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sir stephen strider finds his suzie

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“Dusty! Phone for you!”

“Coming!”

Dustin stuffs a wrinkled receipt between the pages of his book, checking his watch as he goes to the hall. He’s not running late, so nobody should be pestering him yet. Mom hands him the phone with a smile and he smiles back, dropping the overly enthusiastic grin as soon as she turns away.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Lucas says through the phone. “I’m gonna miss D&D.”

“Aw, what?”

Dustin hears Lucas sigh. “Sorry. It’s… Max’s mom has been having a rough time. Which means Max is having a rough time. So…”

“Oh,” Dustin says. Fuck D&D. “Is there anything I can do?”

“No, no, it’s fine, it’s nothing, like, big, just… the usual. I’m just going over because she said she didn’t feel up to coming and seeing everyone, and I didn’t want her to be alone, you know?”

“Yeah, totally. You want me to call everyone and postpone?”

“No, don’t worry about it. Listen, don't tell Erica I said this, okay, but she’s really been looking forward to this, and I don't wanna, like, ruin that for her by putting it off.”

“Hey, it's Max. She'll understand.”

“But it's Max.”

Dustin sighs. “Right. Can't ruin her cool factor with your nerdy sister. What's the story?”

“Just date night.”

“Gross.”

Turn around …”

Dustin hangs up. Somehow, he swears he can hear Lucas laughing. About fifteen seconds later, the phone rings again.

“So?”

“I can probably convince Steve to fill in for you? Now that he doesn’t hate Eddie’s guts.”

“Really? Steve?”

“Why not? He likes me, he likes Erica, he likes Max, I can definitely guilt him into saying yes.”

“What, he doesn’t like me?”

“Not as much as he likes the rest of us.”

“Bullshit, he gave me a baseball card worth, like, a hundred bucks.”

“What?” Steve’s never given Dustin anything worth a hundred bucks. What the hell?

“It’s a whole—Nevermind. Thanks. I’m going over to Max’s now. If she’s up to it we might come by later.”

“Okay. You’re explaining the card thing later. Tell her I’m here for her.”

“She knows. But I’ll tell her anyway. See you.”

“Wait,” Dustin says, “Could you put Erica on the phone?”

“...I don’t trust that.”

“What?”

“You’re gonna tell her I’m going to do something embarrassing.”

“Well, now I am. No, I just want her to help me make Steve a character sheet.”

“Oh. Yeah, cool. ERICAAA!”

Dustin jerks away from the phone. “Dude.”

“Sorry. Oh, she’s here. Bye.”

“Hey,” Dustin says, “Lucas is bailing.”

Erica snorts. “I know. What have I been saying? He’s unreliable.”

“I’m gonna get Steve to fill in. Wanna help?”

He can see her devious smile in his mind’s eye. “Oh, hell yes.”

“Why's there a p-h? My name's Steven, not Ste-fen.”

“It's more regal with the p-h.”

“Way more regal,” Erica agrees. 

Steve sighs. “So, Sir Stephen Strider. At least Strider sounds kinda cool. Way less nerdy than I expected you to go.”

Dustin shoots Erica a look. She returns it, pressing her lips together to hold back a smile. “Yep, not nerdy at all.”

“So, you’re a human paladin,” Dustin says, pointing at where he wrote PALADIN in nice big letters, because he knows for a fact Steve will forget his class the second they start playing. “That means you’re a holy warrior who embodies goodness.”

“Aw, what? So I’m like an altar boy?”

“Kinda” Erica says, “But an altar boy with a sword.”

Steve sighs. “Great.”

“What’s this about Steve being an altar boy?”

Robin abandons her and Nancy’s game of War (which she was seemingly winning, judging by the large stack of cards she’s restlessly shuffling over and over) to peer over Steve’s shoulder. Nancy follows, snaking her way past Dustin to grab the character sheet and squint at it.

“I don’t know what altar boys wear, but I can see it,” Robin says, “Like, khakis? Do you wear khakis? Or did you have a little robe?” She gasps. “Oh, little Stevie in a little robe, carrying, like a candle or whatever in church. That’s so cute. Did you do that?”

“No,” Steve says. “Well. I mean, it’s not like you described.”

Nancy immediately puts down the character sheet. “Wait, you were an altar boy?”

Eddie, who has been focused on setting up the game board and organizing his notes for the past fifteen minutes, suddenly looks up from the board with a wild grin on his face, eyes wider than Dustin’s ever seen them. “Holy shit.”

Steve immediately turns away. “I’m going to help Mike with the drinks.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Steve!”

“Was the robe cute?” Dustin asks as Steve ascends the stairs, and is rewarded with a middle finger.

When he turns back to the table, Nancy and Robin are leaning over Erica’s shoulders. Nancy points at the small drawing of a knight in shining armor with a giant plume on his helmet.

“Is that Steve?”

“Sir Stephen Strider,” Erica says, “He spent all his gold on his fancy helmet so he’s broke as a joke.”

“That sounds about right,” Robin says. “This drawing’s really good.”

“I know,” Erica says. “His highest stats are Strength and Constitution, but we got his Charisma as high as we could for a fighting class.”

Nancy grins. “That also sounds about right.”

Without looking up from the figurines he’s adjusting, Eddie says, “Dexterity’s pretty high, too, if I recall. Absolutely robbed him on Wisdom and Intelligence, though. Kind of rude.”

Erica scoffs. “Were we wrong?”

Robin frowns at her. “Eddie, do you have a pencil?”

He passes her one. Robin erases Steve’s Strength, Wisdom, and Intelligence stats and rewrites them, taking two points off of Strength and adding one each to Wisdom and Intelligence.

“There.”

“Wh—Eddie! She can’t do that.”

Eddie peers over at the page. “I’ll allow it.”

“You’re losing your edge, man,” Dustin says.

Eddie stares at him coolly, raising a single eyebrow. Oh, right. There’s a reason why he and Mike used to be scared of this guy.

“Uh, not… uh, you know, just…”

Dustin is saved by the metaphorical bell as Steve and Mike come traipsing down the stairs, Mike struggling to keep his armful of Coke cans from toppling out of his grasp and Steve calmly carrying two cans in each hand. 

“Rob, I scored you something,” Steve says, placing his four cans down on the table and reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a small Ziploc bag with half of a lime inside.

“Oh, yes,” Robin says, snatching it from his hand and grabbing a can of Coke. “Nance, you gotta try this.”

“Uh…”

“Lime and Coke,” Robin says simply, while Dustin grabs his own can and settles into his place at the table. “It’s refreshing, and not, like, the way all soda is refreshing, it’s like, really refreshing. Like drinking a day trip to the lake or…”

Dustin tunes her out as she and Nancy return to the couch. This is the start of a new campaign, one that Eddie’s promised will be batshit crazy and not involve Vecna, the Mindflayer, or the Demogorgon in any way. It sucks that Lucas is missing it, but finally getting Steve to play D&D is a victory so sweet that it almost outweighs the loss.

“Dude, you’re gonna need to help me out,” Steve says, elbowing Dustin and frowning at his character sheet. “This is way too much math for a game.”

“I’ll help,” Eddie says before Dustin can respond, “A lot of the math is my job anyway. You’ll be fine.”

There must be some kind of imposter sitting in Mike’s basement instead of Eddie. Something must have happened to sadistic Eddie. Where is “never let a big bad go down without a resurrection and a level-up” Eddie? Who the hell is this guy?

Dustin hears a soft scraping sound and turns around to find that Nancy and Robin have pushed the couch up so that they’re sitting right behind him and Steve. Nancy squeezes around Steve’s chair to sit down, but Robin climbs over the back of the couch and sits, knees tucked up against her chest. “Go on,” she says, smiling, “Play the game. Pretend we’re not even here.”

“As soon as the last of your party makes it through the cavern entrance, the earth begins to rumble. You watch a wall of rock raise from the ground, sealing off the entrance—and your escape route.”

“Shit,” Mike says.

Dustin agrees. “Shit.”

“Well, there goes a simple recon mission,” Erica mourns.

“Uh, Eddie, how many people did the bad guys leave behind again?”

“Just the one,” Eddie tells Steve, “But he’s a big one. Real tall and broad, with scars criss-crossing his face and a large mace in his right hand.”

“Nagnor,” Erica whispers. “From the alley.”

“Can he, like, see us?”

“If he could, do you think we’d just be chatting right now?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Alright, smartass.”

“You’re all successfully hidden in the shadows… for now. There are two torches on the wall on either side of the door, though, so if you get much closer the guard will be able to see you.”

“I’m going to try and tiptoe along the dark part of the wall and get a little closer,” Mike says.

“Check for stealth.”

Mike rolls and hisses. “Uh, ten?”

“Who goes there?” Eddie calls in his gravelly bad-guy voice, eliciting a panicked flurry of whispers.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Dustin chants, “Stephen, go distract him!”

“Yeah, Stephen!” Erica encourages, though perhaps she just wants Sir Stephen to die first.

“What? Why me?”

“You have the charisma,” Mike says as if Steve is a particularly slow kindergartener. “You distract him.”

“You want me to just go up and talk to the wizard gang leader?”

“He's not the leader,” Mike groans, “Oh my god, where have you been for the past hour?”

“Mike,” Nancy says firmly, “Helpful. Remember?”

Mike rolls his eyes. Robin leans forward over Steve's shoulder, showing him the notepad she's been scribbling on throughout the campaign. She points at something on the page. “See, it's this guy, the muscle.”

“Ohh,” Steve says, “That guy's gonna kick my ass.”

“Not if you can sweet-talk him!”

“Sweet-talk him? He's got a mace! There’s four of us—”

“And we’re all injured!”

“Charisma, Steve, charisma!”

“WHO GOES THERE?” Eddie bellows impressively, slamming his hands down on the table and rattling the figurines.

“The man of your dreams,” Steve proclaims confidently, continuing in a strong voice even as Erica begins to cackle. “Stephen Strider. Sir Stephen Strider. At your, uh, service. And, uh, I'm gonna step into the firelight and bow.”

Eddie raises an eyebrow. “Interesting tactic. Roll a D20.”

“While Steve's distracting the guard, I'm gonna look around for an escape route,” Mike says.

“Good idea,” Dustin says, “I’m gonna see if I can tell what kind of magic they used on that door.”

“Uh, I rolled a thirteen,” Steve says.

Eddie tsks. “The guard surges forward, fisting the collar of your tunic in his hand and pulling you close, pressing his mace against your throat.” He switches back to his bad-guy voice. “How did you find this place?”

“Well, I, uh, saw the most… enchanting creature in the catacombs while I was… doing my research. On catacombs. I'm a scholar. Uh, an academic scholar.”

“Oh my god,” Nancy mumbles, dropping her face into her hands. 

“Yeah, you are!” Robin grabs Steve's shoulders and shakes him encouragingly like she's his coach and he's her prize boxer.

Eddie hums. “Everyone but Steve, check for stealth.”

Dustin just barely scrapes through, based on the face Eddie makes, but they all pass their checks, and Dustin makes a pathetic intelligence check that yields him the knowledge that the magic rock door is, indeed, made of rock. Lady Applejack manages to sneak a few feet closer to Nagnor and Sir Stephen. Eddie gestures at Steve, like go on.

Steve clears his throat. “As a scholar, I am an expert on beauty. So when I saw you… steal away into this… romantically dim and isolated cave where nobody will hear me scream, I thought to myself, why, this could be the answer to my prayers! Long have I… longed for, uh, the… uh, for a romance to rival that of… uh, Wizard Romeo and Juliet.”

Dustin watches Eddie's face as everyone else giggles. He's retained his typical intimidating smirk for much of this encounter, but as Steve stumbles through his fictional seduction, Eddie's eyes soften. His smirk slowly turns to a small grin.

“Didn't Wizard Romeo and Juliet both die?” he asks, in that same low, grumbly voice he always loves to use for big scary bad guys. The effect is jarring.

“Well, yes, but… they loved each other first,” Steve says, oddly sincere. “I think love is worth the risk. Wouldn't you agree? And then, uh, I'm gonna take off my helmet and, like—” Steve tosses his hair, shaking it out dramatically and running a hand through it afterward to fix any wayward strands.

"Ew,” Mike says.

Nancy presses a hand over her mouth, but it does nothing to hide her smile. Usually, this is the point where Eddie would make them all roll initiative. Dustin has his D20 ready. But Eddie smiles. Eddie fucking smiles, and not in that maniacal way he does before siccing something horrific on them, he fucking beams, and says, "You're gonna scrape your neck on his mace doing that, just so you know."

"I'll do it anyway."

"Take a point of slashing damage."

Robin marks the lost hit point on Steve's character sheet for him.

"So, is he into me?"

Eddie appraises Steve for a moment. Dustin braces himself. 

"...Everybody has advantage on their stealth checks for this next round."

"Yes!" Steve high-fives Robin. Eddie begins going around the table, each player explaining what they'd like to do with their turn, and shit, Dustin needs to plan his next move, but he can't focus because Eddie never does shit like this. He's brutal. He makes it an uphill battle. They can never take the easy way out, stupid improvised attempts at disctraction never work, but it's working right now, and maybe Eddie is just going easy on Steve because he's a new player, but that doesn't make sense, either, because Eddie loves giving Steve shit and being difficult on purpose just to irritate him. So why would he suddenly change his tune for some bad flirting?

Eddie twirls a piece of his hair, a small smile on his face as Steve waxes poetic about Nagnor's large, strong hands. He laughs, throwing his head back with glee. The only thing that usually makes Eddie laugh like that is Eddie, but now Eddie's shoulders keep shaking, his laughter growing more hysterical with each new compliment from Steve. He calms down, finally, and leans forward on his elbows, resting his chin in his hands.

"Well, Sir Stephen Strider," he drawls, completely forgetting to do his evil guy voice, "Guard duty is boring. Maybe you could entertain me."

Oh. Oh, holy shit.

Dustin turns from his right side to his left for what must be the fiftieth time. He doesn't usually have this much trouble falling asleep, but he just can't stop thinking about Eddie. Steve. The two of them, more or less verbally making out with each other under the guise of Dungeons and Dragons.

Nobody else seemed to notice anything. Erica just congratulated Steve on his surprisingly effective distraction. Mike reluctantly admitted that it worked better than he'd expected. Robin and Nancy were invested, sure, but neither of them seemed remotely suspicious. Maybe Dustin is just reading too much into an innocent in-game interaction because he's homophobic. Dustin never thought he was homophobic before. He doesn't really know any gay people, sure, but not because he doesn't want to, just because Hawkins isn't really the kind of place where people are gay.

Now that he thinks about it, that doesn't really make any sense. Gay people don't just get born in New York and San Francisco and nowhere else. Plenty of people are probably gay in Hawkins and they just don't talk about it, which is… sad. So fucking sad. The thought of Steve and Eddie being two of those people makes his chest ache.

They don't deserve that. They're two of the best people Dustin knows, and they deserve love, and acceptance, and shit, Dustin might cry right now. Why wouldn't they tell him? Dustin tells Steve about everything in his life. Like, actually everything, even about how the first time he and Suzie kissed he accidentally kinda drooled on her a little, and sure, maybe Steve didn't appreciate hearing that, but Dustin told him anyway, because you can tell your brother anything. Why hasn't Steve told him?

Dustin hasn't shut up about Robin, he realizes, he keeps pestering Steve, Robin, Robin, Robin, why don't you date Robin, and Steve always tells him to knock it off, that he has his reasons, and shit, Dustin's been a terrible friend. He's totally evil. He thought Steve might be lying about being over Nancy, but he wasn't, he was just… afraid to tell Dustin the truth. Because Dustin is a terrible friend.

Shit. Shit, he's gotta fix this.

"So, you seeing anyone?"

Steve groans. "Dude, enough. That's really why you asked for a ride to school today? I'm not gonna date Robin, I'm not getting back together with Nancy, and I don't need your help getting a girlfriend."

Dustin stares at him. Steve sighs, lifting a hand from the wheel to run through his hair.

"Sorry, that was… no, I'm not seeing anyone."

"I wasn't suggesting Robin or Nancy," Dustin says casually, "Or even a girlfriend."

Steve glances away from the road to frown at him. "You lost me."

"You're not opening your mind," Dustin says. He can do this. He practiced this morning. "You know, I think you're ignoring, like, half of your potential dating pool. There's… people have, like, options."

Trees fly by, the car rumbling over uneven pavement. Hawkins has some shitty roads. Steve taps his fingers on the steering wheel. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm saying that you don't just have to date girls. You can be into guys. It's, um… you know, it's an option. It's a thing."

Steve makes a weird noise, halfway between a gasp and a choking sound, and he splutters, "What? No, no, what, like, I don't—" He coughs. "Why would I… I mean, not that there's anything, like, wrong with that, but, I mean—" Steve cuts himself off. He looks at Dustin, face twisted in concern, then he presses the brakes.

"Steve?"

Steve pulls the car over, halfway off the road and halfway on the edge of an overgrown field. He puts the car in park and twists so that he's fully facing Dustin.

Dustin wants so badly to avoid eye contact, but he's trying to be a better friend.

"Dustin?"

Steve's eyes feel like they're boring right into his soul.

"Y…yeah?" Dustin can't help glancing down at his hands, fidgeting with the sleeve of his jacket, but he has to be a good friend, has to be a good brother, so he meets Steve's gaze again.

"...You trying to tell me something, buddy?"

Steve's face is gentle, a soft smile on his lips and his eyes full of love.

Oh, Dustin fucked this up.

"No! No, no, not about… I mean, this isn't about me, Steve, this is about you! And your options."

"Mmhm." Steve just keeps smiling at him. He reaches out, shoves Dustin's hat down on his head, ruffles his hair. "Sure, man. It's about me. And my options."

Steve faces forward again, puts the car in drive, and pulls back onto the road.

"Really," Dustin insists.

"I got it, man, loud and clear," Steve says, small smile growing broader. "That's really brave of me, to talk to you about it."

"Seriously."

"And you totally love me and you're proud of me."

Dustin sighs. God damn it.

Usually, this is when Dustin would ask someone for advice, but there are two significant obstacles in his path. First of all, the person he would usually ask is Steve, and he can’t ask Steve for advice about dealing with Steve. Second of all, this is kind of a sensitive subject, and he shouldn’t risk outing his friend just because he can’t figure out a plan of action on his own. Maybe he could ask Suzie, but Mormons aren’t exactly known for their open-mindedness, and while he has faith in her, asking her for advice in this situation might just create more problems than it solves. If this were a more straightforward science question, he could call up Mr. Clarke, but Dustin has a feeling that conversation might end up pretty similar to the one he already had with Steve, and he just can’t handle that again.

So. To the library he goes.

There's nothing on the Dewey Decimal guide about gay people. He tries the 300 section first, social sciences, and he doesn't find much. There's an anthropological guide to marriage across cultures, but based off of Dustin's cursory skim, the closest it gets to talking about men in relationships with each other is a section on polyandry in Tibet, and those dudes are brothers who have the same wife, not dudes who are actually married to each other, so Dustin puts the book back. Next, he goes to 320, political science, because that's where the civil rights stuff is and Dustin figures that's a solid bet.

He scans the shelves once, twice, a third time, and whispers, "Shit."

On to 390, Customs, Etiquette, and Folklore. No dice. 570, biology, yields a frankly frightening sex manual of sorts, but it's all about straight people, and even if it wasn't, that's really not the kind of information he's looking for. He tries 700, Arts, because as far as he knows gay people tend to be artistic, trendsetting types, and he’s kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but of course he doesn’t find anything. He tries 900, History, and finds nothing. Absolutely nothing. How is that even possible? There are, like, ten different books on just the history of Roane County, and there have to be way more gay people alive right now than people who’ve ever stepped foot in Roane County.

Dustin stomps up to the counter and rings the bell. The librarian emerges from the backroom and sighs when she sees him.

“Good afternoon,” Dustin says with his sweetest smile, “Where are your books on gay people?”

Her eyebrows crease. “On what?”

“Gay people. You know, homosexuals. Uh, there are other words that I would really rather not say. You know?”

She tilts her head, examining him for a moment, before smiling. “We don’t have much, but there are a couple of books in the psychology section. Do you want me to—”

“No,” he interrupts, “I know where it is. Thank you!”

He can feel his ears burning as he walks away. God, everyone in town is gonna think he’s gay by the time he figures out how to actually have a conversation with Steve.

Psychology. Why did psychology not occur to him? It just never seemed like much of a psychological thing. It makes sense, of course, attraction is psychological because feelings and emotions are psychological, but when Dustin thinks psychology, he thinks of, like, the crazy people at Pennhurst, not, like, people falling in love and dating each other.

There are a couple of promising books in the psychology section, but they’re a bit… dense. Like, college-level stuff, and Dustin’s no idiot, but he’s pretty sure he’d need a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a lot of free time to parse this stuff. None of it is about, like, real-life shit. It’s all just theories on sexual development, what makes people straight and gay and which animals display homosexual behavior, which is interesting, sure, but it doesn’t help. None of it helps.

Dustin rides his bike home without a single new book in his backpack. Honestly, what was he expecting? A simple how-to guide to being friends with gay people? Some book to give him a script for asking Steve if he’s into Eddie, and if he’s always been into guys, and if he knows that Eddie likes him back, and if they’re dating, and if he was ever planning on telling Dustin? Eddie has to like Steve. He has to. It’s just a question of whether Steve knows it or not. It’s not like Dustin can just tell him.

Wait. Wait. Dustin stops his bike in the middle of the road, nearly skidding and falling over, because how could he be so stupid?

He’s upset that Steve wouldn’t just talk to him like normal. So why is he going out of his way to plan out this talk with Steve? They don’t do that. They don’t plan and watch their words and dance around things. That stupid dancing around the subject shit is how you get libraries with no useful books. Dustin doesn’t want to live in that kind of world. He certainly doesn’t want to encourage it.

Dustin turns left where he’d usually go straight. He coasts into Loch Nora, past all of the big fancy houses until he reaches Steve’s big fancy house, which somehow feels way less obnoxious than all of the others in the neighborhood just by virtue of being Steve’s.

He rings the bell. He rings it again. A third time. And a fourth.

“Jesus, Henderson,” he hears before the door even opens. Steve wrenches it open, an irritated scowl on his face. “What?”

“Can we talk?”

Steve’s expression softens. “Of course, man. Always. Come in.”

“It’s about this morning,” Dustin says, tossing his backpack on the floor and flopping onto Steve’s sofa. He kicks off his shoes, too, leans against one arm of the sofa and brings his legs up to sit criss-cross applesauce. Steve sits across from him, leaning on the opposite arm and mirroring his position.

“Figured.”

Steve doesn’t say anything else. He just sits there, waiting, patient.

“I really wasn’t talking about me.”

“Okay,” Steve says calmly. “So… you genuinely just wanted to let me know that people can like guys?”

He seems skeptical.

“That you can.” Dustin coughs even though he doesn’t need to. “That you can like guys.”

Steve pulls his knees up to his chest. His mouth does something weird that Dustin can’t interpret, not quite a frown but not quite a smile either. “Why’d you… Why’d you want me to, uh…”

“Did you know that Eddie likes you?”

Steve’s mouth falls open, his eyebrows twitching upwards. He didn’t know. Dustin has the sudden urge to hug him.

“Like, he really likes you,” Dustin continues, “Like, he’s never been that nice to anyone in D&D before. I’m pretty sure he lied about one of my stealth checks just so you’d keep flirting with him.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is, and I know better than you.”

Steve frowns. “No you don’t.”

Dustin rolls his eyes. “Yeah, actually, I do, because I’ve been playing with Eddie for months now and he’d never let one of us get away with something like that. He forgot to do the voice!”

“What voice?”

“The voice, Steve, the bad-guy voice! Halfway through your conversation, he just forgot to do the bad-guy voice and he was flirting!”

Steve sighs. “People forget things, Henderson.”

“Not Eddie. You’re telling me you seriously think he’d just forget to do something during a campaign for no reason? Eddie Munson?”

Steve fidgets. “It’s not impossible.”

Dustin’s never seen him like this before. Curled up, making himself smaller. Arguing against somebody being into him.

“You really like him,” Dustin realizes. “You’re scared.”

“Jesus, shut up,” Steve groans, hiding his face in his hands for a second before crossing his arms, his face suddenly much redder than before, “Is that all you came here for? To accuse Eddie of having a crush on me?”

“No. It’s not an accusation, it’s a fact.”

Steve sighs.

“And,” Dustin adds, “I wanted… shit, I wanted to say sorry, alright?”

“Sorry?” Steve tilts his head, looking more than ever like an intensely miserably, curious puppy.

“For… like, making you think there was stuff you couldn’t tell me. For not shutting up about girls.” Dustin shrugs. “I tried going to the library to figure out how to, like, talk about this shit, and there was nothing, and I just kept thinking, like, if I was gay and I was alone and I was scared and I couldn’t find anything to make me feel less alone and scared, I’d want to tell my friends. So, you know… You can tell me. I’m your friend.”

Steve just looks at him with those sad eyes, and Dustin realizes they’re getting shiny. Holy shit.

“I fucking love you,” Steve says, voice wavering. He laughs. “You’re ridiculous. You went to the library to figure out how to tell me someone likes me?”

“Alright, don’t make me sound like a moron for trying to do my research, I was being considerate!”

“You were being a moron,” Steve says, “But thanks. I guess.” He sighs, then tilts his head back and lets out a loud, “UGH!”

Dustin snorts. Steve runs a hand through his hair, mussing it just to fix it and then muss it again. “Shit, I really do like him. Like, it’s embarrassing how much I like him. I even played your little nerd game.”

Dustin pouts. “I thought you did that for us.”

Steve holds his hand up and wiggles it. “Eh, fifty-fifty.”

“You should ask him out.”

“Oh, really, ask him out? No big deal, just ask him out! Not like he could freak and never talk to you again!”

“Steve.” Dustin levels him with his best unimpressed look. “He literally twirled his hair and giggled the whole time you were talking. He forgot the voice. And he did your math for you! Like, a lot of math!”

“It was a lot of math,” Steve considers.

“Just think about it,” Dustin says, “For me?”

Steve presses his lips together. He sighs. He rolls his eyes. “...Sure, whatever. I’ll think about it.”

Dustin holds his fist out, Steve bumps it, and then he asks if Dustin wants to hang around and watch TV.

They watch reruns of Petticoat Junction while Dustin does his homework. Steve tries to help, and he usually doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but once or twice he catches a mistake and Dustin doesn’t even mind how much he gloats about it, because something feels right. He’s been a good friend today, and Steve has found his Suzie.

It doesn’t get much better than that.