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It becomes a habit.  

Eddie doesn’t mean for it to become a habit, he really doesn’t, but Richie keeps hogging the hammock, and he keeps refusing to get out, even after his ten minutes are up. Nobody else seems to mind, is the problem. The others take the hammock when they can, and they abide by the rules, but nobody bothers to do more than roll their eyes once Richie sets up camp. They know they’re not getting it back until he leaves.  

The first time Eddie climbs in with him, it’s to force him out. He tells himself that, as their limbs tangle together, and Eddie becomes acutely aware that his legs are bare. Richie shoves and kicks at him, half-hearted, until Eddie’s ass has settled in the dip between his legs. Then Richie sighs, and returns to his comic, seemingly defeated.  

Bill and Mike snicker at them. Stan gives a look like he’s lost the will to live. Everyone returns to business as usual.  

Meanwhile, Eddie’s heart is running like a jackhammer, blood surging hot through his body. Richie’s knee grazes his thigh when he adjusts his position. Later, Eddie kicks him in the face, hoping the brief moment of violence will belie the intimacy. He wants to be closer, and he hates it. He wants this to be okay. He wants it to feel worse so he can bring himself to leave.  

There’s a pit in him, rotting and ugly and selfish, and it craves more. It wants him to grind down or grab something, covet the moment and make it last. 

It would have been fine if that had been the only time. But Richie keeps hogging the hammock, and Eddie keeps joining him. Time and again that summer, they find themselves entwined. All hot skin and loose limbs cocooned together. Eddie is utterly indifferent to the other Losers for the fifteen minutes he manages to steal each day. He tucks himself against Richie, always grumbling about how he doesn’t have enough space, always thrilling at the feeling of Richie’s body against his. It feels... dangerous. Cruel. Like he’s taking something from Richie that Richie hasn’t told him he can have. The day he dares getting in so they're lined up shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, the day he hooks a leg over Richie’s, claiming it’s more comfortable, and steals the Rubik’s Cube out of his hands, is the bravest day of his life. Fuck Pennywise, fuck the sewers, that’s the only thing he’s proud of.  

That night, Sonia tells him that she saw the faggots who live on West Broadway at the supermarket together. Her lip curls, and Eddie’s pride dies in his throat.  

He nearly doesn’t go to the clubhouse the next day. It’s drizzling, anyway, and he knows Bev’s out of town. Ben and Mike are working on a project at the library together, so they won’t be there either. The others are probably off doing their own things.  

But if he doesn’t go, and they are there, that will be an admission of guilt. Then he really will have done something wrong, he really will have taken something, taken advantage, taken— 

He goes, just to prove that everything’s fine.  

At first, he thinks the clubhouse is empty. It’s quiet and still, rich with the smell of earth and rain. But it’s lit by massive lantern flashlights that Mike borrowed from the farm, which means that someone must be down there.  

“Hello?”  

“Hey, Eds!”  

Eddie’s heart sinks. Richie is lazing in the hammock, waving from around the support pillar. They’re the only ones in the whole clubhouse, and he doesn’t think anyone else is coming.  

“What’re you doing here?” Eddie resists the urge to fidget. “And don’t call me that!”  

“Um, last I checked this was the Losers Club clubhouse. As a founding member, I figured I was allowed to drop in.” 

“No, idiot, I mean what are you doing here alone ?”  

Richie shrugs. “You came here alone.”  

“Yeah, but you stayed here alone. I’m gonna leave. I’m gonna be with the above-ground people.”  

“Aw, c’mon, I got the new Swamp Thing!” 

“I hate horror comics,” Eddie lies, walking towards the hammock.  

“Bool-sheet!” Richie’s German scientist emerges in full force as Eddie reaches him. He frowns. “Vhat ees you doing zere, Edvard? Seeting on ze floor vhen zere ees so much hammook to go ah-round?”  

Eddie curls his lip. Actual, real hurt flashes in Richie’s eyes, and Eddie feels his gut drop. He wants to scream out an apology, but he knows he can’t get in the hammock again. It isn’t fair to make Richie want it too.  

Still, he can’t handle the look on Richie’s face right now. “Sorry,” he mumbles, and rubs his eye. “It’s not you, sorry, I-I just. I figure it’s more comfortable this way? And, you-you-y'know, it’s hot—it's warm , and if we get sweaty on each other that’s just disgusting. Plus, sitting on the floor is better for you. Like, your posture.”  

Richie just stares at him. The hurt is gone, at least, but it's been replaced a piercing shrewdness that Eddie hates precisely because it’s nothing new. He looks down, because he knows Richie can see right through him, like he’s made of glass or paper or nothing at all. See right down to the rotten, selfish core.  

He expects yelling. He expects disgust. Worse, he expects Richie to realize exactly why Eddie has been taking every opportunity to touch him, and to throw him away entirely.  

Something brushes the top of his head. He looks up, sees Richie’s hand outstretched.  

“C’mere, Eds.”  

Eddie’s guts twist and roil. His ears ring with the frequency of a revving chainsaw—the same frequency at which his heart is now pounding. He takes Richie’s hand and lets himself be tugged into the hammock.  

It’s too easy. Far too easy to curl against Richie’s side, press his cheek against his chest. Richie turns his head so his mouth and nose are lodged in Eddie’s hair. He wiggles one arm under and around Eddie and holds up the comic so they can both see.  

“I don’t mind,” he says. It’s so frank and nervous and un-Richie-like that Eddie wants to cry. He really has ruined him, he’s the monster who’s made Richie feel like this is okay. Sonia’s face looms behind his eyes, sneering and spitting about disease, sins, the ruination of young men.  

But at the same time, he hears Richie’s heart thundering in his ear. The twisting in his belly ceases, he’s unravelling, relaxing, and he feels... soft. Safe. Comfortable.  This can’t be wrong if it helps this much, he thinks, and hopes he isn’t just lying to himself.  

He was right about one thing, at least—it does get hot quickly. Richie’s cheeks are beet red; he’s radiating warmth. Eddie squirms and—fuck it—loops his leg around Richie’s again.  

At some point, without discussion, the comic disappears. It winds up forgotten on the dirt floor. At some point, Richie turns so they’re facing each other, and suddenly that’s all they’re doing. Tangled, noses pressed together, staring at each other’s out-of-focus faces and breathing hot, ragged breaths.  

When Richie’s kiss comes, it’s soft, too. Just a graze, a ghost, but it happens. Eddie is so elated he forgets to feel sick. He wets his lips and dips back in for another taste.  

Their bodies are too close, and not close enough. All Eddie can feel are knobby knees and loose limbs, roaming hands and planes of smooth skin. And heat—adolescent and unsure but raging like a wildfire. He wants—he wants—he pushes his hips forward like he thinks he’s supposed to, and, delighted, hears Richie make a noise. Fuck, he wants to hear more of that noise.  

Richie puts a hand between them. Eddie feels it, feels electricity spasm through him, and—okay, that’s too much. He pulls back. Sees his friend all rumpled and panting, his mouth pink and blurred.  

He looks down and sees their tented shorts, Richie’s hand where it absolutely should not be—god please don’t move it—and his stomach deflates. Twists. Burns.  

“Ihavetogo,” he says, and tries to get up.  

Richie reaches for him. “No, c’mon, man, I’m sorry, we don’t have to—" 

But Eddie has already rolled out of the hammock and into the dirt. He grunts, rises, backs away from Richie’s reaching grasp and pained expression. “No, I have to go. Sorry, my, uh, my mom, I have to, I have to—this never happened, okay?”  

“Eddie...”  

“Okay?”  

That hurt returns to Richie’s eyes, but Eddie can’t fix it. Not when he knows what fixes it, when he knows he’s poisoned Richie with the same uglywrong wants that he’s been chasing ever since the hammock went up. He shakes his head and runs for the ladder. He whispers as he begins to climb out, “I’m sorry.”  

Richie never hogs the hammock again. In fact, Eddie never even sees him get in.  

 

The clubhouse is raining dirt, the hammock is a filthy mess. Eddie kicks a rock into the hole Ben made.  

It’s been three days since Neibolt collapsed, since they crushed Pennywise’s heart in their hands. Eddie’s sore he missed that part, but Bill reassures him that he’s still a hero—he saved Richie, after all. Who cares if he was unconscious for the rest of the battle? He gripes about it, but he supposes Bill is right. If he’d known his options were dead-Richie or passed-out-for-the-climactic-showdown, he knows exactly what he would have picked.  

None of them have left yet. He figures none of them know how to go back.  

“All I have to go back to is divorce papers and a motel room,” he says, and laughs. Figures. He comes home and becomes a hero, and his thanks from the universe is a sobbing Myra calling to tell him she’s already talked to her lawyer. He left too suddenly, and took her too much for granted.  

It’s a relief, though, he admits to himself. Even if he hadn’t... remembered, it would have been a relief. But now he has remembered, and he stares into the gaping maw of their old clubhouse, remembering. His mother’s grip on his spine has loosened, and he knows he had nothing to fear. No lake of fire or sulphurous, roaring demons. No rot. He still feels selfish, though, knowing what he’d done to Richie. How he’d teased him, wrecked him, hurt him. And just like he knows that he shouldn’t have been afraid of himself, he also knows that he still is, and always will be. He can’t put that on Richie again.  

Not every story has to have a happy ending.  

Eddie walks his tired body back to the townhouse. He hauls himself up the stairs to his room, but feels his feet turning on their traitorous heels, turning him towards Richie’s room. I guess, he thinks as he knocks on the door, I'm still a selfish fuck.  

Richie opens the door—he's clearly just been napping, because his glasses are askew and his hair is standing nearly on end. He blinks at Eddie and adjusts his glasses.  

“Hey, Eddie, my man, what’s going on?”  

“We made out in the clubhouse!” Eddie blurts out—faster than he had thought he would. He hadn’t planned anything to say, but he had hoped he’d at least work out a preamble.  Fucking idiot, he thinks, feeling his face grow hot.  

Richie blinks again. “What.”  

“We did, you probably don’t remember yet, but try, okay?” Eddie’s rambling. He’s going to keep rambling. “We got in the hammock, you had Swamp Thing, we started making out, and then I ran out on you. I told you to forget about it.” Richie’s expression is inscrutable, and Eddie groans, rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Please remember, because I have to apologize, and I don’t wanna look like an asshole apologizing for something you forgot.”  

He drops his hand and straightens himself out. Richie is... just staring at him.  

“You...” Richie shakes his head. “Did you just remember that now?”  

Eddie flushes. “I, uh, yes?”  

“Wow. First thing, literally the first thing that came to mind after the clown shit for me. And it takes you a week .”  

Relief and irritation flood him in equal measure. Eddie smacks at him. “Are you kidding me? Fuck you. I have no control over this shit.”  

Richie makes a face. “I dunno, seems to me if it was really   important to you, you would’ve remembered faster. Tsk. Just another notch on your bedpost, I guess...”  

“Piss off. Let me in. I’m not apologizing in the hall.”  

“Not apologizing for something I forgot, not apologizing in the hall... this apology has a lotta terms and conditions, dude.” But he lets him by, and shuts the door behind them.  

Eddie waves his arms. “Well, uh, I’m sorry. I don’t...” He laughs, weak and nervous. “I don’t know what else I can say. I guess I was afraid of how I felt, y’know?” 

“Yeah.” Richie crosses his arms. Not angrily, not to cut himself off, but to comfort himself—Eddie knows his body language well enough to recognize that. The fact makes him ache. “I was too. But you liked it, you kept... touching me. I thought that meant you were okay with it.”  

“I was!” Eddie takes a step towards him. “I was, I wanted you. To, uh, touch me. I just knew my mom didn’t. And I thought...” He grabs Richie’s hand. Second-bravest thing. “Christ, Rich, I was a sheltered little small-town Methodist kid, I thought I was fucked up in the head for it. I thought I was fucking you up.”  

Richie runs a thumb over Eddie’s knuckles. “You didn’t fuck me up,” he says, quietly. “I was fucked right from the start. Moment I laid eyes on you, I thought, that’s the cutest guy I’ve ever seen.”  

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that.” Eddie can’t help but roll his eyes. “Cute Eddie, what a baby.”  

“Not cute like a baby, you moron, cute like... shit, I wanted to kiss you.” Richie smiles. “Never stopped, by the way. It’s open season, babe.”  

“Who says I still wanna kiss you ?”  

“Your face. Your dick.” 

“Your mom.”  

“Don’t ruin it.”  

Eddie laughs, this time for real. He tugs Richie’s hand and brings him closer, wraps him in a tight, not-so-friendly hug. He presses his cheek to Richie’s collar, presses one hand over his heart. “I should’ve never left,” he murmurs.  

Richie’s heart is thundering again. He says, “I should’ve never let you go.”  

This time, Eddie kisses him. Richie tastes just like he remembers, and make noises even better than the one Eddie drew out of him when they were thirteen. It’s over far too fast, years of regret and denial leading to an admittedly fantastic but quick climax. They’re done before they even get the chance to take off all their clothes.  

Luckily, neither of them has any intention of that being their last time.  

It becomes a habit.