Story [Stranger Things] "To the Young Believers" | Fic-Gift for brodiew | Hopper & El, Three Parts

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Jan 1, 2019.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: “to the young believers”
    Author: Mira_Jade

    Fandom: Stranger Things
    Genre: Drama, Family
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Post-S2
    Characters: Jim Hopper, Eleven, & Ensemble Cast

    Summary: It was a call that he, quite frankly, dreaded hearing since first enrolling El in public school, even while acknowledging that it would probably come sooner or later. But at the words Jane and fight he's moving, all the while hoping that El remembered what a proportional response was, and why fighting - especially with her powers, no matter how much the other kids may have deserved it - was at the very top of their Don't Be Stupid Rules.

    Notes: Alrighty, here we are! For his NSWFF fic-gift, @brodiew quite simply asked for a story where Hopper has to pick up El from school for fighting. With an added bonus of Mike defending El to Hopper, which of course I had to include. This is my first time writing for these characters - and it's quite the trick, getting their voices right, so I'm crossing my fingers hoping that they come across just like their canon selves. You make it look so easy, brodie. [face_mischief]

    Also, this story clocked in around 9k words, so, instead of posting it all in one chunk I'm divvying it up into three parts for easier reading. So the next two parts should be up relatively quickly as I balance posting all of my projects. 8-}

    But I hope you enjoy, brodie! Thank-you for the wonderful prompt! [face_love] [:D]

    (And, as a warning, this story does deal with themes of child abuse, both in the case of El's backstory, along with implied child abuse and domestic violence in the Hargrove household. There's nothing worse than anything that was portrayed on the show, but if that is a theme that triggers you, I wanted to give a gentle heads up.)

    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine but for the words. The title is nicked from the Clash's "Clampdown".

    “to the young believers”
    by Mira_Jade


    Admittedly, when Flo had first interrupted his afternoon paperwork – a scintillating assortment of the usual small town crimes: petty counts of youthful vandalism, public intoxication, and domestic disturbances; he even had a riveting case of breaking and entry at Melvald’s that turned out to be one of the local tom cats tripping the alarm – Jim Hopper had been nothing but happy. He’d been plugging away at the typewriter for too long, and his eyes were crossing as he contemplated whether or not another cup of coffee was really necessary so late in the day and wishing that he hadn’t given up smoking as quickly as he had. (But the Wheeler brat explaining cancer to El with a nasty look in his eyes and darting a glance at him as if he’d won, all the while El looked up at him, horrified, to ask if his words were true was still fresh in his mind. It was a moment that would haunt Hopper for some time to come.)

    But, as soon as Flo said principal and Jane in the same sentence, well, Hopper would have gladly taken another mind-numbing case of the local punks stealing Larson’s garden gnomes again. Honest to goodness he would have – especially when she leveled him with that look, the one that said that anything that El did wrong could somehow be traced back to him. Because the soft spoken, sweetly smiling Jane couldn’t possibly have a delinquent bone in her body; it was all his direction and influence. (Yeah, right.)

    When Flo wrung her hands and added something about a fight – well, that got Hopper’s attention right quick. The blood drained from his face as, unbidden, images of twisted limbs and crushed bones and leaking brain matter appeared in his mind’s eye. He knew that El could do so much harm with so little effort; what was more than that, just how many times she’d already had to resort to violence, simply to survive in her young life, was another one of the hundred things that curdled in his stomach and kept him awake at night. Lashing out – fighting back – was one of the few ways she could exert some sort of control over her circumstances, and Hopper had spent many hours discussing the principle of proportional responses and how there was a time and a place for brute force in answer to a threat; it was never a go to solution. He could only hope that she remembered his lessons, out there in the real world. Especially when he knew that high school freshmen were a menace who abided by a tangle of unwritten laws and jungle hierarchy wholly unto themselves. Those at the top of the social foodchain prayed on those who were weak and different, and, while El was most certainly not weak, she definitely was -

    - this situation called for the sirens, he thought as his jaw locked. This was an emergency, obviously, and Hopper didn’t have the patience for anything as inconvenient as traffic laws or sharing the road with other sedately paced drivers just then. Though he was reasonably certain that the school would have given him some sort of hint if El got into a fight of . . . well, that sort (and his office would have been called for a lot more than just a dad picking up his errant kid, at that), he wasn’t positive, and the dread of every worst case scenario he could imagine was sitting like a stone in his stomach. He couldn’t breathe as his fears rose up to tangle around his throat and squeeze. His hands clenched the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white.

    Thankfully, it usually took all of but two minutes to drive from Hawkins' police station to the high school. Hopper managed to cut that time in half, and gravel flew from the asphalt as he threw the break on the truck, ignoring the clear no parking lines painted in the bus lane. There waiting out front, he noticed, he had a welcoming committee. Of course he did.

    To no one’s surprise, Mike Wheeler was standing right on the edge of the curb, ignoring the bite of the early December air as he crossed his arms over his chest and glared at him through the windshield. Flanking him were Dustin and Lucas. There was no Will that day – he must have been home sick again, Hopper distantly filed that observation away to ask Joyce about later. (Not that he was looking for a reason to call and talk to her, thank-you very much, El.) But, also missing from the group was the red headed Mayfield girl. No way would that little spitfire not be with the party when they had to defend one of their own. That, Hopper took note of and kept in the back of his mind as well.

    He got out of the truck with a scowl twisting his face, and slammed the door shut with more force than was strictly necessary. Dustin jumped at the sound, sharing an uncertain look with Lucas; Mike didn’t even blink.

    “Shouldn't you be in class?” Hopper growled as he rounded the truck. Mike, stubborn thing that he was, darted over to block his way, which did nothing to improve his mood. “You know – books and knowledge and learning? School stuff?”

    “It wasn’t her fault,” Mike ignored him completely to state, as boldly and forcefully as he could manage. The kid may have had a growth-spurt over the summer, but Hopper still had height enough to look down on him and glare. He used that to his full advantage then.

    “That’s not what I asked,” Hopper brushed Mike aside, making sure to clip him with his shoulder as he passed. The kids had to half jog to keep up with his longer stride, but they were determined little snots. “Technically, I could arrest you all for truancy right now,” he added, “but I’m such a nice guy that I’m gonna pretend that you’re not minors vacating school grounds without leave.”

    Alright; maybe that was the slightest bit not true, technically speaking. But Hopper was in that kind of a mood, and ready to make up a few new laws on the spot. They didn’t want to test him.

    Only Dustin went a little green about the gills for the threat, but he bravely held his ground. By his side, Lucas – who too was almost tall enough to look him in the eye, and was usually the most reasonable of the bunch, or so Hopper would have given him credit before that moment – shook his head to add, “El’s a hero; you can’t punish her for this." His hands, Hopper noticed, were clenched and trembling. Hopper wondered again where Max was - weren't they an item, too? "She just did what we all wanted to do.”

    “They’ll write songs about her,” Dustin added, putting a hand on Lucas' shoulder and squeezing. “Stories will be passed down about this day, from class to class, from - ”

    “ - you can’t lock her up again for this,” Mike seethed, interrupting his friends and boldly trying to block his path again. “You don’t have the right to make those kind of decisions for her, not anymore. We won’t let you.”

    Honestly, Hopper just couldn’t with the kid right then.

    “Classes, now,” he barked, not even giving them the honor of a proper debate. That’s how it worked between adults and children, no matter what they may have thought otherwise. He wasn’t discussing this with them, especially while El was still inside and he had no idea what was going on. If Mike didn’t get out of his way in the next five seconds he would make him move.

    Dustin took a step back, and locked eyes with Lucas. Smartly, they seemed ready to retreat. Good. “Come on, Mike – she’ll be fine,” Dustin rested a hand on Mike’s shoulder so that he was the link supporting both of his friends at once. “You know El; she always is.”

    “Yeah,” Lucas seconded, still looking warily at Hopper as he spoke, “El’s got this." He took in a deep breath, and exhaled. "C’mon, let’s go.”

    Mike, however, just shrugged Dustin’s hand away and took another brave step forward, right into Hopper’s space again. He had to crane his head to look up, but doggedly met his gaze. “El,” his voice shimmered, low and thick with feeling, “doesn’t stand for injustice, and you shouldn’t either. She trusts you to have her back.”

    “And you think I don’t?” bluntly, Hopper retorted, for a moment forgetting that this wasn’t a conversation he was having just then. He scrubbed his hand over his face, and loosed a deep sigh. Garden gnomes, he thought again, he’d rather be dealing with the garden gnomes. “Go back to class, Mike. I’ve got it from here.”

    Apparently, the year’s worth of progress Hopper thought they’d been making meant nothing when Mike decided that El needed a champion, especially a champion to fight against the mean old ogre of her guardian. And while Hopper was glad – thankful, even – that El had a friend (that word alone wasn’t nearly enough to encompass what they meant to each other, even he could grudgingly admit) who was so hopelessly devoted to her, fighting in her corner, sometimes the boy pressed every last button he had and then some.

    “See that you do,” Mike’s mouth curled in a dark look, before he finally allowed Dustin and Lucas to pull him away. He walked backwards for a few steps, still glaring as menacingly as he could from beneath the shaggy fringe of his hair, before turning and walking through the doors of the school. Hopper scowled, wondering how the kid even thought that he had the last word on this before he followed. He watched them for only a moment to make sure that they were truly going back to class, and not just looping around, before turning the opposite way from the classrooms to the administrative offices, leaving the teenagers behind.

    Once, he reflected without humor when he was alone again, this had been an all too familiar path for his feet. Though he wasn’t exactly a troubled youth, by any means, he’d had no problem throwing down when needed (the day he broke Lonnie Byers' nose behind the bleachers for the way the younger teen had talked to the freshmen girls was definitely one of his proudest moments), and he’d more shamefully tormented a few nerds in his time who probably didn’t deserve it. (God, he would have hated Mike back in his day.) He’d done his fair share of time in Principal Grant’s office, and he’d been right where El was now more than once – waiting for his old man to finish his shift at the quarry so he could come pick him up. Those had been some of the most miserable hours of his life, spent dreading his father’s retribution, even if he never quite regretted the circumstances that led him there.

    But it wasn’t Principal Grant's office now – the old fossil had finally retired when Hopper first moved back from Indianapolis. Instead, it was Principal Adler – and Dahlia Adler knew him better than Hopper really would have preferred right then. She’d been in his graduating class, though she was one of Diane’s friends, more so than his. She'd been one of Diane's bridesmaids, years ago now, and she'd drove up from Hawkins for Sara's funeral. She still kept in contact with his ex-wife, as far as he knew, and was no doubt privy to much more knowledge about the less flattering aspects of his character than he was comfortable with. He questioned why then, for the hundredth time, he'd chosen to move back home to a small town when he could have gone anywhere else to start over in anonymity. He could have jumped the border and moved to Michigan, instead. He had a job offer from a precinct in Grand Rapids that was definitely busier than the posting of chief of police in Hawkins, Indiana. Heck, he could have taken off to the other side of the country for a true fresh start away from anything that was even remotely familiar. Maybe he really was the bleeding heart – or glutton for punishment – that Joyce liked to accuse him of being.

    . . . especially when Dahlia was looking at him with that twinkle in her eyes as she came out of the nurse’s office, intercepting his path.

    “Jim,” she greeted as she closed the door behind her. Her voice was friendly enough, and so he thought that he could – at the very least – assure himself that El hadn’t done anything too . . . unusual that he had to worry about. “This must be a trip down memory lane for you.”

    He tried his best not to scowl for that; he wasn’t even halfway successful. “Ms. Adler,” he inclined his head respectfully, “I’m just here for Jane.” He was not going to get drawn into reminiscing here; he wasn’t.

    “Ms. Adler?” her nose crinkled to repeat, “We've known each other too long for such formalities.”

    “Ma’am,” the title was reflexive as he tried to contain his impatience, but at her raised brow for that he relented, “Dahlia, if you’re ready to get on with this I’d really appreciate it.”

    “Of course,” she was a professional, at least – all teasing aside, and her face noticeably smoothed into an impartial mask as they both walked down the hall to her office. “Jane’s had quite the day – I trust your secretary told you the highlights?”

    “Flo mentioned something about a fight, yeah,” Hopper confirmed.

    “Not a fight so much as a punch was thrown, by your daughter, I suspect.” Dahlia confirmed. “I’m having difficulty getting the full story. Both Jane and Maxine are being tight lipped, as is the girl one of them put into the nurse’s office. If you would?”

    It was starting to feel like déjà vu, this routine between them. The first time her office had called him, it was purely out of concern for how . . . different El was, even after a year spent by her friends and the adults in her life trying to get her ready for immersion into proper society. Dahlia's staff truly wanted to help, and that conference was one of the most awkward hours of his life while he lied through his teeth all the while being as completely honest as he could to see that El got the best possible high school experience. (His claiming that Jane was biologically his and all but daring anyone to question him had Dahlia raising a brow – he was pretty sure that she knew that for the falsehood it was, but she thankfully didn't pry beyond an open ended if you ever want to talk my door is open.) More unhappily, Hopper had just recently been called in for El engaging in public displays of affection (and he had been ready to end Mike for that one, no matter how unique their relationship was), which had led to yet another uncomfortable but necessary conversation with El. The Rules had been amended, extensively, following that. The ratio of how little of the schoolyear had elapsed to how many times he’d entered this office was already off, by quite a bit. He wasn't pleased to be back so soon.

    Dahlia held open the door to her office, and at the invitation he stepped through. El was already sitting inside, wearing the pale blue turtleneck and maroon jacket that Nancy had helped her pick out before the start of the school year. Her headful of umber curls had just grown in to brush past her shoulders, and were held in place by a matching blue headband. She had her head down, and was staring at her hands in her lap. Even with the little bit of height and healthy weight she’d gained that year, she still looked small sitting there – small and miserable, Hopper thought as she darted a glance up and then quickly looked away again. Good. He hoped that she was stewing over this.

    Next to her, Max Mayfield was the complete opposite of El’s meek deference. She was sitting up straight in her chair, with her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes all but spitting blue fire. She stood out against her own mother, even, whose eyes were kept trained carefully forward, as if not really seeing a thing. Susan Hargrove was still a newcomer to the town that Hopper didn't know very well; her family mostly kept to themselves. Her red curls fell neatly down her back and her face was only barely made up – or, he thought after a moment, expertly made up, hiding the dark blooms of color around her eyes. She didn't look up as they walked in; she gave no real sign of their arrival, so much so that she looked more a part of the office rather than a living, breathing person inhabiting it. She ran her fingertips over the strap of her purse; the only signs of movement she showed. Distantly, the detective inside of Hopper noticed too much; he didn't like what he saw.

    Unlike her mother, Max had no problem locking her gaze on him as he sat down in the chair next to El. He could feel the challenge in her stare; her eyes were bright with a righteous fury. Studiously, he ignored her. The office felt cramped in a way it hadn’t when he was a student here, he tugged on his collar to reflect. The chair he sat in creaked underneath his weight. Respectfully, he took off his hat and waited as Principal Adler settled herself.

    “So,” Dahlia leveled a stern look at both El and Max, each in their turn, “are either one of you ready to tell me what really happened?”

    Hopper expected silence to meet her question – mulish, stubborn, teenager silence. He did not expect Max to raise up her hand and say, “I did it; it was me,” the same time El looked up and quietly said, “I hit Mandy Morgan.”

    . . . huh.

    He blinked; clearly there was more to the story here.

    Max scowled – at El, Hopper noticed. “I. Hit. Mandy.” She enunciated each word carefully, gnashing the syllables through her teeth. She did not look over at the principal to say so, instead her gaze remained fixed on El. “Miss goody goody Jane here had nothing to do with it.”

    “That,” El said softly, “is a lie.”

    “Maxine,” Susan looked at her daughter, speaking for the first, “just tell the truth.”

    “But I am, Mom!” Max exclaimed. “It’s my fault, and I want to take responsibility! This wasn’t even El's fight to begin with; she’s just trying to stick up for me, but I won't let her.”

    That, Hopper thought, may have been the first true thing the girl had said. But -

    “I'm still the one who hit Mandy Morgan,” El repeated, looking up to meet Principal Adler’s gaze. “It was me.”

    - that, Hopper was reasonably certain was true too.

    “No,” Max repeated, visibly frustrated, “you weren’t. So stop lying.”

    “Girls,” Dahlia held up a hand, interrupting them both with a well practiced gesture. “This is going nowhere. And, until I figure out exactly what happened you’re really leaving me no choice. You’ll both be suspended if I do not get the truth, and that will stay on your record.”

    “It was me.”

    “I hit her.”

    Dahlia looked over to him with a helpless gesture, while, inwardly, Hopper fumed. On the opposite end of the girls, Susan had gone very, very still. He thought he could hear her breathing quicken, even from where he was sitting.

    “Alright then,” Dahlia sighed in resignation. “Maybe some time away from school will help you reflect on the consequences of violence – and lying. We'll arrange a meeting time for you both to apologize to Mandy and her parents, but for now, you can go.”

    With that dismissal, Max shot up abruptly from her seat and rounded on El. “You’re an idiot,” she said bluntly, uncaring who heard her. “Why don't you just listen to me? I can take care of myself."

    El was slower than her friend to rise, but she steadily met Max’s eyes regardless. She held her gaze. “I know you can,” she said simply, and something unspoken passed between the two girls that Hopper was clueless to translate. He had questions, was all he knew then, and he was itching for answers.

    “I’m ready to go home now,” El turned from the other girl to look up at him, and he bristled all over again.

    “Yeah,” he grumbled, “I bet you are – come on then, let’s go.”

    Behind him, he could hear as Susan fell into step behind her own daughter to follow them out. “This will not make your father happy,” she whispered. Her words were very small.

    “Neil,” no matter how tight Max’s voice was, Hopper heard it tremble, “is not my father. He’s just your husband.”

    In front of him, El flinched. He watched as her fingers slowly curled, and clenched into fists. That too Hopper noticed, and filed away for later.

    The walk out of the school passed mostly in silence. Hopper was just glad to see that the boys had listened, at least; he wouldn’t have stood for the peanut gallery watching their walk of shame out to the truck. He didn't have the patience – or the temper for that. Instead, they parted ways in the parking lot without another word – though Max stopped and looked over her shoulder at El once, like she wanted to say something before she followed her mother away – and that was that. The crisis ended up not being anywhere near as bad as he first feared, but the fact remained that he had to pick up his kid from school for behavior issues . . . again. This was not a pattern he was becoming fond of.

    “Alright, kid,” Hopper rounded on her as soon as the doors to the truck were closed, “it’s time for us to have a talk. I have questions, and then I have comments. You're going to answer, and then you're going to sit there and listen to what I have to say. Is that clear?”

    "I understand," solemnly, El met his eyes. She nodded.

    Alright then. That was a start. "Here we go," Hopper muttered under his breath as he put the truck in gear, and then the long drive home began.


    The name for Hawkins High's principal was never mentioned on screen, and she's only credited as 'principal.' But she seemed to know quite a bit about Hopper when sharing his story with Mr. Clarke in S1, so I sketched in her name and the rest of their connection from there.

    Beyond that, I thank you guys for reading, and hope you enjoyed! :)

    ~MJ @};-
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2019
    Kahara likes this.
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha WIP Month Winner star 8 VIP - Game Winner

    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic. Loved Hopper's "if only it were the gnomes" [face_mischief]

    Wonderful solidarity among El's circle of friends. Particularly Mike. @};-

    Looking forward to Hopper putting all the pieces together. I have a feeling Max and El are each sharing half the true layout of events but there's definitely more to it.

    Kahara and Mira_Jade like this.
  3. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Nov 30, 2005
    Terrific! You really got the characters down. I love how you've taken this from Hopper's pov. He has the perceptive skills of a detective, but he has the heart of a father. This is going to be interesting. I wonder what it is that the girls were fighting about? Nice twist where both Max and Jane wanted to claim responsibility for the fight.
  4. brodiew

    brodiew Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Oct 11, 2005
    This is wonderful, Mira! Thank you for taking the prompt and running with it. I love the attention you give to Hopper's character; from his history at school to history with the principal to his gruffness in not knowing what kind of situation he is walking into. His compassion is on the back burner while he assesses the magnitude of El's actions. Fist to face. ;)
    You were spot on with Mike's annoying disrespect, really, even in defense of El. I liked Hoppers shoulder check on Mike as he passed. He's knows Mike's importance to El, but has no patience for teen angst at the moment.
    Exactly. Love this description of Max.
    Hopper's insight into El's part of the argument is an excellent tension breaker. It doesn't lessen the drama, but it made me smile. I, too, am curious as to know what happened and what has put El and Max at odds regarding their confessions.

    What a great start! I hope Dad!Hooper will appear next chapter. He really needs a cigarette! [face_whistling]
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
  5. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    [face_laugh] Poor Hopper is still wondering what's become of his life, in some ways, that's for certain! But he wouldn't trade it for the world. [face_love]

    These kids really are the best circle of friends! El's lucky to have them - especially Mike. [face_love]

    Oh you bet there is! :D [face_mischief] And we're getting into that right about . . . now! Thank-you for reading, my friend, as always! I hope you enjoy the rest of the story as it goes. [face_love] [:D]

    Thank-you so much! This is my first time writing for the characters, and they all have such wonderfully unique and strong personalities that it was almost intimidating to start. I'm glad to hear that everything's come across right. Hopper is just such a dear character to me - the perceptive skills of a detective, with the heart of a father - that really sums him up in a nutshell. [face_love] I hope you enjoy more of his POV in the next part, and a bit of illumination where it comes to Max and El's disagreement. Thank you so much for reading! [:D]

    Aw, thanks! I'm only too happy that you gave me such a wonderful prompt to work with!! I'm thrilled to hear that you're enjoying the story so far. [face_love] [:D]

    Hopper is such a fascinating character, so it was all sorts of fun fleshing out the little glimpses we've seen on the show into something a little bit more. It really is fascinating writing from his POV. And you're right! His compassion is on the back burner, but it's still very much there. But first, he has an errant kid to deal with. :p

    Eugh, exactly! Thank-you. I get that Mike and El are fated and soul-bound and true love and all of that jazz, but sometimes Mike's disrespect really pushes my buttons. (There's a few scenes of back-talk on the show as a whole that make me cringe, that said - I would've never gotten away with speaking to my parents like that!) I love Mike and El's dynamic, and all the individual adolescent characters, really I do - so don't get me wrong! I understand that they've been through so much, and they're old beyond their years, but sometimes the children have to sit down and let the adults be the adults. Like here. :p o_O

    Max is such an awesome firecracker of a character and I love her to pieces - I can only imagine how great a friendship she and El are going to forge after El gets over herself. ;) [face_mischief]

    Thank-you! I was really trying hard to balance the tension to lead up to the eventual reveal in the next chapter, and, honestly, Hopper has kept calm and ciphered through a lot worse interrogations than this, I can imagine. He's putting all those skills to use and then some.

    [face_laugh] I just may let Joyce bring him one in the third part - he's definitely dealing with quite a bit on his plate while trying to be a good parent and give up his vices. The poor guy. :p

    Once again, I am so glad that you're enjoying this story! Stand by for the next part - and a whole lot of Dad!Hopper! [face_love] - in just a few minutes. [face_dancing] [:D]

    ~MJ @};-
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  6. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004

    Of course, they only made it to the boundary of the school parking lot before Hopper changed his mind. He had things he wanted to say before asking his questions, and then there would be answers, so many answers.

    But, first -

    “ - so, would you consider this keeping a low profile?” he could feel his temper rising, fast on the heels of his fear. “What were the conditions for starting school with the others this semester? Technically that wasn’t a year of you keeping your head down, remember? Your starting early was a compromise.”

    Little though Hopper liked it, starting El late in the school year would've drawn even more attention than she already was. It didn’t matter what the forged piece of paper proclaiming her identity said, or how fervently Nancy and Joyce and Mike had all pooled their knowledge together to help tutor El – they didn't have enough time to catch her up on everything she'd missed. There were just too many gaps in her education, and they had to catch her up on fourteen years of lapsed academia and missing pop culture and just plain human being stuff that Brenner hadn’t bothered wasting time on for others not to pick up on and notice. In the end, they couldn't make her a hundred percent ready, and it was on her to sink or swim while they all looked on as panicked life guards. El officially joined society as Jane Ellen Hopper through her debut at Hawkins high; now, there was nothing left for him to do but hold his breath and hope for the best.

    Even now, these few months later, Hopper still couldn’t seem to swallow the hot stone of worry that lodged in his throat every time he dropped her off and reminded her to be careful. He’d learned the hard way, time and time again, that good things rarely lasted; he was still waiting for the other shoe to fall. Because the simple fact of the matter remained that El was a weapon – and a powerful weapon, at that. El herself didn’t even know the limits of her own potential, although Hopper privately suspected that she’d hardly scratched the surface of her abilities. No matter that Brenner and his cronies were supposedly gone, Hopper didn’t trust other interested parties in their own government and even beyond not to jump at the clear temptation she presented. El would never be a tool in the game of war between the superpowers of their world; not again, not ever.

    Hopper then had one very clear objective in mind where El was concerned: keep her safe, and, if at all possible, keep her happy. She deserved nothing less than everything the world had to offer after the hellish way she’d been raised for the first twelve years of her life. He knew that he couldn’t hide her away if he wanted her to thrive mentally and emotionally, but sometimes he still wished that he could for her own sake. There was so much that was dark and cruel in the world, and she’d already seen far too much of humanity’s ugly face. She’d go back to being someone else’s pawn and lab rat over his dead body. Which, where Brenner and those like him were concerned, was far from a deal breaker. Thus, it was left to Hopper to be very, very careful; the measures he took to ensure their – her – safety weren’t just elective precautions, but rather necessary for their survival.

    So, stupid crap like this needed to end if El wanted to enjoy the freedom she’d clawed her way to earn. On that point, he wouldn’t be moved.

    “A compromise, remember?” Hopper continued, knowing that he was fuming but unable to wholly help himself. “We struck a deal – one where you got a hell of a lot more on your end than I got on mine. In return, what little did I ask for? I asked that you keep your head down, that you stay out of trouble, and that you never use your powers for - ”

    “ - but I didn’t use my powers,” El mumbled.

    “Excuse me?” Hopper didn’t at all care for being interrupted, and especially not then. “Speak up and look at me when you talk. We make eye contact with others, remember?” he corrected automatically. No matter his anger, El didn’t have to hang her head in front of anyone, not ever again. He’d remind her of that as many times as was needed until it stuck.

    But he was off on that last count, it seemed. When he reached the next stop sign he let the truck idle and glanced over at El to catch her expression. She was not, he amended his assumption, hanging her head out of some demure sense of shame or guilt. Instead, her face was flushed and she was drawing in deep breathes in an effort to keep her cool – a calming exercise that Owens had instructed her in, back in those early days after she first closed the Gate and Hopper reluctantly admitted that he needed help in caring for this clearly traumatized child. Her mouth was pressed into a thin, stubborn line, and her knuckles were white as she clenched the straps of her bright yellow backpack in a chokehold. But it was her eyes that really clued Hopper in – her already expressive brown gaze was narrowed and dark and smoldering with fury. She was, Hopper finally understood, incensed. And she was done hiding it.

    But her anger was not directed at him – or he didn’t think so, at least. She never tried to hide what she was feeling about him, he took some small comfort in knowing. Instead, she was comfortable enough with the bond they’d built to let her guard down completely, even for the ugly stuff. He was grateful for that, even when her honesty stung. (Though they hadn’t had any more broken windows since their one very dramatic Halloween throw down, thank-goodness.)

    “I didn’t use my powers,” El repeated, carefully enunciating every syllable, “even though I wanted to.” She ducked a mulish glance his way, as if deciding whether or not she wanted to go on before bravely continuing, “Bullies were never mentioned in the Rules. So I . . . improvised.” She drew the relatively new word out slowly, and nodded smartly when he didn’t correct her pronunciation.

    For that, Hopper sighed as he finally rolled away from the stop sign. Bullies? He should have guessed. His girl was a fighter, fire forged. It was hard, after all, for a crusader to return home from a battlefield to times of peace. (Oh, that he knew.)

    “Look, kid,” he softened his voice to say, “I like Mike and his friends just fine, really I do, but you can’t punch every jock who decides that a few nerds are prime picking - ”

    “ - no,” El interrupted swiftly, “not those bullies.” Even so, her tone of voice made it perfectly clear what she felt about those kids too. “I’d like to punch them too, though. But, been good,” sure enough, she added aloud.

    He tried not to snort for that – it wouldn’t do to show any sort of amusement for this subject, not if he wanted to impart any sort of useful life lesson for later. “I’ve been good,” he corrected absently. “Use complete sentences.”

    If it wasn’t Mike and the general geekiness of the Party that attracted the local bullies, he frowned to go through the possibilities, then was it -

    - his jaw tightened as another logical answer hit him. He had to work to control his own breathing when he said, “And I know that Will - ”

    “ - Will has lots of friends to fight for him,” El shook her head. There was just a touch of cheekiness to her voice when she said, “Mike’s already been in Miss Adler’s office twice; Lucas once.”

    Hopper was going to be a responsible adult and not nod his head and say good for that. Kids, he wanted to growl, could be cruel little snots who grew up into the cruel adults whose messes it was his job to clean up. Will had already been through – and was still going through – too much to worry about bullies. And, what was more than that, Joyce didn’t need that additional stress piled on top of her dozen more pressing worries where her son was concerned – but that was a thought that Hopper cut off and nipped at the bud. (Especially around El, who already liked snooping around his personal life overly much. She got way too many ideas from binging her soaps.)

    Instead, he gave a deep sigh and said aloud, “Just because Mike does something, it doesn’t make it right for you to do it too.” He darted a glance from the corner of his eyes, not turning away from the road to say, “Because you were the one who punched Mandy, weren’t you? Not Max.”

    Slowly, El let out a breath. “No,” nevertheless she was honest with him to confirm, “not Max.”

    He waited, but any further explanation was slow to come. He drummed his fingers against the wheel in a quick cadence, gave her another second, and then said, “This is the part where you tell me exactly what happened.” He couldn’t quite keep the edge from his voice. “I’m waiting.”

    El darted a glance up at him, clearly reluctant to talk. But Hopper wasn't going to budge on this, and she knew that. Huffing out a sigh, she slumped in resignation. “Girls – especially the really pretty girls,” she started reluctantly, her voice little more than a mumble, “are worse bullies than boys. They’re . . . mean, and they don’t like Max.”

    That, he fought a grimace to acknowledge, could definitely be true. He thought to understand where this was going.

    “Max isn’t an easy nut to crack,” he shrugged, not terribly concerned. “She can handle whatever the freshmen mean girls throw at her.”

    El’s mouth thinned; she didn’t agree with him, even if she wouldn’t say so aloud. For a long moment she was silent, and he let her search for her words. Sometimes, long stories remained difficult for her to tell out loud. Even two years later, she still preferred to be the reactionary voice in a conversation, and she had to give careful thought to how she phrased long sentences. Patiently, Hopper waited.

    “So, there’s a girl thing going on,” he tried to guide her. “What’s their issue with Max?”

    Jealousy, he could already guess without El answering – pure and simple, even if they didn’t even realize it themselves. Max was a cute kid, and she'd soon grow up into a striking young woman without even trying. To the contrary, she wore plain jeans and simple sweaters without bothering to dress up her hair or cake on cosmetics – and Hopper would bet that she still drew the boys’ attention with her flaming mass of red curls and lack of interest in them in return. It only followed to reason that the girls who were trying would take offense at Max unconsciously stealing away the attention they strove for and coveted. Teenage girls could be a snarling pack of she-wolves, and he’d put down any money that Max had the alpha she-wolf showing her teeth to protect what she considered to be her territory – little that Max wanted any part of their girl-games, of course.

    But he was silent as to his own thoughts, and instead waited for El to speak.

    “I don’t know,” she finally sighed in answer, clearly frustrated. “They call her Maximus and boy – even though she’s not.” Her nose crinkled. “They’re actually not very creative with their name calling.”

    For that, Hopper hid an amused expression, and let her continue.

    “They make fun of her clothes and her hair. Max doesn’t like the clothes I like – she calls me girly, but her hair is so beautiful! I wish my hair was more like hers,” El reached up to touch her short, still growing bob of curls self-consciously. “But today was worse. Today we had swimming,” she made a face for that – PE was not her favorite course, by far, and he knew how much she’d been dreading the week of swimming they had scheduled. “After, when Max was in the shower Mandy and her friends took her clothes . . . she didn’t have anything to change into. They laughed, but it wasn’t funny.”

    El paused to collect herself, and Hopper grimaced, his mind already leaping ahead to fill in the blanks. “I got dressed and went to find her something to wear. But when I asked Mandy for her clothes, Mandy said that she didn’t need a shirt – she could walk around without one like a boy. And they were still just laughing . . .”

    El fiddled with the straps of her backpack, and took a moment to breathe – little though it was helping. The spare change in the cup holder was starting to rattle, and the silent radio was fizzing with a distant, muffled sound of static. “Max came out in a towel to confront them, and she was yelling . . . but, Max, she had bruises on her wrist and they saw . . . they started teasing her about Lucas, and they said some awful things . . .” she bit her lip, but didn’t have to explain any further. Lucas and Max were brave in more ways than one, Hopper silently gave them credit. After everything they'd already seen – from honest to goodness monsters to hellish mirror dimensions and government conspiracies – it was almost amazing to think that there were still petty people out there who only saw in shades of black and white, and thought that those shades should remain separate. If Hopper had any racial tendencies left from his own admittedly bigoted upbringing, serving in Vietnam had been enough to cure him of that sorely mistaken view. His platoon had been made up from men of all backgrounds, and they’d helped keep each other alive (as they could) and sane (as they all desperately needed) so far from home as they all were. He could never quite see with blinders on again after that.

    El didn’t elaborate, and instead moved on to say, breaking him from his own thoughts, “But the bruises weren’t from Lucas and . . . the awful things they were saying. No. Someone grabbed her; someone pulled her,” her voice dropped to a low, scathing sound. “I . . . those marks . . . I know . . . ” no matter her increasingly clear fury, she stuttered, fumbling for words. “Her father is not nice,” she finally spat out. “He’s like Papa, I think, a bad man. It’s getting worse for Max, with Billy gone away. But I just think because I know bad fathers; I know bad men. But Max doesn’t say. She won’t tell us, her friends. We can help. Want to help. But she won’t let us. She needs to let us be her friends. Like I let Mike, and Dustin and Lucas and Will and Max now too. She shouldn't . . . it's not . . . No!”

    Hopper didn’t even bother trying to help her correct her speech – not when she was so obviously upset. Her teeth flashed with every syllable she bit off, and she was shaking like a last dry leaf clinging to its branch in the face of a winter storm. She'd let go of her backpack with her left hand to move aside the concealing mass of bracelets she wore on her right wrist. There, she rubbed at the tattooed number just below her palm like she usually did when she was agitated – especially when Papa was on her mind. (That sadistic creep.) The sight, as always, tore at something deep inside his chest, and he bit his lip to keep from visibly showing his anger. (Not for her; never for her – only, the monster had been a more gentle executioner than the likes of Martin Brenner had deserved.) There were floating pennies and dimes separating from the nickels and quarters in the cup holder now, and the two sun-visors fluttered and smacked against the roof of the truck. He could feel the steering wheel catch in time with the bursts of static coming from the radio as her fury loosened the tight leash she normally kept on her powers. Reflexively, he reached over to cover El’s hands with one of his own, stilling her. “Hey, hey – whoa there. Calm down and breathe, El,” he tried to comfort her. “It’s okay; everything is going to be okay.”

    He pulled over to the side of the road as a precaution to let El get a hold of herself. The bare trees cast shadows across the dashboard, even with the faint light from the overcast grey sky. Outside, lazy flurries of fat snowflakes had just begun to fall. A sense of having been here before, with an upset little girl shivering in his truck on the outskirts of the woods hit him with the dim awareness of a memory, but, as he hadn’t yet earned the right back then, this time El wriggled her right hand free and placed it atop his own to hold him in place. She squeezed with her small fingers, clinging to him like an anchor. For that simple, trusting gesture, he felt something warm and protective bloom in his heart for everything she’d gone through – and was even still going through now. She wasn’t out of her own woods just yet, and probably never would be – not completely, not quite. He knew that from his own experience, from his own forest of shadows. But that was okay – she’d be okay; they all would be, together.

    “You've gotta take a deep breath, sweetheart,” he repeated, exaggeratedly inhaling through his own nose and out through his mouth for her to imitate. “Just like that, you got me? In and out until that tight feeling goes away. You're hyperventilating.”

    El nodded, and mimicked him to the best of her ability. But she was still drawing in too-shallow gulps of air, and her breathing remained quick and shaky as she exhaled. The rapid rise and fall of her chest was as visible as a rabbit’s thumping feet, even through the thick, puffy material of her winter coat. (And Hopper was not at all reminded of Sara in that moment, he wasn’t.) She’d yet to loosen her grip on his hand; if anything, it tightened. Her fingertips were white and bloodless from the pressure she exerted, and her small nails bit deeply into his skin – little though Hopper cared in the moment. Whatever she needed to ground herself, he would provide. It was that simple.

    “I just needed Mandy to stop – Max needed Mandy to stop,” El raced through the words on an exhale. She hiccupped when she breathed in again, setting back her efforts to calm down as she finished in a rush: “So, I stopped her.”

    For a moment, all Hopper thought was a low and vengeful good in response. Whatever Flo wanted to say about his parenting, right then and there he was a saint for not congratulating El for hitting that awful little girl and showing her how to throw a proper punch so that she could do even better next time. Seriously: he was the world’s best parent for the restraint he was showing. (Her knuckles were red, he'd noticed too – looks like that was going to have to be a necessary demonstration anyway.)

    “I’m sorry that I didn’t use my words first – I broke our Rules,” she continued miserably, still struggling to breathe. He reached over with his left hand and sandwiched her much smaller fingers between his own. Gently, he rubbed a nonsense pattern over the fine bones atop her hand, still trying to help her find her calm.

    “Honestly, I’m just glad that you didn’t use your mind to break something on Mandy – I don’t know if I wouldn’t have.” Okay, so maybe he wasn’t the world’s best parent – but he was close. She looked up at him, surprised – but at least she took in a full, shaky breath following his words. He hadn’t realized how much of her panicking was out of a desire not to let him down, in any way. The realization was sobering; he’d have to be more careful with that in the future. “Ah,” he still shook his head to recover some of the parental ground he knew he’d lost with those words, “not that I’m saying what you did was a good thing. I’m just saying that I understand, okay?”

    “Okay,” El repeated. He mimed breathing again, and was satisfied by the next breath she took, deeply in and then slowly out. "Okay." They were getting somewhere, at least. A long minute passed as El collected herself, finally, when she was certain that she was doing better, Hopper let his hand fall away. She ducked a hesitant look up at him from beneath her lashes, and asked, “Does this mean I can go back to school?”

    “Yeah,” his brow furrowed, puzzled. “Of course you can – after the school decides to have you back, of course. I’ll be talking to Principal Adler about your suspension, though, you can count on that.” Oh, he was almost looking forward to meeting with Mandy’s parents now. And, he more somberly resigned himself to keeping a closer eye on Neil Hargrove in the future. A man who mistreated those who were his to protect was the lowest form of scum on Earth, in Hopper’s opinion. There was only so much he could do for how a man treated his wife without the wife’s cooperation, but when a child was involved . . .

    He set his jaw, wondering if it would even be possible to tactfully breach the subject with Max without crossing any boundaries. Maybe, he could get Joyce to help? The girl had more than just her friends in her corner, and he wanted her to be aware of her options. She was not alone – she shouldn’t have to feel alone in her fight, ever.

    He loosed a sigh then, feeling weary down to his bones. Some cases he’d been more than happy to leave behind as part of being a detective in a big city, but other things never really changed, no matter how small the town. His knowledge of the awful underbelly of mankind slung like a weight across his shoulders then, and it took him a moment before he could shrug the feeling away.

    El’s eyes were wide and she processed what he said. “So . . . I don’t have to stay at home?”

    “No, of course not,” with a pause he understood what she was really afraid of. He felt that heavy feeling return to his shoulders as if it had never left. “El . . . I never meant to be your jailer. I just wanted to keep your safe, and hiding you was the only way I knew how at the time. Things are different now, and even if that means a little more risk, you’ll never be locked inside four walls again, you hear me? Never.”

    “Never?” El repeated. It was a big word for her, he understood. Her already large brown eyes were blown wide then; she held her breath, waiting for him to confirm what he'd said. So, he'd say it again.

    “Never,” Hopper solemnly echoed. “I promise.”

    “Even . . . even if I used my powers?”

    They were getting into tricky territory here, and he narrowed his eyes, not wanting to give her an inch only for her to take a mile. But still, Hopper nodded. “If there's ever a serious enough situation where you need to, then yeah – we’ll pack up and take off for Timbuktu. But you’ll never have to hide again.”

    “Timbuktu?” El furrowed her brow to repeat, curious. “What’s that?”

    “Not a what, but a where,” he couldn’t help but smile softly. “It’s a place very, very far away, in Africa. You can look it up in your atlas when we get home.”

    “A place far away from the bad men?” she gave a last deep exhale to say. “Yes. I understand.”

    “Good,” Hopper approved. “But,” he added sternly, “for all that I get why you did what you did, there are still consequences to be faced. There’ll be no TV for as long as the school decides to keep you out for – and no talking to Mike for that long, either, not even through the SuperCom. Yeah, don’t think I don’t know about that when you’re supposed to be sleeping.”

    It was, he thought with no small bit of satisfaction, a wholly teenaged look that El turned on him then. “What?” she squawked in outrage. “That’s not - ”

    “ - fair?” Hopper finished for her, unimpressed. “Then maybe you’ll think the next time before throwing a punch. It’s called being grounded.”

    “I,” El crossed her arms over her chest and slumped down in her seat to pout, “hate grounding.”

    “Well,” Hopper shrugged, “it’s not supposed to be pleasant. So, good; that means I’m doing something right.”

    With that said, he felt comfortable enough to ease the truck forward again and head for home. El was all too happy to turn her face towards the window and ignore him completely after learning about her sentence, but he was fine with that. This was a good thing for her to stew over; it was for the best.

    As they drove, however, he was aware of El turning her eyes back towards him. What first started as a hesitant peak slowly turned into a furrowed, pensive look of concentration. Soon, she was staring outright, with something clearly weighing on her mind.

    “You know,” he called her out as the road stretched on and the tree-line grew denser on both sides of the asphalt, “it’s rude to stare.”

    Yet she still didn’t turn her gaze away. Instead, she tilted her head to state: “You are allowed to hit people.”

    His brow furrowed; he didn’t immediately understand what she meant. Was she trying to call him the pot to her kettle? But then she gestured – at his badge, it seemed – and he understood. Her eyes next flickered down to his service weapon, still holstered at his hip. Ah; this was turning into one of those talks, then.

    “Well, yeah – kinda,” he admitted. “There are lots of things we have to do first, though. Even for a police officer, violence is a last resort. Especially," he felt compelled to add, thinking about some of the less than exemplary cops he'd known on the force, "if you’re one of the good ones.”

    “But,” she said carefully, clearly still searching for something, “is that why you became a cop? So you could help people? So that you could hit back, when needed?”

    He had a moment’s glimmer of understanding, and couldn’t tell if he was proud or terrified for what he thought she would say next. “Yeah,” he answered, even so. “I guess you could say that.” What he wouldn't tell her until she was older was that he’d felt a gaping void in his life after coming home from Vietnam – that, he’d since come to peace enough with his service to admit. Instead of going to college or learning a vocational skill, he’d honored the draft and gone to war fresh out of high school. Following, there were only a few places where he could put the skills he’d learned in his tour overseas to use – being a veteran was a stigma more often than not, otherwise. Entering the Police Academy had been the logical next step, especially when, at the time, having a weapon at his side and an opportunity to enforce some semblance of law and order was one of the very few things that'd helped him keep a steady grip on his sanity. There were still times when he dreamed that he was back in that god forsaken jungle, no matter the years that had passed since then. His profession continued to help him corral his demons, in what small way it could.

    But, El . . . she wouldn’t be content with being a small town police chief like he was. He had a moment’s foresight of her serving at a precinct in a big city like Chicago or Detroit – even Indianapolis wouldn’t do for her, he suspected – solving crimes and covertly using her gifts where she could to help those who couldn’t help themselves. It would be a dangerous, precarious line she would walk . . . but, at the same time, Hopper already knew that few other courses would bring her such satisfaction or fulfillment. That she even had such a deeply entrenched desire to protect was staggering in of itself. After everything she’d been through in her short life, that she still had such an amazing capacity to love was something that both humbled and amazed him by turns.

    “I think,” sure enough, she said – slowly, but then with growing confidence, “I want to be a police officer too, just like you.”

    And, there it was. Hopper let out a deep breath, feeling strands of pride and fear and love all tangle together to bloom in his chest. For a moment his heart was too full; his lungs didn't have room to breathe alongside it. “You can do anything you want to, El,” he wouldn’t talk her out of her dreams. Not ever. “I’ll help you achieve whatever you make up your mind to do. But,” he hedged, “for now let’s just settle on tackling high school. There are going to be plenty of Mandy Morgans in life, kid, and it isn’t always going to be easy, learning to turn around and walk away when words don’t work. Even with a badge, that’s something you’ll end up doing more often than you’ll like.”

    "I understand," for that, El made a face. “School first,” she agreed darkly, “badge later.”

    For a moment, Hopper almost pitied the forces in the universe that would stand in the way between her and her goal. He cracked a grin and agreed, “School first, then a badge.”

    Grounding, then school, then a badge,” El huffed to add. “This is going to take forever.”

    That time, Hopper couldn’t help but chuckle for just how adolescent her words were – just as they should be – as he turned down the bumpy dirt road that led to the cabin, “Don’t worry,” he assured her, “it’ll go by faster than you think.” Too fast, a part of him couldn’t help but think with a pang.

    “Good,” El said, looking out the window as the snow fell, “I can’t wait.”

    ~MJ @};-
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
    Kahara likes this.
  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha WIP Month Winner star 8 VIP - Game Winner

    Aug 31, 2004
    For a moment, all Hopper thought was a low and vengeful good in response. Whatever Flo wanted to say about his parenting, right then and there he was a saint for not congratulating El for hitting that awful little girl and showing her how to throw a proper punch so that she could do even better next time.

    I know that's right. =D= Bullies are the WORST! :mad:

    El is such a wonderful mixture of all kinds of traits and skills. She's just like one of the kids one moment, wanting to dream big and follow in the footsteps of one she admires. Her capacity for empathy is indeed amazing! [face_love] So often anyone who's been through cruel situations becomes twisted. :(


    Hopper is wonderful. He balances stern with supportive in such a lovely balance!

    Kahara and brodiew like this.
  8. brodiew

    brodiew Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Oct 11, 2005
    Another wonderful chapter, Mira! I really enjoyed Hopper's introspection as well as their conversation about mean girls and the brutal war they are waging on Max. Also, Max's bruised wrists, rumination on becoming colorblind, and the grounding.

    But before I get to that, I just wanted to share a couple of line that jumped off the page at me. See below: ^:)^

    This imagery is superb; love burning ember.

    THIS. You have a wonderful way of using the italics to stress El's words. I can hear her speaking them. This line lands with power. The build up is emotion enough, but this. So good.[face_hypnotized]

    What a wonderful line. Got goosebumps just reading it again. It is also something they share.

    This was fantastic as well. Because El is teenager and is perfectly in character acting like a 6 year who lost her favorite toy (Mike) for while.
    Here is to hoping Hopper gets time with Mandy's parents. It would also be cool to see some El-Max time. I look forward to the next chapter.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  9. Kahara

    Kahara Force Ghost star 4

    Mar 3, 2001
    This is such a delight, and it’s making me want to go catch up on that second season that got lost in the shuffle. I really enjoy your takes on both El and Hopper, and the glimpses that we get of the others as well. (I think Max is probably from Season 2, but the others are all immediately recognizable.)

    This was one of my favorite bits; it’s really illuminating when it comes to both of them. El is one of the regular kids in so many ways -- she’s still very young and figuring out how she wants to be -- and Hopper is able to understand that while also empathizing with the effects of her incredibly terrible past. He’s just such a good dad throughout this, it’s very sweet.

    [face_rofl] Oh dear, I can see that happening!

    The fallout of the suspension and the conversation around El’s future career were really well-done. They may have a long way to go, but it’s really lovely to see the progress that these two have made as family.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019