The second after Hopper begrudgingly promised he'd give thought to the all-important matter of the Snowball, Eleven sprinted to the phone to relay the good news to Mike. She was dialing in his number, which she had, by now, memorized, before realizing that he probably wasn't home yet — he had just left, after all. She put the phone down and started to pace impatiently, throwing glances at the clock every few minutes.
Eventually, Hop called her to dinner. She wolfed down the food, barely tasting it in her excitement, and brought her plate to the kitchen and rinsed it, just like he had taught her, before racing to the phone and once again dialing Mike's number. This time she pressed the talk button and brought the phone to her ear, bouncing excitedly and choosing to ignore Hopper's dry comment about not being able to survive an hour without talking to her boyfriend.
"Hello?" It was Mike who answered, surprisingly; usually it was Karen, and if not her, Nancy. El wasted no time contemplating this, though.
"Oh, El? Hi—"
"He said I could go!"
"He— what?" Mike sounded bewildered
"To the Snowball!"
"No, I didn't!" Hopper called from the kitchen.
"Oh, that's great!" Mike said, and El could hear the grin in his voice. She closed her eyes and pictured it, spreading across his face like a big crescent moon. She allowed her mind to enter the phone, felt it race through the wiring, merging with the electricity, and for a moment she could literally see Mike, standing in blackness with the phone pressed to his face. His grin was the exact one she had pictured.
She smiled, feeling like her heart would burst. "I know," she replied earnestly.
"Hey, I don't know what you kids are planning, but I did not give you my permission yet, kid," Hop called, his voice indignant. "You make sure your little boyfriend knows that."
"Hopper says to tell you that he didn't give his permission yet," El said, shooting her foster father a beaming smile.
"Oh." Mike's tone fell. "So why did you say—"
"Don't worry. He's just being Hopper," El told him. The chief turned toward her, a glare creasing his face. She just smiled at him again, meeting his frowning blue eyes. He huffed and turned away, but El knew he would be smiling, too.
Tough guy, she mouthed at him. It was an expression she had picked up from Dustin and Lucas's bickering antics. She hadn't understood the insult at first, and what followed was a long, complicated discussion on the nuances of sarcasm. Max had been incredibly excited, and, predictably, had led that particular lesson.
"Holy shit, El, if you turn sassy I might have to take you away from Mike," she had said, laughing. "I want to see you putting people down left and right."
"As if we don't get enough of that from you," Lucas jibed.
"Please," Max had scoffed. "I'm not enough to penetrate that thick skull of yours. We need another man on the job."
"I'm not a man," El had pointed out.
"Figure of speech."
"Oh," Mike was saying, dragging El's attention back to the phone call. "Got it." She could hear him smiling again. "I'm really excited, El."
She had to blush. "Me too, Mike. Can you…" She hesitated.
"Can you tell me what… is there?"
"At the Snowball?" Mike paused, gathering his thoughts. "Well, I've never been, but… I'm guessing there'll be music. And most of the school goes, so it'll probably be packed with kids. There will probably be food and punch — not alcoholic, of course, since we're kids. And there'll be decorations, like fake snowflakes and Christmas trees and stuff. And everyone will dancing, of course." His face got oddly tight on the last sentence.
El closed her eyes, trying to picture what he was describing. It was kind of hard; she simply had no experience, no prior images to go on. The closest thing she had was a wedding scene from some soap or other, but she doubted it'd be much like that.
But whatever it was or wasn't, Mike made it sound magical. "I can't wait," she whispered fervently into the mouthpiece. Instinctively, her eyes flicked to Hopper as soon as the words left her mouth. He was sighing.
But not saying no. She hid another smile. However much he liked to pretend, she knew he would give sooner or later.
The next time Hopper sat her down for some big news, however, it had nothing to do with the Snowball. It was the following day, a Sunday, and El, as usual, had her friends over. Hopper had gone out just before their arrival, but, for a change, not to the police station.
"His name is Sam Owens," he had told her, when she had asked who he was meeting. "Doctor Sam Owens. He was a higher-up at the lab, before it went up in smoke."
She had bristled. "A bad man?"
He had shrugged, making a face. "It's… complicated, kid," he told her. "He oversaw some things that were pretty bad, yeah. He sure as hell ain't one of God's angels. But he's no demon, either. He had nothing to do with…" He gestured awkwardly at the number tattooed on her arm. "With the really messed up stuff. That was Brenner."
"Yeah, Papa." Hopper spat the nickname like it was a foul taste he was trying to get out of his mouth. "Owens isn't like him. When Joyce, Bob, Mike and I were trapped in the lab with Will and those dog things, Owens stayed behind to help us escape. He got badly injured for it. Almost killed. We found him, remember?"
El's face lit up in recognition. "The big man? With the hurt leg?"
"Yeah, that was him." Hopper smiled at her. Why was he in such a good mood? "You remember what he promised to do?"
She frowned, trying to recall. "You told him… to help me?"
"Yeah. To help you lead a normal life. I told him that after the shit his coworkers put you through, it's the least he could do for you."
El nodded, feeling oddly touched by Hopper's matter-of-fact devotion to her. He might be gruff and grumpy and sort of scary sometimes, but he was good, just like Mike was.
"Anyway," he continued, "he asked me to meet him for lunch at some diner in town. Said he had something to give me."
"A present?" For some reason, the idea of the burly, curly-haired scientist giving Hopper a present made El giggle. Hop smiled, watching her, and ruffled her hair again.
"I guess so. Tell you what, if I don't like it, I'll bring it home for you, okay?" he said.
"Okay!" El agreed happily, and ate what was left of her Eggo — which was around half of it — in one massive bite. Her eyes widened in alarm, and she started to choke and cough until Hopper reached across the table and pounded her on the back. A big chunk of half-chewed waffle flew out of her throat and splatted onto her plate. El gasped, eyes streaming.
"Hey, what'd we talk about?" said Hopper, shaking his head. He sat back into his chair, his face tight as he (very conspicuously) worked to restrain a laugh.
"One bite at a time," El mumbled, blushing. "That was one bite. Too big."
"Okay, we'll change it," Hop replied. "One normal-sized bite at one time."
"How do I know if it's not normal-sized?" El challenged, taking another, smaller, bite of Eggo (which effectively rendered her point moot).
Hop gave her a wry half-smile. It was his equivalent of a laugh and a grin. "It's normal if you don't have to open your mouth to the size of Indiana to put your food in it," he told her. "You looked like a frog."
This made El laugh so hard she started to choke again. For the second time, Hopper's hand on her back rescued her.
"Christ, kid, maybe I shouldn't go to this lunch," he said after she had recovered. "At this rate I think you'll choke yourself to death while I'm gone."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
He went to meet Owens anyway, and from there to the station. El's friends had to get the last of their weekend homework done, so they departed earlier than usual; by the time Hopper came home, they had already left, promising to come over tomorrow. The chief came through the door to be greeted, for once, by a quiet house. The only sound was the TV, which was playing some soap or other. Hop wondered idly when, or even if, El would grow out of those.
"Kid," he called. She acknowledged him with a nod, too absorbed in her movie to look away from the screen. "Kid, I want you to see something."
"Mm," she replied, not really hearing him. There was a gripping romance unfolding onscreen which demanded her full attention.
"Kid?" Hop waved his hands hopefully. "El," he called a little louder. She huffed a sigh, paused the TV with the barest flick of her head, and turned to look at him with a miffed expression. She hated having her movie time interrupted. But she forgot to be annoyed when she saw he was holding something in his hand.
"What is that?" she asked, pointing.
"See for yourself." He held it out to her. It was an envelope: plain white paper, normal sized, not like one of those big fancy yellow ones Hopper sometimes brought home from the police station. She looked up at him, confused.
"Open it," he told her.
She lifted the flap and grabbed the slip of paper inside. It was light blue, with a darker border, and covered in print. She frowned at it, lips moving silently as she sounded out the typed words.
"State of Indiana," she read, slowly and haltingly. "Kur… kurtiff…"
"Certificate," Hopper corrected gently.
"Certificate," El repeated, "of birth. This kurtif… certifies that acc… accor… according to the records of the State of Indiana…" She trailed off, frowning. There were lines that someone had written on in pen. She skimmed over them, mumbling the words absently. "Name, Jane Hopper… Was born in Hawkins… Child of Teresa Ives…"
She froze. Her eyes flicked back to the first line. "J-Jane Hopper…"
"Congratulations, kid," Hopper said, and when she looked up at him he was smiling, a real, full, eye-crinkling smile. "You're my daughter."
She blinked at him mutely. Once. Twice. Three times. On the third, when she opened her eyes, her vision was blurry. She frowned, not sure what was happening until she felt hot tears coursing down her cheeks.
"N-No, I'm not…" She wiped them away furiously. "I— I'm not sad, why—" And suddenly she couldn't continue because her entire body was wracked with sobs. They came on like a tidal wave, heaving her tiny frame until she was gasping great gulps of air between wails. I'm not sad, she kept trying to tell Hopper, afraid he'd get the wrong idea, but she couldn't get the words out. But then his arms, his big, warm, comforting arms, were around her, and she knew he understood. She hugged him back, reaching blindly around his neck and latching on like her life depended on it. She was dimly aware that her feet weren't on the ground; he was holding her, swaying her gently, while she sobbed into the crook of his neck.
You're my daughter. You're my daughter. You're my daughter. His words played in her head, over and over and over like a mantra.
She had a father.
Not a Papa. Not anymore. He was dead, gone, out of El's life, no matter what Kali said. He was gone and now El had someone real, someone who loved her, someone who would care for her and teach her and love her and do everything Papa didn't do.
She had a father.
She was a daughter.
She was crying.
"Hey, kid, you want to know what else?" Hopper said, his voice gentle. It rumbled through his barrel like chest. She could feel the vibrations. "I asked Owens about your… your Snowball."
El's heart skipped a beat. She removed one arm from around his neck and shakily wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "Did he…"
"He said there'd be no harm in you going out for one night," Hop said. "You'll have to lay low for awhile, but— oof!"
The last sound was forced out of him in a surprised grunt as El hugged him even tighter, squeezing with all the force she could muster from her diminutive frame. "Thank you thank you thank you!" she squealed into his shoulder.
He chuckled. "Yeah, uh… don't mention it, kid."
"Not kid," she corrected, poking his broad back. "Jane."
"Jane." He smiled. Her cheek was pressed to her new father's, and his stubble was scratchy against her face. She didn't mind. "Jane Hopper," he mused. "Not a bad name."
"Good," she agreed. "A good name."
"Can't argue," he replied. "Maybe not as good as Jim Hopper, though."
She wriggled out of his arms and fell back to the floor, staggering a little before straightening and assuming an indignant expression. "Better," she said, glaring at him in mock offense. "Much prettier."
"Jim Hopper is very pretty," he argued. "Maybe I should get a dress and go to this dance of yours. Bet all the boys would ask me to dance." El collapsed in giggles at the image.
"Silly," she chided when she finally recovered. She wiped a string of drool off her chin in a decidedly unfeminine gesture. "Silly Hopper."
"Hey, you don't get to call me that anymore," he reminded her.
Her brows contacted in confusion. "No?" Then, a second later: "Oh!" Her eyes lit up in realization. "Are you… Papa, now?"
Hopper frowned, rubbing his chin. "Not sure I like the sound of that," he admitted. "Reminds me too much of that son of a bitch, Brenner."
El nodded fervently. She was glad they were in agreement on that specific matter. "Then…" She pushed her mind back to the scores of movies she had seen in the past year. What did people call their fathers? What about... "Daddy?"
He made a face. "Not too keen on that either," he said. "Makes me feel like a pedophile."
"What is pe—"
"Never mind that," he said quickly. "What about just Dad?"
"Dad," she repeated, eyes thoughtful as she tasted the word. "Dad. I like it."
"Me, too, kid.
This chapter turned out to be a little different from the rest of the fic, in that there wasn't much Mileven. That said, I think this was a hugely important part of the epilogue of ST2, and I didn't want to skip over it. El getting an official identity, and a legally recognized father in Hopper, is such a step forward in her life. It's like a promise that she can start to live life as a normal kid, with friends and school and a family, and of course we all know how important promises are.
Also, before anyone gets worried: don't worry, I'm not about to start referring to Eleven as Jane all the time. I definitely very much prefer El, and I think, canonically, the Party would probably never grow out of that nickname for her. They gave it to her, after all. That said, I think getting an actual name instead of, you know, a number, would be a pretty huge thing for her, so I wanted to address that here. But yeah, don't worry. Mike and the other kids will still be calling her El. :)
Cheers! Let me know what you thought, and thanks for reading as always.