Saturday, December 17

Even though she was still somewhat nervous in his presence, Eleven had decided that the cabin was too quiet when Hopper was gone.

It was warm and comfortable. There was a television to watch, food to eat, and puzzles to work (or not work, evidently), but the lack of structure to her day was oddly disorienting. Not that she wanted to return to the lab, but there was something to be said for having a rhythm and some sort of purpose.

He had promised that his absences wouldn't always be so long, but he'd called off work for the first few days after finding her and so now he had to "play catch-up." Catch-up was her second word of the day. Papa never got behind on anything, so the concept as well as the word were entirely new to her.

And so it was that Eleven found herself all alone on a Saturday afternoon with nothing much to do other than to wait for Hopper to return.

She sat on the sofa wrapped in her quilt listening to a winter wind whipping through the trees. It was a powerful enough storm to disrupt the television reception so Eleven had given up and turned it off. However imperfect the cabin was, at least she wasn't outside trying to survive the weather. She shivered at the mere thought and pulled the quilt more tightly around her shoulders, hugged her stuffed bear to her chest and reminded herself that she wouldn't be lonely forever. Hopper would come home and they would eat dinner. And someday soon she would get to see Mike.

Mike. Every time she thought about him, it was like pulling off a scab. It hurt to know he was so close but not be able to see him. Eleven had lost track of how many times she had tried to quiet her mind and sink into her consciousness in the hopes of finding Mike in The Void. She passed a lot of the time she spent in the woods trying and she'd made it her secret hobby here in the cabin whenever Hopper was gone, but to no avail. Eleven could sense Mike's presence, but whether it was because he was too far or she was too distracted, without a bath to enhance her powers, he remained just out of reach.

Eleven sniffled and wiped away the small spot of blood created by the effort and then her attention turned to the radio situated on a small table behind the television. She'd been able to project Will's voice through Mike's radio, maybe she could do the same thing with Mike's voice through Hopper's radio. Even if she couldn't see him, to be able to hear his voice was at least something.

The radio was kept tuned to channel 11 when Hopper was gone. Anyone could use any channel they pleased, she'd learned, but it was nice to think of that channel as hers. Just like she'd done in Mike's basement while she looked for Will, Eleven scanned each channel on the radio, willing Mike's voice to find its way to her. She picked up garbled snips of other people's conversations, but the cabin was too remote and most other people's radios were too weak for their signals to reach her. Just as she was about to give up she thought she heard him and redoubled her efforts to amplify Mike's voice through the radio. It was just there but also not like the dream you know you had but can't quite remember and right as she thought she had it, her concentration was broken by loud knocking on the door. Twice, once, three times.

She flipped the locks with more irritation than was technically warranted and let Hopper into the cabin with swirls of windblown snow following him. Eleven returned the radio to channel 11 while Hopper went through the routine of removing his hat, jacket and side arm.

"That's one heck of a wind out there. Cuts straight to the bone," he told her conversationally. She didn't respond. He wasn't surprised. He followed up, "How are we doing for firewood?"

She glanced at the stack next to the wood stove and shrugged. Surely he could see as well as her that there was enough to get them through the night, but probably not the morning.

"Yeah, I should probably load up now, huh?" he asked rhetorically and, again, she didn't respond.

Hopper noticed that Eleven watched him constantly and adjusted their positions so that she remained just a certain distance away. It was an awkward sort of orbit.

"Did you eat lunch?" Hopper tried again and at least this time Eleven nodded but didn't volunteer anything beyond that.

"It's still a bit early," he observed. "If you're not too hungry yet, I'll make dinner later. Is that good?"

"Good," she responded. It wasn't much, but at least it was something. Hopper wasn't used to talking to himself and it was about to drive him crazy.

"So..um...," he looked around the room, looking for something to talk about. "Is the TV out?"

"Yes," she whispered softly and then added, "Wind."

"Yeah, I figured," he responded lamely before falling silent, having run out of mindless, one-sided small talk.

Hopper sank into the arm chair with a sigh and rubbed his hand over his face. "Look, kid," he told her, "I know you don't talk much, but you've gotta give me some kinda clue here. I get it, this is probably boring and lonely for you. If there's something you want..."

Hopper trailed off and Eleven sat for a moment before walking across the small living room to sit on the sofa. The quilt was still wrapped around her shoulders like a cape and the bear was tucked under her arm.

"Mike," she said and in that one plaintive word, she spoke volumes.

"You miss him, don't you?" Hopper asked empathetically.

"Yes," Eleven's voice almost cracked. Even if she had all the words in the dictionary to describe her feelings, it would never be enough. A simple yes was no less inadequate than a lengthy monologue.

"I can check on him for you," Hopper offered and she shook her head.

"See him?" she asked hopefully even though she knew the answer.

"Not yet, kid. We have to wait for the Bad Men to give up. Soon."

Eleven looked down at her lap and pulled her feet in closer, curling herself into a protective little ball. Hopper's heart broke seeing her look so defeated.

"So, um, I was thinking," Hopper started slowly, questioning the wisdom of what he was about to say even as he said it. "You know that night at Joyce's house? How you tried to find Will with the radio? How does that work, exactly?"

Eleven had no ability to describe how she did it, so she merely shrugged.

"You're not sure how you do it or you can't explain?" Hopper asked.

"Can't explain."

"Can you see the other person?"

"Sometimes."

"Can the other person see you?"

"No."

Hopper was getting excited. Even though her responses were one and two word sentences, this was the most he'd heard Eleven speak in a single sitting. He also felt like they were progressing towards something rather than just floundering helplessly and he was a man who hated feeling helpless.

"Do you think you could find Mike?" And there it was. The $64,000 question.

"Tried," Eleven responded sadly.

"Of course you have. So does the pool just, what, make it easier?"

Eleven nodded silently.

"Ok, so the pool with the goggles...or those water tanks you call the bath, it's really just a sort of sensory deprivation tank," Hopper was talking through it mostly for his own benefit, but assuming she'd correct him if he got it wrong. "I mean, the point is to make it totally dark and totally quiet so you don't get distracted by what you see or hear, yeah?"

Again Eleven nodded and Hopper thought a moment longer, trying to devise a solution.

"I can't make you a pool, but how about white noise and a blind fold?"

"White noise?" Eleven asked confused. This was a new term to her.

"Yeah, so if you can't make something completely quiet, you can have a kind of noise that's just kind of repetitive so it covers up any noises that would be distracting. It helps some people sleep, you know, like a fan or running water or..." Hopper's attention fell on the darkened television screen. "Or static."

Eleven looked at him quizzically and Hopper jumped up to turned on the television, bathing them in the flickering blue grey light and flooding the room with the dull roar of a television without a signal.

"It's worth a shot, right?" he told her encouragingly and Eleven actually started to look engaged. "Just, uh, promise me you won't try to talk to him, alright? If anyone knows about you it's a risk. Just—"

"— don't be stupid," Eleven completed his sentence for him.

"Yeah, don't be stupid."

Hopper scanned the room for a suitable blindfold before settling on a dark grey wood scarf. Eleven sat on the floor in front of the television and Hopper helped her tie the scarf in place around her head before retreating back to the nearby arm chair to watch.

The thought occurred to Eleven that Hopper was getting her to expand her powers, though, unlike Papa, it really was for her benefit not his. The possibility of hearing or maybe even seeing Mike was just too good to pass up.

She sat quiet and still, just like Papa had taught her until the edges of her own existence began to melt and gave way to the blank darkness of the Void. Eleven spun around checking to make sure that there were no monsters looking for her and, finding none, ventured tentatively looking for Mike.

"El?" She heard her name being called from somewhere behind her. She turned towards the sound and saw Mike sitting cross legged in the blanket fort he'd made her cupping his walkie talkie to his face.

"Are you out there?" He asked and then paused allowing her to answer. She wanted to answer so, so badly. But Hopper had warned her that doing so only put Mike at risk. So, at least for now, she would remain silent. "I hope you can hear me. This is day thirty-five. The Snow Ball is going on, like, right now. I'm not there, obviously. I didn't want to go if I couldn't be with you. I promised I would take you and I'm sorry I can't keep that promise. I just wish..."

Mike released the press to talk button on his radio and took a minute to compose himself.

"Listen, no matter what anyone else says, I know you're out there. I can feel it. And also, the Bad Men must know you're out there too or they wouldn't be looking for you. I see them sometimes, watching us at school, hoping we'll lead them to you. So I guess at least I know they haven't found you either."

Again he paused hoping against hope that she might answer back.

"And El?" Mike continued, "I want you to know that Hopper is looking for you too. So if you can't give me a sign without giving yourself away, at least give him one and he'll tell me. He figured out how to get Will back, maybe he can do the same for you. I miss you. I just wish I knew you were okay."

A tear escaped and rolled down Mike's cheek before he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Eleven's own tears mixed with the blood from her nose.

And then Mike disappeared as though he were smoke and Eleven found herself back in the cabin. She pulled off the blindfold and sniffled back tears.

"Did you find him?" Hopper asked her gently.

She nodded, tired and somewhat dizzy from the effort and the emotion.

"Ok, well, I guess that's something, right? Now you can visit him when you need to and maybe that will make things a little better," Hopper told her as he moved next to her on the cabin floor. He wiped the tears from her face and the blood from her nose before reaching past her to switch off the TV. When he leaned back to sit, Eleven leaned forward resting her head against his chest and allowing herself to ease her exhaustion with long overdue human contact. Whatever reservations she had, Mike was the one person in the world she knew she could count on. If he was willing to trust Hopper, then Eleven figured she should as well.