A/N: I'm on a roll. And I'm in college now, so I'm not swamped with work from my hard-ass high school anymore.
My story is now hella AU. The plot of this story will remain the same, but I'll slowly be fixing irregularities between this and season 2.
This story is now set over the summer between eighth and ninth grade for the kids. From now on, I'll be writing canon to season 2, but I don't have any idea when I'll be fixing the first seven chapters of this. SO SPOILERS AHEAD. The major changes I have made are that El now lives with Hopper and lives under his strict rules, rather than living between Joyce and Hopper with laxer rules. El is more articulate, but she still struggles a bit. Max will start appearing. Billy will play a role in this (maybe?). And most importantly, new arcade games will appear, since it's '85!
I don't own Stranger Things, all I own are my ideas and a lot of student loans.
Anxiety sat like a rock in El's stomach. She was waiting, ears pricked, for her signal to get going. Today was the day that they ventured out to the radio tower, taking upwards of two hours to walk there. Due to the hilly nature of the forest surrounding the area, there was no way they could possibly take their bikes out, so leaving early in the day to walk was the only option the group had.
El heard static from Hopper's wind-up radio crackle. "El," whispered a voice. It echoed faintly in the poor reception. "El, come in. This is Lucas. Do you copy?"
Despite the fact that El had been staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep, El found herself too tired to lunge for the radio like she had been expecting herself to do for the past several hours.
Lucas signaled her again. "El. It is currently four-hundred and thirty hours. Do you copy? Over."
El took in a deep breath and moved her weak hands toward the radio. She held it in one hand before responding. "I copy, Lucas. Over and out."
El rose quietly from her position on the bed. She flicked on a flashlight running low on batteries and propped it in the furthest corner from her door. The light was so faint there was no chance of it waking Hopper. However, it significantly reduced her chances of finding what she needed without waking him.
She removed the baggy t-shirt and sweatpants she slept in and placed several layers of new clothing she would molt as the day grew hotter onto the bed. She begrudgingly picked up a bra by its straps and stared at it with a grimace before placing it onto her sore chest. The daily medications she had been taking while imprisoned at the lab significantly slowed her hormone production, but two years of freedom was starting to take its toll and transform her body. El shimmied her way into a pair of leggings and then jeans. She placed on a t-shirt and a sweater, then finally, a light rain jacket.
A backpack brimming with the day's necessities sat behind the tail of the quilt that dangled off of her bed. She pulled it out without letting it drag noisily against the wooden planks of the floor. The backpack was heavier than she was, so maneuvering it was no easy task. She sucked in a breath and hauled it off the floor and onto her bed.
She checked every compartment for its needed packaging. A heavy-duty flashlight with fresh batteries sat wrapped in a flannel she would wear in case the early morning was too cold. An army knife, two boxes of Band-Aids, a rag, and a crowbar rested in the main compartment. El moved deftly to her drawers and put on her thickest pair of socks, throwing another wool pair into the backpack. The bandana Kali had gifted her was stuffed into a zippered pouch. Emergency rations of nutrient-dense food, ranging from Eggos to candy, was spaced intermittently throughout the canvas satchel.
Everything she could possibly need was in that backpack. She tossed it over her shoulder and slipped her arm through it. She grabbed the wind-up radio and crackled the button several times to signal to Lucas she was preparing to leave.
Without making a sound, she turned off the flashlight sitting in the corner, moved into the living room, and prepared to open the front door.
"Where do you think you're going?"
El froze, her hand on the doorknob. She couldn't see anything in the pitch black of the dawn in the Hawkins woods, but she could feel Hopper's glare on her. And she could feel how much trouble she was in.
She removed her hand from the metal on the ancient cabin door and tucked it into the pocket of her overalls.
Wood creaked as Hopper moved from his position in the dark. He flipped on the light, looking very upset.
El had taken caution to wake herself up at 4:30, long before Hopper would wake up to get ready for work. Apparently, waking up earlier than him had been a bad mistake. She should have waited until he departed for work. Instead of arriving late to the party, she now wouldn't arrive at all.
Hopper moved over to her frozen form. His arms were crossed over his bare chest. He had just woken up, wearing his flannel pajama bottoms. "Where do you think you're going?"
The tone of voice in his repeating sentence grew more threatening.
El looked down to her feet and tried her best to formulate a lie that would put her in less trouble than the truth.
Any plausible lie would work, really. Anything would be safer than venturing down to the power plant to check out some evil that had survived the portal shutting. Or some evil that was from a dimensional plane entirely different than the Upside Down.
"Lucas has an emergency." Lucas was doubtlessly the person in her friend group that Hopper hated the least. He wasn't as reckless as Dustin or as danger-bound as Will. And he certainly wasn't romantically involved with her like Mike.
"The police can take care of emergencies. And last time I checked, I was head of the police here. Should I come with you?"
El couldn't think of a response.
"I've been lenient, letting you go on dates and whatnot. But the doc said you should wait at least a year before going out in broad daylight."
"It's still dark out," she retorted before she could stop herself. She knew the sarcasm infringing into her voice would get her in some serious shit one day, but she could never control her tongue.
Hopper looked outside, registering that she had woken up before the sun, and was planning to leave before it rose. "So it is."
A silence filled the room. El looked back down at her feet, staring at her beat-up sneakers that had carried her to Chicago and back.
"Something is wrong." El attempted to be as vague as possible without explicitly lying or telling the truth.
Hopper nodded. "Yes, that's right."
"I need to fix it." El remained still, but frustration began to bubble in her chest. "And you can't help like you did with the gate. This is different."
"And how is it different?" Hopper asked, having moved from his position right in front of his door to by the fridge. He pulled out a gallon jug of orange juice and began to drink it straight from the bottle.
"I want to know how it's different, too. Because I don't know why. I just know it is."
El watched as Hopper took another drink from the carton. "If you open that door you're as good as grounded until school starts."
By the time Hopper finished his sentence, El had picked up the carton from afar and was dangling it above his head. Hopper, obviously still fatigued, blinked stupidly. She felt terrible, taking advantage of Hopper in his pre-morning coffee state. "Put that down."
El floated the carton back into the fridge and shut it with her mind. "Look at me."
Hopper turned to face her, his face stern. He blinked again, scratching his fingers through his beard.
"I need to go. I need to."
Hopper nodded, shooing her out the door with his hand. "If you're in real trouble, just go. But don't expect there won't be consequences for not telling me."
El had shut the door before he finished his last sentence. She had grown from frustrated to furious in the midst of the conversation. However, as soon as the cold morning hit her face she sobered up.
She shivered, feeling pathetic, empty and embarrassed for being caught. She zipped up her jacket, not ready to journey to the day's meeting point, the quarry.
Fortunately, Will, who lived closest to the quarry, had loaned El his bike and had Jonathan drop it off. She would still have a twenty minute ride in the pitch dark to get even remotely close to central Hawkins, and another twenty minutes of travel on top of that to reach the quarry itself.
El positioned herself on the bike, tediously adjusting herself and her heavy backpack so she wouldn't fall off. It had been a few months since she began to learn how to ride a bike, but she was still inexperienced with it, especially since Hopper only let her practice in the solace of the deep woods by his cabin.
Dirt crunched as El rolled the bike away from the lee of the house into the open road beyond the path. The wind grew sharper as El sped up on the bike. She followed the path in the darkness, knowing the paths as well as she knew herself.
The paths were her only connection to the outside world on most days. Hopper had sworn by Dr. Owens that El would not be around in the public for a year, but as time progressed he had loosened these restrictions. El was allowed in the property surrounding Hopper's house for a diameter of fifty yards. She could, on very rare occasions, hang out with the others if they were in the arcade or join them in restaurants. She could go to houses, as long as Mike wasn't the only one home, and as long as she had a ride to and from.
Most days, however, El was only allowed within her thin diameter of freedom, so following her dirt paths was a lifeline she often indulged herself in.
By the time El had reached Hawkins, the sun was already beginning to illuminate the sky. Her argument with Hopper had set her very far back in her schedule, so her lungs burned as she attempted to speed up to account for lost time.
She passed the grocery store she had robbed and shattered the doors of. She passed the arcade that held so many of her fond memories. Within the time it took for the sun to provide light to the sun emerging over the line of trees in the distance, El had reached the quarry.
No one had arrived yet, much to her surprise. Dustin was constantly distracted, Max had to skateboard everywhere, Lucas enjoyed his sleep, and Will was without a bike. The only surprising absence was from Mike.
Mike was typically punctual, even more so than El. Ever since she had been taught to read the clocks Hopper had in the house, she had been fascinated by the concept of time. Mike was as good with time as she was, so it was unusual to see him unable to manage it.
He doesn't have his radio, El remembered.
Maybe he had missed his wake-up call.
El had been sitting on her bike as she processed his absence. She awkwardly removed herself from the rubber seat and walked the bike to a patch of foliage that would hide it well. When it was hidden from the public eye, she moved to the edge of the quarry and peered over it.
She always had a curious fear of fissures. Not heights, not falls, but fissures themselves, fissures that fell deep into the earth. They reminded her of the gate, of the vines that branched off of it, and of the Upside Down. They reminded her of fissures that she had seen in dreams that were so empty they never ended, fissures that poured steam from their gaping mouths in an abandoned, rusted town. The sun faintly cast light over the sections of water closest to her, but the majority of the lake remained shrouded in blackness and fog. In the early morning, the quarry was a terrifyingly empty place –
– a place so empty that it felt like nothing had weight. It felt like nothing breathed in the world, nothing lived, nothing loved. El looked around, feeling like she didn't exist in this strange world. She felt like nothing existed, but she knew so much better.
The Demogorgon lived here. Other creatures, shadow creatures, that she could never see but she could constantly feel, lived there. It was unnatural how empty the world there felt, and she knew better, and she had to keep that in mind.
She couldn't ever forget she wasn't alone as she wondered the Upside Down Hawkins Middle School, because, if she forgot, if she let her guard down, for just a second, she would die –
She would die if she fell from this height, she knew, but that didn't stop her from sitting on the edge.
The slightest noise she made echoed throughout the entirety of the valley Hawkins was nestled in. Each time she shuffled on the lip of the quarry fall, echoes poured off of the walls of the quarry and into the distance. Trees that coated the landscape did nothing to absorb the sound. They were just silent observers to the human world, reverberating with every slight shuffle. El became so aware of the noises, of the shifting water, the wind, the falling rocks, and the complete absence of human or animal noises.
The spell-binding silence was finally broken as the sun peaked over the trees. The noises of a bicycle approached, from the tire hitting the gravel to the spokes groaning in complaint. The unknown biker dismounted and presumably placed his bike next to her own.
He stood behind El before he sat himself beside her.
Mike shrugged off his jacket and placed it over El's shoulders. "Thank you. It's cold."
"I know. Today is going to be long."
A silence shrouded the two. El placed her hands on either side of herself, her elbows weak. She sucked in a breath and held it was long as she could manage before scooting herself closer to him.
Mike picked up his arm and placed it over her shoulders haphazardly. El smiled, feeling incredibly happy.
"Oh!" Mike shouted, instantly removing his arm from her frame. El pouted. "I brought you breakfast."
El smiled and snuggled closer to him, happily taking a plastic bag that he took from his coat pocket. Two Eggos, crinkled and fogging the plastic, waited for her.
She tore into the bag and instantly stuffed one into her mouth, holding it with her teeth as she tore the other out and handed it to Mike.
Mike smiled, taking it and tearing off a small bite.
"Thank you, Mike."
"You're welcome," he responded. He turned around as if he heard a noise, searching for something.
"Did you hear something?" El whispered around a mouthful of carbohydrates. She felt fear settle into her throat. She was totally unaware of what Mike had sensed, and this made her uneasy.
Mike shook his head. "No. I think it was just a car."
They went back to eating their breakfast. El had finished her waffle before Mike could take off another bite. El pouted, upset over her lack of control.
"Can I have some of yours?" she asked.
Mike glanced at her, tearing off another chunk of his. He held it between two fingers and offered it to her. She reached for it, only to have it stolen away.
He smirked at her and moved it back into her reach. "You know, it's rude to refuse food if someone offers it."
"I do know that," she replied sassily, trying to reach for it again.
El frowned as it was taken further from her reach, but quickly lunged forward and took it from his hand with her teeth, nipping him in the process.
"Ouch!" he shouted, jerking his hand away. "You're worse than Holly is!"
El smiled. "It's rude to refuse food."
Mike rolled his eyes and wiped off his fingers. He gave her the rest of his scraps and replaced his arm around her shoulders.
"The guys and Max should be about ten minutes away," he stated offhandedly. "They're never on time for anything."
El wrinkled her nose. Of course Max was coming. Even though she knew Mike was hers, she was still jealous anytime that a female her age came within his proximity.
She glanced over at him, removing a strand of hair from her vision. Hers. She moved close to him and kissed him lightly. "You taste like Eggos."
"You must dig that."
She laughed and nodded. She leaned in again, delighted by how warm he was. Even if her feet weren't dangling over the edge of a quarry, she felt like she could fall into eternity with how light her stomach felt.
She jumped out of her skin when she felt something hot and wet touch her bottom lip. She jerked away, wide-eyed. Her mouth dangled open, her face the color of Hopper after he contracted a sunburn.
"Sorry!" Mike shouted, his voice bouncing off of the dome the quarry was sealed inside. "Sorry."
She wiped her mouth and looked down at her hand. "Are you bleeding? It felt like you are."
Mike shook his head and buried it into his hands. "No. T-that's just something I was told that couples do. Dustin mentioned it because Steve mentioned it to him and I thought, that since you know, Steve's older he'd know what to do, even if he did it with Nan–"
He stopped himself before he said something that would scar him, seemingly just as embarrassed as El.
"Well, I liked it. I think," she responded. She adjusted herself and moved back toward Mike, who had picked up his head and sighed.
"Okay," he mumbled.
The two kissed again. El's stomach bunched into a ball of molten lead. Or nickel, so hot it was like the core of the Earth.
From a distance, the sight must have been incredibly awkward, the two trying to figure out a rhythm or how wide their mouths should be open. Yet within their bubble, El felt unreal.
She was shaking, yet she was unsure if it was from the cold or from nerves. No, it had to be from nerves – she felt so hot that she could have banished the mind flayer from Will's body if she moved within a two-foot radius of him.
After a few moments, she pulled away to take in a loud breath, blushing faintly. "My tummy feels funny." Her stomach contracted sharply with her confession.
"Mine too," Mike responded, shuffling.
"Yeah, so does mine!" a voice in the distance shouted. "Seeing you two suck face makes me sick!"
El squealed, shuffling away from the edge of the fall and tucking her face very far into her knees.
"Dustin, fuck off!" Mike shouted, his voice breaking.
Dustin laughed. He had been sitting five feet away, leaning cockily on his bike. It shocked El that he could be so quiet. Or maybe, she had just been distracted. She made angry eye contact with him for a split second before flipping him off and burying her face again.
"Did you teach her that?" Mike asked, feigning shock. "Who taught her that?"
"I dunno. Probably her punk friends that keep showing up." Dustin shrugged.
Dustin screeched as his bike, which supported most of his weight, mysteriously fell to the side and he ended up on the ground with a faceful of gravel.
Mike moved closer to El again. He was trying to hide the smirk on his face, but not doing a good job. El removed the hair falling in front of her face to get a better look at his stupid grin. She placed her chin on her knees and smiled back.
"You guys are assholes," Dustin stated, sitting beside them. "I radioed Will and Lucas before I left. Will never responded, so I assume he's already left. Lucas will be here soon though. So that means Max will be here soon."
Dustin dropped his backpack beside him and began to dump out contents everywhere.
"Y'know, Dustin, the point of packing a bag is so that the shit stays in the bag to make for easy carrying," Mike stated, annoyed, as he shuffled wads of crumpled paper off of his lap.
"I misplaced something," Dustin responded without interest.
El looked at the assortment of random articles that had spilled out of the bulging bag. Pens, pencils, multiple compasses, a crumpled map, and various other unrecognizable artifacts rested on the ground as Dustin continued to pull more from his bag.
A book with a red binding spilled out. The cover featured a knight wielding a sword against a dragon. El grabbed for the Dungeons and Dragons manual, flipping through the worn pages. She remembered seeing the book during the boys' gaming sessions. She remembered it serving as their lifeline when they were caught in peril, guiding them on fighting the Demogorgon and the mind flayer.
Maybe it could help again, somehow.
Dustin took something out of his bag from the very recesses of the cloth. "Found it. No need to worry."
"Still don't know what it is."
Dustin plopped a pair of bright yellow gloves onto his lap. "We might need to do some breaking in to places. These and a pair of wire cutters can get us anywhere."
A light breeze came through and picked up a loose piece of paper, banishing it into the quarry below. "I hope that wasn't important," Dustin said to himself.
El flipped leisurely through the pages, admiring the artwork of some of the highlighted creatures. El picked at the sleeves of her jacket as she skimmed the pages, absentmindedly scratching at her tattoo. She wondered what would happen if they were ever to run into a monster that couldn't be encapsulated by the pages of a Dungeons and Dragons book, and the thought made her shutter.
The sounds of a car crunching over gravel sounded off in the distance. El craned her neck and looked past thicket and rocks to see Jonathan's old car dropping Will off. He had another bag slung over his shoulder.
Will turned his back to the group to wave Jonathan off. He shouted something inaudible against the noises of the complaining car, then waddled to the others.
He dropped the bag with such force that the lake below rippled. "This shit is heavy."
"You brought the wire cutters, right?" Dustin asked, glancing up from his pile of rubbish.
Will unzipped his bag and the contents within jumped out. A pair of very large wire cutters poked out the top of the bag. He took them out and handed them to Dustin, who smiled stupidly and poked at the sharp blades. He stuffed the large scissors into his bag first, then packed everything around them.
For a moment, he paused, shuffling through the remaining contents.
He found his binoculars and unrolled the cord wrapped around them. He placed it over his neck and peered through the chunky lenses. "I can see power lines going to the power plant. Just barely, though."
He pulled his face away and pointed in the general direction of the plant. "That way. It's probably about a two hour westward hike to get there. But going through the forest is our safest bet at not getting caught by anything that wants to catch us."
El tried finding the power plant. She squinted and barely made out power lines standing in a clearing, with ominous storm gray clouds hovering above the area. "Is it going to rain?"
"Are you feeling anything?" Mike asked, Will on one side, El on the other. The three were hanging back from the more enthusiastic half of the group, walking behind them at a slower pace.
Dustin hauled a backpack and constantly readjusted his new hair he had contracted from Steve. Lucas and Max flirted not-so-subtly as they walked, bumping into and pushing each other.
Will shrugged. "I haven't really felt anything since we managed to scare off the mind flayer. I don't think I'm a reliable connection to the Upside Down anymore. Or the place in between."
El looked ahead quietly. "It's quiet."
The walk had been very silent in approach to the station, except for the vocal teenagers. No birds chirped, no squirrels chittered, and even the footfalls of the group seemed to have been sucked to another dimension. The world was quiet.
"I don't know if we have anything to worry about, honestly." Mike adjusted the backpack he was carrying. "I mean, yeah, things have been acting up, but the gate is closed."
"What if it isn't from the gate though, Mike?" Will asked, sounding worried. "What then?"
Mike looked down at the ground. "We'll think about that when we find out, if it happens."
El looked away from her friends. She looked off into the distance, searching for any signs of unusualness. There were no dead plants, no gutted animals, no gaping holes that spewed otherworldly particles into theirs. There was nothing out of the ordinary, so much so, it seemed everything was wrong, because it was so normal.
A squirrel hopped out of a bushy entanglement and hopped into the middle of the path. It sat their, flicked its tail in annoyance and chittered angrily.
It was very fat for a squirrel in the summer. Everyone, fascinated by their first encounter with wildlife since the start of the day, stopped at stared at it.
It stood up on its hind legs, holding its front paws against its chest. It chittered again, fluffed its fur, and hopped straight for Lucas.
Lucas swore and backed away, terrified of the angry creature. The squirrel still came for him, so he, panicking, kicked at it.
"Dude, it's just a squirrel," Dustin stated.
"Yeah, but it's rabid!" Lucas exclaimed, finally landing a light kick square in the squirrel's side. It flew for several feet, landed so hard onto the ground it bounced back up, and did not move again.
Max, horrified, clung to Lucas as Dustin went to poke at it. "Jesus, Lucas, you've got the kick of a kangaroo. This thing's got his side torn wide open."
"That wasn't me!" Lucas defended himself. "I just didn't want it killing me!"
"Oh my god, do you guys smell that?" Mike asked, covering his nose with his shirt. "That thing smells rotten."
Dustin froze, backing away. He blinked twice stupidly, retrieved a nearby stick, and approached it again. He distastefully jabbed at the corpse, rolling it so that its stomach was exposed to the sky, dead black eyes rolling into its skull. "It looked like something tore a giant bite out of this thing."
El wrinkled her nose, feeling bad for the poor creature. "Monsters?" she asked.
"Maybe," Dustin replied, crouching next to it. Lucas and Max still hung away, embarrassingly horrified by the rodent, while everyone else neared it.
Will paused and grabbed for Mike's hand.
"Dude, not the time–" Mike started.
Will interrupted him as he yanked Mike's sleeve up, exposing Mike's scarred palm to everyone. "Does that look familiar?"
The squirrel's injury was beyond the ability of anything's bite. It was black, gurgling buckets of green and yellow pus onto the dirt path. There was nothing red in sight – the injury was closed off completely from the body, the black crusting over any organ that could have been visible. The squirrel's leg twitched, and Lucas, who had mustered up some bravery to inspect the corpse, almost fainted.
"Yeah, but how the hell does a squirrel get an electrical burn?" Dustin asked.
"Power lines?" El asked, pointing off in their general direction.
"Well, I guess that means we're at least going in the right direction." Will took the stick from Dustin, jabbing at the squirrel's face. It didn't respond. "And at least our brave Knight defeated this beast."
A/N: I did my research and I still understand absolutely nothing about D&D. I need to consult my old roommate, and once I have her advice, I can get more in depth with campaigns.
Story Note: I'm pretty much making it part of my canon that El has seen flashes of the town of Silent Hill. In an older story of mine, she ended up in Silent Hill instead of the Upside Down (and Hopper's house) after she killed the Demogorgon. I really like the idea and I have no real reason to do it, but it's happening. The most I'll do is make vague references to the town and to monsters that inhabit it, just so I can get my nerdy giggles in.