A/N: Hi everyone. Something happened in my family recently that has caused me to take a step back from a lot of things, including writing. While trying to process everything, writing Out of the Woods and my one-shot collection has been impossible, as those are both happy stories. I started writing about what happened, and I found that it helped me in a way that I cannot explain, so this story was born as a sort of coping mechanism. There are three chapters, and I warn you, this is not a happy story. Everything I write has always been for you guys, but I wrote this for me. If you choose to read further, thank you. As always, I appreciate all of you, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the reviews.
Disclaimer: I do not own Stranger Things or any of its original characters.
"Mom, I'm leaving for school!" sixteen-year-old Holly Wheeler called as she pulled on her raincoat and slung her backpack over her shoulder.
"Have a great day, sweetie. I'll see you this afternoon," Karen Wheeler called in return, looking up from the kitchen counter to smile and wave her daughter goodbye. "Love you."
"Love you too, Mom," Holly said right before she pulled the front door shut behind her.
Holly jogged down the walkway to where her car was parked in the driveway, holding the hood of her raincoat in place to try and avoid getting her hair wet. When she reached her car, she tossed her backpack onto the passenger seat and took down her hood. She started her car and set the radio to her favorite station as Gloria Estefan's rendition of "Everlasting Love" filled the small space.
Holly started on her way to her best friend Sarah's house before heading to Hawkins High School. She had gotten her driver's license just a couple months ago and had been giving Sarah a ride to and from school every day. Holly cruised toward the Hawkins city limits singing along to the upbeat music and thumbing the steering wheel as she drove down all the usual streets. She sighed as the rain was not letting up and increased the speed of her windshield wipers.
As Holly turned onto the county road that Sarah lived on, she began to increase her speed, bobbing her head along to the little jingle playing as the radio station went to a commercial break. The rain came down even harder, clouding Holly's windshield and causing her to turn her wipers up even faster.
"April showers bring May flowers, my ass," she muttered to herself.
Just then, Holly felt the back of her car begin to fishtail. She instinctively gripped her steering wheel tighter and thought to herself that she should slow down. Holly pressed down on her brake pedal, but only felt her car slide some more.
"Shit!" she exclaimed, feeling the panic building.
As the windshield wipers cleared away the rain in front of her, Holly's stomach sank when she saw a pair of headlights approaching in the lane she was sliding into. Holly stomped down on her brake pedal and spun her steering wheel all the way to the right, desperately trying to turn her car out of the way.
The sound of the rain hitting her car and the commercial playing on the radio faded completely into the background, and all Holly heard as her car began to spin was her own screaming. For a split second, Holly heard the sound of metal crunching into metal and glass shattering.
Then, everything went black.
A little over an hour away in Indianapolis, Mike and El were getting ready for the day. El was pulling on her favorite set of scrubs in preparation for her twelve-hour shift at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Mike was placing his textbooks into his backpack and about to head to campus where he was in his final semester of his master's degree program.
"Do you want me to stop by the hospital during my gap in classes today? I can take you out for lunch," Mike offered, wrapping his arms around his fiance's waist and kissing her forehead.
"I don't know if taking me to the hospital cafeteria counts as taking me out for lunch," El teased as she looked up into his dark eyes.
"It's not my fault you can't leave the hospital premises during your shift," Mike said.
"We've been over this. I need to be able to drop what I'm doing and be there immediately if I'm paged," El reminded him.
"I know, I know," Mike sighed. "Besides, the cafeteria food isn't so bad. Though I still haven't gotten the courage to try their egg salad."
El laughed as Mike shuddered at the thought of it. She leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss him, and as her lips touched his, their phone started to ring.
"Figures," Mike huffed as he pulled back.
Mike walked over to the phone on their nightstand while El pulled on her shoes.
"Hello?... Oh, hey, Mom," Mike greeted casually.
El slung her purse over her shoulder and walked over to Mike. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and was about to leave when she saw her fiance's face instantly lose all its color.
"Wait, what? Slow down," he said in a serious tone.
El laced her fingers through the fingers of Mike's free hand and studied his expression.
"W-well, h-how bad is it?" Mike asked urgently.
El felt her stomach sink and her heartrate increase as the millions of thoughts raced through her head. Did something happen to his grandma? His dad? Clearly his mom was safe. El wrapped her other arm around Mike's waist and rubbed his back, trying to comfort him while he listened to whatever his mom was saying.
"I'll be there in an hour," Mike said, his voice strained with emotion before he swallowed down the lump in his throat. "Oh, they are?... Okay, I'll go there, then… I'll see you when you get here… Love you too."
Mike pressed the end call button with a shaky thumb and dropped the phone onto their bed. El could feel his breath turn shallow and his heart pound faster in his chest.
"Mike?" she asked gently. "What is it, honey? What did she say?"
"It's H-… H-Holly," Mike choked out, his eyes filled with tears that he was trying to blink back.
El felt the pit in her stomach grow as chills coursed through her body.
"What happened?" she asked softly.
"Sh-she was i-in a car wreck… Mom says it's bad, El… Th-they're c-careflighting her and- shit, I can't breathe," Mike gasped.
"It's okay, it's okay. Here, sit down," El reacted quickly, guiding Mike to sit on the edge of their bed. She knelt on the floor in front of him between his knees and pulled his head down. Mike covered his face with his hands, and his gasps soon turned in to sobs as the tears began to spill out.
"Shh, it's okay, baby. I'm right here. Just breathe," El soothed as she stroked her fingers through his hair. "Just breathe," she continued to whisper.
After a few minutes, Mike appeared to have calmed down, and El gently wrapped her fingers around his wrists. She pulled his hands away from his face and wiped his tear-stained cheeks with her thumb.
"M-mom said… they're careflighting her here to Indy," Mike croaked.
"That's great news, Mike. We have some of the best doctors around," El assured him. "It will be the best place for her."
Mike nodded. He was staring straight ahead but was looking at nothing. All he kept picturing was his little sister laying in a cold helicopter surrounded by medical equipment and strangers.
"It's about an hour drive from Hawkins. Do you want to go now and wait for your parents there?" El asked gently, squeezing his hands.
"Yeah," Mike breathed as he nodded.
"Okay. Let me change out of my scrubs so no one thinks I'm on duty. I'll tell my supervisor I can't work today," El said, and Mike simply nodded again.
Less than five minutes later, El had changed clothes, and the two of them were on their way to the hospital. El knew that the helicopter ride from Hawkins to Indianapolis was just under forty minutes, so it was very possible that Holly would beat them there. El secretly hoped that was the case; she didn't want Mike to see the helicopter coming in, knowing it was carrying his sister and that there was nothing he could do.
When they arrived, El nearly had to jog to keep up with Mike's long strides as he hurried through the rain to the hospital entrance. He walked right up to the front desk where a friendly blonde woman was sitting, ready to greet them.
"I'm looking for Holly Wheeler. She's being careflighted in from Hawkins, Indiana. She was in a car wreck. Is she here yet?" Mike demanded before the woman could speak.
"I'm sorry, sir, but who-"
"I'm her brother. Our parents are on their way," Mike interrupted, reaching for his wallet to show his identification for further proof. "Please, can you just tell me anything? Her name's Holly Wheeler."
The woman looked hesitantly from Mike to El, and El reached into her purse and showed her hospital identification.
"I'm a nurse here, and this is my fiancé. His mother called and told him about his sister's car wreck and that she was being brought here. All we want to know is if she has arrived yet. Please?" El asked.
The woman's expression softened, and she sighed before typing in to her computer. Mike waited as patiently as he could while the woman searched for information.
"It looks like she arrived just ten minutes ago. They're prepping her for surgery right now," she said.
"Surgery?!" Mike repeated, and El grabbed his hand to try and calm him.
"You can wait in the waiting room on the fourth floor," the woman continued.
"Thank you," El said politely and pulled Mike toward the elevator.
Luckily, when the two of them entered the elevator, they were alone. Mike's breath had become shallow again, and he was running his hand nervously through his hair.
"This is bad, El," he muttered.
"You don't know that," El assured him.
"The hospital in Hawkins couldn't handle it, so they sent her here. And now she's going immediately in to surgery," Mike said.
"We don't know what she's having surgery on, Mike. It might not be anything too major," El said gently.
"Come on, El, you work here. You should know better than anyone that this isn't good," Mike insisted, his eyes welling up with tears again.
"We don't know anything, yet. All we can do right now is be there for Holly and hope for the best until we learn more," El said.
Mike and El reached the waiting room, and they sat there for what felt like ages. Mike kept anxiously bouncing his leg and looking toward the double doors in hopes of his sister's surgeon walking through them. El did her best to talk to him, but she soon decided to silently show her support for him instead. She was rubbing his back when they heard rapid footsteps coming down the hallway from the direction of the elevator.
"Michael," Karen's voice filled the waiting room as she and Ted appeared before Mike and El.
Mike immediately stood and welcomed his mother's tight embrace. Even at twenty-four years old, there was something soothing about being in his mother's arms when he was scared.
"Hey Dad," Mike nodded toward his father when he pulled back from his mom's hug. Karen leaned in to hug El who was standing next to Mike.
"Any news?" Karen asked.
"Nothing," Mike shook his head. "I know she's in surgery, but that's all."
"Come on, Karen, sit down. All we can do is wait," Ted said quietly, placing his hands on his wife's shoulders.
Karen and Ted sat in two chairs across from Mike and El. The four of them waited in silence, all lost in their own thoughts as they waited for the surgeon to walk through those double doors.
Nearly another hour later, more footsteps were heard rushing down the hallway from the elevator, and soon, Nancy arrived in the waiting room with wide eyes and a red face.
"Mom!" she sighed and hurried toward Karen with outstretched arms.
Karen stood and held her oldest child tightly, whispering soothing words into her ear. Jonathan entered quietly behind Nancy, nodding politely at Ted before reaching for Mike's hand. Mike took Jonathan's hand and stood to hug his brother-in-law.
"How are you doing?" Jonathan asked him quietly.
"I'm going crazy. I need to hear something," Mike replied just as quietly.
"I'm sure she'll be fine. No news is good news, right?" Jonathan did his best to be reassuring.
El stood next to Mike and gave Jonathan a long, tight hug. Hopper had returned a year after his disappearance in 1985, and he and Joyce had given in quickly and gotten together. Even though Jonathan had graduated and moved on to college by then, El still felt that she had developed a close bond with him.
"Thanks for coming, Jonathan," Karen said, hugging her son-in-law.
"Of course. I wasn't going to let Nancy come face this alone," Jonathan said.
Karen and Ted returned to their seats, and Nancy sat down next to Mike with Jonathan on her other side.
"You doing okay?" Nancy asked her brother softly.
"I will be, once I know she's okay," Mike replied.
El linked her arm with Mike's and laced their fingers together. She offered Nancy a small, reassuring smile as Jonathan draped his arm over Nancy's shoulders. The six of them sat in silence for over another hour. Finally, the double doors opened and a doctor walked through them, heading toward the waiting room.
"Holly Wheeler's family?" he announced, glancing around.
All six of them stood, but Karen hurried to stand in front of the doctor.
"I'm her mother. Please tell me she's okay, doctor," Karen pleaded.
"Mrs. Wheeler, my name is Dr. Swanson, and I would like to talk to you about your daughter's condition," the doctor said, glancing over Karen's shoulder at the other five people standing there. "Would you like to talk in private?"
"Everyone is family. This is my husband, and these are our kids. Please, tell me everything you can," Karen pleaded again, her voice breaking.
"Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, your daughter's injuries were quite substantial," Dr. Swanson began. "The good news is, we checked Holly's abdomen for bleeds, and there appears to be none. She did sustain four broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a broken arm, and a shattered kneecap."
"Broken bones," Karen sighed in relief. "Is she awake? Can we see her?"
"There is more, Mrs. Wheeler," Dr. Swanson continued solemnly.
Ted wrapped his arm around Karen in preparation for the doctor's words.
"Holly sustained major trauma to her head. There is a lot of swelling in her brain that we will continue to monitor very closely," Dr. Swanson explained.
"Oh god," Karen choked out, raising her hand to cover her mouth.
Behind Ted and Karen, Nancy buried her face into Jonathan's chest as he hugged her tightly, and Mike pulled El closer into his side as she tightened her arms around his waist.
"Holly is being moved into her room in intensive care, and you are all welcome to see her," Dr. Swanson concluded.
The walk from the OR waiting room to the ICU wing was a blur for Mike, but several moments later, he found himself standing in another hallway. He was staring at the closed door with the number 1548 on the wall next to it. His mom opened the door and she and Ted slowly entered the room.
"We'll give you some time alone with her," Mike heard Nancy's voice say before Ted nodded and the door closed.
"I don't know if I can go in there," Nancy said in a soft, trembling voice.
"We can wait as long as you need to, Nance, and I'll be with you the whole time," Jonathan said softly into Nancy's hair as he held her tightly.
"Mike," El said gently, running her fingers softly down his jaw. "Do you want to go in?"
"I don't know if I can do this either, El," Mike said. "She's my baby sister… to see her like that…"
El wrapped both of her arms around Mike's neck as he buried his face in her shoulder and wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. She wove her fingers through his soft, thick hair while he cried into her shoulder.
"I know, baby, it's okay… I'll wait with you as long as you need," El murmured, echoing Jonathan's sentiments.
El and Jonathan shared a look unseen by Mike and Nancy, as the two of them both knew they needed to be strong for their significant others. El silently hoped that Holly's condition wasn't as bad as Dr. Swanson's words had made it seem and that Holly would have a quick recovery. Though, a pit formed in her stomach because she knew how unlikely that was, based on her short time working here at the hospital.
Mike released his hold on El and pulled back, wiping his eyes.
"Are you ready to go in?" Jonathan asked quietly, squeezing Nancy's shoulder as he looked between her and Mike.
"Yeah," Nancy said just over a whisper as she nodded. "Mike?"
Mike didn't answer; the lump in his throat prevented him from saying anything coherent. But he nodded. He knew he would have to go in there sooner or later. This was his baby sister, after all. He needed to be there for her, and Mike would rather face this now with the support of his family than later.
Jonathan placed his hand on the door handle and shared another look with El, silently warning her to be prepared for anything since they didn't know how Holly looked or how Nancy and Mike would react. He opened the door and led Nancy inside.
Mike and El followed. The gasp that escaped Nancy's throat when she turned in to the room alarmed Mike, and he tightly squeezed El's hand. He took a deep breath and stepped into the room, turning to face his little sister in her hospital bed for the first time.
When Mike's eyes landed on that bed, his heart nearly stopped. The head of the bed was surrounded by machines. Mike had no idea what most of them did, but he recognized the tall one with the green beeping spikes that measured his sister's heartrate. Every machine seemed to have at least one cord coming out of it that rested on the pristine white sheets and led to a different spot on his sister's body. Holly's arms lay at her sides on top of the white sheets that covered her body. One of her arms was in a cast, and the other was stuck with her IV. Her head rested on one white pillow, her blonde hair falling on her shoulders, framing her face like it always did. If it weren't for the wires, bandages, and visible cuts and scrapes on Holly's skin, Mike could believe that she was just napping.
El squeezed his hand next to him, pulling Mike from his thoughts, and he looked down at his fiancé. She was looking up at him with so much emotion in her eyes. Fear, hope, confusion, sadness, but mainly love. Mike turned back toward his sister who was surrounded by family. Their parents were on the right side of her bed; Karen was seated and holding the hand that was not in a cast while Ted stood behind his wife, his hands on her shoulders as he stared down at his youngest child. Nancy was standing on the opposite side of the bed with her arms crossed over her chest as she watched her little sister sleep. Jonathan stood behind his wife with his arms wrapped around her waist and his chin rested on Nancy's shoulder as he whispered reassuring words into her ear occasionally.
Mike and El walked closer to the bed and joined the other four in silence. The six of them gazed down at Holly, each of their minds filled with their own floods of memories with the young girl.
Karen's eyes were fixed on her daughter's face. She studied Holly's nose and remembered rubbing her own nose against it so many times to give Eskimo kisses when Holly was a toddler. She gazed over Holly's cheekbones and remembered when Holly was two years old and came down the stairs with bright pink blush covering those cheekbones because she had gotten into Karen's makeup for the first time. Karen looked at Holly's lips, and the beautiful sound of Holly's laughter filled her ears, though Holly's lips remained closed. When Karen's gaze reached Holly's eyes, she studied her daughter's long eyelashes and resting eyelids, and Karen saw Holly's eyes opening for the first time nearly sixteen and a half years ago to reveal two little blue pools. What Karen wouldn't give to see those eyelids flutter open again.
As Ted watched his youngest child from over the top of his wife's head, his mind was filled with years of Holly sitting on his lap on his recliner in the living room. He would put the television on cartoons for Holly to watch, and he would listen to her laughter or her awes of amazement at what was on the screen until she fell asleep in his arms. Then, Ted would change the channel to the news or whatever program he wanted to watch that evening, and eventually he would drift to sleep too, his little girl dreaming peacefully against his chest.
Nancy remembered being twelve years old when her parents brought Holly home from the hospital. She had been so excited to learn that her mother had given birth to a little girl. When Karen had told her two children that she was pregnant, she had told them that if the baby was a girl, she would be named Holly, and if the baby was a boy, he would be named Daniel. Karen offered to let Nancy choose the girl middle name and Mike choose the boy middle name. So when Ted and Karen walked through the front door on that January afternoon in 1979 carrying a tiny bundle in a pink blanket, Nancy said hello to her sister for the first time, Holly Grace.
Being eight years old when Holly was born, Mike was not very interested in his little sister right away. He remembered feeling annoyed when Holly's crying would wake him up in the middle of the night, or when his parents would fawn over everything the baby did, or when he had to help take care of this little baby that he didn't ask for. As he grew older and watched Holly grow from a baby into a sweet little girl, Mike developed a soft spot in his heart for her. He wasn't sure when it happened, but it did. Now, as Mike stood looking down at his little sister, he found himself thinking back to all those bedtime stories he read her about fairytales and princesses and when she would run into his room dressed up as a princess herself. He remembered the first time he read her a comic book instead of a fairytale one October evening, and the next day Holly and their mom came home from the Halloween store with a Wonder Woman costume so Holly could show that she was ready to go train with the Amazons just like Princess Diana.
Nobody realized how much time passed while their thoughts were consumed with memories of happy times with Holly. The only sound that filled the room for hours was the steady beeping of the heart monitor and the low hum of the machines. Eventually, Jonathan looked over his shoulder and saw the darkened sky out the window. He nudged his wife who was sitting next to him, and Nancy looked over at him with exhaustion in her eyes.
"It's getting late. We should go get settled into a hotel so you can get some rest," Jonathan said gently.
"You don't need a hotel. You can stay with us," Mike offered immediately.
"Absolutely," El agreed, nodding. She turned to Karen and Ted. "You're welcome to stay with us, too."
"Thank you, dear, but I'm staying here with Holly," Karen said, pulling her eyes away from her daughter just long enough to offer El a sad but appreciative smile.
Ted squeezed his wife's shoulders and nodded to his oldest children to signify that while he appreciated the offer, he would be staying with Karen at the hospital overnight as well.
"You all get some rest and come back tomorrow. I'll call you if anything changes," Ted said.
The four of them hugged both Ted and Karen before quietly exiting Holly's room. Mike and El drove home in silence with Nancy and Jonathan following. After getting his sister and brother-in-law set up in the guest room, Mike joined El in their bedroom. He laid on his back, staring blankly up at the ceiling, wondering why what started as a normal day had to take such a terrifying turn.
El turned off the light and crawled into bed next to Mike, snuggling as close as she could. She propped herself up on her elbow so her face hovered over his, and El wove her fingers into Mike's soft hair.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you too," Mike whispered.
El leaned down and softly kissed his lips.
"I'm going to be here with you through this whole thing, no matter what," she added.
Mike nodded and his eyes started to sting with fresh tears.
"I know," he whispered in a shaky breath.
El gently kissed his forehead before nuzzling into his chest and draping her arm over his body. She laid awake, listening to Mike's heartbeat and feeling her head rise and fall with his chest each time he took a breath, knowing he was not asleep either. El looked up at the dark ceiling and hoped that whatever greater power allowed for the miracle that sent Hopper back to her almost ten years ago would grant the Wheeler family the same mercy with Holly.