Mike pedaled so fast his bike tires practically left scorch marks in their wake. He was so desperate to get back home to see El that he actually went ahead and braved the Mirkwood shortcut, despite the way it always made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Screw the monsters, Eleven was waiting for him. At least, he hoped she was still waiting. What if she's not there? He couldn't let himself worry about that. Just keep going, one block after another, almost there now, almost there.
He found her standing in his backyard under a bare oak tree, bundled up in her new coat, staring at him, her cheeks pink from the cold. She looked beautiful, but she also looked like she maybe hadn't slept, and he felt a rush of adoration that was tinged with guilt. He dropped the bike on the ground and ran to her.
"El!" he called out. His face was flushed red and he was breathing hard and his hair was disheveled from the wind.
He grabbed her hand, feeling the warmth of it even through her mittens. "I'm so sorry, El, I was such a jerk. I can't believe… I should never have yelled at you like that." He squeezed her palm.
"Mike…" she began, speaking so quietly he had to strain to hear over the rustling of the trees and the rush of distant traffic, "It's okay. Just… can you… can you tell me why you were angry?" She had tears in the corners of her eyes now, and he felt like the lowest form of humanity imaginable. He knew he owed it to her to be honest, but he wasn't sure he would be able to make her understand – wasn't sure he even understood it, himself.
"Well… I guess I got upset because I was embarrassed. Um, because you heard me telling Dustin about – you know – how I like you, and stuff. I didn't want you to find out about that." He scuffed his shoes on the ground and shrugged his shoulders up to his ears.
"Why not?" she asked, tilting her head.
Mike sighed and looked up at the sky, feeling like he was confessing his deepest, darkest secret. "Because… because I know you don't like me. I mean, I know you don't have a crush on me." Mike was too busy avoiding El's eyes to notice her reaction. "We're just friends, and I didn't want to make everything all awkward and weird. Although I guess now it's going to be weird anyways…"
"Mike." El interrupted his ramblings. He finally met her gaze and realized with surprise that she was smiling, with that tiny hidden smile that most people would never even notice but that always made him feel like he had won the lottery.
"Yeah?" he asked, hopefully.
She leaned in towards him, making his heartbeat stutter and his mind go blank. Something about the way she was looking at him made it absolutely impossible for him to move, or breathe, or think straight.
Gently, she reached out and touched his face, brushing her fingers over the freckles on his cheek. "Pretty," she whispered. Next she placed her palm lightly against his chest, right above where his heart was rapidly beating. "Good." She smiled, looking into his eyes and willing him to understand.
Before he could fully process what was happening, she had pressed her lips to his.
It was just as sweet as their last kiss, only slightly longer and with a bit more preparedness on both sides. Mike felt warm and light-headed and had the strange sensation that the ground had given way beneath him, but he didn't mind at all. It wasn't until El stopped kissing him and he looked down that he realized they were both actually floating about a foot up in the air.
"Woah." Mike looked back at El, who blushed and quickly brought them back down to Earth. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a pink paper heart, almost as big as a dinner plate. It was covered in glitter and decorated with hundreds of small, brightly colored stickers. She handed it to him forcefully and stared at her shoes, too shy to watch his reaction.
She mustered up all of her courage and shouted out loud, "Mike… I crush you!"
It wasn't exactly the typical way to use the phrase, but Mike knew what she meant – and what she meant was making him want to do a cartwheel right there on the lawn.
"Really?" he said, still a little stunned. "You crush – I mean, you have a crush on me?"
She nodded, biting her lip and slowly meeting his gaze. The look of absolute wonder in his eyes made her feel like the most important person in the universe.
"I have a crush on you, too!" he blurted out, his eyes bright.
She almost laughed. "I know, remember?"
Mike blushed and chuckled. "Oh, right." He felt giddy and off-balance, almost like when his parents had given him his first ever glass of champagne for New Year's and he'd ended up giggling so much he nearly fell off the couch.
He suddenly realized that El had been standing out in the cold for twenty minutes waiting for him, and he felt a pang of concern. "Let's go inside, El, you must be freezing."
El was feeling anything but cold, but she went along with him as they walked through the back door to his basement. They sat together in the blanket fort, Mike's arm wrapped around El's shoulder and her hand resting on his knee. Mike was studying the Valentine she had given him as if it were a priceless work of art, an irrepressible smile on his face. "I never made a Valentine before," said El, shyly. "Did I do it right?"
Mike nodded forcefully, and her heart soared. "It's perfect, El! Thank you." He frowned. "I feel bad I didn't get you anything."
What more could I possibly ask for, thought Eleven. This is everything. She almost told him so, but suddenly he stood up. "Stay there! I'll be right back!" he said, excited. She nodded and he bolted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She listened with curiosity as he crashed through the house above her, running into tables and rummaging through drawers. "Ah-ha!" she heard him shout, and she giggled.
He came back down the stairs and his expression reminded her of the way he always looked just before he surprised the other boys with a particularly exciting twist in one of their games.
"Mike, what is it?" she asked, trying to see what he was holding behind his back.
"I actually bought you this for Christmas…" Mike confessed, blushing, "but I was too chicken – I mean, I was too scared – to give it to you, then. Because… well, you'll see." He took her hand and dropped something cool and smooth like a pebble into her palm. She brought it up to her face to examine and gasped, entranced. It was a small crystal heart strung on a delicate gold chain. "It's not a real diamond or anything," he explained, apologetic, "but I thought you might like it. Do you – do you like it?"
El nodded, still staring down at the crystal in wonder. She couldn't believe something so lovely could be hers. "It's beautiful," she whispered.
It means that my heart is yours, he thought, but didn't say out loud, not wanting to sound like a complete cheese-ball.
Mike offered to show her how to fasten the chain around her neck, but El seemed content to hold the little pendant in her hand, liking the way it felt against her fingertips and the way it shimmered in the light. Mike sat back down and El nestled into his shoulder. "Look at all the colors, Mike!" she murmured, turning the necklace this way and that. "Where are they coming from?"
Mike was glad he'd paid attention during this lesson in science class. "They come from inside the light," he explained. "White light has all the colors mixed together inside of it, and when it hits glass at just the right angle, the light is refracted – that is, it's split up – and you can see each color individually. Like a rainbow."
El tilted her head. "Rainbow?"
"Oh! Right," Mike said. "Sometimes, when it rains, the sun comes out and shines through the raindrops and the light gets refracted, and a huge colorful arch called a rainbow appears in the sky." He gestured with his hands, showing her the shape.
Eleven's eyes were as big as saucers. "Really?"
Mike nodded. "Rainbows don't happen very often here, but when they do, it's the best! Even grown-ups get excited when they see a rainbow." He grinned and squeezed her hand. "You'll see it one day. I'll make sure."
"It sounds like magic," sighed Eleven, closing her eyes to try to picture it.
"It does, doesn't it?" Mike said, smiling. Then he had a thought.
"Speaking of magic… what happened to our, um, mind-connection-thing?"
Eleven looked down sadly. "I think it's broken. I tried talking to you last night, but it was like… you weren't even there anymore."
Mike frowned. "I'm sorry, El. It's all my fault." He rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. "I'm here now, so should we give it another try?"
She seemed unsure. "I don't even know how I did it, before."
"Just try," he encouraged, then hesitated. "If you want to, that is. It's your powers, so it's up to you."
"No, I – I want to," she mumbled shyly.
"Do you need to eat something first? Get your energy up?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
She smiled and shook her head. "Just… here." She moved over to sit across from him, holding both of his hands, their knees almost touching.
"Do I need to do anything, or…" he offered, nervously.
El nearly rolled her eyes. "Just stay still."
El caught Mike's gaze and held it. He felt his face getting hot and his heart started to pound. Her eyes were just so intense, deep and dark and beautiful. Her eyelids fluttered closed and he felt like he could almost see her marshaling her psychic powers with every twitch of her eyebrow or flex of her jaw. He knew he had no special abilities himself, but still he tried to focus on her, figuring that since he had inadvertently severed their connection, he might be able to help repair it. When she opened her eyes again, they nearly swallowed him whole. Mike heard a ringing in his ears and his palms started to sweat. He tried not to think about the fact that she had the capability to literally melt his brain.
He jumped in surprise, hearing her voice in his head, then let out a laugh. "You did it! I heard you!"
El smiled weakly, coming out of her trance. He noticed the blood dripping from her nose and wiped it away with his sleeve, not caring about the stain. He pulled her into an embrace, gently tracing patterns over her scalp with his fingertips. "Does it hurt?" he asked softly.
"A little," she admitted. "But it's worth it. Now I can talk to you whenever I want."
He smiled. "I'm looking forward to it." He stood up, ignoring her protests. "I'm going to get you some food, okay? I'll be right back." He was about to head upstairs, but then he hesitated and blurted out, "Hey, El? Uh, you still can't read my mind, right?"
El giggled. "No…" He sighed with relief and walked up to the kitchen, opening the freezer.
Well… not yet, anyway, he heard her say in his mind. And then: Mike! Do you have any Eggos?
He smiled a rueful smile and looked at the box of blueberry waffles in his hands. There were some things you didn't need psychic powers to predict.
I'd like to thank every single one of my reviewers for being amazing and keeping me motivated. This is the first time I've ever finished a fic that was this long, and you guys are absolutely the reason.
Please let me know what you thought of this chapter! I know expectations were kind of high, so I'm a little nervous. I finished this part very early on so I've been really looking forward to sharing it with you all.
As for what I'm writing next... I haven't decided. I have an idea for a more action/adventure type story where Mike and the boys go looking for El... but I also have some mileven fluff ideas still kicking around in my head... so we'll see.
Thanks again, and please leave a review with your reaction to the chapter and the story! :D