They make it about ten feet from Eddie’s trailer before Steve just sort of collapses.
“Steve?” Robin’s the first one there, arms around his middle, hesitantly backing off when he hisses in pain.
“I’m okay. I’m just…” Steve’s limbs shake like jelly. And Nancy looks at him with concern. She has Dustin’s arm looped around her shoulder.
Eddie stops walking, one arm clutching his own side. He peers in Steve’s eyes.
“All that adrenaline finally wear off, Harrington?” he asks before switching his attention to Robin. “Alright, Buckley. Pretty sure bending over that far would make me pass out, but I can help carry him.”
“I’m right here,” Steve mumbles.
“Can you stand?” Robin asks, and Steve thinks so. Maybe. He gets to his feet with Robin’s help and sways on the spot before he feels hands on him, steadying. Robin and Eddie. They sandwich him, his arms slung over both of them. Robin has a death grip around his waist.
That’s how they make it to the car, everyone leaning on each other.
And in the backseat, Steve just kind of doesn’t stop, head drooping onto Eddie’s shoulder, eyes drooping too.
“Comfy, King Steve?”
Eddie’s low voice startles Steve awake, but he settles when he remembers where he is. In the front of the car, Robin’s talking to Nancy about rabies shots and penicillin. Steve can hear Dustin muttering low on the walkie.
“Max is okay,” Dustin says. “They’re all okay.”
Steve closes his eyes.
“I don’t know if I should let you do that,” Eddie says, waking him again.
“I’m not concussed or whatever.” Steve knows what concussed feels like. He knows it really well.
“I never said you were. But it’s new territory, isn’t it? Who knows what interdimensional bat bites do to the human body? Contrary to popular belief, I’d prefer not to watch anyone else die this week.”
“I’m just tired, Eddie.” Exhausted. Like sleep isn’t something he’d merely fall into, but something that would suck him down.
“And when a nice nurse can make sure your pretty boy heart isn’t gonna stop, you can sleep.” Eddie squeezes his thigh. “Until then, I’m gonna keep bugging the shit out of you.”
“Do you really think that?” Steve asks, the world blurring by outside the window, unaware as always.
“That I’m pretty.”
Eddie scoffs. “I don’t think you really want me to answer that, Steve. But good news, your castle awaits.”
Nancy pulls up to the emergency room entrance, the abrupt stop of the car making Steve’s head fall off Eddie’s shoulder. He groans.
The car door opens and Robin’s there and between her and using the car as a crutch, he gets out.
“Come on, big boy,” Eddie’s hands catch him again before he can sway right to the ground. “Let’s get you inside.”
Big boy. Again with that shit.
Steve doesn’t remember much more after that.
Jim Hopper’s voice is the first thing Steve hears when awareness floods back in.
Ah, so Steve died then. The bat bites were poisonous or something, and Steve is dead. Cool. God, Robin is gonna take it hard. Dustin will be inconsolable.
“Calvin, just uncuff him for fuck’s sake.”
“You can’t come back from the dead, waltz in, and start telling me what to do. Jim, he’s a wanted murderer, and you’re a goddamn ghost.”
Steve blinks up at a tiled ceiling, turns his head toward the voices. They’re coming from somewhere in the hall outside of his hospital room. He’s in the hospital then. Not dead. Probably. Maybe. But...
Hopper sighs. “Calvin, do you remember a few years ago after the Byers boy showed back up, when you found me in my office that one night?”
“Slumped on the floor chain smoking with a bottle of whiskey. Yeah, I remember.”
“And you asked what the hell was wrong, and I said I couldn’t tell you. You didn’t wanna know. You still don’t wanna know. There’s a lot of bad shit in and around Hawkins, Calvin. And I can tell you without even meeting the kid that Eddie Munson isn’t it.”
“S’true,” Steve says, but his throat feels like sandpaper, and the sound comes out as a wheeze, whistling, failing to carry. He tries to grope for the water cup someone left on his bedside table and knocks something off–one of the pins from Eddie’s vest, the rest just sitting there. Steve stares at them, touches his ribs, finds a hospital gown stretched over his skin.
“Harrington, you awake in there?”
“You’re dead. Am I dead?” But Jim Hopper looks weary, all rail-thin and bruised up. And Steve knows it has to be real because he doesn’t have an imagination big enough to change Hopper like that, not in his dreams, not even in his nightmares.
“Long story.” Hopper gets the cup sitting on the bedside table and helps Steve hold the straw. The water eases away the sticky feeling.
“Eddie. You’re gonna fix it?”
Hopper puts a hand on Steve’s arm and squeezes. “Yeah, kid, I’m gonna fix it.”
“Good,” Steve says. “Because I don’t know how.”
Steve’s face wobbles. Hopper squeezes his arm tighter. “No one expects you to. No one expects any of you to do that, okay?”
“Okay.” And then, a little delirious. “He thinks I’m pretty.”
Hopper’s brows go up, but he smiles like he just heard something funny. “I’ve got your boy, son. Just rest.”
So Steve rests.
The next time Steve wakes up, Eddie’s sitting in the chair by the window. He’s in a hospital gown too, wearing thin hospital socks. He’s got his legs pulled up on the seat with him, arms wrapped around his knees, and he’s looking out the window. His hair looks clean and soft, pulled up into a bun. There are sunbeams on his face.
“Hey,” Steve says. Eddie looks different without his clothes and rings, with his hair up. Softer, the tattoos the only markers of the real Eddie.
Eddie turns his face away from the window. “Hey yourself.”
“You look good.”
A smile flits across Eddie’s eyes, something sad chasing it away. “You look like shit, and I mean that as a friend.”
Steve laughs, winces. “Ow, fuck.” He holds his side, looks at Eddie again. “They let you go.”
Eddie nods. “Can’t leave Roane County, but I was assured by Jim fucking Hopper of all people that it’ll be fine. He called me ‘kid’ and ‘son’ at least seven times each. I didn’t really care for the whole interaction, dude.”
Steve grins. “Sounds like Hop.”
He watches Eddie fiddle with the scrunched-down top of one sock where he’s still holding his legs. Watches him chew on the inside of his bottom lip.
“You look good too,” Eddie says. “Even if you look like shit, you look good.”
Steve thinks about that, thinks about his favorite sweater with the loose thread, the one he forces himself not to pull on. Steve’s maybe a little out of it still, exhausted and–he imagines–probably on some pretty decent drugs.
But there’s a thread loose in his soul, isn’t there? One that started unraveling back in a Starcourt bathroom, tugging at the back of his mind since Robin made him realize that maybe the world was less black and white, less boy has to meet girl, more boy can meet another boy sometimes too .
Eddie staring at his mouth in the Upside Down basically telling him he deserved something good, deserved to be loved. Eddie calling him ‘big boy.’ Calling him ‘pretty boy.’
“Do you mean that as a friend too?” Steve asks, ripping the sweater to pieces.
There’s sunshine on Eddie’s cheek when he says, “I don’t think you want me to answer that either.”
Then the nurse comes, and Steve can’t tell him that yes, actually, he really does.
It’s another week before Steve gets out of the hospital. His parents sweep into town because Steve is the center of attention, and they need to make sure they’re seen with him.
The news says Henry Creel died in a shootout with the Feds. The news says Steve Harrington and Eddie Munson saved a bunch of kids from a serial murderer.
Steve’s mother drags him to the grocery store even though all he wants to do is sleep. She parades him through the aisles, makes sure people see her with her arm around him, makes sure they hear her saying things like, “No, honey, you shouldn’t strain yourself. I’ve got it.”
A show. A performance. A fucking circus.
At least at home they leave him alone. That part is easy for them.
Steve spots Eddie once during that week, moves to go talk to him where he leans against the wall outside the gas station, feels his father’s hand tighten at his waist when he starts to take a step closer.
A voice in his ear. “Tigers can’t change their stripes and rats can’t change their teeth. He’s a hero now, but he’s still trash. Which do you think people will remember in the end?”
He makes eye contact with Eddie and gives a weak wave. It’s something. A small act of defiance, practice for something bigger.
I still see you. I still want to see you.
It’s a blessed relief when his parents think they’ve performed enough. When they leave again.
Steve picks up the phone before their car is even out of the driveway.
“You should come over. I want to talk.”
The silver lining of his parents visiting is that Steve has had a good couple weeks to let his thoughts settle. It hadn’t taken much.
Maybe it’s because he’s had since Starcourt to come to some kind of peace with how he used to feel about that fucking animated fox, or even how he felt getting punched out by Jonathan Byers.
Maybe it’s because he’s so tired that having some kind of crisis right now just feels exhausting. But it’s easy to let Eddie in the front door, and it’s easy to sit down next to him on the couch.
And it’s easy, too, to say, “I wanna know, man. All the questions you think I don’t want answered, Eddie. I wanna know.”
“No you don’t, Harrington.” Eddie laughs bitterly. “Even in another world, in another fucking lifetime, Steve, no you don’t.”
Why not this world? Why not this lifetime? Why not us, huh? Why don’t we fucking deserve to smile?
“Because even if I could kiss you without starting a riot, they never let peasants date kings, Steve.”
“You’re not.” Steve looks Eddie over. “I haven’t been a king for a long time. And if I was, and if you were, I’d run all over town with the stupid glass shoe looking for you, okay?”
Eddie reaches out and cups his cheek like he’s trying to indulge a child. “No you wouldn’t.”
Steve grabs his wrist, holds on tight, like he’s trying to plead through every little bone in his hand. “Don’t tell me what I wouldn’t do, Eddie. Don’t tell me the damn odds or whatever.”
“That’s not the line.”
“I don’t care, dude,” Steve says, frustrated. “Do you know how crazy it makes me feel to know about all that shit and then have to walk into the fucking video store like I’m just some regular dude? Do you know how fucking sick I am of expectations?”
“You’ll lose your pretty house and pretty life and then you’ll resent me, Steve. You’ll resent your struggling musician boyfriend and the way everyone will look at you because they know you’re queer and that you’re fucking around with trailer trash, no less.”
And it feels like too much too fast, but it also feels like the truth (like so many truths) when Steve says, “Eddie, I’d burn this house to the ground right now to know what your mouth tastes like.”
Eddie looks about four seconds away from crying, about two seconds away from throwing a punch.
“Goddammit, Harrington, you never leave anything alone.” And he fists the front of Steve's shirt and pulls, and Steve lets him, lets his body fall into Eddie’s. And that’s what their first kiss is–falling, collision.
It’s a mess. Eddie kisses him like he can’t breathe without it. Steve kisses back like he’s sick of air and would rather suck Eddie into his lungs instead.
Either way, they’re both panting by the end.
“Well,” Eddie says, “what does it taste like then?”
“I don’t know yet.” And Steve pulls Eddie to him that time.
Steve wakes up with Eddie in his bed and in his nose and on his skin. It’s easy to get up and find a bag in the closet. It’s easy to start packing while he lets Eddie sleep.
“You going somewhere, Stevie?”
Steve calmly folds another shirt. “I said I’d burn it down, didn’t I?”
There’s a hand at his back, a gentle touch between his shoulder blades. “I’ll see if I can find some boxes.”
“Check the garage.”
Eddie helps him the rest of the morning. He ribs Steve for his music taste but treats every tape like it’s important when he slots it into a box. They kiss for five minutes over the top of Steve’s packed-up shoes. Kiss for ten over a box of photos.
Some part of Steve’s pretty sure that, for all he knows he’s young and things don’t always last even when you want them to, he’s never gonna stop kissing Eddie Munson. He’s okay with it. He’s okay with what it means to let himself have this, to someday tell the world about it and accept what comes with that too.
Steve has fought harder shit, and he would’ve fought that battle anyway eventually. For Robin and Will if not for himself too.
“Penny for your thoughts, Harrington.” And Eddie offers him a penny with a punched-out dinosaur in the middle. From a school trip when he was seven or eight maybe.
“Where’d you even find that?” Steve forgot all about it, about how he’d loved the dinosaur exhibit so much that he’d worn it on a string around his wrist for a while. Until Tommy Hagan said it made him look like a nerd and he’d never worn it again.
“Back of your sock drawer, wedged into the wood.” Eddie smiles, flirts with his eyes when he pokes the penny into Steve’s front pocket. “You okay?”
“Yeah, man. Just taking it all in. A lot of it’s been a long time coming.”
“Just because it’s sweet doesn’t mean it can’t be bitter,” Eddie says. “Just because it’s satisfying doesn’t mean it’s not allowed to hurt.”
Steve leans his head onto Eddie’s hip. “I just wanted them to love me. Even once. Just once.”
He feels Eddie’s fingers in his hair, feels his hand on his scalp. And it’s like being there after the battle again, Steve swaying, Eddie helping steady him.
Steady Eddie, Steve’s brain unhelpfully supplies, and he laughs quietly, clutching onto Eddie’s jeans, with Eddie’s hand in his hair.
“I know what you mean,” Eddie says, and he holds Steve like that until Steve can move again. He still feels the ghost of Eddie’s fingers in his hair when they carry the first box down the stairs and load it into Eddie’s van.
Hopper answers the door to him and Eddie. He takes one look at the box of trophies in Steve’s arms and stands aside for him to walk into the cabin.
“I can go somewhere else,” Steve says. He isn’t sure where exactly, but he’d figure it out.
“Here’s as good as anywhere else, kid.” He looks between Steve and Eddie, between Eddie and Steve. “This move your choice or theirs, Steve?”
“Mine," Steve says.
“About time.” He nods at Eddie. “Munson. You good, son?”
“Yes, sir, I’m good.”
“Good. That’s good. Because if you ever do anything to hurt or harm Steve Harrington, I will make sure your life is the very opposite of good. Do we have an understanding?”
Eddie goes slightly wide-eyed, shifts from one foot to the other, jerks a nod. “Understood, sir.”
“Let’s get your stuff, son.” He lands a hand on Steve’s shoulder and squeezes, and his hand is big and warm. And Steve feels safe and, for once, like a parent loves him.
Three months later, Steve packs another bag and slings it over his shoulder. He sits on the front porch with Hopper, accepts a joint when Hopper offers, takes a hit.
Hopper might be the biggest stoner in Hawkins these days, but he’s talked about it a few times–the Russian prison, the demogorgon. Between that and the Upside Down, Steve figures he’s allowed to smoke up all he wants.
“I’ll call once a week or so.”
“I already figured you would.” Hopper stubs the joint out on the porch, puts the rest of it in his pocket. “I think it’ll be good for you two. Get out of Hawkins a bit.”
“Yeah, I think you're right.”
“Just use protection, okay.”
“Dude.” Steve grimaces at Hopper, who just laughs and claps him on the back. They sit there together until Eddie pulls up in his van, already stuffed with instruments and bandmates. They’re playing bars and ticket sales are something like a dozen a show so far, but it’s something besides the Hideout. It’s something a lot like moving on from nightmares and chasing dreams.
Steve might have a dream or two of his own he wants to chase. College maybe. When he gets back from playing roadie for the summer.
“Alright, shitheads,” Eddie says, getting out and slamming the door. “Steve gets shotgun unless one of you losers wants to start dating me. Gare Bear, move your ass.”
Eddie comes closer, tosses a bag of green at Hopper. “So you don’t subject yourself to shitty weed while we’re gone. A humble gift for letting me steal Steve away for a few months.”
“Yep,” Hopper says, pocketing the stash. “This one’s a keeper, Harrington.”
“Trust me, I know.” Steve gives Jim a one-armed hug, picks his bag up off the porch. “Bye, Hop.”
“Bye kid. Try to eat a vegetable once in a while.”
In January of 1987, Steve and Eddie move into a small apartment in Des Moines. Steve starts classes at Des Moines Area Community College. Robin’s an hour away in Iowa City on a band scholarship, and Steve drives over there at least once a month. Robin drives their way just as often, sometimes more if Eddie has a show.
Steve knows it in his bones, that Eddie’s gonna make it. His old bandmates gave it up, but Eddie found new ones. There’s an energy at his shows, something in the way Eddie plays and commands the room.
Knowing the future doesn’t stop the present from being hard. Eddie always forgets when it's his turn to do the dishes. Sometimes the only thing in the fridge is a bottle of ketchup, and the only thing in the pantry is a loaf of white bread. But they eat their ketchup sandwiches and make love on the threadbare couch and it’s good. For all that it's bad, it’s so good.
“Are you still happy that you did it?” Eddie asks, the two of them smoking weed by the window that barely opens, leaning down to exhale through the crack. “That you gave up your life as a king for Cindereddie here?”
“Babe, you know you don’t have to fish like that to get me to be sweet to you.” But Steve pulls him against him anyway and kisses the daylights out of him. “You know, man, I always thought it was funny that out of the two of us, I’m the one you thought was royalty.”
In 1995, Torch the Castle’s I’m Glad You Asked album goes gold and then platinum.
Eddie can barely stand when he gets the first call. He throws up when he gets the second. In a bathroom that barely fits them both, Steve holds back Eddie's hair and rubs circles on his back.
“I love you,” Steve says. “And I hope you know this is all you’ve ever deserved.”
Eddie sits back from the toilet, pale, wiping his mouth.
“Stop,” Steve holds his gaze. “Everything, Eddie. You deserve it all.”
“And what about you?” Eddie asks, one of his toes digging into Steve's hip. “Did you get what you deserve?”
Steve thinks about coaching at the high school, about the nerd camp he works at in the summers where every kid reminds him of his favorite little shitbirds. He thinks about Robin and Nancy with their apartment a block away, about their adopted little girl who calls him Uncle Steve and wears a dinosaur penny around her neck.
He thinks about the kids and how they’re not kids anymore, how they’re all finding their own footing out in the world, how Henderson chose Iowa State to be close to him and Eddie.
He thinks about the room at Joyce and Hop’s new place that still holds some of his old sports trophies, plus a picture of the whole Hawkins extended family at Steve’s graduation from DMACC, Steve beaming from the middle of a crushing group hug.
And he thinks of Eddie, legs twisted with his on a bathroom floor. Of Eddie and scars that match. Of Eddie and bright futures and getting to see someone you love so happy they puke.
Steve curls his hand around Eddie’s bare calf, runs his thumb across a tattoo of a crown resting on a glass slipper.
"Eddie, I think I got all I ever wanted a long time ago.”