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Love in the Time of Crosswalks

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Richie looked like a giraffe out on the ice. He knew that. And not like a sexy giraffe, just a clumsy one whose feet kept inching further and further apart, no matter how much he scrambled forward.

His foot slipped to the side, and he went down, panic-flailing and dragging Beverly with him.

“Ow! Fucking Richie,” she shouted, her tailbone connecting hard with the ice. Ben, her soulmate, was across the rink in a second.

“You alright?” he asked, leaning down and lifting her back to her feet gently.

“How are you guys so good at this?” Richie grumbled, trying—and failing—to get the blades of death back under him. He crashed to the ice once more, elbows slamming hard, before Ben took pity on him and helped him up.

“Well, for one, your skates aren’t tight enough. See how your ankles wobble?” Ben said, looping an arm around Beverly’s waist and pointing at Richie’s feet. He’d done the best with what he had, and what he had was forty-year-old rentals with half the shoelace broken off.

“If I tie them any tighter, my feet are gonna have to be amputated,” he grumbled. His ankle decided that was the best instant to roll again, and he wind-milled forward to try and regain his balance.

“It’s amputate or ankle-break, Trashmouth,” Stan threw over his shoulder as he raced past the trio. Bill, Stan’s soulmate, was tight on his heels, laughing gleefully. Richie recognized the look as the one Bill got tearing Silver down hilly roads. The look Stan wore, his eyes sliding soft and fond over to Bill, was one unfamiliar to Richie.

Well, he saw it anytime Stan looked at Bill, but Richie himself had never gotten that look.

He tried not to think about it too much as he scrambled over to the hip-high wall and held on for dear life. Ben and Bev skated off, Bev dusting ice off the seat of her jeans, and Ben smiling down at her.

Mike skidded to a stop beside Richie. It wasn’t unusual for them to be paired up, since they were the only ones out of their friend group who hadn’t found their soulmates yet. Richie didn’t mind. Mike was cool…but he wasn’t Richie’s soulmate. There had been a time when Richie had wondered, seeing the way Mike’s brown eyes lit up when he laughed, but Richie had had the words settled across his sternum in his soulmate’s hurried, slanted writing memorized since he was old enough to read.

You asshole! Do you know how long I’ve been afraid of crosswalks?!

The first thing Mike had said to him was decidedly not that, so the crush Richie had held for him melted away and left nothing but the same platonic love that Richie held for all five of his best friends.

But Richie was like a hawk in crosswalks, paying special attention for anyone who looked particularly terrified as they made their way from one side of the street to the other.

“How are you holding up?” Mike asked, watching concernedly as Richie scuttled his way along the wall.

“Not—oof!” Richie over-corrected, his knee crashing down, even as he clung to the wall. He really should have worn knee pads. “Not well.”

“Your skates are too loose,” Mike said, pointing, exactly the way Ben had done. Richie rolled his eyes. “Come on,” Mike said before Richie could bite back a smart response. “I’ll help you. It’s easier if someone laces them for you.”

“Aw, Mikey,” Richie crooned, bringing his hands up and lacing them together by his chin. He batted his eyes at Mike, and immediately lost his balance. “Whoa! Whoa!” Richie yelped, flailing again before finally latching back onto the wall. Mike snorted.

“Alright, alright. Come on.”

Mike helped Richie creep his way to the rink exit, and Richie was proud to say he’d only flailed for his balance four times. (Five, if you count the time the most beautiful boy Richie had ever seen whizzed past him, a streak of brown hair and red sweater and honest-to-God leg warmers, but Richie didn’t count it. That hadn’t been his fault.)

Richie collapsed into a metal folding chair once they were on non-slick ground.

“How’d I let you guys talk me into this?” he grumbled, leaning down and untying the knot of his skates. Mike knelt in front of him and started tugging at Richie’s laces.

“The soulmates wanted a cute date,” Mike said with a sigh and a yank. Richie struggled to keep his foot planted so he wouldn’t accidentally castrate Mike.

“Okay, but how’d we get roped into it? We haven’t even met our soulmates yet.” Mike gave another hard yank.

“Err, about that,” Mike said, yanking one last time and beginning a new knot. He glanced up at Richie with a dopey smile, and Richie’s stomach sank. He knew that look. That was a Stan-at-Bill look, a Bev-at-Ben look.

“You met them?” Richie asked, fighting to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He was happy for Mike. Totally and completely happy. Mike had found his forever person, but yeah, Richie was a little jealous, too. And not at all because of the baby crush he’d had, but for the simple fact that now, he wouldn’t be a platonic sixth wheel with Mike. Now, he’d be a completely alone and unnecessary seventh wheel for all his friends and their soulmates.

“Yeah,” Mike said, finishing the knot and grinning. Richie smiled and, looking at how happy Mike was, found it actually very easy to feel genuine.

“That’s incredible, Mikey,” Richie said, reaching out and shaking Mike’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Mike shrugged.

“I don’t know. I didn’t want you to feel…you know. Left out, I guess.” Mike shrugged again and started on Richie’s other shoe.

“No, man. I’m so happy for you. Tell me about them. How’d it happen?” Mike got that sort of doughy look in his eye again and yanked.

“Her name’s Jessica. She was working behind the counter at one of my delivery places. Can you believe she spent her whole life with, I’ve got your meat right here, on her chest? She said she thought I would be some asshole on the street cat-calling her.” Mike laughed, and again, Richie’s smile grew a touch more genuine.

Mike gave another good tug, then patted Richie’s ankle.

“Good?” Richie asked, and Mike stood up to admire his work, hardly wobbling at all.

“Stand up and see. You might need to go down a size.”

Richie stood up and did as he was told. He felt relatively more secure, but his shoe still slid when he picked his foot up. He made the executive decision not to mention it.

“Perfect. Thanks, man. And really, I’m so happy for you.”

Mike smiled and helped Richie back towards the ice. Richie took a deep, preparatory breath before stepping back out onto it. He only wobbled a little bit, and Mike grinned at him in victory.

“Race you,” Mike said, then took off, spraying ice with every side push, leaving Richie clinging to the wall but admittedly, not falling. He gave an experimental kick and slid forward, exactly the way he was supposed to.

“Hah!” Richie laughed in surprise. He watched his feet carefully, center clenched as tight as he could to hold his balance. He gave another kick and found himself actually sort of getting the hang of it.

“Hey, look at you go, Rich!” Bev said, grinning as she slowed to skate beside him. He was still all but hugging the wall, but he was holding his balance.

“It’s all in the ankles,” he told her. He pushed away from the wall, like the drama queen he was, and wobbled. She caught his wrist and grinned.

“No kidding,” she said dryly. Richie rolled his eyes.

“Where’s your soulmate?” he asked, doing his best to skate along beside her. He was shaky, but he was off the wall. Bev pointed through the semi-crowded rink to the other side, where Ben, Bill, Stan, and Mike had started some sort of train thing.

“Ten bucks says Stan wipes out,” she said. Richie snorted.

“I’m not introducing that karma into the world. I just managed getting off the wall.”

“You barely managed to not bust your ass on the wall,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Richie huffed. He would have pulled away from her steadying hand on his arm, but well…she was right. He felt like he was about two slides away from wiping out so hard he tasted blood. Not that they were particularly going fast enough for that, but the fear was there. “Go ask that guy for help,” Bev said, elbowing him gently and pointing.

There, in the center of the rink, stood the beautiful boy who’d whizzed past him before. He had his arms out, his feet turned straight out under his elbows, looping gracefully. Richie’s eyes widened.

The boy’s back foot turned suddenly, and Richie felt sure he was going to wipe out. He went down, but he wasn’t crashing. He was arching back, his whole body shifting in perfect precision from pointed toe, to loose shoulders, to languid arms. When he came back up, his leg warmer had shaves of ice on it, but the boy was steady. He broke into a quick hop, never wavering, then suddenly, he was gliding backwards, arms held taught as he picked up speed, maneuvering effortlessly through the children scrambling around him. Once he was in a clear patch of ice, he kicked his toe down and went spinning through the air, arms crossed tight across him.

“Holy shit,” Richie murmured, making no effort at all to hide his awe.

Then, his own toe-pick caught, and he went down, palms skidding, and even still, he hardly tore his eyes away from the boy.

He was like…fuck, Richie didn’t know what he was like. A river? Something else that made Richie’s heart absolutely ache? All he could do was sit there on his knees, on the ice, Bev tugging at him while skaters blew past, staring.

The boy landed the jump easily, slipping his way down the ice backward before he leapt around, easily shifting forward onto one foot and lifting his other straight back behind him, like he was flying.

“Rich,” Bev groaned, still tugging at him, and Richie shook himself, finally tearing his eyes away.

“Sorry.” He stole one last glance as Bev helped him up. “Christ, he’s gorgeous,” Richie murmured, pushing his glasses back into place.

“Go talk to him,” Bev encouraged, leading Richie back to the wall. He held on, gratefully, but turned his back to it, eyes sliding back to the boy.

“Are you kidding? He looks like a gazelle out there! I look like a giraffe.” Bev snorted.

“I mean, okay. Yeah. But you’re a cute giraffe. Talk to him.”

“Bev, I can’t even make it over there to talk to him,” Richie said, frowning, again clutching the wall.

“Look, just push side to side.” Bev skated a bit away, emphasizing each push to the side. Richie tentatively slid away from the wall and tried to mimic her. Once he got going, he actually felt pretty good. He was moving fast, actually keeping up with her, push for push, taking the turns intuitively as they went around.

A loud chorus of shouts across the rink drew Richie’s attention, and he glanced over to see the conga line of his friends all collapsed on the ground, shoving one another as they tried to get back to their feet.

Richie was veering across the ice before he could think twice about it, gaining speed with every push of his heel.

It happened quickly.

The beautiful boy in the red sweater and honest-to-God leg warmers slid out in front of him, leading by his fingertips, eyes blissfully closed, and Richie flailed.

Bev had taught him how to go. She hadn’t taught him how to stop. He jerked backward, his feet slid forward in the too-big skates, and he had a single breath to shout, “Look out! I don’t have brakes!”

Then, the boy’s eyes were snapping open, locking on Richie in horror before they were slamming together with a massive thud, knees colliding, elbows cracking against the ground, a tangle of limbs as they fell onto the ice.

Once the momentum gave out, they sat, staring at one another, open-mouthed. Richie had his arm wedged painfully under the boy. The boy had his knee directly in Richie’s gut, the hard plate of his sternum dented around Richie’s chin, and wide, brown eyes boring into Richie’s. The horror crept in slowly.

Richie had all but tackled the cutest boy he’d ever seen.

Then, all at once, the boy’s precious little shocked face turned into righteous anger.

“You asshole!” he yelled, shoving Richie off him and leaping to his feet. “Do you know how long I’ve been afraid of crosswalks?!”

Richie’s heart slammed. He stared up at the boy, mouth agape.

He’d said it. The cutest boy Richie had ever seen in his goddamn life had said it.

Richie’s hand flew to his chest, touching the spot where the tattoo rested.

“You said it,” Richie murmured. The boy’s eyebrows tugged together, and he flung a wild hand towards Richie.

“You said it first!” he shouted. Richie was vaguely aware that he was still sprawled out on the ice of a very public skating rink with an ache in his entire body. He didn’t care one ounce.

“I didn’t mean to say it first!” Richie shouted back, shoving his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Then, he grinned. “But I’m glad I did.”

The angry set to the boy’s mouth—his soulmate’s mouth, Richie thought with wonder—quivered, like he was biting back a smile. His soulmate huffed.

“Come on,” he said, offering a hand out to Richie. Richie was suddenly very glad he’d forgone gloves. His fingers brushed over his soulmate’s fingers, and the world was alive. Something big and beautiful thrummed in his chest.

“I’m Richie,” he said, not really pulling himself up, just holding his soulmate’s hand.

“Eddie.”

“Eddie,” Richie repeated dreamily. Eddie—Richie’s soulmate—rolled his eyes, but his lips quivered again. Richie felt warm all over. He very much liked the look Eddie was giving him, much more than the Stan-at-Bill, Bev-at-Ben, Mike-at-Jessica looks. This was Eddie-at-Richie. It was perfect.