"What the hell are the two of you doing here?" Steve asked for what felt like the twelfth time that day. He had his hand on his face and a defeated sigh on his lips. First, a bunch of kids come over when he was explicitly told not to let anyone come in and now his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend are here? What a day!
"Gee Steve, nice to see you too," Nancy pointedly shot back with a glare. "I'm doing well, thanks. Why yes, it is cold outside."
"Oh cut it out, Nance, you know it's weird as hell for the two of you to show up at a cabin in the middle of nowhere," Steve replied, his own eyes narrowing to match her glare.
Nancy opened her mouth to say something, but Jonathan stepped in before the comment could leave her lips. "We're just here to pick up our brothers." Steve regarded him for a moment but decided to step aside to where the now pouting kids were gathered.
"Come on, Nancy, I just got here," Mike whined, a defeated look on his face.
"Can it, Mike, you know you're not supposed to be here," Nancy shot back with a roll of her eyes. "Now come on before Chief Hopper comes home and kills us all."
"Hopper is a reasonable man," Lucas said weakly, as though he didn't actually believe the words coming out of his mouth. "I mean, I'm sure he'd be pretty cool about... Everything." He glanced at Eleven and then back at the group who did not seem to agree with a word he just said. "Yeah, we're dead if he finds us here."
"Then how about all of you get the hell out," Steve shot back as he turned to face the group of kids gathered by the couch. He felt bad kicking them out of the cabin, especially because El seemed to have livened up by them being here. But, he also was happy not being dead meat. "Because from what I understand, it's pretty illegal to kill a bunch of kids, but I'm sure Hopper will have no problem killing me."
"That depends. Is there a reason for me to kill you?"
Everyone jumped at the additional voice and turned, stunned and scared, to see Chief Jim Hopper standing in the doorway of the old cabin. He had one eyebrow raised and his mouth was formed in a thin, neutral line. There wasn't a peep to be heard in the whole house, probably in all of Hawkins for that matter. Everyone was stunned into silence, afraid that their next words would be their last.
Except, of course, for Dustin, who whispered out a "Holy shit," much louder than he likely meant to.
"Holy shit indeed, kid," Hopper replied, glancing between the kids crowding around the couch, to the teenagers standing in the kitchen, to Steve who looked like he was going to either cry or turn into dust and float away.
"I-I'm… This isn't what it looks like Chief, uh Sir. Sir Chief," stammered Steve.
"Oh, really?" He asked and opened his mouth to say more, but El had hurried over and had wrapped her short arms around his waist. He glanced down at her, eyes shining with the love of a father, and for a moment found himself happy beyond words that she was awake and alright. "Hey, kid. Feeling better?"
El looked up at him and smiled, lopsided and untamed curls bouncing up and down as she nodded her head. "Better," she confirmed. She stepped away and gestured to all of the people in her house. "My friends came."
"Yes," Hopper said, following her gaze. "Which they weren't really supposed to do." He glanced at Steve, who felt an icy dagger go through his heart. "I hope they didn't overwhelm you."
"No," El replied fervently. "No, they made me better."
Steve swallowed thickly and opened his mouth. "I'm so sorry, sir, the kids, they just kinda came. And they kept coming and coming and I was trying to get them to leave. I know you said no visitors, but it… but they really seemed to help. El was up all day feeling just fine. I think-if I may, sir-I think they helped."
"Huh." Hopper flattened his lips and bit the insides with his teeth. He looked at the kids again, and then back to the teenagers, and then back to Steve. "That's quite a spin, Harrington."
Steve opened his mouth again and then closed it, not quite sure how to respond to that. He didn't know if Hopper was regarding him favorably or not, but there was no malice in the older man's tone, so there was still hope.
"Chief Hopper," Nancy said, stepping forward. "I'm so sorry for intruding, I was just picking up Mike. But, from what Mike tells me, El had a great time today. I think the kids really needed this chance to get together. You know, they haven't been together since… Well, you know. I think they needed this." The words bubbled out through her lips and then she immediately bit down on her bottom lip. She peered up at the Chief, wondering if that was enough.
Hopper considered this for a moment, and then his eyes softened and his face relaxed and he pulled El into a big hug. All was well.
"Yeah, yeah," he laughed as the whole room untensed and breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't know, Harrington, but you've managed to be both the best and worst babysitter I've ever known."
"Uh, thanks, sir. I think."
"Alright, anyway, it's getting late, so get out of my house," Jim continued and the kids just nodded glad to have their lives spared. Nancy and Jonathan took Mike and Will and Dustin also bummed a ride with them, and Lucas took Max home on his bike.
Steve grabbed his backpack, said goodbye to El who had parked herself on the couch again and walked towards the kitchen and front door. Hopper leaned against the wall, watching him and Steve still felt a little nervous.
"I'm, uh, I'm still really sorry, sir. I didn't mean to… you know, let all the kids in."
"So you just wanted to let a few in?" asked Hopper, though he immediately felt a little bad seeing the surprise and fear hit Steve's eyes at the question. "I'm kidding, kid. It's fine. I was being a little overprotective, and seeing how happy it made the kid, I'm glad her friends were able to come over."
Steve relaxed and smiled back. "Yeah, she really did enjoy it. So, um…" he shifted nervously once again. "Uh, about you know, working for you…"
"Oh." Hopper laughed. "Nah, I'm not gonna pay you."
"I'm really sorry about letting the kids in and-"
"Oh, no. I wasn't planning on paying ya anyway."
"Oh." Steve paused and felt a little insulted that Hopper had planned on using him for free labor, but also relieved that his mess up wouldn't have affected his pay. It was a weird feeling and, frankly, it had been a weird day, so Steve figured he'd just call it a night. "Alrighty, then, night Chief."
Hopper moved and reached into his pocket, pulling out a crisp green bill and handing it to Steve. The boy, though surprised, smiled and tucked it into his palm. "Thanks, sir. I really appreciate your…" He glanced at the bill. "Uh. Dollar."
"Yeah, it's all I got. Now, get outta my house."
And so Steve headed out to his car, glad to have made it through the day alive, and, though he wouldn't admit it, glad he got the chance to see the kids here. Together, not beating up creepy older brothers or fighting monsters. Just hanging out, watching some movies and being kids. He hoped, as he started his car and drove down the deserted Indian streets, that there would be far more of these kinds of days to come.
It's here, it's finally here! I'm so sorry for how long this took, I really am. I had the most ridiculous week at work and then the Holiday season just came up and I've barely stopped. I'm SO sorry, but I hope the end is worth it! I'm marking this complete, but I may build more oneshots off of this story and add them, so please shoot me requests if you have ideas.
Thanks for hanging with me, I really appreciate it. I'm so sorry again! Enjoy!