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it's more than a spark (this fire in me)

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1.

The first time it happened he didn’t think much of it. Eddie Kaspbrak had always had what his mom liked to call a delicate constitution. He caught colds easily. Spent a lot of time at doctors’ offices. Forgot how to breathe when he was nervous or scared, to the point where he had to carry three inhalers around in one of his fanny packs. The other one had his medicines. His life was measured in the beeps of his wristwatch.

Even after he learned they were all fakes, placebos, he couldn’t bring himself to turn the damn alarm off.

(That was at least partially because he couldn’t figure out how to turn it off, but piss off.)

The point of the story was, by now Eddie knew his medicines and inhalers and whatever were a bunch of bullshit. That didn’t change the fact that he knew way too much about germs. Every time he saw one of his friends using a water fountain he told them off about the amount of bacteria they were picking up. He went off on tangents at Stan for touching a dead bird, Bill for spending time in his dad’s moldy, dusty garage, Ben for not washing his hands after touching library books, Mike for not washing his hands after a day of work at the farm, Bev for not washing her hands after climbing down the rusty fire escape outside her apartment.

“Hey, Eduardo, check this out! Some idiot dumped their pizza box in the garbage when there’s a whole three slices left!”

Oh yeah. Richie. Eddie went off on tangents at Richie for pretty much everything.

He rolled his eyes. “What the fuck, Richie? Are you trying to become a literal trashmouth? Do you know how many germs are in that? It was in the garbage for a reason.”

Richie shot him an exaggerated simper, coke-bottle glasses lifting slightly as he scrunched his nose. “Aw, Eds, are you worrying about me?”

He snickered, tossing the pizza box to the curb and ignoring Eddie’s indignant protests of the accursed nickname. “If only they could see me now, wittle Eds is wowwying about me!”

The rest of the losers had already went home for the day. Richie and Eddie lived the closest to each other, and so they always had to walk home together. After what happened earlier that summer, they weren’t about to let anyone go anywhere alone. Eddie made Richie cross his heart that he’d run back to the Kaspbrak house at the slightest sign that something was wrong. He knew his mom would have his head if she found Richie sleeping there. That was fine. He’d find somewhere to hide him, somewhere he wouldn’t be found if he managed to keep his mouth shut for once. 

“Just—just shut up, Richie, I’m serious. You could die.” He frowned and fluttered his hands, like that would help his argument in any way, shape, or form. 

“The only one doing any dying tonight will be your lovely mother, old chap,” Richie grinned and Eddie groaned. “She’ll be down in that greywater-y sewer before I’m through with her.”

“Beep beep, Richie.” 

He seemingly sobered at that. “Right. Sorry. I meant it in the sensual way, not the clown-murdering-people way. My bad.”

“Richie.” Eddie crossed his arms, left one still sensitive from where a cast had been only days before. He rubbed it absentmindedly.

“I said I was sorry!” Richie glowered. “Lighten up a little, would ya? You always suck the fun out of everything, Doctor K.”

Eddie started. Richie didn’t really think that, did he? He wasn’t trying to be a fun sponge, he just cared about his friends. “Fine, then. Walk home by yourself, asshole. See if I care.”

He walked away with his back straight and his legs moving quickly. Running was dangerous. He speedwalked instead. Geez, maybe he really did take the fun out of everything.

“Eds—Eddie! Wait!” He heard Richie long before he saw him (How did he make so much noise and feel so safe about doing it? Why wasn’t his floor made of eggshells too?).

He slowed to a walk when he caught up to Eddie, which was frustratingly quickly. Eddie knew he was short, but Richie didn’t have to rub it in by having a growth spurt right in the middle of the summer. Now he was the shortest loser by a mile. Even Ben was taller than him.

For once, Richie was actually silent for a second. Eddie tried to enjoy it while it lasted. It was weird. Empty. He was kind of relieved when Richie started talking again, which, what the hell?

“I really am sorry, you know.” He sounded nicer when he wasn’t saying everything high-pitched and loud for a laugh. Not that Eddie would ever tell him that. “It would kind of suck if you died.”

They had stopped in the middle of the street. Eddie looked sideways at his friend, and Richie looked the solemnest he’d ever seen him. He really was being serious.

Eddie looked at him for a second. Then Richie broke into a smile. “I mean, who’d be the best man at the wedding? I can’t get married to your mom with Stan as my best man, are you kidding me, he’s such a grandpa—”

Just like that, they were back to the normal back-and-forth. Eddie let out another of his offended noises and looked away. “You’re unbelievable.”

His watch beeped and his hands twitched. He forced them to stay at his sides. He didn’t need the pills, they were bullshit. But his face did feel hot. His face was burning, in fact.

“Shit.” He muttered, already rifling through a fanny pack for a thermometer. What if he had a fever and it was the flu or strep throat or pneumonia or—

“You alright, Eds?” Richie was suddenly at his side, hovering like the annoyingly noisy helicopter he was.

“Don’t call me that. I think I might have a fever.” He couldn’t find his thermometer. “Dammit, and I can’t find my fucking thermometer. Of course I left it at home. It totally is pneumonia and it’s gonna set in before I get home and then I’ll pass out in the street and die and then you’ll get pneumonia and you’ll end up dying too when we literally just stopped being in danger of dying like two seconds ago—”

“Eddie!” Richie yelled. “Are you mad at me or the pneumonia?”

He scowled. “Both. I’m always mad at you, Richie.”

“C’mon, Eddie-spaghetti.” Richie slung an arm around Eddie’s shoulders. “Five more minutes won’t hurt. I’ve got a thermometer at my place, and if you really are sick we can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or something.”

Eddie huffed, but didn’t protest. He didn’t want to go home anyways. And if he leaned a little into Richie’s arm as they walked the rest of the way to the Tozier house, nobody had to know.

“I’m glad you’re not dead, too, Richie.”

If he had the guts to turn his gaze to the boy beside him, Eddie would have seen a tiny, but tender, smile hiding on Richie’s face.

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2.

The next time it happened was a few days later. The losers were all hanging out in the Derry public library, a place Eddie never wanted to be any more than strictly necessary. But Ben hadn’t shown up at the quarry when he said he would, so they all had to go on a wild goose chase around town, only to find him holed up in the library getting a start on his summer homework. Eddie only cursed him out a little bit for it, because he was Ben and Ben was nice. Bev insisted that they all stay until Ben was done with the assignment he was working on, so they all stayed because Bill was the leader of the losers and unfortunately also had a giant crush on Bev so bad he’d jump off a bridge if she asked him to nicely. Eddie was sick of their shit.

Bev was sitting with Ben at a desk, leaning slightly on him as she looked over the problem he was on. Bill was hovering at a bookshelf, staring blatantly at them instead of the shelf in front of him. Eddie caught Mike’s eye from where he stood in the nature section with Stan and they both made faces. 

“What’s got your panties in a twist, Eds?” Richie crowded into Eddie’s personal space, as per usual. “Smell your own breath on accident?”

“Don’t call me that.” Eddie crossed his arms. “I was just—have you seen how gross Bill and Ben have been lately? It’s like they can’t even focus on anything now that they know a girl.”

“I know, right? It’s disgusting.” Richie mimed throwing up and Eddie almost let out a snort. “Besides, they shouldn’t even try. I get more action than all you virgins combined.”

“Beep beep.” Eddie’s almost-smile disappeared. He turned back around and went back to eyeing a book on the top shelf. Animal Farm. He wasn’t a big reader, but his mom had told him he wasn’t allowed to read anything by George Orwell. He wanted to read something by George Orwell.

He tried to surreptitiously reach up on his tiptoes to the book, but Richie saw. “Need some help there, short-stack?”

Eddie shook his head. “Nuh-uh.”

“C’mon, I’ll give you a boost!” Richie whined. “You probably weigh the same as a doll, anyways, you’re so little.”

“I am not little!” Eddie retorted, earning a few stink-eyes from strangers for his volume. “One day I’ll be taller than you, you’ll see.”

“Yeah, right, and you’ll stop needing your inhaler, too.” Richie pat his shoulder jokingly. “You keep telling yourself that, Spaghetti.”

Eddie’s eyes flicked to the floor for a second. He didn’t need his inhaler. It was bullshit. Why did he still use it?

“I don’t need your help, asshole, let me do this myself—” Eddie’s feet suddenly left the ground as Richie yanked him up by the waist. “Put me down! Richie, put me down right now! Why are you so annoying?”

Richie cackled and didn’t stop when the librarian aggressively shushed them. He did release his hold, though, after a stern, exasperated shake of the head from Stan. 

“Look, either help me and get the fucking book down or I’ll climb up by myself.” Eddie fumed. He wasn’t joking. He wasn’t about to sacrifice what little dignity he had by asking one of the other losers for help. Having it offered to him was embarrassing enough already. Eddie would rather scale the bookshelf like a rock wall.

“Alright, alright, bossy, I’ll give you a hand,” Richie conceded oh-so-magnanimously. He adjusted the collar of his salmon (“It’s fucking pink, guys, salmon sounds fucking pretentious,”) shirt and pressed slightly against Eddie to snatch the book he was making grabby hands at.

“Here you go, little man.” The human annoyance thrust the book obligingly into Eddie’s waiting palms and their fingers brushed for a millisecond. “What are you doing reading Animal Farm, anyway? Seems a little too… animal-y and farm-y for your taste.”

Eddie had to pause as a shiver went down his spine. He had gotten the chills, right after Richie touched his hand. 

He involuntarily began running through all the possible ailments it could be in his head—could be the flu. Or hypothermia. Did the Derry library have air conditioning? It wasn’t quite fall yet. It could be a viral or a bacterial infection. Or a parasite; what if he had a parasite? He probably accidentally swallowed one in a sandwich or something last time he and his friends went traipsing around the woods. That must have been it. Eddie had a parasite living inside of him and he was going to die. This was just great.

“Earth to Doctor Kaspbrak. Hellooo?” Richie waved in front of his face. “You realize how short you are for the first time or what?”

Eddie scowled. “Fuck you, man.”

Richie smirked. “Only if you ask nicely.”

“Beep beep, trashmouth.” He held the book protectively to his chest. “I was just thinking I might, like, have the flu or something. I just got the chills.”

“Probably just in awe of my amazing bod in action,” Richie wiggled his eyebrows, but his shoulders slumped when Eddie’s tense frown didn’t waver. “Okay, why don’t we go ask everyone else what they think. I know they’re not certified medical people like you are, but you trust our opinion, right?”

Eddie nodded and hummed. “Yeah.” 

“Come on, let’s go see what they say, Eds.” He grabbed Eddie by the wrist and led him towards Stan and Mike, already yelling over to Bill, Bev, and Ben (much to the chagrin of every sane person in the library). 

“Not my name,” Eddie muttered, almost as an afterthought, but by this point he wasn’t really sure if he even meant it.

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3.

The third time around, Eddie had a legitimate excuse. He actually was at risk for catching something, not just paranoid (for once). The annual autumn plague was going around their freshman class, and Richie was sick as a dog.

Richie’s parents were perfectly capable of taking care of their son. Eddie knew this. He’d had to reassure a fever-ridden Richie of the very same fact an absurd amount of times a few days ago. 

The problem wasn’t Richie’s parents’ parenting skills, it was that Richie himself was an absolute dumbass with no self-preservation instincts. He tried to eat a pizza that he found in a garbage can, for crying out loud. Eddie just didn’t trust him further than he could throw him when it came to self-care.

He’d brought this up to the other losers, and they agreed. Richie could die completely on accident while healthy. Eddie didn’t like imagining what would happen when he was ill. However, when he tried convincing his friends to help keep watch over their fallen soldier, everyone very suddenly had other places to be.

Eddie got it, really. Richie was annoying as shit. But he was also their friend, so what the fuck?

Hence, he set out to do the noble duty of dealing with Richie at his most dramatic all on his own. He wasn’t too worried about that. He had to manhandle the guy on a daily basis to get his allotted time on the hammock (or at least try to). If Richie wasn’t at his full strength right now, forcing him to rest should be a cakewalk.

There weren’t any cars in the driveway when Eddie arrived at the Tozier house. His eyes narrowed. So what if they were teenagers now? Richie’s parents knew better than to leave a sick child home alone, didn’t they?

He jiggled the front door’s handle. Locked. Good, Eddie thought. The last thing he wanted was an absolute idiot like Richie left unguarded while unable to defend himself even more than usual. He was lucky to have someone like Eddie to keep him safe.

The spare key was under the welcome mat. That wasn’t smart. Eddie was able to find it in twenty seconds. Thank god he wasn’t a burglar or something. Richie really would die without someone watching him.

“Hello?” He called into the empty house. No signs of life anywhere. One of the kitchen cabinets was left open. Eddie closed it on his way past. 

“My dear, sweet Eds, is that you?” A nasal voice called from the den. Eddie barely suppressed the urge to turn around and walk back out. “Edward, I’m dying! Come profess your love to me before I pass onto the next life.”

Richie was lying on an old, floral-patterned couch whose cushions were easy to sink into when you weren’t trying. His middle was covered in three or four blankets, but evidently he’d squirmed around enough in the past few hours that the top half of his torso and all his awkwardly long limbs were free. He was wearing a grey oversized t-shirt and his glasses were nowhere in sight for once, squinting at Eddie like he was still a little unsure if the blob in front of him was a human person.

“You’re not dying, Richie.” Eddie snapped. “It’s a virus. If you took care of yourself properly you’d already be back in school, you idiot.”

“Eddie!” Richie lifted his arms in the air like he was expecting his friend to give his germ-infested self a hug. He grimaced. That wasn’t happening. “You’re really here! How are things out in the world, my savior?”

“Fine. Boring.” Eddie sighed, examining the hodgepodge of assorted sick-day things piled on the lamp table beside the couch—three bottles of water (two of which were opened), one empty box of tissues and one full, and a blue washcloth sitting in a shiny bowl. Richie's bug-eyed glasses were sat next to the bowl. “You missed a Spanish test.”

“Eh, probably would’ve skipped anyway.” Richie shrugged. His words slurred together as he talked, melded into one feverish haze. “You missed me watching Unsolved Mysteries for like, six hours.”

“Six hours?” Eddie gaped. “Richie, you’re gonna get a headache watching TV that long. Let me see your temperature.”

Richie grumbled as Eddie pressed a hand to his forehead. The latter frowned in concentration and pulled his hand away. “Yeah, you’re still pretty hot.”

“I know.” The other boy snickered, but it quickly turned into a coughing fit. 

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” Eddie shoved the unopened water bottle at his friend. “Here.”

“Thanks, Eds.” Richie rasped, grabbing the bottle from Eddie and taking a long drink. “You should’ve seen this one guy, who might’ve killed this girl? I wonder if he’s still on the loose.”

Eddie ignored the stupid nickname this one time, only because Richie was sick. “Why do you have so many Unsolved Mysteries episodes taped? Don’t you ever wanna tape, like, anything else? The only other person I know besides you who watches that show is my grandpa. And he’s, like, dying or something.”

“Kinda hope he does,” Richie muttered, “At least then your mom would be out of the house for a while and we could hang out like normal people.”

“Yeah.” Eddie stared at the television. The sixth episode of Unsolved Mysteries was winding down. “That would be nice.”

“And so I can take your mom on a proper date.” There it was. Eddie pulled his head back and stared at the ceiling, wondering why the fuck he’d wanted to come here in the first place.

“Beep beep.” Eddie fumed. “You’re supposed to be sick, Richie. Are you ever not a complete piece of shit?”

“Nope.” Richie squinted. “And I know I can’t see for shit right now, but I’m pretty sure you’re not wearing a sexy nurse outfit like I asked. So rude.”

“I hate you.”

“You love me.” Richie made a ridiculous face that might’ve been an attempt at a smolder. Eddie stuck his tongue out at him. 

They didn’t talk for a couple of minutes, which was odd for them. The pair always tended to be at each other’s throats. But it was fine. Maybe Richie’s throat was sore. He was the instigator in this relationship, and Eddie wouldn’t mess with their system. Besides, Unsolved Mysteries was kind of interesting, though he would never admit it out loud.

Eddie turned his attention from the TV to the invalid on the couch. He had a habit of checking over his shoulder now, every couple of minutes. By now it had been two whole years since what happened, but still. Just to be safe.

Richie was shaking, tiny tremors small enough that they’d be hard to notice if you weren’t constantly zeroed in on that kind of stuff like Eddie was. “Hey, are you cold?”

“Nah.” Richie shook his head. Then he sneezed. “Okay, maybe a little bit.”

Eddie rose from the recliner he’d positioned himself, back ramrod straight, on the edge of. “Let me fix your blankets. They’re barely even covering anything.”

“Cause I was hot before.” Richie said defensively. He didn’t resist as Eddie methodically spread out the blankets and tucked in the sides like his mom did to him sometimes. He was careful to leave them looser than she did.

“Thanks, Eds.” Richie burrowed under his new fortress happily. His smile wasn’t the cheshire grin it usually was. It was smaller. Sweeter. More sincere.

“You’re welcome, Rich.” Eddie put a hand to his own temple, feeling all at once slightly dizzy. “Hope you didn’t give me this cold, though, asshole. You know how much I hate being sick.”

“You’d be fine, I promise.” Richie was already obviously halfway to dreamland. “It’ll be my turn to play nurse if you are. I’d take good care of you.”

“Sure you would.” Eddie replied sarcastically, trying to ignore the fact that he didn’t entirely hate the idea. If Richie were any more lucid he would make an innuendo out of it. Maybe Richie-with-a-fever wasn’t as bad as Eddie had thought.

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4.

“You look like the fucking kid from A Christmas Story.”

“Well at least I won’t catch pneumonia, Richie.” Eddie made a valiant effort to cross his arms, but the layers of his shirt, sweater, fleece, and winter jacket prevented him from doing so very effectively. He guessed Richie had a point. He probably did look a little ridiculous. But if he wanted his mom to let him out in the snow on a frigid January day, he needed the layers.

“He’s right, Richie.” Stan intervened. “There’s no way we’re letting you outside until you at least put a scarf on.”

“I’ll be fine!” Richie whined, slapping away the green woolen scarf that Mike offered his way. “I run hot, I don’t need seven thousand layers unlike some people, lizard-man.”

“Eddie’s not a lizard.” Stan countered before Eddie could explode. He turned to his fuming friend and lowered his voice. “You do look a little stupid, though.”

“Stan!” Eddie exclaimed, offended. “That’s rich coming from you, at least I don’t wear shower caps because I’m afraid of spiders—”

“G-guys!” Bill yelled. “S-s-stop yelling for two seconds, we got a l-l-letter from Bev.”

“BEVERLY!” Richie used the diversion to finally escape from Mike’s clutches and threw the scarf back in his face. “What did my one, true best friend have to say about yours truly?”

“Hey,” Eddie and Stan said at the same time. They looked at each other. 

“She didn’t say a-anything about you, trashmouth.” Bill said.

Ben took the letter from Bill’s hands gently. “Bev says hi, Richie.”

Richie beamed and Eddie’s stomach turned. What did he have for breakfast today? Cereal, same as always. Maybe he was lactose intolerant?

“Oh, Eddie, she says there’s some kid in her dorm that reminds her of you.” Ben continued.

Eddie smiled as Ben launched into the letter’s full contents, his voice taking on the same expressive quality of Bev’s. They all missed Beverly. They were worried, Bev herself especially, that somehow she’d end up forgetting the losers once she moved away—that the crazy shit they’d all been through together would just disappear when she set foot outside their hellish town. Every one of them had written Bev letters the day she left, and her reply a week later was so relieving to receive that there wasn’t a dry eye in the losers’ fort. Still, they kept up a constant correspondence with her, mostly just relaying the parts of their weeks to her in a jumble of different handwritings. Bev responded back with reports of her own days and random musings. 

It was fun, and everyone loved hearing from Bev, but Eddie never forgot the unspoken reason they talked to her so frequently.

Just in case.

“Come on, guys, are we gonna go already or sit around sweating our asses off all day?” Richie complained. “I think Eddie’s gonna melt if we don’t go outside.”

“No, I’m not,” Eddie argued, ignoring how warm he felt under the jackets, scarf, and hat. 

“Your face is kind of red.” Ben patted the pom-pom atop Eddie’s red-and-white striped hat. (“Lizard-man,” Richie whispered loudly.) “We should get going before everyone else gets the same idea.”

They had a buddy system. Bill and Mike lead the charge, crunching the first footprints into the freshly fallen snow. Stan and Ben followed shortly behind, with Eddie and Richie bringing up the rear. Originally, Eddie had been paired with Ben, but Stan had persuaded him to trade buddies with the promise of a week’s worth of his mom’s homemade cookies. Mrs. Uris made the best sugar cookies. And they didn’t have dairy, so Eddie never had to worry about his possibly undiagnosed lactose intolerance.

Bill’s victorious shout up ahead several snow-trudging minutes later signaled the rest of the losers that their trek had been worth the trouble. The Barrens had frozen over during the snowstorm. 

“How are we gonna do this without skates, guys?” Eddie asked in concern. He didn’t like the look of the ice. It would be much safer if they just went to the actual ice rink two towns over. Mike knew how to drive his grandpa’s pickup truck if nobody’s parents wanted to take them. 

“W-w-we’ll just s-s-slide, Eddie.” Bill said confidently, not tearing his gaze from the frozen tundra before them. “W-we’ll be fine.”

Bill took to the ice first, one snow boot sliding precariously in front of the other. He spread his legs and arms like a human starfish, wobbling as he gained his bearings, but the ice held. Mike stepped onto the slippery surface next, and the others followed suit.

“You coming, Eddie?” Richie turned back. Eddie hesitated. Even Stan was skating along at a slow, deliberate pace. He would be fine. Still, he couldn’t ignore the ten-ton weight that had settled over his chest at the thought of falling and breaking the ice and breaking four bones and having to go to the hospital and being forced to never hang out with his friends ever again and spending all his time in that house.

He shuffled back a bit, then pulled his fleecy scarf down under his chin to speak. “I’m just—I’m just telling you right now, if I break my fucking arm again my mom will never let me hang out with you guys anymore.”

Richie rolled his eyes and made his way back over to the edge. “Come on, Eds, live a little.”

Eddie didn’t budge. That wasn’t a very convincing argument. They’d been on the ice in the Barrens a couple of times before, but that was when they were way younger. Eddie was the shortest of the bunch, and somehow he was the only one visibly worried about their high-school bodies not floating across the ice the same way they did in the fifth grade. 

“I’m not gonna go out there just to fall on my face in front of you guys, thanks.” Eddie scowled. Again, he would’ve had his arms crossed if not for the four layers of warmth. “Besides, you’re gonna die of frostbite. We don’t need two of us needing to go to the hospital later.”

Richie sighed dramatically. “Just gimme your hat, then. Your scarf is big enough to cover your whole head anyway.”

Eddie begrudgingly handed over his cap. He’d be fine for a few minutes without the hat. He didn’t want Richie getting frostbite. “I’m still not going out there, Richie.”

Richie pouted. “Aww, why not?”

Eddie didn’t respond, just tried to frown a little harder.

“What if I hold your hand, huh?” Richie offered, holding out a gloved hand. “If you go down you can at least drag me down with you.”

“Y-y-you guys coming or what?” Bill called, skating mostly without issue by now, only stumbling occasionally.

Eddie thought about it for a beat. Then he wrapped his mittened hand in Richie’s, and his shit of a friend yanked him forcefully onto the ice. Eddie nearly fell head-first onto the ice but was stopped by Richie’s body conveniently in the way.

“See?” Richie ruffled his hair. “Not gonna let you fall.”

Eddie’s ears and neck burned, and he had to actively suppress the frightening thought that he might catch something now that Richie had his hat. In fact, now that he thought about it, his hands had become very clammy out of nowhere. What if now he was the one who ended up with pneumonia?

“Start scooting, Sir Edsward.” Richie put on his favorite horrible British accent and Eddie huffed in irritation. “We won’t be going far if I have to drag you around like a grumpy sack of potatoes.”

“I’m going!” Eddie tried going faster and lurched forward, Richie pulling him back at the last second. 

“Go slower, Eds.” Richie told him, his tone miraculously sympathetic rather than sarcastic. “One foot at a time. Stop trying to walk on the ice and try to slide.”

Richie had brown eyes. They would have been really big even without the glasses. He didn’t look half bad when he wasn’t purposefully twisting his features into an obnoxious expression.

“I’ll try.” Eddie said hesitantly, and slid a foot forward. Richie wasn’t far behind.

“Follow my lead.” Richie said, already tugging Eddie closer towards him. Together they slipped in a stop-and-start pattern until they reached their friends across the ice. They stayed out much longer than Eddie would have liked, but Richie didn’t let him go once the entire time. So he guessed it was okay.

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5.

By junior year of high school, Eddie was starting to think he subconsciously wanted to get sick with the amount of sleep he failed to get. Considering the amount of homework he was accumulating, plus his mom being more overbearing and demanding more attention from him than ever, and his want for some semblance of a social life, Eddie was swamped. He was averaging four to five hours of sleep per night. If his life’s research served him right, he was on track to die of exhaustion at some point soon. Or at least fall extremely ill. 

“Eddie, you feeling alright?” Ben asked from where he was seated diagonally behind him. “You look a little pale.”

“Nnnnn,” Eddie groaned. Their teacher kept droning on about imperialism. Eddie wasn’t worried about being overheard or put in trouble. Mrs. Lane had gone blind and deaf years ago—it was a miracle she was still allowed to teach. If Eddie was in charge he would have convinced her to retire. Working this far into her senior years couldn’t be healthy.

“Psst, sleeping beauty,” Richie, parked two desks over in a seat that definitely wasn’t his, lobbed a misshapen paper airplane his way. It missed by a mile, instead hitting the shoulder of the girl sitting between Eddie and Richie. She snapped out of what looked like a deep daydream in surprise. 

“Sorry, milady,” Richie apologized in another outlandish and unspecified accent. “Actually, could we, perchance, switch seats? So I can properly bother my friend here without obstruction.”

The girl hardly even responded, just wordlessly plopped her books atop Richie’s desk and swapped seats with him. Richie shot his friend a winning smile. “Hello, sunshine.”

Eddie lifted his head from the desk to glare at Richie over his crossed arms. 

“What’s up with you, sourpuss?” Richie poked his nose, then his arm when Eddie shoved his head back down. “You’re pissier than usual today.”

“I haven’t slept in days,” Eddie snapped, voice muffled since he refused to lift his head. “Sorry if I’m a little snippy, since my body is literally collapsing, asshat.”

Richie frowned. “I’m sorry, man, I didn’t know it was that bad. You didn’t sleep at all? Me and your mom must have been too loud—”

“Beep beep, Richie.” Eddie didn’t let him finish. He brought his head up again and rested his chin on his arms. “How do you know I wasn’t with your mom last night, and that’s why I didn’t sleep?”

“Edward, I am offended.” Richie pressed one hand to his chest and one to his temple. “Betrayed by my own lover, how dare you?”

“Oh, so it’s fine when you make jokes about my mom but when I joke about yours I’m a traitor?” Eddie made a face. “We’re not even dating, Richie.”

“Heh, yeah.” Richie laughed shortly. “That would be weird, huh?” 

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed. “Weird.”

Richie glanced at the chalkboard, where Mrs. Lane was puttering about, writing in her nearly-illegible cursive. “Aw, shit, we’re supposed to be doing pair work.”

“Tell you what,” He bounced in his chair. “I’ll do this dumb notetaking thing and you catch some shuteye.”

“No, Rich, we both have to work—” Eddie protested.

“Nuh uh uh, I don’t wanna hear it.” Richie wagged an accusing pencil, littered with bite marks, in his direction. “You need sleep and I want to talk shit about presidents anyway.”

“Richie—”

“Sleep.” Richie stared at him through his glasses, his eyes almost humorously enormous and wide like a cat on catnip. “If you don’t sleep by yourself I’ll have Mike Hanlon come down from his heavenly Mount Homeschooled and bang you on the head with a cooking pot. You’ll end up sleeping either way.”

Eddie was out within sixty seconds of letting his head hit the desk. 

When he came back to the living world Eddie had no idea how much time had passed. But he did know that someone was talking to Richie. Voluntarily. A girl. The only girl he ever met who could stand Richie was Bev. 

“So, I was just wondering if you were free this weekend? To, like, go to the movies together or something, maybe?”

What the fuck. Eddie’s eyes shot open.

“Uh, I might be,” Richie was saying back, evidently wary of the invitation. “Thanks, though? I’ll let you know.”

Eddie felt sick. He waited until the girl left and finally lifted his head to look at Richie. He looked so confused, eyebrows furrowed and pencil seesawing rapidly between his pointer and middle fingers. Eddie felt about the same. 

“My stomach’s kinda hurting.” Eddie blurted. “I’m gonna go to the nurse.”

He didn’t go to the nurse. His eyes stung as he fled down the hallway, and without thinking he ducked into the nearest bathroom, which was thankfully empty. He crouched down near the window, not wanting to sit on the grimy floor, and started to cry. Eddie didn’t know why he was crying. All that mattered right now was that he needed the release and this seemed to be working, so he squeezed his eyes shut and let the tears out. 

“Eddie?” Stan’s flat voice minutes later compelled him to take his head out of his hands, the last of his tears drying on his splotchy cheeks. 

“Oh,” He sniffled, trying to get a handle on his breath (I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’tfuckingbreathe), and took a puff of his inhaler. “Hey, Stan.”

“Are you okay? What happened?” Stan crouched down beside Eddie. 

Eddie pulled out a tissue and wiped at his eyes. “I—I don’t know, Stan, I just fucking—I was fine, and then all of the sudden I felt really sick, and then I started fucking crying. I don’t know what the hell is going on!” 

The way his voice cracked at the end definitely didn’t help the seriousness of his case, but he was mostly out of energy anyways. “I don’t know. I’m really scared, man. I think I might have depression or something.”

Stan didn’t exactly frown, just made a more neutral expression. “You don’t have depression. I’m pretty sure.”

“Then why do I feel like shit?” Eddie asked. If it wasn’t a diagnosable disease, he didn’t know how the hell to handle this emotion.

“You tell me.” Stan said. “What was happening when you started feeling sick?”

“I was trying to sleep.” He stressed. “I haven’t slept in a while and my body is probably shutting down and this is the first stage of death. Oh my god, I’m dying.”

“You’re not dying.” Stan said sternly as Eddie took another puff of the inhaler. “Then what happened?”

“Some girl came over and asked Richie on, like, a date or something, and I don’t know, I just started feeling really bad. Like, something is medically wrong bad.” Eddie’s eyes were watering and his lip trembled, despite his best efforts to keep himself contained. 

“You don’t have depression.” Stan patted his shoulder. Eddie relaxed slightly. “You’re jealous.”

“I’m what?” Eddie’s shoulder’s went tense again. “What do you mean I’m—wh—that’s ridiculous. I don’t even know this girl, why would I be jealous that she’s talking to Richie?”

“Eddie.” Stan said seriously.

“What?” Eddie finally went quiet. Stan had a curious expression on his face, almost a grimace, pitying and sympathetic like he knew something Eddie didn’t. 

“You’re not jealous of Richie,” Stan’s tone was carefully measured, even more calculated than usual, like he was gently placing weights on the fragile scale of Eddie’s mind. “You’re jealous of her.”

Eddie felt himself flush hot from his cheeks down to his neck. Suddenly breathing wasn’t just difficult to accomplish, he had forgotten how to do it entirely. “I’m not—I’m not. Stan. I’m not.”

“It’s okay if you are.” Stan told him, not unkindly. “It’s fine if you aren’t, too. I might’ve read the whole thing wrong, but I just thought maybe… I wasn’t alone.”

That wasn’t. He didn’t mean. Eddie’s mouth hung open.

“You can’t tell anyone.” Stan hissed. “I kind of like Bill. Or maybe Mike? I just—” He put his hands in his hair. “I thought maybe I could talk about it with you, ‘cause I thought you were like me. Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“No, I’m sorry I yelled and shit.” Eddie apologized. “You can still tell me about it, if you want. Or not. It’s up to you.”

“If you’re sure it won’t… weird you out or anything.” Stan sat down on the floor next to him. Eddie didn’t join him. “It’s kind of hard to put into words, just, I think they’re both really pretty.”

Stan kept talking, about how he thought Bill was the bravest person he’d ever met, and how he thought his stuttering was endearing, and how Mike never made fun of him for sounding like an old man when he talked, and how he may have been softspoken but Stan treasured every word he said. Eddie listened intently, unpacking the information as his friend spoke. His mind was sort of imploding, but he did his best to pay attention. 

This was so weird. Stan liked boys. Stan thought Eddie liked boys. Stan thought Eddie liked Richie. Richie Tozier, with his obnoxious voice and crude jokes and and stupid Hawaiian shirts and dumb-looking glasses and dark brown eyes and fluffy hair and positive attitude and heart of gold and.

Eddie’s eyes went wide. 

Shit.

Chapter Text

+1.

Okay, so Eddie may have had a fat fucking crush on Richie. So what. He was too busy thinking he liked girls to notice.

Of course, now that he had thought about it for more than two seconds at a time, he was pretty confident in saying he’d never found girls remotely attractive. But it was fine. He was coming to terms with it. It wasn’t a huge deal that he didn’t like girls. His mom would burst a blood vessel if he got a girlfriend anyways—that was more time he could be spending with her being taken away. 

The problem wasn’t that he didn’t like girls, it was that he did like boys. More specifically, that he liked Richie. Richie was his best friend, an absolute human disaster and an amazing person. Eddie thought Richie was incredible, not that he’d ever say that to his face. That felt like ruining the delicate rituals they’d established over years of knowing each other. If Eddie told Richie how he felt, he’d be fucking up their entire friendship. Richie was one of Eddie’s favorite people. He wasn’t about to lose him over a dumb case of feelings. 

Their whole friend group did a lot of yearning, Eddie noticed, watching everyone poorly pretend to do their homework. Ben was blatantly flipping through a comic book that he had borrowed from Bill, who was actually trying to get some physics work done. Mike was happily watching him and twiddling his thumbs (the benefits of being homeschooled), and Stan’s gaze constantly flitted between the two of them. 

Stan’s eyes met Eddie’s for a moment and he purposefully jutted his chin to Richie, who was lying contentedly on the hammock, hammering away at the losers’ shared Game Boy. 

“Tell him,” Stan mouthed clearly.

“You first,” Eddie countered, glancing meaningfully at Bill and Mike. Stan glowered. 

Neither of them ever actually went through with it. It had been almost a full two months since Stan had told Eddie, and a month and a half since Eddie told Stan. They weren’t foolish enough to go around telling anyone, not even their best friends, in a middle-of-nowhere town like Derry. They’d been through too much shit at this point to end up dead in a ditch now. Still, it was fun to pretend like they could say it aloud, even tell other people, from time to time. 

“It’s getting kinda late, guys,” Ben piped up. “I gotta start heading home, or my parents will start to get worried.”

“Me too,” Mike seconded. “My grandpa won’t be too happy if I’m out past sundown again.”

“Aw, come on, guys!” Richie looked up from the Game Boy. “We just got here.”

“We’ve been down here for three hours, Rich.” Eddie said. 

“Oh.” Richie put the device aside. “My bad, I didn’t notice.”

“It’s fine, I don’t really want to go home anyways.” Eddie knew his mom would be mad at him for being out way over twenty minutes like he’d promised her. But he had to face her at some point. “But it is a couple minutes to sundown.”

“Y-yeah, I don’t think a-any of us want to g-get jumped tonight.” Bill agreed. “Mike p-probably has the r-right idea. A-and Ben.”

“What Bill said.” Stan added. Eddie raised his eyebrows at his friend, who gave him the bird the second their unofficial ringleader looked away from him. 

So they packed up what little belongings they didn’t keep in their fort and started making their way out of the thick woods of Derry, still partnered up like they always were. It didn’t matter how many years had passed since IT. The Losers’ Club didn’t leave anyone behind, not a chance. 

Richie and Eddie were the last to leave, as per usual. They played twenty questions on the walk home. At this point it was practically muscle memory. 

“Favorite color.” Richie asked.

“Red. Favorite food.” Eddie fired back automatically. 

“Cheeseburger. Seriously?” Richie turned towards Eddie with a teasing grin. “You can do better than that, Eds.”

Eddie placed his hands on his hips and scowled. “You’re one to talk. Favorite color? What grade are we in, kindergarten?”

They sniped back and forth at each other good-naturedly for a few minutes, walking along the roads of Derry in the late afternoon sun. Eddie tried not to pay attention to the fear building in his chest as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. He was occupying himself with counting the flowers on Richie’s peach-colored Hawaiian shirt when suddenly his friend’s hand shot out to stop him in his tracks.

“Motherfucker.” Richie frowned. “Bowers gang, twelve o’clock.”

Henry Bowers had been sent to juvie years ago, but his little lackeys had been left to run rampant through Derry in his absence (minus Patrick, obviously, since Patrick was…). If anything, they were more dangerous now that they had no centralized leadership. More kids were tempted to hang out with that crowd, since they didn’t have a deranged mullet-wearing maniac at the helm. More edgy teens with switchblades and lighters to avoid.

“It’s—it’s fine, we can just go the other way around.” Eddie chewed his lip. “Kissing bridge, right? They never go over there anymore.”

Richie’s cheek twitched. “Yeah, I guess that’s—that should be fine. Come on, we’d better hurry. Race you!”

He wrapped a hand around Eddie’s wrist and took off in a sprint. Eddie wheezed, struggling to keep up. “You can’t race me if you’re pulling me along.”

“Is that a challenge?” Richie gave his arm a tug. “Because it looks like we’re managing just fine right now. And by that I mean I’m winning.”

Richie didn’t stop running full speed, Eddie dragging behind him and all, until they’d crossed the bridge entirely. Their pursuers were nowhere in sight. Eddie’s heart was pounding. Before, he would have thought it was high blood pressure. Now he knew it was a combination of their escape and the feeling of Richie’s dexterous hand around his wrist.

“I win.” Richie cheered, poking Eddie in the nose. “Lighten up, buttercup, it was just a race.”

Eddie put his hands on his knees and bent over, still trying and failing to catch his breath. “Fuck you.”

“Aw, come on.” Richie turned back. “Your lungs finally give out? I’ll give you a piggyback the rest of the way if you want, wheezy.”

“That would be great, actually.” Eddie barely managed to keep the scowl on his face with the effort to breathe and ignore how soft and goopy his heart felt at his friend’s distinct flavor of kindness. 

Richie hoisted him up by the thighs onto his back, and they started off at a brisk pace. Richie didn’t seem to be even slightly straining under all of Eddie’s five feet and seven inches of concentrated nervous energy. Eddie tightened his grip on Richie’s shoulders and rested his head at the back of his neck. 

It took a few minutes of listening to Richie ramble about Street Fighter (and cutting him down to size when he got too full of himself) for Eddie to notice that his breathing was almost back to normal. He felt safe, Eddie realized. Safer than he felt at his house, at school, even in the losers’ hideout. Certainly safer than he should on the open streets of Derry in the setting sun. Richie was Eddie’s home.

“Rich, I gotta tell you something.” Eddie heard himself say. He wasn’t sure what made him do it. It could have been the wind, the sky, or something in the way Richie was holding him. He needed to tell him while he felt the moment was right. “You gotta promise you’re not gonna tell anyone, though. Or freak out on me about it.”

“Me? Freak out on you?” Richie asked sarcastically. “Good one, Eds. I’ll try my best not to flip my lid.”

“Richie.” Eddie frowned and tried not to sound like a baby. “I’m being serious.”

“So am I.” Richie made a face. Eddie huffed. So that’s how he was going to be.  

“I like boys.” He spat. Richie stopped walking. There was a very tense moment of quiet. Eddie twisted his wristwatch. “And—and if you tell anybody I’ll fucking kill you.”

Richie mumbled something. 

“Speak the fuck up, trashmouth, I can’t fucking hear you.” Eddie’s knuckles had turned white where they held onto Richie’s shoulders. 

“I like boys too,” Richie was saying. He said it again, louder. “I like boys too!”

He laughed openly and Eddie whipped his hand over his mouth to smother the sound. “Shh-sht-t—shut the fuck up, you’re gonna get us both killed—”

“Listen, Eddie, now I gotta tell you something.” Richie grinned shakily. “I’m in love with you.”

Eddie’s grip went slack and he almost fell off Richie’s back. “What?”

“I’m in love with you.” Richie repeated, “Just wanted you to know. I know just ‘cause you like boys doesn’t mean you like me—I mean, I’m Trashmouth Tozier, the living piece of flaming garbage—but at least I figured I could tell you. Since you’re already keeping secrets.”

Eddie manhandled his way off of Richie’s back and walked around to face him. Richie’s face was still plastered with his megawatt smile, but his cheek was twitching and his eyes were wide. He was scared as shit. Maybe just as much as Eddie was. 

“You absolute fucking idiot.” Eddie slapped Richie across the cheek—gentle enough that it wouldn’t really hurt, hard enough to sting—and then reached up on his toes to plant a small peck on the same spot. He smiled slightly, hesitantly. He didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. “I’m in love with you too.”

“Oh.” Richie looked like he didn’t know what to do with himself. He just sort of stood there, gaping, with his hands hanging at his sides, until Eddie took the initiative and took one of Richie’s hands in his own.

“Come on,” He said with authority. “We’re going to your house to watch a movie. My mom won’t want me home now that I’ve kissed a boy.”

Richie swung their entwined hands between them. “Sounds good to me, Eds.”