Mike waited until Kali's car had disappeared around a bend in the road, then ran over to the front door of the cabin. Two knocks, then one, then three. He looked around impatiently, bouncing on the balls of his feet, until he heard the lock slide open.
Mike burst in to see Hopper sitting on the couch watching TV. "What are you doing here, kid? Everything alright?" The chief sat up, looking worried.
"Where's El?" Mike's voice sounded high and tense in his own ears.
"Uh… she's in her room. But…" Whatever Hopper was about to tell him was ignored. Mike rushed around him into El's bedroom.
She was there, sitting crosslegged on her bed and reading, making notes in a little book as she went along. In her blue and white PJs, her hair sticking up around her ears, she might have been the most adorable sight he had ever seen. She looked up at him and smiled and his lungs let out a whoosh of relief.
He couldn't stop himself from running over to her bed and wrapping her in a hug. She squeaked in surprise but then giggled, hugging him back, her hands lightly tracing over his shoulder blades.
"Mike! I didn't know you were coming!"
He blushed. "Yeah, uh, I know. I just… missed you."
Her eyes sparkled and she nuzzled her head softly against his shoulder. "I missed you too."
When she looked at him again, she noticed that he was trying to hold back tears. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said, but his voice broke. She reached up and pressed her thumb into his cheek, catching a tear on her fingertip. He knew exactly what she was thinking.
Friends don't lie.
"I just… had a bad dream," he said, hoping it would be close enough to the truth to count. "I dreamed you were leaving."
"Leaving… Hawkins?" She tilted her head to the side and Mike tried, unsuccessfully, not to find it adorable.
"Yeah. Leaving Hawkins." Leaving me. "You said you wanted to go because…"
"I won't leave," El said. She sounded utterly confident and nonchalant, as if she was telling him the color of the sky or the solution to one plus three.
"I know, but…" he began to argue.
"I don't want to leave Hawkins. You're in Hawkins," she said. She picked up her notebook and studied it, her face a light pink despite her best efforts.
He was pretty sure he could feel his heart literally flutter in his chest.
I love you
I love you
I love you I love you I love you I love you…
The words repeated over and over in his head and the effort it took to not say them was starting to make his palms sweat.
El examined her book, not seeming to notice his internal freakout. "Mike, what does 'confess' mean?"
"C…confess? Uh… it means, like… to admit something. To tell someone the truth."
El tilted her head. "Like how?"
"Uh…" There was only one example that came to mind and he blurted it out before he could stop himself. "Like… confessing that you love someone."
"Or confessing to a crime," Hopper said, appearing in the door frame. He looked at Mike pointedly - too pointedly. "Visit time is over, kid. You're not even supposed to be here."
El glared at her adopted father. "Mike stays."
"I've got night shift at the station, and I am not leaving you two together without a chaperone."
"Shap…" El repeated, the word temporarily distracting her from the argument.
Hopper chuckled. "Chaperone. It's like, a kind of babysitter."
"We're not babies…" El muttered.
"That's kind of the problem," Hopper replied. She didn't understand what he was saying but it still made her mad.
"Why can't Kali be our shap-rone? She said she'd be back at nine-three-zero - I mean, nine thirty."
Hopper muttered something about good for nothing trouble making little purple haired punk.
"Please? Please… dad?" The word sounded slightly awkward in her mouth - she was still getting used to calling him that - but awkward or not, it had the intended effect. Hopper visibly softened, his mouth turning up into a reluctant smile.
"Alright, alright. Fine. But keep studying, yeah? I'll want a full report tomorrow on how far you've gotten in that book of yours. And don't let your sister give you any new piercings, or anything, okay?"
El nodded solemnly.
Hopper was almost out the door when he stopped and glared at Mike, who shrank back, his eyes wide. "You. Remember our talk."
"Uh… yeah. Absolutely. No problem, sir."
El giggled. She always thought it was funny when Mike called the chief 'sir.'
They sat together on the front porch of the cabin, cross-legged with their knees bumping together, listening to the crickets and breathing in the warm summer air. El brought her book and they passed it back and forth, reading to each other, until they lost interest in the story and moved on to just talking. As it got darker, they scooted closer together, Mike cautiously putting his arm around El's shoulder and sighing when she nuzzled into his side.
Headlights appeared in the woods and Mike stiffened, pulling away from El, but she shook her head, clinging to his shirt. "It's just Kali, Mike."
That didn't exactly put him at ease, and he tried not to glare at the girl when she stepped out of the car, approaching them with a grin that was too smug by half.
"You twenty-five yet, Wheeler?"
He scowled and pulled his arm back, staring at the ground.
"Where's your policeman, Jane? He usually keeps you inside, doesn't he?" Kali's distaste for El's new father figure was hard to miss.
"He doesn't know," El said, smiling at her small rebellion. "He's at night shift.I told him you could be our…" she looked at Mike, searching for the word.
"Chaperone," Mike supplied, keeping his eyes off of Kali, his face turning pink.
The teenager burst out laughing. "And he went for that?"
El nodded. "No new piercings."
Kali rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah." She picked up the book El had been reading. "Did you practice with your powers today, Jane?"
"Uh-huh! I was making pancakes, and when Hopper wasn't looking, I flipped them with my mind."
"Well, it's better than nothing." We should really get you another train car to work with.
"What about you, Kali? Did you practice today?" asked El, excited. "We promised we both would."
Kali made eye contact with Mike, her expression guilty. "Uh… no. No, I didn't."
El looked disappointed, but then she perked up. "You can practice now! On me and Mike!"
"I don't know…" Kali tried to argue.
"Come on… you can show Mike the butterfly! Like the one you showed me, the day we met. Please?"
Mike almost laughed, seeing her pull the same maneuver on Kali that she'd pulled on Hopper. Apparently lawless criminals were just as vulnerable to El's puppy-dog eyes as big-city cops were.
"Alright, Jane. If it's okay with him?" She stole another glance at Mike.
He almost made a snarky comment, about how at least she was asking for permission this time, but something in Kali's expression stopped him. She looked sorry, and hopeful, and for a second he understood why El called her sister. He saw the resemblance, somehow. "Yeah. Sure. Go ahead."
Kali opened her palm to reveal a small luminescent butterfly, glowing blue and green and purple against the evening sky, its wings fluttering softly. It flew towards them in lazy circles, landing on the tip of El's nose and making her giggle in delight.
Mike forgave Kali completely, right then and there.
Another butterfly emerged from her hand, and another. Soon they were surrounded, a beautiful swarm lighting up the darkness all around them.
The colors sparkled in El's eyes and Mike couldn't see anything but her, couldn't even hear his own thoughts over the rush of wings and the sound of his heartbeat. She caught him staring and smiled. "Pretty?"
He wasn't sure how he found the breath to speak. "Yeah. Really pretty."
Kali watched the two teenagers standing together in the moonlight and felt a strange emotion twist through her chest. It was a good emotion, but bittersweet too, like a tiny crack in her heart was mending itself as she watched her little sister laugh and dance and twirl, lost in her imagination. She saw Mike's expression, his eyes locked on Jane, and sort of hated herself for putting him through all that shit today. He was a good kid, teenage boy or not, and obviously worshipped the ground Jane Hopper Ives walked on. Some people - including most of the people Kali associated with - kept their emotions tightly nailed down, never letting anyone see what they were feeling. Michael Wheeler was obviously not that type of person.
With that in mind, it didn't exactly surprise Kali when she spotted Mike leaning over and whispering something in Jane's ear, his whole body seeming to vibrate with nervous energy, his face turning pink. Kali didn't hear what it was, and she didn't see Jane's reaction, but she did see Mike's reaction to Jane's reaction, and from that she could easily piece together what was being said.
Kali smiled and walked back to the cabin, giving them some privacy. The butterfly illusion wouldn't last for much longer, but it didn't look like either Mike or Jane were going to notice.
Good to see somebody around here taking my advice.