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The Red Balloon

Chapter Text

Richie was always the kind of guy who frequented parties.

 

He wasn’t new to them, he wasn’t new to the aspect of taking someone home that night either. He wasn’t new to writhing, sweaty bodies on dance floors, and being the one to have a boy or girl grinding on him. In short, Richie had experience with scandalous social outings.

 

What he was new to though, was strip clubs.

 

When Richie walked in to the Red Balloon, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was expecting. Bill and Mike has told him to bring his impulse control at its very best. Whatever that meant. When they walked through the front doors, he suddenly understood. Vividly.

 

The room was painted in purple and pink, blue lights shining onto the visitors and the employees. Strippers seemed to frolic around the club, making the rounds at tables, escorted by their own personal bodyguard. The bar was packed, one dancer was giving a show atop it, letting patrons hold on their drinks for her to drown down. The middle of the club had a magnificent and large stage. One pole was rewarded the entire attention of their audience. It’s the stage and it’s paths that were special it seems. There were steps in the shapes of circles that the dancers could walk up and down, pleasing their audience and picking up their bills.

 

“So,” Bill interrupted Richie’s thoughts, “What do you think?”

 

Richie was at a loss for words, which didn’t happen often. What was he supposed to think? Yeah, the dancers were hot. Yeah, it appealed to his sexuality by having both men and women working. But why was it so special? “Of course, Bill! I’m the birthday boy, aren’t I? What’s better than hot bodies, no connections?”

 

Mike shook his head and lead them to the front of the stage. They sat down on a long couch, Richie opting for the ottoman next to them. “Bev should be out in a few. She wanted to know what you thought.”

 

Beverly Marsh owned the place with her boyfriend, Ben. They’ve been friends for awhile now, but only recently did Richie find out that she owned this establishment. Why wasn’t he surprised?

 

“She dance?” He asked, intrigued.

 

“‘Course not,” Bill answers with a chuckle, “She’d rather die than get that kinda attention all over again.”

 

“Hey, boys!” The cheerful voice came from behind. The three guys whipped around and greeted Beverly with wide smiles. “How’s it hanging, birthday boy?”

 

Richie snickered and obliged her innuendo. “To the floor , Bev.”

 

Beverly nodded, extremely satisfied with his answer. “Just as I thought.” She sat down next to him, swirling her martini. “I was surprised when I learned that there’s not as many mixed strip clubs out there that I was hoping there to be!”

 

“Had to do it yourself, huh?” Bill asked her, a kind smile on his lips. They had dated for about a year back in highschool, but they figured they were better off being good friends. It didn’t have a negative impact on them or anyone else in their small group. They’ve all been friends since school. Richie, Beverly, Bill, Mike, and Ben.

 

“Exactly,” she pointed to Bill with a smug smirk.

 

Mike accepted the drink a server brought him. “So, where’s your man at?”

 

“Yeah,” Richie sadly cried out, “Benny hasn’t wished me a happy birthday yet!”

 

Beverly’s smile only widened. “Actually, he’s getting your surprise ready.”

 

Richie cocked a brow. “I thought the strip club was the surprise?”

 

“Not the whole surprise,” Bill answered, “We got something special planned for you.”

 

“I...I mean this has already been a pretty good-”

 

“Shh!” Bill hissed. He accepted a drink from another server, this time a lanky, curly haired boy that Bill and Mike didn’t bother hiding their stares from. “It’s starting,” Bill started again when the server retreated.

 

“What is…” Richie trailed off when the lights dimmed. The only light that stayed on, was the one centered on the curtain. He noticed that the suspense starting drawing a large crowd. Patrons shoved to get to seats and as near to the stage and it’s path as possible.

 

Beverly snickered as she watched them. “Yeah, he draws in a big audience.”

 

“Who?”

 

Richie was answered my music starting and cheers coming from all around them. Loud wolf whistles started, and Richie saw people already pulling out dollar bills. The curtains started to draw back, and out strutted the most beautiful human being he’s ever seen.

 

“That,” Beverly announces to Richie, “is our Teddy Bear. The most popular dancer here.”

 

Said she tired little money, need a big boy

Pull up 20 inch blades like I’m Lil’ Troy

Now it’s everybody’s flockin’, need a decoy

Shawty mixin’ up the vodka with the liquor, yeah

 

The boy was soft everywhere. He was short, and absolutely sweet looking. He walked in red heels with confidence, letting his hands brush against the white thigh highs that hugged the plush skin. His white corset hugged his frame perfectly, and his hair was messy. Like, just after sex messy. The whole image of the dancer was an overwhelming mix of sexy and soft. He looked huggable, and fuckable.

 

As Teddy got closer, his eyes roamed the crowd he brought in. He approached the pole, letting his hand run down it and winking in the general direction of Richie. Cheers from other customers roared from behind him, but Richie wasn’t paying attention.

 

Teddy Bear had these amazing, large doe eyes. They seemed to forever drag Richie into their honey color. He had pouty lips, but a small smirk graced them as well. The dancer threw his head back with the beat, letting his messy bangs fall away from his forehead. He rolled his body against the pole. 

 

1,000 bands in my pocket, it’s on me

100 deep when I roll like the army

Get more bottles, these bottles are lonely

It’s a moment when I show up

Got em’ sayin’ “wow”

 

That’s exactly how Richie felt. He was transfixed on the figure before him. Teddy wrapped his thighs around the bar, handling it with grace and care. He let his body drop at the beat did, and lifted himself back up smoothly. He stuck his face out, letting his mouth fall open slightly, eyeing patrons begging for his attention. 

 

The dancer decided to ditch the bar, approaching the side of the walkway and crouching down. He let his legs part and rubbed the insides of his thighs. Dollar bills fell onto the stage like rain. He got on all fours and crawled towards the other side, letting men and women shove their money into his corset. Then, he approached the circular steps towards Richie’s entourage.

 

Bill, Mike, and Beverly all cheered and gained the dancer’s attention. The boy’s eyes seemed to light up at the sight of them. He strutted over to the seats and let his hand roam over Mike’s hair, scruffing it a bit as he went.

 

Beverly then nudged Richie’s shoulder. Watch this , she mouthed. Bill was biting a dollar bill between his teeth. The dancer seemed to let out a slight laugh at the sight, and leaned down, cupping Bill’s neck. The crowd erupted once again. Teddy moved dangerously close to Bill’s lips, and Richie thought they were gonna start making out right there, but the dancer only bit the other side of the 20, and gave Bill and wink and a quick scratch under his chin.

 

Then, he stopped in front of Beverly. She moved closer to Richie. “Hey, hun, this is the guy I was telling you about,” she cheerfully informed the dancer.

 

The boy gave an o-face, and his eyes landed on Richie. He was like a deer in headlights. The boy was a predator to Richie, and dear God, if he was gonna die, this is the way to do it. Teddy dropped onto the ottoman, crawling across Beverly’s lap, letting out a yelp as she slapped him on the ass, and gently tucked a few bills into his thigh highs. Then, he was straddling Richie’s lap.

 

Richie’s face was on fire. In fact, his whole body was on fire. The dancer practically planted himself onto Richie’s thighs, fisting his collar and pulling him close.

 

“Does the birthday boy have a wish he wants to make?” Oh God, even his voice was dripping sex appeal. That is not fair .

 

“Uh,” Richie clears his throat, cursing the restricting tightness in his jeans. “I think your a whole gift just by yourself, sweetheart.”

 

Teddy made a cooing sound. “So sweet, such a gentleman.” The dancer wrapped his arms around Richie, pushing chest against the taller man’s. “How about a private show, hm?”

 

“Private show?” Richie almost squealed. He kept his arms firmly grasped against the ottoman.

 

“Yeah, baby,” Teddy cooed again, “Bevvy set me up for an hour with you.” Richie tore his eyes away from the sex god in his lap, and eyes Beverly. She merely laughed in response. The dancer cupped his chin, turning Richie back to him. He leaned close, his breath tickling Richie’s lips. “I’ll see you then.”

 

And just like that, Teddy was up and approaching other audience members. He just now realized that the music had died down again to a low lull, and two bodyguards were moving in to let the dancer roam.

 

“I...who? How? Bev?” Richie could only stammer out.

 

“That’s Teddy!” Bill informed happily, “He’s really good.”

 

“No- yeah. I got that part. But what I’m wondering is how the hell you ,” he pointed to Beverly at this, “Expect me to have one hour with him- without touching him or creaming my pants.”

 

Beverly shrugged, sipping her martini. “Ground rules will be set with Eddie.”

 

“Eddie?”

 

“Teddy Bear is his stage name.”

 

Eddie.

 

The boy who literally almost made Richie pop an embarrassing boner in front of his friends and almost without even touching him first. Ridiculous, and hot. So incredibly hot.

 

“You’ve got a few hours to prepare yourself, Rich,” Mike informed, “Eddie’s gotta do his rounds and please his frequent patrons.”

 

Richie turned around to see Eddie accepting a hand to help him step onto a table top. His bodyguards stayed close, but not close enough to interrupt his performance of downing a shot and letting drips fall down his chin and onto his chest. He licked his lips and accepted more money into his lace garments.

 

Oh, boy , Richie thought, this is going to be so much harder than he originally thought .

Chapter Text

Eddie loved the nights where he was the star.

 

He liked to think his personal life and work life were separate. He was actually an extremely anxious person in reality. But once he walked into the club, heels jutting his ass out, curves being hugged by tight clothing, slight makeup making his features shine- he was at peace. Having this false bravado, this mask he could wear, helped him far more than he ever expected it to. It also may have caused him to develop some kinks but that’s besides the point.

 

The attention always gave him a rush of adrenaline, but also left him feeling empty. He could slide and grind along that pole like it was the only anchor in his life all he wanted, but it never filled the mystery void. It left him wanting more. For what? Eddie wasn’t sure. 

 

What he was sure of was the effect of his audience. Especially his favorite newcomer.

 

The man was long everywhere. His legs, arms, fingers, hair, and eyelashes. Eddie could tell, just by being in his lap once, that the man had experience in some form. The rule was no touching, but Eddie wouldn’t mind letting this guy to whatever the hell he wanted. His eyes told Eddie that the curly haired man wanted that too.

 

“Teddy,” one of the drunken patrons sang out, “How’s about a shot, sweetie?”

 

Eddie cooed down at the man from where he stood upon the table. He crouched, letting his knees extend out and accepted the shot glass with a lick of his lips. The man practically melted to the ground at that. “Thanks, mister,” Eddie purred. Then he was standing, catching sight of the guy on his mind still near the stage. He was talking animatedly to his friends, and Eddie felt a surge of jealousy hit him. He drowned the feeling with the slide of vodka down his throat.

 

Men and women around him cheered and he blew them all kisses. He gestured for his security guards to escort him. They stepped to the table and the patrons stepped back, respectfully allowing their spoiled dancer his space.

 

Eddie selfishly accepted the “spoiled” title given to him by Stanley and Beverly. It was no secret that he’s the favorite stripper here since he first started working at The Red Balloon. Patrons always threw far too much cash at him, gave him the best of compliments, and never got too comfortable being around him. They treated him like a princess, and he readily accepted it.

 

Though, it was not always such a wonderful title to hold. Eddie was given two guards specifically because of his popularity. He has been harassed many times, during private shows or even publicly at the tables. Drunken patrons have shamelessly grabbed at his groin, tried to slip stuff into his drinks, and he’s even had a knife or two at his throat. Eddie took this all in stride, not letting it take away the one enjoyable experience in his life, no matter how many times he would panic about it in front of Stanley or in the darkness of his bedroom.

 

“Where are you off to, Teddy?” a business woman asked, following the guards that helped Eddie down from the table. 

 

“To the bar to get slammed!” He answered cheerfully. His entourage cheered for him and followed him there. 

 

Immediately, Eddie’s eyes zeroed in on Stanley. When he was close enough, he wrapped his arms around the lanky man’s waist, lightly rubbing his crotch against Stanley’s ass for show. “Fancy doing some body shots? Maybe catch the eyes of those two?” Eddie was referencing Mike and Bill. The three have been dancing around each other for years. Action was happening, whether Stanley initiates it or not. 

 

Stanley turned around in his arms and cupped Eddie’s cheeks. The intimacy was natural for them. There were never strings attached, they just helped each other out a lot. Clocked into work or not. “Hm,” he pretended to consider, “What’s in it for you?”

 

“Maybe a dick up my ass later tonight,” Eddie tilted his head a bit towards the group where the new guy was. “It’s a win-win situation, Stan.”

 

“Then what are we waiting for?”

 

The two hoisted themselves onto the counter of the bar. Patrons around them erupted into cheers, anticipating what sexy act was about to go down in front of them. They ignored Beverly’s distinct shout of “ Please don’t break a glass again! ” and accepted a shot from the bartender. Stanley slipped a slice of lime into his mouth and shuddered as Eddie let salt fall onto his torso. Stanley was knelt above him, beckoning for patrons to watch. He wasn’t a performer anymore, but he still had the same effect on people around him.

 

Eddie downed the shot, crawling on all fours to begin licking up Stanley’s body. He placed wet kisses along the skin, lapping at all the salt he could reach. His eyes strayed from Stanley’s body, and caught the eyes of the newcomer, who was approaching the scene with the group. When he finally reached Stanley’s lips, the other man was laid against the bar top, Eddie’s chest flush with his. Eddie leaned down, slotting their lips together, mixing the juices in their mouths. He gave the newcomer a heated gaze as he pulled back just slightly, nipping Stanley’s lip and accepting the lime into his mouth.

 

All hell broke loose in the club.

 

There were whistles, cheers, and clapping. Stanley’s body pushed up against his, getting into a position to sit. Eddie slid into his lap, happily sucking on the lime with a satisfied smirk on his face. Stanley and his arms around Eddie’s waist, flushing a bit under the attention. It’s been awhile since he’s been the focus of the crowd. Beverly pushes through to the bar and stopped in front of the two.

 

“As much as I love seeing you two get each other and everyone else in this place off,” Beverly started with an eyebrow cocked, “that counter’s gotta be a safety hazard.”

 

Eddie gave a laugh, pulling Stanley up with him, and had them both give the audience a bow. He gave the taller man a farewell kiss on the cheek, and hopped down into Beverly’s open arms. Stanley descended off the counter with more grace, accepting Eddie’s guards’ help. Beverly huffed out a sharp breath as their bodies collided. 

 

“Alright, alright. Hurry up and get on with your greetings,” Beverly said with a laugh, “Private show in an hour with Richie.”

 

“Richie…” Eddie tasted the name on his tongue. He liked that. “Richie, Richie, Richie.” Beverly only hummed in acknowledgement, patting his shoulders. As he broke away from her, she slapped his ass once more, and laughed as Stanley gave her an insufferable stare.

 

“So, how’s it feel being in the limelight again?” She asked him. Stanley only shrugged, a small blush gracing his cheeks.

 

“Great thanks to that little fucker I guess,” he huffed out a laugh, “But I don’t miss it.”

 

Beverly nodded her head, watching Eddie greet more patrons and accepting more drinks and money for shaking his ass. She hopes he’ll slow down on the drinks. “Yeah, I get that. He’s a real fireball.”

 

“Has been since he first got here. God, has it already been two years?” Beverly nodded at his reminiscence, pulling a cigarette from the pocket of her jacket and lighting it.

 

“He’s the same since then. But-” Beverly said suddenly, peaking Stanley’s interest. “Did you see the way he was looking at the new guy?”

 

“I couldn’t miss it, Bev. He grinded himself down onto me when he looked at him.”

 

Beverly laughed, smoke leaving her throat. “Richie seemed to reciprocate,” she leaned closer to whisper in his ear, “Think I caught a bulge in his pants during that.” Stanley gave a mock gag, and promptly walked away, picking up a tray with drinks. Beverly only laughed.

 


 

“Mike, Bill,” Richie started, “If I don’t come out of there with the last of my pride, tell my cat I love her.”

 

Mike raised a hand, “Sure, but do I get Binx?”

 

“Hey, I want Binxy!”

 

Richie clapped once loudly. “As much as I love the enthusiasm surrounding dearest Thackery Binx- which she will make the decision, thank you very much- it’s hardly the point.”

 

Mike put his hands on his hips. “So, what’s the point exactly?”

 

“My point is,” Richie let out a scoff, “I’m about to get a lap dance from the most gorgeous boy to grace this sad Earth, and I may not come back alive.”

 

Bill and Mike immediately positioned their hands for a prayer. “We’ll pray for your return, and gamble for Binx’s love,” Bill says softly, Mike nodding along with his words.

 

Richie gave up. “I see you two are the bestest of friends a guy could ask for. Binx will be going to Bev. See ya, fuckers.” Richie turns around, making his way down to the end of the hall. He stops in front of the door. He takes a deep breath and opens it.

 

Eddie is sat in a booth on the other side of the room. A drink in his hands, playing with the hem of the see-through shawl on his body. He gave Richie a sly smile. “Well, come on in, baby,” Eddie purrs, with a finger beckoning Richie to come closer, “I don’t bite.”

 

Richie gulped. “You sure seem like you like to. Saw you and Stanley at the bar earlier.”

 

Eddie stood up, stepping away from the booth and moving to the love seat in the middle of the room. “I know. I made sure you did.”

 

Richie also came closer. “Why’s that? What makes me so special, honey?”

 

Eddie smiles at the nickname. “I got a good feeling about you, Richie.” And oh hell, Richie loves the way Eddie says his name. “Want a drink?” Eddie holds out a bottle.

 

Richie plants himself into the cushions, accepting the glass Eddie pours for him. The dancer moves to straddle his hips, but Richie stops him with the cold feeling of the glass against his thigh.

 

“What’s wrong?” Eddie asks with a tilt of his head.

 

“I… want to savor this?” Richie tries.

 

Eddie gave him a face of disbelief, “That sounded more like a question.” He sat down next to Richie and sipped his drink.

 

“Alright. The truth,” Richie begins, “Here goes.”

 

“Lay it on me, handsome.”

 

Richie chuckled at that. “I uh- am truthfully not hoping for a show or anything.” How embarrassing , he thought. He saw Eddie’s look of pure shock and hurried to redeem himself. “It’s nothing about you! Well, actually it’s everything about you. Shit, uh. I mean-”

 

“Hey,” Eddie interrupted, “Just let it out.”

 

“I want to take you on a date.”

 

Eddie’s look of shock returned. Richie waited with bated breath. “Oh…”

 

Richie winced. “Sorry, that was really weird I know.”

 

“No, no!” Eddie recovered. He leaned forward towards Richie, with a look of genuine surprise in his eyes. But not disgust or disappointment. “It’s actually really sweet. I’m just… no one’s ever come into this room expecting anything other than a dance or my body.” Richie’s brow furrowed at that, and he hid his frown in his glass. “Sorry, that wasn’t really romantic, huh?”

 

“Nah,” Richie let out a small laugh, “But I wasn’t smooth either.” He took a swig of the drink and grimaced at the sweetness.

 

“Aren’t we just two peas in a pod?” Eddie giggled.

 

They sat there, drinking, joking, and exchanging stories about themselves for the better part of the hour. Towards the end of their impromptu hang out session, Richie asked “So, why’d you get so surprised when I asked you out on a date?”

 

Eddie hummed absentmindedly. “Don’t get all bummed out on me or anything, but I’m never asked on dates.”

 

“What?!” Richie exclaimed, “You’re fucking with me.”

 

“I’m not!” Eddie laughed, “It’s true. People only ever ask me to give them a lap dance or… give them a favor. Stuff like that. I’ve never had- someone come to me and like, genuinely want to take me out in a date.”

 

“That’s a crime. A capital offense,” Richie sounded offended himself, “You are literally the cutest thing. How the hell is no one taking you out on dates?” Eddie only shrugged and Richie clicked his tongue at the response. “Well, I would be honored to be the lucky guy that gets to take an angel such as yourself on a date.”

 

“And I,” Eddie’s voice deepened just a bit, leaning forward, batting his eyelashes innocently, “Would be honored to be the guy sucking your dick later that night.”

 

Richie choked on his drink.

Chapter Text

A few minutes after Richie left the bar, presumably to get ready for his date that night with Eddie, Stanley received an armful of the small boy.

 

“Oh my god , Stan,” Eddie wheezed out, rubbing his face into the taller man’s chest, “Stan, Stan, Stan!”

 

“What? What happened? Are you okay?” Stanley was frantic. He cupped Eddie’s face, looking for any indication of pain, but froze at the wide smile.

 

“I’m perfect,” Eddie cooed happily, cupping Stanley’s hands over his cheeks, “Richie asked me out on a date. Tonight.”

 

Stanley frowned. It wasn’t the first time that Eddie had been coerced into something that was only advantageous to the other person. Multiple men have asked to come see Eddie after work, and that they’d show him a good time. Eddie, who Stanley learned had been extremely sheltered, didn’t know the true intentions of the men. The word “date” was a new one, but Stanley didn’t trust it. “Eddie, you know what happens when-”

 

“No! Stan, I know. But listen-” Eddie backed up away from the taller man, “He didn’t even want the lap dance.”

 

Well , Stanley thought, that is… interesting . “Why?” he ended up asking.

 

“Said he wanted to give me what I deserve!” Eddie quoted proudly. Stanley imagines that if he were a bird, his feathers would surely be fluffed right now, brimming with happiness.

 

“I’m happy for you, Eddie,” Stanley said with a smile. Eddie gave him a brighter one and leaned back into his arms. “But… be careful, okay? You just met him. He seems nice now but-”

 

“I know, Stan,” Eddie answered him with a smug smile. Stanley reaches forward and squished Eddie’s soft cheeks with both hands. Eddie laughed out, “I’m a big boy!”

 

“A brat is what you are,” Stan whispered at him, pressing his lips to Eddie’s button nose several times. The shorter boy squirmed in his grip, letting out quiet giggles. When he broke free, he rolled his eyes towards the patrons that gratefully watched the interaction. When Stanley has been a performer, the chemistry between the two had brought in a lot of audience members. It was always a treat to see them interact, even if Stanley was only serving drinks now.

 

Eddie broke away from his grip completely and turned towards the dressing room. “I’ll bring the mace, I swear. But you gotta help me get all cute for it!”

 

“I promise,” Stanley nodded with a small smile. Stanley watched Eddie go, returning to entertaining the last of the late night customers. He watched as a man in a tux slid Eddie a wad of cash, and grinned as Eddie took his hand and led him back to the private rooms. It reminded Stanley of when the younger boy first started working here.

 

After a few minutes, “You thinking about it?” a voice asked from behind him. Stanley whipped around to find Bill, Mike, and Beverly.

 

Stanley sighed, “Yeah, I am. You know?”

 

Mike nodded, with a sad and wistful smile on his face. “He told us when we first started hanging out with him. He was really drunk.” Stanley watched as Beverly drained the drink in her hand. He could sympathize.

 

“I don’t like it,” she said truthfully, hissing at the burn of alcohol going down her throat, “But I don’t want to take his choice away, you know?”

 

Stanley nodded. He was about to open his mouth and continue their conversation, but he was cut off suddenly by the sound of a yell. Specifically, a yell from Eddie. “ Stop !”

 

Customers turned their heads, trying to get a peak at the commotion. Stanley and Beverly stepped into action, corralling guests outside. They couldn’t risk anymore bad publicity, not after the last time a guy held a knife to Eddie’s or another stripper’s throat. Mike and Bill pushed through the crowd of people, and made their way to the private rooms. Once they burst through the curtain, Mike brought out a pistol he kept in his belt specifically for times like this. Bill has one too, aimed right for the guy’s head, covering Eddie’s mouth with his hand.

 

“Don’t!” The man yelled. “I’ll shoot. I’ll shoot the bitch, I swear it!” The man was clearly intoxicated.

 

“Put the fucking gun down,” Bill demanded. The man shook his head and brought Eddie closer to his body. Mike has just noticed that his tights were ripped and his frilly underwear was halfway off his body. “Put it down!” Bill shouted.

 

The guy raised his gun to Eddie’s head and opened his mouth to yell again, but a shot rang out from behind Mike. He watched the man stagger back, releasing Eddie. The small boy almost tripped rushing forward towards Bill, who maneuvered Eddie around him and threw him towards Stanley. Beverly stepped forward, gun raised, and phone up to her ear. “Just had to shoot him because he had a gun to my employee’s head, ma’am.”

 

“Stan-” Eddie wheezed out, “I’m sorry… I don’t-” Mike tried to ignore the choked sobs and approached the wounded man with Bill. The finger tossed him handcuffs all private rooms had tucked in a drawer, and the man was restrained. Mike booted the gun away.

 

“Eddie, stop. Can you breathe with me?” Stanley asked, hands rubbing up and down Eddie’s arms. He reached down Eddie’s body to pull up the lace underwear, knowing that Eddie was probably deeply ashamed.

 

“Babe, breathe,” Beverly said, “It’s okay. No one's hurt, and it’s not your fault.”

 

“I’m sor-” Stanley hushed him then, bringing Eddie’s hand to his chest and instructing him to breathe together. 

 

“Where are they?” Mike asked, turning to Beverly.

 

“Five minutes away.”

 

Bill groaned in frustration and glared at the pitiful man on the floor. He crouched down in front of him and threw a punch square at his jaw. “Y-you fucking mongrel.” The guy fell back against the wall with a pained shout.

 

“Eddie, sweetie,” Beverly said softly, kneeling next to the trembling boy, “Where’s Brandon and Marcus?” They were Eddie’s personal security guards.

 

“He…” Eddie gulped in a large breath, pointing to the man in cuffs, “Paid them to ditch me.”

 

Stanley was shocked into anger. Beverly could only sigh, cupping Eddie’s face and bringing him to her chest. After a few minutes of Eddie calming himself down, Mike spoke.

 

“Eddie, Bill and I are gonna be your new guards.”

 

“No!” Eddie shouted at him, tugging away from Beverly. “You can’t! It’s too-”

 

“Eddie,” Bill interrupted, “Y-you made an ag-agreement with us last time. We’re doing it.”

 

Eddie started crying again. “I don’t want you to get hurt again because of me,” He let out a heart wrenching sob.

 

“Eddie,” Mike dropped to his knees, “It wasn’t your fault.”

 

“You were in the hospital for weeks!” Eddie yelled at him. Mike almost laughed at the way he pointed at him condescendingly. Even while in the throes of a panic attack, Eddie could still be as feisty as always.

 

“Were you the one that shot me?”

 

“No, but-”

 

“Then it wasn’t your fault,” Mike said simply. He cut off whatever protests Eddie had left by leaving the room. Beverly joined him in waiting outside for the police to get to the bar.

 

“You sure you’re fine with being back on the job?” Beverly asked, taking out a pack of cigarettes and lighting on. She inhaled, and let out a sharp exhale. “It’s getting worse, you know? More hate crimes, sexual harassment… pub on the other side of town got hit the other day. One of the dancers got sent to the hospital.”

 

“I’d rather go in than Eddie.”

 

Beverly nodded in agreement and let out a laugh. “He’d hate that.”

 

Mike chuckled as well. “Yeah, well Bill and I got the training for it. No more hiring guys who’ll just leave him at the sight of some cash.” Mike ground his teeth against the cig in his mouth. He yanked it out and smashed it under his boot.

 

6“No more,” Beverly said back.

 

After a few minutes, the police cleared the crowd surrounding the club and detained the man. They tried to question Eddie, which was redundant because the man who assaulted the boy was already confessing in the back seat of the police car, but Stanley shooed them away with the promise that they could talk to Eddie when he wasn’t coming down from a panic attack. The employees and janitors banded together to clean up the mess that was left at the panic of the gunshot going off, and they all sat down.

 

It was common knowledge among the employees that The Red Balloon was like a family mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in for good. Mike and Bill left the police force to work with Beverly, who hired them with the money her father had left behind. Ben had pitched in as well, practically selling everything to his name to runaway with Beverly. She was the brains of the whole operation, and the boss.

 

“Here’s what we’re gonna do, ladies and gentlemen,” Beverly announced, standing on the stage and looking at her faithful entourage, “We’re gonna start having self defense classes taught by Mike and Bill. Everyday after work.” A low groan broke out from her audience. “Oh? You wanna be assaulted some more? Be my guest. Show up, or it’s your fault when this place goes down. We’re just barely keeping the cops off our asses as it is,” Beverly sighed, rubbing her temple and flicking open her lighter for a cig.

 

Ben spoke up from her left down in the audience. “The self defense will help. You all have mace hidden in your rooms, but it’s not enough anymore. Mike and Bill can help you keep yourselves safe.”

 

Eddie leaned back in his chair, tights still torn where they’re crossed in front of them, and accepts a drink from one of his coworkers. He gives the girl a tight smile and turns back to Beverly. “So,” he sips, “What happens when Mike or Bill get sent to the hospital for us? Die for us?”

 

Mike spoke up from his right, “Eddie, don’t-”

 

“Don’t what, Mike?” Eddie asked him, slamming his glass down on the table in front of him, and standing up. “Don’t point out the elephant in the room?” 

 

“Eddie, stop.” That was Stan.

 

“No, Stan, no. This is fucking bullshit. Is all this really worth them getting hurt, Beverly?”

 

Bill’s ivy voice commanded, “Sit. Down.”

 

“Fuck you!” Eddie yelled, “It’s not going to be my fucking fault again.” His voice cracked, throat still sore from earlier. He gave Beverly one surly look, a puff of smoke and a raised eyebrow in return, and huffed out angrily, stomping towards the dressing room. He heard whispers behind him, but droned then out by the sound of his heels and his labored breathing, heart thumping hard and fast in his chest. 

 

He ripped his locker open, tearing of his clothing, not caring what rips. Eddie ignores the tears falling from his cheeks, angrily throwing them to the floor. He pulls out the baggy clothing he often wears on his way home from work, and struggles slipping them on past his watery vision. He knows he’s wheezing all the while, but can’t bring himself to stop and breathe . He slams the locker shut, and marches outside to the private parking lot.

 

“Eddie!” Just as he’s about to hop on his motorcycle, he turns to see Ben chasing after him. “Hey, you okay?”

 

“Do I look okay, Ben?” Eddie and Ben both wince.

 

“Yeah, stupid question, sorry,” Ben sheepishly rubs his neck, “Um- I just want you to know none of us are angry with you. Not even Bev. She knows you’re hurting.”

 

Eddie’s tears threatened to fall again but he swallows them down along with a sob stuck in his throat. “This is gonna put them in an early grave.”

 

“Don’t worry, Eddie, they’ll die trying to get Stan to go on a date with them first.” They both share a laugh, even reluctantly from Eddie.

 

“Stan really likes them. They’re so stupid,” Eddie says wistfully, grabbing for his helmet. He turns back to Ben and gives him a big hug, enjoying how Ben’s hugs are always the warmest and softest. “Thanks, Ben. I’ll apologize tomorrow.”

 

“Bev took you off the schedule, Eddie,” Ben says, “You got a week break. Perfect time for a date with a certain someone, don’t you think?” Eddie would’ve been mad at being taken off the roster if the thought of seeing Richie again didn’t totally make him ecstatic.

 

“Shut up,” Eddie lightly punches Ben’s arm. He turns away and slips on his helmet, straddling his motorcycle and revving it up. He gives Ben a wave before pulling out of the parking lot and rides away. He lets all his worries be left behind, understanding that he has a week to get his shit together.

 


 

What ?!” Richie shouted into the phone, “What the fuck?”

 

Beverly sighed into the phone, and Richie just knew she was pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m not repeating it. Some guy tried to hurt Eddie, he got arrested, so did the bum guards, Eddie’s fine. He just got taken in for questioning,” Beverly continued before Richie could speak, “Just thought I’d update you in case you didn’t already know that the date tonight is cancelled.”

 

“Obviously it is!” Richie let out a long groan. “Is he okay? Is he hurt?” 

 

“Rich, honey, he’s fine. Swear. It just scared him, but he’ll be fine. There’s been worse-”

 

“What the fuck kind of people do you have coming to your strip club, Bevvy?”

 

Beverly sighed into the phone again, and Richie could hear the familiar sound of a lighter being flicked. “Listen, I just wanted to update you and give you his number. And also, warn you that Eddie will try to apologize about your date being cancelled.”

 

“Apologize? What for?” 

 

Beverly hummed into the phone. “Nothing. Kid’s just an angel like that.”

 

Richie scoffed and sat up in his bed. “I believe it.” Before Richie could ask any more questions, Beverly continued.

 

“Take him out somewhere nice when you do see him, alright? Eddie’s been pretty high strung since it happened,” Beverly laughed into the phone, “I know you’re the best of everyone I’ve ever met that can distract someone from something like that.”

 

Richie almost wanted to pretend to be somewhat bristled by the comment, but he would be more than happy to distract Eddie. “It is my best feature, aside from my massive dick.”

 

Beverly made a thoughtful hum. “Dunno about that. Ben’s got some girth-”

 

Beverly !” Came Ben’s distinct screech in embarrassment. 

 

Richie laughed as he heard the couple bicker back and forth. “Alright, mom and dad, I got it. I’ll treat him real nice.”

 

“Thanks, Rich, be good.”

 

“Always,” Richie crosses his heart, “Scout’s honor.”

 

“Ugh,” with that, Beverly hung up on him.

 

Richie received a text with a contact attached from her a moment later, and gleefully added it to his list. He opened the messenger app.

 

trashmouth: so. fuck that guy from the club.

 

Nearly a minute later, he got a reply.

 

Edward Kaspbrak: who the fuck is this

 

trashmouth: mr. edward kaspbrak, I just wanna let you know that you hurt my feelings, man of my dreams, light of my life, apple to my pie

 

Edward Kaspbrak: I hate pie

 

trashmouth: ok i need to make you mine then. date night at mine?

 

Edward Kaspbrak: and here I am asking again, who the fuck are you

 

trashmouth: the guy you gave the hottest lap dance to!!

 

Edward Kaspbrak: oh fuck god

 

Edward Kaspbrak: I am so sorry Richie!!!! I had a rough night!!

 

trashmouth: I heard,, how you doin eds?

 

Edward Kaspbrak: oh god wtf is eds that’s not my new name is it

 

trashmouth: only the cutest name for the cutest boy

 

Eds: no!

 

trashmouth: too late! so!! I’m gonna bring me and my ass and my apple pie to your place and we are gonna have a nice night in and I’m gonna woo you so good baby

 

Eds: sounds perfect

 

trashmouth: come over tomorrow night? (location attached)

 

Wow, Tozier, desperate much?

 

trashmouth: get your body ready for my pie

 

And somehow you made it worse.

 

Eds: is that an innuendo?

 

trashmouth: no literally. i can fucking Bake babe

 

Eds: you'd better, bc i'll be over there tomorrow. gn richie

 

trashmouth: night eds!! <3333

 

Eds: oh my fucik

 

Somehow, Richie landed the fucking date.