As You Wish - peytra (2022)

Steve doesn’t think anything of it, the first time. He’s sitting in the boathouse with Munson, waiting for something to happen. He refuses to think about it as hanging out or anything. It’s not like they really know each other.

Steve’s bored, and a little annoyed, and Munson is munching on Honeycombs, mouth open, crumbs spewing, and it’s honestly pretty gross. Like, did nobody ever teach this guy manners? Was he raised by a pack of wolves? He can picture Munson howling at the moon, and the mess the guy calls hair is definitely flea infested.

So when Munson shoves another handful of super sugary cereal in his mouth before he even swallows the last batch, Steve just can’t take it anymore.

“Will you close your fucking mouth, man? That’s disgusting.”

Munson swallows, finally, and he grins with all his teeth. “As you wish, my liege.” He gives a little bow as he saws it, too, all courtly and dramatic. Steve’s so over it.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re hilarious. Just keep that shut when you’re chewing, capisce?”

Munson nods. He eats some more cereal and, miracle of all miracles, does not chew with his mouth open. Steve goes back to ignoring him, and, well, things get a little crazy after that, so sue him for not thinking about it too hard.

The next time, they’re in the Upside Down and Steve would give anything to be sitting around in a boat house with nothing better to do than lecture Munson’s table manners. His stomach is killing him- okay, not literally killing him, but it’s still super painful.

If Steve’s ranking every beat-down he’s ever gotten, this would rank just below the time he was tortured by Russians. It’s a pretty close game either way. The Russians had some really good drugs, after all. That was nice.

Maybe he can get drugs from Munson, once they’re back in the Rightside Up and not actively being hunted by a super-powered dickhead anymore. There have to be some benefits to helping the local weed guy avoid the cops, right? Steve’s not afraid of taking advantage.

“Hey, Munson,” he calls. The guy looks back from where he’s chatting with Robin. It looks less like a conversation to Steve and more like two people just ranting at each other, but they seem happy, so, whatever. “You think I can get some weed from you after this is all over?”

He’s never bought from Munson before. Or, not directly. He’s given Robin a twenty a couple of times and seeing how she and Munson interact, he’s willing to bet that’s where she got her stuff from.

“Are you seriously thinking about getting high right now?” Nancy asks, her nose scrunching in the way it does when she thinks other people are being stupid.

“Yes. Yes I am. How about it, Munson? We can make a day of it. I’ll order a pizza and we can get so high that this shit will seem funny.”

Munson whistles. “Wow. A whole pizza? That’s a pretty good deal, Harrington, not gonna lie.”

And, alright, maybe Steve’s getting fond of him, in a you’re so weird it’s fun kind of way, because he says, “I know, right? You can come over, watch a movie or something.”

“And an invite to the Castle? Count me in.”

“Just remember to bring the good stuff, yeah?” There’s no point to any of this if Munson brings over the kind of shit he’d probably sell to Tommy H. He probably overcharges most of the jocks to hell and cuts it with oregano.

Munson gives another of his wide, toothy grins. “As you wish.”

Steve doesn’t really think about it that time, either. Munson says weird shit, like, constantly. Half the time he talks like he’s from the Middle Ages because he’s a total nerd. Steve’s not too worried about it.

Steve’s not happy with the plan. He’s seen a horror movie: splitting up is definitely a bad idea. He hates leaving Max alone with the rest of the kids, even if there’s not much he can do to help her, and he doesn’t like leaving Dustin and Eddie behind, either. But he wouldn’t want Robin and Nancy to not have any backup if something goes wrong. No matter where he is, someone he loves is going to be in danger somewhere else. It sucks.

It’s not like he has any better ideas. He’s not the plans guy. He’s just the ‘shows up with a bat, a concussion, and a dream’ guy. Which is fine, they’ve all got their strengths, but just once he’d love it if they all stuck together. He has a really, really bad feeling.

Steve doesn’t say any of that out loud. He just tells everyone to be careful, making certain to warn Eddie and Dustin. Dustin’s really smart, but he’s also kind of an idiot about safety, and Steve hasn’t seen any indication of self-preservation so far from Eddie, and it’s such a bad idea to leave them alone. It’s so, so bad.

“Make him pay,” Eddie says. Steve nods, and he should definitely go, but he just can’t help himself.

“Just- I’m serious, guys. Please be careful.” He looks at both of them, at these two dumbasses, and something plummets in his stomach when they nod as one.

“As you wish, Harrington.”

Steve leaves. Later, much later, he’ll kick himself for ignoring that bad feeling.

The plan sucks. Max nearly dies, Eddie actually dies, Hawkins gets split open at the seams, and they don’t even kill Vecna all the way. It’s probably the worst they’ve ever done at one of these. The only victory is that El has her powers back, but it’s hollow at best.

The funeral for Eddie is tiny; it’s mostly just the Party, a couple of his band buddies, and Wayne Munson. Steve’s just glad that everybody’s too busy trying to recover from the earthquake to protest or whatever it is people do at the funerals of serial murderers. If he had to hear some moral majority asshole talk about how Eddie deserves to burn in hell he’d either punch them or have a breakdown. Or both. It’s a both kind of week.

Steve watches the empty casket go down, cradling Dustin against his side, his nicest dress shirt getting snot and tears all over it. Robin’s sobbing into her third tissue of the hour. There’s actually not a dry eye in the house, except for Steve himself.

He hasn’t cried at all. Not when he stumbled on Eddie’s body, torn to pieces, Dustin screaming like he’d lost a limb. Not when Steve realized they would have to leave him behind in the Upside Down. Not when he saw Max in the hospital, swarmed with wires like a fly caught in a spider’s web, so pale and so tiny. Not when his parents called to tell him they were probably never going to come home at all. No, Steve doesn’t cry at all. He mostly just feels empty.

Life moves on. He helps out at the high school every day. He visits Max whenever he can, even if just looking at her kind of ruins his life. He makes sure Lucas actually eats real food and sleeps at home on occasion. He drives Dustin to the arcade on the rare days that neither of them needs to help with the recovery efforts. He teases Robin about Vickie because he told her so: Fast Times never lies. He goes home at night to his big, cold, empty house and sleeps in bursts. He always wakes up screaming.

Max wakes up, because of course she was never going to stay down for long. She can’t even walk yet and she’s already yelling at everyone for fussing over her too much, “give me some space, stalkers.” She smiles, though, and a wall inside of Steve breaks. He ends up sobbing hysterically in the men’s room, Robin rubbing his back and rambling a mile a minute about whatever comes to mind.

With Max back and Hawkins no longer on the verge of destruction, they start making a plan. A real one, this time, where nobody is alone. They’re sitting around in Joyce’s house, with Mike and Nancy shouting at each other about who has the better idea for burning Vecna down. Getting in the middle of that is a sucker’s game, so Steve doesn’t bother. Wheeler stubbornness will wear itself out eventually.

El shoots straight up from her position on the couch and silence reigns instantly. Her eyes dart around before she flings herself at the radio, searching for static. Hopper tosses her the blindfold, and they all wait as one. Finally, finally, she tears off the blindfold, her brow furrowed.

“What is it?” Mike asks, hands on her shoulders. Hopper doesn’t even say three inches. “What’s wrong?”

“Something’s coming.” She glances at the rest of them, her eyes bouncing off of each of them. Weirdly, Steve feels like she looks at him just a beat longer than the others.

“Is it Vecna?” Hopper asks, leaning forward in his chair, hands clasped, face drawn.

“No. Not Vecna. It’s something different. Like the bats, but more.”

“More how?” Mike urges, hands pressed tight on El. He’s probably resisting the urge to shake her because Little Wheeler is a bit of an asshole sometimes.

She shakes her head. “Just more. I can’t explain it.”

Vecna having some new monster up his sleeve to torture them all with is just par for the course. Steve honestly can’t say he’s surprised. The kids unanimously decide to stay at the Byers’ place, which also makes sense. He gets why they want to stick together. He drops Robin off at her house and takes the long way home. He leaves the windows open, even if it is the middle of July and the sun is boiling him alive. He likes the heat. Black clouds roll in the distance- rain, which is good, according to the weatherman.

Later that night, he tosses and turns for hours on end. He just can’t sleep. The shadows on his wall twist until he sees Demogorgans, Demodogs, vines, and spiders. His hand clutches his bat where it’s hidden under the bed. Rain pelts the roof above him, which would normally be comforting, but right now Steve’s just thinking about all the sounds that rain can hide. He faces the window, the pool lights flickering, and tries to tell himself that it’s just the rain messing with the wiring.

Lightning flashes. Steve catches just a glimpse of something hanging around on the edge of the woods. He stands up, bat in hand, and creeps down the stairs. His heart thuds in his chest as he comes to the glass door. The something has come closer, separated by glass and a few feet of stone and not much else. Sweat drips down Steve’s spine. He’s no math genius, but to get from the woods to his house in the thirty-or-so seconds it took Steve to get downstairs means that whatever it is moves fast.

The pool lights mean he gets a good look at what he’s dealing with. It’s about his height, just a few inches taller, which means it’s not a Demogorgon. It’s got a mass of hair, tangled and soaking wet, and it’s wearing clothes. Clothes that Steve sort of recognizes, actually, even if they are torn and covered in blood and mud and black sludge. A Hellfire shirt, a leather jacket, combat boots.

Vecna’s flayed Eddie, then, which doesn’t even rank in the cruelest things that fucker’s ever done but still makes Steve see red. The thing that was once Eddie is facing him. Probably looking at him, but he can’t see its eyes, can’t track its movements.

Steve slowly, cautiously, every second feeling like he’s about to get killed, reaches for the walkie on his kitchen counter. “This is a code red,” he hisses. “I repeat, I have a code red at my house right now. Over and out.”

He puts the walkie down. There’s a lot of yelling- Dustin wants clarification, Robin’s trying to organize the cars, Hopper’s telling him not to do anything stupid, which is unfortunate because Steve’s feeling pretty dumb right about now. The thing has gotten closer, pressed up against the glass.

It’s different from Eddie: paler, skin gone literally gray. It’s taller than Eddie was, too. Not by much, but it’s a noticeable difference, and why the fuck is Steve thinking about how tall this thing is when he’s about to die?

The thing slides the glass door open. Steve raises his bat. He can’t believe he’s about to be killed in his fucking kitchen by a zombie.

Goosebumps shiver on his arms, sweat trickles down the back of his neck, and his heart is pounding so hard it’s trying to leave his chest. Lightning flashes. The thing’s head lifts. It has red, red eyes. Steve’s blood runs cold. He grips his bat as tightly as he dares. It takes a single step forward -

It stumbles.

“Help me,” it gasps, and then the thing that looks like Eddie Munson collapses on his kitchen floor.

Hopper shows up and puts it in one of the spare bedrooms and ties it to the bed with literal, actual chains. Where the fuck did he get those? Joyce lugs in every single heater in the house, and a few that he’s pretty sure she brought with her. El agrees to stay in the room with it just to make sure that it doesn’t escape. A couple of hours later, well after the sun’s come back out, she comes downstairs, the thing in tow, and declares it safe.

And that’s the end of that, for the most part.

The thing is still pale and tall, and, as it turns out, has a row of very, very sharp teeth, but El says it’s fine. At least its eyes are a normal brown color instead of deadly red. It spits out water, turns its nose up at leftover pizza, and devours all of Steve’s raw hamburgers in about two seconds flat, but El says it’s safe.

Steve feels like he’s going a little bit insane. He’s got a fucking Upside Down carnivore living in his house and nobody else seems to care. Even Lucas, perpetually suspicious of everything and everyone, just shrugs when Steve brings it up.

“I mean, he’s Eddie, y’know? I get that he’s a little different now, but so’s Max.”

Steve feels strongly that Max needing a cane and glasses and the thing craving raw meat are two very different kinds of different.

It starts hosting a campaign about a week after it starts living in his house because of course it does. Steve’s the only one who flinches when it laughs too loudly, or bangs on the table, or does much of anything at all. Steve stays outside on game nights.

“Hey,” it says, once the kids have all gone home.

Steve nods at it. The moonlight shines, reflecting on the thing’s skin like a goddamn spotlight. It’s just not normal.

“I can go. If- if you want me to.” It shuffles awkwardly, scuffing its foot on the floor. Steve doesn’t trust it in the slightest.

“Go where, man? Everyone else has parents that are going to notice a vampire in their house or no space. What, you going to hide out in the woods?” Besides, if it’s here, then Steve can keep an eye on it. Steve can make sure that when this goes wrong it doesn’t hurt anyone but him.

“Maybe. I don’t know. You’re just- I feel bad, I guess. You clearly don’t want me here.”

That’s putting it mildly. Steve sighs. He pulls out a cigarette. He’s trying to quit, but if Steve can’t smoke when he’s trying to cheer up a monster, then when can he?

“You want one?”

The thing shakes its head. “Last time I tried I ended up vomiting for an hour straight. Pretty sure I can’t do drugs anymore.”

“That’s just depressing.” Steve can’t imagine not even getting the choice. Sober by right of the Upside Down. Maybe Nancy Reagan should look into it; it’d probably work better than her Just Say No bullshit.

“You’re telling me. Can’t even take you up on that offer from before. You remember that? I was gonna get you so high, man, it would’ve been hilarious.”

“Don’t. Don’t pretend you’re him.” Steve’s not the one who should be saying this. It should be Dustin, Mike, or somebody that knew Eddie for longer than all of five hours. But Steve’s all that Eddie’s going to get. Steve’s the only one who can, maybe, because he’s the only one who isn’t so glad that Munson’s alive that he can’t see the monster in his place.

Such is life.

It turns to him, big brown eyes soft and sad, and maybe that’s the real problem. Everyone else came after the thing had already passed out. They didn’t see it standing by his pool like something from a nightmare. They didn’t see its red eyes. At that moment, Steve had been completely, 100% certain that he was looking at a predator and he was the prey.

He feels that way a lot these days. He’s gotten used to it, which is probably the only reason he doesn’t run screaming all the time.

“What do I have to do to convince you? Seriously, even Jim Hopper trusts me more than you do, Harrington. He’s tried to arrest me. More than once. He lets me around his kid!”

If Steve was feeling generous, he’d say that the thing is trying to stay calm so that it doesn’t freak Steve out. That it winces when it raises its voice at the end because it's trying not to scare him. Steve’s not feeling generous; he sees the taught line of its borrowed skin and takes a step back. It takes a breath, which is weird. Does it need to breathe? Is it just doing that to fuck with Steve? “What do you want from me?”

“Just leave me alone.”

The thing nods, face twisted in what might be sadness. If, y’know, it were a person with actual emotions. “Okay. As you wish.”

And that’s when Steve begins to believe. Just a little bit.

Credit where it’s due, Upside Down-Munson keeps to its word. It lives in his house for a month, but Steve wouldn’t even know for all that he actually sees it. It leaves rooms before he enters them, a still-crackling radio or a chair out of place the only indication that it was there. It doesn’t talk to him. It doesn’t ask anyone else to talk to him for it, either. Dustin would probably be annoying the shit out of him if it had.

All in all, the thing is probably the most polite house guest he’s ever had. He remembers criticizing Eddie for his manners all those months ago and compares it to how the thing always takes out the trash and does its own dishes. Nancy would talk about irony or something.

In any case, he starts forgetting that he’s being cautious. He doesn’t wake up wondering if the thing is going to be standing in the corner of his room, waiting to eat him anymore. He doesn’t think about red eyes or sweat down his neck. He stops being afraid.

Steve walks into the thing hosting a particularly long D&D- session? Match? He’s still not really sure how this nerd game works. It kind of makes him feel shitty like he doesn't pay attention when Dustin talks. That’s not what’s happening at all: Steve just doesn’t get it.

He leans against the doorway. The thing is talking, describing what’s happening in the game, he thinks. It’s the- what did Dustin say? Dungeon Master? Which means it's in charge. Sort of? He really doesn’t get it.

“The Orc stands before your party, grinning with wicked delight.” It leans against the table heavily, speaking with deadly seriousness. “He brandishes his club, still wet with blood. ‘What are you doing here,’ it rumbles, his voice like stones falling on a mountain.”

“Shit,” Dustin curses, turning to Lucas, “I told you the ruins were a trap!”

“No, you didn’t!” Lucas shouts.

“Yes, I did!”

“To be fair, he did say it was a trap,” Max points out, squinting at her character sheet behind her thick glasses. Steve has no idea how the rest of them pulled Max into this. Maybe because El’s playing as well?

“See!” Dustin grins smugly. “Thank you, Max.”

“You also said we could ‘totally beat whatever Eddie’s got planned’. We’ve got, like, no hit points.” Steve finds himself smiling helplessly. God, he loves Max. Never let it be said he doesn’t have his favorites.

“Guys! We haven’t actually started fighting, yet. Maybe we can talk our way around it?” Will suggests, leaning towards the center of the table.

El smiles. “I like talking,” she says.

Erica nods, “let’s try it.”

Mike groans, burying his head in his hands. “We’re all gonna die.”

None of the kids are actually paying attention to the thing, so absorbed in their own little world. It’s trying not to laugh, its eyes sparkling in the low light of his dining room. It looks up, locking eyes with Steve, and it instantly sobers. Steve feels something curdle low in his gut.

Dustin glances at the thing, following its gaze to Steve. He doesn’t seem to notice anything wrong- or, if he does, he thinks he can move past any awkwardness with the sheer force of his personality. “Hi, Steve!”

“We’re almost done, Harrington,” it says, previously jubilant voice gone quiet.

“No we’re not,” Erica protests - of course she does. “We have to get around this Orc, and then we have to get through the woods to the campsite, and we still haven’t talked to Captain Emmel. I want my reward, Munson.”

Its eyes are jumping between the kids and Steve and - shit. How much patience does Vecna actually have? In Steve’s experience, a few days, maybe a week, pass before things go wrong. This thing’s been in his house, playing games with his kids for a month, and nothing’s happened. Steve sighs.

“It’s alright, guys. It’s getting a little late, but - I mean, I can call your parents. Maybe they’ll let you have a sleepover?”

“Hell yeah,” Dustin cheers, pumping his fist. “Can you -”

“I am not driving you to Family Video so you can get a new movie, Henderson. You’ll just have to pick from what we’ve got here.” Steve’s been getting better at actually putting his foot down, especially with Dustin. ‘Boundaries are important', as Joyce had told him. ‘You can’t let them walk all over you.’

“Ugh.” Dustin slumps in his chair.

“Are you sure?” the thing asks.

Steve hasn’t let any of the kids stay over longer than a few hours since the thing - Munson - started living here. But - well. He can watch the movie with them, maybe? Keep an eye on the proceedings. He’s starting to feel kind of weird about this whole problem.

“Yeah. Long as you guys don’t mind me sticking around?”

“As you wish, Harrington. As you wish.” He bows, deep and low, before going back to the game.

Steve starts hanging around after that. Not too often, of course. No matter what the kids say, he does have a life outside of them. Kind of.

No dates, recently, not that Steve actually minds. He hasn’t really wanted to date much. Probably something to do with that empty feeling he’s been dealing with. He still hasn’t told anyone about that, actually.

It’s fine. Everyone has way more important things to worry about than Steve’s, frankly, lackluster dating life.

He sticks around for their games. He still has no fucking clue what anyone’s talking about, but he likes seeing the kids excited about something besides the end of the world. They’re cute when they’re not being little shitheads. He lets them have sleepovers. He starts talking to Munson: their conversations are always extremely short and incredibly awkward, but he’s making progress. Suck it, paranoia.

Another month passes like that, until soupy August turns to September, brisk but rainy. The plan solidifies day by day- they’re not going to wait around for Vecna to make a move. For once, they’ll be on the offensive.

Hopper, Joyce, the Russian dude (Steve still doesn’t fully get what’s up with that), and Owens have gotten the military to cooperate long enough to actually work with them. El and Will manage to locate Vecna through the hive mind, and from there, it’s actually pretty easy. They bring flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails, grenades - Murray even gets his hands on some napalm, although he refuses to say where it came from. Everyone has a Walkman with a forty-minute loop of their favorite song all ready to go, just in case.

They storm the Upside Down as one big group, and it fucking works. They actually, legitimately win. They kill Vecna and El ejects the last remnants of the shadow creature from their world. Steve spends most of the fight beating off Demobats with his nail bat, Robin at his side, and Munson at his back.

The only notable part of the fight for Steve is when Vecna tries to, well, Vecna him. Lots of bullshit about nobody needing him and everyone leaving him and blah, blah, blah. Who fucking cares.

Steve cares, obviously, otherwise, this wouldn’t be working, but still. He’s not about to let a child throwing the world’s most annoying tantrum lecture him.

Robin starts his Walkman the literal second his eyes cloud over, so Steve runs out of there with Head Over Heels as his epic background music. He likes Tears For Fears, okay?

He stumbles back into the real world, Robin gripping his arm so tightly she could probably be a tourniquet. She gives him a quick hug.

“We’re talking about this later, dingus,” she whispers in his ear before she pulls away. Which, yeah, fair.

“You good over there, Harrington?” Munson asks, looking actually kind of worried. He’s biting his lip, his super-sharp teeth only making indents because the guy’s also slightly invulnerable, now. Seriously, why does Munson get cool vampire powers and Steve just gets a billion rabies shots?

“I’m fine. Worry about yourself, Munson.”

He’s expecting it, is the thing, so when Munson says “No can do,” instead of his usual response, Steve. Well. He’s not sure how he feels about that, exactly.

There’s no time to examine it because a Demogorgon breaks through the protective circle formed by his friends and then they’re right back in it.

They kill Vecna, burning him to something even less than a crisp. Murray scoops up his ashes in a jar, making noises about extra cremation and lead boxes.

El ejects the last remnants of the shadow creature, which is totally directionless without Vecna, from their world and closes the gates, this time for good. And then it’s over.

There’s a bunch of logistical shit that happens after that. Stuff that involves the government leaving El alone from here on in, everyone signing NDAs and getting some cold, hard hush money, and Munson needing a new identity and a place to live.

“Do they know that you’re a -” Steve pauses and points to his own canines meaningfully. He’s learned his lesson about just saying things where evil government agents might hear. Munson snorts.

“Yeah, they know. Owens is telling them I’m going to be normal soon enough. Anything that keeps me out of their labs, I guess.”

The things that Owens tells people and the things that are actually true don’t always match up. Steve’s pretty sure that he doesn’t need this one spelled out for him.

Eddie Munson becomes Eddie Monroe. It’s only for the official records - there’s nobody in the world who’s paying attention that would be fooled. Half of the group still calls him Munson, for fuck’s sake. He moves right back into the trailer park with his uncle the second they can get a hold of Wayne.

The world might believe one thing, but the few hundred people that stuck around Hawkins saw the tears in the world and the things that came out of them. They also saw Munson rip a fully grown Demogorgon’s head from its body, so Steve’s pretty sure that they’re all going to be cool about this.

Robin follows him home once they’re all set free. It’s not going to help the dating allegations. He tells her so.

“I don’t care.” Her eyes are watering, even as she waves at Dustin from the car, and he knows she’s thinking about how he needed the Walkman.

They make a nest on the couch. Robin’s weird about touch sometimes, but right now she’s basically trying to burrow into his skin, so he just holds her as tightly as he can and tries not to shake his skeleton right out of his body.

“You don’t actually have to talk about it right now,” she says into his shoulder blade. “You should talk about it, eventually, with someone, but it doesn’t have to be now, and it doesn’t have to be me. Not that I don’t want it to be me, obviously I do, I mean you got Vecna’d and I had no idea that things were that bad. I feel like a shitty best friend, but also even shittier because this isn’t about me at all, and -”

“Robin,” he interrupts. Robin’s motormouth is just a fact of life. The sun is bright, the grass is green, and Robin talks without thinking. It makes him feel a little calmer, a little less like he’s five seconds from falling apart. “I want to. It’s just - it’s stupid, okay? I know that it’s stupid.”

She nods, the top of her head bumping into his chin.

“It was a bunch of stuff about how I’m bullshit, and everybody’s second choice, and how people don’t actually care about me, and how I’m a massive disappointment. You know. The usual.” He gets it all out as quickly as he can. They’ve never exactly talked about this, but Robin and he are, in fact, capital-P Platonic soulmates. There’s no way she can’t see the fact that he’s got issues with abandonment.

“Steve.” Oh, god, it’s serious. “That’s - fuck. You’re not my second choice, okay? You’re my best friend.”

“Yeah, but.” He stops himself, but it’s too late. There’s no unopening this can of worms. Fucking Vecna.

“But?”

“You’re so smart, Robin. You’re gonna go to college, and move to a big city, and meet other gay people. You’ll get a real job and a real life, someday. And I’m just going to be stuck here.” Stuck in Hawkins while everyone else moves on. Just the guy who peaked in high school and works a shitty minimum wage job for the rest of eternity.

“Fuck that,” Robin says, separating herself enough so that she can look him in the eye. “You think I won’t drag your ass with me? You’ve got another thing coming, Steve Harrington. You’re stuck with me, dingus.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” he sniffles, even if Robin is probably an awful fucking roommate. She can’t do, like, anything around the house. He’s seen her literally burn water. She mixes her dark clothes with her colors every single time she has to do laundry. She can’t drive. It’s actually kind of pathetic.

Maybe Steve can’t translate Russian code or get into college, but he can do all the stuff that Robin can’t. It’s probably sexist, but sometimes he thinks it’s too bad he wasn’t born a girl. He’d have been a good housewife.

“I love you, Steve.”

“Yeah,” he says, curling into her. “I love you, too.”

Max talks to him about it a couple of days later. Steve’s finally gotten some sleep and a shower when she just appears in his house. He doesn’t even startle - Max lets herself in whenever she wants. All of the kids do, actually, except for Will and El, because Joyce Byers is the only one raising humans and not wild animals.

“The others don’t really get it,” she says, knocking her feet into his across the dining table. “They think it’s just about feeling guilty enough, or whatever. But I know better.”

He knows that she does. He’s heard, second-hand, what she said to taunt Vecna into coming for her.

“Everything he says - it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You still believe it.”

He nods. That’s exactly the problem. There’s the rational, logical part of himself that understands that everything Vecna said was complete horseshit. That understands that Vecna was a childish, selfish psychopath who wouldn’t get personal responsibility if it punched him in the face. The part of himself that knows that his friends love him, and aren’t going to leave him behind the second he’s a burden or something shiny and new comes along.

But that’s not the part that Vecna targets.

“Right,” he agrees.

“I felt guilty about Billy dying because I - I wanted something bad to happen to him.” She twists her cane in her hands. “I didn’t just think about him leaving, or dying. I used to wish that you were my older brother instead. When Billy died, I stopped talking to you, because I hated myself for that. And I was so scared that something would happen to you, too, because I was cursed or whatever. Like, what if I got mad at you for something stupid, and then you died?”

He nods. He’s read her letter, after all.

“And then Vecna had you. He had you, and I know what that’s like better than anyone else. You haven’t said, but I know, Steve. And I just.” She pauses. She takes a deep, shuddering breath, blinking quickly. “I’m really glad you didn’t disappear.”

He stands up, crosses over to her chair, and puts a hand on her shoulder. Max must be feeling touchy today because she immediately launches herself into his stomach.

“I’m really glad you didn’t disappear either, random girl.” If they were different people, he’d be pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Actually, fuck it. He does it anyway.

“You can’t leave me alone with all these nerds, Steve. Who else am I supposed to talk football with? Hopper?”

“You know he likes the Vikings, right?”

“Shut up, that’s so pathetic.”

“I know, right?”

The kids don’t treat him differently, for the most part, which is a relief beyond measure. He’s not sure he could handle it if Dustin started acting like he was fragile or some shit.

Mike’s very slightly nicer, in that he no longer spends all his time around Steve trying to explode him with his mind. He’s pretty sure someone threatened him about it. Other than that, the rest of them are the same as they always are, demanding all of his time and attention without so much as a thank you. Again, excepting El and Will, again, because of Joyce.

He’s kind of obsessed with her.

He’s kind of obsessed with a lot of things these days.

One thing that circles in his mind more than the rest: Eddie Munson. The government handed him a high school transcript, good enough to go to college or get a real job, but the guy is working on his GED.

“It doesn’t feel like it counts,” he admitted while Steve and Johnathan smoked outside of his new trailer. “I should be relieved to have that out from under me, but I really wanted to graduate. Walk across the stage and give Higgins the finger.”

So Eddie spends most of his time these days playing DnD, practicing with his band - and, seriously, it’s literally the exact same band, absolutely no one is fooled - and studying for that. Nancy made him flashcards, but she’s going to Emerson really soon, so she’s not going to be around to help him study. Which means it’s down to Robin, who’s taking a gap year, Jonathan, who’s working full time at the paper, and Steve to get him past the finish line. And also Argyle, but Steve’s pretty sure Argyle spends most of their study time trying to figure out if he can get Eddie high through osmosis.

Steve barely managed to graduate himself, so he’s not exactly sure how he’s been roped into this.

His job, usually, is to make snacks for everyone else and not get in the way. He’s trying to figure out how to make study snacks for Munson, who still can’t eat anything except raw meat and blood from the butcher’s shop. Dustin has a lot of theories about obligate carnivores. Steve doesn’t know anything about that. What he does know is that Dart managed to get 3 Musketeers down, so it must be possible, right?

“Hey, Munson, come smell this,” he calls to the other end of the trailer, where Johnathan and Eddie are going over the vocab section.

Eddie ambles over and takes a sniff of the pot on the stove. The Munsons have two sets of cookware: one set for normal food, and one set for vampire-related experimentation.

“It smells good, I guess. Why?” His eyes narrow with suspicion. Okay, so some of Steve’s attempts have resulted in less-than-pleasant results. Eddie can always just not eat it.

“It’s sort of juice? Or, the blood version of juice, I guess. The butcher said that pig’s blood from this one farm is usually sweeter because they feed them oranges and shit. There’s also regular sugar in here, too. I’m thinking you try some, and maybe we can make popsicles if it works?” He holds out the spoon hopefully.

Eddie sighs from somewhere deep in his chest. “As you wish, Harrington, although I will warn you: if I puke again, you’re cleaning it up.”

Fair.

Eddie takes a slow, cautious sip. He swishes the blood around in his mouth like he’s a damn sommelier. He swallows, the long, pale line of his throat bobbing. Steve’s not sure why he’s looking at that.

“Well?”

“It’s good,” he says with a toothy grin. “Really good, actually, holy shit. Are you seriously about to make me some Vampire popsicles?”

Steve nods. “Yeah, man, of course.” Steve likes feeding his people, and Eddie’s his people, these days.

He laughs. “I just can’t believe it. King Steve making snacks for the Freak. It’s weirder than all the Upside Down shit.”

“Don’t do that.” Steve frowns down at the pot. Max spends a lot of time trying to be honest about her feelings. Steve’s always so fucking proud of her when she manages it. She should see that other people are trying, too, even if Steve would actually rather crawl into a hole and die than tell anyone how he’s feeling. “I know that the whole Freak thing is cool for you. Empowering and all that shit. But I’m not King Steve. That guy was an asshole, and that’s not who I want to be. So, uh. Don’t call me that. And don’t act like we’re not friends because of some high school clique bullshit that neither of us actually cares about.”

Eddie’s blinking at him. Steve starts getting nervous - what if he thinks this is stupid? Or that Steve’s a big fucking baby that needs to get over himself? What if he doesn’t think Steve is his friend?

“As you wish, Steve.” Thank fuck. Steve relaxes his shoulders from where they’ve landed at his ears. “I, uh, am pretty big on nicknames, though, in case you haven’t noticed. Is there anything else I shouldn’t be calling you?”

“Nothing that I can think of.” He doesn’t really want Eddie to call him anything mean, but Eddie’s not a mean guy. Or, not to the people he gives a shit about. “I don’t even mind the royalty thing, really, just the King Steve stuff. You could probably call me -” shit, what’s a royal title that’s not king - “princess and I wouldn’t care.”

Eddie coughs. A lot, actually. He’s leaned up against a kitchen counter, and turned away from Steve, sounding like he’s trying to hack his lungs out.

“Shit, are you about to throw up?” Usually, they’re good if a minute passes and Eddie feels fine, but maybe this is some new symptom.

“I’m good,” Eddie gasps, waving him off. “Some spit went down the wrong pipe.” His face looks grayer than it usually does.

“Okay…” Steve absolutely doesn’t believe him, but whatever. It’s not his problem.

It’s Argyle who comes up with it, in the end. They’re hanging around in Steve’s living room the day before Nancy has to leave, Purple Palm Tree Delight hazing in the air.

Steve hasn’t been this high since the Russians. Jonathan has some pretentious-ass record on and Steve doesn’t even care. Eddie’s sitting by an open window because too much smoke makes him hurl. Steve feels so, so fucking bad for him.

“Hey, gotta question for ya’, Eddie,” Argyle says, dragging out the e’s until they become a different letter entirely. “Can you eat people blood?”

“What kind of question is that?” Eddie snaps harshly. It’s kinda funny how high-strung he is. Poor fucking undead bastard.

“Just, like, you can eat animal blood and stuff, so what about people blood? Cause I’m thinking if I’m high and you eat me, then maybe you’ll get high.”

Robin leans up from where she’s splayed on the floor. “That could definitely work. You should eat us, Eddie!”

“Nobody’s getting eaten! What the fuck is wrong with you people?”

“Why nooooooooot,” Nancy slurs from somewhere in Jonathan’s neck.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Eddie runs a hand through his hair. He has so much hair. It’s probably really soft. Steve would touch it, but that would mean getting up. Steve doesn’t think his legs work right now. “I’m not an animal, guys, okay? I’m not eating anyone.”

“Exactly!” Jonathan shouts. Nancy shushes him. “Sorry. An animal wouldn’t ask, right? I think you’re good.”

“Come on, man, give it a try.” Argyle lifts his wrist, palm side up.

Robin starts chanting “do it”. Steve joins her pretty quickly, and then they’re all saying it over and over again, even Argyle.

“Fine!” Eddie slams the window closed and crosses over to Argyle. He takes his wrist, Eddie’s big, pale hands against Argyle’s gentle brown. Eddie has such nice hands. All callused from his guitar and shit.

Eddie brings Argyle’s wrist to his mouth. Steve gets a weird, squirmy feeling. His face feels hot for some reason. He wants to do something - get in between them, maybe.

Steve watches, totally transfixed, as Eddie’s mouth opens, then closes around Argyle’s wrist. Argyle gasps, but Steve’s not looking at him. He’s looking at Eddie, who looks - he looks -

Steve isn’t sober enough to figure out what the look is, only that it makes him kind of nauseous to see it.

Eddie pulls back after a couple of seconds.

“So? Did it work?” Argyle asks.

His pupils look fucking huge. Eddie tries to stand and instantly falls on his ass. He laughs. “Oh yeah,” he says. “It worked.”

Steve blinks and suddenly it’s Halloween. The kids are all dressing up and trick-or-treating. They’re a little old for it, but El’s never actually gone before. El deserves to do whatever she wants, and she wants to get candy as Princess Leia. According to El, Leia is bitchin’.

He and Robin are doing Fast Times because Steve was totally right about Vickie and he’s never going to let that go. They’ve decided to fuck around with it, so Robin’s Jeff and Steve’s Linda. The outfit reminds him a little of his Scoops Ahoy uniform, actually, with the bow tie and everything, even if it is a totally different color palette. Steve’s not wearing the skirt to match because he’s not actually stupid, so Robin’s forced him into the tiniest pair of shorts he’s literally ever seen.

He’s probably going to freeze to death before the night is through.

They meet up with the others in Loch Nora so that the kids can get the full-sized bars. Jonathan and Argyle have gone with Ferris Bueller and Cameron - Steve would bet anything that Nancy’s dressed as Sloane in Boston. Vickie’s gone with Fast Times, too, the Stacy to Steve’s Linda. The kids are all extremely nerdy, of course, in their Star Wars outfits. Even Max, who’s dressed as the guy in the black armor that Steve’s pretty sure is the villain. Dark Father, or something?

They’re just waiting on Eddie. When he finally shows up, the first thing Steve notices is that his hair has been styled, for once, although not in a normal way. It’s all sticking up and out in crazy directions. The next thing is the leather pants, which.

What.

Steve’s brain has turned off. Lights are on, nobody’s home. He is incapable of processing what he’s seeing. They’re so tight they’re basically painted onto Eddie.

Robin elbows him in the gut, which would normally be super annoying, but it makes him start paying attention to things besides how toned Eddie’s legs are, what the fuck. He’s able to take in the rest of the costume- a billowing shirt that’s open halfway down his chest, extremely dramatic makeup, and more rings and necklaces than even Eddie usually goes for. Something clicks.

“Oh! You’re David Bowie,” Steve says, snapping his fingers and pointing at Eddie. “From that movie Robin’s totally obsessed with. The one with the muppets!”

Robin dragged him to that thing three times. Steve didn’t necessarily mind, but whenever Bowie was on screen Steve always felt weirdly thirsty. Maybe it’s the costume - Steve’s feeling really thirsty right now, too, but it’s worse with Eddie. Eddie, whose eyes look so fucking big and dark with the eyeliner, and, okay, Steve really needs to get a handle on whatever the fuck this is.

Eddie opens his arms wide, showing off the jewelry. Steve wouldn’t be surprised if Eddie’s costume is an exact recreation. Steve and Robin had to change a few details to make theirs work, the skirt thing chief among them.

Jonathan makes everyone huddle for a picture, which turns into twenty minutes of getting photos of every possible group and pose. Steve ends up pressed next to Eddie in every single one they’re both in since they’re both single. Eddie’s a cold line at his side and Steve’s brain might have taken one too many hits.

It’s Erica that finally ends things. “We only have two hours to get the full-sized bars, and Loch Nora candy goes fast,” she says. “Let’s get moving, people!” Steve’s never been so thankful for her entrepreneurial spirit.

Steve spends most of the night chatting with Robin and Vickie. Vickie’s super fun - she’s chatty, witty, and kind of awkward. A lot like Robin. But not all the way: Vickie’s more femme, according to Robin, which as far as Steve can tell means she likes wearing tight clothes, makeup, and silly earrings.

Robin abandons the two of them to ask Jonathan about speakers or something. It’s kind of weird for a minute, and then Vickie says, “so, Robin says you know how to bake?” And then they’re off.

Vickie likes cooking, but she’s not as good at baking apparently. Steve’s just glad she’s actually competent. Hopper goes with TV Dinners, most of the kids’ parents stick with meatloaf and casserole, and Joyce Byers may be an angel sent from heaven but she also can’t manage anything more complex than eggs and bacon.

“Seriously, it’s like cooking for an army. I need to enlist you for Thanksgiving, Vickie, I’m going to die alone out here in the trenches.”

“Sorry, Steve, but I’m pretty sure my parents want me around on Thanksgiving.”

“I will literally pay you.”

Vickie laughs. Robin’s waving her over from the front of the group, so she gives Steve’s arm a squeeze and leaves him behind. Steve’s alone for all of about five seconds before Eddie’s walking next to him.

“Nice costume, Steve-o,” he says, a smirk curling on his lips. The guy’s already taller than Steve, thanks to the Upside Down, and now he’s wearing platform boots. Steve actually has to look up to talk to him.

“Thanks, Eddie. It was either this or the bikini, and I don’t think I’d pull that off as well as Phoebe Cates.”

Eddie’s eyes trail down Steve’s body like he’s actually picturing it or something. Steve gets it. It’s a ridiculous image.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Harrington. I think you’d look just fine.” It’s clearly a joke, although Eddie doesn’t exactly say it like one.

“Whatever you say, man. I gotta ask, why Bowie? I figured you’d go full Dracula.”

Eddie shrugs. “I’m Dracula 365 days of the year. Plus, you know. Bowie’s cool.”

Bowie is cool. Steve’s just surprised that Eddie agrees. He likes the guy plenty, but they don’t exactly share a taste in music. Steve says that. Eddie just shrugs again in response.

“We should listen to him sometime,” Steve says. “No way anyone complains about David Bowie playing. He’s universal. Like Freddie Mercury.” Finding music that all of them can stand is a nightmare and a half. Jonathan likes rock, Eddie likes metal, Robin likes weird shit that nobody’s ever heard of, and Steve likes pop. Well, and disco, but Steve’ll take that secret to his grave.

“Yeah?” Eddie’s looking down at Steve with his big, dark eyes. Steve shivers even if it’s not actually that cold.

“Yeah.”

“Cool. As you wish, Miss Cates.”

The kids come over just about every single day after school.

“When did my house become the hangout spot?” He complains to Robin one day while they’re working.

“Better you than me, kid,” Hopper says. Steve jumps. Shit. A man that tall and that large should not be so quiet. It goes against the laws of the universe.

They both laugh at him, the dicks. Hopper rents Splash and waves goodbye. Robin punches Steve in the arm the second he’s out the door.

“I’d bet you anything he’s going to watch that with Joyce.”

“Ew,” Steve says.

“They’re in love, Steve. Aren’t you happy for your mom and dad?”

“Shut the fuck up! I told you that in confidence.”

She laughs in response. “Anything you say while high can and will be used against you, Mister Harrington.”

“Oh, is that so? What was it you said about Joyce, again? Something about Ripley, right?”

She shrieks and tackles him against the counter. “Shut up shut up shut up,” she chants, tickling his ribs.

“Uh. Should we come back later?” Eddie and Dustin are standing in the doorway. Steve must have missed the bell. In his defense, Robin’s loud as fuck.

Dustin rolls his eyes. “Relax, Eddie. They just don’t want to admit -”

“Oh my God,” Steve groans, burying his head in his hands.

“- their love for each other.” With that, Dustin disappears into the new releases.

“He’s your kid,” Robin says, patting him on the back consolingly.

“I have no idea where he gets it from.” Steve’s never had much interest in matchmaking beyond telling Robin to pull her useless lesbian head out of her useless lesbian ass.

“Mrs. Henderson is always trying to set me up with her friends’ kids,” Eddie says. “He probably learned meddling right alongside walking and talking, Stevie.”

Stevie, because Steve likes Fleetwood Mac the best out of all of Jonathan’s shit records. It’s a new one in Eddie’s roster - he seems determined to cycle through nicknames until he finds one that embarrasses Steve without actually upsetting him.

“Yeah, Stevie.” Robin puts a weird amount of emphasis on the name. Steve raises his eyebrows at her, which of course goes totally unacknowledged. He gets no respect from these people.

“Who’s she trying to set you up with?” Steve asks. “Is it Mrs. Brock’s niece?”

“Yeah, actually, how’d you know?”

“She did the same thing to me a couple of years back. Mrs. Brock’s niece is boring as fuck, man. Even no date is better than a date with her.” He means that literally. Striking out every day at Scoops was better than spending an extremely awkward hour with the shyest girl he's ever met.

Eddie rests his elbows on the counter, leaning into Steve’s space. “How do I get her to stop? Without going on a boring date, obviously.”

“Oh, you’re gonna have to lie to her.” Steve delivers it with all the solemnity of a eulogy. “Tell her you’ve got someone you’re interested in. Give details, if you’re feeling creative. Tell her that it’s just not fair to go out with people when you’re interested in someone else. Works like a charm.”

Eddie nods. “I’ll do that. Thanks for the tip, princess.”

Robin’s giving him a massive side-eye. She’s in on all of his inside jokes. It’s probably strange for her not to know about one.

Dustin ends up with The Dark Crystal, which Steve’s pretty sure is some fucking Muppet movie.

“Do you guys wanna come over and watch a movie?” Eddie asks while Dustin deliberates over their candy section.

“I can’t,” Robin says. “I have a family thing tomorrow, I can’t blow off my great aunt. Not even for your scintillating conversation, Munson.”

“Yikes. How about you, Harrington?”

“Sure. Just no horror, please.” Steve’s had enough scares to last a lifetime.

“As you wish.”

They start hanging out solo after that. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but often enough that Steve thinks Eddie is probably his best friend outside of Robin. Not that there’s stiff competition for the role or anything.

Eddie’s a fun guy to chill with. His music’s fucking horrendous, sure, and he gets loud when he’s excited about stuff, but Steve likes him anyway.

He’s really passionate about so many things that Steve doesn’t get at all. But he doesn’t just wildly infodump like Robin, he doesn’t scoff when Steve asks stupid questions like Nancy might, and he doesn’t try to explain using even more things that Steve doesn’t know about like Dustin. The way he talks about things just clicks with Steve for whatever reason.

Case in point: Star Wars. Eddie brings the first one over for one of their movie nights in the middle of November.

“I’ve actually seen it,” Steve says while Eddie fixes up the VHS. “Dustin made me watch it. I didn’t understand anything that happened, like, at all.” In the privacy of his own head, he thinks might be too stupid for Star Wars.

“You’ve never watched it with me,” Eddie points out. “Just give it a shot. Please?”

“Fine.” Steve flops onto the couch.

The movie starts with this long-ass paragraph that Steve can only really read half of. He’s basically fucking illiterate, always has been. It’s not an eyesight problem, it’s a him problem. Words get all squiggly and letters jump around for no goddamn reason.

“It is a period of civil war,” Eddie says, crisp and clear as a winter’s day. Steve blinks at him before realizing that he’s reading the words on the screen out loud. Steve’s never once mentioned his problems with words, only that he doesn’t like reading much, so he has no idea how Eddie knows to do this.

Eddie reads the whole thing out loud. He doesn’t try to make it funny at all - he doesn’t laugh at Steve, or smirk, or do crazy voices. He just reads, and Steve listens, the timber of Eddie’s voice rattling in his ears.

It doesn’t stop there. Eddie pauses the movie whenever Steve asks a question, or even just when he’s noticeably confused about something. He explains anything Steve asks, no matter how stupid the question is.

Like, when the old knight guy shows up, Steve asks, “Hey, are we supposed to know who he is?”

“Not really. Right now, he’s just some guy that lives in the desert that Luke knows.”

Steve nods and Eddie lets it play again. Dustin would’ve yelled at him for not paying attention, and Robin would have explained the old guy’s entire plotline.

Eddie does pause sometimes just to point something out - like how most of the backgrounds are actually big paintings, which is pretty cool. But he’s not excessive about it. It doesn’t feel like he’s lording all the shit he knows over Steve’s head. He’s just trying to share.

Steve actually protests when the movie ends. “But what about Darth Vader? He’s still alive! They can’t let him get away with all this shit, Eddie, it’s not fair.”

Eddie smiles at him. “Guess you’ll just have to watch the next one.”

“Tomorrow at your place? I’m free after one.”

“As you wish, my good sir.”

Steve doesn’t mention how much of the runtime he spends staring at Han Solo’s thighs. There’s something crawling up his neck. A feeling he can’t quite name.

Thanksgiving comes as it always does. When Steve was younger, it was one of the only holidays his parents did with him at all. After he got to middle school, they stopped showing up for it, so Steve would watch football while eating loose turkey meat from the deli.

Steve hasn’t had a lonely Thanksgiving since the first time around when he was still on-again with Nancy. He went to the Wheeler’s place that year. The year after that was the Byers’, when he discovered just how bad Joyce was at cooking anything that’s not breakfast food. The year after that was at Dustin’s, when Mrs. Henderson kept giving him more helpings because he’s too skinny.

It’s at Steve’s this year purely because he’s the only one with a big enough house to actually host the damn thing. He wasn’t kidding Vickie on Halloween - with the Byers back from California and all the new additions, there’s just not enough space. It’s all of the kids, all of the parents, and Robin’s managed to wiggle her way out of her family’s Thanksgiving, and Steve’s been doing prep for the last three weeks straight.

People stream into his house throughout the day. Steve doesn’t leave the kitchen long enough to really greet anyone beyond a quick hug. The game’s on in the living room, Packers versus Seahawks. Steve likes football, but he’s got no dog in that race. Most of the people watching are for the Seahawks purely because they hate the Packers, except for Erica, who likes to be contrary, and Max, who’s still loyal to her Rams even four years out of California.

Steve’s checking on the turkey. Mrs. Sinclair is sticking her potato salad in the fridge while Mrs. Henderson fusses over the mac and cheese. He’s grateful to them both, really, especially because neither of them asks why there’s a totally raw turkey covered in blood that’s clearly not going in the oven. Mrs. Wheeler, bless everything that’s holy, has taken Steve’s insistence she not cook as law. He’s pretty sure he’d have screamed if she showed up with a casserole.

Max wanders in eventually. She usually gives a hand with baking. Steve knows that’s only so she can get dips on licking the spoon. He’s not above bribery to get help.

She’s a good helper, much better than most of the kids, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. Mike’s more than happy to consume the fruits of Steve’s labor, but god forbid he does anything to help. Dustin thinks he knows everything and never listens to Steve when he tries to correct him, which inevitably results in burned cookies and eggless brownies. Will is sweet, but he’s unfortunately inherited his mother’s skills in the kitchen. El’s extremely messy - more flour ends up on her than in anything she makes.

Lucas is good, better than Max, actually, probably for the same reason Steve is good. The little nerds dunk on them for being athletes, but sports require practice and actually following directions, as well as a willingness to make mistakes. Well, Steve’s also good because if he didn’t cook he’d have starved, but this is a happy day, so he’s not going to think about that.

Max sits at the counter, happily licking her spoon. She only eats half of it. “I’m giving Lucas the other half,” she says, hopping down from her chair, which is sweet but also a little gross. He doesn’t want to think about his kids swapping spit no matter how well they might fit together.

Mrs. Sinclair is pulled into the living room by her husband, who wraps an arm around her waist and calls her darling. Mrs. Henderson gets distracted by Dustin, who’s cursing loudly enough about D&D that she can hear it from a whole floor away. She runs up the stairs, a tirade about Dusty’s language starting on her tongue.

And then Steve’s alone. But he’s also not.

(Video) When You Wish Upon A Star

There’s so much noise and life in every inch of his house that it swells. Every inch feels full, used, in a way that almost never happens. Steve leans against the fridge and just listens, just for a minute, to the people he loves cheering and yelling and living.

“Hey, sweetie. You need any help?” Joyce asks, trailing in from the living room.

Steve doesn’t actually need help, but he’s not about to kick her out. “Yeah, can you stir the cranberry sauce for me? Thanks.”

They work in silence for a little while. He can tell that Joyce wants to say something, and there’s definitely a part of Steve that’s afraid of what it’s going to be, the part that’s not actually based in reality. She’s never been anything less than kind to him. She even apologized after he got into that fight with Jonathan, which Steve is willing to admit was entirely his own damn fault.

“I don’t know what you saw when Vecna took you,” and, oh, it’s that conversation. “I don’t know what he told you. I’m not going to ask,” she says when Steve opens his mouth. “If you want to tell me, then I’ll listen, but that’s your business. What I do know, sweetheart, is that you’re always welcome at our place and that you can always talk to me.”

Steve might be crying a little bit. Joyce sighs and cups his cheek, stroking a tear away with her thumb.

She doesn’t say anything else. She just holds him until Steve manages to get himself under control, until he pulls away from her hand, hot like a brand.

He fucking loves Joyce Byers.

“Everything alright in here?” Steve jumps at Hopper’s voice. Fuck, he is way too god damn sneaky.

“Yeah, Hopper.” Steve forces his voice not to tremble. “We’re all good here.”

His eyes travel between them. He has no idea what Hopper’s seeing: the jock asshole whose parties he busted every weekend? The stupid kid who had no idea what was going on? The guy that, honestly, hasn’t had anything actually bad happen to him, but he still got Vecna’d?

“Alright. Oh, Steve, is it alright if El sleeps over?”

If El’s sleeping over, that probably means all the kids are. Steve smiles. “Yeah, of course.”

Hopper nods. Instead of leaving, he walks over to Steve and rests a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a good kid,” he says, patting Steve a couple of times. “Thanks.”

Oh, fuck’s sake, Steve might cry again because Jim Hopper of all people is calling him a good kid. It’s kind of embarrassing.

Hopper wanders back out, Joyce in tow, but not before she sends Steve a significant look.

Robin wrangles the kids into setting the tables. They’re so much more scared of her than they are of him. Actually, he doesn’t think anyone is scared of him even a little bit. Good. Fuck fear. Steve’s more than happy to be a big fucking pushover.

Steve and the parents bring the food to the table. After a quick coin toss, Ted Wheeler ends up cutting the turkey.

He sets the special turkey in front of Eddie, along with a special concoction of blood and viscera that has the appearance (and, with any luck, texture) of cranberry sauce.

Steve flutters around anxiously after that, checking that everyone has drinks and that every dish has a serving utensil. There’s no seating chart, but people have figured out where they want to go anyway. The kids are all at the little table, crammed into each other’s space and probably getting food all over his hardwood floors. The parents are dominating the big dining table.

The teens - although Robin, the youngest of them, is already eighteen - are all right at the end.

Steve’s about to head back to the kitchen when he’s forced, literally forced, down into a chair next to Robin. He looks up to see Eddie looming over him, hands on Steve’s shoulders, hair spilling out of a messy ponytail.

“Sit,” he orders. Steve sits. Eddie plops down on his other side. “Eat something,” he says, handing Steve the basket of bread rolls. Steve takes one robotically and puts it in his mouth. Eddie grins, sharp teeth glinting. “Good boy.”

Is it warm in here, or is that just Steve?

Robin and Eddie are clearly conspiring against him. From the second he sits down they keep him from doing any work for the entire rest of the night. When Dustin demands another coke, Robin grips Steve’s wrist and tells Dustin to get it himself. When Mrs. Wheeler asks someone to pass the salt, Eddie slides it down the table. When it’s time to clear the table, Robin distracts him by telling him a long-winded story about her latest date with Vickie.

It’s only when Steve sees the desserts being brought out that he knows he’s been had.

“You fuckers,” he spits, glaring at them.

“It was Robin’s idea,” Eddie says, who is a weak man that is always happy to throw someone else under the bus. Steve levels his accusing stare at her.

“You’ve been working on this for weeks, dingus. Relax a little. Make your kids do some work for once, God knows you have enough of them.”

Steve huffs, sliding further into his chair. He knows when he’s been beaten. Robin’s word is law for everything except which girls might like boobies.

The seating gets a little wild after dessert. Ted Wheeler, Hopper, and Mrs. Sinclair all end up napping on seemingly random pieces of furniture. Will sits on the floor between Nancy and Jonathan because there’s no room for chairs and he’s too tall to sit in someone’s lap. El isn’t though, and she takes incredible advantage of that fact by plopping down right on Jonathan. Dustin drags himself between Steve and Eddie, and Max and Lucas hang off of Robin’s chair. Mike stands next to Nancy, and even he can’t pretend he’s not happy to see his sister again.

Eddie and Dustin are arguing about whether The Dark Crystal is better than Labyrinth. Steve finds himself watching Eddie’s hands while he gesticulates his points. He’s just so expressive.

He hears a snicker. Robin and Max are both giving him a look. Lucas doesn’t seem to have noticed anything. Is there something to have noticed? Steve thinks about the feeling that he can’t quite name, the one that sits at the base of his spine.

“What?” He asks, eyes flicking between them.

“Nothing,” Max says, but she’s got this shit-eating secretive grin, like she knows something Steve doesn’t.

“Don’t worry about it, dingus.”

Robin’s word is, after all, law. He goes back to watching Eddie and Dustin argue.

The parents all go home, leaving their kids behind. Mrs. Henderson looks at Eddie worriedly before she leaves.

“Are you sure you don’t want any dessert, dear? You’re just so skinny. I worry about you, you know.”

Eddie laughs and shakes his head, packing her into her car. What he’s not saying is what his real dessert will be - soon, Nancy will break out the liquor cabinet, and someone will inevitably offer Eddie their wrist once tipsy blurs the line into drunk.

The kids sit around his coffee table, huge books and piles of papers spilling everywhere. The teens leave them be, piling into Steve’s room with a few bottles of wine and some gin.

Argyle, of course, instantly starts smoking. Jonathan throws open the window for Eddie’s sake. The five of them make quick work of the drinks. Steve doesn’t actually have that much before he finds himself dozing on Robin’s shoulder. She can’t stop giggling, not that he minds her jerking him around.

He’s not exactly sure how it happens, only that everyone else has moved to a guest room and Eddie’s tucking him into bed. Steve grasps his wrist before he can pull away.

“Can you stay until I fall asleep?” Drunk Steve finds it easier to ask for things than Sober Steve. Normally he’d be embarrassed about this, but right now all he cares about is the fact that falling asleep alone sounds shitty.

“As you wish, Steve.”

Steve snuggles into his pillow. “Thanks,” he says, voice probably too muffled to actually hear.

And, alright, Steve probably should be wondering about that by now. He’s never heard Eddie say it to anyone else. But he kind of likes that. He likes that they have a special thing, a call and response that nobody else gets. So Steve doesn’t think about it at all, even as Eddie says it with increasing frequency.

December arrives with a massive snowstorm. School is canceled for the day, and the roads are impassable, even for a bunch of incredibly persistent children. Steve drinks hot cocoa and pretends he doesn’t feel cold, doesn’t feel empty. He’s very social, okay?

He does manage to get himself to Eddie’s trailer the next day. Tomorrow is the GED, and he just knows Eddie’s going to be freaking out in the way that only Eddie does.

He is, of course. Eddie likes to act too cool for school, for whatever fucking reason, so he’s sprawled on his couch playing guitar aimlessly. Steve knows him well enough to see the breaks in character: the bitten nails, hair frazzled because he won’t stop running his hands through it, the jittering left leg.

He plops himself on the other end of the couch. Eddie moves his legs just long enough for Steve to settle and then throws them on Steve’s lap.

He lets Eddie play for a little while, stroking the knob of Eddie’s ankle through his jeans. Eddie mostly does riffs from metal songs that Steve doesn’t recognize, but he does throw in the melody of Starman just for Steve.

“Hey,” Steve starts when Eddie’s been playing the same loop for five minutes straight. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” Wow, Eddie really is nervous. Normally he’d get all sarcastic and say something like ‘you already did, Stevie’.

“Cool. Uh, so, can you smell people’s blood? Like, when it’s still in their bodies?”

Eddie hums, his head tilting. “Yeah. It’s not very strong - sorta like passing by a restaurant with the door open. Why?”

“Because I’ve got a follow-up. Does some blood smell better than other blood?”

Steve watches carefully. Eddie’s iffy on the Vampire questions. Dustin’s always trying to figure stuff out and Eddie will only give a real response about half the time, with no pattern that Steve can actually discern beyond how patient Eddie’s feeling that day.

“Oh, yeah. For sure, dude.” Eddie begins something new, something Steve vaguely recognizes from all the tapes Eddie’s forced onto him. “None of the kids do it for me, for example.”

Steve leans in closer, arm resting on Eddie’s shin. “Why’s that?”

“‘Dunno. Dustin’s got theories. He thinks it means I’m either a smart predator - ‘cause I want my prey species to grow and reproduce - or I’m a prosocial one - meaning that I recognize them as my kids and I don’t want to eliminate them.”

Steve considers it. “I mean, except for Dart, none of the things from the Upside Down ever fought or ate each other, right? Like, the Demobats didn’t go after the Demogorgons or anything. I’m betting on prosocial.”

“I think so, too.”

“So whose blood smells the best?” Steve’s thinking Jonathan because that’s who Eddie is most often willing to actually take from.

It’s like watching a wall slam down behind Eddie’s eyes. “I mean, I hate to rank people. It’s like asking what the best flavor of ice cream is.”

“U.S.S. Butterscotch,” even though that is so not the point.

Eddie chuckles, “corporate slave,” curving in his mouth.

“You know it.”

Steve only asked because, well, Eddie’s never once taken from him. All the other teens, sure, but not Steve. Maybe he’s like the kids - Eddie recognizes him as family, or close enough to it that Steve’s blood just isn’t appealing. The thought makes him feel warm, but twisty and gross at the same time. Like he’s sick. Maybe he is. The amount of time he spends thinking about Eddie cannot be healthy.

Eddie takes his GED and spends the next few weeks quietly losing his mind waiting for the results. Steve feels bad for the guy, honestly. He remembers how graduating high school was entirely contingent on passing his Spanish final. He’d spent the entire five-day period between taking it and getting that C+ pacing a hole through his carpet.

Eddie runs into the Family Video just a few days before Christmas, his letter clutched in his hand.

“I haven’t even opened it yet,” he admits while breaking the seal. He takes it out. It probably only takes him a couple of seconds to read it, but Steve feels like he’s on the edge of his seat, like it’s taking fucking hours. Robin’s pulling at her hair, twisting it between her hands. He finally puts it down, his pale face set in stone.

“I did it,” he says, deadpan.

The noise that leaves Robin’s mouth could rival a jet engine. “Fuck yeah! Give, give, I wanna see!”

Eddie hands it over, a smile breaking through his put-upon seriousness. She scans the letter before laughing. “‘I did it’. You did more than that, you fucking killed this thing!” She hands it to Steve.

Steve takes a glance. Eddie’s goal was to get at least a 40 in all the sections - the minimum for a passing grade. He got a 41 in the math sections, a 43 in the vocabulary, and a 45 in the writing. Holy shit.

“Holy shit, you did great! We have to celebrate. What do you wanna do?”

“I would love it if Lady Buckley here would get unbelievably drunk so that I can get unbelievably drunk.”

“I can do that,” Robin states, grinning wildly. “You have to tell Jonathan. And Nancy, she’s going to lose her mind. And Wayne! You haven’t told Wayne yet. He’s not ever going to get over this, you know. He’ll be bragging about his genius kid for forever.”

“Shut up,” Eddie says, but he’s smiling too.

Steve drags himself bodily over the counter, pulling Eddie into a hug. “You should be proud, man. I know it’s not giving Higgins the finger, but it’s pretty fucking impressive.”

“Thanks, Steve,” he says, pressing his face into Steve’s hair. Eddie smells like copper and oil and some weird musk that, a few months ago, Steve would have identified as Upside Down but can now only think of as Eddie.

“Awwwww,” Robin coos. “You guys are so sweet. Breaking down toxic masculinity one hug at a time.”

Steve opens an arm, making a come here gesture with his hands. “You know you want in on this, Robin.”

“Yeah, Robin. Hug us or perish.”

Robin launches herself over the counter and into them. It’s a lucky thing that Eddie’s crazy strong now because Steve definitely buckles beneath her weight. It’s a good moment. If Vecna ever showed up again, Steve would have too many happy memories to choose from.

Steve has way too many Christmas invitations. Like, actually too many. Most of them are getting together for a big thing on the 26th at the Byers’, but the 25th is for families. Steve’s always tried to keep himself separate from those celebrations, except for when he was dating Nancy, but, well. He thinks about Max, trying so hard to open up, and Joyce telling him he can come over anytime he wants. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

He doesn’t even bother decorating his place. Red and green lights aren’t going to make the fact that his parents couldn’t even be bothered to send him a card any less depressing. Instead, he helps Mrs. Henderson hang her own lights, tiny white sparkles in her rafters, and red around the sides.

She forces two mugs of cocoa and three gingerbread cookies onto him after they're finished.

“Now, I know you said that you weren't interested in dating right now,” she says, trying to ply him with enough candy canes to satisfy even Santa Claus, “but are you really sure I can’t set you up with someone? Melissa from church has the most precious granddaughter.”

“He’s too busy not dating Robin,” Dustin sneers, sticking his tongue out at Steve.

“Oh! Are you and Robin together?”

“No,” Steve tries, but it’s too late.

“Steve says they’re not but that’s because he’s stupid. They’re obviously in love.”

Mrs. Henderson doesn’t look happy. She’s not mad, either, or upset - she seems confused. “If you say so, Dusty.”

Dustin gets distracted by something or other soon enough. Mrs. Henderson grips his hand tightly within her own. “Dustin’s had his little friends for so long he’s forgotten how rare and precious real friends can be. I think you and Robin are very sweet. Like siblings.” She pauses, seeming to think of something. “You know, Steve, I know lots of nice young people. You just let me know, dear.” She pats his hand, and Steve gets a weird feeling that she had an entire conversation without him knowing it.

Steve spends Christmas Day bouncing between parties. An hour at the Wheeler’s, and then he heads over to the Sinclair’s for another hour, which turns into three when Erica bullies him into making a Dungeons and Dragons character.

He finally escapes with a sheet declaring him Sir Stephen, level fourteen paladin, bound by an Oath of Protection, with a proficiency in improvised weaponry.

He goes to Dustin’s place next. Mrs. Henderson gives him a new stand mixer that he’s been eyeing up in Melvald’s for the past three months. There’s only one person who could have told her. The idea of Joyce and Mrs. Henderson working together is too terrifying to conceive so Steve decides it’s better left unexamined.

He gives Dustin a pound of 3 Musketeers as a gag, but Dustin’s actual gift, a new headset for Cerebro, will have to wait until tomorrow. Dustin insists he didn’t get Steve anything. Even Steve’s not stupid enough to believe that.

He doesn’t head over to Robin’s, but that’s only because if he goes to her place for Christmas her mom is going to invent a proposal with sheer willpower.

Instead, his next stop is the Byers. Will and El are swapping toys already, Will thumbing a Rubix cube, and El flipping through some massive nerd manual. Jonathan is taking pictures every five seconds. Steve almost wants to tell him not to bother - everyone pitched in to get him a brand new Kodak that he’s going to be absolutely obsessed with. Nancy’s hanging out next to him, not even touching him, but she looks up at him with so much love in her eyes that it’s kind of embarrassing.

He’s really happy for them. The only jealousy that lives in his heart is that he can’t find someone to look at the way that Nancy looks at Jonathan.

He ends up on the couch next to Hopper, who’s sitting with his arms crossed, gruff as anything except for the fact that he can’t keep a smile off of his face.

“Your parents going to come home for New Year's?” Hopper asks.

“No. Or, maybe? I, uh, actually have no idea where they are.”

He can see Joyce’s mouth twisting from the corner of his eye where she’s sitting with the kids. Hopper’s face doesn’t change at all.

“You wanna come over to watch the ball drop?”

“Sure?” Steve has no idea what’s happening right now.

“Good.”

Nancy and Jonathan disappear to the porch, probably to make out. Gross. Joyce and Hopper go to the kitchen, which is just far enough that he can’t hear what they’re saying but not far enough that he can’t tell they’re arguing about something.

Maybe it’s him? Maybe Hopper wasn’t supposed to invite him over and that was some kind of spur-of-the-moment decision. Or, no, it’s narcissistic to assume they’re having some whisper-fight about him on Christmas Day. He’s probably not even on their radar.

He ends up watching El and Will. El decides to talk to Mike through the radio: she looks at Will for a really long time before she leaves.

“Can I talk to you about something?” Will asks, all quiet and shy.

Steve leans forward on the couch. “Sure, kid. What’s up?”

“I. Well. I.” Will’s having a hard time getting it out, whatever it is. Steve stands up and walks over to him. He sits on the floor in front of Will, grunting like an old man with bad knees as he lands.

Steve looks Will right in the eyes. He’s a far cry from that scared little kid that went missing all those years ago, but Steve can still see the echoes sometimes. “You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to,” Steve says, thinking about Joyce on Thanksgiving, “but I’ll listen to whatever it is you have to say.”

Will nods, gulping. “I like boys,” he admits. He sounds fucking terrified. Steve’s heart simultaneously breaks and grows.

“Okay. I want you to know that I love you and am very proud of you. Would you like a hug?” This is the second time that someone’s come out to him while they’re sitting on the floor, which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.

“Yes, please.”

Steve holds Will gently, like he’s something precious and breakable. This kid has survived horrors that are genuinely unimaginable to Steve, has been through hell and come out stronger for it, but he’s still fragile. He’s still a sweet, gentle little boy. Steve wants to wrap him up in bubble wrap and keep anything from ever hurting him again because he knows that the world will do it. It’ll break Will Byers if it can.

“Thank you for telling me,” he says into Will’s stupid bowl cut. Joyce needs to be separated from her scissors on pain of death.

“You’re the first person I’ve told outside of my family.” Fuck. Steve’s going to love this kid until the end of the universe. “Not that you’re not my family!” He adds hurriedly.

“I get it. Are you planning on telling anyone else?”

“I want to tell the Party. Friends don’t lie. But what if -”

Steve has to interrupt him. He just can’t stand it. “What if nothing. Those kids love you just like I do. Just like your mom, El, Hop, and Jonathan do. I swear they won’t react badly. And if they do, you let me know, okay? I’ll set ‘em straight.”

Will nods into Steve’s jacket. If his shoulder has a distinct wet patch on it, Steve’s not telling.

El comes back out of her room after that. She was probably listening to the whole thing. She attaches herself to the two of them like a cuddly octopus.

Steve may or may not stick around for longer than he planned.

He makes it to the trailer park after sunset. He waves hello to Eddie and Wayne - neither of them really celebrate, not that that’s going to keep Steve from giving his friend a present - and heads into Max’s trailer.

“You’re late.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, Max. You get anything good?”

She shrugs. “Mom got me a new Walkman and a pair of Vans.”

“Can I see them?”

Max shows him her new shoes. Steve doesn’t know much about Vans besides them being skateboard shoes, but he ooh’s and ah’s anyway. Max doesn’t say anything about him patronizing her, which he’s not. He just wants her to feel happy.

She only just started skateboarding again a few days ago. She hasn’t felt stable enough on her own two feet since Vecna. She still needs a cane more often than not, and she probably always will, but Max and skateboarding go together like Steve and his hair. It’ll take more than one interdimensional asshole to get her off that board.

Max’s mom comes in. He’s kind of weird with Susan Mayfield. He knows she’s trying, which is more than he can say for a lot of parents. It’s sure as shit more than he can say for his. He also knows that Max shows up at his house some nights not wanting to talk about what her mom is doing, so.

It’s not up to him to say if she’s trying hard enough. That’s Max’s choice, and hers alone. He greets her and goes back to hanging out with Max as quickly as he can without being impolite.

They watch shitty Christmas specials on the TV. A few stop motion things, Charlie Brown, the usual. They get through about five minutes of It’s A Wonderful Life before Jimmy Stewart is standing on the bridge. Max and Steve share a look and change the channel.

He hopes he can watch it someday without having a complete mental breakdown, the same way he hopes he can hear Kate Bush without having a panic attack.

He spends the night on Max’s couch. The next day, he packs her and Eddie into the car and heads to the Byers’. Eddie’s still half asleep, stretched out back and lightly dozing. Max flicks random bits of trash at him every few minutes just to watch him jump awake. She’s admittedly kind of a dick.

The gift exchange takes a long fucking time. Everyone gets one present from everyone else. There’s technically no limit on spending, but everyone has to pay about the same amount. That rule was mostly put in place to keep Steve and Jonathan from dumping their entire salaries into presents for the kids.

This also doesn’t keep people from giving smaller, more personal gifts. Eddie gets a new record player from the group as well as a Bowie record from Steve, who is eternally incapable of letting a joke go. Max gets a new skateboard and some decorations that Steve hopes she’ll think are cool enough to use. Robin gets a new trumpet and a book on Russian translation. So on and so forth.

When it comes to Steve, Hopper hands him a big, square box. Steve doesn’t bother rattling it around like Dustin did: he just opens the damn thing. Inside is a fancy electric kettle, the kind that you can heat up to a specific temperature. Steve’s not allowed to drink coffee anymore because of all the concussions, so tea has been his substitute. It’s a very sweet gift.

Later, Dustin gives him a bunch of packets of loose-leaf tea, the kind that’s hard to find in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. Eddie hands over a new yellow sweater to replace the one Steve lost in Lover’s Lake. Jonathan gives him a bunch of photos of Steve hanging out with the kids, which is the second-best gift of the entire night.

The best comes when Robin corners him, handing him an envelope. “So, it’s just a thought, I don’t want to push you or anything, but, uh. Just take a look.”

It’s a printed sheet about a two-bedroom house renting for dirt cheap. Hawkins real estate has been in the shitter ever since the earthquake, so there’s probably not much wrong with it.

They could afford it easily. Holy shit, he could live with Robin. “Yeah. Robin - fuck. Yes. Absolutely. When can we move in?”

“I talked to the owner, she says as soon as January third as long as we get her two month’s deposit before New Year’s.”

“How much?”

Robin blushes. “That’s the present. I already did it.”

Steve gapes at her. “Robin Buckley, you beautiful son of a bitch.” He folds the paper back into the envelope. He’s going to get this thing laminated or some shit, he’s keeping it forever. He sets it on a nearby end table. Then he picks Robin up and spins her in a circle. She shrieks.

“You’re stuck with me now, Buckley, you fucking idiot,” he says when he puts her down, slightly winded.

“Pretty sure it’s the other way around, dingus.”

A thought crosses his mind. “Oh, God, Dustin’s going to lose his mind.”

“Yep.” She pops the p. “Probably.”

Steve starts packing that night. Some stuff is easy - he can toss all his basketball trophies without even blinking. Some of it is hard - he has many polos and he likes wearing most of them.

He finds stuff he didn’t even know he had. Nancy’s old cardigan is still in the back of his closet. A pair of jeans that Tommy must have left behind in his dresser. One of Carol’s hair clips is under his bed. Eddie’s battle vest. Fuck.

He kept it at first because he didn’t believe that Eddie was Eddie. And then Eddie moved out of his place and Steve kept forgetting to bring it with him. And then he forgot it existed entirely. It’s probably weird to give it back after nine fucking months, but it’d be weirder if Steve threw it or if he kept it without saying anything. Even though that’s kind of what’s been happening anyway.

It’s kind of early and Eddie’s not a morning person (and whether that’s natural Eddie or some Upside Down thing is anyone’s guess), but Steve won’t wait around. He’ll just end up forgetting again if he leaves it. Besides, maybe Eddie won’t be busy and they can hang out or something. That would be fun.

Steve heads to the trailer park, vest in tow. He knocks on Eddie’s door. Wayne Munson opens it.

“Hi, Wayne.”

“Morning, Steven.” Wayne is the only person to call him Steven and get away with it. Even Mrs. Henderson can’t manage that. “Eddie’s in, but he’s still sleeping.”

“Yeah, I figured. I just gotta return something to him, he can go back to sleep after if he wants.”

Wayne nods and lets him in. Wayne’s a good guy. A man of few words, but Eddie basically never stops talking so Steve thinks that it works itself out.

Steve knocks loudly and waits at least a minute before barging in. He’s sort of terrified of catching Eddie in an intimate position. He probably has metal chicks climbing all over him.

Eddie’s alone, as always. He’s drooling into his pillow, all sprawled across his bed. Eddie’s one of those guys that takes up any space available. He’s not a dick about it like Hargrove or Tommy. He just likes being big and loud. Steve likes big, loud people.

He’s not wearing a shirt, and his tangled blankets are doing a pretty good job of covering his lower half. Steve would normally categorize Eddie as attractive in a guy kind of way. Tall, lean, nice amount of stubble, big hands, the works. Sometimes he’ll even go as far as to say handsome - Halloween flashes in his mind’s eye.

Right now, he looks sweet. Cute, even. Like a little kid. Steve could walk over there, could put his hand on Eddie’s elbow, or his chest, or his face. He could lean in real close and watch Eddie wake up, which is usually a very slow process. Steve could see him blink the sleep out of his eyes, smile when he realizes that it’s Steve, and then -

Steve doesn’t know what happens after that. Something big. Important. He just can’t find the words for it.

Instead of doing any of that Steve calls, “wakey, wakey, Munson,” in his best Mom voice. It’s the one that makes Dustin whine like he’s fucking five, which is always hilarious.

“Wuzzat?” Eddie mumbles.

“Got something for you.” He tosses the vest directly at Eddie’s sleep-addled face. It takes Eddie way longer than it probably should to figure out why things have just gone dark and pull it off, and then another really long amount of time to realize he’s holding his vest. Not a morning person.

“Why're you throwing clothes at me at,” Eddie blinks at his clock, “seven in the morning?”

“I just found it at the bottom of my dresser today. Figured I should return it before I forget again.”

“Oh.” Eddie frowns at the vest. He looks kind of unhappy. Steve thought getting his battle vest back would overpower the whole ass-o’clock thing. “There’s no blood on it?”

“I cleaned it. When, uh. Before you come back.” Saying Steve cleaned the vest is like saying Hargrove gave Steve a fucking concussion. It really underemphasizes the amount of work and passion that went into the project.

“Oh,” Eddie says again. “Thanks. I, uh, thought you kept it on purpose, is the thing? Like, there’s a reason I didn’t ask for it back, man.”

See, Steve likes Eddie, because if Steve were in Eddie’s position he’d assume that getting the vest back meant Steve hated him or something, and he wouldn’t say anything, either. He’d just stew in his hurt feelings. Eddie’s sense of shame died around the time he started playing Dungeons and Dragons openly in the middle school cafeteria, so he just says shit like that without thinking about it at all.

“Oh.” Jesus fucking Christ, it’s like when a tape breaks, and the same scene keeps going over and over in a loop. “Do you not… want it back? It’s your battle vest, Eds. It’s got all those patches. You love this thing.”

“Hm.” Eddie’s nose scrunches. He’s thinking really, really hard about something. “Only if you don’t want it.”

“Give it back, then.” Steve catches it out of the air just before it can hit him in the face.

“You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to,” Eddie says while Steve shrugs it on.

“Shut up, I’m wearing it. It’s very comfortable.”

“Okay, okay.” Eddie raises his hands defensively.

Steve spins around in a little circle like he’s in a fashion show. “So? Thoughts, feelings?”

“It looks good, Stevie.”

It actually is a very comfortable vest. It’s smooth and worn in all the right places, like the best kind of thrift. “If you’re not careful I’ll end up stealing half your closet. Robin says I’m a clothes thief.” It’s absolutely true - Steve keeps stealing her shirts and totally destroying them by stretching them out. Robin steals his shit all the time, too, though, and she’s messy.

“As you wish, Steve.” Eddie’s face is a little more gray than usual, especially on his cheekbones and his ears - hey, wait a second.

“How long have you had pointy ears?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your ears, man.” Steve points to his own ears. “They’re fucking pointy. Is that a Vampire thing or an Eddie thing?”

“Uh. I don’t know?”

“Ugh. You’re hopeless, Eddie.”

Eddie mutters something under his breath that might be yeah, I’m hopeless alright, but it’s clearly not intended for Steve to hear so he’s making an executive decision to ignore it.

“Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Okay. Do you wanna hang out later?”

“‘Course I do. Just - normal time, Steve-o. Regular, normal time.” Eddie’s asleep within the minute. Eddie’s not cute: he’s fucking adorable.

Steve heads to the Byers’ on New Year's in the late afternoon. He’s expecting a line of cars circling the block, but it’s just Hop and Joyce’s cars, the Police cruiser, and Argyle’s pizza truck. Steve frowns to himself. Maybe he’s just early?

He’s not early. Nobody else is coming. “It’s family only,” Joyce says while she hangs up his coat. See, Steve would normally misinterpret the hell out of that but she’s literally just stolen his coat and car keys from him, so he clearly counts in that statement.

El and Will are fighting over some toy. It’s the El and Will version of fighting, so instead of trying to bite one another or whatever siblings do they just sit in opposite corners of the room with the toy in the middle, not looking at each other.

“How long they been doing that?” He asks Hopper, who’s leaning in the doorway looking fucking exhausted.

“‘Bout a week. I’m hoping they get over it soon.”

Steve whistles. “Good luck with that one, Chief.” Will and El might be the sweetest children he knows, but they’re also stubborn as shit. No way they give up without intervention.

They have KFC for dinner and weird grocery store cookies for dessert. “I could’ve cooked something,” he tells Joyce while loading the dishwasher.

“You’re our guest, Steve, I’m not about to let you feed us. Besides, El wanted KFC.”

“Hey, also, uh, can I ask what you and Hopper were fighting about on Christmas?” Their little whisper argument has been running through his brain since the 25th.

“It wasn’t a fight!” Joyce protests. “Hopper - he tries, but he’s not very sensitive. I was just reminding him that he needs to choose his words more carefully.”

Steve frowns. They started fighting pretty much immediately after he talked with Hopper, but Steve thought their conversation was fine. Maybe Hopper said something insensitive to one of the kids earlier in the day?

He smokes with Jonathan and Argyle for a little while. Jonathan’s got some Talking Heads tape playing because he’s a fucking nerd. The only song Steve kind of likes is the one with the whistling and the super repetitive melody.

“What song was that?”

“Naive Melody,” Jonathan says.

“‘S good.”

Jonathan smiles. “Yeah? It’s a love song, actually, just not, like, chliché or anything. It always makes me think of Nancy.”

Steve and Argyle coo accordingly. Steve’s weed-addled mind is doing its best to figure out what Jonathan means by love song. Steve didn’t really think it was - he spent the whole time thinking about Eddie.

Jonathan is smarter than Steve is: he’s mostly sober when they have to rejoin the others for the ball drop. Steve lands next to Hopper, still up in the atmosphere. Hop takes one look at him and snorts.

“You having fun, kid?”

“Uh-huh.” The TV colors are so pretty.

“Yeah, you’re staying over tonight.”

“Okay,” Steve agrees, not taking his eyes off the screen.

Steve’s just starting to come back to Earth as the countdown begins. He’s able to get himself together enough to join everyone else in standing and cheering.

Joyce and Hopper kiss. El and Will make the exact same face, and then they realize the other is doing the same thing and drop it. Argyle kisses Jonathan on the forehead. Will and El pull Steve down far enough to reach his head and give him big, wet kisses on each cheek. It’s so gross, Steve’s heart is definitely clenching with disgust and nothing else.

Everyone heads off to sleep after that. Joyce has hidden his keys somewhere so Steve just collapses on the couch. All in all, it’s the best New Year’s Party he’s ever gone to.

He makes El real waffles in the morning. Yes, she still prefers Eggos. No, he doesn’t care. She doesn’t complain, of course, because she’s a good kid. Will stumbles into the kitchen and instantly walks right back out when he catches sight of El. She sighs into her maple syrup.

“You’ll work it out,” he says, running a comforting hand down her arm.

“I don’t know. It’s kind of a big fight.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees because this is clearly about something more than a dumb toy. “But you guys are the biggest badasses I know. I have faith.”

Steve doesn’t actually leave until the 2nd, and that’s just because he has to finish packing before he leaves his parents’ place for good. He still hasn’t told them that he’s going.

His options are limited on that front. He could call his dad’s secretary and let her know. He could insist on speaking to them, although he can’t imagine that ending well. Or -

There’s some small, petty part of him that wants to just leave and see what happens. Wants to see how long it’ll take for them to notice he’s missing. It’s probably not healthy. Steve writes a short note and leaves it on his bed. He doesn’t call.

Robin’s already at the house when he arrives the next day. Her dad is helping her carry boxes inside, his arms clearly straining under the weight of Robin’s foreign films or whatever.

It’s a nice place, Steve thinks, especially for the price. It’s got faded blue siding, white columns, and a light gray roof. The lawn is small and simple. The porch is falling apart a little bit, the inside’s dusty, and the shower takes approximately a billion years to heat up, but it’s perfect.

Robin’s selected the bedroom towards the front of the house, which is a little smaller but has bigger windows and is closer to the bathroom. Steve gets the one facing the backyard. He sticks his head out the window to take a look.

It’s not a huge yard or anything, but Steve can make it work. Maybe a fire pit over there so the kids can make s’mores, a grill over there, and, shit, he gets hit with a sudden image of a vegetable garden. He’s never wanted anything so much in his entire life. Robin will probably be totally useless at taking care of it.

Steve gets his stuff in the house. Robin’s dad helps, which is cool of him, especially since the stand mixer is fucking heavy. It isn’t until they start unpacking that Steve realizes neither of them brought any furniture. Steve brought appliances - the mixer, a toaster, some speakers, a TV - but no chairs, no bed frames, not even a mattress. Robin clearly wasn’t thinking about it, either.

“I think we might be stupid, Robin,” he says while they stare at their bare living room.

“Yeah, probably.”

Thankfully, Robin told Nancy about the move, and Nancy knows them well enough to know they’re idiots, so Nancy told everyone else. Hopper drives up with a couch strapped to the top of his car.

“Buddy of mine is getting rid of it. It’s no big deal.” He accepts their hugs with grim determination. He can see Joyce giving him a thumbs up from where she’s unloading a box filled with mismatched cutlery.

Mr. Wheeler gives them an armchair. “It’s important for a young man to have a good armchair,” he says, entirely serious. “Good luck.” He shakes Steve’s hand. Mr. Wheeler never liked him when he was dating Nancy, so he has truly no idea what’s caused this change.

Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair drop off curtains, towels, and bedsheets. Lucas also sets up a basketball hoop on the driveway. “So we can practice my free throws without going all the way to Richmond.” Lucas doesn’t need any help with his free throws. His worst is two times better than Steve’s best.

The Munson’s pull-up with a fold-out table and a set of chairs. “You need a place to eat dinner, at least for tonight,” Wayne says. Steve’s envisioning all kinds of uses for that table - picnics, Fourth of July, D&D sessions.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were moving in with Robin!” Dustin screams as soon as his mom arrives. He throws himself out of the car before she’s even come to a full stop. “Are you guys getting married? You have to propose soon, right?” Dustin’s decided that they are, in fact, dating and just aren’t saying anything purely to fuck with him. To be fair to him, Robin and Steve would totally do that. Fucking with Dustin’s pretty funny.

“Not proposing because we’re not dating,” Steve says. Dustin rolls his eyes.

Mrs. Henderson’s gift is several pounds of leftovers. “So you two can have some home-cooked meals while you’re unpacking. God knows you’re both too skinny.”

Mike christens their rug by spilling coke all over it. He’s actually apologetic about it, too, trying to blot out the mess with paper towels. It’s kind of adorable.

Even Murray shows up, enough vodka in tow to kill an elephant. Steve’s never spent much time with the guy but he’s funny in a pathetic kind of way. Like, sure, he’s smarter than Steve can even imagine being, but he also gets bullied by literally everyone Steve knows.

El and Will are fighting about which set of towels to put in the bathroom. Murray glances between them, eyebrows raising.

“How long have they been doing that?” He asks Steve.

“Since Christmas, according to Hopper.”

“Hm. Anything interesting happen on Christmas?”

Yes, not that Steve’s going to say it. Even if he doesn't think Murray’s a homophobe, he’s not going to out Will.

“That face is a yes. Alright, I’ve got this. Watch and learn, my young padawan. Children!” He shouts, directed at El and Will. They jump, startled, and face Murray. “There’s more than enough space for both sets.”

“But-” El tries.

“Ah-ah-ah,” Murray wags his finger at her. “More. Than. Enough. Sharing is caring. Shouldn’t you both know that already?”

“But some things can’t be shared,” Will says in frustration.

“Who says? Nothing in the world that can’t be shared if you try hard enough. Some things might require an actual conversation, but you two can manage that, right? Now, why don’t you put those towels away and think about all the things you can definitely share?”

El and Will nod solemnly. They glance at each other. They’re probably going to start talking the second Steve and Murray get out of earshot.

“That,” Murray says, patting Steve on the shoulder, “is how you fix things. I need a drink.” He swans off in the direction of the kitchen.

“What the fuck was that?” Eddie asks, carrying linens in his arms.

“I think he just Murray’d Will and El.”

“Why is his name a verb?”

Steve steals half of the linens and walks with him to the storage closet. “Jonathan says he got together with Nancy because Murray bullied him into it, and Joyce said the same thing happened with her and Hopper.”

Eddie snorts. “Our own personal matchmaking service.”

“Hey, he’s better at it than Dustin.”

“Not exactly a high bar to clear, princess. Side note, why didn’t you tell anyone you were moving?”

Steve groans. “Hey, Robin didn’t either, except for Nancy.”

“I’m not asking about Robin, I’m asking about you.” Eddie sets the linens down on a shelf. Steve does the same. They’re close, the closet forcing them in one another’s space. Steve could just leave. Doesn’t. Has no idea why.

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t think anyone would really care.” It’s not quite right, but Steve doesn’t know how to explain the real answer. He doesn’t even know what the real answer is. He’s not that good at examining why he does things.

“Well, that’s fucking dumb.”

“Yeah, Eddie, it’s pretty well-established that I’m an idiot.”

“Hey,” Eddie says. Eddie teases Steve all the time about his hair and his clothes and his music, but he never insults Steve’s intelligence, and he doesn’t like Steve doing it, either.

“Just telling the truth, man. ‘M not exactly Harvard material.”

“Neither am I,” Eddie points out. “I didn’t even actually graduate, man, the government did it for me.”

“But you’re smart in other ways.” Steve’s not about to let Eddie rag on himself to cheer him up. That’s total bullshit. “Like, you’re super creative, and really good at telling stories, and you can play basically any song after hearing it once, and you fix your own van all the time.”

“So grades aren’t everything? I’m smart even if schools and shit don’t say so?”

“Obviously not.”

“We’re in agreement, then. You’re plenty smart, Stevie.”

Fuck. Steve’s been tricked. God damn it. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a crafty son of a bitch?”

Eddie smirks, his eyes crinkling. “My uncle, every single day.”

The enforced closeness from the closet is exacerbating their height difference. Steve feels like he has to look up so far just to catch Eddie’s big brown eyes. Steve keeps jumping to other things, like the way Eddie’s sharp teeth catch on his bottom lip, the slope of his nose, or the pale line of his throat bobbing when he speaks.

Steve’s leaning in closer than the space actually demands. His heart is pounding for some fucking reason, even though nothing’s happening. Eddie’s smile slips, falls. His mouth stays open, tiny puffs of cool air coming in and out. Steve manages to make himself look into Eddie’s eyes, which are all pupil.

“Hey,” Steve says. He doesn’t know why.

“Hey yourself.”

It’s like when Steve tried to give Eddie back his vest. He wanted something he couldn’t name. He wants it now, too, whatever it is.

Someone thumps the closet door. Steve jumps back, blinking. How long have they been in here?

“We should, uh. Go. Help out.” Steve’s never been this fucking awkward in his life.

“As you wish, Stevie. And, uh, next time, just tell me, okay? I promise that I care.”

Oh, right. Steve totally forgot they were having that conversation. “Okay. I will.” He’s probably even telling the truth.

Eddie leaves the closet. Steve has to take a couple of deep breaths because he still feels kind of jittery before he follows him out.

They order pizza for dinner even though Mrs. Henderson brought enough meatloaf to feed a small country. “It’s moving food, kid,” Hopper explains to El. “If you move, you get pizza. I don’t make the rules.”

Even with the folding chairs and couch most of them still end up sprawled on the floor. El’s next to Mike, and when Will hesitates she pats the empty space on his other side, so clearly they’ve worked something out. The less Steve knows the better.

Steve and Joyce drive to a furniture store the next day to get bed frames and dressers. Steve argues that he and Robin both need at least a Queen size frame. He knows she’ll invite Vickie over at every opportunity and it’s less weird if he gets the same thing. Joyce just nods in agreement and picks out two light but sturdy frames. One has a solid headboard and the other has slats.

Steve eventually decides on the pale wooden dressers with three large drawers and two small ones at the top. He likes that they’re matching. They get two end tables, too, and a piece of shit coffee table that’ll probably collapse the second someone swings their feet on it. Everything else can wait.

Steve unpacks his shit quickly once there’s somewhere to put it. He likes the rhythm of it, the repetitive movements. He looks at his room once he’s done. The only decoration is the photos Jonathan gave him for Christmas. Steve’s never been allowed to really own his space before, so he doesn’t have a lot of stuff that he wants to display. It’s something to work on.

His bed frame still doesn’t have a mattress on it - Robin and Hopper are doing that - and he’s not crazy about the paint color, but it’s better than the plaid monstrosity he was living in before.

So he and Robin move in together. She’s a worse roommate than he thought she was. It takes her fucking forever to unpack: Steve keeps banging his shins against her infinite boxes of weird shit when he goes to pee in the middle of the night. She eats his snacks all the time, steals his toothpaste instead of buying her own, and she makes fun of his hairspray constantly. She’s totally incapable of doing any housework. Even under Steve’s watchful gaze, she ends up getting distracted and burning their pasta. She’s a total fucking clutz, too, always breaking shit. And she’s loud.

She’s always playing music, watching TV, or talking on the phone. He doesn’t think he’s ever heard Robin just sit quietly. He’s actually a little terrified when she invites Vickie over for the first time, but luckily the walls are thick enough that Steve can’t hear anything. The next day, Robin’s got lipstick trailing down into her shirt and Vickie’s got a massive hickey on her collarbone. Heh. Vickie hickey.

“Nice,” he says, giving Robin a high five, which she returns very reluctantly. Vickie blushes into her coffee.

“I really like her, Steve,” she sighs when they’re at work. “I really, really like her.”

“You thinking about using the L-word yet?”

“Do you think it’s too soon? I mean, we’ve only actually been dating since Halloween. It hasn’t even been three full months.”

“I told Nancy I loved her after, like, a week, Robin,” Steve points out. “I’m definitely not the guy to ask about moving too quickly. I don’t think there’s a reason not to L-word her, though. If that’s how you feel then you should just say it.”

“I know, I know. Ugh. Why are you so good at dating my girlfriend for me?”

“Because you’re a useless lesbian. Duh.”

Robin smacks him with the tape she’s holding. “Fuck off.”

(Video) When You Wish Upon A Star - Petra Ahlmark

Steve’s dating life is in the shitter. Some girls hit on him at work, especially as February looms on the horizon. Steve flirts back when they’re hot, but he’s not really interested in pursuing further. It’s kind of funny - when Steve was desperate for anything the world would give him at Scoops Ahoy none of the girls were interested. Now that Steve could care less they’re practically crawling all over him.

Maybe the advice he gave to Dustin all those years ago was right after all. Steve doesn’t really care and it’s driving them insane.

“Okay, seriously, what is going on with you, dingus?” Robin asks when a college student leaves after unsuccessfully trying to get his number. “You haven’t even been trying to get a date! That girl was super hot, too!”

The weird part is that she was super hot. Tall for a girl, lean, great boobs, great hair, big eyes. Smart, too - she has a 3.8 at Purdue. Exactly Steve’s usual type, but he didn’t even give her a second glance.

“I don’t know, Robin. I just haven’t been feeling it lately, I guess.”

Her brows furrow in concern. “Is it- you know. A Vecna thing?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Steve’s not sure why he doesn’t want to go out anymore, but he doesn’t think it’s because he’s depressed or anything. He feels good, actually. Better than he has in years. Maybe he just doesn’t feel like dating because he’s so happy already? “I just don’t want to.”

“Okay. Well, if you want to talk, you know I’m here, right?”

“I know, Buckley. Can’t fucking get rid of you.”

Argyle is in Utah with Eden, so it’s up to Steve and Eddie to keep Jonathan happy on Valentine’s Day. Not that he’ll admit to being unhappy.

“It’s fine, guys. I’m not upset.” Jonathan has even more bags under his eyes than unusual. He’s super tense, too, poor bastard. He keeps clenching and unclenching his fists.

“‘Course you’re fine,” Eddie soothes. “We’re just two single dudes hanging out with our friend, it doesn’t have to be a thing.”

“Argyle donated some Purple Palm Tree to the cause,” Steve says because that always works.

A couple of hours later, Jonathan's finally loosened up enough to admit to missing Nancy. “Obviously I want to be with her in Boston,” he says, waving the joint around wildly. He’s on his back on Eddie’s bed, staring at the ceiling forlornly.

“Obviously,” Eddie agrees from his spot next to the open window.

“But it’s just not reasonable, right? I can’t spend a couple of hundred dollars on a plane ticket just to hang out for one day, and she’s probably super busy anyway, so it wouldn’t work.”

“Right,” Steve says. He’s on the floor. The floor is nice.

“Doesn’t mean you don’t wanna see her, dude. She’s your girlfriend, it’s understandable.”

“I know, I know. Hey, Eddie, come over here, it’s too fucking weird for you to be the only sober person.”

Eddie latches himself onto Jonathan’s wrist. Steve always watches this part. The blissed-out expression that Eddie gets on his face makes Steve feel really hot and sweaty, and the occasional flash of teeth before they sink into skin gets Steve to sit up and take notice. Eddie makes a happy sigh when he pulls off. Steve’s ears are burning.

The only comparison he has is when Nancy started hanging around with Jonathan, back before Steve knew anything about what lurked in Hawkins. He was so fucking jealous of Jonathan - he got Nancy’s approval so easily when Steve had to kill himself just to get a smile. It’s the same curdling in his stomach, sweat down his back, heart racing thing, but ten times worse.

His best guess is that he’s still a little scared of Eddie, even after all this time. The only solution for that is exposure therapy, so Steve watches when Eddie takes. It’s easy to do.

Eddie wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Thanks, Johnny-boy.” Jonathan shakes his head, his mouth turning in a frown. “No? You and Steve-o have the exact opposite problem - he’s way too willing to accept any and all nicknames, and you don’t like a single one.”

“You could always try my actual name,” Jonathan says.

Eddie gasps dramatically, clutching his chest like he’s been wounded. “That’s quitter talk, my photographic friend.”

“It’s so much easier if you just give in,” Steve says, throwing his arm around Jonathan.

“Exactly! You should listen to us more often, Jon, we’re very smart.” Eddie tucks himself into Jonathan’s other side, his hand meeting Steve’s on his back. “Which is why you’re going to talk to Nancy about all these big feelings you’re having when you have your little phone call.”

“Fine. Can we talk about someone else’s love life for once?”

“How about Will, El, and Mike? Now that’s a party, amiright?” Eddie winks at them both.

Steve sneers. “Gross. Those are our kids, man.”

“Oh, we can definitely talk about that. It’s so weird. Mike’s lucky Hopper doesn’t have powers. He’s lucky that I don’t have powers, what kind of boy dates both of my siblings, huh?”

Will came out to the whole group just a few weeks ago. After everyone congratulated him and assured him he was loved, he also announced that he and El were both dating Mike. At the same time.

“Do they trade days or something?” Steve finds the dating lives of all his friends disgusting on some level, but he’s also somewhat fascinated by the arrangement between the three children.

“Sometimes. Sometimes they both just - you know.”

“Ugh!”

“Hey, at least you don’t have to live with them.”

“Good on ‘em,” Eddie says. “I’ve got a couple of friends in Indianapolis who live that lifestyle, it’s super hard to do it right. Requires a loooooooot of communication.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I could manage it,” Jonathan says, taking a beat to smoke. “It’s hard enough with just Nancy.”

“It’s one thing if we’re just hanging out, but I couldn’t do it with anyone I actually liked. I’m no good at sharing.” That’s blatantly untrue, in Steve’s opinion. Eddie lets Steve borrow his shit all the time. Clothes, records, whatever. He’s literally wearing Eddie’s jeans right this instant. “How about you, pretty boy? You think you could date two people at once?”

“Shit, I can’t even date one person. Why do you think I’m hanging out with you two losers instead of on a hot date?”

“Because Robin’s busy,” Jonathan points out. “Obviously.”

Busy is one word for it. She and Vickie are probably christening their new table right around now. Steve’s not going home for at least another ten hours, just on the off chance he sees something he’ll never be able to unsee.

“Not you, too. I swear that we’re not dating!”

Jonathan snorts. “Yeah, and El doesn’t have superpowers. Come on, man, I’ve been ranting about Nancy all night. Tell us about your girl.”

Steve breathes in deeply, trying to clear his head. He can’t out Robin even if Jonathan would be cool about it. He glances at Eddie, but there’s not going to be any help from him: he’s resting his head on his chin, eyebrows raised, waiting for Steve to start talking. He’s also weirdly tense - the line of his shoulders is super taut. Maybe he didn’t get enough from Jonathan?

“She’s not my girl. I don’t want her to be my girl. I swear on Dustin’s mother that we’re really not like that.”

“But is there anyone you do like?” Eddie asks.

“Not really.”

“I don’t believe it.” Jonathan pokes Steve’s chest. Steve flops back onto the bed. “Steve Harrington, the guy with a new girl on his arm every week, doesn’t like anyone?”

“It’s true!” It is. So why does it leave his mouth like a lie? “Seriously, can we just leave it alone? Let’s make fun of Argyle and Eden, those crazy kids.”

“As you wish.”

“Yeah, sure, fine. He’s already told her he’s in love with her, actually.”

“What?” Eddie whips his head to look at Jonathan, his hair flying around like a living thing. “That’s insane. They’ve had, what, four dates?”

“Maybe it’s love at first sight,” Steve suggests, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m not going to knock love at first sight, that’s classic, but still. You should at least wait until it’s not fucking pathetic.”

“Yes! Thank you! I love Argyle, but he’s got no sense of shame. Zero.”

Steve doesn’t actually think saying the L-word could ever be pathetic, no matter what shit he talks.

Later, Jonathan’s snoring on Eddie’s bed. Steve and Eddie have ended up on the floor, their legs tangled together. Neither have said anything in a few hours. Eddie’s writing in his little notebook, the one he uses for music, and Steve’s just staring at the ceiling.

“How about you, Eddie?” Steve asks, breaking their silence.

“How about me, what?”

“Do you like anyone? I’ve never even seen you flirt with a girl, man.” At least Steve still responds sometimes, even if he’s got no interest in following through.

“No, you haven’t.” Eddie frowns down at his notebook. He crosses something out with an unnecessary level of aggression. “Because I don’t flirt with girls .”

It takes a minute for it to click. Sue him, he’s still kind of high, and watching Eddie’s rings glint in the low light is way more interesting than processing what he’s just been told.

“Oh. Okay. I’ve never seen you flirt with a boy, either, Eddie.”

Eddie chuckles darkly. “Maybe I have and you just didn’t notice. You’re not exactly looking for it, are ya’, big boy?”

Fair point. Maybe Eddie’s been flirting with all kinds of guys and Steve just hasn’t noticed. That thought makes him feel nauseous. Shit, is he homophobic? Not cool, brain, Eddie can date whoever he likes.

“Maybe. You still haven’t answered the question, though. Is there anyone that you like?”

Eddie sighs. It sounds wistful, sad. Steve didn’t know that Eddie could do wistful. “Yeah. Yeah, there’s someone. I’ve got no chance, though.”

“I don’t know. R- Someone else I know didn’t think they had a chance, either, but they were wrong, and I totally knew it, too.”

“Where are you hiding this other gay person, Harrington? Are you making friends without me?”

“I didn’t say they were gay. Stop avoiding the question.”

“You implied. And I’m not avoiding it, it’s just - sometimes you just know, Stevie, alright? I don’t want to talk about it.” Eddie’s voice has gone hard and cold. Steve’s not going to get anywhere like this.

“Okay. Just promise me you don’t get so into this guy you leave me behind, alright? I need my single bros solidarity.”

Eddie turns a page in his book. He still looks unhappy, but there’s a smile starting to form on his lips. “As you wish, man.”

The next day, Steve anxiously waits for Robin to arrive at work. It’s funny - Steve used to think he didn’t know any gay people. Sure, he’d hurl queer at the occasional nerd, because he was a fucking asshole, but he didn’t actually look at anyone and wonder if they were gay. Now, he knows three, and he loves them all to death.

Robin finally comes in at noon. Steve usually takes his break when she shows up to eat lunch. He drags her into the office instead.

“Robin, listen, I think you should tell Eddie about Vickie. Just trust me.”

“Okay? Why am I coming out to Eddie, exactly?”

“We, uh. Had a floor conversation last night. I think he’ll be receptive.” He hates outing Eddie, even as vaguely and unhelpfully as he is. The idea of Robin and Eddie having this thing in common and not knowing because they’re both just this side of too scared makes him want to cry. He figures it’s a short-term pain for a long-term benefit, which is that his two best friends will be even closer.

“Oh. Oh, shit! Cool, cool. I’ll do that,” Robin nods.

The only reason Steve knows she does it is that Eddie comes over a couple of days later to set up for D&D. He pauses in the middle of adjusting a dragon figurine to glance up at Steve.

“You really aren’t dating Robin. I almost didn’t believe it.”

“Hey, I can be friends with people without dating them.” According to Robin, people only think they’re dating because of the heterosexual conceit that men and women can’t care about each other without wanting to fuck. Steve’s pretty sure it’s because they spend literally all of their time together and share a brain.

“Don’t I know it,” Eddie mutters bitterly. “Thanks, Steve,” he continues at a normal volume. “I don’t know any other queers in this town except for Little Byers and Wheeler, and they’re, like, five. They don’t exactly count.”

“Don’t mention it. Have fun with your game.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to join? A little birdie told me about Sir Stephen.”

Steve stares at the table. The kids all seem to have so much fun when they’re playing, but no matter how many times he’s told stuff about it he just can’t seem to keep the information in his head. But -

It’s Eddie. Eddie managed to get him through Star Wars, Blade Runner, a season of Star Trek, and several chapters of Lord of the Rings. Maybe it’ll be different with him.

“Okay.”

Eddie goes completely still. “Are you sure? Like, for real, man?”

“I wouldn’t agree if I wasn’t sure. You’re going to have to explain a lot of shit to me, Eddie, I don’t know a damn thing about this game.”

“Yeah. Yeah, definitely, absolutely, but, um. I actually don’t think this is a good session for you to join in on.” Steve’s blood drains from his face. Shit. It wasn’t a real suggestion, was it? “I want you to play! Just, um, the kids are right at the climax of this adventure. I think you should play the next one when they’re starting something new so that you don’t have to come in at the end. It’d be like watching Return of the Jedi before A New Hope .”

That makes sense to Steve. He lets himself relax again. “Okay. Next time, definitely.” He’s already looking forward to it.

Steve hangs out in his room while they play. He could watch, just to get an idea, but that feels kind of strange. Like he’s creeping on the kids’ fun time.

He’s pretty sure none of them would object to him playing. Well, Mike might, but Dustin and Max will definitely overrule him. Plus, El and Will are totally on his side - Mike’s been halfway decent to Steve since they all started their thing. It’s just Steve that feels weird about it.

He creeps towards the living room at the end of the night. This is usually the point in the night when he starts trying to clean up their mess.

“-perfect session.” Eddie’s low voice doesn’t reach his room, but here in the hallway, it pieces Steve’s brain. “You’re all going to play like your very lives are on the line, because they are. I can and will kill your characters. Do I make myself clear?”

The kids all chorus their agreement. Steve enters the living room, making as much noise as possible. He picks up the empty soda cans littered on the table, his eyes darting to each kid.

“You guys have fun?” He directs it at Dustin, who can’t lie to save his life.

“Yeah! We killed an Aarakocra, it was super badass.”

“We? I think you mean me. I’m the only one who actually did damage,” Max says.

“Yeah, because I kept giving you inspiration.”

And they’re off, the kids all shouting over each other like it’s their job. Steve shakes his head. Eddie looks exhausted.

Steve’s driving Dustin, Mike, Lucas, and Erica home. The boys are all crowded in the backseat, for once ignoring shotgun, whispering to each other.

“What got up his ass? He was really being all Eddie tonight, and then there was that lecture at the end,” Lucas says, glancing at Steve like they’re not in the same car and Steve can’t hear everything they’re saying.

“I don’t know,” Mike responds. “It’s not like we don’t take the game seriously or anything.”

“I think he’s adding a player. He gave us that whole lecture on being gentle with new sheep,” Dustin points out, stroking his chin like he’s Einstein.

“Who, though?” Mike asks. “All the kids are already in, and his band already plays on Fridays.”

“Maybe it’s Jonathan? Will says that they hang out all the time.”

“No way!” Lucas shouts, forgetting to be quiet. “Jonathan’s too busy for it, he can’t spend six hours on a weeknight playing a game.”

“Well, who else is there?” Dustin asks. “Robin says she would, and I quote, ‘rather kill herself than spend hours doing math with Steve’s children’. I don’t think Argyle even knows what D&D is. What do you think, Erica?”

Steve’s kind of offended that he’s not even an option.

“I think you’re all idiots,” Erica sniffs, deeply unimpressed. “It’s so obvious that I’m not even going to tell you.”

“You just don’t want to admit that you don’t know!” Lucas says.

“Do too! Here, I’ll write it down on this piece of paper and give it to Steve. If I’m right, you each owe me ten bucks. Deal?”

They all agree, but only if they get ten bucks if she’s wrong. Erica hands Steve the paper as she gets out of the car. “Don’t suck,” she says. “I’ve got thirty riding on this.”

When he checks the paper at home, it says his own name. Of course, she has an advantage, since she helped him make a character, but all the kids know that Steve and Eddie hang out pretty much constantly. Is it so unbelievable that he might decide to give the game one of his best friends plays a shot?

Apparently so.

Eddie spends the set-up time coaching Steve on the basics: what his main stats do, how fights work, and which dice are used for what actions. “Remember, if you get confused, there’s no shame in asking. And feel free to take your time when deciding on an action. I’m not going to rush you.”

Steve can tell how badly Eddie wants him to have fun just because of that. Steve hasn’t seen much of their games but he knows Eddie always pushes the kids if they take too long to do stuff.

“It’s cool, man. I’ll try not to hold up the game too much.”

The kids trail in one at a time. Nobody seems to question his presence at first - Steve hands out homemade snacks on occasion - but eventually, they’re all seated and Steve still hasn’t left the chair at Eddie’s side. He can feel Dustin’s questioning gaze land on him. Steve tries not to squirm.

“After your last successful mission,” Eddie starts, hands unfolding on the table, “several interested parties wished to join your group. One name in particular caught your eye - Sir Stephen the Fair, a noble paladin with a penchant for killing monsters. You’ve agreed to let him join you on your next mission on a trial basis. He meets you in your preferred tavern, the Wicked Oak. Sir Stephen,” Eddie gestures to Steve, “would you care to describe your character?”

“No way,” Dustin says. “No way!”

“Sir Stephen is a human paladin. He’s six feet tall -” Steve’s 5’11”, but if he can’t be six feet in the wish fulfillment game then what’s the fucking point - “with brown hair, brown eyes, and pale skin. He wields a one-and-a-half-handed club that has sharp metal sticking out of it. He’s taken an Oath of Protection, and is always willing to stand in the way of an innocent - or a friend - being harmed. Also, Erica totally knew, and you three owe her thirty dollars.”

“Shit. Fine, whatever, don’t charge me interest,” Lucas groans, handing Erica her hard-earned cash. Mike does, too. Dustin’s too busy floundering.

“But you hate this game! You literally always say that you’ll never play it ‘cause it’s nerd shit.”

“See, and here I thought he’d be happy,” Steve says to Eddie. Eddie laughs.

“Henderson was never gonna be happy unless it was him convincing you, Stevie.”

“What the fuck is happening right now? Am I in the Twilight Zone? Did I wake up in an alternate universe where Steve Harrington is a nerd?”

“I changed my mind, that’s all. Besides, I’m not convinced that this isn’t a nerd game for little nerds. You’re just going to have to play well enough that I wanna come back.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Dustin says, finally sitting down and giving Erica what he owes her.

“Now, Stevie here is new at this, so we’re gonna be gentle, alright? No talking over him or stealing his turns.”

“I will help you,” El says, scooting her chair closer to Steve's. “I did not understand the game for a long time, but now I do. I can teach.”

It’s actually pretty fun. They don’t get much done in the game - they spend an hour deliberating over which mission they want to do, since Eddie offers several, eventually agreeing to investigate a missing person’s case. After that, half of the group goes to get supplies while the other half investigates. Steve’s in the investigation group. He keeps forgetting which dice does what and what the different checks mean, but nobody gets impatient with him, not even Mike.

They’re talking to the person that’s hired them and Steve gets a weird feeling. He can’t explain why, but he doesn’t trust this guy as far as he can throw him.

“Hey, didn’t this guy say he was a noble?” He asks, frowning at his notes. “Is there any chance I know who he is?”

“Make a history check with advantage. That means you roll twice and take the higher number,” Eddie explains.

Steve rolls, squinting at the little numbers. “18.”

“You’ve heard of Luim Netherbrace. He’s a friend of a friend of your father’s - a cranky old man, from what you can recall. With a 19, you know that nobody’s seen Netherbrace for over a decade and that your father believed he died years ago.”

“Old?” Max says. “But this guy’s young!”

“‘May I ask for your name one more time, my good sir?’” Steve asks, putting on the fancy accent he’s decided on for his character voice.

“‘I am Luim Netherbrace.’”

“Can I roll to see if he’s lying?”

“Go for it,” Eddie says. He’s not even bothering to hide his smile.

“17, minus - which one is it again, El? My wisdom? Minus 1, so 16 total.”

“Based on what you know of Luim Netherbrace and your investigation check, you now believe that the man in front of you is not the Netherbrace that your father would have known.”

“I thank him for his time and get out of there as quickly as I can. Once we all meet up I want to tell everyone what I’ve learned.” Despite the fact that they’re all sitting at the same table and hearing the same stuff, Steve has to directly say he’s telling the other players information.

“You can do that. Does anyone else on the investigation team want to take an action before you leave?”

Max asks a few more questions about the missing people, all of them young, wealthy noblemen, but that’s it. After several more hours of deliberation, the others agree that Luim is extremely suspicious and that they should investigate him more, and then Eddie calls it for the night. Steve’s actually disappointed. He wants to know what happens next.

The kids are all getting picked up, so Steve doesn’t have to drive anyone home, for once. He helps Eddie put stuff away instead.

“Did you have fun?”

“Yeah, actually, I did. You’re a good storyteller, Eddie. Did I do well? I didn’t hold up the gameplay too much, right?”

“Nope.” Eddie pushes his hair back from where it’s fallen in his face. Steve wishes Eddie would let him help - his ponytails are extremely ineffective. “Actually, you kind of skipped ahead. You guys weren’t supposed to figure out that there was anything suspicious with your employer until halfway through the campaign. Nice work.”

“Oh. Is that good?”

“Good for you guys, yeah. Not so much for me. Now I’m going to have to rewrite the whole damn thing. Don’t apologize. You realized the vibes were off, and rolls don’t lie. If I can ask - what tipped you off about him?”

“Well, you said that he was a recluse before we even met him, but he seemed totally normal to me, and he knew way too much about the missing people to be somebody that stays in his house all the time. It didn’t make sense.”

Eddie’s smile grows wider, showing all his extremely sharp teeth. “Oh, I’m going to have to work to trick you, aren’t I? I should’ve known - you’re too fucking clever, Steve.”

Steve wills himself not to blush and totally fails. “Thanks,” he says, voice cracking like he’s a prepubescent teenager.

So Steve plays D&D once a week. He doesn’t join the proper Hellfire sessions with the band, but he likes playing with the kids. They work well together, even in a game. And despite all the shit he talks Steve never feels like Eddie’s actually against them. He wants the team to succeed just as badly as they do.

Time really flies, or so they say, because before Steve knows it he’s waking up in the middle of March with a massive headache and a cough he can’t quite shake. He shrugs and takes some Tylenol - he gets migraines sometimes because of all the concussions he’s had, and the air’s super dry this year. He’s not worried about it.

It doesn’t go away. In fact, it gets worse - Steve has to wear sunglasses indoors all the time like some kind of douche because light hurts too much to look at, and his cough goes from the occasional light throat-clearing to full-on hacking his lungs out by the time Friday rolls around. He stands at the counter at Family Video. His head is the size of Texas, his bones ache, and he can’t keep track of anything for longer than a minute. He barely contributed to Dungeons and Dragons last night, staying quiet while the kids worked out a plan to break into Luim’s manor. Eddie asked more than once if he was really okay, to which Steve responded that he was fine, just tired.

He’s so, so fucking tired.

It’s okay, though. Steve just has to get through a few more hours of work, and then he’s home-free for the weekend. He plans to sleep, sleep, sleep, and, just in case it wasn’t clear, sleep.

“-eve? Steve? Are you alright?”

He blinks. Joyce is in front of him, returning some movies. How long has she been trying to talk to him?

“Hey, Joyce. Sorry, it’s been a long week.”

“Right.” Her eyes have narrowed. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look a little pale, sweetie.”

“I’m fine. I’m just tired. Don’t tell Keith I took so long to serve you, he already hates me.”

She nods slowly, handing over the tapes. She still looks suspicious. “As long as you’re sure.”

Steve’s not sure how he survives the workday. He’s just lucky that it’s a slow Friday, for once. He stumbles home, driving so slowly that people just start going around him.

The house is empty, for once. Robin’s been on some family vacation for a week, and she won’t get home until the next. Eddie and the kids are all playing D&D in Gareth’s garage. Jonathan is probably smoking with Argyle somewhere. Joyce and Hopper have a date night. Nobody’s around at all.

Steve strips out of his clothes and steps into the shower. The lukewarm water is fucking freezing on his overheated skin, but he can’t be bothered to wait. He just wants to be clean so he can throw on some boxers and collapse in bed.

That’s exactly what he does after nearly falling asleep in the shower five separate times. Closing his eyes is such a relief he could cry.

The weekend is a nightmare. Steve stays in bed the whole time. He’s too sick to be bored about it. He’s too nauseous to eat, too weak to check his temperature, because he definitely has some kind of fever. He gets hot, throws off all of the blankets, and then for no reason that he can understand his body switches and suddenly he can’t get warm no matter how hard he tries.

Getting water and going to the bathroom requires a thirty-minute expedition that involves leaning on every possible surface. Steve’s given up on using glasses and just has a giant plastic pitcher that he refills every few hours.

Even with the rest Steve only seems to get worse. Tylenol doesn’t help his headache at all anymore. His dreams are strange and frightening, leaving him gasping when he wakes up. On Sunday morning he drags himself to his waste bin and vomits what feels like everything he’s ever eaten in his entire life.

He loses track of time after that. His life narrows to his bed and the bathroom. He runs out of Tylenol, which is the only way he knows for sure time is passing.

He feels a warm hand in his hair, a gentle voice saying something in low tones. He can’t understand it - it’s like being underwater, the sounds warped and quiet. He must be dreaming because everyone is busy this weekend. He must be dreaming because the only thing his fever-addled mind can come up with is mom and Steve hasn’t seen his mother in two years.

It’s nice compared to the usual dreams. Everything is soft and distant. The world feels warm, feels good. Steve lets the dream drift.

Steve comes to awareness to see Hopper sitting next to his bed, scanning through reports. The sun is trying to stream through his window, but the curtains have been pulled. It’s good for Steve’s headache, which is still pounding in his skull.

“Hopper?” Steve tries to say. It comes out as an incomprehensible groan. Fuck, his throat is so dry.

“Hey, kid.” Hopper puts the reports down and crosses to the bedside table, grabbing a glass of water. “Here,” he helps Steve lean up and bring the glass to his mouth. Steve manages to take a single desperate, greedy gulp before Hopper pulls it away. “Slowly, slowly, alright? I know you’re thirsty, but you gotta keep it down, kid.”

Steve manages about half of the glass before he gets too tired to sit up, even with Hopper’s help. Hopper lays him back down, doesn’t yell or insist he finish, and sits in his chair again.

“‘Ow’re ‘u ‘ere?” Steve can’t get his tongue to move quite right, and his voice is fucking wrecked, rough and barely audible. “‘S Sunday.”

“It’s Wednesday, Steve. Joyce found you on Monday morning when you didn’t show up for work.”

Oh. So the dream wasn’t a dream after all.

“I’m not surprised you don’t remember: you’ve been in and out the whole time. You, uh, weren’t doing too well for a while there, actually, we’ve been pretty worried.” Steve can tell. Hopper looks like he hasn’t slept in a month - he’s pale with dark shadows lingering under his eyes.

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault, kid. Go back to sleep, okay? We’ll be here when you wake up.”

It’s an easy order to follow since Steve’s basically asleep anyway. He doesn’t lose time again - he wakes up every couple of hours, and someone makes him drink some water and, as the day grows longer, eat a few plain crackers or some spoonfuls of salty broth. He’s still too nauseous for much else.

There’s clearly some kind of sickbed rotation. Steve sees Joyce and Hopper the most often when he’s awake and aware, but Jonathan and Argyle are there, too. Just once, in the middle of the night, Steve awakens to Eddie’s low voice reading aloud. He lets himself fall back asleep, The Hobbit drifting through his ears.

He doesn’t see any of the kids until Thursday afternoon, and even then it’s just the quietest, calmest ones, Will, El, and Lucas, one at a time. He’s relieved and instantly hates himself for it.

Robin comes back on Friday. “You stupid asshole,” she hisses as she brings more watery broth to his mouth. “You dumb fucking idiot. I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I don’t, but you make it really fucking difficult sometimes.”

So Robin’s mad at him. Really mad, which is sort of funny, actually. She’s like a little kitten, all bitey and shit. It’s the most entertainment he gets while confined to his bed, since D&D was canceled, according to Lucas.

“I don’t think he’s ever canceled a game before. Like, ever,” Lucas had said. “Mike and Dustin tried to tell him you would want us to play, and Eddie gave them this look and they shut right up. It was pretty cool.”

Steve would have wanted them to play without him. It’s still one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for him, and he resolves to thank Eddie for it the next time he sees him.

Which turns out to take a while. Eddie doesn’t join the rotations, even though he was clearly a part of them at one point. And when Steve’s well enough for loud, bothersome people to invade his space, Eddie doesn’t show up then, either. It’s weird. Steve can’t think of a week where he hasn’t seen Eddie at least once since Thanksgiving.

He asks Joyce about it. “Oh, sweetie, he just needs some time to cool off. He was really scared,” she says, wiping his brow with a wet cloth.

By the time Thursday rolls around, Steve’s feeling like himself again. He’s eating real food and going to the bathroom by himself and everything, so Eddie will have no reason to cancel the game.

Eddie doesn’t. He shows up at Steve’s at the same time he always does and sets up in the kitchen the way he always does. Steve’s been banned from helping until he’s at 100% so they can’t chat, but Steve figures that things must be fine by now.

They’re not.

There’s nothing unusual about the game itself. The plan to get into the mansion goes off without a hitch. Dustin almost gets himself killed while distracting a guard, but Erica saves the day by knocking him out from behind. Mike finds a few suspicious papers in a hidden safe. Max stumbles onto a secret room, in which a very dead, very old man is stashed, presumably the real Luim Netherbrace.

No, what’s unusual is the way that Eddie won’t interact with him. He asks Steve what actions he wants to take and that’s it. There’s no teasing, no references, no sly asides while the kids work something out. Erica and Max get into a fight over what to do with the body and Steve tries to give Eddie his usual aren’t-they-precious grin and Eddie won’t even look at him.

The kids all have their own rides home. Steve refuses to move from his chair while Eddie cleans up. Eddie throws cans in the recycling, tosses loose chips and candy wrappers in the trash. He’s putting his precious dice into his special bag and he still won’t even look in Steve’s direction.

“Okay, what the fuck is going on?” Steve asks when he finally can’t take it anymore.

“Nothing.” It’s harsh. Clipped. Nothing at all like how Eddie talks.

“That’s such bullshit.”

“I said it’s nothing.” Eddie forcefully shoves his DM screen into his bag.

“Come on. Eds, man, talk to me. What’s going on?” Steve’s moved from confusion to anxiety. Is Eddie sick with some kind of Upside Down disease? Is Wayne okay? Maybe there’s something happening with the band?

“You want me to talk to you .”

“Yes?” Back to confusion.

“Jesus. That’s fucking rich.” Eddie laughs. It’s not a nice laugh, and it doesn’t sound like he actually thinks anything about this is funny.

It sort of sounds like he’s mad, actually. Steve flicks through the options like a phonebook - he’s mad, and he’s mad at Steve for something, but he has no idea why. Steve’s best guess is that he said something mean when he was sick, or. Oh.

“You didn’t have to cancel D&D last week, Eddie. Seriously, I don’t mind missing a session if I have to.”

Eddie finally looks at him. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re angry because I was too sick to play and you canceled the session,” Steve says because it’s the most logical explanation. It’s not totally reasonable, since Steve didn’t ask Eddie to do that, but Steve knows how many shits Eddie gives about this game. It makes sense. “So I want you to know that you don’t have to, next time around.”

“That’s what you think I’m mad about.” It’s not a question. Steve nods anyway. “Fucking hell. You’re insane. You’re actually an insane person. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What the fuck is wrong with me? What the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t see you, like, all week, and you’re all terse for the entire session, and you won’t fucking talk to me!” It explodes out of his chest in a burst, leaving Steve panting.

“Oh, yes, let’s talk about people who won’t talk to each other.” Holy shit. Steve thought Eddie was mad. This isn’t mad. This is fucking fury. “Contestant number one: Steve Harrington. Ladies and Gentlemen, this man was asked more than once by multiple people if he was alright, and did he tell anyone he was sick? No! Did he ask for help? No! Did Joyce Byers have to come and find him, so feverish and dehydrated he doesn’t even know what’s going on? Yes! I don’t want to call it too early, but folks, I think we have a winner on our hands. What’s his prize, you ask? Nothing! Because that’s what you get when you don’t fucking talk to people!”

“Eddie-”

It’s pointless. Eddie’s on a roll. “And everyone’s going to be worried for a while, but they’ll let it go, because our contestant is Steve Harrington, and he’s always fine. He’s the big fucking hero, the tank, always standing brave in the face of danger! Oh yes, he can take a hit, my friends, and take them he does! Nobody seems to have a problem with any of this except for your host, who feels like he’s going fucking insane because he’s the only person who’s fucking scared.”

“You’re scared?”

Eddie collapses into his chair. He runs a restless hand through his wild hair, his rings catching in the tangles. “Of course I’m scared. Steve, you were - it was bad. It was really fucking bad. Hopper wanted to take you to the hospital. Your fever wouldn’t go down and you kept fucking shivering and you were totally delirious the few times you were awake. I thought - fuck. You could’ve died.”

“Shit, man. Imagine surviving all the Upside Down bullshit and getting taken out by the flu. That would’ve been super embarrassing.”

“Don’t.” Eddie shakes his head. “Don’t fucking joke about this, it’s not fucking funny.”

“I thought it would go away,” Steve admits. “Like, I just needed to get some sleep and it would be fine. I didn’t think -”

“That’s your problem. You don’t fucking think about things the right way. You’re so smart about people that it’s scary right up until they care about you, and then you turn into an idiot. Like, you knew I was mad and I was doing a pretty stellar job of hiding that, but you decided it must be because of D&D, and I have no idea what’s so broken in your brain that you can’t figure this shit out, man, I really don’t.”

“I’m not broken.” It comes out more hurt than he means it to.

“Are you sure? Really sure? You better be certain, because this is twice now I’ve seen you nearly fucking beef it because you don’t want to talk to people.”

“Twice?”

“Vecna!” Eddie’s full-on shouting, banging his hands on the table. “You know, the interdimensional wizard that tried to murder your ass?”

“That was almost a year ago!” Flu aside, Steve’s been doing better. He’s happy and excited about life most of the time. He has real friends. He’s trying new things. He’s living well, or he thought he was. “This has nothing to do with Vecna.”

“Max got taken a year ago. Are you over it?” Eddie’s leaning closer, getting in Steve’s face. Steve refuses to back down. “Done worrying about her? You think she’s going to be fine solo?”

“No! That’s different, he actually killed her. He could’ve gone for anyone -”

“But he didn’t. He went for you. Just you. He didn’t even fucking try for anyone else after he let you go. And now there’s this shit, and I can’t do it, Steve. I can’t watch you get yourself killed.”

“I’m not going to die, Eddie. This,” Steve gestures to his body, still pale and weak, “was a one-off. Vecna’s dead.”

“Fuck you, that is not the point. You’re just gonna keep doing this shit, man. Getting sick and not telling anyone, or getting into fights, or throwing yourself between the kids and whatever’s trying to hurt them, and eventually, something’ll hit you hard enough that you stay down. I’ve got you figured out, Steve Harrington. You can’t fucking trick me anymore.”

“I’m not trying to trick you!”

“Aren’t you? It sure as shit feels that way.”

It feels like something is breaking. Like Tina’s Halloween party, 1984, Nancy Wheeler slurring that he’s bullshit.

“I just don’t get why you’re so angry. Like, obviously I didn’t know. You think I want to take time out of everyone’s lives because I’m too fucking pathetic to feed myself?”

“See!” Eddie pokes him in the chest when he points. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You don’t think ‘oh, I didn’t realize I would almost die’, you think ‘I didn’t realize I’d be a burden’. And you don’t even fucking get how hypocritical that is, because you sure as shit don’t treat any of us like that no matter how much of your time we demand.”

“It’s different.”

“It’s not. It’s not different even a little bit. And - you promised me, Steve. You promised that you’d tell me shit.”

When did Steve do that? Oh, right, move-in day. The conversation in the closet is burned into Steve’s mind, Eddie’s face close and dark as he asked Steve to talk to him.

“That - shit.” Eddie’s right, at least about that much. Steve doesn’t break promises. “I’m sorry, that’s on me.”

“I want to ask what you’re sorry for, exactly, but I’m fucking terrified that the answer’s going to be something an insane person would think, so we’re just gonna move on. If you want to make it up to me, Steve, then you can’t do this shit anymore.”

“Okay.” It’s easy enough to agree to.

“I’m serious. I don’t know how you’ve gotten away with this for so long, but it stops tonight. No more lying, no more hiding, no more assuming the worst possible scenario. You have to talk to people. In fact… you should get a therapist. If you say you don’t need one I swear to God I will hit you.”

Ugh. Steve wants to shrivel up and pass away because the idea of going to a therapist once a week is actually painful. Still, Eddie seems serious about this. His big, dark eyes are boring directly into Steve’s.

“Do you think I can go to Max’s, or is that, like, a conflict of interest?” Max has a therapist, assigned by Owens, who knows about all the Upside Down shit. If Steve’s going to be accountable, he might as well go to someone who won’t send him to an asylum for talking about Demodogs.

“We can ask.”

Steve calls Owens the next day to ask about therapy. He gets set up with Dr. Alice Lowenstein every Monday afternoon. Max sees her on Wednesdays.

Eddie drives him to the first session. He sits in the waiting room with Steve, distracting him by making observations about the room, the receptionist, and the other patrons. Steve appreciates the effort.

“Steve Harrington?” Dr. Lowenstein shakes his hand. Her grip is firm and cool. “It’s nice to meet you. Why don’t you come inside?”

Her office is pretty nice. It’s a little minimalistic for Steve’s tastes, with white wood and clear glass tables, but there’s plenty of natural light, which he appreciates. The armchair is pretty comfortable.

She sits down across from him. “Have you ever been to therapy before?”

“No.”

“Well, this is an intake session. You tell me a little bit about your background and what you’re hoping to get out of therapy, and we talk about how I might help you do that. It can take a while for us to find a rhythm that works, and we might not be able to work together at all. It’s okay if that happens - Dr. Owens and I will work to find someone that can help you if I can’t.”

Oh, God, Steve might have to see someone else? This is bad enough as it is. “You already know about my background, right? Owens told you.”

“I don’t want to hear it from Owens. I want to hear it from you.” Her voice is very calm and soothing. It’s low for a woman. Alto, his mother would say. She has blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail and dark brown eyes. She’s pretty in that older, professional woman kind of way.

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Try the beginning,” she suggests.

So Steve does. The whole thing comes tumbling out. Barb disappearing from his pool, Nancy not-cheating, the fight, the Demogorgon. Getting back together with Nancy, Barb’s parents, breaking up again, Dustin forcing his way into Steve’s life. Working at Scoops, meeting Robin, finding the Russians, getting tortured, Billy Hargrove dying. Family Video, going into the Upside Down, Eddie dying, Max falling into a coma. Max waking up, Eddie coming back to life, going back to the Upside Down, Vecna. The basic facts of the past year.

“I see,” is what she says when Steve’s finally finished. “And what are you hoping to get out of therapy?”

Steve shrugs. “I just want my friend to stop being mad at me.”

“Is this the same friend that’s in the waiting room?”

“Yeah. He, uh, after I was sick he got really angry because I don’t talk about my problems, I guess. He won’t forgive me unless I try, so here I am. Trying.”

He’s expecting something. A visible reaction to the fact that Steve doesn’t really want to be here. A raised eyebrow, or furious writing in the little pad she hasn’t touched. She just nods. “Sometimes it’s easier to do things for other people than to do it for ourselves. It sounds to me like that’s something you do a lot - help others.”

“Thanks?” He’s not entirely sure it’s a compliment. She’s so deadpan. “So, uh. What’s the plan?”

“We’ll focus on your experiences with the Upside Down for now. I want you to think about the first time: what you were feeling, why you did the things that you did, and we’ll discuss that next week. And just to be clear, if you have something in particular you’d like to work on or discuss, please let me know. These sessions are about you, Steve.”

“Okay, I understand.” Their two hours are already up - she wanted to give him extra time for his first session. He hopes Eddie’s not too bored.

“So? How was it?” Eddie asks while they’re driving home.

“Fine, I think. I don’t know yet. Max said it took like, three months to feel like it was doing anything.”

“Alright. I’m proud of you, man.”

“Yeah, yeah. She gave me homework, Eds. Like I’m back in school.”

“Seriously?” Eddie’s grinning, his dimples appearing on the corners of his mouth. “That’s kind of hilarious.”

“Oh, eat shit.” Steve’s smiling, too. They’ll be okay.

Steve’s life falls into a rhythm.

He goes to therapy every Monday. He mostly drives himself after the first time. Everyone’s really happy when he tells them he’s started going - Joyce hugs him, Max tells him that it’s about damn time, and Robin insists on helping him with the homework.

He plays D&D on Thursdays. They’re making decent progress on the campaign. Mike’s found a cave where he thinks the missing people are being held, and Erica’s found someone who can translate Abyssal, which is what the papers are written in.

He works at Family Video full-time. Keith doesn’t even give him shit for missing two weeks of work totally unannounced. It’s possible he was threatened - he seems kind of nervous around Steve, especially when Robin’s there.

He still hangs out with his friends as much as he can, especially Eddie and Max, especially as the anniversary gets closer. Max doesn’t take his increased clinginess well.

“Oh my God, just leave me alone, stalker,” she says when Steve walks into her trailer for the third time that week. “I -”

“Know a lawyer, yeah, yeah. Budge up and watch Scooby Doo with me, nerd.”

“You’re the fucking nerd, nerd.”

Eddie doesn’t mind as much. To be fair, Steve already spends most of his free time with Eddie, so it’s not like there’s much of a difference to notice.

Steve’s doing well on the actual day. No bullshit. He wakes up happy, he’s focused at work, he teases Robin about Vickie while making dinner, and he goes to sleep with a smile.

He screams himself awake, Max’s broken body and Eddie eaten alive by bats burning into his retinas. If he were still in his parents’ house, he’d take his nail bat and patrol the woods until dawn and spend the rest of the day dizzy and exhausted. Instead, Steve crawls into Robin’s bed. He curls around her, shaking like a leaf.

“Bad dream, dingus?”

“Yeah. Real bad, Robin.”

She lets him hold her until his heart slows down and sweat stops pricking on his neck. He falls asleep again in the wee hours of the morning, tangled in Robin’s blanket.

She shakes him awake for his shift at around noon. His sleep schedule is totally wrecked, but when isn’t it? He feels groggy but not actively awful, which he considers a win.

He heads to Eddie’s after work. Eddie’s composing something. He goes to put down his guitar and Steve stops him, placing a hand on his arm.

“Keep playing. Please.”

Eddie does. He’s so alive. He’s always moving, always making noise, always doing something. Steve watches his chest expand and contract because Eddie likes breathing even if he doesn’t technically have to, watches the rings on his fingers glint as his hands move on the strings, watches him bite his lip when a chord progression isn’t working the way he wants it to.

“I had a nightmare,” Steve says, keeping his eyes on Eddie’s hands and not his face. Eddie doesn’t falter. Maybe he knows Steve as well as Steve knows Eddie. “About Max. Like, if Vecna got to finish the job. And about you.” Steve takes a deep breath and forces himself to look Eddie in the eyes. “I’m really glad you’re not dead. You’re my best friend, man. I love you.”

“I love you too, Stevie. And because I love you, I won’t tell Robin you said that.”

Steve laughs. It’s enough.

April is rainy and miserable. Whatever Steve had passes to everyone else, although nobody gets it as bad as he did. Half of the party is stuck in bed with minor fevers and coughs. Hell, half the damn county is unwell.

“At least it’s not the Upside Down,” Robin says when the news declares it an epidemic. That’s before she goes down for the count, too.

The high school sets up a soup center. Steve spends his free time cutting up vegetables and stirring massive pots of broth along with the housewives of Hawkins. He’s enough of a presence at these kinds of things that nobody even comments on it.

Eddie has to cancel D&D twice in a row. Every time one member of the party feels better, somebody else falls ill. He complains about it to Steve endlessly. “I’m telling you, Steve-o, it’s a conspiracy. Little Wheeler’s bribing them all so he doesn’t have to figure out how to get out of the caves.”

(Video) Maria Petra Brandal Lonely (Blind audition) The Voice Norway S06

“Mike doesn’t have enough money to bribe Erica.”

Eddie actually seems to consider that. “Okay, fine, she’s actually sick, but the rest of them are fakers.”

Steve snickers. “You gotta be less paranoid, Eds.”

“As you wish, big boy.”

Steve pauses in his chopping. Eddie hasn’t said that since before Steve got sick. Steve hadn’t even realized that he missed it, and now it’s back. He figures that means he’s finally, really forgiven.

It passes as quickly as it came. Wildflowers rip through the hills and Steve’s friends get well again. To celebrate, Steve invites Jonathan, Argyle, Vickie, and Eddie over for dinner. Really, to get so wasted they’re all sick again, but whatever.

Steve fully intends to feed them. He’s making a ginger chicken that he’s hoping will be gentle on their still-weak stomachs and some mashed potatoes. Argyle’s helping him with prep. Robin, as always, is banned from anything that involves sharp edges or fire, so she’s chatting with Vickie. She’s not even really trying to hide their relationship anymore - if Jonathan and Argyle haven’t figured it out, then they’re both stupider than Steve gives them credit for.

He’s watching her flirt and not his peeler. His hand slips and he scrapes his palm. “Shit.” Steve quickly presses a paper towel into his hand. Palm cuts always suck - they bleed like a motherfucker and they sting. “Argyle, can you get me a big bandaid from the top left cabinet? Thanks, man.” Steve lifts the paper towel. Blood instantly wells to the surface. He hears something bang behind him.

Eddie’s standing up. His chair’s landed backward on the floor. He’s got a hand covering his mouth and nose and his eyes are closed. Robin and Jonathan are standing too, hovering nervously. Steve, briefly forgetting about everything except that Eddie’s upset, steps towards them.

The noise Eddie makes is muffled by his hand. It sounds like he’s in pain.

“Eddie? Eds? Are you okay, man?” Eddie’s never seemed affected by being cut off from the Upside Down before, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen. Or maybe something’s going on in the hive mind.

“Hey, Steve, I reaaaaaally think you should clean your hand, man,” Argyle says.

Oh. Right. Maybe his blood smells so awful that it’s making Eddie sick. Steve presses the paper towel back into his palm. The blood’s started running down his hand in his distraction, creating tiny red rivers in the creases. Steve can’t catch all of it: a drop falls and splatters on the floor.

Eddie’s eyes open. They’re bright, deadly red. The red that Steve hasn’t seen since the night Eddie came back, the red that means, to Steve, that it’s not Eddie he’s looking at. His hand falls away from his mouth. He looks fucking starving.

If this were still last August, Steve would be grimly preparing to die. He’d be thinking about how he was right the whole time. He’d be scared, sure, but determined to take the vampire down with him.

Steve’s scared right now, but not for himself. Not really. He’s scared about what this means for Eddie, scared that Eddie is about to do something he’ll regret, but Steve can’t be bothered to be afraid for his own sake.

Eddie takes a step forward. Steve’s thrust back in time. Eddie moved the same way, looked the same way that night. Predator, his hindbrain screams. Run away, run away. Steve’s not fucking running. He looks Eddie dead in his red eyes.

Eddie stops midstep. He’s breathing harshly, desperately. His hands clench and unclench. He whirls around and leaves through the backdoor.

Steve cleans his wound. He makes sure to get every last bit of blood off of his hand and takes special care with the drop on the floor. If smelling blood in his body is like an open door for a restaurant, a cut must be like an aggressive salesperson waving free samples in Eddie’s face. He lets Argyle keep prepping, since Steve’s dexterity is going to be shot, and goes to find Eddie.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Steve,” Jonathan says, stopping Steve with a hand on his shoulder. Steve shrugs it off.

“Oh, are we talking about how Eddie totally wants to eat Steve alive?” Vickie asks. “Because nobody ever mentioned it, so I figured we just weren’t talking about it.” Everyone looks at her. “What? Come on, guys, I’m not stupid. Munson, Monroe. He still lives with his uncle and plays at the Hideout on Tuesdays.” Which, okay, Steve’s thought all of those things himself, but nobody’s ever noticed or said anything, not even the people who hate Eddie. “Is he really a vampire, or just some other kind of carnivore?”

“Vickie,” Robin says, taking her hand.

“Yeah, Rob?”

“I’m in love with you.” She kisses Vickie fully on the mouth. Argyle cheers.

“Oh.” Vickie blushes. “I’m in love with you, too. But, seriously, I have so many questions.”

Steve walks out. Eddie’s pacing around the backyard frantically. Steve can’t help but notice that Eddie’s path cleanly avoids Steve’s garden. Steve opens the back door.

“Stupid,” Eddie mutters, pulling at his hair. “Stupid, stupid fucking asshole. You’ve ruined everything you dumb fucking -”

“Hey,” Steve chides, stepping out and closing the door behind him. “That’s my friend you’re talking about, and I won’t hear you insulting him.”

Eddie swears. “Steve! Listen, I’m really sorry.”

“Uh-huh.” Steve brings himself closer.

“I’m serious! I never wanted to make you feel scared or uncomfortable around me. I swear it’ll never happen again.”

“No offense, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to hurt myself in the kitchen again. It happens. Sharp knives and all that.” Steve’s close enough to touch Eddie. He hasn’t noticed yet, since he’s so determined to look anywhere except Steve.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What you meant doesn’t make sense since nothing happened.” Steve brings his hand to Eddie’s face. Eddie flinches backward, but Steve’s not going to let him retreat. If Steve can’t avoid shit, then Eddie can’t either. He tries again, palm cradling Eddie’s cheek. He guides Eddie’s face to him. Eddie’s eyes, normal, beautiful brown, still won’t meet his own.

“Look at me, Eddie. Please?”

Eddie’s eyes finally move up from staring at his shoes. Eddie’s taller than Steve, but right now Steve feels bigger.

“That’s good. Nothing happened, okay? You got a little hungry and then you got yourself under control. It’s fine.”

“Not fine. I don’t - that first night. I didn’t come to your house looking for help, man. I came because. Because.” Eddie can’t seem to finish his sentence. It’s alright. Steve gets it.

“I know. But you stopped yourself then, and you stopped yourself now. I trust you, Eddie. You gotta trust yourself, too.”

“I’m a monster,” Eddie whispers, voice breaking.

“No, no, don’t say that. Hey, keep looking at me, okay? You’re Eddie Munson. You’re loud, ridiculous, and kind of mean, and you have terrible taste in music. You spend your free time playing the nerdiest game I can imagine with a bunch of children. You’re the furthest fucking thing from a monster.”

Eddie’s crying, big black tears staining his pale face. Steve cups his other cheek, still as gently as he can.

“I was going to tell you that I don’t mind you feeding from me if you want to, but clearly you mind. You wanna tell me why?”

“Don’t wanna hurt you,” Eddie says, pressing his face further into Steve’s hands.

“You can’t, man. You’re not capable of it.”

“But I could. I could hurt you so easily, Steve, you have no idea.”

“So could Robin. So could Dustin. So could a really dedicated duck. That doesn’t make you special. What makes you special is that you won’t, just like I won’t hurt you, even if I could. This, our friendship, has to work both ways, Eds. You’ve given me so much. I’m going to therapy because of you and I don’t even completely hate it. So we’re going to work on this thing, alright? You’re not a monster, and I’m not about to go on letting you think of yourself that way.”

“As -” Eddie sniffles - “as you wish.”

“Good man.” Steve presses his forehead to Eddie’s. Eddie groans and wraps his arms around Steve. They stand there in the setting sun, Steve freezing his ass off because Indiana is cold as fuck in April. Steve lets go of Eddie’s left cheek so that he can stroke his hair. It’s a selfish maneuver - Eddie’s hair is really nice to touch. Eddie clearly doesn’t mind. He just presses closer to Steve, heat-seeking, still crying quietly.

Eventually, Eddie calms down enough to separate. Steve drags him into the bathroom and helps him wipe his face off. He leads Eddie back into the kitchen, where Jonathan is helping Argyle finish their meal.

“You guys okay?” Robin asks.

“Yeah,” Eddie responds. “We’re fine.”

It’s a slightly more somber evening than Steve had planned. Nobody wants to get really wasted anymore, not even Argyle. They all have a couple of drinks and nothing else. Steve glances at Eddie, sitting slightly alone at the end of the table. He turns his hand palm size up and offers his wrist. The table goes silent.

Eddie shakes his head. Steve goes back to his dinner. They’ll work on it.

Steve tells Dr. Lowenstein about it on Monday. “I don’t want to force the issue or anything, but it really seems like he’s avoiding it because he’s scared of himself, which is total bullshit, not because he doesn’t want to.”

“So Mr. Munson’s changes from the Upside Down have been permanent?” She asks. Steve’s heart immediately starts racing. Fuck. Owens had told the government that Eddie would eventually get back to normal, didn’t he? Shit fuck hell damn. If Eddie ends up in a lab it’s going to be all Steve’s fault. “Relax, Steve. Anything you say will stay between us unless I truly believe that you or someone else are in danger. I’m just trying to clarify.”

“Yes, they were.”

“Alright. Now, I think it’s very noble of you to want to help your friend, but it’s not just up to you. As you've become aware, a support system of one, while better than nothing, isn’t enough. Perhaps you could ask Eddie’s other friends for help?” Steve can do that. “In any case, ultimately, your best strategy is the one you’ve already figured out: be there. Reinforce that you aren’t frightened. Let him know that his negative thoughts don’t make him who he is.”

That’s exactly what Steve does. He calls a meeting of the teens and even gets Nancy on the phone and tells them exactly what he thinks about Eddie’s vampire-related paranoia.

“I knew he was scared of himself sometimes, but that’s a lot,” Robin says.

“It’s a psychological issue,” Nancy says, already in solution mode. “Steve’s therapist is right. For the most part, all we can do is let Eddie know that he’s wrong and hope he believes us. Steve, I think you specifically should keep offering to let him drink from you. Don’t be insistent about it, but be persistent, if that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Is that a good idea, though?” Jonathan asks. “Not that I think Eddie’s going to hurt Steve!” He adds when everyone glares at him. “But, I mean, if he really believes that he’s a monster for wanting Steve’s blood, then maybe asking him to have some will just make things worse. Like he’s giving in to temptation.”

“That’s a good point,” Vickie agrees. “We’re trying to do exposure therapy, but we’re not psychiatrists. I’ve read that if you do it wrong you can actually make people more afraid instead of less.”

“People aren’t reasonable when they’re scared,” Nancy says. “Okay, adjustment: not every time you see him, Steve, but every once in a while might be okay. I really want to make him understand that you aren’t afraid.”

That’s the plan and they’re sticking to it. Steve never mentions it around the kids - not because he thinks the kids don’t deserve to know, but because he thinks Eddie’ll freak out if he tries to offer him blood where they can see. Actually, he’s not sure the kids even know at all that Eddie takes blood from the teens sometimes - nobody ever told them, and they’ve never seen it.

Suddenly, Steve feels guilty about it, like they’ve been hiding a part of Eddie from everyone else. It might have made things worse; like, the kids don’t see because they shouldn’t have to see their friend as a monster or whatever. On Thursday, while Eddie’s briefly in another room, Steve leans into the table.

“Just so you guys know, we - the teens - let Eddie drink our blood sometimes.”

“You what?” Dustin asks at the same time Max says “Duh.”

“Raise your hand if you knew this,” Steve says, genuinely curious. Everyone except for Dustin, Mike, and Lucas raises their hands.

“You three are so stupid,” Erica says.

El looks concerned. “It’s obvious, Mike, how did you not know?”

“Because it’s not obvious. Like, at all!”

“It was pretty obvious, babe,” Will teases.

“Ew,” Erica sneers. “No kissing at D&D, it’s in the rules!”

“We’re not playing D&D, though,” El points out, probably hoping to snuggle up with her boyfriend. Abort, abort.

“Yeah, but you’re still at the table, aren’t you?” Steve points out, slightly desperate.

Thankfully, Eddie comes back in after that and prevents any of Steve’s children from engaging in PDA.

It’s weird how much it doesn’t change. Most of the plan hinges around the teens doing things that they already do - hang around with Eddie and let him drink their blood. It’s just more purposeful, more intentional now.

Eddie does seem a little more relaxed, even as the air gets warmer and less comfortable for him. He’s more cheerful, and more willing to make jokes about his vampirism.

But for every step he takes, Steve takes another two back. He’s hit a rut in therapy: they’ve reached the end of his Upside Down adventures, and now Dr. Lowenstein wants to talk about his life beforehand. He doesn’t really see why. There’s nothing interesting about it. Standard asshole jock, standard absent parents.

“I just don’t think it’s super relevant,” he says when they once again get nowhere. “They never hit me or anything like that.”

“Do you believe that physical abuse is the only kind of abuse?”

“No, obviously parents can be super neglectful or cruel. But that’s not what happened. I never wanted anything. I never went hungry, I always got loads of presents. I mean, my dad bought me a 7 Series BMW right after I got my license and those are super expensive.”

She nods, face expressionless. Steve keeps going.

“I’m not going to pretend that they’re perfect or anything. I mean, I haven’t heard from either of them since last August, and they were really distant before that, but so what? They’re just not around much.” They never have been, really. But they’re just busy. They work a lot.

“When was the last time you saw your parents, Steve?”

Steve furrows his brow, thinking. “Let’s see… I haven’t seen my mom since I graduated high school. I haven’t seen my dad since just a little after that, right before I got hired at Scoops. He, uh. Told me to shape up. He was really disappointed that I didn’t get into college.”

“And they don’t know that you’ve moved out?”

“No. I mean, I guess not. Maybe they do and they just don’t care.” Steve’s turning it around in his mind, over and over again. He’s always been mad at his parents for disappearing on him, but he’s never really put that much thought into it. It’s just something they do. But if Will ran away, or El moved out, Joyce and Hopper would notice right away. Mrs. Henderson and the Sinclairs would care. Hell, even the Wheelers, who aren’t the most attentive parents he’s ever met, would realize something was up eventually and go looking.

“Are your parents aware that you’re no longer living in their house?”

“I left a note. I don’t know if they’ve been back or not.”

“And do you believe that they might choose not to see or speak to you again?”

Steve takes a long time to answer that. It’s not that he doesn’t know the answer, because he does. It’s that he doesn’t want to admit it. If he admits it, that makes it real. It’s not just a thought in his head anymore. It’s something that someone else knows.

The clock ticks. Steve sits there silently, not answering and trying not to think too hard. Eventually, she sighs. “That’s all the time we have for today. Your assignment for the week is to think about what I’ve asked you and try to have an answer by our next session.”

Steve nods robotically. He heads to the door, pauses with his hand on the knob. “Yeah.” His voice cracks. “I do believe that.” He leaves.

He heads back home. He and Robin watch Top Gun, Robin complaining the whole time that it’s such a boy movie. The beach scenes are really something. Tom Cruise’s naked chest feels weird, the same way Bowie’s tight pants in Labyrinth feels weird, the same way Eddie’s general existence feels weird. The thing crawling up his back, the thing he wants and cannot name, looms, ever-present, getting closer all the time. He’s afraid and doesn’t know why.

The world gets warmer. Nancy is coming home for summer break at the end of the month. He’s excited for Jonathan’s sake. Excited for his own sake, too. He’s missed her. Not like he would miss Robin or Eddie because he’d miss those two like a limb, but like he would miss Argyle or Jonathan. She’s so much more fun to hang out with when they’re not dating.

Jonathan’s going to drive her home from the airport, which Ted Wheeler only allows because it means he doesn’t have to go all the way to Indianapolis and back. Mrs. Wheeler thinks it’s sweet that her daughter’s boyfriend loves her so much.

Robin comes home one day and barrels right into him. “I have two super important things to tell you,” she says. “Number one: Keith’s leaving. His dad got some promotion and now his whole family’s moving to the city. Which means that you are now looking at the owner and proprietor of Family Video.”

“Holy shit, Robin! Congrats!”

“I’m promoting you to shift manager and also accountant, by the way.”

Steve blinks. “I’m bad at math,” he says.

“No, you’re just dyslexic. If the numbers are big enough and you’ve got time you’re better at it than I am.” Since when is Steve dyslexic? That seems like something he should know about. Robin just keeps going like nothing happened. “Anyway, the second thing is something I have to ask you more than tell you, but I’m really hoping you’ll agree.”

“What’s up?”

“I want to ask Vickie to move in with me. Us, really, since you’re here too.”

“Oh, shit, really? That’s great, Robin! She’ll definitely say yes. I’m really happy for you.”

“Thanks, Steve.” She gives him a quick hug. “I’m gonna go ask her.”

“What, like right now?”

“Yes, now!”

Vickie moves in with them, and Nancy comes home. Nobody seems to care that Steve’s living with two women and clearly isn’t sleeping with either of them. It’s pretty great, all told.

His therapy is progressing, too. He’s finally able to admit that his parents definitely fucked him up but good, but now they’ve reached another hurdle: the Vecna problem.

“Why do you think Vecna went for you, rather than any of your friends?”

“I don’t know!” Steve says for what feels like the millionth time. “I get that I have issues, but so does everyone else. There’s nothing specific about mine to make me a target.”

“Alright,’ she says soothingly. “Let’s take a step back. Why did Vecna choose Max?”

“Max was more vulnerable than the others. Billy died and she thought it was her fault. But that’s exactly what I’m saying, I don’t have any of that stuff.”

“Try to focus on Max, Steve. What was it about her trauma that made her easy for Vecna to target?”

Steve leans back in the comfortable armchair and stares at the ceiling. “She pulls away. She doesn’t ask for help, especially if she thinks she deserves it.” His breath leaves him all at once. “She thinks she deserves it.” He already knew this on some level - he read Max’s letter, and he heard about her talking to Vecna. Hell, she even talked to him about it that one time, and what did he think disappearing meant, exactly? What did he think made him so uncomfortable while watching It's A Wonderful Life? “She wanted to die. Oh my God, I wanted to die, holy shit.” Eddie was right: Steve is an insane person.

“I believe so, yes. Most people in the world experience guilt, fear, shame, and pain. If Vecna only needed trauma to kill, then he would’ve chosen someone easier than people who know how to fight him. Instead, he chose Max. He chose you. Which means, to me, that he requires something more.”

“How the hell can I want to die and not even know it?” Steve groans, scrubbing his hands on his face.

“The human brain is a very complicated organ. It’s trying to protect itself. Sometimes denial is part of that protection, although it’s not a healthy part. For your homework, I want you to try and consider the things you might be in denial about. What thoughts are you avoiding?”

Steve goes home. He thinks about it while waiting for the shower to heat up, and he thinks about it while washing his hair, which takes a long fucking time. He remembers feeling empty all those months ago, how he wouldn’t cry until Max woke up, even when he was sad. He remembers being tired all the time like he wanted to sleep for a year. For forever, really.

He doesn’t think he wants to die right now, is the thing. Life is good, mostly, even when he has a long day at work or Robin’s mad at him for stealing her ice cream. He’s got all of his friends, and all of these plans, and he doesn’t want to miss out on them.

And then there’s Eddie. Steve’s been obsessed with the idea of being fed on. Is that just, what, an attempt at self-harm? Steve sacrificing himself for his friends?

That doesn’t feel exactly right to him. Eddie wouldn’t hurt Steve in a million years. It’s not risky or dangerous or even particularly painful. Jonathan says it’s just like giving blood - a tiny pinch, and then it’s mostly just pressure, a presence, unignorable but not harmful.

The worst anyone’s ever felt after feeding Eddie was the time Nancy was a little too dehydrated. She felt woozy for about five minutes, but Argyle gave her some orange juice and she was fine after that.

Steve likes feeding his people, and Eddie’s one of his people. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

Speaking of Eddie, the poor bastard practically lives in Steve and Robin’s house right now. “The trailer AC’s busted,” he says, draped on the couch. “It’s too fucking hot in there for May.”

This means that Steve ends up spending a lot of alone time with Eddie, even more than usual.

It’s fun, like always, even when they’re not actively doing stuff together. Eddie will hang out by the window playing his guitar while Steve gardens, or Steve will work on the Family Video accounts while Eddie works on his campaign notes.

Which isn’t to say that they don’t do stuff together, too. Eddie finally finishes reading The Return of the King on a rainy Saturday afternoon. He closes the book with a sense of finality.

“So, I have to ask. Aragorn and Arwen or Eowyn and Faramir?”

Steve hums in consideration. “Eowyn and Faramir, definitely. Not that Aragorn and Arwen aren’t great and all, but they’re a bit untouchable, you know? Although, if you’re really asking about my favorite relationship…” Steve trails off.

“What? Oh, you want me to guess, I see.” Eddie clasps his hands together, as if in prayer, and lifts them to his mouth. “Alright, I’ve got it. Sam and Frodo.”

Steve laughs. “Close, but no. Not that they’re not sweet. Those two kind of remind me of Mike and El and Mike and Will, actually.”

“Oh, same here. Well, come on, don’t leave me hanging.”

“Legolas and Gimli.”

Eddie’s smile could power the sun. “Are you serious right now?”

“Absolutely. I mean, it’s a great enemies-to-lovers arc, right? Right off the bat, they hate each other because of things they’ve been told, but they realize that none of that stuff is true after all. And then they realize that they actually have a lot in common, and their differences just make them fit better. They’re good for each other, too. Gimli is this princely, serious, poetic guy, but Legolas makes him have fun and be playful. And Legolas is kind of irresponsible, and Gimli makes him step up. Plus, Legolas isn’t like Arwen. He doesn’t get to pick. He’s just going to watch Gimli grow old and die, and he sticks around anyway, even if it’s going to end up hurting him.” Steve’s really emotional about that part, actually. It’s too sad, too tragic for his usual tastes, but there’s something sort of lovely about it.

If Eddie’s smile before could power the sun, this one could light every star in the sky. “Actually, in The Silmarillion, Tolkein says that Legolas takes Gimli with him to the Undying Lands eventually.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah. Apparently, their love for each other is just too epic to pass up. They’re, uh, actually my favorite couple, too.”

“Nice.” Steve high-fives him. “Shit, I have to say, I’m kind of sad that it’s over. What’s this Silmaron thing? Maybe we could read that next?”

“Most people don’t bother. They think it’s boring or just disjointed,” Eddie warns.

“Fuck most people. Come on, I want to hear it.” Plus, then Steve gets to sit and let Eddie’s cool voice wash over him. The guy should get a radio show or something, he’s really soothing.

“As you wish, Steve, as you wish.”

They don’t always just do what Eddie wants, of course. The Top 40’s station plays when they’re together just as often as the metal one. When they can’t decide on one or the other, they compromise. Bowie, always. Queen. Sometimes T. Rex, which is a little heavy for Steve and a little too basic for Eddie, but they both agree Bolan had some great hair.

On the first really warm day, Steve makes Eddie come with him to the quarry to swim. He can’t swim in Lover’s Lake anymore, for obvious reasons, but he’s got no trauma around the quarry. They watch stupid movies that Steve likes: Top Gun and Terminator, which Eddie argues are super nerdy, and the romantic John Hughes movies that Robin can’t stand.

Eddie doesn’t like Grease or The Breakfast Club. “Sandy and the Basket Case have to change who they are to get love,” he says, hands reaching into Steve’s space while he talks. “Like, if Danny really loved Sandy, he’d accept that she’s a pink-wearing preppy babe. If the Brain really liked the Basket Case, he would accept that she’s a totally bitchin’ outcast, you know? It’s not fair to either of them.”

Steve laughs.

“I’m not joking, man, it’s unhealthy.” Eddie levels a playful glare at him and kicks his leg.

“No, it’s just funny, because I was thinking the same thing. Like, I used to love those movies, but now it’s like… if you really love someone, you shouldn’t have to change who you are to be with them, right? Like, I love Robin, and I’m happy to watch her weird French art house movies, but I’m never going to pick that. Or I love you, so I’ll go to the Hideout, but I’m never gonna be a metalhead.”

“Exactly!” Eddie pulls himself closer to Steve and tangles their arms together. “Also, if you wanna come to one of my shows, you can just come. Seriously, anytime.”

“That’s not an invitation, Eds.” Steve pushes Eddie gently in the chest. Eddie flops back into the couch with a wounded cry.

“Agh! I’ve been hit! Betrayed, even, by my closest friend and ally!”

Steve cackles. “You’re fucking ridiculous.”

Eddie sits back up with a toothy grin, dimples out in full force. “If we are to be enemies, then enemies it must be. I am sorry, old friend.” He grabs a pillow and starts hitting Steve with it. Steve tries to defend himself, but Eddie’s got a head start, so it’s a loser’s game. He ends up curled in the corner, laughing his ass off, while Eddie whacks him with the pillow.

“Stop! I surrender, I surrender!”

Eddie stops. “Now that my enemy has been defeated, I must demand recompense for their past ills.”

“You already won,” Steve groans. “What more could you possibly want?”

“Why, the hand of the fairest princess in your lands, of course.” Eddie’s smile softens and he switches back to his normal voice. “Which is to say, you gotta come to our show, Stevie.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll come. I was going to go anyway, dude, you didn’t have to do all that.”

“Nah, I gotta.”

“I’m stealing your jeans, though. I don’t think I own a black pair.”

Eddie’s eyes brighten. His cheeks go gray. “As you wish, man.”

Steve goes to the show, of course. He’s put on his singular black tank top and his only pair of black boots, but the rest of his outfit is borrowed, mostly from Eddie. Eddie’s jeans are just this side of too long and too tight for Steve. Eddie’s battle vest, of course. One of Eddie’s bandanas is tied loosely around his neck. Vickie, when she heard where he was going, insisted on putting eyeliner on him.

“It’ll really make them pop,” she’d said. Steve doesn’t know if he wants his eyes to pop, but most of the guys here are wearing makeup, so he’s glad that he let her. He’d hate to be the odd one out.

He’s also brought some earplugs. Steve loves Eddie, but he’s not stupid. Migraines and metal are not the best combo.

Corroded Coffin comes out to whoops and cheers. It’s a pretty big crowd - Eddie undersold them. They start playing right away. Steve guesses they probably don’t get a lot of time to chat with the audience.

Eddie in particular looks great, alive on stage. He’s lit from within as he starts strumming, a wild electric current reaching from him to Steve. He’s got eyeliner on, too, and some eyeshadow, and it looks totally badass. Steve’s pretty sure the pants are from his Bowie costume, all tight and leather. His hair, which Steve would normally describe as wild, is absolutely feral.

Eddie probably gets all kinds of dudes flirting with him after these shows, Steve realizes. It’s a weird thought. Stupid homophobic brain, Eddie can kiss whoever he likes.

Steve recognizes most of the songs, actually. Eddie’s always playing something on his guitar, after all, and even if he doesn’t exactly say Steve can tell the difference between Eddie’s stuff and covers. Eddie and Gareth trade off singing. In Steve’s personal opinion, Eddie sounds way better: smooth and low, even when he’s screaming.

Steve can’t understand half of what they’re saying, but he gets the picture. There’s a lot of stuff about killing the monster and being the monster, which, alright. Steve doesn’t think that Eddie’s a monster, but music is a good way to cope with complicated emotions, right? That might be fine.

One song towards the end of the show is just a little different from the others. It’s a little slower, a little sadder. Wistful, Steve thinks. Eddie gets into the mic, regaling them with a story of someone beautiful, someone precious and necessary, someone the narrator loves but can’t be with.

It’s Eddie’s guy. The guy that Eddie likes, the one he thinks can’t like him back. February feels like a decade ago. Steve thinks, if this guy were in the audience, he’d fall for Eddie on the spot.

Steve stands up straight and tries to pay attention to the lyrics. The slower beat of the song helps with that. Eddie doesn’t go much into physical appearance - a rockin’ bod and great hair is all he says - but the personality gets a highlight. Funny, smart, kind, always willing to try new things. It’s really sweet.

Steve doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of the show. He’s too busy thinking about every guy he’s ever seen Eddie interact with. They spend so much time together, so Steve has to have at least seen him, right? Maybe it’s one of the guys in the band. Gareth has decent hair, although he doesn’t know if Eddie would see things that way. Eddie thinks his eternally tangled ponytails are just fine.

Steve’s so obsessed with it he almost misses the finale. Gareth tosses Eddie the mic one last time. Eddie paces across the stage.

“You’ve been a great audience. There’s one more song we’d like to play for you all. It’s not our usual fare, but it’s for someone pretty special, so I hope you’ll indulge me.”

And then the opening chords start up, and Steve instantly recognizes Heroes. He has to laugh. Eddie’s such a fucker. How long has he been working on this, just on the off-chance Steve would show up someday?

Eddie’s a really good singer, even when his voice must be strained as hell from all that yelling. Professionally, Bowie’s better, but, well. Eddie did this for him. So Steve’s always going to like this version more. If Vecna showed up right now, he wouldn’t even register. This is his favorite song. His perfect memory.

Eddie and the band stream offstage. The band fades into the crowd after waving at Steve, probably to find dates or get some drinks. Eddie sticks to Steve, finding a wall to stand against.

“So? How’d you like it?” Eddie’s picking at his nails, painted black, of course. He’s doing the thing where he pretends he’s not nervous.

“It was good!” Steve assures quickly. He doesn’t want Eddie to spend literally any amount of time thinking Steve didn’t have fun. “I didn’t get half of it, but you’re a good singer. Yeller. Whatever.”

“Thanks.” Eddie’s cheeks have gone gray again. Steve’s figured out by now that that’s his version of a blush, which is fucking adorable. Especially when he’s dressed all badass for the show. It’s a cute contrast. “We’re, uh, working on an EP right now, actually. I figure if it’s any good we could do a tour, open for some bigger bands. The usual.”

Steve frowns. Eddie frowns back. “I mean, that’s cool, for sure, you should definitely do it. I’ll just miss you when you’re gone. You’ll have to write me letters like I’m some kind of wife waiting for her husband to return from war.”

“Aw,” Eddie coos, knocking his shoulder into Steve’s. He stays there, cool against Steve’s heat. “You know you’re my best lady, Stevie. I promise I won’t fall in with any sexy French maids.”

“No sexy French butlers, either. Or Spanish matadors.” Steve’s admittedly lost the metaphor.

“Yeah, okay, as you wish. Spanish matadors aren’t exactly my type, anyway.”

Steve’s still thinking about that song, which is why he asks, “what is your type?” His dumb homophobic brain needs to understand that Eddie likes guys. Exposure therapy, right?

Eddie hums. He tips his head back, exposing the pale line of his throat. Steve sort of feels like the vampire between the two of them, obsessed with necks and all.

“Tall,” he says. “Long legs. Thick thighs, so they can climb me like a tree.” He sends Steve a wink. Steve laughs obligingly, even as his face heats and his stomach swoops. “Sweet, too, maybe even a little bit shy. Good conversationalist. Uh, nice hair. Especially if it’s all styled and shit so I can mess it up. Not necessarily as long as mine, but I’m a puller, y’know? A biter too, that’s not even a vampire thing, so they have to be okay with hickies and shit. There’s a few other things, but that’s most of it.”

Steve’s trying to picture him, Eddie’s version of an Adonis, all fucked out and shit. He feels bad. Really bad. Stupid, stupid brain. He thinks Robin and Vickie are kind of gross, but in the same way he thought Carol and Tommy were kind of gross. Like, even if you love them, couples are always a little disgusting when you’re not one of the people in them. So why can’t he feel the same way about Eddie and his guy? Why can’t he be happy for him, or sad that it won’t work, instead of trying to blow whoever it is up with his mind?

Steve doesn’t say any of that shit. It’ll make him sound even more insane than usual. “So is that what your guy is like? The one your song’s about?”

“You caught that, huh? Yeah, he’s like that. He’s a lot of things, really. The, uh, the boys don’t really know it’s about a guy. Not that I’m in the closet, but. I don’t know. I’ve written sex songs before.” Eddie stops there. Steve can hear, even without him saying it, the words “but never a love song”.

“Would I like him?” Steve thinks that, even if they would normally get along fine, he’ll hate this mystery guy on sight.

“No, actually. You really, really wouldn’t. It’d be a whole thing. I’d probably get mad at you about it.”

“What kind of lover can’t get along with your best friend? That’s the real reason why you can’t date him, Eds. I have to approve of all your boyfriends.” Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s a mystery. If Steve got to scope things out beforehand, then that would be fine. Like setting Robin up with Vickie.

“As you wish, but I’ll warn you, it’s a lengthy task. It’ll probably last the rest of your life.”

The rest of his life sounds good to Steve.

June’s properly hot. Steve’s dragged to the quarry and the pool what feels like every other day. He gets a terrible sunburn that Dustin just will not let go.

“You are literally always getting on me about sunscreen, Steve. How can you let yourself burn like a lobster?”

Steve considers it. “That’s a good point, actually. Maybe you should remind me about sunscreen in the future so I don’t forget again.”

Dustin takes to it like he’s being fucking paid to do it. Every hour, on the hour, Dustin demands Steve put on more sunscreen. It’s so Dustin: sweet, pretentious, and extremely annoying. Steve fucking loves this kid.

Even with sunscreen, Max burns, and then she gets so many freckles she’s more freckle than skin.

“It’s ‘cause you’re ginger,” Erica teases.

“I like your freckles, Max,” Lucas says. “They’re like connect-the-dots.” He kisses one on her nose. Erica shrieks in protest.

Eddie can’t go out much. Even when he’s laying in the pool it’s a little too hot for him, and it’s only going to get hotter.

“I gotta move to Alaska, man,” he says, trying and failing to fan himself. He’s got more skin on display than usual, just swim trunks and a tank top on. His tattoos reach all the way into his shoulders and behind his back. Steve catches sight of one on his hip every time he raises his arms. It’s more contrast, Eddie’s extra-pale skin and the dark tattoos. Steve’s always liked contrast. “Fucking Russia, maybe. Or I’ll just bury myself in the arctic.”

“Or we could just go to the indoor pool in Richmond,” Steve suggests.

“That’s like an hour away, though. I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You can and you will. Don’t complain.” Eddie still drives Steve to therapy and back sometimes, and he never lets Steve say shit about that.

“As you wish, I guess.”

Their campaign keeps going. They’re about to hit a climax - the papers reveal that Netherbrace is secretly a lich and that he kills the nobleman in order to extend his own lifespan. Steve and the kids spend the session working out a plan to trap and kill him - liches are super powerful, according to Mike, so they have to be careful.

Argyle somehow convinces Eden’s Father to let her hang out in Hawkins for a couple of days. She stays with the Byers, just like Argyle. Steve and Eddie end up paired off even more than before, what with Nancy home and all.

Jonathan drags them to an amusement park in mid-June. It’s packed with small children screaming and their exhausted parents trailing behind them.

Every ride is two people per seat, so the order is always the same: Nancy and Jonathan in the front because they’re badasses with no fear. Argyle and Eden are up next because they’re too chill to care one way or the other where they end up. Then Vickie and Robin always face the coasters with the air of someone heading to their execution. Finally, Steve and Eddie end up in the last car.

Every time, Eddie will shoot him a smirk and say, “don’t worry, big boy, I won’t mind if you make noise.” Every time, Steve will scoff and roll his eyes. Every time, Steve will inevitably lose his shit and shriek, and grab Eddie’s offered hand as tightly as he can.

“I just don’t get it,” Robin says while they’re in line to get ice cream. “You can face down Demodogs and Russians like a total badass, but the second you ride a roller coaster or watch a mildly scary movie you lose your mind.”

“Maybe you’re just a big chicken,” Nancy adds serenely.

“Bawk bawk bawk,” Vickie squawks.

“Oh, you’re all so hilarious. You guys gonna take this show on the road anytime soon? Seriously, don’t wait up.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you watch a horror movie,” Jonathan says contemplatively. “Is it actually that funny?”

“Oh, it is. Every single jumpscare gets this dingus, even when I literally tell him that there’s about to be a jumpscare.” It’s true - the last time Steve watched a horror movie with Robin, she warned him before every scare, and Steve still flipped out. “You know what he’s like, right, Munson?”

“Nope,” Eddie says, spritzing himself with a small spray bottle. He can’t even sweat anymore to keep cool. Steve’s thought it before, but he really is a poor undead bastard.

Argyle, who’s barely paying attention to the conversation in favor of making heart eyes at Eden, finally tunes in. “But you two dudes hang out all the time,” he points out.

“Plus, you love horror movies, Eddie,” Jonathan says.

“Yeah, but Steve doesn’t,” like it’s that simple. Steve grins and throws his arm around Eddie’s shoulders.

Robin and Vickie coo. Steve shoves Robin’s face back with a scowl.

Steve doesn’t exactly let it go. He doesn’t let it go so much that he talks about it in therapy.

“I just don’t get why I can’t, I guess. Like, I’ve literally fought actual monsters, but Gremlins freaks me out. It’s not even real!”

“Perhaps that’s the difference. In a truly high-stress situation, you can keep it together, but you have no other choice. It’s possible that you recognize the situation as safe enough to allow yourself to be afraid.” Dr. Lowenstein’s dark, serious eyes bore into his skull. Sometimes he wonders what she really sees when she looks at him.

“So… I’m scared because I’m safe?”

“It’s possible. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you need to watch these movies. It's perfectly alright to live without fear,” she says because Steve kind of has a thing about doing what he thinks is normal or correct.

He thinks about it while driving home. He actually pulls over at one point so he can sit on his hood and smoke. If Dustin catches the scent he’s going to go ballistic. He tries not to think about the last time he had a cigarette, about how convinced he was that Eddie was a monster.

Eddie is the crux of the thing. Steve’s found a way to enjoy all kinds of things he never thought he’d be into because of Eddie. He’s not changing, but he is growing: he’d never play Dungeons and Dragons with some random group because it’s not about the game, not for Steve. It’s about the kids, and it’s about Eddie, about spending time with them and sharing the things they love. He’d never have chosen to watch Star Wars, but Eddie made sure he understood it, and now he knows that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

He’s watched horror movies with all of his other friends, but never with Eddie. Maybe that’ll change something. Steve puts out his cigarette and drives to Family Video.

He heads straight to the horror section, standing with his hands on his hips as he scans the tapes. Robin’s raising an eyebrow at him from her spot at the counter.

“What’re you looking for, dingus?”

“Something to watch. Duh.”

Robin hops over the counter and walks over to him. “I don’t think you’ll like any of these,” she tells him because she might tease him but she’s still his best friend, his other half.

“I know. I want to try.”

Robin looks at him for a long moment before smiling. “Alright.” She grabs his wrist and drags him to the counter. “We just got something in the other day, an advance copy. I think you’ll have better luck with it.” She rings him up for something called Evil Dead II. “It’s still horror, but it’s sort of a comedy, too. Also, Eddie fucking loves Evil Dead, he’s obsessed with it.”

Steve frowns at her. “I didn’t say I was going to watch it with Eddie.”

She just looks unimpressed. “Steve, my beloved dingus, there’s no universe where you’re getting this so you can watch it with Argyle .” Sometimes being Platonic Soulmates means that Robin really gets him right when he wishes that she didn’t. He doesn’t know why he’s embarrassed about this - he’s just watching a movie with his friend - but he is. It feels like a secret.

Steve heads out to Eddie’s, movie firmly in hand. He pounds on the door to Eddie’s trailer. Wayne finally fixed their busted AC, so going inside feels like walking into an ice box.

“Afternoon, Steven,” Wayne greets, clutching a steaming mug of coffee. Steve might not be able to drink the stuff anymore, but he likes the smell, especially Wayne’s coffee.

“Hi, Wayne. Is Eddie in his room?”

Wayne sighs. “Yep. He’s in some kind of funk, won’t say why.” He glances up at Steve and a smile forms. “Hell, maybe you’ll get him out of it.”

Eddie is in a funk. He’s even more restless than usual - picking up his composition book and throwing it down, strumming a few chords and abruptly stopping, running his hands through his hair every five seconds. His room looks like Hurricane Eddie came through, clothes thrown on every possible surface and strewn on the floor.

“Hey, man.”

Eddie’s big, dark eyes shoot up. His smile is manic. “Steve-o! What’s up?”

“Wanna watch a movie?” Steve asks, holding up the VHS like a prize. Eddie gasps.

“Is that - holy shit, I thought it was still in theaters.”

“It’s an advance copy. Thank Robin, not me, I didn’t even know we had it.”

Eddie whoops. He runs out of the room and comes back lugging the Munson TV, VHS player balanced precariously on top. He doesn’t even look winded or like he’s putting any effort into it. Steve forgets, sometimes, how strong Eddie actually is. Mostly because of the sheer amount of work Eddie puts into making himself gentle, keeping himself under control.

Steve experiences a brief vision of Eddie losing that control - wild-eyed and sharp-toothed, grip so hard it bruises, maneuvering - before shaking it out of his head.

Steve sits on the edge of the bed. Eddie throws himself down right next to him, bouncing with excitement.

The movie’s fucking terrifying, of course. Steve jumps right out of his skin every time anything even remotely surprising happens. He’s lucky Eddie’s so cool with physical touch - Robin does not appreciate it when Steve tries to move into her bones when they watch something scary. He holds Eddie’s hand, clutches his upper arm, and even hides his face on Eddie’s shoulder. Eddie never complains: he holds Steve right back, an arm wrapping around Steve’s back or gripping Steve’s hand just as tightly.

It’s not bad, even if Steve is probably going to have nightmares. That decapitation scene will feature heavily. But it’s sort of funny, too. Bruce Campbell sticking a chainsaw on his arm is gory as shit, but it’s also so ridiculous that Steve cackles with laughter.

It’s such an Eddie movie, of course he likes it. It’s scary at first, sure, but it’s silly, too, just like him.

Eddie gets super into it, too. He says the lines with the characters, pauses every couple of minutes to explain how they managed to make this or that effect work, and provides a running commentary on the director’s other films. Apparently, Raimi is Eddie’s favorite guy, like, ever.

“I mean, I get the love for Carpenter. The Thing is beyond terrifying, and Michael Myers will always hold a special place in my heart, but Raimi’s really cool, you know? He knows when to take things seriously and when to let the joke ride.”

Steve nods. Eddie’s been talking basically non-stop for the past five minutes. Steve’s not annoyed: his best friends are Robin Buckley and Dustin Henderson. He’s used to people talking at him. And it’s nice when Eddie does it. He likes seeing Eddie get excited about stuff.

“So, anyway, how did you like it?” Eddie says, looking at Steve like if he answers wrong Eddie will cry.

“I mean, I’m never going to love any horror movie, but that was pretty alright. It was fun to watch you watch it, man.”

Eddie laughs. “Good.” His face grows more serious. “Hey, uh, thanks. I don’t know if Wayne told you, but I’ve been feeling a little off lately, and this helped a lot.”

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

Eddie flops down into his bed, facing the ceiling. Steve follows, of course, but he’s facing Eddie.

“It’s stupid.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“It’s June,” Eddie starts, then stops. His lips thin.

“Yeah, Eds, I know what month it is.”

“No, like. It’s June, and usually, that would mean I head to Indianapolis for a week. You know, to do gay stuff.”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Gay stuff, right. Robin’s said that there’s usually some kind of march, right?”

“Yeah, a bunch of queers get together and yell in the streets, it’s great.”

Steve nods. Not his thing, but he gets how Eddie would like it. “So why aren’t you going?”

“‘S too hot,” Eddie says. “Like, actually, it’s supposed to be over 90 degrees, and I can’t go out in that kind of heat anymore. And, like, I knew I was a vampire, an Upside Down creature, but. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s stupid.”

“Doesn’t sound stupid to me.” Steve knows now about Eddie’s total aversion to his Upside Down nature. To Eddie, the fact that he can’t do this thing that he always does is just another reminder of all the ways he’s no longer the same guy. “What else would you do in Indy? Like, obviously there’s gay stuff besides just standing out in the sun.”

“Oh, yeah, I’d always find some guys to fuck, but I can’t really do that anymore either.”

Steve frowns. “Why not?”

“The guy,” Eddie explains. “I’d just be looking for someone… like him. And that’s not fair to anyone.”

After Nancy, Steve kept trying and trying to get another girl. Any girl at all, it didn’t matter. He fell for Robin, because Steve’s a dumb straight boy that mistook friendship for genuine sexual attraction, but also because she reminded him of Nancy. She was smarter than him, like Nancy, and she teased him, like Nancy, and she had big soft eyes, like Nancy. If Robin hadn’t been a lesbian and had been interested, they would’ve crashed and burned, because Steve wouldn’t have seen Robin. He’d only have seen Nancy.

So yeah, Steve gets that. “You’ve got it pretty bad for this guy, huh?”

Eddie turns on his side and looks at Steve. His eyes look so dark, a pit that Steve could just fall into forever. “Yeah,” he whispers. “It’s a little pathetic, to be totally honest with you.”

“So why can’t you date him?”

“He’s so straight, Stevie. So very tragically heterosexual. A guy could spend a year flirting with him and he wouldn’t even notice.”

That sounds pretty specific. Has Eddie really been into the same person for that long? “He sounds too dumb for you, Eds.”

“He’s not,” Eddie defends instantly, which is so sweet it makes Steve want to barf.

“No, seriously. Like, if he’s straight, he’s straight, that’s fine, but he’d have to be a real fucking idiot not to notice the way you feel about him. Every time you talk about him you get all moony-eyed and shit. It’s adorable.” It’s disgusting. Steve kind of hates it. Kind of wants it to stop.

Eddie just hums in response.

“Why can’t you move on from him? I mean, if you’re really sure that he doesn’t like you and there’s no shot, then you have to try, right?” Steve has no particular investment in Eddie’s answer. None. At. All.

“I have, Stevie. You have no idea how hard I’ve tried. But every single time I think, that’s it, I’m over him, he’ll say something, or do something, or just exist , and then I’m right back where I started. He’s just - he’s it, for me. Even if I never talk to him again there’s always going to be a part of me that’s - that likes him.”

That’s in love with him. Eddie’s really, fully in love. Jesus Christ.

“What about you? I mean, I know we talked about it in February, but you really haven’t wanted to date at all? Not even a little bit?”

Steve nods. He still flirts with the occasional girl, but he hasn’t used any of the numbers he’s gotten. He’s just not that interested. It’s like when he was obsessed with Nancy, and every other woman ceased to exist for two years. But he’s not trying to date anybody at all, so he has no idea why he doesn’t care anymore.

“Well, shit,” Eddie snorts, curling his hand on Steve’s bicep, “sounds like we’re both going to be single forever, Steve-o.”

“Single bros for life,” Steve agrees. “Hey, can I sleep here? I don’t really feel like getting up.”

“Ah, I see how it is. You worm your way into my home just to steal my bed. Eddie the Banished takes the couch.”

“We can share, dude, I’m not kicking you out of your own bed. Besides, you’re comfy.” Steve tucks his face right into Eddie’s chest to make his point. Eddie stiffens. “Seriously, man, relax. You’re not being a good pillow right now.”

Eddie sighs. He sounds exhausted. His other hand brushes through the hair on the back of Steve’s neck, which is nice. “As you wish, Steve.”

Jonathan and Nancy are over at Steve and Robin’s place. Eddie’s there, too, in solidarity, because if Steve has to spend his whole night being the fifth wheel he’ll scream.

Steve’s chopping up some tomatoes for a salad when the phone rings. He places the knife down and picks up the phone.

“What’s up?” He asks, expecting Argyle or maybe one of the kids. Dustin likes to call sometimes just to talk about his latest projects.

“Is that how you answer the phone?” His mother’s distinctly disapproving voice comes over the line. Steve freezes. “Honestly, Steven, I raised you better than that.”

She didn’t, actually, María Elizabeth did, but Steve doesn’t say that.

(Video) Bill Frisell When You Wish Upon A Star

“Now, then, why aren’t you at home?”

“My note, didn’t you -”

“Yes, yes, I’ve read it. Your father and I have been talking, and he’s agreed to get you a job in his office. A low position in sales to start off, but he believes that you can work your way up. You’ll move out of whatever rat-infested apartment you’re in now and come home.”

“What?” Steve asks. His mother just keeps going like he didn’t say anything.

“You also need to stop dating these ridiculous girls. I’ve heard things about this Robin woman. She is not someone that can take our name, Steven. I’ll set you up with someone proper, perhaps Stacy’s daughter. She goes to Harvard.”

“What?”

“Do try to keep up. Now, your father’s office is in the city, so you’ll have to move out of Hawkins to work there. Your father and I have an apartment picked out for you. You’ll have to pay for it yourself eventually, but for now he’s willing to help, but only if you put in the effort, Steven. This is your last chance.”

“My last chance to do what?”

“To make something of yourself, of course. You can’t work at this minimum wage job for the rest of your life and date girls like Robin, Steven. Do you have any idea what your father said when he realized you were living with a dyke?”

And just like that it’s easy. “Fuck you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I haven't lived in that house for over six months and you just now noticed? Fuck you. I’m not leaving and I’m not working at dad’s shitty fucking office.”

“Steven Richard Harrington, you will apologize for speaking to me that way right now. I am your mother and you will treat me with respect.”

“Nope, actually, I won’t. Don’t call here again. Don’t ever fucking talk to me again. We’re done.” Steve slams the phone into the receiver, breathing harshly.

His friends have stopped having their conversations entirely. They’re all looking at him, probably because Steve never really gets angry like that.

“Who was that, dingus?” Robin sits up, deeply concerned.

Steve’s instinct is to deny and deflect. He looks at Robin, his best friend, and the way her brow is furrowed. He looks at Vickie, who’s been living in the same house as him and they’re not super close or anything, but she looks ready to hug him. He looks at Nancy, who, no surprise, has her shotgun face on. Jonathan, who’s got a hand on Nancy’s shoulder and a flinty gaze, like he’s going to help her. Eddie, who always wants him to talk, who even right now is walking over to the kitchen to be closer to Steve.

So Steve, for once in his life, tries to be honest. “My mother, actually. Sylvia fucking Harrington.”

“Holy shit,” Vickie gasps.

“She, uh. She said. She called you a really mean name, Robin, and I kinda lost it.”

“Eddie,” Robin says, “I would rather crawl over glass than touch another person right now, so I need you to hug Steve for me.”

Eddie’s arms close around Steve. Steve doesn’t even try to resist - he just leans into it. Eddie hugs are weird, because he’s cold and doesn’t actually have a beating heart, but they’re always nice. Steve doesn’t get sweaty or anything with him.

Steve’s shaking, he realizes. Shuddering, even, like he has a terrible fever. His cheeks are wet because he’s crying, big, fat, ugly tears.

“Sorry,” he says. He’s getting tears and snot all over Eddie’s jacket.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you, man.”

Eddie gently leads him to the couch. Vickie joins in on the hug. Robin makes soothing noises from the armchair. Nancy’s calling Hopper on the phone, something about keeping them from harassing Steve.

“My dad’s a piece of shit, too,” Jonathan says, once Steve can take a full breath of air without sobbing. “He hit my fucking mom, he called Will queer, he called me queer. But… I was still sad and angry when he left, y’know? I knew it was for the best, hell, I wanted him gone, but he was still my dad. I dunno. It sucks, dude.”

“My old man was a criminal bastard,” Eddie adds. “I mean, he loved me as much as he could, but for him that meant teaching me to steal cars so he could get me guitar lessons. Gotta say, I was relieved when he went to prison for the last time.”

“My mom’s a homophobe. Like, gays are sinners that will burn in hell, conversion therapy homophobe. My dad knows, and he won’t tell her, but that doesn’t change the fact that my mother’s love is conditional,” Robin says.

It snowballs into everyone sharing stories about their awful parents. Nancy talks about how Ted slept through every single concert, recital, and school play. Vickie’s mom never let her wear pants and thinks she’s living in sin with Steve. Eddie’s dad taught him how to shoplift cassette tapes. On and on and on.

“At least there’s Joyce Byers,” Steve says, because he’s willing to admit to the facts. She’s about as close to a mother as he’s ever gotten.

“Oh, don’t say that where she can hear you, Steve,” Jonathan warns. “She’s got the adoption papers all ready to go.”

Eddie chuckles. “I don’t know, my money’s on Dustin’s mom.”

“Yeah, but Hopper,” Robin points out. “He’s Steve’s dad.”

“You asshole!” Steve shouts.

“Hopper’s everyone’s dad, man, don’t worry about it,” Jonathan says.

Nancy breaks out Murray’s vodka, still mostly untouched, and Jonathan passes around a few joints, courtesy of Argyle. Eddie, as always, has to sit by the window. The rest of them play every single stupid drinking game they can think of.

Steve’s pleasantly crossfaded. Nancy’s snoring on Vickie, who’s having a very weird conversation about camera lenses with Jonathan. Robin’s just giggling at their magazine collection. Eddie, poor fucking undead Eddie Munson, is watching them all with a fond smile.

It has to be tonight, Steve realizes. There’ll never be a better moment. He reaches out to Eddie, palm side up. “Please?” He asks.

Eddie walks closer. His pupils are massive- Steve can barely see the brown. He picks up Steve’s wrist, big, callused hands as gentle as anything.

“Are you sure?”

Steve nods.

Eddie leans down. His mouth opens. Little puffs of cool air meet Steve’s pulse point. His teeth, sharp as knives, glint in the moonlight. Steve’s pulse races. He feels electrified. A live wire.

Eddie pauses for a long time. Steve gets impatient. “Just do it, Eds. I trust you.”

“As you wish,” he says. His mouth closes over Steve’s wrist, cold and wet. There’s a brief, sharp prick that makes Steve gasp, and then it’s just pressure. Unignorable, but not painful. Eddie’s cold mouth makes his skin feel like it’s on fire.

Finally (too quickly), Eddie pulls off, although he doesn’t let go of Steve. His eyes have the slightest red tinge, half Eddie, half the predator. His mouth is stained red with Steve’s blood. His tongue peeks out and Eddie licks it with all the enthusiasm of a child eating every last bite of ice cream.

Steve’s fucking obsessed.

“Oh, man, you are so fucking high right now, what even is your tolerance? You’re worse than Buckley,” Eddie says, falling back with a laugh.

“Okay, but how is it? Come on, scale of one to ten, man, I gotta know what my blood tastes like.”

Eddie smacks his lips. “Twelve out of ten. Perfect. No notes. I don’t know if I can go back to drinking from Jonathan and Argyle.”

“Then don’t. Seriously, I’m up for it. I’ll be your exclusive juice box.” Steve means it. Eddie should only take from him. Only ever from Steve.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. As you wish, bloodbag.” Eddie’s nose scrunches up. “Okay, nope, didn’t like saying that even as it left my mouth, sorry, Stevie.”

The Byers invite everyone over for the 4th of July. They all agree on no fireworks, because Hopper still flinches at loud noises. Steve spends the majority of the day by the grill, making sure Hopper doesn’t burn anything.

“I’m not gonna ruin the hot dogs, kid,” he grouses. “Promise.”

“I’ve seen you cook, Hop. I’m staying right here.”

It’s fun. The kids pelt everyone with water balloons, but it’s hot enough that no one really complains. Eddie sticks himself under the Byers’ ice cold hose every thirty minutes or so and ends up looking like a wet dog.

Steve can’t fucking take it anymore. “Come here,” he says. “Lemme fix your hair, man, it’s painful just looking at you.”

Eddie stands, placid, while Steve separates and braids his hair. He’s got a few hair ties for Max and El, so it’s easy to keep it together when he’s done. Eddie ends up with a low, loose braid that flops around when he moves his head even a little bit.

“What’s the verdict?” Eddie asks Max, which is so unfair because Steve’s the hair guy.

“Not bad, Munson,” she says, and then immediately squirts him and Steve with a freezing cold water gun.

Steve spends the next hour or so chasing her around. The other kids all gang up on him, pelting him with balloons. El hits him with the hose, the traitor.

Eventually they get bored of torturing him and go back to roughhousing with one another.

Murray, who’s crawled out of whatever hole he’s hidden in long enough to regale them all with the failures of American Imperialism, shakes his head at Steve. “Children,” he commiserates. “They can be so cruel.”

Eddie helps Steve stand up because he’s a nice guy like that.

“Can you get me a towel, Eds?”

“As you wish, Stevie,” he responds, just like always.

Murray snorts. Steve turns around to face him, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, that’s just adorable,” he says with a sardonic smile. “Really, so sweet, I have cavities.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Steve asks.

Murray’s smile fades a little. “As you wish?” Steve just stares at him blankly. “Harrington, please tell me you know what that is.”

“It’s a thing Eddie says sometimes.” Pretty much all the time, actually.

“Jesus Christ,” Murray says. He glances behind Steve and blanches. “You know what, nevermind. I’m not paid enough for this shit.” He walks away.

Steve turns. It’s just Eddie, who seems totally normal.

“What was that about?”

“Don’t worry about it, pretty boy.”

He sees Murray talking with Eddie later. Murray’s being really insistent about whatever it is, but Steve can tell that Eddie doesn’t want to hear it. Murray throws up his hands in frustration.

He corners Steve towards the end of the night. “Munson’s being a coward,” he says, laying his hands on Steve’s shoulders, “so I’m afraid it’s going to be down to you. Be brave, my young padawan.”

Steve has no idea what he’s talking about, but that’s pretty standard with Murray.

Eddie heads to Indy for a week to record the EP, so D&D is, once again, canceled.

“Oh, so I can’t skip for the championship game, but Eddie can skip to record his shitty music? So unfair,” Lucas grumbles. Max flicks his arm.

Steve misses him. Like, an absurd amount. He still has all his other friends, it’s not like Eddie’s his singular lifeline or anything, but it’s odd not to see him.

He goes to dinner at the Henderson’s one night. Mrs. Henderson plies him with enough food to feed an army and then some. Apparently, his sour mood is obvious enough that she says, “What’s got you frowning, Steve? You’re usually so upbeat.”

“Eddie,” Dustin answers for him. “He’s in Indianapolis and he and Steve are, like, obsessed with each other.”

“Dude, we are not.”

“You so are. Seriously, it’s worse than you and Robin and you guys are attached at the hip.” The benefit to Robin coming out is that Dustin no longer thinks they’re secretly dating. The downside is that now Dustin’s trying to find a new romance for him.

“Oh,” Mrs. Henderson says. “Well, I like Eddie, even if he is a bit skinny. He’s a very polite young man.”

Eddie Munson, the guy that stands on tables and tells people to go fuck themselves right to their faces, polite. Steve has to laugh.

Dustin vegs on the couch, eating 3 Musketeers. Steve offers to help clean up, and Mrs. Henderson just gives him a look, so he sits down next to him. He steals a bar, Dustin trying and failing to slap his hands away from his horde.

“I don’t actually mind that you and Eddie are friends,” Dustin says out of nowhere. “I mean, I definitely told you so, both of you, but that’s not the point. You’re my brother, and he’s my brother: I’m happy that you guys can be each other’s brothers, too.”

Eddie’s his brother? Eddie’s definitely Steve’s family, that checks out, but brother doesn’t sound right. It’s a little off-balance, a little wrong. “I’m not sure we’re like that, Dusty-Bun.”

“Oh my God, this is just like Robin.”

“But I actually wasn’t dating Robin, so there. Hah.”

Dustin rolls his eyes. “Stop trying to be cool and admit he’s your brother already.”

Yeah. Not happening.

Eddie’s not coming back until tomorrow afternoon. Steve spends the entire day at work misshelving things, forgetting to rewind tapes, and being a little too short with the customers. Robin kicks him out before they even close.

“Just go home, dingus, you’re useless today. Try not to burn dinner.”

Steve burns dinner. He orders pizza.

Steve tries to distract himself the next day; he gardens for a while, but it’s too hot to stay out for long. He does some laundry, cleans the shower, and dusts the cabinets. He’s anxious for no fucking reason, except Eddie’s been in Indy for a week, and Steve’s dumb fucking brain is spirling into what if’s that even he knows are completely ridiculous.

He makes a note in his planner to talk with Dr. Lowenstein about that in their next session.

Eventually, Steve runs out of shit to do, and he ends up trying to sink trash into the kitchen garbage from the couch while Whitney Houston sings that she wants to dance.

His front door slams open. Steve tilts his head up to see Eddie stomping his way inside.

“I thought we were gonna meet at your trailer,” Steve says.

“Didn’t wanna wait.” Eddie unbuckles his boots because Steve has a thing about shoes in the house. “I’d have to go home, and then call you, and then you’d have to come over, and that’s, like, thirty whole minutes, man. It’s easier just to come here.”

Steve’s been going insane without Eddie crashing through his life basically every day, so he’s sure as shit not complaining. At least he’s not the only clingy one here.

“Did it go well? The recording?” As if Steve could be asking about anything else.

“I think so. We’re sending it to some bands in the area, a couple of radio stations. With any luck…”

“You’re gonna be famous someday, Eds. Promise you won’t forget about me when you’re getting your Grammy and living it up in Hollywood?”

Eddie snorts. He sits down on the other end of the couch, giving Steve less than a second to move his legs out of the way before getting crushed. “You’ll be my first mention. I’d like to thank Steve Harrington, who hates this fucking music, for always giving me the strength to create out of spite.”

“I don’t hate all metal!” Steve protests.

“T. Rex is not fucking metal, dude. It’s barely even rock.”

“I don’t hate your music, though. Yours is good.” Steve actually loves listening to Eddie compose. He loves watching it, too. Eddie gets so into, so focused on getting the right notes out at the right time. He’s really good at it, even if he and Steve don’t necessarily agree on what the right notes are.

“Thanks.” Eddie snaps his fingers. “Oh, got something for you.” He tosses Steve a stack of -

“Postcards?” There’s seven in total, all wishing Steve well from the beautiful city of Indianapolis.

“Well, I can hardly leave my best lady bereft of her letters.”

Steve laughs. “I can’t believe you fucking remember that shit. I barely even remember asking you to do it.” He scans through them. They’re all filled top to bottom with Eddie’s cramped, spidery handwriting. Which, unfortunately, Steve can’t fucking read. These letters could be detailing the exact way Eddie’s going to kill him and hide his corpse and Steve would never know.

Steve tosses them back. “Read ‘em to me.”

“Wow. I just got back after a three hour drive and you’re already making demands.”

“Yes, yes, you’re very brave, now do it.”

Eddie picks them up. “As you wish, my lady wife. Let’s see. ‘Day one. Just arrived at the barracks. The men are trying to find the commissary, though I don’t hope for much beyond meager rations. The memory of your home cooked meals will have to sustain me until I return from the war. The fight will be long, I suspect, and brutal, but I will do my level best to survive it. Please, do think kindly of me while I’m gone. Yours, Eddie.’”

“You did not write that.”

“I did,” Eddie confirms, a toothy, dimpled grin forming.

“Are they all like that?” Steve asks, trying to pretend he’s not blushing. Eddie’s calling him ‘my dear’ is a joke. It’s part of the gag. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Why should Steve be embarrassed, anyway? It’s not like any of Eddie’s other nicknames make him blush, and he’s got some pretty silly ones.

“Oh, yes. Shall I keep going?”

“Sure. Go for it.”

They’re all like that. Steve tries to detangle them into something sensible. He familiar enough with Eddie that he can recognize the echoes of reality: day one, they just arrived at the hotel and the band was looking for food; day two, they start recording; day three, Gareth has a meltdown; day four, Eddie loses his voice during their vocal sections; day five, Jeff has a meltdown; day six, they finally finish the EP; day seven, they spend a day fucking around in the city.

“So, did you meet any sexy French maids?” Steve asks. “Am I going to have to raise some other woman’s bastard child?”

“No maid can compare to you, no matter how sexy or French. The only thought to keep me warm in the trenches was you, my lady.”

Steve swallows with a click. “Right.” His voice comes out dry. He clears his throat. “Anyway! Speaking of warm, home cooked meals…” Steve tosses his arm in Eddie’s general direction.

“My favorite? Aw, baby, you shouldn’t have,” Eddie teases, grasping Steve’s elbow.

“You’ve been away for so long, my love, and the things you hear on the radio!” Steve tries to put on a British accent. He’s not as good at voices as Eddie is, so it mostly just sounds stupid. “Those awful Germans must have really put you through the ringer. But it’s all over now - you’re here. You’re home.”

“I’m home,” Eddie agrees. His lips meet Steve’s wrist. Puncture, pressure, pull away. It’s an easy process, if one that Steve spends literally every possible second thinking about.

At the very beginning of August, Robin, Vickie, and Steve see a movie. It’s a vampire movie, apparently, about a bunch of bikers in California. The main vampire kind of reminds Steve of Billy Hargrove, with the shitty mullet and shittier attitude.

“Why’s he so into Michael, anyway?” Steve asks when it’s over. “Seriously, like. David’s obsessed with him, it’s weird.”

“I mean, his vampire master did tell David to turn him,” Vickie says.

“Plus, it’s really homoerotic,” Robin adds.

Steve frowns. “It just seemed like normal guy stuff to me. You know, alpha dog pushes around new guy, whatever the fuck. It happens.”

“Maybe you’re too straight to see it, but David wanted to fuck Michael so badly, dingus. Also, vampires are inherently gay, I don’t make the rules.”

“We know one gay vampire and suddenly you think that makes every vampire gay. Nice stereotyping there, Buckley.” They walk out of the theater into the warm August air. It’s dark, the crickets are chirping, and the air smells like rain.

“They are pretty gay, Steve. I mean, all that penetration…” Vickie waggles her eyebrows.

Robin and Vickie keep chatting about the movie. Steve’s too busy thinking.

He tosses and turns all night long. He can’t sleep. He feels too hot, too alive. Electrified, even. If vampires are kind of gay, then what does that make Steve? Is Steve kind of gay for wanting Eddie to bite him all the time?

He looks out his darkened window. The thing he can’t name sits just at the base of his neck. The things he hasn’t quite been able to picture are almost there, nearly fully formed. He can almost grasp it, the thin trails of smoke more solid by the second.

Steve can’t really say for sure what happens the next day. He knows that he goes to work, that he does his job, that he goes grocery shopping, that he prepares dinner for him, Robin, and Vickie. The details are gone, fuzzy under the tidal wave of Steve trying, trying, trying to reach, to grasp, to hold.

Robin literally walks into him around midnight when she’s going to the bathroom. “Dingus? You okay down there?”

“Hey, Robin? How did you know you liked girls?”

He can’t see her eyes in the dim light of the hallway, but he knows for a fact she just rolled them from the tone of her voice as she snarks, “how did you know you were straight?”

Steve breathes. Breathes. He thinks of Robin, Starcourt. Will, Christmas Day. Eddie, wistful on Valentine's. None of them backed out. Maybe Steve can be brave, too.

“I’m not sure that I am, Robin.”

“Oh. I really do have to pee, but I’ll be right back. Don’t fucking go anywhere.” She sprints to the bathroom. Steve presses himself more fully into the wall.

“Okay, I’m back,” she pants, like, thirty seconds later. She slides down next to him. “So, how did I know? Shit, Steve. A part of me always knew on some level. When I was younger, I was obsessed with certain girls being my special best friend. I didn’t want them to hang out with other girls, and I definitely didn’t want them hanging around with boys. And then, as I got older, I would care so much about the way girls looked, acted, or dressed. I would do anything to make them look at me. And they would talk about their crushes, and it made me feel sick, Steve. The first time I realized I wanted to kiss a girl I threw up right in the middle of history class. I was called ‘Barfy Buckley’ for three years straight.”

Steve nods. He remembers Barfy Buckley. “But how did you know for sure?”

“Allison Gilman. Do you remember her? She lived here for a year in middle school. I was obsessed with her, Steve. Like, I spent all of my time just thinking about her. Her stupid ponytail and her dumb cursive writing. I thought I hated her at first, because I couldn’t understand why else I would care about her so much. And then, it just clicked. No normal girl spends that much time thinking about another girl’s mouth.”

“I like girls, Robin. I mean, you know how much I like girls, boobies are great.”

“Please don’t say boobies.”

“But… Can I like guys, too? Is that okay?” It’s a stupid thing to ask. Obviously it’s okay. Steve doesn’t have a problem with the whole Will-Mike-El situation.

“Of course it’s okay,” Robin says. She slings an arm around his shoulder and pulls him into her. He noses into her collarbone, her sharp scent filling his mind.

“Okay.”

Robin gets very into introducing Steve to queer culture after that. It’s all pamphlets and weird paperback books about sad, dead lesbians. She does know some useful things - apparently the gay ear is mostly bullshit, but there are other ways to tell.

“Like Eddie’s bandana,” she explains.

“What does Eddie’s bandana have to do with being gay?”

“It’s code. For gay men, the hanky code tells people certain things, like if you’re a giver or a receiver, or what kinky shit you like. Stuff like that is all over the place if you look for it.”

Giver or receiver. Kinky. Steve’s brain whites out.

“Hey! Pay attention, dingus, I’m giving you a crash course on gaydar, here.”

Steve blinks. “Right. Right, sorry.”

Robin sighs. “Okay, fine. It means he’s a top that’s into BDSM, alright? Seriously, please try to focus, this is Robin and Steve time, not Steve thinks gay thoughts time.”

Steve does his level best to focus on Robin and not all the other things whirring around in his empty skull. He’s not sure how successful he is - he tunes in to the middle of a very long explanation about the history of drag, and he has no fucking clue how they got onto that topic.

From Steve’s understanding, BDSM is that thing with sex dungeons and whips. It’s mean and it’s painful. He can’t really see Eddie enjoying it too much. He could see Eddie getting into some roleplay, maybe some dirty talk, but actual pain? It doesn’t fit what he knows.

He doesn’t ask Robin about it. Her patience for the logistics of gay sex is fairly limited as it is.

The next time they both have the same day off, Robin makes him watch a movie.

“It’s called Rocky Horror. It’s very gay,” she assures.

It is pretty gay. Steve’s just not sure he likes it, is the thing.

“What do you mean you don’t like it?”

“The songs are fine and all, but it’s just not my kind of movie. I mean, does being queer mean that I’m literally required to enjoy it?”

“No,” Robin admits sullenly. “Vickie doesn’t love it either. But I thought you might. I mean, it’s funny and stupud and has great music, what’s not to love? Plus, gay guys think Tim Curry is hot.”

“Tim Curry? Really?” He's not Steve’s type. The makeup is cool, but the character doesn’t really do it for him.

“Yes! Okay, what about Rocky? Washboard abs, tight speedo. Is that anything?”

Steve shakes his head. He’s seen lots of washboard abs in his time. It’s hot, but not that interesting.

Robin rests her chin on her hand. “Okay,” she decides. “Let’s do an exercise. Think about Curry’s outfit. Don’t think about Curry, just the outfit. Now, put that onto a guy that you think you might like.”

Steve tries it. David Bowie in the corset actually does sound pretty nice. Tom Cruise with that eyeshadow. Ooh, Rob Lowe in those fishnets.

An image swims in his vision. Dark eyes. A vest, a corset, leather and clinging. Thick, hairy legs, trapped in fishnets. Tall heels ending in a dangerous point. The sharp glint of teeth, a razor’s edge in Steve’s mind’s eye. Red, red lips. Red like lipstick, like blood. Eddie, leaning down, a mischievous sheen in his eyes, calling Steve princess, pretty boy, baby, Stevie, anything he likes. Eddie, his hair wild because Steve needs something to hold onto. Eddie, grip bruising because he can’t keep that tight control anymore. Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.

“Knock knock,” Robin’s voice pierces through the fog. “Anyone home?”

“Holy shit,” Steve says.

“Yeah, I figured. I mean, you wouldn’t be asking about this stuff if there wasn’t somebody out there who was doing it for you, right? Speaking of. Do you… maybe want to talk about that?”

“It’s - I mean, Bowie’s hot, Robin, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Robin laughs. “That’s a celebrity, dingus, those don’t count. What about people we actually know?”

“There might be someone.”

“What, really? Who?” Robin crowds into his space instantly, poking him in the chest.

“I’ve got no chance.” Steve’s very aware that he’s echoing Eddie right now, thanks. “I’ve got it on pretty good authority that he already likes someone. There’s some guy he’s basically fucking in love with, he won’t say shit about it.” It’s not entirely true, but he can’t imagine repeating all of those lovely things Eddie’s said about his guy to Robin without actually being sick. It’s nice to know he was just insanely jealous this whole time instead of homophobic.

“Steve, listen. If we’re both talking about the guy that I think we’re talking about, I really, really think you’ve got the wrong idea.”

Steve shakes his head. Even if Robin does know that they’re talking about Eddie, which, to be honest, she probably does, she hasn’t heard about Eddie’s guy. She probably thinks it’s a little crush and not the deeply passionate love that Steve knows it is. “It’s alright, Robin. I’ll get over it.”

The next person Steve comes out to is his therapist. “So, uh, remember when we talked about denial? I’ve thinking about that a lot recently, and I’m pretty sure I’m queer.”

Dr. Lowenstein, to her credit, just nods. “Congratulations. I’m proud of you for recognizing yourself. Is there anything in particular that caused this revelation?”

“Yeah. There’s uh. There’s this guy. My friend. The one that drives me here sometimes.”

“And are you going to do anything?”

“No. He’s pretty gone on someone.”

She hums. “And why does this prevent you from telling him about your feelings?”

“Because that’s insane? Like, I literally know he’s in love with some other guy, and here I am telling him I like him. Who does that?” Nobody, that’s who.

“Your homework for the week: make a list of the pros and cons of being honest about your feelings. We’ll discuss it next session.”

Steve tries not to hang out with Eddie solo anymore. It feels fucking awful to separate from him, even in this small way, but Steve can’t do it. He can’t listen to Eddie’s low voice and listen to him laugh and look at his cute dimples and not wanna kiss him. It would be one thing if it were just sexual attraction: Steve’s a fucking world champion at ignoring awkward boners. But it’s more than that.

Steve wants to cook breakfast with Eddie. He wants to learn the guitar, Eddie’s big, callused hands guiding his own. He wants to buy Eddie raw meat from the butcher’s just to watch Eddie devour it in a single gulp. He wants to keep Eddie’s hair nice. He wants to see what Eddie looks like just before he goes to sleep and kiss him awake. Steve just wants.

September is fucking awful because of it. Every conversation between them is dry and stilted. Sometimes Steve will forget, and he’ll tease Eddie, and Eddie’ll do his usual thing where he links them together, and the cool presence of Eddie will wake Steve up to the fact that they’re touching .

The worst part is that Eddie definitely notices. They’re hanging out, listening to T. Rex in Eddie’s van while Steve smokes at the quarry. Eddie’s got his hair pulled back, and Steve’s trying not to stare at his collarbones.

“What the fuck is a jeepster, anyway?” Steve asks.

“It’s some dumbass car metaphor. You like cars, right, Stevie? I remember a poster in your old room.” Steve feels a blush forming on his cheeks. All of Eddie’s nicknames feel different, even the ones that Steve never noticed before.

“My dad bought me my car, I don’t know shit.”

“Could’ve asked Hargrove about cars, he knew shit. That dumb fucking Camaro was his baby.”

Steve tilts his head. “I mean, yeah, but at what cost?”

“Spending literally any amount of time with Billy Hargrove,” Eddie says with a grin. “Could you even imagine?”

“Holy shit, no. He fucking hated me, man. Like, every chance he got he was in my face, all alpha fucking dog bullshit.” Turning off Steve’s shower and shit. It’s probably petty to talk shit about Hargrove, speaking ill of the dead and all, but nobody else wants to do it, and Steve still kind of hates the guy. He gave Steve a concussion. He scared Lucas. He terrified Max. Sure, he did the right thing in the end, but that doesn’t make him not a piece of shit.

“Poor bastard. He expected a fight for the crown and all he got was a babysitter. He probably had no idea what to do with a guy who just didn’t give a shit.”

“Hey, I’m a pretty good babysitter.” Steve punches Eddie in the shoulder with a teasing smile. Normally, Steve would lean in after that, would tangle himself in Eddie’s arm. Steve doesn’t do that. Eddie doesn’t ask.

“Yeah, you’re decent.”

“Decent?” Steve’s offended. He’s so offended that he shoves his face right into Eddie’s big, stupid, lovely pale one. “I’ve fought literal fucking monsters for those children, and you’re saying I’m decent ?”

Eddie shrugs. “Middling at best.”

“You mother - come here, you son of a bitch.”

Unfortunately, Eddie’s Upside Down strength means that Steve inevitably loses any fight. They wrestle on the forest floor, leaves, dirt and Steve doesn’t even want to know what else getting all over their clothes. Eddie ends up on top, pinning Steve’s wrists with one hand and pushing his chest down with the other. Eddie’s heavy, too - Steve can’t get any fucking leverage.

“Yield,” Eddie says. His hair has sticks in it.

“Never,” Steve snarls. He bucks, and then he suddenly, forcefully remembers that the guy he likes is laying on top of him, and his day is ruined. Steve starts squirming for real, trying to get out before Eddie realizes something he shouldn’t.

Eddie instantly rolls off of Steve. He stands up in a fluid motion. Steve’s not nearly as graceful - he stumbles. Eddie doesn’t offer him a hand, doesn't help stabilize Steve at all. He just kind of stands there.

“Sorry,” Steve says. He is. They can’t even be regular friends anymore because Steve’s a crazy person that’s always mistaking friendship for something else.

“It’s okay. ‘S not your fault, Stevie.” Eddie looks really sad when he says it, his lips downturned and his brow furrowed.

Steve doesn’t know how to explain that it is his fault, actually, without Eddie realizing the truth, so he lets it go.

September, as he said, is fucking horrendous.

There are good parts, of course. Hopper proposes to Joyce, which leaves Steve in a state of perpetual joy even with the Eddie weirdness. They finally kill Netherbrace in D&D. The kids take an entire session to loot his mansion like the little kleptomaniacs they are.

Steve allows himself to get into it. Teasing Eddie about catching his big bad all the way in the first session is normal, the way they haven’t been since Steve saw that stupid fucking vampire movie that ruined his life. He looks Eddie in his big, guileless brown eyes. He thinks about Eddie, smiling, saying he’s going to need to work harder to trick Steve.

They wrap for the night, the campaign finally finished. Steve drives Dustin, Mike, and Max home. He drops off Dustin first, then Mike, and finally takes the long road to the trailer park. Eddie usually drops Max off, but Steve feels like they haven’t hung out recently. He just wants to check on his girl, okay?

He doesn’t exactly plan on it. He follows Max into her trailer, purely because she wants to show him her newest skateboarding trick, where she uses her cane to propel herself into the air. It sounds horrifying to Steve, so of course Max came up with it.

They’re just sitting around, chatting, even if it’s late and Max has school tomorrow. Max is talking about how annoying El, Mike, and Will are.

“Seriously,” she says, “I have no idea how they actually got worse, but now it’s all ‘oh, Mike, I love you’ and ‘oh, Mike, you’re so great’, blah blah blah. They’re so gross.”

Steve, very valiantly in his opinion, does not mention how Max and Lucas are just as bad.

“Not that I care that Will’s gay or Mike’s whatever Mike is,” Max adds. “That’s fine. They’re just so lovey dovey all the time, you know?”

“And…” Steve can’t believe he’s doing this. He can’t fucking believe it, even as the words leave his mouth. “How would you feel if I were whatever Mike is?”

Max blinks at him. “Are you trying to come out to me right now?”

“Yes? Yes. That’s what’s happening.”

“Cool.”

“Cool.”

She grins and hugs him, her glasses squishing into his chest. Steve holds her right back, a warm glow burning through his entire body.

“Thanks for being cool, random girl.”

She laughs and punches him in the arm. She detangles from him, a big, shit-eating smile on her face. “So, I mean, as long as we’re talking about it, what’s going on with Eddie?” She swings her legs back and forth playfully.

His stomach drops. “Nothing. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Shut up.”

“Oh, so it’s that bad? Seems like me and him are going to have to have a little conversation.”

“Max, I swear to God if you say anything -”

“You’ll, what? Look disappointed at me and put your hands on your hips like a total mom? I’m not going to do anything, anyway, I just have to make sure he’s got good intentions!”

“Eddie has no intentions at all, there are zero intentions happening anywhere in the vicinity.”

“Sure there aren’t.” Max winks at him. She’s so fucking frustating sometimes.

So September isn’t all bad, in the end. It’s just the Eddie stuff making Steve feel terrible.

Dustin walks into Family Video late on a Friday afternoon in early October. “Can you take me to see a movie?” He asks.

“I’m not taking you to see some sex movie, dude, that’s just wrong.”

“It’s not a sex movie! It’s supposed to be cool, with fantasy and magic and stuff. Suzie says she’s read the book it’s based on and that it’s really good. Everyone else is busy, and I’m supposed to call her tonight, so if I see it before then we can talk about it.”

Steve doesn’t do a lot of fantasy and magic stuff outside of Eddie. He frowns. “I don’t know, Henderson. I still don’t see why you can’t go by yourself.”

“Everyone knows going to the movies alone is super lame, Steve. Come on, please?”

Steve sighs. The things he does for this child. “Fine. I clock off in an hour, so find something to do until then.”

Dustin, of course, doesn’t even thank him. He just spends the hour picking over the new releases, declaring everything trash. Steve waves hello to Amy, a part-timer, and heads to the theater with Dustin.

Steve, of course, buys them tickets and popcorn and candy, even though Dustin’s the one who wanted to see this.

The Princess Bride ?” Steve reads from their tickets. “Are you sure this is a cool magic movie, dude?”

Dustin nods aggressively in response. “That’s what Suzie says.”

“Oh, well, if Suzie says so,” he snarks.

The Columbo guy comes on screen, and after a brief argument with the sick kid, he starts reading from the book. Steve experiences dejá-vu when the words ‘as you wish’ come out of the farmboy’s mouth (and is it just Steve or does he kind of look like Mayor Kline), but, hell, maybe it’s just a coincidence, right?

And apparently ‘as you wish’ means ‘I love you’, so it has to be a coincidence. The weird thing Eddie says sometimes also just happens to be from some romance book that Suzie likes. It’s not a big deal, right?

Steve loses track of what’s going on in the movie for a while. He tunes back in - the farmboy is dead? When did that happen? Why is the girl tied up in a boat?

Dustin’s laughing uproariously, and he’s not even the only one. Scattered chuckles echo throughout the theater anytime someone says something vaguely amusing. Steve will admit, it’s not bad. He doesn’t love all the jokes - the thing with the Sicillian takes way too long, in his opinion - but the ones that do get him get him good. Sue him, Rodents of Unusual Size is fucking hilarious.

Steve finds himself invested quickly. He gasps when Prince Asshole shows up to ruin everything, he cries out when farmboy is captured, he leans forward when it seems like the wrestling guy and the other dude might not be able to revive him. The plot rolls on.

He’s not particularly interested in Buttercup. Like, why does farmboy even love her? She’s mean to him, and kind of pathetic, all damsel in distress. She should be doing something - trying to take Asshole down with her instead of just giving up.

Steve definitely cheers when other dude kills the six-fingered man. He’s not ashamed - Dustin shoots out of his seat, popcorn flying everywhere, and starts clapping.

It has a happy ending, Columbo gives one last as you wish, and Steve and Dustin leave the movie satisfied.

“Alright, I’ll admit, that was solid,” Steve says. “Suzie was right.”

“I’m telling her you said that. Come on, take me home so I can talk to her, we only get an hour before her Father cuts off the phone!”

Steve drives Dustin home. He doesn’t feel like sleeping, and he doesn’t have work in the morning anyway, so he drives around Hawkins aimlessly. It’s stupid for him to be so focused on this, especially since Eddie hasn’t even said it in, like, a month. Not since before Steve made things weird.

Steve sighs and turns the car towards the trailer park. He’s not going to get any answers sitting in his Beemer.

Wayne’s truck is gone, so he’s probably at the plant. Eddie’s van is still around, and with any luck he’s actually here. Steve would never visit any of the kids at this time of night, but Eddie keeps weird hours.

Steve knocks on the door, because he has manners. Eddie opens it. He’s stupidly handsome, in the sense that just looking at him makes Steve feel like a fucking idiot. “Hey, Steve.”

“Hey. Can I come in?” Ugh, why is he so awkward? Steve wishes, sometimes, that he never realized he’s a queer. Things were so much easier when he could be attracted to Eddie without knowing it.

“Sure. Mi casa es su casa.” Eddie walks away, leaving the door open behind him.

Steve doesn’t know exactly what he’s planning to say. There’s no way to ask that isn’t going to make him sound crazy. Steve may be a little crazy.

“So, any particular reason you stopped by?” It’s sad that Eddie has to ask. In the Before, Steve could’ve just dropped by basically whenever to do nothing better than watch Eddie play guitar for a while. In the After, Steve’s been avoiding all one-on-one time like it’s going out of style.

“I just wanted to hang out. I, uh, feel like we haven’t, lately, and that’s sort of my fault. I’ve just been -” weird crazy obsessed with a guy he knows damn well is unavailable, seriously, at least he and Nancy were actually dating.

“Yeah, I get it,” Eddie says. “Listen, man, it really isn’t your fault, okay? I seriously do not blame you.” Which, okay, there’s no universe that Eddie knows Steve’s half in love with him, right? Like, the world just cannot be that cruel. So Eddie’s got some other idea of what’s going on, probably something stupid like Steve’s decided he’s a monster after all, since Steve hasn’t been able to bring himself to feed Eddie since his revelation. Again, totally not Eddie’s fault, but every time Steve thinks about it he also thinks about Vickie saying ‘ penetration ’, and then he has to take an ice-cold shower.

“I really am sorry, Eds. I haven’t been a very good friend recently.”

Eddie’s lips downturn. Steve pretends to himself that he’s got no particular reason to be staring at Eddie’s mouth. Seriously, so much easier when he had no idea.

“And I really don’t think that’s your fault.”

“Oh my God, will you just take the fucking apology already?”

For a moment, they’re back to normal. Eddie’s eyes brighten and crinkles appear in the corners. “As you wish, Steve. Come on, don’t just stand there. Let’s do something.”

Steve follows blankly, as you wish repeating over and over in his mind. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t, it doesn’t, it can’t.

Something turns out to be Eddie reading the first Earthsea book to him. LeGuin is a pretty decent writer, and Eddie’s voice is soothing. Steve feels calm for the first time since he walked out of The Lost Boys.

Even Eddie Munson can’t stay awake forever. He closes the book after a few chapters and tosses it to Steve. Steve grabs it out of the air - yeah, he’s still got it - and goes to put it back on the shelf.

It’s not exactly a bookshelf in the way Steve’s parents would understand it. It’s a shelf, and it has books on it, but these books are actually read and loved instead of just displayed. They’re stacked completely randomly, Tolkein leading straight into Asimov. Steve trails over the spines. Earthsea, Tolkein, Asimov, Baum, Goldman, Lewis - wait. Steve goes back. Right there, in the middle of Eddie’s shelf for anyone to see, sits The Princess Bride.

Steve takes it out. He flips through the pages, scanning as quickly as he can through the tiny print. There, right in the first few pages - ‘as you wish’. Steve closes the book. He puts it back.

A few months ago, Steve would have jumped straight to the worst possible option. That it’s some cruel joke, the secret indication that Eddie’s hated him this whole time. But he’s been working with Dr. Lowenstein on that instinct for a while now, so even though his mind briefly pings there, Steve shrugs it off with ease.

Eddie is a little mean, and he does like a joke, but telling the same joke for over a year to an audience that clearly doesn’t get it would get old eventually. Eddie would really have to hate Steve to make that worth it, and if Eddie actually hated Steve then they’d have never hung out even once. Eddie’s not a grin-and-bear-it kind of guy.

Therefore, it can’t be a joke. Therefore, Eddie means it. Therefore, Eddie’s meant it the whole time. Therefore, the guy that Eddie likes is Steve, holy shit, Steve was jealous of himself.

There are other possibilities, true. A chance that Eddie vaguely remembers the phrase from the book, but not what it means. Or that it means something different in the book from the movie Steve just saw. But those are shadows in comparison to the increasing likelihood that Eddie’s been telling Steve he loves him all this time.

“Eddie,” Steve says.

“Yeah?” Eddie looks up at Steve, eyebrow raised.

Steve breathes. He realizes, suddenly, that he never actually came out to Eddie. This last month has made a lot more sense in retrospect. “I’m queer,” he says. “I like girls, but, uh. Guys also.” Eddie looks totally floored. Like, mouth open, eyes blown wide, gaping like a fish shocked. Steve steps closer. Be brave , he thinks. “That’s why I’ve been weird lately.” Eddie’s sitting on the edge of his bed, his legs splayed. Steve steps between them easily. “Dustin wants us to be like brothers. No offense, but I really, really don’t want to be your brother, Eds.”

For once, Steve is taller than Eddie. Eddie’s big, dark eyes have to look up to meet his own. Steve lays a gentle hand on Eddie’s cheek. “Can I kiss you, Eddie?”

Eddie’s voice cracks when he answers with, “as you wish, Stevie,” because of course he does.

Steve doesn’t know about history’s greatest, most romantic kisses. It’s a pretty standard first kiss - the angle’s a little weird and Steve accidentally smushes his nose into Eddie’s cheek on the way down. Then, Eddie tilts his head, the angle changes, and Steve’s brain explodes.

Eddie’s tongue meets the line of Steve’s lips and letting him in is probably the easiest thing Steve’s ever done. He tastes like copper, like oil, like Eddie . Eddie’s tongue, his mouth, is wet and cool, which is so novel that Steve’s never going to get over it.

Steve’s other hand buries itself in Eddie’s mass of hair. Eddie’s got one hand on Steve’s waist and the other on the back of his neck, playing with the short hair there. He pulls, just a little, and Steve gasps into Eddie’s mouth, static clouding his vision.

Steve has to breathe eventually, even if Eddie doesn’t. He separates with great reluctance. He doesn’t go far - he just pants into Eddie’s still open mouth. Eddie smiles like a lunatic.

“So, you going to take me out, darlin’?” He asks with a southern drawl.

Steve laughs. “Yeah, okay. Will you, Eddie Munson, go on a date with me?”

Eddie’s eyes fucking sparkle. “As you wish, baby. As you wish."

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