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in the heat of the summer (you're so different from the rest)

Chapter Text

The heatwave ends, as all things do.

Things feel different since Atlanta, since that strange moment after Eddie’s marathon.

At first, Richie thinks it might be because of the way Eddie has no more qualms about kissing him in public, and is applying himself to it with predictable doggedness. He does it all the time; bridging the gap over the gearshift before they head into Ralphs, pressing a red car key tattoo into Richie’s thigh. Leaning up on his toes when they ride the Angels Flight Railway, sequestered near the back. Lingering under the leafy shade of Griffith Park when they take Oliver for an afternoon, like Richie’s fresher than a water fountain, sweeter than an ice cream.

But that’s not it.

It could be the easing wall of heat, crumbling cooler, brick by brick with every day that passes since the heatwave officially ended. 

But that’s not it either. 

They still swim in the pool, the fan still ticks like a clock above their bed at night, but slower, less like a countdown to the sun’s next ravaging flight. Richie is able to sleep in a pile of Eddie’s cradling limbs, and they’re both so bony that sometimes it feels like the clashing antlers of two bucks in rut, but Richie has never slept better. It’s hot, but not so hot that his juices leak out of him in the night until he wakes up basting, like a Thanksgiving turkey. He’ll stretch, and groan, and rest his chin on Eddie’s chest to see him wide awake, already staring.

And that’s it. That’s what’s different.

Eddie won’t stop fucking staring.

Richie has no idea what to make of it. He almost feels like he did when Eddie first moved in, quivering with uncertainty under the same dark gaze burning holes into the back of his head whenever they're near to one another. Almost the same, but not quite. It’s weird, for sure, but at least it doesn’t make Richie feel like he’s racked out on some medieval torture device every time their eyes meet; he’s already spilled all but one of his heartsick guts, and Eddie kinda seems to love what they look like.

That’s another thing. Richie’s known for months the reason Eddie sat puzzling him out so much back then; Eddie was in love, and didn’t know how to say it. He wanted to bone Richie down, and didn’t know how to do it. But that was a whole entire year ago, and nowadays Eddie says I love you like he’s worried he’ll forget the words if he doesn’t practice, and they fuck like bunnies, so Richie’s clueless as to what it could all possibly mean, what Eddie is possibly trying to tell him, especially when his strange looks seem to come out of fucking nowhere.

Richie could prepare himself for the shaky, wrong-footed confusion that tightens his chest every time, if he only knew what he was doing to make Eddie look at him like that. 

Like — like he’s hurt, or something. 

Hurting Eddie is the absolute last thing on Earth that Richie wants, which is why he’s peeling an orange one morning, to share. The waxy skin of it tears like tissue paper in his hands, and the chandelier mist of citric juice catches the sun, casting tiny rainbows against the white marble countertop.

“What’s a seven letter word for the color red?” Eddie asks, from the other side of the breakfast bar. He taps his pen against his forehead, glaring at the newspaper, and like fuck is Richie gonna tell him it’s the inky end. “Crimson? Wait, that doesn’t fit.”

Richie slurps juice from his thumb, and counts on his fingers. “Maroon?”

“That’s six, Rich.” Eddie scratches his scar. It gets itchy sometimes, apparently. Richie can hear the rasp of stubble from here. “Aha, scarlet — no. Damn it.”

Richie grins at the frustrated peaks Eddie’s scrubbing his sleep-greasy hair into, and goes back to his orange. “Maroon 5?”

“Can it, you’re no help,” Eddie fumes. 

It’s a clean, whispery noise as the orange flesh parts easily under his fingers. The segments almost glow from within, firm and full of delicious promise like an egg yolk. Richie sets the much bigger half on Eddie’s plate before tucking into his own.

Damn, but Richie would live in Cali for the oranges alone. It’s so sweet, he’s gonna savor it. They have nothing to do today since Eddie doesn’t start his new job for another three weeks, and Richie was kinda hoping for some good old fashioned, leisurely shower sex, maybe some mini-golf, but it’s gonna be an uphill battle if Eddie’s this grumpy before the sun has even cleared the tops of Hollywood’s scrubby hills. 

Richie loves the hell out of him, but Eddie’s not at his most imaginative in the mornings. Or ever, really. It’s bad for crosswords.

Sacs of fructose rend like broken blood vessels as his thumbnail digs in, by mistake. Fruit juice sprays like a firework onto his glasses. Richie pulls them off to clean them on his pajama shirt, looking up when he realizes he can’t hear the usual metallic rhythm of Eddie’s foot jiggling against his stool.

Eddie’s staring again, chewing his lip. 

The ripe heft of the orange births droplets into his cupped hands, and his expression is so raw it almost hurts to look at, flayed-open and vulnerable as frostbite.

Citric acid stings in the gouge Richie accidentally bites into the meat of his cheek. He always takes his inaugural morning coffee in the giant white mug Eddie bought him that says ICK with a D for the handle — because, really, isn’t it swell that he shares his name with his favorite brand of humor — but it’s nowhere near empty enough for him to contend with Eddie’s strange, dark gaze, pooling unstoppably into his. He doesn’t even have his glasses on, to minimize the impact.

“What?” He hunches in on himself. “Did you figure out the word? Was I right?”

Eddie’s eyes drop to Richie’s sticky hands. “You didn’t split it right,” he croaks. “You gave me too much.”

“It’s—”

Richie feels Eddie’s bare calf slide tentatively between his own, and is overwhelmed by the memory of another sun-soaked day, so long ago, swinging the summer away in a hammock like it was a clock’s never-ending pendulum. Eddie’s legs weren’t so furred with hair, then, but he still hated the word puzzles in the back of Richie’s comics, always that much more deft when using his hands, when fixing or doodling or twiddling his clean-trimmed thumbs as he stared out of the classroom window in a way that wound Richie hotter the longer he watched. 

Building model trains came with a set of instructions and the kind of neat, satisfactory end point that a half-finished crossword never could, Richie supposes. But Eddie still argued over snack portions, and he still stared. 

Richie’s still besotted. He just wishes he knew what Eddie’s seeing, beyond the black of his wide pupils where the brain translates the world into electricity.

“Richie,” Eddie says, and then stops, like he’s run into some invisible wall. His teeth are clenched around the last syllable of Richie’s name. He looks like he’s having a hernia. “Um.”

Richie stares back at him, and waits. It’s a funny thing, patience, and the complete lack of it that Richie has as a kid, when his entire life was still spilled out at his feet like an untouched bank of snow waiting for footprints. It feels backwards that now, with four decades of Richie Tozier scratched into the surface of the Earth, he’s finding he has patience by the fucking bucketload. Not for everything, it’s true, he still wants to buy a punching bag and then use it to smash the TV every time the PS4 takes a fucking year to update, but it’s different for the things that really matter. Maybe it’s his whole mature adult experiment yielding positive results, or maybe it’s just because he finally has something worth waiting for. 

Even so, Eddie seems to have hit some kinda citrus-based impasse, and Richie takes pity on him. He’s frowning so hard he’s coming dangerously close to sporting a monobrow, what with all the inky squiggles on his forehead. 

“It’s just an orange, Eds,” Richie says, soft. He pushes Eddie’s outstretched hands back towards him. “Eat it. We can afford more of ‘em, I promise.”

Eddie laughs shakily, and their eye contact snaps like an elastic, leaving them in two looser halves. At least, Richie feels looser at the sound of Eddie’s morning, tree-bark husk.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Eddie mutters, ducking his head. “Just an orange. Thank you.”

He’s looking like a tall-ish drink of pink lemonade, and Richie starts scarfing the rest of his own half pronto, in the hopes of pushing that shower sex further up the agenda. 

“You need it more than I do, anyway,” he garbles through his mouthful of pith. “Gotta replace all that Vitamin C you keep nutting out. I’ve swallowed so much of your stuff I’m practically an orange myself.”

Not that Eddie hasn’t been insisting on swallowing his fair share recently — the first time Richie watched him lick a spit of white from his shiny mouth he nearly came all over again, on Eddie’s face, which Eddie might be okay with if he has a little time to prepare first, make a spreadsheet — but he’s got a lot of catching up to do.

Richie could try working the easily digested angle. They could stop spending half the grocery budget on comically big bottles of supplements from Whole Foods.

Either way, it breaks the tension and the nervy band around his chest to see Eddie shift into familiar furrows of laughing disgust, and Richie can breathe easier as Eddie spits pips into his cackling face.

 

It’s all bizarre. 

How is Richie supposed to brace himself for the rollercoaster swoop of Eddie’s strange attentions if he’s getting weird over stuff as mundane as fruit? As permitted as Richie saying one or two heartfelt lines about him when he opens for some newbie comics at a local college show, hyperaware of Eddie’s eyes like burning beacons in the murky crowd, frazzling his arm hair on end? Or as perfectly, we’re forty-one and kind of enjoy an early night these days, run of the mill ordinary as Richie stretching out like a slinky along the couch, his feet dangling heavy-numb over the arm with the lack of blood, because it's the only way he can rest his head in Eddie’s warm lap as they watch TV.

Flickering LED bands pulse around the living room, casting everything in ghostly highlights; the high, wooden-beamed ribcage of the ceiling, their hands tangled like pale jellyfish, limp on Richie’s slow-breathing chest. Eddie’s bare thigh is comfortable and unmoving under his cheek. He must be making a real effort, Richie thinks, because he hasn’t jiggled his knee once since Richie lay down, not even when a commercial for a law firm comes snapping after the soft tail of a pet food ad.

“Oh shit, Eds, don’t look,” Richie says, grabbing for the remote. “Lawyers. You got any crucifixes handy?”

“Nah,” Eddie snorts, from up above him. “Used them all up in the divorce.”

Richie turns the volume down, closing his tired eyes at the curled-toes feeling of Eddie’s fingers sifting through his hair, sending sensitive ripples all down his spine. It’s slower than shivering. It’s like he’s a laundered sheet, and Eddie’s wafting all his creases out.

“Your hair’s getting long,” Eddie murmurs, tugging gently at Richie’s thorny little tassel of a ponytail. “You’re gonna look like Animal soon. From the Muppets.”

Richie yawns until his jaw clicks. “I know who Animal is, who do you take me for?” 

“I take you for Animal. I just said so.”

“Sam Eagle.”

“Shut up.”

Richie’s eyelids make a scratching noise as he opens them again, sticky with the day’s fading heat and the hours he spent poring over his laptop, caught in a tedious maze of work emails with the guys at SNL about the episode he’s hosting next week. He’d tied his hair back because it was twisting into his eyes like a briar patch, wiry and un-brushed. He forgets sometimes. It’s not like he spends a lot of time looking at himself in the mirror. Why would he, when he can look at Eddie instead?

The lawyers disappear from the screen in a cloud of bats. No, a cloud of shit, anything else would be a disservice to bats. 

Eddie teases out another of his matted tufts. Richie’s scalp tingles, and he’s slapped by a belt of sudden self-consciousness, remembering Ben’s perfect hair slipping through his hand like silk ribbons.

“Wait, you don’t hate it, do you?” He watches his index finger draw spirals around the capstone of Eddie’s knee in silhouette against the TV, feeling far too much like an idiot teenager for his liking, churned up with butterflies. He’s been an idiot teenager before and it‘s not something he’s keen to repeat. “I thought — you’re always pulling at it, so I figured you’d like more to pull. Shit, I shoulda got it cut for Stan’s thing, shouldn’t I? It’s — yeah, it’s kind of a mess. Sorry.”

He shuts up, cringing at himself and feeling exposed to the roots as Eddie’s fingers stay buried close to his skull. His other hand is crushing Richie’s knuckles together like marbles, and Richie’s getting so used to the heavy watching weight of Eddie’s staring that he feels it immediately when it comes, like a field mouse in the shadow of a hawk.

He twists over, to meet Eddie’s eyes. 

Yep. 

Eddie’s only pop-art light and shadow, cycling through the rainbow to the jaunty tirade of jingles, but his eyes are jet-black constants in the gloom. The familiar crease between his eyebrows deepens, and he’s staring down at Richie like he’s grown a second head.

“What?” Richie asks, warily. They laid the serape down so they wouldn’t fuse to the couch with sweat, and he kinda wants to cover his heated face with it. “You can tell me the truth, I’m a big boy. I’ll get it cut if—”

“No!” Eddie says, going wide-eyed. “No, don’t, it’s — I like it.”

“Then what’s the fuckin’ problem?”

“There’s no problem.”

There is clearly some kind of problem, even if Eddie won’t ’fess up to it, and that’s what’s fucking with Richie the most. In all the years he’s known Eddie and in all the ones with glaring gaps that Eddie’s helping to fill in, Richie has never known him to keep his griping to himself. Not around each other. As long as the grievance is small enough to control, inconsequential enough that Eddie can wrangle it into submission with one of his full-bodied, maniac rants, it’s never really worth worrying about in the long run. 

Which means that whatever he’s always staring about, it’s a big one. Shifting, growing, moving underneath their daily lives like something big trapped under pond ice, and Richie’s feeling increasingly stuck out in the middle, waiting for it to crack under his feet. 

He fucking hates it. 

Eddie hasn’t acted so cagey since around Valentine’s Day, and Richie thought they were way past this. It doesn’t feel particularly fair, and he wonders if Eddie even realizes that, if he gets that they’re supposed to be a team, and teams communicate. Eddie should know that. He’s the one who watches baseball like it’s actually interesting.

“Then what?” Richie pleads, nudging his head into Eddie’s palm.

“You — I, uh.” Eddie swallows. “You really — you really grew it out ‘cause I...?”

He trails off, and the pad of his thumb is like a kiss against Richie’s forehead, doing fuck all to ease the kernel of tension threatening to burst into a full-blown headache. The TV plays on unheeded as Eddie plucks off Richie’s glasses by the nosepiece, which is bad for them, but Eddie has never had any respect for Richie’s condition. His hand flattens over Richie’s skipping heart, and now they’re both staring. Eddie’s still so hot even upside down, it’s hard to stay frustrated with his hamfisted deflections; hard, but not impossible.

Richie swallows back the miserable confusion threatening to curdle his dinner in his stomach, and grins, weakly. “Yeah, man. You gotta have something to hold onto while you buck this bronco.”

It has the opposite effect that he wanted. 

Eddie’s legs go tense under him and his mouth turns down at the corners, shaking his head mutely in the unearthly blue illumination of a commercial for some nature show. “No, that’s not — I love it ‘cus it’s yours, Richie.”

“Oh.”

Nobody ever stroked Richie’s hair, before Eddie, not even his mom. He never really saw the appeal outside of someone letting him know he was good at giving head, but here, with Eddie scraping his blunt nails through it so finely it sounds like a spring rain, he knows it’s just another thing in a million he can’t live without, now that he has it. 

“You know that, right?” It must be hard to speak through the way Eddie’s grinding his teeth like that, his jaw working. Richie can’t look away. He‘s entirely lost right now, helpless to do anything but listen to what Eddie’s trying to say, because he wants to understand, so badly. 

“You know I’ll love you, even if — you don’t have to keep on—”

“Even if what?”

“Even if — even if — you go bald,” Eddie blurts, lamely, looking away at the TV like nothing happened.

Richie gapes up at him, too caught off guard to keep hold of the terrible anxiety sloshing in his belly. It filters away, replaced by sheer amusement. As far as he knows, there’s nothing in writing anywhere that says Eddie has to be a dramatic dillhole all the time, but he sure as hell seems to act like it’s a contractual obligation.

“That’s what you’re getting so bent out of shape over? I know that, Eds! Jesus Christ, you gotta stop scaring me like this.”

“Scaring you?” Eddie looks down again, alarmed, his fist tightening suddenly in Richie’s hair in a move hard-wired to pull achy strings at Richie’s dick.

He squeezes his legs together, nuzzling into Eddie’s stomach with relief. All this bullshit over nothing. “Yeah, all your fuckin’ Psycho staring. Just because you look like Anthony Perkins, doesn’t mean you hafta go all Norman Bates on me while I’m trying to watch TV.”

Eddie snorts a sharp breath, and it’s such a return to normality that Richie’s ready and willing to take it. Whatever boat they’re in, after everything they’ve been through he’s sure it’s the same one, and he’s not gonna go rocking it. Not yet. The perfect moment will come to ask his question, but it’s definitely not right now, on the back of another one of Eddie’s screwy episodes with both of them in ratty shorts and not much else, to the super-romantic strains of the How It’s Made guy explaining bike saddles.

“I do not look like Anthony Perkins.”

“You totally do. You’re both hot, both got issues with knives and bathrooms—”

“Shut up,” Eddie laughs, digging hard fingers into Richie’s side ‘til he’s squirming away from it, turning his back to the TV. 

He burrows in close to Eddie’s lap. This is probably the longest his face has been next to Eddie’s crotch without any action, and his body is starting to take notice. “I’m sorry, are we still not laughing about you becoming a bathroom injury statistic? I figured you’d feel vindicated, more than anything else.”

“Don’t shit your pants, but funnily enough it felt a lot more like getting stabbed in the fucking face than it felt like vindication.”

“Six of one, babe. At least you stabbed the asshole back,” Richie says, trying to put the weirdness behind him. It gets easier when Eddie’s arm settles heavy and warm over his side, still dragging sweet circles of light pressure against the back of Richie’s skull with his other hand.

“That doesn’t even make sense, six of one,” Eddie says, tickling his nape. “They’re not the same.”

Richie grins, nosing up the hem of Eddie’s shirt to kiss at his treasure trail. “I’m tired, cut me some slack.”

“I’m tired too. And this is a good one, so don’t go… starting anything, down there.”

Unbelievable. He’s getting turned down for reruns, which they have on DVR.

Richie isn’t even a quarter-hard yet. He’s only nursing the quiet throb of potential between his legs, in the same way he might contemplate how nice it’d be to go jump in the pool as he lies sweating in bed in the middle of the night, but realistically can’t be fucking bothered getting up. Still, Eddie’s lap is comfortable, and he’s feeling the shaky leftover need to reassure things back to normal; either himself, or Eddie, he’s not certain. 

“Doesn’t have to go anywhere, Eds,” he sighs, petting at Eddie’s hip. “Just wanna… keep little Eddie feelin’ looked after.”

“Okay, first of all, don’t call my dick little Eddie.”

“Nah, that’s fair. You’re already little Eddie. He’s the littlest Eddie that could.

“That’s worse!”

“Alright, the biggest, thickest Eddie that could—”

“Oh my God, fuck you.” Eddie leans down to kiss his temple, tugging his un-tangled ponytail for good measure. Richie smirks into the cream-soft folds of his shorts. “Second of all, what does that mean, exactly? Doesn’t have to go anywhere?”

Eddie sounds genuinely curious, and — it’s — it’s something Richie’s always kinda wanted to do, but could never find anyone who accepts his doting like a bottomless pit, quite the way Eddie does. Someone who truly gets why Richie craves feeling wanted and useful far more than he ever craved nicotine.

It’s also possible Richie has some kinda oral fixation. Ever since he quit smoking cigarettes years ago, the dry ache comes tightening his jaw a lot more often, swelling his tongue with the need to curl it around food, around dick, his fingernails, a joint, or endless, rambling reams of jokes, just to keep his mouth busy. 

And a last, major addendum — bold, highlighted, underlined — the thought of Eddie resting in his mouth for no reason other than accepting Richie’s warm comfort is so unspeakably hot, it’s sending shots of adrenaline down between his legs every time he imagines it. 

“Richie?” 

He looks up. Eddie’s tilting his head to look him straight-on, puzzled and washed out by the TV’s pearly light. 

Richie clears his throat, slipping one finger into Eddie’s waistband. “Could you, uh. D’you think you could just — put it in my mouth, for a while?”

Eddie’s hand freezes in his hair. “I’m — I think I might be too tired to—”

“You don’t have to do anything, Eds,” Richie says, lowly. “Just let me — you don’t have to come, you don’t even have to get hard, just — think of me as your own personal space heater. For your dick.”

Eddie’s hand is cupped around the back of Richie’s head like a nest. He’s frowning. Hours have passed since the sun set, but his pupils are dilated hugely even for the strobing dark of the living room. “Why? What’s — why?”

“Why not? You becoming a nun or something?”

Eddie’s nose wrinkles. “But — won’t it be weird, if I don’t get it up?”

His toned belly is slack and curved with dinner, and the way he’s sitting slumped beneath Richie’s weight. It sucks in and away, quick like an anemone disturbed when Richie pushes his shirt up to lick down to the rumpled nylon of his waistband, and Eddie was just as confused by the concept of Richie eating his ass when it was first pitched to him, but look how nicely that turned out. Richie has whiled away hours down there. 

“Nothing ventured, right? It might be weird, but I wanna try it. I like having your cock in my mouth.” Richie grins, planting a kiss to the faint bulge under his cheek, through the slippery weave. “Don’t worry about coming or not, it’s not about that.”

“Then what is it about?”

Richie pauses, thinking hard. What is it about? It’s about wanting Eddie to be happy. It’s about the fact that Eddie was detached from his own dick and what he wanted for so long, that Richie needs him to know it’s just another beautiful one of his body parts, that is loved, even when he’s too tired for sex. It’s about wanting Eddie to want him so bad that he’ll take this from Richie, just like he’s taken his jokes for years, his teasing, his homework help, his love.

He doesn’t know how to say any of that, so he mouths at Eddie over his shorts, kisses the smooth bow of one hipbone. “Just want you to feel good.”

Eddie’s gnawing at the inside of his cheek. The modular hum of the TV sounds like it’s coming from a different planet, indistinct and alien. “This — this isn’t another one of your sex martyr things, is it?” 

Richie snorts, and nudges Eddie’s thigh to make him arch his hips up, just far enough to pull his shorts down a fraction. “Thought you liked it when I do shit for you.”

If anything, Eddie only looks more strained. His hand feels beseeching in Richie’s hair. “Yeah, but — you get to want things too, Rich, it’s not a fuckin’ one way system—”

“Exactly. Which is why you’d actually be doing me a big-ass favor.”

“I — really?”

“Yeah, I’ve wanted to do this since I first saw your — holy shit, Eds, are you freeballing?”

He looks up in filthy delight at Eddie’s shifty expression, tugging the shorts a little further down his thighs. A perfectly normal Thursday night aside from the staring, and no freaking undies, who’d have thought?

It’s hard to tell if Eddie’s blushing in the pale gloaming, but the way he’s biting his lip is a total giveaway. “I — I’m behind on laundry?”

There’s a fucking laugh. Eddie has a regimen for them both, it’s stuck to the fridge door. Yet another thing Richie never realized could be fun, but now covets, queueing Netflix and folding their shit into ever-more mixed up piles, his socks and shirts becoming theirs. Yet another thing, like changing lightbulbs, because now Richie gets to hold Eddie’s waist while he wobbles and calls the stepladder a janky piece of shit, even though Richie’s tall enough that he could’ve just done it without the ladder in the first place.

Richie thought he knew what the good life was before, but as usual, he didn’t know squat.

“Pull the other one, why don’t ya,” he says, letting it slide as he lays back down, pressing open kisses to the dark mound of Eddie’s penis. Sometimes a guy just likes to feel the wind in his junk, he gets it. “Don’t sweat it, babe, all the more easy access for me.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s totally the reason,” Eddie huffs. He sounds a little shaky, and his hand is tentative when it comes back to settle in Richie’s curls, like a lone bird on an electricity wire. “So, uh. What now? I just—”

Richie cups him, settling in. He’s blocking the TV’s light with his own head, casting Eddie’s lap in darkness. His own little private refuge. “You just… let me do this for you.”

“I still don’t really get what this is.”

“Well, d’you wanna find out or not?”

“I… alright,” Eddie says slowly, sitting back. “As long as you’re doing it for you, too. It’s not fair, otherwise.”

Richie grins, sleepily. There isn’t another living soul on Earth who’d act this pedantic at the prospect of a wet mouth around their dick, so it’s a good thing Richie doesn’t want any other soul on Earth. Eddie’s cock is spongy-soft in his hand, and the dusting of hair around his groin is catching against the grain of Richie’s stubble. “Just watch TV, baby.”

He relaxes his jaw and takes Eddie in, letting his mouth fill up and feeling the haze of pleasure shut his mind down in an instant. God, it feels good. It’s all he has to think about, narrowed down completely to keeping Eddie safe inside him. He curls in further, wedging his arm in between the couch cushions and the sweaty cloister of Eddie’s lower back, and the limey taste of chlorine is a rounded weight in the back of his groaning throat. They haven’t showered yet, since the pool. 

“Fuck, okay,” Eddie mumbles. His legs take a while to loosen up again under Richie’s swimming head, but they do, eventually. 

Richie’s mouth is so full of saliva already, hot and spilling out around the blockage. Maybe it’s just a by-product of being so cripplingly in love, but even Eddie’s flaccid cock is adorable to him, the way it looks so unassuming, but holds potential for something that rocks Richie’s world every time. He rolls his tongue slowly underneath, pressing Eddie to the tender roof of his mouth. There’s a faint pulse cushioned against his lower lip.

The TV drones on. Richie can’t hear a word over the wet, constricting noises of his own throat, his body fooled into thinking he’s swallowing something that just won’t go down. It’s not as forceful as gagging, because there’s no movement, Eddie staying soft and heavy in the warm, still pool of his mouth. It’s fine. Richie kinda expected as much; they’re definitely not teenagers anymore, and they did just jerk each other off before dinner. So long as Eddie understands there’s no pressure.

He drums questioning knuckles against Eddie’s spine, thumbing into one of his stupidly sexy back dimples. 

“Oh,” Eddie rasps, and the hand not already buried in Richie’s hair comes to bump down the ledge of his jaw. “It’s — yeah, you were right. It’s not weird, it’s nice. It’s really nice, I — um. Can you breathe?”

“Mhm.” Hot, damp air whistles through his nose, smelling like ripe, cut grass, left in the sun. 

“Good — uh, good. Do you want a… a pillow or something?”

Richie moans in a way he hopes conveys his adamant no, squeezing his eyes shut and wrapping his other arm around Eddie’s hips to anchor himself closer.

Eddie gives a small gasp. His thumb sands against the rough plane of Richie’s cheek, dragging his mouth open wider.

“Okay. Fuck, this is so… you’re so… you have a thing, right here,” he says, palming Richie’s jawline. He’s speaking so quietly, like Richie’s meditating and Eddie doesn’t wanna disturb him. “A muscle. It gets all clenched up, sometimes, when you’re thinking really hard about something. Or just before you come, when you’re tense.”

Eddie’s fingertips scrawl soft through the hair behind his ear, and his voice is rough. “I love it. I love seeing it.”

Richie’s head feels too full of Eddie’s cock to think. Heat sizzles through him, blossoming from his mouth, his chest, his own burgeoning erection, all connecting in one burning line through his entire body. It spreads, and he shifts his legs to get more comfortable, folded up against the sagging seat of the couch. 

He slouched into middle school one morning to find his locker defaced. Violent scars of black felt-tip, screaming out faggot four-eyes, Richie Tozier sux flamer cock for the whole hallway to see, and he always cut things too close to the first bell of the day to scrub it away before Bill or Stan or Eddie saw, but he still tried, with a jagged lump like a sea urchin lodged in his throat, spiking through soft tissue. His eyes stung, and that was always worst, as if it wasn’t bad enough that people saw, people knew his name, he had to go and make the rumors worse by crying like a sissy too. He’d always wanted notoriety, but never for something like that. All he had was spit and the tail of his shirt, scrubbing harder than he’d ever cleaned anything in his life, like if he washed the words away it would scrub out whatever yellow-eyed thing was lurking inside him that wished, however sickened, they were correct.

If those shitheads could see me now, he thinks with a defiant spite, as the silken fleece of Eddie’s foreskin slides back gently against the inside of his cheek. Richie Tozier loves his man’s cock so much he stuffs it in his mouth to calm down. Richie Tozier doesn’t just suck cock, he fuckin’ worships it. 

And why the fuck shouldn’t he? It’s like some kind of heaven. Eddie is still breathing unsteadily, every time Richie swallows back the welling glut of saliva with a thick noise in the back of his throat. He drifts, feeling contented and used in the sweetest possible sense of the word. Eddie unwinds even further underneath him and they’re both in a heap, really, a comfortable, deeply-breathing heap, bunked down into the couch so weightily Richie thinks they might not ever move again. Which is fine by him. He could lie here all night, half in Eddie’s lap, with his face hot from its sweltering burial place in the slick curls spilling from the crux of Eddie’s thighs.

The episode ends. Eddie makes no move for the remote. He’s still rubbing circles into Richie’s limp shoulders that make his skin feel tight all over, like he’s breaking the stitches of himself with blissed-out warmth.

“Richie,” Eddie whispers. “Are you good? Do you wanna stop?”

“Mm-mm.” Everything’s perfect, drowsy. Eddie’s cockhead nudges against one of his molars and he hears a soft hiss.

“Shit, uh, alright. Another — one more episode.”

That was... easy. Richie groggily prods a question into Eddie’s thigh, and it’s always like headrush, like floating a few inches above his body when Eddie just knows what he’s getting at.

“Yeah,” Eddie murmurs. His legs widen an inch. “I want… just keep going.”

And then both of his hands are knitting gently into Richie’s damp hair, hot and trembling, and it’s so good to feel held like that, held in place like Eddie’s just as happy he’s there as Richie is to be there that he’s sinking deeper to the root, until his nose is pressed into spit-wet pubic waves and he’s choking slightly on the salty, sour tang of his filled-up palate.

“Richie,” Eddie breathes. He sounds shaken, stroking Richie’s forehead. “Oh, Rich, it’s okay, I know. It’s okay.”

Richie dozes off like that, dully aware of Eddie’s renewed staring, his breathing going cyclical around the soft, crowded weight of Eddie’s cock pressing his tongue down. Lulled asleep by the repetitive scratching through his hair, and when he wakes up the living room is entirely dark and humming with snores. He’s drooling onto a cushion under his head, still settled in Eddie’s lap, and even though they still have to keep the A/C at medium during the night, the serape is draped over his body and tucked in. There’s a glass of water waiting on the coffee table, and Richie drinks all of it.

Then he frees his feet to cool off, kisses Eddie’s stomach, and goes back to sleep.

 

There’s no lingering sense of the weirdness the next day, except for Eddie kissing him kinda desperately into the couch when he wakes up, or the day after that when they fly back east to New York for Richie’s week of SNL rehearsals. 

He only catches Eddie staring once, when Richie’s hunkered down next to the vegetable patch Eddie started in the yard, taking photos of the tomatoes for Instagram. Eddie still hasn’t unblocked him, but like hell is he gonna let these babies go unappreciated by the internet.

 

Eddie is on fine form in New York, loudly defensive and brazen when a guy curses them out for jaywalking, and his accent clips back to a snappy Manhattan bristle after just a day or two. It’s hilarious. It’s also endearing as fuck, because Richie likes to think that California has sanded some of those subway-grill grated edges off — that maybe Richie had a little something to do with how soft and relaxed Eddie is these days at home, where the sunsets have nothing but the ocean and the air between them and the answering shine of Eddie Kaspbrak.

They eat out a few times. Richie daydreams through some meetings. Eddie alternates between chattering happily about statistics, and shouting at the distant shapes of players when they go to something called a postseason game at Yankee Stadium, their second night in town. Richie’s not totally sure what they’re doing to deserve Eddie’s bellyaching. They’re probably trying their overpaid best, but it seems like everyone’s fair game in the rabid eyes of New York Eddie, pink-faced and trussed up in his scarf.

Richie doesn’t know. He’s balls-deep in Candy Crush, with his arm slung around Eddie’s shoulders and one watchful eye on the Jumbotron.

“You suck!” Eddie hollers down at the field, looking like he’s having the time of his life.

Richie grins and checks his watch. “Weak heckle game, babe.”

“Shut up, I’m not the professional funnyman here,” Eddie says, stealing one of Richie’s nachos. “Let’s hear what you’ve got.”

Someone throws something or hits something, and the crowd gets, like, super pissed off. Richie doesn’t even bother looking up from his phone to yell. 

“I’ve shit out corn faster than that! You pitch like your mom jerks me off, slow and disappointingly sloppy!”

“Gross,” Eddie crunches.

“She uses your Little League glove while she does it, too—!”

“Oh, for the love of — I think they get it,” Eddie says hurriedly, and Richie looks up to see a family glaring at them from a couple rows ahead. He waves until they turn back around, then checks his watch again.

Eddie knocks their knees together, frowning. “You have someplace to be? I told you it was gonna be cold, Rich, do you need to borrow my gloves?”

The worried little crease appears on his forehead, squeezes some tender thing in Richie’s chest ‘til the juices runneth over. He is cold, the stupid east coast night’s fucking freezing and metallic with the stink of hot dogs, but this was his surprise gift to Eddie. He’s not supposed to worry, or God forbid start again with the freaky staring.

He tips Eddie a wink. “Nah baby, I’m good. Look, direct those beautiful peepers of yours sportward, something’s happening.”

The players are milling around like spilled grains of rice on the bright lake of grass. Richie sets his nachos down, rubbing his hands together and breathing on them as the floodlights dance with the bubbly music, the cheering crowd. His belly does an excited little flip. Showtime.

Eddie assured him the seats were good when they sat down, prominent and definitely pricey, which is probably why they’re one of the first few couples to appear on the Kiss Cam. 

“Oh, Jesus,” Eddie mutters, turning red as a lobster, and twice as brittle under the hand Richie soothes to the middle of his back.

It could be the seats. It might be because any celebrities in attendance always wind up on these things. But it’s most likely because Richie knows what it’s like to be a starving A.V. tech, and knew the guy controlling the Jumbotron camera would have negative objections when Richie slipped him their seat numbers and a fifty while Eddie was in line for the john.

He grins up at the giant screen, the pair of them tucked together and framed by an obnoxious pink heart.

The people around them are turning to look. Richie hears a few mutters of, wait, is that, and bites his lip. It’s no use trying to act innocent. He doesn’t have Eddie’s orphaned seal pup eyes to back it up, but Eddie’s too busy blushing and tugging his scarf to notice. 

Richie really hopes he hasn’t misjudged this. But baseball is boring, and he’s big enough to admit he’s got a mile-wide exhibitionist streak. 

“You wanna, Eds?” He cups the back of Eddie’s neck and leans in, murmuring. “We don’t have to—” 

“No, it’s fine — c’mon, quick,” Eddie mumbles, and his face is burning and chapped-dry with the cold when Richie lays one soft on the corner of his mouth. He’s smooth, clean-shaven instead of faintly prickly the way he usually is by this time of night back home, when kissing him feels like pins and needles, like blood rushing back into Richie’s numb body. It’s brief. Richie doesn’t wanna really embarrass him, but then Eddie turns his head and his bare, ungloved hand is on Richie’s jaw and they’re kissing for real. 

Richie fucking loves baseball.

More people in their section cheer than don’t. Eddie breaks away with a low noise and covers his flushed face before Richie’s really done, and the loss lurches him forward to smile stupidly into Eddie’s scarred cheek. From the corner of his eye he can see the Kiss Cam move on to victimize another pair of loved-up suckers, and they might’ve only hit first base, but it feels for all the world like a home run. 

“Oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe we just — did that.” Eddie’s hand shakes over his eyes, but his mouth is twisting into a giant smile. He crosses and uncrosses his legs. “In Yankee Stadium, Richie.”

“Field of Dreams, baby,” Richie says. He kisses Eddie again, on the cheekbone. 

“What?”

“I dunno. Nothing.” Richie didn’t see that movie, but he thinks it might be about dreams coming true, and he may not get sports but he’s also not culturally illiterate. He knows there’s something about baseball. It’s cut from the same cloth as Hollywood, or thunderstorms maybe, there’s a magic around it like they’re all sitting in some wholesome, diamond-shaped Americana version of a fairy circle, or a pentagram. He thinks about the Tracker brothers back in Derry, and how one of them, Richie can’t remember which because he hadn’t remembered them until right now, but he’d come out sometimes and coach the kids gathered like bouquets of dirt and sweat in the dusty lot behind their trucking business. He thinks about hanging on the chain-link fence like it was a cross and watching Stan’s leggy pace around lumpy sweater bases, hanging beside Eddie in the heat, not playing because Richie didn’t care to when Eddie was right there looking lonely and also sitting out because everyone knew the Tracker brothers weren’t really brothers at all, but still lived together, and Mrs K didn’t approve. They were probably around the same age that he and Eddie are now, old Phil and Tony, but they never could have kissed on the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium, and that thought is making Richie feel sore and strange and grateful all at once.

“Yankee Stadium,” Eddie says again. His eyes are shining. “I used to drive past here all the time.”

Richie’s pulse is still racing. He got what he came for. He slips his arm back around Eddie’s shoulders, speaking close. “That was really cool of you, Spaghetti Man.”

“I dunno about that, I thought I was gonna pass out when it landed on us,” Eddie says, peeking furtively around them. “Nobody gives a shit, do they?”

“Nope. Two middle-aged homos get frisky on date night, what else is new?”

“I don’t think that’s specific to date night.”

Richie beams at him. “Not for us, it sure isn’t.”

“Yeah,” Eddie snorts, still looking rosy. He puts his hand on Richie’s thigh. “Thanks for not using tongue, though.”

The Kiss Cam break ends, and the players are fanning out again across the striped grass like sporty little termites. Richie retrieves his box of nachos from the concrete. “That was purely for my own benefit, I didn’t wanna get punched in the face in front of fifty-thousand people.”

“You’re such a liar, you’d fuckin’ love that,” Eddie says, grinning back at him, but then a Yankee, or maybe a Red Sock commits some kind of heinous sport crime and Eddie’s back to screaming. “Try swinging the bat, genius!”

Richie squeezes Eddie’s shoulder, checks his watch again, and decides against googling how long baseball games last. While Eddie might not have punched him in the face, he could just have easily set his jaw into gridlock and refused, but Richie knew even New York Eddie would be fulla surprises. Field of Dreams, baby.

 

Monday morning brings an entire day of pitching sketches, and Richie has very little opportunity to escape the writers’ room in the lead up to Saturday night. He still uses any scrap of downtime to roam the glass-cliff streets with Eddie, unsuccessfully trying to goad him into taking Richie on a tour of his old favorite haunts. 

“I don’t have any,” Eddie grumbles, giving a mean-looking pigeon a wide berth as they amble back to 30 Rock. Technically it’s called the Comcast Building now, but where the fuck is the romance in that? “I never even ate in town, I knew so many health inspectors, I thought I couldn’t trust a single fuckin’ sandwich I didn’t bring from home. And we didn’t do much at weekends. I signed up for a night class on car maintenance once when I first moved here, so I’d be okay if I ever broke down, y’know? But then my mom called like, a week later and said she got sick, and I couldn’t… I read a lot, I guess. I got my first-aid certificate. I had a treadmill in the apartment.”

“Aw, Eds,” Richie says, pouting his bottom lip to cover how much it hurts to think of Eddie cooped up inside, running on a wheel like a hamster to deal with all his dashed ambitions. “That’s so sad. A growing boy needs his fun, y’know. No wonder you’re so tiny.”

“Up yours,” Eddie grins, and his free hand is clutching a bagged-up bagel and a shitty chain coffee to-go, but he still tries to give Richie the finger anyway. 

Richie refuses to dress for east coast fall weather besides long pants and his neglected leather jacket, so he’s warming his pink, meat-raw hand in Eddie’s. It could be a blizzard for all he cares, there’s a gooey river of heat running all up his arm and into the middle of his chest, and he feels a bounce in his step. It’s like Eddie is his own little freckled California he can look at whenever he misses the sun, the palms. The empty branches of Manhattan’s spiny planetrees don’t seem quite so depressing when the dull gray sky brings out Eddie’s tan so nicely.

The sidewalk current carries them round a corner, and they slow to a halt. 

“Well, there it is,” Richie says. “The big cheese.”

“Yep.”

They crane their necks to take in the entirety of Rockefeller Plaza, raucous with tourists and be-suited little worker drones buzzing around with briefcases clutched in what look like threat displays. It’s hard to imagine Eddie was ever one of them, he’d always been so gentle as a kid. Rowdy, for sure, he could scream and spit and climb trees like a monkey right alongside Richie, but at heart he’s too forgiving for the rat race. It was through no fault of Eddie’s own that he thought he had to stay irascible and acorn-hard, just so the world wouldn’t touch him wrong.

Richie had been unsure if Eddie would wanna come back to New York, even for the taping, but Eddie had only looked at him like he was stupid when he asked, and said, where else would I be? You think I’m gonna miss out on seeing you in a bunch of dumbass wigs on live TV?

“C’mon,” Richie says, pulling Eddie past the high geyser of the fountain. “Take a selfie with your old pal Trashmouth.”

It’s dumb as hell, shot from a low angle so they’re both squinting down in judgement with 30 Rock plunging into the bone-white sky up above. At least Eddie is his usual patootie-cute self, bundled up in a parka with the tip of his nose turning red and his eyes full of held-in laughter. Richie pulls a face like he’s sampling the delicate stench of New York’s gutters, because it always distracts from his wonky left eye and his weird froggy features if he’s already mugging.

“Nice. If that doesn’t convince people to watch tomorrow, I dunno what will,” he says, tagging Eddie and posting it with a snarky-ass caption. He’s like, incapable of not antagonizing his followers, but the little fuckers always lap it up. “Yee mate, this one’s gunna be a real rippah, watch it while yah bahbie or oi’ll set Spaghetti Cunt on yah baby—”

“Who’s that guy?” Eddie snorts, peering at his own phone. “He’s new.”

“That’s Dingo Dan, Eds,” Richie sighs. “He’s not new, he’s Australian. You’d think living in this shithole town for ten years woulda taught you some cultural sensitivity, but I guess not. C’est la vie. That’s Dutch for not my problem.”

He leans back, breathing a cloud of steam up at the flat banks of skyscraper windows surrounding them in a giant hall of mirrors. There’s steam everywhere in New York, but not because it’s hot, like home, it’s steam from the cold reaching into people’s bodies and colliding with their blood, steam from the manhole covers piercing the gray crust of the street. Richie feels uneasy being this aware of the sewer system, the subway, slithering around under their feet with a noise like the discordant roar of voices trapped in a drain.

The paper bagel bag and coffee are in danger of slipping out of Eddie’s hand, so Richie takes them for him, watching Eddie’s eyebrows cinch together as he rubs at his forehead, still staring at his phone.

Richie takes a cautious sip of his coffee but Eddie takes it black, so it’s fucking disgusting. “What’s up, babe?”

“It’s — it’s Myra,” Eddie mutters. “She must have heard you’re on the show, she’s asking if I’m in town with you.”

The coffee scalds Richie’s tongue, peeling his tastebuds off with a burning scalpel. 

He breathes through it and calmly puts his free hand in his pocket, even as his stomach cramps. Improv. He knows how to improv, keep the audience laughing even as you’re dying inside at the prospect of it all going wrong in a split second if you don’t keep your head. Mature adult, what would a mature adult do, he’s never gonna marry someone who runs his fucking life like everybody else has—

He plasters on an encouraging smile. “You, uh. You should go talk to her if — if she wants to, if you want to, I mean. Or not, y’know, I don’t have any — it’s your call, man.”

But Eddie only shoots him a funny look and shakes his head, tapping something quick and sliding his phone back into his pocket. “Why would I wanna do that? She’s only asking if I’m here.”

The inside seam of Richie’s pocket starts to tear slightly in his clenched fist. He clears his throat, and his small laugh rattles like ball bearings in his chest. “Right. Uh — how come?”

“I guess so she can brace herself if she sees us by accident, or something. It’s still a lot to process, I get it,” Eddie shrugs. “Try to see it from her side.”

Well. Richie grinds his teeth, and thinks.

Seeing things from other people’s point of view has never been one of Richie’s strong suits, Eddie’s always been the empathetic one. The thing is, Richie’s always too preoccupied with hiding the deafening, fractured parts of himself at different times in front of different people to save room for outsider perspectives, never quite able to understand why other people don’t find the same things funny, or hot, or in good taste. He thought his Pennywise impression in the clubhouse was pretty fucking hilarious if he’s honest, but for a moment he tries, he really tries to imagine Eddie gracing his life for nine whole years only for some idiotic, buck-toothed stranger to steal him away overnight, and it feels like being hacked in half.

It’s a miracle Myra hasn’t tried to have him killed. Or maybe other people can feel things without self-destructing, but Richie wouldn’t know anything about that.

“Okay,” he says, “I can maybe, sort of get why you’re not renting out a rowboat together in Central Park.”

“Yeah,” Eddie snorts, taking his coffee back. “She’s being way more polite than I probably deserve. She did call you my comedian friend, though.”

“Oh,” Richie says, and a childish relief loosens up the knot in his belly at the sight of Eddie’s sneaky grin, peeking out from behind where his tongue is stuck into the side of his cheek. “Well, I am your comedian friend, dude, that’s a hole-in-one.”

Eddie squints one eye with a speculative hum, grabbing for his bagel. “Are you?”

“I dunno, am I?”

“I dunno, are you?”

“We’re not doing this all fuckin’ day, come on,” Richie laughs, slipping his coffee-warm hand back into Eddie’s. “Your special comedian friend wants to fuck you in that big hotel bed. In a friendly sorta way.”

“Jesus Christ, Richie, there are kids here,” Eddie says, eyeing the bustling pit of families treating the fountain like a nursery. “But yeah, let’s go. I forgot how shitty and cold it is here, this time of year.”

He’s not wrong, but in that moment Richie kinda doesn’t care at all, because if it wasn’t so cold that the biting October air feels like a solid ice-pick shoved up his nose, then Eddie wouldn’t be wearing his parka, and wouldn’t be tucking their joined hands into the pocket. 

Richie sniffs, starts walking quicker. Gotta get his body limber, they only have an hour before he’s needed back in the studio, and then he’s booked on The Tonight Show straight after, leaving hardly any time for foreplay and cuddling, but he’s hardly seen Eddie all week and they have to take what they can get. 

He bumps his shoulder into Eddie’s. “Some people are never satisfied. Last year you told me you hated the heat, Eds, pick a side already.”

“Nah,” Eddie says, and now he’s the one pulling them along, his dimples coming out like stars to guide Richie home. “Now I fuckin’ love it.”

NBC does pretty well by whoever’s hosting, and have put them up in a gigantic suite with a sick view of the Chrysler building’s toothy, reptilian spire. There’s a water feature. In the hotel room. He feels like Macaulay Culkin at the end of Home Alone 2, except less of an asshole. Objectively it’s really some performative, rich-leading-the-rich type shit, since it’s not as if anyone who’s asked to host SNL is gonna be some average schmuck on the street, but still, Richie sure as hell appreciates it for the enormous bed planted in the middle like the white pool of a spotlight, even bigger than their own at home. It lends a little pomp and circumstance to their soaking, scrambling quickie.

“Kinda — fuck, Eds — kinda makes ya feel fancy, doesn’t it?” Richie pants, and the way Eddie arches under him takes his next thrust on an entirely new, delicious angle. “Oh shit, wow—”

His hand slides helplessly through the oily layer of sweat from where he’d been pushing Eddie’s thigh up out of the way and he slips, catching himself with a dull twang of bedsprings next to Eddie’s flushed cheeks, jarring like a sledgehammer-hit all up his arm. 

“What,” Eddie grates, snatching hold of Richie’s wrist, “ah, Jesus—”

God, and maybe it’s because of the enforced time limit but it’s one of those fucks that feels near-bestial with how deep they’re digging into one another, as Richie smashes his mouth into Eddie’s and they’re kissing, biting, raging with noise. But Richie also knows it’s partly because they’re here, in this too-cold, too-hard city that kept Eddie prisoner for far too long, and Richie wants to make a slew of better memories for him, wants to make love to him all over the country and the world until it all feels just as much like home as California.

“Kinda makes ya — feel — like a f-fuckin’ hotshot, doncha think?”

It’s so hot, it’s so goddamn hot, he’s not used to fucking with the thermostat cranked so high but they’d forgotten to turn it down in their haste to strip off when they rushed inside from the freezing, machete-blade wind, and—

“What the fuck’re you — blabbing about now,” Eddie groans, and one of his hands is clamped tight around the twitching base of his own cock and balls, the other’s breaking Richie’s shoulder. 

“This!” Richie tears his hand from the muscled groove of Eddie’s waist to jerk a thumb at the chic room. “Fucking in this royal-ass bed, man, we should have extras in here waving palm leaves—”

“Will you—”

“Everything the light touches, Simba,” Richie intones, breathless and deep, “you may fuck there.”

Eddie convulses into a scattershot peal of ugly snorts, covering his own red face. “Do you — hahh, fuck, do you wanna be late?”

Richie gasps into laughter too, because Eddie can try all he wants to act like gives a fuck about Richie’s schedule, when what he really means is pay attention to me, asshole, as if Richie is capable of doing anything but with Eddie sweet and open and under him like this. Any way they have sex is like fucking Carnivale to Richie every time, but they both love it best like this, or with Eddie riding him like a jockey, so long as they can see each other and make out while Richie’s wedged inside. The only downside is that things always go much faster when he can see Eddie’s gorgeous face scrunched up with pleasure, and the lanky specter of teenage Richie possesses his body like a demon salivating at the chance to touch the same pipsqueak boy who could barely even take Richie pinching his cheek for how it made him blush, and now takes every single thing that Richie offers of himself, like sacrifices to an adored, imperfect god. 

The position does present a problem, though. How is Richie gonna concentrate tomorrow when he sees Eddie in the front row seats at SNL, and remembers every wet drag of his tongue up Richie’s neck, the classical arch of his ribcage around Richie’s big, splayed hand on his abs, or the mischievous light in his eyes, because that’s another thing; Eddie never stares when they fuck, not in the new weird way. He stares, of course, they screw like this because Richie never realized just how fucking hot eye contact can be until Eddie careened back into his life with his killer cervine looks, but he doesn’t stare at Richie like he’s hiding something, which is kinda why Richie wanted to love on him up here in the first place, to remind Eddie that things are still good with them and always getting better, whatever he’s grappling with. 

Even here in New York fucking City, Richie will try his hardest to make them good, whatever it takes, because he loves him. He loves him, he’d die for him, he’s never known anything else like him.

Eddie’s bucking his hips up, riding him from below and Richie’s peaking so fast it feels like crashing through their plate glass window and hurtling forty storeys to the sidewalk, gravity compressing his body down to the pounding heat where their bodies are interlocked. 

He grabs fistfuls of the sheets and rams forward, harder. “What I wanna do is fuck you ‘til they hear it in Brooklyn—”

“Then—”

“In Maine—”

“Rich—”

“In fuckin’ Mongolia—”

“Then fucking do it, c’mon, I’ve been vaccinated harder than this,” Eddie snaps, but he’s grinning as he tosses his dripping hair from his eyes. Richie’s spine alights with fire as Eddie’s nails wreak havoc all the way up to the back of his neck, and he’s pressing down again, sucking the hollow between Eddie’s collarbones into a bruised medallion. “God, oh fuckin’ God, Richie.”

They’re all tangled up, Eddie’s lithe legs are rocking their way up Richie’s back with every thrust, and he really oughta send their hippie neighbours a quinoa basket for introducing Eddie to the calming wonders of yoga, even though the sight of him doing downward dog in his undies in the mornings always makes Richie walk into walls. That’s no exaggeration, he broke a pair of glasses. It’s worth it, for how he can pretty much bend Eddie in half to kiss at his knee, his slick mouth, and fuck in to the hilt at the same time.

Eddie’s hips seem to have a mind of their own, grinding a loop when Richie slides a palm underneath and hauls his ass up, biting that goddamn bicep vein, and then he’s really losing it in Richie’s ear. 

“I’m — fuck, Rich, fuck—”

“Christ, Eddie,” Richie chokes. It’s always fuckin’ devastation, the spiking fist of heat in his taint just before he comes, the way it feels like Eddie gets tighter around him and he can’t draw breath. He’s wearing a condom, but it’s still good manners to ask. 

“Can I — baby, d’you want me to come in you—”

“Mmphm,” Eddie whines into his bitten lip, his eyes darting between Richie’s and down to where his own balls are pulling up, separated and firm. Richie grins and knocks his hand away to take over, watching all five-foot-seven beloved inches of him turn pink as the vulnerable insides of his body.

Eddie spasms, wrenching at the sheets and kicking him hard in the small of his back when he cries out wild and messes into Richie’s hand, and the shock of it jolts right through Richie’s pelvis until he’s nearly crawling over Eddie’s body with how hard he goes off inside. 

Thank fuck Eddie got over his mental block about doing it in hotel beds for whatever reason, maybe because he’s long past accepting there’s nothing wrong with his immune system outside of his gluten thing, though Richie’s never gonna be humble enough not to gloat internally that it’s probably down to his own talent for making Eddie go crazy, in all capacities. It’s just so much fucking fun to keep on rutting inside, drawing out his own orgasm and watching Eddie gulp and shake and laugh at himself, like he still can’t believe his body can feel so much without dying.

“Ah — fuck, ah, Richie stop, stop, enough,” Eddie moans. He looks so fucking good, eyes lidded, flushed and damp all over, still clenching around Richie’s cock in jerky, blissful waves so intense he’s collapsing forward to kiss at the embroidery of veins standing out in Eddie’s neck. “You’ve made your — please, your point, you did it, congratulations cowboy—”

Richie bites a grin into his shoulder, pushing his hips in as far as he can and slowing to a halt. Even his asscrack is sweating, and Eddie gathers him into a bone-melting hug, oozing together like two droplets forming slow tributaries down the side of a cold drink on a heat-woven afternoon.

“What — what point izzat,” he pants against Eddie’s mouth, between clumsy kisses. His hand maps out every ridge and curve of Eddie’s flank, right down and up again under his thigh. “Y’know not to listen to me when my dick’s hard, baby, there’s no blood in my head.”

He presses a sly finger in alongside himself, and Eddie’s whimpering, the kiss going a little too wet. His cock twitches where it’s squashed between their bellies, and Richie would happily get to work on round two if he didn’t have to leave soon.

“Oh right, like you make any s-sense the rest of the time,” Eddie hisses. It’s spine-arching good when his hands rake softly down to Richie’s ass, his knees still gripping like a bear-trap, keeping Richie from pulling out. “No, the part about Mongolia. Pretty sure they heard us in space.”

“Good. High five?”

Eddie obliges him.

“Yeah. At least you won’t have to explain why you’re late.”

Richie struggles for his phone to check the time. It’s a long way to reach when he’s still trying to fill Eddie up, even for him. The bed really is massive. “Ah, God dammit.”

“Yeah,” Eddie sighs again, flopping his arms above his head. He looks so pinkly satisfied with his skewbald tan lines against the bedsheet tundra, that Richie doesn’t feel guilty about scrambling off him with a last sloppy kiss to his forehead, his cheek, throat, armpit, quickly sucking his cock clean before running to the shower and then out the door, to the sound of Eddie laughing at him for wearing his t-shirt inside out.

 

Saturday night rolls around colder and darker, and New York glitters like diamonds spilled on a garbage bag. Richie’s determined to have a bomb ass time and it’s pretty hard not to, watching the starstruck look on Eddie’s face as Richie drags him around the entire studio all afternoon. He should have known; Eddie likes watching the making of featurettes on his alphabetized Blu-ray collection almost more than the actual films themselves.

“What is that?” Eddie asks, going saucer-eyed at yet another massive piece of camera equipment trundling past their sheltered little backstage corner, like something from NASA. “Shit, this is so cool, it’s like a real movie set.”

“I know,” Richie says, taking a smug bite of his pre-show sandwich. “You’re rolling with the big dogs now, Eds.”

Eddie ignores him, leaning over so far to peer out at the cluster of rehearsing cast members that he nearly topples off the piece of unused set he’s perched on, opposite Richie. They’ve secreted themselves behind a heavy fall of stage curtain, and Eddie is predictably way overdressed, combed hair and dark patches of sweat circling the underarms of his nice patterned shirt like an algal bloom. Maybe Richie shoulda warned him about how stiflingly hot it can get, closed in a dark box full of crew and audience and the unrelenting glare of overhead lights, but he didn’t have the heart to wipe the sweet, excited look off Eddie’s face as they left the hotel, already smoothing down the dorky lanyard hung around his neck with his backstage pass.

“This is so cool,” Eddie mutters again. There’s a look in his eyes like he used to get when a new tape would appear on the crooked shelves of the shitty little Hollywood Video in Derry, as if beamed there overnight by aliens for his and Richie’s own consumption. “Richie, this is so cool.”

“I know it is,” Richie snorts, swinging his foot to kick him gently. “There are perks to having a celebrity boyfriend, man.”

Eddie kicks him back, and it devolves for a moment into some over-aggressive footsie. 

“Yeah, that’s the only reason I’m with you, for the VIP seats and the complimentary cocktail weenies,” Eddie huffs. “No, dingus, I mean cool for you. All of this, your whole job. You always wanted to be famous when we were kids, and just… look at all of this.” He brandishes his hand through the gap in the curtains.

“Oh, yeah,” Richie mumbles, ducking his head to smile stupidly down at his sandwich. It’s ridiculous. He can take all the followers and nominations in the world in his stride, but one look at the unfiltered pride in Eddie’s eyes makes his legs go weak, his face hot. Thank fuck he’s sitting down. “Who’d have thought, huh?”

“Jeeze, not me.” Eddie’s tongue peeks out between his teeth. “Definitely nobody who saw those magic show videotapes you made in your basement when we were sophomores, remember—”

Richie peels a gherkin from his sandwich and tosses it at him. “Eds, do not—”

“Remember the one with Bill and the chicken—”

“I said don’t!” He grins at Eddie scrubbing pickle juice from his shirt. “Nobody needs to know about that except for us and the other guys!”

“I’m gonna hold it over your head,” Eddie says, glancing up at him. It could be the reflected glow of the dark red curtains behind him, but his ears are definitely looking tasty. “Trashmouth’s questionable early years. I’m kidding. I dunno where they are now, but I, uh. I kind of… made copies. I’d rewatch them when my mom was asleep.”

That is — too much for Richie to bear when he’s psyching himself up for live TV. He nudges Eddie’s foot again and goes back to his sandwich, smiling so hard it’s difficult to chew.

“There really are a lot of people out there,” Eddie mutters, a minute later. He looks at Richie curiously. “Are you nervous?”

He’s gonna make a very funny joke about performance anxiety, before he stops himself, and thinks. Sometimes Eddie’s genuine questions deserve genuine answers. “I — no, I’m good. I do live shit all the time.”

Eddie nods, picking at a splinter of plywood jagging between his thighs. He’s swinging his legs, probably because it’s hard to knee-jiggle when his feet don’t touch the floor. “Did you used to get nervous?”

“Oh yeah, big time.”

“So how’d you deal?”

Richie chews his mouthful until it’s a squelching, mustardy ball of dough. God, but it’s not the prettiest of pictures to paint, his years of coping with a weak stomach and strong drinks, the occasional white powder brick road he could blaze from a seedy club toilet seat all the way onto the stage. Eddie wouldn’t judge him, he knows that. But it’s still kind of a downer.

“I’d puke, beforehand.” Eddie raises a knowing eyebrow, because it’s not really something Richie can hide. Their days at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were still a blast, regardless of his multiple detours to the bushes after the rides. “I’d get a little drunk, too, and then I’d puke if I got too drunk.” 

He takes another giant bite of sandwich and continues, spraying crumbs. “But that’s all in the past, hombre, don’t sweat it. Now I just come and annoy you. Nothing like verbal dodgeball with a pissed off Kaspbrak to get you outta your own head.”

The steady thump thump thump of Eddie’s heels hitting his box comes to an abrupt halt, and the busy din of the studio filters in between them, like the apprehensive tune-up just before a school recital. An orchestra of people wielding Scotch tape and cue cards, crossing their fingers and winging it.

Eddie frowns at him, stock-still. “You don’t — you don’t annoy me, Richie. You never annoy me.”

Oh, that’s a laugh if Richie ever heard one. He oughta use that in his monologue. He looks out from their nook and back to Eddie, shrugging. “Funny, Eds, I can smell a ton of horseshit, but I can’t see the horse.” 

But Eddie’s forehead only creases harder as he shuffles forward, rubbing at his knees. “No, I mean, you — you’re not annoying, Richie. You do stupid shit all the time, but that’s just you. I’m never pissed off at you, or anything, I’m — I’m so sorry I ever made you think I was.”

Richie stares at him, a funny tightness in his chest. It had been an offhand joke but, as usual, it’s blown right back into his face. Only someone who’s caressed him down from countless sobbing Deadlights nightmares could know which of his deepest, squirming parasites needs the most expunging.

He didn’t… It’s pathetic, but he didn’t know how much he needed to hear Eddie say that. 

Eddie peers back like he’s expecting an answer, and chuffs a little noise when there’s none forthcoming. “Because I love you, Rich,” he mumbles, rubbing the back of his neck. 

“I — okay, that’s.” There must be a mustard seed in Richie’s throat or something, it’s burning slightly, so he clears it, twice. “That’s g-good to know. I love you too, Eds. I was kinda kidding anyway, I do something else to chill out for shows, now, but I’m gonna remind you of this conversation next time you chew me out for singing during ping-pong.”

“That’s distracting, not annoying,” Eddie says, rolling his eyes. “Your fuckin’ arms are distracting, but I’m not pissed at you for having them.”

Richie leers, flexing wildly at him. “These old things? These chimpanzee motherfuckers? You shoulda said something, baby, I’d put on the gun-show more often. You get free tickets.”

“Well, I’m saying it, dickweed,” Eddie grins. He folds his own arms which are, Richie must say, looking predictably fantastic in his fitted shirt. “So, what d’you do for the jitters now, then? Jerk off?”

Man, as if. Theater managers have kicked him out for far less, but Richie’s a classier man than that, these days. He has a hit Netflix special. “You really wanna know? I’m warning you, it’s corny as fuck.”

Eddie makes a fart noise with his mouth, which is the dumbest thing to feel mushy about, but Richie’s never gonna get over all the ways they’re rubbing off on one another. “You’re cornier than the entire fucking Midwest. C’mon, tell me.”

“Alright, you asked.” They’re cutting things close, time-wise. He really shouldn’t touch his face so much, this close to the moment that little red light will blink on and expose him to the nation, he’s gonna smudge his glasses. He rubs at his nose under the lenses anyway. “Now I just… close my eyes and imagine I’m with you, and we’re — we’re doing something dumb, like chilling in the pool, or walking around the neighborhood, or in bed—”

“In bed?” Eddie’s nose scrunches, but he’s smiling, his soft expression softened further by the muted, private light filtering through the drapes. He looks like a painting, like one of those old Italian paintings with shadows so deep you can almost feel the candlelight against the solemn, dark-eyed faces, like a shawl. Richie has to look away, at the floor. “You imagine us in bed? And that helps you calm down?”

“Not fucking, Eds, Richie mutters, slumping into the hard plastic shell of his seat, intently focused on his dwindling sandwich. “Now who’s the perv? If I thought about that I’d go on stage every night with a boner, and I don’t do those kinda shows anymore. Nah, I think — okay, don’t laugh, but I think about, like, uh. The way the, uh, sun comes through the shutters in the mornings, and — and about waking up before you, and everything smells so stanky and good at the same time, y’know? Even if you’re drooling on me, or you’re snoring, I like to — you look all kinda… golden, I guess. And thinking about it always reminds me of being in the hammock with you, and then I can do my thing, ‘cus even though it drove me crazy sometimes, if you fell asleep when we were in there together, I felt… I felt so...”

He trails off, embarrassed. There are twisting jungle vines of cable, black like giant millipedes at his feet, and he tries to follow the path of just a single one with his eyes so he can spill his whipped guts without stuttering into a bad joke. How the fuck is he ever gonna get his half-formed proposal right, when saying heartfelt shit to Eddie’s face without the barrier of a mic and a spotlight shakes him up harder than when they used to climb into old tires, and roll down the snooker-green meadow of Mike’s back pasture. Harder than the times their bodies would brush in the quarry when they weren’t even wrestling to make it acceptable. An underwater secret. 

What’s even more embarrassing is that recently, he’s been wrapping some different kinds of thoughts around his nerves to soothe them back under control. Even though he’s out and mighty proud, it can still be stressful to sit down for an interview not knowing just how much they’re gonna ask, or whether he still has it in him to make everybody laugh, but thinking about Eddie always helps. And, these days, thinking about marrying Eddie is like confidence rocket-fuel; it’s hard to give a shit about whatever mean things Twitter has to say when he’s floating on a dreamy high of first dances, and honeymoons, and the nebulous afterwards realm of married life. He’s pretty sure it’ll look a lot like their current life, just with a big scoop of implied ‘til death do us part on top.

He tries not to dwell too much on the actual proposal part, because he’d only wind up puking harder.

Sometimes Richie thinks he might actually be a little psychic, that maybe the Deadlights screwed with his brain the same way they screwed with Bev’s, and now he’s unknowingly capable of broadcasting some kinds of fucking waves. Otherwise it’s just dumb, uncanny luck that Eddie’s weirdo staring always seems to snag on his clothes like fishhooks whenever his mind crashes into thoughts of marriage, like a bird into a skyscraper too immense and shining to fully comprehend. 

He can feel it. Eddie’s gone silent. 

It was a pretty good sandwich but he should have eaten it earlier, now it’s just gonna sit like a stone in his gut. He dusts the final crumbs from his hands onto the dark floor, and sighs, not totally thrilled at the prospect of dealing with this Bates Motel bullshit right before he has to host Saturday Night goddamn Live for the first time ever.

He looks up, and his stomach drops out entirely. It’s worse than he possibly could have imagined.

Eddie’s staring at him, yes, his eyes all gleaming chiaroscuro in the dim red light, but he also looks like he’s about to fucking cry.

“Eddie, what — what’s wrong?” Richie’s trepidation screeches around the corner into panic with all the acrid stench of road-burnt rubber, and he reaches out quick, grabbing at Eddie’s hands where they’re clenched in his pants so hard he’s pulling up the hems. Richie can see socks, a hint of hairy shin. “Don’t look at me like that, I told you it was corny, but—”

“It’s not — nothing’s wrong, it’s not corny,” Eddie says, squeezing his eyes shut. He bites his lip, shakes his head, and Richie has to strain to hear his papery whisper over the commotion of the cold-open bearing ever-closer. “I mean, it is corny but it’s — it’s — God, Rich.”

His hands tangle into Richie’s and they’re damp, clammy-hot like a flu and with a horrified, retching lurch of his stomach Richie wonders, is that it? Is Eddie sick, is he genuinely fucking ill, is that what he can’t ever put into words when he goes haywire like this? It might make sense, Eddie’s now so wary of blowing things into hypochondriac proportion that he’ll stubbornly pretend he’s fine, even as he’s coughing oystery globs of snot into the sink, but surely he wouldn’t hide something serious from Richie?

Eddie pulls in a deep, shaky breath, and sets his jaw.

“Are you alright — do you—” 

But before Richie can finish blurting his question, do you have cancer or something, Eddie’s hauling him down and they’re kissing, the fire-blanket heat of his headrush must be because he stood up without realizing, and Eddie’s tugging him to stand between his legs.

It’s instinct, he can’t help it, he’s weak. He kisses Eddie back.

He’s so confused.

Eddie’s pulse gushes like hot water from a tap against Richie’s palm, snug under his ear. His own isn’t much better, his heart is racing in his chest so hard it hurts, racing away from terror and into furtive hope. Eddie’s actually smiling into the kiss. Richie’s teeth sink mallow-soft into Eddie’s lip and it’s turning hotter, Eddie’s gripping his elbows and his waist and his hair and Richie thinks, maybe. 

He managed to confess the fucking hammock thing and Eddie didn’t laugh at him, so maybe. Would it be such a dumb idea if Richie asked him right now, if Eddie said yes in the next three minutes? He’d have to scrap his prepared monologue but it’d be great, he could swagger out there with his glasses smudged and his hair a mess and say hey America, guess fucking what, I just got engaged to the guy I’ve loved since before my balls dropped, and that’s all I’m gonna talk about for the next five minutes, no, the whole goddamn show. His name is Eddie Kaspbrak and he’s all I’m ever gonna talk about until the sun explodes and you can’t leave, this is a closed set and the doors are fucking locked. Welcome to the gay agenda, suckers!

Richie’s gonna do it. He can do it. He’s gonna do it, feels like his whole body should be shaking from the force of how hard his heart is beating and there’s a cannonball of pressure in his throat that he’s ready to let fly, if Eddie—

“Richie, listen—” Eddie gasps, at the exact same moment Richie pulls back to gather himself, and says, “Eds, can I—”

They both stop, breathing hard. Eddie’s mouth hangs open and he keeps on licking at it, like he’s nervous. His hands tremble at Richie’s belt. He was gonna say something, Richie’s sure of it, and even though his own words are strangling to get out, he wants to know.

“You — you go,” he whispers. He shuffles in closer, until his shoes bump against the plywood and Eddie’s legs splay wide around his hips. “Eds, what?”

The two-minute bell rings out beyond their spot, their safe little adults-only blanket fort. They’re running out of time. Eddie swallows. “I — I wanted to say — Rich, I—”

“Mr Tozier — oh, God, I’m so sorry. Um.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

Richie nearly bites through his own tongue with boiling-hot frustration, clenching his jaw so tight his cheek starts twitching. Eddie’s bright eyes go shuttered and slide sideways, to where an uncomfortable and sweaty intern with a clipboard is pulling back the curtain.

The lights are blinding, exposing their timeless, shadowy corner to the very real constraints of live TV.

Richie breathes out through his nose, and steps away from Eddie’s embrace, deflated. “Yeah?”

“They’re — they really need you on set, sir,” the intern stammers, and Richie can feel himself glaring but he’s not mad at the poor kid, it’s not his fault Richie has potentially the worst timing in the entire fucking world. “I’m sorry, I’m new and they told me to come get you no matter what—”

“It’s fine, don’t have a hairball, I’m coming,” Richie sighs, watching Eddie scrub hands into his nicely combed hair, messing it up. “Can you give us a second?”

“Uh, I… I really don’t think so, sir, no. Sorry.”

“Fine, okay, it’s — fine.” He’s almost dizzy, ducking out into the studio feels like breaking the surface of the ocean into clear, oxygen-rich air, while the rest of his body is still caught in the current, the abyss sinking out beneath his feet full of unanswered questions. He’s being hustled away in a daze, but when he looks back worriedly over his shoulder he sees Eddie leaning elbows to knees with his head in his hands, and Richie’s had it.

Eddie makes a small noise of surprise when Richie turns on his heel and dashes back to him, cradling his face and pleading. “What were you gonna say? Please just — just tell me, Eds, quick.”

“I, uh — just — good luck, Rich,” Eddie rasps. His cheeks are hot in Richie’s hands, and he smiles so tight it looks as if his face might rip back open at the scar, if Richie touched it. He turns his head to kiss softly at Richie’s palm, and pats him on the side. It’s some fragile reassurance, at least; Eddie wouldn’t be so open with him in public if he wasn’t okay. “I was gonna say good luck.”

“Oh. Oh, I thought — yeah. Okay,” Richie says, feeling kinda stupid all of a sudden, and not just because the intern is still hovering, looking pointedly away. Eddie’s smile goes gentler, more like his familiar morning one, and the awful heartburn of Richie’s frustration eases. “That’s all?”

“Yeah, I’m — sorry for — I didn’t mean to freak you out before your show.” Eddie wipes at his forehead, hopping down from his box. “It’s really fucking hot in here, I guess I got a little lightheaded. You better have water somewhere handy or I’m gonna get mad with someone.”

Ah, of course. There’s nothing quite like Eddie’s curmudgeonly concern to tell him things are back to normal. Richie heaves a sigh. 

“Don’t get mad with someone when I’m not there to watch, Eds.”

“I’ll try.” Eddie goes pink, fiddling with his lanyard when Richie tweaks his ear. “Really though, good — good luck. You’ll be great.”

“Mr Tozier, you really—”

Christ, the fucking show, shit—

Richie claps the intern on his weedy shoulder and steers him towards the set. “I hear ya, skippy,” he says, and blows an obnoxious kiss back over his shoulder. “Thanks, babe. Take an aspirin or something, for Chrissakes. I’ll see you later.”

Eddie gives a very sincere thumbs-up. He’s such an overdramatic dweeb, and Richie loves him, however odd he might be sometimes. If anything, it only cements his decision to propose even firmer in his head, because what better way to show Eddie he’s committed to helping him through every strange, Kaspbrakian crisis he could have, than offering himself up for life?

That kiss was a real doozy, and the memory of it helps Richie to rollick easy through his monologue. He can do this shit in his sleep, all the laughs landing exactly how he planned ‘em, and there’s something undeniably satisfying about being able to pick Eddie’s wheezy giggles out in a crowd, even if he couldn’t see him and his laughter lines right there, a few feet away. Making it all easier. 

And if he had any lingering anxiety left, clinging like last, unreachable muck under his fingernails, it’s wiped away for good when he checks his phone compulsively during the first commercial break, and nearly drops it again in overwhelmed, heart-thumping shock.

There’s a single notification from Instagram, tucked among the gently jibing texts from his other, dumbass friends. One brief comment with hundreds of likes and replies, under the selfie they took outside this very building, stamped like bridge graffiti for the entire internet to see.

ekaspbrak76: I’m so proud of you, asshole ❤️ Pull a groin

The studio rings with laughter when his last sketch closes, from the sweat-sticky floor to the criss-crossed scaffold roof, and Richie can’t remember a single goddamn thing about it, too busy soaring.

 

They fly home. 

Richie tries not to let it rattle him, how close he came to asking and fucking it all up again by picking yet another shitty, inappropriate moment. In hindsight he couldn’t have picked worse if he’d tried, other than doing it down in the sewers below Neibolt, perhaps. What was he thinking, almost proposing in a dark corner that stank like unwashed wigs, with pickles and mustard on his breath? 

He didn’t even have the goddamn ring with him, too anxious that it might show up on the airport scanners and that Eddie would discover his plan while Richie was being patted down by another man in latex gloves. Plus, even if Eddie had said yes on Saturday night, Richie would’ve had to leave him immediately to go do the show, which is fucking unacceptable. 

If Eddie says yes, then they’re gonna have to call his new boss and come up with some pretty believable excuse for his absence, ‘cause Richie’s not letting go of him for at least a month, realistically. He’s gonna stockpile. He’s not gonna wear clothes for weeks.

For however thwarted he felt at the time, he’s actually kinda relieved they were interrupted. Richie will be damned if he asks Eddie to marry him somewhere like New York of all places, in the city Eddie left behind more than a year ago for something better, only three states away from the town that turned their love for one another into nightmares trying to kill them both. 

No, Richie has to ask him at home, in their home they share together, in the last, fading heat of the summer.

He’s not making excuses. 

He’s not getting cold feet, no way in hell; his feet are burning to a fuckin’ crisp with anticipation, because another reason he’s feeling rattle-free these days is that he’s almost certain Eddie will say yes. Even despite all the staring, it’s not as if he thinks Eddie is trying to find a way to break up with him or something, far from it. All the signs point in an entirely more promising direction, and Richie likes to think he’s pretty good at reading signs — he drove his way from Chicago to L.A. before GPS was even a thing. They’ve opened a joint savings account, something Richie’s finance guy was not on board for until he saw the kinda numbers Eddie managed to rack up over ten years of work with no vacations. Their tickets are booked to visit Bill and Audra and the others over Christmas, that’s pretty long-term looking behavior in Richie’s book. They’re making movie dates.  

Confidence isn’t the issue. All he needs is the right moment, preferably dripping with romance. 

He’s trying to imagine what the right moment might look like as he gazes into the pillows of sun-shot cloud swarming over the horizon, like piles of apricots, like heaven itself is hiding behind them with all the answers. There’s supposed to be a storm tonight.

“I just read they’re showing The Lost Boys up in Santa Cruz,” Eddie says, lowering into his chair beside Richie’s, carefully cracking the cap off his beer. “It’s an outdoor screening for Halloween, on the pier, I think, where they filmed it. We should totally go for the weekend.”

“Hell yeah we should, I love that fuckin’ movie.” Richie coaxes his lighter to the white stem of the fat two-skinner he rolled earlier, and stretches to the full, noodly extent of his body, arching his stiff back with the first rich inhale. He’s well aware he’s milking it, but sue him, he enjoys the pleasantly interested way Eddie’s gaze clings to the strip of stomach where his t-shirt rides up, clings like sand to sun-blocked skin. “We all loved that fuckin’ movie, did you see the poster was still there, in the clubhouse? You shoulda used that as your token, not your stupid inhaler. Remember, when the four of us snuck into the Aladdin—”

“—when we were way too young for it—”

“Eleven isn’t way too young, Eds, but I do remember you filling your diaper at that gnarly-ass beach murder part.” Richie plucks the joint from his mouth to make vampire teeth with his fingers at Eddie’s unimpressed face. “Is that why you wouldn’t ever support my attempts at a bonfire? You thought we’d wind up as pre-canned vamp chow, our lids ripped off?”

“No, it’s because I was worried you’d burn your hair off and lose your best feature,” Eddie says tartly, stealing the joint. “You wouldn’t even let Stan tell you how to do it, and he was the Boy Scout. Jackass.”

Hell, but even in his dorky green work polo he looks every inch the bad boy Richie always knew Eddie was underneath, taking a drag with the same hand still holding his beer, limned in the gold-leaf sunset. Maybe bad is stretching it, but a daring boy, a rebellious boy, one who would sneak out from the glass case of his window to hit the moonlit ground running, towards Richie waiting on his bike, that’s him. 

Eddie’s scar moves in a slow scorpion curl as his cheeks hollow around his next inhale, and it’s enough to put X-rated ideas in Richie’s already idea-filled head, but, for now, he just wants to enjoy the sticky evening together, watching the fireflies dance like pollen at the bottom of the garden. 

Eddie sighs happily, leaning back. “And, I never filled my diaper by the way, fuck you. I was the one who wanted to see it in the first place.”

Richie shrugs, conceding. Things were different back then, nobody gave a shit about kids seeing stuff they weren’t supposed to, especially not in Derry, where half the grown-ups hardly seemed to care whether their kids went missing, let alone connived their way past bored ushers to get their matinee gore-fix. None of it was ever scary, even less so after that eventful summer of ‘89, but Richie always blinked back into the sunlight completely rattled to the core by the way Eddie’s hot, grabbing hands in the bloodlit darkness always made him feel like a broken cassette tape, all his insides snarled to outsides in a wormy mess.

“Point to Spagheds,” he says. “You’ve always been a morbid little fucker.”

“I’ve told you, being interested in true crime isn’t morbid!” Eddie gestures huffily down the garden, like he’s debating the trees. “It’s about being prepared for bad situations, it’s not my fault you’re, I don’t know, allergic to planning? Anyway, if I was gonna be scared of anything in that movie it was the fuckin’ wardrobe.”

Oh, Richie can’t let that stand, this is a point of honor. “Are you shitting me? That era’s the best, y’can’t beat crop-tops on dudes!”

“I — alright, I’ll give you that,” Eddie smirks. “Nah, it was Corey Haim. Those shirts, like, what the hell.”

Richie stretches out an arm to shove him but he’s too far away, so he shuffles his chair over with a loud scrape until they’re bumping elbows on the armrests. “Fucker, you know I spent all of middle school trying to dress like that.”

“Trying’s the operative word, Rich, but succeeding’s another.”

“Who made you the fuckin’ fashion police, who are you, Bev?” Richie laughs. “Gimme a break.”

“Never. You looked like Ace Ventura, I told you.”

Eddie’s managing to grin around the roach hands-free like cowboy, and it’s doing things to Richie that he should really be used to by now, but he hopes he’ll never accustom. It’s shit like this that makes every day special in its own little way, watching Eddie’s lips purse, or how the dancing chrome reflections from the pool paint the underside of his jaw to starlight.

Some of their neighbors are barbecuing. Probably had the same idea as them, as the entire city, feels like. One last dance for the summer gods before the weather breaks. Richie tries to consciously open his senses, lets the crickets whirr into his ears on a skein of distant music, and the corn-fed, molasses smell of sugared charcoal burrows into his nose, his tongue. The pulpy wood rises up to meet his bare arms, his long, bare feet waving at him from the end of the chair, and God, what a relief it was to peel his socks off as soon as they got back from the airport last week. Fuck socks, man. 

The city steams light. He watches the shooting stars of flights streaking their paths away from LAX like sword marks on the curving, burnished shield of the sky, taking God knows who to God knows where, none of them aware of everything Richie had to do to end up here, watching them, and he thinks about how you gotta burn fuel to get airborne. There’s exchange in the universe, reaping what you sow and all that shit, and he really didn’t understand that properly until Neibolt last year. Concentrate your will to something you want so bad it feels like your atoms split away to form the thing itself, and it might just happen. Like saving your friends, or fixing your life. His whole body takes in Los Angeles’ riot of sensation in exchange for his sweat, and effort, and in the end he made it. Eddie made it with him. This is where Richie belongs. 

“I looked cool,” he insists, rolling his head to look at Eddie. Just a couple tokes and he’s already spacewalking, damn. He’s getting old. “I dressed like Corey Haim, I was cool.”

Eddie’s shaking his head adamantly, tapping ash onto the ground as far away from himself as possible. “You’ve never been cool. Bev was cool. Bill was cool, the only reason we’re even called the Losers Club is because of you. I’ve seen you with bubblegum in your eyebrows before.”

“Only ‘cause you bet me a dollar I couldn’t blow a bubble the size of my head!”

“Yeah, and you lost! Then there was that winter you decided you were gonna become a professional yo-yo guy and get invited on Letterman, and what happened?”

Richie sighs. “I yo-yo’ed too hard and broke my glasses. And a lamp. Then my dad banned ‘em from the house.”

“Exactly. Not cool.”

“But Eds,” Richie whines, and his whole body fills with an age-old longing, when Eddie lolls his head to look back at him, amused and aglow with L.A.’s orange light. He remembers that look, it always made him feel better when one of his projects took a turn for the disastrous. There’s sweat glittering on Eddie’s top lip, there’s a single dark patch on his shirt, hugging the sexy core part of his stomach, the python-strong part that heaves to hold him up when he’s riding Richie’s cock. He wants to touch, and so he does, rubbing the dampness and prodding at Eddie’s leg with his toes. “I wanted you to think I was cool.”

“Don’t worry, I did,” Eddie says, watching his hand. “I must be fucked in the head, ‘cus I still do. Even these.” 

His beer bottle clinks to the patio, there’s the rosebud flicker of pink tongue as he licks his palm, and then—

“Really?” Richie snorts, because he’s in love with such a weirdo. Eddie’s combing wet fingers into his sideburns, scrubbing the wrong way like he’s trying to piss off a cat, but Richie’s the furthest thing from pissed. He probably looks like an idiot, spiked up around his cheekbones like Wolverine, but that’s the thing about being with Eddie. There’s no need to hide from it. “First my beaver teeth and now this? You’re into the weirdest shit, babe.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m into you,” Eddie says, seemingly satisfied with his handiwork. “Your fault.” He busses a kiss to Richie’s spit-wet cheek and sits back. “So, are we going to Santa Cruz? I have this weekend off.”

“Oh yeah? Baby sea lions take the weekends off from needing rescued, too?”

Eddie pauses in the middle of retrieving his beer, and squints. “Is that really what you think I do all day?”

“No,” Richie grins, “but I like to imagine it is. You in tiny trunks, Baywatch running along the beach in slow-mo, lifting whole seals with your bare hands. S’hot.”

“I spent all of yesterday cataloguing seaweed,” Eddie says, looking extremely pleased with himself, and so he should. Their hippie neighbors, Oliver’s parents, they hooked Eddie up with some conservation non-profit that works city-wide. It’s perfect. Eddie gets to spend all day fussing about clean water and petting wild animals, and the most stress he ever encounters is griping at people for littering in parks. Richie’s never seen him happier than when he comes home tired, accomplished, babbling about trees, and if Richie’s proud of his own progress this year, it’s nothing compared to watching Eddie lit up and zipping around the house like a lightning bug with all his newfound passion. 

“That’s great, Eds,” Richie says, gently punching his shoulder. “You gotta tell me all the different kinds of seaweed sometime. But like, do it slowly, list ‘em off while we’re—”

Eddie punches him back, but he’s a little slow, weed-floppy, and his hand just ends up sliding down to stroke long lines into Richie’s forearm, like bowing a violin. “Please don’t try to make seaweed sexy. You never answered my question, are we going to Santa Cruz or not?”

The underside of Richie’s arm is paler, smoother, like the inside of a conch, more sensitive when he turns it over for Eddie’s ministrations. He really has writing to chug out, but there’s no reason he can’t take it with him. “Yes, we can go to Santa Cruz, but I’m driving.”

“Oh shit, then we better leave on Thursday,” Eddie says, raising his eyebrows.

Richie ignores him. Just because he likes to stop every time he sees a funny-looking cactus, or a Deadhead holdover selling crap from a tin-can trailer at the side of the road. It’s about the journey, the experience, and he’ll wear Eddie down on that point eventually. At least he’s learned his lesson about taking his time with a joint, after Richie had to assure him that the initial few nauseous spells didn’t actually mean Eddie was poisoned, just impatient.

The smoke ribbons in ghostly fingers from Eddie’s parted lips, fading away. 

Richie’s never actually been to Santa Cruz, but he remembers the image of it sunbaked into his mind’s eye in the gum-sticky dank of the Aladdin, when anywhere but Maine had seemed like the promised land, and the only way to get there was by staring at a screen until his eyes bled. Even the vampires seemed appealing. Richie wanted adventure, he wanted to fight monsters and waste his youth in the blistering Californian light, before he knew there was such a thing as being careful what you wished for. He wonders if the pier will look anything like it does in the movies, if he can live out his faded adolescent daydreams of kissing Eddie desperate at the top of the Ferris wheel, high above the Earth where the sewers and the hate-filled eyes could never find them.

“It’ll be fun,” he says, decisively. “It’s a date, babe.”

Eddie slaps his upturned palm in the sloppiest high-five ever. “It’s a date.”

It’s a fuckin’ date, Richie thinks, a giddy little jolt in his stomach at the word, like Eddie’s taken his insides and shaken them in excitement. 

It was news to him, that you can still go on dates with someone even when you fart openly around each other and know exactly how they take their coffee, and it never gets any less exciting. He thought dating was just for getting to know a person and then — well, people usually left after they got to know Richie, so he was never totally sure what came next. 

Can you still go on dates when you’re engaged? When you’re married? He really wants to find out. Jesus Christ, he wants to go on dates with his husband, like they’re some twee fuckin’ sitcom couple who wear actual flannel pajamas and argue over who left the toilet seat down. 

Please say yes, he thinks, shooting a furtive glance at Eddie’s hawkish profile. Please be my date to our wedding. Maybe he could propose like that. Not when he’s high, though.

The clouds are riding the ocean’s white horses to encircle the city like an army, poised and impenetrable, tumbling a dark, bruised rockfall over the eastern hills. It’s a weirdly surreal sight after months of skies so flawless blue it felt like Richie’s eyes couldn’t widen enough to take it all in when he looked straight up, so clear he could tell space was squeezing a black fist just beyond the filmy surface tension of the atmosphere. The dark fletches of carob leaves lean conspiratorially together in the warm breeze at the bottom of the yard, gathering, separating like a flock of starlings. It’s the first time in months that the soft wind doesn’t feel like it comes scouring straight from Death Valley, and Richie bathes in it.

Nights like these are a rarity out here, the air humming between bodies and hydrants and houses like a Tesla coil. It’s kind of exciting. Richie always loved thunderstorms as a kid, probably due to reading one too many comic books and convincing himself he’d gain superpowers if he sat on his roof long enough, whenever the night sky flash-bulbed. 

Never knew what was good for me, he thinks, only a little rueful. 

Always on the hunt for something bigger, something to transform him into a better version of himself. Powers, monster adventures, fame — like any of that would fill the hole, but there’s no room in a human body for a hole big enough to fit Hollywood or muscle cars. No, he’s all small holes, filled up by impromptu texts from the east coast whenever the Losers see a billboard shouting his name, or even just a funny sight they know he’d rag on, holes small enough to fill with trinkets like fans sending him stories of their own coming out. He’s been buckshot for years but now most of his worst gaps are gone, and it’s down to the feeling he gets when he’s driving and Eddie’s looking at him instead of outside, at the rest.

That’s the real reason Richie takes his time on the road.

It’s all down to being the person who gets to watch Eddie run, and win. He looks over, feeling unusually lovesick, even for him.

Eddie’s still stroking his wrist in a sweaty snail-trail, but he’s quiet, frowning blankly into the distance. Richie feels himself tense up without meaning to at the sight, but before he can dig himself any further into panic over saying or thinking something wrong, again, Eddie’s fixing him with an intent look.

“Is it genies, or genii?” 

Richie blinks in the wash of cottony smoke Eddie just breathed right into his face. “‘Scuse me?”

“I was thinking about the Aladdin, in Derry,” Eddie says, slowly, like he’s just learning how to form sentences. “And about Aladdin, the movie. And the genie. It’s genii, right? Two genies is genii?”

He looks so serious, this is clearly very important to him, as things often are to people baked out of their fucking skulls. Richie bites down a laugh and leans in closer to Eddie’s slack expression. “Pretty sure two genies is two genies.”

“But — it’s one genie. And two genies is genii, two genii.”

“You’re saying both, babe, which is it?”

“What?”

“You’re already saying two genies.”

“No, I’m saying two or more genies is genii, that’s the plural!”

Richie would have to be a stronger man with stronger core muscles to keep from laughing any longer, faced with Eddie’s indignant, bloodshot certainty. “Eds—”

“What don’t you get?”

“Eds,” Richie wheezes, taking the joint away from him. It’s for his own good. “Open your eyes for me, wide as you can.”

This is why Richie mostly prefers weed to drinking if he needs to unwind, he’s invariably left mellow and smooth like slow-churned butter, as opposed to smashing the party or the inside of his own head into an embarrassing wreck like a bull. At least when he’s high there are no messes to clean up in the morning, save a few empty bags of tortilla chips. It comes with an added bonus; Eddie’s still a total lightweight and it’s fantastic, not just because Richie finally gets to be the dignified one, but especially since Eddie actually seems to like how all his rigid thoughts shift sideways for a while. 

Maybe the odd hit would help him with his nemesis, the dreaded morning crossword. Richie oughta suggest it.

“Are you doing it?” Richie grins at Eddie’s eyelids stuck tellingly low, dark flags flying half-mast as he tips his head back to look down his long nose, so densely freckled after the whole summer it’s like someone sprinkled brown sugar all over him and set the oven to bake.

“Yeah, I’m doing it. I’m not stoned, Richie, it’s genii.”

“If this is you not stoned we’re in for a helluva night. You want me to call the ambulance now or later?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Can I take a picture of you right now and put it online?”

“Fine!” Eddie says, and he raises disbelieving arms like he’s trying to lift an impossible weight, mouth set in a stubborn line. “But everyone will agree with me, I’m telling you.”

He does take a picture, but he doesn’t wanna risk Eddie blocking him again just when he’s started leaving sweetly snarky comments all over Richie’s Instagram, so he saves it for himself. Plus, it feels personal, and not just because Eddie would probably rather be seen naked in public than stoned, but because this side of him is entrusted only to Richie. Eddie unzips from inhibition when they’re alone together in more ways than Richie even knew there were, and it feels like a gift every time, a loosened, deep-feeling gift, who laughs so hard that sometimes he goes silent and curled-up like a pillbug. 

Sunset is turning the whole yard to fire, splitting the storm clouds open like a gold-toothed smile and lighting their house a bright, magnesium white, like Camelot with terracotta roof tiles. Lights up Eddie in the photo too, like a knight or a hero, handsome and self-assured with his hair hanging like feelers over his forehead, like it always does at the end of the day.

Richie looks between the photo and the real, unparalleled thing, dwelling on what that feels like. To know how Eddie looks and sounds at the end of every single day, the goofy faces he makes when he flosses, the copper-penny round of his eyes as he tries to pretend he’s not as tired as he is, the rumbled goodnight so close to Richie’s face on the same pillow that he feels the words against his mouth. It works both ways. Eddie has known him in all four seasons, on opposite sides of the country, as an adult and a child, and he still curls his hand into Richie’s pajama shirt before he drifts off, like he wants to know Richie even in sleep. 

Nah, this photo’s just for Richie.

“Fuck, it’s still hot out here. I thought the heatwave was supposed to be over,” Eddie says suddenly, sitting up with what looks like a lot of effort to — strip off, apparently. He manages to tangle himself in his polo somehow, wrapped up in a green, sweaty chrysalis.

“You want a little help, there?” Richie asks, watching him struggle. He’s perfectly comfortable, but he doesn’t do enough exercise for his blood to burn like Eddie’s, never-ending heat like an Olympic torch. Really, he doesn’t know why he’s the comedian when Eddie’s funny without trying, but he’s not complaining about getting an eyeful of tan stomach flecked with hickeys, or Eddie’s dark nipples revealing themselves as he wriggles around, cursing. “Come here, let me—”

“I don’t need any—”

“Yes you do, your head’s in the fuckin’ arm hole, how’d you even do that?”

“Stop tickling me—”

“I would never, Eds, the fuck d’you think I am? I’m copping a feel.”

Eddie pops free, rumpled and owlish and God, Richie adores every ridiculous inch of him. He tosses the shirt over his shoulder and fits his fingers in his mouth to wolf whistle as loud as he can, which is pretty goddamn loud. “Lookin’ good, Cheech!”

“Thank you, Chong.” Eddie looks smug as he rubs at his ear, and someone attending the distant barbecue next door whistles back, setting Oliver off into a string of excited barks. Richie once successfully whistled for Eddie’s attention from out in the street, so at this range he might actually be temporarily deaf. “I know.”

“You know?” Richie crows, settling back to smoke. “You’re finally seeing the sexy light?”

“Yeah, you tell me so much I decided to believe you,” Eddie says, leaning over to grab at Richie’s shirt. “Take yours off too, I wanna make out.”

Richie chokes on the ashy heat climbing down into his lungs from the joint, unprepared. The weed turns Eddie even blunter than usual, but who is Richie to deny him, especially when he’s missed this the last few weeks; Eddie unafraid to just yammer out whatever he’s thinking, loud and defiant as always. Maybe Richie shoulda done this earlier, got him high so he can wheedle out whatever’s been bugging him—

No. Fuck that idea, he thinks, slapping it dead like a mosquito. Eddie will tell him when he’s good and ready, like fuck is Richie gonna drug and then manipulate him, holy shit. If anything, he’s kinda hoping his proposal might shake it loose, might clear some of the heavy waiting air around them. Laying his cards on the table, all that shit.

He hacks out puffs of smoke, some of it stuck in his sinuses and burning hot through his tear ducts.

“Jesus, warn a guy,” he coughs, watching Eddie wobble to his feet and wander around to his side. Drinks in the bare, brown flex of his skinny calves against the pale paving stones, the pool lights gilding his flinty, arrowhead torso in tropical blue. “I’ll spot you the chilli stains, but this shirt is vintage, babe, show some appreciation.”

“I’d really rather look at your hairy-ass chest than the Land Before Time dinosaurs skateboarding, if it’s all the same to you,” Eddie says.

Well. He might be a charmer, but Richie can’t help it if Eddie had his fashion sense removed at birth. 

“I hope this isn’t just the pot speaking,” he says.

“It’s not the pot.” Eddie grins down at him, still looking sleepy-eyed. “It’s never been the pot. C’mon, take it off.”

“Yessir,” Richie says, grabbing for the ashtray and doing as he’s told. “It’s not totally fair, though, you can’t expect me to follow all that.”

“All what?” Eddie tuts and grabs at Richie’s shirt, where he’s waving it at Eddie’s whole existence.

“All of this, these chiseled li’l guys.” Richie slots his glasses back on and prods at Eddie’s hip, the cheetah-sleek ridge of an oblique. His favorites in a fucking buffet of favorites, almost impossible to choose from, but there’s something about that vee of lines darting into his shorts that Richie could drool over for hours. “When I poke myself here my fuckin’ hand disappears.”

Eddie frowns. “What?”

“Love handles, man,” he says, pinching one. “The old spare tire.”

“So? What about them?”

So… what? He doesn’t know. It’s still reflex, even after all these months of Eddie rubbing all over him like a dog in heat. If he points it out first, then no one else can get a jump on the joke.

“Uh…”

He shifts back against his chair under Eddie’s concerned interest, swallowing thickly as it morphs into something far more heated. The twilit air is the perfect kinda warm against his bare skin, a counterpoint to the first searing press of Eddie’s body as he slowly straddles Richie’s legs. He can feel his own pulse under the blue-lace insides of his elbows as Eddie gets closer, because heat is expansion, he learned that in physics, and all his arteries are sun-swelled open from the greatest summer of his life to accept love in one chamber of his heart, and give it from another, but that can’t be right either because he loves Eddie in the cold, too. He’d love Eddie anywhere.

Eddie settles on his thighs and grips him firmly by the waist. Richie shudders, spreading his own hands instinctively around bony hips. Tips his head back against the creaking chair because, fuck, sometimes just being touched is enough to make him wanna surrender, like a lamb to Eddie’s sweet slaughter. 

Eddie strokes slowly through the thatch of hair on his stomach. Richie’s not that much of an insecure teenager to go around calling himself fat when he isn’t, really, but a definite thicker softness has filled around his middle over the last ten years, and now he’s glad of his passion for baggy shirts.

Eddie murmurs, and there’s no ironic twist to his lazy smile. “Hi, good lookin’.”

Fuck.

Richie swallows and accepts Eddie’s first, calming kiss to his jaw, smoothing hands up his dune-ripple lats. “Hey — hi, Eds. What’s up?”

“You don’t get it, that’s what’s up.”

“Aw, I love it when you tell me all the shit I don’t get. You gonna let me know?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says lowly, and his tongue swipes out as he looks down between them. The air is thick and sweet like nectar with the bougainvillea rambling over the porch, rushing in and out of Richie’s chest faster at the feel of firm hands squeezing his hips until they reach bone insulated underneath. “I like this. This is why I like being the big spoon.”

Richie tries to laugh, but it catches and struggles in his throat. He can’t go anywhere. He doesn’t wanna go anywhere, not when Eddie’s looking at him doe-eyed, indenting his softest parts like someone famous might press their hands reverently into Hollywood’s wet cement; like it means something bigger. 

“I thought — I thought you liked being the big spoon ‘cus it’s the only time you get to be big?”

He expects Eddie to hiss in his trodden-snake way, to call Richie an asshole, but there’s only rose-gold flushing down his throat, and his hips pressing forward. “No, it’s — I swear to fuckin’ God, Rich, don’t laugh at me — it’s the opposite. I like… I like…”

His waist curls sinuous under Richie’s hands in a gentle grind, and Richie will never laugh at him for this, for giving voice to the shit Eddie held inside for so long he gave himself stomach ulcers for years. “What?”

“I like that you’re — bigger than me,” Eddie says in a rush like ripping off a band-aid, and his shoulders loosen along with his expression, like he thought there’d be pain but there wasn’t. His eyes are still drowsy-hot, moving restless over Richie’s body. “Not when you’re being a dick and playing keep-away with the remote, but I love your — your — ridiculous fuckin’ shoulders, where did these come from, you were such a stringbean in high school, and now it’s — you’re like—”

He’s pawing at Richie’s shoulders. He looks affronted, like Richie has done him some offence by broadening out of puberty and it’s never not gonna be funny, how wound up he gets, but Richie can’t laugh at him or he might stop. 

He grins, the thrill of Eddie’s sudden horndog mood rubbing off on him. “I’m like what? What — Eds, what else?”

Eddie’s touch streaks down his arm to one hand, yanking it away from his own ass. “These,” he says, rough, and he’s — holy shit—

Richie groans, kneading into the crease of Eddie’s ass with his free hand. “Woah, okay. Okay.”

A towering want flames through him, floor to ceiling, burning him up as he watches Eddie lick down his first two fingers, bite at the fleshy ball of his palm without breaking eye contact. There’s the wet, glottal noise of Eddie’s tongue working, fucking through the gap between index and middle as he sucks them down, holding Richie’s wrist so hard his briefs tighten at the bite. His fingers come out slow and dripping, spit strung in a pearl necklace to Eddie’s lip. 

Their bellies mold together like sticking clay. Richie widens his legs so Eddie can press in between them, pulling off and dragging Richie’s slick hand to span the column of his throat where his blood is pounding.

“Stupid big hands,” Eddie breathes, winding his own into Richie’s hair to tug. His chin shines with his own saliva. Richie can feel his voice thrum in his windpipe under his own bolt-knuckle fingers, calloused from drumming. “Big mouth, big — big fuckin’ hands, but you never touch me like I’m gonna break, and I fucking love it.”

Richie knows this, he does. The worst thing he could do would be to treat Eddie like spun glass in kid gloves when he’s so much rawer, realer than that, and in so much need to let himself push back and crash against the wall Richie’s happy to provide. Makes him crazier than a fucking stoat to hear it gets Eddie going this bad, though. Maybe he’ll start wearing tank tops, since the mere sight of his shoulders seems to be doing half the work for him.

He grips a fistful of Eddie’s shorts and drags him forward to rasp into his ear, thumbing at the glistening sweat in his collarbones. “Fuck yeah, baby, nothin’ breaks you.”

Eddie balls fists into his hair so hard Richie’s dick jumps. He never knew his scalp was even connected down there until Eddie came along, which really just proves they’re made for each other. 

His hand covers Eddie’s whole, swallowing throat, ear to ear, and he keeps going. “Nothin’ breaks you.” He grins. “But y’know I’m six-two, right?”

Eddie moans so loud and ragged against his cheek Richie’s sure they must be able to hear it at the barbecue, even over the music, and it’d be funnier if he wasn’t still teasing. Richie wants to kiss him so bad he’s gonna pass out. “Yes I know you’re six-fuckin’-two, you never let me forget it.”

“It is one of my best qualities. It’s on my resumé, y’know, but a horny little birdie tells me you don’t wanna forget it.”

Eddie’s hazy-eyed and pink as he pulls back to look Richie in the face, his head still lolling heavy from his high. “No — I mean yeah, sometimes — sometimes I see you in a crowd and you’re so — Christ, I still jerk off thinking about that time you picked me up.”

Then he shifts, spits in his palm, and he’s knuckling under Richie’s waistband to massage between his legs. 

Fuck, he’s too much. Richie feels like a muzzled dog, straining to get at Eddie’s mouth, but he’s held back, pinned down into the chair because Eddie is insanely strong, all wired-up muscle. He’s still rubbing. It’s piston-hot and tight, tighter than a blowjob and kinda better, in a way, for how Eddie’s got a safe hold of him right where he’s most vulnerable. Makes him feel held all over, like Eddie’s got him by the insides. Like how a little metal and leather tugging at soft mouthparts gives a man control of the whole damn mustang, yessir. 

It’s... possible he watches too many westerns. Or that Eddie touching his cock makes him nuts, especially when there’s not much inclination between either of them to take it any further. Sometimes Eddie just touches his cock ‘cause he likes it.

Richie’s body flushes in warm waves, pooling a little thicker and heavier in his crotch. The sunset is burning the sky to a darker blue, splits it open into a growing heap of cloud like browning, purpling organs spilling from the heavens’ smooth belly. 

His glasses are fogging up. He watches the shape of Eddie’s hand repeatedly crest under his shorts, and tries to remember what they were talking about. “Picked you—”

“Picked me up, yeah.” Eddie’s breath comes in gusts. He pulls off, gets his hand under Richie’s thigh and wriggles his way into the needy gap so the semi-soft bulge in his shorts meets Richie’s. “Against the fridge, the first night we…”

“I remember, I remember — wait, when do you jerk off?”

“What?”

“You said you jerk off to it. You jerk off without me?” Richie shuffles down so there’s more room for Eddie to sprawl against his chest. This is momentous fucking news.

Eddie hums against his shoulder and slinks his hand back up the leg of Richie’s shorts. Richie used to feel a little weird about being such a hairy dude, kicked more than his fair share of people outta bed for complaining it felt like fucking a dog or a coconut — ‘cause, screw them, there’s constructive criticism and there’s plain old douchebaggery — but not weird enough to get rid of it. Especially not these days, when he could play a pretty deadly drinking game with the absentminded way Eddie pets his arms and legs and ass on a daily basis. 

“What, I’m supposed to be a monk if you’re not available? Of course I jerk off,” Eddie says. “Like, in the shower if I’m up early. Or when you’re out somewhere.”

Richie gapes at him, but it’s impossible to feel betrayed when Eddie’s got that perplexed little wrinkle between his eyebrows. He tweaks a nipple anyway, grinning at Eddie’s sharp ah and the twitch of his hips. “Well, text me next time and I’ll come home.”

“You were in Pasadena the last time.”

“I can be home in an hour from Pasadena!”

“It doesn’t take me an hour to jerk off!”

“Not if you’re thinking about me picking you up, I guess it doesn’t,” Richie laughs. Who’da thunk, mister I can reach the pretzels myself Richie, fuck off, beating it to the memory of being manhandled. “You shoulda told me, Eds, we can do that again. I’ll fuck you up every wall in the house if you wanna. Course, it’s all thanks to your cooking — all that fuckin’ spinach, I’m like Popeye now. Helps that you’re so skinny, too—”

“I am not skinny,” Eddie yelps, pushing himself up to glare, a mess of blown pupils and reluctant dimples. “I’m — I’m not skinny, take that back!”

“So skinny,” Richie sing-songs, pinching Eddie’s upper arm where it’s cabled with muscle. He’s always had a mean left and right hook, Richie remembers the violent twist of his elbow in the rock war, remembers Eddie climbing down a well on a rope one handed, broken-armed. “Nurse! Nurse, we gotta do something, get this man a fuckin’ protein bar, he hasn’t done a push-up all night and he’s wasting away—”

“Wrestle me,” Eddie says flatly, following it up with a shove of his hips, so hard it jolts the air from Richie’s lungs and pushes his legs wider. “Right the fuck now, I’ll kick your ass.”

“Easy, Tonto, easy,” Richie coos. He gentles his hand against the crown of Eddie’s head, his soft hair. 

Some of the intensity from earlier has leaked away with the sun’s last glinting flare. The greenhouse air of the garden is buzzy with dusk, the patio lights haven’t winked to life yet, but the embers from next door’s fire pit are mingling with the fireflies. Can’t see the stars, Richie thinks, can never see the real stars in Los Angeles, but for a moment it feels like they’ve fallen to illuminate the palm-leaf canopy, fallen to form meandering orbits around the most important one of all, with his pink ears and red shorts and a mean throwing arm that kills monsters, killed a being that lashed down from those very same stars, but never for a moment reckoned in all its billions of years that it’d have to face up to Eddie fucking Kaspbrak.

“Easy,” Richie murmurs again, kissing the thin skin beneath one of Eddie’s dark eyes. “Thought you wanted to make out?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I’ll make out with you.” Eddie settles against him again, nudging his leg between Richie’s.

“Nice. Thank you, Your Highness.” Richie laughs at his own accidental joke. “Get it, Eds? Highness?”

Eddie looks at him dumbly for a second. “No?”

Poor, stoned little guy. Richie pets the back of his head and reaches for the joint, the lighter. “That’s okay. You wanna try something?”

“Something other than making out? No, not really — what’re you doing?”

“You like trying new stuff, just trust me,” Richie whispers, pulling him closer. “And remember to breathe in.”

He draws long reeds of smoke into his lungs and sees the cherry glow, the bright ring like the rim of a volcano reflected in Eddie’s watchful eyes, lighting up the art deco angles of his face, the carved-in lines around his mouth. Inhaling is tight forceps prising his sternum up, hot, tastes like a rainforest burning or stewed fruit or the wild, masculine stink of sweat whenever Eddie lets himself get eaten out when he comes back from a run, red-faced and cringing into it all the same. Feels like being cast, like molten silver poured into an anthill. 

Richie stubs out the joint. 

Eddie’s jaw is yielding under his hands and Jesus, now that Richie knows how much he’s into them, he’s gonna exploit it every chance he gets. Gonna hold his man’s thigh while he’s driving, gonna leave wraparound caveman prints on his waist. The smoke floods back into his mouth and he seals it to Eddie’s, sharing spit and heat, pushing dragonfire inside him and Eddie takes it, sucking deep into lungs that were quietly strong all along. Eddie opens his eyes. His hand is back and greedy up Richie’s shorts, and even though Richie regularly skinny-dips out here, the material digging a tight lasso around his groin leaves him feeling far more exposed than if he were naked. Richie watches him nose to nose, slides his hand down the sweating, cornsilk dip between Eddie’s pecs to feel him breathe.

Eddie holds it for a moment, resting his forehead to Richie’s.

The smoke is milky white against the darkening sky when Eddie exhales, and he’s grinning when Richie tightens his legs around him, licks at his mouth and husks out, “Christ, I love you.”

“I love you,” Eddie murmurs, sinking forward, and Richie wants to breathe his whole fucking soul inside him. He doesn’t even believe in souls. This is why he felt like a movieplex monster back in Maine, this lycanthropic drive to gnash at Eddie’s soft freckled skin and mingle their spit and come and blood, so desperate he scared himself. It’s clearer and calmer in hindsight, of course. All he’d wanted was not to be alone. Not to be the only one. 

“That’s a really inefficient way to get high, though,” Eddie says.

Goddamn it. Richie would groan in disbelief if he didn’t kinda revel in Eddie’s obstinate bullshit. “Not everything in life is about efficiency, babycakes.”

“Baby—? Jeeze, alright, that’s a new one,” Eddie snorts against his throat. “I guess you’re right. It was pretty hot.”

“See?” Richie shifts, his whole body feeling oversensitive, pinned under insistent weight. Eddie’s hand is still teasing up close to his cock, dragging through the rampant curls uncontained by his underwear. Along with a lava lamp and his prized Garfield alarm clock, Richie used to own one of those glass globes with the colored lightning inside that reached out to zap at whatever fingertips laid on its surface, and that’s what he feels like, still, like something inside him is always zapping at Eddie. It never felt quite like that before. His batteries were jammed in the wrong way around, maybe. 

“Knew you’d like it,” he says, stroking the smooth fluke of Eddie’s shoulder blade. His dick throbs. “That’s why — that’s why you should always trust me.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I mean it. You don’t get to be this hot and successful through bad judgement.”

“What the fuck does being hot have to do with good judgement?”

Richie waves a hand. “I don’t fuck with details, Eds, it’s beneath me. I’m just saying, I know what I’m talking about.”

“You must know a shit ton of stuff then, since you never stop talking.”

“I do, I know everything. You’re the one who keeps calling me smart, babe, I can’t help it if it goes to my head.”

He can feel Eddie grinning under his jaw. “You are smart. Real fuckin’ pointdexter, I hate it. S’not fair. What, being funny, and hot, and tall and good in bed wasn’t enough for you? Greedy fuck.”

Jesus, Richie’s gotta tell Dylan the weed guy that last batch was laced with something fuckin’ bonkers. 

He stares stupidly down at the freckled curve of Eddie’s shoulder for a moment, thrilled, and decides to store the moment away as ammo for the next time Eddie tries to tell him tying stuff to the ceiling fan isn’t great comedy.

“You said it, not me. I only know everything ‘cause you told me first,” Richie says, rubbing his cheek into Eddie’s hair. He pulls off his glasses and sets them aside, because he wants to kiss Eddie properly. “And, the reason I never stop talking is so you’ll never stop talking back, always has been. My mouthy little shit. Ain’t nothing better, no siree.”

“Fuck, Richie,” Eddie sighs, shivering closer. It can’t be because he’s cold, they’re plastered together head to toe, all sauna-sticky and humid with the pregnant drop in air pressure. He grabs hard at Richie’s thigh, wraps it around himself, and Richie is gonna go nuts if he can’t get his tongue down Eddie’s throat soon. “Can I — Rich, can I tell you a secret?”

“Course you can, dude.” Eddie’s spine arches under his hand, and Richie can feel himself making cow-eyes, feeling sappy even as Eddie’s frotting gently against his hip. That last hit has his vision going centrifugal. “You can tell me anything.”

He means it, too. Richie’s fuckin’ aces at secrets, he kept the Kissing Bridge quiet for long enough, didn’t he? Still, if this is Eddie spilling the beans about his recent weird behavior, he picked a real strategic moment, when Richie’s high and smitten with even the way Eddie’s skin looks shadowy blue in the low light. 

But Eddie only smiles at him and ducks his head, and suddenly Richie’s writhing away from the deck chair cushions and into his mouth with a gasp, as Eddie swirls his tongue and bites delicately around the bump of one nipple, bites up his chest and closes gentle teeth around his Adam’s apple. Richie tips his head back, moaning up at the charcoal clouds looming like underlit giants and gods in the sky. They’re flickering. It might be lightning, or Hollywood spotlights, but neither the city’s chorus of sirens or next door’s lilting music can drown out Eddie gasping hot into his mouth, I always wanted you to think I was cool, too.

Then they’re finally, finally kissing. 

He drinks in Eddie’s tongue, and the bamboo wildfire taste of the weed is washed away eventually by salt and iron. Eddie groans and rocks against him over and over, muscles tensing and releasing under the hand Richie shoved down the back of his shorts, sweat in the arching cup of his spine slicking up Richie’s arm. Heat pulses in bright circuitry waves down Richie’s guts and into his sleepy half-erection, and he really must be getting old when he’s feeling pretty content to keep on necking like teenagers instead of pushing for more. They can fuck later. Right now he could kiss Eddie for hours, his love, panting out weak little noises together every time they have to take a breath, and every time it gets sloppier. Eddie cradles the back of his neck. Slides his tongue under Richie’s. His head reels. His body feels taut and tender, gripping the ribbed, squirming heat of Eddie’s sides, hearing him breathe harsh and remembering their first kiss in this very same chair, out here, in the dark, and all the millions of ways they’ve learned to kiss each other since to make up for lost decades. Eddie bites softly at his bottom lip and soothes it again with a lick, running fingers into his tangled hair and drawing his thumbnail around the twists of Richie’s ear, so good his legs fall open hungrily. 

Long, breathless minutes pass in a way that feels rhythmic, like a good deep fuck. Every time Richie blinks to the surface it’s getting darker, heavier with sizzling ozone. The sky is an iridescent oil spill of light pollution. Eddie’s jaw is all sea-salt rough with stubble under Richie’s mouth, scraping his lips raw, and the patio lights have glowed awake when he opens his eyes again at Eddie’s satisfied hum.

They ease back. Crickets treble along the bassy hum of the pool filter, filling the dark yard as Richie comes back to himself. He palms at Eddie’s scarred cheek. They’re here, together. 

I have to keep it that way, he thinks. If I do one thing right in my dumbass life, it’s gotta be this.

The clown clearly thought Itself mighty fuckin’ funny. It conjured him up an obituary last year, a real hum-dinger, a real chuckalicious laugh-a-minute that twisted white-gloved fingers right into the sore lump of his brain stem, the sore part he used to dull with quarts of booze after another failed attempt at telling jokes he didn’t even write. His life was a joke back then, he’d believed in every cruel word of the thing. 

But Eddie cups his face in return, stroking the arch of his eyebrow, and Richie can feel the words being unwritten, re-written into something truer. It’s a team effort, at least.

Eddie looks even higher than he did before. He’s blinking slowly, hair swooped on end with his pink mouth all wrecked into a drunken grin that he pecks against Richie’s, once, twice, before wobbling to his knees.

“I’m just gonna—”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just gonna — sit right — right here.”

Richie’s feeling a little merry himself, grabbing clumsily at Eddie’s craggy hips to steady him as he turns awkwardly around. “You’re gonna sit right there?”

“Yeah, right here.”

“Okay.”

He heaves a contented sigh, gathering Eddie against him as he settles down in the lanky bracket of his legs, back to chest. “Goddamn. I need a cigarette after that. You’re one hell of a smoocher, Eds.”

Eddie threads their fingers together against his own stomach. “I’m never gonna kiss you again if you start smoking real cigarettes. Like, that’s it.”

“That’s it? Full cold turkey?”

“Yep. And don’t try getting around it, don’t give me but babe, it’s a vape, it doesn’t count, yadda yadda yadda.” Eddie brings his free hand up to slice viciously through the air, back to debating the trees. “It’s final. I won’t kiss you if you use a vape either, only real assholes use those fuckin’ things. You’re not at that level yet. You’re still like, two tribal tattoos and a puka shell necklace away from that level. You wish you were at that level.”

Richie cackles into the wild explosion of Eddie’s sexed-up hair, hugging him closer. He burns so hot, they’re sticking together everywhere. “Why does your impression of me sound like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like — like fuckin’ Kermit on coke, what—”

Eddie’s shoulders start shaking, faintly. “Oh, that? You mean like, howdy-fuckin’-doody Spagheddie my man, what’cha doin’, ya busy, stop pissing and come see this lizard I found—”

“Fuck you, that was one time, and it was huge—”

“—hey Eds, hey Pasta Boy, you’re the bees in my knees, the stuff in my Oreo, hey do you vhanna hear vhat Bohemian Rhapsody sounds like in a German accent, too late, I’m already doin’ it in the middle of the party supplies aisle at Walmart — you mean — you mean like that?”

“Yes,” Richie whoops, and now Eddie’s losing it too, slapping at Richie’s leg in the way he does when they really get going; this is why they had to stop playing charades on the nights they can’t agree on what to watch, after Eddie laughed so hard he got a throat infection. Funnily enough, it’s only ever Richie he hits, not his own damn knee. Maybe it’s the weed, but fuck Richie’s whole career if Eddie can’t get off good ones like a Tommy gun sometimes. “He’s a master of Voices, ladies and gents, he’s mastered the master!”

“That’s what you sound like,” Eddie wheezes, “you’re like Tigger if he was one of the fuckin’ Gremlins—”

“Well, you’re like Daffy Duck if he had a mouth like a gay fuckin’ sailor—”

“He already did, dumbass!”

“Stop it, my stomach hurts,” Richie gasps, and he grapples Eddie’s wriggling into submission until his yelping laughter dies down, catching a few elbows in the ribs for it. 

A good giggle-fit can leave the body just as boneless as a thorough lay, and they can be just as much fun as each other. Better when they’re combined, though. Richie counts himself the luckiest guy in the world that he and Eddie are fucking pros at combining. They’re slumped and sweating in the vapor-wet night air, one of Eddie’s scimitar ankles hooked over Richie’s. He feels exposed and yet, strangely private, like he’s sitting in a car with Eddie at a drive-in movie theater, and L.A. is the night’s entertainment. He never got to go on that particular date, back then, but somehow the regret doesn’t hurt quite so bad anymore, and maybe his mature adult experiment really is working, ‘cause it feels… good. Yeah, feels good to be kinder to little pizza-faced, donkey-voiced Richie for being scared, for not being ballsier in pursuing Eddie, because it wasn’t his fault.

Shadows hang all over the yard like dropped cloaks, and their neighbors’ party is still wafting around on a gossipy breeze with Oliver’s low baying, the smell of mint and peaches slicing fresh through fatty meat, the cacophonous spice of four million other people eating, and living. 

There are still oranges and gasoline tucked secret in the hollow behind Eddie’s ear. Like the beach. Like summer. Richie breathes him in with his nose and his mouth open.

“Fuck,” he murmurs. Eddie leans his head back heavy to Richie’s shoulder. “See, how could I not think you’re the coolest motherfucker on the planet when you can pull out a party trick like that. You always have been, Eds. I could never take my eyes off you, you were like… I told you about the cannonballs thing, right?”

Eddie’s hand tightens around his, abrupt like cramp. 

“...Yeah,” he says quietly, after a moment. “Yeah, you told me about that.”

Good. He deserves to know he’s not a total dweeb all the time, even if he does still wear fanny-packs.

Richie presses a kiss to his damp temple and they lie there for a while, watching the storm roll in. He’s gonna go numb under Eddie’s warm blanketing body, numb like he’s shot-through with Novocaine preparing him for an extraction of some kind, but he doesn’t even care. Eddie could pull his heart right out of his chest in the same way they killed the clown below Derry, and he’d give it, gladly. 

Who is he fooling. Eddie did that already, months and months and years ago, but it’s fine. Richie figures it’s safer with him anyway. 

It’s either because of the weed or that long, delirious make out session, but it feels like hours have passed since the sun set, and the sky has solidified into one dark mass. Electric eels of lightning twist through bushels of cloud far, fathoms out over the ocean, but Richie still can’t hear thunder. They’ve got a little time yet before the pressure snaps and crushes the city underneath its bulk, and then they can go inside and fuck. Or eat, or sleep, or even all three. They pay their taxes, they can do whatever the fuck they want.

Oliver keeps howling in conversational protest next door. 

“Poor buddy boy,” Eddie mutters. “He sounds hungry.”

“Yeah, they should give him a burger. That’s why he likes us better, Eds, we’d give him the burger.”

“You’d give him the fuckin’ burger,” Eddie snorts, giving him a lackluster elbowing. He should be more careful, all this abuse is gonna have Richie’s boner flaring up again and digging into his back. “I actually give a shit about his health.”

“I don’t think the dog understands the concept of good cop, bad cop, man,” Richie says, amused. “But it’s cute that you care.”

“Of course I care!” Eddie turns to look at him briefly, wide wounded eyes like Richie’s nuts to suggest otherwise, then down again at their joined hands. Richie lets himself be fiddled with. Maybe he oughta get Eddie one of those fidget toy things people give to their kids to keep them from screaming in the line at Target. “It’s been good — good practice. Looking after him together, I mean, we’re pretty good at it, even though you really have to stop encouraging him to chase ducks, Rich, someday we’re gonna get sued.”

“Sued by who,” Richie says, “the ducks?”

“The — I dunno, the parents of the next kid he takes out like a fucking linebacker?” 

Richie maintains there was equal blame to go around in that situation. “Kids gotta learn how to dodge sometime, babe.”

“Anyway,” Eddie says, very deliberately, like he doesn’t want Richie to notice he’s amused and take it for approval. “I like the routine of it, and finding new places to take him, and so I thought — I’ve kinda been thinking about it, and I think maybe — we should get one.”

Richie hooks his chin over Eddie’s shoulder, trying to catch his eye. “You wanna... get a dog?”

“Yeah. I mean, if you want to.” He can hear the smile creeping into Eddie’s voice, and it’s so sweetly infectious. Excitement fizzes to the surface in Richie’s belly like champagne bubbles. A dog. Their own dog, a little puppy, or maybe some raggedy old mutt with one eye and three legs from a shelter, but theirs — aw, fuck. Richie’s Instagram followers aren’t gonna know what’s hit ‘em. “What d’you think?”

As if he even needs to ask. “I think fuck yes we should get a dog, dude! You always have the best ideas, why didn’t I think of that!”

“Right?” Eddie twists back to grin at him, biting his lip. He’s squeezing their hands together so tight, Richie’s not sure who he’s trying to contain. “It can be friends with Oliver.”

“It’s gonna learn way more tricks than Oliver.”

“Gonna be better behaved too.”

“He behaves most of the time, Eds, he just knows how much you love yelling in parks. It’s his gift to you.” Richie slaps a drumroll against Eddie’s bare stomach, sticky like a sucked hard candy with the building threat of rain. “When can we get one? What should we name it — oh shit, what kind should we get?”

“Uh, I thought — we should wait ‘til after we visit the others at Christmas, obviously, but other than that, I dunno.” Eddie’s still grinning, eyes sparkling with more than just the pool’s mercury glow. Richie would adopt an entire pack of dogs if he knew it’d make Eddie this happy. “Something calm — and definitely not a fuckin’ Pomeranian, I can’t look at those things the same way after that shit last year.”

Richie shudders. “Ew, yeah. No. I’d never trust it not to kill us in our sleep. Can you imagine wakin’ up in the middle of the night to piss and it’s staring at you—”

“No Pomeranians,” Eddie says, firmly. He takes Richie’s hands again and stretches himself back out, bumping his head under Richie’s jaw.

The whole dome of the sky blares white. For a split second it’s daylight, and the city’s noise rises in defibrillated shock. Someone shrieks further down in the hills. Richie tightens all his limbs around Eddie, and thinks.

Impulsivity still isn’t Eddie’s forte. He has his moments, keeps on pulling the rug out from under Richie’s feet with certain shit, usually related to their sex life, but in the nuts and bolts of day to day routine, he’s a planner. It’s probably a good thing, given that he lives with Richie, but still — it means he doesn’t make decisions like this without chewing it over for a while. 

Dogs can live for a long ass time, Richie thinks, mind racing. This feels like another sign. Over a decade, some of ‘em. We’d be fifty. He wants to—

“Y’know, my mom always told me I was allergic to dogs,” Eddie says, and Richie startles back to the patio. The golden glow from the house feels like sanctuary when the sky is all threat, all black panther prowling and flashes of clawed heat lightning. Still no thunder.

“I remember,” Richie says. “Cats too, right?”

“Yeah. Everything.” There’s a bitterness in Eddie’s voice, and Richie hugs him tight, tangles fingers into the limp wave of Eddie’s hair to push it back from his forehead. “Dogs, cats, any — any fruit that wasn’t a fuckin’ apple — even when we went to Mike’s and I — I touched the lambs, the hay, and I was fine, but for some reason I still believed her, for so long. She was supposed to look after me. I never did anything to her but it’s like — it’s like she wanted to make it worse. I was always fine.”

Richie stays quiet, only rocks their bodies together slowly. 

Eddie doesn’t dredge these things up often, but there’s power cranking through the strange, wet air tonight, the kind that brings worms to the dirt’s surface and zaps at fingers on a glass globe and makes dogs howl, power gathered from circling the sun, from making it through one complete cycle around space without so much as a drop of fucking rain to cool the building heat, and the thing is — they know cycles, he and Eddie. It’s all one big loop. The horror cycled back around and brought them back together with it, because history repeats itself like weather in looping, nodding cycles, like turtles coming back to the very same beach they were born to lay their eggs, and start again. 

But even abusive cycles can break. Weather can break, like bones. The night is a glittering black lagoon already, wet like the pool with the storm’s arrival. Eddie rubs at the old break in his right arm which aches in the damp, sometimes, Richie knows, because it never healed quite right after Richie’s botched attempt at helping the hurt, scared boy he was so desperately in love with. 

Eddie carried it with him for all those cycling years, even after he forgot why his arm would ache in the rain. Richie broke himself into Eddie’s bones, the very fabric of his body, and maybe, he thinks, what we have together helped to break It’s cycle, because he broke himself deep into my own stupid, meaty heart, and it never quite healed right either.

“She was wrong,” Eddie says. “She was wrong about the dogs, and — and everything else, too. My running. You, the others, everything.”

His sharp jaw juts up at the black handprints of the palm trees against the flashing sky, the way it does when he’s made his decision, and won’t be budged. Richie mouths a kiss to his ear, the side of his neck, and wonders if Eddie can feel his pulse going double-time through his back.

“Nah, she was right about me, Eds. I did smoke, and I can’t speak for those other lame-os, but I definitely let rock’n’roll corrupt my brain. Y’might even say I welcomed it.”

“Your folks were Catholic, rebellion was gonna happen regardless,” Eddie scoffs, patting his leg. “Anyway. She was wrong, but none of this — we’re getting a dog, but it’s not because of some delayed teenage phase or anything, alright? I just wanna get a dog with you.”

With you.  

Richie buries his grin into Eddie’s shoulder, squeezes some of his happiness out and into Eddie’s body, squeezes until ribs knife into his forearms, because Eddie can take it. 

“I wanna get a dog with you, too. I can’t promise that it’s not a little about teenage rebellion though, I bugged my parents for a dog for years, but they made some pretty good arguments about what gruesome fate befell my, uh, goldfish.”

Eddie nods sagely, and daubs himself with a half-hearted cross. “Rest in peace, Flipper.”

“Aw, you remembered his name.” Richie bumps a messy kiss into Eddie’s hair. “So, dog first. Then, oh dude, we should get an arcade machine for the house while we’re on a roll, we’ve already got the cool cars. What’s left?”

Eddie grunts thoughtfully. “We could sneak outta the window at night and go to parties?”

“We could drive to some shitty hill and make out in the back seat?”

“Or we could save gas and just keep making out in our own house,” Eddie says, dryly, but Richie has given himself the greatest idea of all time, and flaps a hand to shush him.

“Eds, Eds shut up, I’ve got it! We should get a hammock.”

Eddie pauses in the midst of destroying a mosquito perched on Richie’s arm, cocking his head. “Huh. Actually — yeah, that’d be — why don’t we have one already? There’s a glittery unicycle and a fucking life sized Predator in that garage, but you don’t have a hammock?”

“I guess I needed you around to remind me how much fun they can be, Spaghetti Man,” Richie says into the sweating hollow of Eddie’s nape, druggy heat crawling through him at the thought of the kinda fun they could have in a hammock, one they don’t have to hide underground. There are two perfect fan palms curved together in a whalebone arch at the bottom of the yard, they’ll do nicely. “Whaddaya say? I wanna kiss you in one of those things, since I never got to. I wanna feel you up, live my wet dreams.”

Eddie snorts. “C’mon—”

“I did, I wanted to, so fuckin’ bad. You’d climb all over me with those legs, those fuckin’ shorts—”

Again, the whole roof of the world crystalizes for a heartbeat. Richie can smell burning. Everything is magnified, the thumping heat everywhere Eddie’s skin presses to his, wrapped in his arms, down the insides of his legs like he’s straddling a red-hot engine. The distant laughter next door, the migraine whine of the bug-zapper hung over the porch, all of it singes too-bright, leaves behind impressions like the neon ghosts that hang around a TV screen for a second after it’s turned off. 

Eddie breathes out slow when it passes. The downy hair all over both their bodies stands on end, and Richie smooths a finger through the plains of it, makes crop circles on Eddie’s shivering stomach.

“Again with the fuckin’ shorts,” Eddie mutters. “We were thirteen years old, how have you always been this much of a perv. Are you ever gonna get over them?”

He doesn’t sound too peeved about it. If Richie knows him at all — and he does, he does — he’d say Eddie sounds sly and pleased, and the back of his neck is flaming hot, like Richie’s touching his tongue to a lightbulb. “Nope. Never. I loved them. You’re solely to blame for my jock thing, buster. I wanted to wear your letterman jacket around high school.”

“I didn’t h-have a letterman jacket.”

“I know, but it’s the thought that counts. I wanted you to be my jock boyfriend.”

Eddie’s shifting back against him, his head hanging low. More room for Richie to bite soft rings into the xylophone peaks of his vertebrae. “I — I wanted that too, I would’ve liked that. I wanted to be on the baseball team. I wanted you so much.”

And maybe it’s because of the barely lingering whiff of the weed in his veins, or the way that kissing Eddie still turns him to drunken mush, or how it’s one of those dark and stormy once-upon-a-time nights in this city of dreams where it feels like if magic’s gonna happen anywhere, it’s gonna happen here, or maybe it’s because his mind is stalled on a loop of hearing get a dog with you in Eddie’s voice and on the various lengthy lifespans of dogs that aren’t Pomeranians, or how Richie only has good timing when he stalks across a stage and the lights are so bright he can’t see the insecure scrawl of himself in his mind’s eye any longer — it could be all of them at once, but the bare fact of it is that he’s not thinking about whatever’s spilling out of his dumbass mouth when he curves his hands around Eddie’s waist, and murmurs, “D’you wanna be my jock husband?”

Eddie goes very, very still.

It’s an avalanche, the immense crash of white across the sky. The first stampede of thunder is so loud it shakes the ground, shakes Richie’s teeth in his head like a jet engine, and Eddie has gone so statue-still that Richie can’t feel him breathing. 

His fingers are sunk deep into the meat of Richie’s thighs, digging bruises.

You can calculate how far away a storm is by counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, it’s easy. Distance equals the speed of the sound of a half-assed proposal, multiplied by the time it takes for the brain to register the instigating action, and its consequence. And the distance is tiny but growing larger, as Eddie leans slowly out and away from Richie’s arms. The skin of his back is soft. His muscles and the ridge of his spine are hard under Richie’s fingertips and then they’re gone as Eddie shuffles further down the chair, and the shock of his body heat leaving brings Richie two horrible realizations in quick succession. One; Eddie still hasn’t said anything. He’s not turning around. Two; Richie actually said that out loud, and he wasn’t even looking Eddie in the fucking eye for it.

He panics.

He lunges to grab Eddie’s retreating shoulder. “Eddie — Eddie no, please come back, just wait, I didn’t mean—”

Eddie whips around and he’s staring, wide eyes fever-black in the storm light. “You didn’t?”

“No, I—”

Hurt flashes across Eddie’s face like he’s been slapped. He jerks away from Richie’s hand, and it feels like taking a punch right through the stomach. 

Oh Christ, what the fuck is he saying?

“No, wait! I mean,” Richie sees his own hand still hovering stupidly and drops it to wring in his lap. “I mean, yes, or — no, fuck no, of course I meant it, Eds! I meant it, I just didn’t mean to say it like that, I was gonna — I swear was gonna ask you properly, with a speech and everything, it was supposed to be — way better — where are you going?”

Eddie staggers to his feet. “Okay,” he says. He’s still staring. He raises his hands in a halt. His mouth thins as he looks between Richie and the house. “Okay, just, it’s okay — I’m just gonna.” 

Richie scrambles up and off the chair, because Eddie’s backing towards the porch now, a black silhouette against the unreal blue of the pool. “Just let me explain, okay? We can start over — like, forget the last thirty seconds even happened and come back? Please?”

“There’s nothing to explain, it’s fine.” Eddie laughs, pitched strangely high. Richie can’t see his face, backlit by the house. “I just have to — do something.”

Thunder booms overhead. Richie’s head pounds with it, and his left hand aches from being crushed in his right. He feels slowed and desperate with confusion, like trying to figure out which homework assignment he’s forgotten in a school anxiety dream. “I’m sorry, okay? Should I just — wait here? What do you have to—”

The bang of the sliding door slamming open cuts him off, makes him jump, and then he’s alone in the yard. Richie stands there, tapping frantic nonsense rhythms against his thighs and trying to breathe normally. He wonders if Eddie still has any old inhalers lying around. He wonders if placebos still work if you know they’re bullshit, but then he remembers that of course they do, you just have to put enough effort into believing you’ll get the answer you were hoping for when you stuck your neck out on the line.

Well, he thinks, lotta ways that could’ve gone better.

He sits down. Then stands up again, pacing and combing his hands through his hair. It snags around his fingers and tugs, but it doesn’t feel the same as when Eddie does it, doesn’t yank heat up from his groin and through the trunk of his body like something hungry biting a baited line. It just hurts. He tugs until he has an excuse for his eyes leaking and sits down again, scrubbing rough and angry at his face. Why does he always have to cry. Why does he always have to screw up. 

Who the fuck spends weeks figuring out how to pop the question, only to take it back the second it takes a nosedive out their stupid, trashy mouth? Honestly, he feels a little angry with Eddie, too, because it’s not like he didn’t try to explain himself. He’s really been trying to communicate, especially when it comes to all of Eddie’s nutcase moments, but it’s not like there isn’t a precedent for a clusterfuck like this; Richie’s said some dumbass, clumsy stuff before. More often than not he chickens out, defaults on sentiment and makes it dirty, but Eddie never seemed to mind. He wrenches deliberately at his scalp again. Eddie never looked so genuinely hurt before though, either, and Richie’s the one responsible. He could kill himself for it.

He drops his face into his hands, groaning. 

Minor blip, he tries to tell himself. It’s okay, Eddie said, it’s fine. He probably just needed a stress-piss or something, he’ll be back any second and Richie can do a second take. They’ll laugh about it. The storm drags itself noisily across the sky. The music next door ebbs into another song and Richie’s mind churns like the propellor of a marooned boat, watching the bone-dry patio slab dotting with a few wet splashes in the space between his pale, bare feet. 

A minor blip who’s taking a long fucking time to do whatever it was he ran inside for.

He ran, but he also left the door open. Richie’s heart retches suddenly up into his throat, because maybe Eddie was expecting him to follow, to straighten this out, and he’s only fucking up worse by sitting out here on his ass feeling sorry for himself, but how the hell is he supposed to be any the wiser when all Eddie does is stare—

There’s a tremendous crash from somewhere deep in the house, yanking up Richie’s attention. 

The light in their bedroom is on, slanting through the shutters, spilling out in gold-bar chunks onto the bristly grass. A shadow streaks past and it dapples the yard, like the lightning, the fireflies stirred up in air that feels too thick to contain much longer underneath the lid of the sky. 

Yep, the sliding doors are still open. For a hysterical moment Richie worries what Eddie will say about letting the bugs inside, but they’re beckoning open and that’s the only reason he can hear it; Eddie’s muffled, spitfire cursing, coming closer.

Richie licks nervously at his top lip, tasting slimy salt. His tongue and his eyes feel swollen, hot and tender like an infected cut but there’s no time to fix it, because Eddie is tearing back through the mantle of bougainvillea, and he looks just as much of a disaster as Richie feels.

“Fuck, fuck, okay,” he’s jabbering. Even from here and without his glasses, Richie can see his eyes look wild. “Fuck, okay, oh God, okay—”

He spins around like he’s gonna run back to shut the door, halt the mosquito tide, but seems to change his mind in the middle and trips over himself in his rush to correct his momentum. Richie gawks at him, caught off guard by the sight of Eddie wearing — one of Richie’s shirts, abrasively bright with little flamingoes and flapping behind him like a cape as he hares around the pool. His bare soles slap a quick patter on the dusty stone as he runs.

This is fucking bizarre, even for him. 

Eddie usually makes a point of not running by the pool because he’s a fucking dweeb, who might’ve relaxed ever since he discovered there’s a whole lotta life hiding behind that which is risky, but still occasionally malfunctions whenever he reads one too many morbid listicles, or watches one too many episodes of America’s Home Videos. He’s a ridiculous, overdramatic, dweeby ass that Richie still longs to marry the shit out of because he is personally beyond help and never knows when to quit, but the sight of Eddie flouting his own rules and flying back towards him like a diving falcon will never not have his stomach launching itself into space.

“Eddie,” he tries, but his voice is hoarse in his screwed-tight throat. By the time he clears himself of pathetic mucus, Eddie has raced straight past him, to the far edge of the garden. “Eds? What the fuck are you—”

“Fuck, Richie wait, just wait, hold on, I’ll be — right with you!”

What the fuck is wrong with him? 

The night splits under a silvery axe of lightning, and Richie winces. It illuminates the dark cove of bushes at the bottom of the yard, where Eddie is hunched down and tugging at something. 

Richie grips the edge of the deck chair to stop his hands from shaking, closes his eyes against the thunder, and waits. 

Focus on the exact present moment, like in Eddie’s therapy worksheets. On how much of a giant fuck-up you are at this mature adult shit. Not sure if I need to pee or puke but either way, something’s gotta go, might not die from the heatwave now but there’s always a lightning strike, fingers crossed—

“Okay.”

Richie opens his eyes just in time to see Eddie emerge back into the nave of light from the house, and skid to a halt. 

“Okay,” Eddie says again. “I — uh.”

He’s holding a small bunch of lilies. Broad and glossy as something from a magazine, the big orange ones Eddie’s so proud of, tiger-striped with black. The ones he planted himself. Some are ripped at the stems, some dripping sap, some trailing roots and dirt.

“I’m — okay.” Eddie’s throat bobs violently under Richie’s staring. “Richie.”

His eyebrows draw together. His jaw sets strong like girders, like his whole face is screwing up courage.

And then he gets down on one knee.

“I — I brought you weeds,” Eddie says, staring back. 

Richie’s stupid, garish shirt hangs down below the hems of Eddie’s tiny shorts, and there’s a lump in the front breast pocket. The hard wooden edge of the chair aches into Richie’s palms as he looks between the drooping flowers and Eddie’s wobbly smile, and it’s a good thing Eddie knows CPR, because Richie is slipping into a slinky little number called cardiac arrest. 

“Richie? These are — for you, I — yeah. These are for you.”

They’re trembling in Eddie’s outstretched hands. Some of the dirt falls on Richie’s feet as he takes them, and clearly he’s caught Eddie’s non-existent allergies because the syrupy smell is stinging behind his eyeballs, making his voice thick. “These aren’t weeds, Eds.”

“Well, neither were the dandelions,” Eddie says, softly. “Not to me.”

Richie can’t — can’t stop himself shaking. He probably looks fucking wretched. This isn’t anything like how he pictured it might go, ideally he’d have liked there to be a little less snot on his face. This isn’t anything like in the movies, but then, nothing ever is.

He’s never seen anyone look at anyone else in a movie the way Eddie’s looking at him. The staring. Dark eyes boring into Richie’s like diamond drills, like he’s seeing something deep down and precious. 

He has seen it before, though not in a movie. He saw it when he gave Eddie a key to the house last Christmas, or when they were dancing in Georgia. Over an orange split for two.

“I can’t believe you,” Eddie mumbles, after a moment. His hands twist together like fighting animals. They’re grubby with soil. “I can’t believe you did it first, I wanted to do it first. You always have to fucking one-up me.”

Un-fucking-believable.

Except, it’s totally believable, of course it is. It’s him, and Richie snuffles a wet laugh, clutching the flowers close in his lap because it’s him, it’s him, and he’s down on one knee. “It’s not a c-competition, dumbass.”

“No, I guess not,” Eddie says, grinning quick. “But if you don’t cry I’m gonna be really offended.” 

Richie turtles his chin down into his chest, embarrassed to feel his face crumpling again. It’s already too much. “Little late for that.”

“For — oh, you’re already — oh shit.” He hears Eddie shuffle closer, feels the tentative press of knuckles to his knee. “Rich?”

“I thought — when I fucked up, and you looked at me like that again, like — you keep on looking at me like I shot you or ate your last gross frozen soy yogurt or something, and then you just fuckin’ — took off, I thought—”

“Hey, hey, no,” Eddie says, pulling gently at his wrist so Richie uncovers his eyes. He wishes he hadn’t, when he sees Eddie looking so stricken. “Aw jeeze, Richie, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, that’s not what — I didn’t mean to — fuck!”

Richie blinks, startled by his outburst. “Uh.”

“I just — I knew I’d mess this up, I did exactly what I’ve been trying not to,” Eddie groans, dragging his hands down his face until he looks like he’s melting. He leaves a smudge of dirt behind, and helpless affection is yanking at Richie’s heartstrings so hard his chest actually hurts. “I’ve been messing up for weeks, you’ve been saying all this shit and I just kept running away like a fucking moron.”

“Saying what shit?”

“All the — all your Hallmark shit!” Eddie grabs at Richie’s knees looking crazy-eyed, and oh, now Richie is lost in the fucking weeds of this conversation. Trust Eddie to treat proposing like a game of goddamn Battleship.

Because that’s what this is, he reminds himself, with a giddy lurch in his gut like taking an extra invisible step up a staircase. A proposal. 

Eddie fucking Kaspbrak is down on one knee for a reason, even if it seems like he needs to get something off his chest first, bare and swimming in Richie’s shirt.

Richie leans down for his glasses, careful not to mangle the flowers any further. He might be able to follow Eddie’s kangaroo logic a little better if he can actually see. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“All your — don’t you remember?” Eddie leans forward, a pleading twinge in his voice. “That time at the mall, the Grove, you said — you said that you’d been holding back on saying how — how you felt, because I’d kick you outta the house for sounding like a Hallmark card. Hearts and—”

“—roses,” Richie finishes, staring down at him. He’d forgotten. He tries not to dwell on their squabbles. “All damn day. You’d dunk me in the pool, you said. Cool me off.”

Water slops a quiet tide against the tiled edge of the pool. It’s weirdly loud in Richie’s ears, drowns out the cicada sound system and the chaos of a city that doesn’t know how to act in a storm, until all he can hear is water and the linen rush of Eddie’s breathing, like rubbing his ear against the canvas of a hammock. They could be back and alone in the quarry, except that there’s finally no more running from this.

“Yeah,” Eddie murmurs. “Yeah. Misjudged that one pretty hard. I thought I knew what that meant, Hallmark card shit. I thought I had you all figured out, Rich, I thought — when we were kids, all I wanted was to be able to figure you out, to make some fuckin’ sense of your weirdo jokes, or of how I felt, or how — how you felt. And I thought I understood! I thought that watching your special and going to a therapist with real plants in her office meant I’d have a single fuckin’ clue about anything that’s happening here, but then you said all that stuff in the car after my race, and before your SNL show, and—”

“Wait,” Richie says, holding up a hand, because Eddie’s going flushed, twitchy, working himself up, and he’s already balancing on just the one knee so if he starts with the nervy jiggling he’s gonna fall over. “Wait. Are you saying — is this why you’ve been acting so fucking weird?”

“Yes, and I’m so sorry, but I — I didn’t know what the hell to say, or how to react once I realized—”

“You’ve been going all cuckoo clock on me because I said nice stuff to you?”

“No! Well, yeah, but — it — it wasn’t just that,” Eddie stammers. 

One half of his poor, fraught face is glimmering glacial with the pool, the other’s pink, warm when Richie touches gently with the back of his hand, concerned despite his own disbelief. Eddie’s shifting around. His Achilles’ strings taut like a crossbow, and — fuck, it’s rock hard paving stones down there, and Eddie’s whippet-lean legs have no padding.

“Here, hold on, do you wanna,” Richie says, grabbing for their discarded shirts and trying to nudge them under Eddie’s knee. “You can sit up here, Eds, or we can talk inside, you don’t have to — you don’t have to kneel—”

“Yes I do,” Eddie snaps. 

Richie sits back, eyeing him warily.

Boulders of thunder roll above their heads. They look at each other until the noise passes, and Eddie huffs a small sigh, resting his hand on Richie’s leg, rubbing slow circles into his skin.

The air is slowing to a vacuum between thunderclaps, and Richie’s blood hums in his ears. Feels like standing underneath electricity wires on an empty Maine road, staring at something you can’t un-carve, and don’t want to. 

The eye, a calm voice moves in Richie’s head. It’s not a Voice, because none of them would know calm if it bit ‘em in the collective ass, but if there were any fewer than twenty-eight years blocking his memory, he might swear it sounds just like Stan Uris. You’re in the eye of the storm, Richie. 

Whole sky’s watching. 

Pay attention.

“Yes, I do,” Eddie says again, softer, gesturing down at the shirts cushioning his knee. “I’m fucking kneeling, and I’m saying what I have to say, because it’s shit like that, Richie. It’s not just because you said nice stuff, okay? It’s — after the marathon, I realized you’ve been saying those things all along, you’ve been running your mouth about how you really felt this whole time, and I’ve been taking it for granted. Again. You — this whole time, you’ve been showing me — when I freaked out about you seeing me naked the first time, about jizzing in front of you, what you said on Conan, and after Conan, and — that was before we even kissed, Rich! And d’you remember what you said?”

Eddie’s wide-eyed and plaintive, and Richie wracks his brain as hard as he can. Whatever they talked about that night was kinda overshadowed by the fact that he finally got to kiss the love of his life, but he tries to remember. Anything to keep Eddie opening up like this. 

“I… think I said I wouldn’t care if you blue-balled me to death?”

Eddie tips his face up to the hulking sky for a second, then he’s back with a shaky grin.

“No. I’m the asshole who panicked and made a joke about blue balls, because you said — Richie, you said you’d waited your whole life for me, and that you’d be happy to just keep on waiting. You’d think I’d have figured that out when you showed me our names on the Kissing Bridge last year, but I just — just kept avoiding the truth, like always. Like with my allergies. I might’ve never pulled my head out of my ass, but you were still gonna — you — when’d you get to be so fuckin’ patient, huh? This is the same dunce who’d kick the gumball machine if it didn’t spit the — the candy out f-fast enough,” Eddie says, stumbling over his words like they’re choking him. 

He coughs down at the ground, and then he’s grasping knots in the ridden-up legs of Richie’s shorts.

Richie stares at his bowed head, feels quick breaths on his thigh. No wonder Eddie’s been acting so screwy, all this stuff fermenting inside of him for weeks, maybe months. Suddenly the headlit-rabbit staring is making a whole lot more sense, but Richie hadn’t even realized he’d been — he’d only ever been telling the truth. He can’t lie to Eddie about how he feels, that was the whole goddamn point of limping to the Kissing Bridge the morning after Neibolt in the first place, his greasy diner breakfast winching further up into his gullet with every step closer to the initials, to the possibility of Eddie punching him in the face and heading for the hills.

He sets the sticky bundle of flowers aside to pet at Eddie’s tense shoulders, bewildered. “How could I not wait for you, man, long as you needed? We’re a team. Was I not supposed to?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Eddie croaks, looking up, and — to Richie’s shock, his eyes are brimming with tears. 

Eddie doesn’t cry. 

Eddie spent years strangling down the source of whatever it was that made Bowers and his gang jeer him a mama’s boy, a pansy-ass, a thousand other uglier, more lethal names for boys who dare to be gentle. Eddie doesn’t cry.

The last time Richie saw Eddie cry, they were eighteen and hugging under the creaky sold sign in Eddie’s patchy front yard, before Eddie slumped into the car with his mother and followed the moving company to Portland. Richie and Bill had waved until the car was a speck, and then Richie got so drunk in the Denbrough basement that he lost the scrap of paper with an address in his heartbroken, hungover rush to catch the Greyhound to Chicago in the morning.

Even then, Eddie’s eyes were just a little damp. Not like this. This is the full waterworks, streaking through the dirt on his face from the flowerbeds and curving into his emerging dimples.

“Eddie?”

Richie knuckles a fat tear from the edge of Eddie’s scar, his stomach jumping with nerves. 

“You’re so — Rich, listen to me,” Eddie says, roughly. “You are so fucking good.”

He keeps dropping his smile and catching it again in hitching breaths, and Richie stares, dumbstruck, as Eddie scrubs at his face with the hem of the too-big flamingo shirt. He kneads at Richie’s thighs, sounding strangled. “You’re so good, and you don’t see it. It kills me, the stuff you say when you’re having your nightmares. I know there was — the clown, and then all these people, all these fucking assholes who wouldn’t let you love them for whatever stupid reasons, and it made you think you have to be on all the time or people will ditch you for just being yourself, that I won’t love you if you’re not — not constantly busting your balls to impress me or please me or spending months waiting, like what you want doesn’t matter! Like you don’t matter! Like I’m not in love with you for the way you sing all the time even though you can’t sing, or how every time I turn around when we’re out somewhere you’re making friends with every service worker in the place, or your cute fuckin’ face or how you never go easy on me at ping-pong, and — Jesus, a million other things! And then you — you say all this beautiful stuff, and I can’t compete with that, Richie, I’m not romantic, I took you to fuckin’ Olive Garden on the fifteenth because I was still too chicken to make reservations for Valentine’s! You showed me the bridge and it still took me a year — no, thirty years, it took me thirty years to tell you I love you and that’s bullshit, it’s not fair, it’s—”

“Eds,” Richie laughs, helpless. “Eds, baby, take a breath.”

“You take a breath, I’m trying to propose,” Eddie shoots back, through his watery grin. 

His eyes gleam scarab-dark in the next camera flash of lightning, a picture Richie doesn’t need to take because he’ll remember this for the rest of his life, which is roughly how long it’ll take him to process everything Eddie just said. 

You’re so good.

He’s heard those words before, but at the time he’d thought Eddie was only referring to his kind and generous nature in the sack, his sex martyr thing, as Eddie calls it. Why would it extend to the rest of him? He feels like a con on the run, or a jester dancing to save his own neck from the axe more than he ever feels good for good’s sake. When you’ve felt like an asshole for all of your life, and suddenly all that you wanted falls into your lap, moves into your house, can you really be blamed for ripping out chunks of yourself, day after day, in the desperate hopes of keeping those bastard, cosmic scales tipped in your favor for just one more night?

You’re so fucking good.

He rubs up Eddie’s arms, under the flapping sleeves of the shirt. Tears boil thick in his sinuses, behind his eyes, and for maybe the first time ever he lets them come freely, without feeling ashamed of it. 

“Keep — keep proposing, then,” he says. 

He wants to give his fucking answer already, but once Eddie gets to ranting, Richie has to let him run his course like a wind-up toy. He knows that. He knows it in the same way that Eddie has spent a year staring down into the very bottom of his well, and still sees something worth bringing weeds to.

Richie hiccups noisily, wipes at his face. It feels tarry with sweat. “But you gotta s-stop crying, I can cry enough for both of us. I got more experience in the ancient discipline of ugly blubbering, Eds, this is a fuckin’ mess. What if you dehydrate?”

“I don’t care if I dehydrate. You cry all the fuckin’ time, it’s my turn. I’ll get better at it than you.” Eddie’s so blotchy with color it looks like he’s been running, stained all down his chest. He pushes his disastrous hair back from his forehead and takes Richie’s hands. “It actually feels pretty good. It’s long overdue, Julia keeps telling me I should try it, but I guess I was worried it would be like… like showing a symptom.”

Julia is the one with the real plants in her office, and it seems to Richie like she’s pretty full of good ideas. “A symptom of what?”

Eddie chews his lip, sighing down into the dark yard. Another tear wells in the corner of his eye and spills its silvery course between freckles, around his nose, dripping hot onto Richie’s leg like wax. Eddie doesn’t even seem to notice. It’s all leaking out of him at once, all of it, and Richie’s bursting with love for him, heart too big and straining through the gaps in his ribs, because Eddie repressed far too much for far too long, so why shouldn’t he cry?

“Y’know, that first time I came out here to see you, I puked on the airplane,” Eddie says. He sniffs. “While we were still in taxi at JFK. Hadn’t even left the ground yet and I ralphed. Did you know that?”

That’s one way to propose to a guy. Richie snorts, pushing shaky fingers through Eddie’s hair, lank now with how much they’ve both been messing with it. When Eddie said he wasn’t romantic he probably meant in the traditional sense, and he was right, but Richie doesn’t need traditional when he’s got dirty flowers and stories about vomit. That evening at Olive Garden was the best Valentine’s of his life.

“No, I didn’t. How the hell would I know that? You came outta the arrivals and hugged me, and you looked so good I thought I was gonna puke.”

“I did not, my face was still ripped up.” Eddie squeezes their hands, crooking a smile.

Richie shakes his head. “How many times do I have to tell you? The scar’s hot, you’re like a bandit. But nah, I had no idea, we just came home and we… we got pizza, and I showed you around, and—”

“And we played ping-pong, yeah. You hit me right in the face,” Eddie grins. “That was the first time I’d played ping-pong in years. That was the first fun night I’d had in years, since high school, probably. How pathetic is that? But I felt fine by then. I felt great, I was — I was so excited. To see you again, I mean. I puked on the plane because Myra texted to — to remind me again about not breaking the stitches, and I knew I’d have to come back to New York and face her eventually. I only had a few weeks to figure shit out, but the closer I got to L.A., the better I felt. I get why you moved here, Rich, it’s… it’s so far from Derry.”

So Eddie feels it too, the relief of three thousand miles’ distance. He’s wiping his face on his shoulder like he doesn’t want to stop stroking Richie’s knuckles long enough to let go, and Richie has no idea what this all has to do with proposing, but it must be important. 

Palm leaves rustle above them like shuffling cards. The wind’s finally rising again, blowing the fireflies and mosquitos towards the open sliding door through the heavy air. Richie realizes he has no idea of the time; could be ten, could be three in the morning — it feels bizarre that their neighbors can still be partying, oblivious, when Richie’s whole world is realigning on its axis. He watches Eddie take a deep breath, and listens.

“When we were kids, I thought I was sick,” Eddie says. He’s staring Richie straight in the eye, and there’s nothing nerve-wracking about it now. He’s so bloodshot and beautiful, backlit by the house. “I thought there was something so wrong with me for the things I felt about you, Rich, and the fucking clown knew it. We were living through the AIDS epidemic for Chrissakes, and I was convinced I’d got it somehow, because — because you always made me feel weird and good and I didn’t feel good most of the time, so when I did, it freaked me out. I was so scared of… infecting you, I guess, so I overcompensated. I didn’t want any of you guys to find out, and stop being my friends. Then I got older, and I think — I thought that if there was all this other stuff wrong with me that I could control with phony pills or a stupid, useless inhaler, or by being a selfish fuck and marrying a woman who didn’t deserve being used like that, I could pretend I wasn’t so — so rotten inside. But it never worked.”

Richie knows all this. Eddie’s never said as much in so many words, but he knows it and he hates it. 

“Eddie—”

“No — no, just lemme speak, I need to get this through your thick head. You deserve that much.” 

Eddie’s voice shakes, his hands shake, but he keeps on steadily staring. 

“I felt like that, and then I saw you again. You and all the others, in the restaurant, and I started to remember what it was like to feel good. And then when that thing had a hold of you, I knew — I was so scared, you were fucking floating, Rich — but I just knew I could beat it. I felt so strong. I felt my arm… it was like my arm came off too, I threw it so hard. Like how I can’t feel my legs sometimes, when I run. For the first time in twenty-seven goddamn years I didn’t feel like a pathetic fake, and I know I told you I came out here to look after you, and ‘cause I still wanted you, and that’s true, but it’s not the whole thing.”

Richie’s throat is so tight. Heart buzzing at a frequency only dogs can hear, and maybe that’s why poor Oliver barks so much, Richie’s been tearing his eardrums out ever since Eddie moved in. He has no idea what Neibolt has to do with Eddie moving in, but that’s on him, too busy basking all summer long like a cream-guzzling cat to ruin it by dragging any of those slimy memories into the house like dead mice and dumping them in Eddie’s lap. Talk about things being long overdue. 

Richie fiddles nervously with Eddie’s hands. “What’s the whole thing?”

Eddie swallows a few times, so loud it sounds like stones dropped in water. “I — I came out here, because I wanted to see if I could keep feeling that way, or if I needed to be fighting a fucking alien to feel strong and — and weird, and good again. Because I didn’t wanna spend the next thirty years still pretending like I wasn’t dying inside. But I was right. Turns out it was never because of the stupid clown. And it’s not because of L.A., either.”

Eddie stops. Fresh tears whittle down his face, and he’s hoarse when he speaks again. “You — Richie, you saved my life.”

Right. It’s always gonna come back to that. 

Richie smiles, weakly. “Course I did, Eds, I owed you one after the whole...”

He mimes a javelin, but Eddie’s grabbing at his arm, looking anguished.

“No, no. I don’t mean in Derry.”

They stare at one another. Richie opens his mouth, and closes it again. His chest hurts.

Oh.

“You see what I mean when I say you don’t get it, you don’t see it?” Eddie’s flushed in the oily wash of Los Angeles night, tugging at Richie’s hands like he wants to show him, pull him to stand where he’s standing and squint just right, like parsing out a Magic Eye puzzle. “You think I ever swam in the ocean, or — or climbed a fuckin’ mountain before you? Ate Thai food? You think anyone else has encouraged me to get a tattoo, ‘stead of saying I’d regret it? You think anyone has ever made me as happy as you do, you moron?”

You see? Comes the Stan-Voice again, but it probably isn’t Stanley. It’s just that he was always the most mature adult Richie knew, even as a kid, and so that’s what it sounds like. 

You did it. You’ve worked so hard at this, to be there for him. 

I haven’t fucked anything up.

Richie thinks about what Eddie seems to be saying in his earnest, pleading way, and it burns, it ignites something low down and viscera-dark where all his self-doubts have ever festered and gathered like swarms of fat black flies and it burns them all dead, because Eddie saved his life, no doubt about it, so Richie knows the kind of person it takes to do something like that. 

He’s starting to see it. He’s farsighted, not blind.

But, still — credit where credit’s fucking due. Richie might be a kickass roadie, but he couldn’t run the whole marathon for him.

“You saved yourself, Eds,” he insists. “I just helped.”

Eddie makes a noise like a sob, but he’s beaming. He reaches into the bulging front pocket of the shirt. “Well — then isn’t helping just as good?”

And, yeah. He has a point. Making it easier for one another, that’s all it ever boils down to, in the end. Knowing when to shield from the white glass sun, and when to fan the flames.

Richie beams back.

“Six of one, babe,” he murmurs, palming Eddie’s cheek to feel that smile. 

“Yeah. I knew you’d get it eventually,” Eddie replies. “We’re a team, like you said. Y’know you’re pretty smart, for a dumbass.”

He clears his throat, gathers his shoulders and his back straight, putting all that good runner’s posture to work as the flamingo shirt flaps in the steaming wind. 

He’s fumbling with a small black box. Richie can’t breathe properly. 

Eddie looks up at him, all teary-eyed and flexing jaw. “You’re a good person, and if it’d help you to see that, then I want you — I want you to know that you have me. You’ll always have me, Richie, I’m not going anywhere. Would that help?”

He’s gnawing at the inside of his mouth, like he has any possible reason to be nervous. Like it’s middle school on Halloween, when Richie could only dream of having him for the length of one single, secret song.

“Yeah,” Richie croaks. His pulse beats a bruise inside his neck. “Yeah, it’d help.”

“Thank fuck,” Eddie says, fiercely. His grin flashes white on sunny gold, like the ring he’s holding. “Alright. Then, Rich — baby, will you please marry me?”

There were never gonna be any doves or choirs of angels trumpeting their heavenly hearts out, Richie sees that now. Sometimes the movie shit’s best left behind, in the dark and on the flat and untouchable screen, because he’d much rather have this; a cluster of quiet, throaty words, that no one can hear besides them and the black anvil of the stormclouds, forging something new in sparks of lightning. 

He has the real thing. Still with dirt on his face, and all the better for it.

Richie clings to his knees. He didn’t practice for it to happen this way around, and now the heat in his face is frying his words to a crisp as he nods, and nods, eyes swimming. “Yes. Yeah, just — yes please.”

Eddie pushes closer, half in Richie’s lap. His tongue pokes between his teeth. “No problemo?”

Is he—?

Heckled by his toughest crowd in the middle of getting engaged, that’s either a new low or primo joke fodder for the climax of his next special. So this is how marriage is gonna be — Eddie still gently bullshitting him when he’s at his most fragile.

He can’t wait.

“You must really love my dick, babe, ‘cus you never hop off it,” Richie sighs. “Yes. I’ll marry the shit out of you. No problemo, Eduardo my man, I’m gonna marry you so hard you’ll wake up with just married imprinted on your ass like Braille, so I can still read it when I’m like, fully blind. I’ll marry you so good they’ll rename it, people will get Dick Toziered to each other. They’ll be like oh, did you hear, Karen from work got Dick Toziered and now she’s quitting to keep bees in Arcata with some juggler named Phillipe—”

“There you are,” Eddie snickers, catching hold of Richie’s gesticulating hand. “Had me worried for a sec.”

“Don’t try to pin this on me, man. You called me baby.” Richie’s still feeling woozy about it. He sinks forward to press his forehead to Eddie’s, grounding the storm-static flicking between their skin. “You called me baby.”

“Fuck yeah, I did.”

“Must be a special occasion.”

“It’d be a lot more special if you’d let me give you your fuckin’ ring,” Eddie huffs, but it’s a joyful, weightless noise, and Richie’s so close he can see every one of the happy crinkles scrunching around his nose. “Baby.”

God, he’s getting all swollen and weepy again, blinking drips onto the knobbly reef of Eddie’s bent knee. Hearing it turns him to putty, turns his head to a heat-hazed shimmering funk, like the acid-washed day he sat on a bench and cried in Bassey Park, because he loved another boy and thought he’d die before he ever wound up somewhere like this, held close in the dark and loved back.

He might still die from it. Here lies Richard Wentworth Tozier, cut down by a pet name on the night of his engagement, may he rest in everlasting bliss. He wasn’t that much of an asshole after all.

Eddie clicks his tongue softly, stroking his hair back at the graying temples. “Oh Rich, baby. My big crybaby. Hold still for a second, okay? Give — gimme your hand.”

Richie looks down between them at the ring, and cries a little harder. 

There’s a simple engraving on the inside of the band. He wheezes out a withered little noise. The letters were as faded as their blood-oath scars the last time Richie saw them, but gold is more permanent than wood, than the grain of an old Maine bridge, worn soft by generations of young and hopeful fingers.

“Jesus Christ, Eds,” he mumbles. “And you think you’re not romantic.”

“Do — d’you like it?” 

Eddie actually sounds uncertain, like he hasn’t just put himself in the top spot for fiancée of the year. Of the fuckin’ century. Is that a thing? Are there magazines specifically for fiancées? Richie better find out, considering that he both is and has one now, and soon he’ll have a husband, but then Eddie’s sliding the ring onto his finger, and Richie has to haul him up into his lap to kiss him ‘til they’re both grinning again.

“Guessing that’s another yes,” Eddie says, winding his arms around Richie’s neck to kiss him back, as the deck chair creaks alarmingly.

Richie moves his flowers carefully out from the path of Eddie’s knee. 

“Are you kidding? I’m never taking it off, I’m deadly fuckin’ serious. In fact, I’m never even using this hand again, just in case I do something dumb and wind up losing it.” 

He holds up his hand. It feels heavy with implication, and he wonders if the full-body elevator swoon of his insides will ever wear off at the sight, his left hand collared and marked forever. It glints like a coin in a fountain with the house’s light, and Eddie practically came in his shorts earlier about Richie’s hands so he’s really not surprised it fits perfectly. 

Richie wouldn’t put it past him to bust the tape-measure out in the middle of the night, like some kind of accuracy-oriented pervert.

“Really. You’re gonna drive one-handed.” Eddie toys with the scrolls of hair at his nape, but he’s not even looking at the ring. 

“Yep. I’ll make you do everything for me that my left hand does. I’m declaring this a three-handed household.”

“I’m not scratching your bare ass in the morning while you drink your coffee, if that’s what you mean.”

“Don’t worry about it, loverboy,” Richie says, grinning harder when Eddie only melts against him. “With your ring, we’ll be down to two hands. Then we can scratch each other’s asses.”

Eddie rears back from where he’d been sucking a limpet circle into Richie’s neck, his eyes gone huge. “My ring? You — what ring?”

Ah, shit. That’s right.

Richie claps his hands to Eddie’s ass and dumps him bodily onto the other chair. “I’ll be right back.”

“What—? Richie! Richie, what ring!?”

“Try having a little patience, young grasshopper, it worked for me!” Richie calls back over his shoulder, and the only other time he’s booked it this fast was when the sewer was collapsing around them, because he was running for his life then too.

He doesn’t even stop to fix the lamp Eddie must’ve knocked over in his own rush, but Eddie’s up and standing silhouetted by the pool when he sprints back outside, looking straight up at the storm, and this is it. Richie’s finally found his moment. 

Sure, he knows he could’ve done it anywhere and Eddie woulda said yes, because Eddie likes his singing so he really must be a goner, but he’s wrapped in lines of turquoise and lightning and Richie’s billowing shirt, and if Richie had to wait for the most perfect moment he’d never be able to choose just one.

“I’m back, I’m back,” he pants. “Didja miss me?” He wiggles his eyebrows at Eddie, crowding up to smack him lightly on the ass. “My betrothed?”

Goddamn, that feels nice in his mouth.

Eddie just glares. “Fucker, don’t try to — when were you gonna spring this one on me? How did you manage to get a ring and not immediately blab about it online, what were you waiting for?”

“I just — wanted it to be perfect,” Richie mumbles, a little embarrassed now in hindsight about all his agonizing, but it eases when Eddie’s huffy scowl transforms into something impossibly soft. 

“Of course you did.” Eddie’s hand flattens to the middle of his chest, where Richie’s heart is racing. “Well, congratulations, I’m surprised.”

“Score,” Richie says. Eddie rolls his eyes, but Richie’s gonna pop the question any second, so it’s okay that his knees go weak. Makes the descent that much easier. “I’m gonna propose to you now.”

Eddie smiles, goofy and breathtakingly big. “Okay.”

The box is a hard velvet stone in Richie’s sweating, twisting hands, and he shoulda known he’d forget his lines. Eddie’s always so much better at planning than him. He swallows, his breath jittering against the wall of his chest like a woodpecker, and—

“While we’re still at least kinda young, Rich,” Eddie says dryly, patting him a few times on the chest, and Richie loves the impatient little shit so much he gives up, and sinks down on one knee.

Then stands up again.

“Which leg is it?”

Eddie squints at him. “Pardon?”

Richie’s panicking again, fruitlessly trying to remember what Eddie had done, but he was too busy trying not to keel over and die to pay attention. “Which leg is it Eds, is it different if you’re proposing to another dude? I don’t wanna fuck it up and jinx — stop laughing!”

“You’re such an idiot,” Eddie cackles, creased up and clinging to Richie’s arms, shoving him back down again. “Why the hell would it matter which leg, would you just fuckin’ ask me already—”

“You’ve done it twice now, fucknuts, ‘scuse me for thinking you mighta had some expertise on the subject,” Richie says, grinning helplessly up at Eddie’s raucous giggling. Plus, like — there’s just something magical about being down on his knees and level with Eddie’s faded shorts, his eyes full of centerfold tan lines and dark, wispy hair. It’s Pavlovian. “But alright. I — I think I had a speech, but you made me forget it. No way I can follow all that bananas shit you said either, are you kidding me? Be like trying to close for Led Zep with a ukulele. You gotta give yourself more credit, babe, I’m still swooning.”

“I dunno, I thought do you wanna be my jock husband was pretty good.”

Eddie has settled down again, and it’s quiet, in the way that it can never really be quiet in Beverly Hills, in the ionised heat of an imminent storm, but Richie doesn’t miss the padded-coffin silence of small-town Maine. He’s prickling damp with sweat, and so is Eddie, he can see it like smears of clear varnish on the flat of his belly, feels it on the palm he rests against Richie’s forehead to hold him gently by the hair. He can do this.

“Y’see,” he says. Here he fuckin’ goes, floodlights please, this man is flying without a parachute. “That’s the thing, I don’t need you to be romantic. You’re my best friend, man, and I’ve been in love with you my whole life, I think, and it’s never gonna stop. So I don’t need you to be anything you’re not, Eds, I just — I just need you.”

His face burns. It’s a hazard of all this final gut-spilling, there’s blood all over, glowing in Eddie’s pinked-up ears. He’s cradling Richie’s head in both hands, now. 

“Hallmark shit,” he murmurs.

“Yeah,” Richie says. “Sorry. Eddie, d’you wanna marry me back? I’ll make it real good for you, sweetheart, promise.”

Eddie’s already pulling him up again when he whispers, “Yessir,” and Richie tosses the box aside to blindly grab for Eddie’s left hand. Then he’s surging to kiss him so hard Eddie stumbles, but Richie’s there to catch him, and the cool press of metal against his cheek rakes a low noise out from the depths of himself. It aches, oh God, it aches like he imagines being born must.

“Fuck,” he gasps, because Eddie’s mouth is warm and demanding, and he’s squirming when Richie pushes under the flamingo wings of the shirt to hug him breathless. Why the fuck is he even wearing one of Richie’s shirts anyway, it’s still humid as Georgia out here. “Eddie…”

“I know,” Eddie says, hugging him back. “You okay, big guy?”

He is, and he’s not, and he can’t make sense of it, but he figures he will at some point. It’s all one big mess of balmy relief and thunderous comprehension of what just happened, like an astronaut reaching the moon and knowing he’s still gotta get back down. He’ll figure it out, maybe after the storm passes. It’s fine. 

“Yeah,” he says, pulling away just a little to catch a glimpse of Eddie’s dimples. It’s so dark in the jungle shadows of their storm-tossed yard, he can’t see them, so he yanks Eddie over into the light. “Yeah, just — thank you.”

“For saying yes?” Eddie’s grin seems stamped on his face, and that’s the really telling part. He’s usually so quick to fidget into his next dozen moods, it makes these helpless, cheesy things all the sweeter. 

Richie could joke. But he remembers what he never said in Atlanta, and Eddie said yes just like Ben told him would happen, so he decides right there and then to start saying exactly what he wants to. “For everything.”

“I really will start dunking you in the pool if you’re gonna be like this,” Eddie says, so softly. He’s not even pretending to frown. The gaps between thunderclaps are compressing, the garden’s strobing like a rave, and Eddie leans up to kiss him again. “But you’re welcome, I guess.”

Richie can’t stop looking at Eddie’s hand. He’s still half-thinking about that night at the golf course, and how everyone should get engaged all the time if it feels this great. He should mount some social media campaign of harassment against Beverly, force her to make an honest man out of Haystack already. Poor guy’s gonna explode. Richie might be obnoxiously and visibly in love online, but he’s small potatoes compared to the stunts Ben manages to pull, like some quiet, more humble version of Jesus. Like, sure, Richie would take Eddie on romantic whale-spotting rides in his own helicopter if he had one, but he doesn’t, so Eddie will just have to keep on contenting himself with being tagged in all the pictures Richie takes of random dogs and signs about pasta.

“Eds,” Richie says, grabbing at Eddie’s ass. His first fiancée ass-squeeze, fuck, this is the best. “We have to call the others. Like, tonight, I can’t wait. I wanna see Bill cry.”

“It’s like, two in the morning over there, no,” Eddie says, but Richie’s already moved on, clapping his hand over Eddie’s mouth and waving the other up in the air.

“Dibs on Mike as my best man! I said it, I got first dibs! Dibs on Bill, and Ben too, actually, and Bev — wait, can you have a best woman?”

Richie stops to think. Can there be a maid of honor if there’s no maid? Eddie bites his hand and shoves it away. 

“You can’t dibs all of them, what the fuck! Anyway, Bev made me promise she could walk me down the aisle,” Eddie huffs.

Wait, what?

Richie peers at him, because it sounds like he just said—

“Bev knows?”

Eddie freezes, hands tensing on Richie’s hips. Sheepish color spills across his face as he coughs a small laugh. “Uh. Yeah. I kinda… asked her advice about ring designers. Guess I’m not very subtle.”

That’s being generous. Eddie is many things — bullheaded, good with maps — but Richie knows better than to expect subtlety from the man who shouted let’s take our shirts off and kiss, their first night back together, like Richie was supposed to do anything other than whisk him away to California in response.

“Wait,” Richie says, “Eds. How long have you been planning this?”

Eddie sighs like Richie’s asking to pull his teeth out. He rubs at his forehead. “Uh. Well, the ring is new, but I — I’ve been thinking about it since the Fourth of July, alright? Jeeze.”

Fucking—

“July?!” Richie bursts out laughing, because God, and Eddie was carping at him for sitting on his hands. “Independence Day, are you shitting me? Eddie, we hadn’t even fucked yet!”

“Is that all you think about?!”

Eddie’s all flushed and scowly at his snorting peals of laughter, hands planted on his hips. His ring shines again and again in the lightning, and Richie is still gonna love his occasional dumbass hypocrisy ‘til death do they part. 

“I know we hadn’t fucked yet, you think I don’t know that?” Then, with a crack that echoes around the whole yard, Eddie smacks him hard on his giggling ass, and Richie’s little gasping silence must be exactly what he wanted, ‘cus he looks pleased with himself and snuggles back in for a hug. “It’s not like I figured it out right there on the spot, it was just — I got home from that one really shitty hearing, and you were being so… you.” Eddie shrugs. “With the squirrels and — and everything else, and I thought, this is what it’s supposed to be like, y’know?”

Richie does know. Eddie looks at him with the tiniest smile, and Richie knows exactly what he means. The lump is back in his throat. 

“That’s what it will be like, Eds, I promise.” He fits his hand to Eddie’s hard jaw, thumbing his scar. “We’re gonna kick matrimonial ass. People are gonna get so sick of us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep,” he says, popping the p. “Check this out.”

And then he’s leaning back, waits for a gap between the thunder creaking like they’re underwater and an ocean liner is groaning overhead, cups his hands around his mouth to where the moon would see them if it weren’t blocked out by the great black beast of the storm, and howls.

“Eddie Kaspbrak’s gonna marry me!”

Eddie’s laughing, Richie can’t hear it for the next crack-boom collapsing around them, but he can see him, he can see his dimples and his freckled, lovely face laughing the way he’d know anywhere, and then it passes and he’s yelling too.

“Richie Tozier’s gonna marry me!”

There’s enthusiastic cheering from their neighbors’ yard. Someone whistles, and Richie’s losing his mind.

“We really doing this, Spaghetti Head? You gonna marry me, Eds? Huh?” Richie crowds him, rushes him like a stage to kiss him over and over, all over his face, and there’s something building inside him. It’s burning big behind his diaphragm, rising like the sun, and maybe that’s why it’s called the solar plexus, Richie thinks crazily, the storm hasn’t killed off summer at all, it lives in me now—

“Yes,” Eddie grins, kissing him back.

“You gonna marry me—”

“Yeah, Rich, yeah, I’m gonna—”

He hauls Eddie up off the ground and they’re spinning, laughing like morons. “Gonna — walk down the aisle, you gonna let me carry you over the door, huh? Gonna go on our fuckin’ honeymoon—”

“Yes,” Eddie laughs into his neck, legs tight around his middle, and then he’s shrieking, “No, Rich, no — do not throw me, Richie you — dick!”

When he hits the pool the splash soaks Richie too, like he cares when he’s already leaping in to find him and keep on kissing underwater, like he cares when he’s damp again that night and moving in Eddie on their sides so he can hug him close around the ribs, and clench their hands together ‘til the rings make dents. His hips lick up into the heat of Eddie’s body. He thought he knew what it was to be closest to Eddie, before he felt this, both of them bare all over but for two thin bands of metal, two new loops for left hands scarred in the eighth grade in a different kind of circle, but one that kept them together all the same. He moves, and moves, ‘til Eddie’s bonelessly sucking the spend of himself from Richie’s fingers, reaching back to grip his thigh and moan do it inside, Rich, you can do it inside, and in his slicked, gasping finish, Richie knows he’s got a lifetime of finding ways to get closer.

Can’t fuckin’ wait, Richie thinks, under the anchor of Eddie’s sleeping sprawl. No more waiting. He falls asleep to the bellowing storm outside and, for the first time in so many long, hot months, it starts to rain on Southern California.