It was quiet in the car for a while. Jane looked upset; Andrew kept glancing at her worriedly. She was anxious and fidgety.
"How about you tell me a little about Mike?" Andrew asked her softly figuring a distraction was in order. Jane looked up at him surprised but she stopped fidgeting at least.
"Mike is… good." Jane started, not entirely sure how to describe the boy who had a permanent place in her heart and always would. "He hid me from the bad men. In the basement. It was raining. The bad men killed Benny. And I was scared. And cold. Mike found me. With Lucas and Dustin. He gave me his coat and took me home. He made me a fort and kept me safe."
Andrew turned. Jane was smiling softly now.
"He gave me El," she told Andrew.
"El?" Andrew asked, confused.
"El, short for Eleven. Didn't know Jane then." She explained. "Like Mike, short for Michael."
Andrew felt his heart ache remembering the tattoo on his daughter's wrist. Branding her as an object, an experiment. Not human.
"This Mike… he gave you a nickname?" Andrew asked softly. El nodded.
"I didn't want Eleven. Mike knew. Gave me El. I'm El now." She obviously had an attachment to the name the boy had offered her. Andrew gulped, overcome with emotion. A stranger had made her human right after meeting her. He'd given her a normal name and had taken care of her. And the stranger had been a young boy her age.
"Do you want to be called El?" Andrew asked after processing the information she had just given him. She seemed to think about it for a moment.
"Both," she decided eventually. "El and Jane both."
Andrew nodded, a little relieved. He didn't mind her nickname. It suited her, strangely. But he didn't feel quite ready to remind himself she had been an experiment every time he said her name. El and Jane. They both represented parts of her family and she wanted both. He could live with that.
Once he was done processing, El continued.
"Mike taught me friend… and promise. Friend is someone who you do anything for. And promise is something you can't break." Jane told Andrew this so seriously. These words were very important to her, he realized.
"Mike said I was pretty, even without hair," she said. Her hand unconsciously going to touch her gelled back curls.
"I broke my promise," El looked miserable.
"Which promise?" Andrew asked.
"Snowball. Cheesy school dance" El told him, borrowing Mike's explanation, once Andrew looked confused after he clearly didn't understand what the Snowball was. "Mike promised we would go together. More than friends."
"Oh…" Andrew said slowly. A part of him had been expecting this but it didn't come as any less of a shock. Her daughter had fallen for the boy so soon after meeting him?
"I broke the promise. Was hiding in the cabin. Couldn't go. Mike cried." El looked so heartbroken as she told Andrew this.
"Hey, hey… It's not your fault," Andrew gently soothed his daughter. "That lying asshole of a police chief kept you hidden from everyone. I'm sure Mike will understand."
He probably shouldn't be cursing in front of his daughter, Andrew knew. However, he was too angry at Hopper to care and, clearly, she felt the same way. She had been lied to as well. Then Andrew realized the latter part of his daughter's sentence.
"What do you mean he cried?" Andrew asked. "How did you know?"
El looked at Andrew sadly. "Mike called me. Every day. For 353 days. He went to the blanket fort and called me on his Supercomm. Wanted to know if I was alive and OK. I listened in the void. Every day. Since Day 26. Hopper wouldn't let me answer. Even when Mike said he wouldn't tell."
Andrew was baffled. This boy had called out for his daughter every day for a year without even knowing she was alive. He seemed quite the character. Andrew was suddenly looking forward to meeting him so much more.
"He needed me," El continued. "I needed him. He was angry and sad. I was angry and sad. Always 'soon'."
El's face looked so miserable as she said that and Andrew realized just how much being away from this boy was affecting her. He didn't know anything about this Mike but he was clearly extremely important to his daughter.
"We're going to see him now and whenever you want after this," Andrew said firmly. "Promise, no more soon." He saw Jane's eyes widen at his promise.
"Real promise?" she asked. "Anytime I want?"
Andrew nodded once more. He felt the familiar anger bubbling in his chest again. Another thing to add to the list of grievances Hopper had committed against his family. Jane didn't even believe in promises adults made her anymore.
"I promise," he muttered as he looked over to see El starting to doze off against the car window. He let her sleep. She needed her energy after using her powers constantly all day.
Andrew could sense Jane's anxiety even in her sleep and put his foot on the pedal. Luckily no one was on the roads once they left the main Chicago city. As they entered the Hawkins limits, Andrew gently nudged El awake. He needed her for directions. Unfortunately, other than the police station, he didn't know his way around very well.
El jolted awake at once blinking quickly, the remnants of sleep in her eyes fading at once and indicating she hadn't really been deeply asleep at all.
"We're in Hawkins," Andrew told her gently. "I need you to tell me where to go so we can find Mike."
El nodded and immediately pointed him the right way. She knew Mike was no longer in the Hawkins Lab. The Byers house was where he was. As Andrew turned on Mirkwood, El suddenly felt a chill creep down her spine. Something wasn't right. They could see the porch lights of the Byers house in the distance when she told Andrew to stop. Andrew immediately complied.
"What's wrong?" He asked worriedly wondering if she had gotten the directions wrong. What she had sensed was much worse.
"Demogorgan," El whispered. She made to get out of the car but Andrew stopped her.
"Hold it!" He whispered in panic. "We can't leave like this. You could get hurt, Jane."
El shook her head fiercely. "I can save them. Stronger now."
Andrew looked at El helplessly before nodding. He exited the car with her, pulling out his shotgun from the back. He had bought it after returning from Vietnam in case of emergencies and had brought it along with him to Chicago. Luckily it hadn't been needed then but the Demogorgan definitely classified not only as an emergency but as a perilous situation.
El walked with quick silent steps towards the house in the distance. Andrew followed, throwing glances over his shoulder occasionally in case the creature decided to attack from behind. As soon as they reached the house, a four-legged carnivorous creature rushed from the woods in the opposite direction. It seemed to be trying to find an entrance. Andrew gasped as the creature turned to him and El, it's petaled mouth growling as it found easier prey in the humans currently outside the barriers of the house.
He raised his gun but before he could shoot his Jane had already stretched out her hand. She levitated it with her mind before slamming it on the ground a few times. Her anger was overflowing and she momentarily lost control and it went flying through the front window of the house, the breaking of glass sounding loud in the dead of the night.
El looked up at her dad who only gulped. She started walking to the front door and unlocked it, ready for their dramatic entrance.
The people behind the door gasped as they saw who entered. El stood there, dark makeup around her eyes, hair slicked back with gel and blood streaming from a single nostril. Everyone's eyes then went to the man who entered behind her.
Messy brown hair and alert eyes the same as El's, a worn coat and shotgun in hand. As the rest of the room tried to process the fact that El is alive and Who is the stranger with her; a young boy stepped forward, a myriad of expressions crossing his features.
Shock, Disbelief, Hope, Relief, Joy and Love all warred on his face. A small smile was on his face and tears filled his eyes. 353 days and she was here. Her expression matched his; eyes teary and a smile expressing her inexpressible joy.
They gasped as moved forward. Both teens met each other in the middle as they hugged, sobbing and holding on to each other as if someone would steal the other away. They had missed each other so much.
Andrew lowered his gun as he saw his daughter reunite with the dark-haired boy who was clearly Mike. A small smile played on his lips as he saw how happy she was now that the burden of missing him was off her chest. The teens were lost in their own world even as they pulled away, unaware and not at all caring of the audience around them.
"I never gave up on you! I called you every night!" Mike promised her intently. "Every night for-"
"353 Days" El completed his sentence with a slight shake of her head. "I heard," she told him, looking into his eyes.
The boy's breath hitched. Hurt suddenly bloomed on his features. "Why didn't you tell me you were out there? That you were ok?" He asked.
"Because I wouldn't let her." Mike looked behind him to see Hopper. He was looking at El who was glaring right back him. "Where have you been?"
Instead of answering him, El looked furious. "With my real papa," she hissed. "Not gone!"
Hopper went white. He had been ignoring Andrew for a few minutes up till then but now he had to confront the situation he had built for himself. The other shoe finally dropped and Hopper had known it would all along.
Everyone around them gasped upon hearing El's words. El had a father. And suddenly it made so much sense why the man had El's hair and eyes and his smile was so reminiscent of hers.
"You lied!" El continued. "For 353 days!"
That's what seemed to snap Mike out of his shock. He looked at Hopper with fury and rage painting his features.
"You've been hiding her. You've been hiding her this whole time," he whispered in anger and disbelief. Mike pushed at Hopper. The older man turned to the younger boy and glared.
"Hey! Let's talk. In private!" His voice left no room for argument but Mike wasn't having it.
"NO! You can say it right here. I'm not going anywhere with you!" Mike yelled, the volume and emotion in his voice scaring the others. Hopper sighed.
"The more people know about her, the more danger she's in. The more danger you and your family are in."
Andrew had a hard time keeping his mouth shut in that moment hearing the first sentence. 'People' huh? His Jane's own family had been classified as part of those people who couldn't know about her. He gritted his teeth and held his lips closed knowing he would get his turn soon.
"What so I should be thanking you?" Mike asked incredulously.
"I'm not asking you thank me kid. I'm just asking you to understand."
"I DON'T. I DON'T UNDERSTAND" Mike roared. No one else in the room dared to say anything. Mike's dam had been building up and this was his breaking point.
"That's FINE," Hopper yelled back. "But DO NOT blame her okay? She's upset enough as it is."
"I DON'T BLAME HER I BLAME YOU! I BLAME YOU! NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS OKAY!" Mike screamed. Hopper was feeling the pressure and suddenly he was aware how everyone was looking at him like he was the bad guy. This was before Andrew had even had a chance to speak.
Hopper sighed, speaking softer, "Kid… I checked up on you for a reason. It was hard but you were fine, okay? She needed to be safe!"
Mike suddenly went stiff. His face turned stony. "Fine… You thought I was fine?" He asked with a cold bitter laugh. "I COULDN'T BREATH FOR 353 DAYS!"
As if he couldn't take it anymore, Mike lunged. "YOU'RE A STUPID, LYING, DISGUSTING PIECE OF SHIT!" He punched Hopper again and again while the older man tried to stop him.
"LIAR, LIAR, LIAR." As the audience around them suddenly moved to action, trying to separate Mike and Hopper, El rushed forward.
"Mike! MIKE!" She called him. She was crying too. She dragged Mike off Hopper and hugged him. He collapsed into her and sobbed harder now that she was holding him.
"Kid I just did what I thought was best for everyone," Hopper said gruffly looking at the two crying teens.
Andrew let out a laugh then, cold and bitter and hollow.
"Sure you did." His eyes were terrifying. "Is that what you tell yourself chief? You did everything to keep everyone safe?"
All trace of laughter then disappeared from his face in a snap.
"I asked, No, I BEGGED you to tell me anything about my daughter if you found her. And you kept her HIDDEN! Not only from me and Terry but from her friends too. The only people she cares about. I knew I never should have trusted you. Lawyers, Politicians, Policemen… government pawns aren't ya? You're all the same! Useless imbeciles thinking you can ruin everyone's lives because you have some power over the common man. Power that the common man gives you! You turn around and use it against us."
Everyone was dead silent. Hopper could feel a vein bursting in his head.
"Hey, I've been keeping everyone safe all this time. Like it or not." He tried to say, "So you can stop it with that bullshit even if you're mad. We're not all bad. We just do Our Job. Protecting people."
"Of fucking course, you do," Andrew said mockingly. "It's why I hate you all so much. You get an inch of authority and you think you're so great. That you can take people's lives in your own hand and do whatever you want without their permission or knowledge."
"Keeping everyone safe?" Andrew continued. "Safe, but miserable! You kept my daughter away from her friends. You told her my wife and I were DEAD!" Andrews satisfied in the gasps that resounded in the room.
"You knew we were looking for her for 12 years. We begged you to help us. Told you everything you needed to find that boy. But you lied to her. You lied to us and everyone in this room. Great job protecting everyone Chief. I'm sure we're all so grateful."
Hopper exploded. "Hey, buddy? You have NO IDEA what that lab is capable of alright? I lied to keep everyone safe from them. I don't think you realize how fucking important it was to keep everyone clueless."
Andrew choked on air at these words.
"Are you kidding me? They took my fucking wife and daughter so don't you start preaching to me about what THAT LAB is capable of. I've seen it first hand before you. MY friends and family dealt with Brenner first hand. I know more than you think. So don't you go thinking you're such a great person and did a service for keeping everyone safe. What? You were a big city cop? Served in Vietnam? You've seen all the bad there is, haven't you? That totally gives you all the right to go make decisions for everyone around you, doesn't it?" He mocked.
"Well guess what buddy, You ain't special. I served in Vietnam too. Lived 5 years contained and tortured in captivity. I didn't even know I HAD a kid but even after I did you kept her from away from me, pretending she was dead. How'd you feel if that shoe was on your foot huh?"
Hopper suddenly stiffened, Joyce as well, but Andrew didn't notice and neither did he care.
"Imagine this: You have a little girl. She's the light of your existence; the only thing you have left to live for after living through horrors that can never leave you behind. But someone takes her away before you can do anything about it. And there's a chance you can have her back but NO. Because some rando police chief who doesn't even know you or your family has decided you don't deserve to be a parent. Because he thinks you can't keep her safe. He's psychic like that. You're her father and it's your job but you couldn't save her before and a rando isn't letting you save her now. A stranger is obsessed with your capabilities and think they know fucking better than you. And your little girl, that you and your wife have been searching for, begging for to come home, are left in anguish with a black hole swallowing them every day until they can see her again."
Everyone in the room had a different expression ranging from shocked, terrified to angry. They had been looking between Andrew and Hopper during the whole spat. Mike and El were still holding on to each other tightly. Andrew had stepped in front of them at some point, protectively, something that hadn't gone unnoticed by Hopper. Jonathan, Nancy and the kids, sans Max, were too shocked to say anything. Everything was happening so fast. Max and Steve, despite knowing bits and pieces of the story from the past year were confused and somewhat scared.
Joyce only looked helpless to stop the two arguing men; she was angry at Hopper and sympathetic towards Andrew but she knew Andrew's last words had hit too close to home. There was no way he could have known about Sarah and that only seemed to be the reason it hit Hopper harder. Hopper's expressions switched through a myriad of fury, frustration, resignation, despair and intense pain throughout the argument. Andrew's last words had been a bullet straight to the chest that silenced him. He had no more excuses. He knew what he'd done was wrong and knew he couldn't be forgiven. Andrew and Terry had at least deserved to know.
"I'm sorry," Hopper mumbled gruffly before making a beeline for the door. He pulled it open and left, slamming it behind him so hard the house shook.
The occupants in the house all looked nervously at each other and then at Andrew to see his reaction. The man just let out a weary sigh, the anger and adrenaline slowly draining out leaving exhaustion behind now that the person who had ired him had left. He turned behind him to see El still standing with Mike, holding his hand tightly. She was looking at him and Andrew smiled at her comfortingly. He was ok.
Seeing him smile El smiled too. She tugged on Mike's hand and brought him over to Andrew.
The young boy was quite nervous about meeting El's dad. He knew he had strong feelings for her and she had just come back. He wasn't fully done processing her being back let alone the fact she had parents who were alive. Having seen Andrew give Hopper a piece of his mind had been one of the most impressive things Mike had ever witnessed. Feeling his own anger intensely, Mike had felt a wave of satisfaction seeing someone else as angry as him over the blatant lying about El's whereabouts. However, he was still aware that this was El's Dad. Clearly Andrew was not someone to mess with when he was angry and Mike was suddenly nervous when El tugged him toward Andrew. The man was only looking at El and him with a gentle smile. This made all the difference. As El tugged him forward Mike tried to smile too. It was weak but he succeeded and Andrew easily noticed the awe in the young boys eyes as he came forward.
"Mike," El demanded his attention gently away from her father.
"Yes El?" He asked, instantly attentive to her.
"Real papa," she told him seriously. Her eyes had a joyous twinkle and her smile was so overwhelmingly relieved that Mike couldn't help but feel her joy as well.
"This is your real dad?" He asked. He mostly just wanted to see her smile as she did that. It was obvious this was El's father. His mannerisms and his appearance were too similar for him to be anything but.
"Yes. Not Brenner. Andrew Rich. Real Papa." El squeezed his hand and looked up at a smiling Andrew happily. "Dad, this is Mike."
"Hello si-" Mike was about to greet the older man but he was cut off as the man wrapped his arms around the young boy in a fierce hug.
"Thank you," Andrew whispered as he embraced the boy. His hands remained on Mike's shoulders as he pulled away. "You saved my daughter. You hid her. She told me. For that my Terry and I, we can never repay you. Just… thank you so much."
Mike gulped, feeling a lump in his throat as Andrew thanked him with a heavy voice. The older man was fighting his own tears, well aware that if this young boy had not given his daughter her jacket and taken her home, he'd never have found her. Mike hadn't realized it then, but he hadn't only given a strange girl a jacket, he'd given Andrew and Terry their daughter back.
"It was nothing sir," Mike told him honestly. "She helped find my friend and she saved us. She's… She's…"
Andrew gently squeezed Mike's shoulder as the young boy tried to sum up his feelings for the girl and failed. It was a gentle reassurance but the meaning was clear. Andrew fully understood.
El went around the room reuniting with Dustin and Lucas and introducing them to her father as her friends as well. She was cold towards Max but the girl shrugged it off for now, thinking it was because she was a stranger. Jonathan and Nancy got brief introductions as they hugged the young girl too. They even introduced her to Steve who just nodded awkwardly, unsure what to do about meeting the telekinetic child and her dad.
She introduced Joyce last who hugged El warmly.
"Hi sweetie," the woman said gently. "Are you ok? How are you doing?"
El felt a smile rise to her face as Joyce worried about her. The first motherly affection she'd ever received was Joyce's. El wished Brenner hadn't hurt Mama. She was sure Mama would have been just like Joyce, perhaps even better since she would have been El's own Mama instead of Will's. As she tugged Andrew behind her, Joyce looked at the man behind her with a nervous smile. She remembered him very well. His haunted desperate eyes had been like looking in a mirror and she had no words for Hopper's actions either.
"Hello again, Mr. Rich," she said softly. "I'm glad you finally found your daughter again. I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to help earlier."
Andrew smiled back. "It's not your fault. It's nice to meet you again."
"How's Terry?" Joyce asked. El, satisfied that her father and Joyce were getting along, went back to the boys and Max.
"She's… she's fine." Andrew nodded. "We're hoping now that Jane's back she'll do even better. She already communicated with her in the half day she was back."
"Jane…huh." She looked contemplative. "I almost forget that's her name. The kids always called her El."
"Yeah. Terry named her obviously. Becky told me it was after Jane Goodall." Andrew said wistfully. "It makes sense. Terry loved animals. I wish she was still able to see Jane more clearly and how she grew up. She'd be so proud."
"She is a great girl," Joyce agreed. She bit her lip as if holding back something then she gestured towards the corner of the room so they wouldn't be overheard. Andrew looked curious but followed.
"Look I-I… I know you're angry at Hopper for keeping Jane away but there's something I should tell you. You didn't know, and there is no way you could have known, but Hopper… H-he lost his daughter too."
Andrew's eyes widened in shock upon hearing that and was silent as Joyce continued, "He lost her to cancer so when you said what you did, he left because he understood. He has been in your shoes so… please don't bring it up again? It's the only thing I ask of you because there really is no way for him to get his Sarah back the way we got our kids back."
Andrew was silent as he processed this.
"I know he's made some mistakes trying to keep everyone safe. Really BIG mistakes," Joyce added emphatically seeing Andrew was getting riled up again. "But… He didn't mean to. El was his new hope in life and he was willing to give anything to keep her safe."
The next moment Joyce realized she had made a mistake as Andrew hissed.
My daughter isn't his new hope," he spat viciously, eyes flashing. "I'm sorry he lost his daughter. I really am. But my Jane isn't his replacement daughter; she's my very real one. I never even got a chance to be with her and he furthered that. He can't play pretend papa and act like I don't exist. Like my own daughter isn't mine because he misses his own and can't get her back. I missed my Jane too. Every day for the past few years since I knew she existed. He told my daughter her parents were gone! How long was he planning on keeping us from her? She never would have looked if she thought we were already gone. He kept her for a year on the promise of soon just to see her friends who she already knew. How many more years would I and Terry have had to wait because he decided it was best?"
Joyce had no response. She wrung her hand nervously.
"You lost your son too," Andrew looked at Joyce with a piercing gaze. "Imagine if he was hidden away with someone for a year while you killed yourself trying to find him. Would you say thank you to that person for keeping him safe or fuck you for keeping him away? What you felt for a week? It was mine and Terry's years. First Brenner and then him. Good ol' trustworthy Chief Hopper. Whom we asked to give us information if he found anything. He lied. Imagine finding out that person who hid your child is expecting a thank you for keeping them safe after lying about what happened to them to your face. Would you be willing to forgive them when they're the reason your torture didn't end when it could have?"
Joyce nodded. She knew the answer to those questions. She was angry at Hopper right now just thinking about how he had hidden the poor girl away for a year and lied to everyone about her. But when she put herself in Andrew's shoes? She felt even worse. Unbridled fury simmered under her veins because she knew the pain Andrew and Terry felt. She knew she could never bring herself to forgive anyone if they'd done the same to her regarding Will or Jonathan.
As Joyce contemplated this, Andrew said one last thing, "I won't bring up Sarah again. I'm not that cruel. But you can't expect me to be happy he hid my child from me and at the same time made her miserable too. From what she's told she was going crazy alone in that cabin he hid her in and refused to let her see outside of.
"I understand," Joyce said sincerely. "What he did was wrong. I won't ask you to forgive him because I know I wouldn't be able to either. But… when you told him to put himself in your shoes, I'm sure he understood. So please… just let that bit go."
Andrew sighed and agreed once again. He saw Jane looking curiously at him so he and Joyce joined the party again as they were brought up to speed on what was going on. It became clear. Will wasn't doing well and the gate needed to be closed. Soon after, Hopper returned. If his eyes were redder than normal no one said anything.
Plans were drawn up about how to free Will from the Mindflayer and close the gate.
Team One was Jonathan, Nancy and Joyce. They were to take Will and extract the Mindflayer. They'd then give the signal to Team Two– Andrew, El and Hopper– who would be at the lab waiting to close the gate. Team Two wasn't fully pleased with this arrangement but their differences had to be set aside for now. Hopper was the only other person left who knew how to use a gun and get to the lab. He'd been the only one who'd been there regularly enough to know the inside of it too.
Mike had been angry at first about not being allowed to go. He had just gotten El back and would have to say goodbye again. Andrew pulled the young boy aside for a few moments.
"I'll take care of her, Mike. I promise. But we need you to stay here. It's not safe for too many people to be there together." Andrew looked at the boy pleadingly. Mike looked like he was about to argue.
"I promise I'll bring her back safe," Andrew repeated.
The fear in Mike's eyes dissipated but only a little. Andrew had gotten to the heart of the issue. He nodded even if he wasn't happy about it. Later he and his friends would come up with his own way to help.
Team One left first.
Andrew and Hopper waited by the Blazer while El said goodbye to Mike. Andrew couldn't hear what the kids were saying but he knew they were comforting each other. Parting was difficult for them and he respected that. He could see their faces growing closer and closer and realized they were about to kiss. Andrew knew perhaps he should be a little more concerned but surprisingly enough, he wasn't. Mike was a good kid.
From the other side of the blazer Hopper loudly cleared his throat– his fatherly instinct had taken over and he hadn't been able to hold it back despite knowing he had no right to anymore. Andrew's glare burned him and Hopper looked away. Andrew looked back to where El and Mike had quickly distanced themselves upon the interruption.
"Take your time, honey." Andrew called out to El gently. "Say goodbye properly. We'll be waiting in the car." He reassured.
Hopper huffed and got into the car. Andrew followed and, in a few minutes, El joined them. The ride to the lab was tense and silent. Andrew had said what he'd needed to say but being in such close proximity to Hopper had him seething again. Hopper, for his part, knew nothing he said would excuse him so he had nothing to say.
El though, she still had her own bone to pick with Hopper.
"You told me they were gone," she said coldly from the back seat of the Blazer. "You always LIED!"
Hopper was silent.
"My real papa. NOT gone, DOESN'T lie." She said emphatically reaching out to Andrew. Her voice was heavy with tears now. She had trusted Hopper for a whole year and he had betrayed her. She had let him take care of her thinking he knew what was best but he'd only lied and kept the truth from her.
Andrew held his daughter's hand, gently rubbing it in between his own to comfort her. The pain in her voice hurt him and made him angry but he knew it was her turn now. She had to let out her pain and anger and hopefully after that they'd never have to interact with the man who'd hurt their family further ever again.
"He brought me to Mike. Not soon." El continued reminding Hopper of his unkept promise. "My real family: Mama, Aunt Becky. And Dad. I'm going with them now."
El paused as if considering if she had anything else left to say. "You hurt me. Not B-R-A-T. Won't go back to lab for being one. Dad will protect me. We will be full happy. Not halfway happy."
She sat back in her seat after that, her breath hitching as she clearly fought any tears that were trying to come up.
Hopper felt the same as her, forcing down tears. How had he gone so wrong? He knew he was in the wrong for hiding El from her real parents. Unconsciously he had begun to think of himself as her dad and now her 'real papa' jab hurt him more than anything else. He realized she was comparing him to Brenner. Brenner who had forced her to call him papa her whole life until she escaped not even letting her consider she had an actual loving father driving himself crazy trying to find her outside the sterile lab walls. He had given her a warmer four walls but he hadn't been any better. She had still been trapped, unable to see the light of day with curtains drawn and no stepping out. He'd lied to her too, just like Brenner had. Taken away her family without even giving her the option of knowing they existed.
Andrew's words earlier had hit him too hard. Last year when he'd met Andrew he had felt for the man having lost Sarah himself and knowing what the pain felt like. Andrew was right; it was a black hole. Hopper had even told Joyce he'd give anything for a chance to get Sarah back. He'd taken away Andrew's chance. If someone had done the same thing with his daughter, Hopper knew he'd pulverize the person on the spot. The fact Andrew hadn't yet done so was still a feat.
Hopper knew he'd made mistakes that couldn't be forgiven. He knew it was best to not ask for it in the first place.
They arrived at the deserted lab finally. El hesitated coming closer to the towering building. The worst years of her life had been in this building. She knew no one was there who'd hurt her, not with the Demodogs lurking around, but she was still scared. Andrew stood next to her, hating the building and the people inside it that stole his love and his daughter both from him. Seeing El's nerves he put his own feelings aside though.
"I'll be there with you every step of the way," Andrew swore. "No one will take you away ever again."
He said it so firmly that El didn't even have to ask if he promised. They ventured inside the lab, doing their best to ignore the blood on the floor and the bodies of scientists littering the halls. On their way down the stairs they ran into an injured man. Andrew stood in front of El as Hopper handled the situation. He knew the man it seemed. But the man seemed to knew El. She clutched Andrew's coat tightly in her first as he looked at her in recognition.
"Hey Doc, been meaning to tell ya. This is Eleven and her dad, Andrew." He introduced them.
Andrew nodded apprehensively in greeting. This wasn't Brenner but if he was a scientist from this lab then, clearly, he couldn't be too far behind, could he? He remained silent as Hopper continued to talk.
"She's been staying with me for about a year but will be with her family now. She's about to save our asses so maybe once this is all said and done you could help her out too? Help her lead a normal life where she's not poked and prodded at like a lab rat? I don't know," Hopper said finishing bandaging the man up to stop the blood gushing from his wound. "Just a thought."
The trio continued down into the basement. Toxic ashes fell from the sky and from the broken glass in the viewing room the gate looked horrifying, a shadow moving behind it trying to escape. There were no demodogs luckily. They quickly got on the lift and descended into the rift.
At first things seemed to be going well but when the monster within seemed to realize El was trying to close the gate, the demodogs came rushing back; trying to kill them before she could. Hopper and Andrew worked side by side, shooting intently at the monsters, buying El the time she needed.
The young girl in question was screaming, blood spilling down her nostrils and from behind her ears. She thought about what Kali taught her. All the pain she had endured and the anger she felt. Her body levitated off the ground as she let out one last guttural scream before sealing the gate. She fell to the floor but Andrew caught her before she could hit her head.
"I'm so proud of you," he whispered, voice heavy with emotion. "My little girl. You did so good. Your mama and I love you so much."
El sniffled; her head pounded and her chest and throat hurt from the screaming but her dad was hugging her tightly and he'd said the one thing Brenner had never told her. The one thing No one had ever told her before Terry and Andrew. I love you so much. Her mama and papa loved her. She was more than just her powers and she finally had her family again.
The trio made their way back to the Byers house soon after, stopping only to bring Owens to the hospital. As soon as they got back Mike threw open the door, racing down the porch to ask about El. The poor boy nearly sobbed with relief seeing her alive and breathing. She was weak but still managed to call out for the person she missed most.
It was only later when Andrew noticed the rest of the kids were covered in slime and their hair had ashes. Stories were exchanged later on but for that night, everyone simply cleaned themselves up and collapsed on the floor. Mike and El held each other while Andrew slept near them guarding his daughter and the person most precious to her.
They were all safe and that was a relief.
Adjustments had to be made for the next few weeks. El and Mike couldn't bear to be separated and Andrew had no desire to do so either. He rented a room at the Hawkins Inn while El recovered so her friends and Mike could see her every day. Becky visited once with Terry; Andrew and El went back a few times as well, always returning the day after.
Andrew took the time the kids were over and caring for El to look around Hawkins. He decided buying a humble abode in this tiny town wasn't a bad idea. As a child he'd had little reason to visit here from Bloomington. He knew Terry and Becky occasionally came for some reason or the other since their home was only a 45 minute drive and it was quicker to get any essentials from Hawkins than to drive all the way to Bloomington.
Hawkins was suitable, Andrew decided. He then chuckled as if there was anything to decide in the first place. El had made the decision for him long ago. He wasn't about to separate her from her friends.
Andrew's luck seemed to be back on his side as a month after the gate closing, Hawkins Lab was smeared in the papers for harming the local residents. Nancy and Jonathan's story had done the intended harm and the remaining lab staff left quietly; the gates to the lab closed for good.
It was time to buy a house and Andrew had found the perfect one in the suburbs. It was cozy but big enough to fit his little family. Him, Terry and Jane. There was even a guest room for Becky who opted to stay in her parent's home despite Andrew's offers she move to Hawkins with the rest of them. She ended up visiting very often so they almost never noticed her absence and Becky appreciated the time she suddenly had to herself now; no more worries about caring for a static sister and a traumatized brother-in-law plaguing her. She had given Terry's guardianship over to Andrew, knowing her sister would have wanted to be cared after by her would-have-been-husband. She was in no condition to sign the marriage papers but Andrew got Terry a ring anyway the day Becky had officially signed the guardianship documents.
"I did promise," he told Becky when she asked. He finally felt worthy enough to fulfill the promise he'd made to Terry on her porch years ago. Becky had just shaken her head amused. As far as she was concerned, Andrew and Terry had been the only ones for each other since they met; each the other's specific brand of crazy.
Slowly but surely the Ives-Rich family was healing. It wasn't much but it was a start. The best day, ironically, was when Hopper arrived to the new Ives-Rich residence. His visit was short but it finished his business with the family so it was necessary. Hopefully it was enough to earn their tolerance, Hopper hoped resigned.
Andrew answered the door. El was out with her friends. She couldn't go into public places. Andrew was still not sure it was safe but he had no intentions of restricting her movement between her friends houses and the forest as long as she stayed away from crowded places while the lab was still wrapping up their business.
"Mr. Rich," Hopper said stiffly, tilting his head when Andrew opened the door.
"Chief Hopper," Andrew replied just as stiffly.
"I just came to drop something off," Hopper said. He handed Andrew a sealed envelope. "Owens made it. El's birth certificate. He said it would be prudent to keep her away from public places for at least another year but… that's up to you I guess."
The man's voice was gruff as he realized Andrew wouldn't appreciate his advice. "Anyway, I uh…I just needed to hand this over." He concluded.
Andrew quickly opened the envelope and read the contents.
Andrew Rich and Teresa Ives were the parents.
Jane Ives-Rich, born February 16.
Hopper turned to leave but Andrew called out to stop him.
"Wait, Chief!" Andrew said. Hopper turned around. Andrew's face was still set in stiff expression but he gave a slight nod.
"Thank you," the grateful father said. His tone still lacked warmth but it was sincere. There was no forgiveness, but there was gratitude for the good Hopper did manage to bring to their lives.
Hopper nodded, accepting the gratitude and heading back to the Blazer. This was the most he could have hoped for and expected and he was thankful for receiving both.
Andrew looked down at the birth certificate and pondered over Owen's advice via Hopper. He wasn't happy about it but it was necessary. Andrew would let Jane wander around Hawkins and her friend's houses if she wanted but crowded areas were off limits at least for a while.
So naturally, this proved to be a problem almost instantly when El came home with a dreamy smile on her face.
"Mike asked me to the Snowball again," she told him and Terry happily. They weren't sure how much Terry could hear and process but both father and daughter included her in their conversations anyway. She was part of the family of course. She deserved to know about their lives instead of being treated like a permanent invalid. Maybe one day she'd get better enough to respond regularly even without words? Andrew and El held on to that hope tightly. She certainly did her best with the lights and sudden movements whenever she could.
"He said he wasn't mad I broke the promise. He said it's not my fault. Then he said there is one this year. I can go, right?" El asked hopefully. She knew Andrew didn't stop her from much but even he had to be cautious when it came to staying hidden.
"Let me think about it?" Andrew asked her. He grinned when Jane pouted but nodded. She knew her father didn't want to make her suffer so she was always more patient with him.
Eventually, after consulting Joyce who consulted Owens, it was decided that one night couldn't do much harm especially at a middle school where the chaperones were mostly teachers and a few bored parents. El had a lot of fun choosing the dress she was going to wear. Andrew was planning on taking her to Bloomington to shop for one but that plan was cancelled once Becky came over with some of her and Terry's old clothes from their teen years.
She had been cleaning out the attic now that the house was in disarray because of most of its residents moving, anyway. She was supposed to look after Terry while the father daughter duo was out shopping but she had picked up one of the boxes she had set aside for El supposing some of the clothes might come in use. Even after a month El still hadn't had a chance to expand her wardrobe too much.
El fell in love with most of her mama and Aunt Becky's old dresses that she went through with her Aunt. Her favorite though, undoubtedly, was a pretty medium blue dress that had belonged to Terry. It had pink polka dots on it and even had a matching belt.
"I'm wearing this to the Snowball," she told Andrew firmly when he came into the living room with keys in hand, ready to remind her they needed to leave soon. She modeled it for him, Terry and Becky a few minutes later and it was perfect. Becky fixed the few areas that needed to be altered but even without the alterations the dress fit El like a glove.
"You look beautiful sweetheart," Andrew told her.
"Just like your mama did," Becky smiled. They all looked to Terry who had a smile on her face despite the usual vacant look in her eyes.
The night of the Snowball arrived. El was bouncing off the walls with excitement. Mike had been over earlier and had left before dinner to go get ready himself. Andrew had teased him about coming over when the two were going to see each other in the evening anyway but the duo of course hadn't cared about that at all. They had spent time together every single day since the gate had closed and even more after the Ives-Rich family had moved to Hawkins a few weeks ago and that didn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. Andrew knew eventually he would have to set some boundaries between the two teens but for now they were innocent children, traumatized by circumstances out of their control. He would give them the time they needed to heal and in turn he trusted they'd bear with him when he got a little too protective.
El had wolfed down her dinner, including her Eggo dessert and then had started to get ready. Her dress was easy but she was clueless about her hair and makeup so Becky and Andrew had to somehow style El's short mop of curls into something pretty and also apply her makeup. The clock was ticking and El was anxious as the two adults tried to figure out what to do.
Becky worked on El's hair, brushing the soft curls and pinning them back with berets while Andrew attempted to do her makeup.
"Dad! We're late!" she whined.
"Oh hush, Mike knows we're coming," Andrew teased. "He'll understand. Besides, Karen won't let him leave without a few dozen pictures anyway so he might even be later than us."
Andrew had formed an amiable friendship with Karen. The woman had come over a few days after the Ives-Rich family had moved to Hawkins bringing along her famous casserole. Mike had been talking about El for a while and Karen, ever the polite welcoming hostess, decided to kill two birds with one stone: Meeting the family of the girl her son was besotted with and welcoming them into the town at the same time.
Andrew and Karen had gotten along quite well and had formed a tentative friendship and once she had found out Mike had asked El to the Snowball the overexcited mother had insisted Andrew take a bunch of pictures of the young couple since he had volunteered as a chaperone just to make sure nothing went wrong at the dance. The chances of government agents being there was low but Andrew still refused to take any.
"No dad!" Andrew paused as El shrieked again. "Nancy says the concealer goes first!" she insisted.
Andrew shook his head and chuckled amused. "Alright, alright, bossy."
"Mike needs to think I'm pretty," El said seriously. Andrew paused for a moment then he kneeled down so he was at eye level with a sitting El.
"You are already so pretty. Just like your mama and Aunt Becky. Mike will think that too, even without makeup."
El nodded. She knew. Mike had called her pretty when she had no hair and dirt streaks on her face. That made her happy.
Eventually Andrew and El made it out the door and finally arrived at the middle school. Andrew had barely parked before El was flying out the door. He followed after, laughing slightly. He saw Joyce and Hopper sharing a cigarette across the lot. Probably waiting for Will. Andrew entered a few moments after El.
Mike was across the room, staring at El with an awestruck besotted look on his face. The two teens approached each other and Andrew grinned as he heard Mike blurt out "You look beautiful," over the din to El. The girl shyly looked to her feet, unaware of how to respond. The expression on the boy's face was sincere and Andrew watched as Mike asked El to dance before going over the corner of the room where he was appointed to be chaperoning.
It turned out to be the perfect spot because from there Andrew could see Mike and El on the dance floor. Seeing Mike so smitten and unable to take his eyes of his daughter, Andrew could feel his heart hurt. She had grown up without him being there. The first person to ever treasure her that she knew of had been Mike and not her father or mother. It was a bittersweet feeling for Andrew but he knew he would always be important to his daughter so without hesitation he raised his camera and snapped a picture right as Mike leaned in to kiss El. The couple pulled apart after the peck and Andrew couldn't help but snap a picture of their smiles after either.
"Karen will love these," Andrew mused to himself as he looked at the young couple.
Later in the evening Andrew would drive the lovestruck teens back home. Mike would catch a ride home with them instead of Nancy and Andrew wouldn't mind the extra two minutes as long as his daughter felt happy. Later he'd go to tuck her in bed and she'd fall asleep with a smile on her face and Andrew would feel his heart lighten as he would go sit with his Terry.
"We did it, Terry," he'd tell her, holding his hands tightly between his. Within his heart he knew she could hear and understand him. It was a feeling, a trust that had always been there even when she didn't respond.
"We got our Jane back. She's not named Arwen," Andrew chuckled, "but she does seem to like Lord of the Rings when I read it with her so I guess that's good enough. We both got our ends of the deal."
Andrew could see something flicker in the very back of Terry's eyes. Amusement, perhaps. He squeezed her hand as he looked at her lovingly, "We have our family, just like we promised."
And Terry mustered the strength to weakly squeeze Andrew's hand back.
It hadn't been easy. They had all suffered a lot but finally, after more than a decade, The Ives-Rich family was whole and healing again. They had fulfilled their promise and they were all safe and sound with each other. They were all finally home.