This is one of my longer ones.
TW: Violence in the last section. Billy-type violence, so basically the fight scene in Episode 9 of Season 2.
Once Mike and El had their few moments together, the rest of the boys surrounded her and got their hugs in as well. She seemed to be okay with all of the touching, but she'd hugged Mike the longest.
Mike had always been closer to El than anyone else had been. Mike was her person, like Steve was Jessica's person, and she didn't mean in a romantic way. Mike was El's favorite person, the one she'd always been most comfortable with. She'd chosen him almost right from the beginning.
When Jessica finally got her turn, she hugged the girl tightly and then wiped El's nose clean of the blood that was slowly dripping down towards her lips.
"El . . . how . . . how are you here?"
"I got . . . free."
El still spoke slowly, as if she didn't know how words worked when she tried putting them together. It didn't matter, though, because she was there with them. They could all work with her on whatever she wanted to learn later.
"I never gave up on you," Mike said, still visibly shaken from El coming through the front door just moments before. "I called you every night. Every night for –"
"Three-hundred-and-fifty-three days." El nodded. "I heard."
"Why didn't you tell me you were there? That you were okay?"
Mike seemed more confused and hurt than actually mad. He probably couldn't be mad at El. He'd just gotten her back.
"Because I wouldn't let her," Hopper said.
He had stepped back to give El room with the others, but he stepped forward now, toward Mike and El.
"Where've you been?" he asked El.
"Where have you been?" El asked in return.
A few tense seconds passed before Hopper released his grip on his rifle and pulled El in for a hug. She went willingly, closed her eyes, and hugged him back.
Jessica didn't know why they appeared so close with each other. They hadn't spent much time together the last time she'd been with them.
"You've been hiding her," Mike accused. "You've been hiding her this whole time."
Mike shoved against Hopper's back and Hopper grabbed him by his shirt collar.
"Hey! Let's talk. Alone."
Hopper began guiding Mike down the hall to Joyce's room, where they went in and shut the door. The bid for privacy didn't really work. Mike and Hopper both began shouting at each other. They didn't yell the whole time they were in Joyce's room, but they were loud enough for everyone to follow along with what they were saying.
It came down to Hopper basically telling Mike that he hadn't been able to tell anyone about El because the more people who knew about her, the more danger she would be in. The people who knew would be in danger because they knew.
Hopper knew Mike was upset, but he wanted to make sure Mike wasn't upset with El, that he didn't blame El. She had wanted to see Mike as much as Mike had wanted to see her. They all heard when Mike called Hopper a liar and when he told Hopper that he didn't blame El, that he blamed Hopper.
The screaming went on for about another minute before the house went silent. Jessica could tell that the screaming had been upsetting El, but once it stopped she was able to distract herself.
El reached up and touched Dustin's mouth.
"You have teeth."
Dustin grinned. "You like these pearls?"
Max, who had pretty much stayed in the background until then, stepped forward to introduce herself. She even had a hand out for El to shake, but El didn't react. Jessica wasn't sure El even knew she was supposed to shake her hand.
El walked past her and went straight to Joyce, who embraced her easily. They both had tears in their eyes.
"Can I see him?" El asked. "Can I see Will?"
"He – he's not doing well," Joyce said.
At some point, Joyce had taken Will to his room, probably to get him away from the chaos, and she was now leading El to the room.
It didn't surprise Jessica that El seemed to know what was going on. El had always known more than anyone else in their group, especially when it came to all the Upside Down stuff.
"So . . . that's El?" Steve asked, coming to stand beside her.
"Um . . . yeah."
She turned to him and gave a small smile.
"She's . . . not what I imagined."
"Yeah. She . . . I'm not sure where she came up with the new look."
"And she really unlocked the door using her mind?"
"Yup. Probably threw the demodog through the window that way too."
"That's pretty much the word to describe her."
Jessica realized that even though she'd talked to Steve about El he'd really had no idea how powerful the girl really was. Seeing was different than hearing about it.
"You okay?" she asked him, grabbing his hand, lacing their fingers together.
Steve scoffed. "Yeah. She's not the weirdest or scariest thing we've come across."
"You're not wrong."
Even though El was powerful, Jessica knew the girl would never hurt them. It was true she had used her powers to kill before, but it had always been to protect herself or others.
Joyce and El came back out of Will's room before Hopper and Mike came back. El, who hadn't really paid attention to Steve before, stopped in front of Steve and Jessica and looked at their clasped hands.
"Steve?" El pronounced the name as a question, causing Jessica to smile and nod. "Boyfriend?"
"Yeah. Boyfriend. Did Hopper tell you that?"
El brought a hand up and touched a strand of hair that was hanging loose over Steve's forehead. Jessica was relieved when Steve didn't seem to mind or didn't show it if he did.
"Um . . . thanks?"
The fact that Steve's cheeks had turned a little pink at the compliment had Jessica looking down to hide a grin. It also had her remembering that El had said she was pretty, too, when they'd first met, when she'd been helping El get dressed to go to the school with the boys.
Once everyone was back in the living room El said, "We have to close the gate."
Jessica wasn't sure if El had known that already or if Joyce had told her what Will had told them. She was just glad El was already on board with what they needed to do.
Mike, who had been all for finding a way to close the gate before, was now against it since he knew only El could actually get it done.
To be honest, none of them were exactly happy about having an almost thirteen-year-old girl be the one they had to let take care of this, but she was their best chance, so they had to.
"It's not like it was before," Hopper said. "It's grown. A lot. And I mean, that's considering we can get in there. That place is crawling with those dogs."
"Demodogs," Dustin corrected.
"How is that important right now?"
"It's not. I'm sorry."
"I can do it," El said.
"You're not hearing me," Hopper said.
"I'm hearing you. I can do it."
"Even if El can, there's still another problem," Mike said. "If the brain dies, the body dies."
"So . . . we can't close the gate while the mind flayer is inside of Will," Jessica said. "If we do . . . Will will die right along with it."
Will had been the one to let them know they needed to close the gate. What if he'd been letting them know he'd rather die than be host to this thing? She knew she'd rather be dead than have some evil thing take her over and use her the way the mind flayer was using Will.
"What if we can force it out?" Joyce asked.
"What d'you mean?" Hopper asked.
"He likes it cold. It's what Will kept telling me. I kept giving it what it wanted so Will would be comfortable. Cool water for a bath, keeping the window open in his room . . ."
"But if this is like a virus, and Will's the host . . ." Nancy trailed off only for Jonathan to take over, "Then we need to make the host uninhabitable."
"So if he likes it cold –"
"We need to burn it out of him."
"We need to go somewhere he doesn't know this time," Mike said.
"Yeah. Somewhere far away."
Hopper ended up telling them about the cabin that had belonged to his grandfather. He'd been living there with El for almost a whole year. Jessica hadn't even known Hopper had moved from his trailer. She would've had no reason to have visited him at home, so of course she hadn't.
Hopper would have to tell them exactly how everything had gone down at some point, once all of this was over, but right now? Right now the cabin was a great place to take Will. Nobody but Hopper and El knew where it was. Hopper had to give Joyce directions on how to get there.
Jonathan and Nancy decided they were going to go with Joyce to try and help her save Will. They had to go out back to find a few space heaters to take with them – they really were going to try and burn the mind flayer out of Will.
Mike and the other boys got upset when they were told that they needed to stay at the house with Steve and Jessica. Jessica thought Mike was actually going to have a conniption fit about it, but she cut him off before he could really start in.
"It's better this way, Mike. El doesn't need to worry about us while she's closing the gate. She'll know we're safe here."
She knew the boys were just kind of upset about being kept out of the most important part of everything that was happening. They weren't allowed to go help Joyce with Will and now they were being told they couldn't help El either.
She'd meant what she said, though. They would only be in the way if they went with El because she would have to worry about keeping them safe as well as closing the gate, which she would have to time perfectly. She couldn't close it before Joyce got the mind flayer out of Will.
Hopper and Joyce were going to keep in contact with each other with the walkie-talkies, so Hopper would know when it was safe for El to start.
If she and Steve needed to stay behind to keep the other kids safe, she was willing to do it. It was a bonus that it would keep her and Steve safe as well.
Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy were the first to leave, Will in the backseat, still unconscious.
Hopper and El left shortly after that. Mike expressed his worry at losing El again so soon after finding out she was actually alive, but El had tried to reassure him that she'd be okay.
Things were quiet in the house after everyone who was supposed to have left were gone. Max and Lucas were on the couch, talking every now and then; Mike was off to himself, still upset, eyes red and wet; Dustin was inspecting the dead demodog in the corner of the living room; Jessica was sweeping up the glass from the broken window the dead demodog had caused by crashing through it – or by being thrown into it, more accurately; Steve had already picked up the curtain that had covered the window. It was torn to pieces and needed to be trashed.
Steve and Jessica dumped the curtain and the glass into the trashcan in the kitchen and then they slumped into two chairs at the table – the mess from earlier still there.
The way they were seated, one of Jessica's legs between Steve's and one of his between hers, was nice and comforting. They both needed it, that closeness.
"Was this how it was last year? I mean, I came in at the end last year, but you were there for all of it."
Steve remembered thinking that Jess had been acting a little odd, but Will had been missing and he had been acting like a jerk, so he had just chalked it up to that. But if last year had been as hectic as this one . . . well, he understood her behavior.
Jessica had told him about the days before the battle at the Byers' that night, but he hadn't actually been there with her, so he didn't know exactly what had happened. He had seen the aftermath, though – the nightmares and the panic attacks – and he wondered how bad the aftermath would be from this, and how long it would last. He wondered what aftermath he would suffer from.
Jessica's nightmares and panic attacks had become almost nonexistent; she'd been doing better, but the faraway look in her eyes that had been coming and going over the past few hours reminded him so much of the first few months he'd spent with her after their first go around with all this stuff.
Her eyes had regained some life once she'd seen El walk through the door earlier and she'd even been able to grin at El's antics over his hair. She was still functioning properly at least.
When Jessica answered, her voice was quiet.
"It, um . . . it was slower last time. Like spread over more days. It feels like everything is hitting all at once this time. I mean, today alone –"
"It was a lot."
Dustin came in the kitchen then and went to the fridge. He began dumping everything out onto the floor.
"What're you doing?" Jessica asked.
The fact that Jessica didn't automatically stand up and get after Dustin for basically trashing the Byers' kitchen floor and wasting the food in the fridge just proved how tired and done with everything she was.
"Why do you wanna keep that thing, anyway?" Steve asked. "Is it really necessary?"
"Yes, it is. This is a ground-breaking scientific discovery, a'right? We can't just bury it like it's some common mammal, okay? It's not a dog."
Jessica shook her head, placed her arms on the table and hid her face on them, again showing how tired she was.
Steve ended up helping Dustin wrap the demodog in a blanket and then wrestle the thing into the fridge.
"You're explaining all this to Ms. Byers," he said before patting Dustin on the head over his hat.
In the living room Max and Lucas were still seated together on the couch, and Mike was now pacing the length of the room, back and forth.
Steve knew Mike was just worried. According to him, the lab was swarming with hundreds of those things – the demodogs – and that was exactly what El and Hopper had to get through to get to the gate. Steve also understood Mike had to feel useless not being able to help. He wouldn't have been able to stay behind and wait if it had been Jess who had needed to go close the gate.
Steve wasn't a twelve-year-old boy, though. It was different.
"Mike, the chief will take care of her," Lucas said, trying to be comforting.
"Like she needs protection," Max said, and she wasn't wrong.
Steve went to wash his hands of the nastiness he felt from handling the demodog a few minutes ago and began talking over the running water.
"Look, dude, if a coach calls a play in a game, the bottom line is, you execute it, all right?"
He shut the water off, grabbed a dish towel, and began drying his hands while walking toward the living room. Jessica hadn't lifted her head since she'd put it on the table. He wondered if she'd actually fallen asleep.
When he reached Mike, the boy seemed just as upset as before when he started talking.
"Okay, first of all, this isn't some stupid sports game. And second, we're not even in the game. We're on the bench."
"Right," Steve said. "So my point is . . . Right, yeah, we're on the bench. There's nothing we can do."
Steve slipped the dish towel over his shoulder.
"That's not entirely true," Dustin said. "I mean, these demodogs, they have a hive mind. When they ran away from the bus, they were called away."
"So if we get their attention . . ." Lucas started.
"Maybe we could draw them away from the lab," Max finished.
"Clear a path to the gate."
"Yeah, and then we all die," Steve exclaimed.
"That's one point of view," Dustin said.
"No, that's not a point of view, mans. That's a fact."
"We're not going anywhere," Jessica said, coming into the living room. Steve guessed she hadn't been asleep. "They told us to wait, so we're gonna wait."
"Jess, Hopper dug a hole in one of the tunnels. It's our way in," Mike said, eyes and voice pleading.
"Okay. Okay, we get in and then what? What's the plan after that?" Jessica's voice was calm, but Steve could tell she was just humoring the kid. She didn't actually think Mike had a plan. "Steve's right. We distract these things, bring them to us, we die. We can't fight them."
Mike showed them all a part of the tunnels on the map Will had drawn where all the other tunnels branched out.
"Maybe if we set this on fire –"
"Oh, yeah, that's a no."
"The mind flayer would call away his army," Dustin said.
"They'd all come to stop us."
"Then we circle back to the exit. By the time they realize we're gone –"
"El would be at the gate."
"Hey, hey, hey!" Steve clapped a few times to get their attention. "This is not happening."
"No. No, no, no, no. We promised to keep you guys safe, and that's exactly what we plan on doing. We're staying here. On the bench. And we're waiting for the starting team to do their job. Does everybody understand that?"
"This isn't a stupid sport's game."
"I said does everybody understand that?" When they all just looked at him like he was being an annoying parent, he said, "I need a yes."
All the kids were looking at Jessica, probably hoping she would side with them.
"Help anytime, right?" Mike asked quietly.
Jessica's eyes watered. "Don't you throw that at me. I tried helping you all year and you kept pushing me away. You could have come to me when all this started happening with Will and you didn't, so don't throw that at me."
"But we can't just sit here and –"
"Mike, if I thought your plan would work, I would be all for it. But even if we can get down there . . . if we set fire to those tunnels before that thing is out of Will, we will be hurting him too –"
The revving of an engine interrupted her and she was surprised that she recognized the sound even though she'd heard it only a few times before.
Not many engines in Hawkins sounded like his, and even if Jessica hadn't recognized it, the fact that Max had gone on high alert when she'd heard the engine too would've told Jessica who the car belonged to.
Billy had obviously found out Max was with them, somehow, though Jessica wasn't sure who would've known where they all were.
"It's my brother. He can't know I'm here," Max said. "He'll kill me. He'll kill us."
Jessica shared a look with Steve, and he gestured to the front door. She nodded and they both walked over. They heard the tired grind over the gravel in the driveway as the car came to a stop.
"Max has bruises on her wrist from Billy grabbing her too hard," Jessica said quietly. "He might actually hurt her if we let her leave with him."
"So then we don't let him have her."
Steve stepped outside and while Jessica wanted to go outside with him, she knew she needed to stay inside with the kids.
She heard Billy say, "Am I dreamin' or is that you, Harrington?" and she heard Steve say, "Yeah, it's me. Don't cream your pants," but then Steve was going down the steps and off the porch, and all she could here were murmurs after that.
"So, they're just talking right now," Dustin said, catching her attention.
He and the others, including Max, were watching from the window, which . . . really?
"Get away from there," she said. "Honestly, we're trying to keep him from knowing you're here and you place yourself in front of a window?"
The damage had already been done, though, and Jessica saw when Billy shoved Steve to the ground and when he gave Steve a swift kick to the ribs.
Steve curled in on himself as Billy went by him, but Jessica knew Steve would be okay. He was probably just winded.
Billy was headed to the door now and Jessica was trying to get the kids behind her. Billy liked her at least a little; she could try to talk to him, maybe get him to leave if she promised to take Max home herself in the morning. It was pretty late.
The Billy that came through the front door, however, wasn't the Billy she was used to dealing with in English class. He was not all smirks and blue bedroom eyes. There was nothing playful or flirty about him.
Nope, this Billy standing there had rage in his eyes, and he was focused solely on Max and Lucas. He barely even registered that anyone else was there. He hadn't taken in the walls, which were still covered in those tunnel drawings.
"Well, well, well. Lucas Sinclair. What a surprise." Then to Max, "I thought I told you to stay away from him."
"Billy, go away."
If Max hadn't said that, Jessica probably would've waited to see what was going to happen, but she had and Jessica could tell the girl really did want him to go away.
"Look, come on, Billy. She's fine here with me. I can bring her home –"
"She sneaked out, okay? I was supposed to be watching her and she ran off."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know she sneaked out."
Max had just shown up with Lucas. Jessica hadn't thought anything of it.
Billy turned his attention to Max.
"Guess who got in trouble when Dad and Susan got home and I didn't know where you were?"
Jessica assumed that the answer wasn't Max.
"Billy . . ." Max trailed off.
"You disobeyed me. You know what happens when you disobey me."
The next thing happened so quickly Jessica was almost shocked by it. Billy said something about breaking things and then he was grabbing Lucas by the collar of his jacket, shoving him all the way into the kitchen and into a shelf of ceramic containers. Billy wasn't messing around either. He was going to hurt Lucas. He was going to hurt a kid.
"Since Maxine won't listen to me, maybe you will."
Jessica had followed hem in and was grabbing at Billy's arm for all the good it did. He was much stronger than she was.
This was so much different that Billy grabbing Max's wrist too tightly and leaving a bruise. That wasn't okay either, but this was Billy going after a kid Billy didn't even directly know. Billy was terrorizing a random boy just for hanging out with Max.
"You stay away from her. Stay away from her! You hear me?"
"Billy! Get off," Jessica yelled right in his ear, but that didn't do much good either. She may as well have been screaming at a deaf person.
That's when she made what was probably a stupid mistake. She began banging on his shoulder and arm as hard as she could. Did it appear girly to everyone in the room? Probably. Did she still get a few good hits in? Yes. Especially when she aimed for his side instead.
She must've hit an especially sensitive spot, because all of a sudden Billy pushed her away. Until then, she was sure she'd just been an annoyance to him.
The fact that he'd pushed her wouldn't have fazed her much if he'd pushed her towards the wall, a flat surface, but Billy had shoved her towards the kitchen table. She'd landed hard against the pointed side of it and she cried out as she felt it dig against her lower back. She wasn't sure if it had broken skin or not, but she was definitely going to have a bruise.
Over the next thirty seconds the kids continued screaming, Lucas was able to get a knee up between Billy's legs hard enough for Billy to let him go, and Steve was there landing a punch hard enough to knock Billy back a few steps, enough for Lucas to get away and grab Jessica to pull her back to the rest of the group.
The thing was that Steve hitting Billy didn't change the game at all. Billy was still angry and he hadn't fallen down. He was . . . he was laughing, high and maniacal, and that's when Jessica knew. Billy had come here looking for a fight. It wouldn't have mattered who had been here with the kids. Billy would have pushed until he got what he wanted, and now he was.
"Looks like you got some fire in you after all, huh?" Billy was loud, as if they weren't all standing in the same room. "I've been waiting to meet this King Steve everyone's been telling me so much about."
Billy got within reaching distance of Steve and seemed shocked and somewhat disappointed when Steve didn't hit him again, when, instead, Steve placed two fingers against his chest and pushed.
It took Billy a few seconds to respond, but when he finally swung Steve was ready to duck and land a swing of his own. He hit Billy again when he turned back to Steve. Then he hit Billy again, and Billy hit the counter.
Jessica noticed that each hit had moved Billy farther away from her and the kids, so she knew what Steve was doing, but if he kept fighting that way, he was going to wear himself out.
Suddenly, Billy hit Steve with something from off of the counter and it shattered against the side of his head. It made Steve stumble backwards, toward the living room, and Jessica and the kids had to move out of the way.
Steve was still on his feet even though Billy had hit him again. Billy grabbed Steve, much like he had grabbed Lucas earlier, and headbutted him. It didn't seem to faze Billy, but Steve had been knocked to the ground. Billy wasn't far behind him.
"No one tells me what to do!"
Then Billy was on Steve, hitting him, and he just . . . wouldn't . . . stop. Jessica had no clue what to do. Obviously, she wanted to stop Billy, but how? He'd already proven he'd hurt her too if she got between him and whatever he was taking his anger out on.
But Steve was in trouble. He wasn't fighting back. He couldn't because he was unconscious.
Billy had beaten Steve to the point of Steve being knocked out and Billy still wasn't stopping. What was wrong with him? Who was this rage machine?
Jessica spotted Steve's nail bat by the front door and quickly hurried to go get it. Just one hard hit in the side or the back, that's all it would take to end this.
As soon as her hands wrapped around the bat Jessica heard a grunt and the sound of flesh pounding on flesh stopped. Billy was standing up now, his back to her, and Jessica wondered if he'd realized how crazy he'd been acting, but that wasn't it.
Billy had a syringe sticking out of his neck and he was reaching up to pull it out as he moved forward, towards the kids, towards Max.
"The hell is this?"
Jessica knew what it was. It was the tranquilizer Joyce had been using on Will. She hadn't known there was any left. She was thankful there had been and thankful Max had had the presence of mind to act.
Billy was stumbling forward now and Max kept taking steps backwards. The fact that Billy hadn't passed out yet was troubling. His body, having been hyped up recently, was fighting it.
"What did you do?"
Finally, he fell. Jessica was caught between him and the door, so she quickly stepped over him, bat still in hand. He made grabby hands at her ankles, but she dodged them easily and went to stand by Max.
Billy was still awake, still laughing even, and Jessica again wondered what was wrong with him. She'd met jerks before, but Billy was acting psychotic.
Max grabbed the bat from Jessica's hand and held it up as if she were going to use it as a club, not a bat.
"From here on out, you leave me and my friends alone. Do you understand me?"
Max brought the bat down between his legs, missing the mark by only a few inches. The sound of the nails tearing into the wood floor had Jessica flinching. Billy was too drugged to do anything other than lift his head and look at the bat and where Max had purposefully missed.
"Say you understand." Max pulled the bat from the floor and screamed. "Say it. Say it!"
Billy licked his lips. "I understand."
Finally, he closed his eyes and Jessica let out a huge breath of relief. She jumped again when the bat clattered to the ground, and she turned to Max.
"Good job," she said breathlessly, patting Max on the shoulder. "You weren't joking about Billy. What's wrong with him?"
Max shook her head. "So many things."
Jessica realized then that the boys were silent. When she looked at them, they were all staring at Max – part awe, part fear – she had threatened another guy's private parts a few seconds ago, after all. They were probably traumatized from seeing that, not to mention everything that had happened in the last ten minutes.
Had everything really happened that fast?
Jessica was surprised when Max went to Billy's side and pulled his car keys out of his jeans pocket and shook them, jingling them a little.
"We can't be here when Billy wakes up."
Jessica knew she was right.
"Okay, yeah. We have to check on Steve, okay? But we'll leave."
Jessica knelt beside Steve, who was still unmoving. There was blood trailing down the right side of his face from where Billy had hit him with what Jessica assumed was a plate. Most of his face was bruised and swollen, his right eyelid almost swollen shut, and his bottom lip was busted.
Jessica couldn't help thinking she should've hit Billy with that bat even though Max had distracted him with the syringe full of tranquilizer. Even if Max had sneaked out of the house and gotten Billy in trouble, he had no right to rage out and take it out on Steve or the kids – or her, she reminded herself as her back twinged from the hit it had taken earlier.
"Guys, I need a first aid kit, some ice, if there is any, and a wash cloth."
Jessica tried not to think about brain damage or concussions. There was nothing she could do about that right then. All she could do was try and clean Steve up and then get them out of there to try and find somewhere safe to stay until everything was over.
Obviously, Jessica doesn't know the guys are packing to go in the tunnels at this point because she's taking care of Steve - he will be taken care of even more in the next chapter or whenever they finally get out of the tunnels. I'm not just going to skim over the injuries like the show did. He really COULD have had brain damage, and I also think that's he was the way he was in Season 3. He was never the brightest, but he wasn't silly comic relief either.