The asphalt feels harder than normal as El’s feet pound into the pavement, her white Converse getting dirtier and dirtier with each stride. She still doesn’t think about the pain in her joints, the blood coming from her nose, the grief still racking her brain about having to leave behind the only sister she’s ever had. Instead, her thoughts are focused on one thing.
He’s in danger, he’s hurt.
He needs my help.
I’m going to save him.
She has to keep running. She was unable to find a nice man with a truck this time to get her from the big place with the buses to the Byers’. That's where she knows Mike is. Not because she needs to look for him in the Void, but because she feels him. She feels every ounce of his presence cascading through her veins as she runs towards him, street lights flickering on and off in the distance, every hit of her foot on the asphalt bringing her closer to him and every step removing the 353 days since she last saw him.
However, it's the other thing that she feels that scares her. She knows it’s back, the thing that haunted her dreams for the last year. The monster. The one that tore through the town without a care in the world, leaving behind so much blood and carnage. She feels the danger, the despair, the death that it's caused. But the love she feels is stronger. She's willing to put aside all that death and fear if she can see him in person again.
She did see him over those 353 days, usually in secret without anyone knowing. Sometimes it was in the Void, where she watched him grow while at the same time watched him fall further and further into the anger that she's grown accustomed to. The first time she ever heard him speak and call out to her was Day 65. She went into the Void to check up on him and she realized at that moment that he was waiting for her. That night, she came to Hopper and told him that she wanted to see Mike again. Hopper agreed but kept pushing it off. He just kept pushing it off until, one day, El snapped. She went out into the world on her own. It didn’t take long before she found him in school, talking to some girl she's never seen before. El felt something fill her heart, something that wasn't love.
It was Hate.
So she went running to find the people who she thought would never hurt her. Her family. Yet still she got hurt. Kali is too far gone to care. She has slipped beyond the point of saving and chose to hurt others. But if there is one thing El has learned about herself, it’s that she’s a savior. She uses the gifts she has, not to injure like Papa wanted, but to help. The thing that Mike taught her how to do.
She rounds the corner, steps getting wider and wider as the Byers’ house comes into view.
There he is.
She picks up her pace as she begins fully sprinting towards the house until suddenly she hears it. A low guttural growl that immediately reminds her of the monster from last year.
El stops short to survey the current state of the Byers’ house.
On the front lawn are four beasts circling the house as wolves do, waiting for their prey to make a mistake.
They've been sent to kill.
But they're not going to.
El feels her anger boiling inside of her chest as she stares at them with her powers soaring.
I did not come this far not to save Mike.
She steps forward as she begins to ready her hands, her footsteps echoing into the night. The beasts hear her and all turn to face her, ignoring the house.
One of them screams. Its head opens up in the same familiar flower-like pattern as the monster. The other three quickly follow behind it as they start to form their own circle around El.
I'm ready for this. Let's go.
The first beast lets out a howl and charges towards her. El instinctively grabs it with her powers and whips it as hard as she can into a nearby tree, its body snapping with a sickening thud. Once the body falls limp on the ground, she turns her attention back to the other three. They continue circling, trying to gain position, as El determines what her course of action is. After a couple seconds, another one leaps forward, its mouth open with a hideous rumble ringing into the air. El catches it in midair and rotates so that its head faces the ground. Once in position, she slams it down with a tremendous force, its head crumpling against the harsh asphalt.
Seeing their opportunity, the other two rush forward. El jumps out of the way, dodging their snapping jaws. They leap up simultaneously, trying to pounce on her, and she manages to catch the both of them in mid-air. Her powers strain to hold back what feels like a ton of pure evil. After digging her feet in, she dispatches the one on her left, throwing it violently into the forest and breaking it against multiple trees. Finally, she holds the last one up, feeling it fearfully shake in her hands. She pulls her fist in and closes it, feeling its organs disintegrate. With the final one dead, she throws it away haphazardly, not realizing where it's going to end up.
With the sound of a window shattering, El realizes that she threw it through the front window, no doubt scaring the people inside. She stops to catch her breath as she gazes upon the carnage she inflicted on these beasts.
I saved him. I did it.
El likes to think about how many times she saved Mike and how many times he saved her. That's what their relationship is built on. Sacrifice. Their willingness to do everything for one another because that's how much they mean to each other. That's how much she cares about Mike. She will fight off a hundred more beasts, if it means she can see him again.
With shaking legs and with a heart full of love, El begins walking up the stairs of the Byers house, each step landing with a dull thud. Once at the door, she raises up her hands, feeling the locks on the other side of the door.
She also feels the people inside. The warmth. The love. But also the fear. They don't know she's there. They think it's another monster here to finish them off.
But El knows she's not a monster. Mike told her.
She rests her hand against the door and unlocks the first lock, feeling everything that happened between her and Mike before this moment. Will, the Demogorgon, the Bad men, all 353 days. The chain of the lock falls away like the chains of her past. Nothing else matters except for what and who is on the other side of this door.
The second lock is harder. Like this moment. Fighting back tears. Fighting monsters both physically and mental. Taking her time to unlock this door has forced her to confront everything she's feeling. The grief. The pain.
I left her behind.
The last lock brings the last thing she's feeling into the forefront of her mind. The hope for her future. The second she crosses through that door, she knows that whatever happens next is going to happen with him. And that's all that matters. She doesn't care if she has to go back into the Upside Down and fight the Demogorgon again. As long as Mike is by her side, she's ready to do anything.
She exhales shakily and shoves the door open, watching the light spill out. Tears begin pinpricking in the corner of her eyes and she knows that just a few steps will take her to where she's been wanting to go for a while.
At last, El Hopper is finally home.