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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.

----------

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.

----------

After dinner, Richie is lying in his bed.

After dinner, Eddie is sitting at his desk.

They are thinking of each other.

Chapter Text

Richie is out of school for the next 2 days. He misses Eddie and the Losers, of course, but there's no way he can put his binder back on when his ribs are this sore. He forces himself back to school on Friday because he definitely can't miss four days of school without getting in trouble.

First period, Eddie lights up when he sees Richie. "Hey, man! Finally! I was about to come crash your house again if you didn't come today. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, dude. Just needed some R'N'R' to make me alright. You know how it is."

"Well, I'm glad you're back. I was getting fucking bored without you."

They spend the rest of the period passing notes and disrupting the class, per usual. Lunch with the Losers is the same. Yelling and swapping insults back and forth. They make each other happy. They don't really talk about it, but the Losers are a family.

"Hey, Eddie, while I was out sick I went over to your house and fucked your mom."

Laughing, Eddie shoots back, "Shut the fuck up, Trashmouth."

Bev is on the floor laughing through tears.

Richie smiles in triumph.

After school is over, the Losers meet up with Mike at the Barrens.

Bev and Richie are sharing a cigarette and Eddie looks at them with disapproval. This is a constant reoccurrence with Eddie when they're smoking. It's always the same look, too. Head tilted down and upturned eyebrows, silently saying, "You know it's not good for you." He doesn't like when either of them smoke. Richie usually tries to not think too much of it. Eventually the cigarette burns out and Richie flicks it away.

The rest of the Losers are talking amongst themselves when Eddie and Richie move a bit away from the group. It's nothing out of the ordinary, it just happens sometimes.

"Hey, Eds, what's up? I hope I didn't miss anything too fun at school this week. Oh, shit! Did Bowers do anything to that kid--"

"Shut up, Rich. Dude, are you, like, okay? You seemed really under the weather Monday night. It kinda looked like you were in pain."

Richie's smile falters and is plastered back onto his face in the blink of an eye, but Eddie catches it. "Yeah, man. I'm fine. I was just sick, seriously." Richie laughs lightly. He doesn't want this conversation to be happening right now. If Eddie asks another question, he's going to fucking snap.

The risk of being outed is presented to Richie at every turn. At school, during gym class, at lunch, at the Barrens, all the time. It keeps him on his toes at all times. But it's not a good thing. Richie runs on nervous energy, deflecting with shitty jokes and faked smiles. He's tired of it. He really does want to come out, he's just scared. Scared is an understatement. He's absolutely terrified. What if they Losers think he's some kind of freak? What if they get weirded out and stop hanging out with him? No, he would rather stay in the closet than ever tell them. Especially Eddie. Richie doesn't think he could handle losing Eddie.

But Eddie is worried, he's nervous, and he just wants to be sure Richie is okay. So he pushes. "Are you sure? You practically started crying last night when I-"

Richie balls up his fists, "I said I'm fine!" Eddie puts his hands up in surprise. The rest of the Losers turn to look at them. He looks at Eddie, "Please, just leave it alone. I'm going home. I'll see you guys later."

Eddie and the Losers watch him bike away. They turn to Eddie with questioning eyes. Eddie only shrugs. He just wanted to make sure Richie was okay. When the Losers go back to talking, Eddie is stuck in his head, hoping that Richie is okay.

Biking back home, Richie can't stop the tears from spilling over. He didn't mean to snap at Eddie, he wishes he hadn't, he was just so scared. He knows he fucked up, yelling at Eddie like that. Focusing on getting home, he doesn't notice Bowers' car idling in the alleyway he just passed.

Bowers shouts out his window, "Hey, Trashmouth, stop a second for me, will you?"

Richie curses internally, "Fuck. Shit. Fuck." He grips the handlebars and stands up on the pedals, biking as fast as he can.

Bowers pulls his car out of the alleyway, him and his friends whooping and yelling at Richie until they are driving alongside him.

Richie keeps biking and scowls, "Leave me alone, Bowers." His house is only two blocks away.

"Oh, I don't think I can do that. This is way too tempting to pass up. Now get the fuck off your bike or else I'll run you over."

Richie knew better than to ignore one of Bowers' threats, so he slows down and gets off his bike. He tries to make a run for it, but Bowers is on him before he's five steps away.

Bowers pulls his backpack so Richie is facing him and spits in Richie's face. Richie flinches, putting his arms up to cover his face.

"Wow, would you look at that, boys. Little Richie here was crying." He leans down and taunts him in a baby voice, "Aw, what happened? Did you and your precious loser friends have a fight?"

Richie only closes his eyes and looks away, trying to make himself as small as possible.

Bowers' fake smile slides off his face. "Answer me." A moment of silence passes, "I said fucking answer me!"

Mustering up his courage and getting fed up with this shit, Richie spits at Bowers' feet, "None of your god damn business, shithead."

Bowers only scoffs. And that's the last thing Richie hears before Bowers pulls back his arm and punches Richie in the face. Richie can tell his lip is dripping blood, but the only thing he feels is relief when Bowers lets go off him and gets back in his car.

"This was only a warning, fag. Next time you should think twice before you say some rude shit to me again."

He hated Bowers. He hated it when he said that word. There's no way he could know, right? That Richie is...gay. No, he can't know. No one does. Bowers is just a little shit that throws around that word for fun.

Richie climbs back on his bike and starts to head back home. No one asks him about his bloodied face when he gets back, because there is no one there to care. His mom left again, out with work. His dad hasn't been home in a week and a half because he's on a business trip. Richie isn't surprised, but he couldn't help but feel disappointed when he opened the door to an empty house.

If Eddie were here, he would've cared. He would've freaked the fuck out, actually. Richie smiles at this. Eddie would've sat Richie down in the bathroom and ask him a million questions about what happened while he cleaned the wound and patched him up. Then they would've shit on Bowers, like they usually do. They would've joked, and Richie would've laughed. Maybe they would've watched TV on the couch together. Their bodies touching from the tips of their toes to their shoulders, a single line, joining the two boys in careful comfort. Maybe Eddie would've gotten sleepy and fallen asleep on Richie's shoulder, and they would've woken up like that, uncomfortable and sore from sleeping upright, but it would've been good. Just like it always is with Eddie.

Richie catches himself indulging in these thoughts and can't help but feel guilty. Even if Eddie, somehow, beyond all impossibility, cared about Richie, in the same way Richie cares about Eddie, he would be driven away by the fact that Richie is trans.

Richie kicks his shoes off by the door and trudges up the stairs, collapsing into bed. He falls asleep like that, blood and tears dripping down his face.

Chapter Text

It's Saturday evening when it happens.

Richie woke up to blood that had dried on his face and takes the morning to clean his face and shower. He can't really hide the fact that he got punched, though. His lip is still swollen and his chin is completely bruised. Well, at least no one would see him until Monday. He has no plans to hang out with the Losers over the weekend. After he's clean, he goes downstairs to make breakfast for himself.

The quiet house creaked with every step he took. The sounds of the kitchen, the clanking of forks and opening of cabinets, filled the empty space of the house. Richie never minded it, the silence. Although he himself was loud enough to fill an empty theater, going home to a peaceful house wasn't too bad. The sounds of preparing breakfast were simple and calm. That simplicity danced and moved with the quiet air of the house.

That feeling of calm fell when the doorbell rang. Richie ignored it, deciding it was probably a bullshit salesman or whatnot. But it rang again. And again. And again. Until Richie stomped over and opened the door, "What do you want?" And was met with the sight of the Losers. Eddie, at the front, was smiling widely until his face fell with the shock of Richie's face. He pushed into the house, grabbing Richie by the shoulders and forcing him onto the couch.

"What the fuck happened to you? Are you okay? Did you fall? How did you get hurt? What happened, Rich? What happened, Richie? Are you-"

Well, so much for nobody seeing me until Monday, Richie thinks.

"Woah, woah. Slow down, Eds. I'm fine. Just got a little roughed up on my way home last night." Richie gives them a crooked smile, "I think I look like a badass. Kinda sexy, huh?"

Mike scoffed, "Dude, c'mon. What happened to you?"

Ben added, "Yeah, seriously. You look...bad."

Richie put up his hands and laughed, "C'mon, guys, don't lie to me. I know you all want to kiss me right now."

Eddie reddened at this, just a bit. He refocused on the task at hand, "Just tell us what happened, Richie."

"Alright, alright. Since the audience is so eager for the story, here it is." Richie stood up and gestured for the rest of them to sit down. "It was a dark and stormy night when-"

Bill interrupted, "Richie! J-J-Just tell us whatever the fuck happened."

Richie sighed, "Fine. It was Bowers. When I was biking home after I left the Barrens. He was driving around and saw me, I guess. He punched me in the face. As you can tell."

Bev threw up her hands, "For fucks sake. Someone has to kill that piece of shit." She paused, "I'm sorry, Richie. That's so shitty."

Eddie, back in panic mode, "Shit, Richie, that's so fucked up. I'm sorry. But, did you disinfect it when you got home? You should've washed it out and taken Advil for the pain and inflammation."

Richie runs a hand through his hair. Eddie will not like his answer. "Uh, actually, I just came home and fell asleep. It's kinda funny because when I woke up there was dried blood all over my face." Richie laughed. Eddie was not amused.

"Richie! What the fuck, dude. How many times have I told you how to disinfect wounds and all that shit."

Stan interrupted, "Okay, Eddie. We know, but Richie didn't do any of it. So, can we just go hang out, now? Please? He seems perfectly fine, now. Y'know...besides the visible bruises and swelling."

"Fine by me, Stan the Man," Richie smiled, "But only if you say pretty please."

Stan rolled his eyes, "Pretty please, Richie."

"Woo! Hell yeah, let's go."

Richie knew he would have to be careful. His ribs were still sore from before. He stopped himself on the way out and ran up to his room to grab some Advil. He shook the bottle at Eddie as they were leaving the house, "Anything for you, Eddie Spaghetti." Richie winked.

Eddie's cheeks reddened and he lightly shoved Richie's shoulder in response.

They had left the house around 11am and were hanging out at the Barrens until Bev said she had to go back home. It was 2pm then. Mike offered to walk her back home because he also had to go home to help around the farm.

Then it was just Richie, Eddie, Bill, Stan, and Ben.

They spent awhile in the clubhouse Ben had built. Richie hogging the hammock, per usual. All of them wearing shower caps to avoid bugs crawling through their hair.

Stan was the one who started talking about college. "I'm excited to get out of Derry. What about you guys?"

Richie barely looked up from his comic, "Fuck yea, dude. Derry is such a shithole. I'm so excited for college."

Bill laughed at this, "You? Excited for c-c-college? Since when d-did you care about education?"

"Oh no, Bill, you got me all wrong, man. I'm excited for all the smokin' hot babes to bang." Richie was laughing now. Stan, Bill, and Ben gave a small chuckle for Richie's satisfaction, but Eddie didn't react at all. In fact, it seemed like he didn't enjoy that joke very much.

"Oh, c'mon, Eddie. You're telling me you're not excited to make out with some pretty girls?"

Eddie got defensive at this. "No! No, dude, I am. It's just...y'know. College is kinda intimidating, I guess. I dunno know."

Ben chimed in, "Nah, I totally know what you're talking about. I mean, we spent our whole lives in Derry. We don't really know what's out there."

Everyone seemed to agree. They settled back into comfortable silence, talking here and there, but mostly just relaxing in each other's presence. It was already 4:30 when Bill said he had to get back home. At 5, Ben left, too. Around 5:30, Stan left.

Then it was just Richie and Eddie. The dynamic duo. The dream team. Partners in crime. Two peas in a pod.

Richie spoke, "Hey, do you wanna go back to my house? I doubt my parents are home so we can make food and watch TV."

"Yeah, I'm down. Fuck knows I don't wanna go back home to my mom."

"I get you, man."

They climbed out of the clubhouse and walked back to the streets where their bikes were still laying. Richie swung his leg over the bike seat and quietly hissed through his teeth. Apparently lying in a hammock all day was not a conducive environment for healing ribs. Fuck.

Eddie didn't notice, thankfully, and was biking ahead. He turned around and teased, "C'mon, slowpoke. Don't make me wait outside your house just because you're slow as hell!"

"I'm coming, Eds, hold your horses." He started biking and had to force himself to sit upright as to not put too much pressure on his ribs. He was biking relatively slowly, so Eddie slowed down to bike next to him.

"Hey, you okay, Rich?"

"Yeah, Spaghetti, don't worry your pretty little head about it." He flashed a smile in Eddie's direction.

Eddie mumbled, "Don't call me that," but kept his head forward and biked onwards.

By the time they got to his house, Richie was exhausted. Biking with bruised ribs while wearing a binder was not the best combination. He put their bikes in the garage and unlocked the door. They were home alone.

"Hey, Eds, I'm gonna go change real quick. Be back in a second."

Richie went to his room and changed into a clean binder and put on a new t-shirt and hoodie. He took an Advil and went back downstairs.

"Alright, Spaghetti Head, what do you want to eat?" Richie made a grand gesture towards the freezer section and began listing the things they could make.

As Richie droned on, Eddie got lost in him. Watching Richie and the way he moved was something he loved. Richie, bouncing around the room, pulling open drawers and throwing things on the counter, was a sight to see. Eddie knew, in his heart, he was completely and utterly head-over-heels for this boy. He don't know what came over him, but suddenly he blurted out, "I'm gonna miss you. When we leave for college."

Richie paused. He was in the middle of putting chicken nuggets in the oven when Eddie had spoken. He made an executive decision for dinner while Eddie was not paying attention. Slowly, he slide in the tray and closed the over. He looked over at Eddie, "Whatcha talking about, Eds?"

Eddie realized the weight of what he said and went pink in the face. At a loss for words, he sputtered, "Well, y'know, I mean, all of us. The Losers. We won't see each other, when we, uh, when we go to college. So. Yeah. Y'know."

Richie can't help but be disappointed at this. The Losers, all of them. Not specifically Richie. But he keeps his act up and forces a soft smile, "Yeah, dude. I get that. Of course I'm gonna miss hanging out with everyone too." Richie doesn't know if it was because the way he felt in the moment or the threat of him and Eddie drifting apart, but, quietly, almost as an afterthought, he adds, "I think I'll miss you the most."

Eddie looks up, shocked. Richie doesn't do that. He doesn't do sappy. He doesn't do emotions. He doesn't do sentimental. Sure, Richie wants to do all those things, but has a hard time conveying it. Hidden behind shitty jokes and shitty voices were his real feelings, scared and teetering on the edge of being shattered. He hid himself behind a wall at all times. Yet, here he was, heart on his sleeve, scalding to the touch, telling Eddie this, whatever this is. An almost-confession. The weight of the words bleeding from his mouth. What was left unsaid hangs in the air.

Eddie doesn't speak right away. He's too scared of breaking the fragile air in-between them right now. Richie looks away, puts a timer on for the chicken nuggets. He's about to say something else, probably make a joke as a lame excuse for this sudden confession, but Eddie beats him to it.

"Same. That's...well...that's what I meant before. About missing you. I mean, of course I would miss the Losers. But, I'll miss you the most. Because, well, y'know...we're..." He trails off, unsure of how to finish this thought. There has always been an unspoken agreement that they their friendship is...different.

Richie is bristling at the edges, nervous of what to say next. It's never been like this for them. They've never stepped into unknown territory. Although these words could've been exchanged between two friends and nothing come of it, Richie and Eddie know that they both feel something more.

And this is when it happens. Eddie stands up, nervous energy running through his body. He walks up to Richie and softly cups his face and asks, "Kiss me?"

Richie is wide-eyed. He is scared, nervous, and confused. "Me?" He thinks. "Me?" His body is pulled taught, like the person who controls the strings that move Richie's body has ceased to exist, and Richie doesn't know how to handle his own body. Finally, he responds, his voice barely above a whisper, "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

The moment comes and passes quickly, but it's not rushed. Eddies closes his eyes and leans in, Richie following suit. And then they're kissing. It's quick, only lasts five seconds, before they both lean back.

Eddie feels like every single hair on his body is on fire. He wants to do that again. He wants to kiss Richie again, so he does. He kisses him and slides his hands past Richie's face and cards through his hair, and Richie melts into it. Richie reaches back and grabs Eddie's waist, pulling him closer.

In this moment, Richie is thinking of nothing else. He is only thinking of Eddie, breathing him in, breathing him out.

Then, in a frenzy of wow, this is really happening, Eddie blindly grabs at the hem of Richie's shirt and tugs. In the blink of an eye, Richie is pulled back to reality. He freezes. He softly pushes Eddie back, who breathes out, "Oh, shit, I- Richie- I'm sorry, I thought-" Richie doesn't look him in the eye. His hands are hanging on Eddie's shoulders and his head bowed, pressed against Eddie's chest. He is lost in his own head, lost in the terror of being outed. He whispers back, "I'm sorry Eddie. I'm sorry."

Eddie is distraught and confused. "Wait, Richie, I'm sorry. Can we just talk, please? I thought you...I thought you liked me. I thought you liked us, together. You kissed me back. What happened?"

Richie doesn't really know how to answer. He pushes off Eddie and takes a small step back. He curses himself. "No. I mean, yes, I do...I just. I can't, Eddie. I'm sorry. I think you should go home."

Reluctantly, Eddie does. He wants to say something else, but he is worried he will only make things worse. On the way out, he turns back to Richie one more time. They make eye contact, but Richie looks away.

Fuck. I fucked up. What happened? Eddie is going through what happened in his head over and over again. They kissed. They fucking kissed. They kissed, and Richie seemed into it. What did I do wrong? Seeing Richie like that, so small, so vulnerable, makes him worried. Eddie is always worried about Richie. Biking back home, he greets his mom and goes up to bed. He doesn't want to deal with her tonight. Being home makes him think about the things she said when she found out.

---

When Eddie was younger, he made the mistake of keeping a diary. He was probably 13 or 14 when she read it and flipped shit. He was surprised, of course, that she had even gone through his stuff and ignored his privacy, but it was even more jarring to hear the things she said about him.

He remembers her voice, as clear as the day it happened, white hot and venomous, "Are you actually...gay, Eddie? Are you like them? The...the homos that spread disease and go about with no shame? What's wrong with you? What happened to you? Did someone make you this way? No, no, no. Not my Eddiebear. No! You can't be...a faggot, can you?"

Eddie was past the point of being able to respond, he just stood there, un-answering, his whole body shaking as tears rolled down his face. He didn't know what to do. He let himself be carried up to his room, changed into his pajamas, and tucked into bed. All while listening to his mother spew hate.

He never kept a diary again.

They never really talked about it, Eddie being gay, she would just mention in passing that she didn't want him spending time with boys like him. Tell him she was looking forward to meeting his future girlfriend. Eddie was used to it by now.

---

Maybe she was right, though. Maybe Richie was repulsed by what they had done and didn't want to see Eddie anymore. Maybe Richie thought Eddie was a dirty, gay boy and never really cared about him in that way.

No. Richie kissed him back. Richie kissed him back, Eddie was sure of it. He had asked if Eddie was sure about it, for fucks sake. Something else must've happened.

And so Eddie fell asleep like this, thinking about Richie.

---------

Richie was still in his kitchen, but he had sunk down to the floor and pulled his knees to his chest the second the door closed shut behind Eddie. Richie couldn't stop replaying that moment in his head. The moment Eddie leaned in, his hands soft and gentle on Richie's face. The moment they had kissed. But it was shattered when Eddie's hands went towards Richie's shirt, and Richie cannot stop yelling at himself. Why. Why, why why. Why the fuck did I have to be trans? Why couldn't I have been anybody else? Why did I have to be trans? Eddie likes me. He fucking kissed me. But of course, we will never be together. All because of me. All because I'm trans. Fuck. Fuck.

The noise of the oven timer shakes him out of his anger. The chicken nuggets, shit, that's right. He forgot. He grabs the oven mitt and pulls them out, putting them on the stove top and letting them cool. He eats the chicken nuggets while thinking of Eddie.

He goes upstairs, takes his binder off, and feels nothing but disgust and anger towards himself, towards his body. He changes into pajamas and brushes his teeth. He falls asleep, curling in on himself, making himself as small as possible while shaking with anger and self-loathing.