Happy New Year! Sorry for the delay. I guess I got caught up with writing new stuff about the new season... and then it was the end of the semester... and then I went to Paris... lol it really has been a while. I'm sorry.

Hope you like it! Thanks for reading.

Just about everything El saw in the Byers house made her burn with curiosity. The wallpaper, for example - who ever heard of a wall with little flowers painted on it? El had never seen anything like it. She traced her fingers over the shapes, eyes wide, while Mike and Will and Dustin and Lucas talked over each other in an effort to give Will's mom the full story of El's imprisonment and their impromptu rescue mission.

Every once in a while, El glanced at Mrs. Byers, trying to gauge her reaction, trying to figure out what to expect. There was something about the older woman that made El want to trust her, but she knew how quickly, how easily, it could all fall apart.

El felt like she hadn't even known how much she had wanted to escape until she finally did it. Now she knew there was no way she was going back. She had friends now. She had Mike. The way it felt when he hugged her, when he told her about the moon, when - when he kissed her… how could she possibly live in a cage again after all of that? She knew with an absolute certainty that she would do anything to stay with him. She would stop at nothing, burn down every building they tried to lock her away in, even if she had to burn herself too.

But maybe… maybe… (she allowed herself to hope) maybe they would stop looking for her. Maybe now that her Papa was… gone…

She flinched. That wasn't something she was ready to process.

"El… Eleven?" Joyce said cautiously.

El looked up at her from the corner of the room where she had been studying the wallpaper. "Yes?"

"Um, do you maybe want some clean clothes? The suit you're wearing, it doesn't look… very comfortable."

Eleven's eyes widened. "Clothes?"

Joyce grinned at the girl's awestruck expression. "Yeah. Yeah, come on." She beckoned El forward into her bedroom.

She didn't know how to describe the lavender scent that hung in the room, but she knew she liked it. It felt - comfortable, like warm blankets and someone reading to you aloud. It made it easier to smile hesitantly back at Joyce as she opened up her closet and started digging around inside.

"You're a tiny little thing, aren't you?" said Joyce, almost to herself. El shrugged, shrinking her shoulders down.

Joyce caught her worried expression and smiled compassionately. "It's okay. Jonathan was small for his age too, and look at him now! He's a giant."

El nodded, a little confused. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be as tall as Jonathan, who could barely fit inside Castle Byers. But she supposed it didn't really matter.

"Well, we'll find something for you. I've got a bad habit of never throwing away old clothes." Absentmindedly she gestured to El to come closer. "Take a look, see if there's anything you like."

El stepped forward hesitantly, fighting the urge to gasp. She had no idea that one person could have this many items of clothing. Shirts and pants and shoes and… and dresses!

"Ooh, how about this one?" Joyce said, pulling out a dress with an alacrity that made El flinch in surprise. "Too short on me nowadays, but I bet you'd look nice in it."

It was a simple sleeveless housedress, brown with green and yellow abstract flowers all over it - left over from Joyce's hippie earth-mother period, it wasn't exactly something a typical teenager would gush over in 1983. But El nodded furiously, her eyes lit up with happiness as she stroked the soft cotton fabric with her fingers.

The dress hung off El's body like a sack, the hem reaching the top of her knees, and the dark color made her look even more unnaturally pale than before. When she re-entered the living room, she smiled shyly at Mike as he stared at her, his face turning red.

"Here, El," he managed to say. "Come and eat."

El stepped forward into the kitchen and marveled at the shiny formica tabletop. She'd never seen a glittery table before and she brought her face close to examine the specks of color in the material.

"You can sit down, if you want," Mike murmured. She sat, wondering what food would look like in this strange, beautiful place.

With a startling clang, Jonathan set a plate down in front of her. It was piled high with steaming yellow mush and pieces of delicious smelling brown squiggles. She looked at Mike questioningly.

"It's bacon and eggs," he said, reassuring. "You'll like it."

"Breakfast feast?" she said with a hesitant grin.

He smiled widely in return and nodded. "Breakfast feast." It felt so good to have her here, to see her warm and clothed and fed and taken care of. It felt like everything he'd ever wanted. "Try the eggs on their own first, and then I'll show you how they're really supposed to be eaten."

"Oh no you don't," Dustin interrupted. "You are not corrupting her with your insane syrup-and-scrambled-eggs bullshit."

"It's not insane, Dustin! Just because you're too much of a baby to try something new…"

"I try new things! I tried minestrone soup last week!"

Mike rolled his eyes, his tone sarcastic. "Oh wow, a new soup. You're an inspiration to us all."

Dustin glowered. "Hey, you don't need to be a dick."

"Yeah, Mike," said Lucas. "Besides, Dustin's right. Nobody in the world puts syrup on their eggs except you."

"Just let her try it!" Mike said, his voice cracking in his excitement. "Maybe she'll like it. You don't know."

"Should she try frozen peas in her apple juice too? Maybe she'll like that!" said Dustin, throwing up his hands.

El's eyes narrowed in disgust. "No peas."

The boys looked at El in surprise as if they'd almost forgotten she was there.

"No. Peas." she repeated, her voice low and dangerous. Will would have sworn he saw the lights in the house flicker.

Mike chuckled nervously. "Okay, okay, no peas. Dustin was just kidding. Right, Dustin?"

"Yes. Yes, definitely," Dustin said, nodding so fast his hat almost came off. "I'm just trying to protect you, El! Just because Mike is your soulmate or whatever doesn't mean you have to put syrup on your eggs like a crazy person…"

Mike punched Dustin in the shoulder, hard. "Shut. Up." he growled.

El's eyes crinkled in confusion, looking between Mike and Dustin. "What is… soulmate?"

"Nothing. Nothing. Dustin was just kidding, again," Mike said. His face was practically on fire. "Here, El," he said, picking up the syrup and pouring it onto the corner of her plate. "Try a little bit."

She smiled at him and picked up her fork, cautiously grabbing a large chunk of fluffy eggs and dipping it into the sticky puddle of syrup. She took a bite, frowning in concentration while Mike stared at her hopefully.

Then she gagged and spit her bite back onto the plate. "Eugh!"

The group exploded with laughter while Mike put his head into his hands.

"Oh, god, that was priceless," Dustin said, clutching his sides.

"Sorry, Mike," El said earnestly, wiping at her mouth with her sleeve.

"It's fine," he said, morosely, making his friend crack up all over again.

Meanwhile, Joyce picked up the phone and dialed the number for the police station.

"Hopper? It's Joyce. The kids are back."

"What? All of them? Are they okay?"

"Yeah, they're fine. They spent the night in the woods, but they're fine."

She heard him sigh with relief, then move the phone to his other ear. "Look Joyce, I don't know the whole story, but it sounds like that lab was dealing with some top-secret stuff. If the kids are wrapped up in it…"

She bit at her nails and nodded into the phone. "They are."

"Shit. Okay." Hopper took a breath, thinking. "We shouldn't talk about it now."

"Why not?"

"Joyce, the guys on this case are no joke. They might have already bugged the line."

"You're not serious."

Hopper grimaced and sucked air through his teeth. "I'll be at your place in twenty minutes. Be ready."

"Ready for what?" Joyce said, her voice high and nervous.

"I don't know," he said. "Anything."

When Hopper walked in and saw the Russian spy sitting at Joyce's breakfast table next to Will and Mike and Dustin and Lucas, his first thought was to curse this woman's goddamn gullibility. His next thought was to get out his gun.

"You four. Step away from the girl."

Joyce's face went pale. "Hopper. Hopper! What the hell are you doing? Put that thing away. She's just a child, she…"

"She's not who you think she is," he said through gritted teeth.

Mike stood up and threw himself in front of El. "Don't hurt her!"

Hopper tried to sound calm, reasonable. Not an easy task when you're pointing your gun at a couple of twelve year olds. "Mike. Kid. You don't know what you're doing. She burned down Hawkins Lab. She's a Russian spy, and she's dangerous."

"No, you don't know what you're doing! She's not dangerous, and she's not Russian! She's just a girl, a girl they imprisoned for their stupid science tests!"

Hopper stepped closer, his eyes never leaving the spy's face. "I know that might be what she told you, but it wasn't true." He reached out for Mike's shoulder, trying to push him away.

Suddenly Hopper was down on the floor, his gun falling out of his grip and spinning into the girl's hands. He tried to stand up again but it was like some invisible force was holding him in place.

"El, don't hurt him," Mike was saying softly. "He's not bad, he just doesn't understand. He can help us. We just have to explain it right."

El nodded, her features relaxing slightly. She held the gun out for Joyce, but her eyes never moved from Mike's face. Joyce grabbed the weapon and quickly disarmed it, her hands shaking.

Hopper finally managed to stand up, rubbing his back, bruised from the sudden, hard fall. "How did you do that?" he asked. No one in the room had ever heard him sound so frightened, so shocked. "What… what are you?"

"She's a girl, Hop," Joyce said quietly. "We've been telling you. She's just a girl."

Chief Hopper wasn't easily convinced, but he listened carefully, watching Joyce's fiercely persuasive eyes as she talked. He had to admit, the government's story hadn't exactly made much sense. He had seen enough of the world to recognize a cover-up when it was pointed out to him. And this girl - he understood why Joyce had wanted to protect her, why the boys had done what they did to get her out of that lab. She'd taken the gun right out of his hand, thrown him to the ground without touching him, like he weighed nothing at all - and then gone back to studying the surface of Joyce's kitchen table and slurping up scrambled eggs. She was a child, and he saw that now, and it made him feel guilty as hell for having threatened her, however understandable his motivations.

He refused to admit to himself how much she reminded him of Sara.

"Okay," he said finally, rubbing his hands over his face. "Okay. I believe you."

The boys sighed in relief, grinning at each other. Joyce smiled, putting her hand on his arm.

He continued, his next words bursting their bubble. "But the kid can't stay here."

"What?" shouted Mike and Will. Joyce stared at him questioningly.

Hopper continued, looking around at the boys. "The government, they know all of you kids snuck in to the lab to rescue her. They know your names, your addresses. It's only a matter of time before they start coming around doing interrogations. Searching houses."

"So where do we take her?" asked Nancy.

"I have a cabin up on Lakewood Drive," Hopper said, thinking fast. "I can take her there and she can lay low until the whole thing blows over."

Mike shook his head, quickly growing agitated. "No. No way. You had a gun pointed at her fifteen minutes ago. How do we know you aren't gonna sell her out?"

Hopper rolled his eyes. Teenagers were impossible. "Mike, you've gotta trust me. I'm not going to…"

"Next option," Mike said, crossing his arms and glaring at the chief.

Jonathan started pacing, thinking it through. "It's gotta be somewhere totally unconnected with any of our families. Somewhere they'd never suspect."

"Where, though?" asked Lucas. "We don't have all have secret hideouts lying around."

Suddenly Nancy spoke up. "I know a place. A… friend's house. His parents are out of town."

Jonathan and Mike raised their eyebrows, having a good idea what she was talking about. The others looked confused.

Hopper nodded, glancing between El and Nancy. "That could work. But you've got to take her there alone. The rest of the kids need to be back at home, acting like everything's normal, in case the special agents show up."

Mike shook his head again. "No way. I'm not leaving her. I promised I'd keep her safe."

Hopper let out an angry breath. "Kid…"

"Let him go along, Hop," Joyce said, putting her hand on his shoulder. "He'll look after her. He's a good one."

"Besides, he's a shit liar anyway," chuckled Dustin.

Mike felt the urge to argue but shrugged it away. "Come on El," he said, grabbing her hand. "Let's go with Nancy. We'll hide out for a little while."