“I love her, and I can’t lose her again!”
Mike’s whole body freezes up as the words leave his mouth. Holy shit. Did he really just confess his love for El in front of the Party, Jonathan - and his sister?! Mike wants to throw himself off a cliff (again).
As he briefly contemplates doing just that, he feels goosebumps on the back of his neck as the door to El’s room creaks open and the girl in question hesitantly steps towards them. Shit, shit, shit! He thinks, his neck whipping around. Did she hear everything?
“What’s going on?” El asks, tilting her head curiously. She frowns as she takes in the still shell-shocked expressions on everyone’s faces.
“Nothing. Nothing! J-just having a family discussion…” Mike blurts out, trying desperately to control the blush on his cheeks. He groans mentally.
“Oh. Okay.” El nods stiffly, seemingly accepting his answer. “...I found him.”
“Who?” Nancy questions.
El sends her a meaningful look.
“We can’t go to Billy, but I think there’s another way… A way for me to see where he’s been.”
Mike raises his eyes to stare at El. Oh no. He knows exactly what her plan is and he doesn’t like it one bit. I can’t lose her again, he thinks in anguish.
El kneels down and crawls towards the television set, flicking the dial on. The sound of static hisses throughout the room. Mike fumbles his way down from his perch atop Hopper’s recliner to face her at eye-level.
“El, I know you think you have to do this, but you don’t.” He whispers while looking at her imploringly. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Max scoff and roll her eyes at him.
“It’s just, you’ve only done this before once. And your mom – she loved you and wanted you to know what happened. But Billy’s mind is, is sick – diseased! The Mind Flayer is in him.”
“He can’t hurt me.” El says with conviction, turning to face him. “Not in there.”
“We don’t know that- !” Mike begins to argue back. Before he can continue trying to talk some sense into her, El slowly reaches out to grip his hand tenderly in hers.
“Mike,” she says, holding his gaze with her own. “I need you to trust me.”
Mike stares deeply into her eyes and then hesitantly turns to look towards Max. The redhead glares back at him from her place on the couch and raises her eyebrows. Well?
He sighs heavily. His girlfriend – ex-girlfriend he reminds himself glumly – is too stubborn for her own good. “Yeah. Just… be careful.”
As El goes back to preparing to delve into the Void, Mike suddenly stops in the process of climbing back onto the recliner. I have to try one more time, he thinks fiercely. Everyone else takes El’s powers for granted. But she’s human. Everyone has their limits, even someone as amazing and badass as her.
“El, can I-can I talk to you for a minute? Alone?” As El goes to start wrapping the blindfold around her head, she hesitates at his words.
“Mike, c’mon! People could be dying right now!” Will protests.
“Will’s right, we don’t have all day to debate this! El will be fine. She obviously knows better than you do about using her own powers!” Max chimes in, staring at Mike emphatically.
That's it - he’s had it.
“Max! You don’t understand, okay?!” Mike snaps at her, his temper flaring.
“Mike -!” Nancy goes to argue, but he won’t back down.
“You weren’t there the first time when we were hiding out at the school and El had to fight the Bad Men, then the Demogorgon – a-and then when she disappeared doing it!” He tries to ignore the sudden lump in his throat just thinking about that moment where time froze as he watched El seemingly disintegrate before his very eyes. That whole wretched night still haunts him, and probably always will.
Max goes quiet at his heated outburst, glancing away awkwardly. Everyone except for Lucas and El is starting to become vaguely uncomfortable at the turn the conversation has taken. The latter teen looks at him quietly with new understanding, but Mike completely misses it because he’s on a roll. “And as a matter of fact, neither were you Will!" His tone softens a little. "I know you couldn’t help it, but still! Neither of you get it.” No one in this room except for El, Lucas and himself really understood. He feels momentarily guilty when Will sends him a hurt look, but he forces himself to stay strong and turns his focus towards El. She’s the most important thing to me in the world. And if I don’t try to talk her down from this, no one will.
“Please?” He pleads with her.
El stares at him for a long, tense moment that seems to last forever but then nods in reluctant agreement. “Okay.” She says, standing up from her position in front of the TV. “Let’s talk. In my room.”
Mike agrees gratefully and walks with her to her bedroom, refusing to look back at everyone else as El flicks her head to close the door gently behind them with a click.
Abruptly, silence reigns down.
El goes to sit on the edge of her bed as Mike takes a deep breath and follows her lead. He’s conscious of sitting slightly apart from her to give her some space, still feeling uncertain about how to act around her now that she’s ‘dumped his ass’. She raises her head slightly to give him her full attention, looking up at him expectantly.
“El… you know I don’t view you as my pet, right?”
Before she can respond, he nervously starts to ramble.
“Because I don’t! I-I know I lied before about Nana being sick, and I know you’re still mad at me because friends don’t lie - but all of that stuff that Max said at the mall when you broke up with me? About me wanting to control you – it’s not true, I swear! The reason why I don’t want you to do this is because…I-I’m scared for you, okay? I-it’s just that you’ve been using your powers so much lately, and I’m worried about the repercussions.”
“Repercussions?” El tilts her head in confusion.
“That something bad could happen.” Mike quickly explains. “It’s not that I don’t trust you – I do! I trust you with my life. But that’s the problem. I know you want to protect us – that you can – but I’m worried that you’re not thinking about yourself. Your own safety."
He rubs his forehead wearily. "I…I don’t know. Maybe it’s stupid.” He admits. “But -”
“Mike.” El cuts in, taking his hand in her own again and mercifully interrupting his rant.
“It’s okay. I…understand.” She murmurs, moving closer and slowly reaching up to cup his cheek.
“You do?” He asks, looking at her sheepishly. A slight grin appears on his face as he leans into her palm.
“Yes.” She replies, staring up at him fondly. “I know you don’t want me hurt. I-I know how bad I can get. Like that night at school, or-or when I closed the gate. But Mike…” El lets out a breath she was holding with a noisy whoosh of air. “I have to do this. There’s no other way.”
Mike gazes at her, conflicted. Surely there was something else they could try first. “El –”
“But I’ll be careful.” She says emphatically. “Promise.”
He sighs, grasping both of her hands in his own and squeezing them gently. “Okay. I trust you.”
“Good.” El smiles. But the expression quickly fades as she realizes there's something else she needs to say to the boy she cares so much about. And who evidently feels the same way about her...
“…yeah?” He asks, looking down at her with curiosity.
El glances away for a moment to gather her courage and then back at him unwaveringly. “I’m…sorry, about before. When I dumped your ass. I don’t want you to be my ex-boyfriend anymore. I was just mad. It hurt me…when you lied, and I didn’t know why you did it. I...I don’t really think that you treat me like garbage.” She confesses.
Mike interlaces their fingers, staring into her eyes imploringly. “El, I’m so, so sorry about lying. I should’ve just told you in the first place – right away! It’s just that…Hopper told me that if I didn’t stop spending so much time with you, he’d stop me from seeing you for good, and I didn’t want that to happen. But I should’ve handled it better. I-I promise I’ll try to be more honest with you from now on.” He says resolutely.
“Thank you. And…I forgive you.” El replies kindly, planting a kiss on his cheek.
“I know it’s only been a couple of days, but…I missed you so much when we were broken up, El. I was miserable." Mike confides to her.
"Do you-do you want to be my girlfriend again?” He asks nervously.
“Yes!” The teenage girl enthusiastically responds, wrapping her arms around his neck and rising up slightly to kiss him. Mike tilts his head down to meet her halfway, unable to stop a sigh of happiness from escaping him as he kisses her back softly. After a while he pulls away to lean his forehead against hers. All was right with the world again.
A sudden knock on El’s bedroom door jolts the young couple out of their reverie.
“Hey, lovebirds!” It was Lucas. “Are you guys ready to come out yet? We kind of need to form a plan.”
Mike was about to respond, but El beats him to it.
“In a minute, Lucas.” She calls out. As they both listen to Lucas’ fading footsteps, El turns towards her boyfriend and smiles adoringly. He beams back, his heart singing in his chest. Someday, he knew he'd tell El he loved her. Someday soon.
“I guess we should go back out now, huh?” His smile dims a little as he contemplates the impending danger El is about to face - yet again. I have to trust her, he reminds himself.
“Yes.” El agrees, standing up from her bed and tugging on his hands for him to join her.
As they head towards the door with El leading the way, she hesitates, pausing for a second and resting her hand on the doorknob. “…Mike?” She asks coyly, turning her head back to look at him from across her shoulder.
“I love you, too.” She murmurs, blushing and sending him a sweet smile before opening the door. Mike stands stock-still behind her, his jaw on the floor as his cheeks begin rapidly turning red. So she had heard everything! He realizes in shock. Scrambling to follow El and re-join their friends in the living room, one thought echoes repeatedly inside his head.