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

Chapter Text

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color—no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

- I Remember, by Anne Sexton

 

There’s a heatwave in L.A. the first time Richie sees Eddie naked.

It’s because of the heatwave that it happens in the first place, and even then it takes nine months. Nine long months since Derry clawed them all back, spitting up an extra lifetime’s worth of pain and memory and hope. More than enough to go on. More than enough to build new lives upon, all of them changed for the better, save for poor Stan. Foundations of history and friendship springing up where before there was only a gap in Richie’s mind, white and blank, like a test paper he didn’t care about failing.

 

There’s something in the way Eddie stares at him in the Jade of the Orient. 

Richie feels it too, the snapping electricity. All the air sucked into a sinkhole, leaving behind the heavy ozone of a storm brewing. There he is, surrounded by the only people who had ever let him feel wanted for who he was, instead of how he could make them laugh, and all he can do is stare right back with his shitty jokes blocked by his heart in his mouth.

“So wait, Eddie, you got married? What, to like, a woman?” The shots are the only reason his voice is so bitter. 

If Eddie married a woman, then the quivering, disastrous things Richie remembers feeling as a kid are his own to keep and think on, melancholy but accepting. Mature. He can do mature, just watch him.

If Eddie married a man, then — then it was never because Richie was a boy, but simply because he was Richie. Too-much Trashmouth, too-wide mouth and too-long touches. He could never help himself, and that’s always been his problem.

If Eddie married a man, and still stares at Richie like he’s remembering something too, then—

It seems impossible. It feels like standing at the base of a mountain he can’t possibly climb, and wanting to try anyway. Eddie stares back and bites back in a challenge, and why is it always a challenge with them, why does everything always have to be so motherfucking antagonistic.

They arm-wrestle. Eddie is just as slight and throat-ripping determined as he ever was, like a miniature pitbull who can match Richie curse-for-curse. His face is flushed with the drinks they’ve been ramming back, alcohol the only way Richie can rationalize Eddie shouting, “Let’s take our shirts off and kiss,” with his hand flexing in Richie’s and his face right there, close enough that they could, if they wanted to. 

The words startle Richie hard enough that he yanks Eddie’s arm clean off the table. Eddie’s laughing and swearing so loud with that same goddamn dimple showing in his left cheek, and Richie thinks Jesus, here’s the reason I used to love this guy more than anything else in the world.

 

Los Angeles isn’t really a place full of dreams. It’s smog sinking into your lungs, wildfires ripping down a hillside and too many people fucking over too many others for a shot at something distant and glittering. It’s like a riot at a planetarium.

It’s too hot. Richie sleeps with the mattress pared down to just the bottom sheet, with his arm stretched out towards Eddie, sleeping in a guest room at the other side of the house.

 

They’re getting drunk again. 

It’s the only thing any of them wanted to do when they finally pulled themselves free from the quarry, slimy limbs shaking with victory and relief. Washed clean, baptized into this new reality where monsters are real, and strong, but love between old friends is stronger.

The phrase, blood is thicker than water, speaks to the literal opposite of what it implies. Richie read that online. The real saying goes, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.

It pops into his head as he watches Eddie gripe about there being three different kinds of fucking sewage all over me, Jesus, watches Beverly splash him right in the face for his griping and laugh like a chime at his sputtering, dripping shock.

Richie’s glasses are cracked. There’s blood in the fracture, most likely his own. They’re all banged up, all of them forty years old and splitting the seams of their bodies with pains, old and new. 

His ass hurts where he landed on the hard, ancient rock of It’s lair. The things he saw in the Deadlights hurt more. 

“Hey, Eddie?”

“What?” 

“Didn’t you hear? There are leeches in here, man.”

Eddie’s wet hair is flat to his skull like a yarmulke. Richie never saw him in one, Mrs K wouldn’t let him go to Stan’s disaster of a Bar Mitzvah, or anywhere near it. 

Blood of the covenant. Richie didn’t know that word back then, but that’s what it was. A circle, a sharp piece of broken glass was enough to bring them all back together. Fuck that shitty gray womb-water, it’s been twenty-seven years and we’re still more to you than she ever was, Eds.

“What the fuck, are you serious? Leeches?” Eddie yelps, standing straight up.

He’s so wet-cat scrawny, Richie thinks, so little, like always, I wanted to carry him around in my pocket, so short the water still comes up to his chest, rippling green from how hard everyone’s laughing.

“You assholes! Fuck you, Rich, that’s the last time I save your lanky ass from a clown!”

And it is. It will be, Richie hopes, because his joints hurt badly enough at forty, he doesn’t wanna find himself back here in another three decades fighting off shit with a walker.

It might be the last time they do a lot of things. It might be the last time he sits in the deserted lobby of a Derry hotel, three sheets to the wind with the best group of friends he ever had. The wood-panelled lounge glows with amber light, this whole town preserved like a fossil in golden tree resin. It might be the last time he ever sees Eddie, his dimples, the flushed-drunk pink of his throat, because — they forgot all of this once already. Who’s to say it won’t happen again? Richie could wave them all goodbye in the rear-view tomorrow and forget their faces as soon as he hits county lines. The thought tugs at his heart so awful and sick that he’s following hot on Eddie’s heels, yanked up the stairs behind him as if tied to his belt.

It’s the first time he’s ever stumbled over the threshold of Eddie Kaspbrak’s hotel room. And it might be the last, so he’s gotta make it count.

The hours slide by, piling up. Richie can’t help but feel the countdown clock hanging over his head, his chin propped on his fist at the desk as they talk, talk, and talk more, like it’s 1989 and school will never come in the morning if they don’t go to sleep.

“C’mon man, don’t you wanna — we could hang out in L.A., you’re not telling me you don’t need a vacation after this shit.”

“I need a vacation,” Eddie sighs. “I haven’t had a vacation in eight years.”

“Isn’t that how long you’ve been married?”

“It — yes,” Eddie says, the tips of his ears going red, and Richie—

Richie wants to bite them. Wants to take Eddie to a fucking beach, wants to curl around him tonight in the lumpy hotel bed, wants all of that and everything else as Eddie flips him off for grinning like a real, grade A asshole.

“I got a pool, y’know,” Richie says, a while later. He forces a laugh, and it throbs in his temples. “No leeches, I promise.”

The floral-chintz glow of the lamp turns Eddie’s eyes deeper, and darker. He looks up at Richie, who’s hovering as still as he can. 

“I’m not busy with anything right now,” Richie tries. He can feel his own pulse in his jugular. “We can — we can hang out. Like old times.”

“You’re on tour,” Eddie says slowly, and his voice is much softer than the strange look in his eyes.

“Nah, I cancelled after the, uh, fortune cookie incident.” Good thing too, he doesn’t know how he’d explain death by alien clown to his agent if he didn’t turn up to a show.

“You — you’re not joking.”

There’s nothing but lint and the hard metal dig of a hotel key in Richie’s pockets. His hands shake, so he clenches his fists around both. “Nope, not this time.”

“Did you invite any of the others?”

“Uh.” Swallow the knot in your throat, or spit it right out for the whole world to see. Truth or dare. “No.”

Eddie sways closer. They’re both in their socks, so he only comes up to Richie’s nose. The minibar’s well stocked, thank the Lord, and that’s how it starts.

 

“Come with me,” Richie’s begging, a little later still, with his hands clinging tight around Eddie’s face. Thumb brushing gauze. Eddie’s real and breathing rawbone body plastered in a scorching line up Richie’s front, against the door. No interruptions, and Eddie can’t leave without going through him, but why would he leave when it’s his room? He should’ve kicked Richie out by now.

“It’s hot in L.A., you love the heat, you loved summer, Manhattan’s all shitty and cold this time of year, Eds, please—”

“I hate the heat,” Eddie croaks. Richie’s heart hammers, below where Eddie’s hands are twisted in his collar like he’s trying to rip it off. His pupils are blown wide to iridescent beetle-black in the low light, and his gaze keeps flickering quick between Richie’s eyes and his desperate, pleading mouth. “And there are no bugs in Manhattan.”

“Dude, there are cockroaches everywhere in Manhattan.”

The crack in his glasses splits Eddie to fragments, a shaky kaleidoscope mural of lines tensing around an already tense mouth, of red blood on a white bandage on the sunken, tawny glow of his cheek.

Eddie’s chest judders like a failing engine against his own, and Richie’s stomach clenches so tightly in disbelief at what he’s actually asking for, wondering if Eddie understands. 

The Deadlights showed him what could have been. For a moment when he came crashing back from the void, he remembered Ben kissing Beverly awake, so long ago — and there had been Eddie, hunched up above him looking so proud of himself. Richie’s heart had skyrocketed, a shadow loomed, and there was no time to ask.

Now Eddie is here, alive and beautiful, his narrow chest intact. He’s sallow with lingering exhaustion, and Richie doesn’t want to waste another second without him.

You saved my life, it’s yours now. Helter-skelter thoughts shriek around like a carnival ride spent dreaming Eddie would sit just a little closer, but he doesn’t voice them, because Eddie already thinks he’s crazy. Share it with me, take it, have it, it’s probably been yours this entire fucking time and that’s why nobody else has ever wanted it.

“I have a gardener,” Richie begs him, harder, shameless. Look at me. Eddie’s jaw flexes under his palms. “Bug spray. My whole place is totally insect-free, I swear.”

Eddie’s eyes are screwed shut as he passes a shaking hand over his forehead, furrowed like he’s found a way to make a living worrying about shit. Which, Richie supposes, he has. His wedding ring glints like a lighthouse warning Richie of ruin, but he’s sailing right in. His heart’s on a mutiny. 

“Okay,” Eddie whispers eventually, his voice all strangled. “Fuck. God, I want to — I have to — okay.” He looks up at Richie, suddenly that same scrappy kid who was the first to leap down into algae-ridden water to hurl rocks at bullies. Jaw set in attack-dog mode, and Richie so desperately wants to be attacked. 

“I’ll come,” Eddie says. “For — for a while. Maybe until Thanksgiving? I can take some time off work. But only because of the bug spray, I know the kinds of fucking spiders you get over there.”

Derry’s silent that night. Sometimes the biggest changes come the quietest, muffled deep under a town, or inside a ribcage.

“Yeah,” Richie breathes, feeling knocked-down stupid happy, his heart tentatively soaring. “For the bug spray.”

Eddie’s smile is fleeting and knowing, his dimples coming out like stars.

Richie tips his head back against the door, blows out a shaky breath and sends a prayer of thanks to something he doesn’t believe in, because this feels like a miracle.

 

Nine months. Nine months of Eddie commuting back to New York for fraught divorce proceedings, nine months of his stuff recorded on Richie’s TiVo, of his anal-as-fuck closet organizational system and his extensive floss collection worming its way into Richie’s en-suite.

 

L.A. is still hot on Thanksgiving. Eddie complains about it constantly in the days before the other Losers visit, and Richie only grows more certain with every passing day that he’s completely fucked, because all it does it make him want to kiss Eddie more. Within an inch of his demanding, bossy, hilarious life.

They don’t kiss for the first six of those nine months. At first Richie assumes it’s because of Eddie’s ex, or the way Eddie still can’t even say the word gay.  

 

It’s easier than Richie could have ever expected, to slot into each other’s lives the way they do. Of course, Eddie’s the one doing a lot more slotting; he moved right across the goddamn country.

Richie has panic attacks about it, fairly often. Paces around his bedroom until he has to curl up and jam his face hard into a pillow, hands clamped around his ears as his breath pummels out. He doesn’t let Eddie know, because that would only freak him out too, make him drive like the maniac he is to the nearest Walgreens and rack up a gigantic Valium bill to the account he’d opened his first week in California. Or maybe it would only crumble Eddie’s resolve into dust, if Richie shows him exactly how petrified he is of this not working.  

If he sees what a tangled mess Richie is over him, he might just cut his losses and move back to New York. Too much effort, the way everyone in Richie’s life since the faded idyll of the Losers has always found him too much fucking effort.

It’s not that being a minor celebrity of moderate means (albeit a sloppy, single one in his forties) is a bad life. At least, Richie never used to think so. But that was before he had a friend, a true friend. Now he has five. But even back then, within the little solar system of the Loser’s Club, Richie always liked to think that he and Eddie had their own personal orbit around each other, neither one of them the moon to a bigger, more important planet. Just two, weird little asteroids, sharing comics and talking into the firefly-speckled nights until their throats hurt. And in Richie’s case, wanting something so huge and unnameable that he was sure it was better to hang in agonizing limbo, than to risk either Eddie’s disgust, or the humiliating knowledge that Eddie thought about him the way he thought about Eddie. 

You’re my best friend, Richie thinks, as he trails around the grocery store in Eddie’s scurrying wake, slumped over the handles of the cart. They take longer than they really need to, because the A/C is stronger here than at home, but it’s fine. Richie watches the bounce of the fanny-pack Eddie still wears, the slap of his sandals on linoleum as he lectures Richie happily about the health benefits of blueberries. The sweet, skinny curve of his calf muscles, the knot of his ankle bone. I didn’t know how lonely I was.

You’re my best friend, Richie thinks, dejectedly, and if you love me the way I love you, we might ruin it. I can’t lose you. I wish we’d never lost each other in the first place.

But Eddie came to California. He stepped off the plane looking as anxious as ever, even gave Richie a hug in the arrivals at LAX. He actually cooks dinner most nights, skilled at it from years spent constructing fussy meals around his many dietary requirements. He whoops like a frat boy when he slaughters Richie at the ping-pong table he keeps in his garage, both of them dripping with sweat and laughing the way you only can with someone for whom you’d face down literal death. Twice.

It all has to mean something. 

As the weeks wear on Richie starts to wake up every day with a frigid stone in his stomach, wondering if maybe he’d got this all wrong, that Eddie is really just his new roommate and nothing more. The revelatory shine of having Eddie back in his life feels like it will never wear off, but Richie still can’t help but hope for more, and more, and more.

Then he invariably comes through to the kitchen to find Eddie’s clothes neat and his hair sleep-rumpled, catches his eye and soaks in Eddie’s shy morning grin like it’s the California sun itself. A healthy fruit salad waiting for him, because Eddie is genuinely worried he’ll get scurvy. He stretches and pours himself some orange juice, some of the good local shit they’d bought at the farmer’s market, and watches the way Eddie’s sleepy eyes will trail down into the waistband of his boxers. The resulting blush only brings out the shadows where Eddie hasn’t shaved yet, and Richie will have to excuse himself before he does something stupid to shatter the tentative calm they’ve achieved. 

When he actually lets himself think about it, there are a hundred other little moments like that, individual puzzle pieces coming together to make something Richie can hardly believe. 

It’s how close Eddie sits on the couch when they catch up on all the kickass movies they’ve missed out on seeing together for over twenty years. Two tired, dysfunctional peas in a faux-leather pod, sharing popcorn. Richie hardly hears any dialogue, his heart pounding painfully in his ears whenever Eddie’s arm brushes his own into a goosebumpy wreck, or their fingers meet in the bowl. Eddie’s hand takes longer and longer to move away every time.

It’s Eddie’s lowered eyes and his small, murmured, “It’s okay, Rich,” whenever Richie forgets himself and puts his hand against Eddie’s hip to move past him in the kitchen, yanking it back like he’s been scalded when he realizes what he’s doing. There are boundaries, or at least there always were when they ran around as Derry-savage kids. You can give your friend a noogie, but you’d better watch your fucking back if your hands turn anything softer than violent. Nah, there aren’t enough boundaries in Richie’s nighttime, mood-lit house, just the two of them angled together like magnetic poles straining against physics to meet. 

It’s okay, Rich. 

What is? Nothing Richie feels is okay, the huge aching hole in his stomach as he lies in bed at night after Christmas Day, still feeling the phantom sensation of Eddie’s long, tight hug, when Richie presented him with his own key to the house. 

His fingers are bitten bloody with nerves, and they shake as he hands it over, no matter how hard he tries to play it cool. Eddie gives him a shining stack of tokens for the arcade at Santa Monica. 

“You looked like it really meant something, back in Derry,” Eddie says, his hands twisting together around his key. “Your totem, I mean. You always spent way too much fucking time in the Aladdin, I used to think you liked Street Fighter more than — than us.” 

“Oh no, I did,” Richie says, cradling the tokens. There’s a lump in his throat, like he’s swallowed one of the coins. “Way more than you, Eds, are you kidding?”

Eddie grins, his wide pupils and the ragged line of his healing scar glowing different colors in the single string of Christmas lights they’d hung around the living room, and Richie has to get up for more eggnog to stop feeling like he needs to breathe into a paper bag. 

He knows what will fill the hole in his gut, and it sure as hell ain’t holiday cookies.

It’s daily agony. It’s almost no better than being sixteen again, made of skin and bone and hormones and cycling as far out into the woods as he dared to on his own, to scream and shatter sticks on rocks. As if that would exorcise some of his terrible feelings about coltish legs in too-short shorts, giddy insults aimed at him in a puberty-cracked voice, or a flat, asthmatic chest. 

But at the same time, it all feels promising. All the lingering looks Eddie gifts him, like he’s trying to figure something out and wouldn’t really mind if Richie helped. 

Richie will wait for however long Eddie wants, and forever after that.

Chapter Text

Eddie still doesn’t know how to dress for the January heat. They go for walks around the neighborhood or on drives along Sunset, the car’s top down and Eddie’s armpits ringed in dark sweat. His good-boy haircut unsticking itself to hang over his forehead, and every time he catches Richie looking helplessly over at him, his scowl fidgets into a smile.

The air itself presses in on them like trench-deep water, makes Richie go sluggish and lose his appetite. He still lets Eddie buy them blue-corn tacos, once Eddie neurotically determines there’s nothing in it to give him a reaction. Night dips sodium orange and smoky purple into Beverly Hills the first time Eddie looks around them on one of their walks and takes Richie’s hand abruptly, like a pod bursting open with pressure to release tender, fragile seeds.

The whining insects and ticking sprinkler systems aren’t enough to drown out Eddie’s voice though, low and apologetic. “I just need time, Rich, I promise.”

Richie’s pulse goes supersonic. His throat closes so tight with emotion that his next breath comes out in a mortifying squeak, like air from a balloon.

He chances a sideways peek as they pass under a streetlight, but Eddie turns scarlet and looks away as soon as their eyes meet.

His hand is smaller than Richie’s, but just as sweaty. Blunt nailed, fine-knuckled, and it’s his right one, so Richie’s scar is probably tickling his palm. A little rougher from the twenty-seven intervening years since Richie felt like puking his guts out to make room for the thrill of grabbing Eddie’s bird-bone hand in his, so eager to drag him wherever they were going that day.

It’s the same hand. The same Eddie, gnawing his lower lip and glancing wide-eyed at Richie every so often as if to check he’s still being stared at. And he is, because now that this is actually fucking happening, Richie’s pretty sure he’s incapable of looking at anything else. 

He swallows the lump in his throat, so he can grin like he wants to. 

Every bone in his hand is electrified, as he feels Eddie’s fingers nestle into the gaps between his own. It spreads up his arm, through his whole body, until he’s sure his entire skeleton must be lit up like a Halloween decoration. For once in his life he can’t speak. All he can do is let out a breathless laugh, harder still when Eddie knocks their shoulders together and stares at the sidewalk, blushing furiously, their hands hot and swinging between them.

Richie’s stomach rolls in giddy circles, like a kid on his first date. Which it might as well be, as far as he’s concerned. He wants to go back and rewrite history, scratch Eddie’s initials into his heart as his first date, his first kiss, his first everything, the way he always should have been.

Shrouded in inky twilight, they don’t let go of one another until Richie has to unlock the front door, and the bats flitting overhead like ashy embers in the hot night breeze are the only ones who know a goddamn thing about it.

In his room he is dark, burning, and alone, and he thinks that it must feel kinda like this at the center of the Earth. Or in the middle of the Big Bang, surrounded by the potential for something enormous. He goes to sleep cradling his scarred hand close to his chest.

 

A couple of weeks into February, Eddie comes marching out of his room to block the view of where Richie is cultivating a pretty mean kill-streak, sunk so low into the sticky couch he feels like that dense lump of nuclear disaster, rotting down into Chernobyl’s basement. 

“Richie, c’mon. Let’s go out to eat, I’m starving.”

“Hold on, Eds, I’m — can’t we just get take-out? I’m kinda busy here. Achievements to get.” 

Technically he has material to write, but hey.

“I beat your high score yesterday, actually, so you don’t need to bother. C’mon, I’m paying.”

“That was you? I thought the thing fucking glitched, I spent an hour re-installing it!” 

Richie tosses his controller aside in disgust and finally looks up at Eddie, outrage dissipating in a wisp of smoke when he gets a good look at him. Hair combed within an inch of its life, a muscle ticking in his jaw. Even his shoes are shiny.

“Why are you wearing a tie? Are we going to eat at a funeral home?”

The pink flush disappears under Eddie’s stiff-looking white collar, and he stuffs his hands into his pockets. Richie’s suddenly desperate to see how far down it goes. All-too-familiar longing twists a corkscrew in his chest until it feels like his heart will pop out in a fizz of champagne.

Eddie’s staring hard at his feet. “Shut up, I just — come on? Please?”

It’s the please that does it, the beseeching wobble in Eddie’s smile. He was always a terror as a kid when he and Richie got going, but New York has made Eddie even less polite than him. It’s normally incredibly funny, but Richie kind of never wants Eddie to feel like he has to ask for anything. Not now. Even though Richie would pull his own arm off if Eddie said he needed a back-scratcher. He stands up so fast he gets head-rush, and slopes along in Eddie’s shadow towards the front door, brushing away Dorito dust from his shirt and trying not to be obvious about ogling Eddie’s ass in his smart slacks.

“Do I have to change?”

Eddie stops fumbling with his car keys long enough to look him up and down, slowly, until Richie feels squirmy with it. His gaze is like the unseasonable forest fires that are plaguing the state, burning Richie up from his feet to the top of his head.

“No.” Eddie clears his throat. “No, you’re good. It’s just dinner, Rich. Hurry your ass up, we’ll be late.”

He’s being weird. Richie doesn’t argue when Eddie says he’s driving, since he obviously has a destination in mind, and since it gives him ample opportunity to stare at the side of Eddie’s face, clean-shaven and still looking pinkly embarrassed as he rambles about mundane shit like the weather and how hungry he is. He almost misses the usual intense G-force he gets whenever Eddie takes corners, but tonight he’s actually driving like he gives a damn about who’s in the car, even if his knuckles are white on the wheel. It’s funny. For a risk analyst, Eddie drives like he’s doing everyone else on the road a favor by not immediately ramming into them. 

Richie keeps staring at him, amusement climbing higher as they park. Eddie gives his name quietly to the bored-looking teenager at the front desk, who then leads them to a table somewhere near the back.

“What?” Eddie says once they’re settled, smoothing non-existent creases in the tablecloth. If his eyes get any wider and darker they’re gonna swallow his face.

Richie’s pretty sure his cheeks are getting cramp from grinning so hard. “Dude, you made reservations? At Olive Garden?”

A couple a few tables over laughs together, and Eddie startles, chewing hard at the inside of his mouth. “Yes? So? I like Italian, Richie, fuckin’ sue me.”

“You lived in New York and you think Olive Garden is Italian?”

Eddie kicks him under the table, smirking when Richie gives him the finger in return. “Stop being an L.A. asshole and pick some wine. I’m taking a piss.”

Richie chortles to himself as he watches Eddie leave. It’s quiet, being that it’s a Monday night in goddamn February, just a few families in tight groups under the lurid decorations. As ever, the place looks like if Mickey Mouse ate an entire authentic pizzeria and then vomited it back out. Richie squints, pushing his glasses further up his nose for a better look instead of examining the menu, because the decor looks even more garish than usual.

It’s — strings of little hearts, draped around the walls. Red ones. Obviously nobody’s taken them down yet, even though Valentine’s Day was—

The roof of his mouth feels itchy all of a sudden, tasting metallic as his throat dries up in a rush of adolescent excitement, so huge it’s humiliating. He looks furtively around for prank show cameras. Surely everyone can feel the flushed heat rolling off him, they’re gonna have to crank the A/C higher than it already is, higher than it should have to be in winter. His stomach flips around like it’s doing gymnastics, and he takes a few gulps of water. Mostly just for something to do with his hands, as he watches Eddie ease back down into his chair, his tie slightly looser, like he’s been looking at himself in the bathroom mirror and decided it was a little too much for… this. Whatever this is.

Richie stares at him again, because how could he ever stop? Eddie keeps glancing at him with these little half-smiles, and God, he’s so cute. Looking like it’s Sunday School, which is bizarre, given how enthusiastically he’s recently converted to wearing sleeveless shirts. Richie feels like an idiot in his own cargo shorts and tropical-patterned monstrosity. 

“Uh,” he says intelligently, into the silence. Breathing steadily through the flocks of butterflies in his chest is a lot of effort, turns out.

“The uh, the bathrooms are kinda gross, and I forgot hand sanitizer. If you know any better places, we can go somewhere else another time, I mean, it’s your neighborhood, but I thought it should be a — a surprise.” Eddie’s babbling. He’s hunched over with his arms tucked between his legs, not looking at Richie. The low restaurant light makes the tips of his ears look a rich, dark red, like the wine Richie’s too stunned to have ordered yet. “I’ve got my gluten thing, but I know you like the breadsticks here, and—”

“Eds, what day is it?”

Eddie’s jaw snaps shut with a click. The condensation is refreshingly cool, when Richie rubs his thumb down his water glass, and by God, he needs it.

“Hm?”

“What’s the date?”

Eddie cringes, and runs one unsteady hand over his already smoothed-down hair. “It’s, uh, the fifteenth.”

Richie leans back in his chair, chewing a smile around his thumbnail, and the view looks good from the top of the world. Eddie Kaspbrak blushing like a tomato, and staring back at him like Richie’s a grenade about to go off. 

Richie pulls the pin, and gives him a wink. “Yeah, I thought so.”

A tiny laugh shudders its way out of Eddie, guttering the candle between them. He takes a big drink from his own water, mumbling something into the glass Richie can’t hear.

“What was that? You gotta speak up, all these doves are singing pretty loud.”

“Fucking hell,” Eddie bites out, but one corner of his mouth is twitching down at the table. “Said, get whatever you want, I’m paying. Remember? I’ll even help you take your shoes off later, if you get drunk. One time deal.”

“In that case, I’m aiming for liver damage.” He thumps his fist on the table, making Eddie jump and the cutlery rattle. “Ah, where ees zat garçon, what does a man ‘ave to do to get fucking ‘ammered in zis town?”

“You’re such a dumbass,” Eddie sighs, sounding far fonder than Richie’s sure he’d ever admit to. 

Richie leans forward, feeling tipsy already. “Are you wearing cologne? Can I sniff you?”

“I think I’ll have the steak,” Eddie announces from where he’s hiding behind the menu, loud enough that the nearby couple looks over at them. 

His foot bumps into Richie’s under the table, which might be an accident, but the way their hands tangle together in the dark parking lot on the way back to the car certainly isn’t. And neither is the warm grip Richie feels on the back of his knee when Eddie helps him take his shoes off, sliding a little ways up the leg of his shorts. The sense-memory of it lingers for the rest of the night, and sends Richie into the happiest drunken sleep of his life.

Chapter Text

They kiss for the first time in the middle of the night, in March. 

 

Richie gets up for a glass of water, ice cold from his giant refrigerator and a nice counterpoint to the cool terracotta kitchen tiles under his bare feet. Something hurts his half-shut eyes, and he notices the patio light is on. Swarming with bugs. The door sliding open has Eddie startling out of the deck chair he’d claimed for himself, clutching at his chest.

“Jesus Richie, you trying to give me a stroke?”

“Nah,” he says. “Just keeping you on your toes. You gotta have reflexes out here, Eds, those spiders can come outta nowhere. Not to mention the snakes.”

Eddie draws his feet up quickly onto the chair. “That’s not funny, asshole.”

“It’s a little funny,” Richie says, grinning at him like a lunatic, probably. Maybe Eddie didn’t want company, but Richie can’t help himself.

Even so many months in, it’s still taking some getting used to, having Eddie around every day. Talking about their lives since Derry, all the movies they both like, laughing themselves sick. Like being fourteen again in an endless stretch of heat-swollen summer, un-plagued by the terror of It. Back when the weight of his feelings for Eddie could only be lifted by carving his love into something permanent, a great big fuck you all to the town. You can take the boy out of Derry, but he’s sure as shit gonna leave a mark.

“What are you doing up, man? It’s like three in the morning…”

Eddie looks at him, wide eyed with his mouth twisting in that way it does when he’s trying to work up some nerve. Richie’s heart drops a little because — Eddie hasn’t ever needed nerve around him, always has the balls to say whatever he’s thinking. Maybe this is it. Maybe his bags are packed.

But Eddie only swings his legs around until he’s mirroring Richie on the other chair. “I saw your interview on Conan. Earlier tonight, I mean.”

Ah, fuck. 

“Y-you saw that?”

“Yeah.”

“The whole thing?”

Eddie rolls his eyes, but there’s a grin tugging up the corners of his mouth. “Yes, the whole fuckin’ thing.”

 

The taping had been a week or so back. His publicist seemed to think it was the right time, his first talk-show appearance since his offhand coming-out post on Instagram. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal; say something relatable about being himself, setting an example. He’d wanted to test out some jokes, something trite about doubling his dating pool, but Eddie’s brow darkened like a thundercloud when he’d suggested it. And — well. He isn’t ashamed to admit to himself that he’s already whipped.

Stan’s letters to both of them had come in the mail that morning. He’d read his in the car over to the studio, and had to ask the driver to cruise around the block so he could take some time to stop crying.

Be who you want to be. Be proud.

Stanley probably knew about the two of them before they did. Old before his time. He saw everything with those clunky-ass bird binoculars of his.

God, Richie misses him.

The words were still fresh in his mind when the question came out of nowhere, Conan blindsiding him against publicist orders. 

“So, now that you’re out, and very happy about it, it seems — as you should be — is there anyone special in your life? We all know you like to make jokes about eternal singlehood.”

“Well—”

“Your dating pool has doubled, it seems.”

A few voices whooped in the stalls, some of them undeniably male.

“Oh man,” Richie laughed, and so did the audience. He was sweating like crazy, and not just because of the lights, blinding him to the crowd and maybe to good judgement. 

But, Stan… 

If you find someone worth holding on to, never, ever let them go.

“Yeah, y’know. There is someone. We’ve, uh, known each other a long time, and — fuck it. He’s never gonna see this, he hates this show.” The audience laughed again, as Richie grinned. It was true. 

“He’s the funniest person I know. He’s not, like, comedian funny though, y’know, he’s never trying to make anyone laugh? Like, the other day I was trying to convince him the Fresno Nightcrawlers are real, and — Google ‘em — and he said — didn’t even look up, he just said yeah Richie, I‘ve seen the videos, you think I don’t know what you look like when you’re shitfaced?”

Richie slapped at his knee, his ungainly snorts setting the audience off again as a photo made its way onto the media feed, clear on the studio screens.

“He said you looked like one of those?”

“Yeah!”

“But that’s so mean!”

“It’s the best! He made me eat a zucchini and it, like, Benjamin Buttoned the fuck outta me. You guys remember that movie? I have new bones now, it’s — it’s the best. I’m really happy, man. I couldn’t have done all this alone.”

 

Now Eddie sits opposite him. One side of his face lit yellow by the stoop light, the other dancing neon in reflections from the pool. 

It’s still hot as hell in the middle of the night, though it’s the heat that’s like a blanket rather than having your body pressed to a griddle. Eddie’s in the pair of underwear he obviously uses as pajamas, and something that Richie realizes with a jolting rush is one of his own obnoxious Hawaiian shirts. It’s huge on Eddie, drapes past his elbows and down his bare chest like a curtain of hibiscus vines.

Christ almighty. Eddie peers at him with his hands dangling, clasped between his bony knees. One leg jiggling in a nervous dance. Flip-flops and socks. He’s a dweeb, and Richie loves him so fucking much.

“I’m sorry I talked about you on TV? In my defense, I didn’t mention you by name. For all you know I was talking about Bill. Or Mike. Or—”

“Richie—”

“Or Oliver.” 

Oliver is their next door neighbor’s Dalmatian, who they both love to death and pretend not to. Even Eddie, who still screams when Oliver jumps at him.

“Richie,” Eddie snorts, kicking him gently in the shin. “Shut up, Jesus. We’re having a mature conversation about this.”

“Maybe you are,” Richie mumbles, flushed and embarrassed. God, please don’t let it all be a giant mistake. 

A car alarm wails to life, a few streets away. It takes a couple minutes for someone to turn it off, and for Eddie to meet his eyes again.

“You know, I only ever kissed one person,” Eddie says, quietly. Richie’s heart turns over in his chest, his eyes hanging on Eddie’s stoic mouth, one built for nagging and insults and laughing like a hyena at all of Richie’s worst jokes. “And I never — it always seemed so pointless. I never wanted it to go anywhere. It wasn’t her fault, but I’d find myself thinking about the things she’d just said, or tasting the food she’d eaten, or wondering when I was gonna feel the way everyone talked about, and—”

He stops, fiddling with his left ring finger. The California sun has browned out any trace of the pale band of skin, despite Eddie’s excessive use of suncream. He always did tan nicely, even when they were kids.

“One person, and I never once enjoyed it,” Eddie says again, almost to himself. “I wish it had been you.”

Richie finally takes a breath, his hands shaking where they’re clutching his knees.

“I do, too. Jeeze, Eds, I used to think about kissing you so much I couldn’t concentrate in school.”

Eddie snorts again, dropping his eyes from Richie’s with an abashed grin. “Sure, that was the reason.”

“The main reason.”

Crickets chirp from the far end of the backyard, droning along with the endless flights blinking overhead. “Used to, then,” Eddie says to the ground, his big brown eyes melancholy.

“Huh?”

“You said you used to think about it.”

Richie heaves a dramatic sigh, leaning back on his hands so he can kick his legs out, calves bracketing Eddie’s. The touch is scalding, his skin hypersensitive to the hair on Eddie’s legs brushing his. 

It’s okay. He knows Eddie still balks at taking matters like these into his own hands sometimes. The dream-hot press of the night feels liminal enough, unreal enough that Richie doesn’t mind picking up on Eddie’s clumsy lead. “Do you get a kick out of being obtuse? C’mon Eddie, you watched the show.”

“Well, I don’t know! You might’ve got tired of waiting or something, I’d get it.”

“I’ve waited pretty much my whole life for you, man. A little more isn’t gonna kill me.” Richie leans across, snags one of Eddie’s hands to slide their palms together. “And even if you don’t… well. I literally don’t care. I’m happy here with you, like this.”

Eddie chuckles quietly, and it sounds wet. He rubs his thumb gently over the webbing between Richie’s thumb and forefinger, and it’s the most erotic thing Richie’s ever felt, sends shivers right up his arm. 

“You’d suffer lifelong blue balls for me?” Eddie asks. “Your dick would fall off. It’d be like the opposite of frostbite.”

“I don’t like the sound of that, honestly.”

“Me neither.”

“Well then,” Richie says, feeling giddy all over again. It’s like they’re on the edge of a precipice, with the Earth itself beckoning them down to where they belong. “I’m ready when you are.”

There, permission granted. Landing strip lit up like Reno. Eddie’s brave enough to do something about it, he’s proven that in spades since Derry.

Eddie looks wholly terrified when he puts his hand to Richie’s knee first, their forearms brushing. The tips of his fingers walk slow up Richie’s thigh, and he already wants to die, because even that smallest touch has blood swooping down his spine to thicken him a little in his shorts. Suddenly he’s extremely glad he put on his glasses when he woke up, because there isn’t a chance in hell he’d miss this. Eddie’s mouth parted so small, a little damp with how he keeps nervously swiping his tongue over his lower lip. His pulse jumping in his throat.

“Eds,” Richie says, hushed, when they’re barely inches apart, the deck chairs creaking. “I gotta warn you.”

“What?” Eddie’s head is tilted slightly, his eyes lidded and his breath shaky against Richie’s face. In the synth-wavering light from the pool, he looks hypnotized.

“I had Mexican for dinner, and I haven’t brushed my teeth.”

“What the fuck,” Eddie yelps, jerking back and looking horrified. It has the effect Richie wanted, breaking the tension as he cackles, clutching his stomach with one hand and clinging to Eddie’s arm with the other.

“I’m kidding,” he says. Eddie’s glaring at him, but his hand has settled quickly back on Richie’s thigh, like he can’t help wanting it there. “Just loosening you up, y’know? Tension is bad for kissing.”

Eddie sets his jaw, and fuck yeah, this is what Richie wanted. There’s that same determined spark in his eye, one that always preceded him hiking his tiny ass into the hammock alongside Richie like he belonged there, wedged between his legs. Or when he was about to wipe the floor with Richie at loogie-hawking, bubble-gum blowing, or bearing him down into the cut-limp browning grass of the park to wrestle, until Eddie shrieked with laughter and forgot he was supposed to have allergies.

Richie is knocked back a little with the force of the kiss when it comes, and it’s bad, it’s a bad kiss, closed-mouthed and too hard and it’s the best fucking thing Richie’s ever felt in his life. His hands fly out to fit against Eddie’s bare ribs, steadying him where he’s awkwardly half in Richie’s lap already. Eddie’s hands are hot, branding his jaw where they’re cupping his face like Richie’s water in a desert. Their heads tilt and their mouths slip open, and suddenly it’s better, the hot little noise Eddie makes when Richie presses his tongue to the seam of his lips has his heart beating right out of his chest.

“I don’t care,” Eddie gasps against his mouth. He’s burning in Richie’s arms, quivering like he’s got hypothermia. Richie’s shaking so much it could just be him. “I hate you. You’re not funny. You coulda had shit for dinner and I’d still wanna kiss you.”

Richie tugs him closer by the lapels of his own fucking shirt, and Eddie smells of the bug spray he must’ve doused himself with to sit out here, to come out west and live in Richie’s house, in his clothes. “That’s gross, Eds,” he says, instead of saying I love you too. He dives in for another kiss, sloppy now because he wants to taste nothing but the inside of Eddie’s mouth for the rest of his life. 

This is my first kiss, he thinks wildly, my life was on hold without you.

“You’re gross,” Eddie mutters, his voice thick like he’s drunk, and he kisses Richie again, and kisses him, and kisses him.

Sirens peal in the dark distance like they always do, and maybe it’s for him, Richie rushed to hospital because he’s died and gone to heaven. Eddie’s squirming against him with one knee pressed beside Richie’s hip, panting and licking into each other’s mouths, breathing harsh through their noses. Fingers tight in Richie’s hair. Then Richie greedily pushes his hands up under the billowing shirt, feeling the smooth, beloved skin of Eddie’s narrow back and down under his sensible boxers to squeeze his ass, and Eddie is breaking the kiss to back off.

He falls back heavily into the other chair, away from Richie’s hands, suddenly bereft.

“I’m sorry—”

“Eds, I’m—”

“Richie no, it’s — you didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just—” Eddie’s chest is heaving, flushed dark all up his neck to his face, staring at Richie in shock.

Richie can sympathize. He’s been knocked completely out of orbit, into a galaxy new and wonderful. He touches his lips, feels them wet from Eddie’s tongue. Feels like fainting.

His throat clicks in a dry-stalk rattle when he swallows, hoping the dark umbrella palms overhead are enough to hide his boner in shadow. It’s a little embarrassing, popping a stiffy from some kissing at his age, but it’s a culmination of everything he wanted to do at thirteen, fourteen, fifteensixteenseventeen and watching his best friend swim half-naked in the glittering quarry. Wracked with guilt and the certainty that his spine and his whole world would dissolve like hot sugar, if Eddie ever looked back.

“Maybe that’s enough for one night,” he says, his own voice hoarse and unrecognizable.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, smoothing down the creases in Richie’s shirt, made crumpled by a death-grip. His hands are trembling. “Yeah. Fuck. That was, uh — wow. Goodnight, Richie.”

He stands to go inside, and he looks so goddamn messy and gorgeous in the flickering glow that Richie has to catch his hand, press a quick kiss to the sweat-salty knuckles.

Eddie smiles at him crookedly, and heads indoors.

Richie drains his forgotten glass of water, and spends a long time sitting there, looking up. Light pollution blots out the majority of the stars, but that night he feels like he can see every single one.

 

It’s like a dam breaking.

They make out everywhere, all over the house. It’s a little ridiculous, but Richie reasons to himself that they’re only making up for time they’re owed by the universe or whatever, so he’s not about to complain. Eddie is surprisingly forthcoming, shoving him up against the fridge, the doors when they pass each other in the hallway. Pushing his tongue down Richie’s throat, ‘til Richie’s whimpering and his hands cramp from clenching around Eddie’s hips. It’s almost like he wants to practice, and his technique is definitely improving. He braces one hand on the countertops and groans so loud when Richie can’t stand looking at him any longer, swimming in sweatpants rolled up at the ankles and an endless rotation of Richie’s big shirts, and pushes him there, cooking abandoned, to bite marks low on his throat, shallow enough that they won’t show in the morning. One memorable evening he lets Richie boost him up beside the vegetables Eddie insists they eat, threading his hands into Richie’s hair where he’s half-collapsed in the vee of Eddie’s thighs, groping. 

Richie’s late to work more times than he can count. Eddie will come stomping out of his own office in the mornings (his work easily transferred from New York, because there’s more than enough risk to keep me employed, Rich, I’ve seen the way you fuckers drive out here) yanking Richie down against him in the garage, and Richie will spend the hellish L.A. commute in a daze, thinking of Eddie’s sly grin against his mouth and the feel of his leg winding around Richie’s thigh.

His dick develops a Pavlovian response to the minty sting of toothpaste. It’s a fucking disaster.

The weather doesn’t help. He wakes up and the bleached horizon is already shimmering at eight in the morning, Richie half sure he’s causing it himself. He feels white-hot for far more of the day than can be healthy, a fevered anticipation fizzing over his skin every time Eddie gets close, buttoned up in his cute little polos.

Things never go further than a lot of heated heavy-petting, Eddie cringing away with apologies spilling forth whenever Richie forgets, reaches down to feel the hardness between Eddie’s legs. It’s like a drug. He feels terrible, because the last thing he wants to do is push. But it’s the mere fact that it’s Eddie, his neurotic, pain-in-the-ass friend who was terrified of porno mags, here with his pupils blown to black holes and his cock clearly as up for it as Richie’s, well—

It’s a lot. And he feels like he’s going insane. It’s been six months of cohabitation and he’s still never even seen Eddie’s dick.

Eddie’s seen his dick plenty. Richie likes to skinny-dip in his own pool, so sue him. Soon he learns to appreciate the oppressive afternoon stillness, for the way he keeps spotting Eddie staring at him pink-faced over the top of his book, when he’s floating around. 

Splashing him only earns Richie a sandal flung at his head, so he doesn’t do it. Much.

One of the first things Eddie did, when it was clear this was more than just an extended vacation, was find a therapist. Richie had once suggested they go to couple’s therapy, covering his real question and the fact that his stomach was in knots by couching it as a joke.

But Eddie had only scoffed, said, “We don’t need any. We’re a fuckin’ awesome couple.” 

Then he wouldn’t stop laughing at Richie, who had buried his face, hot and overwhelmed, into his arms folded on the table.

Turns out defeating a monster clown, moving across country to do gay shit with your long-lost best friend, on top of the stuff Eddie had festering away inside himself since he was a kid; it takes more than a couple of sessions to work out. Something like psychosomatic asthma doesn’t just go away overnight.

Richie considers going himself, but… he’s just an asshole. He’d be defrauding someone out of a real patient, and himself out of hundreds of dollars. Nobody ever emotionally abused him, made him think he was sick when he wasn’t, why waste money just to say I spent thirty years hating myself enough to make a career out of it, and I’m scared that I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know who I am if I like myself. I have occasional bouts of a superiority complex so huge that I don’t feel the need to impress anyone, so people think I’m a shithead anyway. I’m scared to be someone he can’t love, regardless.

Why waste the money.

One of the thousandth things Eddie did was start running, much to Richie’s horrified delight.

“You run?”

“Yeah, numbnuts, I run. What’s it to ya?” Eddie huffs, pulling on his adorable sneakers. 

"You, Eddie Kaspbrak, run?”

He’s wearing tiny red running shorts, his legs lean and golden in the buttery sunlight of Richie’s entranceway. The dark, soft looking hair on his shins goes all the way up. Richie’s stupid expensive watch must be broken, because it’s telling him the date is April 17th, instead of Christmas.

“I hated it in New York, too many fucking people on the sidewalks. But the gyms here are a ripoff and this neighborhood is quiet. Plus, running is good for my blood pressure, dumbass.”

“Well, God knows that needs bringing down a notch or two.”

Eddie flips him off, grinning as he tucks his keys and inhaler into his fanny-pack (it’s an athletic accessory now, Rich, you’re just pissed that I’m finally fashionable), and swings the door open. He turns at the bottom of the steps, marches back up to leave Richie dizzy with a kiss not fit to be seen by the neighbors.

“Bye babe!” Richie yells, and then goes back inside to jerk off to the sight of Eddie’s ass jogging away from him in those shorts, down the long driveway.

He hasn’t masturbated this much since high school. It’s torture.

It only gets worse, starting from the night Eddie moves unceremoniously into Richie’s bedroom with him.

They’re watching a movie, and then not watching it for the past thirty minutes, ever since Richie pulls a move he’s always wanted to. Eddie snorts when Richie’s arm drapes itself out of a subtle stretch, along the back of his shoulders.

“Really?”

“Is it working?”

“Nope,” Eddie says, but Richie can see his mouth twitching. Plus, he’s side-eyeing Richie instead of the screen.

“Bummer,” Richie replies, nosing into Eddie’s hair. Eddie’s cheek is rough with the day’s stubble when Richie kisses him there, lingering, and fuck if it doesn’t still drive him crazy. That he somehow managed to wind up here, twenty years later with the boy of his dreams grown into a man who might just love him back.

They end up tangled deep into the couch, with the movie playing unheeded in the background. It’s some cheesy horror Eddie picked, but even the screaming and grotesque sound effects aren’t enough to distract Richie from the blazing heat of their bellies stuck together, slick with sweat where they’ve rucked up their shirts in the midst of things.

The air-con is blasting to cope with the early summer night, bearing down on them from outside. Richie had been starting to get kinda chilly, but it’s alleviated when Eddie ends up sprawled all over him, moaning into the kiss as his hips twitch forward into Richie’s erection. His dick is on a hair-trigger these days. Sometimes all it takes is groggily hugging Eddie good morning to have him sporting a half-chub in his pajama pants.

He’s really, really fucked.

He palms over the shifting muscle of Eddie’s lower back, kneading tightly at the neat swell of his ass. This is allowed now, Eddie is cool with ass-touching, if not much else beyond that. Richie doesn’t mind, really. All that running does wonders. But then his thigh nudges up too urgently between Eddie’s legs, and he’s moving away again.

“Okay, let’s — Richie c’mon, let’s go to bed.”

Eddie’s slowly disengaging himself, scrubbing his hands through his hair until it’s even more sexed-up than it was. He reaches down to adjust the bulge in his shorts. It takes a moment for the words to sink through the horny fog in Richie’s brain.

“To — to bed?”

“To sleep,” Eddie says hurriedly. He folds his arms, bare and streaked with dumbass tan lines as they are in the pale blue tank he’s wearing. “I still can’t, Rich, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Richie says, still feeling kiss-stupid. Eddie wants to sleep with him. In his bed. He’s assaulted with images of cuddling, for God’s sakes, inexplicable butterflies hatching in his chest. “That sounds great, Spaghetti Man. I’m tired anyway.”

The grateful look Eddie shoots him is worth it, and that’s the first night Richie lies awake, listening to Eddie fall softly asleep beside him.

Chapter Text

Summer comes, and it brings a heatwave. 

 

Tarry fissures open up in the roads, and his feet burn the whole scant distance from the house to the relief of the pool. Even the air slows down to a crawl, and it becomes easy to spend an entire free afternoon lazily watching the shape of Eddie rippling through the condensation sweating down his drink. It’s well over a hundred degrees, and they sleep in their underwear with the fan swirling above them, not even touching slightly in the dark. However much they might want to, and God, Richie wants to.

And so, nine months later, there’s a heatwave in L.A. the first time Richie sees Eddie naked.

 

Light has him screwing his eyes open unhappily, spearing through the dim murk of his overheated dreams. The bathroom glows in a bright rectangle, and one half of the king-size is empty, a faint shadow of sweat left in the wake. 

It only took a handful of nights for Richie to stop holding every muscle corpse-stiff, terrified of accidentally groping something in his sleep and sending Eddie haring back to his old room, disgusted. 

Eventually his nerves have settled to a purr, a little more with every time Eddie hip-checks him as they brush their teeth, or every time Richie falls fitfully asleep mid-sentence to the feel of fingertips resting in his curls, as Eddie sits up reading shit on his phone. It’s all the contact they can bear, as the hot spell sinks its claws in. 

As far as Richie can tell, he’s the only one whose sleep is ripped to pieces by the heat. Eddie’s a constant dark, immobile presence at his side whenever he wakes up.

He fumbles for his glasses, suddenly worried. 

The toilet flushes quietly, and then there’s Eddie slouching to the sink, bare as the day he was born.

Richie’s throat catches. 

It feels like a slap in the face. It’s possible he’s still asleep; he’s had this dream before, a thousand times.

His dreams are never so real, however, and therefore so perfect. Eddie is as little as always, 5’9” in the way that actually means 5’7” in bare feet. He gets so pissy when Richie has to help him reach the higher shelves at Trader Joe’s.

But where Richie is built in weird angles like a praying mantis with a soft belly, Eddie is compact and wiry from the running, his metabolism high from all the goddamn fretting he does. Shoulder blades winging out in neat arcs while he washes his hands. Dimples above his fantastic ass to match his cheeks, even the one notched by the scar of Bowers’ knife.

When Eddie turns he’s limned in the golden fluorescence of the bathroom light, his whole body and wild tufts of hair in stark profile. The soft, dark mound of him swinging between his legs. Uncut, and gorgeous.

Logically, Richie knows Eddie has a dick, he’s felt it pressing into his thigh often enough, but the sight of it is thrilling like nothing else. Literal saliva floods his mouth, his gut leaping up to the ceiling.

No half-glimpse in the gym showers, or guilt-ridden peek during high school sleepovers compares to this. Now he knows exactly what he wants, what he feels, and he isn’t ashamed of it.

Eddie must see him there, pale and gawping in the low light like one of Pennywise’s ghouls, because he hisses out a startled, “Shit,” clattering back into the doorframe with a bang.

“I didn’t think you were awake,” he says accusingly, bare chest rising and falling.

“The light…”

“Ah, shit. Sorry.” Richie sees the moment Eddie must realize he’s completely buck nude, because his eyes widen and he scrambles for his boxers, which Richie hadn’t seen, folded neatly on the chair.

He grins like a maniac, watching Eddie hop around as he tugs them on. “You’re sleeping full pussy out and letting me sweat my balls off over here? How long has this been going on, I’m truly hurt.”

“Most nights. I think the air-con is fucking busted. Anyway, you never notice because I’m always up earlier than you.”

It’s true. Eddie is always out running or taking care of errands by the time Richie eventually emerges from bed, making use of the cooler mornings before the day starts cracking the sidewalks.

“You drool, by the way. And you talk even more shit in your sleep. Trashmouth by day, Trashmouth by night.”

“Only because I’m dreaming about you, Spaghetti Head.”

“Fuck off,” Eddie retorts, coming to stand at the edge of the bed. He fiddles with the waistband of his shorts, crossing and uncrossing his arms. “It’s — I’m still not — I want to be okay with it. I do. It’s embarrassing,” he finishes, muttering, his eyes downcast.

“What’s embarrassing? Having a dick? You know I have one too, right?”

“No, I assumed it fell off around the sixth time you caught an STD, actually,” Eddie says tartly, but his gaze is hovering around Richie’s crotch. Richie lets his thighs fall open a little wider, relishing the way he can still see Eddie’s face flush in the velvety shadows.

Eddie does climb back into his side of the bed, after turning the light off. The darkness envelops them again like a shield, tucked away safe from the outside, where the sun is waiting just a few hours away to shine a big fucking Eye of Sauron spotlight on their insecurities.

Eddie speaks, haltingly. “It’s embarrassing ‘cause — if you see it, it’s because we’re gonna be. Y’know.”

“Fucking?” Richie supplies, his heart picking up in little tentative skips.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, his breath fluttering out. Richie feels the bed dip as he shuffles closer, radiating heat like a furnace. He keeps his hands to himself, and listens. “Fucking. Like, for real. It makes it real, and I’ll have to — to accept what you do to me. How you make me feel. It’s stupid.”

Affection blooms through Richie’s chest so violently it feels like his diaphragm is going to explode. Before Derry, before remembering his friends and being honest with himself, he had forgotten he was even capable of loving someone like this, like he loved the Losers, and Eddie most of all. Wanting to make someone feel wanted, and safe.

It figures that Eddie would be the one to bring it out in him. Twenty-seven years, and he still wants to be the only thing Eddie sees.

“Eds, Jesus, you think I don’t feel the exact same fuckin’ thing? We’re in this together, man. Losers stick together, and we’re the biggest losers there are. Look, I told you before, I don’t care if we never get there, that’s not what matters. We’ll just be two crusty old bachelors dry-humping until our hips break, and I’ll die a happy man.” He reaches into the dark to poke at Eddie’s stomach. “Now, it’s hot as Satan’s asshole in here, so take your budgie-smugglers off and go to sleep before you get a gross rash.”

Eddie snickers into the dark cocoon of silence that follows, and then his hand is curling into Richie’s sweaty tangles to drag him forward into a sweet kiss. Richie pulls his glasses off awkwardly without letting Eddie go further than a hair’s breadth away, setting them blindly back on the side table. His hand curves over the bony rise of Eddie’s hip, stroking his thumb in the groove there, Eddie shivering against him with his mouth soft, and open. 

They settle back into sleepy contentment, but not before Eddie gently grabs his wrist, and presses Richie’s hand between his legs.

“That’s for you,” he mumbles. Richie’s sure his brain is going to pour out of his nose, hot and liquified. The soft bulge of him under the fabric has his palm on fire. “That’s yours.”

And then he rolls over, twisting around to tug his shorts back off and drop them over the side to the floor. Richie falls asleep with his hand tingling, and his head spinning in long, volcanic loops.

 

He slips out of bed early the next morning to make an attempt at omelets. If he stares at Eddie’s sleeping pout any longer he’ll end up kissing his forehead, or something else disgusting. He settles for kissing one tanned bicep.

 

Mornings are deceptive. The dawn-faded sapphire blue of the sky always promises a beautiful day, tricks Richie into complacency before the heat comes hammering down, the sun evaporating up the city’s stink until the horizon is gray with pollution. But he’s up before Eddie, so the sunlight is falling in shafts through dancing motes of dust, over the eggs and parsley, as Richie bops around the kitchen. Singing his head off along to crunching guitars. Happiness filling his stomach like a helium balloon, lifting him off the ground.

It’s probably too early for the kind of music he likes, and it’s probably too loud, which is why he doesn’t notice Eddie until he sees him standing like a bleary-eyed ghost in the doorway, dressed in nothing but a pair of Richie’s boxers.

“Jesus shit, man,” he sputters, moving to hastily turn the volume down. “You scared the crap outta me.”

“Sorry,” Eddie says, not sounding sorry at all. He scratches his stomach, and Richie is momentarily distracted by the pillow creases on his face, and the way the movement jiggles Eddie under Richie’s shorts, the slight morning swell of his dick unmistakable now that he knows what it looks like. “Your music scared the crap outta me.”

Richie cringes, tearing his eyes away to look down at the frothy bowl of eggs. “Oh, right. Sorry, I—”

“Don’t be sorry, I like it. I needed to wake up anyway. It’s like a bunch of howler monkeys with ADHD, it’s perfect for you,” Eddie yawns, coming to stand at his shoulder. 

His hands wriggle under the back of Richie’s shirt, holding onto the extra little curve of fat around his hips. Then he’s wrapping himself all around Richie’s middle like a scruffy-jawed koala, swaying sleepily. Richie’s heart beats for him like it has a mind of its own, straining all his blood and nerve endings towards Eddie’s touch, where his fingers drift through the hair on Richie’s stomach. 

“Are you making breakfast?” Eddie asks. His voice rumbles vibrations into Richie’s back, the way the earth tremors every week out here. It’s equally nerve-wracking, and he shivers, closing his eyes to keep still. To keep Eddie there. In the event of an earthquake, find the most stable part of the house. He wants to be that, for Eddie.

There was a guy Richie hooked up with for a few weeks under the radar, who always laughed at the music Richie played. Or the movies he wanted to watch, or the way he likes to sing every part of a song, even the instruments. It was teasing laughter at first, but then it just got meaner, and meaner, as the guy came to realize Richie’s strangeness wasn’t just an act he puts on for gigs. That his Voices come right out from somewhere deep in his head that he can’t control, even as he can see he’s annoying people. And annoying people only makes him more nervous, makes him do more Voices, because then maybe people will be mad at them instead of at Richie himself.

Eddie’s poking interestedly at the shiny red skin of the bell peppers, peering over his shoulder. 

“Yeah,” Richie sighs. Eddie’s hand is still sleep-cozy, when Richie threads their fingers together. He’s suddenly sad he missed the sight of him waking up. “Yeah. It was supposed to be a surprise. Omelets are pretty much all I can make, but I make ‘em awesome. I missed my calling as a YouTube chef. RichEats Tozier. I only wear an apron and I just make the one same dish, every video.”

“You make a pretty good mess,” Eddie says, kissing the bump of his spine through the soft cotton of his shirt. He moves away to slump down at the breakfast bar.

The eggs are a little runny, because that’s how Richie likes them. He watches Eddie demolish his plateful, taking quick bites between yammering on about a stupid billboard he saw on the 405. His rumpled hair is lit up golden at the ends in the sun, like he’s on fire, and Richie slides his bare feet under the table to trap Eddie’s ankle between them. 

“—and I thought, that’s creepy as shit, y’know, that’s a traffic hazard to have that thing lookin’ at you while you’re trying to drive, and — what are you doing?”

Richie squints at him, one eye closed, then the other. Then the first, again. Left, right, left, Eddie’s bewildered expression shifting slightly each time. “I’m trying to figure out if you’re hotter from one eye or the other. Stay still.”

Eddie snorts into his orange juice, blushing like a grapefruit right up to the roots of his hair. Sour and sweet and pink. “Oh yeah? What’s the conclusion, ya weirdo?”

“Hm. Maybe the left? This is hard, I gotta decide which one to get an eyepatch for. So you’re hot twenty-four-sevs.”

Eddie grins at him, and slowly closes one eye. He props his chin in his hand, and then they’re just awkwardly winking at each other. 

“Whaddaya think?”

“Not sure,” Eddie says. He leans back in his chair, and Richie cracks up when he feels bare, sun-warmed toes run up the back of his leg. “You look pretty good outta both.”

“Cheers to that.” 

Richie toasts him with mock sincerity, swigs down his juice, and pulls Eddie to his feet, sweeping him around the kitchen and hollering along to his awful, favorite music, until Eddie’s choking on laughter and joining in.

Chapter Text

The heatwave spreads through the city like slow, inexorable magma, washing June into July in a haze of sun-spots. It isn’t easy, sometimes. The heat and the way even their eyelids sweat makes them both irritable and snappish about stupid shit, like Richie not using enough sunblock at the beach. Or Eddie refusing to help walk Oliver the Dalmatian, because it’s too fucking hot, you go die of sunstroke if you want to, Richie.

The searing white orb of the sun plants dreams of the Deadlights in Richie’s head. Of Eddie cold and limp against him, with a black-blood rend in his chest.

But at the end of the day, Eddie still rubs aloe into Richie’s peeling shoulders, his own pink nose wrinkling as he rants about skin cancer. And Richie still brings Eddie piña coladas on the terrace to keep him feisty and hydrated, and the sky is the same skin-melting blue of a fire’s heart, and Eddie continues to sleep bare, in Richie’s bed. 

In their bed.

Eddie still wraps his arms around Richie’s neck, strokes his back gently when Richie wakes up with wet cheeks, and the need to hiccup into Eddie’s shoulder until the dreams fade.

 

“Zhese are my di-a-monds, comrade.”

“You vould not know a di-a-mond if I shoved vun up your asshole.”

“Vell, vhy don’t you come over here and try it, blyat—”

“Richie?”

His balls practically retract up into his body with how hard he jumps. He blinks some of the alcohol blur from his vision and quickly swipes a hand down his face, turning to see Eddie stepping out onto the shadowy patio with his eyebrows raised.

“I didn’t hear you get home.”

“And that’s why I keep telling you we need a better security system than your intuition.”

“It doesn’t count as breaking and entering if you have a key, Eds,” Richie points out.

It’s the Fourth of July, and Richie has been waiting it out, drunk and alone in the garden. Some of the SNL writers are in town, and had invited him out to a party, but Richie didn’t particularly feel like explaining to a bunch of straight people the reason why he was quite so motherfucking morose.

Eddie steps closer, loosening his boring tie and popping the top button of his shirt. He’s holding something behind his back, and Richie wobbles sideways on the deck chair, trying to get a look.

“Got you something.”

“Oh sweet.” 

It’s a baseball cap, with the words I HATE NYC embroidered in big blue letters on the front. Richie jams it on his head immediately and grins up at Eddie, who finds his deep love for the west coast both inexplicable and hilarious.

“I’m ashamed to be seen with you.”

“Aw, Eddie Spaghetti. You know you’re still my Maine man.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, but his smile doesn’t reach them. “What were you doing?”

“Ah, y’know.” He waves a hand down the yard in the direction of the bird-feeder Eddie bought, where he had been making up Voices for the squirrels who like to come and fight over peanuts. “Amusing myself.”

“Funny, it didn’t look like jerking off to me.”

“I’m not gonna jerk off to squirrels, Eds, that’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says quietly, after a pause. Staring down into the leafy silhouettes of the azaleas. “Yeah, I probably am.”

It’s almost into the dark part of dusk, in the way that it’s never truly dark in Los Angeles, especially not when the sky is periodically bursting into sweeps of color from all the fireworks. Richie looks at Eddie properly, and even in the low light from the house he can see the smudged circles under his eyes, and the lines around his mouth are deeper than usual. Slimy panic crawls up Richie’s throat like phlegm, and he fumbles for Eddie to stand closer, between his knees.

“Fuck, dude, are you okay? Did something happen?”

“Nah, just… long flight, y’know.” 

Fucking New York lawyers, acting like it wouldn’t be perfectly valid for Eddie to conduct meetings about the divorce over Skype. 

The night is sticky with the smell of barbecue and distant, partying laughter. Even though the sun has sunk down into the ocean, it’s still burping up bubbles of heat that hang around the city like Spanish moss. Eddie’s shirt is sticking to his stomach, damp under Richie’s palms like he’s been swimming, and Richie hates it. Hates seeing him buttoned up, tie like a noose, and sad.

Eddie’s hands are shaky when they come to rest on Richie’s shoulders. “They’re, uh. They’re throwing around the word infidelity.”

Richie can feel his eyebrow raising of its own volition, and he bites his lip to tamp down a smirk. Now’s not a great time for his many beers to make an appearance.

“But we… I mean, what is this, a Lifetime movie? We haven’t done anything.”

The look Eddie shoots him could wither an entire Redwood forest. “You sure about that, dingus?”

“Touché. But hey, hold the fucking phone, how the fuck would they know if you’d done anything?”

“Right?!” Eddie explodes. Richie curves into his touch like a cat, as Eddie slides his palms down his back. “Thank you. Every time I go back east I forget how much I hate wearing these fucking shirts, but at least they hide the way you maul my goddamn neck.”

A pleased, possessive flush slides its way up Richie’s face, and he pulls Eddie closer. He’s only making up for all the hickeys he didn’t get to leave on Eddie all these years, and it’s not like his own throat looks any better. It might be frustrating sometimes, but he can’t remember ever having this much fun just kissing someone on the reg. Marking each other up like a scoreboard, because everything inevitably turns into a competition with them.

He wishes Eddie was wearing his shorts like he usually is, so he could tuck his hands up under the hems. Warm their bodies skin to skin so they could melt together, permanently. Maybe he’s still a little drunk.

“But then, she — Myra, I guess she saw me checking my phone, and she saw my screensaver. I forgot about it.”

“It’s called a lockscreen, babe,” Richie murmurs, but his mind is spinning out like cotton candy. Eddie’s lockscreen. It’s a blurry selfie Eddie took the day Richie dragged him to Disneyland months ago, Eddie’s eye crinkling with mirth in a tiny corner, while the rest of the frame is taken up with Richie, disgruntled and soaked like a drowned rat from some water ride.

“Well, whatever, she saw it and she got mad. She got really mad, Rich.” Eddie’s speaking faster, his words jumbling together, and Richie looks up at him in alarm. The fireworks pop overhead, illuminating Eddie’s crumpling face in blues and whites and reds. He covers his eyes, his other hand clenching in Richie’s shirt until Richie feels the seams start to rip. “She got so mad and — and she’s right, because we are — I am—”

“Eddie — Eddie no, c’mon—”

The sound of the inhaler rattling sets Richie’s teeth on edge. Fuck this, he thinks, watching helplessly as Eddie sucks on the thing like he hasn’t needed to for months. Not even when he goes running, not even when it’s been so hot, and yet here he is leaning on Richie’s shoulders like he’ll collapse if he doesn’t. His heart feels like it’s breaking in half at the sight, the blood spilling out wells scalding up to his eyeballs, has him seeing red.

“That bitch,” he spits, gripping Eddie’s thighs so his own hands won’t shake.

“Richie,” Eddie snaps, sharp. “Don’t fucking call her that, alright? She’s just hurt. I hurt her.” He rubs at his unshaven face, sniffing. “I never wanted to hurt anyone.”

Music drifts up towards them from somewhere down in the valleys below, like smoke. 

Richie sighs, and flips his new cap backwards so he can burrow his face into Eddie’s stomach. “You were hurting yourself by staying, Eds. What about you?”

“I guess… my whole life, with my mom and everything, hurting was a way to stay safe, or something. If I felt like shit, or if I got sick, that justified why I let her walk all over me. ‘Cause I deserved to be fixed. I dunno. That’s what my therapist says.”

Richie’s gonna hit something. “That’s so fucked up,” he says, muffled by Eddie’s body.

Eddie snorts, still sounding a little wheezy, but his hands are steadier when they fit gently into the hinge of Richie’s jaw. “You wanna know the real fucked up part? I didn’t care what she was saying until she started talking shit about you.”

His belly is warm with sweat through the shirt, when Richie mouths a soft kiss there. 

“I don’t think she gets why I’m happy. Or even who I am, anymore. She only knows you from TV, so it was all this shit about how you weren’t worth all this trouble. How you could never — um. Feel. About me. But it was all bullshit. Gazebos.” 

Richie barks out a laugh, feeling a roaring bonfire spread inside him that has nothing to do with the beer, or the gunpowder burn of the night air. 

“And so I got mad, too,” Eddie continues. “I haven’t been that pissed since I saw you in the Deadlights. I was checking my phone ‘cause I — I missed you. I was worried about you, but I thought, shit, he must be out at a party or something, he’s probably fine. So I didn’t — I didn’t wanna be checking up on you, like she was always doing. Then I come home to find you drunk and talking to squirrels, like a loony.”

Dog days, that’s what they call it. The very bowels of summer that make people go crazy. Richie feels like a dog, feels territorial and owned all at once, inhaling deep into Eddie’s stomach until the sour airplane smell rolls in a physical weight on his tongue. 

Check up on me. He skims his hands up over Eddie’s ass to bunch fists in the back of his shirt, pulling it free. Please keep wanting to check up on me, forever.

But that’s selfish. He can’t be something that only adds to Eddie’s anxiety. 

Richie is selfish. He’s also drunk.

“I wasn’t talking to the squirrels, Eds, they’re talking through me.”

“Right. I knew there musta been a difference.” 

He lets Richie pull his tie through the collar, lets him fumble open the tiny buttons of his shirt, pull down his scratchy suit pants ‘til he’s just in his briefs. Then they’re squashed together in the deck chair, and Richie’s arms are so full as they watch the sky mosaic with bursts of light. 

“Tell me what they’re saying, then,” Eddie murmurs, kissing Richie’s temple, and straightening his hat for him.

So Richie does, happily.

 

“D’you think we could go see the Sierras some time?” Eddie asks, a little later, when the fireworks are petering out.

Richie squints down at him, knocked off-kilter from where they’d been discussing the superior Batman. “Since when do you like hiking?”

“I don’t know if I like hiking, I’ve never been to the mountains!” Eddie huffs, winding his hand in Richie’s collar to shake him gently. “We don’t have to hike, dipshit, it’d just be cool to go. Air’s cleaner, and the altitude would get us away from the heat. I saw them outta the window when I was flying back tonight, and I thought… it’d be nice. And you fuckin’ love westerns.”

“I do love westerns,” Richie muses. “I’d have made a great cowboy, if I knew how to ride a horse.”

“Well, do you wanna go or not?”

The moon is a fat silver dollar up above them, but it can’t compete with the Fourth of July, with the bright lights of Hollywood, and especially not with Eddie Kaspbrak’s impatient, freckled face. 

I’d go anywhere, Richie thinks.

He says, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” and kisses Eddie deep, for the rest of the night.

 

They go to the mountains above San Bernardino for a weekend. Eddie is back to wearing tank tops again, and decides he likes hiking, even if he freaks out about every stick he thinks is a rattlesnake. Richie eats too much cornbread, takes too many candids of Eddie dwarfed by Joshua trees, and makes out with Eddie on the ugly hotel bedspread until they’re both tenting the front of their shorts when the cleaning service comes in.

And they come home, baking down the interstate while Richie yodels along to country music, wearing the Stetson Eddie got him for his birthday. They bicker about milk in the dairy aisle and summer sloughs onward, ten months since Richie made a choice.

Chapter Text

If Richie thought he was obsessed with Eddie before seeing him naked, before everything else, it’s nothing compared to now. His thoughts are a constant whirlpool, spiralling around Eddie’s hip grooves, the dusting of dark hair on the inside of his thighs, the sweet hollow of his sacrum. The way he wants to fuck Eddie into the mattress every night, like he wants to breathe.

He knew he liked men, but this is out of control.

The heat makes him aware of his body like never before. Like the universe is melding with his own internal temperature and becoming one, like he could melt into Eddie’s body if he just gets close enough, like ice-cream. He wants at Eddie constantly; they’re circling each other like animals half the time. 

The basketball hoop above his garage door becomes an outlet for excess frustration, until he catches Eddie staring at him from where he’s arguing with the gardener (a friendly disagreement, Eddie calls it. He’s become very protective over the rockery.) Richie fumbles the ball when he notices Eddie looking, and it’s bouncing away from him, leaves him standing there empty-handed like a fool, staring back. Richie’s pouring sweat in an old gray pair of shorts, wearing nothing else under a shirt flapping open, patterned with little cacti wearing sombreros.

And Eddie’s biting his lip with this look in his eye, one Richie recognizes, ‘cause it’s the way he used to look at Eddie slurping down popsicles in high school. Unaware of Richie across in a corner of their clubhouse, his tongue basically hanging out with his body burning up like rocket fuel.

To Richie’s own credit, he waits until they’re both back in the dim, static air of the kitchen to pin Eddie up against the table. To suck at his neck and make him whine with it. Eddie’s fingers accidentally grazing the head of his cock where it’s straining his seams, bucking him forward like being electrocuted, knocking over the salt-shaker. Hands slipping hot through the coconut musk of sunblock, until Eddie’s writhing away and complaining about Richie’s sweat all over him, like they’re not both sticky messes. 

Richie screams silently into his hands for a few moments before heading for a shower, a cold one. They spend the evening eating delivered pizza, bodies sprouting damp and humid from the couch like mushrooms.

 

It’s so hot that Eddie actually gives in to Richie’s superhuman powers of persuasion, and starts ditching work for a few days per week to come and take refuge somewhere the A/C doesn’t suck huge balls. 

It might actually be because he gets sick of Richie scratching pathetically at his locked office door like a neglected dog, but who can tell. Not Richie, certainly, the inner workings of Eddie’s mousetrap mind are still shrouded in dry ice like a campy VHS cemetery, and no amount of heat-maddened, off-key singing on Richie’s part will ever reveal its secrets. 

It does, however, get him Eddie flinging the door open with a harried, “Fine! Let’s go!” 

He’s wild around the eyes, already stamping his feet into a pair of sneakers without even loosening the laces. Richie pumps his fist and follows him to the garage.

“Jeeze, you must really be losing it in there. All risk and no air makes Eddie a cranky boy.”

“Don’t even fuckin’ say the word risk to me right now.”

“You need a new job, man. There’s a vein in your forehead that I’m pretty sure can vote.”

Eddie practically snarls, stabbing his seatbelt closed like he’s trying to kill the car. “I’m not good at anything else! I’m — I’m sick of being a killjoy for a living just so those greedy fucks can fleece people out of insurance money. It’s like — it’s like the complete opposite of what you do.”

Richie frowns, stuck on the first part. Eddie cares so much about so many things, Richie figures it’s the reason he’s so angry as often as he is. 

“You’re good at tons of shit.”

“Just drive, alright?” Eddie grabs him around the wrist before Richie can poke the vein back into submission.

“Yessir. Let’s blow this dump.”

“The house isn’t a dump, Richie,” Eddie grumbles. “But yeah, let’s go. I don’t even care where.”

He takes a long gulp from a water bottle, and Richie misses the ignition with the key a few times because of the sleek configuration of his swallowing throat, the lines of his tendons sweeping into the loose collar of his tank.

If Eddie needs to relax, they could just turn on the car’s A/C and recline the seats...

“Richie?”

How quickly does carbon monoxide poisoning take to set in? He shakes his head free of all the little cartoon hearts swirling around it. 

“Oh, yeah. You ever listened properly to the words in A Whole New World, babe? That shit is beautiful.”

 

And that’s how they end up whiling away an afternoon in the blessed shade of the aquarium at Long Beach.

It’s a goddamn paradise compared to the sulfuric, Martian-surface gray and orange of L.A. mid-July. Richie heaves a happy sigh, resting strategically beneath an air vent and waiting for Eddie to catch up. He likes to read all of the little information signs, bless his dorky heart. 

Richie’s here to see cool fish, and maybe to buy some sort of cool fish hat. The gift shop looked promising on their way inside.

The room is dark, awash with deep blue light and lilting panpipe music. Richie starts to feel like a frond of kelp himself, swaying loosely in some kind of Atlantean trance. Atlantrance?

“Atlantrance,” he mutters to himself. “Good band name. Hey Eds, wanna start a band? You on triangle, me on everything else.”

He snickers, and covers it by examining a placard when a nearby kid gives him a weird look.

There are only so many times he can read the same paragraph about mollusc behavior, so he backtracks to see if Eddie needs to be scooped out from the shark tank, or something. Richie would do it too, it’d be real heroic. Eddie might even kiss him in thanks while people clap.

Christ. 

Why do they hand out those little paper maps if not for Richie to fan the horny flush away from his face? The heat and the sexual frustration are really getting to him, focusing between his legs, like a Bond villain laser trying to split him in half every time he so much as thinks about Eddie.

Speaking of which, he finds Eddie himself in the midst of a Mexican standoff through thick glass with a seal. Shimmering, aquatic light deepens the furrow between his eyebrows, throws him into relief like a mural on the underwater wall of a sunken Greek temple. Santorini blue, and scowling with Poseidon’s wrath.

The viewing area is mostly empty. Eddie’s resting bitch-face probably scared everyone away, like a pint-sized shark in chino shorts gliding through a coral reef. 

Maybe he’s just pissed to have found someone with even bigger, mournful brown eyes than him. 

“Cousin of yours, Eds?”

“Shit,” Eddie says, jumping a little, his brow smoothing out immediately. “Oh, hi. Where were you? Look at this guy, it’s so cute.”

“Course he’s cute, he looks like you.”

Eddie elbows him hard, and Richie can see his half-moon grin reflected in the depths of the huge tank. It’s always fun, trying to figure out just how Eddie manages to frown and smile all at once, like his face is in constant battle with what his brain is telling him he should be doing.

The pudgy seal rolls over, waving its wide, moon-rock flippers.

“Aw.”

“See? It says this one had to be rescued after its, uh, fin broke. It got caught in some fucking trash.”

Richie looks over at where Eddie’s resting his hand on the glass. His right one, his right arm, the one with the old break Eddie still rubs with a slammed-door expression whenever he stays in the pool too long.

Richie clears his throat. They’re supposed to be having fun. The seal sure looks healed up and happy enough, tumbling over like a fat little torpedo.

“I helped at a beach clean-up once, y’know,” he says, puffing himself up to stand straighter.

One of Eddie’s eyebrows makes an escape attempt. “Really?”

“Yep.”

“Was there an open bar?”

“Hey!” Richie shoves him off balance, catching him again before he topples into a display of fake rock pools. Eddie flicks him hard in the ear, looking feisty. “Alright, I deejayed for a bunch of other people who were doing it.”

“Oh, big fuckin’ hero.”

“I was like, twenty! I needed a gig! Are you still impressed? Eddie?”

“Did you make any money?” 

Richie clutches the map until it crumples. “No? It was for charity.”

“Then yes, I’m impressed,” Eddie says, turning to lean back against the glass and peer up into Richie’s face.

“Oh.”

It’s weird. The heavy crush of the summer heat speeds Richie’s heart up even when he’s doing diddly fucking squat, all his veins and valves opened wide like flowers in the sun, to frantically push his blood anywhere it might cool down. It might explain how crazy he feels half the time, though the other half is totally Eddie’s fault. His pulse had calmed though, in the cavernous darkness of the aquarium, ‘til he felt a spiritual connection with the peaceful little newt things chilling out on their patch of springy moss.

All his cool flies out the goddamn window as Eddie hooks a lazy grin at him, his hands stuffed into his pockets. A lean silhouette against watery indigo light, and it’s almost surreal. He’s like a black hole stark against a nebula of starry bubbles, and Richie can’t help but get sucked in.

Is it worth it, to find out what the penalties might be for making out against the seal exhibit? He can almost hear his heart sighing, not this shit again, as he watches Eddie push sweaty strands of hair back from his forehead. 

“You want a picture with your pal, Eds?” 

“Yeah, okay,” Eddie says quickly, his face brightening.

The seal swims over like a born performer, ready for its curtain call. Seriously, Richie has worked with less professional human beings.

“Alrighty then, say spaghetti.”

It’s adorable, of course. Eddie blazing with the same pleased smile he gets whenever Oliver the Dalmatian listens to him, draped in an ugly Ron Jon’s tank that can only be one of Richie’s. 

The seal is cute, too.

“Okay, say jiminy cricket, ah cawt me a big ole water varmint, hoo sheeit.”

Eddie must be feeling very indulgent today, because he rolls his eyes and parrots him quietly, in a far better Forty-Niner Voice than Richie’s ever managed. Maybe the sun’s got him feeling loopy too, broiling his brain in his skull ‘til it spills out like a pie left too long in the oven. Or it could be that he’s just as relieved to be somewhere fresh and dark, reflected iridescence lulling them cool, cradled in this indoor ocean.

Eddie does hate the heat, he said so back in Derry. A nugget of kidney-stone guilt grows in Richie’s gut.

He swallows. “Now say, beep beep Richie.”

The seal twirls in a flume of silvery bubbles. Eddie shakes his head with a grin. “No, never. I don’t wanna say that.”

Well — huh. Alright. “Say, Richie’s the best.”

“Definitely not gonna say that.”

Richie snorts and it sets Eddie off too, as he raises the rare double finger at Richie’s phone camera, both hands, sticking his tongue out.

A little girl tuts nearby, waiting for her turn with the seal. Eddie says a hasty goodbye to his blubbery friend and hustles Richie away as he fiddles with his phone. The last picture makes for a good lockscreen, replacing the previous masterpiece that was Eddie floating around in an inflatable chair in the pool.

“C’mon Eds, they have crocodiles this way.”

“Oh, cool!”

 

Richie stands as close behind Eddie as he dares, both of them drooping on the conveyor walkway as the tank tunnels arc overhead.

Rainbows of bioluminescence paint their way down Eddie’s face. The tickets weren’t expensive, but Richie’s distantly aware that he should really be getting his money’s worth by actually looking at the fish at some point.

“Gimme the map,” Eddie says, suddenly. His eyelashes flutter in the puffs of air as Richie just starts fanning him with it instead. “Oh. Thanks.”

“Your wish is my command, O Sultan Eds.”

“I knew you were watching Aladdin last night.”

“I can sing the song again if you like—”

“No, that’s,” Eddie’s twitching mouth looks like it’s struggling against the tide of his laughter. “That’s fine. You’ll scare the fish, just keep fanning.”

It’s a testament to how empty the tunnels are that he even lets Richie do that much. A young couple far ahead of them gazes up at the wafting flight of a stingray, the girl wrapped in the guy’s arms.

Would it be so terrible?

Richie looks down at his own hands, all pale and spiked through with protruding bones like a lionfish.

Would the tank crack? Would the world come crashing down in a flood of glass and water? Would the sharks’ jaws distend open into four alien segments bristling with teeth, Deadlights spinning inside, and punish Richie for wanting to hold Eddie’s hand, here, where people might possibly see?

“You don’t have to impress me.”

Richie blinks. He didn’t realize he’d been slacking on fan duties, and Eddie takes hold of his wrist to make him start again, his grip like a hot fucking poker against Richie’s air-conditioned skin.

A warm shiver races through him. Eddie’s looking at an electric blue fish, still holding his wrist. Thousands of pounds of water hung above their heads, and Eddie’s down here with him, risking the flood.

“What?” Richie asks.

“The beach clean-up thing. You don’t have to impress me. I like it here,” Eddie adds, nonsensically.

“Where, the aquarium?”

“No,” Eddie says, glancing up to meet his eyes. Richie’s doing the best job he can with the map, but Eddie’s face still looks pink. “California.”

Richie’s too muddled up with first the sun and then the water, too muddled into a murky swamp of strange thoughts to parse whatever the fuck that means. But he keeps fanning, and Eddie tells him which cool fish hat looks worse, and that’s the one Richie buys. 

They emerge, spat back into the sunlight like driftwood thrown onto a beach, and they do wind up reclining the car seats to make out until Richie’s desperately hard, tasting the Pacific salt of Eddie’s mouth.

 

The weeks wear on in a charred and stitched-together tapestry of zoo visits, museum visits, endless cinema screenings. Of dry-humping against the ping-pong table like uncontrollable teenagers, though it becomes more like damp-humping through the drag of sweat, and the way Richie has to stumble to the bathroom after Eddie pulls away, to jack off with his teeth making dents in his arm.

Half the movies they see are utter dogshit, but it’s worth it for the cool air twining around their legs, and Eddie’s fingers twining into Richie’s in the dark. 

 

And then, all at once, there comes a night in late July when Richie’s tossing in and out of sweltering consciousness, and comes awake to soft, choked noises right beside him.

He grunts, fighting the dark to sit up. “What…?”

The noises slice silent. 

He can make out the barest shape of Eddie, lit by L.A.’s orange glow through the shutter blinds. Apparently frozen stiff, but Richie can still hear the telltale rush of someone panting, and trying to hide it. He fumbles around in the dark for the bedside lamp switch, eventually finding it, a little concerned that his nightmares might be catching.

“What are you—”

Eddie stares at him across the pillow like a rabbit about to get mown down, headlights reflecting nothing but panic. Mouth slack, and pink like he’s been biting it. Richie can see his tongue pushing into the side of his cheek, and one of his hands is cupped tight around his erect cock.

“Holy shit,” Richie croaks.

Lust rockets through him in a Lichtenberg scar, spreading into every cell and empty space between them, shocking him fully awake. Eddie pants out a breath like he can’t hold it in, his arm flexing.

“I — I was…”

Richie swallows, trying to flood his parched mouth. His ears are burning right off his head. Eddie’s balls twitch, and his cock is wet in his grip, like he’s been at this for a while.

This is really fucking happening. “Were you jerking off… to me? Asleep?”

“No, to your mom,” Eddie says thickly, his voice cracking and his eyes roaming hungry over Richie’s face, coal-dark. Flushed all over his whole body, once sleek, now a little rangier with the years. Just like Richie. Curled protectively around where he’s most tender, and needy.

He’s so fucking beautiful.

Richie snorts, turning over on his side so they’re face to face. Even the sheets are hot, clenched in his unsteady fist. “Why didn’t you go in the bathroom like a decent person? Like I do?” Eddie makes a small, hurt noise at that, his eyes widening. Richie’s throat is like sandpaper. He needs water. He needs to see Eddie come, more. “No biggie, Eds. You’re cute.”

“Shut up, don’t call me that. M’not a fucking kid.”

“No siree. Y’know, whenever I say cute, I mean you’re sexy as hell.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“I can’t. I can’t shut up. You should be grateful my nose isn’t bleeding, look at you.”

“Ugh,” Eddie groans, burying his pinched expression in the crook of his elbow. “Don’t look at me.” His hand starts moving again, curling frantic around the damp head of his cock. 

“How the fuck am I supposed to not look at you?”

Nothing about Eddie’s many hang-ups or rage issues has ever screamed big dick to Richie, and he’s a perfect, regular size when he’s soft, but fuck, has he ever been more pleased to be proven wrong. All of his nighttime fantasies about getting his mouth full of that softness, keeping Eddie there ‘til he comes, they’ve been dashed. The guy’s a grower, that’s for sure. Eddie’s stern eyebrows furrow into something like agony, like he’s chasing something he’d die for, as Richie watches, avidly. Arousal pulses him to dizzying hardness in sympathy, fixated on Eddie’s slim fingers spreading out in a blur around the way his cock swells thick up the shaft, snug in its velvety-looking foreskin.

“You been doing this most nights too, babe?” he whispers, nuzzling in at Eddie’s crimson face, nudging their sweating foreheads together. 

“No — yeah — fuck, you know how, hahh, hard it is not to? You’re so fucking—”

“Me?!” Richie laughs. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to touch, so he’s relieving the ache in his body by mouthing wet kisses against Eddie’s jaw, his chin. 

Slowly, so slowly, Eddie turns his face and starts kissing him back. Starts lapping in close, starts biting gently at Richie’s lower lip, how he knows Richie likes it.

He keeps halting the desperate pace of his hand to shake it out, like he’s cramping, and Richie feels about two seconds from shooting off himself. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d have Eddie Kaspbrak in his bed one day, wringing his cock with his leg hooked around Richie’s knee. He slides his hand under Eddie’s thigh to pull him closer, and Eddie’s whimpering into their endless, messy kiss.

Slick skin noises between them, Richie’s knuckles slinking down the shadowed valley of Eddie’s ribcage, the dark line of hair. He wants to touch so fucking badly his teeth hurt. Please, please let me. I’ve wanted this literally longer than I can remember.

“What about me, Eds? I’m so fucking what?” Richie presses, hoarse. “You think about me when you do this? ‘Cause I think about you, holy shit. I’m a five-times-a-day guy now. I’m gonna need a wrist brace, you turn me on so hard.”

Eddie half-pants, half-laughs into the burning few inches between them, and then he’s — he opens his eyes, staring at Richie so intense he feels like he’s swallowed his tongue.

“You — I want — fuck—”

Richie can’t breathe. “Any — anything, man, I’ll fuckin’ do it.”

Eddie moans, the sound loud and incredulous. His hand speeds up, and he’s lurching forward to kiss Richie again, like he’s never been kissed before, like Eddie wants to devour him whole.

“Want you, want — you—”

Richie grins hard against his tipped-open mouth. He can feel Eddie’s pulse flying in his throat when he gentles his hand there. “Yeah?”

“Oh fuck, yeah dumbass, you — my therapist says I gotta understand there’s, there’s nothing w-wrong with me for — wanting — shit, Richie, Richie,” Eddie hisses through clenched teeth. He grabs blindly at Richie’s other hand where it’s inching down to his own erection, and makes him hold on to Eddie’s forearm where it’s tensing with effort. 

“Richie — fuck—”

“Yeah,” Richie breathes, “yeah, c’mon Eds, that’s — that’s it. Doin’ so fuckin’ good.”

Something about that does it. He feels the moment Eddie lets go with a loud, ragged whine, blood pounding hot in Richie’s face like his brain is trying to break through his skull. He swallows down the noise from Eddie’s mouth and hastily moves to catch most of the come before it can dribble onto the bed, because something tells him Eddie will probably freak out, and insist on changing the sheets in the middle of the night if there’s a wet spot.

Eddie lies there with his eyes closed, panting against Richie’s collarbone like he’s run a sprint. Richie can’t help kissing his burning cheeks and carding his clean fingers through his hair, until Eddie groans, stuffing his face between the pillows.

It takes all of twenty seconds for Richie to get off harder than he ever has, teeth set in Eddie’s shoulder and his hand already slick with Eddie’s come. He lies splayed out in a blown-apart constellation of himself, and watches Eddie watch him with one eye cracked open.

“Fuck,” Eddie says, eventually. 

He looks sort of dismayed, but also sort of pleased with himself. Like when he used to bully his way into the hammock, before realizing what he’d actually done. Rewarded with Richie’s dirty socks in his face.

“I can’t feel my legs,” Richie replies.

“Well, I’m not carrying you to the bathroom.”

“It’s fine, I’ll just die here anyway. That was the hottest thing that’s ever happened to me.” His belly is splattered with his own release, and he contemplates the glistening mess of his hand. Then waves it in Eddie’s face, who scowls and bats it away.

“That’s fucking gross, are you kidding me? What are we, twelve?”

“I hope not. No twelve year old has a dick like that.” He looks pointedly at Eddie’s softening length where it’s still gently twitching against his thigh. “Where did that come from?”

“Jesus Christ,” Eddie mutters, his hesitant grin a crooked white slash in the low warmth of the lamplight.

“It’s gorgeous. Seriously, you should be, like, a boner model or something.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. This is all funny to you.” Eddie sits up against the headboard, hugging his knees to his chest.

“I’m just teasing, babe.” Richie pushes slowly up with his clean hand, to sit beside him. “Your therapist is right, y’know.”

“Hm?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you. Not about this, and believe me, it took me a long-ass time to get that part.” 

Richie feels severely unqualified to be giving this type of reassurance, considering his sexuality still makes him feel like three different kinds of fraud. He squashes it down, because he can’t stand the strained look on Eddie’s face. It makes him wanna punch every single thing that ever planted the idea in Eddie’s head that he’s inherently sick. 

“But there’s nothing wrong with you. I mean, I hate that you never believe me when I say I’m fine, and your road-rage scares the shit out of me, but—”

He tips his forehead against Eddie’s temple, his damp hair. Eddie turns until their noses brush, his mouth pressed in a line and his eyes a little too shiny. 

“But you wouldn’t be my Eds, otherwise,” Richie whispers. “And then there really would be something wrong. Big trouble. I’d have to kick your ass.”

Eddie closes his eyes, breathes out slowly through his nose. Richie feels like he’s going cross eyed, trying to take him all in. “My therapist said you’d probably say something like that.”

Sure, his therapist. Funny how a lot of the shit Eddie’s therapist says sounds just like him.

“Yeah? You talk to her about me a lot?”

“Sometimes,” Eddie says, failing to keep the smile out of his voice. “I blame everything on you, actually.”

“Hey! I’m nothing but a good influence.” He peers down into the shadows between Eddie’s legs, where his cock is lying sated and sticky. “Was this her idea too? Maybe I oughta write her a check.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “No, fucker, this one was all me.” He cups Richie’s face and lays a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth, before rolling out of bed, towards the bathroom. Richie hears him muttering, “No way you could kick my ass,” as he goes.

Richie listens to the shower turn on, and thinks about blame. 

Maybe it is his fault. Maybe Eddie wouldn’t be like this if Richie had never loved him. Belief has a way of manifesting things into reality, they learned that much down in the sewers. Fence-posts kill monsters, if you believe they do, and maybe Eddie is only here in his bed, in the cauldron of California with him because Richie had wanted it so fucking bad.

But then he remembers the awestruck look on Eddie’s face back in September, dappled in the fading green light of a country road in Maine. Richie would have felt like a duplicitous scumbag if he invited Eddie to stay with him without making sure they were at least reading from the same book, even if Eddie wasn’t exactly on the same pitiful, torch-carrying page as Richie.

He remembers Eddie looking back and forth between Richie’s hunched, terrified shoulders, and the initials carved into the Kissing Bridge, like his world was shifting into place. His small cough, and his tucked-in turtle nod, and the fact that he came to L.A. anyway.

And Richie thinks, nah, this is real.

He wipes himself down with a tissue and waits for Eddie to come back to bed, so they can fall asleep together.

Chapter Text

August comes crashing down on them in a supernova, red and unbearable to look at, like closing eyelids against the sun and having it burn through the filigree blood vessels anyway. Los Angeles fries, and Richie can’t think about anything other than Eddie and sex.

 

It’s like discovering what his dick is for all over again, almost thirty years later. The same all-consuming pulsing in his blood, the inability to concentrate in meetings with journalists, or the people from Netflix who are supposed to be filming his comeback special. Except, it’s worse than being twelve with a furtive magazine clutched under the bedcovers, because instead of a Playboy it’s the love of his life. Brave, twitchy Eddie, with a filthy mouth and the most beautiful cock Richie’s ever been allowed to touch. Not that he’s touched that many in the first place, but it’s the thought that counts. And Richie has thoughts coming out of his ass.

He thinks about it when he wakes up, finding his hand has splayed against the soft skin of Eddie’s waist in the night. And Eddie is awake, still in bed and breathing fast, faster when Richie’s hand finds his morning wood, like he’s been waiting.

He thinks about it in the shower, when the cool water should be a relief, but all it does is remind him of the droplets trickling through the sparse hair on Eddie’s stomach that morning, when he burst through the bathroom door to bitch Richie out about toothpaste he’d left on the sink. He’d only been getting started when his reprimanding crashed and burned like a plane shot out of the sky, staring at Richie pulling his clothes on, and then they were shoving each other back into bed.

Hence, why Richie has to keep taking so many showers. There’s nothing worse than dried spunk catching on the fly of his boxers and pulling his pubes out.

He thinks about it when he eats breakfast, staring vacantly at the countertop he had backed Eddie into one evening, shorts pooled around his ankles and coming before his briefs were even off. His hand curved like a gauntlet around the back of Richie’s head, Richie gripping clouds of bruises into his hips and sucking at the ripe-tasting wet spot. 

He thinks about after, when Eddie’s knees buckled down to sun-heated kitchen floor, when he’d anxiously insisted on getting Richie off with the heel of his hand, the other clenched tight in the hair at Richie’s nape as they bit each other’s mouths raw.

 

He’s thinking about it as they lie scorching on Venice Beach, the Pacific sparkling before them like gemstones sewn into a vast blue swathe of silk. 

Eddie is somehow managing to glare daggers through his shades at the teenagers kicking a beach ball around nearby, and Richie isn’t even pretending to look anywhere other than at him. His boring blue trunks, kept determinedly away from the sand he’s convinced is full of dog shit particles. Maybe Richie needs to take up some new hobbies, get his drum set out of storage, because he’s sure he can make out every curve of Eddie’s junk underneath. 

The unrelenting sunshine has sprayed freckles all across Eddie’s shoulders and the straight, handsome bridge of his nose. Sun kisses, Richie’s mom used to call them. She and his father are long gone, though, so he’ll have to take up the mantle. He remembers Mrs Kaspbrak trying to scrub Eddie’s cheeks clean on more than one occasion, thinking he was just dirty. He remembers wishing he were the sun, just so he could kiss his own marks into Eddie’s scrunched up little face.

He rolls onto his stomach, digging his feet into the burning sand where their umbrella doesn’t cover. The white streak of scar tissue is the only part of Eddie’s face not golden when he turns the full force of his severe eyebrows onto Richie.

“Stop looking at my dick.”

Richie bursts out laughing. “I wasn’t! I was looking at your… shorts.”

“Uh huh.” Eddie smirks at him. There’s a bite mark, a petal of burst capillaries low on his stomach where his drawstring cinches. Richie’s toes curl in the sand.

“They’re great. Where did you find them, the old man store?”

“If that’s what you call the back of your closet, then yeah.”

“Ouch, point to Spagheds. It’s not my fault you screwed up my system.” Richie can feel his stupid smile oozing into a sleazy coil, and he drops his voice low. “It’s really hot when you wear my clothes, though.”

Eddie coughs, turns his head away, like suddenly the beach ball game is the most fascinating thing in the world. He ain’t as slick as he thinks. Like this, it’s clearer than ever he’s still eyeing Richie up from behind his mirrored, aviator shield.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Richie says. He arches his spine to lean up on his elbows, and watches Eddie’s jaw muscle flex. “I’d wear yours, babe, but I grew outta kids’ sizes a while ago.”

“Ah, fuck you,” Eddie scoffs. “You’d stretch ‘em all out with your giant head anyway.”

“Fuckin’ zing!” Richie brays. God, if there’s anything better than Eddie getting off good ones, Richie doesn’t wanna know about it. “He’s on fire, ladies and gents. Just for the record, I can look wherever the fuck I want, including at your dick. It’s a free country.” He headbutts Eddie gently in the ribs. “Plus, you said it was mine.

He feels Eddie tense against him. Richie’s pretty sure no one’s able to hear them bickering over the surf and the teeming cries of the parrots that infest the pier, but still. Something unpleasant twinges in his chest as the teenagers cheer and hoot nearby, reminds him of jittery arcade daring, and the nauseating weight of people seeing him for what he is.

Then Eddie relaxes, visibly unclenching his jaw. He’s come a long way, really, since Derry last year. It’s not as if Richie is unaware of Eddie’s many and varied issues, completely the opposite. He’s had a front row seat to the physical embodiment of hypochondria since they were both in grade school, minus the obvious gap in the middle. But it’s this; the little things, like lying together on the same beach towel, Eddie trusting him to smooth sunscreen everywhere he can’t reach, even though he knows exactly how bad Richie wants to touch him everywhere else. It means so much to Richie that it chokes him up, sometimes.

Eddie pushes Richie’s head away, but his hand is gentle as it teases out the briny mess of his hair. “That was in private,” he mutters. “Out here you’re just a perv.”

“That’s a beautiful sentiment. Thanks, man.”

“Keep it for free, dickwad. I can’t have a perv for a boyfriend.”

The waves sing. Richie blinks. 

Sits up on his knees. 

“You, uh.”

Gulls screech overhead, like a record player scratching to a halt.

“I — shit, are you okay?” Eddie’s taken the sunglasses off to peer nervously at Richie, fiddling with the legs. Maybe it’s sunstroke that’s got Richie feeling so faint.

“Yeah — fuck, I dunno why I’m — wait, hold on, wait,” Richie says, and it’s all garbled, because he can’t think straight. His chest is expanding with light and air, a fucking Hindenburg disaster, and he’s mortified to feel the hot sting of tears. “I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

“Me neither,” Eddie murmurs. “Aw, Rich, don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.

It’s still roasting there in the shade of their umbrella, dark and secret like their bed at night. Eddie gently takes off Richie’s glasses to clean them, lets him take a moment to wipe his eyes on his shirt.

“I guess… I mean, that’s what we are, right? I thought you knew.”

“I did know,” Richie says, shakily. “It’s just weird to hear it out loud. I was — when we were kids, I thought I’d ruin everything. Because of what I wanted. And now I’ve got it, and—”

He knuckles his eyes, hard. God, they’re surrounded by people.

“You haven’t ruined anything, Richie.”

“I know! This is me being happy, I swear!” He gives Eddie a watery smile, and his arm breaks out in goosebumps despite the heat, when Eddie starts to rub small circles into it. “I just… always wanted it to be you. Of course I knew, I’m so dumb. Like, duh, you make me the best chowder I’ve ever had, and you’re allergic to shellfish. You let me touch your dick.”

Eddie stares at him, doe eyes dark and intent. He turns like a flash to peek outside their tiny nook of privacy, then he’s back with his thumbs stroking the corners of Richie’s eyes, cradling his face.

“Listen, alright? No-one gets to touch me like you do,” Eddie whispers, fiercely. “It’s my body and my fuckin’ decision to give you — nobody gets to tell me I’m sick anymore, ‘cause — ‘cause I’m not. We’re not. You were the first person I believed when you told me I wasn’t, because for all the weird shit you say, you never lie to me. And I love — I love that, and I’m so fuckin’ happy you’re my boyfriend.”

Richie gapes at him. Eddie’s gaze darts around his face like a pond skipper. “So please — please don’t cry. I thought you were having a heart attack. I thought I was gonna have one.”

Eddie’s face is pink up to his hairline and the neon flare of his ears. It’s him, so Richie knows it’s not sunburn. The beach is blinding white and technicolor behind him, and Richie thinks, I hope this is what I see when I’m sailin’ down the Styx.

Instead, he swallows back fresh tears, strokes the tender inside skin of Eddie’s wrists and says, “I love you too, Eds.”

Somehow Eddie blushes impossibly pinker, his hands falling loosely to Richie’s shoulders. “I know you do, ya big fucking sap.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who just gave a big speech about how we’re finally going steady at forty years old. Boyfriends makes us sound like we’re still in tighty-whities though, maybe that’s why it’s weird.”

“Well, what would you call us?”

“I dunno. Really close bros? Lovers?” 

Eddie grimaces like someone took a turd in his drink. “I think partners is fine, you weirdo.”

Richie beams at him. “Look at us, middle-aged, loser boyfriend partners having relationship talks on the beach.”

“We wouldn’t have had to, if you weren’t so goddamn clueless. So embarrassing,” Eddie says. He tucks some of Richie’s hair back, stroking the shell of his ear with his thumb. “You’ve dated way more people than I have, how do you not know this shit?”

Richie might not ever stop smiling. He knows, now, that Eddie’s marriage to Myra was really a necessary shield erected between Eddie and his own repression. A comfortable bunker he could hide in, maybe, but only one of them has had a long term relationship before, and it sure isn’t Richie. 

Richie’s never had to think about this stuff, because he spent his entire adult life running from it. While he might have spent the early 2000s illicitly fooling around with other dudes, it’s not like he was ever comfortable enough to lie close on a beach with them, or do their paperwork side by side at the dinner table. Eddie still seems to have this idea that he’s some big bisexual Casanova, though.

“None of ‘em were you, Eds.”

“Alright, alright,” Eddie grumbles. He slaps away Richie’s questing hand, which had been sneaking down to the dark line of Eddie’s waistband, but the corner of his mouth is curling up. “You need to cool off, we’re still in public. You want some water?”

Richie keeps his hand possessively on Eddie’s knee, can feel eyes on his bobbing throat as he chugs the water Eddie produces from his fussy little cooler. It slips down his gullet, the chill of it burning his insides as Eddie’s hot gaze ratchets the one-hundred-and-two afternoon up another fifty points of mercury.

“Here,” Eddie says, raspy-voiced. He shuffles closer, and his eyes are like polished jet, hooded as he presses a slippery ice cube between Richie’s lips. 

The pads of his fingers are sea-salty at the tip of Richie’s tongue. This has to count as public indecency, Richie thinks, heart hammering as he scrapes gently at the sandy grit of Eddie’s nail beds with his teeth. The ice cube melts, slowly, and Eddie’s hand is deliciously cold on Richie’s sweating Adam’s apple, as he swallows.

And this has been an unforeseen consequence to finally having regular sex with Eddie, though sometimes it feels like more of an unmitigated disaster than a perk. That is, discovering that Eddie’s obsessive mania actually extends to the pursuit of both his own orgasms and Richie's. Turns out, Eddie’s making up for time lost to a sexless marriage by being a horny little bastard.

Go figure, Richie thinks, nobly, watching Eddie stare at his mouth. Guess I have to be the sensible one, for once.

“C’mon, short-stack,” he says, and then Eddie’s kicking sand and cursing a filthy streak through his laughter, as Richie hauls him down to the crowded blue of the ocean, warm as bath-water.

 

Eddie’s fingers are in his mouth again that night, scalding now without the ice.

“Jesus,” he keeps saying, and his legs are shaking where Richie’s holding them wide apart. “Fuck, Jesus Christ—”

Richie bites at the knuckles and pulls off with a loud slurp, tonguing the spaces between Eddie’s fingers. “Just Richie, is fine.”

“Asshole,” Eddie laughs, breathless. 

The stark tan lines from his running shorts are obscene against the white of the towel underneath his hips, discarded when he’d stalked out of the bathroom with his usual manic intent. Richie may or may not have a thing for the scary look Eddie always gets in his eyes when he’s shouting at cars on the freeway, but then, it’s hard to tell. He kind of has a thing for everything about Eddie.

His hips and ass might be fishbelly pale, but Eddie’s cock is the same dark, dusky pink as his nipples, the same healthy brown that’s blotching to red up his chest and throat. He’s so hard, it’s bobbing against his stomach. Richie lolls out his tongue to blot at some of the slick welling down the thick, blue-river vein on the underside. It makes Eddie’s thighs tremble wider, which in turn makes Richie feel like some kind of dirty god, so he does it again.

“I’m an asshole, but I’m the asshole that’s gonna make you come,” he says, smudging wet kisses into the crease of Eddie’s hip. The fan does little to ease the sultry heat that’s clouding Richie’s head and his glasses, but it could be more to do with the way he’s mindlessly rutting his own hardon against the sheets. “You wanna, Eds? We don’t have to—”

“No, c’mon, I want — I want it.”

Richie looks up at him in delight, past Eddie’s taut, heaving stomach to his determined face. How he manages to be hangdog and hot all at once is a mystery Richie never wants to solve. He looks like somebody’s drugged him, all hazy and red with his mouth hanging open, wet with spit. 

“I’m one lucky sonofabitch.”

Eddie huffs and rakes his nails through Richie’s hair. His feet flex, immediately, heat spiking down his spine. “Shut up, can’t you just — get on with it?”

“I’m savoring this.” 

Eddie’s foreskin is drawn back already, and isn’t that just a pleasant surprise every time. Even his cock is a pretty, wrapped gift that keeps on giving. Richie is still happily shocked Eddie didn’t volunteer for an elective chop, after Stan told them it was for hygiene reasons so long ago, so concerned is Eddie with keeping his whole situation clean. Makes things easier too, since Richie’s intimately familiar with how they work.

Tastes just like any other part of Eddie, really. Tangy summer skin, kind of like oranges and gasoline at once. Like the beach wanted to cling to his body even after his shower. Fuckin’ delicious, in Richie’s opinion. It ruffles up delicate like lace, under his pushing tongue, his kisses.

“That’s — oh.” Eddie’s hips bow off the bed, and he makes a mewling sort of sound. Like a pinned-down animal. His other hand makes shaky anchor around Richie’s nape. “You like the — uh. Right.”

“That okay?” 

Eddie kneads his hair into a slow mess. “Yeah, just. Not used to it.” 

Richie would stay here all day, if he could. He’d give Eddie his mouth as many times as he needed. Precome drips down into the dark nestling of curls, and he swallows. “Teenage Richie is dancing the fucking conga right now.”

“Great. Fucking great. How about adult Richie, how’s he doing?”

“Adult Richie wants to blow you so hard you can’t walk tomorrow.”

A worried little furrow appears on Eddie’s forehead. God, he’s still so adorable. “Is that possible?”

“Only one way to find out,” Richie leers, and leans down to suck the head of Eddie’s dick into his mouth. 

Eddie’s whole body snaps to attention, pinned as he is under Richie’s shoulders. He gasps like someone’s socked him in the gut, and Richie swallows him deeper just to hear him do it again.

It’s been a good few years since Richie’s done this, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t anxious about making it good. He’s kind of desperate to make it good for Eddie, to make him realize how good it can be, that he hasn’t given up his old life and jumped into something they’re both still kind of terrified of, for nothing.

He probably needn’t have worried. Eddie arches into a thrust, his cock nudging thick into the back of Richie’s throat. “Shit, holy shit that’s good, ahh, fuck—”

Richie might pass out from lack of oxygen, but he doesn’t care. Let the paramedics find him here, dead from doing what he loves. He grips hard at Eddie’s waist, hands slipping through the sweat glittering in the lamp-light and tries bobbing his head slowly, until Eddie’s moans go all high pitched and his heels dig into Richie’s back.

He smells of clean sweat and his allergen-free shower soap when Richie comes up for air, dragging his tongue through the clear stuff leaking steadily from Eddie’s slit. 

“Eds,” he husks, kissing open-mouthed at the salty tang of Eddie’s inner thighs. “Hey, Earth to Spaghetti Head.”

“Ah, w-what?” Eddie says, faintly. His eyes are dark sinks in his face, as he pushes himself up on one shaky elbow to peer down between his legs. His hand joins Richie’s in gently jacking him off, then he’s cupping Richie’s jaw to touch his slick lower lip again with his thumb.

“S’it good?”

Eddie wheezes out a laugh. The same thrilled, petrified laugh he always did when he went along with Richie’s crazy bullshit. Like when he sat too close and fidgety on the swingboat ride at the county fair, alternating between sitting on his hands and grabbing at Richie’s shirt with a shriek. Both of them so red, Eddie declared Richie had given him hives, and Richie believed him.

His normally neat hair is fucking everywhere, damp from the shower and tousled in a dark crown around his flushed face. “You’re gonna kill me, Rich.”

“Can you come in my mouth?”

He feels Eddie’s pulse beat heavy in the big arteries of his thighs, where they clench like a vice around Richie’s ribs. His own erection is throbbing almost painfully, and he humps into the mattress a little for some bare relief, sweet pressure building tight in his hips.

“Please?”

“Holy shit,” Eddie whispers.

“Is that a yes, or—? I don’t mind, it’s not dirty or anything, but you don’t have to, if — if you’d rather—”

Eddie’s fist clenches gently in his hair again, and he cuts himself off with a moan that burns down into the hungry pit between his thighs. His hairline is gonna recede even more with all this grabbing, and frankly, he can’t wait. Eddie pulls him up until his cock is rubbing sticky trails into the hair on Richie’s stomach, sucks on Richie’s tongue enough that he’s drooling the taste of him between their mouths. He dives into it, going lightheaded with grinding along Eddie’s sweat-silken thigh.

“It’s — if you don’t think it’s gross then just — just keep going, yeah,” Eddie mutters, his voice so sex-deep it’s disconcerting.

“Fuck yeah,” Richie grins, and kisses him hard. He shifts down again so he can lick wet into Eddie’s belly button, and feeds the white-hot length of him back into his mouth.

It’s only a couple of minutes later that Eddie shouts out something like a ripped apart version of Richie’s name, when he empties down his throat. Richie’s eyes water as he swallows it all, his jaw a screaming band of ache, his fingers threaded with Eddie’s and squeezing tight. Eddie is a little skeeved out when Richie tries to kiss him after, but he’s still panting come-drunk hickeys into the base of Richie’s throat as he brings him off with a few long, focused strokes. 

He doesn’t complain either, when Richie collapses onto him like a cut-string puppet, not until he wiggles around and Richie feels their bellies sticking together with cooling streaks of semen.

“Oh jeeze, ew,” he groans. “Ew, ew, ew, Richie c’mon, get up.”

Richie’s head is still cartwheeling around in space, his hips jerking minutely with aftershocks whenever their cocks squish softly together. He made Eddie Kaspbrak come. In his mouth.

“Fine. Ugh.” Richie shifts, all his limbs feeling like jello. He only gets far enough to put a little space between them, the sticky night air flowing through the window’s mesh screen and around their sweat-soaked bodies. He rests his forehead against Eddie’s, and they look at each other until Richie’s gaze starts to swim, Eddie going swirly and impressionist. His skin tingles in the wake of Eddie’s hands, petting slowly down the ladder of his ribs.

He feels sort of elated, and weirdly shy, his belly doing happy somersaults. I just sucked my boyfriend off.

“Guess I really am a Trashmouth, huh?”

Eddie flushes hotter against his cheek, and snorts, closing his eyes. “You can say that again.”

“I’ll get a cloth. Toldja you wouldn’t be able to walk.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eddie mutters, but he’s beaming out from under the arm flung across his face, when Richie staggers sideways into the doorframe on shaky legs, even as he’s flipping him off.

Chapter Text

Late August continues to bear down on them like a fever dream, with an emphasis on the fever part. So hot it’s like being sick. Making it worse with the way they can barely keep their hands off each other when they’re in the same room, even when it’s too hot to touch, and touching feels like dying, like putting their tongues and fingers into each other’s bodies is holding them into a fire.

And that’s a thing, too. Eddie is, to Richie’s eternal hilarity, entirely familiar with the mechanics of how Richie might possibly fuck him, if not with associating it with sex.

“I’ve had fingers in my ass before, idiot,” he says once, unimpressed. His tone is belied by the way he’s breathing ragged, and his balls are twitching and heavy in Richie’s hand, drawn up neat to his body.

“What?” Richie sputters, because, what? From everything Eddie’s told him, his pre-Richie sex life seemed to consist of half a blowjob in college, and a couple years of unfortunate heterosexual struggling that soon dried up into occasional jerk-off sessions down the shower drain. If he’s been leading some double life as New York’s reigning expert on butt stuff, this is the first Richie’s learning about it. 

“Ever heard of a doctor? A prostate exam? Cancer? We are forty years old, you can never be too careful about that shit,” Eddie says, more pompous than Richie thought anyone could sound with their boner so lively it moves by itself. And then, more irate, “What the fuck are you laughing at!” 

Richie only stops honking like a goose when Eddie’s mouth sets in that familiar way, and soon he has Eddie writhing loud and shooting copiously onto his own stomach, with Richie sucking at his taint and two slick fingers buried inside him.

It’s all amazing. They do it another three times that week. Richie walks around on air, his own body smarting from the last time, when Eddie wanted to try it the other way around.

Every day the sun crushes them down, like the Earth turning fossils into oil with its own pressure and heat. Eddie’s lucky. Working from home leaves him with constant access to the pool, while Richie has to keep heading into the city for meetings, or to check out venues. It becomes a kind of constant low level buzz under his skin, the knowledge that Eddie is waiting at home, more often than not.

Not just the sex, though that is a major part of it, but the way Richie will find himself drifting off during conversations with the sound guys, thinking of Eddie chopping limes at the kitchen counter, Eddie’s bat-wing bony feet kicked up on the coffee table and nudging Richie’s as they watch TV. The chlorinated slip of his tongue in Richie’s mouth as their bodies make gentle waves in the pool. His bellyaching over the latex funk of the condom he insisted Richie wore the first time he blew him on the couch, and how he still sucked Richie’s brains out anyway. His worse bellyaching over the taste of the joint, once Richie convinced him they weren’t going to be arrested for smoking a one-skinner in the backyard, in a legal state. The absolute smitten glee Richie felt when Eddie coughed his eyes bloodshot, and took another determined hit. The bashful smile on Eddie’s face when the neighbor lady from across the street complimented his cooking, the last time they had a barbecue, and said they’d both found themselves quite the catch. Eddie’s split-wide grin when he makes Richie laugh ‘til rum sprays out of his nose, and the feral way he chases flies with the hand-held bug zapper, and his sweet body, all Richie’s, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.

Derry was cruel to boys like them. It still is. Twenty-seven years since he cried after his first Eddie-shaped wet dream, and Richie still felt like vomiting when Mike told them about that Mellon kid, the one that kicked everything off again back in September. Tipped over the side of the bridge and into the Kenduskeag, like garbage.

So there’s a part of him that can still hardly believe it, that he gets to have something so exciting, and yet so normal. He never saw domesticity in his future in the first place, let alone that he might find it with the first and only person he ever fell in love with.

He’s thinking about it one day, dreamily, when he gets home. The street is still, the air so thick with heat-haze shimmering off the tarmac he feels like he’s swimming through the front door.

“Eddie?”

There are no cooking smells wafting from the kitchen, so maybe they’re having take-out. Richie toes off his shoes and leaves his socks in a sweaty pile next to where Eddie’s sneaker collection is neatly lined up in the hall, looking forward to the inevitable argument. The thought makes him smile, stupidly. Even the arguing is great.

“Babe? You home?”

The main part of the house is all open plan, so he can see in an instant that Eddie’s nowhere to be found. There are telltale signs of him though, just like there are all over the rest of the house. Unsurprising, given the number of giant bags Eddie ferried across the country over the long, hot months. 

Somehow, the sight of Eddie’s clothes sharing space his closet still makes Richie want to curl into a squealing ball. Along with Eddie’s murder mysteries and self-help books scattered all over the place, neatly filed full of torn-newspaper bookmarks. The big, fancy-ass globe Richie surprised him with after he saw Eddie eyeing it when they fled the heat into Griffith Observatory back in June, his FitBit charging on the counter, the printed-out photos of the Losers carefully stuck to the fridge door like they still live in the dial-up age. Richie looks around, at all of it, smiling helplessly and wondering how the fuck he ever lived here, before.

Eddie’s missing, though. Only framed movie posters peer down at Richie in the dusky gloom, preserved in fuzzy VHS permanence. But there’s muffled noise coming from the back yard.

Summer evenings in L.A. are a flood of orange, especially since Richie’s big faux-Spanish colonial faces out west, over the hills. The garden is draped in a gauze of sunset, like grainy 80s film stock, and loud cicada whines drip from the carob trees.

It’s here that he finds Eddie sacked out in his deck chair by the pool, one of Bill’s old thrillers covering his face, and his chest moving peacefully with quiet snores.

Richie claps a hand over his mouth to keep a hold of his laughter. There’s music oozing from the outdoor sound system, some of the slutty hip-hop slow jam stuff that Richie will never stop finding it hilarious Eddie enjoys. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise; Eddie was always a closet New Edition fan back in the nineties. Dick-riding music, Richie calls it, if only to watch how it makes Eddie scowl and his ears go red, one dimple popping out in spite of himself.

He whips out his phone, angles it so the camera takes in the city spilling down to the sea. Foregrounding Eddie, the lean, shirtless stretch of him taking up the bottom half of the picture.

There’s a cathedral in France, one Richie visited on a road trip he took after a presenting gig at Cannes. It had only been a few short weeks since his father’s grey Chicago funeral, maybe that’s what had him wandering inside in a fit of nostalgic, halfhearted Catholicism. He’d never seen so much gold in one place, gilded murals blazing up every wall like banks of shining cloud, saints and Old Testament angels haloed in fiery resplendence. His neck ached when he left, from craning it until he felt like he was going even more blind than he already was. 

The world was so beautiful, he remembers thinking. So much of it. A sweet, fleshy apple surrounding the rotten smear of smalltown America at the very core of Richie’s memory, slipping further from him every day.

Eddie looks like those angels, he thinks, glad the man himself is asleep, and can’t make fun of the sappy look he can feel on his face. 

It’s a good picture, though the golden hour can turn anything into Instagram-bait. But Eddie looks like a wet dream. Sprawled out loose with the barest hint of definition on his stomach, the unmistakable impressions of Richie’s fingers bruised into his obliques. Dark garlands of hickeys low on his collarbones, usually covered. Veins roping down his forearms, picked out by the lens-flare, and his tan line visible high on his thigh where his running shorts are riding up. It could be the way Richie feels like he has X-ray vision when it comes to Eddie’s dick, because of how much time he spends looking at it, but he’s pretty sure the shorts aren’t leaving much to the imagination either.

Nice view, Richie captions it, and adds about two dozen fire emojis. He hits the post button, and moves to crouch beside the chair.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.” Eddie’s shoulder is warmed-through when he shakes it gently. There’s no parasol covering him, so he must not have intended to fall asleep. “C’mon sweetheart, pretty sure your turkey’s done.”

“Hnnh,” Eddie mumbles. 

Richie plucks the book off his face, something too tender to name unfurling in his chest at the sight of Eddie blinking awake, eyelashes a sooty smudge against his cheek. All freckles and dimples and pretty as a goddamn picture. One superimposed from nearly thirty years ago, when this same sight would make Richie’s heart trill like a hummingbird’s wings, until he was sure he’d pass out right there in the hammock.

“Hi, there.”

“Hi, Rich. You’re home,” Eddie says throatily, and his movements are so floppy as he rubs his eyes, his smile so unguarded in the way he still hardly ever is, that Richie has to kiss him. Because he can. Because this is something that is given to him now, day after day, and he’s spent too much of his life hiding from what he wants to ever waste it.

It’s slow, and a little difficult because of the angle and the way Eddie is yawning a pungent cloud of banana-breath into it, but it’s perfect regardless. Richie’s heart leapfrogs as he feels arms wrap around his neck like vines, like Eddie’s some affectionate snake who’s been camped out under a heat lamp. His good mood probably has something to do with the fact that his divorce settlement finally came through in the mail that morning, but Richie hopes it’s also a little to do with Eddie loving him back.

He flicks his tongue out to lick at Eddie’s top lip, faintly salty and faintly rough with stubble. Then kisses his nose. “You want Chinese tonight?”

“You’re a real genius, y’know.”

“I try.”

The song has changed, pulsing out quietly around the yard in something equally slow and good for grinding to. Richie’s mind slips down into the gutter with the lyrics as he watches Eddie stretch, twisting his back around with a few cracks.

“Fuck, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. If I get melanoma I’m sending you the medical bill. Why is it always so hot in this goddamn state?”

“It’s just because you’re here this year, Eddie Spaghetti. L.A. wasn’t ready for Hot Stuff Kaspbrak.”

“Ah, of course,” Eddie nods. He slips his hand under Richie’s shirt to press a hot brand against his lower back, hooks his fingers into Richie’s pants and lets himself be towed back indoors.

 

It isn’t until later, when they’re digesting on the couch, that Eddie’s phone pings a few times. 

Richie ignores his muttering until the loud, squawking, “What the fuck!” nearly has him hurling the remote through the TV in fright.

Apparently Beverly, Ben, and their dear leader William took it upon themselves to send Eddie a host of smirking texts. Mike is Richie’s only true friend from now on, he swears it.

Eddie chases him around the house, yelling, and the photo already has hundreds of comments, tens of thousands of likes by the time he comes crashing to the living room rug, Eddie on top of him. There’s probably even an innuendo-laden TMZ article by now, another in a long nosy line, all with titles like Bi-Bi Closet: Trashmouth Tozier’s New Mystery BF Is HOT, So Why Does Nobody Know His Name?

They usually feature a photo of the two of them looking disgustingly happy and overwarm in terrible clothes, carrying groceries or walking Oliver the Dalmatian. Richie makes a game out of replying to his thirsty Twitter mentions whenever someone feels the need to send him the links, firing back something like idk who that is but if someone could get me his number that wld be great. ca$h reward. One of them was just Eddie out running in his tiny shorts, back to the camera and flipping off the paparazzi over his shoulder. 

Richie jerked off to it the last time Eddie went back to New York, because he’s an adult and he’s allowed, and because porn just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Eddie manages to wrestle the phone from his hands, and then makes Richie show him how to delete the post, because Eddie fights dirty and he knows how much Richie can’t stand being tickled.

 

Despite this, his good mood extends into the next day, when he lets Richie take a selfie with him in the garden. They’re framed by the bright, macaw-blue sky, Richie grinning like a Chinese parade lion with his glasses reflecting the sun. He’s got his arm hooked around Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie’s covering his face until only his nervous smile and one soulful brown eye are visible, his head tucked beneath Richie’s chin.

Spaghetti’s only straight until u get it hot and wet, is the caption, and Richie catches a pointy elbow hard in the ribs for it. The likes pour in, even more than the last one, and Eddie winds up getting it framed.

Chapter Text

“So, Patty Uris wants to have us all down in Atlanta next month. Six weeks or so. Can you guys believe it’s nearly been a year?”

“Every day feels like a ye-ah without you, Mikey mah deah,” Richie says, blowing a kiss to the laptop camera.

“Are you doing the Southern Belle right now, or the British Guy?” Ben asks, over the tinny distortion of Bev’s laughter.

“The fact that you can’t tell them apart should really tell him something, you’d think,” Eddie says wearily, from beside Richie.

Mike’s grin is huge, even miniaturized in the little window where Skype splits the screen into three. “Does he still do the Brooklyn Mob Guy, Eddie? How do you stand it?”

Bill and Eddie both groan in chorus, which is pretty fucking rude, in Richie’s opinion.

“Can we focus, please?” Bill says. “We don’t want a repeat of last week. I didn’t think Cards Against Humanity could get that disgusting.”

“Yeah, Richie, honey, please don’t do the Voices on Skype, it makes our cats shred the curtains.”

“Screw you, Marsh,” Richie laughs, flipping them all off with both hands. “Mike, what were you saying about Atlanta?”

“I said, Patty wants us all there for the anniversary memorial, and I’m gonna be there that week anyway. Grad school starts the week after, so I’m doing some research for me and Bill’s book. I can pick you guys up from the airport, if you can make it.”

They all agree on dates, and then Bev’s launching into a story about all the clients she’s designing for now, up in the Hamptons with Ben. Richie looks down at the near-invisible scar on his left palm, rubbing it absently and thinking about Patricia Uris, about Stan. It was bad enough, learning they’d all lost Stan just as soon as they could remember him again, but Patty… Patty had known him far longer. Known him in his adulthood, the way they never would. What must it feel like, to lose the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with? 

His fist clenches involuntarily around the scar, his stomach plummeting at the thought. A muscle twitches in his cheek.

He’d come far too close to knowing. His nightmares aren’t just of a hole where a heart should be, dead skewered meat. They’re choking, suffocating, Richie hung crucified in the dark and not doing a goddamn thing to stop it from happening.

He’s distracted from his increasingly melancholy mood when Eddie starts fidgeting around on the couch beside him.

“What’s got your panties in a bunch?” 

“Fuck off, I’m — did you leave the back door open? I’m getting eaten alive by mosquitos here,” Eddie snaps, under his breath. He’s scratching vigorously up the leg of his shorts, and Richie snorts at him.

“Don’t scratch ‘em then, it activates the malaria.” Eddie’s eyes go all big and panicky, and his hand jerks abruptly out of his shorts. “It’s probably crabs, Eds.”

“If it’s crabs, I got them from you.”

“Don’t say I never give you anything nice.”

“You give me a goddamn headache, is what you give me!”

“Well, you give me tooth decay from all the sweet things you say.”

“You’re so not funny. You’ve never once been funny, why the fuck are you a comedian again?”

“It’s for all the sweet ass I get with my comedy money. And, I must be funny, because you hate my jokes and you have no sense of humor.”

“Get — get off me, God, I’m gonna sign you up to run that marathon with me, hopefully you’ll die of exertion and I’ll get some peace and quiet—”

“If I die — ow, stop, if I die I’m kicking you out of the house!”

“Fuck you, Trashmouth!”

“Chickenshit, come fuck me yourself—”

There’s four loud throat-clearings from the laptop, startling them out of the vicious headlock Eddie has him in. Four pairs of eyebrows raised at them, judging.

“Beep beep… both of you? Boy, that feels weird to say,” Bill grins. It looks like it’s already dark on the east coast, but even in the shadows he’s looking less and less haggard with guilt every week they all talk. 

An entire year since It nearly had them all for breakfast, goddamn. Eddie’s still pressed against his side, as Richie’s heart calms down again. How shit changes, and yet doesn’t really change at all.

“Sorry Bill,” Eddie mumbles, his face going bright red in an instant. Richie smirks at him, re-adjusting his glasses from where they’re knocked askew.

“It’s fine, guys,” Bev says kindly, though she looks just as shit-eatingly smug as the other three. “Stupid’s gotta stick together. We get it, and we’re happy for you both. We’ve all seen Richie’s Instagram stories.”

“I haven’t,” Eddie says, folding his arms huffily.

Man, he’s in a mood. Richie elbows him. “Whose fault is that? I keep telling you to get one.”

“I don’t want one, what would I even do with it?”

“Follow me?”

“I see you every day!”

Richie pulls a face, pretends to think for a second. “Post dick pics?”

“I’m literally going to kill you in your sleep.”

“Guys!”

They turn in unison back to the screen. Bill just has his head buried in his hands, and the two lovebirds are busy losing it. Seriously, Mike is Richie’s best best friend.

“Sorry Micycle, continue. Some of us get cranky with the heat.”

“God,” Bev wheezes, wiping her eyes. “We’re just saying, you guys look really happy, tonight not included. You both look good. You’re so tan, Eddie, I’m jealous.”

Eddie goes all pink again across the bridge of his nose, stuttering something about the heatwave. He was always shy about getting compliments from girls, they all were. It was part and parcel of being not just a kid, but a Loser, though Richie remembers the distinctly uneasy feeling he used to get whenever Eddie blushed around Bev. He was only supposed to be like that around Richie, no wonder jealousy sunk its teeth in. It makes sense in hindsight, of course. 

He makes a mental note to say more nice things to him, and prods at Eddie’s bare thigh in apology where it’s pressed against Richie’s, tickling his leg hair.

Eddie looks at him sideways, and gently takes hold of Richie’s finger, out of frame and out of sight from the others. That’s right, Richie thinks, triumphantly.

“He does look good, doesn’t he?” Richie crows. “He’s like a baby deer, but sexy. Like if Bambi somehow got turned into a twunk.”

The speakers crackle with loud guffaws, Eddie’s eyes widen with fury, and suddenly he’s wrenching Richie’s finger back, pain jolting up his hand.

“Ow, fuck!”

“What’s a twunk?” Ben asks.

“What is with you tonight?”

“It’s speaking to these chucklefucks,” Richie gestures at the screen, wildly. “It brings it out in me! I’m sorry, Eddie let go, Jesus—”

 

Conversation meanders for the rest of the call, drifting on a gentle current from jokes, to plans, to half-forgotten memories of life in Derry. Deep orange light is filling their living room by the time they’re all yawning, which means it must be almost the middle of the night for the others.

The couch sags in the middle, tipping them together heavy and warm. Eddie is picking absently at the hem of Richie’s shorts, and Richie’s keeping one eye on him, and the other on the screen, where Bill is having an animated argument with Eddie and Mike about horror movie endings.

It’s because of this split attention that he sees Eddie track the movement, when Ben stretches, and puts his arm around Bev’s shoulders. The gesture is so casual, so practiced and intimate, it’s clearly something they do without thinking. 

Richie can feel Eddie thinking. It’s something he’s familiar with, Eddie’s whole body giving off a vibe like a hamster in a wheel. And then all he can feel is the deliberate way Eddie shifts, wraps his arm around Richie in a half-hug that makes him feel like his lungs are spilling over with warm honey, sugary-sweet and full.

His head is practically on Eddie’s shoulder, slumped as they are into the worn cushions. Richie drifts for a while, listening to the sounds of his friends, and the gentle scritch of Eddie’s fingers on his scalp, trailing sparks down the back of his neck. Puts his hand to Eddie’s stomach, feeling like he could melt. 

“I meant what I said, you guys,” Bev says tiredly, just before they all sign off. “You look really happy.”

“Yeah,” Eddie replies, before Richie can say anything. His voice is a little scratchy, and his grip tightens around Richie’s body. A meteor could hit them right now, and Richie wouldn’t care. “Yeah, we are.”

 

Later, the bedroom is lit in bands of shadow from the shutters when Eddie crowds him up against the wall. Lazy heat swills in Richie’s gut, makes his chest tight as Eddie ruts against his thigh, urged on by Richie’s hand rubbing down the cleft of his ass over his shorts

“You’re giving me a wedgie,” Eddie gasps against his throat, his thumbs digging into Richie’s shoulders. He goes up on his toes and they’re kissing wet and slow, Richie pulling Eddie up against him by the waistband.

He shivers, his cock fattening up so quickly in his underwear his head spins. “You’re giving me a boner, Eds, tit for tat.”

Richie barely has time to catch his breath. Eddie’s ruthless efficiency even extends to undressing, which shouldn’t be as hot as it is. There’s something about the jerky movements of Eddie hurriedly folding a shirt that drives Richie wild as he’s yanking his own underwear off. He can’t help it.

Maybe Eddie is conditioning him to be neater? With orgasms? If so, it’s fucking working, Richie thinks with his tongue thick in his mouth, watching Eddie crawl towards him where he’s leaning against the pillows.

“Here,” Eddie says, the bottle of lube cold when it thumps onto Richie’s chest. “You do it.”

“Yessir,” Richie gulps, watching Eddie settle his ass neatly on Richie’s thighs, his beautiful cock flushed full, up to his navel. Eddie can be fickle about whether or not the lube grosses him out, but Richie really doesn’t mind. “Turn the light on, I can’t see shit.”

He’s warming some of it in his hand as Eddie leans over him towards the lamp, and his chest is right there, so Richie pulls him closer around the small of his back to latch his mouth wet against a flat nipple.

“Fuck,” Eddie rasps succinctly, his hips kicking forward. Their erections slide together hot, and Richie feels a rush behind his eyelids, makes him greedy, sucking hard at Eddie’s chest. Then Eddie’s pushing up and away, hands planted on either side of Richie’s pounding head. “Stop, you’ll make me come too quick.”

“That’s kinda the goal, babe,” Richie grins. He can’t help from jostling Eddie a little with his own thrusts upwards, he just looks like too damn much. His big worried eyes all glazed, and his tight stomach muscles rippling with the circles he’s grinding into Richie’s hips. “What d’you want? You want my fingers?”

“You,” Eddie chokes out. Richie feels his own cock blurt out a mess of precome, slicking them both. “Want you. Always have, always will.”

The room itself feels like it’s moving, the walls throbbing in on them with heat. Richie laughs again in bright disbelief, squeezes one cheek of Eddie’s ass until he moans, until he feels how Richie wants him, too. “Won’t lie, Eds, that sounds pretty fatalistic.”

Eddie huffs in annoyance, wiping his sweaty face with one arm, his hips moving relentlessly. “I’m being nice, asshole.”

“I felt it. My dick feels extremely nice right now. You gotta tell me what you want, c’mon.”

“Just — just this, look—”

The sight of Eddie arching his body to lean back on Richie’s leg nearly undoes him, worse still when he takes Richie’s slick hand and spreads it all over their cocks, lying snug together on Richie’s shuddering stomach.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, hushed. Richie takes them both in hand, makes a tight circle for Eddie to fuck forward into. Grips the bedsheets with the other, the cotton squeaking as his arm shakes. “Yeah, that’s — fuck, Jesus, Richie—”

He doesn’t know where to look. His face burns, staring up at Eddie gnawing his lower lip, the low light picking out the freckles on his hunched-in shoulders. It’s like itching all over, he’s so turned on it hurts, feels like there’s something huge and hot low down in his stomach that wants to shove itself out, pound into Eddie’s body until they can’t separate. But he can’t. Eddie’s running the show, and right now he’s raking his nails through Richie’s chest hair in livid scores of heat.

His thrusts slow down a little, and Richie’s grabbing desperately at his hip before he can think.

“Don’t — don’t stop, Eddie, fuck—”

“I’m getting cramp,” Eddie pants out, weakly. His thighs shake as Richie rubs them, massaging the straining tendons of his groin that frame his sack, the neat nest of his pubic hair. The day-old stubble rash on the insides of his legs. He never lets Richie get a clean shave. “Take a break, cowboy.”

Richie swallows the knot in his throat. He’s gonna come so hard he’ll cry, he can feel it. His skin is tight, and overheated, and his cock keeps jumping when he feels the drag of Eddie’s foreskin through the slick there, smearing around the tip.

“So,” Eddie says. He looks about as red as Richie feels, and his mouth waters as Eddie pushes his sweaty hair back from his forehead. “I’m like a baby deer but sexy, huh?”

“Would you prefer if I’d called ya Sam Eagle?” 

Eddie bares his teeth, his nose scrunching up. “Stop corrupting our childhood.”

Richie snorts, and pulls at his hips, guiding him into a filthy simulacrum of a fuck. “I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em, Bambi.”

“If I’m Bambi, then you’re a fucking skunk,” Eddie says, before tipping forward and nipping at Richie’s mouth, whining when Richie works his hand down to grip them both again. “Fuckin’ Trashmouth,” he whispers hotly, and Richie’s smiling too hard to suck face.

Even his legs are throbbing, pleasure shooting up from his heels to the bright, heavy pulse behind his balls every time their thrusts line up. Eddie grits out curses and winds his fingers into the hair behind Richie’s ears, kissing him ‘til his glasses come off, licking at Richie’s back teeth. His skin is ablaze everywhere Eddie’s plastered naked up against him, his knuckles brushing the hair on their stomachs with every stroke, heart screaming in his chest. He flattens his hand to the rolling small of Eddie’s back to feel him humping forward, dips his fingers into the line of his crack, and Eddie keens.

“Seems like — seems like you think I’m pretty hot too, Eds,” he gasps out. Eddie groans like he’s been shot, when Richie swipes his thumb around the head of his cock on every upstroke.

“Fucking — well done, genius.”

“C’mon,” Richie slurs, licks a stripe along Eddie’s fuzzy jaw. “Tell me.”

“Christ, I — wanted to jump you, first night back in Derry—”

“No shit, me too!”

“Shut up, yeah — thought, God he’s tall, stupid fucking face the same, ahh,” Eddie whimpers. Then he’s slipping his thumb into Richie’s kiss-slack mouth, like he’s inspecting a horse. “Never get dental, alright? Used to jerk off to this overbite when we were kids.”

“You’re so fucking weird,” Richie cries muffled around his thumb, delighted, biting down gently on the knuckle. 

“Your fault,” Eddie says, sounding like he’s completely hammered, looks like it too. His chest heaves when he sits up again, blushing all down his stomach as he shoves his hips hard against Richie, who can’t take it anymore, and comes in overwhelming waves all over his hand and both their cocks, until it feels like someone scooped out his insides and filled him up with blinding light. He moans, long and low, fingers digging into the ridge of Eddie’s spine.

“God yeah, that’s — Rich—”

He watches, spellbound and still jerking like a caught fish as Eddie pushes a fingertip through the white spill of semen, smearing it into Richie’s skin. Slow, like he’s fascinated, and even though Richie’s just come he still feels consumed at the sight. Eaten alive by heat, something huge closing jaws between his legs, wrapped from his belly button to his tailbone and sucking him clean like a crab claw.

He moves his hand quicker.

Eddie sort of — convulses, crying out and curling in on himself. The ridges of muscle along his thighs tensing as he squeezes them around Richie’s middle. He gasps a few times and follows moments after, pressing against the hollow of Richie’s hip, and through his own whirling aftershocks Richie feels hot wetness slipping down his inner thigh, to the sheets.

They cling to each other. Eddie’s a dead weight, leaning hard on the gentle curve of Richie’s stomach.

Eddie makes some pretty goofy faces during sex, especially when he comes. Richie doesn’t say a goddamn thing about it, because his own are probably just as bad, and because he doesn’t ever want Eddie to stop.

That Eddie still wants to have sex with him despite (or apparently, because of) his own weird, buck-tooth face is a high-octane boost to Richie’s ego, like none other he’s encountered in life. And he’s a comedian. Ego boosts are pretty much the only reason to do it.

“What the fuck was that,” Richie says, emphatically, meaning all of it. It’s been a weird night ever since the Skype call connected.

Eddie’s still kneeling over him with his thighs splayed wide, his head hanging low between his winged-out shoulders as he pants, mouth open. Ass softly jerking forward every so often to pulse out a last dribble of come, when Richie rubs circles into his belly, strokes him through the last of it.

His heart is still doing the goddamn can-can when Eddie squints up at him eventually, sweat dripping into one eye, and his smug grin a triumphant white comet tail in his sun-weathered face.

“Just felt like it,” he shrugs. “Wanted to show you who’s boss. You always make me crazy, but it’s worse in front of the others. Makes me feel like we’re kids again, and I wanna punch you and kiss you at the same time.”

His hands are firm when they slide up Richie’s arms, currently slung low around Eddie’s middle. His usual frantic patter slows to soft molasses, like he wants to get something right. “And… with them, it’s like... I know they’re not gonna give us shit, because they get it. They always did. They get why I’m out here with you, and they’re okay with it, and — and it just reminds me not to take it for granted, I guess. I’m so lucky, but I spend so much time worryin’ about shit that I take it for granted. We survived that clown bullshit twice, y’know? And I got my best friends back. I got you back.”

“Eds…” Richie says, tightening his hold. He feels like he’s got a Las Vegas fountain in his chest, happiness dancing around in long, arcing sprays of light.

“I like you a whole fuckin’ lot, and they should know that. You deserve it. Even when you’re making it difficult and being a dumbass.” The words rush out of Eddie in one breath, his eyes locked somewhere around Richie’s collarbones. The skin on Richie’s forearms is turning bloodless around Eddie’s fingers, and Richie pulls him off balance so he can kiss him again off-center, too hard and sweet, like a sugar cube.

Richie’s never felt like he deserves a single good thing he has in his life. A comedy career is ninety-nine percent connections and being in the right place at the right time. And Eddie, well — Eddie still feels like a fluke, like Richie will wake up one day from one of his Deadlight dreams with his bed just as empty as his heart, but here they are. Eddie on top of him, tugging at his bottom lip with his teeth, pressing him into the sheets they picked out together.

“Baby deer my ass,” Eddie grouses, against his mouth.

“I meant that in the most flattering way possible. You’re just so fucking cute.” He pinches Eddie’s cheek, and it initiates a small slap-fight.

“I’m not cute, I’m a dude! I mean, I’m a grown man, I have a job!”

“You hate your job!”

“It pays well — wait, that’s not the point, I’m an adult—"

“Oh yeah, I forgot, only an adult who’s had the fun sucked out of him by aliens could have your job. You’re lucky you’re cute.”

“Fuck you.” Eddie glares at him from where Richie’s got him pinned by the wrists to the bed. He knows he’s grinning like a demon when he feels Eddie’s legs wrap around his waist, heavy and languid, post-orgasm.

“Fuck you back. I already told you man, when I say you’re cute, I mean it in the schoolgirl sense, like oh that actor on TV is so cute, he looks just like Eddie Kaspbrak in Home Ec, I wish he’d raw me behind the bleachers—”

“You sat next to me in Home Ec.”

“Exactly.”

“Shut up,” Eddie snickers, rolling his eyes. He leans up to lick Richie’s smile into a kiss. “I get it. I wanted to go behind the bleachers with you, too. Let me up, I got jizz all over me.”

The shower is big enough for both of them, so they save water and go Dutch. Richie’s too fucked-out to do more than palm Eddie’s round ass and kiss his wet hair before they’re stepping out to dry.

“That was so hot, tonight,” he murmurs a little later, sweat already prickling in the crooks of his knees as the muggy August darkness settles around them. “I really love the shit out of you.”

“Mhm,” Eddie replies, sounding half-asleep. He snuffles against Richie’s bare shoulder. Exhaustion turns him cuddlier, and the leaden-soft weight of his arm around Richie’s waist is motivation enough for Richie to keep wearing him out. They might die from the heat, but everybody’s gotta die from something.

“We could fuck like that, if you wanted. You could fuck me like that, if that would be better. I think about riding that dick in my sleep.”

Eddie stiffens a little, and Richie feels his breath pick up against his neck, rippling his skin into goosebumps.

“I, uh. Well, I kinda wanted to — I kinda thought you’d. Uh.” Eddie clears his throat. Even in the dark Richie can feel his cheeks burning, blood-hot.

And okay, they haven’t fucked yet. Not fucked fucked, and although Richie’s suddenly got a more active sex life than at any other point in his existence, it’s all about trajectory. When Eddie moved in, he couldn’t even hold Richie’s hand. It’s about extrapolation, which Richie has always been good at, it’s how you come up with a good comedy routine. It’s about orbit, and how the two of them seem to be on a collision course towards something huge, and even more life defining than vanquishing an ancient extraterrestrial evil underneath their hometown. Something that started literally decades before, when Richie fell in love and never stopped.

Obviously he’d never ask Eddie to do anything he didn’t want to, but the point is this. There’s a whole host of things Richie never got to try in his adolescence, because of Derry, and because he was sure the only person he wanted to try them with would rather shoot himself in the head. So maybe he lets his imagination run away with him, sometimes. He’s relishing every day with Eddie, like a teenager finding a skin-mag in the woods. 

But in, like, a romantic sense.

He reaches blindly in the dark to stroke slowly down from Eddie’s throat, down through his pubic hair to gently cup where he’s soft, and warm. 

“Eds?”

The small cough comes again. “Kinda always imagined, you’d be the one to…”

Send for a fucking ambulance, because Richie’s having a pulmonary. Open up the pearly gates, Lord, it’s happening, Richie Tozier’s coming and he’s ready to get kicked down into the Pit where he belongs.

“Eddie?”

“Don’t make me say it, I can’t even say it yet.”

“If you’re not mature enough to say it, you’re not mature enough to be doing it,” Richie sing-songs, palming around to hold Eddie closer by the butt.

“Oh my God.

“Eddie-kins, you wanna get fucked, don’t you?”

“Go to sleep,” Eddie hisses, burrowing his hot face into Richie’s chest. And he does, once he stops laughing.

Chapter Text

The hottest day of the year comes slamming into L.A. like a freight train from hell, during September’s Indian summer. 

Instead of spending it in the pool, or maybe exchanging lazy handjobs in front of the open refrigerator door, Richie and Eddie are out trudging around the Grove mall. In any case, the pool is currently moonlighting as a bone-dry graveyard for the dessicated husks of dead cicadas, on account of the drought.

It’s more like being at the zoo than going to the actual zoo is. Richie would know; Eddie loves the monkeys so much he got them both season tickets. Says they remind him of Richie, only cleaner. Anyway, the Grove is equally as loud and kaleidoscopic with color, the cinnamon smell of frying dough and a million other food stalls carrying far on the heat-thickened air. 

Oliver the Dalmatian’s owners just got engaged, is the thing, and they need to find a gift. And since Eddie doesn’t trust him to buy things online anymore, not since the life-sized Predator statue found a home in their garage next to the ping-pong table, here they are. Because Eddie still doesn’t get that you won’t find the real unique, heartfelt shit in L.A. in the kind of place that has walking tours. Plus, their neighbors are giant west coast hippies, and probably won’t allow anything into their home that wasn’t handcrafted in the desert using sustainably sourced materials. At least Eddie has someone to talk to about trail-mix, and like… backpacks.

Whatever, he’s cute when he’s being a tourist. Richie still gets to feel like a puffed up cockerel when he points out some old film location, and Eddie enthuses like the little Maine bumpkin he still is, at heart. The one who made it his and Richie’s teenage mission to rent out Derry’s entire paltry video store if it killed them.

Richie droops in the shade of a store awning, breathing with his mouth wide open like that will somehow ventilate his body any better. Screw the monkeys, he should’ve been a gator. Lying around in the cool mud all day. Eating chickens whole. Sounds like a sweet deal, aside from the part about living in Florida. He could do that that weird mating burp thing at Eddie in the pool.

He drags his hands down his damp face, feeling rivulets of sweat course down his back under his shirt. Must be going delirious. The goddamn Grove, on the hottest Saturday afternoon of the year.

“Here,” Eddie says, reappearing suddenly at his elbow.

“Oh, thank God. You’re my fuckin’ savior,” Richie groans, feverishly unwrapping his popsicle.

“I know. Try to remember that, next time it’s your turn to take out the garbage.” Eddie’s looking a little limp himself, like a plant left too long in a greenhouse, his ugly Thundercats t-shirt gone see-through in patches all down his back. He sticks his hands on his hips, peering around the bustling plaza like the perfect gift is just gonna leap straight into their arms.

“You didn’t get one too?” 

“No. You eat way too much fucking sugar, all your teeth are gonna fall out.”

Richie leers at him, slobbering over the popsicle extra-loud to make Eddie’s ears go red. “No teeth makes it easier to do this.”

Eddie’s eyes widen into scandalized saucers, and he grimaces apologetically at two women who give them looks as they walk past. “Please stop.”

“Eddie, look, I can deepthroat it.”

“I’m gonna leave you here.”

“Aw c’mon, you know you can’t live without this mouth. Hey, wait!”

By the time he catches up to Eddie’s killer powerwalk, the popsicle is already dripping down his wrist, sticky red trails of ice-blood. The crowds shift and flow around them like silt around rocks in a riverbed, everyone peeling sweat and acting like they wouldn’t all murder each other just for the sun to cut them some slack.

He almost runs into Eddie’s back, knocking him forward a little where he’s leaning on the marble wall of the fountain. Eddie’s hip is the perfect shape for grabbing, so Richie does, pinching him gently under his horribly cute overalls. Loose, plain blue denim, and cut off at the knees. As if Richie doesn’t already have enough problems not groping him in public. He keeps his hand there, pleased with how he hasn’t had his toes stomped yet, until he realizes what’s got Eddie feeling as tense as a war summit.

There’s a clown. On the other side of the fountain. 

It should feel stupid, the immediate dread that wraps sick tentacles around him. 

It should be unnecessary. They never really talk about the bad parts of Derry anymore, none of them do, but maybe they should. It’s not as if Eddie can tell his therapist the real reason he has to comfort Richie’s occasional sobbing in the middle of the night, or what he was doing when he got the livid scar on his cheek. His thin face still often has the look of someone terrified of what’s behind every door, what’s in every closet.

As for Richie himself, well… they all saw things nobody should have to. Even if he got his own therapist, he could never admit that sometimes he remembers the juddering impact in his arm from the axe cleaving open Bowers’ skull, and he has to retch into the sink until it feels like his eyes leak stomach acid. The world has real nightmares, unknowable evils undulating around just under the surface of everyday life, and the only thing Richie has found that makes it any easier to deal with, is making jokes on a brightly lit stage. It’s a different kind of Deadlights, when people are laughing with you. That, and purging himself of the fear a little more every day, replacing it with California sunshine and the feeling he gets from the first soft, unfiltered smile he receives from Eddie in the morning.

Balloon animals. Grotesque little mangled bubble creatures, the grating squeaks of the plastic shooting directly at them across the fountain like poison darts. Richie’s chest cavity shrinks down very small, suffocating his heart as he watches the clown. It doesn’t even look like Pennywise.

Then Eddie breathes out a shaky little laugh, and the tension leaks out of him under Richie’s palm like the sweat that’s visibly trickling down his neck. He grins sheepishly when Richie catches his eye, and suddenly Richie can breathe again too.

“It’s fine,” Eddie says, slapping his hands on the marble decisively. “We’re fine. This is fine.”

Richie nods, leaning beside him. The wall is so blistering against his bare arms it feels like being cooked. One year on, and time has already healed up so much hurt. Love, too, Richie can’t forget that; the real nitro-grade level shit.

He can’t wait to see what they can heal into, with the rest of their lives. 

“Oh yeah, it’s totally fine,” he says, nonchalant.

“We killed It dead this time, man, smoked that fucker. No way It’s in Cali.”

“Yep. We’re the only ones dumb enough to be here when it’s this fucking hot.”

“How would It even get out here, anyway? You think It ever flew coach? I’d pick that flight over Delta any day of the week.”

Richie laughs until he’s snorting, basking in the pleased creases Eddie gets around his eyes whenever he gets off a good chuck.

“Gimme some of that popsicle, it’s melting.” Eddie holds his hand out expectantly.

“I can’t wait ‘til we have to take our dentures out to kiss,” Richie says, handing it over. “Rot away, babe.”

Eddie pulls a face at him, one eyebrow raised. And then he’s—

Fuck, he’s—

Richie’s face goes impossibly hotter, watching the flat drag of Eddie’s pink tongue up the ice. Cheeks hollow, as he sucks the thing achingly slow until the burst-pomegranate red of it turns to white, the tiny chips of ice on his lower lip have Richie feeling like a lecherous old wolf from a Tex Avery cartoon. His eyes might well have hearts beating out of his pupils, because Eddie frowns up at him, pulling the stick out of his mouth with an obscene pop that Richie feels right down to his toes.

“What?”

“Eds, it’s only funny when I do it!” Richie yelps, trying to lean his hand on the wall and missing completely. He stumbles, crowding into Eddie’s side. “You’re too hot to do that in public, it’s — I can’t believe I’m saying this, but stop—”

“Stop what?” Eddie says innocently, like his dimples are some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. “I’m just eating it. You gave it to me.”

“You’re fellating it,” Richie says, feeling desperate. There’s a trickle of juice on Eddie’s chin, and he’s two seconds from causing an incident.

“No I’m not?”

“You’re making me jealous of a snack."

Eddie’s politely bemused smile goes wolfish. “Now you know how it feels.”

“You motherfucker, I knew it—”

“Excuse me?”

Richie jumps out of Eddie’s personal space with a start, suddenly remembering where they are. Not that it would be the first time people have seen him horny in public, but these days everyone has a camera phone.

Speaking of, there’s a young, dark haired woman clutching one like a lifeline right in front of them, biting her lip as she looks between their startled faces.

“Uh, hi?” Richie says, at the same time as Eddie mutters, “How long was she standing there?” from the corner of his mouth. Richie swats him in the arm.

“Hi, um, not long, I promise — I’m really sorry, are you Richie Tozier?”

Richie blinks, his brain kicking back into gear. “Yes. Yeah, sorry, I am. How you doing?”

The girl’s nervous expression transforms immediately, smiling so wide as she shakes his proffered hand that it’s humbling. 

This part of being semi-famous will never stop feeling odd to Richie, having strangers be happy to see him, instead of their eyes glazing over as they tune him out. She’s dressed like some kind of cool hipster witch, all dangling moon jewellery and way too much black for how punishing the sun is. It’s endearing, even if Richie is a little concerned she’ll get heatstroke. A fellow goth in the wild. Richie hasn’t been a goth since the nineties, and even then he could never shake his love for eye-wateringly ugly shirts. If anything he was more grunge-lite, but it’s the mentality that counts.

“I’m great, t-thank you!” She keeps adjusting the wide brim of her black hat. “I just — I just wanted to say I loved your special? On Netflix? I watched it with my girlfriend and we both cried.”

“Oh man, thank you,” Richie laughs. “From how hilarious it was, I hope? I don’t wanna get, uh,  cancelled for emotionally damaging people. That’s the word, right?”

“No, yeah, for sure! It’s so funny. But it was the stuff you said about growing up in a small place, and like, coming out. It was so validating.” 

She’s so young. Probably wasn’t even born when Richie moved to Chicago and discovered experimenting didn’t quite mean the end of the world, but she still finds his bullshit relevant. His heart swells up with a funny sort of pride he’s unused to. 

“Everyone in my dorm loves it. We all quote your bit about losing your gay virginity versus your straight one. Like, all the time.”

“Jesus, don’t tell me that. It’s gross enough when I say it, you’re all gonna get kicked outta class.” He beams at her. The new special is finally all his own writing, and it’s doing great in the ratings since it came out last week. So his agent tells him. “That’s really cool of you, though, thanks. You want a picture or something, uh—?”

“Oh, uh, it’s Megan! And that would be awesome, thank you so much.”

“I can take it, if you want. I got these long-ass gibbon arms, good for selfies. I’ll only steal your phone if it’s nice.” He makes space for her beside the wall of the fountain as she hands it over. “Oops, look, it’s a piece of shit! Lucky you, I’ll let you keep it.”

She’s laughing in the couple of photos he takes, and Richie hopes she won’t care how sweaty he is, or notice the massive, purpling hickey under his jaw. He’s handing the phone back when she looks down at the ground, and then up at his face, fidgeting with her long sleeves.

“It’s, um — it’s cool if Eddie wants to be in one, too.” She glances sideways, tucking some hair behind her ear.

Richie follows her gaze. Eddie has been so quiet, Richie hadn’t noticed him standing off to the side. He looks like he’s trying to fade back into the crowd, the world’s cutest secret agent. His heart does something ridiculously fond when he sees the soft, proud look Eddie has on his face, like Richie has done something amazing, like he looked when Richie shoved him out from the path of the spider’s claw aiming straight for his heart. Like Richie’s a lifesaver.

He clears his throat of sudden emotion, and glances down at Megan’s hopeful expression. Eddie’s eyes widen, and he stops fiddling with the bare popsicle stick when Richie calls, “Yo Eds, get over here.”

“Huh?” 

“This is Megan, and she has great taste, ‘cause she wants you in the photo too.”

Megan covers her face, mumbling in a rush that, “It’s okay, you don’t have to, it’s fine, I just—”

“Don’t embarrass her, Richie,” Eddie says quietly, sidling over.

“I wasn’t, I was trying to embarrass you.” 

“Well, that makes a change,” Eddie says, and Richie can’t get a handle on the big, all encompassing thing that’s filling him up, as he watches them make introductions. 

For however proud Richie is of the special, he’s lightyears prouder of its catalyst. His brave, loudmouth best friend, producing hand-wipes from somewhere to clean his sugar-sticky hand and apologizing profusely before he shakes Megan’s. Richie wants to put him in every photo at his side, take him to every premiere, and say look. Shut up and look. He’s the one that made me want to admit to the world that I have feelings.

He slings his arm around Eddie’s shoulder as Megan stands between them, barely coming up to even Eddie’s nose. She could be Eddie’s relative, both of them with their liquid brown eyes like a calf’s, though Eddie looks distinctly more nervous as he smiles, mouth closed tight. But he’s there. And he’s trying, and his shoulders aren’t even tense under Richie’s arm.

They stay loose, and relaxed in Richie’s hold, waiting with uncharacteristic patience as Richie signs a waffle napkin for Megan and her girlfriend. 

“Cammy,” Megan supplies, her eyes shining as she says the name. Richie recognizes that look from his own face in the bathroom mirror, when they shave next to each other in the mornings. He refuses to let Eddie go, so he’s basically shoving the Sharpie up Eddie’s nose as he writes, and he can feel Eddie shaking as he tries not to laugh. “Her name’s Cammy. She’s going to be so jealous, thank you so much!”

They move away down a side street off the fountain plaza afterwards. As positive as fan interactions can be, Richie doesn’t want to draw any more attention that will have them roasting around outside when there are plenty of air-conditioned spaces they can flee to.

He keeps his arm around Eddie as they walk, feeling lighter than air.

“She was nice,” Eddie says. He’s got his hands jammed in his pockets. Richie’s so filled up with contentment he wants to pick him up, swing him around in a circle. He’d do it too, if he wasn’t sure his creaky old back would go out. There were perks to being a kid in agonizing love with his best friend, being able to manhandle him wherever Richie wanted, under the guise of roughhousing. Limbs clumsy and too violent with a strange desire.

“She’s a Richie Tozier fan, of course she’s nice. I’m like a honeypot.”

“Doesn’t that mean you only attract flies?”

“I think it means I’d be great in prostitution stings.”

“That’s a honeytrap, Rich.”

“Oh. I don’t know what it means then, my brain is melting. Can’t believe you finished that popsicle without me.”

“It was my favorite kind. I’ll get you another one.”

The storefronts tower in a rainbow canyon around them, wandering aimlessly now. They’re never going to find a good engagement present, so Richie’s just luxuriating in the solid press of Eddie’s body into his side. In the reality that nobody’s giving them a second glance, un-tethered by judgemental staring. Thousands of miles and twenty-seven years since Derry had him feeling like a monster for looking too long at Eddie’s pink mouth, his galaxy of freckles.

“She was nicer than the fucking paps, I mean,” Eddie continues. His head is on a swivel as they slip past a sports store, their reflections warped around Nike logos in the window. Blurred so close together it’s like they’re one person. Eddie all stitched-up tight under his arm, while Richie sprawls, billowing shirt and wild hair and limbs too long to contain themselves. “I don’t mind photos if it’s for people like that, but… how’d she know my name?”

“She probably follows me on Instagram. And she’s obviously seen the special.”

Eddie stops dead. Inertia brings Richie’s hand sliding from his bony shoulder up to the sweaty nape of his neck, and he pushes his fingers happily through short hair.

“You talk about me in your special?”

Richie blinks, incredulity creeping in. Does Eddie actually think Richie is capable of not talking about him? 

“Uh, yeah? You’d know that if you watched it.”

He does talk about Eddie. He’d run most of the show’s material through Eddie’s uncompromising filter first, pacing up and down the living room night after night until Eddie was red faced and guffawing into the collar of his own shirt, pulled up over his mouth. 

But not all of it. He still likes to improv.

So, my boyfriend and I…

And hold for applause. For fucking cheering. The theater bellowed with approval, and Richie’s knuckles were white pearls under his skin as he grinned like a shark out at the audience, gripping the microphone hard. A kind of tightening, overwhelming emotion in the back of his jaw, like biting into a lemon. But sweet instead of sour. So, so sweet, remembering the other kids in school or the mall or the arcade muttering faggot as he fled them all with his eyes watering, and letting thirteen year old Richie take a look from behind his same thick glasses. Look at us now, little guy. 

Eddie could never be his dirty little secret because Eddie has never been dirty, despite what his mom had him believe. Richie might be a Trashmouth, but as the people in the front rows whistled for him, the words my boyfriend felt almost sacred on his lips. His favourite part of the whole goddamn show.

Eddie’s sunglasses catch the searing sun as he frowns at Richie, pushed up into his hair. If he had them on, Richie wouldn’t be able to see the wary look in his eyes, or feel the way his heart stumbles at the sight.

“You — I’m not gonna watch it if you just make fun of me the whole time.”

His heart stumbles even further, taking a ten-storey leap down into his stomach. “Eddie, I don’t — I don’t make fun of you?”

“You always make fun of me,” Eddie says, his voice shaking a little. His body folds in, elbows jutting out in ramparts.

Richie lets his hand drop from Eddie’s shoulder, groaning up at the canopy of palm trees. Feathering green against blue that’s too blue to look at, summer light overexposing everything. 

It’s too hot for this shit.

“Get over here, you little turd.” He yanks Eddie by the straps of his overalls, tugging him into a shaded alcove between two stores. Eddie’s nose wrinkles at the steaming garbage cans at the end of the alley, and a flash of begrudging affection ripples through the absolute frustration that’s building in Richie’s sinuses like a ferocious sneeze.

“Why do we always wind up having these convos in public, huh? I’m starting to think you’re a drama queen, Eds.”

A scowl slams down Eddie’s eyebrows so quick Richie’s kind of worried he’ll pull a muscle. 

“What—?”

“No, fuck that, I know for a fact you’re a drama queen. How can you think that? I’m so fuckin’ proud of this show, how can you actually think I’d go up on stage and rip into you for an hour and a half? You know that’s only funny to one person, right? Me.”

His hands clench and unclench around the thick, boiling air. His head hurts, and he knows if he tells Eddie, he’ll be immediately supplied with multiple bottles of water, and the Tylenol he secrets on his person like a magician with cards up his sleeve. It only makes him hurt more, sore in the heart.

“I know you find it funny, that’s why—”

Richie flails his hands up in disbelief. “No talking! I’m talking right now!”

Eddie snarls, but Richie’s seen him really angry, and it feels like he’s still pulling his punches as he jabs his finger into Richie’s chest. “You’re always fucking talking!”

“So are you! I mock your shit in private because you’re the only one who ever gives as good as he gets. You know how fucking good that feels? I know you love it too, even your dirty talk is mean.”

Eddie flushes, looking quickly at the oblivious shoppers floating past their nook like multicolored fish in an aquarium. Richie storms on. 

“And I do it ‘cause if I didn’t, you’d kick me outta the house for sounding like a Hallmark card. Hearts and roses, man, all damn day.”

Eddie’s deflating now, his hand softening on Richie’s chest into a loose grip in his collar. His color’s high, going higher still as he looks up to see the rabid look that’s twisting Richie’s face. He feels half mad, breathing like a bull with the need to get this through Eddie’s thick skull.

“That would be weird, I guess,” Eddie says, small-voiced.

“Right? I’d make you call an exorcist.”

“I’d just dunk you in the pool to cool you off.”

“And I appreciate that. So, do you get it? You huge dumbass? When I go on stage it all comes outta me. I don’t make fun of you, I have to talk about how much I fuckin’ love you or I’d explode!”

Suddenly cognizant that he’s close to shouting, he stops. Sags back against the wall opposite Eddie, rough stucco digging into the sweat-thinned fabric of his shirt. Phosphenes burst in the dark as he rubs his eyes hard, under his glasses. 

“Oh.”

“I don’t wanna yell at you. Fuck.”

“Richie...”

Something in his stomach flutters open like nervous, fledgling wings, when he feels Eddie’s arms wrap around his middle. It’s hope, perhaps. Hope that he hasn’t just shoved his heart out of the nest only for it to plummet to the cold ground.

“Richie, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, I think I get it.”

Richie swallows, regret flowering now that he’s calmed down. “No, I — I shoulda asked if I could talk about you.” 

“I’ll watch the show, I promise.”

“Yeah, you’d better,” Richie mutters thickly, hugging him back like an octopus. He buries his nose in Eddie’s hair, pressed uncomfortably against the sunglasses. Inhales the mild citrus of his shampoo to block out the nearby garbage, the stench so strong in the heat it’s practically ripping his face open by the nostrils.

“I like it when you give me shit. I know you do it ‘cause you — ‘cause you like me,” Eddie mumbles into his neck. “That’s why I do it back. Been that way since grade school.”

Richie snuffles a laugh into his temple, glad of the meagre privacy the little corner affords them. “You hated me even calling you Eds, in grade school.”

Eddie squeezes him until Richie gasps. He’s got some firepower in those sinewy arms. Ping-pong is a real man’s sport, Richie will not be convinced otherwise. 

“Yeah, but I liked it too. It’s our thing. It’s private. That’s why — for a second I thought, all these people who recognize me, they’d think I’m a joke, too.” Richie squeezes him back. Not too hard, he doesn’t wanna hug the idiocy out of him. “Don’t want strangers thinking they can laugh at me for — for private stuff. S’your job.”

“Nah, I don’t air the dirty laundry of the Tozier-Kaspbrak household on stage. Just the real impersonal shit. I love him so much I can’t masturbate alone anymore, I finally get love songs, I nearly crash the car when Phil Collins comes on the radio. I’m forty years old and I only just discovered it’s possible to get turned on at the sight of a grown man in overalls, et cetera.”

“Fuck off!” Eddie’s giggling at him, stepping back. His face is a little blotchy, but it’s probably because embracing in this heat is nigh-unbearable. “It’s the Kaspbrak-Tozier household and you fuckin’ know it.”

“Tell that to my lawyer, dude, I got my name changed months ago.” 

“Ugh,” Eddie sighs. “Now I gotta change mine, too.”

The best thing, the grand golden prize of being with someone Richie has known since they were both picking boogers in the sand-pit, is the knowledge. The bone-deep certainty about shit. When Mike’s call came and brought back all his memories, along with his lunch, shining bright among them like a diamond in a coal mine was the certainty. Absolute surety that he knew and loved his friends, and was known in return. That he was still in love with Eddie, had really been loving Eddie every time his head turned after the dark sloe eyes or the solemn face of a stranger in a bar. That he knew Eddie’s tics and his secret love of nature, and how crazy loud they can get together without it being too much for either of them. In return; Eddie knows Richie’s head is too full to keep quiet, that he needs to cling like a vine, and a billion other things that he came to California in spite and because of.

And so Richie knows, as he drapes his arm over Eddie’s shoulder once more, that however pissed they get with each other, it’s never going to be for very long. There’s just too much that they’ll want to come back for.

“I really am sorry, okay? Can we start over? Somewhere else? We’re never gonna find a good engagement gift here,” Eddie says, close to sulking. 

“I told you that before, but you wanted to come anyway.” 

“Well, we can’t get them a Predator statue! We had one first.”

Just before they rejoin the thronging crowd, Eddie stops at the mouth of the alley. Richie’s heart picks up to a steady clip as Eddie gives him a significant look, and deliberately moves Richie’s hand from his shoulder to the back pocket of his overalls.

“Yikes, Eds,” he says, a little strangled. Cups his hand around the firm curve of Eddie’s be-denimed ass, a frisson of excitement washing through him as Eddie’s face pinks up under his staring.

“Not a fuckin’ word,” Eddie mutters, glancing up at him, and away in an instant. 

Richie wouldn’t be able to tell anyone a single thing that happens as they amble back into the masses, not even with a gun to his head. His hands and his heart are full and his mind is empty, buzzing with syrupy static. Where they go doesn’t matter when Eddie’s shifting under his palm as they walk, and the tight grip he has around Richie’s waist has him floating free.

He surfaces from his happy stupor when they detour into the neon assault of the cinema’s arcade, at first for the blast of A/C to chill the sweat from their exposed skin. But the cheap clatter of tokens ignites something nostalgic in them, and they stay for a while. Long enough that Richie eventually takes his hand out of Eddie’s pocket, though it feels like torture to do so — Eddie’s shit-talking, and Richie is bound by the Loser code to whoop him at some fighting game. It isn’t Street Fighter, but then, that one always carried the stain of frightened humiliation after Bowers. 

It’s so much better than Street Fighter. Dazzling, retro patches of color illuminating the fierce concentration on Eddie’s face. He wins, his eyes a funfair whirl of light as he laughs, and Richie can look as long and as lovingly as he always wanted to back in 1989. As much as he wanted to even back in January, when they spent his Christmas tokens in Santa Monica, Richie sweating bullets every time Eddie jostled him at the machines. 

“Did you see that shit?” Eddie gloats, tugging on Richie’s shirt. “I still got it.”

What a difference nine months makes. Nine months is a lifetime, when you’re starting your life back over again the right way.

The Grove is emptying as the sun anchors itself lower into the skyline. After a much-needed juice break they wind up in the overpriced athletic store from earlier, Eddie kvetching about needing new socks, or something. Richie leaves him to it and wanders around, feeling like a gangly naturalist in a jungle full of ripped, coiffed, shiny creatures.

He’s not morally opposed to sports. Some people just take it to a level of intensity Richie thinks should only be reserved for, like, brain surgery. Or going nuts in the pit at a concert. He shuffles past a lurid display of equipment that looks more like a bunch of sex toys, idly flicking through his phone.

He hates having to chug gallons of water just to get groceries, why would he want to deliberately sweat more? Exercise only really seems worthwhile when he gets an orgasm out of it, that’s all. Not that he doesn’t enjoy ping-pong, or floating around on his back in the pool until Eddie gets insistent that he’s gonna have a sunburned dick. Maybe that’s the link. He likes sports he can do in his own house, preferably with easy access to the suntanned planes of Eddie’s skin when they get too bored and hot to continue.

There was a coach in middle school, Eddie has told him, who asked Mrs K if Eddie would consider joining the track team. It makes sense to Richie; he’d spent many a pointless, dusty gym class furtively contemplating the whipcord stretch of Eddie’s thighs from the corner of his eye. Face flushed, arms shaky, and not just because of the rope climbs. Eddie could always keep up with him on their bikes, with Bill, with Bev, when he didn’t have his mother’s voice ringing in his ears. Mrs Kaspbrak said his asthma was too severe for track, though, so that was the end of that.

So Richie might not get sports, but he gets this. The intense, wistful look that locks up Eddie face when he’s watching YouTube videos of gazelle-legged Europeans running marathons in the Alps. It’s about proving something to a memory, or maybe to himself.

Richie is fully prepared to sit in some cold bleachers if he has to. It can’t be that different from sitting through a comedy gig, right? He’s good at sitting on his ass.

He rounds a corner past a mountainous basket of footballs, and spies Eddie at the end of the aisle. He’s clutching two packets of tube socks, glaring at them like they’re nuclear launch codes he has to decipher. Richie snorts and takes aim with his phone.

He zooms in on Eddie’s deathly serious face, haloed in socks and underwear. Annotates the video, eddie is starring in sophie’s choice 2: this time it’s hosiery, and sends it out to his ‘gram story for the people to enjoy. If he can’t brag about having a boyfriend who’s just as much of a weirdo as he is, then what the fuck is the point of social media?

He’s sloping down between the clothing racks towards Eddie as inconspicuously as he can, when something bright catches his eye.

A fucking celebratory brass band revs up in his head. Oh, this oughta be good, he thinks, gleefully pulling it off the shelf.

“You struggling, babe? I never knew socks were so tricky.”

Eddie doesn’t reply right away, and Richie cranes his neck to see what’s got him distracted. Two young guys at the far end of another aisle, shoulders so jacked Richie’s surprised they can stay upright from being so top-heavy. They’re holding hands.

He sticks his tongue in the side of his cheek, bites it to stop laughing. “You see something you like, Spaghetti Man?”

Eddie’s sputtering attention snaps back around so fast it looks like he might get whiplash. Sometimes Richie’s concerned that Eddie might not actually be a very good risk analyst. 

“What? Fuck no, as if. They’re probably young enough to be our kids.”

And that’s — a little depressing. A little sweet, too, that Eddie said it like that. Ours. Kids are freaky little boundary-free aliens in Richie’s eyes, and people get annoyed when you make dick jokes around them. He can barely accept responsibility for himself, let alone something small enough to get pulled down a storm drain, but still.

“No?” he presses.

“No, Richie, ew. They’re just… I could’ve never held hands with you in public, at that age.” 

Richie beams at him. “Well, color me glad we’re old fucks, then.”

“Yeah.” Eddie looks back down at his handful of socks, a small smile on his face. “I guess I’m doomed to only prefer guys that look like a scarecrow fucked an Ent.”

Richie spots himself in a mirror propped at the end of the aisle. 6’2”, miles of stubbornly pale, stilt legs keeping him half a head above Eddie. Keeping him too conspicuous not to crack jokes, in the hopes of distracting people from how self-conscious he is. Bright, tropical palm leaves on his sail of a shirt, and he only put it on that morning because it still smelled like Eddie, who kept it on during sex the day before. His hair is a black birds’ nest from the humidity, and he probably has a few more lines around his glasses-magnified eyes from how much he’s been smiling this past year. Who knew sheer happiness can sink its marks into the body, just as deep as depression? 

His bone structure can still get it, though. Eddie’s not the only one Twitter writes him filth about. He pokes his tongue out at his reflection, just to make sure that it’s him. That this isn’t all a dream.

Eddie’s looking at him, fond.

“I always knew you wanted to climb this like a tree, Eds.”

“Maybe,” Eddie snorts. Then he catches sight of what’s in Richie’s hand, and he looks like he’s having a stroke. Face gone ashen in an avalanche, and his left eye twitching like a grasshopper.

“What the fuck is that,” he hisses.

“Oh, this?” Richie twirls the jockstrap around one finger in a gunslinger flourish. Eddie stares at it like it might actually be a loaded six-shooter. “It remind you of anything? You had shorts just like ‘em.”

It’s red with white trim, sturdy white loops for the legs and a little rainbow flag stamped proudly on the waistband. Very tidy. Like it wouldn’t dare to go to the bathroom without a hall pass. Very Eddie. 

Sexy as shit, in Richie’s opinion.

“I never wore something like that,” Eddie says, eyebrows raised. His shocked-white face is turning almost the same color as the underwear.

“Sure you did! Red ones, real Village People. I used to jerk off every day you wore them. Eighth grade was a nightmare, I was like ay, Dios mío, there he goes again. I don’t need this today, we have a test tomorrow.”

“Jesus Christ, again with the shorts. My mom bought those for me, y’know.”

Richie ignores him. “It goes with your whole deal, too.” He waves the jockstrap up and down Eddie’s body, the whole embarrassed length of him. Squeaky-clean sneakers to the neat wave of his cowlick. “Y’know, how you dress like a Boy Scout troop leader? But like, one from a porno.”

Eddie looks down at his overalls, his Thundercats, eyebrows all scrunched and bewildered. He looks like he’s under attack. “What does that even — I’m fucking comfortable, asshole!” he squawks. “Like I’m gonna take fashion advice from the guy who still dresses like Ace Ventura.”

“Aw,” Richie coos, holding the underwear to his heart. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

It’s nearing closing time and their corner of the store is empty. If it had been anything otherwise, Richie’s sure Eddie would have stormed outside by now, probably after throwing store property at Richie’s head. Instead he’s just standing there, looking mildly constipated.

“C’mon, aren’t these things good for running?” Richie pries. The cup part is soft cotton, and his mind stirs a little hotly at the thought of the red against Eddie’s tan thighs, his beautiful cock filling it out. Then he frowns. “Wait, you do wear undies when you run, right? I dunno how I feel about you flopping around all over the neighborhood.”

“Of course I wear underwear,” Eddie snaps. He’s eyeing the thing like it’ll bite, and suddenly snatches it from Richie’s hand, testing the give of the elastic. “This would be useless for running.”

“Aw man, really?” It looks like regular, normal briefs, just without the butt part. Or the legs. Still, it’s not like it’s lace, or anything.

He quashes that thought down as fast as he can. This place has security cameras.

“You’d look hot as fuck in it, though,” he says, honestly a little disappointed. It was a long shot, but he’d hoped this might go the same way as the weed argument, that he might convince Eddie it was beneficial to him, rather than reveal his own massive hardon for Eddie letting his hair down enough to try new things. It’s unbelievably heady, knowing Eddie even wants to, and trusts Richie enough to do so over and over again with everything from sexual acts to spicy food.

“You, uh. You really think—?” Eddie’s pink as a raspberry, chewing his lower lip. His eyes are narrowed to beady slits. “You’re not just fucking with me?”

Richie gives him a flat look. “Didn’t we just fight about this?” It’s like Eddie thinks Richie touches his ass all the time solely for the good of his own health. Sometimes he’s the dumbest smart person Richie knows. “I wouldn’t joke about this, it’s life and death. Yes, you’d look hot. Kinda impossible for you not to, have you seen—”

“So, you’d like it?”

“I — huh?”

“You’d be — you’d be into it?”

Forget raspberries, Eddie’s face has transitioned into full beet status. He clutches the jock close to his chest like he’s hiding it from the cameras, or the few bored staff still hanging around the register. Richie’s brain stalls. Loops like a broken CD player. Would he be into it? He’d never leave their bed again, but that’s not the point.

“Would — would you?” he asks, heart thumping.

“I mean, it’s not… bad. And if you’d want—” 

Eddie coughs. 

Heavy, bassy trap music has been blaring from the store’s loudspeakers ever since they wandered in, but now it sounds distant, as if muffled at the bottom of a swimming pool. All the air sucked from the room. Richie shuts his mouth, once he realizes it’s hanging open. What the fuck is happening? He licks his lips, and Eddie’s wary eyes drop from his to track the quick movement.

“I mean — yeah, Eds. But only if you — I’m not asking you to—”

Eddie seems to come to some conclusion, and tilts his chin up. And it’s — oh, that well-worn set to his jaw, that fire in his eye that always spells some form of disaster for Richie, good or bad. 

His insides evaporate. 

Even the bad winds up being good in the end. It always felt like his number was up whenever Eddie clenched his teeth and decided today was the day he’d finally dunk Richie in the quarry. He didn’t know that Richie fought so hard, not against being drowned, but against the nuclear blast of want exploding inside at having Eddie swarm all over him, loud and slippery and close.

“Go on then,” Eddie says, low. He shoves the underwear at Richie, who catches it just so it won’t fall, fumbling and mute. “Go buy it, mister big shot Netflix special.”

Then he grins like quicksilver, probably at Richie’s stunning impression of a goldfish. “I’ll be outside,” he says, and turns on his heel, the socks forgotten.

Richie stands there, swaying. 

He likes to think he’s good at predictions, at guessing where a joke can go that will land the most laughs. But he flubbed it when he decided to go back to Derry, didn’t anticipate the giant murderous clown, or seeing the love of his life again in a Chinese restaurant. He messed up every time he hogged the hammock, aiming for entwined legs and an argument, suffering instead a shaky yearning that felt too colossal for his body. And this, this offhand prank to make Eddie blush; to say it’s gone off the fucking rails is an understatement. You don’t wear something like this to go running.

He heads dumbly to the register, never more glad to see not a hint of recognition in the cashier’s eyes. Or maybe she’s just discreet. This is why online shopping exists, he thinks, gnawing the inside of his cheek as he hands over his card.

The sky is bronze and the air is still exhaust-fume hot when he leaves the store’s air-conditioned refuge, sunset glinting off distant skyscraper windows like shoals of golden fish. He slips his hand into Eddie’s waiting grip and they leave quietly, in the direction of the parking lot.

He catches Eddie glancing into the backseat more than once, his eyes drifting over his own shoulder and then up to Richie’s nervous babbling. When the weight of his staring gets too much, Richie caves and plants his palm high on the inside of Eddie’s leg, grainy denim under his fingers and fiery daring in his chest. It shouldn’t feel daring. They’ve been touching each other for long, glorious months now, but his laugh is shrill to his own ears when Eddie murmurs, “Watch the road, Rich,” low and rough after a couple of minutes. 

Fucking rich coming from him, scourge of the Los Angeles streets.

“You’re killin’ me, Smalls,” Richie replies, grinning out of the windshield like he’s got fishhooks in the corners of his mouth.

Eddie’s face strobes in the streetlights, eyes lidded in obsidian and fluorescent orange. “Idiot,” he says softly, teeth dug into his lip. 

His legs spread minutely wider under Richie’s hand. The road rolls out before them, blocks ticking past like the excited beat of Richie’s heart in a countdown towards something, Richie doesn’t know what. But he’s not sure if he’ll survive it, when the alarm finally sounds.

Chapter Text

Eddie’s on him the moment Richie shuts the front door.

Tongue in his mouth already, and only one shoe off. Richie laughs into the kiss, feels Eddie return it when Richie pulls him closer by the pockets of his overalls, their hips lining up deliciously.

“Hey,” Eddie whispers. Richie has to slump down a little against the door to kiss him when they’re standing up. All the more reason to get horizontal, fast.

“Hey, yourself.” Something red-hot is awakening down low in his stomach, something uncoiling in ravenous loops. 

Eddie’s fingers scrape into his hair, angling his mouth where Eddie wants it. Richie goes along, his body and spirit both willing. “You good?”

“Am I good? Might wanna turn that one around, buddy.” 

The hallway is dark, but he’s so used to memorizing every angle of Eddie’s face that he can still make out the glint of his smile. Richie wraps his arms around Eddie’s waist, shivers when he feels hot hands range up under the back of his shirt. Eddie drags himself up like he’s gonna start kissing again, but he only brushes past Richie’s mouth in a tease and noses his way along to Richie’s ear, biting his jaw as he goes, setting off sparks.

“I’m good. I’m kinda thirsty,” he mutters, almost apologetically. Then he gently takes Richie’s earlobe in his teeth.

Richie slides further down the door, moaning weakly at Eddie mouthing the skin behind his ear. Thank fuck he’s forty and not eighteen, or he’d already be coming by now. Whoever decided stamina was a good tradeoff for short refractory periods was a fucking genius.

“Well, let’s—” Eddie sucks on his earlobe again and his knees go to jelly. “Eds, fuck, c’mon — let’s get you some fuckin’ refreshment. Ándale.”

They disentangle, and Richie smacks Eddie’s ass towards the kitchen, tripping over himself and snorting back laughter when Eddie salutes him the bird over his shoulder. Just like in those photos of him running away from the paps, except Richie can do something about it that nobody else can. Because Eddie is his, just as deeply as he is Eddie’s, has been Eddie’s for most of his life in one way other another. 

He’s convinced that’s why he could never make previous relationships work, his soul was still splintered into the warped old wood of the Kissing Bridge. Richie trots along behind him like a dog with its tongue hanging out.

The A/C is still mostly useless, the kitchen air heavy with the lingering coconut scent of the Thai curry they made yesterday. It hangs around them, weighted like garlands of strong flowers, makes the small space between their bodies stretch ripe like fruit about to burst. Eddie pours them both big glasses of water, and downs his own in one long, sinuous gulp. Richie watches his throat bob, watches Eddie watch him over the rim of his glass. His heart has been beating hard since they drove home from the mall, but now it pinballs wildly around the inside of his body, from his jugular right down to his groin. He can feel his pulse in his cock, for God’s sakes.

Eddie gasps when he finishes his drink, comes up for air wiping the spare trickle of water from his damp lower lip with his wrist. They’re so close, crowded together against the counter that Richie feels his exhalation brush his arm. He hasn’t touched his own water, because it would probably dribble right back out of his open mouth, already scratched up from kissing.

Eyes locked, the moment spins out like spider-silk. 

The light fixtures hum in the silence, and Eddie slants him the biggest shit-eating grin Richie’s ever seen.

“Fuck,” Richie breathes.

They bought a tacky little cactus magnet the time they went to the Joshua Tree National Park, and it comes rattling loudly to the floor with all the others when Richie slams Eddie up against the refrigerator. He grabs hold of whatever he can, going wild with it, Eddie’s thigh hoisted up around his hip. Then it’s both legs, and they’re kissing ferociously as Eddie works whatever freaky core strength he has into keeping himself up, Richie muscling his thighs open with his hands full of Eddie’s ass.

“Fuck,” he says again, blurting it against Eddie’s jaw, hot and salty like popcorn. “Fuck, fuck, you’re so fuckin’ sexy, Jesus Christ—”

“Shut up, I’m not — fuck, Richie—”

Eddie’s hand flies from its death-grip on Richie’s shoulder to push through his hair. It whips Richie’s glasses off in the process but he doesn’t care when he hears them hit the floor, he can feel Eddie getting hard against his stomach as they push against each other and the fridge until there’s no air between them. His scalp stings right down to his ankles, and Eddie yanks him into another bruising kiss.

“You are,” Richie insists, grinning, eyes closed. He doesn’t need to be able to see to lick Eddie’s lips open, to dig his fingers into the tight meat of his thighs. Eddie’s deceptively heavy, and he’s biting at Richie’s mouth like he’s starving. “You drive me fuckin’ crazy—”

“You too,” Eddie says, his voice gravelly. Probably because Richie’s attacking his throat. A sharp groan bursts out of him when Richie sets his feet wider and jounces him a little higher, his legs tightening around Richie’s waist. “I want you all the fuckin’ time — I think — Rich, ah, I t-think we should have sex.”

The weight of him gets too much. Richie isn’t exactly stacked in the muscle department, so he lets Eddie slide slowly down his front, both hissing when their erections drag together. They lose themselves in exploring each other’s mouths a little longer, awkwardly rutting like animals, before Eddie’s words finally register through the heat-haze stewing Richie’s brain.

“You — whad’you say?” He digs down the back of Eddie’s overalls, down his briefs, squeezing handfuls.

Eddie’s distending fistfuls of Richie’s shirt, gulping down air. One denim strap is dangling over his shoulder, pulling his shirt collar low enough that Richie can see the beginnings of the sizeable bruise he left on the side of his neck. He looks fucking debauched already and all their clothes are still on. Not for long, Richie hopes, if he heard right.

“C’mon, you said, I didn’t hear—”

“I said, we should have sex,” Eddie repeats, shaky but determined. His eyes blink open into dark, clouded pools in the low kitchen light.

Richie stares at him. All the blood in his body is redirecting to his dick, maybe that’s why Eddie isn’t making any sense to him. “Uh… yeah, I kinda figured that’s where this was headed? But I shouldn’t assume, Eds, you’re right.” He smirks, taking Eddie’s face in his hands and shoving his thigh back between his legs so Eddie’s mouth will gasp open for another kiss. “Consent is paramount in this house, y’know. I think we should have sex too. Right now, a ton of it. Together, I should’ve mentioned that part—”

“No, dumbass,” Eddie laughs, squirming away from where Richie’s fingers are scrabbling at his ribs. There’s nowhere for him to go. Richie’s not afraid to throw his height around if it keeps Eddie pinned to the fridge. “I mean, we should — we should fuck. Not here, we eat in here.”

“Pretty sure that table would say we’ve fucked in here before, man.”

“Not like — not like this. I want to, uh. I mean, I think we should...” Eddie sighs gustily, tipping his head back against the fridge to glare at the ceiling. As Richie palms softly at his bunching jawline, confusion building through arousal, it seems like Eddie’s speaking to himself. “Come on, Eds.”

“Uh…”

“Ugh, catch up already. I want...” Eddie says, pulling Richie down by the collar until their foreheads kiss together, hot and grimy with sweat. He whispers, like Richie’s the only one who can ever know what he’s gonna say next. “I want you, to fuck me.”

And—

Oh, fuck.

“And he arrives,” Eddie jokes, unsteadily. “Glad you could join me.”

Blood roars through every whorl of Richie’s ears like a waterfall. Their hair is disgusting with the day’s limp heat, all threading together as he stares into Eddie’s huge, nervous eyes, not even an inch away. Neither of them blink.

“I can do that,” he chokes out. “I — holy shit, okay. Yep. No problemo. You got it, babe.”

Eddie huffs a small, burnt up laugh. “No problemo?”

“Shut up, fucknuts, I’m — Eds, stop laughing at me.”

It isn’t fair to laugh at him right now, he’s having a heart attack. He kisses Eddie quiet, tongues meeting gentler now even though Richie can’t ever remember being more turned on in his entire life. Not even when they’ve had sex in the past, not even the time Eddie ditched shaving for a few days and gave him rugburn inside his thighs so intense he walked around bow-legged all weekend.

“Just so we’re clear,” he gasps, arousal stabbing a sword in his gut as Eddie’s hands roam up under his shirt, thumbs circling his nipples. “You mean, like, a dick in ass situation—”

“Yes, oh my God.” Eddie tries pulling away again, stopped by Richie’s mouth latching back onto his. He mumbles, “You just wanna hear me say it,” between their lips.

“Maybe. I’m a real easy man to please, I don’t ask for much.”

“You’re definitely easy. Such a perv.”

“Only for a fine thing like you, darlin’,” Richie drawls.

Eddie clears his throat, holding him at arm’s length. By the look of his flared nostrils he’s trying to calm his breathing, and Richie cracks up at Eddie’s put-upon expression, so ineffectively stern with his eyes blown black and his cock a visibly thick line under his clothes.

“Richard, please put your nasty dick inside me.” He punches Richie’s shaking shoulder. “There, you giant shit, are you happy?”

Richie is so happy he might pass out, his body smouldering hot enough that he’s surprised his clothes haven’t disintegrated. He cackles into Eddie’s neck, groping at him just because he wants to get closer. Eddie’s laughing too as he finally wriggles out of Richie’s grasp, patting his cheek.

“Okay, I’m gonna — gonna take a shower, I’m all gross.”

Richie leans his burning face on the fridge in Eddie’s absence. It doesn’t really help much, he might have to climb right on in. He listens to Eddie scampering down the hall, and focuses on taking long, measured breaths to stop giggling. 

Oliver the Dalmatian is baying mournfully down the street. The noise carries far in the quiet night, sounds like the mile-high roof of heat above the city’s got him kicking up a fuss just for the lack of anything better to do. Hang in there, pal, Richie thinks, groaning softly. He’d howl at the moon too, if it would cool him down even one degree. Not much luck of that happening, now. 

“Holy shit.”

He’s chugging his water to see if he can steady his hands, adjusting himself uncomfortably in his shorts when he hears Eddie holler, “You can come too, dumbass!” from the other side of the house.

The water nearly shoots out of his nose. Seriously, this fucking guy. 

I wanna marry him. 

The thought comes fully formed and patient, like his brain has just been waiting for him to catch up. 

I want him to marry me.

Richie leans heavily against the counter, setting his glass down with a bang. His stomach soars. It feels like he’s swallowed a bomb, and his insides have gone up in a mushroom cloud.

It’s like discovering a new color. Fucking terrifying.

“Ah, Christ. Good timing, Trashmouth.” He thumps his forehead a few times with the heel of his hand. “Let’s try fucking him first, huh, see how that goes.” He picks up his thankfully intact glasses from their sad abandonment on the floor, and hurries towards the sound of the shower running.

Eddie must be finished with whatever he needed to do, because Richie finds him braced up against the black shower tiles on one forearm while the other moves steadily out of sight. Water streams down his back between his shifting, rangy muscles in glinting lines, silvery gold holding his shape together. The skin between his thighs looks pink and shiny-clean, dusted with downy hair flattened to wet swirls.

Richie’s cock springs up against his stomach as he tugs his underwear off, meeting Eddie’s lidded eyes as he watches. 

“What took you so long?” Eddie says, turning back to the wall as Richie bundles up behind him. The water’s beautifully fresh, soothing what feels like a fatal fever under his skin.

Eddie doesn’t need to know about his most recent of internal revelations. Not right now. Not until Richie’s bought a ring, at least.

“Had to pop a few boner pills, my bad,” Richie replies, trailing open-mouthed kisses down the back of Eddie’s neck, blushing and hot under his tongue. His stomach jolts as Eddie arches his hips back against him.

“Asshole,” Eddie snorts. He reaches back to where Richie’s rubbing his cock in the shower-slick cleft of his ass. His fingers are tight and quick around him, thumbing the head to make Richie’s knees nearly buckle, feet slipping in water.

He snatches hold of Eddie’s hips to keep himself from falling. “Fuck, okay, are we — in here? Or—?”

“No, not yet, can you,” Eddie gulps. “Can you—?”

Richie looks down between them at the smooth planes of his back, the sweet, shallow curve of his spine. Eddie loves to talk about good posture, always prodding at Richie’s slumped shoulders. He’s putting it to good use, shifting his legs a little wider and holding himself open with one hand on his ass. The fire in Richie’s belly flares dangerously high, stoked by Eddie’s other hand teasing up the whole length of his cock. 

He drapes himself over Eddie’s back, cards his hair into wet spikes as he kisses his temple. Slips his other hand down to toy with the delicate muscle at the very core of him, bright-hot and waiting.

“You want… right here?” He holds his breath, and presses one gentle finger to the tight furl. Eddie’s freckled shoulders look like the speckled skin of an apple, under the shiny film of water.

“Mmnh,” Eddie mumbles. His face is flushed in the steaming air, and Richie lays a kiss on his cheekbone, the creased corner of his tightly shut eye. “Yeah, please. Please, Rich.”

So Richie sinks to his knees. The shower tray is hard and uncomfortable on his joints, but in a distant kind of way, like the inevitable pain of a good massage. Fuck his knees, it’s the only place Eddie will let Richie do this, let him really go to town. Even then, it took a lot of convincing the first time. 

He buries his face into it and laps him open, tasting water and the musk of clean, private skin. His pulse beats hard between his legs, skips and practically flatlines when Eddie reaches back to clench a fist in his wet hair, pulling Richie’s tongue deeper inside him. He eats him into the wall. Pushes Eddie flat against it, hearing nothing but the spray of the water and Eddie’s loud, helpless whimpering. 

“God — the hell are you so — good at this — ah, you’re so — fuck—”

Richie wrings a high pitched “Christ” from him when he scrubs his bristly jaw all the way up to his tailbone. He’s so fucking responsive to this, the unlikeliest of all the things Richie does to him, and it never fails to get Richie going. Eddie could sit on his face and Richie would thank him.

“Enthusiasm is key, babe,” he says, muffled, but Eddie probably can’t hear him. Richie holds his ass wider and sucks hard, tonguing around the first knuckle of his thumb to work him loose. Water pours into his eyes. He comes up for air, biting the soft skin of Eddie’s thigh, just above his tan line. “Your ass is really easy to eat out.”

Eddie lets out a startled laugh. He goes easily, when Richie hikes up his thigh to nose in at the dark skin behind his balls. “I — thank you?”

“Mhm,” Richie says, feeling lightheaded and powerful as hell, as he licks a broad line from Eddie’s taint right up to the pink buttonhole of his opening. Does it again, ‘til Eddie’s gasping and his hands slap clumsily to the tile. It’s addictive, the headrush that sends blood in a hurricane from his brain to his cock.

He’d stay there for hours if he could. Cupping Eddie’s most sensitive parts, licking him sloppy and open, over and over. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, baby, until his fingers go pruny and he ideally grows gills, but Eddie seems to have plans with a capital P. If their sex life has taught Richie anything, it’s that Eddie has all the best ideas and he’s just ecstatic to join in. He always did get a little hot under the collar at Eddie bossing him around.

But he still has Eddie clenching silky-tight around his tongue, when Richie moans into the last few, slick passes. 

“Shit,” Eddie hisses. He turns the shower off, and Richie’s ears ring in the dripping silence, sitting back on his haunches to palm up and down the backs of Eddie’s trembling thighs. His heart thumps in long, drunken waves as he pants to catch his breath.

“I can’t walk right,” Eddie mumbles. He staggers out past the glass doors of the shower to grab a towel after nuzzling his face into Richie’s hair, his cock standing rigid. 

Richie snorts and watches him go, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. Trust Eddie to perfect walking around like it’s the world’s fault he’s got a boner. His knees and his jaw ache, and he grins like an idiot to make the hurt worse. It’s worth it, to be able to feel every bit of this tomorrow.

“You’re welcome,” he calls out into the bedroom. He’s met with a wavering, nonverbal noise of acknowledgement that only makes him grin wider.

He takes some time to brush his teeth and gargle mouthwash, because he learned the hard way that Eddie won’t kiss him again otherwise. The mirror reflects an absolute disaster; eyes bleary with steam and the lack of glasses, his curls slicked back in a wet mess. Chest dappled in blotchy splashes of color, and his erection so swollen he’s kind of afraid to touch it, in case he comes right there. He tries imitating Eddie’s hawkish glare at it, willing it to chill out, but unsurprisingly only makes it worse. He’s just wired that way, now. Plus, fucking the hottest guy in the world open on his tongue will have that effect. 

He gives himself a couple of smug fingerguns instead, and rummages for the box of condoms that mysteriously appeared in the cabinet a few weeks ago.

When he’s finished towelling his hair into wild clumps, he slips back into the bedroom to find Eddie standing in front of the mirror. The neat, tanned lines of him glistening with sweat, hands on his hips, with his thumbs hooked into the waistband of the jockstrap.

Richie’s momentarily quietened libido slams back into his guts like a wrecking ball.

“Fucking — yowza.” 

Eddie’s chewing at his bottom lip again, and catches Richie’s eye in the mirror. “I wanted to see how it looked. That’s why you bought it, right?”

“I bought it because you told me to,” Richie says, dropping the towel in a heap and tossing the condom onto the bed. He prowls around Eddie, taking in the contrast between the medical-white of the straps against the dark golden glow of his lower back. It frames his whole deal, his unfairly pert ass and his hardness all packaged up like a gift.

Richie wants to tear it open with his teeth.

“I’ll say it again. Yowza.” He’s proud of how steady his voice is, since his heart is thundering in his throat. Eddie blushes even deeper. The elastic is already leaving faint marks in his hips when Richie hooks one finger in to pull it slowly back.

“You’re killing it with the sex talk tonight. No problemo. Yowza. It’s like living with Yogi Bear.” Eddie folds his arms, his eyes looking a little less nervous in the mirror when Richie starts worrying his teeth in the junction between his neck and shoulders. 

“Eds, I’m so hard right now you should be impressed I can stand, let alone talk.” It’s like being hypnotized. He watches himself in the mirror palm slowly down Eddie’s flat stomach to take a grip of his cock, rubbing firmly through the cotton, encouraging Eddie to buck forward into his hand. “What’cha thinkin’?”

“It looks… looks kinda gay, I guess,” Eddie hisses, tipping his head back. His hair is a drying fluffy mess against Richie’s shoulder, tickling his neck. 

Richie snorts and grabs him rough around the waist. “Fuck, oh no. Not that. And all this time I thought you were straight.”

“Didn’t say I look gay, did I?” He snickers when Richie tenses up against him for a second. “I’m kidding, obviously. It’s actually, uh. It — fuck, Richie—”

Richie doesn’t register the nails biting into his arm, too distracted by dipping his fingers back between Eddie’s ass, finding him still soft and dripping from Richie’s tongue.

“Oh God,” he moans, closing his eyes tight. He snaps the elastic loudly against Eddie’s hip, making him yelp. If he doesn’t bring some levity into this situation he’s gonna bend Eddie over right here against the mirror, and he has an inkling that might stress Eddie out.

As it is, Eddie’s sagging against him and turning in his arms. “I take it you’re on board with this whole… thing.”

Richie can only nod jerkily against his forehead. So on board. Reality’s crashing over his head like a glass bottle; the white straps curved under Eddie’s ass point like an arrow towards what he wants Richie to do. He’s wet so Richie can fuck him. 

He wants to get inside him and never leave.

“God,” he says again, feeling pathetic with want. 

Eddie’s fingers trail blazing, swirling patterns down his spine, around to his stomach, cheekily dodging where Richie’s twitching and unbearably hard.

“It’s uh.” Eddie purses his mouth, and gives Richie an amused squint that’s somehow bordering on reproachful. “It’s kinda turning me on.”

“Oh, yeah?” Richie laughs. Isn’t that something people say, that laughing during sex is a good thing? Eddie’s a ridiculous person, he always has been. One set of rules for him and another for everyone else, and fuck you for embarrassing him when it’s pointed out. He can’t even follow his own advice most of the time, and it’s funnier than any joke Richie can think of. “That’s great, Eds, it definitely helps if you’re horny.”

Eddie shrugs, a sheepish tilt to his shoulders. He’s really pitching a tent in the thing, and the sight of him curiously rubbing the wet spot has Richie’s mouth watering. “Makes me feel, uh…”

“Like a stud? Sexy as shit?”

Eddie’s all flushed and scowly, the way he gets when Richie’s paying him compliments quicker than he can deflect them away. “I was gonna say secured.”

Typical. What a dweeb. Richie beams at him. “Bet you’re glad I suggested it.”

“Yeah. Your fault, as always,” Eddie says, and it feels like he’s getting worked up again. Richie’s pulse ramps into overdrive as Eddie loops his arms around his neck, like Richie’s a tree he wants to climb. “You’re pretty fuckin’ smart. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

A shudder rips through him. Shocks his hands back to grasping handfuls of Eddie’s ass, on display for him, easy access. “Wow, that, uh. That really does it for me. Even more than you calling me an idiot, who knew.”

“Good. ‘Cus I mean it,” Eddie rasps. His eyes are eclipsed to a thin ring of brown around his pupils as he speaks, mumbling between kissing Richie dizzy. “You’re smart. Your non-dick jokes are great. You always work out the tip in your head before I do, it’s really hot.” The underwear’s soft against his thigh and it’s driving Richie insane, rubbing against the grain of his leg hair. “You treat me so good, half the time I don’t know how to fuckin’ act.”

Richie really is going nuts, head over heels. It’s heartbreaking that Eddie thinks he should be treated anything otherwise. His voice shakes as bad as his hands, clenched into the small of Eddie’s back. 

“Who are you, and what have you done with my precious Spaghedward? Y’can’t miss him, he’s like this tall, always looks like someone pissed in his cornflakes—”

“Right here, dipshit,” Eddie smirks into his shoulder, crooked and scarred and lovely.

“Phew,” Richie sighs. “Had me worried for a sec.” 

Then he grabs the back of the jock and tows Eddie along by the waistband, dodging curses and futile attempts to land his heels hard into Richie’s shins. Back in Derry, for those first horrifying thirty-six hours, it seemed to Richie like adulthood had managed to beat the fight out of Eddie the way it had beaten Richie. He’s just grateful that now he can take any opportunity to beat it right back into him. Lovingly, of course.

He bounces when Richie throws him onto the mattress, scrambling further up against the pillows to make room between his knees. Eddie makes the bed every morning for some arcane, Kaspbrakian reason Richie isn’t privy to, even though they always have to strip the whole lot off again to get any sleep in the furnace of the night. Richie shoves the covers down with his feet, eyes locked on the way Eddie’s face is turning pink and challenging as Richie crawls between his legs. 

He mouths at Eddie’s cock through the fabric on his way up his body, adding saliva to the dark spread of precome already soaking through. Grips Eddie’s thighs open by the straps, panting into his crotch as Eddie hisses, “Fuck, fuck, oh—” into a pillow, devolving into filth Richie can’t even hear.

Eddie’s swallowing repeatedly when Richie settles on top of him, feeling fall-down drunk. His brain spins in his skull so bad he can’t focus his eyes or his grip, taking in every part of Eddie he can reach until it’s returned in kind, hips jerking forward when Eddie’s hands streak down his spine to grab at his ass.

“We really doin’ this, Spaghetti Head?” he gasps, tongue curling around the bolt of Eddie’s jaw.

“Sure fuckin’ hope so,” Eddie grinds out. He sounds like he’s about to march into battle, which isn’t the most encouraging. “I shoulda worn one of these sooner.”

“Hey,” Richie says, affronted. “Don’t act like I wouldn’t wanna fuck you even if you were wearing a hazmat suit.”

Eddie looks thoughtful. Richie kisses him again hard, just in case he gets any ideas about how nice and hygienic it would be to fuck in a hazmat suit. 

He has to focus on the little details, like how his thumb fits in the seashell hollow behind Eddie’s ear, or the sheen of perspiration in his collarbones. If he doesn’t, he’ll think about how Eddie’s lazily thrusting their erections together, and he’ll get come all over an expensive pair of new underwear.

Every time he tries to pull away to fetch the lube, Eddie ends up reeling him right back in to make out a little longer, has them tangling up the sheet and knocking pillows to the floor. By the time he’s fumbling the cap open they’re both gasping for it, Eddie’s arms knotted into a pretzel over his red face as his chest heaves in rhythm with the fan overhead.

Thank fuck he shoved his towel under Eddie’s hips, because he’s making an almighty mess. He burrows his slick hand down between them easy, they know this part intimately. Slips one finger into the tight heat of Eddie’s body and then two more, after a while. He loses himself for long minutes in the rolling, fucking arch of his hand, nipping at the peaks of Eddie’s ribs as he imagines sinking inside.

Eddie’s leg jiggles on the bedspread, a familiar nervous motion. It’s only because Richie’s concentrating so hard on being thorough that it takes a while to hear anything over the blood rushing in his ears. To hear the faint whistling in Eddie’s chest.

“What—?”

He looks up. Eddie’s rigor-mortis tense, his windpipe jerking visibly in his throat like a broken accordion. 

“Oh no, oh shit.”

They do this all the time. He’s fingered Eddie raw more times than he can really count, so it shouldn’t—

He eases out as gently as he can, but Eddie still winces, the whistling getting worse. His hands are shaking, one of them gripped around his other wrist as he covers his eyes. 

Panic jumps down Richie’s throat, as Eddie’s breathing goes the really bad kind of ragged through his clenched teeth. It’s like swallowing razor wire and having it pulled out the other end, leaving him torn through and awful.

“Oh shit, oh shit, Eds? What’s up, are you — d’you need your inhaler, I can—”

“No,” Eddie chokes out. He grabs suddenly at where Richie’s hunched over him, frozen sick. Pulls Richie back down against him with his hands clasped shakily around the back of his neck. “No, I can do it — just, I’m fine—”

“No you’re not,” Richie whispers, terror rising. He moves as slowly as he can to wipe his hand on the towel, his stomach churning unhappily as Eddie wheezes into the small space between them. He doesn’t know what to — why now, why all of a sudden? 

“Just — need a minute—”

“Is it — Eddie, please let me help, did I do something wrong, or…?”

Eddie shakes his head, pulling Richie closer. His forehead is all clammed up slick with sweat, and Richie wipes at it desperately. “Not you, I just — thinking, too much—”

And it clicks. At least, Richie thinks he gets it. This is a whole different ball game for Eddie, giving in to this one particular act that he wants. Richie would never devalue all the other fantastic things they do together, but even he gets the significance of Eddie asking to be fucked. It’s a lot more than a prostate exam in a doctor’s office.

Dimly he realizes he’s rubbing firm circles into Eddie’s shuddering chest, trying to soothe the monster in his lungs. It isn’t real, Eddie knows that, they both do.

But some things are real. Bullies in Derry and all over the world who seed real stigma, real flashing danger signs in Eddie’s head about what they’re doing, safe and soft in their bed. Bullshit that has no business here. Fucking gazebos.

It comes to him suddenly. Eddie just needs to be reminded he’s alright, to remember what he wants and what he’s capable of, the only one of them who knew how to make the horror small, to remember — a wave of memory pulls Richie down in a riptide, down into a maggot-yellow kitchen rancid with the stink of fear, and Eddie’s soft, freckled cheeks in his hands the last thing he might ever feel. The last thing he might ever do before the clown got them, and all he wanted to do was make Eddie feel safe.

His cheeks are rougher, leaner in Richie’s hands now, but his eyes are still wide and lost as they find Richie’s again. It isn’t real, he thinks. They can’t get us anymore, not for this. This isn’t nineteen eighty fucking nine, and I won’t let them.

“Eddie baby, sweetheart, look at me. Look at me.”

Hot, creaking gasps against his face. Eddie clings to him, all arms and legs like a lemur, big nocturnal eyes boring into his like searchlights.

“Richie, I’m — I’m—”

“You’re okay. Look at me, and breathe, alright? S’just me.” He breathes in through his nose, sliding one hand up Eddie’s chest and down again on the exhale. “Just me, baby. Where are we, huh?”

Eddie’s throat spasms around the next breath. The fan ticks, endless useless oscillation, their constant friend all through the summer heat. 

“Bedroom.”

“Yep. Our bedroom.”

Breathes out.

“Our house,” Eddie whispers.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

He doesn’t know what he’s doing, he never does, but it feels like it’s working. The breathing’s helping them both. Or maybe it’s only helping Eddie, and Richie’s wellbeing has always been unhealthily wrapped around Eddie’s like a creeping vine that needs another plant to grow. 

“And you’re here with me, right?”

“Yeah, Rich.” The hands strangling the nape of his neck are releasing in increments. 

“Think about, uh…” He casts his mind around like a frantic fishing line. Eddie once brought home a stack of papers from his therapist, months ago. Richie leafed through them one morning while he waited for his coffee to brew. All full of stuff about focusing on the exact present moment, to block out bad memories and shit — it’s better than nothing. 

“Think about right now, okay? I’ve got you. We’re both sweaty as fuck. Um, it’s like, just after seven. Here, check this out,” he says, kissing the corner of Eddie’s mouth, softening the grim line of it into a small, twitching smile.

“You feel that shit? You’re right here, man.”

“Yeah, I — I feel it,” Eddie says. His voice is hoarse, but it’s lost the sickening wheeze. In the lamplight his eyes look black, and Richie can almost see himself in them. 

“Right here,” Richie murmurs again. He’s managed to quell the frightened cymbal crash in his own head, too, which is a relief. Eddie’s chest slows to a lullaby under his palm. “I love you, Eds, I’ve got you.”

“Yeah,” Eddie whispers.

He strokes the backs of his knuckles against Eddie’s jaw, willing it to unclench. It does, after a few minutes, and a huge tenderness unleashes sails in Richie’s belly at the sight, blowing him skywards. He’s so fuckin’ brave.

“There you go. Knew you had it in ya.” He settles down on his side against Eddie, still holding his face. The minutes tick by peacefully, punctuated by Eddie kneading his fingers into Richie’s arm like a cat, where it’s slung across his quietened body.

Richie’s idly contemplating the patterns of his arm hair against the sparse wisps on Eddie’s chest, when he’s roused by Eddie clearing his throat.

“Fuck,” comes the pronouncement. The royal Kaspbrak decree.

If you don’t laugh, you cry, right? Especially when it’s funny, and Eddie’s way with words never ceases to amaze. 

“That sums it up, yeah,” Richie snorts, poking Eddie in the ribs to try and make him slap-happy. It works, too.

“I dunno what — I was fine, I was uh, into it, obviously, and then I just…” Eddie trails off. He reaches down under his waistband to rub at himself. Absently, by the looks of how he’s gazing up at the ceiling in thought. Against all odds he’s still somehow bulging demurely at the seams of the jock. 

Unbelievable, Richie thinks. He’s the one who has a panic attack and I get the boner scared offa me.

Eddie sounds entirely irked with himself when he speaks again. “It’s so stupid. I wanted it. I still want it, but I kept hearing all the shit people always say, or what — what It said. About guys like us. About me.”

Richie kisses the knob of his shoulder. “I get it, dude. Just ‘cause we’re old pros at blowjobs now doesn’t mean it’s all gonna be easy.” Eddie looks at him, mouth twisting into such a grateful expression that Richie’s stomach hurts. “Derry did a number on all of us, and it probably would’ve even if we didn’t have good old Pennyfuck popping outta every shitter, calling us fags and trying to bite our faces off for liking each other. I get it.”

“Yeah. I guess you would,” Eddie says. He stops touching himself and scratches his nose, still looking, looking, always looking. 

It’s the only kind of self-preservation Richie’s ever had, the years of pretending Eddie looked so much simply because Richie was funny, or annoying. The alternative was too much strain on the places puberty already had his body stretched translucent, unfathomable on a cosmic scale, like trying to wrap his brain around the concept of infinity. A goddamn sewer-pipe dream, almost as painful as the idea that it was all just wishful thinking.

“But you can beat this shit better than anyone,” Richie says. Concentrate on the moment, for fuck’s sake. “That’s a fact, don’t even try arguing with me. We never would’ve known how to kill It without you, man. You’re a fuckin’ hero.”

Eddie whacks him in the chest, but leaves his hand there. Presses fingertips to the soft part of Richie’s jaw, where his heartbeat lives. “I guess.”

“I know. Plus, when you threw that post? Shish kebabed that motherfucker? Oh man. So hot. Like, creamed my jeans hot.” He grins at Eddie’s dumb little smile, his exasperated eyeroll.

“You were unconscious, you never saw that. Snoozing on the fuckin’ job.”

“Yeah, but like. I still know.”

Eddie coughs up an ugly snort of a laugh, and then he’s turning to plaster himself all over Richie’s chest, squirmy and warmer than the heat-struck dark itself.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles into Richie’s ear. “Thank you. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin it.”

“Eds, you don’t — you got nothing to be sorry for, Jesus.” Richie loves him, God, does he love him. That doesn’t change the fact that he's a moron. His heart knocks hard into his ribs as he wraps Eddie tight in his arms, smiling ruefully into the sweaty flop of his hair. “We should’ve talked it out first, if anyone should feel shitty it’s me. What do you wanna — I can still suck you off, but we don’t have to—”

“See!” Eddie groans. Richie lets out a small oof as Eddie plants his hands hard on his chest to peer into his face with a strange, bewildered outrage. “It’s shit like that, it just makes me wanna fuck you more! Not everything is about me, Richie.”

“Huh?”

“What about what you want? You’re so… you’re so fuckin’ good, it’s crazy. I wanna do things for you, too.” As if for emphasis, he digs his knees sturdily into the mattress and grinds long and hard up Richie’s thigh, until the bulge in his jockstrap is snug against Richie’s re-awakening cock. The circulating air hits the slick trail he leaves behind and sets Richie shivering violently, his stomach lurching.

“Uh, I don’t…”

Ask any comedian, sit any of ‘em down for ten minutes and they’ll reveal what kind of sad, desperate people-pleasers they are. Richie’s no different; it’s borne from figuring out around the third grade that his lack of looks, athletic talent, or common sense left him with ingratiating himself to the other kids with jokes. It’s simply inconvenient that he also happens to have a loud, disgusting sense of humor that doesn’t do him many favors outside of a stage. So maybe he likes to go overboard in trying to please his partners during sex, it isn’t a crime. He’d trade the money and fame in a heartbeat if it meant he got to make Eddie happy for the rest of his life. 

It all means, in the end, that he doesn’t really know how to ask for what he wants. Especially since all he wants right now is to fuck Eddie senseless, and look how well that went.

His head spins like a carousel, all colored lights flashing behind his eyes when Eddie licks his palm and starts stroking him in a loose curl. The kiss comes slinking between them just as Eddie’s wrist angles into a twist, and it’s suddenly huge, the hunger, roaring back to life through Richie’s bloodstream.

“Okay?” Eddie says. He’s flushed across his cheekbones, down the sides of his throat. He looks like he’s waiting for something, so Richie nods, quickly. Whatever will keep Eddie from losing it again, keep him touching Richie like that, slow and measured. “Lemme just — just take care — okay. Stay there.”

He shifts and in a moment he’s laying down between Richie’s legs, cheeks hollowing around the head of his cock, just like he did with the popsicle mere hours ago. 

It’ll never stop feeling like falling.

His insides liquify, sinking like lava between his legs.

“Holy — holy fuck, Eddie, oh God, God—”

He thickens back up in the scorching wetness of Eddie’s mouth, under his enthusiastic swallows. Richie pants out all the filth he can think of to describe how it makes him feel, to see Eddie’s naturally worried eyebrows tick up like he’s enjoying every second. He can’t think, can’t do anything but grip the sheets in his fists and look away when Eddie grins up at him and sucks sloppy, like he’s really just trying to get Richie wet. Saliva pooling around his knuckles, dripping hot onto Richie’s stomach. 

He can feel — his cock slides into the smooth channel of Eddie’s tongue and it feels strung to the very back of his spine somehow, his tailbone, his asshole clenching on nothing. Eddie’s still staring up. He rests his head on Richie’s thigh, lipping gently at his scrotum until he catches his breath and goes back for more. At one point he pries Richie’s hand away from the bed and holds it to his scarred cheek, makes him feel the shape of himself pressing through from the inside of Eddie’s mouth.

It’s like there’s a metal rod planted in his gut, Richie’s so hard. “Jesus, Eds, babe c’mon, I’m gonna—”

“Don’t come yet,” Eddie says sternly, which proves what an unfair little shit he is, because he follows it up by suckling tight, devoted kisses into the tip. His eyes would have Richie pinned in place even if Eddie didn’t have both arms looped under his thighs. 

“Easy for you to — fuck!”

Richie’s gonna burn a hole right into the bed, like that old Elvis song. Eddie holds his cock against the flat of his tongue and licks, so fucking slowly it feels like it won’t ever end, like Richie’s going to expire in a mess over Eddie’s face and it’ll be all his own fault, because Eddie didn’t know the first thing about sucking dick before he came to California.

Eddie pulls off him at last, dragging his bruised mouth up through the bubble of precome beading at Richie’s slit. One of his legs jerks against his will when Eddie flicks his tongue and the most embarrassing whine builds in Richie’s chest, but he’s too full of pulsing heat to keep it down.

“Fuck…”

“Hell yeah,” Eddie says, and his voice is ruined. 

It feels like he’s been on edge for hours. The need builds into an aching coil in his hips, snapping them up instinctive when Eddie settles his bare ass right against his groin.

But, still—

He bites down on a moan, pressing his hand to his forehead. Get it together, or you’ll both fuck up again.

“Eds.”

“What?”

He follows Richie’s mouth as he struggles to sit up against the headboard, and they’re kissing again for long, breathless minutes, hands everywhere, rubbing Richie’s chest ‘til he‘s cursing, spreading open Eddie’s ass to feel where he’s still slick and loosened.

“Fuck, Eds, wait.” Richie pulls away again. “Are you sure you still wanna — you really freaked me out for a second, there. Don’t do this just ‘cause you think I want to.”

“I’m — I still wanna,” Eddie gasps, rocking forward to smear wet kisses down Richie’s jaw in a shivery line. “I’m not the fuckin’ martyr here.” He’s reaching for the condom, the one Richie completely forgot about.

And, well. Why is he even arguing? It’s probably better like this anyway, Eddie has more control if he’s straddling Richie imperiously like his hips are a throne. He’s got that look in his eye again, stubborn as a mule. Richie swallows, breathing hard.

“Okie-dokie. Round two?”

Eddie huffs a little laugh, eyes creasing. “Okie-dokie. You fuckin’ loser.”

“Your fuckin’ loser.”

“Fuck yeah, you are.”

The foil crinkles in Eddie’s shaking hands, the sound cutting tinny and sharp through their soft murmurs, the muffled rasp of their bodies sliding together. Embarrassingly, it sends a jolt right down to Richie’s cock, another pulse of precome making even more of a mess of Eddie’s hole. He pulls a strap aside and pushes two fingers back in, their wrists knocking as Eddie clumsily rolls the condom down while pressing into Richie’s cupped hand and reaching for the lube, all at once, eager and flushed.

“God, okay,” Eddie hisses. Richie tries hooking his fingers and Eddie’s pinched face collapses open with pleasure. “Okay, okay, okay, tell me what — Rich, tell me—”

“I’m gonna, hold your fucking horses.” 

“I did some — some research, but—”

“Research?” Richie cackles helplessly into Eddie’s chest. “Did you Google how to fuck? You’re gonna be on some kinda watchlist, man.”

“Shut up! Just, c’mon, since you’re such an expert.” Eddie’s all gritted teeth, turning pinker every time Richie angles his wrist up, gets Eddie riding his perineum against the heel of his hand. He’s thumbing at Richie’s jawline, light, sweaty touches that dart away when Richie tries to catch them in his mouth. Why should Eddie be the only one who gets to suck on something?

“Not an expert, but even if I was it’s different every time. You might not even like it, that’s cool too—”

“I know, but I — I still wanna try.” Eddie still looks so serious. Richie kisses his pout away, ‘cause sex is supposed to be fun, not a research project. “Do you not like it? What’s the hold up?”

“Alright, alright. Let’s boldly go, Captain Eds.” He pulls Eddie up onto his knees by the back of the jockstrap, grinning at his reluctant little moan. Talk it through, he can do this. “Tell me to stop whenever, and I will. Just, concentrate on relaxing your abs, okay? I know that’s hard for you, mister six-pack.”

“Asshole,” Eddie laughs. Richie’s cockhead snags against his rim for a second and they both make the same, pleading noise. “I don’t have a — ahh—”

He sinks down, opening up around where Richie’s easing inside.

“Ah — ah, Christ—”

“Yeah, just — just like takin’ fingers, just — don’t clench—”

“It’s a lot bigger than fingers, Rich.” Eddie pauses, holding stock still. He’s staring unseeing at the wall behind Richie’s head, like he’s doing long division. Hands braced on Richie’s shoulders.

It’s a tight fit. Richie pets at Eddie’s stomach, his whole body feeling swollen with the need to come, immediately. This might be over humiliatingly quick, he wasn’t prepared for the sight of Eddie Kaspbrak, his choirboy haircut pulled loose and looking pornographic, staining a jockstrap dark red from taking Richie’s dick. The head of his cock is in, Richie knows from experience that it only gets easier. Especially since it’s just the right depth to press at that spot, the one that has Eddie’s hips jerking against him.

“Oh, shit, that’s—”

“That’s it, yeah — you’re, fuck, you’re doing better than I did. My first time sucked.”

“What?!” Eddie says, and apparently shock helps him stop thinking so hard, because he relaxes and sits the rest of the way down, flush to Richie’s balls.

“Jesus Christ,” Richie says, faintly. 

He gets his legs bent and plants his feet, hauling Eddie further into his lap as he leans back against the headboard.

He’s so hot inside. Quivering and hotter than the sun, than the whole unbearable summer rolled into one taut, grumpy, beloved package. Eddie’s tight quads flex around Richie’s hips as he sits there, adjusting. He wriggles, and Richie wraps his arms around his waist, waiting with his face pressed into the sweating hollow of Eddie’s throat, overwhelmed.

“You,” Eddie gulps, after a minute. “You’ve done this b-before?”

“Ye-es,” Richie replies, drawing the syllable out with a long lick to the hard branch of his collarbone. 

Eddie sounds intensely interested. He’s stroking Richie’s arms steadily, like a metronome. “Huh. I always thought you’d — I mean, you’re taller than most guys.”

“That’s — that’s not how it works, oh my God,” Richie says, feeling unhinged. His hips are begging him to push up, in, deeper, it’s agonizing. “The American education system claims another sex ed victim. So sad.”

Eddie’s laugh lines are out in full devastating force, thank God, though his eye twitches every time he shifts his weight. “‘Scuse me for ever doubting you. I guess I never thought anything else could fit in there besides your own head.”

“I forgive you.” Richie coaxes him down into a heated kiss, gripped in the jaws and shaken by obscene, animal thoughts of how he’s filling Eddie up from both ends. “How’s it feel, Eds? Not being a giant virgin anymore, I mean.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Eddie laughs, cutting himself off quick when the motion jostles him too hard in Richie’s lap. “Ah — mmh. Fuck.”

It’ll be hard to get any closer to Eddie than this, but Richie wants to die trying. It feels like he’s spent his whole life trying to get closer to Eddie. At least, the parts of his life that matter, the ones with Eddie in it. Once upon a time he had a hayfevered nose pressed into his back and two arms around his waist, one wedged crooked inside a graffitied cast, as he pedalled his bike as carefully as possible down the concrete desert of a Derry road. He treasured those rides for months afterwards, dreaming up ways to get even closer without resorting to breaking Eddie’s other arm. And then came the hammock, ruining Richie’s whole life as he knew it.

His heart hammers at the memory threading into the present, feels it echoed in Eddie’s hard adult chest pressed against his. 

“That’s so not fair, though,” Eddie pouts. His eyes are hazy-bright, like the sun through mist, and he rolls his hips forward gently like he’s testing it out. “Holy — holy shit. Uh, fuck, I mean. That’s not — you’ve done this before and someone else got to fuck you first? That’s bullshit.”

Always so goddamn competitive. Richie grins, presses a kiss to the underside of Eddie’s slack jaw to take his mind off the slick, rippling heat around his cock. “You can still fuck me anytime, baby.”

Eddie starts rocking in earnest, curling his hips forward into a shaky rhythm. He moans breathily when Richie fumbles the jock’s waistband down, wanting to see the head peek out. His cock is a hard ridge against the pouchy give of Richie’s stomach, and Richie has never, ever, experienced anything hotter than this. He’s gonna come so hard he dehydrates, or shoots into space, leaving a crater behind.

Eddie pants into his mouth, his eyes screwed shut. He must be getting something out of it, ragged noises pressed behind Richie’s tonsils every time his cock nudges thick against something inside.

“Eds,” he breathes. He doesn’t know where to put his hands next, his heels sliding on the sheets. Thrusts up just to see what happens, reeling when it knocks loose a harsh breath against his ear. I did that. He goes again, and it feels like being licked all up his back, scratched between the shoulder blades. “Eds, you fuckin’ believe this?”

He gets a deep, strangled noise in response. He takes it as a yes, Richie, do tell?

“I’m fucking you,” he says, giddy. Eddie’s hands wrangle their way back to their favorite spot, pulling Richie’s hair out by the roots, jamming shocky arousal down his spine. He grabs Eddie’s ass where he’s sprawled close in his lap, squeezing until it must surely hurt. He wants to — to stuff Eddie up ‘til he’s screaming, make him forget all the bullshit in his prickly brain. “I’m inside you, man.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Eddie whines. He barely sounds like him anymore, high and scraped raw, but the annoyed incredulity at himself for having the audacity to enjoy something is a hundred percent authentic Eds. “Oh God, you sure are, fuckin’ — you’re really — really up in there, champ.”

Richie laughs, ducking his head to lick the blush cascading down Eddie’s sternum, salty-sweet. The impact jarrs his shoulder when Eddie’s forehead thumps forward against it, his hips grinding in shallow circles like he’s just using Richie’s cock to take what he wants, and it’s amazing.

He can’t do much, pinned under Eddie’s weight and his hot hands pressing him back against the headboard, but there’s no place he’d rather be. Richie wraps one long arm around Eddie’s straining ribs to haul him down even harder. Flattens his hand above the cheery rainbow label to the golden plane of Eddie’s stomach, wishing he was hung like Eddie, so he could feel himself moving inside.

Pressure throbs down low in the pit of his stomach. Slick, suggestive noises rise between them like bubbles as Eddie lifts and sinks down him slowly, and Richie might hyperventilate if it gets any warmer. 

Eddie winds his arms around Richie’s shoulders, clumsy and sucking wet at his pulse. It’s so fucking good, Richie doesn’t even care that he’s stopped riding him delirious, and is just holding Richie deep inside him as they kiss. It’s blissfully good. 

This is the life, Richie thinks, wildly, gasping small as Eddie’s internal muscles squeeze around him. His imagination runs hot at the thought of asking Eddie to keep his cock warm while he’s just watching TV or something, and he stifles a laugh at the response he might get. A kick in the shins, probably. Maybe Eddie would let Richie do it for him, with his mouth, or—

Eddie bites at his chin, makes a gurgling noise when Richie scrapes gentle fingers down his back.

“You okay?” Richie whispers.

“Yeah.” Eddie’s making all kinds of weird faces, eyes clamped shut. “It kinda hurts, but, not like — it’s good. I broke my arm before — I got stabbed in the fucking face, I think I can handle your dick.”

He’s hard as a rock when Richie reaches down to rub him through damp cotton, slipping his hand inside to jerk him lightly. Eddie’s good at pain, he should have known. Richie’s a giant wuss about it, refusing all his dad’s attempts to fit him a set of braces. But Eddie’s the one who rode in a clattering bike basket with a freshly broken arm without fainting. He’s the one who always dug curious, indignant fingers into the bruises he got chasing Richie up trees. Maybe he was trying to prove to himself that he wasn’t a fragile, porcelain doll of a boy, or maybe he just liked to be reminded he’d had a good day at the Barrens when he went back home to his cloying prison. Who knows. It’s still baffling to Richie, that Eddie goes out voluntarily to run until his legs are wobbly and in need of icing. Richie complains when he gets a hangnail.

He gently kisses the pale fang of Eddie’s scar. “You’re so fuckin’ hot.”

Eddie sniffs, shifts a little to lean back against Richie’s bent knees, dragging his insides against Richie’s erection so good he has to bite him hard on the jaw for it. “So are you. I wanted this for so long — and it’s so good — it’s really—”

“You like it, Eds?” he slurs, feeling sly. “Huh, baby?”

“Yes, you smug prick, I fucking like it, I love — I love you, Richie, fuck.”

Richie’s heart rockets straight up into his mouth.

He makes a noise so strained, so messy from somewhere deep down inside that he shocks himself. Eddie — of course Eddie does, Richie knows that, but he loves every part of Eddie right back. From his jagged hipbones to his seesaw, Manhattan-stained voice, his speech always so rapid like he thinks no one will listen to him if he doesn’t spit everything out in a rush. He loves every single part, so he likes to tell Eddie any chance he gets. And if he’s saying it back, then Eddie must feel the same way about him.

It’s just, Richie’s never heard him say it before. 

No one’s ever said it to him before. His parents, yeah, which he should really stop taking for granted when he knows what Eddie and Bev went through, but they’re dead and this is different.  

No one’s ever said it to Richie before in earnest, meant it like this, which really does something to you as a person if you spend forty years that way. It rots open a small crevice inside, where it’s safe to retreat and cry and acknowledge there must be something about you that no one can want.

That’s the place the noise comes from. Gut-punched and painfully happy. His eyes sting, and he doesn’t give a single shit.

Eddie’s gone again, his face hot in Richie’s neck as he screws himself, but Richie can see the grooves of his dimples spreading like ripples in water. He’s smiling wide like he can’t really believe what he’s done, but he’s thrilled to have done it, humming hot and pleased when Richie croaks like a frog and yanks him down by the hips. It’s unbearable, how Richie can’t feel or see or hear anything other than Eddie, his love, who actually loves him back. 

His vision swims.

“I can’t — Eds, you little—”

“I love you so much, Rich,” Eddie gasps. He blinks open one space-dark eye, and he’s grinning from ear to blushing ear.

“Don’t make me cry when we’re fucking, asshole!”

He heaves Eddie up and they’re toppling ass over elbow in a flurry of Richie’s too-long, uncoordinated limbs and Eddie’s muffled swearing. His forehead bashes into Eddie’s shoulder. The room spins. Eddie starts laughing hard underneath him as Richie violently blows a strand of hair away from his face, but his chucks dry up into broken little hiccups when Richie lifts his hips up and fucks right back in between his thighs.

“Hnn — fuck—”

“Say it again,” he demands.

“I love — I love you, ya big crybaby.”

He has to lean down and wail out loud into Eddie’s shoulder, or the massive cresting thing in his chest will consume him. Eddie’s still tight and hot, still laughing at him, so he snaps his hips forward and blows a raspberry into his sweaty neck to shut him up, but all it achieves is Eddie writhing down onto his cock, pink-faced and giggly. Richie groans, and slumps into the cradle of his hips in defeat. He’s on fucking fire, his heart beating blood hard into every extremity as he gets his elbows underneath him, somehow gets a pillow under Eddie’s ass with minimal fuss to start fucking him into next week.

So many of Richie’s edgier comedy contemporaries have mellowed after finding long-term, stable relationships, that it almost seems like an inevitability. It always felt like corny horseshit to Richie, the way the crass jokes borne from sexually frustrated cynicism crumbled apart into earnest insistence that no, really, I’ve never been happier. 

Well fuck him, they weren’t kidding. It really is the best sex he’s ever had, and he tries to focus so he can remember it later, but it’s way too fucking good. Eddie’s bony ankles locked around the small of his back, urging Richie forward and rolling his own hips up to meet it, as they bite ragged kisses into each other’s lips. The sound of Eddie panting harsh in his ear on every stroke, his head thrown back into his sweat-black hair spread all over the sheets, the blunt scrape of his nails on Richie’s scalp, down his arms, Richie’s heart jackhammering in his chest as he chases after Eddie’s orgasm, his own barely given a second thought. It’s loud, and startling, when Eddie slams his hand back to the rocking headboard to stop Richie’s thrusts shoving him any further up the bed, and Richie covers himself by burying his burning face in the musky hollow of Eddie’s armpit, licking the dark hair flat until Eddie spills wet onto their bellies with a shocked grunt.

“Fuck,” Eddie whimpers, his jaw working as he stares down at himself in disbelief. Richie’s steady rocking wrings a couple more ropes of come onto his tensing stomach, making a mess of his jockstrap, and Richie reaches down mindlessly to stroke him through it. “Fuck, fuck, oh my God, Richie, fuck—”

“Fuckin’ hell, Eds,” Richie gasps. Eddie’s clawing up at his arms like he’s drowning, and he’s clenching around Richie’s cock so tight he doesn’t think he could pull out even if he wanted to. 

He opens his mouth for Eddie in a daze, when he’s yanked back down for a hard kiss, Eddie’s soft inner thighs still vibrating against his ribs.

“Keep going, keep—”

“Okay, shit, okay — are you—?”

“Stop asking me that and fuckin’ move,” Eddie snaps, and he looks so blissed out that Richie does what he’s told, kissing him as dirty as he knows how.

“God I — fucking love you—”

“Love you too,” Eddie pants, gripping white-knuckled at his own hair for once, as Richie manoeuvres him where he wants him. “Gimme it, c’mon—”

“You can’t just say shit like that,” Richie whines, pushing himself up on unsteady arms. “Eds, no fair.”

A bead of sweat drips from his chin to the corner of Eddie’s mouth. His tongue flicks to lap it up, and one of Richie’s elbows buckles along with his lungs, a moan ripping out.

“Fuckin’ stop me, then.” Eddie looks so goddamn pleased with himself, slapping Richie heartily on the shoulder, wearing the same sharp grin he gets when he wins at ping-pong for the sixth time in a row. “C’mon, Trashmouth, let’s go.”

His head is spinning, sweat clouding his eyes as he gets his knees under him to really put his whole body into it, feeling Eddie’s hair run through his fingers and the crooks of Eddie’s knees slip damp where they’re hung over Richie’s arms. He feels fucking crazy with love and endorphins, choking the words out against Eddie’s teeth, held there when Eddie hooks his elbow round the back of his neck with a desperate, overstimulated whine. Blood pounding low in his gut. His hamstrings and his lower back scream at him, and it’s worth it. Everything below his waist feels molten and he keeps slipping, his legs almost numb with how good it is, and then he feels the barest touch of Eddie’s fingers at the base of his cock where they’re joined and he’s coming on a sob, filling the condom deep in the clutch of Eddie’s body.

He collapses. Drags air into his lungs with some effort, lost in the hot waves rolling through him that pull his hips into a final few shaky jolts. Holy shit. Holy shit, holy shit. If it’s like this every time, Richie won’t even make it to Halloween.

“Holy shit.”

Eddie’s wheezing under him, but it’s not the bad kind. It’s just because Richie’s sprawled on top of him in a limp, spent mass. “Jesus.”

“Eds, fuck.”

“I know.” He feels Eddie cup the back of his skull, so gently. Eddie’s in love with him. He bucks into him again by mistake, high as a kite on the knowledge. “Ow, Richie.”

“Sorry,” Richie says weakly, struggling to his elbows. Eddie’s legs have wrapped themselves around his hips again, and he looks as messy as Richie feels as he slowly opens his unfocused, blown-out eyes. He brushes a kiss to Richie’s mouth, one that turns into dozens, like first soft snow. 

Richie has to move away though, missing the heavy scarf of Eddie’s arms as soon as he does. “I’m gonna — I’m pulling out, okay?”

They both hiss as he slips free, Richie falling back to sit down heavily between Eddie’s thighs. 

The extractor fan rattles quietly in the bathroom.

Eddie looks... wrecked. Usually he’s insisting on cleaning up by now, but instead he’s just splayed like a starfish dead on a beach, all curled up around the edges with heat in a puddle of his own come. Strands of hair stuck to his forehead like dark swipes of ink. The white straps are a flashing neon sign, drawing Richie’s eyes naturally to where his ass is already flowering a deep, bruised pink from Richie’s hips. His cock is piled out sticky over the waistband of the irreparably stained jock, and Richie gives it a few gentle pats to make sure he’s still alive.

“Fuck off,” Eddie mumbles, nudging Richie with his foot. “I’m fucking dying.”

“You’re not dying. Even my dick game isn’t that good.”

Eddie’s throat bobs, like he’s trying to work more moisture back into his mouth. His eyes are slits full of shrewd humor when he lifts his head to peer down the length of his body. “It’s pretty good.”

Richie snorts, leaning over to kiss one of his knees, buckled open like a clamshell. “You’re fulla surprises today.”

“Don’t go spreading it around.”

“You wound me, Eds. Gimme some credit.”

Richie ties the condom off and slides his hand up Eddie’s shin, thinking while they wait for their breathing to calm. 

“Maybe it’s a good thing you forgot the socks. Those things and this?” He snaps the elastic into the crease between asscheek and thigh, enjoying how Eddie twitches. “I’d blow my load before I even touched ya.”

Eddie sighs, letting his head fall back to the mattress with a soft whump. “You have some kind of perverted jock fetish, don’t you?”

“Nah, just a you fetish. I missed out on ripping those socks offa you in high school, that’s all.”

He gets kicked again for his troubles, but Eddie’s cheeks are dimpling. “I’m gonna take all your fuckin’ lunch money, nerd,” he mutters, when Richie sinks back into his arms to kiss him silly.

“God, I wish you would.”

He’d happily stay there for the rest of the night, it’s so goddamn hot that the sweat doesn’t even dry off and make them chilly. Just lingers there like prickly heat, like riding unsteadily home wearing tightened skin at the end of a long day spent tussling in the woozy, beetle-rank grass with the boy you wish it was harder to love, but he makes it the easiest thing in your life. So easy you don’t even have to think, and that’s what’s so dangerous about it. He is, and you love him for it, and the only way to stop is for him not to be him, the unthinkable.

It was dangerous, that’s not a false memory. And this is dangerous too, the butter-soft press of Eddie’s tongue against his. Not for the old kind of fear, that their neighbors might kill them for loving, but for the way Richie knows this is it. He’s a goner, and has been since day one. But this time the difference is knowing that Eddie’s a goner too, and that Richie will do anything to keep him from regretting it.

“Okay,” Eddie sighs at last, pinching the bridge of his nose. Hopefully he’s too well-fucked to notice Richie left the condom lying on the sheets next to them. “Fuck you Richie, that was good. Is it always that good?”

Richie nuzzles in delightedly to smudge a kiss under his jaw, against the berry-purple bruise he started earlier. “I cannot wait to find out.”

Eddie hums. He’s rubbing tiny circles into Richie’s scarred palm with his thumb, and Richie gazes at him feeling hollowed out, all his love poured into Eddie’s being.

“How we feeling this fine noche, Eduardo?”

“Uh, great. Kinda sore, thanks to you. I’m fucking starving actually,” Eddie replies, and his stomach gurgles loudly, as if to prove his point. 

Richie makes a production of checking his bare wrist. “Lookee here, I think it’s pizza time.”

“Fuck yeah. I knew I loved you for a reason.”

Richie can’t help it, he has to draw him giddily back in for another hug, crushing him close until Eddie’s squeaking like a dog toy, banging fists into his back. 

“I won’t say it again unless you order some food, I mean it! We haven’t eaten since that popsicle.”

“Speak for yourself, I had me a juicy fuckin’ meal right here,” Richie grins, pulling away to stand up, smacking Eddie hard on the ass as he goes.

Eddie groans, curling up in a come-soaked heap like a tadpole dumped cruelly on dry land. He glares balefully up at Richie, betrayed. “Why the fuck would you do that.”

“Oh dude, my bad. Ah simply cannot refrain, Edward mah deah!” Richie cries, heading to dispose of the condom. “Lawd knows, you ah just too damn—”

“Yo, Rich.”

He turns, and the soiled jockstrap hits him square in the face, catapulted across the room.

“No Voices in bed!” Eddie whoops, between breathless peals of laughter at Richie’s expression. “I fuckin’ told you, man!”

He doesn’t stop laughing, not even when Richie hurls a pillow at him as hard as he can.

 

It’s with good intentions that he tries to take pity on Eddie and bring him the pizza in bed, but Eddie only grumbles about getting crumbs in the sheets and insists on hobbling first to the shower, and then to the kitchen. It makes no sense to Richie, since the bed is a mess anyway, but it was dumb to expect anything else. Eddie may be limping, but a little pain in his ass will never stop him from being a bigger pain in Richie’s.

“I think the delivery guy recognized me,” Richie says, watching Eddie shift gingerly on the couch. “I gave him a giant tip. Feelin’ very generous tonight, y’know.”

“I could tell,” Eddie says. “Is mine—?”

“Gluten-free, yes. How many times have I ordered us pizza by now?”

“More than is good for us, probably.” 

Eddie’s looking at him with a smile tucked into the corners of his mouth, so un-stuck and exhausted as he sits there drenched in one of Richie’s loose black band tees. So soft, like a dream, and Richie wants to take a picture of him in the hopes of preserving how he feels right now, but he won’t. If he’s lucky he might get to keep feeling this way for a very long time, and then there’s no need for pictures. He sits down instead, where Eddie’s patting the couch next to him impatiently.

Oliver is still howling sadly at the oven-hot darkness outside. The sun has the moon in cahoots, Richie thinks, no relief from its reflection even at nighttime. The noise drifts faintly over the buzz of the fridge, the contented beat of Richie’s heart, as they sit there eating in silence.

One of Eddie’s bare feet has snuck over to rest atop Richie’s by the time he pipes up again.

“Richie, you — you know I’ve, uh. I’ve always felt that way about you. You know that, right?”

Oh God, they’re talking about it. Eddie really has a knack for making him feel vulnerable. Like a bug, splattered on the windshield of his own emotions.

It’s one thing to suspect it. It’s one thing to hope, to be thirteen with thrilling fear pounding the back of his skull like a hammer on an anvil every time they all rode past the Kissing Bridge, wondering if Eddie ever saw the letters and wondered too. But it’s another thing entirely to hear it.

Richie clears his throat, stalling. It’s the jalapeños’ fault that his face is burning, of course. “I… I mean, I kinda guessed.”

“It’s just, you looked so surprised.” Eddie’s hand comes to curl softly into his hair, not pulling. Just stroking his ear, ‘til Richie gets the shivery feeling he might cry again. It’s fine, he’ll blame that on the peppers too. He’s such a fucking mess. “I’m sorry I couldn’t say it before.”

“It’s okay, I know you’re… I know.”

“Yeah. You always fuckin’ get it, and that’s why I’m sorry. Just ‘cause I’m messed up, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear it.”

“Eds, you show me all the time. You think I don’t know what it means when you still kiss me after I suck your dick?”

“Oh, how fucking romantic,” Eddie snorts. “Look at me swooning over here.”

His throat is a battleground of hickeys, unmistakable against the black of Richie’s shirt collar. It’s loose on him, the frayed neck stretched out from years of use, long years spent without someone willing to listen to Richie’s stupid opinions or stupider dreams of directing a movie one day. Without someone who brings him home novelty sunglasses from trips to the drugstore, or who shows him funny animal videos on YouTube. Someone who worked himself into a nursing frenzy the week Richie caught the flu, but still kissed his sweating forehead through the dumb paper facemask. Of course he knew how Eddie felt.

Richie swallows, tasting mozzarella and a sweet, settled calmness in the back of his mouth. Like cool milk, soothing the burn of capsaicin and uncertainty. “I’m not a total idiot. Sometimes I’m surprised your head stays on with all those screws loose, though.”

Eddie pinches his ear. “Sometimes I’m surprised you can hear anything with your head shoved so far up your ass.”

He grins, and Eddie grins right back. Richie ducks in to kiss at a dimple, because he doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of the visual confirmation that Eddie is happy. Plus, he’s cute as fuck.

“Man, I’m just honored I get to be the one to screw ‘em all back in.”

“Uh huh.”

“Get it, Eds? Screw them—”

“I get it, I get it.” Eddie hides his smile behind a slice of pizza. “You think you’re so funny.”

“Yeah, but so do you.” He sits back, poking Eddie low in the belly. He was inside there, earlier. The thought makes him flush hot and tingly all over, reminds him of what they were talking about. “So, uh. You mind telling me when you first…?”

Eddie munches thoughtfully for a moment. “Do you… do you remember when you brought me flowers?”

“Oh man, I don’t, but I love this game. Puh-lease continue.”

This is something that never gets old. When they Skype with the others it turns into a riot, all of them shouting at once as the memories from Derry come flooding back, voices tumbling over one another like pebbles caught in a rapid. Over time, the good ones started outweighing the bad. With Eddie it’s like digging for gold and hitting the jackpot every fucking time. For every little piece of treasured memory Richie coughs up, nervous even now about revealing how bad he really had it, there’s always a shining flipside to the coin, Eddie’s version of events. More often than not, they line up. 

“It was right after I broke my arm.”

Richie remembers that, clear as that bright Maine day. The sun mocked them then, too, streaming down like a happy families sitcom set, even as Richie’s whole world was warping into a horror movie. They nearly died, Bill punched him in the fucking face, Ben’s guts were hanging out and Eddie was taken away from them all. 

Richie stormed home in a terrified rage, tears mixing with the blood from his nose into a metallic cocktail that turned his stomach. He remembers waiting anxiously by the phone for Eddie’s call that never came, ignoring his mom’s worried questions and dabbing cloth. And then—

“It was a bunch of weeds,” Eddie laughs. “You brought me weeds. You brought my bike back, too.”

The thing is, that Richie has never been good at knowing how to act properly. There are things people do in real life, and there are the things people do in the movies, and Richie always felt like the latter were far better for chucks. Why walk when he could saunter, why speak in his own voice when he had a dozen better Voices tucked inside his throat? Why talk when he could yell, grab at people, snatch and kick and love in a way that felt like far too much for his suffocating little town. If he made himself bigger, and brighter, then people’s eyes would slide right past the swelling thing he kept hidden behind his back, shameful and sore like a zit.

That said, he knew in a distant way that people brought flowers to invalids, or to kids locked away with a broken arm. And he knew, even then, that Eddie liked things to be done properly, he and Stan were both losers that way. He liked it when the rules played out fair. If things were played fair he didn’t wind up yelling at Richie for cheating, freckles lost in an angry flush and screeching about how there was no such thing as a gun when you played rock paper scissors, Richie, you bastard. 

Eddie was hurt, and more than anything else Richie wanted to make sense of something that terrible day, wanted to make it feel even the tiniest bit more normal. He wanted to do something the right way for once, for Eddie’s sake. 

So he puked, washed his face, and set off to rescue the abandoned bike from Neibolt Street, before picking a limp bunch of dandelions by the sad gravel ditch of the train tracks. Even now, he’s not sure which scared him more.

“Oh God, I do remember,” Richie groans. “I brought you fucking weeds. And this whole time I thought I was being subtle.”

Eddie’s smiling, his eyes far away. “You got mud all over the floor in my room. Couldn’t even take the time to shake the dirt off.”

“I was — I thought you’d need some cheering up,” Richie says, feeling defensive of his past self, the little lovestruck geek. He should really send Ben some belated flowers too, poor fucker.

“That’s putting it lightly. My mom wouldn’t even let me use the phone.”

Richie buries his hot face in his palms. The cloud of embarrassment lifts slightly, when Eddie starts rubbing slow circles into his back, and Richie thinks for a second about what he’s actually saying.

“Wait, ever since then? That’s your big falling in love moment, me climbing through your window with a handful of crap? Cowabunga, he’s the one for me?”

“Yeah,” Eddie shrugs. “I already had a huge crush on you, but that’s when I knew. You said I was a real badass for fighting the clown off ‘til you guys got there, and I… yeah.”

He remembers it now, Eddie’s puffy red eyes as he snatched the drooping flowers from Richie’s shaky hands. They had been swollen and bloodshot before Richie even knocked on the window, but neither of them had mentioned it.

Talk about having the rug swept out from under him. “But you — you had allergies. The only reason you didn’t yell at me was so Godzilla wouldn’t know I was there.”

Eddie glowers at the name, but he’s biting his lip, and his touch is still melting a soothing line down Richie’s back. “I kept them.”

“What?”

“I kept one of the flowers. I — I put it inside one of the comics you lent me so my mom wouldn’t know.”

Now Eddie’s the one looking like someone’s forcing him into a death row confession. But it’s — it’s always such a relief, always takes the sting away from Richie’s achy, pining memories, to hear they’d been reciprocated the entire time. 

Kinda makes them worse, too, knowing what they could have had this entire time, if things were different.

“That’s the dorkiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Says you, king dork. Fuck off.”

“Never,” Richie grins. “You’re such a grandma, I can’t believe this. Why that, of all the dumb shit I did to get you to notice me?”

Eddie sighs, and turns to look at Richie head-on, his mouth twisting like he’s chewing the words over inside. Richie waits for him, like he always will.

“It was — all the shit that happened that day, I was — I thought we were fucked. I thought I’d never see you guys again until school started, if we even made it ‘til then. I was so fucking scared, man.”

He’s rubbing his right arm as he speaks. Richie takes his hand away and holds it, instead. 

“I knew you guys were just as scared as I was, even Bill. It would’ve made sense if we all just — just ignored each other and pretended like it never happened, but you—”

“Clearly had a deathwish?” Richie butts in. “I mean, the clown was bad, but if your mom caught me bringing gay flowers into Eddie-bear’s room, then hoo sheeit. Man the harpoons boys, this one’s angry—”

“Would you shut your hole,” Eddie says, smacking Richie gently in the side of the head. “I’m trying to tell you something, asswipe.”

“Mea culpa, Edoardo, amore mio,” Richie says, straightening his glasses. “Per favore.”

Eddie eyeballs him. “Why are you being a freak right now? You’re mixing languages.”

“I’m nervous.”

“Well, don’t be. I’m saying, even after everything went to dogshit that day, you still turned up in my room like — like the only thing that mattered was whether or not I was okay.”

Richie can’t really argue with that. He shrugs helplessly, thumbing the guitar-string tendons of Eddie’s hand. 

“Rich,” Eddie continues, after a moment of sitting there looking at each other, emotion and history all tangled up in a fragile web, strung between them. “In the hotel last year, in Derry, it didn’t seem like you were okay. Like — like you didn’t have anyone to bring you any fuckin’ weeds. And don’t talk to me about agents or, or publicity assholes or whatever the fuck, ‘cause that doesn’t count.”

There’s a desperate look in his wide, dark eyes, like they’re windows he needs Richie to look through, and understand. Luckily, after a year, Richie is fluent in the repressed language of Spaghetti Nation.

“Eds, are you saying you came out here to keep an eye on me?” His heart feels like it can’t swell any bigger, watching Eddie’s ears go pink as he flails his hand around, still caught in Richie’s.

“Well, somebody had to! You didn’t know how to change the oil in your car, that mechanic was ripping you off! Before I got here you never even washed fruit before you ate it, do you know how many people touch that stuff before it ends up in the store? You might as well eat a dirty band-aid off the fucking ground — mmph.”

His mouth is soft and shiny with pizza grease when Richie cups his jaw to kiss him quiet. Slow, tongues sliding, as Eddie makes a small noise and crawls back over into his lap, wincing slightly as he goes.

“Also — I also came ‘cause I still wanted to get in your pants,” Eddie murmurs, arching into it as Richie pushes his hands under the shirt to hold him close around the waist.

“I knew it,” Richie gloats.

“So... are you okay? Rich? Not just tonight, I mean.”

He looks up. Looks at Eddie’s furrowed eyebrows, his eyes so worried even with his mouth a kissed-open mercy, and thinks about last year, when Richie dropped everything to come to Maine and not one person even fucking noticed.

“Yeah, baby,” Richie swallows. “Never better.”

Eddie sags forward into another kiss, and it’s a good thing Richie devoured most of his pizza in a post-sex rush, because it doesn’t feel like they’ll be moving any time soon.

“Is that my new name of the week? Huh? I get it, baby Eddie, needs to be coddled when he freaks out about getting fucked in the ass.”

“No, dumbass,” Richie laughs, pinching Eddie’s thigh to make him stop pretending to scowl. “As in, baby Eddie, ‘cause he’s cute and he’s mine.”

“Well, shit,” Eddie says. “In that case, I guess it’s okay.” 

And his voice is really more breath than sound as he whispers Richie, baby, into his ear. He pulls off Richie’s glasses, but they’re breathing the same air, so who cares if all Richie can see is a sun-golden blur, and eyes like galaxies.

Chapter Text

September unspools to a close like blown, liquid glass, red-hot and gorgeous. Crystal clear in Richie’s mind, stained-glass beautiful days spent filling the pool back up when the hosepipe ban is lifted, nights spent fucking, and sleeping closer every time the heat relents just a little further.

It would be irresponsible to practice the big ole D in A every time. Richie knows that, and would know it even without Eddie shoving safe-sex websites under his nose like he’s a harried PA and Richie’s his loose cannon boss who just won’t listen. More than that, it would be unrealistic. It’s not even as if they have sex every day, Richie’s horny, but he’s not Genghis fucking Khan. Plus, a well-executed handjob is nothing to be sniffed at.

But they do it, as they do so many other things, with a whole lot of arguing and a whole lot more love, discovering ever more ways to make it good. 

That’s an understatement; Richie pretty much loses his mind the first time Eddie turns him onto his stomach one sunny afternoon. Face buried where he’s hugging a pillow, shifting back into Eddie’s firm strokes up his thighs, he feels gut-shot with how much he wants the emptiness gone. 

Eddie asks him a million questions, predictably determined about being good at it. He leaves biting kisses all over Richie’s ass, too, even though it’s nowhere nearly as spectacular as Eddie’s. It’s apples and — well, not oranges, but some other, flatter fruit. It’s like comparing a bony mule to a thoroughbred. 

God. Even when he’s the one getting fucked, Richie still can’t stop thinking about Eddie’s perfect little tuchus. It’s some kind of affliction. 

Eddie’s so cautiously thorough in prepping that by the time he finally bottoms out, Richie’s an immediate lost cause. It’s never felt like this before. Hardly able to breathe through the way his whole lower body feels wrenched open, desperate, keening loudly when Eddie pulls him back to sit over his kneeling thighs. Richie’s — he’s so filled up, he can almost feel Eddie’s cock in the back of his throat. Like he’ll be able to taste it when Eddie comes.

He might. Eddie’s riding bareback, because Richie wants everything Eddie will deign to give him, all the time. 

“Jeeze — Richie, hey,” Eddie whispers. His hands drag reverently through Richie’s soft hips, like he’s carving marks in sand. “You feel really fucking good, is it—? It’s okay?”

“Uh huh.” Richie can’t think. His whole body focuses on the fat drag of pressure against his entrance, feels held in place, like a steak pinned to a board. Pierced right through.

“Okay. Holy shit, you look so good like this, your — did your back get wider?” Eddie sounds drunk as fuck, but determined. This is gonna be one for the books, Richie just knows it. Eddie ghosts his hand down over Richie’s damp cock to tug lightly at his sack, and the pleasure curves like a stream against his prostate, caught between Eddie’s fingers and his body pressed flush behind him, so good that Richie’s sprawling forward again. He bites a slimy circle into the pillow to stifle his wet moaning. 

“Rich, how d'you, uh — um. How d’you want it?”

“Hard,” he gasps. Eddie’s hand digs a slow trench up his back. Tangles into his hair, and that alone nearly does it. “Hard as you want, do whatever you want, Eddie please—”

Eddie’s knuckles curl against Richie’s skull and force his nose deeper into the pillow. “Fuck, okay — you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah,” Richie laughs, the sound coarse. The bedsheets smell rank and hot with sex, slick, gummy, like the feel of the raw wool after shearing time on Mike’s farm. “Just thinkin’ you oughta register that dick as a concealed weapon.”

“I dunno how you can think anything right now, I usually forget my name by this point,” Eddie says. He shuffles behind Richie, cupping his ass tentatively, and he’s mumbling so low Richie’s not sure he’s even meant to hear. “I must be doing it wrong.”

He can feel Eddie pulsing inside him. Their heartbeats joined and concentrated down to the place where Richie’s stretched and accommodating. There’s a whole thick scalding line inside, like drinking something too hot and feeling it burn all the way down his gullet, except it’s coming from the opposite direction. Eddie couldn’t do this wrong if he tried.

Richie groans, and pushes back. “You’re doing so fucking good, baby.”

Eddie’s looking strained and awestruck when Richie twists to peer over his shoulder. He nods, jerkily. Stomach fluttering in and out of concave shadow, he’s breathing so heavy. Their eyes meet, and Eddie must read the lines of desperation on Richie’s forehead, so close to snapping, because he bites his lip and finally puts some of that nervous energy to good use. 

It’s incredible. Gentle and hard and then gentle again, like Eddie keeps forgetting he’s allowed to let go, that Richie wants him to. Richie’s waited twenty-seven years for this, and lasts five minutes. It’s noisy, all hissing breath and the smack of skin, then juvenile snorting at how noisy it is. The churn of a lawnmower butts in from nearby and somehow that’s funny too, that someone should be doing something as banal as garden work while they’re screwing their brains out on a Tuesday afternoon. Eddie fucks him like he’s trying to make up for something. He’s kissing Richie’s shoulder and holding him splayed over his lap to really nail the angle when Richie comes around a cracked shout, feeling like his pelvis will split apart with how forcefully he spills all over Eddie’s hand.

“Fucking — fuck—”

His knees butterfly against the slippery sheets, pushing his legs wider and his hips down, like his body still thinks he should be fucking his come into something. He hears a dirt-rough noise and then Eddie’s shoving him belly-first into the wet spot, still kissing bruises like he’s trying to chew through Richie’s spine, still letting Richie have it.

Richie clings to one of Eddie’s vein-laced forearms where it’s braced by his head, and greedily takes it. 

“Oh — fucking God that was hot, you fucking like it.” Eddie sinks himself in until his pubes are like electricity against Richie’s stretched, clinging rim. “Rich, I’m gonna — I’m gonna, should I—?”

“If you pull out right now I’ll fucking kill you, Eds, holy shit—”

Eddie frets about it, even apologizes after he unloads inside, until Richie tackles him over and reminds him it’s a little late to be discerning about where his jizz goes.

“Plus,” Richie grins, poking a freckle at the tip of Eddie’s nose. He looks so fucking handsome and concerned, his eyes glowing like whiskey in the bright sunlight slotting through the shutters. Richie feels soaked all down his thighs, so he pulls Eddie in by his sweaty hair to kiss him deep and grateful. “It’s not like you can knock me up.”

Eddie gags and leaves him to chuckle triumphantly to himself, but not without a little honeyed, afterglow cuddling first.

 

“I think I still like getting fucked, more,” Eddie says that night, over dinner. His face is staining to rosy pink in the sunset, and he’s prodding at the gnarled bonsai tree he bought and now protects like a snarling lioness with a cub. It lives on the table, where he can keep an eye on it. “I think? Is that okay?”

“That’s cool, Eds.” They always sit close, perpendicular around one corner of the table, so Richie reaches underneath to pat him on the leg. “Course it’s okay.”

“You don’t mind?”

Of all the dumbass questions. Richie rolls his eyes so hard he collapses back into his chair, like he’s dead. “Oh yeah, it’s a real hardship,” he says to the ceiling, wishing he had a cushion for his tender ass. “No, you moron! I like fucking you. Look at that, we’re a match made in gay sex heaven.”

“I mean, not that it wasn’t good or anything,” Eddie says, hurriedly. He puts down his fork and rubs at his knees. “It was great. It’s just… listen, this is gonna sound weird.”

“Then you came to the right place, Spaghetti Man. Your weird is but a blip on my weird scale, don’t worry.”

Eddie gazes at him from under the flat line of his downtrodden eyebrows, then he’s snaring their feet together. “Okay. So, uh… y’know how, my whole life, there’s all this stuff that was supposed to be bad for me, right? Stuff my — my mom said I hated, but it was really just stuff she hated, so sometimes I dunno whether I actually like stuff or not. So I’m trying to think about it more. Does that make sense?”

It doesn’t, but Richie will die before he discourages Eddie from talking about his wire-wool mess of feelings. He loathes the poisonous, bloated ghost of Mrs K, even more than the shadow of Derry still lurking at the very edge of his consciousness like an open grave. But he doesn’t wanna upset Eddie by badmouthing her yet again, so he only shrugs. “I guess.”

“Like hiking,” Eddie explains. “I thought I hated it, but then I realized I’d never actually done it. Then we went to Joshua Tree, and it was great.”

“Okay,” Richie says, slowly. “And… hiking is like getting fucked? Attack of the rattlesnakes, instead of the trouser snakes?”

His grin falters when Eddie doesn’t even smile. Ah, it was a bad joke anyway, though Eddie usually likes those best.

“No. Well, kind of,” Eddie says. He rubs at his forehead, his glance skittering away when he sees Richie staring. “They’re both… fuck it, I just mean, I’m trying to be honest with myself about this shit, about my, uh. Preferences. I mean, I like stuff!”

Richie blinks at him, nodding in a way he hopes is encouraging. “You, uh — yes. You do. Tons of stuff.”

“I like hiking,” Eddie says, building up steam. “I like getting high, and I like driving with the roof down even though statistically, if we get in an accident — uh. Never mind. I like it when you fuck me. I like it, and… it’s not because anyone told me to. And you — you always help me find this shit out, so I just — thank you. That’s all.”

He picks up his fork again, decisively spearing a broccoli stem. Richie steals a piece of chicken from his plate, beaming at him when he looks up, frowning. 

“What?”

Richie chews with his mouth open, nudging Eddie’s foot. “I love you, ya dingus.”

“Oh.” Eddie smiles, his dimples coming for Richie’s very life, and steals some sweet potato right back. “I love you too.”

They crunch their veggies in silence for a minute. They’re kind of delicious, even though Richie will never admit to it beyond what clearing his plate already does. He only misses instant ramen occasionally. The bonsai seems to visibly perk up under Eddie’s stern watch, straining all its leaves to attention. Richie knows the feeling.

He strokes his pinkie down the firm little swell of Eddie’s bare tricep. The supply of ugly tank tops never seems to run dry, and Richie’s convinced Eddie’s just stealing his old shirts and cutting the sleeves off. “Y’know what it’s called when you prefer being on the bottom, and I do all the work?”

“I dunno Rich, having great fucking taste?”

That’s not what Richie was gonna say at all, but fuck, if Eddie isn’t a goddamn chuck connoisseur sometimes. He even thumps Richie on the back, when he chokes on his chicken from laughing too hard.

 

It’s a whole Bible’s worth of revelations. But life goes on, and they can’t spend all day in bed, as much as Richie would like to.

Every morning the heat eases its stranglehold around the city just a little looser, and it feels like it brightens everyone’s moods. Richie has never had as many pleasant interactions with strangers as the day the temperature drops under a hundred degrees for the first time in what feels like eons. His sunken-eyed, college victim barista actually cracks a smile when Richie tells her with a straight face that his name is The Re-Animated Corpse of Buddy Holly. It feels like some kind of achievement; he’s been trying to make her laugh for months.

He wears underwear to bed that night just for the novelty, and wakes up with Eddie spooning in behind him, hugging firm around his waist with his knees tucked into the dewy crooks of Richie’s own.

“Morning,” Eddie sighs softly, against his nape. 

He sounds like he’s got cotton balls in his mouth, and Richie closes his eyes against the onslaught of bliss at Eddie’s breath feathering against his skin, actually warmer than the bedroom air for once.

“Howdy, señor beeg spoon. Did I wake you up?”

“Nah,” Eddie yawns. He’s stroking Richie’s stomach so slowly, Richie has to tangle their feet together just to release some pent-up energy in case his heart explodes from his chest, like he’s in an Alien movie. “Been awake for a while. You do the Voices in your sleep, it’s pretty entertaining.”

He feels Eddie inhaling deep behind his ear, then out again. Kissing his neck. The bed cradles them, like a warm hand, and Richie might still be dreaming.

“Are you sniffing me?”

“Yeah. I like how you stink.”

“Oh, yeah. I should bottle my ball sweat, I smell so good.”

“I didn’t say that, I just said I like it.”

He’s never been more aware of his belly-button. Eddie’s fondling it, dipping a finger in the notch and tugging in a way that shouldn’t feel as good as it does. Richie’s gonna start purring.

“So, are we just snuggling right now? We’re dudes who snuggle in the morning?”

“We are when I’m not sweating my ass off. I can get up if this is too gay for you—”

“Don’t you fuckin’ dare,” Richie yelps, rolling over to squash Eddie flat to the sheets, clinging for dear life. “We’re never getting outta this bed. I’m gonna break the window so they can send food in by drones.”

“Won’t you have to leave the bed to break the window? You’re really fucking bad at planning.” 

Eddie’s grinning at him, crooked and blotchy with sleep. Richie gently wipes the yellow crud from the corners of his eyes for him, and Eddie lets it happen.

“I’ll get another drone to break the window first, duh. Stick with me, bub, I know what I’m doing.”

“You’re right, that’s so smart,” Eddie says, smiling with his eyes half-shut, warm coffee-ring crescents. “I love you.”

And Richie has to kiss him all over his scratchy, angular face until Eddie’s spluttering and pushing him away, and the sun shines kindly through the shutters on their lazy morning lovemaking, instead of feeling like something they have to hide from.

 

Eddie says it all the time, now.

Worries and shakes it in his obsessive terrier teeth. It feels a lot stronger than a paddleball, though, feels like it won’t snap no matter how much he abuses it.

He says it during sex, or when Richie aggressively cuts off some tailgating asshole on the freeway. He says it first thing, over breakfast, or last thing at night before they go to sleep, and most of the time he says it back whenever Richie says it first.

He mouths it, silently, so tiny that Richie might have missed it if he wasn’t always staring, when Richie takes him to a really nice Italian place for his birthday. Not Olive Garden. Richie still feels the same way he did on Valentine’s, his chest aching as he stares back with his cheeks bulging full of pasta. He tries to say it back by waggling his eyebrows, and probably succeeds, because Eddie kicks him gently under the table and changes the subject.

He says it with an almost furious determination one night when he stomps into the guest bedroom Richie is converting into a soundproof box for playing his drums. Marches in like an invading army, taking Richie’s hand and dragging him down the hall, the air still spicy with heat seeping in through the bug screens.

“What’s — what’s up, Eds? Where’s the fire?” Richie says, trying not to laugh as he barks his shins against an end table.

Eddie had finally sat down to watch Richie’s special, which is why Richie had been decidedly busy doing something else. He hates how he looks on TV. Also how he sounds. It’s a miracle Eddie puts up with him, honestly, Richie wants to punch that scraggly, anemic-giraffe looking motherfucker in the face half the time. 

“I fucking love you, that’s what,” Eddie spits, slamming the bedroom door and stripping immediately. 

Richie eagerly gets with the program. Eddie’s color is high, like he’s horny and embarrassed about how horny he is, dumping his clothes on the floor without even folding them first.

“Can’t believe you said all that shit in front of all those people,” he hisses, kissing Richie breathless once they’re naked, frantically stroking Richie fully hard, as if he needed any help.

“I — I meant all of it too, babe,” Richie laughs. 

“Fucking nuts.”

Eddie’s so funny when he’s worked up, rougher and handsy and wound tight like a bear-trap Richie knows just how to spring.

It stops being funny the moment Eddie scrambles up on his knees to reach behind himself, fingers slicked at some point. All Richie can do is watch with his mouth catching flies, pinned down by Eddie’s other hand, watch Eddie’s face twist along with the cords of muscle in his hunched shoulders.

Richie thumbs Eddie’s foreskin down, his own cock jumping at the bitten-off gasp. Digs welts into Eddie’s snaking hips, wondering who this is a reward for. Both of them, by the looks of the spiky exhilaration on Eddie’s face as Richie deals with the condom.

“Okay, I’m — c’mon, big guy.”

“Jeeze, what happens if I just stand in the street yellin’ about you through a megaphone?”

“I — ah, slower, Jesus — I lock the front gate, now c’mon.”

“Yes, Eddie,” Richie says sweetly, and much later he’s coming for what feels like hours, wrung out of him with his hands sliding down the sweating roots of Eddie’s thighs, watching him watch Richie right back from where he’s hanging onto the headboard behind them, grinning madly.

 

So, it’s fair to say that Richie has never been a happier camper, breaking into spontaneous song even more than he already did. Never more consistently content, thanks in no small part to the slowly dissipating scourge of the heat and the fact that Eddie seems happier too. 

Perhaps finally saying the words has lightened the load on Eddie’s shoulders. He strolls around looser when they go downtown, his doleful eyes don’t look so wounded and wary whenever Richie’s showering him in affection like a drunken Cupid, maybe because he finally feels able to throw a little bit of it back. 

If pressed, Richie might say it feels like Eddie’s missing the stick from his ass. If he didn’t value his nuts staying attached to his body, he might even make some kinda joke about having fucked the stick right out of him.

But he doesn’t. Only privately.

The subject does rear its head eventually, since Richie’s never been able to resist picking at any sort of scab. Even when the wounds healing over aren’t his own.

“Uh, I dunno,” Eddie shrugs. 

He’s like a tanned, preppy imp in his bare feet and polo, his attention divided between throwing a ball down the driveway for Oliver, and fiddling under the hood of Richie’s Porsche. Gossamer clouds scud overhead against the bluejay sky, a novel sight. 

“Nothing bad has happened,” he continues. “They’re not magic words, this isn’t Derry. I wanted to tell you how I felt for so long, but I thought I’d fuck it all up, y’know?”

“Nah, I can’t relate,” Richie replies, thinking of a knife stolen from his mother’s kitchen, and guilty splinters in his hand. He peers around the distracting sight of Eddie’s wiggling ass, trying to get a peek at what the fuck he’s doing to Richie’s car. “I can name every single emotion I’ve ever had, alphabetically,” 

“Dumps don’t count as emotions, asshole.”

Richie gasps in mock outrage. ‘Cause fuck, Eddie might love him, but he’s still a mouthy little shit, and that’s the cherry on top of the entire incredible cake. 

Loving him back could never put a dampener on Eddie’s frayed-copper livewire bullshit, the very same kind that Richie has been addicted to ever since Eddie first heckled his recess joke-telling, so off-putting that Richie threw a book at him.

“Here’s an emotion for ya, Eds,” he says, watching Eddie squat down to enthusiastically rub Oliver’s spotted tummy. “I love you, how d’you like them apples?”

Eddie looks up at him, bright and pleased. There’s a smear of engine grease on his cheekbone that’s weakening Richie’s knees to a dangerous level. “Y’see? You said it all the time, and shit just got better. So I stopped bein’ scared about it.”

He tosses the ball to Richie, who fumbles it like an idiot, because he still loses coordination whenever Eddie drops nuggets like that without any goddamn warning. Oliver speeds triumphantly away with the ball tucked into his jowls.

“That’s — that’s — I’m glad, man. We’re killing it. We should have an advice podcast. Two fuckin’ ninja masters of clown murder and adult relationships.”

Eddie snorts, his nose wrinkling. “Please don’t compare that clown bullshit to this clown bullshit.”

Richie mimes zipping his mouth shut, and his heart flares happily as Eddie smirks back before he chases after the dog, foul-mouthed and loud as always.

How is it possible that Richie’s somehow won the biggest of all, his hands spilling over with everything he ever wanted, and yet he’s still greedy for more. Nobody warned him that he might stand here feeling like this, pleasantly hot in the sunshine, watching Eddie laugh, “Good boy! No, down, Ollie, down!”

The other day he hovered at the window of a jewelry store for so long that the assistant came peeking out to ask if he needed some assistance. Richie had panicked and escaped, but that’s the third time it’s happened. They’re gonna start putting his picture on the walls. Local creep too chickenshit to propose, do not approach first.

How is it supposed to work? Is he supposed to ask Eddie if he wants to get married, before he asks him to get married? In all of the romantic comedies Richie shamelessly enjoys, it’s always a surprise to the proposee, but... surely that’s the romantic part. The shocked happiness on Eddie’s face in Richie’s daydreams. 

Eddie, who’s only six weeks free of endless divorce drama. He might be allergic to marriage now, too.

Nobody told him, Richie thinks, that it was possible to have someone in your arms every night, your house every day, in your life all year, and still long for them. 

But then, Richie has always been greedy when it comes to Eddie. The gamble paid off the first time, last September, and these days Richie’s feeling like the luckiest guy in the world. Shit might just keep getting better.

 

“—can you believe that? And then the producer wanted me to call Bill on the air to get spoilers for the movie.”

“I think Bill’s perfectly capable of spoiling his own stories without your help.”

“Oh zing,” Richie whoops. “Get him, Mikey. So what’s Atlanta like, anyway? Is your whole body a peach yet? Don’t answer that, you’re a peach already.”

“Thank you, Richie, I appreciate it. I’m not in Atlanta yet, I flew to New Orleans first.”

“What the fuck for? Does New Orleans even exist when it isn’t Mardi Gras?”

“Yes, oh my God. No wonder you live in Los Angeles, you don’t understand the meaning of the word culture.”

Richie grins down the phone, pacing in lazy bumblebee circles around the terrace. “You’re one to talk. I thought you had your heart set on Florida.”

“That’s still the dream, man. But I’m busy right now.”

“Eating po’boys?”

“No! Well, yeah, they’re delicious. I’ll bring you one.”

“Dude, you know I’d have your babies in a heartbeat, but I’m not eating a sandwich that’s been in your car for a day.”

“Your loss. Listen though, there are so many fascinating stories down here, it kinda makes me wonder whether Derry was the only… y’know.”

“Nest of evil bastard clowns?”

“Supernatural center, that’s what Bill and I are calling it.”

Richie makes a fart noise into the mic. “Boring.”

“It’s not boring, there are all of these incredible accounts of black magic, haunted buildings, and Ben was telling me—”

“Haunted? What the fuck have those guys done to you! I don’t believe in fuckin’ ghosts, man, no way.”

There’s a buzzing silence on the line. Richie checks it hasn’t disconnected, then looks around the dusk-dim garden in case he’s missed some nest of killer wasps, or something. “N’yello? Farmer Mike? Did a gator get’cha?”

“You’re telling me, after everything, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

“Well, yeah?” Movement from the kitchen window catches his eye, and Richie shields his glasses from the sun’s last fighting blaze to see. “None of that shit we had to deal with was ghosts, Jingles the Jester was an alien. You said so yourself, and you weren’t even coked out on ayahuasca, that time. Aliens, I believe in. Remember in high school, when we were gonna—”

“When we were gonna do the shortwave radio UFO conspiracy thing, yeah. I remember.”

“I even made us those tinfoil hats,” Richie sighs. The movement tweaks his peripheral again and he sets off towards the sliding doors to investigate. “What a waste.”

“I still don’t see how it’s such a leap to believe—”

Mike’s incredulous voice is drowned out by the droning vacuum when Richie steps into the shady kitchen, his eyes taking a moment to adjust. And then, well. 

Richie loves the guy, but it’s hard to compete with the sight of Eddie bumbling around in his underwear, singing badly along to whatever’s playing through his earbuds jammed in tight.

“—hell is that noise—?”

“Edster’s losing it,” Richie yells. Eddie spins around to see the undoubted manic glee on Richie’s face, and flips him off without losing his place in the song. “For some reason he thinks the house needs to be clean before we go to Atlanta.”

Eddie shuffles over, all dumbass flip-flop tan lines and sinewy edges fuzzed with the heat. He’s nicely muscled in a way that still gets Richie’s blood pumping, no matter how often he dedicates himself to licking the barely-there bumps of Eddie’s abs.

“Why isn’t your house clean anyway? I thought that’s why he moved in,” Mike drawls, the asshole. Always too smart for the Losers; suddenly they had no grounds to claim ignorance about shit when Mike joined the club, way back.

“Right? I’m not paying him enough,” Richie shouts, over the noise. 

Eddie yanks one earbud out and starts vacuuming Richie’s body, looking wily.

“What’cha doing, babe?” 

“I’m cleaning you, ‘cus I love you,” Eddie says with great concentration, his pointed tongue poking out one corner of his mouth. “Also ‘cause you’re gross, did you roll in the fucking grass?”

“That’s the most Eddie thing I’ve ever heard.”

Richie grins down at him. “Homeschool says hi.”

“Hi Mike,” Eddie yells, right next to Richie’s ear, Jesus, and then—

“Fuck,” Richie mumbles, pulled down and off balance. 

His glasses dig into Eddie’s forehead for a second and then it’s better, tilting to fit his fingers under Eddie’s ear with his thumb brushing his cheek. They sigh into it, pressing closer. Eddie kicks the vacuum off at some point, skimming his hand up under Richie’s shirt, all bare skin and heat and dragging Richie’s bottom lip slowly through his teeth to make him moan—

“Guys, I’m very moved, but I am still here,” comes Mike’s voice, tinny and amused from where Richie’s arms are wrapped around Eddie’s shoulders.

“Shit, oh shit,” Eddie bleats, breaking away immediately. His eyes are glassy and his mouth gleams, and Richie has to shake his head like a dog with water in its ear.

“Michael, I’m so sorry you had to hear that. Eds has a case of Tozieritis, and it’s terminal.”

Eddie punches his thigh in an instant dead-leg like a sniper as he picks up the vacuum, dimples winking in his red face.

“I’ve heard of that. It’s like, brain worms or something, right?”

“Oh hah, right, everyone trash the Trashmouth! I’m gonna sit at my own fuckin’ table at the service, then you’ll all see,” Richie says, feeling attacked from all angles. He rubs his leg and leans over to watch Eddie’s ass as he retreats in his shame down the hall.

“I’m sure you’ll have company, Patty has a lot of nephews and nieces who can sit at the kids’ table with you.”

“Ah, my true demographic. Nice.”

“I’ll pick you up on Thursday, alright? Three-thirty, in the arrivals parking lot.”

“Aw man, no big sign at the gate? No glitter-glue and balloons?”

“Absolutely not. You’re famous, that means it’s our job to take you down a peg or two. No balloons. Tell Eddie to bring mosquito repellant, okay?”

“Yep. Pretty sure he cleared the shelf at CVS already, but I will. See ya, Mikey.”

“Bye, man.”

The kitchen looks neat as a nun’s cooch to him, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get himself in Eddie’s good books a couple days before they have to take a five hour flight. They’re both gonna be nervous enough in the lead-up to the memorial without getting on each other’s nerves, thirty-five thousand feet up in the air.

Besides, Eddie might be more inclined to continue whatever that little stunt was if Richie helps out.

Twilight blackens into night outside. L.A. shimmers like an oil slick out beyond the garden. The heatwave might be close to officially ending, but the long months previous have seeped indelibly into Richie’s bones.

He’s whistling, and taking a break from the very hot, arduous work of dishwasher-stacking by standing in front of the little electric fan they keep on the counter. He wafts up his t-shirt, cooling his belly. 

If the others are having as nerve-wracking a time writing their speeches about Stan, it’s gonna go worse than his Bar Mitzvah. Not that it was a bust to Richie, it was a goddamn barnstormer as far as he’s concerned. Call the papers, Stan the Man’s gone rogue and he’s taking no shit, no sir. 

Richie had chased him down to the Barrens afterwards to sing his praises, ‘til the guy stopped looking like he was gonna throw up and started cussing Richie out for his jokes about circumcision. He’d sat primly on a rock, knotting fingers in his tallit like he was trying to unpick the weight of tradition from his shoulders. Richie tried his best, and eventually Stan’s bowed-in mouth had buckled into one of his big, rare smiles. Laughing like one of his precious loon birds.

Richie’s stomach roils, remembering. He hopes Stan remembered too, before he went.

Eddie clears his throat, behind him.

Richie turns, and he’s either a bad fucking friend or a real sex-addicted gremlin, ‘cause his weighty thoughts are banished in an instant. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. He likes to think Stan would be happy for him.

That’s a laugh and a half; Stan would find them both intolerable together if he were still around.

“Jesus,” Richie chokes, frozen with his shirt pulled halfway up his stomach.

“Hey,” Eddie says, sizing him up.

Recently, it’s become mind-breakingly clear that the more apparent Richie makes his feelings known about just how hot Eddie gets him, the more Eddie seems to grow into this new, diabolical confidence.

That might explain why he’s leaning in the doorway, a cocky grin on his face to match the tilt of his hips, the jaunty angle of his legs, crossed at the ankles.

His lean legs, wrapped up to the knees in long, athletic socks. Pulled up over his tight calves, white and red contrasting with his dark body hair and matching his jockstrap, straining to keep him tucked in.

Jesus fucking Christ. He’s all neat, color-coordinated lines even when he’s looking to get fucked. The jock only comes out when Eddie’s feeling particularly randy — which is fine. His cock is too beautiful to cover up all the time, it’d be a crime against nature. It’d be a crime against dicks, Richie feels very strongly about it. Richie—

Richie’s doomed.

“Hey,” Eddie says again, when Richie doesn’t answer. 

He sounds patient, which is unlike him, but maybe he knows it’s gonna take a second or two for Richie’s brain to pull itself free from the high-speed wreck Eddie’s just caused.

“Eds,” Richie says, slowly, rooted to the spot as Eddie wanders over. “Am I hallucinating again?

“Depends what you think you’re hallucinating, I s’pose. And whether or not you thought the dishwasher things were snacks.” Eddie hooks one finger in the back of a sock and pulls it higher. Richie bites indents into his lip.

“Did someone spike your drink tonight?” He goes, easy as a lamb, when Eddie grabs his shirt and tugs him to the couch. “Did you spike your drink? Did you self-spike?”

“Why do I hafta be drugged to want sex with you,” Eddie grumbles. He’s all frowny pink in a stripe across his cheeks and, fuck, Richie better put a ring on that soon because he really, really likes it. “I am attracted to you, y’know.”

Richie grins, going hot all over, hotter than he already was despite the fan. “Say it ain’t so!”

“Unbelievable, I know. Dumbass.” Eddie’s smiling when Richie ducks in to kiss him, tender and promising. He feels Eddie flicking open the fly of his shorts, and, alright—

“Wait,” Eddie says, stopping. Why the fuck is he stopping? “Do you actually wanna—? I never asked.”

Richie takes over for him, shucking his shorts and briefs off in one go, flinging them over the back of the couch. “Gonna gag you with one of those socks if you ask any more stupid questions.”

“Gross, Rich.”

“The sock part or the gag part?”

“Just sit down!”

He does, on the serape that’s usually draped over the back of the couch. Mostly to annoy Eddie, but even faux-leather sticks to your ass when shit gets sweaty. Can’t be too careful.

“You got a condom?”

“Yes, obviously.” Eddie produces it from... somewhere, along with the lube. Richie swipes his tongue over his lip, feeling out of his depth yet again.

“What’s obvious about this!”

He forgot to close the kitchen blinds, and the open-plan is still aglow with golden light. Trees shade most of the garden, but any intrepid stalker with a telescope is gonna get a real eyeful, Richie’s semi stiffening up in his palm. It doesn’t need much convincing; the ferny trail of hair pouring down Eddie’s stomach is right in his face. The red lines on the socks loop around the knots of his calves, matching the jock where it’s stretched and revealing over Eddie’s hardness. He looks like some intense, pin-up version of an eighties track athlete. He looks like the guys in the stained magazine Richie discovered one day in the Barrens, and dropped again, like it was burning as hot as his face.

Richie pinches himself. “Is this some kinda special occasion?” 

“Kind of,” Eddie says. He puts one foot up on the couch, between Richie’s legs. “We’re gonna be in Atlanta for a week.”

Richie blinks, distracted from cupping the fluting curve of his ankle. Is it gross that he wants to pull the socks off with his teeth? Maybe this is why Eddie was vacuuming, so they wouldn’t get dirty. 

“So?”

Eddie’s hands move from where they’re planted on his hips to tangle in Richie’s hair, pulling him close. Which is great. It’s fucking superb, Richie’s down, already biting at Eddie’s stomach and taking hold of his waistband in his teeth to relieve some of the pressure on his dick. 

“So,” Eddie grates out, like Richie’s being deliberately dumb. Anyone would be a little slow on the uptake when their boyfriend ambushes them, looking like porn. “We’re not doing this in the — ahh, the hotel.”

Richie pulls wetly off his cock and looks up at his hazy face, wounded, and already one finger deep. Eddie’s considerately slick and stretched already, probably because he doesn’t care if Richie outright collapses. “We’re not?”

“Nope.”

“Nothing? For a whole week?”

“Not nothing, just — no fucking. In the ass,” Eddie adds, blushing like a stoplight. “I don’t need the others giving me shit for walking funny. And, like hell are we doing it in a bed other people might’ve fucked in, Jesus Christ.”

Richie hates these random, hypothetical Atlantans for putting the brakes on his sex life. “I don’t believe this, are you gonna sleep on the floor, too? Have you seen the hotel’s website? The prices aren’t even listed, I’m pretty sure they wash the sheets!”

“I don’t care, it’s weird!” Eddie’s leg is shaking where Richie’s sucking at the big, high-strung tendon of his groin. His fingers gouge ten bright points of pressure into Richie’s shoulders. “Take it or leave it.”

“You mean I gotta sustain myself on one final fuck?” Richie groans, pulling Eddie down by the straps into a straddle, the couch creaking. “Nobody knows what a sadist you are, Eds! They all think I make your life hell, but this is the definition of cruel and unusual!”

“Stop being a baby. I’ll blow you in the shower.”

“Why don’t you fuck me again? I don’t care if Billiam sees me walking like John Wayne, everyone deserves to know what a big cock you—”

“Shut up! You’ll be fine,” Eddie grins, settling in. He starts rubbing himself nice and slow against Richie’s hardon, rucking his shirt up to his armpits. And when he puts it like that, it’s hard for Richie’s addled brain to argue. “You were fine before. Just gotta make this one count.”

“Is that the reason for the, uh… these guys? ‘Cus I don’t know how much I can make it count when I’m only gonna last two seconds.”

Eddie’s breathing shallowly into the hollow of his mouth, when Richie trails his hands up his calves, fiddling with the ribbed cuffs. It’s nothing pervy, the socks just highlight the shape of his legs, so ropy and spare from running, another unique part of him that Richie loves beyond reason. Strong, and fast. Good for kicking monsters in the face.

When he looks up again, Eddie’s meeting his eyes, dark and focused. “No, it’s, you — you think they’re hot. And I like it when, uh.”

God almighty. 

Eddie’s confidence about sex has blown through the roof lately, but this particular shit still seems to vex him. Still drives Richie wild to hear him veer close to it, though. 

“You’re hot, Eds,” he murmurs, spiralling closer with every slow drag of their cocks together. “This is so hot, are you kidding? Look at you.”

He could go swimming in the black sheen of Eddie’s eyes, fixed on his. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, fuck. But only if you’re into it too, it’s fuckin’ weird if you’re like... dressing up for me, or something.” He squints, pointing a finger in Eddie’s face. “Did you hire yourself as my slutty secretary, and I just didn’t notice?”

Eddie shoves his shoulder and then they’re both laughing, tucked into one another.

“Fucking cocky ass,” Eddie snorts, kissing Richie’s nose and smudging his glasses in the process. Richie’s never cleaning them again. “Course I’m into it. If you think I’d do this shit just to get your rocks off, your head’s bigger than I thought. There’s your Tozieritis.”

“Nah, I’ve got Kaspbrak Fever. That’s when your man’s so hot it burns when you pee. And when you come, actually, it’s all the same hole.” He digs both hands into the smooth curve of Eddie’s ass, reveling in his disgusted noise, in the way his hips bear down on the three fingers Richie’s twisting inside. “They are hot, though. I told you. I just keep knocking this shit outta the park.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, flushed and feral-looking with how hungrily he’s staring down at Richie. “Guys never shoulda stopped wearing these things.”

“Right?”

“Shit peaked in the eighties. I — oh shit, uh — no one laughed at my fanny pack back then. Oh — oh fuck, Rich.”

“Eds, everyone laughed at your fanny pack,” Richie says, shakily, as he inches carefully inside. 

“Fuck you.” Eddie grinds his forehead against Richie’s, one hand stuffed into the jockstrap, unmoving. “Least I was prepared. Who carried your spare contacts around all through junior year, huh?”

“Are you really talking about this right now?” Richie’s straining like, all his muscles trying not to thrust up too abruptly. 

He gets Eddie’s tongue in his mouth for an answer, pushing his head back into the couch, and then Eddie’s making muffled noises of protest, sitting back up on his knees.

“Ah, shit, wait. I wanted to try it — hold on.” He climbs off, and Richie’s literally gonna implode with frustration until Eddie turns and sits himself back down, kneeling over his thighs with his back pressed to Richie’s constricting chest.

Richie sits, frozen. Hands hovering like satellites. Feels Eddie’s fingers guiding his slicked cock, and then he’s enveloped again, panting into the valley of Eddie’s spine.

“Holy — fucking shit—”

“Okay?” Eddie says, and Richie can’t see his face this way, but he sounds breathless with it already. “Okay, Rich? You can — go for it.”

His hands settle on Richie’s trembling knees, and he’s riding back, and Richie can see everything.

“What the fuck kinda research have you been watching?” he gasps. 

He grips desperate at Eddie’s hips and licks the line of sweat rolling down his back. Thank God for long legs, he thinks, planting his heels on the floor to get leverage.

“Nothing! It just — Jesus fuck, right there — just, been thinkin’ about it.”

Richie squeezes his eyes shut. It’s still a lot, knowing Eddie’s harboring the same nasty-ass thoughts as Richie behind his butter-wouldn’t-melt eyes. 

“Scandalous. Eddie-kins has a — ah, a dirty mind, who knew! Happy birthday to me.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, eyes gleaming as he peers back over his shoulder. Richie will never get over this, watching, feeling himself slide in and out of Eddie’s tight body. Angling for the spot that gets Eddie jolting so hard, Richie feels it all down his cock and into his bladder. It’s the fact that it’s Eddie, his best friend, his boyfriend, the man he wants to peel out of a wedding tux, it’s actually him that’s slowly pulling Richie’s orgasm into himself. Not a memory or a fragmented dream Richie would wake up from in years gone by, devastated without knowing why, and aching to chase it back into sleep. 

“Ah — God—”

“Yeah,” Eddie says again, “I guess I’ve — I’ve got — hnn—”

He’s shaking, his head hanging low between his shoulders as Richie reaches around, pawing at Eddie’s erection with his own climax building.

“Eds? Babe, you alright?”

“Tozieritis," Eddie warbles, and he’s laughing, Richie realizes with delight. “So stupid.”

Richie cracks up too, and they fuck like that, Eddie choking through his giggles and caught between Richie’s legs, as Richie winds his fist into elastic to pull him back down onto his cock, over, and over.

 

They fly to Georgia a couple of days later, Eddie looking veiny and thunderous as he shifts delicately around like there’s a landmine in his seat.

Richie tries not to laugh at him, but he makes it so difficult.

“Didn’t analyze that risk too well, didja Eds?” he whispers, under the fruitless drone of the safety announcement that Eddie always nods along to, just so the flight attendants don’t feel unappreciated.

“Shut. The fuck. Up.”

“You did say to make it count.”

Eddie’s jaw ticks, and he levels a look at him with absolute murder in his eyes. Richie hastily offers him some dried apricots, because Eddie is allergic to airplane peanuts, and Richie loves him and doesn’t want him to die with a sore ass.

Chapter Text

Atlanta is hot too, but in a different way. Swamp-humid and leaden with mosquitos in the evening by the time Mike gets them to the hotel, the air so wet and green it’s like walking through a foggy jungle. 

It’s a stately, country club type place, squatting next to a golf course with ivy veiling the old face of it like a turn-of-the-century bride. Stan had rich buddies in his ornithology society, apparently, and they’re loaning the space out for free. All the Losers had offered to chip in, because it’s not exactly as if any of them are hard up, but Stanley was well-liked. No surprises there.

In any case, the whole shindig is benefitting a suicide prevention charity, so they all wind up collectively donating enough to rent the place out six times over, anyway.

Eddie fell asleep on the plane despite his ass, as soon as L.A. started looking like a microchip from the window, four hour’s worth of saliva puddling onto Richie’s shoulder. He’d looked so young, all his crow’s feet and woodcut laughter lines smoothing out with every snore. Richie could barely take a drink of water for fear of disturbing him. He’d stayed so rigid the entire flight he’s developed a crick in his neck as a result, and he’s exhausted, but it’s far from the worst thing he’s endured for Eddie’s sake. Far from the worst he would endure, either.

He doesn’t wanna look too close at what he’d do for Eddie. If his Deadlights vision had come true, if Richie had been even a second slower, he’s certain he’d have given up, and stayed down in the dark until even the dark caved in.

He did take a selfie, though. Fly american and cute dudes will drool all over u. @AmericanAir pay me. #whoisthisguy

Somebody’s gotta sustain the Eddie fans on Twitter, since he won’t make an account himself.

“I’m in the room next door,” Mike says, raising his eyebrows at them on the landing. “If I hear a single suspicious noise, you guys are comping anything I take from the minibar.”

“That’s not fair,” Eddie huffs. The back of his neck is pink, but he’s talking in a circular way about their sex life. To their friend. Richie can hardly believe it. “How do you decide what counts as suspicious?”

“If you don’t know what counts as suspicious I’m kinda worried about you, honestly.”

“Don’t you have headphones?”

“Jesus, man,” Mike laughs. Richie’s imagination revs up, and he looms into Eddie a little. “Even that should cost you a bag of M&M’s, or something.”

Eddie grins, and finally gets the door open. Richie isn’t helping, because he’s fucking tired and his neck still hurts. “Shut up, Mike.”

Mike claps Eddie jovially on the shoulder, and heads for his own room. “There’s a lot of stuff in that minibar, I’m just saying.”

“You should sleep before dinner, Rich,” Eddie says, setting his bags down carefully. Why the fuck he needs two of them for six days is anyone’s guess. He frowns when Richie dumps their shared suit bag on the desk, kicking his shoes off with a thump against the dark oak fortress of the bed.

“I’ll mess up my rhythms if I sleep, dude,” Richie says, peeling his socks off.

“Your rhythms.”

“Yeah, my — whaddaya call them, my cicada rhythms. If I’m not careful, I might sleep for seventeen years and only wake up to scream and fuck.”

Eddie hums. “How is that different from what you do already?”

Richie throws his socks in Eddie’s face, cackling as his ping-pong reflexes kick in to slap them away. “Somebody’s feeling fuckin’ refreshed. Nah, I know what I gotta do.”

“What’s that — oh.”

“Fists with your toes, babe,” Richie grins. Swanky places like this always have the best carpet. “Straight from the church of John McClane.”

Eddie’s fragile air of disapproval dissolves, breaking like dawn into a goofy smile. He whips his own socks off too.

“Fists with your toes.”

Of course he has to marry Eddie. Why would he marry anyone who didn’t share his deep, emotional bond with Die Hard?

“Huh,” Eddie says. He steadies himself with a hand to Richie’s shoulder, not even looking up when Richie smacks a kiss to the top of his head. “It really does work.”

“Of course it works, one hot supercop can’t be wrong! Listen though, it’s late as fuck and I’m wiped. Let’s get some room service up in this motherfucker. Meaning me.” Richie’s so sweaty from travelling it’d be fighting a losing battle just to put his socks back on, let alone find somewhere downtown to eat. He bullies Eddie into a warm, messy hug. “I’m the motherfucker.”

“You know what that means, right? If you’re the motherfucker?” Eddie sounds muffled, squashed against Richie’s collarbone. “I finally get to be the one who says yippee-ki-yay.”

“So say it, Rhinestone.”

Eddie clears his throat, and when he speaks his voice is unnaturally gruff. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”

“Yes,” Richie cheers. “And Spagheddie-o saves Nakatomi Plaza!”

Eddie’s eyes dance happily in the lamplight, watching Richie pump his fist. “That felt good.”

“Sounded good too. You’d look so hot in that crusty-ass wifebeater, I’d kiss you in the back of a limo any day.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Eddie snorts, still looking pleased with himself. He squeezes Richie’s gurgling middle. “I thought you wanted food?”

He does. If there’s anything that can distract him from food it’s Eddie being an idiot with him, but he’s really gonna chew his own arm off if they have to wait for a taxi, or Mike. “I do, I want room service. Let’s get served, babe, live a little.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, and bumps his forehead to Richie’s shoulder. “I’ll tell Mike.”

They eat enough room service that Richie’s stomach feels tight as a groaning drum. It doesn’t help at all that Eddie keeps him entertained by doing terrible Hans Gruber impressions, until they’re both laughing themselves nauseous. The nighttime heat sticks like barbecue sauce, but the A/C is far better than at home, so they curl around each other and sleep to the whisper of the golf course sprinkler system, like the boring, middle-aged losers they are.

 

The memorial is a lot more lighthearted than Richie expected.

It almost feels like a wedding, loud conversation and kids underfoot, a sea of kippahs like intricate lily pads in the southern sunset.

“I want us to celebrate Stanley’s life,” Patricia Uris says. She stands in the middle of the hotel’s ornate mahogany crown of a dining hall with a microphone, her willowy smile far less wan in person. “I know many of us weren’t able to do that, this time last — last year.”

She’s elegant, Richie thinks. Kind. She’d come over to shake all of their hands, chatting excitedly as they’d waited for Bill and his wife to arrive on the steps outside. Hair as golden as the rims of her round, scholarly glasses. Just as kind as Stan. She probably never called him an asshole, even though he could be one, sometimes.

Richie’s worked up with frothing nerves, and so is Eddie. It’s the speeches, the not knowing anyone else here, knowing a different Stan than the one all these people were familiar with. 

It’s not just the speeches. A minor spat over Richie not wearing a tie had devolved into a full-blown shouting match up in their room, only stopped when Richie clawed at his tightening throat, remembering the braindead space of the Deadlights and yelling, “I can’t fuckin’ breathe with those things on, I can’t, Eds, you of all people—”

And Eddie had sagged, lessened, like a porcupine flattening its spikes. “I — I — okay, I’m. I thought you were just being — sorry, Rich.”

Eddie looked around the crowded hall as soon as they walked in, side by side. Teeming with a mixed bag of Patty’s family and Atlanta bigwigs, more blue blood than a Romanov picnic, and every last one of ‘em in a tux. He’d caught Richie’s eye, quickly pulled off his own tie with a sheepish, private smile, and stuffed it into his pocket. Richie only smiled back, and gathered Eddie’s shoulders under his arm.

“It’s still weird,” Eddie mutters, as they look at the photograph propped on a table next to the donation book. “He looks the same. It’s weird no matter how many times I see pictures of him.”

The ledger is a menagerie of different handwriting, pages of heartfelt lines about Stan. Richie can’t bring himself to read them. 

“You look the same, Eds, but you were always a cutie. I look the same. Hanscom’s the only one who grew into his looks, Bev is such a liar.”

He knows what Eddie means. Stan and Patty smile out from behind glass, on vacation somewhere. There’s the same serious eyes, the same corkscrew hair, the same question-mark curl to his top lip, like he was never quite sure if his input was welcome.

“He’s really gone,” Eddie says, softly. Richie looks down to see his mouth trembling.

A putrid thought bubbles to the surface of his mind, that no amount of donations or hotlines could have saved anyone, if they knew what Stan knew. He takes Eddie’s hand, to steady them both.

The speeches go fine. 

Patricia introduces them as Stanley’s oldest friends. Richie knows how to speak on a stage, but his stomach still knots like a pit of snakes. This is a lot more important than some stupid jokes.

Stan’s parents are long since gone, so there’s nobody to call bullshit on the version of him they all conjure up in their stories. It’s the real version, anyway. The genuine article, the authentic Stan the Man, stamped with Loser approval. Beverly’s is sharp, and witty, and Mike has the most napkins dabbing at eyes. Eddie’s throat bobs like a buoy in a storm as he stands up, but he doesn’t stumble over his words once, and neither does Bill, and Richie loves his friends so fucking much his hands hurt from clapping.

He only chokes up once, after Ben sits down to a tsunami of applause and the whole room drinks to their memories. 

Derry didn’t win, he thinks. We won.  

Beverly hands him her fancy cloth napkin on one side, and Eddie squeezes his hand under the table on the other, fierce and hot. People will remember Stan long after Derry’s just a smear on the map, like the ichorous remnants of a spider smashed to a wall.

There’s music after the meal, and dancing. The party spills out onto the marbled terrace, the navy blue Georgia night wrapping around them like a rich, crushed velvet cushion around the jeweled hotel.

They’re something of a sideshow to these people, he and Bill. Richie more so, but that’s what trending on Netflix for a month will do to a guy. Bill is cornered by what looks like every book-club member of Atlanta’s elite, and Richie stifles a laugh at his patient expression fraying as thin as his hair. A waiter finally comes back with Richie’s fifth White Russian and he extricates himself from the gaggle of excited teenagers who think his special is, like, such a mood, and follows the loamy scent of cut grass outside.

The moon is yellow and huge, like the light in a dentist’s chair. He weaves tipsy around bodies, past Mike and Patty, who look more like they’re engaged in an intense, nerdy conversation than they’re actually dancing. He changes course to bump deliberately into Eddie so he falls against Beverly, scooting away from their twin shouts of, “Asshole!”

Bev had groaned and pulled Eddie to his feet, after he’d turned down yet another pretty woman flitting over to their table to ask him to dance. Twisting his hands and stuttering, nothing but blank panic in his big, dark, hunters-shot-my-mother eyes.

“No, I’m not — thank you, sorry — I’m gay,” he’d blurted to the fourth one, looking like he’d rather shrink into his collar. She’d floated away like a butterfly to the next table, bewildered.

Richie fucking lost it. “That doesn’t mean you can’t dance with girls, Eds! They don’t have cooties."

“I can’t dance, period,” Eddie snapped, turning red as Richie howled. “Shut up, dickhead!”

Bev had smiled like a witch, and said, “Let me be the judge of that.”

And so there they are, yammering together as they twirl to the boring jazz stuff Richie’s sure he’s supposed to like, now that he’s an adult. It still sucks, though.

Richie can’t blame any of the women for homing in on Eddie, among the zoo of well-dressed men inside. He’d actually gone to a tailor, and his suit is a deep blue three-piece, shining like midnight under the bougie lightbulbs strung around the patio. He’d donated his boxy old one after his last divorce hearing, the one that made him look like a kid playing dress-up.

It’s a huge fucking improvement, in Richie’s opinion. 

He spots Ben sitting alone in a shadowy corner and makes a beeline, still looking back over his shoulder at Eddie’s narrow waist in his vest, his hair unsticking with the bayou heat to hang in his eyes as he laughs. No wonder he has admirers, he looks almost roguish with his filament scar bisecting a dimple. Richie will always prefer his west coast Eddie, the stubbly one in block color nylon shorts, and tank tops so old and stretched they show his ribs, but he gets it. The whole, mysterious stranger thing. None of these women know Eddie gets excited about buying Tupperware, or that he washes his hands roughly thirty times a day. 

Neither do they know about all the hickeys curled like fallen leaves up Eddie’s inner thighs, under those suit pants clinging to his legs.

In fairness to the guy, nowadays he only washes his hands so much because he’s usually dirty from helping the gardener, or from tooling around in the garage, or because he refuses to cook without decontaminating himself to a surgical degree.

Jesus Christ, Richie’s lucky. He really oughta be pissing around Eddie in a circle. One kind of golden ring is as good as another if they’re saying the same thing, right?

He throws himself into the wrought-iron chair beside Ben, scraping it noisily across the flagstones. “Pip-pip, Benjamin. Is this the already drunk corner? Mind if a chap joins in?”

Ben shakes his head, grinning around the crescent of his bourbon glass. He looks so distinguished. Gray in his temples, and it makes him look like — like a snow leopard or something. Richie found a little white sucker curling down his forehead a few months back and suffered an entire mid-life crisis before breakfast, until Eddie told him to grow up and just pull it out if it bugged him so bad.

“Hello, Richie. What is it about me that always brings out the British Guy, huh?”

“You’re so dreamy, Ronaldo, I get nervous,” Richie slurs, patting him fondly on his very firm shoulder. It’s true. He and Bev had pulled up to the hotel’s manicured parking circle in some sculpted, gullwing car, stepping out like a pair of goddamn models. Why are all of Richie’s friends hotter than him?

Speaking of, Ben’s staring over at the dancing like he’s some tragic hero, windswept on a moor in weird saggy pants and a cravat. Sideburns, that whole vibe. Cholera.

“Ah, I get it,” Richie says, trying to be more reasonable with his drink this time. “This is the wistful pining corner, not the drunk one. My mistake. D’you want a pen?”

“What?”

“So you can write Mr Ben Marsh on your napkin? Little hearts? If you got a boner right now I wanna see it, I’m making a Losers-exclusive spreadsheet.”

“Beep beep, Richie,” Ben says absently, glancing back at him. His voice drops to a hush, like he’s telling some big secret. “Look at her. She chose me, man. Me.”

Bev’s laughter wobbles high over the jazz, the funny zebra honk she always makes when they’re all being idiots on Skype. Richie’s face is kinda numb from the vodka, but also from how much he can’t stop smiling. 

“And why wouldn’t she? You’re a great guy, Haystack.” He ruffles Ben’s perfect, silky hair, and seriously, what the fuck? Did Richie miss out on drinking some magic hunk juice, back in Derry? What is he doing wrong? Maybe he should start using conditioner. At least Eddie thinks he’s hot.

“Stop that,” Ben laughs.

Richie stops, because messing around has the lights doubling. He grips the table’s edge to stop it from sliding away. “Seriously — seriously, she picked a great guy. The best. Best guy.”

“So is Bill,” Ben mutters, raising an eyebrow.

Bill has finally managed to escape the yuppie brigade, Richie can spot him by the way the crowd parts, obliging like a shoal of glittering fish. He’s caught his arm around Audra and they’re joining the dance, the light glancing off her pale arms, her fiery red hair. A coincidence is only a coincidence until you really know all the parties involved, know them right back to preschool. Richie wonders whether he wasn’t the only one who left Derry with a certain type still lodged in his subconscious, stuck under his skin like a burr. First loves are a helluva thing.

He turns back, and points his sloshing drink in Ben’s woebegone face. “Big Bill is also married, man.”

“That didn’t seem to stop you,” Ben says flatly, but he’s never been any good at keeping a straight face.

“Hey!” Richie’s friends may all be gorgeous, but they’re still dicks. That’s why they’re friends with him, he guesses. Among other reasons. He flicks an ice chip Ben’s way, good-naturedly. “So was Eddie, so was Bev, yeah, yeah, we’re all big fat hippo — hypocrites. We should change the name.”

“Huh?”

“From the Losers’ Club, we should change it. To the Homewreckers’ Club.”

“Nah,” Ben says, smiling a little wicked, and that’s definitely one of Bev’s. “I don’t think we wrecked anything that didn’t need fixing.”

Richie’s — too drunk to think about that right now. 

He clears his throat. “Speaking of marriage...”

“Oh no.”

“When are you gonna be a fuckin’ gentleman and tie the knot, dude! You better make me your best man, I give the greatest speeches. I won’t even make any dick jokes, I promise. I might mention that time in senior year though, remember? On my birthday?”

“No, no, no, Richie—”

“When Bev wore that tube top and you crashed your fucking bike—”

“Please don’t!” Ben laughs again, and the kind slivers of his eyes still disappear when he does, like they do when he smiles, like they always did. Another thing that hasn’t changed. Like he was so happy to be a Loser he could hardly bear to look.

“You can do a whole show if you like, just please don’t tell that story. But yeah, we’ve — we’ve been talking about it. There’s still... I mean, you know what her ex was like, Richie.”

“Oh.” Richie leans out of Ben’s space, his sky-high heart sobering a little. “Yeah.”

He does know. He’d tried not to let it show on the call, but he’d been so fucking furious the night Beverly opened up to them all, gray-faced with her hand on Ben’s knee. Tried to school his expression into patient understanding, while a sick helplessness boiled inside. Eddie was worse, leaving to sit silently by the pool once the Skype window closed. Richie had badgered him into analyzing the risk of taking out a hit on the scumbag, but the odds weren’t great. Doesn’t change the fact that Richie meant it. Hell, he’s killed one bullying fuckhead before, all on his ownsome, what’s one more?

The piece of shit is history, anyway. And if there’s one thing the Losers do best, it’s kick history’s ass. Dig it up, spit in its face, and bury it again for good.

“Yeah, I know,” Richie says, patting Ben’s arm.

Ben shakes his head, and the big smile blooms back onto his face. “So.”

Richie knows a subject change when he feels one. “So, what?”

“So,” Ben says, jerking his chin at the dancing crowd, “what about you guys?”

“What about us guys, what?”

“Getting married, Richie. How many of those drinks have you had tonight?”

Far too many.

Something ratchets Richie’s throat closed, and he can’t swallow anymore. 

The terrace tilts, a miasma of gold and blue, black and silver, the towering ballroom windows casting luxurious puddles of light on the sway of people. A pillow of jazz. Richie’s head is so heavy. Gold and blue, Eddie’s shining peacock suit open at the collar because Richie can’t wear ties, the golden triangle of exposed throat that Richie wants to shelter his face in, later. Forever.

He sets his drink down, and the ice rattles against the shaking glass. 

“We, uh. I mean.” He picks up his napkin and starts shredding it into messy strips. “His divorce only came through, like, two months ago, I don’t — I don’t—”

“You never talk about it?” Ben asks, quietly.

“No. Fun fucking conversation that’d be, right?” There’s a drift of damp paper on the table, some of it falling through the intricate pattern of gaps. What kind of sociopaths make tables with holes in them? “Hey Eds, y’know how you basically married your shitty mom who fucked you up so bad you need therapy, and you only realized you’re even into guys ‘cause I was there to save you from the fucking alien that tried to kill us, that — that we don’t talk about, and ‘cause I made you move into my — my fuckin’ — den of iniquity—”

Ben snorts. “Richie—”

“—but hey, do you wanna get married again immediately after your divorce, like, like this is some kinda Desperate Housewives shit, except gay, and Halle-fuckin-lujah, they only decided it’s actually legal again like four years ago and, and I’m not — I don’t know how — if he even wants to, or—”

“Richie,” Ben says, firmly. “C’mon, man. You’re drunk, you know that’s all bullshit. I doubt anyone could make Eddie move cross country if he didn’t want to, not even you.”

Richie looks at him, completely sick with himself. Nothing new there. Every last word was bullshit, he knows that, but saying them still feels like a betrayal.

He looks at Ben’s kind eyes, narrow and quiet, like confessionals. Architect eyes, seeing Richie right down to his scribble of a blueprint, all his wrong angles and corridors that go nowhere. And he thinks of Derry, and how much of a friend Ben might have been about everything Richie was feeling, if Richie had only told him. One single person, to share the burden. Mutual commiseration over their bottomless wellsprings of love. It’s a lot easier to pull your head outta your ass with a little help.

The truth is, Richie was jealous of Ben back then. Of Bill, too, both of them with their knack for creating things, stories and clubhouse sanctuaries, both of them good for getting the fuck out of Derry for even one measly afternoon. All Richie seemed able to do was break shit. His expensive prescription glasses, his first cheap drum kit. His own, searching heart. 

But mostly, he was jealous of how Ben loved Beverly. Selfless, and sweet, how a boy likes a girl in a movie. Normal. Nothing at all like Richie’s rough hunger, mutated into something hairy and howling at the thought of other boys. He tried so hard to make himself like Bev or Sally Mueller from algebra the way he thought he ought to, but it all chased its tail right back around again to Eddie fucking Kaspbrak.

“C’mon,” Ben says again. “What’s this really about?”

Richie sweeps the napkin carcass into his empty glass, and props his forehead in his hands. Burning with alcohol. “What if he says no.”

He hears a sigh, a susurrus of patience. People always have to be patient with him, it’s pathetic. Funny how he fell in love with the most antsy person he knows. Eddie’s foghorn voice carries over the music, on a frequency Richie tuned his ears to long ago before breaking the dial off.

“The fuck do I do if he says no?”

“He’s — he’s not gonna say no. And even if he does, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, or that he won’t still want to live with you. Right?”

And that’s — Richie never thought of it like that. Someday his all-or-nothing shit is gonna land him in deep trouble. 

He’s always been this way. Sober or completely smashed to dripping pieces, like a watermelon dropped from a roof. Center of attention, or left out, ditched and forgotten when people decide they’ve had enough, and want to be serious. Entirely alone, or loved like he’s never been loved before. Truth or dare. It was hard to live in moderation when he always picked dare, to hide from the malformed truth about himself. 

It’s just, he can’t stop thinking about it now, about getting married. He invited it willingly into his mind like a vampire over the threshold, thoughts of marrying Eddie sapping at his life-force in a way he never imagined possible throughout all these years of lonely, single sneering at strangers for signing their rube lives away to one goddamn person. One part jealousy, one part keeping up an image for the stage. But now that he has his one goddamn person back, he understands. And wonders, when Eddie texts him from the store to ask which kind of Oreos he wants, or when they game on the couch with their legs slotted together like paperclips, and Eddie kicks his controller out of his hands, if it might feel different. If it could possibly feel any better than it already does. To be a husband.

What’s one more truth? Eddie already knows all his others. 

He remembers January, and Eddie’s hand in his. I just need time, Rich.

Is a year enough time, in the face of twenty-seven? Richie wants another twenty-seven with him, another forty, a thousand, but it’ll never be enough. 

“Plus, it’s you guys.” Ben’s gentle voice brooks no argument. The certainty of the heterosexual.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means, he sees through your crap. You should’ve seen the way he was looking at you during your speech, man.”

Richie groans into his hands. This is why he shouldn’t drink so much. Slugging back champagne and cocktails in an attempt to keep up with Mike, with Eddie, but it’s hopeless. Eddie’s fucking chipmunk metabolism means he can hold his liquor high, high above any table he drinks Richie under, even though Richie has six inches and a good thirty-five pounds on him.

In hindsight, maybe Eddie shouting about taking their shirts off and kissing, back in the Orient, maybe it had nothing at all to do with the shots. Maybe he just saw through Richie’s crap.

“Yeah, I guess,” he sighs. “I can’t hide from him. I don’t wanna.”

“That’s a good thing!” He feels Ben’s hand, broad on the back of his neck, grounding through the haze of drink. Weirdly, it reminds him of his dad during Communion. “And you see through his crap too, you always did.”

“Only ‘cause I was payin’ him so much attention.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

“Screw you, Benny-boy,” Richie snorts. He lets his hands fall, and slumps in a knot of folded arms on the table. “I don’t mean that. Thanks, man.”

“No problem at all. I knew one of us was gonna have to scrape you off the floor tonight, seeing how quick you made friends with the waiter. An open bar isn’t a challenge, y’know.”

His face is all crumpled and pug-like with amusement, when Richie peeks at him from under his arm. Not a model. Not a Brazilian soccer player. Just one of Richie’s best friends.

“Did you guys have like, an agreement?”

“Yep, super official. We wrote it down, it’s called the give Eddie a night off treaty.”

“Ugh, God. He needs one. And listen, uh, can you forget all that shit I said about his mom, and his therapy?”

“It’s fine, he told me a while ago.” Ben finishes his own drink with a lot more composure. “You’re a hopeless romantic, Richie, it’s not a bad thing.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Damn straight.”

They sit together in comfortable silence, watching. The crowd thins, and Richie can drink in the sight of Eddie and Beverly dancing, feeling more shitfaced than ever.

They’re almost of a height, thanks to Bev’s heels, which distracts from the fact that Eddie really does have two left feet. Jazz thrums through the metal table under Richie’s elbow, bass tremors all up his arm. It’s like knocking himself in the noggin with a tuning fork. His forehead feels soft, like he could push the heel of his hand right through and soothe his brain quiet, calm the ache building up at the sight of Eddie tripping over himself and trying again, and again, like he always does. 

Bev’s hair arcs out red and gold around her glowing face, like solar flares. Richie’s glad she has a friend like Eddie, he’s glad they have each other, both of them living with the specters of parents who loved them in all the wrong ways, if they loved them at all. Both of them beautiful and patched up scrappy with freckles, under the corona of lights around the terrace. Two of the bravest people Richie knows.

He sighs. 

Ben sighs into his own palm too, and Richie snorts at him, shoves at his arm so that he nearly eats table. That’s the great thing about Ben; he’s too nice to call Richie an asshole.

“Coupla desperate sad sacks we were back then, huh Haystack? Can’t really blame us.”

When Ben smiles, it’s one of his best, the real guileless kind that has Richie regretting the arm-shoving already. “Not so sad anymore, though.”

“Nah,” Richie says, watching Eddie like a blue flame, flickering among the crowd. It’s still hard to look at him, sometimes. “Not anymore.”

He has to do it, eventually, he has to. Richie steadies himself on Ben’s shoulder and pushes into the fray.

“No, I’m leading,” Bev’s saying, her exasperation growing clearer as Richie wends his way towards them. “Pay attention Eddie, oh my God.”

“When do I get to lead? You said you’d teach me,” Eddie grumbles, and Richie knows that face, that clamped-down eyebrows look of intense concentration. He has to do something or they’ll be here all night, until Eddie masters the waltz or what the fuck ever.

“Hola, my favorite amigos. Let other people have some fun for a change, huh?” Richie grins at Eddie’s startled jump and takes advantage, muscling his way in between them. “Hi Bev.”

“Hi Richie, sweetie,” she says, leaking sarcasm all over the place. Richie’s gonna slip on it in his fancy-ass shoes. “How nice to see you.”

“Yep! It’s always awesome to see me.” Her dress is silky under his hands, green like the old quarry’s comforting depths. She’s grinning right back at him, all her sharp teeth showing, and Richie can feel the submerged giggles jumping through her body. “Great night we’re having.”

“Oh yeah, the best. Little too hot for me, though.”

“This is nothing,” Richie scoffs. “You should see L.A., it hasn’t rained for months. How’d you like the meal? I’m gonna have the good old hot brown snakes tomorrow, yeesh. I’m not used to fancy.”

“It was delicious. Thanks for being so frank with me.” Bev grins at something over Richie’s shoulder. 

“Don’t suppose you’ve got any smokes on ya? For old time’s sake?”

“No, I gave those up a long time ago, and so should you.”

“I have!” His jangling, too-long body is no good for dancing outside of a mosh pit, so he twirls her like a lasso until she’s cussing at him to stop. “That’s why I said old time’s sake, dude.”

“Well, I don’t have any. And I don’t have any weed either, before you ask.” Her dangling earrings flash in the low lights as she peers around him again, like it’s a middle school dance and they’re watched over by the silvery eye of a mirror ball. She’s biting her lip, her shoulders shaking.

“Alright, alright. Just thought I’d try scoring. That boyfriend of yours is a douche, by the way. You know he basically called me a drunk?”

“You are drunk,” Bev says, and then she’s cracking up into pieces. “You’re such an asshole, Richie! Don’t do this to him.”

Richie turns, finally, to see Eddie doing his impression of a pillar of salt in the crowd, the shifting flurry of dancing finery surrounding him like a flock of magpies. Hands clenched at his sides. He’s glowering like someone just told him they’re cancelling How It’s Made on the Discovery Channel.

Richie’s heart thumps loud in his ears. His grip around Bev’s waist loosens, without him thinking about it. “‘Sup, Eds! Didn’t see ya there.”

“Asshole,” Eddie enunciates, very clearly. He folds his arms so tight it looks like he’ll burst the seams of his suit. Not Richie’s fault it fits him like a fucking glove. Or that Eddie likes doing push-ups so much.

He’s got this vein on his bicep...

“This is painful to watch,” Bev sighs, and she shoves Richie forward, hard enough that Eddie has to quickly unfold his arms to catch him, just so they don’t end up in a heap. “I warmed him up for you, Richie.”

“No you didn’t — shut up, Beverly,” Eddie hisses, but she’s already spinning away into Ben’s arms.

It’s awkward for the tiniest moment, before their bodies take over. There’s something about being near to him, it’s like all of Richie’s electrons have to up stakes and twine each atomic little orbit into Eddie’s, just to balance out the universe. It’s physics. Richie got an A in physics in high school, he knows this shit.

He slides his arm around Eddie’s shoulders, taking his other hand gently. “Hey, baby.”

Eddie only glances around them once before his palm slips under Richie’s jacket, settling warm on his waist. Nobody sneers. Nobody comes over, and tells them to leave. “Hey.”

“You wanna dance? I don’t have cooties, I promise.”

They might be swaying, or maybe it’s the world that’s swaying around them. The inside of Richie’s head is an endless tumbling curl, like wave after tubular Californian wave.

Eddie’s twitching a small smile down at Richie’s undone top buttons. “Gimme cooties, see if I care. I think I’ve caught every disease you’ve got by now.”

“Mm, yeah.” He leans in, ‘til the peachy fuzz on the shell of Eddie’s ear kisses against his lip. “Like Tozieritis.”

He feels Eddie’s breath of a laugh, more than he hears it. The crowd drains away a little more around them, tired people moving back indoors, leaving, separating. Suddenly Richie doesn’t ever want this to end, Eddie pressed close enough that their belt buckles clink, and his breath stirring Richie’s hair the way the stagnant Georgia air never will.

“You look nice,” Eddie mumbles. His furtive once-over feels like hands roaming up Richie’s body. 

Richie preens, and wobbles them around in a small circle. His own suit is the slate gray of Chicago in a rainstorm, a sight he can barely remember. He’d pushed his sleeves up to his elbows sometime between dessert and his third trip to the bar, so hopefully Eddie knows where his cufflinks are, at least.

He shimmies a little, to make Eddie laugh again. “Miami Vice, baby!”

“I — what?”

“My sleeves. You were right, shit peaked in the eighties.”

Something’s ticklish. The foggy delay in his head catches up, and he realizes it’s Eddie’s hand, clenching open and closed on his hip. 

“I’m taking that back,” Eddie says with a grin. “This decade has a lot of shit going for it. This year, anyway.”

This must be how dogs feel when they stick their heads outta car windows. Ecstatic, and buffeted by the constant stream of sweet sensation. Richie basks in Eddie’s roundabout brand of affection, feeling the slow tide of their breathing press their stomachs together in synch.

“Amen, dude. I don’t look as nice as you, though, Ah say, Ah say, Lawd Ah do declare. Me ‘n’ a couple dozen debutantes agree.”

Eddie coughs, and ducks his head. Even in the decadent waterfall of shadow from the hotel, Richie can see his ears blushing.

“Fucking embarrassing. Nobody’s looked at me twice for years, and now — it’s the suit, I’m not—”

“It is not the suit,” Richie teases. “You’re a panty-soaker, babe, just accept it.”

“Shut up!” Eddie’s huddled low enough that his head is nearly on Richie’s chest.

“You’re the hottest person here. You coulda danced with any one of ‘em.”

Eddie’s skin is just as hot as his ears look, when Richie tips his face back up to press their sweaty foreheads together. It’s almost as warm as home, dark and intimate, Richie’s whole world narrowed down to these eyes, dark like charcoal in the pit of a fire, still hot to the touch. Looking at him like he’s full of shit and Eddie’s happy to listen. They could be in their bed, if it weren’t for being fully dressed.

“I didn’t wanna dance with any of them, though,” Eddie says, softly.

Richie tugs him even closer. Their noses brush, and this kind of dancing is easy. It’s more like hugging in rhythm. He closes his eyes for longer every time he blinks, because the way Eddie’s still holding his gaze is gonna make Richie do something stupid. 

“It, uh — that seemed like a pretty intense talk you were having with Ben,” Eddie mutters after a minute or so. He looks almost nervous, which isn’t allowed. Not right now. Richie rubs his thumb in circles around one of Eddie’s knuckles. “You looked... are you okay? Did he — what did he say?”

Richie’s the one who should be nervous. He can barely hide dehydration headaches from Eddie, let alone the biggest fucking question he could possibly ask the guy.

Is it, though? Maybe he already asked it, back in Derry. Maybe this whole year has been one long, hot, wonderful answer. 

He’ll think about it tomorrow, or next week. Whenever the lights stop spinning. They’re nice, even though they’re disorienting. Eddie’s warmly alive in his arms, so he could never confuse this with the Deadlights in a million years. The jazz band are packing their instruments into odd-shaped coffins, putting their boring music to sleep, but someone, somewhere, is playing eighties ballads over a sound system. The universal sign of an evening ending and becoming a night.

Richie lets the alcohol loosen him even further. Their thighs are touching. Eddie steps on his foot.

“Rich,” Eddie presses. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I just drinked — drank too much. Haystack was only being a swell guy, moppin’ me up. Swell fella, a — a swella. Hah!”

Eddie snorts, and leans back to squint at him. Shoots him the ole stink-eye, though it’s not all that stinky. “You’re fucking hammered.”

“Yes, I am.”

“I knew you would be. An open bar—”

“Isn’t a challenge, I know, I know. You stole that from Ben.”

“No. You can drink whatever you want, I have Tylenol upstairs. I was gonna say it’s a liability.” Eddie pats him on the side, conspiratorially. “I bet you a hundred bucks there are gators out on that golf course.”

They look out into the dark. The terrace floats like a shining island in ink. They could be in Antarctica at night, or on the moon, icy white marble and blackness beyond them, alone and infinite. But those places are cold, and Richie is decidedly not cold. Neither is he alone, with his friends paired off around him and Eddie’s blazing, familiar skin only two thin shirts and a vest away from his own. It’s hot in that magic swamp way, hot enough for bubbly fermentation, for growing oranges that burst sharp on his tongue like sex with Eddie, and the risen moon is the blue-white afterburn of a rocket’s initial sunburst launch. 

Richie clings to Eddie’s shoulder, and looks away from the outside world. “You’d save me from the gators, Eds?”

Eddie’s eyes are so soft. “I’d save the gators from you, dumbass.” 

“Thank you.” His words slur into kisses, pressed to the dip of Eddie’s temple, his scar, growing bolder the more Eddie just lets him, still in sight of strangers, and their friends. “Thank you, thank you—”

“What — what for?” Eddie’s squirming, ducking against his own shoulder to escape Richie’s assault. His fingers tighten in Richie’s shirt.

“For the gators.” For the Tylenol. For the drool. For coming to California, for everything. “For dancing with me.”

“We’re doing a shitty job, you’re even worse than I am.”

“That’s just ‘cus I’m drunk, man.”

“Nah, I’ve seen you dance at home. You’re like those balloon guys they use to sell cars.”

“I never had any practice!” He pulls at Eddie’s hand, trying to spin him, or dip him, or something, but it’s a lot harder to do when he’s not leading. “C’mon, remember middle school? This is even the same fucking song!”

Eddie’s got that concentrating look again, but it’s probably because he’s doing most of the work of keeping them upright. “What the fuck are you talking about, you — you goddamn tree, stand up—”

“Middle school, Halloween, the — the dance.”

Indigo darkness, just like this, like the inside of a crystal ball. Synths echoing with kickdrum reverb, like hearing music from the bottom of a glittery canyon. The same kind they’re playing now, cracking his heart open like a nostalgic egg. Staring at Eddie in the corner. Sweeping strings feeding him images of vampires, and claws, and how all the horror is nothing in the face of love. The walls of the school gym studded with mirror ball reflections, as Richie hauled Eddie away from Stanley and Bill and the snack table, behind the bleachers for some so-called practice. 

“I wanted to hold your hand,” Richie whispers. “You were — you went as Rambo, remember?”

“Oh fuck, yeah. I do.” The light from the hotel windows hits them just right, and he can see Eddie flushing pink, clashing horribly with his suit. “You took one of your dad’s ties, and—”

“Tied it—”

“—around my head, yeah, that’s right.” Eddie laughs. “And you were a fucking toilet paper mummy. The least amount of effort you could put into a costume, aside from, like... sticking a sheet over your head. So dumb.”

Richie remembers. A litany of extremely creative your mummy jokes. The dense fog of collective eighth grader B.O., the colored lights falling in strips like Saturn’s rings on Eddie’s apprehensive face and twisting hands, through the bleachers above them. Standing in front of one another. Not moving. 

Richie’s heart, pounding frantic enough that he was so, so fucking scared Eddie could hear it.

Just to practice, Eds, so — so we know how to dance with girls.

“I pretended — I pretended I couldn’t tie it,” Eddie mumbles. He tucks his face in Richie’s neck, now, and Richie wants a time machine. Wants to go back and shove them together, under the bleachers where no one could realistically see, but it felt like the whole world was watching. They could’ve had this, back then.

His shirt buttons catch against Eddie’s, and his heart could be loud as a thunderclap for all he cares. “Why?” 

“So you’d tie it for me.” Eddie’s lips brush his throat. The people around them will just see a couple slow-dancing, Richie realizes with a heady jolt. We’re not in eighth grade anymore, Toto.

There’s no point in wishing for a different past. It happened, and maybe it had to happen the way that it did or Richie wouldn’t have what he has now; Eddie’s hand hot like a flat iron in the small of his back, and more stars overhead than Richie’s seen in months. Nostalgia is a bittersweet rot he’s addicted to, but it has absolutely fucking nothing on the present. 

He’s gotta cut himself loose from Derry sometime. He’s gonna miss all the good shit.

“That’s so cute, Eds,” he coos. “Crafty.”

“Yeah.” Eddie sounds as embarrassed as always at his past self for daring to have feelings. He’s hiding from it, his hair crow-feather glossy in the moonlight, all Richie can see of him from the corner of his eye. “I — Jesus, I wanted to kiss you. Under the bleachers, remember? I thought I was gonna have an asthma attack, but we just stood there.”

Richie feels his face split into the stupidest smile. He catches Beverly’s eye over Eddie’s shoulder, and she winks at him from where she’s wrapped around Ben. “No fuckin’ way you wanted to kiss me in middle school! I had beaver teeth, and my breath stank like cigarettes and dick cheese.”

Eddie leans out of his collar, his face all screwed up like he’s gonna gag. “Dick cheese?”

“Yeah, from trying to suck my own—”

“Fucking — ew, Richie! I really hate you sometimes, we were having a moment.”

“Shh, we can get it back, c’mon.” He grins at Eddie trying to stay grumpy, and leans on his shoulder to pull his glasses off. “You could kiss me now. Set things straight, or — not straight, but you know what I—”

“Alright,” Eddie cuts in. “I will.” 

“Oh.” His tunnel vision for Eddie is worse with his glasses off, but he can still see the shapes of other people, blurred like they’re on the other side of a steamy winter window. “Uh — okay.”

They’ve never — not in public. 

Richie stares transfixed at the confusingly hot lines on Eddie’s face, his favorites, the ones that walk a tightrope from his cheekbones to the sharp, stubborn jut of his flexing jaw. Gearing up like a pitcher in the ninth.

The music swells. Something about cleaning a soul.

“Alright,” Eddie says again, softer, and then he does.

He lets go of Richie’s hand, to slide his own up the shirt placket struggling vainly to keep Richie decent. Reactions dulled by alcohol, Richie doesn’t close his eyes right away, fucking enchanted by Eddie pushing in close with his hair falling into his face, up on his toes. His heart goes nuts, and Eddie must be able to feel it through his own chest, or through Richie’s back where he’s pushing his hands up under Richie’s jacket. 

They’ve only been kissing for six months. Eddie’s lips close gently around his, and it still feels like the diamond split of a lightning strike, or the time Richie electrocuted himself when he was working as a roadie. 

Like blades down his spine. Jackknifing his hips forward. 

He whimpers, stroking one finger up the back of Eddie’s neck. The soft, vulnerable hollow of his nape. Eddie’s nose snubs into his cheek as he tilts in deeper, leaning all his weight on Richie, still wobbling on his toes. He’s so fucking warm and courageous, licking into Richie’s mouth with the party draped humming around them like a beehive on a summer’s day, tasting like the mango thing he had for dessert. His tongue dips into the place between Richie’s teeth and lower lip, where it’s crowded with blood-vessels. He kisses Richie’s philtrum. Flirts his hands dangerously close to the seat of Richie’s pants.

Their legs tangle up. 

The music’s distant, echoing through Richie’s memory from middle school on Halloween, when he couldn’t dare put his hand to Eddie’s cheek and feel his jaw moving in the rhythm of slow morning sex. Richie pours everything into kissing him back. Grabs handfuls of his suit, thinks syrupy-slow thoughts of grabbing the mane of a mustang and holding on for dear life. Carried into the sunset. He sucks slowly on Eddie’s tongue, kisses him harder. Eddie’s body fits firm and compact in the circle of his arms, and he sighs a quiet moan when Richie pushes his hand down flat to the spade of his tailbone, and then someone’s whistling.

It’s piercing, right through the shivery mulch of Richie’s head. Eddie’s mouth slips from the cradle of his own lips, wet and parted.

“Get a room!” Bev hollers.

Richie fumbles his glasses out of his pocket. Narrowly avoids poking himself in the eye, which would be a real ironic way to go blind.

“Yeah,” Mike says, on their left, looking like royalty in his own tux and swaying a respectable distance from Patricia Uris, who’s smiling behind her hand. “Preferably one far away from mine.”

He feels a groan rumble against his throat, and pets shaky fingers into Eddie’s hair. All the lights, the drinks, the kiss, he can’t—

Bill’s grinning with Audra like the indulgent big brother he still is, in a way, to them all. Still doesn’t do a damn thing about the teasing. 

Neither does Ben, though he has the decency to at least try. “C’mon guys, leave them alone.”

Richie swallows, and prays Eddie doesn’t bolt. He’s breathing panic-fast in Richie’s arms, more humid than even the dewy golf course air, and his blue suit is rumpled from Richie’s hands into silky furrows, like a choppy Caribbean sea. 

If Eddie’s embarrassed, Richie’s never gonna forgive himself.

Then Eddie looks up at him, kissed-sloppy, dimpled and stunning. He tears a grin into his road-rage face and whirls around like a tornado, one hand still fisted in Richie’s shirt.

“All of you chucklefucks, leave us alone!”

There’s a small clearing around them on the terrace. Eddie’s blast radius, Richie thinks dumbly, feeling him fizz in his arms like a bottle-rocket. The horny dumbass zone.

“You hear me?” Eddie blares. “Piss off! I love him, and if we wanna kiss we’re gonna fucking kiss! You guys get to!”

“Not like that,” Bill mutters. He shrugs at his wife apologetically when she raises her eyebrows at him.

“Deal with it, assholes!”

“No!” Mike laughs. “If I have to ruin the mood so I don’t hear you getting busy through the wall, I will!”

“Hoo sheeit!” Eddie cracks back like a whip, in — in one of the Voices, what the fuck. “Sounds like somebody’s forgotten what it’s like to get laid, Micycle.”

A belly laugh slams out of Richie so hard he staggers sideways, dragging Eddie with him. “Man alive, Eds gets off a good one! Put ‘er there, babe!”

Eddie smacks a fierce high-five into Richie’s waiting hand, and Christ, he loves the little firecracker so goddamn much. Getting Eddie to forget himself and lose his shit is Richie’s life’s work, and it always feels better than any applause or Emmy buzz ever could. Who knew it would feel a thousand times better when they’re on the same side. Mike grins and shakes his head at them, sweeping an amused Patty nobly away from the ruckus. 

Bill raises his voice over the music, and the sound of Beverly’s shrieking laughter. “How the hell is your house still standing, Richie?”

Before Richie can say anything, Eddie rounds on Bill next, still wild-eyed and sparking. Pointing his finger like he’s some old-timey moron in a swordfight. “Hey! It’s my house too, it’s our house!”

“Yeah, it’s his house too!”

“I planted all the fuckin’ flowerbeds!”

“And they look rad! Fuck you, Bill!”

“God, you’re both the worst, I forgot how loud you guys are in person!” Beverly shouts. Ben looks thoroughly mortified, nodding to the few terrified remaining strangers still out here with them. Eddie wraps himself around Richie’s middle and they waver around, cackling and holding each other up, and it’s just like being back in the clubhouse; half-mad and surrounded by the people who love him. “You deserve each other.”

“Fuck yeah, we do,” Eddie wheezes. “Right, Rich?”

“Fuck yeah, Spaghetti Man, you tell ‘em!” 

“Remind me to soundproof the guest bedroom before you visit at Christmas,” Audra pipes up, smiling bemusedly out from behind where Bill’s trying to shield her from Loser bullshit. “This is pure chaos.”

“Believe it or not, they were worse as kids,” Bill replies, turning back to her. “At least now they’ve stopped pretending they don’t like each other.”

Boy howdy, have they ever. 

Eddie’s calming down, though he hasn’t let go of Richie’s hips. Music from their childhood echoes from the open hotel doors, and it’s considered old now, but Richie doesn’t feel old, not like this. Cocooned by his best friends. It was always an act, the bickering. Sure, Richie ran his mouth like a garbage truck and dumped it over Eddie more than any of the others, just to make him pay attention, but he never pretended not to like him. Liking him was the whole point. And he can’t speak for Eddie, who often did get worked up enough that he looked like he’d burst into tears, but it never felt anywhere close to dislike whenever he saved Richie an ice cream, or dutifully built all Richie’s wild ideas out of Lego. When you’re eleven years old it’s hard to know the difference between a boy’s love or his annoyance, just so long as he’s looking at you. 

He cups Eddie’s ridiculous face. “You’re a crazy sumbitch, y’know that?”

Eddie’s giddy little bursts of noise are subsiding. “Your fault,” he says, under his breath, and presses a lingering kiss to Richie’s cheek.

Richie’s last drink crashes in through all the gaps created by staggering around, seeps into the spongy highways of his brain and frays his thoughts apart. He dangles himself over Eddie’s shoulders like clothes on a hanger, tucking his face into the campfire smell of his neck.

“Hey, Eds,” he murmurs.

He’s too tall for this. His spine is weeping from hunching down like a church gargoyle, but Eddie’s arms would go all numb if he had to put them up around Richie’s neck. And that’s bullshit.

“Hm?”

“Am I the girl?”

“...What?”

“This, this,” he slurs, hugging Eddie closer. “In dancing, the girl holds the guy’s — his shoulders, an’ he holds her, her... uh...”

“Her waist?”

“Yeah, ‘cus that’s the most erotical — erogenous zones.”

“Is that so,” Eddie snorts, quietly. His thumbs move against Richie’s ribs in little wiper-blade arcs, and it feels so nice. “Neither of us is the girl, Richie.”

“You’re pullin’ my pecker here, man.”

“I’m not. You’re my — my guy, that’s kinda the point.”

The point. He’s Eddie’s, and that’s the whole goddamn point. “That makes more sense.”

“You’re definitely not the girl. Didn’t you just shave before we got dressed? My mouth hurts now, asshole, you’re all prickly again.”

Richie hums happily, rubbing his face in the hollow behind Eddie’s ear. “I’m too much man for ya, Eds.”

He feels Eddie smiling against his throat. “You’re a fuckin’ Sasquatch, maybe.”

They sway for a while, silent, left in peace. Eddie strokes his waist. His back. Richie closes his eyes against everything else but this, and it’s one of the happiest moments of his life, which is fucked up, given why they’re even here in Georgia in the first place. But then, he’s never had a good grip on priorities.

He doesn’t believe in ghosts, but maybe he should. Look at everything belief has brought them. Dead old monsters, new lives, Richie’s friends in close orbit around him under the fish-scale moon like a séance, conjuring up some smoke-after-fire impression of Stanley happily bullshitting right alongside them, just like always. Manifested through love. And Richie hopes it might always feel like this when they’re all together, that he might get to dance and feel like this again sometime soon, if Eddie only says yes.

He rolls his forehead against Eddie’s shoulder, slumping against him. Mouths a silent trio of words to his blood-warm throat. 

“Eds...”

He doesn’t know if Eddie kisses his ear, or if he’s just whispering so close that it feels like it. Still makes his breastbone hurt, either way. “Yeah, Rich?”

“Y’think... y’think Stan woulda liked this, t’night?”

Eddie sighs shakily, and holds him tighter. “Uh... I don’t... I don’t know. Maybe he was different as an adult. He never liked making a big deal about stuff, remember?”

“Yeah. Bar — Barb — Mitzvah from hell. They didn’t even slice his dick off.”

“Uh huh. I know you were disappointed. But I think... yeah, I think he would’ve liked us all bein’ here for him.”

“That’s good,” Richie sighs. Eddie always knows what to say. “That’s good.”

He doesn’t remember much after that, only burnt-celluloid impressions of herding back indoors, of corralling the waiter, of downing half another White Russian before Eddie snatches the glass to finish it off. Mike’s lily-petal pocket square growing rubies as he mops up the nosebleed that Bill reassures them is normal this late, and the corridor tilting like a galleon as Eddie unlocks their door, puffing unsteadily under Richie’s weight.

“Fuck, you’re heavy,” he groans, depositing Richie on the bed.

The golf course sprinklers sound like the wind in marshy Maine reeds. Richie’s letting the bed eat him. He stretches his tired feet out, when Eddie unlaces his fancy dress shoes for him and pulls them off. His jacket is gone, and then so are his pants, and Eddie’s pulling the cool sheet up over them. It feels like slipping into the quarry, away from everything. 

“Not jus’ a one time deal, huh Eds...”

“What’s not?” Eddie’s breath smells like mint. He must’ve brushed his teeth, at three-thirty in the morning. So adorable. 

“My shoes... on Valentine’s.”

“Oh damn, you remember that,” Eddie laughs. He presses in behind Richie, curving them together like two commas. Cups a firm hand to Richie’s belly, under his creased shirt.

“Course I do… wouldn’t f’rget our first… first date.” His eyelids sink, and the Earth’s rotation is lulling, womb-like in the dark.

“That was like, our hundredth date, Rich.” Eddie’s voice blesses quietly into his shoulder. “It was never a one time deal.”

And Richie falls in love again, or maybe just unconscious.

 

Sympathy is thin on the fucking ground in the morning. 

He wears sunglasses to breakfast, because even the fancy silver toast-holder things are trying to stab at his eyes. The rest of the trip is better, though, roaming in a group to cool themselves off in the spray of the Olympic Park fountains, as the angry, deep south sun drips slow down their necks, like yellow oil.  

Patricia invites them to her house and shows them the preserved footprints of Stan’s life. Eddie goes with Mike and Ben to see some movie nobody else cares about, and Richie spends the afternoon watching videos on Beverly’s phone of her pets, giving them Voices and making her laugh. They bar-hop at night to find some karaoke, and Richie yowls his lungs dry to Whitney Houston, pointing right at where Eddie’s still grinning hugely even as he’s hiding behind Bill, because Eddie’s always full of shit, just like he was full of shit about the hotel bed sex embargo.

He lets Richie kneel on the plush carpet to suck his cock, his noises muffled by the running shower and Richie’s fingers stuffed into his mouth. And when Eddie returns the favor, Richie makes sure to be extra loud, just to make up for it. 

Mike looks pained at dinner, Eddie looks resigned, and Richie looks around the table feeling like he actually deserves to be a little smug, for once.

Eddie loses money to Ben and Audra when they all play the world’s most riotous game of poker, and Richie wins it back for him. When the time comes to leave, it’s a red-eye flight, but Eddie only shakes out his National Geographic and hands Richie his own dorky neck pillow, and Richie drools on him this time, the whole way home.

Chapter Text

October arrives with its fists raised, putting up a valiant fight against the heatwave and coming pretty damn close to winning.

Richie remembers Octobers in Maine, and how the fall colors seemed to flame through town overnight like nature was committing arson. How the cold snap would come like a mysterious stranger with a black hat that snuffed out the sun by six PM, all anyone could talk about, as if it didn’t happen like clockwork every year.

Ayuh, gonna be a real biter by Thanksgiving.

That’s what the weatherman from Portland says, sure.

Richie hated it. Fall meant school sucking at their heels like mud, meant he couldn’t spend all day goofing off like he wanted. The harvest would steal Mike away for weeks at a time, and Bill always turned pale and silent until Halloween was over, like he was trying to let his parents forget they’d ever had any children at all. 

Plus, Eddie would stop wearing shorts. This was a secret, selfish reason on Richie’s part for hating the season, but it felt just as much a betrayal as hearing the way the cold would have Eddie’s lungs sounding like the bowels of a shipwreck, hollow and wet.

It’s October in L.A., and they’re surviving the heatwave. It’s still hot, but it’s a beautiful, comfortable embrace of a day.

Eddie’s still wearing his shorts, and Richie knows his lungs are strong enough for a marathon. For fucking anything.

“I’m gonna hurl,” Eddie groans, bouncing up and down in place on his toes. 

“Do it on one of these other douchebags.” Richie nods at the brightly colored herd of runners trapped in their giant holding pen alongside Eddie, waiting to be called to the starting line. “Get an early advantage. It’s all about tactics, Eds.”

Eddie’s rictus grin looks like it hurts his face, like it’s stapled on. His bouncing is sending little ripples up his toned thighs. It’s also making Richie dizzy, so he leans over the waist-high metal barrier and grabs at his tank top, tugging him to a halt. The fabric layers wet like folds of icing in the small of Eddie’s back, already damp from warm-ups and the way the sun is turning the Dodgers’ stadium parking lot to an asphalt frying pan.

The heatwave’s dying, but they do still live in Southern California. At least Richie’s tongue doesn’t feel like a slab of thick, cooked meat in his mouth anymore.

“I’m gonna hurl if you keep jumping around like that.” He watches Eddie twisting his hands over and over, like he’s a card shark dealing tricks. “You were fine in the car, why are you so nervous? You run all the time.”

“But this is a competition,” Eddie hisses, leaning hard against the barrier like he’s gonna start clambering over.

Richie tries squeezing his bony hip, to soothe him. It’s technically a charity event, but this is Eddie he’s talking to. “Ah, right. I shoulda known.”

“What if — what if I fall on my face or — or shit myself? That can happen y’know, there’s less blood flow to your intestines and the motion kinda moves all your organs around, it happened — fuck, it happened to Paula Radcliffe, and—”

“I don’t know who that is, babe,” Richie shrugs. 

This will all pass as soon as the whistle blows and Eddie has to actually concentrate, Richie’s sure of it. He was like this the first time they were entrusted with Oliver’s afternoon walkies, too, but look at them now! He hasn’t even been hit by a car yet, Richie would count that as a success worthy of a parade. At least a big balloon or two.

Eddie’s gonna put dents in the fence, and Richie can see way too much of the whites of his eyes. It’s weird. “She shit herself during a marathon, Richie!”

“Okay—”

“In the street!”

“Jesus, okay!” He looks down helplessly at the handfuls of stuff he’s carrying for Eddie; his water, his towel, wallet, keys. He left his inhaler very deliberately on the kitchen counter, at home. “In that case I’ll, uh... I’ll shield you from view? That’s a sacred moment, dude, I’m the only one allowed to see you drop a deuce.”

The times his dumbassery actually works its magic are worth all the other times it doesn’t. Eddie stops short in the middle of his anxious contortions and splutters into disgusted laughter, so loud a couple other runners turn their heads.

“That’s so fucking gross,” Eddie snorts. He puffs his cheeks and blows upwards, ruffling his hair. Richie was kinda hoping he’d wear a sweatband, really complete the whole look, but he isn’t. A guy can dream. “You will never see me take a shit.”

“I’ve seen you do pretty much everything else.”

“Stop it. How would you even get there in time?”

“I’d run, obviously.”

“I’d pay good fuckin’ money to see that.”

“Then get ready to cough up, sweetcheeks.” Richie sticks his chest out, and pokes Eddie’s a few times. “I’m support crew. I’m like your roadie.”

His mouth goes a little dry, watching as Eddie leans slowly into his space. Now that Eddie’s so much better with public affection, it’s actually getting harder to resist constantly feeling him up. Especially when his eyes are all astronomic heat and light, burning into Richie’s. 

Eddie murmurs, “You think you can keep up with me?”

Richie’s thumb brushes Eddie’s hand as he mirrors the casual lean. He can count every one of Eddie’s freckles, this close. “You want me to keep up?”

Two of Eddie’s fingers skate along the underside of his wrist, where Richie can feel his own pulse. He’s still not breaking eye contact. “That’s not what I asked.” 

Richie cocks his head, grinning like a fool. Eddie fucking winks. Even when the summer ends completely, Richie will still run hot enough to power the entire city, warmed through to the core every single day by this; Eddie dimpling at him, and forgetting to worry about things long enough to play with him in his bullshit.

“I’ve kept up this long, haven’t I?”

“Yeah, you’re a real pest,” Eddie says, breaking the moment. He’s breathing easier now, and he doesn’t look so pond-scum green. “Thanks, Rich.”

“No problemo,” Richie sighs. One of these days he’s gonna turn Eddie on in public, see how he likes it. “Wait, what for?”

“For shielding me when I shit in the street.”

“Oh yeah. Anytime, baby. Someone’s gotta have dignity in this relationship, and I’d really hate for it to be me.”

The parking lot is as vast as an airport runway and twice as loud. Richie feels severely doughy and out of place here, in the shadow of a baseball castle. An unfit squire amongst knights. Ah, fuck it, none of these people probably ever killed an alien before, why should he feel bad? He’s earned his fucking rest, thanks. It’s packed with spectators and competitors alike, milling around like gym rats in a heavily-advertised maze, waiting for the next demanding airhorn. Sunlight glints off the safety pin holding Eddie’s race number to his shirt, and Richie fiddles with it, just for an excuse to touch him.

“You’re not gonna be bored, are you?” Eddie asks quietly, leaning even further over the barrier. 

The paper crumples against his washboard stomach, under Richie’s hand. He’s been training like crazy for this all summer. Number one-oh-nine. Richie should’ve got a shirt printed, made a sign or something, that’s the sorta stuff a supportive fiancé would’ve done. He can do it. He will do it, as soon as he finds the right moment to ask. Just fucking watch him.

Eddie straightens his hat for him, tugging so it’s not as low over Richie’s face. It’s the I HATE NYC one from the Fourth of July, the one Eddie saw and thought of him, from an entire continent away. 

As if Richie could ever get bored of this.

“Nah,” he says, butting his head into Eddie’s palm. “I’m gonna livestream it to Instagram. Commentate, y’know, give the outsider pee oh vee.” 

“Oh yeah?” Eddie flicks the brim of his cap. “How’s that go, I wanna hear it.” 

Never let it be said that Richie Tozier backs down from a challenge. He waves an obliging hand in a mock bow, then mimes a mic, stretching out his jaw for the rubber-band twang of his Announcer Voice. 

“Al-righty, here we are ladies and gents, Bens and Jerrys, it’s another be-yootiful ass-swamper of a day for a marathon here in Los Angeles, and I’m on site and undercover with the live report. There’s more leg out here than a strip-club-chicken-joint combo, it’s like a Hustlers met a KFC and nine months later the baby exploded, it is messy and I am in-to it, yessiree. Call in now to RTEK six-nine-four-twenty FM with your best joke about runners’ diarrhea and you, yes you stand a chance of winning a piece of equipment you’ll spend all Thanksgiving trying to convince your family it isn’t a sex toy! Can we say that on air? Anyway, the sun is high, the day is dry, and it’s time for Trashmouth Tozier’s Top Tips, tip top of the morning to ya folks, I’ll tell ya; I don’t know shit about running but I’m standing here with my dick stuck in a vending machine, which is a real easy way to stick it to the Man if you don’t got a lotta time or resources, so—”

“This is — this is the worst race commentary I ever heard,” Eddie hoots. He’s laughing in the nutty, full-body way he does sometimes, tongue peeking between his teeth and hunched over, slapping at Richie. “Who’s winning, dummy?”

“Oh shit, yeah.” Richie grins and adjusts the peak of his cap, peering into the distance. “Here he comes, is that—? Yep, it’s sexy Forrest Gump, it’s Speedy Kaspbrak Gonzales himself, and he’s torching it folks, anyone would think that man was promised a BJ later—”

Eddie shushes him, still creased up and shaking with laughter. He claps a hand over Richie’s mouth, jerking away again when Richie noisily licks it, tasting salt and the chemical scrape of antibac wipes.

“It was a stupid question,” Eddie giggles. He wipes his hand on Richie’s shirt. “You still don’t know how to be bored.”

“Yeah, it’s like I got Looney Tunes on repeat up here.” Richie pushes his glasses up his nose, and taps his own forehead. “I’ll be fine, man. You just do what you gotta do, I’ll be there at the, uh. End place.”

“The finish line.”

“That’s the one. You oughta go on Jeopardy, Eds.”

Eddie’s tracing the chain of Richie’s knuckles where he’s gripping the fence, gazing up at him, all squinting and shiny in the sun with his smile a sickle cutting teeth into his lower lip. Sweat glitters like frost in his temples, and Richie sighs. It’s a summer frost, like the rim of an ice-cold drink, a cool spot of relief in Richie’s whole life. Making it all bearable. His heart’s probably glowing in his goddamn chest like a Care Bear, he’s so proud; the race hasn’t even started, but that’s just how it is.

He blows gently on Eddie’s face, to cool him down.

“God, c’mere,” Eddie says suddenly, and then he’s stepping on the lowest rung of the barrier to get on Richie’s level, kissing him firm and sweet.

Richie quickly drops the bag of Eddie’s stuff to hold him steady. It’s brief, no tongue, and Eddie’s hands are gone from his face almost as soon as they’re cradling it, but it still knocks Richie windless. He braces their weight while it lasts, fits his hands in the tight shelves of Eddie’s obliques and marvels, for the millionth time, how such a rawhide strip of a body can hold so much person. His stomach feels hooked out through his navel, all his bloody-soft and undefended parts exposed by broad daylight to the crowd, and that’s exactly it. He doesn’t need the crowd’s approval anymore. This is why Richie wants to marry him. He wants a concrete declaration to the world that tried to make him forget the man he loves, a bellowing, inked-down shout of this is Eddie Kaspbrak, he beat you at your own game, and you’ll never take me from him again.

And if Eddie says no, then Richie will deal with it. Because Ben was right. It doesn’t change this; trading smiles between their lips like notes passed secretly in class, in a way Richie never could have done publicly a year ago. He thinks that maybe he forgot to grow up after leaving Derry the first time, and it’s all come speeding along at once over the course of nearly thirteen months, like a videotape stuck on fast-forward. Brought on by the soul-splitting need to be someone Eddie could picture building a life with.

Seems like it’s working so far. This whole mature thing ain’t so bad.

Eddie steps off the rung, grinning down at his most trusted pair of sneakers. His ears are luminous pink, lit up from within by his bright blood. 

Richie whistles lowly and stoops to gather the bag he dropped. He licks at his lip, tasting Eddie, and electrolytes. “That was for good luck, I’m guessing?”

“Something like that,” Eddie smirks.

“I hope it works, you really are gonna fall on your face with your laces like that,” Richie tuts. “Very sloppy, Kaspbrak.”

“Ah, shit.” Eddie bends over hurriedly to avert disaster. It’s a good thing he’s quitting his job, Richie’s certain his risk analysis skills have taken a real hit these past few months.

“Get ‘em tied, maggot!” Richie barks.

“Fuck off, I’m doing it!”

He snickers, enjoying the view. Eddie’s looking fucking delectable today, but maybe it’s just the contrast of seeing him in his running stuff around thousands of other people, where Richie can’t maul him. Warmed up, caramelized limbs. Juicy little biceps, like segments of a mandarin. He’s in black shorts instead of his red ones, equally tiny, with the skin-tight compression thingies on underneath to prevent sweat rash — so Richie has been lectured. They’re still hot, painted onto his springcoil thighs like that. The red ones have the built-in mesh underwear bit that drives Richie crazy, the ones Eddie was wearing the day he came home to find Richie pantsless in the middle of the living room, IKEA parts spread around him like a dissected frog in science class. It’s a fond memory, the savage flex of Eddie’s jaw as his keys jangled abruptly to the floor. Richie had been inventing swear words, his hair scraped back into the tiniest ponytail known to man, and soon enough he was railing Eddie over the back of the couch with just the leg of the shorts pulled aside, and now Eddie feels weird about wearing them in public.

Richie pulls at his collar, letting some air in.

The ground vibrates with the music heaving over the parking lot from the stadium’s sound system. There’s the strange prickling itch on the back of his neck that tells him he’s being watched. He’s used to it, he has some freaky static-electricity sixth sense for when people aren’t gonna pass him in the street without quoting a line at him, but a tiny ulcer of nerves still corrodes open in his belly all the same. They were just kissing. 

No, he thinks immediately, fuck that. They’re allowed, and Richie’s ready to throw punches over it.

He takes covert stock of himself, just to make sure he hasn’t accidentally popped a boner in public again, or something. That usually makes people stare.

Eddie’s still tying and re-tying his laces. Five minutes ‘til go-time, the announcement booms from the very sky, like God itself. Richie peers around for the source of the eyes sunk into him like an oyster fork, pulling him vulnerable from his shell of anonymity, and—

It’s—

Oh, shit. Of all the fucking odds.

Behind Eddie, just a few scant yards away in the crush of runners. It’s the assistant from the jewelry store, the one who had finally managed to coax him inside after she caught him hovering for maybe the seventh time. He didn’t recognize her at first without her headscarf, too wrapped up in Eddie, too— 

—and she’s right there, what if she says something, Richie’s not ready—

She gives him a friendly little wave, all bright eyed bushy enthusiasm like a cartoon squirrel. Her name’s Firuzeh and she’s a really effective salesperson, Richie would know all about that, but he’s not really in the mood to wax lyrical about it right now because he’s having a fucking meltdown.

He raises placating hands, desperation braiding lactic sweat across his top lip. God, if only he was psychic. Please don’t, please, he can’t find out like this. 

Eddie’s still bent over and tugging at the tongues of his sneakers, muttering to himself. His hamstrings rip fibrous up the backs of his thighs and into the suggestive shadows of his shorts. There’s a wine-stain hickey on the point of one of his freckled shoulders, and Richie wants to die. 

Firuzeh raises her eyebrows and points, clearly mouthing the words is that him?

Richie nods, frantically slicing horizontal cut it out gestures. He hopes that’s what he’s doing. He’s probably just flailing.

She doesn’t come over, thank fuck, but she does pull an impressed face and shoot him a double-barrelled thumbs up, before turning back to her stretches. And that’s why she’s such a good salesperson, she can read people’s body language like a book. Even Richie’s extremely subtle expressions of torn-up panic. He feels like confetti thrown into a fan, sprayed everywhere, helpless to gather up his pieces before Eddie notices.

“Richie?”

He does spare a moment to feel a little smug, though. Eddie is a babe, Richie’s well aware of that.

“Richie,” Eddie repeats, snapping his fingers in Richie’s face. “Ground control to Major Wackjob. Are you alright?” 

Richie startles, letting go of his white-knuckled grip on the fence. “Nothing.”

Eddie frowns. “What?”

“Huh? Yeah — I’m fine, why?”

This is another reason Richie has to do it sooner rather than later. He fucking hates lying to Eddie, it makes him feel all disgusting and disjointed like a ventriloquist dummy, unnaturally stiff limbed and spewing voices even he doesn’t recognize.

Eddie’s finished performing surgery on his sneakers, and he narrows his eyes. “You look all… jumpy. And pale. Have you drunk enough water? Drink some water, Rich.”

“I don’t need water.”

“We all need water, dumbass.”

Richie rolls his eyes. “I don’t need any water right now.”

“Please drink some water, or I’m not gonna be able to concentrate.”

Eddie folds his arms, looking stoic, and the stricken, petrified boulder of Richie’s heart softens enough to let it slip back down out of his throat. It’s not that he’s not ready to pop the question — he picked a fucking ring, didn’t he — he just wants it to be perfect. Eddie deserves it, he’s had one bad marriage already, Richie doesn’t wanna start another one off on the wrong foot. If Richie’s imaginary dehydration is enough to distract Eddie from his big race, then proposing two minutes beforehand might just throw in the odd wrench or two. So he swallows his nerves and beams at Eddie, pulling him in for a last quick kiss.

“I promise I’ll drink some water. Cross my heart and hope to desiccate.” 

“Good,” Eddie says, patting at Richie’s chest. “Can’t have you shriveling up, I love you too much. Plus, you’re my ride home.”

“Aw, Eds.” An atonal siren cuts through whatever sappy bullshit Richie was gonna dribble out next. It seems to stir the runners up like a lion among gazelles, and Eddie pulls away. “Oh shit, Houston, we launching?”

“We’re launching,” Eddie nods. And this is why Richie will come to every single one of these things, because a look comes over Eddie’s face, then. He looks entirely himself. All dark-eyed intensity and determination, not just in his element, but king of it. 

Richie will never get tired of seeing him like this. He’d follow him into battle anywhere, but he can’t really run for shit. That’s why he’s the roadie. 

He shoots Eddie a flashy salute. “Have fun, dude, break a leg!”

Eddie’s backing towards the bottleneck and fiddling with his earbuds, still facing him with an excited grin. “That’s for acting, Richie, don’t say that!”

“Pull a groin, then?”

“Asshole,” Eddie laughs, flipping him off, and then he’s gone, into the anthill mess of people like the sun slipping behind a cloud.

Richie sighs, trying not to miss him too much already. 

He can’t help feeling the shade of Eddie’s absence gray everything out, like passing through the freezing ghost of Richie’s previous, empty life. Whatever. He’ll add a rung called co-dependency to his lost boy ladder, the one he’s using to slowly climb out from his Neverland of arrested development.

The race chews the runners up and spits them through the finish line onto the beach at Santa Monica, so Richie drives like Eddie would to find a parking spot in record time, netting himself a clear view. He bullshits around on Instagram for a while, taking dumb videos, taking selfies with the happily stoned guy who recognizes him and doesn’t even seem to realize there’s an event happening, but shares his party-sized bag of potato chips anyway.

The ocean breathes in, and out, a great blue leviathan sleeping curled around the city’s coastline. An hour passes. Then another. Eddie’s killing it, Richie’s confident about that. They’ve taken everything the heatwave threw at them, and now it’s nearly over — Eddie’s probably running like he’s had lead sneakers on all summer, and someone’s finally taken them off. 

Richie’s leaning against the stony bark of a palm tree with an iced coffee dripping all over his arm, scrolling through Twitter, when someone mentions him in a picture message. It’s a blurry, zoomed in photo of he and Eddie kissing over the barricade, like some kind of forbidden, Shakespearean shit. 

@TrashmouthTozier why are u at @Dodgers stadium???? who is that with u?? it doesn’t look like your bf

Richie snorts. Like they haven’t all seen the photos of Eddie sprinting grimly around Beverly Hills. Plus, their faces are barely discernible. None of these fucking gremlins seem to understand the meaning of the word privacy, but luckily, neither does Richie; he’s made a living airing his most embarrassing moments on stage, but if there’s one thing he doesn’t feel about kissing Eddie, it’s embarrassed. If he zooms in closer, he can see the possessive splay of Eddie’s hands on his face, still feel the phantom sensation of chaste, gentle suction against his lower lip.

He saves the photo quickly to his phone and then retweets it, adding a caption of his own. See, this is what happens when Eddie leaves him alone, he has to resort to fucking around with strangers on the internet instead.

yep you got me. ive been cheating on him this whole time in extremely public locations bc thats the only way i can achieve climax so thanks for helping out. this is going in the spank bank

There, let ‘em frenzy over that for a while, the goddamn piranhas. He really doesn’t mind it at all, any irritation he might’ve felt was steamrolled long ago by the realization that most people just don’t give a fuck that it’s a man he’s kissing, the issue only ever seems to be which man in particular. What he’s wearing, what they’re doing, and why Richie uploaded a candid picture of him ranting in a flowerbed, up to the elbows in compost past the sleeves of his rubber gloves, and tagged it #goals.

Richie thought it was pretty self-explanatory.

In the end, Eddie bags himself a personal record. Beats the shit out of his old one, by like, a lot.

The tarmac seems to bow in awe as he comes bombing neatly through the sponsored archway like a heat-seeking missile, and Richie hollers like a moron to make up for the fact that he didn’t print a shirt, or make a sign. It’s hard to feel too guilty about it when Eddie just keeps running, past the crowd, hurtling closer, and crashes a hug into Richie like a meteor strike.

Richie’s nearly bowled over into the forgiving sand, still yelling. 

“I did it, I did it,” Eddie babbles, tangled damply around Richie’s body like a fishing net, and Richie is so dementedly happy to be caught — hook, line, and fucking sinker. “I did it, Rich, I knew I could do it—”

“Fuck yeah you did, Eddie Spaghetti! I toldja, you fast little fucker! I bet you fell on your face at least once though, admit it!”

“Nope!” Eddie laughs, and he’s too hot to touch, but Richie only clings tighter. “And I didn’t shit myself either!”

Eddie keeps talking so much he can’t catch his breath, keeps propping all his shook-loose weight up Richie’s front, only peeling himself off eventually like a sticky roll of wallpaper to sniff out an official who can log his time. Richie looks down at himself. He plucks at the soft gray shorts he deliberately picked to clash against his t-shirt emblazoned with just the word Sports in fancy font, and sees the dark sweat-clone that Eddie left behind. 

There have been times in the past, and not-so-distant past, when Richie kinda felt like all the seven sins rolled into one stringy, fraying rope of a person at once. Greed for sure, he can’t kick that one. Lust has been fucking his head up since he was thirteen, feeling Eddie’s elbow nudge his as they scratched out wonky calculus and Richie hunched despairingly over the desk to keep his boner secret. Sloth resulted in a ghost-writer, but pride was always worst. Pride is insecurity pulled violently inside out, ‘til your jagged, self-loathing bones start drawing blood from everyone else for a change. And the worst of it’s that it comes and goes, pulling Richie inside and out for years and years, grisly and painful every time.

But Eddie comes scurrying back with a medal and a grin, and Richie thinks there must be a different kinda pride out there, because this one doesn’t hurt at all. Eddie brought the official, too, and she takes a picture of them with their arms around each other, Eddie’s smile shining even brighter than the medal in the middle of his chest.

Richie tried to park in the shade but the sun is out to get them specifically, and the palm tree shadows have slunk away since morning, abandoning their post. They sit for a moment with the A/C on high, still riding Eddie’s well-deserved wave of excitement.

“I felt so good,” Eddie gushes for the fifth time. He’s a dripping mess, his towel slung regally around his neck like a triumphant king’s sweat-heavy ermine. “Sometimes you get days when it feels like you can just keep going, y’know? It was like I couldn’t even feel my legs after mile nine—” 

“You couldn’t feel your legs?” Richie laughs. He knew Eddie ran to quiet his body-wide branching anxiety, but this seems extreme. “Sounds like a stroke, buddy.”

Eddie looks the drugged kinda happy, how he always looks after Richie makes him come ‘til he’s shaking. It’s all endorphins, Richie supposes, watching Eddie palm exhaustedly at his forehead. “No, that’s what I used to think too, and I’d always freak out and stop, but it’s like — I don’t even have to think, my body just works. My legs work, my — my lungs work, Richie. It was awesome. I probably coulda done another one!”

His enthusiasm is so infectious. He’s fucking glowing, and Richie feels like a moth, helplessly willing to blind himself on this human-shaped aurora impossibly contained within the four metal walls of his car. 

This is the real Kaspbrak Fever, Richie thinks, ruffling the limp disaster of Eddie’s hair. And it really is terminal.  

“You can run home if you wanna,” he says.

Eddie shakes his head, busy methodically draining another water bottle. He scoots his chair back, and draws his legs up into some curly Cirque du Soleil type shit, ‘til his shorts flap down obscenely close to the hinges of his thighs. Thank fuck the compression things are keeping him decent. Richie shifts in his seat and looks hurriedly out at the beachfront anyway, still crowded and sparkling with people finishing the race. He opens the air vents wider.

“Nah,” Eddie grunts. Richie can see him contorting himself from the corner of his eye. Hears a joint crack. “Another day, maybe.”

“You could totally do it though. You’d beat the car, I bet.”

“That’s fuckin’ likely, given how you drive.”

“Hey,” Richie laughs, glancing at him, and quickly away again. Still stretching, fuck. “I’m just saying, you musta been fuckin’ flying, dude! I knew you liked my BJs but damn, talk about carrots and sticks.”

“Ah, c’mon—”

“Fucking, git along there, little dogie. Yeehaw.”

“Shut up,” Eddie snickers. “I was trying not to think about that. Y’know how hard it is to run with a boner?”

“No, but mark me down as fuckin’ intrigued that you do.” Richie sighs with content, slumping forward against the steering wheel, resting his chin on his folded arms. The A/C is finally making a difference, and he closes his eyes for a moment against the sapphire blitz of the world beyond the windshield. It’s hard to tell where the sea and the sky meet, on days like this.

“I mean it though, man,” he murmurs. “Fucking flying. It was awesome.” Sunlight strives through the palms above, and Richie’s closed eyelids, dark, then red, like the flickering negatives from a projector. It's warming his face. He floats on it, like the cast-cotton of a dandelion seed riding the breeze. 

“I could watch you forever. That probably sounds creepy as hell, but I don’t care. I’ve tried not watching you before for like, a week, but I only lasted a couple days. Back in, uh… ‘91, I think? Stamina was not my friend back then, dude, I used to — there was this stupid thing, I used to only let myself look at you like, five times a day or something, like when you were talking to me, but then I thought, that doesn’t count as a strike, ‘cause people always look at whoever’s talking to ‘em, y’know? Then, it was whenever you were talking at all. But you were always talking, you’re an even bigger fuckin’ motormouth than I am, so I decided those times didn’t count either, it was allowed. I still had my five strikes. So after that — it was when you were doing something cool, I figured it was okay to look, then, because everyone else would be looking too. Like, when you could solve a Rubik’s cube real fast, or you’d do a cannonball into the quarry, but only if someone dared you? So I cheated. I just kept daring you, so I could watch. Or... or the first time we all went to Mike’s farm and you held one of his dumb lambs, and you were so freaked it might piss on you that you totally forgot you were already kneeling in shit.” 

He grins faintly around the lump forming in his throat at the memory. His mind drifts back to the sight of Eddie racing straight past the officials with the medals, like he could see some other prize entirely. “That’s what it was like when you crossed that fuckin’ finish line, man. I tried not to look so much, but you’re always… you’re always flying, Eds.”

His temples are throbbing. He really should’ve drunk more water, like Eddie said, but they’ll be home soon. He imagines Eddie coming towards him like that while Richie waits at an altar, and the steering wheel digs hard into the meat of his hand as he squeezes it, feeling his bones. 

Richie should ask him. 

Just drop the fucking bomb already, why not? He should ask now, the words are crowding his mouth like loose teeth waiting to fall right out, he should ask him, he should ask—

The steering wheel’s leather creaks in his fists. He takes a deep breath. “Eddie.”

The engine purrs underneath his body. Eddie’s suggestive grunting has stopped, so Richie steels himself, blinks open his eyes to look over at the passenger seat, and the words that had felt so safe and solid in his head dissolve on his tongue, like trying to bite steam.

Eddie’s staring at him, strangely. His bottom lip sucked into his mouth, paused in the middle of another painful-looking stretch. His leg lowers slowly back to the car’s floor, but it’s his eyes. They stand out even more when he’s flushed so beautifully like this, from the heat or from running or sex, like the night reflected in the ocean. Dark and endless in their deep sockets. 

He’s looking at Richie wide-eyed, so strangely, and it’s kinda terrifying. 

“What?” Richie asks, shrinking back a little. “What’d I say?”

Eddie’s throat bobs, and his mouth parts. He looks from Richie’s face to where his hands are noosed around the wheel.

Richie starts to panic. Maybe he asked it out loud without realizing, and Eddie really is having a stroke. “Eds, what—?”

“Nothing,” Eddie croaks, turning away to fasten his seatbelt. “Nothing. I just — thank you for coming today, Rich.”

Richie stares at the back of his head. Eddie’s ears are deepening to a mouth-watering pink, and his shoulders are slowly hunching up to meet them. 

“Where else would I be?” 

“...Exactly,” Eddie mumbles. 

It’s still so bright outside, Richie can’t see Eddie’s expression reflected in his window, only the fabric of his shorts sprouting up like weeds between his clenched fingers. Why is he being weird? It doesn’t take this long to pull down a seatbelt.

Richie swallows, crestfallen at the change in mood. Eddie was so buoyant a minute ago. “Are you—?”

“Listen, let’s — let’s pick up some Popeyes’ or something on the way home, I’m starving.” Eddie sounds more like himself, springy and demanding. “I haven’t had fries for two months.”

“Uh. I… okay,” Richie says, bewildered. “Yeah, for sure. Record breakers pick dinner, that’s fair.”

Eddie turns back to him with an easy smile, and whatever weirdness there was is gone. He’s probably just tired, Richie reasons. Loopy from those fuckin’ endorphins. He can’t help but return Eddie’s smile with interest when he catches sight of the medal again, and he hopes it’s the first of many. They can turn Eddie’s old office into a trophy room, or maybe hang it on the Predator statue in the garage.

The moment’s passed him by, but at least that black-hole heavy weight is missing from Eddie’s eyes. Richie’s hands unclench. What the fuck was he thinking? Proposing in the car, really? He can’t get down on one fucking knee in the car, Jesus Christ. Plus, the ring is at home, hidden among a nest of drum sticks in Richie’s music room.

He shakes his head at himself and buckles his own seatbelt. 

“I just had a great idea,” he says, shifting into gear and pulling into the street. 

“Another one?” Eddie must be feeling like Superman after his big finish, untouchable, because he’s kicking his feet up onto the dashboard. Richie suddenly wants to give him road head, and Eddie’s not even the one driving. “The shit-shielding was already so good. You know if you have too many per day your nose is gonna start bleeding.”

Richie grins and reaches over to take Eddie’s hand, still gritty with sweat. “This is even better. You should wear the medal while we fuck.”

“Ew, no,” Eddie snorts. “You’re not getting jizz on my medal.”

“Holy shit, why didn’t I think of that!” Richie gasps. “You’re a fucking genius, Eds! I was on some second rate, warm-up act shit, like — you’re always the winner when you get to fuck me — not my finest work, I know. But holy shit. I’ll baptize your medal, baby, just say the word.”

Eddie bursts out laughing, his dry wheezes ricocheting around the car like bullets. “I’ll think about it, ya fucking pervert.”

Richie whoops and bangs their joined hands repeatedly on the car horn until Eddie’s yelling about road safety, because he’s the biggest hypocrite Richie knows, and Richie still loves him to such an insane degree that he can’t keep hiding it inside for much longer, depriving it of sunlight.

 

The photo of them at the finish line is the first one Eddie posts to his decidedly private Instagram page. He only has four followers, because Mike is always the last to give into peer pressure even after all these years and still doesn’t have an account. 

Richie posts it too, alongside the blurry snap of them kissing, and makes sure to tag Eddie in both. It’s like siccing hellhounds on an unsuspecting rabbit, and Eddie curses Richie out for the resultant avalanche of follow requests blowing up his phone, then blocks him. It doesn’t matter to Richie. Not when he has Eddie coming in his mouth so hard after dinner that he curls like a protective wing right over Richie’s head in his lap, clinging to Richie’s shoulders and making loud, agonized noises in the back of his throat.

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.