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Signed, Someone

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"C'mon, Bill," Richie's voice is plaintive and needling, made even whinier by the tinny phone connection. "Everyone else is busy, you gotta' hang out with me!"

"I d- don't gotta' do anyth- thing." Bill sounds amused, and Richie can just imagine the smug grin on his stupid, handsome face. The jerk. "Why don't you g- go to the arc- cade if you're th- that bored?"

Richie leans his back against the wall next to the house phone. "Well, I'm a little strapped for cash. I'm too good with the ladies, wore 'em all out, now they're all too tired to indulge in my gigolo services." He says sarcastically, and there's a disbelieving snort on the other end of the line. Richie lets out a frustrated huff. "They also, kinda'... banned me for a month," he admits, twisting the phone cord between his fingers as he grumbles, "for smacking the machines. And 'causing a scene,' whatever that means." He makes air quotes for no one's benefit but his own. Bill makes an understanding sound, like that fits so perfectly in his mental image of Richie, and it makes Richie's hackles raise defensively. "The other guy was cheating, okay? I had to say something! I totally coulda' beat him, okay, I just--"

"Okay, okay," Bill cuts him off, "w- whatever you say, Richie. Either w- way, I'm b- busy today, so." There's a rustle of clothes, like Bill's shrugging, and the too bad, so sad goes unspoken. Richie rolls his eyes heavenward in irritation. "You c- can survive one day on your own. I b- believe in you." The teasing condescension is physically palpable. It leaves Richie groaning.

"But Bill," the whine is back in full force now, "I'm bored." This time it's and lonely that goes unspoken, but Bill either doesn't notice or decides to spare Richie's pride by leaving it alone. He does apologize, but his tone makes it clear that he isn't changing his plans and they aren't hanging out today. "Fine." Richie says, irritated but without any real bite. "When I turn up dead on Monday, having keeled over from total organ failure due to extreme boredom--"

"I'll m- make sure to m- mourn harder than anyone else. Goodbye, Richie." His tone is amused, but final. Richie grunts back and hangs up, full of directionless irritation and aimless energy. The cash thing had been a lie(he'd been banned at the start of the month and it was now squarely in the middle, so he'd had a little while to save up). The boredom and unspoken loneliness, however, had not. His house is oppressively quiet, so quiet that even he was having trouble breaking it. He stays like that, leaning against the wall, fingers tangled in the phone cord, for a couple long minutes. Just soaking in the silence, getting more and more antsy but unsure of what to do with it.

Then he hears his mom getting up off the couch and hightails it out of there. Absolutely no way is he dealing with that shit. Not his monkeys, not his circus. He heads towards the garage to get his bike. Or, rather, he muses to himself, it is his circus, but he was born into this circus instead of being associated by choice, and is looking forward to running away from home some day to join a local accounting firm. His mouth twists into a frown as his feet find the pedals. Hmm. Does that track? Might be a little too confusing. He'd have to polish that joke a little before he told it to anyone else.

If he ever told it to anyone else. Richie wasn't the biggest fan of blabbing about his home life. It often didn't feel relevant or worth it, especially when in his eyes everyone else had real problems. Eddie's mom is legitimately certifiable, and everything with Mike's parents is sad as fuck, and Bev's dad... Richie shudders a bit, both from the autumn breeze and from thoughts of Beverly's home life. It's easy to devalue his own problems, like, "mommy doesn't hit me(or look at me either, and she tends to dip into the cooking wine with concerning frequency, but that's neither here nor there)" or "daddy's always working(and if I do manage to ever get his attention, it's always angry. Like, unreasonably angry. Scary, shouting angry. But he doesn't hit me either, so again, neither here nor there)" when faced with... Well. The alternative.

He shakes himself out of his musings, both because they aren't pleasant and because he realizes he's been subconsciously taking the path to the arcade. He hasn't gone that far, but the thought makes him even more irritated. It's not the only thing he does with his time. He has other interests. He realizes, also, that the arcade was Bill's first suggestion. I can do other things! I go other places! He's annoyed at everything, no matter how innocuous, and his fingers drum out a beat on his handlebars. He takes a sharp left when he's supposed to go right, determined to do something totally different from his usual routine, despite how the turn clearly leads further into a residential area.

He drifts through quiet neighborhood streets, starting to feel a little silly over his momentary act of rebellion, but he's not quite ready to admit defeat. He doesn't have anyplace better to go, anyway. His aimless drifting pays off when he spots cars parked in front of a particular house, and a handmade sign on the street corner that reads "Yard sale today."

Not the height of excitement, but he could probably kill twenty-odd minutes there.

Fucking score.

 

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The yard sale's run by a little old lady, so it's chock full of doilies and fine china and weird, creepy porcelain dolls. Richie can think of plenty of ways to have fun with the situation, but they're all predicated on him being there with a friend, someone to act as a straight man. Someone to get nervous when he plays a little too fast and loose with some fancy-shmancy old plate, or get annoyed and embarrassed when he makes a show of looking up a dolly's skirt. He doesn't have anyone to play off of.

Not that everything he says or does has extensive planning behind it. Most of the time he says things so off-the-cuff that he's as much an audience member as he is an actual participant in whatever dumbshit he's pulling. He's even shocked himself or made himself laugh in the past, as if he and his brain are two entirely separate beasts who don't have any contact with each other behind the scenes. But this kind of environment doesn't even give his subconscious anything to work with, so he finds himself ambling past tables quietly.

He fiddles with crockery, pushes around some tablecloths, squeezes an old teddy bear just to see what it feels like. The answer is: gross. Weirdly firm and concerningly sticky. He sets it back down quickly and rubs his hands on his pants, nose wrinkled in disgust.

He's about to turn around and leave when he spots a large cardboard box on the ground, tucked under the end of one of the tables. Interest piqued, Richie peers inside. Rusty candelabra laid on top of a very scratchy Christmas tree skirt. He frowns, crestfallen, but pushes these to the side, digging around underneath. Mostly it's more holiday linens, but his hand bumps into something plastic and he grabs it on instinct, yanking it out to examine his prize.

It's a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, filled with unused postcards. He opens the bag and starts flipping through them, examining the pictures on the front. One from Las Vegas, the night sky a deep purple and the city lights vibrant and twinkling. The next was from the Grand Canyon, a painter's rendition of the deep, orange crevice in the earth juxtaposed against a vast baby-blue sky. The next was Hawaii, turquoise water lapping against the shore, a large red tropical flower superimposed and out of place in the corner of the image. Not all of the locations were quite so exciting, like the one from Denver, Colorado, or Boise, Idaho. But as he flips through, Richie realizes not a single location is repeated. If he wanted to, he could almost imagine rearranging these into a complete route, one long trip from beginning to end.

He must've spent longer pouring over the postcards than he thought, because the old lady pops up behind him to tap him on the shoulder with her walking stick and ask if he's interested. It practically gives him a heart attack, he was so wrapped up in examining the enigma before him, but eventually he gives her a nod, and asks the question that's been bugging him most. "Why are they all unused?"

She titters happily at his query, and says something about her kid going on some grand adventure across the country, sightseeing. Apparently on the first trip they'd picked up a postcard while in the city with every intention of sending it back filled out, but had forgotten to ever write in it, and they came back with a completely blank postcard. Everyone had gotten a laugh about it, and somehow from there it became tradition, her receiving handfuls of blank postcards whenever her daughter came back from her adventures to touch down at home. Richie half listens, half starts to form some vague idea of a prank. Since they're blank and from all over the country, he could conceivably use them to trick or confuse someone. He's not really sure how, but the fact that they could be used makes them appealing.

He 'hmm's at the right moments, and when she seems to wind down he asks why she's selling them, if they're so special. She doesn't have a very interesting answer-- something about saving the first one, and the rest just taking up space now?-- and Richie definitely doesn't listen to this one. He mulls the purchase over for a few more moments. Turns them over in his hands. They're pretty, and he doubts he'd ever see as much of the country as is contained in this stack of cards. Mind made up, he looks up at her and asks "How much?"

 

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Of course, it wouldn't be a yard sale if he didn't haggle with her a little, but Richie decides to go easy on the old gal, since she looked so shaky leaning on that old cane. Also, she looked so happy to be talking to someone that she could've haggled all day, and while Richie did need to waste his time somehow, he still had some standards.

He bikes back home with the Ziploc bag tucked in the waistband of his jeans, and when he creeps inside, the house seems still. Quiet. Not ideal, but at least it isn't the sound of his mom crying, or pouring a drink, or anything else depressing like that, so he hustles up to his room before anything changes. After mulling it over for a little while, he decides that, since he's going to use them in a prank eventually, he needs to hide them. His closet is a no-go, since there isn't enough room, and under his bed's a crapshoot, since it'll get packed in amongst clothes and homework he doesn't plan to do within a day, and they'll be quickly forgotten.

Eventually he shoves it into the back of one of his desk drawers. He never uses his desk, and the drawers are chronically overfilled with knick-knacks and spare paper. The postcards are easily covered, but they can't get lost the same way they can under the bed, since the drawer has a back, and new stuff doesn't get put in there, since they're already full. Perfect.

Now to just figure out exactly what the hell to use them for.

 

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The "what the hell to use it for" comes a few weeks later.

The losers are all hanging out in Ben's living room, not watching a movie. His mom is out, giving them some alone time, and a movie is playing on the TV, but everyone's bickering about something or other instead of watching it. Stan is heated, and Bill calls him a bird brain, which is stupid and not at ALL a good comeback, but it makes Stan's face get all pinched, and Eddie...

Eddie throws his head back in laughter, and the sunlight streaming through the windows is warm and sweet and amber-hued like honey. It slows everything like honey, too, like everyone's moving through something thick, making the moment stretch in front of Richie's eyes. It licks the tips of Eddie's hair, making the them appear golden blond, and his skin looks so tan, so fucking rich and beautiful and dusted with freckles. Especially over the curve of his nose, which is scrunched up in joy, the rest of his features so peaceful. Smoothed out by joy and delight, like none of his worries can reach him. For one beautiful, crystalline moment.

Richie wishes he could bottle this moment.

Then the moment passes, and Eddie punches him in the arm, hard. "I wasn't snorting that hard, asshole, you don't have to stare!" He bites out, looking put out. Someone else calls out that he was snorting like a donkey, it was hard not to stare, but Richie's a little fuzzy on the details, because his hardcore crush on Eddie has just reared its gorgeous head, and also Eddie just touched him(even if it was a punch), and now he's more than a little dazed.

And now Eddie's blushing and, oh, sweet boy. Richie's heart clenches in his chest. His brain catches up to proceedings just enough to exclaim "Of course I was staring at you. You're the cutest ass in the room, how could I look anywhere else!" He reaches out and pinches Eddie's cheeks, exclaiming "Cute, cute, cute!" Eddie squawks indignantly, trying to shove Richie away and screeching 'fuck off'. It's sweet, but it feels a bit like he's removed from the proceedings, like he's acting on autopilot.

Richie excuses himself to the bathroom. He can't resist ruffling Eddie's hair as he passes, just to hear him get even angrier. Once he's safely locked the door, he slumps against it like a puppet with its strings cut. Everything hits him all at once, and he practically wheezes as a blush overtakes his face. Eddie's just so fucking cute, and Richie's so obnoxiously head-over-heels, that he just slides to the floor to sit in a big gay lump for a hot minute. It feels like he's about to explode with love, like love is something solid and real and about to leak out of his every stupid orifice. It feels big and scary and wonderful, and he just wraps his arms around his own chest, like he's holding himself together, like he'll fly apart at any moment, and breathes through it.

Eventually the feeling passes, and as he comes down he reminds himself why he has to keep his shit together. He runs through the litany like a checklist or a mantra. It's calming, but it's also depressing. Eddie isn't gay, is the start. Eddie isn't gay, Eddie doesn't love me back, even if he did I'm nowhere near good enough for him. I can't risk our entire friendship just to be selfish. This is good enough. Getting to be near him at all is good enough. Don't be selfish. Don't get greedy. This is enough.

Richie stands and splashes water on his face-- and flushes the toilet while he's at it, just so it doesn't sound weird to anyone who might be listening-- while going through his mental list. Don't get greedy gets repeated a lot. And he means it when he says to himself that friendship is enough, because Eddie's friendship is great. It's fantastic. Eddie's an excitable little ball of rage and he's hilarious, and loyal, and funny, and he matches Richie blow for blow which is an absolute delight, and...

Richie slaps his own cheeks and shakes his head, as if reprimanding himself. No, He thinks sternly, you came into the bathroom to get a HANDLE on this shit, not think about it more! Anyway. Hanging out with Eddie is great, and Richie is certain that he's the dickwad for wanting even more of Eddie, when he's already been handed a lovely gift. He's not blushing anymore, he notices distantly, and he's mostly corralled his brain, so he scrubs his face dry with a hand towel and emerges from the bathroom. The bickering's settled down, and now the losers are all more or less watching the movie end. Richie collapses on the floor in front of the couch and leans his back against Eddie's legs. Eddie kicks him in irritation, but he doesn't actually pull away or make him stop, and even though Richie feels selfish, it also leaves him with a warm and fuzzy sensation in his chest for the rest of the day.

 

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So when Richie gets back home, he revisits his earlier freak-out. The bike ride had given him time to think, and he's predictable and a fucking sap, and right as he left Eddie hit him with 'See ya' later, Rich, tell your mom I said hi,' and snickered like it was so fucking funny and the nickname combined with his laugh and his call back to Richie's default unfunny mom jokes made him weak. It was a three-hit combo, and Richie was currently down for the fucking count, emotionally speaking.

His feelings are all about to bubble over and they're either going to explode out of him or he's gonna die, he'll just fucking die. He knows it.

But he also knows he can't say anything.

But he also also knows that there's no reason someone else, someone totally anonymous, couldn't tell Eddie how they feel. It's a free country, after all. In theory, anyway.

He's been working on a plan the entire bike ride home, and now he's about to put it into effect. He practices on a piece of scrap paper, makes sure his handwriting isn't identifiable, figures out what he wants to say, how to say it without immediately being read as 1) male, or 2) Richie, specifically. He also does a few drafts to make sure all he wants to say would fit on a postcard(it's a tight squeeze, postcards have less writing space than he remembers... Or his handwriting is just that shit. He makes it fit, though.) Then he pulls out a postcard and pens a Eddie a letter.

A love letter.

He flushes the practice paper down the toilet after he finishes and hides the rest of the postcards again, tucks the note in between books in his bookbag, where it looks like any other scrap of paper.

It's nerve wracking, and he's extremely paranoid about anyone finding it before he gets a chance to deliver it, but it's also freeing. He feels lighter now, like there's less of a secret to keep. The weight in his chest a little more manageable. I should tell the truth more often, he thinks to himself, and it actually makes him snort.

As fucking if.

 

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Richie has changed his mind. Telling the truth sucks. He hates it. This is hell. The ground has opened up and swallowed him whole and he is now burning in the fiery pits of hell.

Which is to say, Eddie hasn't gotten to school yet and it's fucking killing Richie to not know what his reaction to the note is. Richie got to school early, just to plant the letter in Eddie's locker before anyone got there to see him do it, and now he's just standing in front of his open locker doing fuck-all, staring at Eddie's locker just a few feet away. It's torture. And he can't even stare openly, because that could give the game away, so he has to act normal and just catch glances now and again. Richie rearranges the books in his backpack for a third time. If he doesn't get here in the next ten minutes, Richie thinks to himself, I'm going to jump off the fucking roof. Not even in a suicidal way, just on principal. This is bullshit. Someone has to take a stand, and it's going to be me. On the roof. And then off it.

Eddie walks around the corner, and Richie shoves his head into his own locker to avoid shouting 'Finally!'

Stan is with him, and they seem to be having a subdued, early-morning conversation. Eddie looks good, if a little bleary. Maybe he didn't sleep well last night. Richie indulges in a brief fantasy of waking up next to him, that same bleary look on his face, hair mussed from sleep. He closes his eyes for a moment, imagining Eddie irritable from being woken up, and stubbornly refusing to kiss him because they hadn't brushed their teeth yet, only to smile fondly as Richie peppered his cheeks with kisses, turning his head just so, their lips finally--

"Don't fall asleep at your locker, your desk'll get jealous." Stan pats his shoulder as he passes by on his way to his own locker.

"Fuck off, Staniel." Richie says it without any real heat, grateful to have been pulled out of his fantasy before he embarrassed himself. "There's enough of me to go around." He punctuates the statement with an eyebrow waggle, but Stan doesn't turn around to see it. As Stan rounds the corner Richie looks back at Eddie and finds him with the postcard in hand, peering down at it curiously. Richie's heart rate immediately skyrockets.

He tries to school his expression, watching out of the corner of his eye as Eddie gets more and more shocked. He looks a bit like a deer in headlights, his big, doe eyes even wider than normal, his whole body held stock-still. Suddenly, his head whips up and he scans the hall, as if looking for whoever could have left it in his locker, but when no one steps forward, he turns back to the note in his hands, reading it more carefully this time.

Other than shock, Eddie's face doesn't betray any other emotion, and he's about ready to climb the walls. He knows Eddie doesn't know it was him-- that's kind of the whole point-- but he's still invested in Eddie's reaction. If Eddie hates it, it'll be a rejection, and he'd been able to rationalize that away when he was writing the letter the night before, telling himself that it was just about getting his feelings off his chest... But now that he's actually faced with Eddie's reaction, he's finding it much more difficult to take such a detached approach.

He takes a breath. Steels himself. Pastes a grin on his face. It's fine. It's good if he rejects it, actually. You get it off your chest, no risk to either of you, and you can put it all behind you. It's cool. It's fine. This is fine. He doesn't believe himself, per se, but if he says it enough, he's pretty sure it'll start to sink in. He still really, really wants to know Eddie's reaction, though, so he closes his locker and tries to walk over normally, like he isn't freaking out internally. He's not sure how natural he comes across, but Eddie's distracted anyway, so it all works out. "What's up, spaghetti head? You look like your eyes are gonna' pop out of your skull." He says teasingly, leaning his shoulder against the locker next to Eddie's.

Eddie jumps, so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn't notice Richie coming. He chews his lip nervously, looks back down at the note in his hands. His cheeks are dusted pink, and his lips are parted slightly, something akin to awe on his face. "I think... I think a girl left a love letter in my locker."

He's so happy, so shocked and excited, Richie never stood a chance. It feels like he's been shot in the goddamn chest. There's no coming back from it.

"I mean," he starts again, looking down at his hands and fiddling with the corner of the card, "it's... It's probably just some idiot's idea of a prank, but..." Eddie's trying to downplay it, clearly already preparing himself for rejection, but his big, chocolate eyes are soft around the corners and sparkling with excitement.

Richie shakes his head emphatically, grinning wide. "No way! It's gotta' be for real. 'Bout time someone else around here noticed what a cutie our little Eduardo is!" He ruffles Eddie's hair affectionately. "Finally," He's put on a gushy, motherly voice, "our little boy is growing up! Where's Bill, we have to tell him that our little boy's a man now."

Eddie groans and shoves him away and tells him to fuck off, but he's grinning the whole time, something like pride in the set of his shoulders, and Richie decides right then and there that he's gonna' write Eddie another note every day for the rest of their fucking lives, if it makes him this happy.

He's so gone on this boy it's absolutely unreal.

Chapter Text

 

 

 I'm not the best with my words, so please forgive me if this ends up sounding awkward or not making sense.

You're the most amazing person I've ever met. Sometimes when we pass each other in the hall, you smile at me, and it makes my entire day to see you happy. Whenever it happens, I realize, logically, that you're just being polite. But some little part of me always imagines that maybe you're smiling just because you've seen me. That I make you happy. I doubt it, but I like to think it sometimes.

I've watched you for a while now.

Sorry, that sounds terrifying. I just mean that I've noticed you. The way you hold yourself, your quick-wit, your eyes. I find myself drawn to you, even when I'm supposed to be focused on other things. It's overwhelming, if I'm honest. You're overwhelming.

I'm not asking you to like me back-- if I was, I wouldn't be anonymous. I just needed you to know that I do. That someone does. I'm sorry if that's selfish, to make you listen to my feelings without even the courtesy of my name. Just know that someone out there thinks you're the most incredible thing to ever come out of this shitty town.

-Someone

Eddie's face is beet red and hidden behind his hands as Ben finishes reading the note aloud to the lunch table. "She had a lot to say, she even wrote in the address section." He supplies, flipping the card over and then back again. "Sounds like she really likes you." He's smiling kindly as he tries to hand it back, but Eddie's busy grappling with his own embarrassment and doesn't notice, so he leaves it sitting in the middle of the table.

Richie kicks his leg gently to get his attention. "Yeah, man, you're a real lady killer! Pretty soon you'll be beatin' 'em off with a stick, while one of 'em beats off your stick."

Bev's nose wrinkles in disgust. "Beep beep, Richie."

"It might not be serious... Could be a prank or something." Eddie protests weakly, pushing food around on his plate without eating any. He's still buzzing with anxious, excited energy, but it's like he's trying to bottle it up. He's waiting for the other shoe to drop, essentially.

As everyone's speaking Stan reaches past Ben to pick up the postcard, examining it. He frowns down at it as he reads.

"No way! You're a total catch." Bev is grinning as she bumps her shoulder against his companionably.

"It sounded pretty sincere." Ben adds

Stan clears his throat, then carefully interjects. "It doesn't actually say Eddie's name on it anywhere." He doesn't seem particularly pleased to be the one to point it out.

Eddie deflates, then nods, resigned. "Yeah, see? Probably meant for someone else then, and they just got the wrong locker." He looks down at his plate and takes a big bite of his sandwich so he doesn't have to say anything else.

Stan frowns a little deeper, meets Bev's eye in a quick glance as she puts a conciliatory arm around Eddie's shoulders. "Sorry, Eddie. I noticed it when Ben was reading it, and I just figured someone ought to point it out." There's a beat of awkward, sullen silence. "It could still be meant for you." He adds, trying to sound hopeful at the end.

"S'fine. Don't worry about it." He says around a mouthful, but he doesn't quite meet Stan's eyes.

Eddie looks like a kicked puppy, and it makes Richie's heart ache. "It is for him, though!" He insists.

Stan says, "You can't know that for sure."

Richie fires back, "I can, because--" He closes his mouth, thinks for a second. Because I wrote it, isn't exactly an option. "Because Eddie's great. So. It's gotta' be about him..." He finishes lamely, mouth twisting into a frown.

Bill clasps Eddie on the shoulder. "Either way, you're a g- great guy, Eddie. You'll find someone. Like B- Bev said, you're a c- catch."

Eddie nods and mumbles, "Thanks, Bill."

Lunch is a little quiet after that.

 

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How could I be so STUPID? Richie screeches to himself, face buried in his pillow to muffled a frustrated scream. He left the name off to leave more space for actual content. He'd just assumed that, since he mentioned things like "amazing" and "overwhelming" it'd be obvious he meant Eddie, because that's what he thought of Eddie. For an entire ten hours, from the time he wrote the note to the time he'd dropped it into Eddie's locker, he'd forgotten other people had different feelings about Eddie than he did. I'm an idiot. Oh my GOD.

He sits up, grabs a postcard out of his drawer, and starts furiously writing a new note.

 

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Eddie,

I listened to your conversation at the lunch table yesterday. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to spy on you, I was just curious what you thought of the letter and I couldn't help myself.

I feel like a bit of an idiot now, though. So, to make myself clear, I'm intending for this note to reach Eddie Kaspbrak, locker number 253. He has brown hair, and always wears these adorable little fanny packs, and he has the most expressive, beautiful brown eyes you've ever seen, and he sits out during gym most of the time, even though whenever he tries he's fast enough to outrun the devil.

If that sounds like you, then I'll assume this note, and the previous, made it into the right hands.

-Someone

Eddie lightly traces the words with his finger, heart thudding in his chest. When he'd gotten the new note this morning, he'd shown it to all the other losers he could find before class, but it was all a bit of a blur. The only thing he really remembered was Stan, smiling and saying he was relieved he was wrong.

He just couldn't believe it. The note had been for him. Like, really for real, for honest, completely, 100%. No take-backs. He smiles softly as he runs his fingers over the edge. It's slightly frayed and yellowed with age. The front bore an old illustration of cacti against an orange and purple skyline. Tiny font printed in the top corner declared them Sentinels of the Desert. His brow furrowed, and he dug around in his backpack for a moment, pulling out the first postcard.

This card's image was a night scene. Gray clouds in the sky surrounded a bright, white moon that shone above a city street. The sky was a sort of washed denim blue, and the buildings were all brick with twinkling yellow lights in the windows. This one was called Main Street by Night, and said it was from Johnson City, Tennessee.

He looks at them side-by-side. The first one doesn't list a location, but he's fairly sure Tennessee isn't known for its cacti. It doesn't matter as much as who had written them, but something about the detail felt important, stuck out to him. Like a hangnail, not at the forefront of your mind, but catching on things whenever they brush past. Why were they from two separate places, neither anywhere near Derry?

It didn't take long for him to lose interest in this particular facet of the mystery, though. He was still hung up on the main point, which is that someone liked him, and she liked him enough to tell him, and even beyond that, enough to make sure she was understood. He flips the notes back over, looks at them again. His mind conjures up a fantasy, unbidden-- just an image, a concept. Broad shoulders, a square jaw, standing in front of his locker, slipping in the note. A flash of want goes through him, but he tamps down on it as quick as it came, gritting his teeth.

He finds the statement from the first note-- I'm sorry if that's selfish-- and presses his lips into a thin line. You're not the selfish one, he thinks, fingers tracing the words again, I am.

 

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Eddie shoves that thought in a box, then puts that box in his brain's basement and locks the door. These notes are a good thing, he thinks firmly, and I'm not gonna' let my own fucked up bullshit ruin that for me.

He imagines a pretty girl shyly slipping the note into his locker, and tells himself that the thought makes him just as happy.

 

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Either way, though, it's very exciting to have someone compliment him. Eddie doesn't get a lot of compliments, and he's not winning a popularity contest anytime soon. He's aware that he's loud, and hyperactive, and scrawny, and that his mommy is pretty off-putting, and that he still calls her 'mommy'(at her insistence, but knowing that doesn't untrain his brain), and that his voice gets high-pitched and screechy whenever he gets worked up, and--

Well. Anyway. He's aware of his flaws.

So he sort of expected dating to be something that he'd have to work at, or out of his reach entirely. Pining felt like the most he could expect, and he had perfected the art, so to be pined after was a welcome change, to say the least. Every morning's dizzying and exciting, opening his locker now regularly left him breathless. The reminder every morning that someone at the school cared was enough to make his world spin. The first few days actually had him worried he'd developed vertigo. 

 So, really, it's not all that hard to forget the parts he'd rather not think about and focus on the happy, fluttery feelings instead. He just opens his locker and thinks about how nice it is to be wanted.

 

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"Two weeks!" Eddie screeches, slamming his hands down on the lunch table.

Stan's eyebrow shoots up. "Hello to you too, Eddie." He says, looking amused over the tizzy that Eddie's worked himself into.

"It's been two weeks, and I have no clue who she is, it's driving me nuts!" He drums his fingers on the table anxiously as he sits down. "You guys have to help me figure it out." Richie blanches, but none of the losers seem to notice. Eddie's hard to ignore when he's like this.

Bill's nose crinkles. "Eddie, I don't w- wanna' talk about your l- love life, dude. I j- just wanna'  eat my lunch in p- peace." 

"And you think I don't? I also want a peaceful lunch, Bill, but I can't, because I'm plagued by this, this constant anxiety over this huge mystery that no one will help me solve!" He's doing that odd little chopping motion he does with his hand for emphasis.

Richie would find it adorable if he wasn't busy being nervous, as he was every time the subject of the person sending the letters came up.

"Oh yeah, you're so p- plagued," Bill says dryly, "getting told d- daily that a girl's m- madly in love with you. M- my heart weeps."

Eddie's face scrunches up in anger, but Ben quickly cuts in with, "I'll help you brainstorm if you want, Eddie."

He looks pleased. "Thank you, Ben. It's nice to know who my real friends are." He shoots Bill a Look. Bill rolls his eyes and mouths 'Drama queen.'

Eddie huffs, but lets it drop, in favor of leaning towards Ben. Beverly leans in as well, clearly interested in the conversation. For his part, Richie's starting to get a little nervous, so he awkwardly clears his throat.

"Maybe you shouldn't. You might scare her off or somethin', if she doesn't want you to know who she is."

"Shut up, Trashmouth." Eddie dismisses with a roll of his eyes. "What would you know about it?"

"Um. My long list of sexual escapades? You know, Bill's mom, Stan's mom, the entire PTA, also your mom's been callin' me up lately for a repeat sesh."

About halfway through his list he's met with a discordant chorus of "Beep beep, Richie"s from at least half the table, which he opens his arms to receive like it's applause, miming a bow. "Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week."

Ben, not one to be deterred, waits until things quiet down, then says "I don't think she'd be easily scared away. She sounds pretty invested. And I think anyone would understand Eddie's curiosity." He says calmly. Ben's a saint, but his response leaves Richie a little sullen.

"So, anyway!" Eddie says firmly, trying to get them back on track before the lunch bell rings. "She let it slip in one of her letters that she sees me in class, not just at school, so she's gotta' be someone I share classes with."

Richie barely holds in a groan. That had been a rookie mistake he'd made in one of his early notes, and here it was, biting him in the ass. Great. He decides to tune out the rest of their discussion, equal parts embarrassed, mortified, and anxious. But, at the end of the day, he wasn't quite sure what had him so scared. They'd all already decided it was a girl sending the letters. They'd never look at any of the boys in Eddie's classes, let alone him.

 

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The letters have become equal parts relief and burden, Richie muses as he stares at his ceiling. He's spread out on his bed, almost dozing, with his glasses on his nightstand. It makes his ceiling and its shadows look blurry and abstract, a helpful nonsense pattern for his eyes to trace while his mind works and his body relaxes. He's more tired than ever, staying up late to write them and getting up early to hide them in Eddie's locker.

There's the emotional burden as well, to be so close to telling Eddie how he feels, and yet have to keep up that wall.

The repeated references to him being a girl aren't helping, either. Not exactly the girl part, but the idea that it's so impossible that maybe it's a boy that likes Eddie. He didn't, and still doesn't, want anyone knowing it's a guy writing the letters, obviously. Hate crimes are a thing, for one, and he's certain Eddie would be crushed if he knew. Might even make him the target of ridicule.

But his friends are all losers. They're all on the outside looking in, and even they think it's a girl. That's how fucked up he is, even the fucked up loser kids wouldn't even consider something as crazy as a boy liking another boy. He expected it, and he doesn't want anyone to know the truth, but he still fucking hates hearing it constantly. The reminder isn't necessary, thank you very much, he already knows. Trust me, I fuckin' know.

As if any of that's gonna' stop me, though. The look on Eddie's face every day is too important for him to stop now, and he's sure his feelings would all spill over anyway. Like a hole in a dam, his emotional wall has sprung a leak, and if he just shoves a sock in it the whole thing'll collapse. He's addicted now. Couldn't stop, even if he wanted to, which he doesn't. He couldn't take that away from Eddie.

He lifts his head just to let it fall back down against the pillow.

He's hungry, but his mom was already down for the count on the couch when he got home, and he doesn't have the energy to make himself anything, so he just rolls over and lets himself drift.

Chapter Text

He wakes up the next morning in a panic.

He didn't write a note last night.

He didn't write a fucking note.

Richie nearly cries when he realizes, just thinking about how disappointed Eddie's going to be. In his mind's eye, Richie can see his crestfallen expression, see him pulling out every book in his locker looking for it, see him realizing there wasn't one coming that day. Can just see him being crushed.

Fuck.

 

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Eddie is more contained than he expected, but it's somehow so much worse. He does scour his locker, but when Richie asks him what's wrong, he brushes it off. Tries to look like he's fine. Says, oh, it's nothing, she must've forgotten this morning. But his eyes are wet, and he's got this look on his face like he should've expected this all along.

Richie wants to fucking die.

He has a note he'd scrawled that morning in a rush and it's burning a hole in his back pocket, but by the time he got to school there were already people milling around in the hallway, and he didn't have a chance to get it into Eddie's locker. He looked like a mess, too, hair unbrushed and clothes disheveled, stomach grumbling from lack of breakfast, but he was usually a mess so it wasn't that out of left field for him.

He doesn't know what to say, how to comfort his friend, especially without incriminating himself, and before he knows it Eddie is clapping him on the shoulder and rushing off to his first class. Before Richie can even call after him, the bell rings and he curses under his breath, trudging forward.

 

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Eddie can barely pay attention in his classes. It feels stupid to be this upset after just one missed note, especially when the disappointment drags through into the afternoon, but...

He'd gotten so used to them. And his anxiety keeps telling him, this is it, this is a good thing over, you did something wrong and now she's not interested anymore, or you didn't do enough and now she's bored, and you'll never get it back, and you'll never know who she was.

He slumps forward and leans his forehead against his desk, willing away tears. Goddammit, he thinks to himself bitterly, god fucking dammit.

When the bell rings, he doesn't get up. He knows he has to go back to his locker, knows there's a book in there he forgot to grab this morning because he was so upset, but he doesn't want to see his locker again today, or maybe ever. He considers investing in a giant box on wheels and just emptying his locker into it, carting that around to each class in order to avoid that giant metal asshole.

He needs the book now, though, and he's yet to actually get said wheelie box, so he resigns himself to his fate.

When he pulls the book out of his locker, something else falls out, too. His brow furrows as he leans down to pick it up.

It's a postcard, creased down the middle like it's been folded in half. He doesn't remember folding any of his postcards, or storing them in his locker. His heart flutters, and he starts to feel hope grow in his chest. Was this new? Had he somehow missed it before? The handwriting on the back is sloppy and rushed, and some of the ink is smudged. Simple typos are littered throughout, words unevenly spaced, and some of the text is crossed out, like she'd gone back and forth on what to say or how to say it.

 

I'm so sorry. I fell asleep last night before I had a chance to write your note. I guess all the latenights writing caght up with me. I freakd out when I woke up this morning, that's why this isso rushed. Please don't be mad or upset, or blame yourself. You didn't do anythng, its all my fault.

I promise to write assoon as I get home from now on.

With a different pen, she added,

 

Lied. Said bathroom break, used hall pass to get to locker. Hope you see this today. Sorry again.

-Someone

Followed by a little frowny face.

Eddie has to sit on the floor for a moment. His face is bright red as he clutches the note to his chest. She writes these every night? Somewhere along the way, he'd just assumed that she wrote them in batches for some reason. They never really mentioned anything he'd done recently, more often they were just pointing out a feature or physical characteristic she liked, or simply stating "Hello, have a lovely morning, I still think about you."

The fact that she sits down every night to pen them makes his heart do something funny in his chest.

And she lied in order to sneak out and slip him the note, just to reassure him, like she knew it'd make him anxious. Like she cared more about making him feel better than she did about getting caught.

Something sticks out to him about it, though. The way she mentioned staying up late writing. Was she not only writing these nightly, but staying up late in order to do it? Waking up tired every morning, just to write these letters? To him? He chews on the inside of his cheek, picturing this mystery person writing late into the night, every night, just to make him smile in the morning. He grips the note even tighter.

He thinks he might be a little in love.

 

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When Richie goes to deposit his letter the next morning, he finds an envelope taped to the outside of Eddie's locker.

Addressed to "someone".

His face goes bright red. He hadn't considered this possibility. It throws him for a loop, and he stares at it for a stupidly long time, until he hears the shuffle of approaching footsteps and has to scramble to shove his own note in and snatch the envelope off the locker before someone sees him. Then he high-tails it to the bathroom in order to read the note in peace. He opens it with shaky hands, mouth suddenly dry and palms uncomfortably sweaty.

He wipes his hands on his pants, then begins to read.

 

Dear Someone,

I hope you get this, and not some random jerk at our school. I had a few things I wanted to tell you, though, and I don't know how else I'd do that.

First of all, I noticed you said you stay up late to write these letters. Your grades are going to suffer if you keep it up, and your health, too. A regular sleep cycle is more important than you'd think, you won't be able to fight off colds or the flu or infections nearly as well.

Richie has to take a break to laugh. Eddie was lecturing him about staying up late and his health. It was so very Eddie of him that it made Richie tear up a little with joy.

 

I don't want you to get sick or lose sleep because of me. So make sure not to stay up too late anymore, okay?

"Oh," Richie says softly, cheeks turning red.

 

I don't want you to feel obligated to write daily, either, if it's causing you trouble. If you still wanted to write, you could give me letters twice a week instead. Then you can write on the weekends, so it doesn't effect your schoolwork.

I hope it doesn't sound entitled that I'm assuming you still want to send me letters.

Also, I just wanted to say--

The next few words are scribbled out, like he was struggling to word it properly.

 

I don't know how to say this, but thank you. Thank you for the notes, and for your feelings. They mean more than you can imagine. I've never been so happy to come to school in my life.

I was also hoping you'd tell me who you are. You don't have to, but I'm so curious it's driving me crazy. Any detail at all would be [it's roughly crossed out here] I'd love to know anything. Even a first name, or what class we share, anything. It feels a little self centered to think this when all our interactions have been you complimenting me, but I can tell from the way you write that you're smart, and you're funny, and I want to get to know you, actually talk to you. I think... I think I'm falling for you, too.

I'm going to put this letter in the envelope and seal it now, before I can get embarrassed and scribble that part out.

Whether you keep sending notes or not, just... Thank you for everything.

-Eddie

P.S. By the way, I'm not mad that your note was late yesterday, just that you aren't taking care of yourself.

Richie clutches the letter to his chest and chokes out a sob, leaning against the wall for support.

Eddie loved him back.

Eddie loved him, and he could never say a single word about it.

He's overwhelmed by joy and grief in equal measure, both feelings washing over him in waves. The sobs come a little harder now, and he slides down the wall to sit in a ball on the floor, legs pulled up to his chest and face pressed into his knees, trying his best to keep himself quiet.

Eddie loved him back, just like he always dreamed, but he thinks Richie's a fucking girl, and he can never tell him. Richie's so close to everything he ever wanted, and he still can't have it.

Eddie's in love with a girl named Someone, and Richie is fucking heartbroken

 

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By the time Richie has finished crying, he's missed his first class and his face is hot and sticky and splotchy red.

Despite the breakdown it had caused, Eddie's confession is something precious to him, and it had gotten wrinkled while he was crying, so Richie tenderly smooths it out, hands shaking. He puts it back in its envelope and inserts the bundle between the pages of his science textbook to keep it safe and smooth it out.

Like a pressed flower, his mind supplies helpfully, and he can't help the soft, shaky smile that inspires. Oh, Eds. If only... His thoughts trail off, so many 'if only's to chose from that it flounders to pick just one. If only one of us was a girl, if only you knew it was me, if only you liked me for me, if only I'd never written these stupid letters, if only, if only. His fingers stroke the spine of the textbook lovingly.

He squeezes his eyes shut and presses his forehead against the cover. Thank you for this. Despite the turmoil it had caused, he's calmed down a bit now. The letter, now, feels like a gift from the universe. A sad one, one to remind him of his place, but a consolation prize is better than no prize at all. It was the closest he would ever come to Eddie, and it hurts to know that, but it's also nice to have. He could picture himself at eighty, pulling an old science textbook out of a cabinet, just to run his fingers over the words again and relive the feeling of Eddie's affection.

Maybe that was melodramatic, picturing himself alone forever and hung up on some high school crush, but somewhere deep he knew that there wasn't really a coming back from Eddie.

 

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I got your letter. You really caught me off guard with that. I don't think I would've thought to do that, if I were in your shoes. You're clever. I already knew that, but sometimes you do something and it's like I'm learning an old detail all over again. Brings it into sharp relief.

I don't think I could stop writing daily, even if I wanted to, but I might take your advice. I'm a little flabbergasted you even care, but-- well. Thank you.

I wish I could tell you who I am, but you wouldn't... you'd hate me, honestly. If you knew who I was, any possible feelings would die. I'm not someone you want, I'm just someone who wants you, and that's alright. So don't dig too hard, okay?

Richie's pen pauses above the paper, teeth worrying at his lower lip. It's always been hard for him to say no to Eddie. It's simple enough when it's something stupid like "get off me" or "fuck off" or "it's my turn on the recliner," because those are all just bickering. Back and forth. But if Eddie sits him down, really asks and means it? Richie just can't say no.

This feels a lot like that.

Before he has a chance to think about how stupid, how massively fucking stupid he's being, he scrawls out one final line.

 

But, if it'll help you sleep at night, I can tell you my hair is brown.

-Someone

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"She's a brunette!" Eddie screeches, practically slamming into Richie's back. Richie was the first one to make it to the lunch table today, and so he was alone when Eddie tore through the cafeteria like a bat out of hell to share his newfound information. Now he's waving the postcard in Richie's face, excitedly pointing to the brown hair line at the end. Hello again. Long time no see, it's been... what, four whole hours? Four and a half? He thinks wryly.

"Chill out, Eds, I can barely understand you."

"Don't call me that." He says automatically, but he sits down next to Richie anyway, leg bumping his. "Someone, the girl, the mystery postcard girl. She told me, she has brown hair! Brown!" He says this emphatically, still waving the card around with excitement. "Do you think it's, like, super dark brown, or like sandy-blonde brown, or like--"

"Somewhere in between?" Richie supplies unhelpfully. Warning bells are going off in his head, but he's having trouble keeping the smile off his face. Eddie's just so excited, he looks like he could vibrate straight through the table if he wanted to.

Eddie quickly nods, like he doesn't even notice the teasing tone in Richie's voice. "Oh man, which girls in my classes are brunette? Do you know? I think I still have the list Ben and I made, somewhere." He starts digging around in his backpack, looking for the paper in question.

"Probably more than are blonde or redheads." That was why Richie'd said his hair color. It felt the safest, brown hair being overwhelmingly common. Something like 'I'm tall' or 'I have glasses' felt too risky. "Even you have brown hair."

He looks crestfallen. "Yeah, that's true... Doesn't really narrow anything down all that much. Still, though. It's something, you know?" There's still hope shining in his eyes, and Richie's heart skips a beat.

"You really like this person, don't you?" Richie's voice is uncharacteristically soft.

Eddie looks a little surprised, at the tone and the question, but then he goes right back to smiling. "Well, yeah. Duh. She's so cool and mysterious and nice and..." he blushes a little, rubs the back of his neck. His voice goes a little softer, too, when he says "And she likes me so much, it's the least I can do, you know? Return the favor." His tone is light, joking, but the gentle way he says it betrays how deep the feelings run.

"I'm really, really happy for you, Eds." Richie's voice is thick with emotion as he wraps an arm around Eddie's shoulders, giving them a squeeze.

He smiles, leaning into Richie's hold. "Thanks." He reaches out to pat Richie on the knee companionably, then gives it a final squeeze and nudges him away, grinning. "Now stop acting all soft, Trashmouth, it's weirdin' me out. And I already told you, don't call me 'Eds'."

 

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When the rest of the lunch table gets there, Eddie relays the new information with the same enthusiasm as before. He and Ben start going through the list, crossing off everyone they know to be blonde and circling everyone they know to be brunette, question marks next to the ones they don't remember. Ben does look over at the conversation Stan, Bill, and Bev are having with something akin to longing, but he's too nice to say no to Eddie. Richie feels for him and his obvious crush on Beverly.

He catches Ben's eye. Nods over at the aforementioned conversation with eyebrows raised, and Ben just smiles ruefully and shrugs, turning back to Eddie. No need to try, then. He doesn't have the energy to step in and help the guy, anyway. Ben was easy to fall in-step with, and these non-verbal conversations were a nice reminder of that. If anyone would understand him-- or at least try to understand, and maybe not treat him like shit over it-- Richie thinks it'd probably be Ben.

He shakes the thought out of his head and goes back to his food.

 

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"She also said that I'd hate her, if I knew who she was."

That catches Richie's attention, and he starts listening to Eddie and Ben's conversation again.

Eddie's brow is furrowed as he holds the card in front of him. "I don't get why she'd say that."

Ben looks concerned, mouth turning down at the corners. "Maybe we shouldn't try to figure out who she is, then. Maybe Richie was right. Sounds like she really doesn't want you to know."

"I can't do that!" Eddie looks distressed. "I can't just stop thinking about it, I have to know."

This turn in the conversation seems to have gotten the attention of the rest of the table as well. "M- maybe she has a r- reputation?" Bill supplies. "Or r- rumors about her."

"Or she's unpopular, thinks you'd be insulted by a band geek kid pursuing you." Stan interjects.

"That makes sense!" Eddie grabs the list out of an uncomfortable looking Ben's hands. "Okay, so, we should figure out who on this list fits. Only brunettes who share a class with me and are unpopular or had rumors spread about them." He pulls out a pencil, brow furrowed.

"I don't remember what it was, but I remember Mallory Harris had a rumor going around about her for a little while." Stan says thoughtfully, as if he's trying to remember the details. Eddie nods and circles her name a few times.

Bev shifts uncomfortably, frowning. "Hey, is it really the best idea to dredge up old rumors like this? I mean, if that is how you end up identify her... wouldn't that be kind of... Hurtful?"

Eddie's pencil falters. "Well. I... I mean, I guess, yeah, but... I don't have anything else to go off of, so..."

The lunch bell rings and Bev ruffles his hair. "Saved by the bell, Kaspbrak. Think about it, though." Eddie looks troubled by Beverly's words as they split, and Richie doesn't like sad Eddie, but he'd be lying if he said it wasn't a relief to know that Bev had managed to get Eddie off the investigative track for a day or two.

 

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The relief is short-lived, though, when a girl approaches Eddie the next day and confesses that she wrote the letters.

Chapter Text

See, the thing is, while no one at Derry High really cares all that much about The Life And Times Of Eddie Kaspbrak(tm), they're also gossip-hungry sharks who can smell a scoop from a mile away.

Not a lot happens in Derry, so you get your kicks where you can, and while no one cared about Eddie, the letters(and why they were being sent to a loser) had become a minor mystery with the rest of the population at the school. Even if they didn't know Eddie's name, and even if they didn't actively talk about it, most any student if asked could recite that a total loser was, like, getting love letters for some reason, and no one knows from who.

So it's not that shocking someone knew enough to try to impersonate Ms. Letter Sender.

It is pretty shocking that anyone would actually bother, though.

 

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When Tiffany Hall had tapped Eddie on the shoulder and "confessed", Richie had been barely three feet away. At first he'd just been dumbfounded. He couldn't process what he was seeing. Eddie was crying, and smiling, and hugging her tight, absolutely overjoyed. He dragged her over to Richie just so he could grab Richie by the shoulders and screech "Tiffany fucking Hall!" with delight. And Richie was just standing with his mouth open.

Eddie was still talking, blabbering about how he couldn't believe it, and how he was so happy she told him, but it all became white noise. There was a ringing in Richie's ears as his mouth flopped open and closed like a fish, and Tiffany...

She was smirking like the cat that caught the canary.

 

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Richie fucking hates her.

He hates her mousy brown hair, and the way she curls Eddie's hair around her finger whenever she wants to get her way because she KNOWS it'll get him all flustered, and he hates that she's just allowed to do that and no one calls her nasty words like 'fag', and her stupid, flouncy walk, and the way she lied to get into Eddie's heart, and the way Eddie looks at her like she hung the fucking moon. He hates her. So much it's unreal.

He hates her and he wants to be her so badly it makes him nauseous.

 

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"Hey, guys, I want you to meet someone, okay? And not just any 'someone', THE Someone!" Eddie says excitedly, bouncing from one foot to the other as he approaches the lunch table. "Guys, this is Tiffany!" He waves in her direction, and she smiles awkwardly, holding a lunch tray.

"Hey guys." Her voice is thin and nasal, and she sounds a bit unenthusiastic about being introduced to the table.

Eddie doesn't seem to notice though, and goes on to name everyone at the table for her. For their part, they all wave and smile and say 'hi' when their name is called, until he gets to Richie. "That's Richie," he says, "but we all call him Trashmouth. Don't let him scare you off, alright?"

She giggles a little, says "I'll try my best," and Eddie looks so in love it's unreal.

Richie is torn between total despair and utter rage.

Lunch is awkward as they try their best to integrate a new member into their group. It's fine when it's another loser, but she's somewhere between normal school kid and semi-popular, and she seems tense whenever she glances back over at her old lunch table. Like she's embarrassed to be seen with them.

Or you're projecting, Richie tells himself, and she's awkward because the situation is awkward. Maybe she even liked him for real, and thought this was a good way to tell him. Maybe they'll be happy.

His chest aches, so he repeats that part a few times. They're happy. Eddie is so happy.

He watches Eddie place his chin in his hand, just to watch her talk. Enraptured by her. Eddie's eyes track her fingers as they gracefully tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and Richie thinks of all the times he's shoved his own hair out of his eyes. The way Eddie looks away, like he's irritated, like it's frustrating to see Richie struggle with something he should've cut long ago.

Eddie's staying out of her personal bubble for now, but Richie can see by the way his hands twitch towards her that he's thinking about it. That he doesn't know yet what's too far and what isn't, but the desire to hold her hand is broadcast clear as day.

He thinks about the last time he tried to hold Eddie's hand. Their sweaty palms sliding against each other on a hot summer night, and Eddie screeching about germs, and how nasty Richie's hand was. Thinks about how it was instantly yanked away. Eddie's red face, flushed from the muggy night air, scrunched up in anger and refusing to look at him.

Eddie turned toward her like a flower towards the sun.

How could he stay mad? How could he even think of proving her to be fake?

Eddie's so fucking happy.

Richie's silent for the rest of lunch, but he's so wrapped up in his thoughts he doesn't notice Bev's gotten quiet too.

 

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He keeps writing notes. He doesn't have it in him to stop, and he needs the outlet more than ever. He doesn't deliver any of them, just tucks them in the back of his drawer.

He tells Eddie everything in these. They range from, "She's a fake, and a liar, and I hate her, and I don't have the heart to take her away from you," to "She called your fanny pack ugly and out of style, how have you not REALIZED yet?"

From "You said you were falling for me. Haven't you noticed that we're nothing alike? haven't you noticed?",

to "I still think about you daily,"

to "I still watch you in class,"

to "Someone still loves you."

He places Eddie's letter in the back of the drawer, along with the stack of unsent notes and blank postcards and tries not to think about how much it hurts.

 

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Lately, it's been really, really hard to get Eddie away from 'Tiff', as she likes to be called.

So when Eddie called him up on a Saturday and asked if he wanted to go to the arcade, Richie practically yanked the phone cord out of the handset in his enthusiasm.

When Eddie had gone on to glumly explain that Tiff and him had been scheduled for a lunch date and she had to cancel on him last minute, Richie had been ready to rip the phone cord out intentionally to use as a rope to throttle her with.

Neither had happened, though, and here he was, practically bouncing with joy next to Eddie. "Chill the fuck out, dude." He said, looking annoyed.

"Nope," Richie said, popping the 'p', "I'm too excited. I'm totally gonna' kick your ass at Street Fighter, and the whole arcade's gonna' cheer." He grins, bumping into Eddie's shoulder. "You did it, they'll say, that's your millionth Street Fighter win! You're a legend! Someone call Guinness! And then they'll put my picture up right on that wall, right over there."

"Oh wow, how impressive. A two-buck picture, after the thousands of dollars you must've spent here, just to watch colors bounce around a screen while your muscles atrophy. What a stellar fucking investment." He sniffs, jutting his chin out in challenge. "Also, you fucking wish, Tozier. I'm gonna' whoop your ass."

 

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The gameplay gets dirty very, very fast. It starts with a completely accidental hip check when Richie gets too excited about a combo, and from there it devolves to a bout just as much about physical skill as it is about gameplay abilities. They're both grunting and sweating and red-faced as they cuss each other out, snaking vicious jabs into each others sides and kicking out the backs of their opponents knees, just to catch them off guard and get in an extra virtual smack.

They're neck and neck, each with a match and a round under their virtual belt and the final round's timer ticking closer and closer to the finish, when the owner comes over and tells them to stop rough-housing, and to cut back on the cussing.

It distracts Richie just long enough for Eddie to pull out one final combo and win this match, and overall best two out of three. Eddie crows with joy at his victory, and Richie grits his teeth, shouts "Fuck!" and then gives the machine a solid kick for good measure.

"Hey! You wanna' get banned again, huh, kid?" He says sternly, and Richie groans and shakes his head. "Then knock it the fuck off." He stalks away, looking agitated, and Richie makes a face at his retreating back.

Eddie just smirks, leaning against the arcade cabinet. "What was that, Rich? One millionth win, huh?" He says mockingly.

"Shut the fuck up, you just got lucky." He gives Eddie another little shove.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night, douchebag. C'mon, lets get outta' here."

"Oh? Scared that your one win was a fluke? Don't wanna' face me again?" Richie grins and holds up another token.

"It was two wins, and I'm just tired of wasting away in here. It smells like BO, do they ever clean this place?"

"It's the aroma of victory, Eddie Spaghetti," He swings his arm around Eddie's neck as he cuts in with a 'not my name' that swiftly gets ignored, "of blood, sweat, and tears. The scent of champions. You just wouldn't understand." He pauses for effect, gives a quick sniff, then amends, "and yes, also a lack of deodorant. But who has time for that when you could be winning?"

Eddie groans in disgust. "You're the worst. Now can we get out of here already? I'm hot and tired. I wanna' go get ice cream. C'mon, my treat." He jerks his head towards the door and starts walking.

Richie's brow furrows as he scrambles to follow after him. "Your treat?"

"Yeah. I had some spare money for lunch with Tiff, and that didn't happen, so. Yanno'. Got some cash burning a hole in my pocket. Why not?" He shrugs, pulling his jacket a little closer as they step outside. His cheeks are pink from exertion and, presumably, the cold fall air. The cold snap that warned of winter's fast approach had just happened a few days ago. He looks cute, all bundled up.

Richie swallows reflexively. "Yeah, sure. Uh... Thanks."

Eddie shrugs. "Don't mention it."

They walk to the ice cream place in silence.

Eddie orders a plain vanilla cone, and Richie gets a cup of their most recent flavor monstrosity. Sort of like moose tracks, but studded with chunks of pretzel. Eddie looks suitably disgusted. "Pretzel? But... Wouldn't that get soggy?" He asks, nose wrinkled in disgust.

Richie shakes his head and grins, says "Not if you eat it fast enough." Eddie looks horrified.

They both manage to finish, even while kicking each other under the table to try and get the other to spill his treat, and by the time they're done they're both smiling. Richie can feel a bruise forming on his shin, and his entire right arm feels electric from where it had been pressed up against Eddie at the arcade cabinet.

It's pure bliss.

When they step back outside, Eddie shivers harder than before and zips his jacket all the way up.

"Guess ice cream wasn't the best idea, huh?" Richie says teasingly.

"Fuck off." Eddie mumbles, shoving his hands in his pockets. After walking in silence for a minute or two, listening to Eddie shiver, Richie unzips his jacket and drops it over Eddie's shoulders. Eddie makes a shocked noise, looking up at him in confusion. "Dude, what-- I'm fine, I already have a jacket."

Richie just shrugs. "Yeah, but you still looked cold. And I'm fine, so..." Eddie tries to hand it back, insisting that he doesn't need it, but Richie just pushes it away. "Seriously, I'm fine. Just give it back on Monday, alright? Think of it as returning the favor, for the ice cream." He grins and Eddie's cheeks turn a little bit pinker.

"A- a jacket you already owned is hardly the same as paying for--" Eddie starts, and Richie cuts him off with a groan and an eye roll.

"Then paying at the arcade was making it even, and this is just..." He rolls his shoulders in a shrug. "Not being a sore loser." His smile's turned a little softer, and his voice has a gentle sort of quality to it when he says, "Just take the damn jacket, Eds."

He reluctantly puts his arms into the sleeves and zips up the jacket, mumbling another 'not my name', and Richie just laughs, ruffles his hair. "There ya' go. Better, right?" Eddie nods hesitantly, cheeks getting redder by the second.

For a moment, as they walk, they both have the same thought.

This is really nice.

 

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Of course, then they both get to their respective homes and remember, oh, yeah, Tiffany. But it was nice while it lasted, anyway, and Richie doesn't think he's ever going to love a bruise as much as he loves this one.

He never wants it to fade.

Chapter Text

Eddie's been coming to the loser's lunch table less and less.

It's a curse and a blessing.

He's basically always eating lunch with Tiff, so when he wasn't around, the losers mourned the loss of him, but when he was, Tiff was there too, making their lunch hour hell.

Well. None of the other losers would describe it as 'hell', so much as 'vaguely awkward and full of gossip', but Richie and Bev's eyes would meet from across the table whenever she was there. A shared look of 'oh god, this again'.

It was nice, having someone to commiserate with.

 

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"Do you still have the letter?"

Tiffany gives him an odd look, brows furrowed in confusion. Eddie's not quite sure why he asked. The date is already awkward enough, milkshakes melting in front of them as they sit in silence. She taps her fingers on the tabletop. "What letter?" She asks, annoyed.

Eddie's stomach drops, and he looks down at his lap to avoid her gaze. "I... The letter I left for you? I taped it to my locker, addressed to 'someone'...? You mentioned it in your postcards n' everything."

"Oh. That letter." She says dismissively, waving her hand. "Yeah, uh. Somewhere. I didn't wanna' lose it, so I crammed it between some books or something. Anyway, have you heard that Mallory Harris pulled the same shit she did last year? As if we all would've forgotten. Like, hello, why even keep trying, we all know your dad's poor, why even bother? Idiot."

Something uneasy settles in Eddie's stomach. Tiff's chatter about the recent gossip fades into the background as he tries to ignore her sudden topic change. She just-- crammed it? Between some books? It didn't feel right, but he pushes that thought away, too. Tries to focus on his milkshake. He doesn't want to look too hard at this, too scared of it all falling apart.

 

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Richie stares at the clouds. He's aware that halfway across town Eddie and 'Tiff' are sharing milkshakes, and probably laughing and playing footsie under the table, and she probably played with his hair to get him to spend more on some stupid, fancy milkshake for her, and Richie hated it. He'd agreed to hang out with Bev as a distraction, but now he was just watching the sky, stewing in his own irritation.

He also can't stop thinking about how he and Bev are like a macabre parody of Eddie and Tiffany right now, but he pushes that thought away, because Bev was beautiful and amazing and one of his best friends, and comparing her to Tiffany felt like an insult. The parallel was staring him in the face, though, and it was hard to keep his thoughts from rounding back to that fact, whenever it wasn't busy thinking about Eddie having fun with an imposter.

It doesn't escape him that, in a way, he'd had a similar ice cream date with Eddie not too long ago, but that just hurts even more. That thought gets double ignored.

"I don't think she's Someone." Bev confides in hushed tones, breaking the silence that had fallen over the two of them. She shifts uncomfortably on the grass, like she doesn't want to be saying it.

Richie pushes up onto his elbows, interest piqued. "Why not?"

"Because she's a nasty bitch, that's why." Beverly shoots back. "Did you hear the way she was talking to Eddie at lunch the other day? She kept cutting him off, ignoring him. She told him to stop being so annoying when he brought out his hand sanitizer, which--"

"Trust me, I fuckin' heard." Richie bites out bitterly, laying back down to stare at the clouds, anger roiling in the pit of his stomach.

"Someone-- the one from the notes, the real one-- said she thought it was adorable, and here Tiffany is, calling it weird that he uses a fanny pack and telling him the smell was annoying? No way. Absolutely no way." She shifts, picks at the grass. "And... No one's mentioned it yet, but... I mean, she's part of Greta Bowie's clique."

This has Richie shooting straight up into a sitting position. "Greta Bowie? That girl who dumped fucking trashwater on you? I knew I fuckin' recognized her from somewhere! That bitch." He says through clenched teeth, indignant. After stewing in his rage for a moment, a thought occurs to him, and he turns to Bev. "Wait, why didn't you say anything sooner?"

"Because he's so happy." Bev says softly, shrugging. "I couldn't take that away from him."

Richie nods. He understands that feeling far too well.

"Besides," she adds, "what would I say? She definitely used to run with Greta, but I have no clue if she has recently. I don't exactly keep tabs on her. She could've had a change of heart or something." She sounds doubtful, but she's not wrong, either. It's technically possible. "Maybe Greta dumped her as a lackey and she realized what she'd been doing was fucked up."

Richie makes a sound like he doesn't buy it, but he doesn't push the topic.

After a moment, he asks Bev "What do we do?"

She just shrugs, leans on his shoulder. "I don't know." She admits. "I guess all we really can do is wait and see."

Richie hates it, but... She's right. Eddie'd just get angry and defensive if they pointed out she used to run with Greta. He'd just insist she'd changed, and it wouldn't do anything other than get him mad and possibly not talking to them for a few days. They can't know her motives until she either fucks Eddie over, or... well... the alternative. Continues to date him normally, I guess.

He doesn't know which prospect he hates more, but he pretends its the former. He'd rather be depressed and full of longing than have a heartbroken Eddie on his hands.

 

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The day after Bev and Richie's heart-to-heart, and Eddie's milkshake lunch date, the rest of the losers start to reach the end of their rope with Tiff.

The two of them sit down at the lunch table, and it's instantly obvious something is wrong. Eddie's a little quieter, a little more subdued, and he looks... different. Not in any quantifiable way, he's wearing all his usual clothes and the same haircut as always, but something about the air around him. It's very... Contained. Like he's watching himself very closely.

Neither of them say much, until Ben is kind enough to try and include her in the conversation. She immediately starts going off on some tirade about her annoying, gossipy friends, but she's also gossiping about them right back, so she's hardly got the moral high ground.

"S- sounds like th- they're not the b- best friends. M- maybe you sh- should," Bill starts, in the kindest tone he can muster, while also being a little put-out that the conversation had been monopolized by her.

"Muh- muh- muh- MAYBE, you sha- sha- sha- should shut the fuck UP 'til you learn how to speak! What would you know about them anyway?" She bites back, lip curled in a sneer.

There's a flurry of sound as the losers start trying to tell her off all at once, and even Eddie cuts in with an offended 'hey!', but it's Stan that gets everyone's attention by slamming his palm down on the table. His eyes are burning with fury, and his voice is dripping with pure poison. "You don't get to do that."

"And why the hell not? I hear you guys make fun of his stutter, too!" She whines, put out.

"Because we've earned the right!" Richie jumps in.

Stan nods, meeting her gaze with a cold glare. "And Bill knows that when we do it, we don't mean it." His tone is final; it says 'you've fucked up, now back. down.' and it brooks no argument.

She grumbles, slumping back in her seat. Eddie looks like he wants to curl up and die.

Stan reaches over and places a hand on Bill's shoulder. "You alright, Bill?"

Bill shrugs, smiles. "I'm fine, I've heard w- way w- worse. You guys are t- too protective."

He still looks a little shaken up, though, clearly not expecting to get this treatment when surrounded by friends. Richie wants to cheer him up, so he shouts "How could we not be protective? You're the group's de facto leader!"

Bill's brow furrows, but he seems oddly pleased at the title. "What? N- no I'm not. We're j- just a group of-f f- friends, we don't have a l- leader."

"Of course we do!" Richie insists, grinning. "You're our leader, Billy boy, and Stan the man's the strategist, and I, of course," he pauses for a moment to flex his arm, "am the heart throb." He's met by a chorus of 'boo's and Bev throws some of her french fries at him.

"The group heart throb is Mike and you know it!" She says, grinning. Bill's grinning too. Thank god, Richie thinks.

"Who's Mike?" In his effort to lighten the tension and get Bill smiling again, Richie'd forgotten about Tiffany. She looks confused, frowning at Eddie.

"Oh, you haven't had a chance to meet him yet, because he doesn't go to public school. He's homeschooled. Mike Hanlon?" Eddie supplies.

It's the first full sentence he's said all lunch. And it gets the rest of the losers looking at each other, exchanging glances. They all seem to have the same reaction, which is, What the fuck? It's been a couple weeks. How has she not met Mike yet? It's uncomfortable.

When the lunch bell rings and they split off, Richie overhears Eddie pull Bill aside. "I'm so sorry, I know she crossed a line, I just--" Eddie looks really, really upset.

Bill just smiles, puts up a hand to stop him. "It's c- cool, dude. Everyone goes t- too far sometimes. If I d- didn't get that, I c- couldn't be f- friends with Richie, c- could I?" Richie can see the tightness around his eyes, though. He's not mad at Eddie, but Tiffany had some apologizing to do if she wanted back in his good graces, and it seemed like everyone agreed, there was no way in hell she would ever, ever do that.

So things were gonna' be tense for a little while.

A small, spiteful voice in the back of Richie's head goes 'good.'

 

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"Can I ask you a question?" Eddie asks, tongue poking out to nervously swipe at his lower lip.

"You just did." Tiffany's putting on makeup as she says this, so she fixes him with a glare through the mirror, her reflection pinning Eddie on the spot. He could imagine any of his friends saying the same, but it was a joke when they said it. Somehow it didn't feel like a joke coming from Tiffany. "Whatever, go ahead."

"I just... It's been killing me, I've gotta' know... Why now?" He rubs his palms against his jeans nervously. "Like, in your letters, you'd just said that I could never know who you are, or I'd hate you. And then you came and told me the next day, and I'm just... I've been dying to know. What changed? What made you change your mind?"

She looks annoyed, as she always does when the letters are brought up, and rolls her eyes. "I don't know, Eddie." She huffs, turning back to stare at her own reflection as she finishes applying eyeliner. "I guess I just realized I was being stupid." She sounds angry. She's been doing that a lot, recently. She gets annoyed over less, and quicker than ever. It had only been a little under a month, and it seemed like she was getting fed up with him already.

Eddie looks down at his shoes, smiles weakly. "Right, right, I guess I understand that. Didn't mean to bother you or anything." She makes a disgruntled noise, and Eddie mentally berates himself. It felt like he was walking a razor edge, like any second he could fall off and fuck everything up, lose something wonderful he thought he'd never have. He swallows thickly, and apologizes again, and she sighs.

"It's fine. Let's just get going, alright?" She stands and turns to him, smiles. "So, how do I look?" Despite the tense conversation, there was something domestic and intimate about watching someone apply their makeup, and she was very good with a brush, so Eddie isn't lying when he smiles back and tells her 'beautiful'. She beams. "Aw, thanks, babe!" She pantomimes a kiss on his cheek to avoid smudging her lipstick, and he follows after her like a lost puppy.

 

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Apparently, today was a good day at lunch.

They hadn't sat at the loser's lunch table(that hadn't happened since the Stutter Incident), but they'd sat near enough that Richie could see them talking and laughing and smiling. Mostly it'd been her talking, but Eddie actually looked happy. Smiling at her as she talked, and tied her hair up to keep it out of her food, and at one point she even pressed herself against his side, just to giggle and watch him blush.

Richie stared at his ceiling that night, simmering in rage.

He got out a pen and a postcard, but just as he was about to start writing, all his rage just... flowed out of him. He didn't want to be angry at Eddie, and he didn't want to see him hurting. It felt like there was enough of that already, so instead of a diatribe, he just wrote about Eddie's hands.

I like your palms, and the way you grasp a joystick, and how when you let me touch them, your hands are so, so gentle. Just a little bit of hair on the knuckles, downy soft.

And when you jab me in the side, it's as vicious as a snake bite.

Your hands could do anything. You could do anything.

He can feel tears welling up as he scrawls, so why have you let her trick you?

 

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Richie picks up a rock and skips it across the water. It only skips once before sinking below the surface, and he watches as Mike's sails past, skimming along twice, three, four times before joining his at the bottom of the lake. He's been pretty sullen recently, but getting some fresh air with a few friends, and getting Eddie off his mind, has been a nice change of pace. Not a lot of chit-chat, just fuckin' around in the quarry. The fresh air and the uncomplicated friendship were nice.

He looks over and notices Stan is staring at the surface of the water with an out-of-place gravitas, so Richie gently bumps his shoulder. "What's up, dude?"

"I read the paper the other day."

Richie laughs. "Of course you did, Stan the man. I bet you were wearing a button down while you did it. Discussed the stock market with your old man over black coffee. You geezer."

"Ha fucking ha, Richie. You're a goddamn laugh riot. How will I ever recover." Stan says all of this completely deadpan, a little condescending frown on his lips. He doesn't actually follow it up with any further insults, though, and his face gets contemplative, so everyone waits for him to say whatever it is he wanted to mention by bringing up the paper.

"There was an article," he begins, a little more quietly than before, "about a guy who got beat half to death and thrown in the river. He didn't make it."

"Jesus." Richie responds, brow furrowing. "That's a fucking downer."

Mike nods slowly. "Yeah, I think I saw that story. Some people saw him kiss another guy at the carnival, right?"

Richie's blood runs cold. He laughs nervously. "Well, what else is Derry good for, if not a good, old fashioned fag drag, yeah? I mean, what else did they expect?" He kind of expects a similar response from the group, but instead he's met by three sets of eyes that all seem to be trying to communicate 'not cool, Richie.'

"What? I'm right, aren't I? I mean... You guys don't... Sympathize with fags or nothin', right? I mean. I just-- don't you think they're weird?" He can feel the weight of their gaze as he digs deeper and deeper into his own proverbial grave. They have to think fags are weird, because... Because Richie'd never considered that they didn't, before. Because they had to. Everyone did. So surely, they...?

Ben's the first to speak up. "They're just people, Richie."

"Yeah, like, what the fuck, dude. Losers have to stick together." Stan supplies, mouth twisted into a disappointed frown.

Richie suddenly feels very small, and very confused. He twists his hands in his shirt nervously, something like hope bubbling up in his chest. "Really?

"Yeah, man, what do any of us gain from hatin' gays?" Mike says, cocking his head to the side. "It's not like they're the ones who tried to run me out of town for bein' black. Seems like they've got it as bad as any of us."

"I didn't really expect this coming from you." Ben says, frowning.

"Yeah, would you just hate Bill suddenly if you learned he was queer?" Stan says, eyes narrowed. "You'd abandon your friend, just like that?"

"No! I'd never abandon Bill, or any of you guys." Anxiety and guilt flood through him. "I mean... I don't, uh." He looks down, chews nervously on the inside of his cheek, then confides, "I mean, I don't... hate them, or anything. I guess I just... expected you guys to? And I was a little scared that if I didn't-- I just didn't want you to look at me like..." He shrugs weakly.

"You didn't want us to think less of you." Ben supplies. He looks a little more understanding now.

"Seriously, though, what made you think we were homophobes?" Stan asks, brow furrowed.

"I don't know!" Richie says in exasperation. "Everyone else is! And, like, whether I agree with it or not, Derry's, like, the hate crime capitol of, like, the whole entire stupid universe, so!" He waves his hands vaguely. "So you do the math, Sherlock."

"Derry also hates Bev." Stan points out. "And Mike, and you and me. All of us. That's... That's kind of the point of us."

Mike nods, places a comforting hand on Richie's knee. "Yeah, the point is to be here for each other, and not give a shit about all of that other bull. We're all just tryin' to get out of Derry alive, man." He squeezes, and something warm and fuzzy starts growing in Richie's chest. He can feel his eyes getting misty, and he prays the rest of them don't notice.

"Yeah." He squeaks out, then clears his throat. "Yeah, I get you."

 

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When Richie gets home that night, he cries, but he feels lighter than he has in his entire life.

Derry would hate me, he thinks, hugging a pillow to his chest, but those three wouldn't.

Three people in your corner feels overwhelmingly large when the original pool was zero.

 

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Exactly one day after one full month had passed, Tiffany pulls Eddie to the side in the hall, just as school's letting out. Richie's trying his best not to eavesdrop from his locker, but his own curiosity is getting the best of him. "So it's, like, for sure been more than a month now, right?"

Eddie's brow furrows as he closes his own locker. "Uh. You mean, us? Yeah, it's been a month. Why, did you wanna' do an anniversary thing?"

She groans with relief, eyes rolling heavenward. "Oh thank GOD, it's over. Greta! You owe me twenty bucks!" She calls over her shoulder.

Chapter Text

"What... What are you talking about? Tiff?" His voice is small and pathetic, even to his own ears. He looks up at her, but her back is to him. Greta is grumbling as she slaps a twenty into Tiffany's palm.

"I don't know how you did it, Tiff." She says, looking down at Eddie with thinly-veiled disgust.

"Nerves of steel, Greta, nerves of steel." She says matter-of-factly, smirking. "Where's Sally? She owes me, too."

"Tiffany?" He tries one more time, hands twisted in the hem of his shirt. "What... What are you...?" He can feel tears starting to form, and he wills them away, but they just keep building.

She finally looks at him, leveling him with an unimpressed glare. "Really? Do I have to spell it out? Everyone was talking about the dumb, loser kid who kept getting the stupid, sappy notes. I said I couldn't imagine anyone putting up with..." her lip curls up in contempt as she gives Eddie a once over, then motions to him, "that, let alone writing it love notes. Then Greta here dared me to see how long I could last."

Greta steps closer, so she's standing next to Tiffany. "She was like, ew, gross, there's no way anyone could stand more than a day. And I said, wanna bet on it? If Tiff couldn't hack it for a month, she'd have owed us all a pretty penny." She frowns, faux-pouting at Tiffany. "But somehow she held out, so now she's gonna' take us for a ride instead."

They start sounding very distant, like they're speaking to him underwater, and Eddie becomes aware that his hands have been shaking for a while now. Shame and humiliation course through him, but at the same time, it feels detached, like it's happening to someone else. His mouth opens and he distantly hears himself say "But... But I..."

He's not even sure what he's trying to say. It feels unreal and hyperreal all at once. His mouth keeps opening and closing weakly.

"But, but, what? You didn't honestly think I liked you, did you?" She snorts, and Greta cackles beside her.

Such a corny line. So very high-school bully. But it cut through him all the same, even their lack of creativity. He wasn't even important enough to actually try bullying. They could just do it on auto-pilot and hurt him all the same. A sob finally wrenches its way out of his throat, and his embarrassment comes to life, stronger than ever. Oh god, he thinks desperately, hands flying to his mouth, not here, not here, not right in the fucking hallway, please.

There's no stopping it now, though, and their snickers certainly aren't helping. He's pretty sure he hears someone mutter 'pathetic'. It's like a bubble bursts, and suddenly it's all completely real, and he's feeling every awful feeling his brain had tried to push to the side, and he chokes on another sob, harder than before. Tiffany snickers more, and opens her mouth to say something else, but before she can say anything, there's a loud shout cutting her off.

"Shut the fuck up!" He doesn't know when he did it, but Richie realizes he's come to stand between Eddie and Tiffany. His whole body is held rigid and his face red with anger as he acts like a human wall, a barrier between the two of them.

She looks a little leery, suddenly aware of how much taller than her Richie is, but she just rolls her eyes, says snidely "Or what? You're gonna' make me?"

"Yes." He says, deadly serious. Richie can feel his own nails biting into his palm from how tightly his hand is curled into a fist. "I don't care that you're a girl, I swear to god, you say one more word and I'll fucking deck you."

She titters. "Yeah, righ--" She's cut off when Richie feints, just a quick move of his shoulder, but the threat is clear and she flinches back, startled.

"Do you really want to fucking test me right now, Tiff?" She doesn't say anything, just stares nervously at his fist. There's a vein standing out on his temple from how tightly he's holding back, coiled like a spring. "That's what I thought. Now back. Off." He says through gritted teeth, and she backs up. Puts her hands up in an appeasing gesture, eyes a little wild.

"Richie, stop, you can't j- just..." He hears from behind as a shaky hand comes up to grip his shirt. He turns and sees Eddie, face red, tears rolling down his cheeks. His breathing's wrong, uneven, and he's taking big gulps of air. Richie can see the moment real panic sets in as he fumbles ineffectually with his fanny pack. "Fuck, I- I c- can't breathe, and I, I can't, I can't--" He takes another gulp of air.

Richie can feel himself go pale with worry, and he swoops into action. Cussing under his breath, he gently pushes Eddie's hands aside in order to unzip it himself. He keeps up a steady stream of encouragements, trying to keep Eddie calm. "Easy, easy," he murmurs as he digs around for the inhaler. His hands are shaking too, but he's got more control than Eddie, who looks on his way to full blown panic attack. He retrieves the inhaler and uncaps it, shakes it, then he curls his hand around the base of Eddie's neck, cupping his head in order to guide the inhaler to Eddie's mouth for him. "It's okay, Eds, I've got you."

Eddie's hands curl around his to depress the canister and he inhales deep, holds his breath. He exhales and does it again before finally opening his eyes and looking at Richie. He still looks bad, but the shaking's gone down considerably. "You good?" Richie asks nervously, still holding the inhaler. Eddie nods weakly.

He looks on the verge of sobbing again, chest hitching every other breath, and Richie can fucking hear people whispering and snickering behind them, so he scoops up both of their backpacks and hauls Eddie towards the doors. "C'mon, lets get outta' here."

Eddie doesn't fight him.

 

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Richie bikes to his place with Eddie sitting on the back, arms wrapped around his waist.

He keeps letting out these half-choked sobs, and clutching Richie like he's his lifeline, and Richie can feel his heart breaking.

Oh, Eddie...

 

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As soon as they cross the threshold into Richie's room, Eddie breaks down into sobs. "Oh, Eds..." Richie croons softly, wrapping his arms around Eddie and holding him close. He can feel Eddie clinging to his shirt and sobbing into his shoulder, and his own eyes well with tears to hear him so wrecked.

"I'm so s- stupid," he chokes out, pressing his face against Richie's shoulder as he sobs even harder.

"No, hey, you're not stupid, she tricked you, Eddie... You couldn't have known." He said soothingly, rubbing a hand up and down Eddie's back. Eddie shakes his head, tries to shove Richie away, but Richie just holds tighter.

"No, I am, because I knew! I knew she wasn't Someone!" He hiccuped, struggling and pushing Richie away while Richie held onto his elbows, brow furrowed in confusion.

"Hey, hey, easy, what-- what do you mean, you--?"

"I could t- tell, I knew she wasn't Someone, I just let her trick me because I... I didn't wanna' fuck it up! I was so desperate, I just let her walk all, all over me, I just... I just wanted Someone to be real so bad. I just wanted her to be real, I..." The fight seems to leave him after that, and he collapses back against Richie as a new sobbing fit overtakes him.

Richie clutches him even tighter than before, gently rocking them from side to side, unsure of how else to comfort this poor, wrecked boy. "It's okay, shh, you're not an idiot..." He clears his throat to get past the lump that had started forming. "Someone is real, okay? She's real, she... She sent you all those notes, yeah? She's out there, don't worry..."

"You can't know that!" He insists, his voice frenzied. "It was probably a big prank, j- just like Tiffany, it's all some big prank, she never existed."

"Someone is real, okay, I promise you." Richie pulls back enough to grab Eddie by his forearms and look him in the eye. "I know, because I read those letters too, and that... You can't fake stuff like that, Eddie. The emotion in those... It's real. I swear to you."

He looks unconvinced, sniffling weakly. "Even if she was real, she... she must hate me for this, she must've seen me doing all this and now she hates me, I--"

"She doesn't, she couldn't, I promise you, okay?" Richie reaches up with one hand, cups Eddie's cheek, swipes away tears with his thumb. "Remember when she wrote 'I'm not someone you love, I'm someone who loves you, and that's okay'? How could someone who wrote that ever, ever be mad at you for trying to be happy? Whoever she is, she just wants you to be happy, okay?"

Eddie chokes out another sob, nods weakly. "That's, um. That's not exactly what she said."

Richie smiles fondly, shakes his head. "I was paraphrasing, Eds Spagheds."

"D- don't call me that." His voice quivers as he says it, but relief floods through Richie when he hears it, and he tugs Eddie in for a hug, planting a kiss on the top of his head.

"Whatever you want, boss." He says softly. He spends a moment just petting Eddie's back, then he carefully pulls away. "Alright, now let's sit you down." He slowly guides Eddie to sit on the edge of his bed. Eddie still looks fragile, like he'll fall apart any second, and Richie's heart breaks all over again. "Now, I bet you're thirsty, huh?" Eddie nods weakly, and his eyes fill with tears all over again.

"Hey, hey," Richie says soothingly, crouching down in front of him and placing a steady hand on his knee. "None of that. It's alright, yeah? It's alright..." He sniffles weakly and wipes at his eyes, taking a deep breath to calm himself, and Richie smiles up at him. "Now, I'm gonna' go get you a glass of water, okay? I'll just be a minute, and then I'll come right back. Is that alright?" He nods again, and Richie can't help but drop one more kiss to the top of Eddie's head as he stands. "Atta' boy." He mumbles.

And then Eddie's alone with his thoughts.

 

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Richie hurries downstairs to fill a cup of water, but once he's in the kitchen, holding an empty glass, he has to pause. The tears catch up with him, and he takes a minute to collect himself, setting the glass on the counter so he wouldn't drop it. He leans against the counter and lets out a shaky breath. A few tears escape and he pushes up his glasses onto the top of his head to press at his eyes. He speaks into the empty kitchen, softly, but emphatically. "Fuck."

 

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Eddie quickly felt too pent up, just sitting on the side of the bed. He jumped up and started pacing, like little circles in the carpet would be enough to outrun his spiraling thoughts. He's looking around the room as he paces, desperate for anything to take his mind off his own internal chatter, when he spots something poking out of a partially closed desk drawer. The top of a Ziploc bag, and something that looks like the corner of a postcard.

He doesn't mean to snoop through Richie's things, precisely, but he's hardly thinking straight, and before he knows it, he's kneeling in front of the drawer and pulling it open with shaky hands. The bag has postcards, all blank, none repeated. His heart starts pounding faster, and he pulls out the postcard that had been sitting next to it, outside the plastic.

It's from Dallas, Texas, and on the back, it says,

Someone still loves you.

Eddie's mouth gapes open. After taking a moment to process, he reaches out to dig deeper in the drawer, and he produces a stack of filled-out postcards and, at the very back, the letter.

His letter.

Addressed to 'Someone'.

It's crinkled, with obvious tear stains on the envelope, and Eddie runs his fingers over it a few times in shock. As if confirming it's real.

Then he turns his attention back on the stack of filled out cards.

With trembling fingers, he flips over the first one. It's from Sedona, Arizona, and it reads,

You have less freckles recently. The winter light is hiding them from me, and I miss them.

You're lovely either way, though. When you've been trapped inside by the cold winter air, and your skin starts turning pale, you look striking. Your eyes turn a darker shade of brown than ever, and the contrast is mesmerizing. And no matter what you still have a few faint freckles on the bridge of your nose. It makes me want to stare, like they're hidden on purpose just to make you more interesting to look at.

As if you needed any help in that department.

A sob gets lodged in his throat, eyes welling with tears. He's not even sure why, unable to sort out his own feelings as he reads, but he knows whatever they are, they're intense, and they're prying their way out of him, these big, scary feelings.

He starts reading more, faster, trying to read as many as possible, as if that will spell out all the answers he's looking for.

The next is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sometimes I see you and I want to die on the spot. I think, "oh, this is it, the most lovely thing I could ever hope to see in my life. It's all downhill from here, so there's no point in continuing. Look at him. How could anything get better than that?" And then the next day rolls around and you laugh, or you get very angry over something minor, or you doze off in class, and I go "oh, oh this is how you top it. This is how it gets better."

Every day with you gets better.

St. Augustine, Florida.

Sometimes you make me cry. I lay in bed and I think about you, darling boy, and how brave you are, how strong, how your mother's tried to hold you down and Bowers has tried to cut you to pieces and how this whole shitty fucking town tries to rot you from the inside out and how you stand up every morning, and you come to school anyway, and you get angry right back at them. I think about it and it makes me cry and ache because I love you and I will never, ever be as brave as you are. I'll never get to have you because I'm weak and I'm a coward and I'm a man, so you'd never love me back.

I'm someone who loves you, not someone you love. It's okay, but some nights it's just too much to bear.

Then I wake up and see you and remember it's all worth it, every fucking second of it.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

You think you're a coward, but you're not, and I want to scream it from the rooftops, but I know that would just embarrass you, not motivate you, so I don't.

San Antonio, Texas.

You do this chopping motion with your hand when you want to emphasize something, and I've never seen anyone else do it.

I don't have anything deep to add here, I just really like it.

Breckenridge, Colorado.

I like when you get really, really mad. You're a spitfire, an absolute hellion, and I'm in awe of your ability to get shit done. You can make people listen to you, and you care so deeply about so many things. I feel like you could move the earth if you wanted to, and all I want to do is sit back and watch you do it.

Also your face gets all red and pinched when you're angry, and your whole entire body starts to vibrate with unrestrained fury, and it's really funny and adorable and I love it.

Kansas City, Missouri.

When I'm eighty and alone, and you're married to Tiffany with three beautiful children, will you still think about me?

I hope not. I'd hate for you to be hung up on someone after all that time's passed. I hope you never, ever think of me.

I tell myself that, because I'm trying to be less selfish, and I think if I keep saying it, it'll be true. I hope you never think of me. Don't think about me. Don't ever miss me. The thought of you wanting for anything makes me ache, so I don't want to be a source of that. Please live your life and be happy and don't think of me for even one single moment.

Maybe if I keep saying it, I'll believe it by then.

I'm glad I'm not sending this one, it would be pretty guilt-trippy of me, huh?

-Someone's an asshole.

He has to stop, here, the words too blurry to read, and he swipes roughly at his eyes as he sobs.

"Hey, sorry that took so long, I was just-- oh shit." The air leaves Richie's lungs in a whoosh, and he barely has the presence of mind to set the glass down on his dresser before he's falling to his knees next to Eddie. The alarm bells in his head have all shattered and are just blaring out a single, high-pitched tone, drowning out all other thought. He babbles, barely even aware of what he's saying. "It's, it's not what it looks like, Eds, I swear, I swear to god, I, I was holding it for someone else, um, and I--"

Eddie turns to him and in the smallest voice, says "Rich, what... what is this? It's not-- please, tell me it wasn't a prank. Please, just tell me it--" He's not even crying anymore, he just looks lost. It hits Richie like a punch to the gut.

"It wasn't, it wasn't, I swear to you, I--" He reaches out and grasps Eddie's arm, desperate, pleading. "I'm so sorry I did this to you, Eddie, I'm so sorry I wrote those stupid fucking letters, and I'm so sorry I'm a guy, and I'm sorry I made you think there was a girl out there writing all these things but, you have to believe me I never did it to trick you or prank you, I just, I had to tell you, you're so amazing and it was killing me and I had to let you know, and I know it wasn't a girl this time, but, but it will be someday, I swear it, Eddie, you're so fucking-- you're so out of this world, someone will see it, I know it,"

His pleading explanation quickly looses all structure as tears roll down his cheeks and he grips Eddie's arm tighter and tighter. "Please, don't, don't let Tiffany make you think that you aren't incredible, because I swear I meant every word, and you can hate me, it's okay, just please don't-- don't hate yourself, please. I'm sorry I did this and I'm sorry I upset you and I'm sorry I'm a fag, but I swear I wasn't trying to make you upset, okay? I wasn't-- I just... I just wanted to tell you how incredible you are and I, I just... You can come away from this hating me, and never talk to me again, okay? You can do that but I'm begging you, please don't, don't hate yourself, please, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry I tricked you and I'm sorry I'm a fag, I'm sorry, I'm, I'm so sorry,"

He keeps repeating that, crying harder. He's spiraling now, working himself up, getting more and more frantic. "You can hate me, just don't hate yourself, I'm sorry I'm a fag and I'm sorry I ruined everything. It was just supposed to be one! It was just gonna' be one letter, and then you were so fucking happy, and proud, and I just wanted you to keep feeling like that, I'm so sorry I fucked it all up, I'm sorry..."

It takes Eddie's mind a while to parse what Richie's even saying, construct it into a coherent narrative, but once he does, it's like everything falls into place at once. Oh, he thinks, oh, this...

He's never seen Richie so inconsolable before. So sincere. He can still hear Richie apologizing, "I'll leave you alone forever if you're disgusted, and I'm sorry, you must be so disappointed, I'm sorry I'm Someone, I never meant to toy with your feelings, I just had to tell you how incredible you are," but it's all distant. Eddie's distracted by something big and warm and crushing and completely overwhelming filling his chest. He can't breathe, but in a good way. Something solid and visceral has made its home in his ribs, and it feels like if he doesn't do something, this big, solid, real thing will come pouring out of him. He can't contain it.

He tilts Richie's head back, and he flinches, like he expects hatred, like he expects a fist, and Eddie wants so badly to tell him that he doesn't hate him, that they'll always be friends, that he doesn't care Richie is gay, but that big thing in his chest is crawling up his throat, and no sound can escape. Before he even realizes what he's doing, he leans in and presses his mouth against Richie's.

Richie leans in like a drowning man coming up for air, holds Eddie's face in a bruising grip and pulls him in crushingly close, like he expects it to end any second, like this is the only chance he'll ever get and he has to memorize this, has to remember it forever. Eddie lets him, at first, but then pulls back a little when the grip starts to get painful. Richie makes a broken, keening sound, tears still shining in his eyes, and Eddie swoops back in, just as gentle as before, softly encouraging Richie to match his energy.

The kiss becomes less frantic, but he still reaches out and drags Eddie into his lap, arms looped tight around his waist in a crushing embrace. He seems desperate for proof that Eddie is real, really here, that this is really happening, and Eddie's more than happy to indulge him. He wraps his arms around Richie's neck, and when they pull away for air, they stay like that, wrapped around each other. Eddie rests his forehead against Richie's, and Richie makes a noise somewhere between contentment and a sob.

"You-- you don't have to do this, if you don't want to." Richie sounds wrecked, and he sniffles a little as he says it. "Just... just because I'm Someone. You don't have to... force yourself to kiss a guy, just because Someone turned out to be...." He's trying to give Eddie an out, in case he'd felt pressured into this, somehow.

Eddie tucks a strand of Richie's hair behind his ear, smiling fondly. "Rich, I've been dreaming that it was a man who left those letters in my locker since the very first one. Tried to lie to myself, and tell myself it had to be a girl, that I wanted it to be a girl, but..." He expected it to be hard to admit, but the words just roll off his tongue. It's almost like he's comfortable around Richie or something.

"Oh." Richie mumbles breathlessly.

Feeling oddly bold, Eddie starts playing with the hair on the back of Richie's head as he says "In fact, you know what kind of guy I pictured?" Richie shakes his head, staring up at Eddie with something akin to awe. "Tall... with long, dark hair, and a square jaw, and big hands..." He can feel the hitch in Richie's breathing, and it makes him smile a little wider. "It's like you walked out of a dream, Rich."

Richie makes a broken sort of noise in the back of his throat, and uses one of those big hands to grab the back of Eddie's neck and pull him down into another kiss.

There's the sound of Richie's door being thrown open, and three different voices all start explaining how they were worried about Eddie, and how they'd come as soon as they heard, and why didn't they say they were going to Richie's, we looked all over for you two. The talking very quickly dies down when they actually look at Richie and Eddie. Neither of the boys had made an attempt to move, beyond turning their heads to look at the door, so they were just as tangled up in each other as before the oh-so-rude intrusion.

They also made quite the sight, since both of their faces were blotchy from crying and their eyes were bloodshot.

Eddie's the first one to speak up, tongue darting out to nervously swipe at his lower lip. "Uh, hey guys. So, um. Wanna meet Someone?" Richie laughs, burying his face in the crook of Eddie's neck just because he can. Just because he's allowed, now, to be that close. Eddie lets out his own nervous chuckle, hugs Richie a little tighter.

Ben awkwardly shifts, clears his throat. "Uh. Do you still need... Comfort? Because of the whole... Tiffany thing?"

Actually... even with the delight of Richie and Someone and seeing how his friends all rushed to his side, the betrayal and the way it had happened in front of the whole school left Eddie feeling a little raw still, emotionally speaking. He's not sure how to say this, though, how to communicate that he'd like to collapse into a pile with his friends and lick his wounds for a little while. Bev jumps in first, with "Of course! We just figured out who Someone is, we've gotta' celebrate!" and throws Eddie a wink. Whether she was emotionally adept enough to have figured all that out on the fly, or she was just teasing him about his position with Richie, he wasn't sure, but it made him grin either way.

 

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It was really, really funny when poor Bill and Mike showed up ten minutes later, completely winded and totally ready to dole out comfort, only to find everyone joking and laughing, and Eddie seated in Richie's lap.

The looks of utter confusion on their faces were priceless.

 

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Later, in the wee hours of the morning, while everyone else was asleep, Richie was looking at Eddie's face. Thinking about every time he told himself he'd never have this, how he was certain he'd be lonely forever, how he'd been content to watch Eddie from afar. He's blinking away tears as he cards his fingers through Eddie's hair, amazed that he can just do that now.

Eddie stirs, grumbles a little at being woken up, but he smiles when he looks up and sees Richie. "Hey. What's up?"

Richie's breath hitches a little. "I love you."

Eddie's smile grows. "I love you too." He says softly, pulling Richie down into a kiss.

It's so much better than he ever could've dreamed.