She can’t stop touching him.
Logically, she knows he’s back, and safe, and not going to disappear if she blinks. But part of her simply needs to have his skin under her fingers; to feel the warmth of him, to feel his heartbeat- to be physically reminded that Hopper is here and this isn’t a dream. For what it’s worth, Hopper is just as tactile as her- a hand constantly at her back, or fingers laced through hers, or his arm around her. It soothes something inside her, healing the cracks in her heart that had formed over the last eight months.
When they touch down on the coast, true to his word Owens has a cargo plane waiting for them to fly back to the States. The entire flight back, Joyce keeps her fingers tight in Hopper’s, the roar of the 747 too loud for conversation. She tries to sleep, but her body is too energized, anxiety humming in her veins.
It’s the middle of the night when they reach California, so they’re brought to a motel to wait until morning, given a clean set of clothes each and a bag of toiletries, and told they’d be picked up in the morning to start the drive back to Hawkins. Joyce shuts the motel room behind them, the weight of everything that had happened over the last few days finally hitting her and she has to try not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Hopper sheds the puffy coat that’s stained with dirt and demogorgon blood, tossing it onto the table in the corner of the room, and Joyce follows suit- it’s significantly warmer on the west coast than it had been in Russia, and she can feel how grimy she is. She can’t imagine Hopper feels much better.
“I think a shower is a good idea,” is the first thing either of them has said in hours, and Hopper blinks when she speaks, turning to look at her. He cocks his head, curious, and she mimics the movement, lifting an eyebrow.
“Do you…want to shower by yourself?” is the hesitant question he asks, and something inside her softens at it. They’d nearly mounted each other in a dingy Russian church, but getting clean together is a question to him.
She closes the distance between them, placing her hands gently on his chest and smiling up at him.
“I think I’ve made it pretty clear I don’t want to be very far from you ever again,” she murmurs, one hand coming up to touch his cheek, fingers stroking over the dirty skin gently. “You’re going to have to get used to being stuck with me, Jim.”
Hopper’s lips curl into a half-smile, and he tucks a few strands of hair back behind her ear.
“Don’t quite think it can be considered ‘stuck’ when there’s nowhere I’d rather be,” he replies, and Joyce feels her heart speed up at the look in his eyes.
“C’mon,” Joyce tugs at him lightly, snagging the toiletry bag before guiding him into the small motel bathroom. It’s got a shower/tub combo, and she has him start the water while she unpacks the products they’d given them. Lining them up on the ledge, she tests the water with her hand before pulling her shirt over her head, tossing it onto the cold tile floor.
Hopper watches her with dark eyes, and she maintains the eye contact as she undoes the button of her jeans and slowly lowers them to the floor. She’s in plain, basic underwear and a boring bra, but the way he looks at her makes heat spiral in her belly. She nods at him, indicating he should also undress, and Hopper seems to shake himself out of a stupor before tugging his own shirt off, throwing it to join her pile of clothing.
The sight of his scars tugs at her heart, and she doesn’t stop herself from coming to touch them with gentle fingertips. The lines zigzag across his chest, and she knows his back is the same. His ribs are so much more prominent than the last time he’d stood before her shirtless, and she wishes she could take all his hurt away.
“C’mon, Joy. Let’s get under the water,” Hopper’s voice pulls her back to herself, and she nods.
He lowers his jeans and boxers as she unhooks her bra and steps out of her panties, and somehow it doesn’t feel wrong to be bare before him. It feels inevitable in the most basic way.
Hopper lets Joyce get in first; and she wets her hair thoroughly before he joins her, letting out a low groan at the touch of hot water on his skin.
“Can’t even remember the last time I took a proper shower,” he confesses, and Joyce’s hands are gentle against his back as he washes his face with the soap provided. Joyce lathers up her hair with the shampoo, the scent of apple filling the small space, and Hopper swaps places with her so she can rinse; his hands settle on her hips, thumbs brushing over her belly, and warmth that has nothing to do with the water fills her.
“Let me,” Joyce stops him from taking the soap to his body; he looks at her for a moment before he hands it over, and she lathers up her hands before beginning to run them over his skin. She’s gentle over the still-healing marks, and Hopper stands with one arm against the shower wall, watching her work silently.
She uses a washcloth to brush the suds away, and something compels her to lean forward; her lips press to one of the lines above his pectoral muscle, gentle against the scar. She pulls back, taking a breath, and her eyes widen as the red line simply…disappears from Hopper’s skin. She looks up at him, who looks just as stunned, and they both blink.
“I…thought that was a myth,” Joyce whispers, and swallows hard. There were stories- that if you found your true soulmate, their kiss could heal even the oldest, deepest scars. It was few and far between, as far as Joyce knew- only a few dozen recorded couples had the ability.
“Try it again,” Hopper’s voice is hoarse, and she meets his gaze briefly before her hands come to rest on his hips, her lips moving closer until they can press to another angry red line in his skin. Her kiss is gentle- a whisper of warmth against his skin, soft and sweet. They watch together as the line disappears from his skin, leaving behind clean, unblemished skin.
“Oh my god,” Joyce can barely get the words out, eyes burning as tears build behind them. Her palms rest flat on Hopper’s lower stomach, steadying her. She looks up at him, blinking, as tears slip down her cheeks. “I- I wanted to be able to erase how much they hurt you. I never- I never would have thought-”
She trails off, hiccupping out a sob, and Hopper is quick to gather her into his chest, arms tight around her. He presses his lips to her damp hair, thumbs rubbing against her upper arms.
“You know, it’s funny,” he murmurs, resting his cheek against her hair as the water falls around them. “I never really believed in the idea that soulmates existed. It seemed too fairytale. And then you showed up at that prison and…suddenly, the idea wasn’t so silly. Wasn’t so fantastical.”
Joyce pulls back to look at him, a hand coming up to cup his scruffy cheek in her palm.
“We spent so long apart,” there’s a soft kind of sadness to her voice, and he swallows hard. “You were right there, this whole time. And I…”
Joyce trails off, gaze dropping to the swirling water at their feet. It takes her a moment to find her voice again, and his heart aches in his chest.
“I was so scared of what could happen if I let you in, but I think…I think that part of me already knew you had my heart. That you’ve always had it,” she whispers, palm pressed against his heartbeat. “I ran away, when this entire time…it was always meant to be you.”
“Joyce…” Hopper’s face is open and brimming with emotion, and she can’t help but pull him down into a kiss, arms looping around his neck as he bent to her level. Overcome by how much she loves him, she brushes her tongue along his lower lip until he grants her entry, mouth opening with a low moan.
He turns them slightly until he can back her up against the shower wall, one hand threaded through her hair and the other wrapped tightly around her waist, holding her against him. When they part, panting, Hopper strokes his thumb over her cheekbone, eyes searching hers.
“I don’t think it matters how long it took us to get here,” he tells her. “I think all that matters is we are here, together. You’ve always been the one for me, Joyce. I think I knew it at 17, even if I was too stupid and scared to do anything about it. And now that I have you? I’m never letting you go.”
A few more tears slip down Joyce’s cheeks, blending with the water, and she nods, swallowing around the emotion clogging her throat.
“I love you,” she whispers, and Hopper’s face grows so impossibly soft she thinks it might melt.
“I love you too,” he replies, and leans in until he can rest his forehead against hers, eyes closing in contentment. “I’m glad it’s you, you know.”
Joyce pulls back to look at him, tilting her head, and his hand falls to cup her shoulder.
“I’m glad, out of everyone in the world…I’m glad my heart was meant to be yours,” he continues, and Joyce’s grip on him tightens. “I know it’ll be safe with you.”
Joyce can only respond with her mouth on his, conveying everything she can’t with words.
She pulls back to say something when the water suddenly turns icy, and Hopper is quick to shut it off before they freeze. Pulling the shower curtain aside, she grabs towels for the both of them, wrapping up in the white terrycloth and stepping out of the tub. Hopper grabs a second towel once he has his wrapped around his waist, and gathers Joyce’s damp hair together, drying it carefully as she wraps her own towel around her body.
Once they’re back in the main room, Joyce turns to look at him, biting her lower lip. Hopper looks at her, curious, and she takes a deep breath before she speaks.
“I want you to tell me how you got each other those scars. And then I want to kiss them away,” she says, watching the way his throat bobs as he swallows. “Can I do that? For you?”
Hopper closes the distance between them, cupping her face in both hands and kissing her once, gently.
“Yes,” is all he gets out, but the look on his face says more than words ever could. He pulls on a pair of clean boxers from their bag of clothing, and Joyce pulls on a shirt and underwear before they sink onto the bed together.
Joyce has Hopper lay on his back as she straddles his lower back, fingers soft against the myriad of marks on his skin. She leans closer, tracing one, and clears her throat. “Start here.”
Hopper quietly begins to recount the story behind it, a torture session early on in his stay, and Joyce listens, working hard not to cry, before she leans down, kissing the mark until it disappeared under her lips. Slowly, they work their way through until every mark on his back has been kissed away, the skin clear of marks physically- a part of Hopper’s soul lighter, telling the story behind each one before she took it away.
He turns over onto his back slowly, Joyce settled low on his belly, and she surprises him by taking hold of his forearm, lips pressed to the angry scratches across it. Being newer, they take longer to disappear, but finally- the red lines from the demogorgon disappear, and she gives him a small, soft smile.
“I didn’t need the story behind that one,” she tells him, smoothing a hand over the now-clear skin. “I had to watch that one.”
Her eyes flicker, and she shakes her head before she leans down, kissing his lips lightly.
“Tell me about this one.”
They continue until every mark is gone, and though his skin is now clear, they both know the emotional scars would last far longer. As Joyce settles in Hopper’s embrace, the darkness of sleep finally beginning to take over, she knows that no matter how hard things got, or how bleak things seemed- they had each other. And tomorrow, they’d finally be reunited with their children; finally be able to be a proper family.
And together, they’d make a home.