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"Yeah but okay, it's gonna be Valentines Day." Steve said.

"And your point is?" Robin asked from where she was at the counter, patiently restocking the snacks display as Steve replaced re-wound tapes on the shelves.

"So, my point is you should go and talk to her."

If they weren't in their first slow moment, a week to Valentines Day and counting, waiting for the next huge rush of people barging in to snap up all of the romantic movies (most of them were already rented, but that didn't stop the demanding masses) then Steve probably wouldn't be talking about it so loudly. Keith was in the back office, so it's not like he would hear them.
It was just the two of them up front of Family Video, where there were red paper hearts with lacy heart-doilies glued into the middles taped up everwyhere, along with little strings of confetti hearts and cut outs of cupids with bow 'n arrows dangling from the ceiling with rosy butts (which Steve thought was totally weird, why were they naked?)

"I'm not going to go talk to her - what am I supposed to say?" Robin shook her head a little, where her blonde locks had been swept up into a messy ponytail on top of her head.

"You could just, you know. Act real cool, like, you don't really care too much you know? Real casual. And then just ask her to go to the movies or something - some romance movie. It's Valentines day - she'll get it."

"Like I don't really care, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Man Dustin told me about your advice last fall. You give the worst advice, Dingus."

"Okay I give quality advice, thank you very much."

"Seriously, you can't do that. If there's one thing that girls like, it's to know that you care. They don't want to think you're some emotionless robot."

"It doesn't mean I'm some emotionless robot if I - "

"You've gotta show that it means something to you."

"Therefore, the asking her to the movies thing! That means something."

"Maybe. I dunno, I'll think about it. What about you? What are you doing for Valentines Day? We could do something together, you know."

Okay, was it that obvious he wasn't doing anything? "Who said I'm not doing something? I might have a hot date."

"I think you would have told me if you had some big date coming up. No offense my friend, but you've been sort of crashing and burning for months. Even with all of the droves of hot, hot women that come in here. You've got bupkiss."

"Gee thanks that makes me feel great so - "

"Okay it's nothing personal, it's just an observation. I mean - I mean I saw you in high school, alright? You were like the king of getting with girls. They LITERALLY called you King Steve, which is still ridiculous by the way. But I just don't get it. I mean - is it this whole 'act like you don't care' business? It's almost like..."

Robin got this cute little frown, sighing as she stuffed more chocolate bars into the display, one of their highest sellers right now with Valentines Day coming up alongside the little candy hearts.

"Almost like what?" Steve asked.

"Well...it's almost like you're doing it on purpose or something." Robin said slowly, carefully.

Now it was Steve's turn to frown. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Now don't get your panties up in a twist, Dingus, you know I say this to you with love." Robin stood up as she grabbed a few of the candy hearts from the box they had open on the counter to pop one in her mouth and wandered over to hand one over to Steve - it was a light, mint green and it said 'Be Mine.' "But maybe it's something you could think about. Self-sabatoging."

She patted him gently on the cheek, her million bracelets jingling and tinkling in his ear, the silver of her rings cool against his skin.

Steve gave a moody little shrug, adjusted his green work vest, and popped the candy heart into his mouth, a burst of pure sugar. What was there to think about? Of course he wasn't doing it on purpose. He was trying, alright? What else could he do? That wasn't fair - what about her? She always talked about all of these girls that she liked, but then never talked to them at all. But Steve didn't say that, he wasn’t mean like some people. Okay not mean – he knew she cared. But it wasn’t on purpose, alright?

"This isn't highschool anymore," Robin said softly, then headed back over to the counter as the door jingled when someone came in.

"Welcome to Family Video," she called out. "Just let us know if you need anything."

"Actually, I was looking for something with romance?" The older woman asked in a timid voice, and Robin headed over to help her find the romance section like just about every other lady that'd been in all week.

Steve kept on going through the movies, wheeling his little cart along, stacked high full of returns to place back into their rightful places. He was getting pretty good at it, actually, way better than he had been when he first started last summer.

Even though he was thinking a lot about what Robin had said, and the fact that he hadn't dated anybody in over a year and a half now, he was still able to easily shelve the movies pretty effortlessly. He knew where almost everything went now, whether it was in horror, or adventure, or the ever popular romance for Valentines.

He had just gotten to the horror section, and was looking for the spot for 'Friday the 13th' when he paused. There was already something in the spot. And it wasn't a movie. Steve stared, trying to figure out if he was seeing things correctly.

In the spot where a VHS case should be, or would have been if Steve wasn't holding it in his hand, there was a book. Steve might not have exactly been so book smart, but he wasn't an idiot despite popular belief. It was definitely a book - not some misplaced movie title. An honest to god, hardback book.

Steve set Friday the 13th back on the cart and then reached over to grab the hardbound book, pulling it from the movie shelf. He turned it over in his hands to see what it was. 'The Great Gatsby' it said. Steve thought they'd been assigned that at some point in school, but he hadn't actually read it, he'd begged Nancy's footnotes she'd written down and used those.

On the spine, it had the little paper taped to it with the long code of numbers on it like they used at the library.

"Hey Robs?" Steve glanced up to search out Robin - she was heading back from where she'd been helping the woman in the romance section.

"What's up?"

"Hey - I uh, I found a book." Robin always had a book around for when they got slow and had nothing to do, or when she was on break. He'd never seen her reading this one, though. It had creepy eyes on the cover. Maybe it was a horror book, he didn't remember. it was in the horror section, after all.

She gave him a peculiar look. "What do you mean you found a book?"

"Is it - I dunno, is it maybe yours? I just found it."

"What, like you found it on a shelf? Why would I leave a book there?"

"I don't know, Robs!"

He moved towards her, leaving the cart behind to go show her. "It looks like a library book." He got a little pucker between his brows of concentration, or confusion. "I mean, people know that we uh. We rent videos, not books, right?"

Robin gave him a droll sort of look that was still rather fond, but accepted the book from him as he handed it over. "Yeah, I think people get that."

She looked it over, turning it around, and then flipped the cover open. "Hm." She was tapping at this little slip of paper taped in the front cover that had names and dates written down on it – the check out card. "Interesting. It says that this was checked in already - nobody's checked it out. It's definitely from the Hawkins Public Library, though."

"...but this isn't the library, they can't return it here."

"I mean I would hope they know that," Robin laughed - she had a real pretty laugh, Steve thought. Any girl would be lucky to have her – she should just go talk to Angela. Steve thought she’d say yes to the movies thing – Steve was a romantical guru, ask anybody. He gave great advice.

Steve followed Robin around to behind the counter as she started paging through the book. "But look, there's a page marker."

"What's that for?"

"Usually somebody will mark a page or a passage that they might be studying or something, with notes sometimes."

She thumbed to the page with the brightly colored page marker with her nails painted a chipped black. She made a low humming sound in the back of her throat that sounded - surprised.

"What? What is it?" Steve asked.

"Well." Robin said in a funny, sort of subdued voice. "Well. It says your name." Her eyes flicked over the page really fast, as if she were checking to see what it said. What passage or page was marked.

Steve stared at her outright, then down to the book in her hands. "What d'you mean, it says my name? Here lemme see."

He reached out and she handed the book over, giving him a really strange look. And there it was - Steve. That was it, just his name written out in blocky handwriting, marking a passage of text on the page.

What did that mean? Why was his name there?

"I think..." She said after a moment. "That somebody left it there for you."

Steve blinked down at the page and then slowly looked up at her. "Why would they do that?"

"Look at what the page says."

He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you might come across four or five times in your life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.
It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Steve struggled his way through it, trying not to look like he was struggling.

"I think… Robin said. "Like, maybe they're trying to tell you something? I think it…I think they might like you."

"Okay - okay but who?"

"I dunno, Dingus. We've been slammed all week, I've got no idea who's even been here half the time. Maybe you could take it back to the library, see if they know anything?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that's a good idea. I don't get it. What does it mean?"

Robin took the book back from him, and pointed at the counter. "You stay here, watch the door, and I'll be right back."

Robin disappeared for a bit as Steve kept looking back to the rear of the store, and eventually the woman came over to check out a movie that Robin had helped her with in romance. Steve checked her out and ran her rental card, smiling as he passed it back. He managed to count her change back, explaining "It's due back in two days by midnight, enjoy."
The bell jingled above the door on her way out, and then Robin was back, waving a paper in his face.

"I Xeroxed it, see? Now you have a copy, and even if you take it back to the library then you still know what it says." She said, smiling winningly as she did when she felt particularly clever about something. And really, it was clever.

It was a copy of the book spread open to the page with the sticky marker, in glorious black and white.

But Steve still didn’t get it. Also, wasn’t this a guy that was talking on that page? About another guy?

Later on, Steve went to the library. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually gone to the Hawkins Public Library, but it’d definitely been a while, maybe sometime when he’d been a kid, back when his mom was still trying to get him reading more.

It was a huge red brick building with pristine white columns alongside either door, and about a million windows, with a clock and bell tower in the rear of the building that chimed every day at noon. It was snowing softly outside, all big drifting flakes, a spring storm having rolled in out of nowhere. Steve headed on up the steps, hands tucked into the pockets of his bulky, navy blue jacket with the forest green stripe over the breast and upper sleeves, backpack slung on over his shoulders with the book tucked away inside.

This place sort of creeped him out, honestly, after he’d found out from Hopper and Mrs. Byers that this was where the demogorgon’s sort of…nest or whatever had been. Where it’d been dragging its victims, where they’d found Will all pinned up against the wall by creeper tendril vines, with one down his throat.

But when he got inside, nothing seemed out of place or out of the norm. It was just the regular old Hawkins library – it smelled a little musty, because it was an old building, and it had that particular, earthy, ‘booky’ sort of smell. Steve liked the smell, even if he didn’t like reading at all. He didn’t know how people could stand it, really, when the letters always seemed to swim on the page, jumping spots and blending together. It was exhausting. Why deal with that when you could just watch a movie for the same amount of story?

He didn’t know why anyone would have left a book for him – he didn’t even read.

Miss Marissa the librarian was sitting at the front desk as he headed in, and she was jotting something down in a notebook in front of her. She glanced up as Steve started towards the desk, adjusting her big glasses, tipping them down a little as if to get a better look at him – or couldn’t quite believe her eyes that he’d just walked in.

“May I help you?” She asked him.

“Um. Yeah. Hi.” Steve said, and he started digging around in his backpack until he could pull out the library book. He held the book over to her, and she accepted it with a delicately arched brow as she glanced down at it and flipped the cover over to inspect the check-out card. Then she slowly looked back up to him.

“How did you get this? This book hasn’t been checked out.” Then the other brow went up. “Did you remove this from the library without checking it out?”

Woah she was kind of scary. Steve swallowed hard. “No! No I didn’t, I uh, I just found it. I mean, somebody – left it for me? I don’t really know, actually. I didn’t take it though!”

“Hmmmm.” She said, and it didn’t really sound like she believed him. “We have a strict check out policy here Mr. – “

“Um, Harrington. Steve Harrington?”

“Right. Grant’s boy. That sounds about right.” She gave a tight little frown and shook her head, glancing back down. She paged through to the page marker that was still stuck in the pages. “And what is this?”

“It was just in there…” Steve muttered. “Sorry, I can take that out – “

Marissa made a tutting noise in the back of her throat, eyes quickly running over the page in the same way Robin’s had.

“My my,” She said. “This passage was marked when you found it?”

“Yeah,” Steve said.

“Well then. It seems like you might have someone sweet on you, young man. It’s a shame they don’t understand the check out policy, either.”

On Monday, it happened again. And on Tuesday. And Wednesday.

Different books each times, marked with different passages each time. Some novels, some collections of poems that Steve had never read before. Never thought about reading, really.

But he read them. At least - he tried.

Sometimes, it was more than one book, until there was a full collection of Xeroxed copies that Robin had scanned, and Steve kept having to go back to the library to return them. None of them had ever been checked out by whoever was lifting them from the library, and although he could tell that Marissa was getting more and more pissy about it, she also seemed to think it was rather romantic. She insisted Steve leave the markers so she could see which ones were notated. The place markers never said anything else – just his name, that single word. Steve.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dustin came into the store, which, as usual, was busy with the rush for movies for Valentines Day. They were almost completely checked out of romances anyways, so Steve didn’t know why people kept coming by expecting them this close to Valentines Day. It was only two days away now.

“Alright,” Dustin huffed – he must have just ridden his bike here after school got out. “I’m here to see the copies.”

“Henderson, c’mon man I’m working, it’s busy, I can’t just show you the – “ Steve started.

“There’s nobody here Steve, it’s the middle of the afternoon! I’m not going to bother you, buddy, I swear. I just want to see why this girl has the hots for you for. Lemme see.”

Steve sighed and pulled Robin’s little Lisa Frank folder that she’d tucked away the copies into from under the counter and handed it over, flushing slightly. The folder had a unicorn with a rainbow mane and tail, with owls around it. Robin had also added a bunch of stickers to it, holographic ones, and doodles.

Dustin opened up the folder to start sorting through the Xerox copies that Steve had told him about over the phone the other day, paging through and reading each one.

“Oh look Dingus, it’s your small child.” Robin said in that dry voice of hers as she wandered back over from sweeping up where some popcorn from the Arcade had gotten spilled – it smelled like stale popcorn in here now. They didn’t even sell popcorn. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to investigate who is leaving Steve his mysterious lovelorn books.” Dustin said.

“Lovelorn is about right. I haven’t been able to figure out who it is, and we’re literally here all the time. Whoever it is it’s while we’re in the middle of a rush, and I can’t keep track of like half the people in here. It gets pretty nuts you know. Usually it’s towards the end of the day.”

“I was thinking a better course of action may be to stake out the library,” Dustin said thoughtfully.

“Okay, we are not staking anything out. I mean – I mean maybe that’s not how she means them at all, alright? I mean – lovelorn or whatever.” Steve wasn’t sure he knew what ‘lorn’ meant, but whatever.

“Oh I think that’s definitely how she means them, Steve. Look at some of these books – “ Robin had jotted down the titles and authors at the top of each black and white copy. “Great Gatsby. The Sound and The Fury. Wuthering Heights. Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre. And a collection of sonnets, poetry? Pablo Neruda! And I mean Hamlet, Shakespeare? C’mon, Steve. This is all – I mean, this girl’s kind of all over the map with what she’s reading, but all of this is…I mean reading it, she’s totally in love with you.”

Steve felt heat creeping up over the collar of his cable knit, green sweater he had on under his work vest, staining his cheeks, lighting the tips of his ears, and he glanced away. He had read them. He just didn’t really get them, he guessed, and that wasn’t exactly uncommon for him with books. He gave a sort of half-hearted shrug. Honestly it hadn’t made much sense to him at all.

“So it’s…all good?” He asked. “I mean I don’t get it. Why would anybody be leaving these?”

“Maybe she just can’t put it into her own words.” Dustin said.

“Probably shy or something.” Robin agreed.

“I mean you haven’t seen anybody, Robs? Like with a book in here?”

 

Robin was silent for a while, chewing on her lip in thought as she gazed out the front door, brows lowered as she tried to remember. Then she shook her head, as Steve popped another tape into the rewind machine.

“No…but I mean we get so slammed I can’t keep track of anybody in the evenings. But – “ She paused. “You know, there is somebody that I think I’ve seen almost each day, and he really seems to like reading…”

“He?” Dustin repeated. “But this is a girl, so – “

“How do we know it’s a girl?” Robin asked, raising a brow. “Why assume it’s a girl?”

“What like – like you think it could be a guy leaving them?” Steve asked.

Robin shrugged. “I mean it’s possible, isn’t it?”

“Nothing is impossible, but is it probable?” Dustin asked.

“Yes, it could be probable, too. There is such a thing as being too shy to talk to someone of the same gender.” Robin said, and Steve could tell that she was about to start going off on Dustin so he stepped in. He knew, too, that Robin herself was also too shy to really talk to one of the girls she liked, either.

So yeah. Yeah that was a thing, and Robin would know it best.

“Besides, the quote from the Great Gatsby could have been about Gatsby mooning over Daisy. But it wasn’t. It was Nick’s thoughts about Gatsby, and Nick is totally gay.” Robin said wisely. “That was the very first one that was left.”

Steve had no idea who Daisy was, but he'd KNOWN that had been from a guy in the book.

“Rob’s right, we really can’t count anybody out. But I mean…do we really need to look any deeper into this? If they wanted me to know, wouldn’t they have talked to me about it?”

“I think that the fact they’re leaving these passages for you means that they do want you to know, though. Maybe they just can’t figure out another way. The written word helps a lot of people to cope and communicate in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.” Robin said thoughtfully. “I think it’s worth looking into.”

“I still think we should stake out the library.” Dustin added. “if it was a guy, what would you do Steve? I thought you only liked girls.”

Steve and Robin exchanged a slow glance between them, her eyebrows lifting up and Steve cleared his throat a little. They’d maybe talked about it before. A lot. “I mean I – I do. I think.”

“What do you mean, you think? Is there something you need to tell me, Steve? I’m your best friend and best friends tell each other these things! You know we had that big talk with Will and it was OK and all, you could tell me. I’m very trustworthy. It is perfectly natural in many species to be attracted to - ”

“Yeah man I – I dunno, okay? I dunno what I’d do if it was a guy. Hey – Rob, you said you thought it might be somebody particular?”

“Oh…oh yeah, I mean, it was sort of just a shot in the dark…if it’s not him, I probably shouldn’t say anything until we know for sure. I’d want the same courtesy, if it was me in his shoes.”

“That makes sense,” Steve glanced down to look over the papers again.

“You should take the folder with you back to the library when you return the latest one.” Robin said. “Look them over. Do you want me to read them to you?”

Steve made a cranky expression, could literally feel it creep over his face. “I don’t need you to read it to me, Robs.” He said, feeling sulky. “I can read.”

“I mean I know you don’t need me to! But I mean – it might just help, you know? To hear it out loud, and – I’m only asking as your friend, alright?“

“Okay yeah thanks I really don’t need that!” Steve said. “I can read it fine, alright? I’m not an idiot.”

But he couldn’t. Not really. But he didn’t want to admit that. Not out loud. Everyone kept saying that the words were full of love, though. Marissa had said this girl – no, this person – was sweet on him. Were they really? Is that what it all meant? When you put all of the sentences together – excerpts of novels, and poems or sonnets, these murmurs of love, did it paint a picture altogether?

“I never said that.” Robin said.

Steve felt crankier. “Okay, then just go add another tally to the ‘you suck’ column.”

He glanced up at the clock, his shift was ending. “I’m gonna go – I’ll go to the library, I’ll see you later, alright? Thanks for the…the copies or whatever, I’ll take them home with me.”

“Oh Steve come on, please don’t be mad at me, I didn’t mean it like that alright? Steve!”

After Steve punched out with his punch card and threw on his jacket over his shirt and hung up his work vest, he headed out to the Beamer, with Dustin trailing along behind him like a lost puppy.

“I really don’t think she meant it like that, Steve my man. We all know you’re really smart okay? You’re like the coolest one of all of us, and people have different kinds of smarts – like street smarts, you know? It doesn’t have to be book smarts.”

Steve knew Dustin was only trying to make him feel better, but it wasn’t helping, it just seemed to be making it worse. Even this mystery person seemed to think he’d be able to get it, but – what if they found out he couldn’t even understand what they were trying to tell him? They’d probably laugh their heads off on the way back out the door, regret ever even trying.

“Yeah you’re not helping.” Steve griped as he got into the car, and Dustin came up to the window. Steve rolled it down and stared up at him.

“Can you give me a ride? We could do a real stake out if you want, and figure out who your mystery person is that is maybe-not-a-girl. It’s almost valentines day.”

“Valentines day is just a bunch of commercial bullshit anyway, Robin said it’s just for companies to sell candy. It’s a scam.”

“Well that’s true, but don’t you think there’s a reason why your secret admirer is leaving books for you this week in particular?”

“Secret admirer?”

“Well yeah. Isn’t that what they are?”

And yeah. Yeah, Steve guessed – maybe they were. His mystery person.

“I guess so. Alright, get in.”

Dustin crammed his bike into the trunk of Steve’s BMW and then scrambled into the passenger seat. “I feel like we’re on Knight Rider.” He said, beaming over at Steve with his cute little chipmunk smile he got sometimes. Steve laughed and turned the radio up, and they drove off to the library. “On a mission!”

Maybe it sort of WAS like they were on Knight Rider, because they even did their little stake out like Dustin kept on going on about. They hung around in the library trying to look around for anybody that was stealing books, and Miss Marissa said that she’d been keeping an eye out too, but whoever it was was apparently very ‘sneaky’ she said. She said that Steve could probably do better than a no-good-book-thief when he returned the next book to her. The new book read:

Whatever our souls are made out of, his and mine are the same...If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

“So did you figure out who your sweetheart is?” She asked him, peering through her huge spectacles, adjusting them primly, pursing her lips.

“Not yet.” Steve said.

She studied the page, and sighed all sweetly and shook her head, dabbing at her eyes behind her glasses. “Well if she’s quoting off Wuthering Heights for you honey, she’s got it bad.”

Dustin ended up trying to check out way too many books of his own and got into a fight with Marissa and Steve got bored talking about books ‘n all, so he wandered around a little, the Lisa Frank notebook tucked under his arm as he started to wander the shelves. He could hear Dustin arguing with Miss Marissa all the way from here, since sound seemed to carry and echo back in the Library. She kept shushing him and he kept getting louder, something about paddles - and Steve laughed a little to himself as he perused the books, running his fingertips along lined up spines of well-ordered books that he never planned on reading.

Steve paused as he walked the aisles. It was quieter back here, the sounds muffled, distant. It was sort of like – being underwater, back when Steve used to be on the swim team. He loved to go under the water where you couldn’t hear anything, just the pressure of silence against your ears, the swish of bubbles. Or like when there was freshly fallen snow blanketing the world, absorbing all the sound. It was a little like that.

But there, farther down the aisle, somebody was there that he didn’t think he’d have ever caught dead in a library. Billy Hargrove himself was thumbing through some book titles – he hadn’t caught sight of steve yet, or heard him, and as far as Steve could tell he thought himself unobserved.

He looked…different.

He wasn’t so puffed up as he’d been before this last summer, the cock on the walk, peacocking around like there was nobody better than him. But he also didn’t look so withdrawn as the few times Steve had seen him since everything that had gone down last July. Steve really hadn’t seen him much at all. He came into the video store sometimes, mostly with Max, to rent movies together. He was always really quiet, and sometimes it was hard to even notice he was there, which was the exact opposite of how he’d been once upon a time. Sometimes, it was like he was a shadow – just out of the corner of your eye, you might see him. So different, from once, when it had been impossible to draw your eyes away from him, to not notice him.

Steve still saw him, though, quiet or not, when he came into the store, unless they were in a mad rush and he couldn’t be paying as much attention to everybody that came in or he was fighting with someone about a late rental return because the policy was pretty clear, alright? There was a sign right there!

He hadn’t really gotten the chance to talk to Billy over the past few months – he’d tried, once. Billy’d told him to stay away from him. So Steve had. That had been in the fall. And steve’d told himself maybe it was for the best – Billy didn’t need Steve half falling all over himself over him like he might have once, before he’d figured out anything. Before he’d met Robin.

He looked softer, more open, when he didn’t think anyone was looking at him. He was wearing a black, long sleeved shirt and the same Levis Steve had seen him in a million times. His shirtsleeves were pushed up to his elbows, exposing the cording of his forearms as he picked over the spines of the books, head tilted as he examined the titles, pink cupid’s bow lips faintly parted in concentration.

“Hey,” Steve said into the quiet space of books.

Billy startled slightly, glancing up, fingers convulsing against the row of books as he zeroed in on – Steve. When he saw who it was, he instantly froze, those bright blue eyes – jesus, had his eyes always been so blue? – growing round as coins before those long, dark lashes immediately lowered and his mouth made a straight line. He slowly dropped his hand from where he’d been about to draw a book from the shelf, where it fell uneasily to his side.

“Hey.” He replied in a stiff voice, a little rough from misuse. He had this look on his newly scarred face like he was waiting to get in trouble about something, in a resigned sort of way. Steve had no idea why.

“I haven’t really seen you around much, you never stick around to pay at the store.” It was always Max that actually checked out, as Billy headed back out to his car, hands in the pockets of his jacket, smoking a cigarette as he waited.

Billy’s eyes flicked to the folder tucked under Steve’s arm, then slowly back up to Steve and something in him seemed to ease a bit.

“Yeah well. Just give her the cash, figure there’s no use both of us fucking around in there. She talks to you forever anyway – little shit can really go on for hours.”

“You could – stick around, I mean. You know, if you wanted to.” Steve offered. “It’d be nice to, um, catch up sometime.”

Billy looked like he’d walked into some sort of Twilight Zone, and he still had this look about him like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and was waiting to get scolded. His entire forehead got this big confused wrinkle, and his lips were pulled down at the corners. It was almost sort of funny. Was it because Billy Hargrove got caught inside a library? Steve wouldn’t tell.

“Yeah? Uh, guess so.” He paused for a moment, tucking his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans, glancing away uneasily. It was so unlike the Billy Steve had known once upon a time – the one who never broke eye contact, like it was some kind of staring contest neither of them could afford to lose. “What you want?”

“Oh, I mean, nothing. I didn’t know you were here, I’m just here with Dustin. It’s sort of a long story?” He said, smiling softly at Billy.

He knew that Billy’d told him to leave him alone or whatever, but Steve’s dad always said that he never knew how to listen anyway. “Is it okay to talk to you now?” He asked, just to be sure.

“Sure.” Billy says.

And then it struck Steve why he’s there, in the library. “Oh! Are you here doing homework? You’re still in classes, huh?”

“Yeah, still a senior.”

He’d forgotten, for a second, that Billy was still a senior this year. He couldn’t imagine going through what Billy’d gone through, and then having to actually go back to school and just continue living your life like that. It seemed almost impossible to do. But Steve guessed he understood what it was like to have to go back to real life after going through all that paranormal craziness, but never to the extent Billy had.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I mean, after last summer, it’s like…I mean it sucks you have to go to school. After everything.”

“It’s alright, not like it’s hard.” Billy shrugged, and immediately all of the tension that had seemed to be coiling up so tight inside of him seemed to be released. But at the same time, there was a hint of disappointment that seemed to vanish as soon as it appeared. “But yeah, just a lot of homework. So you’re here with Henderson? Why’s that a long story?”

Steve let out a little laugh, felt himself flush a bit and reached up to rub a self conscious hand over the back of his warming neck. That had just sort of slipped out. He wasn’t going to mention it. Billy wouldn’t be interested in Steve’s love life, or the lack of it.

But jeez, he did wonder why they stopped talking. He knew Billy told him to go away, but why had Steve listened? He was reminded, now, how much he’d wanted to talk to Billy. After everything. After what he’d done for them – all of them. Everything he’d gone through. And he’d thought, at the time, maybe he needed a friend. Maybe he still did. He just hadn’t wanted to upset him back then, when he was still healing. He’d just been so…angry. And lost. Steve hadn’t wanted to make it worse, he guessed.

Steve was so good at pretending everything was okay, when it wasn’t. But he wasn’t trying to do that anymore – so he was going to talk to Billy. He’d tell him.

“Well, it’s – hard to explain? Somebody’s been leaving me books. Like at work.”

“Books,” Billy repeated, voice low. Almost guttural. Unsure.

“Yeah,” Steve said, still a little warm in the cheek as he glanced away, following the lines of books, the rows of books, running along his sides. Up and down the aisle, stacks upon stacks of them. He could see why they’re called ‘stacks’ now.

“…why is someone leaving books for you?”

“I don’t know, actually. I guess um – I dunno, Dustin says it’s like a uh. A secret admirer. I don’t think I’ve ever had a secret admirer before. A mystery person.”

Billy’s just staring at him, face a little blank. Eyes blueblueblue. Steve always forgot they were so freakin’ blue.

“And you…don’t know who it is.” He says like he’s confirming it.

“Nah, no idea. Dustin wanted to like, scope out the library to see if we can figure out who she is. I mean, who they are.”

Billy blinked at him, slowly. “Oh.”

Steve untucked the Lisa Frank folder from under his arm to gesture vaguely to the rainbow-mane unicorn on the front, and Billy gave it a look like it somehow personally offended him.

“This is – I mean this isn’t mine,” Steve said hurriedly, in case Billy felt like making fun of him. As if that would have been different from the first ten months of knowing each other. “But it’s all the…books that they left me. The pages are like, marked? They have sticky notes, that say my name, and I guess they’re all like…love passages. That’s what everybody says.”

Billy’s entire nose turned into a giant wrinkle. “Who’s everybody?”

“Just Robin, and Dustin. They’re total busybodies and want to get into my business all the time, and try to figure out who she – they – are.”

“You keep saying they.”

“Well, it might be a dude, right?”

Billy seemed a little pale. “Right.” He said faintly. He looked a little faint.

“Well one quote was from a dude, about a dude, see, and Rob says it still counts. Are you okay?”

“Yep.” He cleared his throat, and he patted at his back pocket to draw out a crushed pack of smokes – lifting a Marlboro red to his lips, unlit, and let it bob there as he folded his arms over the chest of his black shirt. Steve hadn’t noticed the little white skull and crossbones on the breast pocket. “So what, you’re just on some – mission to find this person? Maybe you should just let it drop.”

“I mean, it’s not really my mission, it’s their mission. I figure if she…they...wanted to talk to me, they would, you know?”

“Guess so. You’d be…cool with that? If it was some fag.”

Steve faltered slightly – people said that all the time, it wasn’t like it was out of the norm, but he’d thought that coming from California Billy might be more open-minded or whatever. He’d heard practically everybody was gay out in California, though he didn’t know if it was true – he’d never been there.

“Well sure…” Steve shrugged a little. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Billy’s expression was closed, those blue eyes shuttered, and Steve couldn’t see his thoughts. Maybe he wasn’t so okay with it after all. But Steve thought of Robin – and could he ever not be okay with it? No. He didn’t think so – even if it was a guy? It wasn’t like Steve wouldn’t give him the time of day or something, or make fun of him.

Maybe…maybe when he’d been King Steve, back when he used to do things like break cameras and mock Jonathan Byers family, or call him a queer. Maybe then. But not now. He didn’t know what had changed. It was more than getting to know Robin – it had been before that, too. Steve didn’t want to say those things about people anymore. And he’d been…learning a lot about himself, too.

He guessed things had just – changed.

Dustin showed up in the aisle in a flurried rush, all out of breath, shaking his head wildly at Steve. “Steve! Steve! Abort! Abort! I got the books but I’m over my check out limit, gogogogogo, sunofabitch is that Billy?! Move move move we need to go now, code red!”

He went tearing down the aisle like a bat out of hell, and Billy and Steve stared wide eyed after him; he had a towering stack of books balanced all the way up to his chin, wobbling wildly as he ran.

“Je-sus. Sorry, I’ve gotta go – I’ll see you around?” Steve said as he half trotted to keep up with Dustin, glancing back over his shoulder at Billy..

Billy adjusted the strap of a brown messenger bag that he had hanging against his hip, and gave a short, curt nod, mouth drawn at the corners, brow furrowed.

“See you ‘round, Harrington.”

The next day, there was another book.

 

Steve’d never had a secret admirer, he guessed. Usually girls had always been more than happy to tell him they were into him, especially when he’d still had all of the status at school. Since he’d ‘turned bitch’ or whatever, like Billy’d told him, he guessed maybe it hadn’t been that easy though. He wasn’t ‘self sabatoging’ or whatever Robin was going on about, though.

It’d become more of an effort, but really, it just seemed like no one had liked him at all.

But the concept of a secret admirer still seemed foreign to him – he guessed that back in school, he’d always had the valentines stuffed into his locker or whatever, but who hadn’t? And these weren’t Valetines, these weren’t even letters.

This wasn’t paper hearts stuffed into his locker, or handwritten poems, or jotted confessions – it was a lot more complicated than that, it felt like. It was these heartfelt, beautiful passages (Robin said) that spoke of the admirer’s ‘secret passions.’ (Again, her words, not his.)

By the time Valentines Day was close, Steve had a whole collection of Xeroxed copies in the Lisa Frank Unicorn folder with the stickers all over it and Robin’s doodles – she doodled on everything, from her shoes, to Steve’s arm, to this very folder. Usually it had something to do with tits, and going down on girls and things, which he thought was pretty classy really – he’d never known she was so cool in school. He’d known they were best friends for a reason.

He ate a lot of chocolate that Robin supplied them with as an apology until he felt sort of sick, then got ready to head over to the library for the fifth day this week to Miss Marissa. She always asked him about it now whenever he went in, clearly in it for the juicy gossip, and she didn’t even seem mad about the books being stolen from the library anymore, although she told Steve that she thought it might possibly be a ghost.

His mom always said that Marissa May had been really strange when they went to Hawkins High together, into aliens and shit. He wasn’t sure if she was serious about the ghost thing, but she seemed pretty serious.

It made him think of the place being haunted, and how it had been the Demogorgons nest, and he got creeped out all over again. Who knew what was real anymore. Aliens, ghosts, whatever.

When he got to the library to return the book this time and after she’d gabbed his ear off for a while about all of the meanings behind this particular page, Steve was getting ready to head out when he paused for a moment. He realized he recognized a pair of boots up on a table behind a bookshelf, crossed at the ankle, and he tipped his head a little and headed on over. Billy was sitting at one of the tables, a bunch of homework spread out in front of him, and he was chewing on a pencil as he read a book, boots up on the table, and half leaned back in his chair, balancing on two legs.

He glanced up at Steve heading over, smiling and waving a little. Billy froze where he was chewing bite marks into his #2 pencil and slowly lowered it from his mouth.

“Fancy seeing you here again,” Steve grinned at him.

“Yeah, well, better than home. Max is fucking off over at the Arcade with the nerds.” Billy said.

“Ah yeah I’m supposed to pick up Dustin later. Woah you got a lot of homework?”

“Yep.” Billy said and lowered the book he’d been reading, thumb tucked into the middle of it as he set it down on the table.

Steve settled into a chair opposite him, and Billy dropped his boots, lowering onto four chair legs with a thump.

“SHHHHH!” Miss Marissa shushed from way up at the front desk.

Steve smothered a laugh, and Billy looked a little lighter than he’d seen him last time. He almost smiled.

Steve put the unicorn folder down on the table and glanced down at the college-lined papers strewn out over the table, poking at a few of them. The blocky handwriting seemed almost familiar, somehow. “What classes have you got this semester? It’s so weird not being in school anymore.”

“Feels like I’m always gonna be in school. Had to repeat a couple grades already.” Billy said, slowly rubbing a finger over his eyebrow, the one with a scar. “Don’t want to repeat this one too, but I already missed the first couple weeks of last fall. You know, the usual…English, Social Studies, Algebra…Shop….”

“How’ve you been feeling? Since…y’know. Does it still hurt?”

Billy shrugged. “Alright. I guess. Comes ‘n goes. Worse with the shit weather this week. Still swim a lot. The heat helps.” He shifted a little in the chair, making it squeak under his weight. “You figure out your uh…mystery person?” He asked, his pale blue gaze skittering away from Steve’s, back again, and then away. He stuck the pencil back in his mouth, chewing on the already-destroyed eraser.

“No, not really. There was another book today though.” Steve sighed and leaned heavily on his hand, cheek in palm, to stare over at Billy across the expanse of homework. He glanced down at the book on the table between them, the one Billy had been reading when he came up – Persuasion. Huh. Billy grabbed it and slid it into his bag.

“Yeah? What’d you think of it?” Billy asked, and he looked a little bit eager as he leaned forward against the table. Steve wouldn’t have thought he’d be as hungry for gossip as apparently everybody else like Miss Marissa or Dustin or Robs.

Steve frowned across the table at him, considering what he wanted to say – but it wasn’t like with Robin or Dustin, people who were his friends, who he trusted, but that were close enough to him that he didn’t want them to see him at his worst.

Billy, on the other hand….Billy was something else entirely. They weren’t friends, that was true. But he didn’t exactly think they were arch nemesis or anything like they had been in school (Dustin’s words, not his.) He respected his opinion, and didn’t want him to think Steve was stupid or anything, but Billy’d gone through so much last year. He’d literally been possessed and come out breathing on the other side. He thought that maybe Billy had other things to worry about than thinking that Steve was stupid or something.

He couldn’t really explain it, but he felt more comfortable talking to Billy about it. Less…exposed. He just…didn’t know why.

“Well…” Steve said slowly. “I guess I don’t really get it.”

“What do you mean, you don’t get it?” Billy asked, tipping his head, this tiny little line forming in between his eyebrows. It was actually…really sort of cute.

But no – no no no, Steve was not going back there. He’d already gone down that road, back before, at Tina’s Halloween party, and the breathlessness of Billy when Nancy had literally been right beside him. Or rubbing shampoo in his eyes in the shower so he couldn’t be caught looking. Billy had made it pretty clear, at the time, what he thought of Steve when he’d beat the fucking shit out of him. Steve just…he wasn’t going back to thinking those thoughts.

Although he wasn’t quite so confused by them, after his big drugged-up conversation with Robin in the bathroom after yacking his guts up. And all of the follow-up conversations they’d had in the months since.

But he knew that Billy Hargrove wasn’t the right place to be ‘depositing his feelings.’

And then the other day, when he’d asked Steve about – about if he was okay with ‘if his admirer was a ‘fag.’ And yeah, he was okay with that – if his admirer was. And he didn’t really know what that meant for him, for Steve. What did that make him? But considering the way he’d felt when Billy had been basically grinding up against him in basketball practice and Steve had actually been trying not to get hard. Well. It seemed pretty obvious, he guessed.

He was not going to think Billy was cute. Not again.

But…but maybe they could be friends. And maybe Steve could talk to him in a way he didn’t really feel like he wanted to talk to Robin, even if she was his best friend. He just didn’t want to see that sad look she got on her face. Billy was just as smart as Robin – he’d taken all the same advanced classes, Steve’d heard as much from Nancy bitching about them being in the same classes. But it felt like more of a neutral space to talk to him about it. Robin would make a huge deal out of it. He loved Robs. And he knew it was only because she cared, but….he didn’t need another mark on the ‘you suck’ side of the board.

“I mean…I mean I don’t get it.” Steve sighed, and idly flipped open the cover of the folder to pull out a few of the photo copies Robs had made on the Xerox machine in the back office. He glanced over the paper. Usually if he’d had to read something for school he’d copied off of Tommy H. or gotten the notes from Nancy after that. Considering he’d been in sports every single semester of high school, a lot of his teachers had sort of…overlooked some things.

“I don’t really…read a whole lot.” He admitted.

The look of slowly growing apprehension on Billy’s face seemed to clear. Maybe he’d thought Steve was gonna say something else.

“Oh.” Billy said.

Steve swept some of the hair out of his eyes, catching the way Billy’s bright jeweled gaze lingered on the motion.

“Reading’s not for everybody.” He added.

“It’s definitely not for me,” Steve frowned. “I guess…I mean, okay don’t laugh, alright? But I mean I guess even in school and stuff, it’s just like – when we had to read out of a text book or something, it just never really made a lot of sense. If the teacher actually read it out loud, or like, explained it, or we had to watch a video or something I got it a lot easier. Mr. Clarke, y’know, the science teacher at Hawkins Middle? He always had a way of explaining shit so it made sense. I’m not like – like an idiot or anything, I mean, I graduated and everything. It just seemed like it was a lot more – work, or effort or something than everybody else had to put in. I couldn’t just fuck around like Tommy H. or like Nancy or something and pass.”

Billy glanced down at the folder, something like understanding dawning in his eyes. He lowered the pencil to set it on the table, running his tongue over his lower lip where it looked a little chapped, and Steve – told himself to stop staring at his mouth. Looked away. Billy was in a grey, long sleeved Henley today, with his jean jacket over it with the sleeves rolled up. And he looked – good. He always looked good. Really good.

“So…” he started. “What? You just – have trouble reading ‘em, or?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess. I um. I mean, everybody seems to have read all the pages and said it made sense, that she – th-they, must really like me, this person that’s leaving the passages or quotes or whatever.”

“I didn’t know that.” Billy said, in a peculiar, softer voice. Soft for him, anyway, Steve thought. Steve couldn’t quite look at him, he was busy looking basically everywhere but at him. “But you said the, when the teacher read in class…it what, helped?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

“Why don’t you have one of your uh – your friends read it to you then?”

Steve glanced at him then, frowning. “Because it’s – I dunno man, it’s sort of embarrassing, you know? They’re my friends, I don’t want them to think – “

“I could do it.” Billy said, and he looked about as surprised at what just came out of his mouth as Steve was, before he recovered and smoothed over his expression. “I mean – I ain’t your friend, right? And I don’t think you’re stupid or somethin.’ Ain’t no skin off my back, Harrington. Guess your uh – ‘admirer’s a real dick for leaving you books then.”

“I mean they didn’t know. Not a lot of people do, it’s not like I broadcast it. I think it’s…I think it’s actually pretty sweet. Sort of old fashioned, y’know? They must be really smart, I bet. You'd...uh, you'd really do that for me? I mean, sure. If you want to - please.”

Billy shuffled idly through the pages, eyes dropped down to them in the still and the quiet of the library. He was chewing on his lower lip, and he had both feet on the ground now, leaning forward slightly as he paged through the copies of excerpts. Steve leaned forward too, as Billy dropped his voice low so it wouldn't carry too far, and he wouldn’t get shushed by the librarian again. His cheeks were really red – Steve wondered if he was too warm. Billy read through them one by one.

He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you might come across four or five times in your life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

“Whatever our souls are made out of, his and mine are the same...If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”

“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”

“You don’t love because, you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”

After a youth and manhood passed half in unutterable misery and half in dreary solitude, I have for the first time found what I can truly love — I have found you. You are my sympathy — my better self — my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”

Billy's voice was low and rumbling as he read off the words to Steve. He didn't read it like Steve might have, halting and monotone, stumbling over himself. Each word dazzled with feeling, even in that low, husky tone. It sent shivers over Steve’s skin, the way he read them. Billy didn't look up as he read - didn't look at Steve. He kept his eyes on the page as he read. He didn't read the full pages - only the short passages, sentences even, that had been marked off.

When he'd finished, he looked up to Steve, an unsure sort of pull around his eyes that Steve wasn't familiar with but it was becoming more and more of a look for Billy the past few times Steve had seen him.

"My - my mom. She read a lotta these books. When I was younger. Was real into this shit, too. That...help any?" Billy asked.

And even if some of it still didn't make sense - with language that he wasn't even sure was actually English, probably from Shakespeare - Steve thought it did help. Because even if the words didn't make sense, the way in which Billy read them did. It translated through the way he said it. Each word soft, aching, adoration upon his tongue.
Steve stared back at him all wide eyed, blinking slowly, mouth a little ajar before he reminded himself to close it.

"Yeah." Steve said. "Yeah, I think it did."

Maybe this person really did like him, after all.

***
The next day was Valentines Day. Officially.

And there was one more book left for Steve.

And he froze, studying the spine of it, the rough surface of the cover. He trailed his fingertips over the taped on identification numbers, and flipped it open to the blank check-out card. Still blank.

There was another passage, only marked 'Steve.'

But Steve knew this book. He may not have known it by name or author, and he'd never read it before, but he'd seen it only the other day. He was sure of it.
It was the one Billy'd been reading, only a day before.

Billy. Billy?

No way.

Steve found him in the library, at the exact same table he'd left him at the other day. It was after an insanely busy shift at Family Video even though they were practically out of anything considered 'romance' so he didn't understand why - he guessed even if it wasn't romantic, people still wanted to watch a movie for their date night or something. Steve was exhausted by the time he got to the library, and he could tell that Billy'd been at the indoor Community Center pool, maybe after school. Max had told him he still went there pretty often though it was indoors.
He looked a little less golden than last summer, a little thinner, and his hair was lighter too even though they'd been stuck in winter a while, and it was still a little damp. When Steve half ran into the library - they were about to close, and he'd barely made it. Miss Marissa made a displeased look at him running in there right before closing on Valentines Day (maybe she had a date, too) - but he'd thought, maybe, Billy would be here.

"Hey," Steve said as he got up to the table, half breathless from rushing over here before closing.

Billy glanced up, pencil poised over paper, and he got that weird sort of deer in headlights look for a second. The same one he’d gotten when Steve found him in that book aisle the first time.

"I figured out who my secret admirer is," Steve said, still out of breath, setting the book down on the table - the sticky stuck in the pages saying 'Steve.'

"That so?" Billy asked, voice slow, drawling. Easy. But his eyes flashed with unease as he glanced up at Steve like he was ready to run. "You sure they wanted to be found out?"
"I don't know. Can you read it to me? The last passage?"

Billy eyed him for a moment as Steve stood there, and slowly drew the book towards himself. He flipped open to the marked off page, and dropped his eyes. His voice was more subdued this time, almost...gentle, somehow. As if Billy were waiting for some kind of a blow, but the feeling? The feeling was still there – a tidal wave of it just under the surface Softly uttered.

”I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”

"It's for me?" Steve asked, his heart twisting so, so sweetly in his chest, rabbiting away and he could hardly even catch his breath even though he wasn't running anymore.
Billy closed the book so carefully, splaying his rough left hand out over the cover, all scarred knuckles, the pewter of his ring glinting in the low light of the library.

"Yeah." He said, agonizingly slow. It sounded like it cost him to say it. He swallowed so hard Steve heard the click of hif throat, before his mouth wrenched up into a bitter scowl, and he opened his mouth as if to -

But Steve didn't let him, he didn't let him - push him away. Not after all of those words, all of those pretty, pretty words that Steve could almost make sense of just by the way Billy said them to him – bringing them to life in a way the ink on a page didn’t. Because that's always what Billy did, since he'd met him really. One moment he was giving him advice to plant his feet, to be better at the game - draw a charge - and the next he was throwing him back down to the floor. And Steve could see him. Suddenly, so suddenly, he could see him. See everything that had happened, and why, and it was so much - so much all at once.

Steve hauled Billy up from the table and Billy's ocean blue eyes popped open wide and he flinched a little like he thought Steve was gonna slug him. But instead, Steve reached down to grab his hand, dropping the scruff of his collar. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Miss Marissa wasn't in eyesight, before he dragged Billy back into the stacks.
Billy still had this wide eyed confusion about him, a defensiveness almost - still thought Steve was gonna fight him, maybe, beat the ever-living shit out of him for leaving books for Steve for Valentines Day with some of the sweetest, softest words Steve had ever heard. He hadn't known Billy could sound like that. And it was all for Steve. He'd said so.

But he hadn't let go of Steve's hand - it was a little ridgid, tight almost in Steve's, like he was about to snatch it away. It was burning hot against Steve's, sweaty really, all palms to palms and interlocked fingers. Steve could feel the calluses there, grating rough like sandpaper against the smooth skin of Steve's own hand.

"What're you - " Billy started.

"I like you too," Steve cut him off.

And then he was kissing him, fingers wrapping up tight in the denim of Billy's jacket.

Billy's wide body locked up in surprise, his mouth twitching against Steve's. His lips were so soft, a little dry from the pool - hot and dry, and Steve was overwhelmed by the scent of him. All coconut oil, chlorine and cologne and shampoo. His skin was so warm, and even though it wasn't summer anymore, he still had so many freckles spread out across the bridge of his nose that Steve'd never been close enough to really count before but maybe now he could.

Steve’d dreamed of this. So many times.

It took a second but Billy's body finally loosened, going to puddy against him, and then he was pushing Steve up against one of the book-lined shelves. He fisted into Steve's bomber jacket before his fingers wandered up higher, tracing over Steve's throat and into his hair, and Steve parted his mouth with anticipation, eyes sliding closed. Leaving Billy in charge of if he wanted to move it to a next step, since Steve had intitiated in the first place. The next move was up to Billy.

Billy's tongue licked into his mouth, and holy Jesus Billy's tongue was in his mouth. He wouldn't let himself think about how many times he'd thought about this - dreamed of it, even when he'd told himself he wasn't doing any such thing. When he'd told himself he wasn't going to think of Billy like that, not anymore. That he was doing himself a favor, because Billy could never – but he did. It didn’t seem real.

But it was.

Because Billy liked him - secret-admirer-liked-him. For real. Steve coudn't believe all of those words - all of those words, for Steve. About Steve. He'd meant them about Steve? It wasn’t even the words, not really – it was the feeling he’s said them with. It hadn't felt real this whole week.

It hadn't felt real until he'd heard them in the low growl of Billy's voice, and now their tongues were tangled slick together and Steve was breathing hard through his nose. They were both grabbing at each other, trying to pull each other closer, closer, Steve's head dropped back against the books, throat arching as he met Billy beat for beat. It was fast, and it was messy and breathless and rushed.

Because the library was going to close, and the librarian was close – it would be so easy to get caught. But it wasn't only that. It was months, months, months of wanting to do this with Billy and Billy - Billy had almost died but he was still here, and Steve didn't think before all of that had happened last summer if Billy ever would have dared leave him any kind of book, note, or anything. But things had changed, and Billy had changed. Steve understood that. It took so much courage.

But it was just a kiss - even with Billy kissing him like a drowning man and Steve was the only air. Maybe Steve was kissing him like that too, all eager mouths and gasped breath.

The books gave a slight rattle as Billy pushed Steve more firmly up against them, exploring his mouth with his tongue and Steve's saliva glands were in over drive. He dropped his mouth then to plant kisses along Steve's jaw, nipping gently at the freckled skin and Steve gasped in, catching up on air as he wrapped his arms around Billy's shoulders, hanging onto him.

Billy licked against his throat, nibbling and licking at the particular three beauty marks there, and Steve let in a delighted hissed breath as Billy nosed past the collar of his bomber to suck a stinging-mark into his skin.

Slotting their thighs together and Jesus, he was hard agaisnt Steve - and it was in the middle of the library, books lining them on either sides, endless and musty, with just the sound of their muffled breathing as they fought not to let the sound carry. Steve's dick was hard in his jeans too, and it had been like night and day, from soft to hard so - so fast, because this had been his fantasy.

Maybe not in a library - he really hadn't exactly dreamed up kissing Billy Hargrove in the bookstacks. Steve didn't really do libraries, after all. But this was a special exception.

"Thought you were straight - never thought you'd - " Billy breathed in his ear. "With the princess, you - "

Steve shivered at the hot breath against the shell there, biting at his lower lip. "Rob says I can - like who I like - like, like both - " He whispered back. Jesus why was he talking about Nancy? Don't talk about Nancy. "I'm not with Nancy anymore. Jesus, kiss me?"

Billy kissed back up Steve's throat to catch Steve's mouth with his own again. The rest of the tension seemed to drain from Billy, and he was the softest Steve had ever seen him, half rutting up against Steve in the aisle of library books.

Steve licked across his lower lip and drew it between his teeth, dark lashes flicking open as he blurrily tried to bring Billy back into focus - he was so close, all sun bleached curls and too many cute freckles and raven dark lashes. His cheeks were flushed pink with kissing.

Steve knew he should pull away, that they should stop – they were in the middle of the library, but he couldn’t even feel the books at his back. Billy was maybe-gay, and the world had turned upside down, and he liked Steve. All of those lovely things had reminded him of Steve – saying how he’d no longer wanted to wait in silence, wondering if it was too late, and that word – love. That word that could do so much good, or so much damage. But they weren't there yet.

Billy’s fingers snagged at Steve’s belt loops, drawing him even closer and their hips were almost flush and they were just rutting against each other now in earnest, like horny teenagers, tongues half down each other’s throats. Steve was drowning in the ocean smell of Billy, that smell of summer, and phemones heady on the air, dizzy with the feeling of Billy’s hardon pressed against his thigh. And when they moved right, just right, their cocks brushed and it was so – so fucking good Steve couldn’t even think.

Sure he’d had wet dreams about it, before, even if he’d had no idea what any of it meant. But now it had all added up so perfectly in his mind and all that made sense to him was the way Billy’s dick felt against his own, the electricity licking up his body from the way Billy’s own wide one pressed against him, fingers grabbing, exploring, hungry and insistent. His mouth, too, needy and desperate like he’d never thought he would get this and thought he never would again and was taking anything Steve could give him in the moment. Steve wanted to say his name, but they had to be quiet - it was a library, after all.

Steve had one arm wrapped tight around Billy’s shoulders, and dropped the other one down to grab at Billy’s ass, fingers kneading into the meat of it, pulling at him trying to get closer, closer, and suddenly he felt fourteen again and he – he couldn’t hold it, he couldn’t wait. It'd been a while for him, alright? It'd been - way too long, and it was overwhelming and so much all at once. It was Billy. Even rubbing against each other, through rough, unforviging denim, it was sinfully good, tingles of sensation washing over his skin and he couldn’t breathe. A book fell off the shelf with a thump, and Steve was coming, knees going weak as they humped each other up against the shelves. Clinging to eachother's jackets and jeans and -

Steve's orgasm dazzled through him, all spinning bright lights behind his eyelids, hips stuttering hard and he could feel Billy spasm a little against him, his own giving a few more aborted jerks where their thighs were slotted together like fitting pieces. The shelf shuddered at Steve's back, and he had to fight to keep his lips sealed against Billy's, trying not to moan into the cavern of his mouth - he couldn't be sure that he didn't.

They both stood there for a second, still embracing against the shelf, just hanging on to each other, weak as giddy colts and trying to come back down from the high of it. Just breathing against each others mouths, panted breaths, eyes closed. Steve couldn't believe he'd just got off in his jeans, had a recollection of telling Billy not to cream his pants - but he guessed both of them had.

Holy – holy shit.

"I don't," Billy murmured, so low Steve almost missed it once they’d both come back down to earth.

"Don't what?" Steve breathed back as he pressed a smiling, chaste kiss to Billy’s mouth, a lazy, almost drowsy sort of movement.

"...like both."

Oh. Oh .

"Oh," Steve whispered back. "Lucky for me then, huh?" He smiled gently against Billy's soft mouth.

Billy's lips pulled up into a half, crooked sort of smile as Steve smiled right back against them - smiling kisses pressed together.

"You think so?"

"Definitely. Think you can read more to me?"

"Definitely."

Steve had to offer Robin an apology, he thought. Maybe being read to really wasn’t so bad after all.