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“Guys, I..I.. I can’t get it to stop,” Richie stammers out, presses a hand towel he’d found in Ben’s car to Eddie’s chest.  He’s already bled through the hoodie, Richie’s button down, Bill’s flannel, now this highly suspect jizz rag Richie uncovered from the depths of the passenger seat floorboard.  God, Eddie will hate him for this if he doesn’t fucking die.   Like an idiot.  This microbiome of dude sweat and sewer water is what he gets for being stupid, and brave, and stupid , and Richie would be lost in the deadlights right now if Eddie hadn’t—

“How can there be this much blood,” Richie asks, voice a brittle, foreign thing, “Eds he’s… he’s so small, how can there be so much blood?”  He looks up desperately at Bev, but she can’t answer because she’s breathing into Eddie’s mouth every eight seconds. He can feel tears sliding down his cheeks and onto his collar.  Eddie doesn’t move under Richie’s hands. Not at all. “Please,” Richie begs quietly, not to anyone, but also to the universe.  

Ben answers from the front seat, his eyes flat and grim in the rearview mirror as he focuses on the road ahead. “Keep pressure on the wound.  We’re almost there.”

 

***

 

Eddie is cradled in Richie’s arms when the trauma team swarms around them.  Bill and Mike come flying in through the emergency room doors, the whole gang stands there shouting for help, looking absolutely batshit insane, reeking and beat to hell—all gathered at Richie’s shoulders like the goddamn national guard.   

Richie has always been the loudest.  He should be screaming, too. Everything feels distant and surreal, the whole world constricting down to the weight of Eddie’s head lolling against Richie’s collarbone, the irregular rise and fall of his chest, warm blood against cold skin.  

“What the hell happened to him,” a woman with a penlight asks, then screams for a gurney.

“We were in a house when it collapsed,” Bill answers, doesn’t even trip over a syllable, “he was impaled by debris.”  

Bill is a shit liar, always has been, but the doctor seems to buy it. Impaled by Massive Demon Clown From Space is likely to land each of them strapped down to a bed on the fourth floor.  Which, if Richie is being honest, doesn’t sound half bad at the moment.  

“Christ.. Sir, you need to let us take him,” the doctor says, but the words don’t translate to Richie’s hands.  His body isn’t operating with his brain, and on some level, Richie knows Eddie’s only chance is back there on a surgical table, but releasing him is too hard. Richie never was any good at letting Eddie go.

Sir!”

“Rich,” Bev’s hand is on Richie’s cheek, “it’s okay. It’s gonna be okay, you can let go now.” She and Ben help guide Richie forward.

“Okay...yeah okay,” Richie murmurs, and carefully sets Eddie onto the gurney.  Within an instant he’s wheeled away, but Richie’s can still feel the shape of Eddie’s body echoing in his arms, in his bones, the way Eddie has always been.

“We need a history. Allergies, illnesses, blood type, anything we should be aware of?” A nurse stands in front of them, clipboard in hand.

“Um,” Bill shifts next to him, “Asthma?”

“He doesn’t have fucking asthma, he has anxiety ,” Richie hears himself say, unable to tear his eyes away from the direction they’d taken Eddie.  “Blood is A positive, same as me. No allergies, that was always bullshit his mom said to — well,” Richie clenches his eyes shut and remembers red welts in the middle of summer. Staring at Eddie’s legs. Pink calamine lotion.  Eddie shouting about malaria. The way Richie’s fingertips ached watching Eddie smear ointment over his shins. “Mosquito bites. That was real. Bites would swell up, get all oozy and gross...but that’s probably not…probably doesn’t matter when you have a fucking gaping hole in the middle of your—middle of his chest—I—” 

He doesn’t even feel it when his legs start to give way, it sounds like everyone’s voices are filtering in from the other side of a wall as they grab Richie under his arms and around his waist.  They navigate him over to the chairs lining the back wall.

“Shit,” Richie says, laughs weakly, “it should have been me. It’s my fault.”

“Don’t say that, Richie,” Mike murmurs.  “You couldn’t have known.”

“You don’t know that!” Richie yells, and the waiting room falls silent.  “You don’t. You don’t fucking know that. You didn’t see what I—” his voice breaks in the middle. The nurse looks awkwardly down at her clipboard and Richie puts his face in his hands, folds over in the seat.  

He’d seen it there in the deadlights, before it even happened— Eddie dying.  A claw piercing his chest, through his heart.  Richie saw the small, crumpled heap of him plummet backward into the darkness.  That happened. It did , Richie saw it.  And that’s why it didn’t add up when he found himself falling to the ground, then saw Eddie’s grime smeared, smiling face, braced over him.  

It was only a split second of hesitation.  The sinking sensation of déjà vu as reality began to sync with what had been shown to Richie in the deadlights.  Richie shoved Eddie violently aside, but he wasn’t fast enough. How much of a difference can one inch to the right make?  

There’s a faint scuff on the floor and Richie fixates on that point and tries to breathe. He can feel himself shuddering all over— doesn’t know if he’s crying again, or if the adrenaline has finally shut off and left Richie with the crush of despair, and the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, and all this old love that never went away.  

He thought he’d hidden these feelings from himself, stowed them away in some dark corner and learned not to think about it. But the second Eddie peeked in from around the corner at the Jade and looked at Richie with those big, limpid pools of Christmas Orphan meets Bambi, and started rambling about gluten and cashews, it all came flooding back into focus. Richie has loved Eddie so long that it’s become an ache that goes beyond reason.  

Maybe he’s going into shock.  He can’t do that right now. Not now.  Richie can lose his shit later, is almost certain he will.  All that blood.  

“I’m sorry, I know this is difficult,” the nurse says evenly, “but only one person will be allowed back in the ICU if— is there a family member I can notify in case..”

We’re his family,” Bill says, fierce about it, his hand tightens on Richie’s shoulder.  

“I understand, but I mean next of kin. Someone who can make medical decisions in the event..” 

“If he dies,” Richie finishes for her, “in the event of his death, you’re saying,” and balls his hands into fists against his temples and doesn’t look up from that spot on the linoleum. 

She clears her throat,  “A wife? Mother? Anyone.”

“Richie,” Bev blurts, “Richie here, he’s Eddie’s um..”  Everyone turns to look at her. “His.. um.  Partner. Spouse.”  

What the fuck.

A beat of silence, then everyone starts nodding, a chorus of yeah and yep, and together since they were kids which Mike says with the sort of wistful romanticism reserved solely for the most convicted of Nora Ephron protagonists.  Really fucking sells it.

Okay. Whatever. Fine. That works. This day is already so goddamn weird, Richie might as well go to prison for fraud.  

“Yeah,” Richie lies, “that’s me.”  The nurse looks at Richie, eyes narrowing on him.  “I’m fucking distraught of course it’s me,” he explains, then, a little offended at her hesitance, “What? Do I not look sufficiently gay enough for you?  Sorry, I should have brought my Kinky Boots cosplay with me today, sort of forgot it in all the excitement of almost dying.  I hate this homophobic ass town.  Give me that,” he snatches the paperwork, and holds it protectively against his chest, glares until the nurse purses her lips and leaves.  

Richie’s hands are still trembling when he goes to fill in the missing information. His address in Chicago becomes a mess of spiky numbers and a barely legible street name.  The PA system crackles above them, code four code four , and everyone in the waiting room sits there helplessly and hopes it’s not their person dying on a table, behind a closed door.  

“This is probably illegal,” Richie murmurs to Bill after the others have left to scour the floor for vending machines and stale coffee. “He’s got a wife, you know,” he adds, and immediately wishes he hadn’t remembered.  

“Do you have her number?” Bill asks, always so practical.

“Why would I?”

“So we figure that out later.  You’re the person Eddie needs right now.”

“We sort of all are.”

“Yeah,” Bill agrees, “but it’s different with you.  It’s always been different.”  

The pen stops moving in Richie’s hand.  Slowly, he turns his eyes toward Bill, doesn’t know what he expects to see, doesn’t know what his own face is saying to Bill right now.  This is precisely why Richie fills silence with smack talk and dirty jokes. The minute he falls quiet, it feels like anyone with an ounce of insight could read him down to splinters.

That’s why it’s all the more shocking when Richie finds himself leaning straight into it. 

“Is it obvious?” he asks. Eddie, he means, and the way Richie has loved him since he was too young to understand what it meant.  Loved him when it scared Richie shitless to love him. Loved him even when Richie’s memory of Eddie became hazy at the edges, and only stubbornness kept him from disappearing completely.  Loved the vacancy that once held Eddie within it, even as he forgot everyone else, even Bill.

Maybe it’s the nature of the thing, the rebellion that went into it.  Carving his and Eddie’s initials into wood was a rebellion. His fingers slipping against Eddie’s calf, cradled together in a hammock, was a rebellion.  Richie isn’t sure there is another way to love a person, without it being a type of insurrection. 

The way Richie loves Eddie has always been relentless, quiet, and deliberate.

“Would it be so bad if it was?”  Bill asks.

“I don’t know,” Richie says, because he really doesn’t know, not anymore.   Everyone you care about almost dying, almost dying himself, watching Eddie die, it does something to your priorities.

Bill pats the top of Richie’s knee and doesn’t leave his side.

 

**************

 

ONE YEAR LATER

 

Someone is trying to knock in the fucking door.  Or it’s an earthquake. Or a group of disillusioned millennials have opened some sort of deeply esoteric Drill ‘n’ Bass nightclub in the middle of his Logan Square apartment’s hallway.  That seems weirdly specific, but it’s Chicago, Richie never knows what the fuck is going on out here.

BANGBANGBANG comes filtering into his unconscious mind, and slowly drags Richie back with it into reality.  

“S’fucking..what?” Richie mumbles into his pillow.  BANGBANGBANG. “Ugghhh. Shut. UP.

BANGBANGBANG.  BANGBANGBANG.

Richie pours himself out of bed, fumbles around the nightstand for his glasses and succeeds in knocking them down onto the floor.  He still feels half asleep, uncoordinated and lethargic, brain  meandering at the peripherals. He crouches and begins patting blindly around the carpet like he’s back at Northwestern and inexplicably starring in the drama department’s production ofThe Miracle Worker in the middle of the goddamn night.  The banging is still going on, followed by the doorbell, and Richie wonders if this is another anxiety dream about sleeping through professional obligations, even though that only happened five times once, and Richie has since discovered how to set multiple alarms on his phone.  

“Sweet,” Richie mumbles when he doesn’t crush his glasses in the process of locating them, then calls out a garbled, “M’ coming !” in the direction of the banging.  

He clips the wall coming into the foyer, practically crashes over the little table he uses to stack mail—fumbles around with the chain, the deadbolt, before finally wrenching open the door.  It doesn’t occur to him until he’s sending it bouncing back against the doorstop, that it might have been a good idea to check the peephole and make sure it actually wasn’t some asshole out for a smash and grab in the middle of the night, or worse — a fan.   

Richie would be less dumbfounded by either option.

He squints at the person standing in front of him, blinks.

“I’ve had this dream before,” Richie says, voice still croaky from sleep, “usually you’re wearing less clothes.”

“Jesus christ,” Eddie sighs, and rolls his eyes when Richie jumps back a bit, genuinely startled that it’s not some manufacturing of his sordid imagination.  “I knew I shouldn’t have come here.”

“Holy shit Eds, that really you?”  Richie reaches over the threshold and pats the top of Eddie’s head.  “God man, it’s like… three in the morning.”

“I know.”

“How do you even know where I live?”

“You wrote it down in all my hospital paperwork.”

Oh. That’s right.  “Yeah, actually, they sent me some of the bills for that.”

Eddie does a funny thing with his face.  “You told them we were married”

“Insurance ain’t shit, is it,” Richie says too loudly, and immediately changes the subject.  “So uh, how’s Whatsername?”  

Richie hasn’t actually met Eddie’s wife, but he did scream at her over the phone for a few minutes when Eddie was still in a coma, more dead than alive, and all she did was make it about herself.  Richie became fed up with it pretty quick. Eddie has always had someone telling him that he’s fragile, delicate, weak and afflicted. All of his life he’s been cut down to size by the very people who are supposed to love him the most.  They tell him who and what he is, and it leaves no room for all the ways Eddie is brave, unswervingly loyal, a little spitfire with big, soft heart. Richie told Myra as much, may or may not have concluded by shouting , He helped kill a giant demon clown with a piece of GARBAGE we found on the LAWN, and NO I will not explain that to you!  BYE.  

“Myra?  

Richie shrugs dismissively.  

“Uh huh,” Eddie bites his bottom lip and looks aside.  “Officially divorced.”

“FUCK yes,” Richie shouts, does a minor fist pump in front of himself.  Eddie gives him an Eddie look, the non-verbal equivalent of a beep beep, and Richie reels it back in, pushes his hair out of his eyes and leans against the frame of the door.  “Oh. Bummer. She seemed, uhhh,” he grits his teeth, “great.”

“No, fuck off, it needed to happen.  For a long time it needed to happen. I just um…” his brow draws low, he shifts his weight from one foot to the other.  “I couldn’t do it anymore, you know? I almost died, and—”

“Well, you did,” Richie specifies, “like a few times.  I was there.”

“Yeah I—”

“Stopped breathing and everything.”  Richie remembers it with awful clarity:  Eddie’s blue lips, the flatline of the heart monitor, Bev heaving her own breath into his lungs, and Richie feeling more terrified in those moments than the entirety of Niebolt.  He’d rather fight an entire army of It than watch Eddie die and die and die. “The heart monitor did that thing where it went eeeeeeeeee,” Richie nails a perfect B flat.

“Yeah Richie, I get it , thanks ,” Eddie says, exasperated, “Like I was saying — and all I could think about was how I would never — and I had all this regret because I never got the chance to — and I don’t think I ever loved her, not like—” Eddie makes a frustrated sound and scrubs his hands over his face.  He can’t seem to put his words together, and Richie sympathises with each thwarted ending.  Words are hard when they mean something, when they are plain and obvious, when they are truths you’ve buried and can’t bear to admit.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be like that, not like that.  I mean, right?  It was like my mom all over again, and she — you know — supremely fucked me up as a kid, and my therapist was talking to me about cycles of abuse and normalization and I thought, Oh Shit That’s Me.   Then today I realised that I hate New York, I hate the people I work with, I hate the traffic, and the weird rats in the alley behind my office building, and the noise.  I hate how I’m surrounded by people and still all alone. So I tried to remember the last time I was happy, and—” Eddie stops his wild gesticulating and allows his hands to drop to his sides.  “I thought of you.”

Richie is speechless for an extremely rare moment.  “Last time we hung out you were literally eviscerated.”

“I KNOW,” Eddie shouts, and old Mrs. Petrakis from 26-A wrenches her door open, presumably curses at them in Greek, follows it up with a clipped sh! and fixes Richie with a particularly ominous glare.

“Sorry Mrs. Petrakis,” Richie says, and, “Sorry,” Eddie says, as she slowly backs into her apartment and closes the door with a frown.

Eddie waits a second, then says at a slightly lower volume, “I know that.  But we were together , all of us, and yeah, the whole impaling and dying part sucked ass, but it made me remember a lot of things.  Made me realise a lot of things.” Eddie’s eyes slide toward Richie for a moment before he averts them and rambles on.  “I was just tired of being scared of everything all the time. And I tried to go home, I did try, but I couldn’t stand it anymore.”  

He’s starting to ramble, talks a million words a minute, and Richie is out of practice trying to keep pace.  “Next thing I know, I’m in the car, putting your address in my GPS, didn’t even pack a bag or give notice at work, or tell my therapist I’m going to need to reschedule, and now I’m in your hallway at three in the morning screaming about my very personal fucking feelings , like a jackass, and would you please tell me to come inside, or fuck off, anything!”  Eddie takes a deep breath, adds, “Oh shit. You don’t have a person in bed, do you?”  He gives Richie a once over, like he might glean that information right off his pajamas, peeks into the darkness over Richie’s shoulder.

Richie opens his mouth.

“Don’t say ‘your mom’.”

Richie closes his mouth.  Moves aside with a wave of his hand. 

“Get in here, Spaghetti, you fucking lunatic,” he says, and the moment it’s out, Eddie crosses over the threshold, crashes into Richie and wraps him up in a hug so tight that Richie actually has to struggle a minute to shock his diaphragm back into expanding.  The surprise of it resolves in an instant, and Richie’s arms band around Eddie’s shoulders. One treacherous hand cups the back of Eddie’s head, fingers scratching through soft brown hair, and Eddie doesn’t try to move away at all. He never does. It had always made Richie feel so special, the way Eddie would accept little affectionate gestures from him, even seek it out, but slap away everyone else . Richie’s heart feels like it might slip out from behind his ribs, wedge itself in seam between their chests, in some wild effort to bring them closer.

“I hate how you got the place,” Eddie mutters into Richie’s shoulder, “it looks like Mama Mia! meets College Dorm in here.”

“You smell like Slim Jims and road trip sweat.”

Eddie laughs, “Wow. Is that the best you got?”

“You dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, yelled at me in my hallway about your divorce, then threw yourself in my arms.  I haven’t even had coffee yet, give a guy a break.” Richie tucks Eddie’s head under his chin the way they used to do when they were kids.  “And for the record, I’m glad you’re here,” he says quietly.

“Me too,” Eddie answers and doesn’t let go.

 

***

 

“I think Eddie is moving in with me,” Richie whispers into the phone, peeks out his bedroom door to make sure Eddie isn’t within earshot.  “I don’t know, I’m not sure.”

It sounds like Beverly has dropped her phone, there’s a few moments of static, an ohshit that comes from far away, then, “That’s great! I’m so happy for--”

“No, not like--” Richie pushes his forehead against the wall.  “He just showed up here two days ago. He left Myra and said a bunch of stuff about hating New York, then yesterday he went out and bought clothes because he left all his back home, and his toothbrush is in the extra bathroom, and he went to Mariano’s and bought a bunch of this, like, really good looking organic grocery shit, and now he’s in the kitchen rearranging my spice rack.  Is this what happens during a midlife crisis? Because my dad got frosted tips in his hair and joined a paintball league when he — ”

“Breathe, Rich,” Beverly instructs, and Richie gasps for breath, turns and presses his back against the wall.  Sinks down to the floor. “Maybe you should talk to him .”

“Ah, open communication, like adults. I’ve heard of it,” Richie deadpans.  “I didn’t go to school for that.”

“It works for me and Ben.”

“That’s disgusting. For the last time, I don’t want to hear about you and Ben’s weird kinks.”  He hears Ben laughing in the background, realises Bev must have him on speaker. “Tell Benjamina he’s welcome to communicate with me anytime, he looks like he’d be great at it.  I honestly don’t know how you guys get anything done with all the healthy..” Richie breathes heavily into the phone speaker, “ wide..open..communication. I really don’t.” 

Beverly continues, unphased.  “It’s only Eddie, you’ve been friends for years.  Stop pulling each other’s pigtails for a minute, and have an honest conversation.  Guess whose apartment he showed up at? Yours. Not mine and Ben’s. Not Bill’s. Not Mike’s. Yours.”

“It’s not that simple,” Richie grumbles.  It’s impossible for it to be that simple.

“It really, really is.”

“Whatever, bye nerds,” Richie says, jabs at the decline icon, and sits there quietly on the floor for a moment.  “Right. Talk,” he says to himself, pushes up from the floor.

 

Richie finds Eddie in the laundry room, muttering under his breath and tossing empty containers of detergent into a garbage bag.  

“Hey,” Richie says, coughs awkwardly, “is this a good time to—”

Eddie spins on him, “You know this shit is a fire hazard right,” he gestures to an accumulation of lint on top of the dryer, of which Richie was mindful enough to empty from the filter, but too lazy to actually dispose of in any meaningful way. He stares Richie in the eyes, pointedly, as he makes a show of picking it up and stuffing it down into the bin liner.

This is what Eddie has always done to show that he cares-- he fusses and worries, remains constantly vigilant of everyone’s safety.  They all have their places in the Losers, and Eddie, whether he knew it or not, was their protector-- always made sure he had bandaids and neosporin on hand for scrapes, a granola bar to boost blood sugar, a few aspirin in a baggy for headaches, and stowed it all away in that fanny pack he kept slung around his hips.  

Richie never minded Eddie’s fanny pack or the nagging.  He often went out of his way to earn the focus of all of Eddie’s relentless concern.  Sometimes Richie felt like he’d disappear completely if he didn’t have that attention — would act out, make messes, eat the gum he’d picked off the underside of a bench, just to have Eddie fuss over him.  It was when Richie was misbehaving that Eddie seemed to want him the most, and vice versa. This wasn’t a one-sided habit between them, they liked driving each other crazy. Richie would make a point of ignoring Eddie in favor of comics or video games, because without fail, Eddie would insinuate himself into Richie’s space in the most obnoxious way possible— climbing over him, snatching his comics, standing in front of him to block the view.  Richie would get careless with his hands, would drag Eddie half onto his lap to get him out of the way, or wrap his fingers around Eddie’s calf to keep him from squirming, and afterward he’s always wonder if that was what Eddie had wanted the entire time anyways.  Both of them just wanted excuses to touch, to be close, and neither knew how to ask for it.  

Then there were those moments when Eddie would join in the chaos, and for a while his anxiety and paranoia, the oppressive caution that would freeze him in place, would lift from Eddie’s shoulders.  He seemed so free then, unguarded in a way that captivated Richie completely, and made him a little bit jealous, all at once. 

Eddie shakes his trash bag at Richie, “This is a year’s worth of dead skin.  I could have burned your apartment down.

“You’re so cute when you talk about arson,” Richie says, a little too earnestly, pinches Eddie’s cheek, and flees the room.

 

***

Four weeks in, Eddie says nothing about leaving, and Richie steadfastly does not bring up the possibility.  He’s been on his own for so long that Richie had convinced himself that he was just too accustomed to self-reliance, too independent or too abrasive to ever actually live with another person.  He always had a revolving door of roommates in college, and as soon as Richie could afford it, he’d gotten a place of his own. Told himself it was because he didn’t like having to cooperate and compromise, when the reality was that it made Richie nervous.  You can tell a lot about a person by living with them, whether you’re trying to know them or not. Richie feared scrutiny the way people fear death. 

 He doesn’t feel that way anymore, not precisely.  There’s still residual anxiety at times, moments of inner-anguish that crop up like a bad habit, but Richie has put a pretty healthy distance between himself and those feelings this past year.  It’s still a constant work in progress, but Richie has come a long way and is tentatively proud of himself. There was a time where he had no hope for himself at all. He sort of thought he might be too old, too emotionally stunted for any meaningful growth, but something shifted inside of him after Niebolt.  

Somewhere between the symbolic burning of that old token, the terror that came afterward, and holding Eddie’s hand while listening to the rhythmic heave of the ventilator, all the silent bargaining Richie did with the universe in those moments—there was a spark of clarity.  He’d been conditioned to think that the closet is what kept him safe, shielded him from violence and stigma—but it never protected Richie from himself.  At some point, the closet became a trap, with Richie stuck in its jaws.  Yes, perhaps it blocked out the prying eyes and the brutality and the danger, but it also shut out the love, and the joy.  It robbed Richie of possibilities.

The world doesn’t end because you’re gay. Richie knows this for a fact, because his world almost ended and it was because of some shitbag murder-clown, and not because Richie fell in love with Eddie all those years ago.  Or because his fingertips lingered too long on another boy’s in an arcade.  Or because Richie went down on Henri Bisset his sophomore year in college. (Backstage. Vacant dressing room. Opening night for Glengarry Glen Ross. During the Always Be Closing monologue. Fucking sausage fest of a show. Afterward Henri wanted to talk about it, but Richie never looked at him again.)   

And the world doesn’t end after a couple random bathroom encounters at the shitty old nightclubs Richie used to perform at before getting picked up by an agency.  He always hated himself for it. The anonymity felt sleazy, he couldn’t understand why he felt so guilty afterward, but at the time it was happening he was just so desperate to be touched, to make any sort of connection at all.  Anything to take the edge off the isolation he felt gnawing away at him. 

The world doesn’t end when Richie goes on loving Eddie as quietly as he can, because Eddie has been through so fucking much and the last thing Richie wants to do is pressure him into any realizations he isn’t ready to confront. Richie has been there.  He finally seems to be finding himself. Anyone with eyes might have notions where Eddie’s concerned, but what may seem obvious to them, could still be repressed and obfuscated for Eddie. 

Their personalities kept in close quarters isn’t the abrasive mess of ruination that Richie had feared.  They only have about four arguments a day, and maybe one real argument each week—which is par for the course between them—and just like when they were kids, the rift is totally unsustainable for any length of time.  Neither one of them do well with passive aggressive subtext, and they’re even worse at the silent treatment.

Eddie takes over cooking when he figures out Richie’s range of culinary skill lies somewhere between boiling water, ordering pizza from Gino’s, and emptying pre-packaged salad into a bowl as a healthy alternative.  He’s actually pretty great at it now that he’s not avoiding 80% of all the good food groups based on fear of surprise anaphylaxis. Richie came home Wednesday to Eds drinking coffee with old Mrs. Petrakis from 26-A, and Eddie had held up a little diamond of baklava and shouted through a garbled mouthful, “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’VE BEEN MISSING OUT ON HONEY AND NUTS THIS LONG! FUCK!”  

And Old Mrs. Petrakis had squinted very hard at Richie because she never liked him, then declared with a gnarled finger pointing approvingly at Eddie’s head, “This is a good boy,” and, “Thursday night.  I make you dinner. Bring this one,” because Eddie inspires a heretical level of missionary zeal from every person he meets.  It either makes you want to kill him, or kill for him, with absolutely no in between.

They fall naturally into routines.  Eddie does the cooking and organising, working from his laptop while muttering a hundred miles an hour under his breath.  Richie does the dishes, the spot cleaning, leaving for meetings and shutting himself in his office now that he’s beginning to write his own shit.

Wow Richard, this is great stuff, whatever your inspiration is right now, keep it up!

You got it, Mr. Netflix Special Executive Director!  It’s my live in childhood best friend who has the body of a twinky greek god and the mouth of a back alley whore. I’ve been harboring feelings for him for decades!  And at night, he sits next to me on the couch and puts his feet in my lap and we fight about what to watch we always always fight about it and he never takes his feet out of my lap, what the hell does that mean?  

But it works.  They work like this. Status quo is good.  It’s safe.

 

God.  It’s miserable.  Richie’s dying, he really is.  Eddie won’t stop exiting his room in nothing but an undershirt and his little yoga shorts after he’s finished meditating or whatever it is his therapist has him started on.  Richie drools over him like he has fucking rabies, and Eddie looks like something constructed in a lab to torture Richie, specifically. He has this stupidly proportionate hip to ass to thigh ratio, and the sort of compact frame that instantly gives Richie instrusive sex fantasies that revolve around physically lifting Eddie up onto countertops to get them eye level, having legs wrapped around his waist, and just--

Stopstopstopstop stop . Stop thinking about it.

And what about any time some body builder type over six feet turns to look at Eddie’s ass while he and Richie are walking around the farmer’s market at the plaza?  Richie feels compelled to lob a basket of heirloom tomatoes at their head, and the only thing really capping this impulse is the fact that Eddie would be pissed because I was going to use those later, dumbass!   So instead, Richie has to make a point of slinging a companionable arm around Eddie’s shoulders, and steering him toward the nearest vendor to declare an urgent craving for marinated feta, or bug spray made from distilled goat milk, or whatever the fuck hipsters sell.   

There’s no reason Richie should still be this hard-up over Eddie.  The man has the high-maintenance vibes of a Kardashian. He owns three hypoallergenic bathrobes, takes hour long showers, won’t relax his Stalinist rules about shoes on the carpet.  He gives death glares to kids who won’t shut the fuck up in restaraunts, and has such shit taste in music that Richie genuinely wonders if he’s ever actually heard anything beyond his mom’s vinyl of The Captain and Tennille.

But Richie loves these things about Eddie— loves his particularites and idiosyncrasies. Loves how honest he is, and how he’s never cruel because Eddie has known cruelty and doesn’t want to inflict it back out into the world— and as far as Richie is concerned, that’s a pretty good metric for a decent human being. 

And Eddie is funny.  

He’s really fucking funny, most of the time without meaning to be, and this is hell. Richie is like… wicked horny 99% of the day and night, it sucks.  The only reprieve from this constant state of Amok Time level of blood-burning lust, is the five minutes post-orgasm after Richie has tried, desperately, not to think about Eddie’s thighs, failed, and now feels guilty about it.  It’s not the undeniable implication of his sexuality which bothers Richie anymore, he’s unlearning a lot of that unearned shame, but it just seems a little ethically ambiguous to get this hot over your friend without their knowledge.  He isn’t sixteen anymore, he should be able to put a pin in those wandering thoughts. Right? Shit. Is this creepy?  

Richie has got to tell him.  Even if Eddie doesn’t feel the same, Richie will have been honest and there’s some relief in that at least.  A little fucking dignity. Just like all confrontations, they suck to anticipate, it’s terrifying in the middle, but afterwards you feel freed from the burden of silence and assumptions.  

He’s gonna do it.  Yep. Just needs to find the right moment.  

“Rich,” Eddie calls from across the room, “hey Richie, come check this out.”  

“Oh my god,” Richie says, “this better be good.”  He pushes away the bits of the new computer desk he’s been trying to assemble for the past three hours, and crawls across the floor to the sofa where Eddie’s sitting, laptop balanced on top of his thighs.  “If it’s not American Milfs: Back in Action vol. 4 starring Sonia Asspbrak, I don’t care.”

“What? No, gross. Jesus, that’s not even low hanging fruit, how do you make a living doing this.” Eddie scrunches up his nose, and furrows his brow at the screen, chews his bottom lip.  “Did you know we were papped the other day?”

“Happens,” Richie shrugs.  

“At the plaza,” Eddie says, looks down expectantly at Richie like he’s waiting for him to put two and two together.  

“And?  Was I buying something problematic?  Are the vegans crucifying me in a Huffpost op-ed again?”

“Again?” Eddie asks, then shakes his head.  “No, it’s… well, here.” He turns the laptop toward Richie.

“Oh,” Richie says, leans in closer to the screen and reads, “Funny Man, and notoriously single celeb, Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, appears to be cozying up to mystery man during morning stroll through the market at Daley Plaza.  Tozier, typically known for his off-color comedy concerning his hapless love life, can be seen buying artisanal brioche and taking flyers from the Prairie Club of Chicago, while keeping an arm slung around his shopping partner’s shoulders.  They appear to be close friends ,” Richie concludes.  Clears his throat. “..and then there’s two uh, there’s two eyeball emoji thingies next to ‘friends.’”  He stares at the picture of him and Eddie, a basket of tomatoes in one hand, his arm drawn across the crown of Eddie’s shoulders. Eddie is leaning slightly into Richie while they’re accosted by some PCC conservationists.  

They look like a couple.  

“I think what they’re trying to imply--”

“Yeah I know,” Richie says, trying to decide how he feels:  Skips quickly over panic, considers anger mostly due to the invasiveness of these sort of things, and lands, amazingly, in an ambiguous sense of relief.  This is okay, he thinks. Good, even.  “They really buried the lede though.”

“How?”

“I mean, my great taste in bread, rather than my taste in dudes?

Eddie narrows his eyes.  “The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Obviously I’d have some trophy twink, or like, Enrique Iglesias or something,” Richie jokes, but Eddie gets that mean downturn to his mouth.  “Are you for real, right now? I thought we were being hypothetical!”

“I see, so I wouldn’t be hot enough, is what you’re saying.”

“What! I never said that!  You’re you,” Richie waves a hand toward Eddie, “you’re a cutie patootie.  I love your dumb, tiny body. Don’t I tell you that enough?”

“Am I, or am I not, good enough to be mistaken for your boyfriend in a goddamn farmer’s market?  It’s a simple question Richard.”

“OH MY GOD,” Richie shouts in confusion, “Why stop there?  We can go to Vegas right now, I’ll take you to the fucking chapel bitch, here — ” Richie snatches Eddie’s laptop and types Marriage License Clark County into the search bar.  “We’ll bring the whole gang!  You can dress up like Elvis and I’ll be Freddy Krueger or some shit, and maybe they can pap us dancing to What’s New Pussycat while a Liberace impersonator takes body shots off Ben’s abs!   Fuck me , you’re so—”

Eddie bursts out laughing.  “I was just kidding!” he wheezes.  “God, you really had that thought out.”

Richie tries to keep a straight face on principle, but absolutely breaks.  He laughs and pushes the laptop toward Eddie, crawls back over to his pile o’ desk.  “Such a turd,” he mutters and smiles down at the floor.

 

***

 

“HEY,” Richie blurts in the middle of dinner, way too loud, and making Eddie jump in his seat with the abruptness of it.

Eddie gives him a dirty look, puts a hand over his heart and mutters, “I had a steak knife in my hand, could’ve put a goddamn eye out. Jesus, Tozier.  What is it?”

Say it.  Just say it, pussy.  Tell him you’re in love with him, Richie thinks, and, “So.. I’m gay..?” Richie says.  

Great.

Awful delivery. 10/10 fuckeditup. That isn’t even what he really wanted to say. Richie freezes in his chair and forgets how to blink.

Eddie cocks his head, finishes chewing and sets his napkin in his lap. “Okay,” he says calmly, shifts his weight,  “Okay, are you, uh, asking me if you’re gay?”

“...What?” Richie continues to stare a hole through the crinkle between Eddie’s brows.

“You had an intonation at the end. You said—”

“I know what I said!”

“‘I’m gaaay??’” Eddie mimics, voice rising shrill and over-exaggerated at the end, “Hear that? ‘I’m gay..?’”  He repeats it over and over like some terrible nightmare pokemon.

“Why the fuck would I be asking you if I’m gay?”  .

“I don’t know! Is this a trick question? Do we need to google the definition, because I can probably help you out”

“DICK,” Richie shouts at him, brings his index fingers up in front of Eddie’s eyes and proceeds to do the worst pantomime possible of what might be frottage? As if that’s really going to clear things up.  “Like, exclusively, dick.”  

“I—”

“Except that one time in college where I was experimenting,” Richie hastens to add, “I don’t know man, it was some last ditch effort at heteronormativity I guess, and she was really cool about it, but half way through I had to think about Michael J. Fox. Don’t judge me. That’s just where my mind went. It doesn’t mean I love your mother any less.”

“Richie shut the fuck up,” Eddie says gently, and Richie shuts the fuck up. “Thanks for telling me.”

“That… You’re welcome?” Richie says after very circumspect silence.  Seems like a weird way to put it. All their friends at least attempted to feign some degree of surprise.  His own parents gave him the we love you no matter what and just want you to be happy routine accompanied by a meaningful look when Richie drove over to Cedar Lake last Thanksgiving.  To be fair, they’ve been giving him that same line since he declared himself a drama major

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” Eddie offers.  He looks down at his plate and scrapes the tines of his fork through the middle of it.  “I don’t give a shit,” he says, then winces. “No, hold on. I obviously give a shit about you.  I give lots of shits about you. Whatever, stop making it weird.”

Richie tries not to smile.  They both really need to work on this whole emotional vulnerability thing.  It’s sort of comforting that Eddie seems just as eager to buffer these conversations with sarcasm and humor. 

 “That was almost mature of us, I can feel us growing closer as human beings,” Richie teases in his best condescending Gwyneth Paltrow-esque, Cleanse This Energy With An Amethyst tone of voice.  “Baby steps, Eds. Feel free to expose your deepest darkest secret whenever.  I too, give many shits.”

“Can you just shut up and eat?”

“Maybe the real treasure was the shits we gave along the way.”

“I want you to know that when I stab you with this knife, it’s not a hate crime. It’s just because you’re an asshole.”

“Sorry I screamed DICK at you though, that was weird,” Richie admits, and feels lighter than he’s ever been.

 

***

 

Eddie is in the kitchen in the middle of a Saturday rolling out dough, humming under his breath, and Richie has to turn around, go into the bathroom, scream into a towel, before coming back out. Eddie has an apron tied on and everything, and Richie wants Eddie to look like he’s wandered in from some shitty Texas barbecue, but instead he just looks adorable.

You look like husband material Richie thinks, but what comes out is, “Every day I watch you slowly transform into Martha Stewart.  It’s really awakening something in me. I thought I only had eyes for your mother, but this,” Richie plucks at the bow at the small of Eddie’s back  “I can’t wait for you to start selling blouses on QVC and get indicted for insider trading.”

“She fucking wishes her pierogi looked like this,” Eddie says, claps a sprinkling of flour across the countertop.  “Wash your hands and help me.”

“You know I suck at this right,” Richie says, already in front of the sink pouring Dawn into his open palms.  “Don’t get pissed at me for your bad judgment when these things come out looking like abstract art.”

“I’m definitely going to yell.”

“Cool, good to know,” Richie laughs, and fiddles with a circular cookie cutter that he absolutely did not own a month ago, and of which he currently has six in graduating sizes.  “Alright Chef Kaspbrak, show me the forbidden secrets of pierogi.”

Eddie’s done most of the work already, all that’s left is cutting the dough, plopping a little filling in the middle, then crimping it closed.  Richie gets the hang of it after the first few tries, and Eddie only micromanages this progress a little bit.  Their elbows bump, and Richie takes up narrating the process with his best Paula Dean impersonation.  After a few minutes of obligatory eye rolling, Eddie actually plays along as a guest, answering Richie’s increasingly ridiculous interrogations centered around butter.

“Now Chef, at one point in this process do we take that butter you have sitting over yonder, slather ourselves in it like two baked potatoes, and wrestle each other, turkish oil style, for kitchen dominance?”

“Well Mrs. Dean,” Eddie says seriously, “first of all, I don’t recommend using butter as combat lubricant, or personal lubricant of any kind. Second, I don’t condone violence in the kitchen, as this is a place of fellowship and learning, and a slick floor could lead to unnecessary injuries.  Like every good meal, all challenges for kitchen dominance must be done with the right ingredients.”

“Oh,” Richie says, his Paula coming out a bit choked just hearing the word lubricant , because apparently he never progressed past the age of fifteen . “What would you recommend for—” before he can even register the movement, Eddie has dug out a handful of flour from the container, and is flinging it right into Richie’s face.

A total white-out dusts over Richie’s lenses, he licks the bland taste of flour from his lips and slowly raises his index fingers to his face, makes windshield wipers across his glasses.  Eddie is smirking down at his pieróg, folding it in half, pinching the ends together.

“Excuse you?”

“You asked,” Eddie says innocently.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re a brat?  You’re like, middle aged, don’t you think food fights are little imma—” Richie pushes Eddie aside within a second, digs his hand into the flour and douses the top of Eddie’s head with it.  White billows around him, clings to Eddie’s dark hair and eyelashes. Flour twists in motes between them, turned golden by the midday sunlight pouring in through the windows.

“This is an improvement,” Richie tells him, then breaks down laughing, “I’m super into this powdered wig aesthetic.  You look like George Washington. You look like my fucking dad.  Oh shit Eds, you better stock up in Just For Men now, because in a few years you’re gonna be Papa Went’ing it big time.”   

Eddie lurches forward, and Richie goes with him.  It’s a mad tangle of arms and hands as the flour sack is ripped apart and its contents become airborne.  

“I’m not gonna clean this up,” Richie yells, blocks a fistful of all-purpose with the cutting board, and counters by throwing a failed disc of pierogi dough like a frisbee, and watches it smack Eddie straight between the eyes.  “I’m winning this thing, mother fucker.”

“Yeah?”  Eddie shouts skeptically, “We’ll see about that,” and lobs the softened butter at Richie.  “Don’t step in that, by the way.”

“FOUL!” Richie shouts when it smooshes against the front of his t-shirt, the excess falling unceremoniously to the floor with a dull splap!  “The butter was NOT supposed to be in play! I repeat, the butter was NOT in play.”  He manufactures some sort of vaguely interpretative referee hand signal, “Unsportsmanlike conduct, Edward ‘Spaghetti--”

“Richie watch--”

“--Kaspbr holyshit!”

“Goddamnit Rich!”

In a cartoonish display of failed coordination, Richie steps right into the butter, does a very spastic pirouette, and spins himself straight down to the kitchen floor.  His head cracks against the split brick and Richie mutters inexplicably, “Hey, watch it!” as if someone just stepped on his foot trying to board the L, then he starts laughing because fuck this is embarrassing. His ass hurts worse than the back of his head by a pretty wide margin. To add insult to injury, Eddie scrambles over him with his big, brown, doe eyes, and his stupid, perfect, slumbrat face, and is looking down frantically at Richie.  Richie freezes the moment he feels the warmth of Eddie’s body sinking into him past the barrier of their clothes.  

He’s too close.  It feels too familiar.  It reminds Richie of falling, the sound of an inhuman roar of pain, the strobing of light as Eddie climbed over him and started shouting triumphantly.  The moment it wouldn’t compute when a claw punched its way through the middle of Eddie, and the pained way he whimpered Richie’s name before he was ripped away.

Richie squeezes his eyes closed and tries to push out those black memories.  Clenches his fists to keep himself from wrenching Eddie sideways into a little pocket of safety.

“Oh shitshitshitshit Richie, are you okay?  I’m sorry man, I didn’t think you’d actually step in it!”  He puts his hands on either side of Richie’s face.  “Pupils are even.. Do you feel nauseous? Confused?  Can you see me okay?”

“No,” Richie says, swallows when Eddie’s thumb strokes over his eyebrow.

“A concussion,” Eddie says definitively, “I’ll get the Tylenol.  Who’s your primary? You might need a CT, I’ll call and--”

“No, doofus, my glasses,” Richie grumbles, and Eddie’s mouth makes a little oh shape, he grapples around somewhere above Richie’s shoulders, slides his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, and the world comes swimming back into focus.

“What’s today’s date,” Eddie asks seriously, holds Richie’s face firmly in the palms of his hands.

“Saturday. Ask me something easier, I don’t keep track of the numbers.”

“Who’s the president?”

“You think if I really have a concussion I might forget that little nug of information?  Because I can try to hit my head harder. Hey did I look cool when I fell, at least?”

“No,” Eddie says absently, waving his fingers in front of Richie’s eyes and snapping in his face until Richie relents and tracks the movement, “no, you completely busted ass. You looked so stupid.  What’s the second law of thermodynamics?”

“The entropy of any isolated system always increases,” Richie answers instantly, absently, he can feel Eddie’s hip bone pressing into his upper thigh.

“What?  You weren’t supposed to actually—God, I forget that you’re smart,” Eddie murmurs, stops moving his hands, but makes no move whatsoever to get off of Richie.  

“We learned that in eleventh grade physics.  You were in that class with me.”

For a moment, Eddie's eyes track to Richie’s mouth, he says, “I know.  I couldn’t pay attention to anything else.” Richie is in the middle of deciding what that means, when Eddie says, “You okay?” all soft and concerned, and making Richie want to kiss him to pieces.  “You looked weird for a second,” he tilts his head, then qualifies, “weirder than usual. ‘Something Is Bothering You’ weird.”

“You only tried to murder me with butter,” Richie deflects. Eddie looks at him suspiciously.  “Seriously, it’s nothing.”   

Eddie narrows his eyes, “Sure you don’t have a subdural hematoma?”

“Can’t hurt steel,” Richie says, raps his knuckles against his forehead, then taps his fingers against Eddie’s ribs.  “So do we live here on the floor now, or..?” They need to move apart. Eddie’s weight distributed over him is doing funny things to Richie’s blood, this is going to be awkward in exactly ten seconds.

“Um,” Eddie says, blushes a little, and he’s still giving Richie the loaded once over.  Still not moving. He brushes an errant curl off of Richie’s forehead and furrows his brow.

“Yeah?” Richie asks, at a loss.  The only thing worse than a truly upset Eddie, is a recalcitrant Eddie.  He rarely holds back on Richie when there’s something he wants to say, so it’s weird to see words in his eyes that don’t make it to his mouth, and Richie wants, very much, to know what Eddie is thinking.  Always.

Eddie moves, offers Richie his hand and leans back for the leverage to help pull him up off the ground.  

“Put your fucking back into it, ” Richie complains, not even trying to make this process easier, lets his body be dragged across the floor while Eddie shouts at him and calls Richie a child.  “I knew I should have seduced Ben and all eight of his abs. He would have had me up by now.”

Eddie scoffs and continues sliding Richie across the floor. “Didn’t figure Ben was your type.”

“Yeah, guess not,” Richie admits, “much like Ben, I like em’ short, cute, and good at killing things with ornamental fencing.”

Eddie mutters, “You should put that in your Grindr profile.” 

“You know I only have eyes for Sonia,” Richie says, and sighs wistfully, “I’ll never love again.”  Finally, Richie makes the effort to get his feet under him and allows himself to be hauled upright.  He sways a little into Eddie’s space as the redistribution of blood causes some momentary light-headedness. 

He puts a steadying hand on the countertop, leans into Eddie for a moment while waiting for his vision to clear from the vertigo. “Doctor Kaspbrak, I really think my butt injury is worse than your little xenomorph chest explosion ever thought about being.  I might even need ice.”

“Richie..” Eddie says, voice thin. A hand settles just below Richie’s sternum.  An exhale breaks against his collar. 

“Sorry,” Richie mutters, feeling like an idiot, “Two shitty jokes in a row, I--”

It happens in a snap.  

One moment Richie is looming over Eddie, and the next moment both of Eddie’s fingers are twisted into Richie’s collar and he’s pushing Richie’s back against the refrigerator with a bump.  His spine collides against the steel door, the muffled sound of rattling glass registering distantly as Eddie goes up on his toes, pulls Richie down by the front of his shirt, and presses their lips together.

It’s abrupt, a little too hard-- but it is, unmistakably, a kiss. 

Richie makes some sort of tight, shocked sound against Eddie lips at the realization of it, makes the sound again, and the third time it emerges as something far too soft and needy to have been issued by Richie at all.  His hands clench and unclench stupidly in the air at his sides, he’s forgotten what you do with hands all of a sudden, and now that Eddie has Richie here, he doesn’t quite seem to know what to do about it either.  Richie’s brain is glitching out, and Eddie is frozen in place, but neither one of them is trying to extricate themselves from this insanely reckless thing.

Richie is kissing back though, he’s sure of it.  He’s definitely kissing back.  

Slowly, Eddie pulls away, their lips parting with a soft click as he releases Richie’s shirt.  He clears his throat and averts his eyes while Richie gapes at him. 

“What the hell,” Richie manages, “was that for?”

Eddie looks around like he might find the answer written into the flour covering the table, the floor, scored into the pierogi dough.  The stress crease between his brow pinches and Eddie shrugs helplessly, “I wanted to?” 

“Okay,” Richie says, at a loss, “I uh.”  This would probably be a good time to Talk About It.  Instead, he waves a hand at the mess around them and says, “Nice try Delilah, but I’m still not cleaning this up.”

Eddie glowers at him for a moment. “God, you’re so dumb,” he says with an eyeroll, and goes searching for the dustpan and broom.

 

***

 

Everything is thrown slightly off-balance in the best, most confusing way, since The Pierogi Affair.  

Richie has no idea what to do with it.  

There’s always been some sort of underlying tension between Richie and Eddie.  As kids they fed off each other’s energy--Richie’s more manic moods antagonising Eddie’s various neuroses, Richie’s verbal impulsivity sparring with Eddie’s hyperactivity.  Understandably, everyone loved them, wanted to kill them, and at times would watch their interactions with the same academic interest astronomers would employ when studying a stellar collision.  

Stan, as the most introverted, and least tolerant of loudmouthed bullshit, once physically stood between them, shouted, “You two are so pathological!  Just kiss already so I can experience some peace and quiet for once in this goddamn clubhouse. PLEASE.”  And both of them had screamed at him to mind his own business, what the fuck does pathological mean anyway, then screamed at each other not to scream at Stanley, just to have another thing to scream about.

He’d known before any of them, in hindsight.  Stan always had a way of seeing people for who they were.  

Richie could only claim one side of the romantic tension.  He had no idea what Eddie felt, or what he’d even allow himself to feel, and Richie had silently accepted this about Eddie around the same time he realised that liking boys wasn’t a phase.  Everything else went unaddressed, compartmentalized. Richie mercilessly stamped out every little glowing shred of hope that would rear its head each time Eddie would get close, but not too close.

Eddie framing Richie against a fridge for a hasty kiss, is easily the best thing that has ever happened to him—aside from the time the 2nd floor vending machine in Willard Hall dispensed three Snickers bars instead of one.  But even that had only happened once, and on accident. It could have meant something completely different for Eddie.  The unmitigated breadth of Richie’s understanding of functional gay relationships is based completely in speculation, and the time he was sick with the flu and marathoned four seasons of Glee before swearing it off like cigarettes.

Turns out spontaneously kissing your best friend/roommate/longstanding love interest, really does something to the whole dynamic.  Not a bad something, just a something.  It occurs in fleeting glances cast from across the room.  In the peripheral of Richie’s line of sight when he feels he’s being watched, but when Richie turns to look, Eddie’s head is always down. It pulls taut between them as they pass each other coming down the hall and their shoulders brush.  It settles as heat in the empty space between them when they sit down to watch something together.

Which is how another kiss occurs less than seventy-two hours after the first one.

One night out of the week, they order delivery for supper.  Eddie doesn’t fret about Richie developing rickets or scurvy for once, they pop out the dinner trays right there at the couch, and eat sloppy deep dish while watching something that will hopefully keep Eddie’s attention for the next two hours.  

Delivery guy is running late, and usually at this point Eddie has already sunk down against the opposite end of the sofa and propped his feet in Richie’s lap, or stuck his cold toes under Richie’s thigh, or wandered off because he can’t sit still.  Tonight he’s eerily quiet and motionless alongside Richie, his hands folded in his lap, feet pressed to the floor, his posture stiff and straight backed. He’s been gradually scooting closer to Richie this entire time, their hips are touching now, and the strain between them is driving Richie fucking crazy.  He would do this back in Derry, invade Richie’s space if he felt like he wasn’t getting enough attention.  

The light from the TV keeps shadowing and illuminating the profile of Eddie’s face, and he’s begun bouncing his leg.  Always does that when he’s got too much unspent energy or if he’s anxious. Maybe he feels the same restless tensity that has Richie’s skin feeling stretched too thin over his bones.   

Okay, Richie thinks, fuck it.

He slaps his hand down on top of Eddie’s thigh just above the knee, stills it from its bouncing.  Unsure of the objective of this gesture, and mostly just wanting to have Eddie under his hands, Richie sighs and looks over at him.

Eddie turns too, glances down at Richie’s hand, then back up at Richie.  Raises a brow.

Alright. Richie sees that, and raises both brows.  Pats the top of Eddie’s thigh, thumb smoothing a slow half moon on the inside of his knee.  

“Um,” Eddie says, the air between them constricting, growing heated—and it breaks.

Richie has no idea who reaches for the other first, but Eddie’s hand is grabbing at his hip, and Richie’s hand on Eddie’s knee darts to Eddie’s shoulder, and in a miraculous act of agility—Richie ends up straddling Eddie’s lap.  They take all of half a second to look down, back up, give each other a look of bewilderment, then Eddie’s hands are in his hair, and Richie is ducking down to slant their mouths together and oh, god.  This isn’t like the other kiss at all, that kiss was weirdly defiant, like Eddie was trying to prove a point that eluded Richie’s understanding.  This is something people do when they want to fuck each other.  

Eddie opens his mouth to Richie without hesitation, makes a keening sound in the back of his throat when their tongues slip together.  The height disparity proves to be an issue almost immediately, Richie can’t get the fucking angle right, keeps having to hunch over and scrunch his body up to make it work, while Eddie digs his fingers into his hips and starts shoving at him to get friction.  It should be embarrassing that they’re both already hard, forty years old and pretty much dry-humping on a sofa while The Man from fucking Pru blasts behind Richie’s shoulders. 

“You’re too tall,” Eddie complains, biting at Richie’s lips, “why are you in my lap, let’s switch.”

“Ngh,” Richie says, totally beyond it by now.  Cants his hips against Eddie, rubbing their cocks together through the all too thin barrier of pajama bottoms, and making Eddie’s head fall back against the sofa with a groan.  Richie has no idea if this is what was supposed to happen, and is worried about where exactly Eddie’s is in all this, but god, it’s been so long.  And Richie doesn’t feel alone for once is his stupid life. Eddie feels so perfect and hot and safe caught underneath him, and Richie wants him so badly his teeth ache.

BANGBANGBANG!

Both of them jump, Richie flings himself to the other end of the couch, heart racing.  “The fuck was that!” He fights down a wave of anxiety at the sense memory of stall doors slamming.  Keeping quiet with a stranger’s hand down the front of his pants. The prickling of shame at the back of his neck.  

The doorbell buzzes and Richie startles again. Eddie’s head is still propped against the crown of the sofa, and he’s looking up at the ceiling with an expression that screams MURDER.  “Way to kill the mood Gino’s,” he seethes, then throws his hands in the air and lets them fall limply back to his sides. Eddie turns to look at Richie, and the chagrin leaves his face at once.  “Hey,” he says, reaches over and softly touches the top of Richie’s hand. Cocks his head and peers into Richie’s eyes with some degree of worry. “Where’d you go?”

Richie blinks rapidly.  “Huh?”

“You’re up here now,” a finger taps the center of Richie’s forehead.  “You all right? Did I.. do something wrong?”

“What?” Richie asks, then scrubs his hands over his face, dislodges his glasses in the process.  “No, no man. All good,” he smiles and Eddie looks completely unconvinced. “I better..” he nods toward the door and gets off the sofa to pay for the food.

They don’t talk much during the rest of the movie, and Eddie takes care to keep the distance between them.  He doesn’t seem upset at all, but Eddie broadcasts this silent concern in Richie’s general direction like a fucking human sonar. 

“It wasn’t you,” Richie forces out as the credits roll, “sometimes, just… things, you know,” he concludes, lamely.

Eddie seems to digest this, then nods sympathetically.  “Yeah, I think I do.”  

 

***

 

Richie has nightmares sometimes—or a nightmare.  Just the one.  It’s always the same.  It’s the kind that he wakes from in the middle of a scream, his hands shaking where they’re twisted in the sheets.  The shade of the dream clings like a film over his body and pushes away at reality. That’s how it felt being suspended by the deadlights — locked into this other place with no way to escape, watching Eddie die over and over, unable to reach out, unable to change what was happening.  It’s as if he’s there, but not there at all.  Resigned to an observatory existence.

Over a year later, and Richie will be in the midst of pairing up socks, editing a bit, sitting there doing nothing at all—and the world around him falls away.  In those moments Richie wonders if he’s actually still caught there, under Niebolt, dead-eyed, arched limply in the air while his friends are dying below him.  Maybe this, here with Eddie who is alive and only fifteen feet away down the hall, is a lie.  Maybe this is how Richie loses his mind, maybe It is feeding off him right now. He’s been given almost everything he’s ever wanted, what if it’s too good to be true?  What if Richie wakes up just in time just to have it all ripped out from underneath him. Maybe the real Eddie is bleeding out alone down there against rocks, covered in blood and dirty water, and nothing can stop it from happening.  Richie never stopped it from happening.  

Richie! Richie wake up!

...all alone in the darkness, cold and afraid and—

“Richie, for fucks sake, wake up!”  

Something digs sharply into his shoulders, shakes.  Richie jolts into consciousness, sucks in air like he’s been deprived of it for god knows how long, and paws at the dark figure braced above him.

“Jesus christ, Rich! It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re awake now,” the voice says, fingers wrap around Richie’s wrists and pins them from their wild flailing, holds tight. “Hey look at me.  Come on, Trashmouth, stop freaking out. Only one crazy person allowed in the house at a time, and it’s still my turn. Look at me.”

Richie stops struggling against the hands pushing down against him, and looks upward.  The outline of the body is out of focus from darkness, poor eyesight, but Richie knows Eddie’s shape through all its distortions.  Unfortunately for them both, Richie’s is less sure of where and when they are right this moment, physically speaking, and that panic has Richie lurching aside with all his strength, flipping Eddie to hold him safe below the shelter of his own body.

“What the—” Eddie squeaks, and cuts off into a shivery breath when Richie holds him down and jerks his chin to look over his shoulder at—

Nothing. 

An open door.  A light in the hallway.  The sound of the AC kicking on.  Eddie exhaling beneath him. Nothing at all.

“It’s not there,” Richie murmurs, squints at his surroundings, then down at Eddie’s blurry face.  “Where are..?” He still feels half submerged in a dream, the staccato of his heart mimicking the strange rebounding pulse of orbiting deadlights.  “Eddie?”

“Yeah,” Eddie answers.

“This is real, right?” Richie whispers, shakes his head because it sounds fucking crazy, but he needs to know.  “We’re… we’re here, right?”

“Yeah Rich, we’re here.”

“You sure?”

Eddie squirms a bit, his hands come up and settle warm and solid against Richie’s ribs.  “Super sure.”

“But how do you know?” Richie asks, a little desperate.  He still feels very lost, and is hoping Eddie can help guide him in the right direction.  Something about Eddie gives Richie tunnel vision, always has. It’s a thoughtless thing, but powerful all the same— the way he orients to Eddie automatically.

“Would I lie to you?” Eddie sighs, “Here, I’ll prove it,” and one hand slides down Richie’s body, past his hip, and it’s nice for all of two seconds — and then Eddie pinches him, hard, on the ass.

Richie flinches. “OW, dickwad That hurt!”

“I know, that’s the point.” He slips a hand into the hair at the nape of Richie’s neck and yanks until Richie hisses and arches back into it . “Real life hurts.”

Richie fights off a shiver when Eddie’s hand falls away.  He wouldn’t call it hurt, but it does make something hot curl through the ice of anxiety in his belly.  Slightly more convinced than he was a moment ago, Richie frowns and rubs at the sore spot on his left cheek. 

“Damn Eds, buy me a drink first you kinky fuck.  Won’t be able to show off this sweet ass at Zumba tomorrow without all the girls thinking I’m into some Fifty Shades shit.  Thanks a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” Eddie says smugly. His palms settle against Richie’s forearms, fingers drumming idly just below the elbow.  He doesn’t ask Richie to get off, just lies back against the pillows as if this the most normal position in the world for two friends to have a conversation. “But really though… you okay?  I get them too, sometimes, the nightmares.”

“Been awhile since I had one,” Richie admits.  “Must’ve been triggered by something. Dunno.” He does know.  That moment on the sofa, the sudden flash of fear, and the memory of shame.  Those were always the ways It crept into to Richie’s fucked up subconscious.

“You were screaming my name.”

“Yeah, well.  Stop dying in all my nightmares then, and we can both get a good night’s sleep.”  Richie hesitates, he’s never actually told Eddie all of it—what he’d glimpsed in the deadlights when It unhinged its jaw, and how Richie had been too slow to save him from all the pain that came afterward. 

 “It’s because of me,” Richie says after a moment.  He touches Eddie’s bare chest where the striation of scar tissue is still an angry, raised, pink.  “I saw this happen when It had me. Watched you die. Then you did what you did—thanks, by the way—and I froze up. Couldn’t push you out of the path in time.”  He makes a clicking sound with his tongue, spreads his fingers over Eddie’s chest and frowns when the line of the scar extends past the surface area of his hand.

“Richie..” Eddie says, “that’s.. You know I don’t blame you for this.” He traps Richie’s hand against his chest.  “And it was insane down there.  That you were even able to — I mean, I almost let a haunted spider eat your face while I went had an anxiety attack against a wall.  You hesitated.. Richie, that’s human you big dum-dum .”

“I know,” Richie says, because he does know.  “Still sucks.”

“Depends on how you look at it,” Eddie shrugs and goes back to stroking Richie’s forearms.  “A year ago I was lonely, and paranoid. Then I didn’t die, and when I didn’t die, I knew I couldn’t let that be how I lived.  There had to be something more than feeling sick all the time.”  He pauses and rubs his thumb over Richie’s knuckles. “If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here.”

Richie sniffs. “Well, you’re still paranoid.”

“Yeah, but only about stuff that matters.  Like Monsanto, and E-coli, and moles in weird places, and keeping the fucking lint away from the dryer’s heating element because I don’t want you to burn this entire motherfucking apartment complex down.”

Eddie’s smooths his hands over Richie’s shoulders, more curious than anything, like Eddie’s considering their width, but it has the effect of making Richie let out an embarrassingly shaky exhale.  These touches are nice, warm and soothing, and Richie doesn’t want them to stop. So he keeps Eddie talking.

“God, your pillow talk is so hot.”

“Yeah, I know, wait until I tell you about the best way to clean pesticides off produce. Richie, you have no idea what I can do with baking soda, a bowl of water, and a head of romaine.”

“You think I’m kidding.  I’ve been harboring this dark passenger of a fetish for years.” Richie is kidding of course, that would be pathetic.  Except he’s not kidding. Regrettably, most of Eddie’s wack ass idiosyncrasies have a direct line to Richie’s dick. There might genuinely be a problem if he goes into it. 

“We can go back to the hair pulling, that seemed alright.”

Richie snorts, “Are you trying to ruin this beautiful friendsh—”

“Yes,” Eddie says, and the rest of the word dies in Richie’s mouth.  “Yeah,” Eddie says again, quiet and tense, “I am.”

Richie squeezes his eyes closed and tries to put a pin in the emotion pooling up in his chest.  He shakes his head. “Eds, are you even--”

“I heard you in the hospital.  You’d talk to me,” Eddie interrupts, and Richie’s freezes.  “I wasn’t awake, but I could hear things sometimes—everyone’s voices would sort of fade in and out, but I knew when you were there.  You said things.”

“I said a lot of things,” Richie murmurs, apprehensive.  It was disturbing to be in the same room with Eddie and not hear the rapid fire of his speech.  Up until the moment Myra faxed over a marriage license and they had to physically remove Richie from Eddie’s side, he’d talked constantly to Eddie.

The silence had been unbearable, so Richie filled it up— practiced stupid impressions, narrated everything from pissing in that tiny closet sized bathroom not made for anyone above 5’9, to the nefarious contents of the cafeteria tray.  And at night, while the stat monitors chimed, Richie would hold Eddie’s hand, lay his head on the lip of the bed, and plead with Eddie to wake up. He’d made all his confessions there in that room.

With his fingers resting against the pulse in Eddie’s wrist, under the cover of darkness, Richie had rested his cheek against the top of Eddie’s hand and said, “Ed’s, I know this is bad timing, but.. Look. I love you. The capital L kind, like… bring you home to meet the parents kind. Even though, you know, you’ve met them before so it’d be Okay, bad example, but you get my point.  So, if you could do me this one solid, and not fucking die I’d really appreciate it, buddy.”  

Then he’d recounted dozens of seemingly innocuous memories, and how Eddie stood out in all of them.  Told Eddie about the first time Richie realised he felt differently for Eddie than he did for anyone else:  March, a Wednesday, melting snow, 1984. Henry Bowers pushing Eddie into slush. Richie mouthing off and promptly taking a fist to his nose.  Eddie shivering and cursing at him in the bathroom, while dabbing Richie’s nose with the sterile gauze he kept in his fanny pack. The way Richie’s heart seized up when Eddie wiped blood off his bottom lip and kept gagging at the sight of it.  The moment he looked at Eddie’s big brown eyes and felt a compulsion to lean into him

And when he was finished telling Eddie all of this, Richie would berate himself for not physically loading Eddie in the goddamn car and driving away the first chance they’d gotten, the rest of it be damned.  

He didn’t give a shit about being heroic and selfless.  Derry could have been torn apart, and as long as the people Richie loved were okay, then let it burn. More than half the people living there would have seen to Richie themselves, made sure he was put in his place. He knew what happened to boys like him in a town like Derry, and it’s taken Richie half his life to pry that fear off his shoulders.  

Bill and Mike still carried all their grief and guilt.  Richie and Ben still lived with all their loneliness no matter how successful they became.  Bev and Eddie were still trying to survive the abuses of their parents only to end up in the same cycle all over again.  And Stan was just… gone. None of them owed Derry shit. 

Then everything Richie loved went marching off into that shitty house.  Again.  Maybe one day, between the collective, they’ll cobble together enough brain cells to make some good decisions.

“You love me,” Eddie says, a little tremor running through the stubborn determination in his voice and breaking through into Richie’s scattered thoughts.

“You’re my best friend.”

“Not like that.  You’re in love with me.”

“Eds—”

“Don’t do that. Don’t ‘Eds ’ me. You know I hate it when you do that.  So fucking patronizing. You’re on top of me and haven’t moved in five minutes, and like, you don’t even have the excuse of having a nightmare anymore if you’re awake enough to be lecturing me on the merits of preserving a platonic relationship — which, if we’re being perfectly honest, was never really that fucking platonic.  Oh yeah, and your tongue was literally in my mouth five hours ago, Richard .  And something like one out of four people are gay-"

Richie’s mind reels to keep up with Eddie’s train of thought.  “Where the hell are you getting your statist--” 

“And there were how many Losers?  Seven, so at least one and a half of us were bound to be something.”

 “What ?”  Richie is trying to follow this logic.

“I moved in here with you, and you just let me. Without even asking. I showed up here in the middle of the night, told you I got divorced, came here because I missed you all the time , and now we have dinner together every night.  We fold each other’s laundry. You remind me to take my fucking aderall when I miss my alarm.  I love you,” he shouts that last part, slaps his hands on either side of Richie’s face, causing Richie’s lips to pucker out a bit.

“Eddie I—”

“Shut up, I’m not finished,” he goes on, clearly hitting his stride.  He’s got the hand up now, trembling beside his ear before swiping sharply in front of his face.  “You drive me fucking nuts. I love you all the time. You’re such an asshole, and it’s annoying how much I love that about you.  You think feelings like these come around often? They don’t.  And I know, I know it’ll be hard sometimes, I’m not stupid, but I want that with you.  I want that with you, idiot!  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not am I?  It does mean something. You’re just too afraid to—”

Richie kisses him.

Slaps Eddie’s hand aside, lets his arm collapse where he’s been holding his torso off from Eddie’s chest, and the words, do anything,” come out muffled against Richie’s lips.  

It’s not a particularly passionate kiss, at least by the standards of a casual observer, just two guys’ faces mashed together because it’s as much a kiss as it is a muzzle.  But then Eddie’s brain seems to kick back online, and it goes from a hard, dry press of lips, to something sweeter. Slowly, Eddie’s fingertips brush over Richie’s jaw, his mouth softening as they separate and readjust.  Eddie sighs against Richie’s lips.

“You aren’t always going to shut me up this easily,” he murmurs, strains for another kiss.

“This seduction sucks,” Richie lies, and feels Eddie smile.  “I already told you I was into vegetable play, yet here you are delivering love monologues. I’m not even…” he sinks lower against Eddie, brushes their lips together, “..I’m not even into this. You aren’t tempting at all.”

“Yes I am,” Eddie says, cups a hand over the back of Richie’s neck, and without any warning whatsoever, the kiss goes completely off the rails because Richie fucking moans when he feels the tip of Eddie’s tongue slip into his mouth.

Eddie breathes a quick, “Oh shit,” strangled, like he hadn’t been prepared for Richie to have that reaction.  They’re definitely making-out.  Eddie is panting every time they separate and come back together, and Richie wonders if he ever gave a shit before about the actual sound of kissing, because at the moment it’s the most erotic thing Richie has ever heard.  The wet click and slide of their kiss-damp lips sounds sort of desperate and messy, two things Richie doesn’t normally associate with Eddie, therefore making it rare and extremely hot.

Richie moulds himself over Eddie, shoves him down against the pillows and feels him up, smears their bodies together.  Eddie makes small, tight sounds, pushes up against Richie for a few thrilling moments. His fingers grip into the collar of Richie’s t-shirt and start tugging.  It takes a second before Richie understands the point of this, and rears back a little to help Eddie pull it off over his head. As soon as it’s tossed into some dark corner, Richie resumes crushing Eddie against the mattress.  

“You should just kiss people for a living,” Eddie says when Richie moves to nibble under his jaw. “You’re wasted in comedy.” 

“All that practice with your mom,” Richie bites out, and silently thanks Jenny Greyson who played the Wendla to his Melchior in Spring Awakening their senior year in college.  They had to block that entire hayloft scene, and the first time he went in to kiss her she held a hand up, said absolutely not, oh my god, and then taught him how to kiss the same way a professor would teach calculus.  Not hot at all, it was strictly practical. Maybe had something to do with both their preferences.  Jenny liked girls, and Richie liked never talking about it ever, and they went about it with the dogged determination of two liberal arts majors determined not to go back for a nursing degree after failing in the industry.

“How long,” Eddie says between kisses, “has it been since you..?”

Richie laughs helplessly, might as well admit it.  “Shit...like.. eighteen months?” And before then it had been another ten months.  

“Jesus,” Eddie says, arches up into Richie for another kiss, “I was in a loveless marriage. What’s your excuse.”

“Self-loathing is great for celibacy,” he huffs, bites reproachfully under Eddie’s collarbone.

“Tell me about it,” Eddie murmurs.  

“Have you always smelled this good,” Richie asks urgently, and inhales against Eddie’s collarbone, “what the fuck.”

“God, you’re a weirdo.”

Richie’s hips twitch against Eddie.  “You’re hard,” he whispers, voice rough with the knowledge of it, and grabs at Eddie’s thigh, pushes it out a little.  Grinds down against him. “God, you’re really into this, aren’t you?” he cuts himself off with a sharp exhale when Eddie’s fingers scrabble against Richie’s shoulder blades.

“Yeah, well, it’s you,” Eddie says, as if this is the only explanation required.  Maybe it is, Richie’s reasons are the same. Eddie pulls this sort of reaction from him.

He didn’t mean for it to get this heavy, this fast, Richie swears he didn’t, but god, he hasn’t touched anyone before without feeling guilty for it — without feeling an equal need to pull away in shame or fear.  But he doesn’t feel that now, not even close, it’s Eddie , and he’s pliant, eager, and Richie never thought he’d have this.  Didn’t even know if Eddie would want him like this— undressed, exposed, all the indignities and intimacies that come with taking two oily, squishy, germ-infested human bodies, and shunting them together. 

No matter how hard Richie holds on to him, whether his tongue is in Eddie’s mouth or pressed to his pulse, it doesn’t seem close enough.

“Are you going to fuck me, or are you saving yourself for marriage?”  Eddie says sharply, the tone he uses when he’s trying to come across unruffled.

“So romantic, I’ve only pined after you for twenty eight years. Insane that you think I’m capable of anything other than,” he lifts his hips and makes room for Eddie’s hands, manages to squeak out, “— making love, jjeeessuuss,” when he feels Eddie’s fingers wrap around him.  “Are you sure? Look Kaspbrak, please be sure, because I can’t—”  he pushes his dick against Eddie’s hand and grunts, “—have you running out on me tomorrow because you need to have an existential breakdown.  Or because your ass is sore and you’re pissed at me for it. We don’t even have to—”

“Don’t be such a fucking lesbian,” Eddie gasps into the crook of Richie’s neck, jerking Richie’s cock with one hand, and pushing away their boxers with the other.  As soon as he’s naked, Richie is grabbing for Eddie, lining their hips up just right, grins triumphantly when Eddie lets lose an impressive string of curse words at the feel of them pressed together.

After a few moments of this, of Eddie writhing up against him, trying to compensate for the way their height differences causes them to fall out of position ( so goddamn cute!!) Richie lets go and starts rummaging around his nightstand.  Grabs lube. Pauses.

“So.  I don’t have condoms,” he shakes his head, because of course the universe would choose this moment in which to conspire against him.  Eddie is point-blank asking to get fucked, and funny thing about Eddie’s ass, if that you can’t see it without wanting to fuck it, and all Richie is armed with is this half empty bottle of KY, and moxy.

“I can’t believe I’m letting you do this,” Eddie says under his breath.  “Is this like in movies where the guy tells the girl it just feels so much better without a rubber.”

“That’s offensive. I am not your common fuckboy,” Richie deadpans. “Hello? Celibate for most of my life?  My Big Gay Identity Crisis? Come on, It’s not like I’ve been dragging dudes back here and topping for charity!  We’ll go to CVS tomorrow, I’ll just go down on—”

“Fuck, whatever, fine. I trust you.”

Wait. Impossible. 

Richie clears his throat. “Just to be clear: You don’t even let me come to the table without washing my hands, but you’re willing to bareback ?”

Eddie gives a flustered huff, “Well, if you want to be real fucking rude about it. Yeah.”

“But the Ronald Reagan era and—”

“Do not. Bring up. The Reagan administration.  In bed. Ever.”

“Alright,” Richie starts, stops, “at the risk of you calling me a lesbian again, you tell me at any point to stop and I will not be upset. I give a shit about you.”

Eddie props himself up on his elbows and kisses Richie slow and perfect.  “I know. Now come on.” Richie bites his bottom lip, nods, and swipes his glasses from the bedside table. “Hell no,” Eddie whines, “you can’t wear glasses for this.”

“I want to see you,” Richie protests, “it’s sort of Hot Librarian right?”

“We can’t fuck face to face, I’m going to laugh.

“Too bad,” Richie says and slides them on, looks down at Eddie and smirks.  It’s dark, but not dark enough to miss the blush on Eddie’s face, or the softness in his eyes.  Richie purses his lips and strokes his thumb over the thin silvered line of a scar mapping against the hollow of Eddie’s cheek. 

“I killed the guy who gave you that,” he says quietly, and doesn’t wait for Eddie’s response before kissing him on the mouth.  Hurts Richie’s feelings to think about it. Would have hatcheted Bowers extra dead had he known at the time.  Fuck that dude.

“Have you ever done this before,” Eddie asks, eyes Richie uncertainly.

“Truth?” Eddie nods. “Once. A few years ago.  Except, you know. On bottom.”

“What.”

“But look,” Richie says reassuringly, “I’ve prayed on it.  I’ve read the sacred texts, and I know how to do this.” He pours some slick into his hand, “YOLO.”

It takes a bit of happy labor to get Eddie to loosen up, even the most cursory of probes sends him arching and gasping, and Richie has trouble telling if those are good reactions or not.  He keeps stopping, and then Eddie yells at him for stopping, says stuff like stop treating me with kid’s gloves, and are you trying to fuck me or perform a colonoscopy, then digs his fingers in Richie’s hair when, finally, Richie brushes against a spot inside of him that causes Eddie to drop the most beautiful sound Richie has ever heard.  

“Good?” Richie asks, shuffles down Eddie’s body and presses a shaky kiss below his navel, his hip, the crease of his thigh, pushes up and sucks slow and wet at the tip of Eddie’s cock.  Wrenches that sound out of Eddie again, before sliding in a third finger.  

“You—” Eddie says, then groans and pushes up into Richie’s mouth.  “You. Um.”

Richie hums in agreement—of what, he has no idea, but he’s certain he’s responsible for whatever it is Eddie is prepared to accuse him of.  It’s been a goddamn minute since he’s sucked cock, and it’s hard not to get carried away with it. Eddie isn’t helping at all, keeps whimpering and pushing up in shivery little thrusts over the cup of Richie’s tongue, just past the hard palate.  

“Oh my god,” Eddie murmurs, clenches his hands in Richie’s hair, “holy shit, Rich, that’s so— you gotta stop.  You have to, or I’ll—”  

It takes the singular oxygen molecule left supplying Richie’s brain to stop, and because he’s slightly suspicious of Eddie’s response to this Great Value™ brand of blow job, he says, “I’m guessing that’s not something you’ve had happen much either?”

“No,” Eddie breathes, grabs at Richie, starts pulling him up, and Richie is pleasantly surprised when Eddie actually kisses him.  He sort of thought that part might be over, and Eddie would turn the left cheek and demand Richie brush his teeth before trying to kiss him again.  Fucking, score.  

“I may or may not have had some hang-ups,” Eddie says, sort of dubious, but Richie gets it.  “I’m not going to be able to look at your mouth again without... fuck .  Just get in me, already.”

“Okay,” Richie says agreeably, voice all air, doesn’t really need to be told again at this point. He positions himself between Eddie’s thighs, finds the spot, and pushes in so fucking slow. He might really be dying, his entire body is aching, and he didn’t know you could feel so turned on that it makes you almost nauseous.

Eddie gasps, arms banding tight over Richie’s shoulders, pulling him down until their foreheads press together. Richie brushes a kiss there, then buries his nose in the crook of Eddie’s neck and whimpers a little.

Eddie nods when he’s ready for more, and Richie’s hips press forward, stop.  He waits for Eddie’s body to adjust. They’ve seemed to have found the one thing so fucking intense, that it keeps either of them from speaking beyond little guiding vocalizations   

Eddie makes a choked, open sound, when Richie is seated fully inside him, and Richie tries holding as still as he can, which is difficult when his body is trembling this much.  The hair at the nape of his neck is tipped with sweat, sliding down against his throat, and Eddie never stops hugging Richie close, or scratching down Richie’s spine, over the swell of his ass.

“This isn’t going to last long,” Richie warns, his voice rough. “You feel…” 

“You too,” Eddie agrees, breathes out a harsh, “Christ,” when Richie pulls out a little and slides back inside.  Does it again, and it’s easier, better, Eddie’s eyes fall shut.  The third time, their flesh smacks together because Richie is already well on his way to a loss of control, and Eddie cries out and digs his nails into Richie’s back.

Past sexual encounters have mostly made Richie feel painfully self-aware. Intimacy and loss of control seemed terrifying.  He was afraid to be seen, afraid to enjoy himself, of losing control.  

Never in his life has Richie experienced such a colossal loss of inhibition than he does when fucking Eddie.  Not even comparable to the time he was undergoing mood cycling and didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with him, so he’d proceeded to get blitzed in a dive bar with some old veteran.  Ended up crying in his arms and coming out over a shared bottle of fucking Rumple Minze and an order of chilli cheese fries.  Afterward he sang Total Eclipse of The Heart, it wasn’t even karaoke night, and finally managed to chase everyone from the establishment.

This is a whole lot better than that. 

Richie is in his right mind for one, and his right mind has Richie intertwining his and Eddie’s fingers and anchoring them down against the bed.  He’s going to get shit for it tomorrow, but Richie mouths at Eddie’s throat, leaving a trail of marks down his neck. The bed frame is knocking into the wall hard enough to scrape away paint.  Eddie is shaking and unknotted underneath him, emitting sounds Richie has never heard Eddie make in his life.  

“Richie,” Eddie says, “please,” and Richie slips his tongue into Eddie’s mouth. Reaches between them and strokes his hand over Eddie’s cock, his breath stuttering out when he finds him slick and leaking.

“Oh boy,” Richie mutters, nonsensical, “God Eds, what—” he has to shake his head to shock his brain into finding words.  “What do you need? How do I make you—”

“Talk to me,” Eddie whines, his shoulders bowing, head tipping back to expose the line of his throat, one hand braced against the headboard and the other tugging in his own hair.  Richie thinks it should probably be his fingers there, and rests his elbow next to Eddie’s ear to stabilize his thrusts, grabs a big hank of Eddie’s hair and pulls him back into an arch.  “C’ mon,” Eddie says between clenched teeth, chest heaving in short breaths.

Richie blurts, “You look like a slut,” then winces. That’s absolutely not what he’d intended to say.  Was thinking something more along the lines of beautiful and I love you and you’re gorgeous like this, and has no idea how slut found it’s way in there.

Eddie eyes fly open, gives Richie A Look, but something about it must have worked because his muscles start seizing up, those vowel heavy sex-noises he makes come tumbling back out of his mouth.  Richie babbles something stupid and stunned along the lines of, “Holy shit, I did it right,” followed by some distinct non-words when Eddie’s ass clenches around his dick, and he starts to come.

Eddie in extremis is always a force to be reckoned with-- beautiful to watch, terrifying to be in his path.  But watching the tension flood out of his body, mouth loose in pleasure because Richie managed to do something to please him instead of royally piss him off-- it’s a fucking revelation of near biblical proportions.  

Richie never copped to the concept of healing sex , because Richie could never see a way through to intimacy.  For him, sex came with a wretched sense of detachment, while at the same time being viscerally trapped by his need.

He is woefully unprepared for the bewildering, fucking unmanageable tidal swell of emotion currently pouring through him—forcing away the weeds of bitterness and anguish he’d long thought grown over all the tender pieces. It’s like being shown the answer to the universe, and the answer is:  Always be fucking Eddie.  

He gets it now, understands why people do this, why they go and make themselves vulnerable and exposed over and over and over.  Why they seek it out and cling to each other, stubborn and passionate, in spite of the risks.  Despite the fact that love, in all of its many forms, is a terrifyingly bad idea because the world is awful and there are no guarantees and everything is always happening.  It’s scary as fuck.

But Richie feels safe in this moment, and that’s worth something.  It’s important. He can’t remember why he used to be so ashamed to want this.  How could this ever be wrong? 

Oh goddamnit.  Richie can’t become a romantic at forty fucking years old.  

Eddie incognizant of this earth-shattering revelation, groans one last time, their bellies slipping wetly together as his body twitches in the aftershocks.

“Eds,” Richie says urgently, “if you don’t want me to come in you, say something now because—”

Eddie seizes Richie by the face, hands cupped firmly over his ears as he wrenches him into a rough kiss.  It’s mostly teeth, the stressed edge of Richie’s ah ah ah’s, progressively rising in pitch against Eddie’s lips. Richie’s glasses dig into the bride of his nose and he can feel his eyelashes brushing against the lenses. Thrusts become shallow, frantic and juddering and probably a little too rough if the sharp breaths in Richie’s ear are anything to go by.  

It doesn’t take much to send Richie spiralling over the edge.  In the end, all it takes is Eddie gently stroking his hair when Richie presses his face into the crook of Eddie’s neck, unable to stopper some wounded noise from getting out.  And Eddie whispers Richie’s name at the sound, then hisses when Richie loses it, buries himself as far as Eddie’s body will allow, and nips down thoughtlessly against Eddie’s shoulder to muffle himself.  

Eddie flinches a little at that, says, “Ouch, fucking asshole,” in what might possibly be the most affectionate and loving delivery of that insult, ever. Squeaks out a, “Woah,” when Richie’s body goes to trembling, hands scrabbling for Eddie’s hands, holding so tight he can feel a knuckle pop, and comes deep into the clutch of his body.

There are several sticky, blissful moments where both of them seem content to sweat on each other, trying to find their breath.  Eddie’s hands keep gesturing ambiguously, patting Richie’s back, waving off in some sort of encompassing motion indicating nothing at all, while Richie tries to slow his respiration lest he give away that it’s been a fucking minute since he hit the cardio.

With care, Richie pulls out, bites his bottom lip when Eddie grimaces slightly, and rolls off him into the empty space to the right.  

“That was..”  Eddie pants up at the ceiling.

“Yeah.”

“Really good,” he finishes.  “Messy though. I need a shower, but still...”

“Yeah,” Richie agrees, just as dumbfounded by how actually good it was.  He blows hair off his forehead and raises an arm in the air, palm facing Eddie.  “Give me some skin, bro.” Eddie turns his head and rolls his eyes. “Come on shortstack, don’t leave me hanging.”

“Jesus,” Eddie mutters under his breath, but still lifts and extends his hand.

“Gay rights,” Richie says, and high-fives him.  Their palms collide with a dull thwack and Richie catches Eddie’s hand and holds it between them.

“Gay rights,” Eddie relents, with a comically beleauguered sigh.  He leans his ear against the top of Richie’s shoulder, and Richie draws idle circles around each of his knuckles.

And in case it wasn’t one-hundred percent clear, Richie swallows and says, “I love you a lot.”  Doesn’t even turn it into a Your Mother segue in order to distance himself from the weight of those words, and the promise that comes with it.  “So, if it’s cool with you, I’m going to keep uh… doing that.” Loving him, Richie means, but also the rest. All the loving--even the scary kind, and the clumsy kind, the dull kind, and the kind of love you do on purpose because a life is built out of intentions.

Eddie smiles against Richie’s shoulder, squeezes his hand.  “You fucking better.”