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The Power of Love

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"Looking great, Ms. Byers! Can I be of any use in the kitchen?" asked Mike.

"Aww, thank you, sweetie! Um, not right this second. You go keep El some company, but I may holler at you in a bit if I need some extra help," said Joyce.

"Alright, sounds good."

He stood behind the back of the couch and El tilted her head back to see him.

"Upside down kiss?" he asked.

"What's that?" she asked.

"This," he said, leaning her chin back a little more as he knelt down and kissed her face.

"You're so creative…I don't know how you come up with these things!" she said, completely smitten and enamored.

Then, he pushed himself over the couch, each of his legs flicking over the back of it like that of a spy action movie. He plopped down beside her and she turned and looked him in the eyes, his cheek to hers as they cuddled.

"I'm so glad your mom agreed to this."

You'd think that Mrs. Wheeler would've frowned upon both of her oldest children going elsewhere for the holidays, but she hardly ever seemed to notice when they were gone to begin with, so why would that be any different now?

"I am too. *chuckles* I mean, I can't blame her really...I would've been moping the entire day if I didn't get to see you," he said.

*El blushes, smiles, looks into eyes*

"You wanna watch the parade?" he asked, rubbing her arm which laid across his waist.

"The parade?"

"You've never seen the Thanksgiving Parade before?! Not even with Hop?"

"No. He doesn't- *clears throat* didn't celebrate much, but he tried to pretend like he did so that I didn't feel like I was missing out."

"Ah, gotcha. Well, we could always start our own tradition!"

"Yeah, I'd like that."

So, they cut on the tv and watched as the balloons came bobbing down Macy's Herald Square, talking about what they liked about each one that they saw.

"So, what are the Byers family traditions?" asked Mike.

"I don't know! I'm just as new to this as you are!"

"*scratches head* Yeah, I guess you have a point there."

"But there was one movie that Joyce said they watched every year...White Christmas, I think it was."

"White Christmas? But that's a Christmas movie! *laughs*"

"Yeah, well, they *clears throat* we aren't a very orthodox family...if you couldn't tell," she said coyly.

"Orthodox, huh? That's a big word."

"What are you, my dad?" she asked, laughing.

"No, I'm just saying I don't even use that word! That's all."

"Well, I'm more unpredictable then you think."

"Clearly!" he said.

"Anyway, they watch White Christmas because one year it had been on Joyce's mind, so they watched it and ended up watching every year after that as a way of kind of welcoming in the new season."

"I love that concept. That's really cool!"

"I thought so too..." she said with a giddy smile.

Mike was used to big family gatherings with more food put on the table than the Last Supper! He always had relatives coming to town from all over. So celebrating it this year with the Byers, who were probably the most introverted little family known to man, was very different for him, being the extrovert that he was. A part of him couldn't help but miss all of the people he had left behind in Hawkins that day, all of the funny stories he would never get to hear over his mom's scrumptious pumpkin pie, but he knew that he would've missed El even more and he couldn't bear that reality. She always came first and he wouldn't want to be around his family when his heart was in fact somewhere else. On the other hand, the only Thanksgiving El had ever known was with Hop and it hardly qualified as a meal. He wasn't much of a chef, so the only thing even remotely close to a Thanksgiving meal for them was some canned peas and mashed potatoes along with store-bought, pre-sliced turkey because he burned the first one. It wasn't much, but even just imagining the smell of it all made her miss it and him so very much.

"Hey, I'll be right back," she said, patting his thigh before getting up.

"O-Okay," he confusedly said, removing the arms which he had held her with.

In that moment, she entered her room, closing the door behind her, now that she couldn't just do it at the drop of a hat. And she inched her way over to her old record player, where her dad first played her his favorite song- You Don't Mess Around with Jim. His death ruined it for her in some ways, as the song that once used to be his happy song, that once used to be THEIR happy song, was now just a song that made her mourn his absence in her life, but she still listened to it...every day. Every day, at any moment that she felt herself starting to miss him, she would go to her room, place the record on the turntable and just cry until she couldn't anymore. Hearing the song as much as he did, Will got a little annoyed after a while, but what did he know? His dad was never all that present in his life to begin with. However, sometimes Joyce would join El, as they both shared a special bond with him that led to their own bond with each other. Hopper would've wanted it that way anyway. She would play it over and over until she felt better, but at least she was coping. She wasn't going to keep these feelings all bottled up inside. She knew what she needed. She was afraid, however, that the record would break or suddenly stop working someday because of how often she played it and she wasn't ready to face that. Enough things in her life were already broken to begin with.

Meanwhile, Mike took this opportunity to spend some time with Will, who couldn't help but feel like a third wheel when it came to his best friend and his girlfriend, who also happened to be his sister.

"I'm sorry that I haven't really gotten the chance to spend time with you yet. I hope you understand, I don't mean for it to come off like I'm choosing El over you, but it's just hard because when I'm with her, I just, I don't know…I lose all track of time and the time that we have together just never feels like enough."

"It's okay, Mike. I mean, I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty fucking annoying sometimes, *chuckles* but I would probably do the same thing if I was in your situation."

"Well, I appreciate that and I hope that someday you'll meet some guy that really clicks with you and that you'll spend all your time with him instead of me, just to give me a taste of my own medicine."

*Will laughs*

Nancy and Jonathan however, were in the kitchen, fixing supper while bickering like an old married couple.

"No, no, you're doing it all wrong! You're supposed to do it like this," she said, demonstrating.

"Well, I'm SOR-RY, Ms. Perfectionist!"

"You should be!" she teased.

"You know, some would say that you bossing me around and helping me from behind is your way of flirting with me…" he said.

"Some would be right!" she said, hugging him around the waist.

*Jonathan smiles, kisses head*

Almost 10 minutes had passed and there was still no sign of El, so Mike decided to take matters into his own hands.

"*knocks twice* El, are you okay? Can I come in?"

She first stopped the music, then walked over to the door and opened it with misery written all over her face. He then reached a hand out to her cheek and wiped her tears away.

"Aww, El...Wha-What-What's wrong?"

She placed her hand on the one that held her face and closed in on it, bringing it to her side, where she led him over to her bed and played the record one last time.

"I'm playing this for you, so now you'll understand. You'll understand why I've been such a mess for the past 4 months."

"I've understood for longer than you've known...I-I'm having a hard time dealing it with myself, El."

"*looks up* You are?"

"*sniffles* Yeah, I mean, as much of a hard time as he gave me, I don't regret any of it. In fact, I miss him."

"You do?" she asked.

"Is that really so surprising?"

"Yes, actually!"

"El, your family is my family because you are my family."

*blushes*

"What do you miss about him?" she asked.

"I miss that comforting smell of salsa and cigarettes that used to be there whenever we made out…and now it's not."

"You too? *chuckles, sniffles* I thought I was the only one."

After they both laughed off their tears, they just sat there for a minute, side by side, hip to hip, with Mike rubbing the side of El's arm up and down, putting her at ease. She leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes for a minute, imagining a world where her heart could finally be at peace and she could stay happy, but then she opened her eyes and lifted her head up, realizing that he was her world! He was her happiness.

"What? What is it?" he asked.

"*brushes fingers through bangs* N-N-Nothing, I just…I love you, that's all," she said, wrapping her arm around his neck, as she sat across his lap with a hand to his chest.

"Aww, I love you too!" he said, kissing her.

Then, he pulled away and looked her in the eyes, asking her:

"Are you feeling any better now? I mean, any less sucky?"

"*giggles* Yeah, yeah, I think I am," she said with a smile.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, stop worrying about me already!" she said, this time kissing him.

"I can't help it, it's my job," he said, his nose rubbing with hers.

Then, they each walked out of the room and into the next.

"Oh, you're just in time! Dinner's almost ready," said Joyce.

"Can't wait," said Mike.

"You know, it would've been ready earlier if you had lent us a hand in the kitchen," Nancy bitterly said.

"Hey, I offered! She didn't want my help," said Mike.

"True, neither would I," she said.

"Oh, I wouldn't even offer my help in the first place if I knew it was you who I was helping!"

"Children, children, settle down," said Joyce.

"Oh, we're just playing, aren't we, Mike?"

"Well, she is, I'm not," he joked.

*Nancy hits*

"What?! I'm kidding, of course! You know I love you, Nance," he said, giving her a side hug.

"Love you too, little bro," she said, giving him a noogie on the head.

"Alright, dinner is served!" said Joyce, setting the bowls out on the table.

"It looks amazing, Mom," said Will.

"Thank you, sweetie!" she said, kissing his head.

"So, what do we have here?" Mike, asked, licking his lips as he sat down, with a fork and knife in each of his hands.

"Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, green beans, pecan pie, and pumpkin pie, although I doubt it'll live up to Karen's cooking!"

"Oh, nonsense! You're a great cook too, Joyce," said Nancy, knowing that she was now of age to call her by her first name.

"If you say so..." she replied.

The dinner was everything El never knew it could be, with more food at the table than people to feed! Everything just felt right, like everybody there was exactly where they wanted to be...And El had never felt so much love in one room.

"Oh, I almost forgot, the final dish!" said Joyce.

"Oh, Mom, I don't know if I can eat one more bite…" Will groaned.

"Well, it's not for you…It's for El!"

"Me?" she repeated in disbelief.

"Welcome to the family, sweetie!" she said, sliding a plate of Eggo Extravaganza in front of her.

El looked at in awe, a single tear streaming down her cheek as her lip quivered into a smile. Without saying a word, she walked over to where Joyce was sitting. Feeling like she should, Joyce stood up. They each looked at each other, neither of them moving or quite knowing what to do next. And then suddenly, Joyce felt two soft arms wrap around her neck and hold her close as El sweetly said:

"Thank you, Joyce…for everything."

Now, it appeared that Joyce was the one getting choked up, as this girl that walked into her life like it was an open door, this girl that was once the daughter of the man she always thought she'd end up with, was now her own.

Once El sat back down, she turned to Mike and said:

"I could use your help because I probably won't finish this all by myself. *chuckles* Wanna split it?"

"Why not! I've already had so much food today, I might as well have more!"

*El laughs, gets up*

"Where are you going?" he asked, holding her by the arm.

"I'm getting some whipped cream."

"Oh, no, I'm not falling for that again!"

*El throws head back in laughter*

After a delicious dinner, the 6 of them all gathered around the television, inserted the tape, and proceeded to carry on with the Byers family tradition of watching White Christmas after a Thanksgiving meal.

Watching the beginning of the movie, Mike started to worry a little bit, as it started out in the middle of a war and he could never tell whether things like that would trigger El's PTSD or whether she would shrug it off like it was nothing because she had been through so much worse. Whichever it was, he was prepared for the worst.

During the "Sisters" scene, El turned to Mike and said:

"Kind of reminds me of when Max and I went shopping at the mall and got our pictures taken at the flash studio…"

"Yeah, I'm gonna need a few copies of those!" he said.

"*chuckles* Sure, I'll make sure to send you home with some."

"Good because at this point, I'll take any picture of you I can get, since we hardly see each other anymore," he said with his face close to hers.

"Shh!" said Will.

*Mike rolls eyes, El chuckles to self*

Then, when it came time for the number "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," Mike turned to El and whispered:

"They most certainly do and being at the Snow Ball with you was all the proof I needed."

*El blushes, smiles big*

During the song "Choreography," Mike could feel El's belly bluntly pushing his arms up and down in laughter. And during the number "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," El turned to Mike once again and said a simple:

"Pretty."

"That's quite the dress, huh?" he asked.

"It sure is…It's beautiful!" she said.

"You would look killer in that."

"Killer?" she asked, confused.

"Oh, it's just another way of saying stunning basically."

"Oh," she said with a smile, pulling his face in for a kiss.

Once the movie finally came to an end, it was just about time for Mike and Nancy to start heading home.

"Thanks again for having me," he said.

"Thanks again for coming," said El.

"God, I always hate this part…"

"Yeah, goodbyes are the worst…"

"I love you, El. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too…so so much."

In that moment, he pulled her close and hugged her with all his might. Then, he looked her in the eyes after pulling away and planted a big, long kiss on her lips, one that left her with an ache in her heart just after he walked out the door.

"Mike! Wait…" she said, running out to him.

"Yeah?" he said.

"Come back in. I won't keep you long, *holds hand* I promise. I-I just need to tell you something."

"Okay, sure," he said, letting her drag him to her room.

They each sat down on her bed, facing each other.

"What's this about?" he asked.

"I-I just needed to say that *takes deep breath* I'm so thankful for you *holds cheek* and so thankful to have you in my life and I don't know what I'd do without you. You mean everything to me and...I love you more than anything."

"You're thankful for me?! That's funny because I'M thankful for YOU! I mean, you just make my life so much better. Nothing is the same without you, El and I can't even imagine a world without you. You just…you're it for me. I don't know how else to say it."

And they kissed and kissed like it was all they knew, but of course it ended, as these things do. And so, he left, with a tear in his eye and a burden in his heart, the burden of leaving the one that he loved behind. But that would soon change because just as they were getting used to it all, things gradually started looking up.

Chapter Text

It was 4:30 pm, the new 3:15 for Mike and El. The time that they would call each other to catch up and make sure they stayed in touch. They talked on the phone, however, because the connection via supercomm was too bad now that El lived so far away.

*rings*

"*picks up phone* Hello?"

"Hey, El, it's me."

"Hey, you. How are you?"

"Fine, I guess…"

"Mike, what is it? What's getting you down right now?"

"You want me to give it to you straight?"

"Yeah, I'd prefer it if my boyfriend didn't lie to me, even though boyfriends lie."

"Not anymore they don't. *sighs* Well, I guess you leave me no other choice then...*sighs* I hate not getting to see you every day..."

"That's it?"

"Well, yeah...I guess."

"*rolls eyes, laughs* You're such a dork!"

"So you don't miss me then I guess..."

"No, I do, but only because you're my dork!"

"Oh, well, in that case, I guess I better make a trip up there soon then, shouldn't I?"

"You better!"

"Oh just try and stop me!"

*giggles*

"*sighs* This long-distance thing is hard…" he continued.

"Mike..."

"What? It is!"

"Let's not go through this again."

"Go through what again?"

"The moping, the constant moping. You always mope about this and there's nothing we can do about it, but we're not about to break up just because you can't handle it. You're stuck with me. Sorry!"

"That's the girl I fell in love with..."

"What can I say? Blank makes me crazy too!"

"*smiles like an idiot* So, what have you been up to lately?"

"Nothing much."

"What do you think so far? Of your new house and town, I mean."

"It's alright. I'm still trying to get used to it. It's weird not being around you all the time. The only thing missing is you…well, and Max and everyone else, but mostly you."

"I feel the same way, except the only difference, is that I have everybody with me, yet I feel like I have nobody because you're not here..."

"Aww, Mike...I can only imagine that if we were in the same place right now, that my face would be pretty close to yours right about now."

"*mouths to self 'God, she's cute'* Yeah, yeah, I think so too…"

"Mike..."

"Yeah?"

"I'm sad."

"Oh no! Not you too!"

*El giggles*

"Why are you sad?"

*waits for answer*

"It's your powers, isn't it?" he continued.

"Yeah...they're still gone, they still haven't come back yet."

"They will. I told you, I know they will."

"You don't know that..."

"Yes, I do! I know that your powers will come back just like I know that you'll be El Wheeler someday..."

"Wha-What did you just say?" she asked shyly, in a happy way, though not expecting those words to come out of his mouth.

"You heard me! I know, just like I know that you'll be El Wheeler someday."

"Mike Wheeler, I swear...If I could only kiss you right now...but I live so freaking far away, goddammit! Just know that I love you Mike…very much!"

"I love you too, El...so so much. And I have faith in you. If I can sense you in the Void, maybe I can sense when your powers are coming back too."

"*giggles* That's not how it works, dingus!"

"Oh yeah, and how does it work exactly?"

"It-Well, you see it um...I don't know..."

"That's what I thought. See, you don't know any better than I do!"

"*sighs* All I know is that it's been almost a month now and I don't know what I'm gonna do without them...I don't know how to live in a world where I don't have some control."

"So what? Would that really be so bad? You could finally lead like a normal life. Would I miss watching you kick some supernatural ass? Sure I would, but El, powers or no powers, you're still my El. You're still the most amazing, beautiful girl I've ever met and I will prove it to you in any way I know how."

"Thanks, Mike."

"No sweat! *smiles* And besides, I can help you try and get them back. You don't have to go through this alone, you know, we can do this together."

"Yeah, I'd like that."

In that moment, Mike thought back to the many times he would surprise El with a visit and she would jump into his arms and hold him so close and tight, tighter than she ever had. All of these wonderful memories gave him an idea…a grand idea.

"In fact, how 'bout tonight, huh? You and me, dinner at Enzo's, 7:30."

"Enzo's? You're taking me to Enzo's? Are we even allowed to do that?"

"Since when has not being allowed stopped you?!"

"*giggles* True, I am quite the troublemaker..."

"Do you think Joyce would let you take a bus over here?"

"Maybe...I'll have to check with her, but gosh, that sounds perfect...and romantic."

"What can I say? I'm a romantic."

"That you are," she said, giggling.

"You know Hop would not approve of this if he were here."

"You're talking about Hopper again!"

"Yeah...why?"

"Oh, nothing, I just haven't heard you talk about him in a while. It's just nice, that's all. It's a good thing, but yeah, you're right. I wouldn't get caught dead taking you out to a fancy dinner. He would kill me right then and there."

"Joyce however, is more understanding when it comes to that kind of thing."

"Lucky for me."

"Yeah, lucky for you…"

"Actually, I'm going to ask Joyce real quick, hold on," she continued.

"Okay."

[Several minutes later]

"Okay, I'm back."

"And…?"

"She said yes!"

"Oh, that's great!"

"Yep!" she said with a smile.

"*blushes* Well, I'll see you soon!"

"Okay, can't wait!"

"Alright, bye, El."

"Bye, Mike."

*neither hangs up*

"Aren't you going to hang up?" asked Mike.

"I thought you were going to!"

"No, I don't want to. I can't! You do it."

"No, you hang up! I don't want to either!" she said.

"No, you hang up!"

"No, YOU hang up!"

"Okay, there's only one way to settle this…" he said.

"I'm listening…" said El.

"We both don't hang up and we just stay on the phone with each other the whole time while we're both getting ready."

"Yep, that works."

"Alright, cool."

*both laugh*

And so they did just that, as they rummaged through their closets for the perfect outfit.

"Man, I don't know what to wear…Joyce washes clothes so much faster than Hop ever did, so I have way too many options."

"Well, what do you feel like wearing? What's speaking to you right now?"

"I have a couple of ideas, but I wanna mix and match a bit. What color do you like best on me?"

Mike smiled to himself like an idiot, trying to hold it together.

"Yellow, definitely yellow. It makes your skin glow."

"Aww, you're just saying that…"

"I'm not! I mean it. There was just something about that aztec-looking outfit you wore that one day that made everything inside me say yes."

"You-You remember that outfit?"

"Of course, I do! Maybe it was just the fact that you walked out in it right after I professed my love for you in front everyone, *chuckles* that I don't know. All I do know is how it made me feel in that moment, how you made me feel in that moment."

"*blushes* Mike, stop! *chuckles* Before you make me cry...*chuckles more, wipes tear* Oop, too late!"

*Mike smiles*

"Yellow it is," she continued.

"Lucky me," said Mike.

"Yeah, lucky you..." said El.

She went to her closet and took out a yellow off the shoulder top with a white bleach splotch pattern and a black, pinafore dress with a pencil skirt to put over, something that she had been dying to wear for a while now. Then, she laid them both out on her bed and took out a pair of black, t-strap kitten heels because she had always been a little too clumsy to walk in higher heels. El's taste was a little all over the place, a little flashy, but you couldn't deny the fact that it was spunky and fun-loving and suited her nonetheless.

"So what about me then? *slides hangers on closet rack* What color looks best on me?" he asked.

"Hmm...I'd have to say green, dark green. It brings out the darkness in your eyes and hair."

"Really? *smiles, blushes* Thanks!"

"No need to thank me, just stating a fact."

"I'm actually surprised you said that."

"Really, why?"

"Well, Max said I looked like Ronald McDonald in that one dark green shirt with the yellow collar that I wore."

"Mike…C'mon! This is Max we're talking about! That's just how she shows love, you know that, and besides, you're the cutest Ronald McDonald I've ever seen."

"You really mean that?" he asked with a big grin.

"Yeah, I really do."

"You know, come to think of it, I was wearing dark green that same day when I said I loved you for the first time and you pretended that you didn't hear me."

"I think we may be onto something…*giggles*" she said.

"Well, green it is then. *smiles*"

"Lucky me!" she said.

"Yeah, lucky you..." he said.

He turned to his closet and sorted through his shirts until finally finding a dark green, button-down one that he usually wore around the holidays. Lucky for him, Christmas was only a couple weeks away. And so, he picked out a pastel, mint green blazer to put over the top of it and some slacks and cognac-colored, leather loafers to go with it.

After they both got changed, they each moved the phone to the bathroom, where Mike shaved his face, put on a little aftershave, and combed through his hair as El put on some jewelry, a little perfume, some light makeup, and teased her hair a bit.

"Remember, don't put on too much makeup. You know how I feel about that…" said Mike.

"Of course not because otherwise, I'll get an earful from you about how I look most beautiful with none at all."

"Exactly. See, you're learning," he said flirtatiously.

*El bites lip, closes eyes, smiles*

"Well, Mike, as much fun as this has been, I gotta start making my way towards the bus station if we're gonna make our reservation."

"Good thinking, well, I love you and I'll see you soon."

"Love you too. Bye, Mike."

El hung up the phone and walked to the kitchen where she found Joyce cooking dinner for the boys.

"Oh, look at you, going on your big date! Give me a spin!"

*Joyce twirls El's fingers as she spins around in her outfit*

"That's my girl! *kisses forehead* You look lovely, sweetie!"

"*smiles toothlessly* Thanks, Joyce!"

"Did you remember to wear a slip with your skirt?"

"Yes!"

"Okay good, good. *looks her up and down* You know, I think it's time you start wearing pantyhose."

"P-Pantyhose?" El repeated, imagining both panties and a garden hose.

"Yeah, it's sorta like see-through, skin-colored tights. You would normally wear it on fancy occasions like this."

"Oh okay. Where could I find a pair?"

"I think I have some in the top drawer of my dresser. Why don't you check?"

"Okay, I will. Thanks!"

"Sure thing, sweetie."

After putting on pantyhose, El bid farewell to her two new brothers- her family…her new family. They weren't perfect, but they made it work. No family really is anyway. Then, Joyce drove her, going over proper etiquette and table manners at a restaurant such as Enzo's. She then dropped El off at the Greyhound station, where they too said goodbye.

"*rolls window down* El!"

"*turns around* Yes?"

"Have fun, sweetie! See you at 10:00."

"Thanks, see you then!"

Once reaching the next station, she stepped out, only to find Mike waiting patiently for her with a bouquet of roses in his hand.

"Mike," El said quietly to herself, taking in his image.

Then, she cracked a big smile and ran towards him as he did to her. They both came to a sudden stop, probably about five feet apart from one another, not knowing how to proceed, as it all felt so surreal.

"Hi," said El.

"Hi, said Mike.

Then, she let out a squeal and ran towards him, pressing her hands against his cheekbones and her lips against his. Mike was so taken aback by her kiss, that he almost dropped the flowers.

"*blushes, smiles, eyes widen* Oh, I almost forgot! These are for you…"

"*takes flowers, smells them* Oh, Mike, these are lovely! Thank you!"

"Anytime. Well, shall we?" he asked, holding his hand out for her to hold.

*nods, interlaces fingers with his*

"You look beautiful by the way."

"So do you…handsome, I mean," she said, rubbing his arm with her other hand.

*Mike smiles, blushes*

They both walked together out of the station, where they met with Mike's mom.

"Hey, Mrs. Wheeler," said El.

"Hey there! Don't you look nice!"

"That she does…" said Mike.

"Thanks," said El.

Then, they hopped in the back of Mrs. Wheeler's car and went on there way.

"See you at 8:45, Michael."

"9:00?"

"No, 8:45. She has a curfew, remember? And you do too!"

"*sighs* Yeah, *throws arms in the air* how could I forget…"

"Bye, you two…" she said.

"Bye," they each said.

*opens door for El*

"You're too sweet…You do realize I could open that myself without even lifting a finger, right?" she teased.

"Um, El…"

"Oh, right! *says softer* Right…I can't do that…I can't do anything anymore."

"Aww, c'mere," he said, pulling her in for a hug, rubbing her back, and kissing her head as they waited for the hostess to seat them.

"Everything alright?" asked the hostess now before them.

"Yeah, sorry. Um, table for two," he said.

"Right this way," she said.

After they both sat down and got settled, the hostess turned to them and said:

"Your waiter will be with you shortly."

"*turns to Mike* I can't believe we got away with this…that you actually brought me here! This is perfect!" said El.

"Well, you're perfect, so it was the least I could do…"

"*smiles, blushes* So are you," she said with heart eyes, her cheek leaning on the palm of her hand as she gazed at him from across the table.

"It's hard to know what to do, you know, when we're together because we talk every day, so I have a pretty general idea of what's going on with you, yet at the same time, it feels like I have so much I wanna ask you. I don't know, I just wanna make the most of my time with you before you have to go back home. I'm sorry, I'm rambling…I-"

*El places hand on his*

*Mike looks at hand, then her*

"Mike, it's okay! I feel the same way."

"Oh, really? *sighs relief* Good."

"I love it when you get worked up about nothing…It's insanely cute," said El.

"R-R-Really?"

"*giggles, nods* Yes!"

"*clears throat* Sorry, to interrupt, but I'm Frank and I will be your waiter this evening. Can I start you two off with something to drink?"

"Uh, I'll just have water. What about you, El?"

El looked down at her menu, skimming through all of the various drinks listed.

"Um, I think I'll have the chee-ahnt-ee."

"El, no!" said Mike, making "cut it out" gestures at her from across the table.

"*furrows eyebrows, mouths* What?" asked El.

"Well, I'm afraid the chianti is an alcoholic beverage, young lady."

Now feeling flustered, El could sense her cheeks suddenly getting hot and reddening with embarrassment.

"*nervously chuckles* S-S-Sorry, she meant a Shirley temple," said Mike.

"Shirley temple it is!" said Frank, jotting down their order on his pad. "Say, aren't you two a little too young to be dating?"

"We get that a lot, don't we, El?" he asked, reaching out and holding her hand across the table to make sure she was okay.

*El nods and chortles*

"Well, your boyfriend's quite the romantic, I'll give him that."

"Believe me, I know," she said without altering her gaze.

*waiter leaves*

[5 minutes later]

"Here you are," said Frank.

"Thank you, sir," said Mike.

"Mike, you know me so well! This looks so good…" El said as she took a sip of the Shirley temple.

"Well, I hope it lives up to its presentation."

*El chuckles*

"God, that's good!" she said.

"Sounds like it did," he said with a smile.

"You should try one of these rolls…They're delicious!" he continued with a mouthful.

"Ooh, don't mind if I do!" she said, taking one in her hand.

[7 minutes later]

"Pardon me, but are you both ready to order?" asked Frank.

"Oh, sure! Um, I'll have the dragon carrot risotto, please. *hands menu*" said Mike.

"*collects menu* Very good, sir! *turns to El* And for you, ma'am?"

"M-Marg-herita pizza, please."

"Very good, ma'am! *extends hand out for menu*"

"Oh, sorry! *hands menu*"

"No need to apologize, ma'am. You two have a lovely evening. *smiles*"

*Frank walks away*

"He called me sir!" said Mike.

"He called me ma'am!" said El.

*Mike laughs, sighs happily*

"So, Mike…"

"So, El…"

"Tell me something!" she said.

"Like what?"

"I don't know…About you, Holly, Nancy, high school, our friends…Anything."

"Okay, well, there was this one funny thing that happened the other day in the cafeteria…"

"What happened?" she asked, with intrigue in her eyes and her chin resting between her hands.

"Okay, so Dustin and Lucas and I were eating lunch with this guy named Matty that we met at freshman orientation and the air conditioning in the school has been out for a while, so sometimes bees will fly in."

"Let me guess, one of them stung Dustin or Lucas!"

"No, not this time…"

"Oh."

"So, Matty thought it would be funny if he sucked one up a straw and then blew it back out the window and-"

"Boys…" said El, rolling her eyes.

"Yep, we're a totally different species *winks*," he joked.

*El smiles*

"Anyway, well, let's just say one time, the bee actually went up the straw and flew into his mouth and…well, you can put the rest together yourself."

"Oh my god! I wouldn't know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him."

"No, trust me it was pretty funny! *chuckles* His eyes grew so big and he was swatting it away like a maniac, but it stung him on the lip!"

*wheezes*

"I'm not even done yet!" said Mike.

"There's more? I don't know if I can take it! *laughs more*"

"Well, neither could Lucas because he was laughing so hard that spaghetti came out of his nose!"

"Shut up! No it did not!"

"It did!"

*laughs hysterically, snorts*

"Did you just snort?"

"Maybe…"

*laughs harder*

"Well, what about you? What do you think of high school?"

"It's kind of scary…I don't know, it's just so big, you know, and everybody has their own group of friends and people that they sit with and the teachers all talk a mile a minute…"

"I totally get that. Well, just know that I'm one call away if you need someone to vent out to."

"I love knowing that," she said with a smile.

"*clears throat* Here you are!" said Frank, placing their food out in front of the both them.

"Thank you, Frank," said El, placing her napkin in her lap as Joyce had reminded her to do.

[15 minutes later]

"So, what have you been listening to these days?" asked Mike.

"Well, you know I listen to the pop stations mostly, but lately, I've been drawn to the blues again."

"Aww, really? I remember when you used to listen to that all the time when we were first dating…What brought that up again?"

"I don't know, I guess it just makes me happy, but at the same time, it reminds me of home and-and Hop, if I'm being totally honest…"

"*holds hands* El, there's nothing wrong with listening to something that reminds you of your dad. You should try to keep his memory alive in any way that you can. And besides, that's what the blues is all about, right? Being vulnerable with your feelings and singing your truths."

"*wipes tear* Yeah, I guess you're right."

*cries more*

"Oh, El, I'm sorry. I-I shouldn't have brought that up, I don't know what I was thinking…I-"

"It-It's not you, it's just- *sniffles* This is where Hop and Joyce were gonna go on their first date, but he-he never made it and now he's gone and *shivers* I don't live here anymore- *breaks down, sobs* I'm sorry, Mike!"

"Oh, El…"

*backs up chair, rushes over to her, kneels down*

"Don't be sorry...it's okay! I'm here. Mike's here," he said as he held her in his arms.

By the time the waiter started coming back, they had both finished their meals and El had stopped crying enough to be verbal. So, Mike headed back to his seat and made sure to put his money down before she could.

"Mike, no! You are not paying for this whole thing!"

"The hell I am!"

"Why are you doing this for me? It's so expensive!"

"Because…you're my girl."

"*says endearingly* I love you...but Mike Wheeler, *huffs* I swear to god, if I had my powers right now, I would snatch that money right out of your hand."

"I'm sure you would…will," said Mike.

"Will?"

"Yeah! You'll have plenty of other chances once they come back."

"If you say so…" she said, doubting herself once again.

They walked out the door together, hand in hand, with only a little time left to kill, but so much more they wanted to do.

"What do you miss most about Hawkins, El?"

"That's way too easy! *takes deep breath, looks in eyes* You."

"*blushes* See, this is why I love you and believe me, you're the only thing that's missing from it, but I'm serious. What do you miss about it most…aside from me?"

"I don't know…I guess I've never really thought about it before, but…I'd have to say the little gallery hops you used to take me to at the beginning of each month, and the costume contest that we entered as Han Solo and Princess Leia. I don't know, just a little of everything I guess…Oh and Lovers' Lake! How could I forget!"

"Well, I was hoping you'd say some of that because I made you a little assortment of Hawkins things…Well, mostly from stuff we've done together. Ticket stubs from movies we've seen, the ribbon from our costume contest, jewelry I secretly bought you at the gallery hop but have been waiting for the right occasion to give to you, a rock from Lovers' Lake, rose petals from flowers I've gotten for you, but I guess that doesn't have much purpose now, since I already bought you flowers, but um…let's see, a candle from the church…Ooh, and a receipt from the bowling alley, but that's kind of lame I gue-"

"Mike, *pulls collar towards her* stop talking," she said, kissing him in middle of the vacant town streets.

The whole time he said all of these wonderful things, she felt nothing less of amazing simply because her boyfriend was amazing. He always knew how to put a smile on her face, even when she was the most depressed she had ever been, even when she had lost all hope.

"*pulls away* What was that about?"

"I love you, that's what!"

"Oh, well, I love you too," he said as-a-matter-of-factly.

"You wanna just walk around a little bit?" he continued.

"Yeah, I'd like that," she said, linking arms with him.

So, they took a nice, long stroll until they came to the agreed-upon pick-up spot where Mrs. Wheeler would meet them. And so, they rode the whole way, snuggling in the backseat, practically inseparable…until they had to be.

"Why do all of our dates have to end this way?" he asked, holding her close by the waist.

"I don't know…but I'm gonna miss you like crazy!"

"You know I will…but hey, *holds shoulder, looks into eyes* Christmas is just around the corner."

"Lucky me," she said.

"Yeah, lucky you..."

Mike looked down at her lips and bent down to kiss her, his arms wrapped around her lower back and she stood up on her tippy toes and kissed him back with love so apparent. When they pulled away, he held her chin between his thumb and index finger and rubbed it for a split second. Then, he said:

"Well, I guess this is it…for now."

"Yeah, for now."

"I love you, El…more than anything."

"I love you too, Mike…also more than anything," she said coyly.

"Don't forget your flowers and the little Hawkins memento I put together for you."

"I wouldn't dare!" she teased. "Goodbye, Mike."

*Mike lightly wails*

"*leans head against his, puts hand on chest* Sorry, bad word choice. See you soon...love. *kisses, walks away*"

"Soon," he repeated, like he needed to remind himself that this wasn't permanent.

Chapter Text

It was the day before Christmas Eve, the day which some people might call Christmas Eve Eve. The sky was foggy, the streets were covered in a blanket of snow, and a familiar green Ford Pinto turned into Mike's driveway. This was no surprise, of course. It was a highly anticipated visit, one that Mike had been looking forward to for weeks. This was the day that Joyce would bring Will, Jonathan, and El to Hawkins for the party's first real get-together since they moved out. Hearing the sound of Joyce locking her car with the key fob, Mike rushed over and stood by the door with a thousand thoughts racing through his head. What should I do? What should I say? What if she grew her hair out? Has she met someone else? He wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible. He wanted to make the most of his time with El because he never knew when would be the next time he would get to see her and he couldn't wait one second longer.

El shyly walked up to the big house she had come to know as her home for a short time and decided that there were no first impressions left to make. Mike knew her, inside and out and his parents were aware of her powers as well. So, she stared down the door until it creaked open, but what she didn't know was that Mike's hand was already on the door knob, ready to turn it and run out to her. And suddenly, there he was. Same round, jagged-edged, raven hair that stopped just at his cheekbones, same deep, espresso-colored eyes, same bony nose with a soft tip that pressed right against her cheek whenever they kissed, same lips that she kissed when she missed him most. Same tall, thin, stripe-wearing Mike Wheeler she had loved all of her life…all of her real life. The life that Mike had made for her.

"Mike!" she shrieked with excitement, running towards him, then coming to a sudden stop.

"*smiles, looks into eyes* Hi," she said, this time more calm and shy than before.

They hugged, long and intimate, with their hands cradling each other's backs and heads. Then, their faces left one another's shoulders and found their way back to each other, with El unexpectedly reaching a hand up to Mike's sweet face, giving him a quick peck on the lips, and stepping off of her tippy toes.

He blushed and broke eye contact for a second, looking down at the floor, then back at her. Realizing that they were holding up Ms. Byers, Jonathan, and Will, they stepped out of the doorway, with Mike's arm around her, clutching the side of her shoulder and saying:

"Sorry, *chuckles* we're kind of big fans of hellos."

"Yeah, we noticed," said Will.

Then, he let go of El and leaned in for a hug with Will.

"*pats back* How've you been, man?"

"Oh you know, can't complain."

"Glad to hear it…Well, please, come in!"

"Thanks, Mike," said Joyce. "How are you, sweetie?" she continued, leaning in for a quick hug.

"I'm great, thanks. Can I get you all anything to eat?"

"Oh, that's nice of you, but we actually just made a stop at Burger King before we got here," said Jonathan.

"Is that Jonathan Byers I hear?" asked Nancy coyly.

"You caught me!" he said jokingly.

"Hey, you! I missed you.*kisses*"

"I missed you too, Nance. *half smiles*"

They each walked in and got settled, greeting each of their friends, while Mike on the other hand, was still obsessing over the fact that the girl he loved was finally back home. He just couldn't get enough of her, so he kept her all to himself until he knew he couldn't any longer. He picked her up and spun her around in his arms.

"Whoa! Mike, what are you doi-"

"*noses touch* God, did I miss you!"

"*giggles* What was that about?"

"I told you, *lowers El so she meets his face* I missed you."

*El looks to see if anybody's around*

*kisses Mike with open mouth*

There was something about El's kiss that made Mike just melt. Though she used to barely even be verbal, she felt most comfortable when she was around Mike. She felt like she could fully be herself and didn't even worry about how stupid she might sound. She knew that Mike wouldn't care, that he would accept her and find anything she did cute anyway, but even so, she still from time to time would let her actions speak for her, like Mike taught her to do when he kissed her as he tried to explain the type of person you go to school dances with.

"El!" said Max, running over to her.

"Max!" said El, catching her in a hug.

"Oh my god, it's been way too long! We have so much to catch up on!"

"We really do!" she said, leaving Mike wondering if there was something she wasn't telling him.

Dustin, on the other hand, was also waiting by the door for a special someone and that someone was Suzie.

*doorbell rings*

*Dustin runs fingers through hair, straightens shirt*

*opens door*

"Suzie Poo?"

"Dusty Bun!" she exclaimed, running into his arms.

"Oh, Suzie Poo, I missed you so much!"

"I missed you more," she said in her bubbly little voice.

"The trip here wasn't too bad, I hope…?"

"No, it was just fine!"

"Glad to hear it. Well, please, come in! I want to introduce you to my friends and maybe show you off a little too."

"Aww, Dusty…"

*Dustin throws arm around Suzie, walks away*

"Guys, this is Suzie, Suzie, this is Mike, Lucas, Max, Will, and El," he said, pointing to each and every one.

"Hi, guys! *waves*"

"We've heard so much about you," said Max.

"Yeah, Dustin wouldn't ever shut up about you," said Will.

*Dustin hits Will*

*Will mouths 'Ow'*

"Well, I could say the same about all of you!" she said with a smile.

"So, you sing, huh?" asked Lucas.

*Dustin hits again*

*Lucas also mouths 'Ow'*

"Yes, in fact, I've been in show choir and a bunch of musicals at my school."

"That's cool! Who's your favorite actress, Phoebe Cates?"

*Dustin hits Mike*

*Mike too mouths 'Ow'*

"What's going on?" asked Suzie.

"Will you three cut it out? I don't behave this way around your girlfriends," said Dustin.

"Yeah, well, that's because our girlfriends are your friends," said Mike.

"Well, Suzie could be yours too if you gave her a chance."

"He's right," said Lucas.

"Sorry, we were just playing around. It's really nice to meet you Suzie, truly," said Mike.

Suzie was different from the other girls. She was much more like the boys, with her curiosity and hunger for knowledge, while Max and El, on the other hand, were fierce, but just as girly. Max tried her best to make sure Suzie felt included, knowing how it felt to be the new girl, despite how annoying she sometimes found Suzie to be.

Now, one might think that Joyce was feeling pretty lonely that day with Bob and Hopper no longer in her life and no real close, adult friends of her own, but since Mrs. Wheeler found out about all that had happened to Hopper after having seen them together at the fair, she was really feeling for Joyce and was really there for her at the funeral. In fact, she made it a priority to get to know her better and include her whenever she could. She found that while on paper, she and Joyce were very different people, that they actually had a lot more in common than either of them ever thought they would.

"Joyce! *finishes sipping from wine glass, sets down* Oh my gosh, it's so good to see you!"

"Hi, Karen, how are you?"

"I'm great, thanks! Can I get you something to eat or drink?"

"I think I'm fine for now, but maybe later, thanks."

"Alright. Well, tell me, how's the new house?! I couldn't really get the sense of how you felt about it over the phone."

"Well, we're still taking some time to adjust, but I'm liking it so far. It still feels like something's missing though…I mean, I feel like I left my whole life behind here."

"That's totally understandable that you feel that way. *rubs shoulder*"

"Yeah. It's just different, in all regards, but I feel comfort in knowing that we're finally safe and not living in constant fear and distress."

"*grasps top of her hand* I'm glad too. *removes hand* You've had a rough few years, that's for sure."

"Yeah, tell me about it!" she said.

*both laugh*

Meanwhile, as Mike hung out with Will and El with Max, El started to look a little uncomfortable and anxious. Max soon realized it had something to do with either Mike or Will, as she was staring intensely in their direction. Perhaps it had to do with the both of them...And that's when El finally told Max the truth, the truth about Will and who he really liked.

"El? Seriously?! I mean, you know I believe you, but Will, likes you? I mean, c'mon, let's be real here!"

"What do you mean be real? I'm totally serious!"

"You do realize he's gay, right?"

"No…I didn't. Are you sure?"

"I mean, not 100%, but Lucas has told me some stuff. I'm pretty sure he is."

"Well, I don't know anything about that. All I know is that when he kissed me last night-"

"Whoa, hold the phone! He kissed you?!"

"Keep your voice down! Yes, he tucked me in for bed and then he just kissed me."

"That's just wrong…on like so many levels!"

"I know! What am I gonna tell Mike?"

"Are you kidding?! Nothing! You can't tell him anything! Don't get him involved at all! This will lead to no good, El, trust me!"

"But, friends don't lie…"

"It's not lying if you're withholding information…After all, ignorance is bliss!"

"Ignorance?"

"Never mind, not important."

"But Max, we tell each other everything. We're completely open and honest with each other!"

"Oh yeah, because he was totally telling the truth when he said he was with his Nana!"

"That was one time…and besides, it was my dad who encouraged him to do that…*suddenly gets sad*"

Max noticed this and then said:

"You know what? Forget what I said. You're probably right anyway! If you wanna tell him, just tell him."

"Thanks, Max. I will."

El walked over to the sea of people before her, all of whom were her friends, all except for one. One very special person…and that person was Mike. He was much more to her than a friend. He was the love of her life and she was his. She walked over to him and asked if they could talk…alone, as if they hadn't had a minute all to themselves in ages. He agreed and they walked off together, holding hands like nothing had changed. They walked to the little bathroom in the basement, an odd place for most, but to them it was the place where they almost kissed, the place where they could get a moment away from everyone if they needed to talk…that is as long as Dustin didn't interrupt them for the 40 millionth time.

Once inside, Mike leaned against the sink, his hands pushing off of it with his back turned away from the mirror. El faced him, having trouble getting the words out that she needed to say.

"So, what's up? What'd you wanna talk to me about?"

"Listen, Mike, there's no real easy way to say this because I know that you and Will are really close, but-"

"*crosses ankles, shifts position* Wait, this is about Will?"

"Yeah."

"Oh, *eases up* I thought this was about us."

"Well, it is…but-"

"But what?"

"Jesus, Mike! Will you let me talk?"

"Sorry, yeah, *shakes head* yeah, go ahead," he said.

"*blurts out* W-Will kissed me!"

"I'm sorry…What?"

"I was trying to go to sleep the other night, but you know how I usually have trouble getting to sleep at first?"

"Yeah…?"

"Well, Will normally stays with me until I dose off, just in case I have a night terror or something."

"Whoa, whoa, hold on a second…*pulls El closer to body by the wrists, holds her waist* You didn't tell me you were having nightmares again...Why?"

"*looks in eyes and puts hand on cheek* I don't know, I guess I just didn't want you to have to worry about me."

"*holds hands, moves them with his while speaking* I want to worry about you…because I love you and I don't want anything bad to happen to you ever again for as long as I can help it."

"Oh, Mike! *smiles, slides hand behind ear, kisses*"

Several minutes later, they walked out of the bathroom together, with Mike more confused than before they even talked. They got so distracted by each other that El didn't even get to finish telling him what happened. So, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to have a moment with Will of his own.

"Hey, Will, can I talk to you for a sec?"

"Yeah, su-su-sure."

"SHIT! Shit, this is bad…this is bad!" El said to Max.

"Yep…Mike's totally gonna kick his ass," said Max.

"MA-AX!"

"What?!"

"Not helping!"

"Sorry, I just really wanna see Wheeler win an argument for once…I think it would be entertaining!"

*El imitates her own murderous stare without actually using powers*

"Okay, okay, I'll shut up now!"

"I didn't even get to tell him how it happened…We kinda started kissing."

"Of course you did! *rolls eyes, pauses* Wait, how did it happen though?"

"Well, he was staying with me until I fell asleep and then, he kissed my head when he thought I was sleeping."

"El, you could've specified where he kissed you!"

"I didn't know that it made a difference…"

"Oh, it makes a difference…a huge difference!"

Meanwhile, Mike and Will were having a chat of their own.

"Will, El has brought something to my attention that uh…*shakes head* just doesn't quite make sense."

"Okay…?"

"She uh...*chuckles* she said that you um…kissed her. Is that true?"

"What? No! Of course not!"

"I want to believe you, but I know that El wouldn't lie to me…but then I also know that you had feelings for me, so that only makes this more confusing."

"Well, wait…I think I might've kissed her head one time, right after she dosed off.

"And it didn't occur to you how confusing that could possibly be for her?! Even if parents do kiss their child's head, siblings don't and especially not guys our age, unless you liked her."

"I'm sorry I don't know what I was thinking then, but I don't like her…I mean, I do like her, as a person, as a friend, but nothing more than that, I swear."

*Mike pauses to process*

"Will…"

"Yeah?"

"It's okay."

"Really?"

"Yeah, it's fine. I know you didn't mean it to come off that way. You couldn't have known that she would blow it out of proportion like this."

"Thanks for understanding," said Will.

"Of course *pats and rubs back*," he said.

As soon as they were done talking, Mike looked around for El, but she was nowhere to be found. There was only one place left to look…the fort. And sure enough, there she was.

"*lifts curtain* Hey. Thought I might find you here. Have you been hiding from me?"

"Maybe…" she said.

"*crawls inside, pulls curtain down* Scoot over," he said.

"*anxiously fiddles with and picks at fingernails* I'm sorry about all of this…I probably ruined everything."

"It's okay, El, really, I-I'm not mad at either of you, not anymore at least."

"Really?"

"Yeah, but El?"

"*looks up from nails* Yeah?"

"I'm concerned about you…"

"Why?"

"Because when you had powers, you used to beat bad guys up sometimes, but ever since your powers have stopped working, the only person you've been beating up is yourself and I hate it. I just want you to love yourself like I love you."

"I can't help it…I just. I don't know. All of you guys live so far away now and that's hard enough as it is, but I also don't feel like I really have a purpose without my powers. Like how can I protect you *holds chin* and everyone else? *looks down at nails* I just feel…"

"What?"

"I just feel…empty and lonely, like all the time. And I just don't know what to do about it sometimes."

"I'll tell you what to do about it, you call me. You call me and you talk to me about it. I'm only one call away, El, and literally all I want is for you to be happy. I've been through stuff too, but we can get through this together. You don't have to do it alone. You're never alone as long as we're together."

"I know because I have you," she said, smiling and rubbing his leg.

"And besides, we don't even know for sure if they're completely gone. Don't give up just yet, El."

"Have I ever told you how much I loved you?"

"You mentioned it once or twice."

*playfully punches his shoulder*

"C'mere, you," he said, pulling her in for a one lingering kiss before they both went back to reality and spent time with the rest of the party.

Suddenly, El felt herself start to levitate a little bit off of the ground. This startled her, but she immediately readjusted herself and held onto Mike for dear life so she wouldn't float. Though just a slight movement, El knew it meant more. No, this was something different. It was small enough not to make her nose bleed, but significant enough for her to know that she was somewhat in touch with her powers again and what a comforting feeling that was. In that moment, Mike sensed that El was nervous or that something was distracting her and he pulled away, saying:

"Hey, is everything alright? You seem a little jittery."

"Ye-Yeah, I'm fine. I'm-I'm great actually."

"That's what I like to hear."

As they kissed, with their arms wrapped around and cradling each other, she could feel his heartbeat against her chest, and that's how she knew that she was okay. That she was happy. That she was home.

Chapter Text

[Christmas Eve]

"El...Am I crazy, or is there a piece of mistletoe floating in the air?"

"Mike-" she said, interrupting herself by approaching his face.

"El...your-your nose, *points* it's-"

"I know…" she said with a smile, placing a hand behind his ear and gazing down at his lips.

He looked at her, his face full of shock, as he was still processing the whole thing.

"But-But I thought-"

"*wipes away blood from nose* Mike, just shut up and kiss me already! This mistletoe's not gonna hold itself," she said, each of her words, an echoing breath against his lips.

"Right, sorry! *dorkily chuckles*"

And so, he placed his hands on the side of her neck, his thumbs resting on her cheekbones. He walked towards her, moving in on her face, slowly but surely. His forehead now resting against hers, he looked her in the eyes with intention, his eyelashes brushing upon her skin as he closed them. Then, he latched his lips onto hers, her bottom lip running through his teeth. And his nose bulldozed into her cheek, nudging her face back as his head moved in agreement with her lips and her chin moved in unison to his.

Lips letting go with a light smack, he released her from his embrace. And his elbows escaped from the cups of her hands, leaving her with an empty feeling...All until his eyes found their way back to hers, holding her hostage with his gaze and imprisoning her in his love.

Silent and frozen in place with a focus that couldn't be altered, she was completely captivated by the eyes before her. These vulnerable circles of brown, so charming and so telling, perforated by his pupils which had enlarged at the sight of her. It was almost like she was peering into his soul, seeing not only the good and the bad, but the beauty in him too. Staring at them endlessly made them seem like tunnels in that way. And within an instant, she felt her grip loosen on the floating mistletoe and exhaled in relief as it hit the floor, just as it all hit her...all of these loving feelings that she didn't quite know what to do with. So, she decided to act on them.

Once standing on tippy-toes, she was finally at his level, her eyes still fixed on his. She was completely under his spell and it gave her clarity...it gave her a love that she never thought could be, so what was the hurt in asking for a little more? It just felt so right, so much so that she wasn't ready to let go just yet. And so, she hooked her arms around his neck and kissed him with all her might. And he bent down, hugging her lower back in one arm and her waist in the other, their abdomens nearly touching behind their clothes. Lost in his eyes and found in his arms, she felt reborn.

"*pulls away and smiles* I have so many questions about your powers, but I-I don't want to talk about that right now…" he said, holding her hands.

"Me neither," she said, shaking her head and smiling, their faces still close.

"You-You don't?"

"No, that conversation can wait, and besides, there's nothing wrong with getting a little distracted from time to time, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I do. I mean, we've certainly waited long enough to rekindle this *use air-quotes* spark between us. I think this is just the first step."

"Do you wanna go somewhere more private? Your room perhaps?"

"Did you really even have to ask?" he said.

"*El smiles big, takes his hand in hers* C'mon then! What are you waiting for?" she asked, dragging him up the steps.

El liked seeing Mike this way, more focused on her than her powers because, for most people, her powers were all they saw, but Mike was different.

Lying on their sides, hands in her hair, feet rubbing against hers, arms around his back, slithering down his neck and to his chest, it was safe to say that they made out for quite some time...That was until the thought of her powers came creeping back into his head.

"Wait, El?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm overwhelmed with curiosity right now...H-H-How did your powers come back?"

"Well, if I'm being completely honest, the first time that I noticed it was when we were kissing in our fort."

"What? Why didn't you just say so? *puts hand in lap*"

"I was just too scared to tell you because the whole thing had freaked me out."

"But how did you know they were coming back?"

"I kind of levitated."

"And you weren't trying to?"

"No, but the first time I levitated, I didn't have any control over it either, it just kind of happened. I don't know how to explain it really..."

"Was it kind of like this power just sort of manifested inside of you?"

"Yeah, exactly!"

"Then what do you think gave you the strength to levitate?"

"I-I think you did. I think somehow, you brought it out in me. You made me believe in myself again and your energy just fed into mine. You helped me see just how powerful I actually was when I was powerless."

"Believe me, I only tried to bring out what was already there all along. I know that you've always felt like an outsider, that you've always felt different from others, but your powers, growing up in that godforsaken lab, being an orphan for most of your life, learning English and social cues late...none of that is what makes you you. I mean, sure, it plays a part in it and it's a big part of your identity, but that's not all that makes you special. You're your own person too, you know, aside from all of the difficult circumstances you've been put through. Being different is who you are, it's what makes you stand out and you should embrace that."

"Well, thanks to you, now I know how to separate myself from my powers. *kisses*"

"*smiles briefly* So, so far, all you can do, that you know of, is levitate and lift small things."

"S-S-Sorry, I shouldn't have put it like that I-I- Obviously you can do a lot more than just those things, I just meant powers-wise."

"Mike...It's okay! You respect me better than anyone I've ever met. Don't feel like you have to justify yourself all the time for my sake."

"O-Okay, sorry…*dorkily chuckles*"

"But to answer your question, yes, that's all I can do so far."

"We should try and test it out, the different things you can do. I mean, if you want to of course."

"Yeah, let's do that soon."

"I don't really know a lot about how to bring them out, like what activates them or anything, I mean, I can only base it off of what you've shown me in the past, but I'll try to help you the best I can."

"Just you being here is already more than enough. The fact that you've stuck by my side through all of this and never gave up on me once means everything to me."

"*smiles, lightbulb goes off* Hey, you said that Kali kind of taught you how to have more control over your powers and make them more effective, right?"

"Yeah…"

"And she's like, what, 10 years older than you?"

"Yeah...why?"

"Well, I was thinking...what if you and I go see her and try to figure out how these powers that all of you have came to be exactly. I think if we knew more about that, we might have a better understanding of what we're dealing with here."

"I-I don't know about that…"

"Why not?"

"Be-Because...you don't know what it's like where she lives, what she's like. I know that she cared about me, Mike, but she wasn't willing to give up her dangerous, law-breaking lifestyle. She wasn't willing to sacrifice her belief and obsession with revenge to be in my life."

"If it's too painful for you, then just forget it. I just thought it might help."

"It's not too painful, but-but what if she hates me?"

"Hates you? How could she hate you?"

"I don't know, for leaving her to be with you..."

"She doesn't hate you, El! She knows you did the right thing, even if she disagrees with it."

"You know, I didn't even think about this, but she's probably even angrier at you than she is at me because you're the sole reason I left in the first place. *turns to Mike, grabs him by the shirt* Mike, I don't wanna go…*shakes head* I'm scared that she'll hurt you and I won't be able to stop her because my powers haven't fully come back yet."

"El, whoa, whoa, calm down! You're making a mountain out of a molehill-"

"A who out of a what now?"

"It's an expression. *sighs* Just don't worry about it. You're jumping to conclusions and getting worked up about nothing! She's not going to hurt me."

"*tears up* But everyone in my life gets hurt! *sobs*"

"Hey, hey, hey," he said, pulling her close to his chest, rubbing her back as he hugged her tightly.

"Everything's going to be okay, alright? *kisses head* I promise. I'm not going anywhere! *holds sides of face with palms touching her hair and temples* You just have to trust me on this one."

"*sniffles* You're really not worried about her?"

"No, not at all."

"Okay, then, I guess we can go. I mean, I would like to know how I lost them in the first place…"

"Yeah, exactly! It was just totally out of the blue."

"Yeah, but Mike?"

"Yeah?"

"You do realize I'm gonna need my powers back just to find her in the first place, right?"

"Dammit! You're right…Well, you have a general idea of where you last saw her is in the city, right?"

"Yeah, but something tells me that that wasn't a permanent home, that she's moved multiple times since I last saw her...She was constantly running away from the law and the cops found her hideout at one point when I was with her, so she had to have relocated and I have no idea where that would be."

"Well, we'll just have to manage on our own until then, but we can do that. I know we can."

"I do too," she said, hooking pinkies with him, shaking them back and forth in a togetherly kind of way.

"You know, actually, come to think of it...Hop had a bunch of files on Hawkins Lab, back from when he was investigating what went on behind the scenes there, thinking that Will was somehow mixed up in all of it. I still have them. I kept them because I thought that they might come to some use someday."

"El! *kisses head with a 'mwa' sound* You're a genius!" he said with enthusiasm.

*El smiles and blushes*

Me? A genius? She never thought she would hear those words come out of Mike's mouth, let alone anyone's. I'm not smart, I barely even know my ABC's, I can hardly even count to my own name! she thought to herself. But El often took herself for granted, as she had emotional intelligence beyond her years. Just because you're still learning about the way that the world works doesn't mean that you're not bright in other ways. Despite not believing in his compliment, it made her feel special, like she wasn't just another girl. Like she stood out in all of the right ways.

"Oh shoot...I don't have them with me, so I'll have to look through them when I get home."

"That's okay, just call me when you do and we can talk through and make sense of it together."

"Will do," she said.

And so they spent every waking moment together until it was time for them both to go to bed. Lucky for Mike, their parents had cleared a sleepover as long as El slept downstairs. But he felt comfort in knowing that she was living in his house once again, even if it was just for the holidays.

Chapter Text

The smell of fallen pine needles scattered beneath the tree, the heat of the fireplace hitting your skin, the sounds of people laughing and singing carols next door, the taste of egg nog lingering in your mouth and throat, with decorations and lights everywhere you see. All were new sensations for El, leading her to believe that Mike was right- there was in fact, no happier, more magical time of the year than Christmas.

The night before Christmas, however, Mike and El had agreed that whoever got up first would wake the other person up. El usually liked to sleep in, that was when she could get a wink of sleep at all, but being as excited as she was about spending Christmas with her boyfriend, she struggled to stay asleep and instead popped up early. Quietly tiptoeing up the stairs, she came to find that Mike too was already up, with his back turned to the basement door.

After spending as much time with the boys as she had over the past year, she knew all of their tricks. So, seeing that he was turned around, she decided to put her powers to the test and tap him on the shoulder from behind with her mind, knowing that he would look in the wrong direction the first time she did so.

"Ha! Gotcha!" she said.

"Wha-How?" he replied.

"Figured out I could do that one yesterday…" she said coyly.

He smiled, proud, while also amused by her playfulness. Then, he brought her fingers to his lips and kissed her knuckles, continuing to hold her hands afterward.

"Why were you turned around anyway?" she asked.

"Oh, I-I was gonna wake you up, but it was kind of early and I didn't know if you were still sleeping. I kept nearly opening the door, but then stopping myself because I didn't want to disturb you. I don't know why I'm telling you all of this… *dorkily chuckles, shakes head* You get the idea."

"Quit worrying, Wheeler! *kisses*"

*smiles and blushes*

"*eyes light up, blurts out* Hey! *pauses, holds waist, then says in a soft voice* Merry Christmas…"

"Merry Christmas," she said, her smile projecting onto his.

"So, what do you wanna do now?" he asked.

"I don't know...No one else is up yet."

"Yeah, I know. Well, I guess we could just make some eggos and watch something quietly until everyone's ready to open presents and stuff."

"Sounds good to me."

Though he hid it well, Mike was secretly really eager to give El her present already. Little did she know the trouble he went through to get it for her. There was even a whole story about it.

[3 Months Prior, Starcourt Mall]

"Do you think anything survived in the fire?" Mike asked the fireman.

"Probably a few things. The damage was less extensive in some areas more than others…Why?"

"Well, you see, there was this ring that I was going to buy for my girlfriend and-"

"Oh, god, give me a break, kid!"

"*furrows brows, shrugs* What?"

"You're one of those kids!"

"What do you mean one of those kids?"

"One of those kids who proposes to their girlfriend before they're even out of high school."

"What? No!"

"Uh huh…"

"Look, I realize I'm just some stupid kid, so why even pay any attention to me, right? But hear me out…I was going to buy this teddy bear ring for my girlfriend, until I found out that it was $300. I was broke at the time, so I never ended up getting it and I know it's wrong and stupid to even ask, but if somehow it survived, could I have it?"

"*sighs* I'll see what I can do..."

"Really?" he said, the excitement showing through his eyes.

"Yeah, but no promises that I'll be able to find it and if anyone asks, I had nothing to do with it, got it?"

"Yes, sir," he said.

And so, he patiently waited until he saw the fireman return from inside.

"Well?" he asked.

"I'm afraid-"

*Mike sighs*

"It was right here all along," he said, pulling it out of his pocket with a smile.

"*takes it* Oh, thank you!" he said, ironically getting down on one knee, clasping his hands together, and shaking them in gratitude.

And so, he put that ring in a little red box, having his mom assist him with wrapping it of course, and put it under the tree just before El had arrived in Hawkins. It was simple, but thoughtful and he knew she would appreciate it.

El on the other hand, had had a harder time finding something to give him. She wanted it to be just right, something that he would never forget, something that honored everything he had done for her.

"What are you supposed to give guys anyway?" she had asked Max over the phone.

"That's one mystery no woman has ever been able to solve!" Max replied.

*El sighs*

"Don't overthink it. Just give him something that you think he would enjoy and that would make him happy. Frankly, I think anything coming from you would make him giddy as a schoolgirl."

"*laughs* Thanks, Max."

"No sweat!"

So, after a lot of thought, she was finally able to come up with something good...something meaningful- Hopper's trusty cross pen.

For someone like Mike, a pen would actually be a very practical gift, but the fact that it used to be Hopper's made it all the more special. And so, as Mike was fixing her some Christmas morning eggos, she discretely slipped the pen, encased in a box with big red bow wrapped around it, underneath the tree.

"There you are," he said, setting the plate down on the table.

"Thanks, love," she said, a smile emerging between those rosy cheeks of hers.

"No problem," he said.

After breakfast, they lied down on the couch, bundled under a warm blanket together and quietly watched some television.

"Mike, don't take this the wrong way, but why are squirming so much?"

"I don't know why, but my shoulders really hurt. It kinda feels like there's a knot in my back. I think I may have slept on it wrong or something."

"Do you want me to massage it for you?"

"Sure, if you don't mind."

"Not at all," she replied.

And so she knelt on the couch, straddling over his lower back as she positioned her hands on his shoulders and began rubbing them.

"Good?" she asked.

"A little lower."

"How 'bout now?"

"Yeah, that's it, just really dig in right there."

Mike continued to make noises both in pain and relief as she kept going. She couldn't tell whether or not it was actually helping or working, but luckily she had another thought in mind.

"Mike, I'm gonna try something different, okay? I don't know if it's gonna work, but just trust me."

"O-Okay," he said nervously, eager to know what she was gonna do to him.

And so she intertwined her hands together and turned them inside out, pushing them against the air to stretch them out. Then, she took a deep breath and centered her thoughts, once again, reaching her hands out while staring down at Mike's back with intense focus. Scrunching her fingertips towards her hands, she knew it was working, not only because that oddly satisfying feeling of blood dripping down her nose was back, but also because Mike's hyena-like noises were too.

"I can't tell...Does this feel good?"

"More than good...Great! Can you trying chopping it too?"

"Like this?" she asked, her hands moving like the Karate Kid.

"Yeah, just like that!"

And by the time Mike sat up, even after El had already wiped the blood away from her nose, he had still caught onto the fact that she had used her powers. After knowing her just as El, his girlfriend and nothing more for months, seeing her with powers again felt strange and he had to get used to it all over again. He looked at her surprised, maybe even a little scared, despite feeling safe in her protection.

"What else can you do?" he asked.

*pinches him, nose starts bleeding*

"Ow! What was that for?"

"For being a dingus."

"Well, what else am I supposed t- Yeah...you're right. I sounded like someone who tests products out for a living."

"*laughs* Exactly!"

"I wanna try more though...I know that I can do things again that I wasn't able to before, but I still feel...different," she continued.

"Different how?"

"It's just a feeling. I can't explain it, but when I had my powers, I was very aware of the fact that I had them. I was really in touch with myself and I still don't completely feel that way."

"Well, there's only one real way to know...Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Try to enter The Void and move something bigger?"

"Yeah, and if neither works yet, then we'll know...we'll know that we still have work to do."

"And eventually we can figure out the source of my powers. Knowing that might help me channel them better."

"Precisely."

El liked to watch Mike brainstorm. Whenever a problem emerged, there was nothing that could stop him from trying to solve it. He hated sitting around when he knew he could do something. He wouldn't rest until a plan was set in place and whenever he made a plan, he stuck to it. That was what she loved about him. He was reliable.

"Which first?" he asked her.

"The Void because there's a chance that I can move big things, just not see into The Void. Hopefully, I can do both though."

"Sounds like a plan," he said.

Checkered tablecloth over her eyes, tv static in the background, Mike's hand holding hers, she attempted to enter the empty, echoey, black space, but instead, she just saw the backs of her eyelids and nothing else.

"Anything?" Mike asked, rubbing her index finger with his thumb.

"No," she said, disappointed, yanking her blindfold off.

She sat there for a minute and put her head on his shoulder, telling herself that everything would be okay.

10 minutes later, she was ready to try again:

"So, you were able to lift the mistletoe, but that's nothing compared to the cars you've flipped and thrown in the past...Maybe try lifting or dragging something a little heavier, without hurting yourself of course," said Mike.

"Like a chair?"

"Yeah, that'll work."

"How 'bout I try your dad's La-Z-Boy chair?"

"Are you sure about that? It's pretty heavy…"

"Isn't that the point?"

"I mean, I guess, but just be careful."

"Always," she said with a smile.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them once again, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the challenge before her. Then, she eyeballed the ratty old thing, going over everything Kali had taught her in her head.

Breathing heavily, grunting in frustration, with hands and fingers squirming and twitching, she was struggling. Mike hated to watch her struggle, but he admired her determination through it all.

"El, I don't think it's-"

"Mike, please! Don't," she said firmly.

And so she continued until she couldn't anymore, until her head started to feel light as a feather.

As she started falling back in exhaustion, Mike caught her, saying:

"Easy, easy. You're okay, I've got you."

And so he carried her to the couch, getting her something to drink and then sitting by her feet.

"Look, I know you feel like giving up right now, but that's not who you are. We can take a break for now, and we should, we both need it, but we're going to have to try again at some point," he said.

"*sighs* What use is it! It's never gonna work, not like it used to anyway..."

"Yes, it will! *grabs hands, moves them while speaking* We just need to think through all of the things you were able to do before you lost your powers, that way, we can make sure we've covered all of our bases."

"That'll take forever!"

"This is gonna be harder than we thought, but that's okay, El. They're still in there, I just know it."

"*sits in lap* You're not usually one to be optimistic," she said.

"You're right, I'm not," he said, holding her.

"But I love seeing you this way!"

"Do you know why, why I am this way now?"

"*shrugs* No."

"Guess."

"Because of me?"

"Bingo!"

And he looked at her, her eyes, her lips, but not like that was all there was, but rather like it was merely only a fragment of his attraction to her. Yes, there was so much more to her than met the eye. He looked at her with love beyond his own lifespan, beyond his own understanding. Love so endless, so infinite, so true. Love that lived above what he even knew. Now leaning in, he gave her a kiss that grabbed her lip as it did her attention.

And she pulled away and smiled, her face suddenly turning serious as she said:

"I think I hear someone."

And sure enough, little Holly came running down the stairs, eager to open every present with her name written on the label.

"*whispers in El's ear* Remember she doesn't know about Santa, so just play along, okay?"

"Okay," she said, kissing his cheek and wrapping her arm around his.

"Morning, Holly," said El.

"Good morning!" she said joyfully.

*El nudges Mike*

"*sighs* You wanna sit with us?" he asked.

"Sure," she said, breaking their embrace by sitting in between them.

"You excited?" asked Mike.

"You have no idea!" she said.

"What do you hope Santa brought you this year?" asked El.

"Holiday Barbie or...a Cabbage Patch Kid!"

"Ooh, those are good ones! I'm sure you'll get at least one thing on your list this year."

"I sure hope so!"

*Mike rubs Holly's head*

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

"Yes!"

"*chuckles* What do you want? Cereal?"

"Um...Yeah!"

"Okay, I'll go fix you some."

"El, can you watch her?" he continued.

"Of course! I got this," she said, kissing him.

[2 minutes later]

"I should check and see if Santa ate my cookies!" said Holly.

"I'll come with you," said El, thinking back to when she and Mike snacked on them the night before.

El wasn't crazy about deceiving Holly with this whole "Santa" business, but she knew that it was just something that practically all families who celebrated this beloved holiday did, so she went along with it, finding that for the first time, she was apart of a secret instead of having one that was being kept from her as usual. It made her feel important somehow and responsible. Maybe she was even enjoying it a little.

"He did! He ate them!"

"*gasps* With hardly any left," El added.

"I guess he liked them," she said with a giggle.

As Holly ate her cereal a thought occurred to El.

"Wanna make breakfast?"

"*laughs* We already ate, silly!" said Mike.

"No, not for us, I meant for everyone else."

"Oh. Yeah, sure. That's a great idea! Uh wha-what do you wanna make?"

"Pancakes and eggs."

"Okay. Well, lead the way, Martha Stewart!"

"Who?"

"She's a famous businesswoman who writes cookbooks and that type of thing."

"Oh," she said with a shy smile.

"You want an apron?"

"Sure."

He searched in the cupboard for his mom's apron, the one with the patchwork his grandma had sewn herself. After having found it, he slid the loop over her head and kissed her neck as he tied it in the back.

"Thank you, dear," El joked.

"Sure thing, honey," he said with a wink.

And so they fixed breakfast, side-by-side, enjoying partaking in an activity that neither of them usually had much of knack for. Everything was somehow just more fun when they did it together.

Joyce had taught El how to make eggs herself for whenever she had to go into work early and wasn't able to fix them for her, but El wasn't sure how to make pancakes, so Mike taught her.

After pouring the batter one time and flipping it once ready, he let her give it a try herself. It was one of those cliché moments where the guy stands over the girl's shoulder and guides her hand in whatever she's doing, trying to impress her while also getting closer to her. The only difference was that at this point in their relationship, El didn't need any more reason to be impressed. She was totally and completely captivated by him in a smitten kind of way. She still felt a little fluttery every time he touched her.

"There you go, you got it!"

"All thanks to you…" she said, rubbing her nose with his.

And not long after that, Nancy and her parents came trudging down the stairs with Joyce and Jonathan tagging along.

"Good morning, sweetie," Mrs. Wheeler said to Mike, kissing his forehead.

"Morning, Mom."

"What's all of this?" she asked.

"Oh, that! Um, El and I made breakfast for you guys."

"Ted, would you look at that! Blueberry pancakes, your favorite."

"Oh boy!" he said.

"El, look at you in the apron! You look so cute! Jonathan, would you get a picture of this?" asked Joyce.

"JOY-OYCE!" said El, her face red as Rudolph's nose.

"What? You do! Now stand together, you two, don't be shy."

"Alright, say Merry Christmas!" said Jonathan.

"Merry Christmas," they said in unison.

"On the bright side, at least we'll have some more pictures to hold onto when you go back to your town and I sulk here at home," said Mike, talking through his smile.

"Yeah, true. Good thing we have Jonathan to take lots."

And after a delicious breakfast, they all gathered around the tree, lights and all, but not without making a couple of Joyce jokes.

"Holly, would you like to go first, sweetheart?" asked Mrs. Wheeler.

"Yes, please, please! Can I?"

"Go for it!" said Nancy.

Yanking the bow off and unraveling the wrapping paper surrounding it, sure enough, it was the doll she had asked for.

"*squeals* It's a holiday Barbie!"

"Oh wow, I didn't see that one coming," said Mike.

*El pinches with mind*

*Mike rubs shoulder in pain*

"What are you gonna name it, Holls?" asked Nancy.

"Lucy."

"Ooh, that's a pretty name!" said Joyce.

Next was Jonathan, who got a new tripod for his camera, and then Nancy, who got a typewriter. They went around the circle until it was finally Mike's turn.

"It's just a little something, but hopefully you'll like it," said El.

"It's from you. Of course, I'll love it!"

*El smiles*

"A cross pen!" he said.

Eyes turning glassy, lashes wettening, Joyce put a hand to her mouth, realizing exactly who that little old pen belonged to.

"It-It used to be my dad's. He used to clip it on the pocket of his uniform before he went to work," El added.

"El, this is awfully sweet...Are you sure about this?"

"Of course I'm sure."

"I just wouldn't want to accept something this valuable unless you were totally comfortable with giving it away."

"I am, don't worry. Otherwise, I wouldn't have given it to you in the first place."

"I guess you have a point there. *pauses to examine it* Wow, I love it! Thank you," he said, giving her a hug that she needed.

"I'll take real good care of it, I promise," he said, over her shoulder as he rubbed it.

"I know you will," she said tearily, thinking of when her dad told Mike to be careful back at the mall.

And next up was El.

"Alright, so this one's kind of small, but I have a feeling you're really gonna like it," he said.

She untied the ribbon and tore away until there was a little circle of wrapping paper scraps scattered around her.

"*squeals* Mike, it's so cute! How did you know?!"

"I just know how much you love teddy bears, but there's actually a story behind that."

"There is?"

"Well, yeah, sort of. *clears throat* You remember when Will and Lucas and I were at the mall that one day when we broke up."

"Yeah…?"

"Well, I really was looking for something to get you and when we stopped in this jewelry shop, I knew I had to get *holds up* this ring because it just had your name written all over it, but the man behind the counter said it was $300, so I knew it was way out of my budget."

"Then how did you get it?"

"Well, at first I started saving up, but when the mall burned down, I thought I had lost my chance. Then, I decided to ask one of the firefighters to do me a solid and check and see if it was still there and if it had survived in the fire and sure enough, it did. I honestly probably shouldn't have taken it, but I couldn't help myself."

"Oh, Mike! I can't believe you went through all of that trouble...I just- I love it!"

"May I do the honors?" he asked with a goofy smile, holding it up.

"You may," she said, presenting her hand to him.

And he slid the ring on her finger, thinking about how one day he might actually get the chance to do this at the altar, with all of his friends and family watching from the pews.

"Hold on, I have one more thing for you," he said.

"Wait, what? You can't do that! I only got you one thing…"

"The hell I can!" he responded.

"LANGUAGE!" yelled Ted.

*Mike rolls eyes*

"It's really not much. Just wait here, I'll be right back."

"O-Okay," she said.

"Do either of you know about this?" she asked Will and Nancy.

"No," said Will.

"Nope, no clue," said Nancy.

*El sighs*

Coming back up from the basement, Mike quietly snuck up behind El, signaling the others by putting a finger to his lips. Then, he took a familiar quilted cloth and wrapped it around her eyes, tying it in the back.

"Mike, seriously! What's going on?"

"Just take it off and you'll see."

Despite her confusion, she did as he said, and studied the fabric closely.

"Wait, a minute...This is from-" she started.

"The fort," he finished.

"I-I don't understand though. Why-Why are you giving this to me?"

"It's to use as you continue practicing to travel into The Void again. It's not just some random bandana we find anymore, it's yours. It's your own blindfold, but I mean it could serve other purposes too. I just thought it might be nice to have something that reminded you of home."

"I'm speechless. This- *holds up* This is perfect, Mike! Thank you," she said, hugging him tightly.

Later that evening, they went back down to the basement and hung out with Will, who had recently taken his love of roleplaying and turned into a talent- acting. He was really into making up skits and things and would perform them for Mike and El, much to their enjoyment. Sometimes, they would even take a Magna Doodle and rank his skits 1 out of 11.

After the last one however, El laughed so hard, she practically fell into Mike's lap.

"*wheezes* That was great!" she said.

"That was more than great- That was...hysterical!" he said.

"MICHAEL, DINNER'S READY!" Mrs. Wheeler yelled.

"COMING!" he yelled back, in the most Mike Wheeler way possible.

"I don't wanna move, I'm too lazyyyyyyy!" said El.

"*says seriously* Then don't…"

*blushes, grabs the Magna Doodle*

Then, she stared down until the little pen floated from the side of her leg and began tracing on the board all by itself, but not tracing just anything...

"I...Love...You," he read as each word appeared.

"Aww, I love you too," he said, rubbing the blood away from her nose.

*El smiles, snuggles close*

Chapter Text

REEEE, REEEE, REEEE! That was the obnoxiously shrill chirp of Mike Wheeler's alarm clock going off bright and early one Monday morning, not be mistaken with the sound played in a horror movie when a guy comes behind someone with a knife...although it sure felt like it!

Rolling over, he groaned in annoyance as he was having difficulty shutting it off. It was brand new, this being the first time that he had ever used it. He usually relied on his mom to wake him up with a flick of the light switch, a warm good morning, and a bright smile across her face, but now that he was in high school, Mrs. Wheeler thought it would be best that he start relying on himself to get up on time. As the clock continued to make a cacophony of deafening noise, he repeatedly pressed the snooze button, hitting it harder each time- News Flash: didn't work.

At some point or another, he just decided to give up and yanked the plug out of the wall. It's funny, he was determined enough to try and reach El for 353 days, not giving up on her once, even when there was no sign that she was still around or anywhere to be found, yet he didn't have enough patience in him to fool with this alarm clock for any longer than 2 minutes.

Even after he had already opened them, the cave-shaped curtains that were his eyelids slowly drooped back down and closed in around his eyeballs, enveloping them. He put his hands over his face, wanting nothing more than to fall back asleep and stay in bed all day, but instead, letting out a sigh, he reached over to his lamp and twisted it until it lit up. It was so intense and intrusive that it nearly blinded him, his eyes stinging as if he had just gone swimming without goggles, the chlorine irritating his eyes. Rubbing them, he threw the covers off of his body and headed downstairs for breakfast.

For Mike, Mondays were always a struggle. He used to love school, it used to be his favorite part of the day, but high school was different...Everything he ever thought he knew about school was raised to higher stakes. Somehow, middle school lacked this whole social hierarchy that lived among senior high, or it was much different and insignificant at least. Now, he had cliques to worry about. He had more homework than time to do it in and teachers that didn't give a damn. Above all else, he so missed Mr. Clarke. Most of his new teachers were either boring or mean. Sure, some of them were funny and nice, but where was the enthusiasm in teaching that Mr. Clarke always seemed to have?

"Good morning, Michael," said Mrs. Wheeler.

"Morning, Mom," he said, kissing the top of her head from behind.

"I made you eggs and bacon. I hope that's alright…"

"Looks great," he said, covering up the bitter taste in his mouth with a reassuring smile.

"Well, don't just stand there! Go ahead! Take as much as you'd like."

"Why are you being so chipper? It's annoying."

"Can't a mother just love her son in peace?!"

"I guess so…"

"Sleep well?" she asked just as he sat down at the table.

"Could've been better...and longer."

"Well, that explains why you're such a grumpy pants!"

*glares*

"With that attitude, next time, I'll let you make your own breakfast!" she griped.

*rolls eyes*

It was Mike's first day back since holiday break and already, there was a biology lab there waiting for him. A part of him didn't mind though, as he had always wanted to dissect a frog. But then the unthinkable happened, the worst and least ideal situation possible- Max was assigned to be his new lab partner. Before he knew it, it was too late…

Plopping in the stool beside him, she said:

"Well, this should be fun...right?! 'Cause god knows we get along SOOO well!"

"*sighs* Let's just get this over with before one of us kills each other," said Mike.

"I second that!" she said.

Halfway through the lab, Mike spaced out, daydreaming about El and the wonderful weekend they spent together.

"Mike," said Max. "Mike! *waves hand in front of face* "Hello?! Earth to Mike! *sighs, then tries again* HEY, Frogface!"

*snaps out of it and glares in her direction*

"Geez, who peed in your cornflakes?"

"Back off, Max, I'm not in the mood...

"Aww, how come, Wheeler? Has the holiday spirit left your sorry ass already?"

"Has Lucas dumped your sorry ass already?!"

*imaginary crickets chirping*

"Sorry, I don't know where that came from. That was a little harsh…" he said.

"A little?" she repeated.

*shrugs*

"No, it's okay. I admire your courage...especially since El dumped your sorry ass!"

"THAT WAS ONE TIME AND IT WAS YOUR FAULT!"

"My fault?! You're the one who lied to her!"

"Yeah, because I had to, not because I wanted to...She never would've done it in the first place if it wasn't for you!"

"Why are you pinning this all on me?"

"YOU'RE THE ONE WHO GAVE HER THE IDEA!"

"*comes up from behind and clears throat* Do I need to separate you two?" asked the teacher.

"No, no sir. Sorry…" said Mike.

"Don't make me ask again…"

*Mike gulps*

"I thought we were over that...Why were we even fighting about that in the first place?" asked Max.

"Beats me!" said Mike.

"It was still bound to happen anyway though, the breakup. You know, just because you and El are like the perfect couple or whatever doesn't mean that you're not still just like the rest of us…"

"*sighs* Just pass the scissors, will ya?" he said.

"Wait, how come you get to make the first cut?" asked Max.

"Because I'm the paladin."

"Oh, not this party politics shit again…"

"You know what? You wanna make a big deal out of it, then be my guest!"

"Gladly," she said, her face lighting up.

"Can I at least see the forceps?" he asked.

"Forceps? What the hell are forceps?" she asked, completely puzzled.

"*sighs with disappointment* The-The little tweezer things…"

"Oh! Well, why didn't you just say so?!"

Just as she started to make the first cut, something unexpected happened- the frog came alive! Slippery as lathered soap, it escaped from her hands, hopping around the classroom in a ribbiting frenzy.

"Nice going, Butterfingers! First, Dart, now this!" Mike huffed.

"Oh, would you just put a sock in it already?!"

"That's it- DETENTION! Both of you!" said the teacher.

"For what?" Mike asked.

"Screwing around instead of doing your lab and losing the frog!"

"What? That's crazy! How was I supposed to know it would come alive?" asked Max.

"Not my problem," said the teacher.

"Greaaat..." said Mike.

Later that day, in detention…

"Mr. Moore is out to get me…" said Mike.

"Oh, he is not out to get you! You think everyone's conspiring against you…"

"Because they are!"

"You're just making a big deal out of nothing! He's like this with everyone..."

"Yeah..."

"Have you ever noticed the way that vein on his forehead pops out whenever he yells?" she asked.

"*speaks through laughter* Ye-heh-hesss! I thought I was the only one! It's almost like it has a consciousness. Like there's this blue bulging worm underneath his skin."

"*laughs* Exactly!" said Max.

"God, he's evil…"

"What a prick!" Max muttered to herself.

"I'm glad we finally agree!"

"*chuckles* Yeah."

"Truce? *extends hand*" asked Mike.

"*hesitates, sighs, then shakes hand* Truce," she repeated.

And from that moment forward, or at least for a while, Mike and Max were buds. Something happened between them that day, an unlikely friendship sparked between the two that wasn't there before and it was all thanks to Mr. Moore! Who knew that bonding over the hatred of a mean teacher was an actual thing!

It wasn't all laughs and giggles though...not for El at least. She found that Mike was spending more time with Max and less with her and the same went for Max. One day, when they were in the same place again, she finally confronted him about it:

"Mike?"

"Yeah?"

"Can we talk for a sec?"

"Sure," he said, smiling and rubbing her hip with his thumb as he put his arm around her waist and walked to her room with her.

"What's up?" he asked, sitting down and putting his hand in her lap.

"I'm a little bothered by how much time you and Max are spending together…"

"But isn't that what you wanted, for us to get along better?"

"Well, yes, but *sighs* Mike, you know how much I love you and Max and I'm thrilled that you guys are friends now, but lately, *sighs* you've been kind of distant because you've been hanging out with her more than me and I don't want to be that jealous girlfriend, but I just *sighs* I don't know, I miss you…"

"You know what, you're right...I have been spending a lot of time with her lately and I know that must be hard for you to understand because usually, we're always at each other's throats. I guess it's just that *pauses* we've been frenemies for the longest time and now that we're finally getting along and she doesn't live in another town, I'm spending more time with her without considering how it's cutting into my time with you. *leans closer to face, speaks softly while looking down* For what it's worth, I'm really sorry and if it makes any difference, even when I'm hanging out with Max, I'm thinking about you *looks into eyes, pokes chest lightly* the whole time. And I'm not just saying that either! She always catches me daydreaming...You're the reason why."

"It's okay, Mike, I understand. And I trust you, sometimes even more than I do myself. I know you'd never hurt me, not on purpose at least. I'm just sorry...I feel like I'm always coming to you with a new problem or because I'm paranoid that something's getting in the way of our relationship. I don't want it to seem like I don't trust you though because I do, I so do, I just have trust issues, even when it comes to the people I trust most."

"That's perfectly okay, El. I mean, I am too! I'm always worried that some guy's gonna come along and take you away from me, but relationships don't come without their fears and doubts. Guys, you know, we want you to tell us how you feel, we want you to spell it out for us, not just expect for us to read your mind and automatically know what you're thinking."

"I didn't know that, but I'm glad I do now. And Mike, you have nothing to worry about! I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. No guy could take me away from you. You're the only person I want to be with. You always have been," she said, clutching his hair through her fingers, leaning in, and kissing him like she meant it.

"*pulls away, sighs* Look, this was never meant to be easy, navigating a long-distance relationship. That's why communication isn't only important in a relationship in general, but especially now, both phone calls and expressing our feelings with each other," she continued.

"When did you get so wise? Sounds like you and Ms. Byers have been getting along pretty well."

"What are you talking about! I've always been this way," she joked. "And how do you mean?"

"Can't argue with that. *chuckles, sighs* I just meant that *pauses* when Hopper was getting so annoyed by how much time we were spending together and wanted to have a talk with us, Joyce was always getting on him about having a heart-to-heart with us, you know to create an environment where we-"

"All feel comfortable, trusted, and open to sharing our feelings. Right, right…" she nodded with a smile.

Mike raised his eyebrows, recognizing those very words he once read and realizing that she knew it by heart. She had read that letter over and over, memorizing it without even intending to. She knew it inside out and upside down, like the back of her hand. She still had nearly all of Hopper's stuff, but nothing made her feel closer to him than that letter. That letter was vulnerable and as genuine as you can get. That letter was him. Every sentence, every word, every letter on that page, an extension of his mind, his thoughts, his beliefs, his hopes- his feelings. His soul, his love for El- all of it lived on through that letter, clinging onto her for dear life. That letter taught her so many important life lessons that she carried with her every day since his demise. She found herself always coming back to it whenever she needed a little guidance that was beyond Joyce's help.

For anyone other than her, it had no real value, but to El, it was so personal in a way like nothing else she owned. She had let Joyce read it, knowing how much she cared for him and particularly because the first part was inspired by her discussion with him. She was very understanding about it, not wanting to put any pressure on El to let her read it and leaving it up to her to decide whether or not she got to. The way El saw it, she already knew about the letter, so what was the harm in sharing it with her. If anything it'd only bring them closer, bonding over the man that they had both gotten to know so well.

She had talked about it before with Max, as it often came up into conversation whenever they openly talked about their grief with her dad and Max's brother, but she had never actually seen it. Other than Joyce, Mike was the only other person who had ever read it, let alone laid eyes on it. Mike was El's safety, her rock. He understood her better than anyone else. He was always there for her, no matter what. He took care of her and believed in her when no one else did. He was the love of her life, the most important person to her in all of the world.

"But my point was that that sounds like Ms. Byers talking and I could only assume that would be because you guys have been spending more time together, but honestly, I'd trust her relationship advice more than I would Hopper's any day!" said Mike.

"You'd think I'd take offense to that, since he was pretty much the closest thing I ever had to real dad and stable family, but honestly, I would do the same. *laughs*"

"Anyway, El, you and Max and I, we're going to figure this thing out. We'll find a way where we can all get time with each other, together and separately."

"Yeah, I-I'd like that," she said softly, smiling at the ground and then looking up at him, longing for another taste of those lips.

"Hey, so now that we're together, do you wanna continue looking at those Hawkins Lab files we pulled out on New Year's?" he asked.

"Sure."

"Okay, so where should we start?"

"Let's start with Mama's files."

"Okay."

Sorting through them, he said:

"So, I know you've told me this before, but can we go over what your mom showed you in The Void, just in case it'll help us connect some more dots?"

*nods*

She sat down criss-cross applesauce. She then began to recount how it all started, with her hands in her lap, touching at the fingertips, and her eyes on Wheeler, looking at him directly to make sure that she didn't leave anything important out.

"When I was first born, Papa obviously took me away. Mama came looking for me a few years after that and made it far enough where she actually see me, but then the guards found her and separated us again. And then they stripped her down and put her in a hospital gown, strapping her down to the table and *welts up a little* they-they shocked her, Mike...OVER and OVER again. *sniffles* It was torture! *catches breath* They kept raising the frequencies and eventually it just left her in this vegetable state that she is in now."

And he sat there and rubbed her back for a minute, not wanting to pepper her with too many questions at once when she was clearly still sorting through the files that were feelings, both literally and figuratively.

"I'm sorry, I know this is a sensitive topic for you, so I'm trying to be conscious of that, but when you say they 'shocked' her, do you mean like electrical shocks? Like they hooked her up to some machine or something?"

"Yes, someone put these two connectors on the sides of her head and held them there while Papa ordered the man that Kali and I hunted down to turn the dial to 450 on the machine."

"Jesus, that sounds like electroconvulsive therapy...only, it was used as a form of torture on a perfectly healthy person and not to relieve someone with a mental disorder of seizures."

"I'm just gonna pretend like I know what all of that meant."

*laughs*

"*laughter fades, face turns serious, grabs ahold of shoulder* Hey, they didn't ever do anything like that to you, did they?" he asked, concerned, looking at her fondly and with such endearment as he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

"No, not exactly. I think they tazed Kali sometimes as punishment...Usually, they just made me test out my powers and locked me away in an empty cell if I disobeyed them, but sometimes much worse."

"Mmm," he said, like you do when you hear about something disturbing in the news.

"El?" he continued.

"Yeah?"

"I know you go through this every day, reliving these terrible memories and everything, and would probably rather drop it altogether than continue talking about it, but I'm just so so sorry that all of this happened to you and I feel like I don't tell you that nearly enough."

"I know you are. *holds hand* But I mean, it's not like either of us could've done anything about it."

"I guess that's true, but still I just, I love you so much and I hate that you had to go through all of that..."

"Yeah, but the way I see it, if it weren't for my past, I never would've ended up where I did and I never would've met you! That has to be worse than the suffering I've been through...I can't even imagine living in a world without knowing what a wonderful human being Mike Wheeler is! All I know is...that's not a world I would want to be apart of."

"I love you SO much…"

"I love you more…"

"Not possible."

"Yes possible."

"Agree to disagree?"

"*eyebrows dance* Halfway happy," she added, with a goofy smile.

[Moments later]

"Wait, I see something…" he said.

"What? What is it?"

"MKUltra."

"What's that?"

"It sounds like it was some study conducted by the CIA where they tested drugs' effects on people, specifically LSDs."

"What are LSDs?"

"Oh, they're like psychedelic drugs, so they create these euphoric experiences and make you see things that aren't actually there, you know like hallucinations and stuff."

"Well, what does that have to do with Mama?"

"I-I think she was in it. Here, see for yourself. There's a newspaper article about it. *hands article*"

As she examined it carefully, he turned to her and said:

"You see who was leading the study?"

"Papa…*smacks lips in discontent* I should've known," she said. "What was the purpose of the study anyway?"

"Well, it sounds like the project was active up until the '70s, but it started 20 years prior, so if the CIA was involved, I can only assume that it would have something to do with the Cold War."

"The Cold War?"

"Yeah, you know this fight we've been having with the Commies and stuff?"

"You mean like how the Russians built that base in our mall and everything?"

"Yeah, that's part of it. Our government made it a priority to have the upper hand in this war, and we've been trying to make these scientific advancements to guarantee us an advantage. Some of them we made just for the purpose of making them, but a lot of that technology was designed for the purpose of fighting, so weapons and other forms of ammunition and defense. There's bound to be a document to back it up somewhere around here...We just have to find it."

"Would this help confirm anything?" asked El.

"*mumbles while skimming through* Let's see, 'with the goal of developing'...'used against ENEMIES DURING THE COLD WAR'. That's it! I was right! I knew those Commie bastards were connected to all of this somehow," he said, the excitement becoming more apparent in his voice as he found the answers he was looking for.

"These-These drugs, if the scientists involved were trying to develop weapons to use against enemies during the Cold War, then what were they testing drugs out for exactly?"

"Well, according to what I just read, it sounds like they were trying to develop mind-control techniques to spy on the Commies and have influence over them."

"Wait, Mike, is it cold in Russia?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I just realized something…"

"What is it?"

"Back in the lab, there was this one time when Papa showed me this picture of a man and asked me to find him in The Void and now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure he was Russian."

"What makes you think that?"

"When I found him, he was standing, wearing a thick, green, fur coat and this almost square-shaped fur hat on the top of his head. His arms were crossed and he started mumbling, but I didn't understand a word he said because he wasn't speaking any English. All I know is, if Papa's behind all of this, then-"

"It can't be a coincidence," he finished.

"It sure doesn't seem like it."

"They have to be connected somehow, the two studies."

"But how?"

"Well, let's see…About how old do you think your mom is?"

"Gosh, I don't know...Probably in her 30's at least."

"So, *pauses to think* she was probably still in college around the time she participated in the study."

"*does the math herself* Yeah, that sounds about right."

"Well, according to this medical record, it says your mom had a miscarriage and there aren't any copies of your birth certificate in here or even your own file at the lab!"

"So, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I think your mom was pregnant with you while she was still in the study. I'm saying, I think that they covered up your birth altogether to make all of your mom's claims about Papa kidnapping you appear to be false."

"I think you're onto something...I mean, how else would he have known about me and my powers in the first place?"

"Exactly."

"Okay, but Mike, all we've done today is figure out what happened to Mama. We're still not any step closer to figuring out how my powers came to be."

"Unless…"

"Oh, what is it now?" she said, slightly annoyed by his never-ending theories.

*thinks to self, but no answer*

"Unless what?"

"That's just it!" he said.

"Mike, seriously! What the hell are you talking about?"

"When a woman's pregnant with a child, there are all kinds of things she's supposed to avoid and behaviors she's told not to engage in because there are so many factors that can impede a baby's development. For instance, they're advised not to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or in this case DO DRUGS...Are you picking up what I'm putting down?"

"Yeah!" she said confidently. "No...Sorry, still not getting it."

*chuckles*

"Why are you laughing?" she asked.

"*chortles* You're just so cute…" he said, with smiling eyes.

"*speaks through laughter* Shut uh-huh-hup!" she said, in a cute, pouty way.

"*smiles* Well, anyway, I was just implying that-"

"Wait, wait! I wanna get this right…*clears throat* Were you suggesting that her having used LSDs during all of the nine months she was pregnant with me explain how I was born with special abilities?" she asked, completely catching him off guard.

"Yes!" he said in a slightly surprised tone.

"But using drugs while pregnant doesn't usually cause powers to form, does it? I've never heard of that happening to anyone else. I mean, everybody wants them, but they're considered extremely rare and impossible even, so how would that be possible?"

"No, typically, drug use would just lead to mental disorders, deformities, and other types of disabilities and birth defects, but LSDs are really strong drugs...There's no telling what it could do to a pregnancy, but my instincts tell me that your powers were the result of a mutation caused by them."

"A mutation?"

"Yeah, it's like when something changes the structure of a gene. It could be anything from the elimination, addition, or rearrangement of larger sections of genes or chromosomes."

"So, you're thinking that the drugs they had her use somehow altered my genetic code?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying."

"You're a genius…"

"I'm the genius?! We never would've figured this out if it wasn't for you!"

"What the hell are you talking about? I barely did anything."

"That's not true, El. You provided all of the information, I just made some sense of it. We don't even know if I'm right! It's just a theory."

"Oh, but it will be! It's a damn good one, Wheeler. You should be proud of yourself!" she said, kissing his cheek.

"Thanks," he said, all blushy.

"You know, we could always call Aunt Becky to confirm our suspicions…"

"See what I mean! I'm sitting here like an idiot, trying to come up with this elaborate conspiracy theory to explain everything, meanwhile, here you are, realizing that there was a much simpler solution right in front of me the whole time. I'm no more of a genius than you are, El Byers."
She shook her head with a smile that rested just between her rosy cheeks, showing him just how much his words affected her.

"Just pass me the phone book, Wheeler."

"Right...Sorry!" he said, rummaging for it in the kitchen drawers.

*dials number*

"*picks up* Hello?" she responded.

"Hey, Aunt Becky, Jane here."

"Hey…" she said awkwardly, not expecting her call.

"Look, I know we haven't really talked much after everything that happened, but I want that to change because I really do care about you and I think about you all the time. You're probably still pretty angry with me for taking cash from you and running away, so I understand if you don't want to talk to me, but I just wanted to say that I'm really sorry. It's just- when I overheard you on the phone with social services, I got scared that the bad men were secretly behind all of it and that they might take me away again. Anyway, I know I probably don't deserve a second chance, but if you could find it in your heart to forgive me, I would really love it if we could talk more regularly and get to know each other better. I'd love to come visit you every now and then too because you're some of the only real family I have left..."

"Jane, I'm not mad. I understand that your situation has never been easy and frankly, I probably would've done the same thing if I was in your shoes. Even though we only met once, I really enjoyed our time together. I could use your company. It gets pretty lonely around here sometimes because, well, you know. You've seen her...but yeah, I'd really like that. I've missed you…"

"*cracks a smile* I've missed you too!"

*brief silence*

"Hey, I uh, heard about your old man...I'm awfully sorry," Becky said.

"It-It's okay. I actually moved and now I'm living with Joyce, you know, the woman who went with Hop to see you and Mama a few years back?"

"So I hear!" she said. "How is that going?"

"It's going really well! Joyce is a really great mom to me...She genuinely cares about my well-being and will stop at nothing to make sure that I'm safe. She reminds me a lot of Hop in that way...and Mama too if I'm being honest, like how she fought for me in court and tried to rescue me from the lab."

"Yeah, she seemed really nurturing in that way. A little squirrelly though too-"

"*laughs* Well, that's Joyce for you!" said El.

"But she always had good intentions, and I could tell that even though she had mainly looked into this with Hopper in hopes of finding her son, that a part of her really cared about you too and was really feeling for you and all you had been through," she continued.

"Yeah. I'm really so lucky to have her, but speaking of mothers, I had a couple of questions that I wanted to ask you about Mama. That's actually why I called, but I've been meaning to for a while now anyway."

"Alright, what do you wanna know?"

"Okay, so here's the deal: I recently somehow lost my powers and we're not sure why that is, but now they're slowly coming back. My boyfriend, Mike and I have been trying to figure out how I and all of the other patients in Hawkins Lab gained our powers in the first place, so we've been sorting through all of these files from the lab and about Mama, trying to make sense of it all and we've come up with a theory, but you probably know more about it than we do, so we wanted to fact check it."

"How old did you say you were again?" she asked jokingly.

"*laughs* C'mon, help a niece out here!"

"Alright, give it to me," she said.

"It's a little complicated, so I'm gonna let Mike explain it to you if that's alright."

"Yeah, sure, whatever's fine."

"Okay, here he is," she said, putting the phone to the edge of his cheek.

"Hi, Aunt Becky! It's nice to meet you."

"Likewise," she said.

"Okay, so tell me if I'm getting this right: Terry was an active participant in Project MKUltra, correct?"

"Yes, that's right."

"And about how old was she then?"

"20."

"Okay, and what about when she was pregnant with El? *pauses, then blurts out* Sorry, I mean Jane!"

"Same age."

"Thanks!"

"Well," she said.

"Well what?" he asked.

"Aren't you going to tell me the theory?"

"Oh, yeah, right...Well, I was thinking, if Terry was pregnant with El while she was still being experimented on, then that could only mean that the LSDs must've done something to the fetus, hence, the reason El has powers."

"Who's this El you talk about?"

"Oh shit, I did it again! Sorry, excuse my language, but El and Jane are the same people. El's just a nickname I gave her and she's started going by that. It's short for Eleven."

"Oh, I see."

"It was her number back in the lab," he added.

"No need to explain it, kid, I got it."

"*speaks through nervous laughter* S-Sorry!"

"*laughs* No worries. *pauses* So, back to your theory, I don't know as much about that as I do about what they did to Terry, but it's my understanding that that's what happened. It's the only thing that makes the least bit of sense anyway…"

"I thought so too. Well, thanks! You've been such a big help."

"Ah, it's nothing," she said.

"Well, I'm gonna let El take over, but it was nice talking to you and I hope I'll get to actually meet you at some point."

"Right back atcha," she said.

Handing the phone back to El, she and Aunt Becky gabbed some more before finally hanging up. Toward the end of their conversation, El asked:

"How did you know all of that...what you said earlier, about Hop and Joyce and all?"

"Well, back when Joyce first visited me, I gave her my number so she could call me in case she and Jim ended up finding you. So when your father died, she called me almost immediately after it happened since I was your nearest relative. She asked me if I felt comfortable with becoming your guardian and raising you, but offered to do it herself if I said no. I ended up deciding against it, but I want you to know that it's not because I don't love you, Jane, because I do. I just was afraid that I wouldn't be good enough for you. I was never cut out to be a parent and I knew that you would be better off with her than me. Besides, I had your mother to take care of and I don't think I would've been able to support the both of you financially. So, anyway, that's how I knew about your dad and Joyce."

Face turning red, her lip quivered a little bit as she shed a tear. She wasn't mad at Aunt Becky, not in the slightest! She just couldn't help but imagine what could've been and just the thought of how much her aunt must sacrifice to take care of her mom was just so endearing and hard for her to believe.

Seeing this, Mike mouthed to her:

"*turns her by the shoulder* What's wrong? Are you okay?"

She swatted away at him in the air with her hand, shushing him, and then mouthing:

"Yes, I'm fine. I'll explain later."

"I hope I didn't hurt your feelings...I told you I wasn't good at this stuff," said Aunt Becky.

"*sniffles* No, no, it's not you, Aunt Becky. I completely understand. I mean, would I have loved to live with you and Mama? Absolutely, but it was probably for the best. I think living with my mother when she can't be my mother anymore would've been too painful anyway...It would almost be like I was taking care of her instead of her of me. But as far as the family stuff goes, you're much better at it than you know."

"Thanks, sweetie. I appreciate that."

"What about the move though?"

"The move?"

"Yeah, you knew that I had moved away, but it was 3 months before Joyce decided to do that..."

"Ever since she told me about your dad, I started to realize how absent I had been in your life, so I call her every now and then to check-in and make sure you're doing okay and that's how she told me. I would've called you, but I just didn't want you to feel like I was getting in your business."

"I would've understood, but *sniffles, wipes tears* that's so sweet of you! You literally have no idea how much that means to me…"

"Well, it's the least I could do for my one and only niece."

"I love you, Aunt Becky."

"I love you too...El."

"*cracks a smile* We'll talk soon?" El asked.

"I'm counting on it," said Becky.

"Alright, bye for now."

"Bye. Good luck getting your powers back!"

"Thanks."

*hangs up*

Mike was more than thrilled to see El reconnecting with her family, but being as bored out of his mind as he was, it was no secret that he was slightly annoyed by and envious of how long she had been spending on the phone and not with him. So, he let out a sigh of relief, thinking to himself, Finally! Even so, he still never got tired of the way El's face would light up throughout the entire phone conversation.

"Well, what do you know! You were right all along, Mr. Know-It-All!" she teased in a complementary way.

"What did you just call me?"

"You heard me!"

"I am not a know-it-all…"

"Mmm...Yeah, you are!" she said in an animated, ascending tone.

"Mmm...No I'm not!" he said in a similar, but mocking tone.

"Are too!"

"*giggles through his speech* Shut uh-up!"

"Make me!" she said in an alluring manner that could steer him away from any moment of weakness, and yet somehow, make him weak in the knees at the same time.

The on-going tension between the two filled the room with unpredictability, but Mike silenced it all at lips' touch. It was the kind of kiss that felt a bit rushed, a little impulsive even, but found its purpose in her company. He was quick to start but not to finish, lingering over the moment just as his thumb did with a stroke of her cheek. It was inflamed with passion, leaving El with a hankering for affection all-the-more.

As his face drew away from hers, she opened her eyes, looking a bit disoriented with her hands remaining in the air as if his face was still among them. She found her way again in his eyes, but halted at his lips. Letting out a yearning sigh, she sprung forward, smothering him in a kiss.

Melting at the hands of her touch, he slunk down, his feet swimming around in the soles of his shoes as his toes uncurled in comfort. With his nose nuzzled next to hers, you could hear it audibly, his breathing in and against her skin.

Physical contact was the one thing a phone conversation was never able to bring them, so they always cherished any alone time they could get. Now, with every moment they spent together, they found themselves falling back into that old honeymoon phase that they so terribly missed. Sure, the number of dates they went on these days was limited, but when it came to kissing, one thing was for sure- time was of the essence and the more they sunk into it, the more they lost themselves in it.

"Well, that was uh- *scratches head*"

"Amazing?" she asked.

"Yeah, you could say that again."

"Amazing," she repeated for effect.

He looked at her ridiculously at first. And then he broke out into an eye-closed smile, giving her shoulder a playful nudge.

"Well, I say we call it a day! We have a long way to go, we still have to figure out how you lost your powers, but that can wait," he said.

"Yeah, we've made a lot of progress today...But did we seriously just spend over 3 hours sorting through these files and drawing conclusions about how I got my powers, only to find that Aunt Becky basically knew the answer all along?"

"I'm afraid so," he said with a funny look on his face.

And they both broke out in laughter, losing their balance, and rolling on top of all of the documents that were spread out on the floor.

"*turns to her* But you know what?" he continued.

"What?"

"It was totally worth it because it gave us one very good reason to spend time together..."

"Oh, I can think of another..." she said, alluringly, her face close to his.

"El, my lips are going to fall off if we keep going down this road!" he joked.

"*giggles* Sorry, can't help it! You're just too kissable…" she said, covering his face in loving little pecks.

"*blushes, smiles, gasps* Oh shit! I think when we rolled around, we mixed up a bunch of the files! Now they're scattered everywhere…" said Mike.

"Shit, shit, shit! Hold that thought," she said putting a finger to his lips.

"Here, let me help. It'll make things go faster."

And after finally reorganizing it all, they said their goodbyes, which were always the hardest part about their relationship. They then parted, as they usually did. However, separated by miles, they were ever so pleased with their ability to continue this relationship, despite the distance.