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Eddie clutches the spiked bat tighter as the Vecna shrieks in pain, its—or should he say his—once deep and threatening voice reduced to the beastly cries of a dying animal.

 

A dying animal. 

 

The thought reverberates in his head as he tries to grasp it, reach for it, comprehend that this could be it. This could be the end. Finally.

 

Beside him Steve stands tall, unlike him who is slumped over, aching to curl up into a ball around the pain blossoming in his body. Not Steve, never Steve, as Eddie has learned over the past days. Never Steve, who always stands tall even after supernatural bird-bat hybrids picked entire chunks of flesh out of his abdomen; who had refused to leave the Upside Down until they had freed Nancy from the Vecna and had held his head high throughout it all. 

 

There’s the faint trace of a smile tugging on his lips as he seems to come to the same conclusion as Eddie. 

 

The Vecna has become quiet, a mere pile of supernatural in the middle of Hawkins. 

 

#

 

The Wheeler's house is their obvious crashing point and the group walks slowly through the streets. Eddie wonders what a sight they might be to strangers' eyes; covered in dirt and blood and something rotten and wrong, something otherworldly, setting one foot in front of the other. He thinks they could be mistaken for war veterans, even. 

 

The lifelessness of it all. 

 

His bat hangs from his fingers and drags behind him and he can see Steves’ doing the same. Behind him he hears the scraping of metal, which is probably Robin’s following suit. 

 

He’s tired. 

 

“We’re here,” Steve says as he stops in front of the entryway. “Nance?”

 

The house lays dark and quiet, and the vigilantism of the citizens might just have played into their cards for the first time. 

 

Nancy makes her way to the top of the group wordlessly, fiddles with her keys, and then Eddie hears the relieving ‘click’ of the lock. The door swings open and shows a dark, but oh-so normal looking house. It’s like a sigh goes through them all at once, like they had been expecting something different. 

 

Nobody switches the lights on when they enter, and nobody complains about it. 

 

Eddie feels tears come to his eyes and his legs go heavy. He hears Robin sniffle faintly, which gets Nancy’s attention. Slowly, the group disperses and they do so down to the clothes. Steve’s bloodied (is it even blood if it’s that of a demon from another world?) bat falls to the floor, but Eddie is not ready to let go of his just yet. Dustin and Lucas had tossed off their shoes and shirts the moment they entered and have since moved on to raiding the kitchen clumsily. 

 

He blinks. Once, twice. The people around him move, but it feels surreal. 

 

“Eddie?”

 

“Huh?” 

 

“I asked if you wanted some food,” said Dustin. “You don’t look too good, man.” 

 

“Er…” he swallows thickly. “N-no, thank you. I’m good,” he replies shakily. 

 

He tears his eyes away from the kitchen, looks at the dining table instead. His stomach churns and it feels like his intestines are still stuck in the Upside Down, like they didn’t really get the memo, and then he’s retching and his throat becomes hot and disgusting as he vomits right into the Wheeler’s hallway. 

 

Steve moves to him immediately, and his tired posture is gone as he stands up tall again. “Hey, hey, you’re fine,” he says softly and puts his hand onto his back. “You’re fine,” he repeats as the second wave comes through, this time less food and more water. 

 

When he’s done, he’s vomiting up more blood than anything else, but Steve hasn’t moved away. Not even when Eddie had thought it was over and had turned to thank him, only to retch half of it onto Steve. Not when he had started sobbing like a small child, the adrenaline finally dying down. He just stood next to him, with his hand rubbing small circles on his back. 

 

Eddie gasps when his throat finally stops convulsing. “Fuck,” he says quietly.

 

“It’s okay,” Steve assures him as he grabs the towel Nancy has handed him. “Here you go,” he says and places a gentle hand under his chin as he begins cleaning him up. 

 

“Don’t worry,” Nancy joins in. “We’ll clean this up. Why don’t you and Steve go to the bathroom, get cleaned up?” There’s a genuine smile on her lips, and Eddie tears up again. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispers. “For everything.” 

 

“Come on,” Steve nudges him towards the bathroom door. “Save that for later.” 

 

Eddie lets himself be guided through the unfamiliar house, lets himself be manhandled to sit down on the toilet lid. He finally lets go off the bat, sets it down next to him. Still close enough if the need arises. 

 

His mind is beginning to fog over, and he isn’t sure whether it’s a cause for concern or simple sleepiness. 

 

“Steve,” he croaks, desperate. 

 

“What’s up?” Steve answers, but he’s obviously distracted with something. Eddie doesn’t mind though. 

 

“I jus-” his eyelids flutter. “Sorry,” he slurs. “I just wanted to know if you’re still here,” he murmurs. 

 

There’s a pause. 

 

“Yeah. Of course I’m still here.” 

 

“Hmm,” he hums, his eyes now fully closed. 

 

“Hey, hey, Eddie,” says Steve. “Don’t fall asleep on me just yet.” 

 

He groans, “Hmm- okay,” and forces his eyes open again. The lights are still out in the entire house, but Steve is using a flashlight to look through the medicine cabinet, and so Eddie has to squint before he regains a semi-clear vision.

 

“What’re you doing?” 

 

“I’m looking for everything we might need,” he answers distractedly. A pile of bottles and bandages has formed on the counter beneath him and Eddie nods to himself. 

 

“I can help. What do we need?” 

 

Steve closes the cabinet and sets the flashlight down on the counter, letting the light flood the ceiling and dip them in a gray light.. “No, no, I’m basically done, sit down, please.”

 

“Don’t want me vomiting all over the floor again?” Eddie asks lightheartedly. 

 

He snorts. “Something like that. Hey, I’m just going to change the makeshift bandage on my stomach for a real one, okay, and then I’ll be right with you,” Steve says as he’s taking off the borrowed denim vest.

 

Eddie gives him a long look, before deciding to get up again. “I’ll do it.”

 

“What? No, you’re tired, I’ll be fine,” he says, but his shaking hands betray him. 

 

“You’re tired, too,” Eddie simply states. He reaches for Steve's hand and gently begins pulling Nancy's pants from his skin. The fabric sticks to the wound like glue to paper and Steve hisses quietly everytime they get to a particularly wet spot. 

 

“It’s fine, you’re fine,” Eddie murmurs, repeating Steve’s own words back to him. “You’re doing great, just a little bit more,” he continues as the body beneath his hands begins quivering. 

 

“I- I’m sorry,” Steve whispers. 

 

“Don’t be,” he whispers back. 

 

When he’s done he tosses the once beige piece of fabric into the sink. 

 

“Do you think we should clean this first?” Eddie asks, still in that quiet voice he never uses. Nothing else feels appropriate for this, for them. 

 

“Yeah, probably,” Steve breathes. 

 

“Okay.” 

 

He lets his hand linger on Steve's stomach when he pulls away, hoping to be able to stabilize him if his legs betrayed him. 

 

“Where- Where are the, uhm, the small towels, the ones-” 

 

“Washcloths?” Steve offers, and Eddie is glad to hear the humor that resonates in his voice. 

 

“Yeah,” he laughs lightly. “Those.” 

 

“They should be under the sink. Unless they’ve been moved since…” 

 

“Since you and Wheeler broke up?” 

 

Steve shrugs. “I guess so.”

 

“Well, at least she has Robin now,” he says sarcastically.

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“Nothing,” Eddie waves it off and kneels down to open the cabinet. “Just that they got pretty close pretty quickly, and Nancy hated her in the beginning. Won’t they just… hate each other again once all of the “we’re stuck in this together” has worn off?” He’s standing again and reaches behind Steve for the faucet, carefully avoiding pressing into him. 

 

Steve is silent, and stays silent as Eddie carefully begins removing all of the guck and dried blood. When he’s done, Steve has yet to say a word.

 

“Didn’t hurt too much, did it?” Eddie tries with a lighthearted question as his mind wanders, wondering what he’d done wrong. “I-If it did, I definitely didn’t mean to.” 

 

His heart sinks when he sees Steve avert his gaze. “No, it was- it was fine. Don’t worry. Thanks.” He shakily reaches for the bandage and turns away. 

 

“Where are you going?” Eddie asks, and immediately a deep, primal fear shoots up his spine. “Don’t leave,” he pleads. 

 

Steve stops in his steps, but his face is still turned to the door when he finally speaks. 

 

“I- I don’t think they will hate each other again. Once this is actually over.”

 

“You don’t?” 

 

“No. You don’t… you don’t go through something like this without starting to care about someone. 

 

“Not when they were all you had. Not when they protected you like you protected them, not when- not when it becomes so… instinctive. Not when—” he finally stops. 

 

“I just don’t think they will hate each other. 

 

“I don’t want them to.” Steve turns around and finally looks at him.

 

Oh.

 

He nods, slowly. “Okay.” 

 

Then, Eddie whispers “come back?”

 

“Okay,” Steve replies.

 

Eddie smiles shakily. “Thank you.” 

 

“Don’t thank me. I didn’t want to leave.” 

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay.” 

 

They’re silent, simply breathing and enjoying the quiet, so different to the Upside Down, when Eddie’s eyelids grow heavy again. “Hey, Steve, do we even have enough beds in this house? Cause I’m not sleeping in the parents' bed, I’ll have you know that.” 

 

Steve huffs. “There’s, uh, they got this basement, I think it has a ton of couches, or- or mattresses, I’m not sure.” 

 

He nods. “Great. Awesome.

 

“We should put those bandages on you before we go there. I really want to go there.” 

 

“Yeah,” Steve says. “There’s some iodine ointment on the counter.”

 

Eddie pulls himself up with a groan. 

 

“How’s your leg doing?” Steve asks as he rubs the brown cream all over his fingertips. 

 

“I can’t really feel it.” He shrugs and approaches Steve, who has taken over his space on the toilet. 

 

Steve looks at him warily as he crouches down in front of him. “That doesn’t sound good.” 

 

“I guess so,” Eddie says. “I don’t really care right now.” He jerks his head around a bit trying to see where the wound ends and begins before gently pressing his coated fingertips to it. 

 

“Does that hurt?” he asks.

 

“No. It’s pretty nice, actually.” 

 

“What?” Eddie asks, feeling his neck grow warm.

 

“The ointment, or whatever. The cream. I think it has some numbing stuff added to it.” 

 

“Oh. Right.” He pauses. “That’s good.”

 

Eddie finishes up applying the cream and wraps up Steve's stomach in a fresh, completely white bandage. It stands out to all the dirt that still clings to his skin. 

 

“Fuck, that’s gross, isn’t it?” Steve says. “I need a shower.” 

 

“Me too,” Eddie sighs. “But not now.”

 

“No.” Steve shakes his head. “You sure you don’t want me to take a look at your leg?” 

 

“I want to sleep , Harrington. Like I said, I can’t even feel it.”


Steve hums. “Alright, then.” 

 

Steve leads them out of the bathroom and down the hallway until they reach the basement ladder, and Eddie all but clings to him throughout.


The basement is devoid of people, and Steve busies himself by arranging two mattresses next to each other while Eddie hovers near the ladder.

 

“This house scares me,” he finally says sheepishly.

 

Steve stops. “How so?” 

 

“I don’t know.” 

 

“It’ll pass.” He walks over to Eddie and nods encouragingly toward the makeshift bed. 

 

“How do you know?” He slowly crosses the basement, never taking another step before Steve has.

 

“Because when you- when you first get back, you’re scared of everything. I was.” 

 

Eddie swallows and sits down on what he deems ‘his’ mattress. “You were?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve laughs. “A shitton.” He sits down on the opposite side.

 

“I don’t think I can sleep tonight.” 

 

Steves gives him a long look. “It’s okay. I’ll be here the entire time.” 

 

He nods. “Promise?”

 

“I promise.”


“Okay.” 

 

#

 

It takes some time.

 

He doesn’t sleep right away. All of his nerves are raw, and he seriously doubts he will ever be able to do anything again. His naked feet are warm under the blanket, but they must be dirtying them. 

 

They will always be dirty. He will always be dirty.

 

Like a curse clinging to him. 

 

Steve doesn’t sleep right away, either. 

 

Eventually, he turns around, facing Eddie whose eyes are wide open. 

 

And Eddie sees the same dirt that clings to his skin cling to Steve. It’s on his nose, and under his left eye, and there’s a particularly stubborn spot on his temple. 

 

He wonders whether they’ll always be dirty, or whether there’s a way to wash it off. He takes comfort in the fact that no matter which it is, they’ll do it together. 

 

Eventually, after maybe seconds or minutes or hours, Steve lifts his blanket, and Eddie crawls into the hug eagerly. 

 

Steve stands tall, while Eddie curls up into a ball.

Neither mind.