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December, 1985

7:23pm

It’s the fourth day of winter break, a Tuesday. The sky has already gone dark blue; the trees and the roads are quiet. Steve and Robin’s shift at the video store is over and now, because life has not been going good for them at all, they're sprawled on their backs in Steve's front yard, bored as hell.

“Winter break should not be this lame,” Steve says flatly, glaring up at the stars starting to emerge in the sky.

“Apparently Casey Della and her friends are in Miami,” Robin sighs. “Miami.”

What Steve wouldn’t give to be in Miami right now. Beaches, cocktails, skylines, girls in tiny bikinis and guys with suntanned chests on display. He blows out a long, wistful breath. “Carol and Tommy H. got Louisa Haywood’s dad to pay for a trip to some fancy ski place in Colorado.”

“Fuck."

“Why is everyone else having such a great winter break and we’re here, doing this?"

Robin groans. “And it’s only Tuesday. I never thought I’d say it, but at least school gives us something to do.”

“Speak for yourself, dumbass. I graduated. This Tuesday and next Tuesday and the Tuesday after that are all gonna be the exact same for me.”

“Sounds like you need a hobby, Harrington.”

“I have a hobby,” Steve scoffs. "It’s called laying on the grass in the middle of winter with my lame-ass friend."

“Whoa, slow down, wonderboy. You’re a snarky comment away from being demoted to shithead."

“God, yeah. I’d hate for that to happen.”

He can feel Robin roll her eyes.

 

7:45pm

“Where are your parents?” Robin asks, now sitting up and drawing patterns in the grass with her fingertip. There hasn’t been any snow in Hawkins yet, much to the entire town’s disappointment.

“Dinner? Vegas? Hell if I know.” Steve blows out a breath. The constellation above him looks like a gnome. “They don’t care where I am and I don’t care where they are. Works out great.”

He didn’t mean it to sound bitter, but he can feel Robin’s pitiful gaze on him anyways.

“Come on, Robin,” he sighs, letting his head roll to the side so he can look up at her. “You know I don’t care.”

“I know. It just sucks.”

“Seriously, stop. This is not a Harrington Pity Party day. Those are reserved for Saturdays only."

Robin rolls her eyes. “Uh-huh.” She flops onto her back again and surveys the sky for a moment before pointing. "That one looks like a Demo-“

“Shut the fuck up, Robin."

 

8:08pm

It’s official: he’s going to go insane just four days into Christmas break - two if you don’t count last weekend. If he has to spend one more minute on this dry grass with the cold starting to set in, he’s really going to snap. He doesn’t know what he’ll do or what him snapping consists of, but it will happen. It’s almost too cold to bear so they’ll have to go inside, and then what? Stare at the walls? Bake a pie? Paint each other’s nails? Fuck winter break -

“Guys?”

Both of them sit up so fast that Steve feels his back crack. His eyes go wide: in the last slivers of light he sees Dustin biking down the street into their cul-de-sac, bright red shirt, curly hair tucked under his trucker hat; their saving grace. What he can do for them, Steve has no idea, but anything has to be better than this.

“Henderson!” Robin cheers. “Our lord and savior! Come join the party!”

Dustin frowns, coming to a stop in front of them and hopping off his bike. “Party? You guys look like the stoners that hang around the park during the summer and scare off all the kids.” Dustin’s eyebrows up go. “Wait, are you two high right now?”

Steve moans. “Fuck, I wish I was high.”

Robin slaps him. “Dude, he’s like fourteen. You’re being a bad influence.” After a retrospective moment, she sighs. “But yeah. I wish we were high."

Dustin drops his bike next to the mailbox and moves to sit in between them. Steve looks over him, a crease forming between his eyebrows as he realizes there’s something off.

“Everything okay?” he asks, nudging Dustin’s side. Dustin shrugs, staring resolutely at the grass beneath him. Steve exchanges a concerned glance with Robin before looking back at Dustin. “You wanna talk about it?”

“It’s not a big deal.” From the dejected tone of his voice, though, it sounds like a big deal.

“Is it the redhead and the slingshot kid again?”

Dustin rolls his eyes. “Okay, firstly, it’s a wrist-rocket. Secondly, their names are Max and Lucas. And thirdly…” Some of his temper seems to drain out of him then. “Yeah. I guess so.”

Steve frowns. “Where are they at?”

“Max and Lucas? No clue. Sucking face somewhere, probably.”

Out of view of Dustin, Robin makes a yikes face at Steve. The bitterness radiating off the kid is palpable.

“What about Mike?” Besides Dustin, Mike and El are the only names Steve can ever remember.

“Talking to El on Cerebro.”

“So it’s just you, huh?”

“Yep. And it’ll probably be just me until school starts again,” Dustin adds gloomily.

“Not true,” Steve says. “I’m here, and so is Robin."

“Yeah, but you guys are way older. You do fun stuff that I can’t.”

Robin laughs, lightheartedly punching him in the shoulder. “Dude, does it look like we’re doing fun stuff that you can’t? This is literally all we’re going to be doing for the rest of break.”

“Seriously?”

Steve sighs. “Yeah, we get it, okay? We’re lame. We know.”

“You’re not lame. Why else would I be here?”

“Extreme boredom?”

Dustin shrugs. “I like you guys."

“Lucky for us, you’re one of the few.”

They sit there for a little while longer until Dustin lets out a conspicuous cough.

“So…are we going to do something?”

“If you can come up with something, Henderson, I’m all ears,” Steve says flatly.

“Don’t you have a house full of stuff?”

“Unless you wanna play with my old Tonka Trucks, not really.”

“What do you guys keep in your garage?” Robin asks. “Maybe you have an inflatable bouncy house that we can fuck around with.”

Steve snorts. “Yeah, right.” He pauses, puzzle pieces clicking into place all of a sudden. “The garage. I haven’t been in there in forever. We don’t even keep our cars in there.”

Dustin frowns. “So?”

“So, who knows what the hell is in there?”

“Can’t know until we find out,” Robin says with a grin.

 

Steve shoves open the door to the garage and yanks the chain that turns the lone overhead bulb on. It illuminates a storage space that hasn’t once been used for its intended purpose ever since the Harringtons moved in. Cardboard boxes labeled with things like Kitchenware and Steve - 4th Grade are crammed in between tall, overstuffed shelves, and heavy duty trashbags are tossed haphazardly on top of everything. A library’s worth of books, tons of clothes for Goodwill, Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving decorations, a drum kit, a clarinet and a flute, a neon orange electric guitar, a brand new golf set collecting dust, VHS tapes taking up all the free space and cassettes taking up everywhere else. It’s an absolute mess, a testament to both Steve’s mom’s hoarding mindset and the sheer amount of money they’ve thrown away on things they’ve only used once.

They split up, dust starting to choke the air as they move bags and boxes. “What exactly are we looking for?” Robin asks.

“Anything to stop this boredom.”

A few minutes in, Dustin uncovers a dilapidated cardboard box full of dusty unopened bottles of every kind of alcohol. Steve and Robin exchange glances, and Steve knows they’re thinking the same thing when they look back to Dustin.

“You ever been drunk, Henderson?"

 

8:34pm

“HH&B's, now open for business,” Steve says with a grin, striding into the kitchen and heaving the box of alcohol onto the bar, the bottles clinking within.

“HH&B’s?” Dustin asks.

“Harrington, Henderson, and Buckley’s,” Steve clarifies, pulling out three oversized cups. They crowd around the box and start pulling out bottles to see what they have. Steve has to blow dust off a couple of the labels. “Grey Goose, gin, Kahlúa, Bacardi, peach and blackberry schnapps - hot damn.”

“Since when do your parents buy such high-brand stuff, dude?” Robin asks, examining another bottle. “This is limoncello. Who the hell has limoncello just sitting in their garage?”

“What’s limoncello?” Dustin asks, peering over her shoulder.

“An Italian drink. Never had it. Heard it tastes like ass, though.”

“They must’ve brought it back when they went to Italy last year,” Steve says. “Damn, there’s some Bailey’s here too.”

Robin whistles. “That’s the shit."

“Here’s an open bottle of tequila,” Dustin says. Steve shakes his head and grabs it from him, putting it on the highest shelf of the highest cupboard he can reach so his drunk self won’t get to it and make a bad decision.

“Hell no. We are not doing tequila. Not tonight, not ever.”

“Then what are we doing?”

Steve throws him a look. “Easy there. You gotta take this thing slow. I don’t want your mom yelling at me because you downed six shots of mezcal and ended up in the ER with alcohol poisoning.” He looks over the selection and then up to Robin. “My first drink was a super sugared-down vodka juice. What was yours?”

“Same thing.”

He nods, opening the fridge to assert what kind of mix-ins they have. “A solid initiation drink. Looks like all we have is cranberry, pineapple, and orange, though."

Robin shrugs. “Screwdrivers?”

“Screwdrivers,” Steve agrees.

He pours them each a mix of vodka and orange juice, and though it’s probably too primitive to actually be called a proper screwdriver, it’ll do the job. Dustin inspects his cup with such a suspicious look that Steve laughs. “Dude, it’s not going to kill you, I promise. Cheers.”

“Cheers,” the other two echo.

Steve is anticipating the sting of it, but both he and Robin have had enough before that the gasoline-burn has been dulled down to the same effect of drinking water after chewing mint gum. Dustin, on the other hand, has apparently never had an ounce of alcohol in his life, and regardless of the fact that it’s all sugared down, the expression he makes at his first sip is priceless. Steve almost spit-takes, and once he swallows he and Robin burst out in full-fledged laughter. Dustin’s face is all wrinkled, eyes squeezed shut, gasping as he recovers.

“Henderson -“ Steve wheezes, leaning against the wall for balance, “you look like a baby that just bit into a lemon."

“You - this - shit -” Dustin gasps, still coughing, liquid sloshing dangerously in his cup. Robin laughs, taking his cup to taste it. To Steve’s surprise, she winces.

“Geez, Steve, there’s barely any juice in this. No wonder he’s tapping out.”

Steve frowns. “Really? Here.” He passes over the orange juice and Robin quickly dumps half the vodka from Dustin’s cup to hers, refilling his cup the rest of the way with juice.

“There,” she says triumphantly, handing it back. “Watered down for the appropriate consumption of a fourteen-year-old."

Dustin gingerly tastes it again. He still flinches, but he takes a bigger gulp and seems to manage it better, so that’s progress, Steve decides.

“Great,” Dustin says flatly. "Tastes less like acetone and more like fermented orange juice.”

Steve grins. “That’s what it’s all about, baby."

 

9:14pm

“Guys, I don’t think it’s working,” Dustin says dubiously. Steve shrugs.

“You’ve barely had any. Just go slow, yeah? I don’t want you throwing your guts all over my couch.”

Robin taps the side of her cup contemplatively. “Weren’t there a lot of movies in your garage?”

Steve nods, taking a slow sip. “Yeah, boxes. Why?”

“Be right back.”

She disappears just like that, leaving Steve and Dustin to stare at the wall. Steve takes a long drink from his cup, sharp vodka and tangy artificial orange, and he looks over at Dustin.

“You’re not gonna tell your mom I got you drunk, right?” he asks, suddenly worried that Mrs. Henderson’s view of him is about to be skewed completely sideways.

Dustin snorts. “She’d kill me and then you, so that’s not really in our best interests, Steve.”

“Oh. Yeah. Right.”

They sit in silence until Robin returns a few minutes later, a VHS in one hand. “The hell is that?” Steve asks as she puts it into the player below the TV.

“Twilight Zone.”

“What? That movie sucks, Robin.”

“It’s boring as hell,” Dustin agrees.

“I don’t care,” Robin snaps, flopping back onto the couch beside Steve. “I like it, so we’re watching it until we come up with something else to do or we’re drunk enough to enjoy it."

 

9:39pm

Thirty minutes into what Steve thinks is the worst movie in existence, movement catches his eye. He watches Dustin attempt to stand up, but then he wobbles on his feet and sits right back down.

Steve raises an eyebrow at him. “Feeling it yet?”

Dustin nods. “Think so."

Steve’s feeling it, that’s for sure. An hour in and he’s already downed two drinks and a cup of water to balance it out. Everything is nice and breezy, pleasantly worry-free, but he's starting to get restless with that itchy feeling of boredom again. Sitting on the couch slightly lightheaded watching this dumbass movie doesn’t quite do it for him, not after the parties he’s been to and the blackouts he’s had and the beds he’s woken up in.

“We need to do something, guys, otherwise we’re just gonna fall asleep.”

“Like what?” Robin groans.

“I don’t know. What else was in the garage?”

They all stare at each other, contemplating.

“Golf?” Robin offers.

“Absolutely not.”

“Knitting?”

“No, shithead.”

“The instruments,” Dustin whispers. Steve frowns at him.

“What?”

“The instruments."

Oh, yeah. The instruments.

 

10:22pm

“We’re geniuses!” Dustin screams, slamming his drumsticks down again. Steve agrees wholeheartedly.

“We have to start a band,” he says, running his fingers over the strings. He doesn’t know what he’s doing on this electric guitar but the noises coming out of the amp sound great and nobody has told him to stop.

“Oh my God, can we?” Robin looks up from her clarinet. She’s doing fucking fantastic too, he thinks. He’s pretty sure. “For real?”

“Fuck yeah for real. What’s our name gonna be?” Dustin yells out a suggestion, but it can’t be heard over him smashing the drums. Steve wobbles over, waving a hand to get him to stop. “What?"

“The Boy Scouts.”

“Dude, we’re not calling ourselves the Boy Scouts.”

Robin blows a particularly loud note on her clarinet and then squints at Steve. “The…Llama Logs.”

“The Swole Cats,” Dustin offers.

“Robin and the Dipshits.”

“Dustin and the Graduates.”

“Robin, Dustin, and the Hair.”

“Guys, you’re just putting random words together!” Steve yells. They’re gonna give him a headache. “It has to be cool and catchy.

“Fuck, Steve, I don’t know,” Robin sighs, tipping her cup back to finish it off.

“I got it!” Dustin shouts. He slams his drumsticks down a few times in a bad impression of a drumroll and then looks back up. “Scoops Troop: the Hair, First Chair, and Debonair.

Steve stares at him. “I don’t know what half of those words mean.”

“Isn’t debonair an adjective?” Robin asks.

“It doesn’t matter. It works.”

Steve shrugs. It rhymes, and he’s the hair, obviously, so it all fits together in his book. “Sure.”

Robin goes back to doing fantastic on the clarinet and Dustin goes back to drumming like that guy from Led Zeppelin, so Steve takes another drink and turns his amp up to max volume. Scoops Troop. He grins. They’ll probably go platinum one day.

 

11:10pm

“Guys, guys, look!”

Steve drags his eyes around to Robin, and upon realizing she’s pointing to the clock in the kitchen, he drags his eyes over there. But there aren’t even numbers on the clock - just bullshit letters. V and II and other mindfuckery that shouldn’t be on a clock. It’s algebra, letters where they don’t belong.

“That’s in another language, Robin,” he says incredulously. Robin rolls her eyes.

No, dingus, it’s almost 11:11. See?”

Steve doesn’t see shit, but Dustin’s mouth falls open in a revelatory ahh sort of way, and all of a sudden Steve feels left out.

“So?” he jibes.

So, that means you have to wish a make.”

“Says who?”

“Says my camp counselor,” Dustin mumbles, transfixed by the clock. His camp counselor is a good enough authority for Steve, so they stare at the clock for the next forty-something seconds, until it ticks over to 11:11 and Robin takes a deep breath like she’s about to blow out the candles on a cake.

“Wish your make!”

As she exhales all over the clock and Dustin just stands there staring, Steve squints at the whackass letters, his brain spinning like tires on ice. Wish, wish, wish. Wiiiiiish. What does he want? It’s not as if this stuff ever comes true anyways, but maybe this time…

He squeezes his eyes shut and casts his mind around. The first thing he lands on is a new car, which is a stupid thing to wish for because the car he has right now is perfectly fine. The second thing is…well, the second thing is stupid too, and even his wasted brain knows it. Shit, he’s running out of time. The third thing - the third thing! He opens his eyes - no, wait, he should have them closed for wishing. I wish for Keith to give me a hundred dollar raise. Please.

He opens his eyes for good this time. A perfectly reasonable request. Satisfied, he turns to look at Robin, who is still blowing air all over the clock, and Dustin, who has finished his wish and is now taking a dangerously large drink of his vodka. It is vodka, right? Are we drinking something else now?

“What did you guys wish for?” he asks.

“You’re not supposed to say,” Robin pouts.

Dustin ignores her. Staring into his cup like he’s going to unlock the secrets of the universe at the bottom, he says, “To not be so fucking lonely.”

If Steve hadn’t had the equivalent of about five drinks already, Dustin’s words would be a slap of sobriety. As it is, he has had the equivalent of five drinks, so it’s more like a small, sad wave of pity that comes over him.

“Dude…” he says quietly. “That’s sad.”

Dustin doesn’t say anything, just tilts his head back and drains the rest of his cup. “I need - hic - something else.”

Steve squints at him. “How much have you had?”

Dustin hiccups again. “Three?"

Steve glances at Robin for help; she shrugs. Up to you. Logically, he knows it’d be pretty bad if it got to the point where Dustin blacked out. But if the kid has only had a few drinks, and he can still see straight…

“Fine,” he concedes, heading into the kitchen. “But tell me when you start feeling like you can’t stand up anymore, okay? And you have to drink this,” he adds, filling a new cup with tap water and handing it to him. He’s had enough accidents caused by a lack of water that its necessity has branded itself into his brain.

Dustin climbs up onto a barstool, shoves a bunch of curls away from his face, and starts on the water. Robin sidles up next to Steve, examining the bottles. “Drink change?” she asks. Steve nods, eyes still on Dustin. He’s nowhere at all in order, but he has to ask Dustin what’s wrong. He has to, because if Dustin is sad, then Steve is sad, and Robin is sad, and the whole night is ruined. Logically.

“Hey.” Leaning across the counter, he reaches out and pokes Dustin’s nose. "Talk to me."

Dustin groans, pushing his water aside and dropping his forehead onto his arms. “I just - hic - miss everyone. And nobody - hic - wants to hang out anymore. They’re - hic - all sad and…like me.”

“Duuuuude, you are not sad. You’re drunk."

“I can be both,” he mumbles into the granite. Steve rolls his eyes. This kid is extremely melodramatic.

“We just need to do something fun.

“Keith called me a wastoid, once,” Dustin says, ignoring Steve’s words. “That’s what I am, Steve. A wastoid.”

“Fuck that. You’re the coolest kid I know,” Robin chimes in, pouring herself a cup of something new. “And I know at least six kids,” she adds smartly. Steve nods vigorously even though Dustin can’t see him.

“See? Hustin Denderson. Coolest kid around. Not a wastoid."

Dustin lifts his head and looks at them contemplatively. “Huh. I guess - if you two are hanging out with me - I must be cool. Or you have no friends.” He lets out a laugh. “You guys have no friends. That’s funny.”

Steve narrows his eyes. “I take it back. Asshole.”

 

12:42am

The entire world is spinning. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the trees outside the windows - it all becomes a kaleidoscope of dark blue and gray and green with every movement Steve makes. It doesn’t matter though, because he’s having the time of his life. How could he not be? He’s a fucking artist.

“Robin, that’s my goddamn green.”

Robin groans, flinging a crayon at him. “It’s not called goddamn green.”

“Yeah? It is?” Why is everything coming out like a question? “I’m sure it is?"

He and Robin are sprawled on Steve’s bedroom floor, drawing in the coloring books they found in the garage. Steve’s is a Lisa Frank one, and he’s in love. Who knew art could be so magical?

“Did you know…” He has to pause as he scrutinizes the tail of the unicorn he’s coloring. Needs more blue, probably. “Did you know that…unicorns…”

“Spit it out,” Robin demands.

“Real! They’re real."

“No they're not, Steve,” Dustin drawls from where he’s sitting on Steve’s bed. He found a copy of some ancient cartoon under the bed and now he’s hypnotized, near-empty glass in one hand and remote in the other. There’s a bag of veggie chips in front of him and Steve is seized with an urge to eat some. “You’re just drawing a horse. It’s not cool and it isn’t real - hey!”

He yelps as Steve snags a handful of veggie chips, making more of a mess than he originally intended. “It’s a unicorn, asshole,” Steve snaps, shoving the chips into his mouth. “And they are real.” They taste disgusting and he immediately spits them out into the trashcan by his dresser.

“Holy shit, are those veggie chips?” Robin gasps.

“Yeah, they suck,” Steve says bitterly.

“Nooooo, veggie chips are amazing.” She crams the chips into her mouth and then, as she chews them, she appears to have an epiphany. “Guys. We need to make band posters.”

Steve’s and Dustin’s jaws drop in unison, and then Steve flings his coloring book away. I’ll be back later, unicorn, he silently promises. He scrambles to his feet, glancing wildly around the room. “What do we need?"

Robin opens her mouth to answer, but at that moment the bedroom door swings open of its own accord. All three of them turn to stare at it.

“Fuck, we’re haunted,” Steve says.

“Oh, God, we should hide.” Robin looks extremely stressed, Steve observes. “That’s what you’re supposed to do when a ghost comes around, right?"

“Guys, guys,” Dustin says, waving his arms as he stumbles to his feet, “I used to be a Ghostbuster. I got this."

Steve sits down with Robin and together they watch Dustin move towards the door.

“What are you gonna do?” Robin whispers.

“Banish it,” Dustin says smartly, grabbing the nail bat that Steve keeps leaning against the dresser. A red light goes off in his brain - maybe an intoxicated fourteen-year-old shouldn’t be wielding that kind of weapon - but it’s kind of a dull red, not a bright warning red, so it can’t be that important. He leans against Robin’s side and takes another drink.

“Dude, be careful,” is all he offers as Dustin carefully approaches the door.

“Shh, I got it.”

He reaches out with his free hand, testing the air inside the doorframe. He waves it around, searching, and finally he grins. “Begone, ghost!” he shouts, swinging the bat. It connects with the door, but Dustin isn’t known for his arm strength, so all it does is glance off the wood and knock him to the floor with the weight of it. All the terror gone just like that, Steve and Robin both crack up laughing.

“Yeah, you got it,” Steve giggles. Dustin glares at him.

“Is the ghost still here? I don’t think so, asshole.”

“Dude, I don’t think it ever was here,” Robin laughs.

“Says the one who wanted to hide!” Dustin crawls across the floor to them and picks up his cup. “I hate you guys.”

Steve shrugs. “We know. Can we go back to band posters now?”

 

1:27am

The stars are so, so bright. There’s hundreds - obviously there’s more, Steve knows, they’ve just been dulled down by the city lights. But they’re out there, and that’s what counts.

“Do you see?” He points out a familiar constellation that he can’t quite place. Maybe one of the others will know it. “There.”

They’re sitting on the rooftop, legs dangling over the front yard. The night is lit with Christmas lights, each house boasting their own variation of red, blue, green, and white. The air is cold, but the Bailey’s they’re passing back and forth is warm.

“Are they real?” Robin asks.

“Of course they’re real."

“Are you sure?” Dustin says dubiously, his sentence ending in a hiccup. “I once read a…a…a speory? Thiracy?”

Steve squints at him. “Conspiracy theory?”

“Yeaaaa, one of those. About stars being fake or something. It was insane.”

Steve stares up at the sky and its blanket of glitter. Could they really be fake? If stars are fake, does that mean the planets are fake too? Is the sun fake? And if all that is fake, are aliens real? Are black holes actually safe? Is there sound and oxygen in space?

Too many questions. He can feel a migraine coming on. Fool move, Harrington. You think too much, you get migraines.

“We’re so small,” Dustin murmurs. “You know?”

He doesn’t elaborate, but Steve gets it. Everything is bigger than them. Means more than them. It’s wonderful, he thinks, and it’s terrifying. But that’s beauty. It has to be.

 

1:54am

He's in the middle of counting the rainbow lights on the huge oak tree across the cul-de-sac when Robin stands up so abruptly that he breaks focus and loses count.

“Fuck, Robin, you made me mess up!”

“Boohoo,” she says petulantly. “Get up.”

Steve and Dustin stare up at her. “Um, why?” Dustin asks. A reasonable question, Steve thinks.

Because. If you want to - you know - say something - now is the best time.”

“Say what?” Steve demands.

“I don’t know! Anything! Nobody is around, Steve. We can say anything we want.”

Steve’s mouth parts in a surprised oh. “Anything?”

“Fuck, yes, Steve, anything!”

Steve stands up, ushering Dustin up with him. He grabs Robin’s arm to keep himself from pitching right over the edge.

“Okay, okay, you first, Buckley. Your idea.”

Robin takes a deep breath, neck of the Bailey’s gripped tight in one hand, eyes squeezed shut. “I’m - I - I like girls. Only. ”

It comes out of her in a rush, euphoria and terror all at once. Steve already knows this particular fact about her but he can see what it’s cost her to speak it aloud, even if it’s only to them and the aliens, even if everything is easier with the alcohol.

“You do?” Dustin asks, looking up at her. No accusation or disgust in his voice, just curiosity. Robin takes another drink and nods.

“Yep. That’s me, Denderson.”

“Oh.” Dustin looks back out at the street, the Christmas lights. “I didn’t know girls could like girls. That’s cool though. I like girls too, so we have something in common.”

“Me too,” Steve says, grinning. Robin snorts, the jitters already out of her system.

“Who doesn’t? Have you ever seen a woman? They’re all so fucking…” She shakes her head incredulously, blowing out a breath. "Anyways. Your turn, Dustin.”

Clinging tight to Steve’s side, Dustin takes a minute to think it over. Finally, he says, “Nightmares. I mean, I have them.” His words are slurring together, his voice struggling to be devoid of emotion, but Steve knows that if they were sober he’d be able to hear the sadness.

“Trust me, I have them too,” he says. “All the time.”

“Really?”

“Um, yeah. That shit…you can’t go through it and not have nightmares, dude.”

“Oh. Okay. Good.”

Steve wants to add something like you can always call me but the words die before he manages to get them off his tongue. Oh well. Another time. Dustin wobbles in place and then straightens up a little. “Your turn, Steve."

Steve considers. He doesn’t really know what to say. His brain is all technicolor right now, the Christmas lights blurring together into one neon mess. Everything is warm and happy and he doesn’t want to ruin it.

He could go with the second thing he was going to wish for earlier. The thing that’s so stupid and unrealistic it’s ridiculous to even think about it. Robin and Dustin wouldn’t judge him, he knows that. But the alcohol is already pushing the thought away, shoving the two names - Jonathan, Nancy, both of them forbidden for different reasons - deep into the foggy recesses of his mind.

“I want to leave,” he says instead, the words echoing into the night. Dustin and Robin stare at him.

“Leave?” Dustin asks.

“Hawkins. I don’t like it here. I don’t like my parents, or my job, or - or anything but you guys."

Robin considers, nodding sympathetically. “That makes sense.”

“I’d go with you if I could,” Dustin says. “But we’d have to bring my friends.”

“Yeah, no, not happening.”

“Where would we go?” Robin asks. Steve doesn’t question the we. It never would have been anything else.

“Russia,” he says with a grin. “Or…what’s that one place, out in the ocean? Big? On its own?”

“Australia?”

“Yeah! There.”

Robin shrugs. “Sounds good to me.”

“Send me a postcard,” Dustin says.

“Will do."

As they stare out at the sky, arms linked, Steve feels an overwhelming rush of affection for the both of them. “I love you guys,” he says, a lump in his throat all of a sudden. Dustin and Robin both squeeze closer to him, resting their heads on his shoulders. “I never - I never really had good friends. But you two are great. Really, really damn great. And I know I’m drunk right now and I’m probably not making any sense but I’m glad we exist at the same time. Same planet, same time. Yeah?"

“Love you too, dingus,” Robin says with a contented sigh.

“Love too you love too,” Dustin adds sensibly, nodding against Steve’s shoulder. An indescribable warmth fills Steve from head to toe, threatening to send him into very un-Steve tears if he doesn’t pull his shit together. Who cares, though? He has Dustin and Robin, and it’s all just perfect.

They stay there for a few more minutes, until it’s evident that the fun part of night is over and all they’re left with is nausea, exhaustion, and a headache.

“I think I’m gonna go to bed, guys,” Dustin says drowsily, eyelids half shut. Steve feels him sway against him, and he nods, grabbing his hand to steady him.

“Sleep. Good. Let’s go.”

Robin mumbles her agreement so Steve takes her hand too and together they clamber back through the window. They shut it, drink some water, pull off their jackets - simple actions, things that make sense to do. Finally all three of them beeline for Steve’s bed, the most comfortable-looking thing in the world right now, collapsing onto the covers with little regard for space. It’s a warm tangle of limbs and blankets, pillows and soft breathing. Steve has never been more ready to close his eyes.

“Guys?” The whisper is Dustin’s.

“Yeah?”

“I’m not sad anymore.”

Steve grins, even though nobody can see it in the darkness. “Good. That’s - that’s really good, Henderson.”

“Happy for you, Hustin Denderson,” Robin mumbles, a smile in her voice.

“Yeah. So. Night, guys.”

“Night.”

“G’night.”

They sleep.

 

8:03am

Dark room. Sweat on the back of his neck. Stomach turning inside-out. Rough carpet, distorted silhouettes, roiling nausea as he stumbles across the floor. Cold porcelain between his hands and a sick gasoline-burn in his throat.

Then black again.

 

11:22am

Sharp, blinding rays of sunlight slash through the gaps in the curtains, landing painfully on Steve’s eyelids. He tries to roll over but he’s met with a warm wall of a human.

“Nnnghhh,” is all that manages to escape his mouth. A similar sound comes from the person blocking his escape route from the sun. His head is throbbing, electromagnetic waves pinging off the inside of his skull; his stomach is on a rollercoaster but less so than he remembers it being a few hours ago.

He slowly peels his eyes open, careful not to move in case it sets off an upheaval of his stomach. From what he can tell, he’s squished between Dustin and Robin on his bed. How they managed to make it there, he has no clue. His mouth tastes absolutely horrible, and on the inside of his wrist in handwriting so bad it looks like he drew it with his non-dominant hand, is krop top written in black Sharpie. He casts his mind back, trying to figure out what happened last night, but all he remembers is them doing really shitty on the instruments and spitting limoncello into the toilet.

“Wake up,” he mumbles, shoving his knee into Robin’s tailbone. She groans, tries to roll away, and proceeds to go right over the edge of the bed, crashing to the floor with a yell that wakes Dustin up immediately.

“Whasgoinon - shiiiiiit, I’m gonna -“ Dustin doubles over, arms clamped around his waist. “Nnnnngghhhhhhh.”

“You okay, Robin?” Steve says, rubbing his eyes.

“Think so,” she answers. Steve leans over the edge of the bed and there she is, sprawled on the floor, eyes still shut. “Give me a blanket.”

Steve obliges. She wraps herself up in it right there on the floor and goes silent. Steve stares at her. “Dude, are you going back to sleep?”

She grunts in response.

Dustin shoves back the covers and Steve watches as he stumbles off towards the bathroom. “Deep breaths, Dustin!” he calls after him. Dustin waves a dismissive hand and slams the door shut.

Steve carefully makes his way out of bed. The floor dips beneath him for a moment but eventually he steadies out and makes it to his dresser, where he keeps his plethora of Advil.

“Heads up, shitface.” He pours three into his hand and then tosses the bottle to Robin. It knocks her in the head but she doesn’t move. Did she actually fall asleep again?

The bathroom door creaks open and Steve looks up to see Dustin wobbling his way out. He raises an eyebrow. “You good there?”

“I think so.” He collapses onto the bed, curling up into himself. Steve laughs, sitting down on the edge.

“Worth it?”

Dustin takes a minute to respond, but he finally rolls over, meeting Steve’s eyes. “Yeah. Definitely.”

Steve grins, looking from him to Robin with a sunburst in his chest. Nobody he’d rather have a slightly-above-average night in with.