El had never celebrated Christmas before, the boys knew this. They didn’t really have to ask - her confused gaze and questioning eyes when they mentioned the name Santa Claus kind of gave it away.
So after explaining the concept of Christmas, and presents and family, maybe even snow if it’s cold enough, El couldn’t wait for Christmas.
After all, it would be her first - and it would be with the people she cared about most.
The whole idea of presents was what encaptured El. And not receiving them - giving them. She liked the sound of people being happy to receive them and remembered the only times she felt happy in the lab were when Papa gave her a present. She wanted people to feel what she felt in those rare moments.
So when Christmas Eve came, and all six kids and their families met at the Wheeler household, El couldn’t contain her excitement, gripping the bag with her friends’ presents even tighter. Hopper looked down at the young girl he was proud to now call his own and smiled adoringly.
“Max and the boys are downstairs, go right ahead.” Karen smiled warmly as El hugged Hopper before rushing towards the basement stairs, almost tumbling down.
“Don’t break anything!” She heard Hopper yell after her. She found it funny when he went into dad mode - it was so rare for him.
Arriving at the bottom of the stairs, El halted in her tracks.
It was breath taking - the bright lights, the colourful streamers, the intricate wreathes. It was beautiful. She’d never seen anything like it!
As soon as she hit the last step, all heads in the room turned in her direction.
“Hey El!” A chorus of voices hit her ears as she made her way over. They were all playing what looked to be a card game.
“Hi,” she blushed, still never warming to the idea of all the attention being on her.
All the boys and Max scrambled to their feet, each coming to give El a big, warm Christmas hug - exactly what she needed during the cold, winter nights.
After receiving the last bear hug from Dustin, El shuffled back so she was standing before all five of her friends.
Slowly and delicately, she raised the bag with all her presents.
“Merry Christmas,” she murmured, her cheeks tinting crimson.
Max was the first to grab the bag, eager to unfold the pink tissue paper concealing the gifts inside.
“Max, don’t snatch.” Will chided, ever the parental figure of the group.
“Sorry…” Max mumbled. El giggled and just shrugged.
Max reached into the large bag, fumbling around until she found a small box enveloped in a large layer of pink tissue with her name scribbled on it.
Max shook it slightly before ripping through the paper, uncovering the box beneath. She turned the box over in her hands before shaking it once more - only a light rattle sounding out.
Eagerly, Max ripped it open to uncover a purple (because it’s not as girly as pink but still stylish) friendship bracelet. In the middle, there was a silver bead with the letter ’M’ printed on it.
El held up her own purple bracelet, only her’s had the letter ‘E.’
“So we match,” She said.
Max smiled adoringly down at the bracelet before giving El yet another hug, murmuring it was the best present she could’ve received.
El smiled before turning to Lucas who was already undoing the tissue paper on his present.
After fumbling with the wrapping for a minute longer, Lucas managed to uncover what was inside - a red camo bandana.
Which conveniently went perfectly with his red Christmas sweater.
“It’s awesome! Thanks so much, El.” Lucas stepped forward to give El a large hug before stepping back and tying it around his head.
When the kids had turned to the next person, they weren’t at all surprised to find the wrapping paper already on the floor and the present laying delicately in the recipients’ hands.
Low and behold there was a ‘Lando Calrissian’ figurine resting gently on Dustin’s palm. It was a beautiful choice - reminding everyone - well almost everyone - about some of their crazier times together.
“I love it!” Dustin shouted before diving towards El and picking her up like a rag doll.
“Y-you’re welcome, D-Dustin.” El managed to stammer out with limited breath.
“Oh- sorry.” He giggled, placing her down gently before taking his place back between Lucas and Will.
He leant down and picked up the now lighter gift bag, handing it to Will.
Will glanced up at El and gave her a big grin, to which El returned just as sincerely.
Leaning into the bag, Will grabbed the largest of all the presents which had his name scrawled across it in El’s familiar, loopy handwriting.
Delicately removing the tape, he unwrapped the bright pink tissue paper, revealing a large sketchbook and some coloured pencils. Everyone knew of Will’s love for art so they knew how much a present like this would mean to him.
“It’s amazing. Thank you, El.”
Will gushed, looking up at her.
El blushed again and looked down.
“No problem, Will.” She smiled, going forward to give him a quick hug before stepping back.
That left one present in the discarded and slightly crumpled Christmas bag.
“Saved the best for last.” Max teased, picking up the bag and passing it to Mike.
Mike gently took the bag before turning to El.
El refused to meet his gaze and looked down. Out of all the presents in that bag, Mike’s was the only one she was unsure about.
Leaning into the bag, Mike grabbed the flat, rectangular present, coiled tightly in pink tissue paper.
Flipping it over, he removed the tape before slowly undoing the wrapping. After about a minute of nothing but the sound of rumpling and crunching, Mike uncovered the gift.
He almost stopped breathing.
Laying in Mike’s hands was a beautiful silver photo frame, engraved with the word 'promise’ across the top.
And inside the photo slot, was a beautiful candid picture of Mike and El, sitting next to each other, eating eggos and laughing until their guts hurt as they had a picnic in the Wheeler’s backyard. His mum must’ve taken it when they weren’t looking.
It was - perfect. No other word could describe it. She was perfect.
Glancing up, Mike smiled before walking towards El and enclosing her in a loving hug. El wrapped her arms around Mike’s torso, leaning into his warm embrace.
“Thank you, El,” he breathed into her ear, tickling her skin.
“It’s perfect…just like you.” He murmured, pulling back to look her in the eye.
El released a breath, allowing the blood to flow delicately onto her cheeks. She was so relieved and grateful that he liked his gift.
“I-I’m glad you like it.” She mumbled, her cheeks turning even more pink.
“You ready to see your present?” He asked, pulling away from her but keeping a firm grasp on her hand.
“Yes,” she breathed, not able to contain her smile. All the others turned and lead the way out of the basement towards the back door.
Where were they going?
Following after them, Mike and El made their way outside where El stopped in her tracks.
All five of her closest friends were standing there, grinning at her.
A huge smile spread across El’s face.
“Told ya she’d love it.” Dustin giggled, nudging Mike in the arm.
Standing before them was a pink bicycle. El’s very own pink bicycle.
She’d dreamed of owning her own for so long! Not that she didn’t love riding on Mike’s with him of course.
“For me?” She squeaked, still not believing what was really in front of her.
“Yup, all yours!” Lucas piped up.
Will stepped forward, bringing out something from behind his back.
“Just while you get the hang of things,” Will playfully remarked, before presenting a beautiful white helmet decorated with purple, pink and blue flowers.
Taking the helmet in her hand, El looked it over before glancing at the faces of all her friends.
“I-I don’t know wha-what to say.” She stammered, eyes beginning to water.
“You say, Merry Christmas!” Max replied, all the boys following in her words.
El couldn’t believe what amazing friends she had.
“There’s still an hour before dinner, why don’t we go for a ride?” Lucas suggested.
“Yeah, teach El how to ride her own bike for once, hey Wheeler?” Dustin smirked, knowing fully well Mike didn’t want to buy El her own bike.
He’d never admit it to the guys, but he loved it when El wrapped her arms tightly around his waist as they flew through the streets of Hawkins. It’s one of the many things he loved doing with El.
But he knew she’d always wanted her own.
“Uh- yeah.” Mike mumbled, scratching the back of his neck, inadvertently allowing a scarlet red to flood his freckled cheeks.
“Let’s go!” Max yelled, already making her way over to her skateboard.
“Right behind you!” The boys all called, leaving El and Mike standing there.
Turning to El, Mike kept his firm grip on her hand.
“Merry Christmas, El,” Mike smiled, his gaze never once wavering from her own.
“Merry Christmas, Mike,” El smiled, thinking over how grateful she was.
There is a world of difference between “I think it would be interesting to imagine this character as trans” and “I have to make this character trans so they’ll be interesting”. One of them is exploring trans identities and the other is treating trans identities like a stylish charm bracelet to spice up a boring outfit.
If a character isn’t interesting before you headcanon them as trans, they aren’t gonna be interesting after. They’re just gonna be boring and now also trans.