Title: Stumbling To Bethlehem Characters: Hopper/Joyce Genre: Fluff Notes: Written for OTP Challenge #18: 5+1, with the theme "5 times they didn't go on vacation & 1 time they did". I'd really wanted to write something for this challenge and at first I had a few different ideas. But the muse crashed and burned hard, and I ended up not writing anything at all for almost the entire month of January. As usual, this is just self-indulgent drivel that doesn't follow canon in the slightest. I'm still not entirely happy with how it turned out, and the ending is just kind of tacked on because I could not get my original idea to work. But I decided to post anyway because I did finish it and maybe someone will find something to enjoy. Title is taken from Stumbling To Bethlehem by Patti Scialfa. It doesn't really have anything to do with this fic, but I was stuck for a title and I was listening to this and I just like the way the words sound. I think that's it. If you choose to read, thank you so much and I hope it gives you a smile or two! ***** Stumbling To Bethlehem: 5 Times Hopper & Joyce Didn't Go On Vacation & 1 Time They Did ***** 1. 1985 Hopper and Joyce got married on a sunny September Friday. The wedding was simple, just a trip to Hawkins town hall followed by a party in their yard with their family and friends, and it was perfect. "You sure you don't want to go anywhere?" Hopper asked, later that night, when the guests had gone home and the kids were in bed. Joyce snuggled closer against him, her dark hair fanning out across his shoulder. "I'm sure." "Okay." Hopper bent his head to kiss her, and Joyce lifted her face to his, her smile bright even in the dimly-lit bedroom. 2. 1989 Joyce pushed her bangs back and dug her fingers into her scalp with a sigh. She'd spent plenty of nights like this when Jonathan and Will were young, sitting at the table with a pile of bills and her paycheck as she tried to close the gaps between the numbers. Things were easier these days, but still, there was always something - college tuition, car repairs, a leaky roof. She picked up her pencil. The kids came first, and she and Hopper would find a way to manage. If that meant no vacation again this year, that's what they would do. 3. 1994 A set of icy stairs, one wrong step, and instead of driving to New York to spend Christmas with Nancy and Jonathan, Joyce holds Hopper's uninjured hand in the ER as a doctor points out the fractured bones on the X-rays. "How's Hop?" Jonathan asks later. "Sore." Joyce grips the phone cord. "He'll be in the cast for at least four weeks. He's sleeping now." Jonathan sighs heavily. "We'll miss you guys. Tell him to feel better soon. And you take care of yourself too. Me and Nancy send our love." "We miss you too," Joyce says. "Love you, sweetie." 4. 1999 The kids came to Hawkins for Thanksgiving. Joyce finally meets Olivia Sinclair, the first Party baby. The last time Max and Lucas came back was before she was born. Holding Olivia makes Joyce realize how quickly time's passing. Her kids and their friends are adults with loves and lives of their own. They've all left Hawkins. She never did. But with Olivia on her lap and Hop next to her, and the kids elbowing each other and making faces and laughing while Jonathan tries to get a picture to email to Dustin, she can't think of anywhere she'd rather be. 5. 2003 They hadn't had a real vacation in years. Last Christmas Will, Mike and El, and Jonathan and Nancy handed them an envelope with a check and insisted they do something fun. They'd talked about a cruise. Or getting a trailer and heading to Florida or Arizona, Colorado or South Carolina. A monster put their plans on hold. It's the same monster that took Sara. The one he's helpless against. "We'll get through this," Joyce says, and her eyes are red-rimmed but her voice is determined. She's always been the strong one. He holds her close, and tries to believe her. +1. 2005 El's laughter rings out through the California twilight, rising above everyone else's. He's glad to hear it again. From the lawn chair next to his, Joyce squeezes his hand. He knows she's thinking of another July Fourth, long ago. How they made it through that one, and through all the years after. How they've fought monsters, heartbreak, and disease to create a life of happiness together. Tomorrow they'll get back in their rented RV and head up the coast with recommendations for places to eat and sights to see. Tonight he holds her hand and they celebrate with their family.