they were lying around in almost a circle on sleeping bags on the floor of bill's bedroom when the topic of kissing came up.
richie exclaimed, “let's play spin the bottle!”
bill shrugged, “okay.”
“we've all kissed someone before, right guys?” bev asked suggestively, eyebrow raised, using a flashlight to shine in each of their eyes respectively under her inquisitive stare. she rolled into her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows.
stan nudged bill subtly and raised his eyebrows as he caught bill's eyes chasing the collar of bev's top in her new position.
he blushed. “i g-guess we're not losers anymore,” bill said jokingly.
“sure," stan replied dryly. “because that's what makes us losers,” still eyeing bill as he sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck.
eddie confidently stated, “no way someone would ever kiss richie.” he scoffed, “why would anyone want to trade spit with a trashmouth?” he asked, a bit too sincerely for the usual bickering between friends. but he was joking, stan could tell, because he was looking richie in the eye when he said it. it was so clearly a bait, stan thought.
richie looked away, eyes downcast, from eddie's grinning face as the rest of the losers laughed.
bill frowned, “that wasn't very nice, eddie.”
ben nodded, “yeah, we didn't even ask him. richie, have you kissed someone before?”
richie laughed loudly, “of course! ive done more than that, me and mrs k go all night long-” stan rolled his eyes.
“richie!” bev implored tiredly.
“hey! shut up, trashmouth, that's fucking bullshit, i bet you couldn't even get someone to kiss you if you paid them. there are over 700 strains of bacteria in the human mouth but yours probably has millions-” eddie yelled over them, holding his hand up like a wall between them, a habit he's had since he was a kid he tended to do when arguing.
he looked at bill, he's always been the only one who could get them to stop bickering. his jaw was clenched and stan knew his ticks, he was about to snap.
they'd come here for a relaxing weekend, all together, before returning to school. he could dare to dream.
richie sat up from his lounging position “-what's the matter, eds? jealous?” his words had a bite to them that they usually didn't, “so sad that you're not cute enough to get a kiss from a trashmouth?! you wish-”
mike and ben looked at each other, half weary and half exasperated.
“beep beep, rich!” bill yelled. richie hadn't needed to be beeped for ages. stan could see he was upset, whether from being beeped or from the argument he couldn't tell. “let's stop arguing before stan ages another 50 years.”
everyone went quiet. richie and eddie glared at each other with venom. richie gave up their staring contest first, his cheeks going even redder and pushed his glasses back up his nose. that was his nervous habit.
“don't call me eds,” he snapped but the heat in his words wasn't there anymore. an air of finality hung around his reply; the argument was over.
the air was still a little heavy. richie was infectious that way. when he was in a good mood, you couldn't help but catch it. but when he wasn't, it was like he sucked out the happiness with him. stan wondered if that's what loving someone was though, being so in-tune with each other's moods, because he knew the losers all loved each other deeply.
stan huffed. “children,” he chided and added, “for the record, i am a young forty-five. and it's not that big of a deal, richie. ive never kissed anyone either.”
richie looked calmer. but in that forced way you try to appear when you're trying to seem less defensive than you feel.
richie tried to play it off by turning to him and covering his mouth with his hand, making his voice gruff and mechanical, “i was expecting someone with your reputation to be a little... younger...” he trailed off when the rest of the losers didn't laugh. “fine, don't appreciate general grievous even though he was-”
“rich…” ben interrupted him softly. he smiled and him and reached to touch his arm in comfort.
bill smiled, “trashmouth-”
richie snapped in an eddie-like manner, “don't call me that.” he jerked away from ben's hand. “fuck stop being so fucking serious, i was just dicking around.”
bev sighed tiredly. “who even brought this up? it doesn't matter.” she turned to stan beside her, hoping to deescalate the situation. “hey stan, there's nothing wrong with not having kissed someone yet. we're only young and y'know,” she smiled kindly, “some people just don't want stuff like that until they're older.” most of them nodded and stan tucked his knees up to his chest, nodding and letting a little smile out, his curls falling into his eyes as he rested his chin on his knee.
“thanks.” he knew his friends would understand.
“-oh fucking great, now i'm in the same league as stan. how the mighty have fallen.” riche loudly complained, more himself than before but tense as a board. when bev tried to roll into him and lay her head in his lap he flinched.
richie never flinched away from physical affection.
“peace treaty? great,” mike clapped eddie on the back and he tried not to wince, “fuck dude that was too hard.”
“that's what he said,” richie jabbed. eddie made a face at him.
mike ignored him, a teasing look coming into his eye. bev leaned forward, grinning already.
mike addressed richie, “look, just kiss stan and it'll be over with,” mike said seriously, like it was the logical explanation, but he was trying to hold back a smile.
eddie pretended to wipe a tear away, “dont worry, stan, we'll cry at your funeral.“
“fuck off, eddie.” richie snapped, “you're by far the biggest virgin here. and you'd still be even if your mom was here too,” richie made a face, “and yikes.”
eddie's face went sour, “okay so you know that you have to have sex to have a kid, thats just basic biology, so she's not a virgin,” eddie paused, grimacing, “but that's besides the point, ive kissed someone before. ha! in your face, tozier!”
mike interrupted them with a, “wait, really?”
bill chipped in, “what?”
eddie turned on him, offended and defensive, “what you don't think someone would kiss me? you think i'm unkissable? is that it? i'll show you!”
mike's grin faltered. richie's face crumpled as he watched silently, his shoulders dropping from their tense position closer to his ears than his chest. eddie leant across their circle they made on the floor and grabbed stan's shoulder roughly, yanking him forward. the other boy's eyes widened and he leant into the tight grip on his shoulder with no other choice.
and then their faces were pressed together. their noses were kind of knocking into each other and it wasn't gentle but it was definitely a kiss.
unmistakably lips against lips.
stan's eyes were wide as he stared straight ahead, accidentally making eye contact with richie over eddie's shoulder. it looked like the other boy's were wet, but that was weird. they glistened in the limited light from the torches more than one's eyes normally would. it happened so quickly he couldn't really tell though.
he blinked and suddenly grasped the reality of the situation. he opened his mouth in shock to say something, he didn't even know what he would've said, when eddie's tongue touched the inside of his lip and he jumped away.
he sat back down and glanced at richie again but he was looking away with a blank expression.
he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked around; most of them were frozen out of surprise and some in awe.
eddie sat back down and tried to calm him breathing.
“see? im less a virgin that you, tozier,” and crossed his arms with a smug look on his face.
stan's face felt like it was on fire and he touched his lips like he'd never used them before, “excuse me?”
eddie's face fell a bit, “sorry, stan the man. was just trying to prove a point.”
bill was the first to regain his sensibilities and cleared his throat. he opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out.
bev was next, with a sly smile and wrapping an arm around stan's shoulders, “so? any good?”
richie got up suddenly and muttered something under his breath and left.
“what's going on?” bev asked the group but they didn't seem to have an answer. they fidgeted around on their sleeping bags. more silence.
finally, ben piped up, “i don't know but he's been weird all day.” stan agreed, richie wasn't acting like himself. sure, he annoyed all of them but that kind of argument was rarer the older they got.
eddie spoke, “i shouldn't have pushed him about it so much.” all the heat from earlier was gone, now he just sounded as confused as stan felt.
“it's not your fault, eddie, he's probably just… sensitive,” mike defended but even he didn't sound sure of his own words.
“richie trashmouth tozier? sensitive?” a few of them chuckled at that.
“guys, he asked us not to call him that,” ben reminded them firmly. never let it be said that ben wasn't a good friend.
“we've been calling him that for years, what's changed that we can't anymore?”
stan paused his thoughts momentarily.
“did something happen the other day? what's going on at home? has he said anything?”
“everything was fine and normal until this afternoon.”
“so what happened. eddie, weren't you with him?”
stan stood up. “i'll go check on him.”
"fuck off, stan the man. m'fine, honestly!" he made an exaggerated happy face.
"...rich. i'm gay," stan said plainly. no waver in his voice and no tremulous expression on his face either.
"uh," richie started and then stopped. "uhm," he rubbed his eye, "that's great, stan, but uh-" he blinked, "what?"
silence. but it wasn't uncomfortable. they could even hear the rest of the losers upstairs loudly discussing which movie they were going to watch.
"but what about that girl at prom?"
"for my parents." richie nodded in understanding.
"i… stan, i-" richie stumbled over his words and stan could feel it. it finally slotted into place.
"-i know." he put his arm around the other boy, pulling them together till they were touching shoulders.
"you didn't even listen to what i was about to say."
"you're gay. that's why you looked so… weird when eddie kissed me." really, stan reckoned, he should've put it together before now. how many times had he seen richie flirting with another guy, even if it was mostly just eddie, and thought that he was just messing. how many times had he quickly changed the subject when they talked about liking girls? stan wanted to hit himself in the head.
richie glanced away, pushing his glasses up again. "yeah." it was a quiet admission that stan wouldn't have thought could come out of a guy who didn't even own an inside voice.
"how long have you known?"
stan paused. did he mean how long he's known about him or about himself?
"when eddie kissed me," stan finally answered. because that answered both. he knew simultaneously that kissing a girl would never be as nice as that, even if it was only eddie. and also that richie was too invested in what was a joking kiss between life-long friends. he knew that look, too. the look of someone knowing they shouldn’t want something and wanting it anyway. he looked at bill that way sometimes.
but bill wasn’t gay. And he would never piece it together like stan had with richie; he and richie were the same in this small way. perhaps the only thing they have in common anymore. apart from a deep sense of family with another.
he solidified his own understanding of his sexuality, and it just so happened that he stumbled into the realisation that his friend was also dealing with the same struggles.
"i had no idea you were… y'know."
"gay?" stan had practiced saying it to himself for months. gay. over and over in his head every night. gay, gay, gay, gay. he was definitely gay. maybe that's what richie needed to do, too.
"well, we don't all have an eddie," stan joked softly, still unsure whether richie was going to get defensive again. he only meant that they weren’t all as openly affectionate with their male best friends. stan doubts that he would’ve been able to figure it out if richie weren’t so… richie about eddie. sure, stan loved him too but did you find him calling him cute and touching him whenever he had the chance?
richie whistled then sighed, "it looks like he prefers you anyway," richie's voice turned bitter. stan hesitated. What?
stan prided himself on being observational. that’s why he was so good at bird-watching too. but something didn’t make sense here. richie sounded jealous. As in the ugly kind that twisted your words with you spoke and gave you wrinkles as you got older.
for the second time that night stan felt stupid for not noticing it earlier. richie was gay, sure. weren’t most of the losers, though? both bev and mike had put cutout of both female and male celebrities in the clubhouse and stan had known - well, suspected- he was gay since even before that. and everyone knew eddie was gay. and now richie?
stan barked out a laugh. richie wasn’t only gay. richie was gay for eddie.
He shook his head as the laugh poured out of him, "sure." as if eddie could prefer anyone in the world over richie.
this was stupid. maybe he just needed a push to realise it?
he detached himself from richie to turn to him fully on the denbrough's front steps. "rich, you've never been kissed, have you?" he thought he knew the answer but he wanted to be sure.
"no. but apparently everyone else has."
stan reached up to behind richie's neck and pulled him towards him. he kept his eyes open for aim and went for it.
lips against frozen, shocked lips.
it was much more chaste that his first kiss because richie leapt away from him. "what the dick?! that felt like kissing my dad!"
richie wiped his face vigorously and even stuck out his tongue to wipe it on his sleeve.
"excuse me? you're older than me, richie! and kissing me is an honour. you should be grateful," stan grinned, also wiping his mouth though not as thoroughly. "i didn't even touch your tongue, calm down," he tried to placate his friend. he could admit though, it felt like kissing a family member.
“You’re even now,” stan smiled.
when he looked at richie now. he looked better and worse at the same time. he reminded him of the gangly, rude-mouthed kid who annoyed him to no end growing up and yet the dark cloud surrounding him looked heavier than ever. “thanks, stan. i don’t even know why i got so angry. it’s not like i wanted to kiss him myself,” he laughed lightly, “i know we’re just friends. all of us. kissing eddie- or any one of you, would be like kissing a brother. and i’m glad you know that i’m… gay. could you, not tell the others, please stan?”
“of course. but rich, eddie-”
“-no, i get it now, stan. you’re right. i’m sorry for riling every one up.”
stan didn’t want to even attempt to unravel the severe layers of internalized denial that was happening inside the younger boys head. if it’s that deeply tangled… maybe it’s just best to let him sort it out himself. one day he’ll figure it out and hopefully be proud.
the chill from the autumn air was getting to him. "i love you richie but it's cold out here." he could feel the shivers coming.
"i love you too. just,* richie laughed, "never kiss me again."
when they came back inside jaws was playing and people were huddled together on various sleeping bags and on bill's bed. the team effort of carrying the tv upstairs had been worth it.
riche immediately dropped down onto the bed where eddie and bill were sitting, and caused them to groan out protests against richie digging in his elbows and knees into while he got comfortable lying across them.
he caught eddie looking at richie with a tender smile as he got comfortable with the new addition. stan wanted to believe that they would work it out. they had to. something deep in the back of stan’s mind ached, like a sense of deja vu of foreboding. he didn’t want to listen to the voice that said they might not.
it wasn’t stan’s business anyway, the logical side of himself tried to convince him.
stan's wasn't as dramatic as richie’s entrance and simply sat down where bev and mike had made room for him on the floor.
they settled against him with bev on his chest and mike on his other shoulder. ben was on bev's other side with her feet in his lap. he felt like he had just come home after a long trip and could finally relax now that they were all together again, more normal than they’d felt in a while. he was so -unusually- emotionally drained that for a second he worried about himself, but let out a breath when he remembered the amount of pills left in the bottle and counted back to realise that no, he hadn’t accidentally forgotten to take a pill one morning.
he was just drained from a fulfilling day, he wasn’t spiraling.
he allowed himself to relax into his friends and tried not to think about richie anymore.