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under sparkling lights

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It was Richie’s idea, to institute their weekly dinners together. Though they’ll often meet up in different variations throughout the week, Friday night dinners were for the seven of them, no matter what. There’s a lot of different meals they all have together on a weekly basis; for example, there’s Richie and Eddie’s Tuesday night dinners. Bev and Ben’s daily lunches. Richie and Eddie’s every-other-day lunches. Bill, Stan, Eddie, and Richie’s Sunday night drinks. Richie and Eddie’s Thursday night drinks.

Eddie sometimes looks at the whiteboard schedule he keeps on the refrigerator door in his apartment and sees nothing but Richie’s name. He keeps a different color for everything: red for work events, blue for Losers hangouts, green for doctors’ appointments, orange for errands he needs to run— and pink, for Richie.

He doesn’t analyze too deeply why Richie gets his own color, separate from the Losers. He tells himself it’s just because they hang out so often, it’s just easier to remember. Eddie doesn’t even let himself think about why it’s Richie he hangs out with so often in the first place. In pink, on Christmas Eve, the schedule says, Richie, dinner, 8pm. It’s supposed to be the next time they’ll hang out, after tonight’s dinner.

The weekly dinners kept them all close, after they left Derry and went to school; they ensured that none of them forgot each other while they went to college, when they all agreed to attend different schools close to each other in New York. Now, though, they’re twenty-eight years old, and Eddie’s starting to wonder if spending all of his time with one of his best friends might not be the best idea. Particularly because he just so happens to be in love with said best friend, and especially because said best friend does not feel the same about him, and Eddie certainly won’t be telling him about his feelings anytime soon.

When they’re leaving this week’s dinner joint, a tavern sort of place Ben found, a hole-in-the-wall that Eddie actually found sort of cozy, Eddie can’t help but stare at Richie. To be honest, he’d spent the whole dinner looking at Richie in the low light already. He’d looked particularly handsome when candlelight from the walls flickered across his face as he laughed, reflecting in his glasses every time he turned to look at Eddie straight-on. That gives the place a glowing review, in his book.

“Ugh, I know, it sucks,” Eddie hears Richie say, when they’re spilling out the door of the place onto the sidewalk. It’s been snowing all day, and still is, a thick layer of white crunching under their feet while wet flakes fall all around them. “Actually, wait, that reminds me— Hey, Eds.”

“Hey, Rich,” Eddie says, hands shoved in his pockets. Richie reaches out and pulls Eddie’s hat down further over his hair, flattening out his dark-blonde curls under his beanie. Frowning, Eddie shoves it back up and snaps, “What the fuck do you want?”

“I just wanted to tell you I can’t make dinner on Christmas Eve,” Richie tells him. They almost never bail out on plans they make with each other. “My grandparents— Fuck, they’re just making this big stupid fuss about me not coming to the family Christmas parties the last few years, and my grandmother said she’d help pay for my flight if I went, and they really guilted me into it. I kinda have to go.”

“Your— A Christmas party?” Eddie asks, bewildered. “But—”

“Yeah, it’s my mom’s side,” Richie tells him. The other Losers wave goodbye to them, and Richie gives them hugs before taking Eddie’s arm and escorting him towards their apartment buildings. They live only a couple of blocks apart, and Richie always walks Eddie to the door of his building before going home himself. Every time. Without fail. For some reason Eddie can’t figure out, except that he’s Richie and he’s weird, and everything he does is designed by God to torment Eddie and/or make him hard. Usually both, tragically.

Eddie can feel himself heating up, so he pulls his hat off and runs his hand through his hair. Richie leans into him, his cheek against the top of his head as snow melts in his curls. He’s a warm line all along Eddie’s side, in the dark, cold night. He can’t help but lean into him, too, and then stumble a little bit, tipsy and cold. Richie stops and crouches down.

“I’m fine—” Eddie starts, but Richie motions to his back.

“C’mon, Spaghetti, hop on,” Richie tells him. “I’m not fishing you out of a gutter just because you walked your own tiny ass down a sewer drain.”

Eddie considers this, then considers how much he’d like to be wrapped around Richie’s warmth, and considers, too, the fact that none of their friends are here to see them. He acquiesces, climbing onto Richie’s back. Richie hoists him up, his big, warm hands under Eddie’s thighs; Eddie just tucks his face into Richie’s neck and sighs.

“I thought you didn’t want to see your parents or your sister again this year,” Eddie says, picking up the thread of their conversation as Richie starts to walk again. They’re not the first ones to make tracks on the sidewalk, but they’re one of the first, the snow silencing their voices as their boots scraped along. Eddie has actual snow boots, but Richie’s just wearing chunky black boots that make him slide now and then, Eddie notes worriedly.

“I don’t want to see my parents any year,” Richie replies, huffing a little. “My parents fucking suck. But my grandma asked, and I like my grandma.”

“She doesn’t care that you’re Jewish?” Eddie asks. Richie shrugs.

“I used to go to the parties when I was younger,” Richie says. “You remember,” and, suddenly, Eddie does. His childhood memories got spotty, sometimes, but he remembers sitting with his mom on Christmas mornings, alone, thinking about what Richie would be up to right then. It was nice, but so fucking lonely, the older he got. He’d often wonder if Richie was enjoying those strange Christmas parties he had to go to in Boston every year, if there were a lot of people there for him, music, gifts. He wanted that for him. Richie would never really talk about it when he got back, which was weird for him, so Eddie never pushed. He doesn’t know what goes on down there, but Richie never seemed to enjoy it all that much. Eddie had hoped he did, anyways.

Listening to Richie talk about those parties now, though, it doesn’t sound like it lived up to Eddie’s childhood expectations.

“Why’d you stop?” Eddie asks, turning his cold nose into Richie’s throat. Richie laughs, shivering slightly, craning his head away from the chill.

“Because I really don’t like most of them,” Richie says, still smiling. “But I figure, Grandma feels bad enough about it this year to ask me to come. It’ll probably buy me a few more years off before she asks again. In the meantime, I’ll be able to go back to my meager little Hanukkah celebrations, as per usual.”

Eddie spends most nights of Hanukkah with Richie. He also spends most Christmas Eve nights with Richie before he drives up to Derry early the next morning to visit his mother. He tells himself he does it so Richie’s not alone; he doesn’t think about the fact that, by default, he’s also alone, were it not for Richie. He doesn’t think about it.

“So, alas,” Richie says, “I must cancel our wonderful annual Christmas Eve dinner plans, Eds, I’m sorry. Know that I would much rather be with you.”

Eddie hesitates for a brief moment, considering how stupid the words about to come out of his mouth are, but apparently his brain doesn’t care. He just decides to be stupid, with his arms wrapped around Richie’s throat, his heart pounding through their coats against Richie’s back. “I can come with you.”

Richie stops, looking backwards at him with a furrow between his eyebrows. “You wanna come to Boston?”

“Well, you were my Christmas plans,” Eddie says, as they reach his building. They stop next to the steps up into his lobby, and Richie drops Eddie to his feet before fishing a joint out of his pocket. Eddie pulls a lighter out of his own pocket for him. He never smokes on his own, but Richie always brings something to smoke with him, so he makes sure to keep a lighter on his person at all times. Just in case. There’s nothing deeper about it. It’s just convenient.

He doesn’t think about it.

“What about your mom?” Richie asks. Eddie lights the end of the joint for him, and Richie inhales, blowing out a stream of smoke. He takes another hit, then passes it to Eddie.

His mom will be furious, but Eddie doesn’t really care. Richie’s uncharacteristically serious about this family visit, and the idea of leaving him alone there without anybody to support him is distressing. Richie’s parents essentially ignored and neglected him his entire childhood, and his sister left the second she had a chance; none of them really get along at all. They hadn’t taken his coming out well, when he was in high school. Eddie doesn’t know the whole story. He’s not sure Richie’s ever told anyone the whole story; he had just come into school the next day with a black eye and sat quietly at their lunch table. Eddie remembers it vividly, viciously. He makes himself focus on the present, though.

“She’ll understand,” Eddie finally answers. He inhales deeply from the joint. He’s gotten better at it, over time. “Besides, I… don’t really like going there anyways.”

“Golly, so cruel. Tell me how you really feel,” Richie jokes, taking the joint back. His bare hands are pale with sporadic splotches of red from the cold air. Eddie covers them with his gloved hands to warm them when Richie takes another hit.

“I want to go with you,” Eddie says firmly. He doesn’t really want to go to Richie’s family parties or dinners or whatever, but he also doesn’t want to see his mom, and he definitely doesn’t want Richie to go alone. Or, without him. Or both. They go hand-in-hand, really, most days. “Can I go with you?”

“I mean, if you want to,” Richie says. He passes the joint back, then tips his head back, letting the smoke roll out of his mouth in syrupy swirls, drifting up into the dark sky. Eddie’s fixated on it, for a moment. Richie smoking is sort of hot as fuck. It’s part of the reason Eddie took it up at all. “It’s gonna be a shitty time, though, I’m warning you now. It will not be fun.”

“But I’ll be with you,” Eddie tells him. Richie looks down at him, then sighs, smiling so wide that Eddie smiles, too. His own breath fogs up around them when he reaches down; he tugs on Eddie’s coat, pulling it away from his collar to reveal the loosened tie around his throat. Eddie gasps, from the cold air on his skin and Richie’s touch on his neck. He pulls the tie loose and unbuttons Eddie’s top button.

“Cut loose, Eds,” Richie says. He takes another hit, then passes it back down to Eddie. “You’re gonna need it, if you really want to come with me.”

“I do,” Eddie tells him. “Really want to come, I mean.”

Richie’s cheeks are flushed, presumably with the cold. He pulls Eddie in to hug; Eddie just barely manages to hold the joint up above Richie’s shoulder before he burns a hole in his jacket. He smells so fucking warm, and Eddie can’t help but lean into him,

“Then come you shall,” Richie says to him. Eddie digs the fingers of his free hand into Richie’s jacket, holding him tighter, just for a second, before he lets go. Richie takes the joint back, smoking the last of it and smushing the end under his boot in the snow. “Ugh, Eds, I know it’s gonna suck for you, but I’m actually so fucking happy you’re gonna be there. It’ll be so much easier with you there.”

Eddie can’t help the way his face goes red, so he just tugs his hat back onto his head and fishes his keys out of his coat pocket. “I’m happy to come. Just text me the plans.”

“Roger dodger,” Richie says. He pulls the edge of Eddie’s winter hat down, just a little, before he steps back and starts heading towards his own building. “Bye-bye, Eddie Spaghetti.”

“Goodnight, Richie,” Eddie calls after him. Richie gets closer to the crosswalk, and Eddie shouts, “Text me when you get home safe!”

“Can do, Mom!” Richie shouts back. He turns the corner with a final wave and vanishes. Eddie’s heart is pounding like it always is when he’s left alone too long with Richie. He exhales, his breath a cloud of condensation around his head. When he goes inside, he brings the last stub left of the joint with him to throw in the trash.

home safe and sound, Richie texts, when Eddie’s brushing his teeth before bed. Before Eddie can spit and respond, Richie messages, my uncle can get you a seat with me on the plane, the flight leaves tomorrow night at 7:10. is that ok?

Eddie rinses his mouth and goes to his whiteboard schedule. He’s already off work for the next two weeks; the only things written for the week of Christmas are Richie, dinner, 8pm in pink marker on the 24th, and Christmas with Mom in black marker on the 25th.

when do we get back? Eddie texts back.

the 26th, Richie replies. not really that long.

Eddie looks at the schedule again. After a moment, he rubs Richie, dinner, 8pm off with his thumb. It takes a longer minute for him to gear up enough to erase Christmas with Mom, too, but he does it, just so he can uncap his pink marker again and write Richie’s family Christmas in Boston across the 23rd through the 26th.

eds? it’s okay if you changed your mind, i won’t blame you, Richie texts again.

I’m in, Eddie replies. He grins to himself, looking down at his phone as Richie sends a string of emojis. get some sleep, rich.

love you eds, gnight, Richie sends. Eddie stares down at it for a long moment before he exhales.

love you too, he types and deletes five times. The sixth time he writes it, he sends it, but his phone doesn’t say that Richie has viewed the message. He’s probably already asleep. Eddie hesitates, then dials his mom’s number and listens with dread as it rings. If he doesn’t do it now, he never will, even if it’s late and she doesn’t answer.

She actually doesn’t answer. Eddie listens to the robotic voicemail warning before he says, “Hi, Mom. It’s Eddie. I just wanted to call about Christmas this year. Um…” He stops, looking at the refrigerator again. Richie’s family Christmas looks back at him in bright pink. “I won’t be able to make it up this year—”

The phone clicks, and then his mom’s voice is saying, “You’re not coming for Christmas?”

“Are you screening my fucking calls at midnight?” Eddie demands. “What the fuck, Mom?”

“I didn’t know who was calling—”

“I started the message with Hi, Mom, it’s Eddie,” Eddie snaps. “Who the fuck else would this be?”

“Why aren’t you coming up for Christmas?” his mom asks, completely ignoring him. Eddie’s blood boils, his knuckles going white as he tightens his grip around the phone. “You always—”

“I can’t this year,” Eddie tells her. His stomach flips, like he’s twenty-eight years old and his mom will still scream at him and lock him in his room for doing something she doesn’t like. “I promised Richie I’d go with him to a family thing in Boston.”

“You’re spending Christmas with Richie Tozier in Boston?” his mother repeats. Eddie hesitates, waiting for more, but she doesn’t continue.

“Yeah, that’s what I just said,” Eddie says. “Mom, I think he really needs—”

“What about our Christmas?” she asks. Eddie vaguely misses having phone cords, because he wants something to do with his hands. “What am I going to do?”

Eddie’s heart sinks. “I don’t— I don’t know, Mom, I’m sorry. I can come up next week. We can do a late thing—”

“No, it’s fine,” she snaps. “My only son hates me, he doesn’t want to spend Christmas with me—”

“Mom, it’s not about you,” Eddie cuts her off. “I want to be there for him.”

He’s happy to find that that’s true, that he wants to be there for Richie. Richie doesn’t say he needs him, he doesn’t demand anything of Eddie. Richie just posited a scenario, and Eddie decided what he wanted to do, and now he’s doing it. He’s happy to help Richie. He’s happy with Richie, period, but that’s a whole separate suitcase to unpack, so he leaves it zipped tight.

“I’ll only be in Boston a few days, anyways,” Eddie continues, after a beat of silence.

“I thought the Toziers were Jewish,” his mother says. Eddie sighs, rubbing at his face.

“It’s his mom’s grandparents throwing the party,” Eddie tells her. “Mom, I have to go, we’re flying out tomorrow.”

“And you’re just telling me now?” she asks. “When were you planning on telling me?”

“Mom, I just decided to do it, like, ten minutes ago,” Eddie snaps. “God, I just—”

“Don’t snap at me,” his mother shouts back. Eddie can feel the temper he inherited from her rising up his spine.

“I have to go to bed,” he says. “I love you, Mom. I’m sorry. Goodnight.”

He hangs up without waiting for an answer, then exhales shakily, his hands trembling when he puts his phone down on the kitchen counter. Taking deep breaths, he grips the edge of the counter until he’s calm. Then, and only then, does he grab his phone up again. His mother hasn’t joined the digital age, thank God, so there’s no texts, but she’s called twice already and rung through both times. Eddie mutes her number and opens up his chat with Richie again.

talked to my mom, she’s about as happy as you can expect, but I’m all clear to come, Eddie sends, even though Richie is presumably long since asleep. It’s not until Eddie’s in his pajamas and climbing into bed that his phone buzzes again where it’s laying on the nightstand, plugged into the charger. Eddie grabs his reading glasses again and slips them on, squinting at the message.

proud of u, Richie sent back, followed by three sparkling red heart emojis. Eddie’s own heart speeds up, and he slips his glasses back off, grinning into the darkness as he tries to calm down enough to sleep.

Richie sleeps most of the way on the flight to Boston. It’s only an hour and a half, but there’s always been something about being in a moving vehicle of any sort that knocks Richie out. It’s better than him getting motion sick, which is really his only other setting in a vehicle he’s not driving, so Eddie deals with it. He deals with Richie’s head on his shoulder, his warm weight along his side, all the way into Boston. It’s hard, and so is he, but he manages it, barely.

Nobody comes to pick them up from the airport, but Richie doesn’t seem to be expecting anyone. He’s leaning on the handle of his suitcase, the two of them waiting for Eddie’s suitcase to come around the carousel at baggage claim, when he asks, “Do you want to take the train or call a Lyft?”

Eddie hasn’t been in Boston in years, since he came down here on a bus for a concert with the other Losers when they were twenty-two, so he opts for the train, just to see a little bit more of the city. It’s not snowing, but there’s snow everywhere, when he looks out the airport windows. The city’s so much lower than New York, as a rule, and it makes it look almost whimsical at this distance.

Sure enough, in the actual city, it’s all chaos and slush and people rushing to cram onto the trains and the trolleys. Richie takes him along the silver line, then the red line, seemingly well-versed in what he was doing. When Eddie asks when Richie got the chance to use the trains, Richie just smiles at him. He’s got one hand wrapped around the bar above their heads, the other arm free to catch Eddie every time he stumbles on the moving train, their bags trapped between their legs.

“I used to run away during the day,” Richie tells him. “Once I was around eleven. I’d take off during the daytime and come back for the night party stuff. Nobody ever cared as long as I was back on time to help them put on their little show.”

“To what?” Eddie asks. The train jolts, and he trips again, nearly falling backwards. Richie catches him, twining his arm around Eddie’s waist to keep him upright. Eddie’s heart jumps.

“You know, their little happy-family show,” Richie says. “All the bullshit.”

“I’m sorry, Richie,” Eddie tells him quietly. The words are swallowed by the conductor pulling into their stop and shouting at the passengers to stand clear of the doors, but Richie smiles down at him like he heard it anyways.

The walk to Richie’s grandparents’ place isn’t far, but it’s slushy and they have to go halfway up a steep hill. Richie’s face is all red by the time they get there, his suitcase slung over his shoulder.

“I think we’re the last ones to get here,” Richie says, knocking on the door. He takes a deep breath, then says, “Brace yourself, Eds. You’re about to have the worst four days of your life.”

Eddie thinks fleetingly, That’s impossible, because he’s spending four days with Richie. He’s spending four entire days at Richie’s side, with the knowledge that they’re each other’s favorite people in the entire state they’re in. It makes him feel selfish, being so excited about having Richie all to himself for so long, but Richie asked, so it’s fine.

When the door opens, there’s an unfamiliar middle-aged woman on the other side who sort of resembles Richie’s mom. She says, “Oh, Richard! Grandma said you were coming but I didn’t really believe her, you know. Come in!”

“Hi, Aunt Kathy,” he says, letting her pull him in the doorway. She looks Eddie over appraisingly, her eyebrows raised as if surprised that Richie even knows anybody, let alone knows anyone well enough to bring with him. Eddie’s hackles are already up, and he’s already always at a low-level simmer, just in case.

“And Bobby told me you had a plus-one flying up with you but nobody knew who it was,” Kathy says.

“Oh, this is Eddie Kaspbrak,” Richie tells her. He already seems strained, to Eddie, who considers himself fairly well-versed in Richie’s moods. “Yeah, he’s my plus-one this year. Eddie, meet Aunt Kathy. She’s my mom’s younger sister.”

“Pleased to meet you, Eddie,” Kathy says, shaking his hand. Eddie smiles back, because she hasn’t actually done anything except give him a semi-weird look. He doesn’t want to immediately start making enemies in Richie’s family; he’s supposed to be a buffer, not an instigator.

“Thanks for allowing me to intrude,” Eddie says, because he hopes that’ll make it clear that he is very much going to be intruding and will not be going anywhere unless Richie does.

“And are you…” Aunt Kathy trails off, motioning between them. Eddie frowns, glancing to Richie, but Richie just looks pale and surprised. They’re saved from having to answer whatever the question was becoming by Richie’s mom appearing. Richie’s dad had always been the tall one and the source of the height Richie and his sister ended up with; Maggie, on the other hand, is only about five feet and a couple inches tall, smaller than Eddie. It doesn’t diminish the gigantic looming cloud of anger and disappointment that follows her all the way to where they’re standing in the entryway, though.

“Oh, Richard, you didn’t,” Maggie says, by way of a greeting.

“Good to see you, too, Mom,” Richie replies. He hesitates, just for a moment, before he goes to hug her, but Maggie puts a hand on his chest and looks him over before he can. Eddie’s angry all over again.

“Have you put on weight? You look terrible,” Maggie asks. Eddie’s blood is already running hot, and that comment makes him want to scream, so instead he steps up next to Richie and doesn’t even bother with a fake smile. It’s Richie’s family, not his. It doesn’t matter if they think he’s difficult, at least a little bit. He is difficult. Especially when anyone is being shitty to Richie, of all people.

“Hi, Mrs. Tozier,” Eddie interjects. He can feel that his face is already getting red, but he continues, “It’s been a few years. How have you been?”

“Eddie Kaspbrak,” Maggie says, more statement than question. She looks the both of them over, then exhales heavily. “Richard, did you have to do this this year?”

“Do what?” Richie asks. Maggie pinches the bridge of her nose, then turns and disappears back down the hall into the next room. Just standing in the entryway of this place is bewildering; Eddie had been so preoccupied with Richie’s family that he didn’t get a chance to look around but, now that Maggie and Kathy are leaving the room to go and fetch Richie’s father, he actually can see the room as a whole. The ceilings are high, and there’s a whole second floor; one entire giant wall is exposed brick, and the rest is dark red wallpaper. Through a side entryway, Eddie can hear chattering and see fireplace light flickering. He’s assuming that’s where Richie’s family is assembled.

“Where did they go?” Eddie asks quietly. Richie’s just staring down the hall, his expression empty, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets. When Eddie speaks, though, he smiles as if by instinct and looks down at him.

“Probably to get a shotgun and put me down,” Richie says. Eddie doesn’t laugh, but neither does Richie. “Nah, they’re just probably having an emergency family meeting about the homo actually showing up.”

“I thought you came out to them,” Eddie whispers urgently, because he remembers that, even if his memories of his own childhood are spotty at best. It had been such a complete and utter shitshow, how could he forget, even if Richie hardly ever talks about it.

“Well, I ‘came out,’” Richie says, using his fingers for the air quotes, “in that I accidentally told my sister I was gay when I was thirteen and she told my fucking parents and my dad smacked the crap out of me and told me not to talk about it in front of my family anymore. If that counts.”

Eddie stares up at him. There’s a moment where he doesn’t feel anything, and then his rage is boiling up again, his blood hot.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me that?” Eddie hisses.

“It was almost twenty years ago,” Richie hisses back. “Besides, most of my cousins and shit are friends with me on Facebook now. They see the stuff I post. They’re probably aware I’m gay by now, so. It’s really not that big a deal.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Eddie reasserts. Richie frowns, the little crease coming up in between his eyes. “I could’ve helped.”

“There was nothing any of us could’ve done,” Richie says. “You had it just as bad, anyways. It’s not like Derry’s a center for gay rights, Eds.”

Eddie’s still boiling, wanting to do something more, anything more. He remembers Richie telling him he was gay, back when they were still only thirteen, confessing how he felt and what had happened at home (or, the bare basics of what had happened at home, apparently), and Eddie had told him he maybe felt the same, and that had been that. They didn’t really talk about it all that much, both terrified and bottled up, until they’d gone to college; even then, Eddie tried— and, honestly, he still tries now — not to bring it up, just because it hurts that they’re both gay and he still can’t manage to tell Richie how he feels about him.

Maggie snaps Eddie out of his thoughts when she comes back with Wentworth Tozier in tow and Richie’s sister, Claire, following right behind him. Kathy’s nowhere to be seen, thankfully, because she was a total wild card and she was stressing Eddie out, but the looks on the faces of Richie’s immediately family really aren’t all that much better. He hasn’t even seen Claire in years, since she’s a few years older than Richie and the two of them never really got along all that well, but she’s grown into a sort-of Richie look-alike; she’s close to the same height as him, she has the same black curls of hair, and her face sort of resembles his. That’s about where the similarities end, though, because she’s frowning and looks pissed just by default, and Richie almost never even looks like that on purpose.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Wentworth hisses, as soon as he’s close enough for Richie and Eddie to hear him. “Why in the hell did you bring Eddie Kaspbrak here?”

“Because these parties suck and I needed a plus one who wouldn’t make me want to jump off a bridge,” Richie tells them. “What’s wrong with bringing Eddie? It’s Eddie. He’s probably the most responsible person I know.”

“You’re so fucking stupid, Rich,” Claire says.

“Don’t you fucking say that to him,” Eddie spits.

“You haven’t changed,” Claire says viciously.

“She’s right, Richard,” Wentworth says. Richie rolls his eyes. “Don’t you roll your eyes at me. Everyone’s going to think—”

“What, that I’m gay?” Richie snaps. “I fucking am, Dad. I’m already out—”

“Richard—” Wentworth tries to interrupt, but Richie’s not done, raising his voice a bit.

“I came out when I was thirteen,” Richie reminds him. Eddie fights back the urge to physically step in between Richie and his family. They haven’t even been here twenty minutes and things are already starting to slide downhill. Their fucking suitcases are still next to them. They’ve both still got their coats on, for fuck’s sake.

“Well, Eddie’s not gay,” Maggie says. “Why would you bring him? Why couldn’t you have brought Beverly Marsh?”

“Why would I bring Bev? She has her—” Richie says, then stops. “Wait, what the fuck is that supposed to mean—”

“Eddie’s not like you, Richard,” Claire says viciously, like it’s simple and Richie’s stupid. Eddie wants to hit her, but he won’t, because she’s Richie’s sister. Not his. He keeps his fists in his pockets. “Why would you bring him here? Someone’s going to say something and it’ll get back to Derry, and then you’ve fucked yourselves over. Both of you. Why’d you have to pick fucking Eddie Kaspbrak?”

Richie looks pale, at that thought. He looks down at Eddie, but Eddie’s not scared, not like Richie is. Right now, he’s just pissed as hell that anyone could put that look on Richie’s face. He’s angry that they’re talking about him like he’s not even there, saying things like Eddie’s not like you like he hasn’t spent years coming to terms with who he is, like it wasn’t bullshit like that that made him so repressed that even his therapist had been shocked when he first started seeing her.

“It’s nothing to be concerned about, to be honest,” Wentworth says, after a beat of silence. “It is Eddie Kaspbrak, which may be lucky. People will know you’re not together if they remember him.”

“Besides, I mean, even if they don’t,” Maggie says, and waves a hand towards them. Richie frowns slightly, but Eddie’s fighting back the urge to take a step forward and start actually fighting someone.

“What does that mean?” Richie asks. When Maggie looks deliberately confused, Richie mockingly imitates her waving hand motion.

“Oh, just— You know,” Maggie says.

“She means nobody’s going to think Eddie’s with you because Eddie would obviously not be with you even if he was gay,” Claire says. She looks from Richie to Eddie like she’s expecting a response, which, if she remembers Eddie well enough, she probably knows she can get. He vividly remembers him throwing her bicycle into the water at the quarry once when he and Richie were eleven and she was fifteen because she’d punched Richie in the throat during a scuffle. They both know what he’s capable of.

Richie starts to say something, but Eddie’s so fucking mad that he doesn’t even think. He just gives in to his urge to hold Richie’s hand, snatching it out of Richie’s pocket and clutching it tight. Richie’s palm is sweaty, but Eddie’s is, too, from being curled up in a tight fist in his own coat pocket, so it doesn’t really matter. Richie looks bewildered, when Eddie glances up at him; he has to look away or he won’t be able to talk. He’s just so angry, at the mere thought that he wouldn’t be with Richie if given half a goddamn chance, that he hasn’t spent decades now pining after Richie so badly that he’s not sure he’s ever even properly loved anyone except Richie this way.

“Well, I am with him,” Eddie snaps. “And I am gay and I’m in love with your son and he’s the greatest person I know, so all of you can go fuck yourselves, shut the fuck up.”

There’s a beat of stunned silence from everyone, Richie included. His hand is only weakly held in Eddie’s, and Eddie briefly panics, thinking he made the wrong call. It’s a lie, of course it’s a lie, but he couldn’t just stand there and listen to them talk about Richie like that. It goes against all of his instincts. The only thing he really wants to do in life in keep Richie safe and happy. In a moment, though, Richie’s grip tightens, squeezing his hand, and Eddie’s chest floods with the cool feeling of relief.

“Go say hello to your grandmother,” Maggie says, through clenched teeth, “and then go to whatever rooms she’s putting you in and stay there until tomorrow. Don’t ruin Christmas before it even gets here.”

“Don’t worry, I keep the spirit of Christmas in me year-round,” Richie says. His grip on Eddie’s hand tightens before he releases them to grab the handles of both of their suitcases. “I’ll lead the way, Eds. You can meet my grandma.”

Eddie’s still so angry he could scream, or maybe punch a light post, but Richie’s family is glaring daggers at them and Richie’s just walking away, so Eddie makes himself follow. He has to jog a little to catch up, following Richie down the hall to where the rest of the family is gathered.

“What the fuck was that?” Richie hisses without breaking stride. Eddie doesn’t look up; he feels something like guilt or shame wash over him, and then another wave that’s just mortification. He’s kept his secret this fucking long, and this is going to ruin everything.

“I couldn’t let them talk about you like that,” Eddie whispers back. “You shouldn’t let them fucking talk about you like that.”

“Oh, pot, kettle, Mama’s boy,” Richie says.

“Go fuck yourself,” Eddie snaps. They’re quiet for a moment, just outside the noisy family room, and neither of them seems to want to speak first. Eddie certainly doesn’t, but he also doesn’t want Richie to be mad at him, so he just says, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I can go tell them—”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Richie says. “It doesn’t— It doesn’t really matter, I guess, I just— Why?”

“Why what?” Eddie asks, brow furrowed. There’s a lot of potential reasons he could be asking why. He could mean why are you doing this, or why me, or why is your brain broken, Eddie, you dipshit, you usually think before you speak, but the tone of his voice implies it’s not any of those.

“Why did you—” Richie starts, then stops. Eddie wants literally nothing more than to hear the end of the question, but he can’t stop Richie from shaking his head and saying, “Never mind, just— Thank you.”

“Richie,” Eddie says.

“As long as you don’t mind pretending to date me, I don’t mind,” Richie says, instead of acknowledging Eddie’s tone. “It might get people off my back. Even if they’re pissed about it.”

“Why would I mind dating you?” Eddie asks, before he can think better of the question.

“Did you mean it?” Richie asks, seeming like he’s just blurting shit out without thinking about it, too. Eddie’s heart skips.

“Mean what?” Eddie asks. He could mean any of it. The decision in the first place, the comment about how people should speak to him, the—

—the fact that Eddie said I’m in love with your son without fucking thinking, and that has to be it. He looks at Richie, feeling like he’s blanched so badly he’s lost all circulation. His hands feel cold, and he’s suddenly stripped bare, raw, vulnerable. He doesn’t know what to say, but neither, it seems, does Richie. The two of them just look at each other for a long moment, Eddie’s heart pounding up into his throat, before Richie gives up, pushing in the swinging door to the family room and guiding Eddie inside.

“Richard!” someone exclaims, and the moment is over. Eddie comes through after him and the room goes fairly quiet, nobody else speaking beyond the first call of Richie’s name. Eddie’s trying to catalogue everyone, to see if there are any familiar faces or even friendly ones, but he doesn’t get anything. The only semi-kind expression is on an old woman who Eddie can only assume is Richie’s grandmother, based on her resemblance to Maggie and Kathy.

“Oh, you did come,” the woman says. Richie abandons their suitcases to go to her, so Eddie follows, feeling like a kid trailing his mom around a grocery store. He can feel people’s eyes on him, even as most of the family either return to their conversations or, at least, pretend to. He acts like he can’t see anyone except Richie.

“Sorry it’s been a while, Gram,” Richie says, kneeling down next to his grandmother’s armchair to kiss her on the cheek. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine, dear,” she says. “Who is this?”

“Gram, this is Eddie Kaspbrak,” Richie tells her. Eddie offers a small wave. He’s still got his fucking coat on. The Toziers don’t know the first motherfucking thing about hospitality. “Eddie, this is my grandmother.”

“Yeah, I gathered,” Eddie says without thinking. Richie’s grandmother smiles a little at him.

“Any friend of Richie’s is a friend of mine,” she tells them. Eddie’s not sure if he should keep up the ruse with her, if he should say we’re not just friends, we’re together, but it feels like he’d be too obviously pushing his luck if he did. Instead, he stays silent. It feels like the only safe bet, to just let Richie take the lead from here. As it is, the one fucking time that Eddie took the lead in the fifteen minutes they’ve been here, he said he and Richie are dating when they aren’t. Next thing he knows, he’ll be proposing and trying to get Richie to elope with him on Christmas Eve.

The mere thought of marrying Richie sends Eddie into a spiral, but it’s only been seconds since Richie’s grandmother spoke. Eddie sometimes laments how quickly his panicked brain works.

“Thank you for having me,” Eddie manages.

“We’re happy to have you,” she tells him, even though Eddie’s felt pretty much nothing but the opposite since he arrived. “Ronnie— That’s Kathy’s husband, you know, he’s the pilot— Ronnie was glad to get you on the flight. I’m just happy Richie came again.”

She’s the only person who’s called Richie Richie since they got here. Everyone else has been tossing out clinical Richards. It makes Eddie like her a little bit more; she feels a bit like a buoy, to him, keeping them afloat in the middle of the ocean that is Richie’s shitty family.

“You two must be tired from getting all the way down here,” Richie’s grandmother says. “You should go to bed, get some sleep.”

“Claire’s going to show us which rooms are ours,” Richie tells her. “We’ll make ourselves well-rested and presentable for your party tomorrow, Gram. Promise.”

“Good boy,” she says. He leans down, and she kisses him on the cheek. She beckons to Eddie, too, and he goes, though slower than Richie had; she kisses him on the cheek, too. “Get some rest. I’ll see you at breakfast. Are you going to make cinnamon rolls again, dear?”

“Yeah, of course,” Richie tells her. She squeezes his hand, then releases them.

“Go sleep,” she says. “Get out, get some rest.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Richie says, straightening up to his full height and snapping off a salute. Eddie says his goodbyes and follows Richie out, ignoring everyone that Richie ignores, which is, really, everyone. They stride back out of the room and nearly knock Claire over outside the door.

“You only get one room,” Claire says, in lieu of a greeting, before she turns and starts walking away. Her heels clack hard against the stone floors.

“I’ll take the floor,” Richie comments softly. He’s got both of their suitcases in his hands as they go upstairs, because he’s tall enough and his arms are long enough to actually hoist them off the ground on the staircase.

“Don’t be stupid,” Eddie hisses back. Claire pushes open the second door to the right off the landing and motions them over.

“This is yours,” Claire says. After a beat of silence, she says, “I don’t know why the fuck you decided to come this year, or why you decided to bring a fucking boyfriend like a dipshit.”

“Fuck you,” Eddie snaps.

“It’s not worth it,” Richie says, tired. “Fuck off, Claire. Isn’t there a house your feet are supposed to be sticking out of?”

“Make all the stupid jokes you want, Dick,” Claire says deliberately. “You shouldn’t have come.”

She leaves before either of them can say anything else. Eddie wants to maybe shove her down the stairs, or at least trip her a little on her way by, but Richie puts a hand on his shoulder and turns him away like he knows what Eddie’s thinking. He probably does, if he remembers the bike incident, too.

“They shouldn’t talk to you like that,” Eddie insists, again, as Richie drags their suitcases into their room and leaves Eddie’s by the dresser for him. There’s not much in the room besides a double bed, a dresser, and two doors in the left wall, but Eddie’s barely even paying attention to any of it. “Richie, we should just go. Your family sucks.”

“Yeah, but I told Grandma I’d stay,” Richie says. He shuts their bedroom door and, after a beat, locks it. Eddie doesn’t ask. “It’s only a couple of days. You can help me cook tomorrow, they’ll have the party, we’ll do Christmas day the next day, and we’ll fly home the day after that. Piece of cake.”

“Richie, they’re horrible to you,” Eddie says quietly. Richie doesn’t bother unpacking his bag; he’s already started exploring the room. One of the doorways, he reveals, leads to a closet; the other opens into a small bathroom for them.

“Just ignore them,” Richie says from the bathroom, his voice echoing strangely off the tile. He comes back out and flops on the bed. “That’s what I do.”

“I can’t just ignore them,” Eddie snaps. He drags Richie’s suitcase over to the dresser, too, and starts unpacking both sets of their belongings. Richie has brought maybe half as much as Eddie has, but he still needs to hang up his nice clothes for the party tomorrow, if he’s so insistent on staying for it. They’re both quiet, for a little while, as Eddie unpacks. Richie just keeps staring at the ceiling, eyes trained upwards every time Eddie glances back. The room is dark, with only one lamp on a bedside table and a weak overhead light for illumination; the walls are covered in a different dark-red wallpaper, and the harsh grey stone floor has black rugs on it. It feels almost like they’re in a weird colonial dungeon or something. The room could be cozy, if the house had any warmth in it at all. Instead, it just feels cold and small and impersonal.

They’re still not speaking, and the weight of what he’s done is pushing down on Eddie’s back. He finally breaks first, saying, “Alright, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything at all—”

“Whoa, whoa, wait, what’re you apologizing for?” Richie asks. Eddie hears the creak of the bedsprings as Richie sits up, so he turns, a pair of Richie’s long black jeans in his hands. Richie had called them his formal jeans, when Eddie had seen him pack them before they left for their flight. Eddie had snorted at him. Looking at them now, he can only think about how long Richie’s legs are. “You haven’t done anything wrong. I should be apologizing to you for dragging you out here. I did promise a shitshow, though.”

“As always, you deliver,” Eddie says. “No, I just mean— About the dating. Thing. It just came out, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve— I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I think I’m rubbing off on you,” Richie tells him.

“Don’t be gross,” Eddie replies. Richie laughs, clapping his hands down on his thighs before he heaves himself into standing. He comes up behind where Eddie is kneeling beside the dresser and kisses the top of his head so casually that Eddie’s chest aches. For a moment, he wishes harder than ever that the kiss meant more, that it wasn’t just Richie showing affection for one of his best friends, that it was Richie showing Eddie that he loves him, too. A fucking pipe dream, but Eddie wants it, this nebulous thing he can never have: a relationship with Richie, desire from Richie, love from Richie, the kind of love he feels for Richie in return.

“Once you’re finished unpacking, darling, I’ll make up my floor bed,” Richie tells him. Eddie scoffs, brushing aside the way his stomach is hurting to motion broadly at the bed.

“We’ve both fit on smaller beds together recently, don’t be stupid, we’re sharing.” Eddie twists Richie’s socks in his hands, then says, “I really am sorry, Rich. I wasn’t thinking. They were just—” Eddie exhales sharply, then looks down at his fingers, tangled in the fabric. He drops Richie’s socks in the drawer, all balled up together. Richie’s waiting for him to speak, so he chooses his next words carefully. “Anyone would be lucky, you know. To date you. Don’t listen to them.”

He hears the bedsprings creak again. After a moment, he turns, and he finds Richie sitting on the edge of the bed, looking down at him. He’s more contemplative than normal, studying Eddie’s face when they make eye contact.

Richie opens his mouth to say something, then closes it. After a beat, he says, “Gosh, thanks, Eds. Can you write my Grindr profile? I was thinking—”

“Jesus Christ, shut the fuck up, God,” Eddie snaps, whirling back around and shooting to his feet. He slams the dresser drawer shut. “Fucking forbid I say anything nice to you—”

“Thank you,” Richie repeats, a little softer this time. He’s still smiling when Eddie looks back up at him. “I mean it. Thanks.”

They’re quiet, again, and it’s so unlike how they normally are that Eddie’s getting uncomfortable. Luckily, at least, it seems like Richie is, too; he breaks first this time, clapping his hands together and standing.

“Well, let’s knuckle down and get some shut-eye, then,” Richie announces. “Got a big day of side-eyes and thinly-veiled insults ahead of us.”

Eddie’s bedtime routine is meticulous and particular, but Richie knows the ins and outs of it by now, so he just works around Eddie. While Eddie brushes his teeth and washes his face and combs out his hair, Richie stumbles around, yanking off his jeans and pulling on his sweatpants and abandoning his shirt in a heap in the corner of the bathroom. Eddie catches a glimpse of him shirtless in the mirror before he returns his attention to flossing.

Richie sits on the edge of the bathtub and antagonizes Eddie through the end of his routine, while Eddie moisturizes his face and his hands, but it’s the most normal Eddie’s felt since they got here. He’s glad, briefly, for the lock on the door and the walls separating them from Richie’s family.

They stare at the bed, for a moment, before Richie clambers in first. He pats the space next to himself, and Eddie follows, taking the left side. Richie flicks the lamp off, the last light left in the room, and plunges them into darkness; after a moment, he hears Richie’s glasses hit the nightstand. He pulls his own reading glasses off, sets them aside and turns so his back is to Richie. They’re silent, for a bit.

“Still awake?” Richie asks, after a few minutes. Eddie rolls onto his back.

“Yeah,” he says. Richie’s hand smacks into his shoulder before he traces his way down and finds Eddie’s hand, in the darkness. He squeezes it tight, just like they used to do at sleepovers when they were younger.  The dark hides a lot of things, like Eddie’s flushed face and the way he has to scrunch his eyes closed, overwhelmed. Like this, he can almost pretend they are together. He allows himself to have that, for one moment, under the condition that he releases Richie’s hand at the end.

He cheats. He breaks his own rules. He doesn’t let go.

“I’m sorry I dragged you here,” Richie says, and he sounds sad, soft and upset. Eddie rolls onto his side to try and see Richie’s face better in the darkness; he can’t make much out, but he can tell Richie is looking back at him. “This already sucks.”

“I don’t mind as long as I get to be with you,” Eddie tells him. His brain starts setting off a klaxon that says too gay, too much longing, reel it in, but luckily Richie just huffs a small laugh.

“I owe you big time,” he says.

“You don’t owe me shit,” Eddie replies. “I’m happy to be here, dumbass. Now go to sleep.”

Richie laughs more genuinely this time. He turns onto his own side, finally making eye contact with Eddie. They’re barely four inches apart, their noses close together. They’re both on the edges of their pillows; it makes warmth start creeping down Eddie’s spine, towards his dick. He shoves it away, since he’s so well-practiced in it.

“Goodnight, Eds,” Richie whispers. “Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it,” Eddie says. Richie smiles in the darkness. “I’m serious.”

“You got it,” Richie says, and just shuts his eyes, right there. Still just four inches away, still facing Eddie, still with a smile playing on his lips. It’s too much, but Eddie’s can’t fucking look away.

Richie falls asleep first. It’s probably because his eyes are actually closed and he’s actively trying to sleep, as opposed to Eddie, who gives up almost immediately and just watches Richie, for a while. His fingers itch as he stares, prickling with yearning, wanting so badly just to touch him. Richie’s untouchable, as far as Eddie is concerned. Yeah, they’ll hug and high-five and hold hands and wrestle, but Eddie can’t really touch him, not like he wants to. He’s just so far away.

Eddie falls asleep like that, staring at Richie’s face through drowsy and unfocused eyes, pining like a lovesick teenager over his best friend in some stranger’s house in Boston.

Richie wakes up to an alarm on his phone at seven o’clock, grumbling the whole way. Eddie watches blearily as Richie drags himself out of bed and into their joined bathroom.

“Why the fuck are you waking up this early?” Eddie calls through the closed bathroom door. “What’s wrong with you? This is a Christmas vacation—”

“I promised I’d make cinnamon rolls,” Richie calls back to remind him, voice still gruff with sleep. Eddie squeezes his eyes shut and tries to force his cock to soften by sheer force of will before Richie comes back out.

They get themselves dressed and presentable fairly quickly, by their standards, before Richie’s dragging Eddie downstairs to a kitchen he hasn’t been inside yet. It’s huge and completely empty; chrome appliances gleam from every wall, and a gigantic granite island fills the center of the room. Nobody else is awake yet— Or, at least, nobody’s in the kitchen yet, so Richie just starts pulling ingredients out of cabinets like he owns the place and starts cooking. He gives Eddie fruit to chop and leaves him to his own devices.

“Why are you making breakfast?” Eddie asks, attempting to evenly slice a bunch of bananas. He just keeps making triangular-shaped chunks and he’s not even sure how he’s fucking up that badly each time. “What do they do when you’re not here?”

“I actually don’t know,” Richie says, viciously whisking something in a bowl. “I’ve never asked. I used to make breakfast when I was a teenager, though. It was the only thing… Well, I mean, I guess it was the only thing that anyone liked me for.”

Eddie’s quiet for a second, letting his anger seep into his bones, before he says icily, “That’s one up on them, because I don’t like anything about them,” and Richie laughs, even if it’s a little dry. “Seriously. Your family fucking sucks. I thought mine was bad—”

“Yours is bad,” Richie says, eyes down on his bowl. “It’s not a contest, I just—” He exhales, then says, “It’s not that bad. I just want it to be over.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, because it’s Richie’s family and Richie’s decision and, ultimately, he also knows when Richie’s not up for an argument. Right now, he’s just tired and defeated, and all that will lead to is Richie really snapping at him and the two of them getting into an actual fight, which is the last thing they need when all they really have here in Boston is one another.

Richie puts on Spotify on his phone and they listen to one of his playlists while they work. It’s just an eclectic mix of songs Richie likes, but Eddie enjoys it, mostly because all of the songs make him think of Richie. Sometimes, he sickens even himself with how disgustingly in love with Richie he can be.

Eddie’s phone buzzes at the same time Richie’s does, and they both stop to read their messages. It’s the Losers’ group chat, as it turns out, because of course it is, and Bill’s sent them all a message.

Happy Christmas Eve!!, it reads. I hope everyone’s having a nice morning so far. Ben and Bev, have fun in Derry! Richie and Eddie, have fun in Boston!

Richie laughs. Eddie raises an eyebrow at him, but Richie’s already typing away, then hitting send, presumably. Eddie’s phone vibrates a moment later.

do you even read messages before you send them, dipshit denbrough? the message says. Richie grins at Eddie when they look up at each other.

“have fun in Derry, have fun in Boston.” What kind of crap is that?, Eddie adds. Richie laughs out loud and pockets his phone again.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Richie says. Eddie looks up, but Richie doesn’t continue, returning his attention to the oven.

His breakfast tastes great, of course, and his cinnamon rolls are amazing, which Eddie already knows and has known for years. Richie’s family mostly ignores him, through breakfast; they don’t talk much to Richie, either, except to comment on the food or ask about his work, but even that stops when it becomes clear they’re having a hard time relating to stand-up comedian and comedy writer, in a family of dentists and pilots and doctors and all that other shit.

They end up cooking most of the day, too, at the insistence of Richie’s grandmother. Eddie’s more of a helper, chopping vegetables and processing bread crumbs and whisking eggs, but he’s happy to just spend time with Richie, the two of them catching up on parts of their lives that haven’t come up in conversation recently. There’s not all that much, but conversation has always been easy with them.

Richie’s aunts mostly ignore them while they cook side-by-side, making low comments to one another now and then that Eddie can’t hear and Richie seems to be pointedly ignoring. Every now and then, one of them remembers they’re supposed to be dating, but Eddie’s not sure what to do about it. Maggie is making a salad when Eddie’s hand brushes the small of Richie’s back, and the look she shoots him could have killed him, if she was bionic. Eddie wishes fiercely that he could piss her off so bad they finally fight, but she’s not his mother. She’s Richie’s mother, and Richie needs to take the lead, which means Eddie can’t go around picking fights.

Richie smiles at him, though, like the touches are real. For Eddie, the touches are real, but Richie doesn’t know that, and so the looks he keeps shooting Eddie’s way are making his pulse race. He has no idea what they mean, if they mean thank you or this is nice or even stop. He doesn’t think they mean stop, but he thinks this is nice might be pushing it. If Richie was interested, he would’ve said something by now. He’s Richie.

The party, as it turns out, isn’t just Richie’s family. It’s also countless family friends and business acquaintances and other people who run in the same circles as Richie’s grandparents do in Boston, and so when people who aren’t staying in the house start showing up, the two of them get banished with some of Richie’s other cousins to get dressed in nicer clothes and clean themselves up.

“Are there, like…” Eddie starts to ask, then trails off, thinking. Richie’s in the bathroom off their shared guest room, trying to brush his hair so it at least looks like it’s laying neatly. “I mean. Do you have ground rules? For tonight?”

“Ground rules?” Richie asks his reflection. Eddie sits on the edge of the bed, already dressed and ready, watching Richie through the open door to the bathroom. Their eyes meet in the mirror; Richie keeps brushing out his hair, in the next moment. “What do you mean?”

“For— You know,” Eddie says, because saying for our fake dating ruse out loud seems sort of absurd. “Like. How am I supposed to act with you?”

“Just act normal,” Richie tells him. He looks back at Eddie over his shoulder with a grin. “People always think we’re dating anyways, I don’t think we need to put all that much work into it.”

Eddie’s heart throbs. People do always think they’re dating, and it fucking sucks. He wasn’t sure what Richie thought about it, the fact that everyone seems to think they’re together, the fact that his family just seemed to accept that, easier than they even accepted that Richie was gay to begin with. He wonders what it means. Does it mean he’s doing a bad job of hiding his feelings? Does it mean Richie has feelings? What vibes are they putting off? Are those vibes normal? Are people catching on? Do—

“Earth to Eddie, come in, Eddie,” Richie says. He returns to their bedroom without his hairbrush and spreads his arms. “What do you think, lover?”

Eddie’s brain short-circuits at the low, sultry Voice that Richie puts on to say lover, so he falls back on his default vitriol and says, “You look like Gumby in a suit.”

“Be still, my beating heart,” Richie tells him. Eddie doesn’t know how to tell Richie that he looks amazing, that he should leave his hair alone and let it curl because it looks better that way, that the broad stretch of his shoulders and the long lines of his body in his deep-red sweater and his black “formal” jeans make Eddie feel the way no other person can make him feel, that Richie is somehow the standard that Eddie judges all other partners by, even though he’s gangly and messy and loud and chaotic. He’s Richie; that fact alone turns Eddie on whenever he looks at him.

Richie with his square jaw and his long legs, though? Wearing nice clothes that fit him well? Pulling his hair back in a neat half-bun out of his eyes? Grinning at Eddie like he’s the only person in the world?

That’s just fucking unfair.

“You look good, too,” Richie says, after a beat. Eddie stands and smoothes out his button-down, adjusts his blazer on his shoulders. Richie reaches out, shifts his lapels for him before laying them down. His hands stop there, flat against Eddie’s chest. He must be able to feel Eddie’s heart pounding, and he must notice the way it speeds up the longer they stand there, but neither of them says anything. For the first time in a couple of years, Eddie thinks wildly that Richie might kiss him.

He doesn’t, though. Just like last time Eddie thought he might, and the time before that, and the time before that. It’s only ever wishful thinking, and Eddie really only has the one wish.

The party’s in full swing, when they go back downstairs. Eddie resolves to stick close to Richie’s side for the entire time, or at least as much of the time as possible. Richie had warned him that the place would be packed, and that he probably wouldn’t even know most of the people there except by face. Richie slips an arm around his back, lets his hand rest at the small of Eddie’s back to guide him through crowds, and it makes Eddie hot all over. He’s glad he has the party to blame his flushed face on, if it comes to that.

People stare at them. People stare at them a lot, actually. So much so that Eddie starts to get very nervous, rather than his constant normal low-level state of perpetual worry. Richie squeezes him on the shoulder, takes his hand and promises they’re fine, but they’re really not fine. Eddie can tell they’re not fine.

“I thought Massachusetts was super liberal,” Eddie whispers. Even if he’s not actually dating Richie, he is actually gay, and the looks they’re getting from most of Richie’s family and some of the guests are as familiar as they are terrifying.

“Not these guys,” Richie quietly tells him. Some guy in an obnoxiously ostentatious suit starts making their way over to them, so Richie turns Eddie sharply and drags him over to the dessert table. Richie grabs them two glasses of champagne from the end of the table while Eddie busies himself with food. He keeps his head down and makes sure Richie stays in his peripherals.

The only food he cares to take is food Richie made, so he ends up with some of Richie’s pie, his cake, and ice cream that Richie insists he take. Richie guides him to a window seat, almost hidden in an alcove, so they can eat their stash in peace.

“Who was that?” Eddie asks. Richie’s dejectedly pushing a piece of pie crust around in the little melted puddle next to the ice cream on his plate. He sighs.

“Just some friend of my grandfather’s,” Richie says. Eddie hasn’t actually spoken to Richie’s grandfather yet, a huge old man who hasn’t said two words since they got here, but he doesn’t strike Eddie as the warm or snuggly sort of grandfather.

He feels a bit like he’s going in blind, but it is sort of the blind leading the blind, at least, since Richie similarly seems to have no idea how to interact with anyone. They finish their desserts in hiding before returning to the party; Richie snags them more champagne as soon as he can.

“Fuck it,” Richie says, drinking half his glass in one go. Eddie sips at his, watching a group of fifty-something-year-old men glance in their direction before pointedly laughing with one another. “They already knew I was gay. Tozier family open secret. Honestly, there’s so much worse in this family, they just don’t want to fucking talk about any of it.”

Richie says the last part a little too loudly, and a couple of his cousins glance over at them. One of them narrows his eyes, and Eddie watches him, but Richie just keeps talking, unaware of the attention he’s pulling as he’s talking to Eddie.

“They already knew,” Richie says again. “This isn’t a surprise. I mean, maybe you’re a surprise, but you really shouldn’t be. Fucking— Besides, I said when I moved out that I wanted to be true to myself, and—”

“Richie,” Eddie interrupts nervously. A few more people have started listening to him. Richie doesn’t stop.

“They invited me,” Richie says, “so if they want me to leave that bad, they can just fucking ask me.”

“Oh, is it that easy?” one of Richie’s cousins asks. He’s about their age, maybe twenty-five years old. Eddie’s pretty sure he was introduced as Jared this morning at breakfast. “We didn’t think to ask since we assumed you just weren’t gonna come back again.”

Richie sighs before he turns. “Go fuck yourself, Jeremy, I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Jeremy (not Jared, apparently) snaps back. Eddie’s already feeling himself tense up, ready to spit out the first words that come to his mind at Jeremy, but Richie puts a hand on his shoulder. When Eddie looks up to him, Richie shakes his head.

“He’s always been an idiot, don’t bother,” Richie says.

“What the fuck did you say?” Jeremy demands. He and Richie face off in tense silence for a second before Jeremy continues, “Did you call me a fucking idiot, Richard?”

“Richard,” Maggie admonishes, finally overhearing and getting involved. Eddie wants to punch someone now more than ever. “Can you behave, please?”

“He is behaving,” Eddie shoots at her. “It—”

“Eds,” Richie says.

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Eddie snaps.

“He fucking showed up,” Claire says, sipping from her own champagne glass. Eddie doesn’t knock it out of her hands and send it smashing to the floor, but it’s a close call. “That’s enough.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Eddie says, and it’s loud, but they’re past the point of keeping this quiet. “Fuck this! All he does is put up with all of your bullshit. He came down from fucking New York to be with you jackasses, even though all you’ve done is fucking sneer at him—”

“Eddie, it’s okay,” Richie tells him, at the same time Jeremy mockingly repeats, “Sneer?”

“Oh, go fuck yourself,” Eddie snaps at Jeremy. “You fucking degenerate—”

“Hey!” Kathy exclaims.

“It’s fine! It’s okay!” Richie shouts over her. “No big deal! Everything’s fine!”

Eddie’s so angry he’s shaking, but Richie’s trying to smooth things over and it’s his fucking family, so Eddie just snaps his jaw shut so hard his teeth hurt.

“It is a big deal,” Maggie says. “It’s a huge deal, Richard. Why did you come? Just to— to flaunt this in our faces, what?”

“This?” Richie repeats incredulously. He’s the only one talking, now. “What do you mean, this?”

Nobody says anything, for a long beat. Then, Maggie says, “Obviously I mean this,” and motions towards Eddie. Eddie feels like his brain whites out in the next moment, enraged, but Richie puts a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t speak, just lets Richie go instead, reminding himself over and over that it’s not his place, it’s not his place, it’s not his place—

“I don’t care what the fuck you think about this,” Richie says. “I don’t know if you mean Eddie or if you mean the fact that I’m gay at all, but I’ve got fucking news for you, Mom. It’s not fucking changing.” Richie spreads his arms, then shouts, “This is it! This is your son! Take me or leave me, but I’m sick of fucking pretending for you. I’m sick of it, I’m done.” Richie drops his arms, looks to Eddie.

“Richard,” Richie’s grandmother says. Everyone turns to look at her, Richie and Eddie included. “What are you doing?”

“Coming out, I guess,” Richie announces. “I just— I have people who love me for me. I don’t fucking need this.” He glances back to Eddie, then says, loud enough for everyone to still hear, “Eddie was right. Fuck this.”

“Richard, apologize,” Richie’s grandfather says. It seems so deeply authoritative, coming from him, especially with the way everyone silently looks to Richie to see if he’ll obey. Richie doesn’t do anything, for a long moment, before he shakes his head.

“No. Fuck this,” he repeats emphatically, before he storms out of the room. Eddie lingers for a moment, looking everyone over, his hands still shaking with rage.

“Fuck all of you,” Eddie spits. “You don’t deserve him.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, turning and running out after Richie. There are quick footsteps that Eddie can hear going up the staircase two at a time, so he follows them until he finds Richie in the open doorway of their bedroom. For a moment, Eddie pauses in the hall, but then Richie sticks his head out the door.

“You coming? I want to lock it,” Richie says. Eddie jogs in, and Richie does lock the door behind him, after a semi-nervous glance around the empty hallway.

“Are you okay?” Eddie asks. Richie grabs his suitcase and starts shoving clothes into it. “Hey. Richie, talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Richie says. “I shouldn’t’ve come. I’m sorry I dragged you with me, I knew this was a mistake—”

“Don’t apologize,” Eddie tells him. “Rich, we can leave if you want, it doesn’t matter to me. But it’s not your fault.”

Richie stops, looking down at the shirt in his hands. He’s still in his nice sweater, his dark jeans, his shiny shoes with only one scuff on them; his hair is still up, and something about looking at him like this, all handsomely put-together for people who don’t even give a shit— It all just makes Eddie violently protective over Richie.

“I’m sorry,” Richie says again, and Eddie starts to tell him not to be sorry again when Richie starts to cry. It’s just quiet, for a second, his shoulders shaking and his eyes closing, his face still turned down towards the shirt twisted up in his long fingers. He shakes his head, and a tear slips down his cheek and drips off his chin, and Eddie’s lungs hurt.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Eddie tells him. He goes to him, hands fluttering uselessly before they settle on Richie’s cheeks. Framing Richie’s face, looking up at him like this — It’s almost like they’re going to kiss; Eddie’s heart is already racing like that’s what’s going to happen, even though it won’t happen now. Or ever, it seems. Richie’s eyes are still squeezed shut, so Eddie strokes a thumb along his cheekbone. “Hey, don’t cry— Well, if you need to cry, that’s fine, it’s— I mean, it’s okay— I don’t want you to cry—”

Richie huffs a wet laugh. “You’re gonna hurt yourself, Eds.”

“It’s gonna be okay,” Eddie tells him. Richie shakes his head again, so Eddie pulls him in to hold him, hugging him tightly and rocking him back and forth a little bit until he calms down enough to stop crying. His arms come up around Eddie, holding him tightly in return; after a while, he buries his face in Eddie’s hair.

“Sorry,” Richie says softly, once his breathing evens out.

“Don’t be,” Eddie repeats. “I promise. I’m not upset with you. I wish you’d let me yell a little more, actually. Or punch your cousin. Or your dad—”

“Slow down there, killer,” Richie says. He pulls back, finally, and Eddie feels so cold and empty without him. He usually feels that way when they’re not touching, but today it’s worse. All he wants is for all of it to be real. He wants them to be really dating, and he wants Richie’s family to be happy for him, and he wants them to live a nice, normal life.

You don’t get that, a voice whispers in the back of Eddie’s mind. You don’t get a nice, normal life. You get space clowns and you get homophobia and you get to be in love with your best friend who doesn’t love you back. Fuck you, Eddie Kaspbrak.

Eddie exhales shakily and thinks, viciously, fuck you, too, I can have anything I want.

After a moment, he adds, Except Richie, because that’s the only thing he knows he can’t.

“I feel sick,” Richie says after a moment. He sits down heavily on the edge at the foot of their bed, dropping his head into his hands and rubbing at his temples. “Fuck. I shouldn’t’ve drank.”

“Do you want to go back to New York?” Eddie says, because now that he’s processing, he’s launching into planning mode. He pulls his reading glasses from his pocket and takes out his phone, opening his browser. “I can book us a flight or maybe a train, just give me a few minutes.”

“I don’t know,” Richie says into his hands. His voice is muffled as he pulls the elastic out of his hair and runs his fingers through the curls to loosen them. They fall around his face as he takes a deep breath. Eddie makes himself look away. “Maybe. It would—”

There’s a knock at the door. They look at each other in silence for a long moment before Claire’s voice says, “I know you’re in there, fuckhead. Open up.”

Richie blanches, but he gets up and unlocks the door.

“What are you doing?” Eddie hisses. “Don’t let her in.”

“She won’t go away until I do,” Richie says, sounding exhausted. He opens the door and asks, flatly, “What do you want?”

Eddie hears the sharp, stinging slap of skin against skin, and then he’s shoving in between Richie and Claire without even thinking. Richie looks stunned, his hand hovering over his cheek, and Claire is trying to shove past Eddie, looking infuriated, still with a glass of champagne in the hand she didn’t just use to hit Richie.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Claire snaps. “You just had to show up and ruin everything, is that it?”

Richie doesn’t answer, still looking a little shell-shocked. Eddie’s angry enough for both of them, though. Fuck, he’s mad enough for ten of them, his hands fucking shaking, and he shoves Claire backwards into the hallway.

“Don’t you ever touch him again,” Eddie says. His voice sounds empty and cold even to his own ears. Richie’s still silent and unmoving behind him. “Ever. Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Claire shoots right back. “He’s my brother, back the fuck off.”

“He’s my—” Eddie starts to say, then stops. Then, he remembers, and finishes, “—my boyfriend, so— So you back the fuck off—”

“Shut up,” Claire groans. “You’ve always been so fucking annoying.”

“Stop,” Richie says. “Hey, don’t talk to him like that—”

“Why did you even come, Richard?” Claire finally snaps. They’re all silent for a moment.

“Grandma asked me to come,” Richie says, after a long beat. It doesn’t sound anything like his normal tone; he sounds distraught, and, when Eddie turns briefly to look at him again, his face has gone all red and his eyes are wet behind his glasses. Eddie’s head snaps back around to look at Claire.

“Get out,” Eddie says, stony.

“She’s not gonna fucking ask you again, I’ll tell you that much,” Claire shouts over Eddie’s shoulder.

“I’m not going to come back,” Richie tells her. He’s not shouting, but he’s in some strange, emotionless tone that sends shivers down Eddie’s spine. “This— Fuck.”

“Good,” Claire says.

“I’m done,” Richie tells her. Claire looks like she’s going to say something else, but Richie said he was done, and so Eddie slams the door, locking it all over again. He does it as noisily as he can, too, so Claire knows he locked it. The two of them stare at each other, just for a moment, before Richie makes a soft sound. He shakes his head, looking away; Eddie steps closer and puts a gentle hand on his chin, carefully tipping his face down.

“I don’t think she broke the skin,” Eddie murmurs, surveying the bruise on his cheek. It’s shaped almost perfectly like Claire’s hand. Eddie wants to smash something, but he forces his voice to stay steady as he says, “I’m going to go get a washcloth, though.”

“Why?” Richie asks. Eddie lets his chin go, but Richie doesn’t straighten up; he stays hunched, shoulders pulled together, leaning down into Eddie. Eddie pushes a curl of hair behind Richie’s ear before he can help himself, but then he makes himself step back so he doesn’t accidentally do it again.

“I’m gonna soak it in cold water, that should stop any swelling,” Eddie tells him. Richie doesn’t respond, so Eddie goes, running the water as cold as it will go and wringing out the washcloth so it won’t drip down Richie’s shirt. When he goes back into their room, Richie hasn’t even moved. Eddie steps closer hesitantly, then says, “Richie?”

“Mm?” Richie looks down at him, then says, “Oh, sorry. I zoned out.”

“It’s okay,” Eddie tells him. He guides Richie into sitting on the edge of the bed and holding the cold, damp washcloth over his cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Richie says again.

“It’s not your fault,” Eddie repeats, pushing Richie’s hair back from his face. “I’m sorry. You deserve so much better than this.” After a beat, he says, “You can press charges on Claire if you want, you know. She assaulted you.”

“That’s nothing,” Richie says. He tips his face into Eddie’s hand and smiles up at him. “They’d laugh if I tried to press charges after just that.”

Eddie holds Richie’s face in his hands for a second before pulling away. “I’m going to pack our stuff. You just stay there, okay?”

Richie nods and doesn’t move as Eddie starts pulling his stuff together. He’s got Richie’s bag packed when there’s another knock at the door.

“Fuck off, Claire,” Eddie calls through the door without stopping.

“It’s Amy,” a different voice responds. Richie gets up and unlocks the door himself, opening it before Eddie can even ask. There are three young adults standing in the doorway. One of them holds up a bottle of rum.

“Sorry about that,” the one holding the rum says. Her voice is different, so she’s not Amy. “Aunt Maggie sucks.”

“You said it,” Richie says. He stares at them for a second before the one with the rum shakes the bottle a bit, sending it sloshing.

“Can we come in?” she asks, and Richie steps back.

Eddie’s introduced to three of Richie’s cousins (Amy, who knocked; Michaella, with the rum; and Roland, who doesn’t speak) whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years, but they’re all friends with him on Facebook. They brought two bottles of rum, one bottle of champagne, and a few joints; they smoke with the windows shut, spiteful. Eddie doesn’t even fucking care about Richie’s grandmother anymore, because she didn’t try to help them at all. The way she had said Richie’s name is still echoing in his ears, so he can’t imagine how Richie feels.

Crossfading is maybe not his best idea, but it’s clearly Richie’s goal. He lays on the floor and looks at Eddie, mostly, while he’s laughing with the cousins he doesn’t know all that well. Eddie keeps finding himself looking to Richie, though. He realizes, just a little bit, that he might always be looking to Richie. That’s pretty much his gauge for a response when he’s not sure: just follow whatever Richie’s doing. If he’s laughing, smile; if he’s angry, find out about what and start arguing. Richie’s his guiding light or true north or whatever other stupid shit.

His cousins leave, after a while. Then, it’s just Richie and Eddie sitting on the bed, propped up against the headboard and twisted onto their sides, laughing about pretty much nothing. Eddie’s just listening to Richie talk, watching him gesture, observing the curve of his mouth and the way his hair brushes his shoulders when he moves. He’s long since rolled up his sweater sleeves, and even his forearms are doing things to Eddie. It’s sickening.

“What do you think?” Richie asks, but Eddie hasn’t been paying enough attention. He doesn’t know what he thinks, but he knows he’s fucked up and a little dizzy and stupid in love with Richie.

“I think you’re great,” Eddie tells him. Richie smiles down at him, then pulls Eddie into his side, one arm draped across his shoulders. Eddie drops his head on Richie’s chest, his ear pressed in over his heart. He can hear Richie’s heart pounding, fast and hard behind his ribs. For a moment, he shuts his eyes and just listens.

“You’re pretty great, too, Eds,” Richie says. “I meant about Chicago.”

Eddie’s heart stops. “What about Chicago?”

“You’re such a lightweight,” Richie tells him. He shifts and waits until Eddie looks up at him. “Pay attention. My friend Alex from undergrad, who lives in Chicago. Remember him?”

“Yes,” Eddie says, feeling terrified of whatever sword of Damocles is dangling over him right now.

“He said I could come stay with him, try shit out there,” Richie says. He’s obviously repeating it, but it’s the first time Eddie’s heard it. His blood is rushing in his ears. The party going on downstairs has dulled to a background hum, and his own head is filled with static. “Eds? Are you okay?”

“I just— You want to leave?” Eddie asks. His heart’s racing so fast, it’s a wonder he doesn’t go into cardiac arrest.

“I don’t want to leave,” Richie says. “It’s not leaving, it’s just— I don’t know. Trying something new. I keep doing the same old shit, Eds, and it’s not getting me anywhere. I need somewhere I can start fresh, somewhere where I’m not already—” Richie cuts himself off, sounding frustrated. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying, I’m sorry, I’m talking out my ass—”

“No, no, wait, what do you mean?” Eddie asks. He sits up, planting one hand on Richie’s chest to hold him in place. He pins him with a glare for good measure and says, “Somewhere you’re not already what?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Richie says. “I’m just saying shit, I’m not thinking straight.”

“Me neither,” Eddie tells him. Richie’s heart starts speeding up, under his hand; without thinking, Eddie digs his fingers into Richie’s chest. Richie inhales sharply.

The two of them just stare at each other. Richie’s heart is pounding under Eddie’s palm now, and the sound of Richie’s breath is still trapped between them. Eddie wants more than anything to lean in and kiss him, and the sound Richie just made makes it seem like he wants it, too, but they’re also fucked up and Richie’s probably sad and it’s not a good idea—

“Eddie,” Richie says, so softly, softer than any time he’s ever said it before. Eddie can’t stop himself from leaning in and kissing Richie just as softly in return. He can’t come up with enough reasons it’s a bad idea, not while his head is all clouded like this, and he’s still panicking at the idea of Richie moving away from him (forever, he’s leaving forever, he’s leaving you), so he can’t help but kiss him a second time, just moments after the first.

Richie moves, this time, chases after Eddie when he pulls back. He flips them, pins Eddie into the mattress and licks into his mouth. He tastes like rum and smoke and champagne and sugar, and he sighs every now and then so he can catch his breath without breaking the kiss entirely. It’s everything Eddie’s always wanted. He doesn’t know what it means— if Richie is just drunk, if it’s something more than that, if he’s maybe just asleep or in a coma— but he’s going to take every second until he loses it.

Eddie drags his hands down over Richie’s chest, holds his waist before he grabs his hips, deepening the kiss, and Richie responds in kind. His huge hands are hot and seemingly everywhere, sliding up Eddie’s sides until he’s cupping his face and dragging him in for another kiss when Eddie pulls back. Richie moans into his mouth, and Eddie rolls his hips without thinking.

“Oh, holy fuck,” Richie says against Eddie’s lips, their skin brushing. Eddie smiles, tipping his head to the side slightly, letting their noses brush. Richie kisses him again, hungry. His hands start fumbling for Eddie’s pants, trying to tear his belt open, but Eddie’s brain short-circuits. He’s in fucking love with Richie, and— and making out with him is one thing, but if they get their hands on each other and they have sex and Richie still leaves? If Eddie thinks for one second that he can have Richie, and Richie tells him he doesn’t feel the same way, and then he moves to Chicago and Eddie’s all alone? That’s it. It’s over. He’ll lose his fucking mind, he just— he can’t do it.

“Rich, Richie, stop,” Eddie says, even though it’s the last thing he wants. Richie pulls back, digs his head into the pillows to frown up at Eddie. “I just— I want to make sure we’re on the same page, I don’t want you to misunderstand what I—”

“Eds, get off me,” Richie tells him. Eddie feels his own face crease, his eyebrows drawing down as he opens his mouth to start arguing, but then Richie says, “Eddie, now,” and so Eddie does. Richie lurches away from him, tosses open the guest room window and vomits out into the snow. For a beat, Eddie’s completely bewildered, watching Richie’s back as he heaves into the snowy air. The wind slices across his face, then, and wakes him back up.

“Shit,” Eddie says. He shuts his eyes and breathes for a second, wills himself not to get sick, too, before he goes over to Richie and leans into his space. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy,” Richie mutters. He leans his forehead down against the windowsill and exhales raggedly. “Sorry. I just got dizzy.”

“It’s okay.” Eddie falls quiet, rubbing slow circles into Richie’s back while they stand in the open window. He shivers, when another sharp wind cuts through him, but he doesn’t want to break the silence; the only thing he can think of to say is asking Richie if they are are on the same page, if Richie wants this as much as he does, but Richie doesn’t seem well-equipped to answer him, since the first time Eddie asked, he immediately threw up.

“I’m sorry,” Richie repeats, after a couple of silent minutes. He stands up straight and shakes himself out, squaring his shoulders. “I’m good. I’m sorry.”

Eddie looks up at him, the two of them silent for a moment. His face hurts, a little; his skin is raw from the burn of Richie’s stubble across his cheeks and his chin, and his lips are swollen from the force they’d used, and Richie doesn’t look any better off.

“Richie, I…” Eddie starts to say, then stops. Richie’s still pasty, all pale and sweaty, so Eddie instead says, “You should get some sleep.”

Something flashes across Richie’s face, and he nods, finally turning away to close the window. He slips out of Eddie’s hands as he does so; that makes Eddie feel colder than he has all night, even though the wind has been shut out now.

“If you want me to sleep downstairs, I can,” Richie says, not facing Eddie as he pulls the blinds down and twists them closed. “I just mean— because of the bed—”

“Don’t be stupid,” Eddie tells him. He pushes away from the wall, digs out Richie’s sleep shirt and his toothbrush and some antacids for him and says, “Get yourself straightened out first. I’ll go after you.”

Their nightly routines go in silence tonight, even though less than twenty minutes ago they’d both been crossfaded and giddy and making out on the guest room bed. Eddie stares down at his hands while he listens to Richie brush his teeth twice. When he comes out of the bathroom, his face is flushed and damp, his hair curling along his temples, wet with water.

“All yours,” Richie says, before he collapses in bed, curled into a ball. Eddie hesitates for a moment, unsure of the right move. After a long beat, he goes into the bathroom with his bag, then shuts and locks the door. He sits on the closed toilet seat lid, his head in his hands, just breathing. He tries not to think of fucking everything up, of going back out there and having Richie never talk to him again; instead, he tries to think of going out there and having Richie hold his arms out, pulling him in and kissing him and telling him he loves him, too, that he’s always loved him and that it’s silly that they’ve never said anything.

One situation seems more likely than the other. Eddie takes a shower to cover up the sounds of his wheezing panic attack until he’s able to get himself back under control. By the time he returns to the guest room, though, his own hair damp and drying, Richie’s curled up on his side, eyes closed, asleep. Eddie sighs.

He takes his own side again, but he faces Richie. It can’t hurt, since Richie’s already asleep, to just look at him a little while longer. Especially if he’s going to move away and leave him behind.

Richie’s more relaxed, in sleep; his eyebrows aren’t pulled together and he’s not talking, even if he does have a tendency to mumble when he’s really deeply asleep. Eddie enjoys watching him, just for a while, before he shuts his own eyes. He can’t fall asleep, not right away, so he hears it when Richie softly says “Eddie.”

Eddie’s eyes snap open, but Richie’s still asleep. He stares at him, waiting, but nothing else comes. After a moment, Richie sighs, then turns around, burrowing his face in his pillow. Eddie’s frozen, waiting for Richie to open his eyes and catch him, but it doesn’t happen. Richie settles back in on his stomach this time, one arm curled up under his pillow, and Eddie just keeps watching him.

It takes a few minutes, but Richie’s brow furrows slightly and he says, “Eddie,” again, with almost no warning. He makes a soft groaning sound, so Eddie reaches out, lays his palm along Richie’s cheek. Richie settles, so Eddie pushes his luck, stroking his thumb under Richie’s eye. He still doesn’t wake up, and so that’s how Eddie falls asleep, with his hand holding Richie’s face, hoping that he’d be there when they woke up the next morning.

When Eddie wakes up, Richie’s still asleep. They’ve shifted at some point during the night so Richie was turned over again, his back to Eddie, but they’ve also both migrated closer, huddled together in the center of the bed. Eddie’s curled up around Richie, his face buried in the center of his broad back, their legs tangled together.

He waits as long as he can, absorbing the warmth and comfort of the moment as if he’ll never get to have another one like it, because he’s pretty sure he never will. When it gets to be too much, though, he gingerly extricates himself and goes to their tiny adjoined bathroom to throw cold water in his face and brush his teeth until the sharp mint makes him forget his own name.

By the time he heads back out, Richie is half-dressed, stumbling blearily around their room. He grabs a shirt and beelines past Eddie as soon as he sees he’s out of the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind himself. Eddie stares at the closed door, his palms starting to sweat. Tentatively, wishing the earth would swallow him up, he knocks on the door.

“Rich?” he asks. “You good?”

“Yup,” Richie calls. “Just getting ready, I’m good.”

There’s silence, then the shower starts running. Eddie gives up, goes to his bag to start pulling out clothes. After a beat, he realizes he has no idea what they’re doing.

“Rich, are we leaving today?” Eddie asks through the door. “Or do you still want to go to dinner?”

“I don’t want to go,” Richie calls back, over the sound of the water echoing through their bathroom, slamming off the tile. “But I feel like we should. We came all the way out here.”

“Don’t take me into account, I don’t give a shit,” Eddie tells him. There’s silence, and then the water squeaks off. A minute later, Richie opens the bathroom door again, one towel around his waist while he shakes his hair dry with another.

“We can always go and leave if it goes bad,” Richie says.

“When it goes bad,” Eddie amends.

“Pessimist,” Richie tells him, shutting the door. “Get dressed.”

“You get dressed,” Eddie calls back. He carefully unpacks his powder-blue sweater anyways; it doesn’t fit him properly, but Richie has complimented it twice, so Eddie considers it one of his nicer sweaters.

Once he’s dressed, he doesn’t know what to do. Richie’s still in the bathroom, and the longer they go without talking about last night, the more restless Eddie becomes. He sits on the bed, for a while, then gets up and paces. He calls his mother and wishes her a merry Christmas, endures her passive-aggression and promises again to visit soon. That only kills a few minutes. Richie’s still not back.

Eddie starts to spiral, a little bit. Richie’s not saying anything, which means he doesn’t have anything good or nice to say, or he would’ve said it already. So, he must have to say something bad, something that will upset Eddie, and Eddie knows he’s pretty much an open book. He’s fairly certain Richie has found him out, that he’s thought about it now that they’re sober and realized Eddie is too much, that this can’t happen. He must be in there trying to figure out a way to let him down gently, he’s hiding, because there’s no way he’s still— brushing his hair, or whatever. He’s hiding.

Sitting down heavily on the edge of the bed again, Eddie drops his face into his hands. He exhales all at once, breath harshly punching out, before rubbing at his temples. When Richie comes out of the bathroom, he’s cleaned and put-together and damp. He still doesn’t say anything. Eddie wants to explode, but he won’t say anything. Saying something means Richie will answer, and if Richie answers then the floodgates are open, and once they’re open Richie will let him down gently, and Eddie will cry, and Richie will move to Chicago, and they’ll never see each other again—

“Hey, Eds,” Richie says, as he’s pulling his socks on.

“We should probably go down there soon,” Eddie replies, all in a rush. He doesn’t dare look at Richie, doesn’t even let him say another word before he’s heading for the door to the guest room. He can’t take it if Richie tells him he doesn’t want him. He’s spent so long keeping his secret to avoid exactly that.

“You forgot your glasses,” Richie says, sounding confused. Eddie doubles back, scoops his glasses off the nightstand without lifting his head. Richie catches his wrist, but Eddie pulls it free in one swift, fluid movement. They’re both silent, for a second. “Eddie—”

“Don’t,” Eddie says, hand on the doorknob. He stares down at his knuckles, white under his skin from how tightly he’s gripping the brass knob. “I can’t— Not now. We can talk about it later. After, I mean.”

Richie doesn’t say anything, and Eddie squeezes his eyes shut. He waits for the inevitable, for Richie to rip the bandaid off and tell Eddie he doesn’t want him. The next two days will be miserable, then, if Richie wants to stay; they’ll have to share a bed and a room, and Eddie doesn’t know or like anyone else here, but he’ll have to stay at Richie’s side, knowing that Richie doesn’t want him and that they can’t be together—

“Fine,” Richie says, cutting off Eddie’s internal meltdown. Eddie hears the bedsprings creak as Richie stands again. “We’ll talk later.”

Eddie opens the guest room door, and Richie pushes right past him without so much as a glance in his direction. Eddie’s whole heart sinks to the pit of his stomach, but he follows Richie anyways, sticking behind him like a shadow nailed to his heels.

Nobody talks to them, when they get downstairs. It’s already eleven, and their big Christmas “dinner” is supposed to start soon, even though the room is insanely tense with them in it. Richie doesn’t talk to anyone. He just sullenly takes an armchair and stays there. Eddie tries to find them an appetizer or something, but Richie won’t eat it.

They’re ignored during the dinner, too. The bruise on Richie’s face seems even more prominent, once Eddie looks at Claire again and remembers how he got it, so he’s not even willing to help smooth anything over. Instead, he follows Richie’s lead, the two of them sitting in silence, flying under the radar as conversations instead happen around them.

“If you want to leave after dinner, we can,” Eddie says softly, when it seems like nobody is paying them any attention at all. Richie’s just been pushing the same forkful of mashed potatoes around his plate for the last few minutes, and he doesn’t stop when Eddie speaks. “I don’t mind.”

“It’s fine,” Richie says shortly. “We can just leave tomorrow like we planned.”

“What?” Eddie asks, confused. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Richie says. He shoves the forkful of mashed potatoes in his mouth and says around it, “I’ve already got a flight to Chicago booked for tomorrow. Exchanged my ticket on my phone.”

Eddie feels like ice water floods his veins. He had been about to admonish Richie for chewing with his mouth open, but all that comes out instead is, “You— Wait, what?”

Richie shoves his plate away and looks at Eddie. A couple of cousins glance over, then look away. They’ve been pretty strongly ignored for over an hour now. Richie glares at Eddie, pale, eyes bloodshot. He looks like a mess, this close up.

“I can’t go back to New York,” Richie says, sounding exhausted and maybe— angry? Maybe angry. Eddie’s skin feels clammy. “I don’t— I can’t.”

Eddie’s starting to get angry himself, his cold blood running hot. He can feel his hackles rising but he can’t stop himself from snapping, “Fine, then don’t.” He shoves his chair backwards and stands. After a beat where everyone stares at him, probably wondering why the two of them haven’t fucking left yet, Eddie gathers the absolute last of his resolve and says to Richie, quietly enough that only he can hear and steely enough that he won’t cry, “If you didn’t want me, you could’ve just fucking said it.”

He leaves without waiting for an answer, which was the exact right call, because he’s only just through the doorway when the back of his nose starts to prickle and his eyes burn. He darts up the stairs of a house that doesn’t belong to him or anyone he knows, fully intending to pack his bag and call a Lyft and just leave. He’ll just figure it out at the airport. It’s not worth staying here.

Richie comes in when Eddie’s zipping his bag shut. He doesn’t say anything for a beat before he says, “Eddie, don’t go.”

“Why not?” Eddie says, jerking the zipper closed with more violence than necessary. “What am I doing here?”

“Celebrating Christmas?” Richie ventures. Eddie levels him with a glare, then tosses his carry-on bag over his shoulder and grabs his suitcase.

“Move,” Eddie says.

“No,” Richie replies, planting himself in front of the closed door. “I’m sorry if you’re mad. I don’t know why you’d think I don’t want you. I kissed you—”

“I kissed you,” Eddie hisses, “and this morning you ignored me.”

“Hey, you didn’t bring it up, either,” Richie snaps, and this is what Eddie was pushing for. He knows how to fight with Richie if he knows how to do anything. “What the fuck was I supposed to say? ‘Hey, Eddie, you know how we made out and then I almost threw up in your mouth? What’s up with that?’”

“It would be a fucking start,” Eddie spits. “You didn’t say a fucking word, and you ignored me all dinner—”

“Because I’m hungover as fuck and I was trying not to literally vomit onto my plate, Eds,” Richie cuts him off. Eddie glares at him.

“All you have to do is say it,” Eddie says, because he can’t draw this out. He can’t keep arguing and hearing Richie’s excuses, hearing all the ways he tries to get around saying I don’t want to do this with you, I made a mistake.

“Say what?” Richie demands. “Because you’re being pretty fucking vague, Eds.”

“Don’t call me that,” Eddie says, desperately. Richie can’t just call him Eds right now, not like this.

Richie just stares at him, though. He looks like he wants to say something, then reconsiders. He shakes his head, but doesn’t move.

“I don’t want to keep lying,” Eddie says quietly. He’s not even sure what he means, but once the words go past his lips, his floodgates are open. “I can’t keep lying and I can’t keep secrets, Richie, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this, I can’t— I just—”

“You can’t,” Richie says flatly. Eddie stares down at the floor, his eyes burning, trying desperately not to cry. “You can’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eddie snaps. “I know you won’t—”

“Hey, fuck you, you don’t know anything,” Richie shoots back. Eddie grabs the handle of his suitcase.

“Fuck you,” Eddie says. “Move.”

“No,” Richie tells him.

“Fucking move,” Eddie snaps.

“Your flight isn’t until tomorrow,” Richie says. “Sit down.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Eddie shouts, blood boiling. He drops his carry-on bag on the floor and says, “You have no fucking right, Richie—”

“What do you mean?” Richie asks desperately. His voice breaks on mean, and his face is all red like he’s going to cry. It makes Eddie’s throat feel tight, and then tears are spilling down his face. Once Richie sees them, he starts crying, too; he sounds choked when he says, “I feel like we’re speaking two different fucking languages, Eddie. Just tell me what you mean.”

Eddie shakes his head, looking out the window, his jaw set. He clenches his teeth together just to keep from shouting again, because he doesn’t fucking like being like that. He doesn’t like shouting or being angry or fighting with Richie. He actually fucking hates this.

“I just—” Eddie says, then stops. He shakes his head again, then says, “Leave me alone.”

Richie starts to say something, but Eddie spins on his heel and goes into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind himself and locking it. Richie knocks, but Eddie doesn’t respond. After a beat of staring around the room, he climbs into the bathtub and presses his forehead to his knees, just trying to calm his breathing. His mind is already catastrophizing, spiralling out of control, telling him that Richie hates him now, that he’s going to Chicago and never coming back, that they’ve fucked up everything and this is so much worse than if he’d never said anything at all.

Eddie’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He takes a deep breath before pulling it out, fully expecting it to be from Richie. Instead, it’s his group chat with Bev, Bill, and Mike. Bev’s texted eddie, honey, are you okay?, and Bill immediately followed up with do you need anything?

Did Richie text you?, Eddie sends back. There’s a beat where no messages come through.

Maybe, Mike replies. Eddie shuts his eyes, leaning his head back. He doesn’t fucking get it. Richie’s one of his best friends, yeah— Probably his best friend, actually, and the love of his life, and his favorite person in the world, but that’s neither here nor there— but they’re also actively fighting. Richie has no real reason to be asking other people how he’s doing when they’re a room apart, mad at each other.

what happened? Bill asks. Eddie doesn’t reply right away.

Richie and I kissed last night and he wasn’t talking about it today. And then he told me he wants to go to Chicago, Eddie sends. It takes him a moment, but then he sends a second message: I’m in love with him but I don’t think I can do this anymore.

No messages come through for a full minute and a half. Eddie’s palms get slick as he starts to spiral again, deciding that he’s ruined their entire friend group and destroyed all their dynamics and everything is his fucking fault—

just tell him, Bev sends. Eddie frowns down at his phone. It buzzes again with another message from Bev; this one says, keeping secrets isn’t sustainable. just talk to him and figure it all out. it’s going to be okay, it’s just richie. he loves you. it’ll be fine.

Eddie finds that incredibly fucking hard to believe. All he wants to do is fly back to New York with Richie, sit him down, and tell him they can just pretend nothing happened and move on with their lives like they never went to Boston. He can fix it all, he just needs to get them out of here.

see you tomorrow, Eddie sends, before taking his phone off vibrate, putting it on silent, and slipping it back into his pocket. After a moment, he drags himself up into standing. There’s a beat where he wonders how difficult it would be to shimmy down the pipe outside the bathroom window before he decides he’s not in a romantic comedy, nor is he in a murder mystery, and so he should not be shimmying down anything on the side of a building.

Instead, he goes back out into the guest room. Richie’s sitting on the bed, his phone in his hands, and his head snaps up when Eddie comes in. He’s still crying, his eyes all red-rimmed and his cheeks tear-stained. The two of them stare at each other.

“I just want to go home,” Eddie says. He sounds tired even to his own ears. Maybe even fucking defeated, which almost makes him laugh a humorless laugh, because defeated is the exact right word for what he’s feeling. He had, stupidly, been holding onto a shred of hope. Saying nothing to Richie meant he never said yes, but he never said no, either. It was the thrill of not knowing; they had the chance for a yes. That’s gone, now, and Eddie feels completely deflated, scooped hollow and empty. Everything feels like it’s over. He really just wants to go home.

“We can go home,” Richie tells him.

“Well, you’re going to Chicago, so,” Eddie says. “No, we can’t.”

“Are you mad that I wanted to go to Chicago?” Richie asks. “Is that why you’re upset?”

“I’m upset because you want to go,” Eddie tells him, as close to the truth as he can manage without losing Richie forever. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Richie starts crying again, tears slipping from both of his eyes at once as he says, “You’re not losing me, Eds. You can never lose me.”

Eddie wraps his arms around himself and shakes his head, looking away. The late afternoon sun is setting outside, glinting off the snow; a glare catches him in the eye, and he frowns, attention slipping down as he starts to cry, too.

“I can’t,” Eddie says quietly. He shakes his head, then says, “I can’t do this—”

“Can’t do what?” Richie asks. “Eddie, please—”

“This!” Eddie explodes. The air in the room is so thick, so tense, that he’s surprised his exclamation doesn’t make the oxygen all explode and blow the window out. He motions vigorously between them with both hands and desperately says, “I can’t do this, Richie.”

Richie’s crying becomes hiccupy and fast, like he’s freaking out, and he says, “You— Then why the fuck did you kiss me?”

“Because I love you,” Eddie tells him. He feels like his ribs get ripped open and his heart gets torn out as he sobs and says, “Fuck, I love you so much it hurts, and I can’t— I can’t do it like this, I can’t— I can’t—”

Richie goes to him, pulls him into his arms and holds him while Eddie cries. Eddie tries to shove out of his grip, but Richie tightens his hold, burying his face in Eddie’s hair.

“I was going to Chicago because I thought it’d be good to leave you alone,” Richie confesses. Eddie stops moving entirely, freezes in Richie’s hold, terrified to move and break the moment and have Richie stop talking. “I’m in love with you, Eddie, I— I didn’t— I thought you just wanted to make out! I can’t— I can’t do casual with you, Eds, I can’t—”

“You’re—” Eddie starts to say, then stops. His heart is beating so fast, he feels he’s about to vomit it onto Richie’s shirt. He’s almost dizzy. “What?”

“I’m in love with you,” Richie tells him again. He pulls back and says, “You meant you were in love with me, right? Not like, just— Uhh, like, how you love Bev? Because—”

“I’m in love with you,” Eddie says in a hurry, like it’s his last chance to say it. “I’m in love with you, too, Richie, I’ve been in love with you for so long, why didn’t you say anything, what the fuck is wrong with you—”

“Slow the fuck down,” Richie interrupts him. “Plus, you idiot, you didn’t say anything, either.”

Eddie’s buzzing, his hands shaking as he reaches up to cup Richie’s face between his palms. Richie looks just as freaked out as he does, and Eddie’s caught between holy fuck, it’s Richie Tozier, this is Richie Tozier, I’m going to kiss Richie Tozier, and fuck fuck fuck I’m in love with him I’m going to kiss him fuck fuck fuck, but Richie takes the first move, ducking his head down to press a close-mouthed kiss to the corner of Eddie’s mouth.

When Richie draws back, Eddie frowns. They’ve both still got tearstains on their cheeks, and Richie’s even still crying a little, but Eddie says, “What the fuck kind of a kiss was that?” anyways.

“I didn’t know I was going to be fucking graded,” Richie says, grinning down at him like he just can’t stop. “What’s wrong with the way I kiss?”

“You missed,” Eddie tells him, before cradling the back of Richie’s head in his hand and guiding him down so they can kiss properly. It’s only seconds before Eddie’s guiding Richie’s mouth open, licking behind his teeth, clawing Richie closer, driven entirely mad by the fact that he’s not only apparently allowed to have this, but that Richie wants it just as bad as he does. He’s disoriented and dizzy; at the same time, though, he’s happier then he’s ever been, so happy his chest feels like it’s going to burst. He can’t even process that this is happening properly.

“Holy fuck,” Richie says when he pulls back, before Eddie drags him back in. He walks Richie backwards, pushes him back against the bed until he’s laying flat on the mattress, looking up at him. Eddie puts his knees on either side of Richie’s shins, surveying him from his kneeling position before he drops down onto his hands, too, and climbs up Richie’s body, turning his face into Richie’s chest as he goes. He can feel Richie’s heart pounding against his cheek through his sweater; he takes a moment there to breathe before continuing.

When he gets to Richie’s throat, he bites it, then kisses the mark. Richie makes such an interesting, deep sound that he has to bite him again, and again, a trail of teeth-shaped bruises all the way up to the hinge of Richie’s jaw. He slides across to Richie’s mouth, kisses him again so hard that Richie moans down his throat.

“Lock the door,” Richie says hoarsely. Eddie climbs off the bed and nearly trips to do as he says, but he manages it before he’s slipping back onto the bed and reaching down in between them, his hands scrabbling at the buttons on their pants. Once he finally gets the fastens open on both, he reaches into Richie’s and pulls his dick out, running his thumb over the head. Richie jerks into the circle of his fist, exhaling sharply.

“You’re big,” Eddie comments. Richie laughs desperately.

“The better to—” Richie starts to reply, but Eddie catches him in a kiss before he can finish speaking. He kisses him hard, opens his mouth and slips his tongue inside and moans softly as he does it so that Richie will moan, too. After a few strokes, he pulls his own dick out, too; he wraps his hand around both of them, then uses his other hand, too, because he can’t get all the way around both of them with just one.

“Jesus,” Eddie says softly, before he strokes upward on them both together, an experimental twist at the end. His head drops forward into Richie’s shoulder as Richie exhales all at once, the breath shooting out of his lungs.

“Oh, fuck,” Richie says. Eddie strokes down, then up again. Once he’s started, it feels too good to stop, and it’s been so long, it’s been years that he’s wanted this, and he can feel his orgasm building in the base of his spine. Richie’s hips are twitching up into him, one hand knotted in Eddie’s hair; at least Eddie knows they’re both close to the edge.

“I love you,” Eddie tells him again. He has a brief moment of fear, where he’s afraid he’ll never be able to do this again, and so he says, “I’m so in love with you, Richie, please—”

“Eddie, fuck,” Richie murmurs, his head tipped back into the pillows as he comes in between them, getting cum all over Eddie’s hands and their sweaters. Eddie releases him and wraps a hand around himself, but Richie bats him away, saying, “No, wait, let me—”

Eddie releases himself just so Richie can take him in hand, sitting up and stroking Eddie so hard and so fast that it’s over barely a minute later, Eddie dropping his head against Richie’s shoulder again to catch his breath. While he’s panting, trying his best to get enough oxygen in so he doesn’t die, Richie pulls him in and hugs him.

“This is disgusting,” Eddie says into the hug. He can feel Richie’s softening cock on his thigh; their sweaters stick together slightly when they pull apart. “Oh, God—”

“I don’t want to go to Chicago,” Richie says in a rush. “I want to stay with you. I only wanted to leave because I— I don’t know, I couldn’t take it anymore, being with you but not with you, I thought— I thought maybe if I left, I could move on, but I— I don’t think I can.”

“Leave?” Eddie asks.

“Well, yeah, but that’s not what I meant,” Richie tells him. “I meant I can’t move on. Not from you, Eds.”

Eddie feels tears come into his eyes again, embarrassingly enough, so he ducks his head back down and burrows into Richie’s arms again. He ignores how disgusting it all is, this time, in favor of closing his eyes and just listening to Richie’s heart. It’s still pounding, but it’s steadying, and it drowns out the dying sounds of dinner downstairs.

When he finally can’t ignore the cum on their sweaters anymore, Eddie peels them apart and takes the clothing to wash in their bathroom sink. When he gets back with the damp clothes, spot-cleaned with hand soap and warm water, Richie tells him, “There aren’t two tickets to New York today or tomorrow out of Logan.”

Eddie frowns, draping Richie’s sweater over the post at the end of the bed. “There’s not one?”

“No,” Richie says. “They already sold my seat, there’s nothing left on your flight back or any flights back.”

Eddie frowns before grabbing his own phone, which is how he and Richie end up leaving Richie’s family Christmas party in Boston a day early in a rental car without telling a single soul they were going. They just leave Richie’s family behind and take a Lyft to an Enterprise Rent-A-Car near the airport, where Eddie finds them the car he’d called ahead to rent, and Richie hops in the driver’s seat, and they set off back for New York.

They only stop once, at a shitty diner for coffee, before they make out in the back seat of the car in the parking lot. It’s only after that that they get back on the road, but that’s after nightfall, and the traffic’s diminished a shitload, so the rest of the ride is pretty easy riding. By the time they get into the city, Richie actually stops, pulling over to look at Eddie.

“Where are we going?” Richie asks. “I wanna know where I’m driving. Am I dropping you off at home, or…?”

The or…? hangs in between them for a moment before Eddie says, “Yeah.”

“Yeah?” Richie echoes.

“Yeah,” Eddie repeats. “I choose or.”

Richie grins at him before pulling back out into the street and zipping through a left turn to bring them on the route to Eddie’s apartment building. They pull up outside, park along the street, and sit in silence.

“I love you,” Richie says. Eddie smiles, looking down at his hands tangled in his lap, trying to stop himself from grinning too widely like a dumbass.

“I love you, too,” he replies. He can see Richie moving in his peripheral, so he turns to look at him just as Richie presses a kiss to his forehead. Eddie stops, then shuts his eyes, exhaling carefully. Richie pulls back.

“God,” Eddie whispers, eyes still closed. He unbuckles himself just so he can get up on his knees in his seat and cup Richie’s face in his hands over the center console. He kisses his forehead, too, then pulls him in closer to kiss the top of his head, his temple, his cheek. He doesn’t stop until Richie’s laughing and yanking at him, trying to kiss him properly again.

“I love you,” Richie says again. They kiss, and he repeats, “I love you, Eddie—”

“Shh,” Eddie murmurs. “I love you, too, but you’re making it too fucking hard to kiss you, shut up—”

Richie has to break them apart, because Eddie’s getting difficult about the center console in between them. Eddie lets him, if only so he can see Richie slide across the hood of the rental car, yank Eddie’s passenger side door open, and haul him out by the wrists. He laughs, tucking his face into Richie’s chest; after a moment, Richie pulls back, tipping Eddie’s face up to kiss him again. The snow swirls around their faces, and Eddie shivers.

“Get in here,” Richie says, and Eddie assumes he means the building, but then Richie’s opening his jacket and pulling Eddie into it with him. Eddie grins into Richie’s sweater, his arms tucked up underneath to press against his bare back. Richie yelps, then says, “Eds, fucking shit, your hands are cold—”

“It’s your fucking job to warm me up, dickwad,” Eddie snaps at him. Richie ducks down to kiss him again, pulling his collar around their faces when he deepens the kiss so their faces won’t freeze. Eddie warms up pretty quickly, after that.

Even though Eddie distinctly remembers falling asleep mostly on top of Richie, with Richie’s face buried in his hair and his arms wrapped around him, their legs tangled together, Eddie’s hypoallergenic comforter shoved down around their hips somewhere—

Even in spite of all of that, Eddie wakes up alone. He frowns, lifting his head and rubbing at his face, trying to remember if Richie had said he’d needed to be anywhere. He’s only a few moments away from panicking over it. There’s a clatter outside his bedroom door, then, and Eddie grabs his glasses off his nightstand so he can properly squint in the direction of the sound.

Richie’s head pops in the slightly ajar doorway. When he sees Eddie’s awake, his whole face lights up, and he nudges the door in with his knee. He brings in two plates of pancakes and sliced bananas from Eddie’s kitchen, exclaiming, “Ta-da! I’ve provided for you!”

Eddie huffs a laugh, rubbing his right eye with his fist when Richie drops himself at the end of the bed. “You’ve provided for me?”

“To prove I’m a good provider,” Richie explains. “See, I got you food.”

“We’re not hunter-gatherers, Rich, I know how to go grocery shopping,” Eddie tells him. Richie sets their plates aside on the bed, ignoring Eddie’s hands nervously twitching towards them in fear that they’ll spill. “What’re you—”

“I can provide for you,” Richie says, sounding abruptly serious despite the strange absurdity of his statement. Eddie can’t help but smile. “What? I’d be a great boyfriend, Eddie, c’mon, look at what—”

“What?” Eddie interrupts him. Richie looks down at him, catching Eddie’s face between his hands and smiling.

“I said I’d be a great boyfriend,” Richie repeats. When he doesn’t continue, Eddie snorts.

“Well, if that’s all you’ve got to—”

“Be my great boyfriend,” Richie says, then amends to ask, “Will you? Be my—”

“God, yes, stop, stop talking,” Eddie cuts him off, sitting up to kiss him properly again. Richie tries to push him back against the bed, but Eddie screams about the pancakes and all but shoves Richie onto the floor, so they reprioritize the order of their morning activities.

“What’s my name doing all over your calendar in pink?” Richie asks, when the pancakes are gone and the sheets are on the floor and he’s smoking lazily in Eddie’s bed. Eddie feels his face burn. “Oh, is it a romantic reason?”

“Shut up, it’s not,” Eddie insists, lying through his teeth. “Pink was the only color I had left when I needed to write your stuff—”

“But I do have my own color?” Richie asks. Eddie kisses him again just to stop him from asking any more embarrassing questions, and he’s never been happier than he is when it works.