It starts out with a faint, annoying cough. A constant reminder of tickling in the back of Eddie's throat.
He manages to disguise it in front of his mother, clearing his throat twice or three times. As Eddie pulls on a dusty, massive overcoat, he feels his mother's fingernails grip sharply onto the bottom of his chin to lift, pinching down. Now you be careful—don't you be getting sick like last time—you're always sick, Eddie—
December mid-afternoon smells like exhaust fumes and crackling, wet ice. It reaches to his nostrils as soon as Eddie rushes out the house.
"Think my mom would have an actual heart attack if I ever got sick for real," he mumbles. Stan lets out a white-puff cloud of a snort. When Richie's eyes light up and he opens his mouth wide, Eddie glares in his direction. "If you say anything about her weight right now, I swear to god… …"
Richie's arm drapes comfortably around his shoulders.
Eddie doesn't bother shrugging him off this time, mostly because Richie's nice and warm through their clothes, and in his head, Eddie really likes it. He's always really liked Richie, in a lot of ways. Some are confusing and anxiety-inducing — hell, maybe he is a queer, but Eddie doesn't feel dirty at all. Not like his mom told him it would feel.
But, as much as he wants, Richie doesn't…
His coughing returns, burning and flaring into Eddie's ribcage. "Relax, Spaghetti Head. I wasn't gonna—" Richie then hesitates, pressing a hand gently to Eddie's chest when the other boy suddenly leans forward and wheezes for air. "—whoa, hey, take it easy. You okay?" Richie asks, his face scrunching up with concern.
Drool hangs between Eddie's lips. He sniffs, wiping off his mouth and nose with a sleeve.
"Mhm," Eddie hums, closing his eyes and trying to regulate his breathing.
When the front doorknob rattles, Richie's arm quickly slips away from him. Eddie's mom appears in the doorway, calling for her son and seemingly impatient. Eddie recognizes immediately what she needs, stepping back onto the porch and grimacing internally. He waits for her to bend in, kissing her lightly. His mom's cheek tastes like powder and strong perfume, and Eddie flushes when he hears snickers behind him.
Once she's vanished, a grinning Richie nudges him.
"Can I get a kiss too, Eds?"
"Sure, you can kiss my ass," Eddie snaps, crooking his leg backwards, upwards, and kicking the seat of Richie's jeans. The hit barely lands, and it only makes Eddie belly-laugh too, chasing after them eagerly, as his friends shout at the top of their lungs and hop off the sidewalk towards their bikes.
It's close to twilight.
Pale pink, smoky clouds filter out the deep blue and the stars above them. Mike and Bill keep their gazes up towards the skies, pointing with their fingers and huddling on a log, murmuring to each other. Beverly and Stan and Ben find a old, frozen hornet's nest by a tree, daring each other to poke it.
Ben's fingers quiver slightly around the branch in his grasp. He distracts himself by looking over to Richie and Eddie by the creek-bed.
Water still runs under thin sheets of ice. Eddie's saying something with that disgruntled frown, but Ben notices Richie grimacing when he's not staring at him, rubbing his stomach. He's paler than yesterday, almost gaunt. If he's sick, Richie has been saying nothing about it — but it's Richie, who defaults to humor, so Ben doesn't expect him to announce when something's actually wrong. Richie would rather suffer by himself than worry everybody else, or so Ben figures.
A shriek pierces the air. Ben jumps in place, glancing around before realizing it's from Eddie, almost having been pushed into the creek. He's clutched tightly in Richie's embrace, as the other, smiling boy hugs him from behind and pulls Eddie right off his feet and spins them around.
"What a bunch of idiots," Beverly mumbles, shaking her head good-naturedly. Ben's lips twitch into a growing smile.
He can't disagree.
Eddie shuts the bathroom door, ignoring the yell and television static in the distance.
His nose and the surface of his cheeks are a bright, blotchy red from the winter-cold. Eddie looks at his reflection in the sink's mirror, narrowing his eyes and scrutinizing it, touching over the faint, pink scratches around his chin. Exactly like the trails of fingernails. Mom — she doesn't mean to, but Eddie can't help but feel a little resentment.
She doesn't get it. All his mom wants to do is control Eddie, and keep him from living a normal life and being with his friends. She loves him, but she doesn't understand him. That's not important enough to her. It didn't change before the fucking sewer clown attacked Derry this last summer, and it didn't change afterward. Eddie half-wishes that clown would pop its ugly-ass, misshapen head out of the toilet. Jesus christ, he needs something to punch that badly.
His hands grasp around the sink's pristine edges, knuckling white.
Richie almost knocked him in the damn creek on purpose too — what is it with everybody tonight? Eddie scowls at the memory, despite his tummy somersaulting pleasantly. He couldn't see Richie's freckles in the dark, instead glimpsing a row of straight, white teeth. The sensation of Richie's glasses bumping into Eddie's neck as he hugged him.
Why does Richie do that when he doesn't—
A familiar, choking burning rises, moving from Eddie's chest, echoing into the back of his mouth. He coughs loudly and repeatedly, bowing over the bathroom sink's opening. Eddie swallows down his mouthful of drool, feeling something wet and silky-smooth land on the inside of his right cheek.
He peels it off, staring down at a crumpled flower petal between his fingers. Hot pink and veiny and real.
Eddie tosses it into the garbage fearfully, scraping the film of dirt and blood on his tongue with his brand new toothbrush, until it all tingles painfully.
By the next day, the inside of Eddie's cheek swells and reddens.
He reaches into his mouth and prods it curiously with a fingernail, wincing at its tenderness. It doesn't look too bad… but he remembers it's where the flower ended up. Eddie huffs, grabbing his book-bag and sternly telling himself he's being delusional. He hears Stan holler his name outside the restroom.
"You seen Richie? I thought he was gonna meet us?" he asks Eddie, brow furrowed.
Eddie shrugs wordlessly.
"He said he was getting a drink," Mike says helpfully, and Eddie catches his obviously troubled look. "But, uh, that was twelve minutes ago—"
A beanbag, small and tie-dye colored, flies against the nearby locker, startling them. Richie hurries over, catching it midair before it smacks onto the ground. There's a bright sheen of perspiration against his forehead, and his grin seems weakened, even if his voice is as jolly as ever. "What were we gossiping about, ladies?"
Stan crinkles his nose. "Your tiny dick," he replies, smirking.
Eddie groans helplessly, shielding his face with both of his palms.
"Stan the Man knows how to pick 'em," Richie says boastfully, elbowing Stan who elbows back and chuckles. "Tell me, what's your favorite sex position?"
"Richie—" Eddie hisses, blushing as one of their classmates walks by, eyeing the group with disbelief.
Mike flattens his lips together, trying very hard to not laugh.
"The one where you aren't there, Trashmouth," Stan says deadpan, but with the clear, glimmering amusement in his eyes.
"What about you, Eddie Spaghetti?"
"Ihateyousomuch," Eddie murmurs, thumping his face softly into a locker-door. Mike sympathetically takes hold of his shoulders and guides Eddie away from the locker, turning him around, before he can get more aggressive on himself. During this, Richie vanishes from sight again, leaving Stan baffled once more.
Bill finds him sitting out of gym class, trembling on the bench and porridge-colored.
The second-floor water fountain drowns in oleander-pink flowers.
Eddie starts vomiting, tasting ashes and soil, his stomach getting more and more queasy.
Red cyclamen blossoms like pinpricks of blood, swirling in his tub.
And he knows he's not.
Winter diminishes, leaving the elder-dark bushes capped with thawing snow and frost.
Beverly thinks it glitters like diamonds, like the unshed tears in Richie's eyes.
Their friends wander together on the curved dirt road, with him and Beverly at the rear. He sucks in a deep inhale of her joint. "Do you ever just… wanna bury something so fucking deep…" Richie croaks out, the smoke trickling off his raw, wind-chapped lips, "that… you think one day you'll forget about it?"
She licks over her top lip.
Beverly gazes over Richie looking ahead, from his muddied sneakers half-laced to his pinched, aching expression. There's no Eddie with them. He's actually sick at home with a fever, or so Bill says. Richie's always like this when Eddie's not around — more solemn, more noticeably heartbroken.
Noticeable to her anyway.
"Yeah, I have," she admits, because it's true. Not because it's something he wants to hear from her. "But that's the thing about burying it… whatever you want to go away just comes right back," Beverly says lowly, tucking a strand of brilliantly red hair over her ear. "You reap what you sow, I guess."
When he laughs, it sounds wheezy and a single, solitary tear rolls down his face.
"Can't I just salt the lawn or something?" Richie exclaims, forcing a wide, unassuming grin when they finally meet eyes. Beverly tuts quietly, palming his cheek and rubbing her thumb over his jaw to push the tear from existence. "Then it won't… it won't come back back, right?"
"It's worth a try," she tells him patiently, offering up the joint.
Richie accepts it gratefully, and partway through another inhale, he coughs hoarsely, wincing through it. Beverly thinks about giving him grief for being so dramatic when she realizes he's now having difficulty breathing, gasping and clutching onto his stomach. He's coughing up flowers — lily white, glistening with bile and saliva.
When his eyes roll to the back of his head, Beverly grabs onto Richie's arm, terrified as his body convulses.
"Ben! Bill!" she screams, "Help me!"
Slowly, ever so slowly, the burning and the coughing goes away.
Eddie spends time helping with chores and doing his assigned homework, and sitting with his mom for late night television. She's overjoyed about Eddie's high fever and spasming, bodily tremors, petting his hair and cooing about what a good boy my Eddie is, I'm right here, I'll take care of you and allowing him an extra slice of pie for dinner.
He does as he's told for the most part, playing board games with her or cleaning out the attic. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but Eddie's lungs feel stronger.
His friends try to phone him, or visit.
That's when his mom loses her temper, slapping Eddie's face or jerking on his shirt-collar, dragging him to his bedroom and ordering him to stay there. Eddie doesn't protest at first, and it could just be an old habit — but he's getting sick of it fast. She can't treat him like a prisoner when he didn't do anything wrong in the first place.
Eddie goes upright in bed, frowning and listening to a thud! of a pebble ricochet off his window. Thud! Thud thud!
He slides up the bottom window-frame, poking his head out. Down below, his friends wave enthusiastically to him on their bikes. "What are you guys doing here?" Eddie shouts, before cringing and waiting for his mom to storm in on him. Thankfully, she doesn't.
"Busting you out!" Mike yells back. "Come on!"
He makes a frustrated, panicked noise, running his fingers through his hair. God, this is exactly what he wanted. To escape.
"I don't know…"
"Eddie, please. It's about Richie." Beverly's green eyes seem so dark and puffy, as if she's been crying. "He's not doing so good. We had to call an ambulance—"
Something painful wretches and squeezes in his gut.
Without hesitating, Eddie climbs himself out of the windowsill, snatching onto the leaky, creaking drain-pipe. He doesn't manage to fall with any amount of grace, landing awkwardly, making his forearm and left hip sore from impact. Ben scrambles to help him up, discovering Eddie's bike tucked away in some garden brush.
Was it me?
Eddie pumps his legs, riding alongside everyone, speeding up. Was Richie sick?
Was it contagious?
The sudden rush of guilt and fear waters up Eddie's eyes. The chilly morning fog surrounds him, obscuring the view of Derry's local hospital. He's got no socks or shoes, but doesn't care at this point. Several of orderlies and security guards block them from the emergency room — and while they all argue, Eddie ducks out. He knows another way in. Being at the doctor's office, and the emergency room, so many times in the past taught him all of the shortcuts and possibly illegal entrances.
Once in, he spots Richie propped up on a hospital bed, wearing a cannula and one of the gowns.
It doesn't look right. He's not supposed to be here.
Eddie coughs into his wrist, spitting out light pink rhododendron into a nearby bed-pan, feeling his heart irregularly skip. The nurse disappears from the area, and he races over, practically babbling. "I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!" Eddie cries out, alarming the other boy who squints his eyes and pulls on his glasses.
"What are you talking about? Eddie, how the hell did you—?"
He shakes his head frantically. "It was me—it was my fault you're sick," Eddie tells him, dropping his weight into his hands when he leans onto the cot and continues babbling. "I got sick—and I got you sick—oh god, what the fuck is happening—"
"You didn't do this. I've been sick for a while," Richie says, oddly calm. "They said I had… roots in my lungs. And I taste dirt all the time. And I keep seeing fl—"
"Flowers," Eddie finishes, watching Richie's eyes go big and distorted. "I see them too. Sometimes they're bloody—jesus, I sound crazy."
"You're the one who knows… about all the diseases…"
"This is not a disease. This isn't a normal one," Eddie insists, lowering into a sit on Richie's hospital bed. "It's like… I mean, I got worse when I was around you, but not all the time. Then my mom kept me at home for a while, and then I was getting better…"
He trails off.
"Does that mean…" Richie looks so small and sweaty and overly pale against the bedsheets and pillows. His voice floods with this incredible, forlorn sadness that squeezes Eddie's insides harder than before. "If I'm away from you for good… it's the only way for you to get better?"
Eddie makes an outraged noise, gritting his teeth.
"And if that kills you?"
There's no reassurance in Richie's smile. "You reap what you sow," he says —
— and that doesn't even make fucking sense!
"No," Eddie says simply, waving his hands, as if the conversation is over for him. He begins to glare heatedly at the other boy. "No. No, no. Richie, I will drag you up from the fucking ground myself, so don't even think about it—and what the hell could you possibly be smiling at?"
Richie's mouth quirks up further. "I'm smiling at you," he murmurs, admiration teeming every syllable.
Instead of rejoicing in it, Eddie clenches his fists but keeps them lowered.
"Don't do that," he mumbles.
"Treat me liking you as a joke. It's not funny. It's never been funny."
Richie's expression tightens.
"You… like me?" he asks doubtfully. When Eddie nods with an aggressive, scowling look, Richie cracks up loudly, tossing his head back and slamming his hands over his mouth. It's the kind of laughter that would be infectious and maddeningly happy if Eddie wasn't seeing thirty kinds of red.
"Why are you LAUGHING—YOU ENTIRE ASSHOLE—"
"I like you, Eds!" Richie shouts over him, grinning wildly and spreading out his arms. "I thought… I thought you didn't! It hurt so badly that I wanted to die! I never thought in a million years you would ever feel the way about me that I wanted, and I didn't know how to tell you!"
All of the anger slips out of Eddie's body, so quickly that it gets him lightheaded.
"Ohh," he whispers. Eddie's brain processes all of this, and all he can manage is "Oh, I, ohhh—oh."
Richie laughs again, this time softer and understanding.
"Tell me about it…"
It feels like the tension building for days and days and days releases. Eddie's chest no longer squeezes. He opens his mouth, but what can he say—
"Young man, there are no visiting hours for the area of the hospital!"
One of the emergency room doctors steps in, looking between them with disapproval and folding his arms.
"Sorry, I just—" Eddie flounders for an explanation. Fuck. "I, um, I just wanted to make sure my friend was okay," he admits, going for the truth.
"Yes. I believe there's a gaggle of you make a commotion in our waiting room." The emergency room doctor grips onto Eddie's shoulder harshly, leading him towards the exit. "Perhaps you should join them before I call for an escort to help you find your way?"
"Wait, sir," Eddie protests, turning around and struggling. "What about the roots?"
"In my lungs," Richie points out, still bedridden. "The ones they were gonna operate on."
"I beg your pardon?" The emergency room doctor glances at his patient, torn between scoffing at the absurdity or chuckling. "I'm not sure what you overheard, but there's nothing so unusual or imaginative about your diagnosis and chest X-rays." He holds up Richie's medical file and its papers. "You are experiencing a severe infection, which is why we have contacted your parents and are keeping you overnight. Possibly longer if need be."
"Let me see that—" Eddie barks out, snatching the file and peering through its contents. Sure enough, he can't find anything about roots or dirt or flowers.
He has plenty of time to mull this over, as a nearby security guard seizes him around the middle, physically carrying Eddie out of the room.
"… what the hell happened to you?" Ben asks, half-smiling at Eddie's awestruck look.
He dreams of foxgloves spilling from Richie's lips, of seeds and bruised, poisoned hearts.
But they're only dreams.
"I know what I saw," Eddie murmurs, hunched on the steel rail-track, resting his feet to a sleeper. He listens to Richie's fingers drum idly against the plating. "It was real."
Beside him, Richie claps a hand over his left eye and hooks his forefinger up.
"Arrr, if ye be mad as a sea dog," he says, purposely exaggerating his impression and tilting his head, "then it's best to share the load, matey."
Eddie lets out a groaning, mock-annoyed laugh. "That was really… awful."
"Ay, captain," Richie proclaims, dropping the impression and beaming at him. He leans in, brushing his thumbpad lightly over the corner of Eddie's mouth, and then to the opposite corner, as Eddie gawks and turns a flushing, sweet pink. "Still made you smile."
This is my SECOND attempt at using the "Hanahaki Disease" trope, which if you don't know what that is: it's a fanatic-originated disease about someone coughing/puking out flowers and roots and leaves and such while they are experiencing unrequited love or THINK they are. I love this fanfic trope just ofr the fact I can use all of the symbolism for the flowers I chose and down below, I put a list of what each flower mentioned in this story means! The last time I decided to focus on colors for people, and now I decided to go with the most dangerous/poisonous flowers that ever existed! Fun fun fun!
It's up to you guys reading to decide if what happened was real or not real, but yeah, I just was excited to work on this. I've dedicated this to Rose (sapphic-spook on AO3 and Tumblr) since some things got messed up and we decided to celebrate Friendmas with each other and she's already made me something! And to everybody else, I love you bunches and I really hope you enjoyed reading this and any comment/thoughts are so so so so welcome and appreciated thank you!
In order of appearance:
*clematis, hot pink - "mental strength" - drooling, burning in mouth and ulcers
*oleander, pink - "everlasting love" - toxic to the touch, gives you a rash, dehydration,
*red cyclamen – "all good things must end" - unpleasant flavor, vomiting, stomach irritation
*lily of the valley - "purity, innocence" - seizures, tremors, abdominal pain
*rhododendron, light pink - "beware; caution" - low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, difficulty breathing
*foxgloves, large white blossoms with deep maroon colored inside - "insincerity" - blurred vision, nausea, heart deterioration