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come inside of my heart if you’re lookin’ for answers

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Probably the most shocking thing about this year is that Eddie’s going to college. It’s the community one down the street, but that’s not really the point. Eddie says that he hasn’t decided on a major, so he’s just been taking all the core classes. He calls Steve to tell him, midway through September and over the phone, that he’s started to enjoy biology.

It starts to hit Steve in November, though. He’s helping Jenny out at Family Video, ringing her up for Snow White and she’s just blathering on and on about her kid sister and how much she loves the movie, and bam — it smacks him right in the face. 

He’s probably going to be here forever. And maybe he’s okay with that but he’s just wasting away shelving movies and he’s not really sure what else he’s supposed to do. Eddie has no idea what he’s doing, but at least he’s out there trying. Steve applied to two colleges – his dad’s alma mater and Harvard, just for kicks – and got rejected and he was okay after that. He’s not sure why he’s freaking out now. 

“—Steve? Hey, Steve?” Jenny waves her hand in front of his face. 

“Sorry,” he says. He hands her the movie and grins sheepishly. “My bad.”

He closes thirty minutes early. It doesn’t matter anyway, ‘cause tomorrow’s Thanksgiving and they’re closed. Thanksgiving means invites to the Wheelers because Nancy’s home and she feels bad. Steve tells her it’s fine and that his parents are coming back tonight. They both know he’s lying, but they’re adults and not governed by El’s ‘friends don’t lie’ rule once they’ve turned eighteen. If they’re even still friends. 

It’s snowing outside, and Steve’s breath frosts up the doors when he turns to lock them. The first snow was back in October, so it’s not really as exciting as it could be. He looks up and sticks his tongue out. It just tastes cold.

The handle to his car is iced on, and he ends up tugging at it hopelessly until it unsticks. He pulls open the door and clambers in, rubbing his red hands together and shuddering.

The worst part about this is that he probably prefers this to going home. Home is dark and cold. It’s warmer here.

His car starts with a weak sputter, and his radio is playing Christmas hits. It’s still fucking November, he thinks. He parks in the driveway and pushes the door open. The snow is powdery and he leaves footprints as he steps up the walkway. It’s a big house, a nice house. All the neighbors are jealous. They’ve even got rose bushes in the front.

The door pushes open and Steve kicks his shoes off. It’s cold inside, but the Harringtons are well-off enough that they leave the heater on. The kitchen is toasty warm. Steve starts the kettle and rummages around the drawers for tea. They’ve got the fancy kind, straight from the tin, and a box of black. He pulls out one of the pouches. 

The kettle’s screaming by then. He pours a cup and drops the pouch in, then grabs honey. Joyce always used to make him tea with honey when he came over. He’s not sure if Jonathan knows that he came over after the demidog shit. It would probably freak him out. He only came over once or twice, but he dreams of Joyce’s tea sometimes. His never turns out that good.

Anyway. It’s sweet and filling from the milk Steve uses. He sits on the couch and sips it. 

It takes a while but he starts to feel heavy halfway through the cup, and then he’s laying down and closing his eyes. The house smells empty. He wonders if he would even want it to be full. He’s just— he’s Steve, right? He drives the kids to the arcade and worries and rents out movies and that’s all he does, really. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

When he wakes up, someone is knocking at his door. The sun is super fucking bright, and he rolls over again. He’s half tempted to ignore whoever it is, but the thought of it being an emergency has his heart shunting as he rushes to grab the door.

It’s Dustin, because of course it is.

“What,” says Steve, groggy.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Dustin answers. He pushes his way into Steve’s house and does a slow turn. “Nancy was right. You did lie.”

Steve flushes with anger. “I’m allowed to be private sometimes, dude.”

Dustin turns back to him and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but you’re private constantly these days. Anyway, I’m here to remind you you’re invited to dinner at the Wheelers. Tonight at six.”

“I’m not going,” says Steve.

“What else are you going to do? Sit here and mope?”

Steve swallows down an instinctual defense. “Who else is coming?” he asks.

Dustin grins. “You should come and find out.”

“Get out of my house,” says Steve.

Dustin’s grin widens and he backpedals out of the house, “See you then!”

It’s sort of sweet that Dustin came all the way here just to force him into coming. Steve doesn’t think about people that way. People exist outside of him, but there’s a cavity in his chest that closes a bit when people go out of their way for him. The least he can do is dress up and pretend that Mrs. Wheeler’s turkey isn’t that dry. 

His room is cold, but that’s because he left a window cracked since he’d been smoking. Robin had made him get the methanol ones because it made her feel better about the habit. He closes the window and pulls open his closet doors. 

Back when Steve was a junior, he’d thought that Hawkins was perfect. He was seventeen and he had friends and a girlfriend that he loved. He hadn’t noticed how heavy it was carrying that love. Nancy would grin at him, perfect teeth and pretty brown eyes, and he could only think I love you I love you I love you. He’d wanted to think that it was the same for her.

“Stop calling me,” Nancy would tell him. He’d thought that it was because her mom was strict and she wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend but that was just Nancy.

Eddie called him early this week. It’d been fast, just to tell Steve he was on break. “Love you,” he’d said. Easy as ever. He always said that so simply. I’ve got class, love you. Drive safe, love you.

Maybe Eddie’ll be at the Wheelers. It’s a funny thought. Steve misses him more than he’d expected, even if he’s a bit jealous about the whole college thing. 

He takes a sweater and a pair of jeans to the bathroom and starts to strip. Maybe a party could be good.

: :

“Steve! So glad you could come,” says Mrs Wheeler. 

He hands her a whiskey decanter. “From my parents,” he explains.

The kids have already started to create chaos downstairs. The three Byers are here. He’s heard that Joyce is considering moving back. Steve nods at Jonathan, and then at Nancy who gives him that tight look she always does. He guesses it’s supposed to be kind but it makes him feel seventeen again. 

The biggest surprise is Eddie. He’s leaned on the couch, arms spread over the back. Steve wants to ignore him just to get him pissed, but then he looks up and sees Steve. Steve rolls his eyes and steps closer, leans down to press a kiss to his cheek. He smells good.

“You were gonna ignore me, weren’t you,” says Eddie.

Steve scoffs, “I would never.”

Eddie grins and pulls him down, and Steve flops over at the last second before he can tug Steve onto his lap. “You’re so unfun,” he says. Steve just laughs.

“We can’t co parent if both of us are fun,” he chastises.

Eddie snorts. He leans close to Steve and says, “I missed you, princess.” On Steve’s lap, he’s started to rub the ring around Steve’s right thumb.

“Don’t call me that shit,” says Steve even though he loves it. 

“Whatever you want, sweetheart.”

Eddie’s raspy voice makes Steve feel bubbly and tender. He was upset before, about college and Hawkins and movie rentals, but Eddie’s talent is making Steve feel important. And that makes that other crap unimportant. 

He leans against Eddie’s shoulder. The world seems small and it’s in a good way, not heavy at all. “Do you think I should go to college?” he asks.

Eddie turns to look down but Steve pushes his cheek so he’s facing forward again. Stubble scrapes against his palm and he shivers. “Do you want to?” says Eddie.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s fine. You have time.” 

“Do I, though?” He’s starting to sound upset. Steve drags a hand over his face, the darkness brief but necessary. “I’m sorry.”

“Baby,” says Eddie. “You don’t need to be sorry. You’ve got time. You’re nineteen.”

“What if I’m twenty six and I still don’t know?” Steve urges.

Eddie sighs and tucks his thumb under Steve’s chin. He scratches at the thin skin there. “Life is not linear. I’m twenty and I just graduated high school, man. What does that make me?”

Steve flushes. “Sorry.”

“You’re fine.” Eddie flashes a teasing grin at him. It’s super unfair that he’s so handsome because Steve’s sanity is barely hanging on and this is too much of a test. 

You’re fine,” Steve says petulantly, pushing at Eddie’s chest with his pointer finger. Eddie laughs, bright and full.

“Is that how you flirt with all your girlfriends, Mr Charmer?” he asks.

“Of course,” Steve huffs, “the ladies love it when I act cute.”

“This is acting cute?”

“I’m so close to slapping you.”

Eddie is still laughing when they’re called up for food. He’s wearing his jacket inside out because Steve stole it as punishment. Steve follows him to the end of the kitchen counter to get plates and bites the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing too.

“Is he high?” asks Dustin. Steve swoops in to grab the mashed potatoes before Dustin can and ignores the annoyed look he gets in response.

“That wasn’t nice,” Eddie sings. Steve glares.

“See? See! Eddie’s on my side. I can’t believe you’re bullying me!” Dustin howls.

Beside him, Will cracks a grin. He’s always looked sort of sad, but it’s better these days. He looks more whole. Steve wonders if he looks better too.

“Holding up the line, princess,” says Eddie. He squeezes the back of Steve’s neck and laughs when he jerks.

Steve pauses for Eddie to finish serving himself before they go back downstairs. “You’re so mean,” he says, “pinching me and prodding me all the time.”

“‘Cause I like to see you squirm,” Eddie answers.

“Do you,” says Steve. 

“Do you want to come over after this?” asks Eddie, “Unrelated question.”

“You are such an asshole,” Steve grumbles, but he leans closer and licks the gravy off the side of Eddie’s mouth. It tastes better than he expects. 

“Can you guys stop having sex,” Max says dully. “Like. There are kids here.”

“No,” says Eddie.

Steve’s never had Thanksgiving with so many people, but he sort of enjoys it. After they say their goodbyes they both drive to Eddie’s. Steve parks on the gravel outside, and he’s barely managed to lock the doors before Eddie is pinning him up against them.

He moves his cold hands up Steve’s sweater and pulls at the collar of it from the inside. “Missed you,” he says before they’re kissing.

Steve presses up into it, open mouthed. Eddie groans a soft sweetheart before he’s pushing bruises onto Steve’s collarbones with his hand. He moves his other hand to cradle Steve’s face, but then he’s gripping his jaw and tilting his head up and back like he’s trying to climb down his throat. 

“I missed you too,” Steve manages.

“You know,” Eddie says, pulling back. He snaps the string of spit between them with a finger. “If you went to my college we could make out in the classrooms.”

Steve slaps him on the arm.