A/N I preorderd my copy of the prequel and it's put me in a back story frame of mind. I'm not sure how much more of "Season 1.5" I'll get into, but for now, this the missing scene between the flashback scenes where Hopper finally finds Eleven in the woods and when he brings her to the cabin. It's night when he finds her, day when he takes her to the cabin, she's cleaned up but they're both wearing the same clothes.
December 12, 1983.
He stood there in the cold, staring in disbelief at the slight girl before him. She was shivering, filthy, and even though she was swimming in the over large coat and hat, he could see she was painfully thin. He'd been looking for her and leaving her food for nearly three weeks, ever since the old man reported being attacked in those woods and having his coat stolen. But to actually draw her out, well, Hopper was oddly ill prepared. He felt like the dog who'd finally caught the car.
"Hey there," he finally spoke, breaking the silence. He kept his feet planted and made the conscious effort not to make any sudden movements as though she was an injured animal who might bolt before he could help. "Do you remember me?"
Eleven didn't move, not entirely convinced her decision to show herself was a good one. That night wasn't the first time she'd watched him leaving her food. He'd been coming regularly and she'd been watching him, waiting until he was safely out of sight before she took the food and hid. But that night was cold, colder than it had been. It had been snowing and the wind bit her exposed legs like an invisible predator. He might not be a safe person, but she knew she wouldn't survive in the woods much longer on her own either.
"I'm not gonna hurt you, okay?" Hopper reassured her almost as though he'd read her thoughts. "We need to get you warm and I've got the heater all warmed up in my car." He turned and gestured towards the Blazer behind him. He could see she was shaking, but it was impossible to tell how much was cold and how much was nerves.
"Bad men?" she asked, her voice dry and cracked. It might have been the first words she'd said since she'd run from Mike's house. She wasn't sure, it had all become a blur in an effort to just stay alive.
"Nah, kid. No bad men here. Not right now, anyway," he looked over his shoulders making sure he was telling the truth.
Hopper opened the passenger door and gestured for her to climb inside. "Go on ahead. You'll be safe. I'll make sure of it." And this time he really would. If it was the last thing he did, he would.
"Promise?" She knew the man had helped saved Will, but that didn't mean he'd help her. She'd been watching him leave food for her, but that didn't mean he wasn't doing it to lure her back to the lab. If she stayed in the woods, she would surely die. If she went with him, she at least had a chance.
She would have to take the risk.
"Yeah, kid. I promise."
It means something that you can't break. Ever.
She finally climbed into the car and as Hopper closed the door behind her, he thought like mad what to do next. Taking her to the trailer was out of the question. Government agents had already broken into his place and bugged it once, God only knew how closely they were monitoring him now. He decided he would need to take her to a motel for the night until he thought of a better plan. He peeked into his billfold to confirm he had enough cash on him to get a room for the night without leaving a paper trail.
"Ok, kid," he announced as he settled into the driver's seat, "We're going to go somewhere those bad men don't know to look."
He smiled at her, hoping she was more comforted by his bravado than he was. She just looked at him with those giant, deer in the headlights eyes of hers. He wasn't sure he if saw trust or desperation in them. Maybe a little of both.
Hopper was more familiar with the motels on the outskirts of Hawkins than was strictly decent, but at least it came in handy in times like these. He paid cash for a double room and signed the guest register under a false name. He offered no explanation as to why the name tag on his uniform didn't match his name on the registry and the motel clerk didn't ask. He was the fourth John Smith to sign into the motel that evening. It was that kind of establishment. Hopper parked the Blazer as close to the room door as possible and ushered Eleven inside before anyone noticed her. It occurred to him that he should consider getting an ordinary car for personal use, though it was too late to do anything about it just then.
She'd been sitting in the car with the heat blowing full blast for half an hour at that point, but she didn't feel like she'd ever be warm again. Hopper chained the door, secured the deadbolt and made sure the curtains didn't have any gaps before going into autopilot, letting his first aid training kick in.
"Ok, kid. We've really got to get you warmed up and out of those shoes. They're a bit wet and I need to make sure your toes don't have any frostbite."
She looked at him with wide eyes and he wasn't sure how much she understood. Hopper decided to take a different approach.
"I'm just going to untie them, is that ok?" he asked as he knelt down in front of her.
She nodded and he slowly untied and loosened the shoes. If she had severe frostbite, her skin would be particularly fragile and he couldn't very well take her to a hospital. Step by painstaking step, Hopper got Eleven to let him remove her shoes and then her socks as he talked her through the process. Her toes were icy cold and the color of porcelain, but given how long she'd been out in the snow in canvas shoes, it could have been much worse.
"I'm going to run you a hot bath," he said as he stepped into the bathroom before adding unnecessarily, "don't go anywhere."
"Bath?" she sounded terrified and Hopper suddenly remembered why.
"Not that kind of bath, kid. Just the regular old get clean and warm kind. I'll even put bubbles in it for you," he added thinking that bubbles would give her additional modesty and help soak the grime off her body.
She now looked both nervous and confused.
"Ok, kid," Hopper sighed, thinking how he was going to explain. "Watch this."
Hopper motioned for her to follow him into the bathroom. She stood in the doorway looking over his shoulder as he took the little bottle of liquid soap and squeezed it into the stream of hot water.
"Bubbles," she repeated back slowly, clearly unfamiliar with the word.
"That's right. Now I'm just going to undo the back of this dress for you and then leave you to take your bath, ok?"
"Yes," she agreed softly.
"I'll be right outside if you need me," Hopper told her as he left the bathroom.
"Wait!" Eleven called out and the door was frozen in place.
"What's wrong, kid?"
She nervously considered whether to explain or not. Was the man like Mike who left the door open so she wouldn't be scared? Or was he like Papa who dismissed her fears and used them against her.
"Open?" she asked with a slight quaver. He failed to notice how much of a leap of faith that single question was.
"You want the door open? Ok, I can leave it open," Hopper responded as though it was no big deal. "You stay here and soak in the hot water, I'm going to get you something to eat, alright?"
Hopper didn't want to leave her alone and vulnerable, so he stood outside the motel door and surveyed his options. He spotted two vending machines next to the motel office. Perfect. He returned momentarily with a few bottles of apple juice and some packets of peanut butter crackers hoping to quickly restore her blood sugar without making her sick.
"Don't worry, kid, it's just me," he announced as he let himself into the motel room. "You doing ok in there?"
"Hurts," she said simply from the other side of the bathroom door.
There was no response, just a faint whimper.
"Ok kid, I'm coming in."
He fully expected a girl her age to be embarrassed to be nude in front of an adult man, bubbles or not. The fact that Eleven showed no discomfort and made no attempt to sink below the water told him volumes about her upbringing. Those bastards got what they deserved at the middle school that night.
"Hurts," she repeated and gestured towards her feet.
"Can I see?"
She lifted a foot out from under the bubbles and he could see that her toes had gone from porcelain white to bright red.
"That's normal, unfortunately," he told her sympathetically. "Actually it's a good sign, it means the blood is coming back to your toes. You could have gotten serious frostbite being out there."
"Frost...bite?" she repeated the word back to him slowly.
"It means when your skin gets so cold that the blood can't move around right. It can get so cold that it actually freezes, but your toes doesn't look that bad. We got you warm in time." He gave her his best reassuring smile, but she just stared back with those same big eyes.
Hopper let Eleven's foot down back into the sudsy water and realized it had cooled off and turned slightly muddy.
"How about we get you cleaned up and then I'll drain this water and fill it up again with fresh?" he suggested. "It's getting kind of murky."
Hopper dipped a washcloth into the water, soaped it up and handed it to her, coaching her through the bathing process. He poured a glob of shampoo from the small bottle into her waiting hand and encouraged her to rub it into her scalp. He noticed that her hair had started to grow back, though she still looked more like a boy than a girl.
"Ok, kid. Step out of the tub, alright?" he held a towel out on front of him and averted his eyes until he had her wrapped in it. He lifted her up onto the bathroom vanity and handed her a bottle of the apple juice. "Drink this slowly. If you drink too quickly, you'll make yourself sick, understand?"
His mind unwillingly flashed back to Sara, small and shaking, desperate to keep anything down as a result of the poisons they were pumping into her body to try to kill her cancer. He gave her apple juice with damn near the same instructions.
Eleven sat perched on the edge of the counter wrapped in her towel and nursing the bottle of apple juice while Hopper ran a second bath, as hot as he thought she could handle with a fresh supply of bubbles.
"I'm going to have you stay in for another half hour or so to finish warming up and once we know you can keep the juice down, I'll give you more to eat, yeah?"
"Yes," she responded mechanically.
He left her in the bathroom, door half open and considered his options. He didn't have any other clothes for either of them to change into and he wasn't willing to leave her to go get any. He would have to make do. Her clothes were so filthy, they were actually crusted over, but he could wash them and at least buy himself another day. That didn't leave her anything to sleep in, so he stripped the flat sheet and blanket from the bed to wrap her in. In less than an hour, she was clean, bundled, propped up with pillows and nibbling peanut butter crackers in the bed furthest from the door. She still had the thousand yard stare and there were dark circles under her eyes, but there was also color in her cheeks and he took it as a win.
"Ok, kid, I think I have a plan worked out. We're gonna sleep here tonight and then in the morning, I have a place I can take you where you'll be safe."
"With Mike?" her voice brightened slightly.
"Mike Wheeler? No, kid, sorry about that. Those bad men, they know he was hiding you and they're watching him to see if you go back there."
"They haven't hurt him. And they won't unless they think it would get them to you. So for now, you need to stay hidden, ok? To keep him safe."
If they thought they could orchestrate a trade, Eleven for Mike just like Hopper had offered them Eleven for Will, he was confident they'd take Mike. The only way to keep everyone safe was to keep Eleven hidden from absolutely everyone.
Eleven nodded in understanding.
"I'm going keep watch, you go ahead and sleep," Hopper told her, positioning himself in a chair in front of the window. No one was going to enter the room without him knowing about it.
Eleven tried to stay awake, still not entirely confident in the situation, but for the first time in a long time she was warm, fed and comfortable and it wasn't long before she lost consciousness.
He watched her sleeping. It wasn't a peaceful sleep, but it was a deep one. The sort of sleep that comes from being bone tired. He was reminded again of Sara. Small. Vulnerable. Exhausted.
For the first time, he paused long enough to question himself. What the hell did he think he was doing? He wasn't cut out for this.
Reflexively, he reached for the prescription bottle that he no longer kept in his pocket but settled for a cigarette instead. The small flame quivered in his hands and he focused on the smell of igniting paper and the feel of smoke inside his chest. Hopper knew he wasn't what was best for anyone, not any more. But he was at least a better option than freezing to death in the woods or going back to being someone's science experiment.
At least on the surface, Sam Owens was a far cry from Martin Brenner, but Eleven was part of the mess Owens had been sent in to clean up and God only knew what they'd do with her. Owens had made his intentions very clear: the government wanted the whole business kept quiet. She wasn't a person to them, she wasn't even a valuable science experiment. She was simply a liability. They'd bury her, figuratively and literally. He was sure of it. He might be cursed, but she was doomed.
He would have to take the risk.