I love you
When Eleven hears ‘I love you’ for the first time, it’s from Hopper. They’re arguing about her getting to see Mike after the gate has been closed. It starts out just like every other argument of theirs, with a question from Eleven.
“Why can’t I see him?”
“I’ve told you already, kid. It’s not safe! You’ll see him eventually.”
“I don’t care! I need to see him now! Why won’t you let me go?”
“Because I want you alive!”
“You won’t let me go? It’s just like before. You hate me. You hate me!”
“Why the hell do you think I’m doin’ this, kid? It’s because I love you! I can’t lose you again!”
Eleven is suddenly silent. They’ve fought a million times before but she’s never seen him cry because of it. Guilt bubbles up in her throat.
“I’m sorry.” She suddenly whispers.
He rubs a hand down his face and sits on the sofa, sighing.
“It’s alright, El. I’m sorry too. I want to help you.”
She takes a tentative seat beside him, folding her hands in her lap. After a long, heavy minute of silence, Eleven gathers the courage to ask a question.
“What does ‘I love you’ mean?” Her voice is uncertain. It breaks Hopper when he realizes she’s never heard it before. He thinks for a moment before replying.
“It’s when you care about someone a lot. More than a lot. And you wanna keep them safe and happy, forever. You’d risk your life for them. You never want to let them go.” He tries to phrase in a way she will understand.
He hears nothing for a while, so he turns to look at Eleven, only to find her with tears streaming down her face. His heart feels like it’s been kicked. She looks at him with big, teary brown eyes and says “I….love you too.”
He pulls her into his chest and wraps his arms around her. You never want to let them go.
When Eleven hears ‘I love you’ again, it’s from Will. The Hoppers and the Byers are supposed to be having dinner together, like they do every Saturday night. Something is different tonight, though. Hopper and Joyce are having dinner together, out. They are on a date, and Eleven is with Will and Jonathan. She is sitting next to Will on his bed, and fiddling with his SuperCom while he draws. They had become close along with their parents, and Eleven was fiercely protective of him. For the last five minutes Will had been rambling on about their parents.
“This is really cool, El. We get to spend lots more time together! And if they get married, we can be brother and sister! I mean, I love you like a sister already, it’ll just be official. Oh, and Jonathan can take us to the movies-”
Eleven didn’t cry this time. It was small statement in the middle of his ramblings, but she smiled. A big smile. When he finally finished talking, she hugged him. He seemed a little surprised by the gesture but hugged back nonetheless.
“I can’t wait.”
She starts hearing it more and more.
Steve says “I love you kid, but you’ve really gotta stop using your powers on my car-” One sunny afternoon at the junkyard.
Dustin says “ Did you guys see that? I love you El, that was so cool!” After she floats his bike with a jerk of her head.
Nancy says “Don’t get me wrong, I love you Eleven, but you’re all Mike talks about.” When they are sitting together in Jonathan’s car waiting for Will to get his bag.
Lucas says “Thank you El! I love you! Yes!” One day at the arcade when she uses her powers to fix a broken machine with a surge of power.
Joyce says “Ok sweetie, I love you, I’ll see you next week.” After one of their many dinners.
She understands. She doesn’t know exactly what it means but she feels it. ‘I love you’ become her three favorite words. So one night she decides to use them herself.
The air is warm and gentle on her face and the night sky makes her feel safe. Mike’s hand in hers keeps her grounded while simultaneously giving her butterflies. They are sitting on the swing on the Hopper’s porch, fireflies floating around them. Eleven’s head rests gently on Mike’s shoulder.
That’s when she says it.
“I love you, Mike.”
There’s no response for a moment, and then another. She begins to panic. Is she not supposed to say that? Does Mike not love her back? Still silence. (She doesn’t see the blush creeping across his face) Eleven takes her head off his shoulder and turns to him anxiously. “I’m sorry Mike, I didn’t-“
but she doesn’t finish, because in that moment he presses his lips gently to hers. Her heart flutters and she closes her eyes. “I love you too, El.” Mike mumbles against her lips. She feels a hand come up to her cheek and then move a curl behind her ear. Tears pool in her eyes but she doesn’t understand why. She’s so happy.
She presses one more gentle kiss to mikes lips before letting her forehead rest against his. Their mingled breath makes Mikes heart pound and in that moment they feel everything at once.
“I love you.”