sometimes, on days where work at the farm was slow, and the chill in the air was just right, smooth as honey, or tv static and rubber sole steps were the only noise in the sullen one story kaspbrak house, eddie would go over to the hanlon farm.
mike would board his bike, cool seat sending a shooting chill up his spine, and pedal his way through the backroads of derry- where he would be safest- and make his way to the husk of a house with the boy trapped inside. on the ride, he would ponder. he would think of life, or how the flowers he passed painted the hills in blues in reds, or how lucky he was to have the friends that he does. things like that. down in the "country"- which was really just the underpopulated outskirts of derry, there was never much to do- mike needed to trek downtown or at least a few miles away to see any forms of life that didn't moo. here in the country, land was shaded in a hue of sepia, an eerie sort of calm washing over the area, hanging over mike hanlon's head like a heavy cloud. he enjoyed riding further out though- where he was headed now- seeing the liveliness downtown derry flicker like a newly lit flame, bright and blinding, vast or small but always there. one you got out in the country of course, the wind must have blown the flame long away, as they were just left with the ash atop the wick.
the wind didn't so much move through his hair as he rode, moreso ghosted over, and the thought made him laugh slightly, thinking of how this usual wind would move the thick curls atop beverly's head or the fine, straight strands of bill's every which way. oh, bill. there was something different about that boy. though bill was the writer, mike himself was pretty well versed in words, if he did say so himself- and he supposed he could write novels upon novels, pages upon pages about that denbrough boy. he didn't know exactly how he felt, but the sheepish smile that grew on his face every time the boy turned to him would say much, much differently. if he knew anything, he knew that fall-auburn hair and blue, oceanic eyes could engulf him, swallow him whole any time, and he would quietly thank them.
although he was in sort of a dilemma, he figured- as he thinks the boy that he is on his way to currently, might feel the same.
the two sat atop the hanlon's roof, watching the sky fade darker, close to each other, almost touching if not for the bowl of fruit between them. eddie dug at a strawberry with dull nails, removing the green leaves, then popping it into his mouth. he turned to mike, a calm, unruffled expression painting his face. he hid his mouth behind a clean, uncalloused and uncut hand while he chewed, overly polite for where he currently was.
"okay," he had swallowed, before turning to mike with a sort of ergency, unlike the stolidness of the moments before. "what do i do if i, uhm- if i like someone? well, uhm, not that i do, i just want to know just in case i ever did. i don't though, i mean who would i because-"
mike laughed at him unaccusingly, placing a warm, steady hand on eddie's own. the gesture always seemed to quiet him down, and mike saw the relief wash over him. he sighed, slightly wheeze like, his reddened face forcing out a smile, which mike reassuringly returned.
"okay- yeah, i'm okay. shit.'' eddie shook his head, shifting his gaze and now fingers to a loose thread on his socks. though looking at it, he seemed not to be too focused on it. mike figured he should answer the question that originally caused the boy's fluster, and now, his own.
"well, if you were to like someone, you should just tell them. try your luck, maybe. it can't be that bad." mike almost laughed at his own hypocrisy, but eddie seemed to have no such reaction.
"well i can't do that- i mean, try my luck. not that i do like anyone, because i don't, but if i were to tell them- it could ruin everything. i can't try my luck in a fucking shithole like this, because how i feel could get me killed or sick or fucking something- but i still don't like anyone."
mike found himself taken aback by eddie's words- killed? sick? what struck him the most was not the reason why these things could occur, nor the likelihood of them, guessing that he knew why these things could happen- but the fact that eddie kaspbrak had never had a passing thought that mike and the rest of the loser's club would protect him.
mike shifted forward, looking at eddie quickly, then taking the boy in his arms. eddie stiffened slightly, before melting right into the hug. mike shook his head where it sat atop eddie's, who's own was burrowed in mike's shoulder. he knew eddie wasn't fragile, in fact, thought that he was one of the bravest people he knew, but he would be damned if he were to let someone hurt him.
"eddie, i don't know what you think can hurt you, but i know how bad it can be." mike had still been holding him when saying this, and eddie had still been holding him right back. neither of them knew when to let go, and maybe, neither wanted to. eddie felt safe right here, in mike hanlon's arms- and mike was so, so glad he did. "we've both been through hell, don't you know it, but i know that it can't get worse than that. you have us, and you always will. whatever you think we'll hurt you- we've fought much, much worse, and we can fight whatever the hell that is, okay?"
"i know, but it's so hard. i don't want to be like this, my mom- oh she's gonna kill me. she's gonna tell me i'm sick and i'm not sick im just-". eddie had pulled away at this point, substituting his previous position for hugging his own legs. he buried his face into his grass stained knees, one of which mike could see a 'rich wuz here' surrounded in a triangle on the side of, written in now faded pink marker. eddie seemed to have sensed mike's gaze on him, and he turned his head in the direction of the boy. mike saw that tears had welled up in his eyes.
"i just don't want to get hurt. i don't want to prove my mom, or anyone else right. i- i don't want him to get hurt- shit i mean-"
"it's okay, eddie. i don't care about that. as long as you're safe, and as long as you're happy, i don't care if it's him. i think i might have to worry about that too." mike said the last part quietly, moving his eyes to a loose shingle on the left side of him. he heard eddie take a shaky breath next to him, but still didn't want to look back.
"it's richie, for me. it's always been. fuck. for a little bit, i thought it was bill, you know." mike shot up at the mention of bill's name, before processing what eddie had said. he swore he felt the air grow warmer around him when it dawned on him.
"when i was little, i had just moved here and bill was my first friend. i thought he was really, really cool and i thought he could protect me. i only realized that i thought of him like a brother- shit, it sounds really dumb- or even a dad until i realized, well, richie. he's stupid and annoying and it really should be bill, but it's not."
eddie shook his head, then, laughing. mike was still stunned- realizing that eddie had never wanted to take anything away from him- well, not that bill denbrough was his in the first place. it seemed simple now, really, the way eddie had looked at richie like he had hung the moon when he told a joke, or the way he would throw his head back in laughter at a remark- a sort of sweet, barking laughter matched by no other. eddie would take any opportunity to brush against richie, and they would spend nearly all of their time together. hell, it was a surprise eddie was even here now.
mike hanlon couldn't even take the time to talk about bill, to think about bill before he took eddie's hand in his own, a smile gracing his face.
"i'm happy for you, eddie. he- just try it. i don't think you'll do too bad. not too bad at all."
eddie looked over at him then, sun kissing his freckled, tear stained cheeks, a smile bigger than he had ever seen on the boy on his face. he thought for a second, that it looked quite like richie's. eddie didn't respond, just hid his face in his sleeve bashfully, partially for just that- to hide, or partially to wipe his tears away.
"you know, for me it's still bill. i don't think i can tell him, but it's okay just because it's there. i don't need to."
"well if i need to tell him, well you need to tell him too, mikey. i mean, shit i mean i tell richie and you tell-"
"i know. well maybe i will then. maybe we both get to be happy."
eddie's smile at the words almost made mike believe it, and the hug that followed made him believe just a little more.
in the distance, far, far in the distance, there were birds. maybe crows, or maybe some inconsequential winged thing. stan would know. there were probably mothers too- mothers, or sick people. there were a bunch of scary things ahead of them, or even behind them. but those didn't matter. because right here, right now, there was love.
there was love inside them, love around them, and love behind them like a shadow, and before them like a street sign. there was mike, there was eddie, and there was love.