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dancing in the hope of forever

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"Shut up, Richie!" Eddie yells, after one of Richie's famously bad mom jokes. He elbows him in the side, which would normally prompt Richie to push back, only this time he sucks in his breath through his teeth and winces before he can try to stop it from happening. Eddie raises an eyebrow, worried.

The thing is, Richie is hiding a secret. A big secret. Like, really fucking big. Like, Richie would lose his mind and stop making jokes forever, big. Richie is trans. He doesn't even know how he managed to hide it for this long. He supposes that it helps he knew when he was really young, before he met any of the losers. His parents were supportive, but he definitely didn't want anyone else to know.

And that's how Richie ended up here, wincing in pain and hiding his biggest secret from his closest friends. They were already 17, getting ready to go to college, and Richie was scared.

It was almost 10 at night and they were hanging out in Richie's backyard. All of them were there, Richie, Eddie, Bev, Mike, Ben, Stan, and Bill. Richie had been wearing his binder for almost 14 hours. School started at 9, and he had to get out of the house by 8:30 to make it on time by bike, so yeah. Almost 14 hours. He knew his ribs were bruising, and some of them could even crack, but he was having fun. Until now, when the pain got too much to ignore. 10 hours is a happy medium between safety and pushing it, and 12 hours was getting into dangerous territory, but 14 hours was definitely putting him at risk.

He smiled through the pain, and lightly pushed Eddie back, doing his best to stop the tears from spilling over. He knew he had to get out of here quickly, otherwise he would be found out.

"Hey guys," Everyone looked up from whatever they were doing, "I'm actually not feeling too good, so I'm gonna head inside. You can stay out here if you want, my parents aren't home right now." Not that they ever are, Richie thought.

A chorus of acknowledgement and then Eddie piping up, "You sure you're alright? I can come in with you if you want?"

"No! No, no, it's okay. I'm fine, seriously. I'll see you guys tomorrow." He swore internally at himself for overreacting, but fear will do that to you.

Eddie eyed him. it was unusual for Richie to have a response without a joke attached to it, and it makes Eddie worry. The rest of the group shrugs it off, so he doesn't bring it up the rest of the night. One by one, the group disperses, until only Bev and Eddie are left. Bev is smoking a cigarette, per usual. Eddie looks at her, displeased, and she can't ignore it now that it's only the two of them remaining. She flicks it out of her hand and smushes it into the ground, putting it out.

Eddie is looking into the dimly lit window that is Richie's room. "Do you think he's okay?" His mind is racing with the possibilities. Maybe Richie is really sick and is throwing up and convulsing in there. Maybe he got poisoned. Maybe he hates him. Maybe he caught a deadly virus. Maybe he-

Bev interrupts his thoughts. "Who, Richie?" She scoffs, "Of course he's okay. He probably just got tired of listening to us talk over each other the whole night."

This settles the anxiety in his mind a bit and he grins. He thinks about Richie arguing with them, talking their ears off like he always does. It makes him smile, thinking about Richie. It always does.

Bev eyes him, "You care about him, don't you?"

With this, Eddie blushes. He doesn't know if she can see it, but he can definitely feel it. His face burns hot with embarrassment. He tries to play it off, "What the fuck, yeah? I mean, yeah, obviously. We all care about him, he's our friend." His words come out rushed. He takes his eyes off Richie's room window and looks back at Bev. She's smiling at him with soft eyes, "That's not what I meant. You care about him differently. It's okay, Eddie."

Eddie tries to deny it, "I don't know what you're talking about. You're not making any sense, Bev. I should get home. My mom's probably worried sick."

He gets up to leave, but she catches his wrist, "Eddie, c'mon, you like him. I know you like him. It's okay. I promise, it's okay." She drops his arm.

A beat of silence. He's still facing away from her, his face feels like it's alit with flames and tears are brimming his eyes. Quietly, voice above a whisper, "It's not okay. It's disgusting. My mom says so."

Bev grabs him by his shoulders so they're facing each other. Then, not unkindly, she says, "Fuck your mom. She's controlled too much of your life for too long. You know that. It's okay to let go."

So Eddie does. He hugs Bev tightly, tears falling down his face, "I didn't think tonight would end like this. Much less in Richie's backyard." He laughs.

They pull apart, still smiling. Bev offers to walk Eddie home, and Eddie says yes.

He appreciates their friendship. It was never too complicated, always easy to navigate and comfortable to lean into. He doesn't think about how Bev knew, because it makes sense. She's in tune to him, to all of them, because that's just the way she is. Smart, kind, strong. She holds all of them together like glue, and Eddie is grateful for that.

While this was happening, Richie was panicking in his room. He managed to get up the stairs and into his room, take some Advil, and take his binder off, but the pain wasn't going away as quickly as it usually does. Sometimes, when he's out with his friends, he goes over 8 or 10 hours, but never 14 hours. He usually gets a break somewhere to go back home and take a breather. So, yeah, he's panicking. His skin hasn't started to form bruises yet, but he knows they will be there when he wakes up tomorrow. He hopes and prays that he hasn't cracked a rib.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He pulls on a big hoodie and climbs into bed. It still hurts when he moves, so he stills himself. In the dark, Richie keeps thinking about the look on Eddie's face when he had winced. He seemed worried. Maybe he...cares? Richie pushes that thought away as quickly as it came. Eddie would never...care about Richie. No, Eddie isn't gay. Even if he was, he deserves better than someone like Richie. Richie just hopes that he doesn't bring it up again. He finds himself falling asleep to the thought of Eddie, but this isn't new.

When Richie woke up, he immediately felt it. He looked down and winced. Although his skin wasn't clearly bruised black and blue, it was painful to the touch and some spots where his ribs were most prominent were visibly irritated. Fuck. Gingerly, he lifted himself off the bed and into a sitting position. He needed to weigh the options. If he went to school, he would have to put his binder on. No fucking question about it. Or, he could stay home and rest, take some Advil and let his ribs heal. He was just worried it would raise some eyebrows. Although Richie skipped class a lot, it wasn't normal for him to do it unannounced. Usually he told the Losers the day before, and bragged about it nonetheless. Doing it with no warning might make them worry. But he didn't really have any other options. So he got up, took some Advil, and went back to sleep.

Richie, Eddie, and Stanley had their first class together. When Richie didn't show up, they didn't think much of it. Sometimes Richie slept in or skipped first period. But when they found out at lunch he didn't come to second or third period, they all thought it was a bit odd. Eddie and Ben had fifth period together, American History. Ben paid attention, like always. However, Eddie was a bundle of anxiety. An over-thinker, an over-planner, someone who prepared for the absolute worst. He barely made it through American History, much less sixth period, without getting up and bolting out the door.

That's how he found himself outside Richie's house, pounding on the front door. None of the other losers came because they didn't even know Eddie had gone. He just ran out of school and got on his bike and sped to Richie's house. Richie not answering immediately only added fuel to the fire. Thoughts racing, logic going out the window, Eddie assumed Richie was injured, dying, or dead. He tried to talk himself down, but he gave in to his anxiety.

Eddie bolted around the back of the house and began throwing rocks at Richie's window. Inside, Richie awoke to the sound and jumped out of bed. He rushed to the window and was flooded with relief when he was met with the sight of Eddie and not some stranger trying to kill him. Back on the ground, Eddie felt the same sense of relief. He collapsed onto the ground and waiting for Richie to push the window up, then yelled up, "Thought you had fucking died, man. You really scared the shit out of me."

Surprised, Richie finally found the words, "Sorry, Eds. I just didn't feel good today. I'm only sick." Finding his footing again, he joked, "Hey, since when did you care so much about me?" Laughter easily left his mouth and Eddie chuckled along with him.

"I've always cared about you, Trashmouth. Why don't you come down so we can hang out?"

Richie felt a spike of anxiety at this. He knew he couldn't put his binder on just yet and he didn't want to risk Eddie sensing anything being off.

"I, uh, sorry, man. I don't want you to get sick. Y'know. Fuckin' germs and all that shit."

"Oh, yeah, I get that. Thanks."

A moment of silence. Richie spoke, "So, are you gonna stay? Or-"

"I can stay. I'll just stay down here. We can talk? If you want?"

For some reason, this warmed Richie's heart.

"Sure, Eddie Spaghetti, I'd like that."

Eddie furrowed his eyebrows, "Don't fucking call me that, Trashmouth."

"So, how was school today? Nothing but fucking boring without me, I would hope." Richie flashed a smile.

And this is how they stayed until 6pm. Easy conversation, jokes and insults thrown at each other. Laughter drifting through the air.

Eddie finally realized how late it had gotten. "Fuck, I think I gotta go, Rich. My moms gonna flip shit if I miss dinner."

Richie scoffs, "Classic Mrs. K. Give her a big fuckin' kiss for me, yeah?"

Eddie laughs as he picks up his bag and starts walking to the front of the house, "Shut up, Richie. I'll see you later, okay? Get better fast."

Richie waves goodbye. This was honestly one of the best nights he's ever had. Talking to Eddie all night, making him smile, making him laugh? He could live off that shit. He thinks that if he did this for the rest of his life, he would be happy. That thought scares the shit out of him. The only thing that would make it better would be being next to Eddie. Being with him. Ruffling his hair, holding his hand...kissing him.

Richie shakes those thoughts out of his head and goes downstairs to make himself some dinner. Surprisingly, his mom is in the kitchen. He didn't even know she was home.

"Hey, mom. When did you get back?"

She's typing away on the computer and barely hears him. "Hi, honey." That's how they always are, his parents. Always working, always half-present, forever focused on something else. Richie sighs and opens the fridge to find something to eat.

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Eddie is biking home in pure bliss. He's glad he went to Richie's house to find him. Tonight was good. Really good. Spending time with Richie always cheers him up and makes him feel okay, no matter what else is going on in his life. He slowly sobers up and knows he will have to make an excuse to his mom as to why he was out late. He really doesn't like being at home. He never has, and probably never will. Ever since he was a little boy, his mom smothered him and was overprotective beyond reason. Now, on the cusp of adulthood, he's learned how to live past her boundaries and keep balance in his household by lying through gritted teeth.

Running through the excuses he's used the past week, he settles on studying in the library with Bev and Stan, just in case she asks. Which she always fucking does.

He chains up his bike in the garage and walks inside. His mom is sitting in the living room, watching TV. "Hi, mommy." He tries to walk past the room and up to his own, but she stops him. "Eddiebear, what were you doing out so late? It's almost dinner time."

He backtracks until he's standing in the opening of the door. "I was studying at the library with Bev and Stan. I have a big Bio test next week."

"Okay, Eddiebear. Just wanted to make sure you weren't doing anything dangerous. It's not safe out at nighttime."

"Of course, mommy. I'll be back downstairs in ten minutes for dinner."

He hops up the stairs and drops his shit on the floor. He lets out a sigh of relief. Sometimes she pushes for answer after answer to make sure Eddie isn't lying. Until dinner is over and he's safely tucked away in his room, he's a ball of anxiety. He really doesn't like being at home.

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After dinner, Richie is lying in his bed.

After dinner, Eddie is sitting at his desk.

They are thinking of each other.