A snowflake fell from the cold winter sky, and it landed on Mike Wheeler’s ungloved palm, possibly seeking comfort from the adolescent boy whose expression reflected confusion and misunderstanding. He closed his palm without even bothering to examine the unique pattern brought to him by the jolliest season of the year. Mike sighed quietly, the delicate gift had melted and he didn’t seem to be bothered by it. He sat down on the delicate staircase that led to Joyce’s homely new life which turned out to be just an temporary illusion. ‘Will it ever go back to what it used to be?’ His dark brown eyes fought to stay open, but they just couldn’t. ‘When will this nightmare end? Can we all just finally wake up?’ A tear ran down his cheek, marking its path until it disappeared into the void of his coat.
“Mike?” A feminine voice called. A voice that could only belong to the girl who owned his every thought and breath. Eleven. Jane. El. The only person that made sense to him, the only reason he wouldn’t change anything that happened during that rainy November night. His heartbeat began to raise, he couldn’t help it; the effect she had on him was powerful.
“El.” He replied without moving from his place. His tone seemed dull, colder than the freezing air that threatened to get him sick. Mike didn’t even look back at her. Not because he didn’t want to but because he knew that the second their eyes would meet El would find uncertainty and reluctance, it wouldn’t do her well not after the duty she had been charged to complete.
‘Why can’t I go instead of her?’ Mike found himself needing to hold on to the worn turquoise rail that stood beside his shaking body. Even though he was sitting, his thoughts seemed to throw him around like a puppet whose only purpose was to be destroyed. ‘She has been through enough, how is this fair?’ Eleven began walking closer to him, taking short steps and pausing after every two. She didn’t want to disrupt his thoughts, the girl wasn’t sure if they were nice or not - she couldn’t read him, or at least not as effortlessly as she used to before leaving Hawkins - distance and growing pains had gotten in the way of their young romance - but that did not mean her feelings about him had changed.
They would just need to accommodate to this new version of them, they needed to grow together and confide in each other.
Which was exactly why she sat down next to him during the coldest evening California would experience. Eleven looked at him, and tried to read his expression even with half of his face covered by an inconvenient needled scarf and a clearly store-bought hat. If anyone dared to come out from the house that held only a few memories, they would be greeted with a sight none expected. El and Mike, Mike and El sitting side by side without holding each other in any way. Separated by a clear 3 inches distance that neither of them had established.
Eleven dressed in the most colorful tones, and Mike in the darkest ones. Opposites, if a stranger dared to judge.
“Mike.” The girl with the brown flowy locks said firmly. Her hand trying to reach his, noticing how pale his skin was becoming. Just as her gloved hand loomed over his exposed one, he flinched; pulling away from what could have been a soft caress.
It hurt, of course it did. It made her question her actions, their compromise with each other, where they stood. “Talk to me” El expressed defeat, the pain in her voice was barely noticeable but she was almost sure Mike would be able to tell. Or at least she hoped he would, since she was still troubled with her speaking and her lack of proper vocabulary.
“Do you really have to go?” He turned to her and she finally saw him, the version of Mike that would never push her out - the one he had always been, his true self. Not his strong facade, not the grumpy version of him, not the one who was controlled by the constant changes in his body. Just him, the one that El was sure would follow him throughout his life.
“Yes.” She tried to intertwine their hands once again, and this time he didn’t stop her, instead he squeezed her hand to make sure that she was right there with him. “For them, Mike. For you.” El was always sincere, or at least on the majority of things; She was way too selfless to deny anything to the people she loved the most. The girl was willing to fight, even if she found herself being drained by such actions.
“Are you sure you are going to be okay? You only got your powers back a few weeks ago, we are not sure if they are here to stay or if they are limited.” Before she was able to reply, Mike held both of her hands in his own. He looked at her intensely, clear worry written all over his weakened expression. “I need you to be honest about how you feel, El. I need you to think about your safety first, for once. If it’s too much, you need to tell Joyce. Or us.”
The soft winter breeze was starting to become stronger, and reminding both of them about the closeness of the event that could cost El’s health, or in the worse case: her life.
“Mike.” Eleven broke the union of their hands and found herself sitting closer to him. It was involuntary, it felt like something was pulling them closer and neither of them seemed to mind. Her left hand cupped his face and pulled on his scarf a bit exposing his rosy colored lips.
“I will be okay,” She wasn’t really sure about how much she would be able to do, or if she would be able to live through the experience. But she would never tell him that. “Don’t worry.”
They started to lean in, as if that was the natural thing to do. Their lips met in the middle of the storm, in the beginning of a battle that would either make everything alright or destroy everything they ever loved. For a minute, they let the world burn beneath them, too occupied in each other to care about anything else.
They both secretly wished they could stay that way forever.
He pulled away first and helped her stand up. Mike understood they had to get back inside and she needed to get ready for the final battle against the remains of her troubled past. Eleven was about to open the door to the lousy living room but she was stopped by Mike’s cold fingers.
The moment ended just as quickly as it started, but neither of them seemed to mind. They had the reassurance they needed from each other and that as enough to continue their day. The teenage boy couldn’t stop thinking, even after hearing El say she would be fine. She had said that so many times before, and most of them she had tired herself to the point of exhaustion.
His mind forced him to remember all the times she had been hurt and he had been there to witness the occasion or watch the after effects of her battles. He imagined the possibility of him not seeing the girl he loved ever again after this quiet evening, but instead of bombarding her with his never ceasing worry he chose to not let anything unsaid before the beginning of the war.
“I love you.” The boy whispered, not because he didn’t want anyone to know how deep his feelings for El were - He had accidentally shared that important detail during a teenage outburst - but because he wanted her to hear him say it directly to her and only her. Somewhere where he didn't need to prove anything to anyone. Mike wanted Eleven to know he meant it and felt it with every ounce of his body, soul and mind.
“I love you, too.” She replied as silently as she could so the words would be only his to hear.
And so they walked in, their hands finding comfort in each other as they heard the articulated plan The Party, Nancy, Jonathan and Joyce had created for El.
Was she afraid? More than she had ever been.
Because this time, she fully understood the concept of dying and never seeing the people whom she loved the most ever again. But she wouldn’t let fear get the best of her. Not when the people she loved the most would be there to hold her after everything.
Not when she had promised Mike that everything would be okay.