled up his sleeves, and was eager to show the older boy his sketchbook.

But some things remained the same. Lucas kept an eye on Max and Mike glued himself to Jane and Dustin hovered in the general vicinity of Rose, who hovered in the general vicinity of Nine.

When midnight neared, Steve found Rose sitting on kitchen the counter as she talked to Dustin standing in front of her.

"Dustin!" one of the kids called from the living room, and he pat Rose on the knee before leaving her alone in the kitchen.

Rose's small smile faltered as he walked away, just as it had when Yaya had left her the same way at the party in Indianapolis.

Steve, needing to rectify this, made his way over and hopped up on the counter next to her. When she smiled at him, but it did not reach her eyes.

"You okay?" he asked her.

"I will be," she replied simply. Steve looked at her until she explained further. She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. "Nine wants to go back to Indy with Tack, Yaya, and Alisha.

"What? Why?"

Rose shrugged. "Just a feeling she has. And I get it, I really do. I had an adventure and she needs her own and it's not supposed to be forever… but it just makes me sad."

Steve did not know what to say, so he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer.

"She said I can take my powers back if I want them, but I don't think I do," she continued.

"No?" he asked, hating that Owens' words haunted his thoughts.

"I don't think she wants her abilities back as much as Nine wants to keep them," he had said.

"No," she said, sitting up. "Not yet, at least. I'm dreaming again, though, so maybe I pulled them back just enough to see again. Either that, or I really did hit my head in the right spot… I guess it really doesn't matter. Either way, it's easier for me without them."

"It's easier?" Steve asked. She nodded. "Name one thing you couldn't do before that you can do now."

"I can kiss you without bleeding on your face," she replied immediately. "I don't have to hide some huge secret anymore, I can stop flinching all the time, I don't have to watch -"

"Okay, fair enough. Let Nine have them then," Steve said, standing corrected. He leaned his shoulder into hers playfully before adding, "For now."

She looked up at him and he smirked down at her as they let a comfortable silence wash over them for just a moment. Placing her hand over his chest again, she sat and felt his heart.

A smile spread over her lips as she felt it beat. Laughter erupted from elsewhere in the house, but the two were already in their own little world together.

He leaned in to kiss her then, and her smile widened, making it difficult. "You know, if you don't stop smiling then you won't be able to kiss me without bleeding on my face."

"I never said I wanted to, just that I can," she jabbed, causing Steve to raise an eyebrow at the statement. "Don't look at me like that, you're the one who's making me do it."

"I'm making you smile?" Steve asked as he grinned, too. "I didn't do anything."

"I know," she said. And then softly, as if it were a secret, she added, "I'm just in love with you."

Rose managed to kiss him then without grinning. And he kissed her, over and over and over, knowing that he would never get enough of her. He was lucky, so damn lucky, to love and be loved in return. To choose and be chosen in return.

New years would come and people would go, if only to come back again, but Steve and Rose would always have this. He was certain of it.

When she pulled away, leaning her forehead against his and closing her eyes, Steve could only imagine what his heart must have felt like under her palm as it soared and skipped and beat for her. Over and over and over again.

She dreamt she was sitting at trunk of an old weeping willow tree, hidden under its green canopy. A book sat open in her lap, though she could not decipher the words on the page. Suddenly, she heard laughter above her, and looked up to find two young children climbing around in the branches. Though she was unable to see their faces, she sensed they were familiar to her. Feeling somehow responsible for the two, she climbed up after them but they were faster and more nimble.

Eventually, she caught up with them. One of the children turned to look at her; a young boy with gleaming hazel eyes and a button nose. The ghost of a half smirk flickered across his lips.

"What's your name?" she asked him, but he just turned and tapped the other child on the shoulder.

The second boy turned to face her; a twin identical to the first, but with one eyebrow cocked and his lower lip between his teeth. He opened his hands clasped hands and presented her with a baby dove. She looked back to the first boy and he opened his fist to present her with a shimmering stone.

She looked between her two gifts, then the distantly familiar faces of the two boys. They each smiled wide and she felt an overwhelming sense of trust. She knew they had no ill intentions. 'Everything's exactly as it should be,' their autumn eyes assured her.

And they were right. She knew it in her heart. She felt it in her bones.

A/N: So this is it. This is where I leave you. For now, at least. I do have more stories planned, but nothing with Nine & Ten - but then again, I can't see the future! But right now it is goodbye, and it is bittersweet.

There are no words to describe just how grateful I am for all of you that have made it this far with me. '1985' was my first fanfiction and going into it I thought it was going to be a bust. But it wasn't. And I am left absolutely speechless by all of the incredible love and support both of my stories have gotten, all from you! My beautiful, beautiful readers! I would not have made it this far without you and am a better writer because you exist, and that means the absolute world to me.

I would thank you endlessly, but it would never be enough. You make my heart feel full.

Last but not least, I hope you enjoyed this little adventure with me. Any comments, questions, or constructive criticisms are more than welcome!

Also, stay rad.

xx starsandrockets