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This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)

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Eddie watches as the tokens slide through the slot, one by one, and hopes counting them will make the time go faster. There’s really no use - he’s here another three hours. No amount of petty distraction will make this day any better. 

He looks up to watch the train arrive. The station is relatively empty for the morning of Christmas Day. Eddie would know - this is the third Christmas Day he’s worked in a row.

Ever since his mom died, his supervisor, Donna, has always asked him to work, citing his lack of family, friends, anyone in his life who cares about him and, well. She doesn’t exactly put it like that, but Eddie knows it certainly doesn’t slip her mind while she’s pleading for him to take over because Henry’s kids each have pneumonia. 

It’s not like he really minds. There’s nothing else he would be doing today, other than maybe watching It’s a Wonderful Life on television and cuddling with his cat. Lucy always plays hard to get, but he knows she loves the attention. And besides - he hopes he can chance a Prince Charming Sighting. That would really make working on Christmas worth it.

Ever since he started at the CTA, he’s found people to focus on. It’s really creepy, and he knows it, but it makes things a little more bearable in the day-to-day. Plus with all of the genuine ill will he’s seen human beings deal out to each other, something about giving them little backstories helps the empathy flow a little easier. Sometimes Eddie wishes he could spin a backstory for himself that’s a little less pathetic. But that’s real life: never ends up how you imagine, and unfortunately, you can’t imagine yourself out of it. 

Eddie’s lost in memories of dropping out of school, thoughts on what might have been, how in a different reality he may have been spending Christmas wrestling his husband for the remote while Lucy sat in her own chair, watching the chaos grumpily, when a relatively short brunette walks through the gate in front of him. 

He’s wearing a long coat. It looks warm and practical, and Eddie’s heart swoons. It’s the same coat he’s been wearing since late November, when the wind really started kicking up, and it’s not the same one as last year. Eddie wonders if it was a gift from a partner or maybe just a friend, and then Eddie rolls his eyes at himself because seriously, what the fuck

He’s had dumb, hollow crushes on people he’s seen before - it tends to happen when you see the same trail of people in and out, to and from work, in the morning and the evening like clockwork. But no one has quite grabbed Eddie’s attention like this guy. 

They’ve never spoken - sometimes the cute brunette guy smiles at him, and Eddie’s tongue suddenly feels very large in his mouth and he reaches for his inhaler. He hasn’t used it in years, and he’s usually able to calm himself enough to remember he never even really had asthma, it’s anxiety, and then he thinks of his mother, and everything spirals from there. 

But today. Today is Christmas. Maybe that makes the difference between polite silence with a smile and actual, audible words. Eddie’s brain is far too slow to consider such options before Prince Charming is sliding his token through the opening in the window in front of him, smiling wide (god, his teeth are perfect), and saying, confidently:

“Merry Christmas.” 

Eddie chokes on air, and he’s not sure if his tongue is bigger this time or if he’s actually choking, but the guy is gone before anything comes out of his mouth. Not that he’s capable of words. Eddie just watches as a pair of shoulders and a great head of hair walks away from him. 

There goes Eddie’s chance at a husband to cuddle with next year.

Then he hears raised voices down the platform. 

“Hey, man, calm down,” Prince Charming says, his voice steady, but Eddie gets off his stool and peeks out the side of his booth. There’s a huddle of three men, all standing around Prince Charming. A couple of them are pushing at his shoulders, and Eddie moves to walk out of the booth without even thinking. 

Eddie’s not a strong man, not really a big man, he’s average height and he works out, but he’s always been useless in a fight. He still flocks to the sound of this one, not necessarily because of his crush, but mostly because it’s fucking Christmas, no one else is here, and maybe the adrenaline rush from finally hearing Prince Charming’s voice is making him a little braver than normal. 

“Hey-” Eddie starts, not sure where he’s going to go from here, but one of the taller guys gives Prince Charming a particularly hard shove. His arms fly up, flopping in the air, and Eddie sees a glimpse of his scarf before he’s a blur on his way down to the tracks. 

Eddie’s heart stops - this hasn’t happened to him before. He’s heard a few stories about people falling on the tracks, but they never end well. He looks desperately at his watch - 8:58. Fuck. There’s a train coming any second. 

The three guys immediately flee, running right past Eddie, but he barely notices. His eyes are stuck on the ledge over the track, hoping Prince Charming will suddenly appear, hop up and go, “Ha HA! Got ya! I grabbed onto the ledge while falling like a fucking action hero, cause I’m hot as shit!” 

But he doesn’t.

Eddie runs to the edge to see him lying across the tracks, a large, bruising, red bump on his forehead from where he must’ve hit the ground. Then Eddie sees the train approaching. 

He doesn’t fucking think, for all his cowardice in life it doesn’t matter in this second when he has to make a snap decision, so he lunges himself onto the tracks and climbs over top of Prince Charming. There’s no time to try to shake him awake, he’s not going to fuck around and get hit by a train, there’s already a high chance of them dying together, so Eddie figures he should give it his all. He holds tightly to the lapels of Prince Charming’s jacket, and fuck, he smells like soft aftershave and cinnamon, but then Eddie’s real brain kicks his dick out of the way and he uses all his weight to roll the both of them over to the left, under the ledge, out of the way of the train. 

The moment lasts two seconds and also a full hour. Eddie’s had plenty of panic attacks and attacks that felt like asthma and he ran track in high school after he figured out he wouldn’t die from it, but he’s never felt his heart racing like it does while he waits for the train to finish passing. Even out of the way, Eddie’s still convinced he’s going to die. The electricity, the speed, an errant piece of debris could fly out and tear through the both of them and then what would people think? 

“A Christmas Quickie Gone Wrong: Two deviant men found dead, cuddling under the ledge of the Brown Line yesterday.” 

Just as the last car is passing them, Prince Charming makes a snuffling noise and Eddie freezes, still pressed on top of him. He’s suddenly aware of every single place they’re touching, and Eddie thanks the brutal Chicago cold - there’s no way he could pop a boner when it’s this freezing. God, he fucking hates himself. 

The man opens his eyes for a moment and looks directly into Eddie’s eyes. Eddie’s mouth hangs open. He tries to smile, but he doesn’t think he achieves it. Instead, he swallows and says:

“Merry Christmas.” 

The guy passes back out without a word. 

It’s still not cold enough to stop Eddie from blushing. 

**

“He’s alone in there, who cares about fucking codes-” Eddie finds himself yelling at a perfectly nice nurse who has simply told him when visiting hours are and that they are over. He’s not sure why the anger is swelling in him so deeply, but something about leaving this guy alone, on Christmas, after he’s been pushed onto dirty train tracks, seems inhumane. 

“I don’t know what to tell you. You’re not family. I’m sorry, sir.” Her voice is calm, and that somehow annoys Eddie more. 

“Can you at least tell me if he’s going to be okay?” 

She fixes him with a glare and brushes a piece of hair out of her face. He stands, hands on his hips, and she doesn’t look away. 

“Okay, fine,” he says, and turns toward Prince Charming’s room. 

Eddie’s heart is still pounding in his chest. His fingers fidget with the edge of his brown jacket and he remembers he has to take it to the dry cleaner’s sometime soon. It’s the one thing he has left of his father’s and he’s always taken good care of it. He sighs. 

“This is homophobic,” he says, under his breath, because it fucking is, even if no one knows he’s gay, just because this situation is ridiculous and he likes to blame straight people any chance he gets. They constantly make his life difficult - why shouldn’t this be their doing, too?

A hand falls on his shoulder and Eddie barely stops himself from screaming. He turns to see another nurse, this one blonde, with a tight smile on her face. She’s got a small name tag that reads “Patricia.” 

“Come with me,” she says, and starts walking toward Prince Charming’s room. Eddie follows because she seems to know what she’s doing, and he’s not going to start questioning the rules when he’s getting what he wants. That’s a fool’s game. 

They turn the corner into a small room, and there he is, looking peaceful and pale in the bed. Not that Eddie knows much about him, but he’s usually got a good amount of color in his cheeks, and his hair is a bit bouncier, and dear god, he’s pathetic. The nurse stands there with Eddie for a moment while they stare at the man on the bed. 

“They’re not very… understanding here,” she says, quietly. Eddie nods. He has no idea what she’s talking about, but he’s glad to know this guy is okay, even if this is highly inappropriate. 

Actually, this is fucking horrible. What is he doing here? Who the hell does he think he is? Just because he jumped onto the tracks for this guy, who he hardly knows, who he’s just been covertly watching from the booth of a train station for months, doesn’t mean he deserves to be here. Eddie has no idea what’s wrong with this man in the bed, and it’s highly unlikely anyone will tell him, but he could wake up any minute. Eddie would probably scare him, and that’s the last thing he needs after waking up in a strange hospital on Christmas Day. 

Eddie’s hands start sweating. He wipes them off on his pants, hoping Patricia won’t see, but the flow isn’t stopping and he’s pretty sure he’s going to melt into a puddle of anxiety any minute. 

“I think I should probably-” he starts to say, when a wave of people begin to pour into the room.

“What the fuck, oh my god,” a red-headed woman cries as she comes in, ignoring Eddie in the corner and heading right to the bed. “Bill, oh my god!”

Bill. His name is Bill. Huh.

The redhead perches on the edge of the hospital bed and clasps Bill’s hand in hers. Behind her trails in three men, all focused solely on Bill. One of them, with a darker mop of blond hair and muscular thighs, comes up behind the redhead and leans his hands on her shoulders. He looks to Patricia, standing in the corner with Eddie. 

“Is he going to be okay?” he asks, and his voice is low and sweet. His eyes are turned up in concern, and the redhead looks near tears. The other two men move to the other side of the bed, bracketing Bill in between all four of them. Eddie wonders if they’re all related or something. They don’t really look alike, and one of the other men is black, but they all seem to have some sort of connection. 

The nurse nods slowly. “Are you all family?” she asks, shifting her eyes toward Eddie for a moment and then back to the group. 

“I’m his editor, but yes, this is. Uh. It’s the closest to family you’re gonna get,” the curly-haired white man says. Patricia seems to take this as an acceptable answer. Then again, she let Eddie in here, so he’s not sure she’s got a great judge of character. 

“He fell off the train platform onto the tracks. He hit his head pretty good, he’s in a coma, but the doctors seem optimistic.” 

“Is there a doctor we can talk to?” Bev asks, and Eddie watches as the man crouched over her nods. 

“Yeah, of course, I’ll go get one,” Patricia says, and then leaves, and then suddenly Eddie finds himself with four sets of eyes laser focused all on him. 

“Do you work here or something?” Bev asks, and he wonders if she’s some sort of authority among them as the rest wait for him to answer. 

“Oh, uh. No,” Eddie says, stumbling, and immediately he wants to disappear. There’s no way he can explain why he’s here or who he is. “I’m Eddie,” he says, hoping that will suffice.

It doesn’t. They all stare at him until a doctor appears a few seconds later.

“Hi folks, I hear you’re the family I should talk to,” she says. They all nod.

“I’m Beverly, this is Ben,” she says, pointing to the man behind her. “That’s Mike and Stan. We’ve known Bill a long time. We’re his friends.” 

“Yeah, when he feels like talking to us,” the curly haired one mumbles, Stan, apparently, and Eddie feels caught in the middle of something that isn’t his business. 

“Okay, well. Anyway,” the doctor says, clearly feeling the same way, “We’re hoping for the best here. It’s basically a waiting game.” 

Bev exhales heavily, her eyes red and tired. Ben wraps an arm around her shoulders and squeezes. Mike’s hand goes to the nape of Stan’s neck and pulls him into a hug. Eddie’s heart clenches. They all seem so close. God, Prince- Bill is a lucky guy. 

There’s a beat of silence until the doctor looks to Eddie.

“Didn’t you come in with him?” she asks, and Eddie blinks. His heart had finally slowed down, but it picks up with a vengeance as everyone turns to look at him again. 

“I, yes. I was at the train station- they-”

“Didn’t you pull him off the tracks?” the doctor says before he’s able to finish, and Eddie nods. 

Bev gasps.

“You saved his life? Are you fucking kidding?” 

Eddie clenches his fist. That wasn’t exactly what happened, he was just being an idiot, didn’t want someone to get hurt. He didn’t really think about it in those terms. 

“I guess I-” 

“How do you know Bill?” Mike asks, and Eddie sputters. 

“I don’t really-”

“He’s his partner,” the nurse, Patricia, says, and Eddie’s whole body goes cold.

Wait. What the fuck?

“You two are together?” Mike asks, looking down on a wordless Bill in bed. 

“Oh my god, I-” Eddie starts, but no one seems to be listening. 

“Yeah, I mean, I thought…” the nurse tries, but the group of friends are already all atwitter. 

“He hasn't been telling us anything, how were we supposed to know?” Bev is saying, all quiet and frantic, her eyes wide with confusion. 

“I don’t understand, I don’t get how this could be possible,” Mike says, to no one in particular. Stan is just standing in the corner by himself, shaking his head back and forth. Eddie knows the feeling.

He wants to say something, to bust in through the cloud of noise that’s swallowed up the room, but no one is listening, so instead he locks eyes with Patricia to mouth, “what the fuck??” She just watches him, and while the noise swirls around both of them, he grabs her by the arm and leads her out into the hallway before turning on her.

“What the fuck?” Eddie says, but out loud this time.

“Yeah, you said that. What?” she asks. Eddie wants to hate her, but she looks so sweet and innocent. Her scrubs are covered with cats and she’s not wearing a ring and suddenly he feels a weird, single kinship with her. But she’s still single-handedly trying to ruin his life.

“I’m not his partner! Who told you that?” Her jaw drops. 

“No one! I mean, you did!” she says, pointing at him. Eddie throws his hands up. He can’t believe this. 

“Unless I fucking blacked out somehow, I think I would remember telling you we were together. If I did, I might need to get my head checked, too. Actually-” 

“They wouldn’t let you into the room, and then I heard you say something was homophobic, and I guess I just assumed-”

“Oh my god, that he was my boyfriend?” 

“Well-”

“Fuck. Holy shit! No! He’s not! I haven’t had a- anyway, that doesn’t matter, he’s definitely not my boyfriend! I was talking to myself. Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening to me.”

Eddie chances a look back into the room and sees a flurry of conversation still happening. He has a little longer before anyone notices he’s gone. He looks to the elevators and considers running. It probably wouldn’t come back to haunt him. No one knows him here, these people won’t see him again, and if he slips out quietly then Bill will never know the difference. Eddie will just quit his job, leave the country and never be heard from again. This is why you make no connections in life. It makes it that much easier to leave in haste when a sweet nurse mistakes you for the boyfriend of a coma patient and then his friends show up and demand explanations.

But then Patricia is taking him by the arm again and he’s back in the room just in time to hear Bev say:

“I’m so sorry, Eddie. We should have known. Bill’s gotten famous in the last year or so with his fancy-ass books and we’ve all sort of lost touch. He was supposed to come to Christmas tonight, I’m sure he was going to tell us about you.” 

Her eyes are so soft and sweet, Eddie is immediately drawn in. There’s something about her that catches the words in Eddie’s throat.

“I don’t know if-” he tries, but then Bev’s sweeping him into a hug. 

“We’re so glad you were there to save him. I can’t imagine if we hadn’t- it’s just been so long-” she says, sniffing against his collarbone, and Eddie wraps his arms around her on instinct. She’s warm and solid and he realizes with a start that it’s been a long time since he’s hugged someone. He pulls away, feeling awkward, but she holds him there with a hand to his chest. “It’s good to meet you.” 

Eddie smiles. What a mess.

Ben approaches behind her and grabs at Eddie’s arm. “Welcome to the group, Eddie.” 

Stan and Mike come to stand on either side of Ben and Bev. Stan’s lips are spread into a tight smile. Mike’s smiling too, but his eyes still droop, looking sad. Then again, his friend is in a coma. That would make anyone upset. 

“Thank you?” Eddie says, then gives it one more shot. “I don’t think you guys should-”

“You need to come to our Christmas party tonight!” Bev says, her eyes lighting up, and Eddie almost chokes again. Her arms are still clinging to him, settled right at his waist, and everyone is staring at him with kind eyes, and Eddie’s heart feels full and panicked all at once. 

“Oh, no, you don’t have to-”

“Nonsense,” Bev says, stopping him, and Eddie feels fit to burst with things unsaid. “You’re part of our group now, we call ourselves the Losers, I’m actually really sorry to bring you into this, Eds,” she says, and he jolts at the nickname that rolls so easily off her tongue. No one’s ever given him a nickname before. “But I guess it’s really Bill’s fault, and since he’s not awake he can’t fight me on it. Wow, this might actually be the best thing that’s ever happened.”

Ben smacks her arm and she grins.

“The-The losers?” Eddie asks, and Ben chuckles quietly.

“Long story,” he says, then turns to smile at Eddie. “We can tell you tonight.” 

“Yeah, and you can tell us how you and Bill met,” Mike says, an edge to his voice. Stan rolls his eyes. 

“You can meet Richie, too,” he says, and Eddie swallows. Another one? “He and I will be insulting each other while I get drunk and these ones celebrate their Christian holidays.” Stan gestures around at the rest of the group.

“Oh,” Eddie says, assuming that means he’s Jewish. “I don’t know, I’m not-”

“It’d be nice to have a new face there, especially considering. Well,” Bev says, stopping to take a shaky breath. Her hand is still on his arm. “We can all be together, just in case we get any news,” she finishes, and Eddie’s heart just about breaks. 

He looks around at all of them, watching him hopefully. He feels like he’s losing his mind, but their friend is in a coma, it’s Christmas, and there’s no way he can burst their bubble now.

“I guess I can try to make it,” Eddie says. Everyone cheers. 

The doctor shushes them, but they ignore her, and Eddie tries not to throw up as they gather him up into a giant group hug. 

**

As soon as Eddie gets back to his apartment, he rips off all his clothes and jumps in the shower. It’s been a long day, he’s rolled around on literal train tracks, and he’s told so many lies he’s not even sure who he is anymore. 

They had pummeled him with questions while they all sat in the waiting room, but he knows that will be nothing compared to tonight. A fucking Christmas party? What the hell is he thinking? He could barely cobble together enough information to answer simple questions about how he met Bill, how long they’d known each other, how he knew Bill was “the one.” 

“I guess it was love at first sight,” Eddie had said, body trembling from the effort of the lie, “He smiled at me one day and I just… knew.” 

Bev had sighed like she was watching the end of a romantic comedy, so Eddie felt like he at least nailed that one. And it did have a kernel of truth to it. 

As soon as he dries off and picks out an outfit for tonight, a blue sweater and khakis, he makes the mistake of sitting on the couch to take a breather. Lucy is on him immediately, and it isn’t until he looks down at the layer of cat hair on his pants that he realizes he’ll need to change again before he heads to Bev and Ben’s house. 

Then he realizes he’s out of his damn mind. 

He’s been in a whirlwind of alternate realities since he heard yelling on the platform. The rush of a literal life or death situation left him reeling, and then he got swept up in stupid camaraderie. Maybe it was the swell of Christmas or the fact that everyone looked at him so lovingly despite barely knowing him, but now he’s stuck. He spent three hours with everyone at the hospital and now he likes all of them, like, genuinely likes them. And he thinks they might actually like him, too. They all laughed as they got to know each other, and Eddie found himself actually caring and wanting to know more about them. 

Bev and Ben run a business together selling furniture from estate sales. They’re thinking of getting a dog but they can’t agree on what breed (Bev just wants a mutt and Ben wants a golden retriever), but Bev insists it’s all just “foreplay for a kid.” They live in a house in the suburbs that they use as their gathering place, that’s where the party is tonight. 

Stan is Bill’s book editor, (Bill is a big-time writer, or at least a medium-time writer, he’s published three novels so far and the last, released in March, actually sold well and got him on a few talk shows), he is indeed Jewish, and with the combination of he and Richie (who was visiting his sister in California but should be home in time for dinner tonight, and he’s funny, that’s the simplest way anyone could really describe him, “he’s very funny, or at least he thinks he is”), the group has a Christmas party at the beginning of the season and a Hanukkah about a week after New Year’s just to keep the celebrations going into January. According to them, it’s less about being inclusive and more of an excuse to get drunk together more often. 

Mike works at a university library and everyone says he’s the smartest in the group. Mike is quiet around Eddie, but he still seems kind. There’s a wall up between he and Eddie that isn’t there with anyone else, and Eddie feels nervous around all of them, but Mike keeps fixing him with this look. Eddie smiles through it, and Mike never really says anything rude or unsavory, so Eddie assumes he’s just imagining it. 

All of them are bright and generous and look past his flubbed answers on his history with Bill and just trust him, which is part wonderful and part devastating, since Eddie is deep in a hole of lies. He’s dug it himself, and now he’s staring at the sides, hundreds of feet tall with no chance of making it back out alive. 

This is why he has no friends. His mother was right all along. He’s just not friend material. 

Eddie shuts his eyes and takes a breath. No need to focus on his mother right now. That will just make things worse. Ever since she died things have been a little more steady, a little easier. But it also left him lonely. Having a cat is a gift, but some nights he just wants to laugh with someone. Have someone to tell stories to. Have someone hold him like Bev did at the hospital. 

But this isn’t that. This isn’t real friendship. They just feel guilty that their friend wasn’t truthful with them, which coincidentally, makes it that much easier to let this whole charade fly. So really, Eddie thinks, this is all Bill’s fault, like Bev said. If he were honest with his friends, they’d know he doesn’t have a boyfriend, and that that boyfriend certainly isn’t Eddie, and they would have kicked him out of the hospital room with a few angry words and let him get on with the rest of his sorry little life alone.

Instead he’s caught in a gay soap opera and two hours away from attending the most awkward Christmas party of his life. 

**

“I don’t think the party will meet you out here,” says a voice, and Eddie turns from where he’s spent the last ten minutes alternating between staring at the address on the piece of paper Bev wrote out for him and up to the big house that bears the same numbers. Stan shifts next to him on the sidewalk and huffs a strained laugh. 

“Oh, yeah, sorry, I, uh.” 

“You’re nervous,” Stan says, like he’s sure. He’s not wrong. 

Eddie nods. “Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s probably it.” 

Stan rounds on him, placing himself between Eddie and the sidewalk up to the front porch steps. 

“It’s a lot. Bev doesn’t really think about social shit, she just likes everyone,” he says, then adds, “no offense. You seem fine.” 

Eddie quirks a brow. It’s such a neutral thing to say, but from Stan, it sounds like a compliment. 

“Thanks, uh. It’s just been. It’s been a long day,” Eddie says, like that could possibly sum up the difference between this morning and right now. It feels like he’s lived an entire life today, and now he’s standing in front of a stranger’s house, and there’s a man in a coma uptown who’s his fake boyfriend and his cat probably misses him, but then Stan puts a hand on his shoulder and he snaps out of it.

“Yeah, I’m really sorry, Eddie. That must have been scary.” Stan’s voice is so gentle, and Eddie immediately relaxes. Stan pats him on the arm and then starts walking toward the house. Eddie follows him until Stan crouches down and sits on the second step of the porch stairs. Eddie hovers awkwardly until Stan taps at the space next to him. 

“Shouldn’t we-” Eddie points up at the house.

“Just thought you might wanna talk?” Stan asks. 

Eddie decidedly does not want to talk, but Stan looks like he has something to say, so Eddie gulps down some air and takes a seat. His fingers are freezing and he just wants to get this over with, so he’s relieved when Stan jumps right in. 

“Look, I just wanted to thank you for saving Bill’s life.” 

Eddie is surprised. Stan’s staring straight out onto the street, and Eddie follows suit. He already feels a weird kinship with Stan, as a fellow socially awkward human being. As soon as Stan had bowed out of the group hug this morning with a mumbled, “That was my limit for sappiness,” Eddie had known he and Stan would get along.

But this sincerity was not something Eddie expected. 

“Oh, I- you don’t have to thank me.” 

“Yeah, I do. Bill’s really important to me. To all of us. There’s been a rough patch lately but we’re all,” Stan pauses, looking back to make sure no one has emerged from the house, “we’re all really close. We kind of rely on each other.” 

“Yeah, that was sorta obvious back at the hospital,” Eddie says, smiling. The way they worried about Bill, the way they asked Eddie about his life, about their life together - Eddie could tell these people really fucking loved him. It stung something deep in Eddie. He wasn’t sure if it was jealousy or loneliness, or maybe some wretched combination of the two. 

Stan turns his head to look at Eddie hopefully. “Yeah?” 

Eddie nods. “Yeah, man. And I barely know you guys.” 

“You know Bill,” Stan says quickly, and Eddie makes it a point not to meet his eyes. What the fuck is he doing

“It’s only been a few months,” he says, because it has. Stan looks back toward the road. 

“Guess so.” 

Eddie wants to spill his guts, and for some reason, Stan seems like the person who could handle it. He wants to tell someone the truth. It’s killing him having no one to talk to about this. Lucy was unsurprisingly unhelpful when he ranted at her earlier. He tangles his fingers together and takes a deep breath. 

The door opens behind them. 

“Eddie! You came!” Bev shrieks, and Eddie turns to see her in a red, frilly apron, holding a pie, like she walked straight out of a magazine spread on traditional family Christmas. He braces himself and stands up. 

“Yeah, I didn’t bring anything, I’m sorry, I didn’t have much t-”

“Oh, honey, we have plenty here, don’t worry about that. Hi Stan,” she says, and Stan laughs.

“Nice to see you, too, Beverly.” 

“Oh shush, I just saw you two hours ago,” she says, and her eyes keep bouncing back to Eddie, full of glee. 

“You saw him today, too!” Stan protests.

“Yeah, but he’s a fucking guest, asshole, I see you all the time.” Eddie can’t help but laugh. Stan pokes him in the ribs. 

“Aren’t you so glad you came, Eddie?” 

Eddie opens his mouth to answer when they hear a car rev on the street. Bev throws her arms around Eddie’s neck in a hug and when they break apart, there’s a tall, lanky guy with thick, black glasses approaching them from the sidewalk. 

“Richie, you made it early this year!” Stan says, and the man they call Richie climbs up the steps. He’s holding a few shoddily wrapped presents in a messy stack, and as he gets closer, Eddie sees he’s wearing a brown leather jacket and a red shirt with tiny reindeer patterned onto it. His hair is a brown mop of lazy curls, a little stringy and greasy. He’s even taller up close, and most of his face is covered with stubble, but it fits in with the casual and messy yet put-together look he has going on. 

“Ten minutes, baby!” Richie says, and raises his hand for a high-five. Stan indulges him, and they smack palms while Bev and Eddie watch. Richie straightens out his jacket, still balancing the presents in one hand. His face turns serious, and it’s such a quick turnaround that Eddie almost laughs. “Any news?” 

Bev bites at her lip. “No, same as when we left. Mike’s gonna stop by the hospital after dinner and stay the night.” Richie nods solemnly.

“Good, good, sorry I didn’t-” he starts, then seems to notice Eddie, even though he’s been standing here the whole time. “You must be Eddie!” Richie says, sidling up next to Eddie so he can throw an arm around his shoulders. 

With the attention on him, Eddie feels the panic set in. He totally forgot there was someone else coming, and Richie already seems overwhelming. 

“Uh, yeah, yeah, I am,” Eddie says, worming his way out of Richie’s hold. Richie smiles at him, big and wide, and Eddie bites at the inside of his cheek under his gaze. 

“Well I have to say, Bill has good taste,” Richie says, a little leering, and Eddie blushes hard

“Oh my god, Richie, jesus,” Bev says, sharp and a little angry. Richie doesn’t stop looking at Eddie, his eyes rake up and down, and Eddie feels tight-chested and on display. 

“Doesn’t seem like it extends to his friends,” Eddie says back without thinking, and Richie practically gapes at him. Bev and Stan stand there in silence, too, and Eddie wants to disappear again. Fuck, what is wrong with him? 

Then, Richie sputters and laughs. The rest of them join him until Eddie is following along, and a few minutes later, Mike finds them all on the porch, bent over, clutching their knees, and ushers them all inside before they disturb the whole neighborhood. 

Richie stands behind Eddie as they enter, and for a moment he presses a hand to the small of Eddie’s back, and Eddie feels all the breath leave his body in a heady rush. 

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“So how’d you meet our Billy-boy?” Richie asks Eddie, next to him at the dinner table, a big bowl of mashed potatoes in his hands. Eddie’s halfway through taking a huge scoop and the spoon almost falls out of his hand. 

“He already answered these questions at the hospital,” Mike says. Eddie breathes a sigh of relief, but Richie doesn’t look like he’s giving up that easily. 

“Well fuck me, I’m sorry I’m curious! It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten a new recruit,” Richie says, winking at Ben. He waits for Eddie to get his fill of potatoes and then puts the bowl down between them. 

“At least someone other than me is pulling their weight here,” Bev says, sticking her tongue out at Richie. Richie clutches at his heart.

“I knew you liked Bill better than me,” he says, and Eddie laughs. He’s not sure why, it wasn’t really funny, but something about Richie’s playful ribbing tickles him. 

“Don’t encourage him, Eddie,” Bev says. She smiles across the table at him, and he feels like the only person in the world. Eddie reaches for some green bean casserole to avoid bursting into tears. 

Stan groans. “Yeah, save it for your act.” 

Richie wiggles his eyebrows. Eddie turns to him.

“You’re a comedian?” 

Bev scoffs and Richie shoots her a look. 

“No, uh,” he says, with a self-deprecating laugh, “I do a lot of amateur mic nights and stuff, but no, I’m in the family business.” He reaches his hand into his pocket and pulls out a business card. Eddie takes it from him and tries to ignore where their hands touch. The block-red font on the front reads: Tozier Towing. 

“You’re a tow truck driver?” Eddie asks. Richie ducks his head, looking shy. Sitting this close, Eddie can see the blue-green tint of his eyes. 

“Indeed,” he says, moving to flex his arms. “I know, I know, I’m way too buff for something like that, it makes no sense.” 

Eddie laughs again. Richie’s not scrawny but he’s certainly not muscular, and he hit the nail on the head: Eddie would not have pegged Richie as driving a truck for a living. 

“You look more like a comedian to me, I guess,” Eddie says, and something flashes across Richie’s eyes. It’s gone in less than a second, but his eyes look softer than they did before.

“So am I the only one who didn’t know Big Bill was into Big Dick?” Richie asks, and Eddie feels like someone punched him in the face. It’s a quick fucking turn, and Eddie was just starting to relax with the group. It seems like turning on an emotional dime is Richie’s “thing.” 

“Richie, what the fuck, man,” Mike says, and Richie puts up his hands as if he’s surrendering. 

“Hey, I’m just asking. He certainly didn’t tell me.” 

“It’s really none of our business, Richie,” Ben says quietly, and Bev’s already fervently nodding before he finishes his sentence. 

“He was clearly going to bring his b-Eddie to our little party, isn’t that kind of a dick move? Just dropping it on us like that? I mean, how long have we known each other?” Richie’s getting a little louder, and Eddie shifts away from him slightly. He’s trying desperately not to panic. He’s been so wrapped up in the thought of lying to these people about dating Bill, he didn’t even consider outing Bill to his friends. And he doesn’t even know if Bill is gay. 

Well, okay, he knew the first day he saw him on the train platform. Bill had tripped over a wire, spilled the contents of his coffee cup all over himself and come out of the bathroom five minutes later in another clean flannel shirt. Eddie usually doesn’t like to assume, but he’s not an idiot, either. 

“He told me,” Stan says, and Eddie can’t help but look to him. His eyes are heavy with the confession and Eddie feels another pang of guilt. These people have no idea if their friend is going to be okay, not really. And here he is throwing a whole Big Gay Wrench into their lives. God, maybe he is a fucking idiot after all. 

“Yeah, me too,” Bev says next. Eddie’s overwhelmed with a wave of relief. Richie’s jaw is on the ground. 

“He told you he’s gay?” he asks, and he looks almost lost, his eyes searching Bev’s face for an answer. 

“Yeah, it was before the-before the book came out,” she says, and they all go still. Eddie knows he’s missing something here but he also just met these people: this really is none of his business. He feels horrible that it’s come about because of him. “I thought maybe that had something to do with him not- why we haven’t seen him in awhile.” 

Mike shifts in his seat and clears his throat, then starts dishing out more turkey onto his plate. They all watch him in silence until Richie turns to Eddie again.

“Does he talk about us?” he asks. 

Eddie wants to tell him yes, wants to fill the space with stories and memories of his time with Bill, but there was no time with Bill. This is all a sham. And if it’s not imploding on Eddie right now, it certainly will soon. There’s no way he can keep this up. 

But Richie’s eyes are pleading and sad, and the tips of Eddie’s fingers tingle, and something in his brain just wants all these people to get through this. 

“We haven’t known each other long, but,” he takes a breath, and it feels like it’ll burn him, but he gets it out, “yeah, he talks about you guys. All the time.” 

Eddie can’t hear the sigh of relief over the loud rushing in his head.

**

It’s been three years since Eddie’s received a Christmas gift. 

Sure, they hand out corporate gifts every year at CTA, but the tags don’t even have their names on them. His supervisor, Donna, sometimes gives him extra cat food that her picky cat won’t touch, and last year she put a bow on it, so that’s something. But since his mother died, no one has wrapped and addressed a gift to him. And other than her, Eddie’s pretty sure there hasn’t been much else over the years. 

So as he sits around the Christmas tree in Ben and Bev’s living room, watching them all on the couch from his seat on the floor, and Stan comes up and hands him a nicely-wrapped present and whispers, “To Eddie, from Santa,” he almost bursts into tears. Richie must see the emotion on his face. He lifts off his seat in the recliner and moves to sit next to Eddie on the floor.

“You know what to do with one of those?” he asks, and Eddie laughs. He hasn’t laughed this much in awhile, and most of it has been because of Richie. And Richie smiles at him every single time and then Eddie feels light-headed and it’s all getting really annoying. 

“I think I can figure it out. Start ripping, right?” Eddie says, wishing Richie would go away. He’s loud and smells like exhaust and some sort of musky cologne and Eddie can’t really focus when he’s right there . Eddie traces the line of the wrapping paper design and ignores the way Richie is staring at him. 

“You just gonna hold it? Even I wanna know what’s in that thing!” 

Eddie rips it open in a few quick moves. He can feel Bev’s eyes on his as he reveals what’s under the wrapping. 

It’s a soft pair of thick black gloves. Eddie’s seen these at a department store, and they weren’t cheap. Bev and Ben’s house is pretty sizeable, but they mentioned something about inheriting it while they were at the hospital. That was only a few hours ago. Eddie can barely breathe. How did she-

“I know you said you run in the morning, and I’m sure you already have a pair but you can always use another one,” Bev says. 

“I can’t-” Eddie starts, but Richie elbows him in the arm. 

“Just take it and run, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says, low and right into his ear, and Eddie realizes their knees are practically stacked on top of one another where they’re sitting cross-legged on the ground. Eddie assumes his blood pressure is through the roof. 

“Good god, do not call me that,” he scolds, and Richie raises an eyebrow. Eddie turns to Bev to ignore him, “Thank you so much, Bev. I don’t know if I should accept these.” 

Bev frowns. “Of course you can. It’s Christmas.” 

Eddie wants to crawl out of his skin, this is all way too nice and he doesn’t deserve it. But he doesn’t want to make a scene, so he forces a smile and inspects the gloves quietly. He turns after a moment to see Richie watching him. 

“What?” he asks, and Richie blinks a few times before smiling. 

“Absolutely nothing,” he answers. His eyes are bright and a few strands of his curly hair fall into his face when he stretches to lean back on his hands. He crosses his long legs, right next to Eddie on the floor, and hums as he looks back out to all his friends. 

Eddie stares down at his new gloves. His stomach hurts.

**

“Thank you so much for everything, Bev, I had a great time,” Eddie says, standing in the doorway with his jacket on. He’s got his present and a full belly, and the two glasses of red wine he gulped down with some cookies will help make the late night train ride a little more bearable. 

“Thanks for showing up, man, it was good to see you,” Ben says, slapping Eddie on the back a little too hard. He’s a strong dude, and it sends a small thrill down Eddie’s spine. He feels guilty, like he’s cheating. Is feeling attracted to all your fake-boyfriend’s friends technically cheating? 

Well, not all, just Ben.

And Mike is good looking, of course. 

If he weren’t mostly gay Beverly could definitely be a contender. And Stan seems like a really good guy.

Richie does not qualify and that’s the end of that. 

Just as Eddie’s stepping onto the porch, he hears Richie’s voice float through the hallway from inside. 

“Eds, you leaving?” he asks, rushing toward the door for some reason. Eddie’s whole body clenches. 

“Yeah, I gotta catch the train before it gets too late.” 

Richie waves a hand at him. “Why don’t I give you a ride? I’ve got my truck and I’m heading out, too.” 

“Oh, that’s okay-” Eddie starts, but Bev puts a hand on his arm. 

“Maybe you should, Eddie, it’s already pretty late.” 

“And it’s cold out there,” Ben says, agreeing. 

Eddie just wants to be home. He’s not sure why they haven’t invented teleportation yet. He’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to afford it, but right this moment he’d give his entire life savings to get the fuck out of here without having to leave with Richie Tozier. 

“C’mon, dude, let me be a gentleman and escort Billiam’s man home safely.” Richie’s practically pouting in his face, hanging off the closet door, open and full of everyone’s coats, and Eddie pinches at the bridge of his nose. 

The traffic won’t be too bad, and it’ll save him almost an hour of travel if he goes with Richie. Richie’s got to be used to driving in the city, he’s a tow truck driver, and that somehow comforts Eddie. He hates driving in the city. When his mother was alive she had a car, and he got into at least three accidents taking her to appointments in that thing. As soon as she died he sold it and has used the train ever since. He never really had many places to go, so it didn’t seem like an inconvenience. But now that he’s out in the suburbs, it would be nice not to transfer twice and risk falling asleep on the platform. 

He’s already seen the tracks up close and it’s a place he’d rather not revisit. 

“A ride would be great,” Eddie says, finally, and Richie pumps his fist in victory. Eddie snorts in a laugh, and Richie pats him on the back.

**

Richie opens the passenger side door of the truck for him, and Eddie is really grateful it’s dark because he feels the heat rise to his cheeks as soon as he climbs in. The interior is old and dingy, like Richie’s been riding around in (and possibly sleeping in sometimes) this thing for awhile. Eddie keeps his legs pressed together and tries to stay on as little space of the bench seat as possible. When Richie finally gets in, he flashes Eddie a smile and turns the key. 

The ride is about thirty minutes, when all is said and done, and they spend most of the time talking. At first, Eddie keeps it going to stay warm - the heat in the truck isn’t the greatest. But after about five minutes, they’re already in a flow of conversation. 

“Ben’s a huge nerd, deep down,” Richie’s saying as they’re getting off the sky way. 

“I actually believe you on that one. He trapped me to talk about the history of your hometown,” Eddie says, and Richie scoffs.

“I can’t believe he brought up Derry during your first time, what a boner-shrinker.” 

“Not a fun place to grow up, I take it?” 

Richie’s eyes shift to him rather quickly, like he’s hit a nerve.

“Uh, no. Why, did-did Ben say something?” Richie asks, and Eddie barely knows him but he looks… scared. Eddie shakes his head. 

“No, just your tone sounded- well. Anyway, I’m sorry,” he says, a little flustered, feeling bad for bringing it up. Richie shakes it off easily. 

“Don’t be, man, it’s just a weird thing. We all got out relatively unscathed.” 

He gets that look in his eyes again, like he did back at the party, but Eddie tries to move on. 

“So how did you all end up here? Not exactly close to Maine.” 

Richie smiles, and Eddie’s stomach feels all tied up in knots. God, it’s been such a long day. 

“My parents got divorced when I was young and my dad owned his own business out here in Chicago. As soon as I graduated I high-tailed it to the big city and eventually everyone kinda followed.” 

“Wow, you- they all moved out here with you?” Eddie asks, a little stunned. That’s a big commitment for a group of friends. 

“In so many words, I guess? We all had different shit going on and a clean slate sounded good, I think. It was complicated, but we’re a pretty tight unit,” he says, and Eddie takes a deep breath. He’s not sure how he managed to get lucky enough to even meet these people. “And Bev met Ben one time when she came to visit me, so that was like watching a fucking romance novel play out in front of our very eyes.” 

Richie sounds put out, but Eddie knows he’s full of shit. They all hold Ben and Bev up as some sort of love beacon, and Eddie can see why. He’s never seen two people stare at each other with heart eyes that much. Every time Eddie turned around he’d see them sneaking a kiss or hug, as if it wasn’t their house, as if everyone didn’t know they were fucking head over heels. It was pretty cute, but Eddie understands Richie’s feigned bitterness. He’s pretty jealous, too. 

“You and Bill are just gonna add to it, you assholes,” Richie says, glancing to Eddie and then back at the road. Eddie startles. He’d forgotten he’s playing the part of “half of another loving couple.” 

“Nah, I don’t think we’ll be that cute,” Eddie says, then catches himself. “Are. Are that cute. We are not that cute. I’m, I mean. I’m kind of a mess.” Richie’s quiet for awhile and Eddie worries he’s finally caught. 

“Join the club, Eds,” Richie says. Eddie wants to respond, but then he sees his building come into view. 

“It’s right here,” Eddie says, hand already pulling at the door latch before they’ve stopped completely. 

“Whoa, whoa, no barrel-rolling out of here, man, my insurance is shit.” Eddie retracts his hands.

“Sorry, sorry, just… just tired. It’s-”

“Been a long day?” Richie says, and Eddie turns to look at him. The lights on the road are bright and a little blinding, and Richie’s got bags under his eyes and even more stubble than earlier, but Eddie doesn’t really want to leave while he’s still paying attention. 

“Yeah. Something like that.” Eddie moves to climb out of the car when he feels Richie’s hand on his arm.

“Wait, Eddie, um,” Richie says, removing his hand, and Eddie freezes. 

He knows. Here it is. 

“Yeah?” he asks, because he’s never been very good at shutting up when he really needs to. It seems they have that in common. But Richie just smiles.

“I’ll see you at the hospital tomorrow?” he says, and Eddie doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not. 

This whole thing has been happening for less than 24 hours and he’s already exhausted all the way down to his bones. Another day of this shit? Or even longer? Who knows how long it’ll take Bill to wake up. And what if- no. No. He’s going to wake up. And this will get dealt with. It’ll be painful and really fucking awful, but Eddie doesn’t really want to let go of it yet. 

So he swallows literally every instinct he’s ever had or been taught in his entire life and smiles up at Richie.

“Yeah, Richie,” he says, and Richie’s eyes shine a little brighter. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

**

Following the “train incident,” Donna decides to give him a couple days off. 

Eddie tries not to be annoyed. 

After telling Richie he’d spend another day at the hospital, Eddie assumed he could take it back by using work as an excuse. But the next day, bright and early, Donna is calling him, breathless and frantic.

“I’m perfectly fine, I don’t need any time off!” Eddie yells into the phone. The station is the one place he knows he won’t see Bill or Bev or Richie. Donna has never given him a panicked day off before. Starting now just feels like the universe taking a giant dump on him. 

“Eddie, you jumped onto the tracks. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have done that, but you did, and you saved a guy’s life, so I’m giving you two days off. Do not argue with me.” 

She sounds serious, and he’s never really heard her scold anyone before, so he agrees and hangs up. 

Lucy stares up at him from her place at the end of the bed. 

“What?” he asks. “I’m not going to the hospital. Just because I don’t work doesn’t mean I have to go, I could do anything today.” 

She holds his eyes for awhile, her back leg twitching. Eddie sighs. She starts to lick at her paw. 

“Fine, fine, we both know I’m going,” he says, and pulls himself out of bed to make a bowl of oatmeal. 

When he gets there, a little after nine, everyone but Stan has already arrived. Ben and Bev are sitting together in a chair in the corner, Mike’s right next to Bill, stretched out with a blanket over him, presumably because he’s been there the whole night. Richie’s standing at the foot of the bed, arms crossed, looking more tired than he did last night. Eddie watches him for a second before he feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns to see Stan. 

“Good morning,” Stan says, holding a tray full of coffee cups. He’s wearing blue today, and his hair is perfectly brushed against his temple. Eddie smiles. 

“Hey,” he says, and takes some coffee when Stan offers. “Any updates?” he asks, because that’s why they’re here: Bill. Stan shakes his head.

“No, nothing new. Mike says nothing changed overnight. Same ol’.” 

Eddie nods, and Stan walks past him into the room. Eddie’s heart starts to pound again. The coffee probably won’t help, but he needs something to get him through this nightmare. He sips at it even though it’s way too hot. His tongue can fucking deal, he needs this goddamn caffeine. 

“Guess who’s here,” Stan says as they enter together, and Richie turns to look at him. He’s in another version of his outfit from yesterday, an unbuttoned button down with a t-shirt underneath. This one has the Cheetos logo with the stupid bright orange cat at the center. He waves at Eddie like a dork. 

“Hey, Eddie Spaghetti, sleep well?” he asks, and Eddie’s stomach churns. 

“You’re never gonna give that up, are you?” he says. Richie shakes his head and chuckles. Eddie feels lighter than he has all morning, waiting to see everyone, knowing he has to face another day of lies. Richie seems actually happy to see him - they all do. 

They wouldn’t be if they knew the truth. 

“No chance. Everyone gets one,” Richie says, and Bev’s already nodding behind him. 

“Some of them more creative than the others,” Ben says, and Richie grimaces at him. 

“Haystack is fucking gold, man,” Richie protests. Bev rolls her eyes and comes to pull Eddie into a hug. 

“Mornin’, Eds,” she says, smiling and ignoring Richie behind her,  who’s yelling, “Eds is also a fucking nickname!” 

They hang out in the room for a few hours together, playing cards and chatting, exchanging stories about Bill and themselves. Eddie feels comfortable around all of them, but he finds himself gravitating to Richie, no matter how much he tries to avoid it. Richie’s always telling jokes and reeling him in to their conversations. Usually it would be way too much for Eddie to handle, but their whole group is so chill and understanding, he doesn’t feel much pressure. 

There are a few moments of silence between all of them - moments when Eddie thinks he might just come clean. Tell them all. But they all pass. Someone else starts talking or he loses his nerve and then the mood has shifted. 

He’s not even sure why he’s holding onto this anymore. Why can’t he just tell them and be done with it? It’s what he should have done yesterday. But he was just so… scared. Letting them down didn’t seem to be an option - not when their friend was already lost to them in so many ways. 

So instead of being a decent human being and spitting it the fuck out, Eddie tells them intensely personal anecdotes to pass the time. Because one of them asked. He thinks. He can’t quite remember anymore, but everyone is listening intently, so he just keeps going.

“My mom wasn’t too good about it, she never really was with gay people. She had some friends die during the AIDS crisis and so I don’t think she could really deal,” Eddie says, and Bev presses a hand to his forearm. He’s in the chair next to her, all of them spread across the big, round table in Bill’s room. It’s miraculous there’s space enough for the six of them. 

“I don’t think Bill’s parents would have been very good about it, either,” Bev says, and Eddie doesn’t catch himself in time.

“Are they both dead?” he asks, and Mike is on him first.

“He didn’t tell you that?” Mike asks, and Eddie’s limbs go numb. His tongue is doing that thing, filling up his whole mouth, and suddenly all of them are watching him, waiting for an answer.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, he-he told me, sorry, I didn’t-”

“It’s okay, Eddie, don’t worry about it, it’s been a crazy couple days,” Ben says. He shoots Mike a look and Eddie feels horrible when Mike looks contrite. He’s trying to protect his friend, and he’s right. 

“Anyway,” Ben says, looking back at Eddie, “that’s too bad about your mom, Eddie.” 

Eddie swallows around a lump in his throat. “Yeah,” he says, looking down at his hands under the table. Then Richie’s hand flies into his line of vision, grabbing him around the knee. He’s been strangely silent this whole time, ever since they started talking more seriously about Eddie’s childhood. It transitioned rather seamlessly into his coming out, growing up in Chicago as a gay kid, how his mother would never really say the word “gay” out loud unless it was preceded or followed by another nasty one. 

“Hope Billiam helps you sleep a little easier at night,” Richie says, hand still on Eddie’s leg, and Eddie nods. He can feel the heat of Richie’s hand through his pants. His hand is so fucking big.

“Sure,” he says, but it sounds hollow. Richie’s brows pinch for a split second, and he pats at Eddie’s knee. 

“Now let’s hope he wakes up for your sake, Eddie,” Richie says, leaning back in his chair, pulling back from where he’s been touching Eddie, “it’d be a real dick move to leave you all alone after you fucking saved his life.” 

Everyone laughs. Eddie looks at Bill, stock still in his hospital bed and hopes.

He’s just not sure what for. 

**

Ben and Bev start yawning relentlessly around seven, and it’s still early, but they all decide to call it a night. 

“I think I’ll probably stay again, guys,” Mike says, but Eddie shakes his head. He’s already got a plan.

“No, no, you go home, get some sleep.” He puts a hand on Mike’s back and Mike accepts it. Progress. “I’m gonna stay tonight.” 

Everyone turns to look at him, a little shocked, but acceptance replaces that pretty quickly. He is Bill’s fake-boyfriend, after all. It makes sense that he would stay. And this way he can spend a little alone time with Bill. Comatose or not, it’s the principle of the thing. And Eddie is no longer willing to fake-date this guy without spending some quality time alone. 

Ben, Bev, and Stan all rein it in to give him hugs goodbye, and Mike moves to shake his hand, which is super awkward, but Eddie will take it. Mike still intimidates the crap out of him, even after two straight days of time together. 

Richie’s last in line, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. Eddie’s breathing picks up as he gets closer. God, what the fuck

“You want me to stay a little longer?” Richie asks, and Eddie gets honest-to-god butterflies. This guy is far too much. Still, Eddie shakes his head. 

“No, I’ll be okay. Just thought it’d be-”

“Yeah, I get it. Time alone with the old man,” Richie says, jostling Bill’s foot on the bed with his hand. He looks thoughtful, and a little sad, and Eddie wants to reach out and touch him. 

Instead he just looks at Bill, too, and sighs, “Yeah.” 

Richie’s mouth flinches a few times, and Eddie thinks he’s going to say something, but then he turns toward the door. 

“I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it here tomorrow, I’m on call, but let me know if we hear anything?” Richie says, and Eddie smiles.

“Yeah, of course.” 

“Alright,” Richie says, hovering in the door. “I’ll see ya around. Enjoy date night.” 

Eddie laughs nervously like the mess that he is, and Richie leaves. 

Eddie turns to look at Bill. 

“Finally alone,” he says, and moves to sit in the chair next to the bed. “Sorry, that sounded creepier than I meant it. But then again, all of this is kind of creepy.”

Bill just lies there. 

Right. This isn’t going to be much of conversation. 

“Anyway, I, uh,” Eddie starts, throwing the hospital blanket over himself. He’s not sure if he’s shivering from the cold or his nerves, but it gives his hands something to fidget with. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about all of this. And to introduce myself. I guess.” 

Eddie rubs a hand over his eyes and gets to it. This might be stupid, but it’s the least he can do for a guy stuck in a coma that’s now accidentally kind of dating him. 

“I’m Eddie Kaspbrak, short for Edward, but no one calls me that. I’m from Chicago, a suburb called Naperville, which is a little nicer, but once my dad died, we didn’t have much money, so we moved to the South Side.” 

Eddie tries to keep his breathing even, but something inside him is screaming to shut up. Bill can’t even hear him. And even if he can, he doesn’t need to know all this. No one needs to know this. That sounds like his mother’s voice again. He pushes it down and keeps going. 

“My mom and I lived alone for a long time, and I’m an only kid, so it got kind of lonely. I started working for CTA after I dropped out of college ‘cause my mom got sick. She died a few years ago - liver cancer,” he says, the memory clenching something in his throat. “She wasn’t a very nice person,” he says, quietly, still afraid, deep down, that she can hear him.

“I still live on the South Side with my cat, Lucy, she’s like a fluffy calico? She’s only two. Most people think calicos are mean, and she is, but I like when I have to work for something’s affection. She doesn’t make friends easy, but neither do I, so.” He puffs a laugh out of his nose, a strange stream of air, and the more the words tumble out the easier it gets. 

“I like your friends a lot. I think maybe that’s why all this is happening, why I’m letting it happen. It was a simple misunderstanding by a nurse who was trying hard not to be homophobic, and I guess that’s good, but it’s also made quite the mess. I used to watch you on the train platform, for a few months, and I always imagined maybe one day I would ask you out, or maybe I’d be lucky enough that you would ask me out, but I really didn’t intend on setting you up in this weird game of deceit,” Eddie says, breathing hard, his heart thudding in his ears. 

“I really, really hope you wake up soon to fix all this,” Eddie says, then winces, “I mean, not that I’m blaming you, or planning on putting all this on you to solve.” He puts a hand on Bill’s arm, then immediately snatches it back. It doesn’t feel right to touch him, like he’s not worthy, somehow. 

“I guess I’ve just never had… people before. You have a lot of them. And they sort of pulled me in, and I got caught up in it and I’m not sure how to get out now.” He closes his eyes and breathes heavy. Thinks of how easy it was to talk with everyone around. “I don’t really want to.” 

He sits there for a long while without talking again, the steady beep of Bill’s heart monitor the only thing keeping them company. He tries to pretend it’s real - an alternate reality where Bill actually is his. He could reach forward and hold his hand, press kisses to Bill’s knuckles and remember a time when they would be heading for bed right about now, brushing their teeth together and cracking little jokes to make each other smile. Then Richie’s smile flashes across his mind and the fantasy is gone. 

Eddie looks down at Bill in the bed and tries not to cry. As if all of this isn’t bad enough - the last thing he needs is to fall for one of Bill’s friends. 

He snatches one of the small pillows from behind him in the chair and buries his face in it. 

He just needs to focus on Bill. Focus on the others and keep his distance from Richie. It’ll be easy. He’s known Richie for two days. He can certainly shift focus and there will be no love lost. They’re practically strangers. 

Yes. That will be the plan. Keep out of trouble, keep his head down, and wait for Bill to wake up. Then he’ll deal with the mess his life has become. 

Eddie lowers the pillow from his face and screams when he sees Stan standing across the room. 

Stan waits for him to catch his breath, arms across his chest, and then finally speaks. 

“I think we have to talk.”

Chapter Text

“How long have you been there?” Eddie asks Stan, towering in front of him in the hospital room, because it seems like a pertinent question. He was quiet for a long time after telling Bill everything, so maybe it isn’t quite as bad as-

“Definitely long enough,” Stan says, and Eddie’s face crumples. He tries very hard not to cry, but he knows the tears are welling up, he can feel them burning at the edges of his eyes. 

“God, fuck, Stan, I’m so sorry.” 

“Yeah,” Stan says, eyes blank. 

“I didn’t know what to do, and the nurse just sort of assumed, and then you guys jumped all over it, and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

“Sure.” 

“Please, believe me, I did not fucking plan this.”

“Who would plan this? Why would you even say that?” Stan asks, and Eddie stops, puzzled. 

“I mean, I guess if Bill had money or something, maybe-”

“Are you after his money?” 

“What? No, that was just a for instance-”

“Because if you’re after his money, joke’s on you, he’s barely got any,” Stan says, and he sounds way more casual than he should, considering he just found out Eddie has been lying and is basically a horrible person.

“No, I’m not after Bill’s money. I didn’t even know who he was until you guys showed up here yesterday.” 

There’s a long pause.

“I don’t know if that’s better or worse,” Stan says, measuring. Eddie buries his face back in the pillow. 

“It’s both. It’s all worse,” he says, and suddenly Stan is at his side, a hand on his arm, and Eddie will never get used to how much this group of people touch each other. Too bad it doesn’t seem there’s much time left to get used to it. 

“Hey, Eddie, calm down.” 

“What? Calm down? Did you not hear everything I just said?” 

“Yeah, I did, it was a surprisingly thorough recap,” he says. There’s a small smile pulling at his lips, and Eddie is still panicking, his legs are almost full-on shaking, but it soothes something in him. He has no idea how someone can be so comforting, just deep in their soul. 

“And you’re not pissed? Are you down here so you can punch me?” 

“Do I look like someone who has punched anyone before?” Stan asks, leaning back a bit. 

“I don’t know,” Eddie says, surveying Stan up and down. “I don’t like to assume.” 

Stan laughs. It’s quiet, but the hospital room is dark and empty save for the two of them, so it rings in Eddie’s ears. Most of the nurses have gone home, and one sits at the station just outside the door, flooded in her reading light and minding her own business. Eddie watches her, longing, wishing he were that far removed from this freak show. He looks back to Stan, who’s still smiling. 

“Listen, I’m not gonna lie, this is fucked up.”

Eddie practically whines, a high and tight noise, and Stan claps him on the back once more before finding his own chair and pulling it over. They both look at Bill, and then back to each other. 

“I don’t wanna hurt anyone,” Eddie says, quietly. Stan nods.

“This sounds ridiculous, but it really feels like you’re one of us, Eddie.” 

Eddie’s so close to crying again, one of these times it’s just going to pour out of him. But instead he watches Stan and waits. 

“There was something that happened after Bill’s book came out. It, uh. It was bad,” Stan says, watching his own hands tangle together over his lap. “Something happened between he and Mike before the release party and the rest of us didn’t really know how to handle it. Then they stopped talking.” 

Eddie wonders if that’s why Mike has been so distant with him. To all of them, Eddie’s an extension of Bill. Eddie can’t imagine how Mike must feel after not seeing him all this time only to find out he’s gone and hooked up with a stranger. They all must feel a little shell-shocked. 

“Did they ever make up?” Eddie asks, even though he feels horrible doing it. He’s taking advantage of Stan’s kind nature, but now that Stan knows the truth, it feels a little less manipulative. Stan shakes his head.

“No, they haven’t seen each other since. None of us have really seen Bill much. I’ve seen him more than the others ‘cause I work for him, but. There was a wall there. Everyone else has talked to him a few times, other than Mike, but… no.” 

It hangs in the air for a little while. Both of them alternate between looking at Bill and each other, then back at Bill and then off into the distance. Eddie isn’t quite sure where to go from here, so he reverts to the beginning. 

“Do you think I should tell them?” 

Stan’s eyes snap up to his, and Eddie bites his lip. 

“I don’t know,” Stan says. This whole thing is so bizarre. The right answer feels like it’s right in front of them - tell the truth. If anyone told Eddie this story, that’s how his advice would go. Actually, it would be more along the line of, “Have you lost your ever-loving mind? Why the fuck wouldn’t you tell the truth?” 

But sitting here, knees pressing tight into Stan’s, Bill alone in a hospital bed, something feels wrong about leaving this all to the dust and going back to his life. And Eddie has to believe Stan feels something too, if he’s hesitant. He knows Stan loves his friends. He wouldn’t want to hurt them. Then why is this so fucking complicated? 

“They’re going to find out eventually,” Eddie says, finally, and Stan’s eyes shift back and forth, like he’s thinking. 

“Naturally,” he answers, and it’s almost frustrating, how little he’s giving away. “But maybe it’s the best way to go. Not telling them. For now.”

“You think?” Eddie asks, hopeful. He hates the thrum of excitement that rushes through him at the thought of getting to live in this new reality for a little longer. 

“Honestly, I have no fucking idea, but I think we all kinda need this right now.” 

“Need what?” Eddie asks. Stan looks thoughtful again, and Eddie wonders if he pushed too hard. Then again, that doesn’t seem to be a consideration for these people. 

“Having you here feels like-” he stops, shaking his head, like he’s thinking better of it, but then he finishes, “It feels like having him back, a little bit. I think we all missed him. Especially Mike.” 

Eddie scoffs. “I’m not sure Mike likes me too much.”

Stan’s smile is gentle. 

“Yeah, well. Give him some time.” 

Eddie doesn’t know what that means, but he trusts Stan. 

“I’ll do my best,” he says, yawning. “But we’ll tell them soon?”

“Duh,” Stan answers, laughing.

Eddie looks over at Bill and tries to find the humor in this whole thing. 

**

They fall asleep there together, each slumped over in a chair. 

Eddie wakes with a start when Mike comes in, the first one to arrive, with their daily tray of coffees. Mike sends a small smile his way, and Eddie smiles back, still rumpled from sleep. Stan is snoring lightly, and Eddie feels something warm flow over him. He really likes Stan. Then he remembers their conversation last night.

Fuck. Stan knows. 

Stan was rather understanding, more than he probably should have been. Eddie knows he never would have let a strange man spend the night with one of his best friends after revealing what he had. But then again Eddie’s never known what it’s like to have a best friend before. 

Mike presses a hand to Stan’s shoulder to gently wake him. 

“Fuck!” Stan yells, snapping from peaceful to scary, and it startles a laugh out of Mike and Eddie. 

“You’re okay, man, you’re in the hospital, remember?” Mike says, and even Eddie cringes at the phrasing. Stan skitters out of his chair, brushing frantic hands all over his own body.

“I’m in the fucking hospital?” he asks, and Eddie shakes his head while Mike tries to backtrack.

“No, no, Bill is in the hospital. You’re visiting.” Mike lays a hand back on Stan’s arm and he shakes it away just as quickly. “Jesus, man, pull it together.”

Eddie watches them both from his chair, waiting for his coffee to cool. He cups his hands over the steam and tries to relax. 

“You both stayed last night?” Mike asks, shuffling his hand between Stan and Eddie. Eddie looks to Stan, suddenly a little spooked that they’re caught in a lie. 

“Yeah, Eddie and I got to talking and I guess we fell asleep,” Stan answers. Eddie nods. Mike’s eyes are sharp - they usually are. But he quirks his mouth and moves on.

“I assume if anything had changed you wouldn’t have been sleeping like a log when I came in,” Mike says to Stan. 

“Bingo,” he says, and Eddie snorts. 

Mike pulls another chair close to the bed and all three of them settle into the silence of watching Bill. Mike fiddles with his cup for a little while before turning to Eddie. 

“So are you two, um,” he starts, and Eddie already feels his heart in his throat, “serious?” 

He’s pointing at Bill. Eddie opens his mouth and closes it again. Stan crosses his legs and sighs.

“Kind of an awkward question, Michael,” he says, and Eddie shoots him a look, “Maybe they hadn’t discussed it.” 

“Yeah, we haven’t really discussed it,” Eddie says, piggybacking. 

Stan nods. Mike glances between the two of them a few times. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Mike finally says, and once again, Eddie feels bad. Why does he have to keep putting Mike in this position? He’s glad Stan knows, but now he wonders if Mike finding out would have been more of a relief. 

“No, it’s okay, I get it. You care about him,” Eddie says, looking at Bill. 

“We all do, yeah. It’s just the last time I saw Bill he was-well. He didn’t really seem like he was in a place to, uh.” Mike gestures toward the bed in an unknowable motion with his hands. “Date.” 

That’s really not how Eddie thought that sentence would end. Stan’s just staring at him, and Eddie’s not sure why he thought Stan might be helpful - he doesn’t want to add to this whole fucking lie. Eddie takes another drink of coffee. 

“I guess that changed,” Stan says, and Mike turns to look at him, like he’s just remembered he’s there. Mike’s eyes bounce back and forth in his head. 

Eddie has no idea what to say.

Thankfully, that’s the moment Ben and Bev show up. 

**

The next few days pass in a similar fashion. 

Eddie keeps lying. Stan keeps helping him. Everyone else keeps being supportive even though he doesn’t deserve it. And Bill keeps being in a coma. 

Richie, however, is thoroughly unpredictable. 

He’s loud and spills everything on himself and tells horrible jokes that kill half the time and fall devastatingly flat the other half. 

Eddie can’t figure out how to stop smiling when he’s around. Which, again, is annoying, but it also really helps. 

Frankly, all this business around Richie is ridiculous. Eddie’s very aware of that. It’s how the whole group makes him feel, not just Richie. Included, cared about, genuinely happy. Those are things he hasn’t felt in years. If… ever. And Richie is a part of that. 

But then Richie spends fifteen minutes doing a Donald Duck impression because it makes Eddie squawk like a bird from laughter, and Eddie knows that stupid tightness in his chest probably isn’t a clogged artery. 

Richie constantly hugs everyone and always stands when someone needs a chair and brings amazing cookies to the hospital that he insists he made himself. 

Ridiculous. Richie isn’t even gay. And even if he was, he wouldn’t be interested in Eddie. And even if he was, he thinks Eddie is dating Bill. 

And this entire thing is just… ridiculous. 

It’s ridiculous, and before Eddie knows it, tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and Richie is inviting him to their annual party.

“C’mon, Eddie, my man, you have to come!” Richie is telling him, a little too loudly, and it earns him one of the patented Loser-group shushes. Eddie has a feeling it’s only use isn’t for hospitals. 

“I’m not much of a party person,” Eddie says quietly, and Stan nods in sympathy, even though that’s not the whole story. Eddie taps his foot and tries not to look at Richie. 

Bev yawns from her seat in the corner and flicks gently at Bill’s immovable hand. 

“Beverly, please stop fucking with the coma patient,” Ben says, and Bev rolls her eyes. 

“Oh my god, Ben, he has no idea. Who cares? He’d do it to any of us.” 

Richie points at her. “That is true, but you’re changing the subject, nice try, Haystack, I guess we know how you feel about the new New Guy.” 

“Would you give that up already? It’s been almost ten years,” Ben says, a little grumpily. Eddie’s cheeks start to ache and he realizes he’s smiling again, back to watching Richie like his eyes are magnetically sealed to his face. 

He tries to focus on Bill instead, but that feels even weirder, somehow. 

“Eddie, seriously,” Richie says, suddenly close, standing right over where Eddie’s sitting in his chair. “You should come. It’ll just be us.”

Bev hums. “Just like Christmas. We’d love to have you.” 

It’s been almost a week with these people, who are slowly becoming his friends, his actual friends, and Eddie’s resolve to keep them at arm’s length crumbles faster with each day. New Year’s Day is the worst day of the year for him and having company actually might be helpful. He’s always sectioned himself off, lately with Lucy. 

He heaves a sigh. “Okay, but I can’t promise I’ll make it to midnight.” 

Richie hisses out a “yes” and runs to Stan for a high-five.

**

Richie actually calls him the next morning, and Eddie isn’t sure how he got his number, but he sounds happy and warm on the phone, and Eddie is honestly glad to hear from him. 

“I was thinking we should probably ride together,” Richie says into his ear. 

“Oh, uh. I mean-”

“Hear me out.”

Lucy jumps up onto the bed and Eddie rubs a soft hand over her back. 

“Kay,” he says, not knowing why. There’s no reason to spend more time alone with Richie. 

“I’m great company, my car is warmer than the walk to and from the train, and I can do my Donald Duck impression the entire time.” 

Eddie winces. “I think that would be a bit much, even for me.” Richie laughs, deep and loud. 

“Okay, okay, scrap that last one,” he says, then softer, “anyway, I thought we could talk a little more on the drive, pick up some cake Bev wants me to get downtown.”

Downtown? That’s a much longer drive. That would be actually, deliberately spending something of an evening out with Richie. That is definitely not in the cards. 

“Eds? You there?” 

“Uh,” Eddie starts, blinking back to himself, “I have to work until 4, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to-”

“I’ll pick you up at the station,” Richie says quickly. All of the synapses in Eddie’s brain are misfiring, and he can’t think of any other excuses. 

“Yeah. Sure,” he relents, passing his fingers over the cloudy fluff of Lucy’s stomach. 

“You sound super excited,” Richie says. Eddie rolls his eyes.

“You bring it out in me.” 

Richie laughs again and Eddie rubs a little too hard at Lucy’s belly. Her claws dig into the skin of his hand and he hisses, loudly, into the phone. 

“Whoa, someone let the air out of your tires over there?” Richie asks, and it pulls Eddie out of the stinging pain in his hand for a second. 

“My god, you have such dad humor, it’s awful,” he says, hating how it falls out of his mouth, but Richie’s already gawking through the speaker.

“Eddie Spaghetti, really seeing deep into my soul, I like that.” 

“Stop fucking calling me Spaghetti, Richie,” Eddie says, on his way to the bathroom for disinfectant and a band aid. Looking down at his hand, he sees an angry red slice up his palm. He’s going to have to soak this.

And he curses? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our Big Bill is one lucky guy,” Richie says, booming and stupid. 

Eddie wants to tell him to shut the fuck up. Richie’s voice in his ear is distracting and now he’s actively bleeding and he has to be to work in an hour and he has no idea why Richie needs to say shit like that. 

“Richie, I have to go,” Eddie says, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, “Just pick me up at the station, okay? I’ll help you do whatever dumb shit you need to get done. Okay, bye,” he finishes and slams the phone down on the receiver. 

It’s not until he’s in the bathroom washing off his cut that he realizes he’s agreed to spend the evening with Richie. 

He scrubs the wound raw. It aches through his whole shift.

**

“I’m pretty sure that none of the women on that show wear bras. Have you seen it, Eddie?” Myra asks him. 

“No, no, I missed the first season so I didn’t wanna start late,” Eddie answers. The truth is, the show Friends never really looked interesting to him, and in one of the first episodes he watched they made some lesbian jokes, and he had promptly clicked it off and moved on with his life. 

Myra looks beside herself. “Oh my god, Eddie, you need to watch this show!”

“Mmmm,” he says, eyes glued to the stairs down to the street. He looks back at his watch. 3:59. Richie should be here any minute. 

Eddie turns back into the booth and tunes into what Myra is saying. 

“Anyway, like I was saying, you can always see their nipples. It’s god-awful - who wants to see that?” Myra asks, and Eddie shrugs. She gets a weird glint in her eye and he can see it coming a mile away. “Definitely not the likes of us, huh? All men all the time!” 

Myra giggles and Eddie flashes his canned “ah yes, because I’m gay, you are hilarious” smile.

Truth is, a lot of interactions he has with Myra are a little awkward, and not just because she always insists on alluding to his sexuality through cutesy humor. 

They’ve been working together for almost a year now, and she had asked him out two months in. It was brave of her, and very sweet, and there was really no one thing that made him say no. 

Eddie isn’t morally opposed to dating a woman, though he self-identifies as gay. Myra is beautiful and has a great smile. She’s always very kind to people and is the first one willing to take over someone’s shift when they need to switch. But she’s also a bit dull, and when Eddie spends any amount of time with her, like right now, in this tiny booth, waiting restlessly for Richie to climb up those steps, he realizes that she doesn’t… spark anything in him. 

He’s watching her ramble on about the NBC Thursday line-up when someone puts a token through the slot. He turns to see Richie staring at him through the glass. His heart drops down to his feet. 

“Oh, hey, you don’t have to- where did you get that token?” Eddie asks, and Richie smiles. He feels Myra stand up from her chair behind him. 

“I thought maybe it’d be an even trade: put a token in, get a cutie back out,” Richie answers. Eddie snorts and flushes.

“Who is this, Eddie?” Myra asks from behind him. She’s working on sidling up next to him, as if getting closer to Richie through the glass will reveal his true nature. 

“This is Richie, he’s-”

“I’m a friend of the boyfriend,” Richie finishes for him, bouncing on his heel and baring his teeth, and Eddie tries to keep the shock off his face. He feels Myra tense next to him.

Boyfriend?” she screeches, wrapping a hand around Eddie’s arm. 

“Myra, don’t-”

“Oh, have you not told people?” Richie asks, and Eddie just gapes until Myra starts to shake him.

“Eddie, why didn’t you tell me you were dating someone? Oh my god, is it serious? How did you meet?” 

Eddie’s frozen in Myra’s desperate clutches of curiosity. Richie’s staring at him through the glass like he’s grown another head. There’s no Stan to get him out of this situation, so he figures he’s caught in a trap. 

“Yeah, I’m. His name is Bill. We’ve been seeing each other for a few months,” Eddie says, slowly. It doesn’t feel good, but the past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions, so it’s hard to parse out specific ones anymore.

Still, it seems to even things out, and Myra is finally letting him go. Richie looks a little stunned, his eyes big under his giant glasses. Eddie can’t stop watching him, even when Myra’s sighing heavy in the corner, even when Richie shoves his hands in the pockets of his coat and squints out at the incoming train. 

“Eddie,” Myra says, and Eddie turns to face her, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” 

Eddie actually does feel bad. If he really was dating someone, he definitely would have told Myra. They’re not friends, but he doesn’t dislike her. And at least it would give them something to talk about. She doesn’t even like cats. 

Woman or not, Eddie can’t abide dating someone who doesn’t like cats. 

“I know, I know, I’m sorry. It wasn’t really- I didn’t mean to keep it from you,” he says, simply. She still looks a little sad, her mouth turned down in a pout, and Eddie wants to apologize again, but then Richie raps once on the glass. Eddie turns to see him red-cheeked from the wind and back to grinning. 

“You ready to help me get some dumb shit done, Eds?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows. Eddie clears his throat to keep in the strangled cry that threatens to bellow from deep in his soul. 

“Yeah, let’s go,” he says, removing his vest and grabbing his coat from the tiny closet. 

“See you next year, Eddie!” Myra calls after him as he follows Richie back to the staircase. 

Richie snorts and bumps their elbows together as they head toward his truck. 

“She totally stole my line,” he says, his eyes shining. Eddie wonders if this is what a spark actually feels like.

This is going to be a long evening.

**

Eddie peers down at the giant loaf of bread they’re wrapping up. 

“That is not a fucking cake,” Richie says, and the woman behind the counter glares at him. “Pardon me, madam, please, I paid fifty bucks for that monstrosity, and I would like to take it home and make sweet, bread-y love to it.” 

Eddie slaps him on the arm and mouths an apology to the woman. 

“It was twenty-five dollars, Richie,” he adds, and Richie waves him off. 

They’re standing close together behind the cash register at their first of three stops - the bakery downtown. They’ve been teasing each other since Eddie got in the truck, and Eddie’s feeling a happy holiday flush despite the frigid temperatures. 

For once, he thinks this might be a good New Year’s. 

The bakery employee finishes wrapping up the bread and hands it to Eddie instead of Richie, making stoic eye contact with Richie the whole time. Eddie shoots him a grin when their little power play ends. 

“That’s what you get for being an asshole,” Eddie says. Richie tries to make a break for it, lunging at Eddie’s arms, but Eddie plays a good game of keep-away. 

Richie huffs a breath. “You better let me carry that thing through the front door. I paid a hundred bucks for that.” 

“Finders keepers,” Eddie says back, and Richie pushes him out the door. 

They stop for wine next, and Eddie eyes a nice bottle of whiskey as a host gift for Bev and Ben. Richie off-handedly mentions they drink it, but only when they’re feeling rich and fancy. They certainly deserve to feel fancy tonight, so Eddie brings it up to the counter and slaps down a couple twenties. 

Maybe he’ll have a glass later. 

When he’s ready to go, he finds Richie pondering the aisle of mixers. Eddie watches him for just a second, clutching his brown paper bag tightly in his fist, trying to keep his mind on Bill and friendship and loyalty, and not on how Richie is crouching down to explore all his options and his shirt rides up in the back, exposing a peek of his hip bone, and then suddenly Eddie is jumping toward him with a yell. 

Richie startles and almost screams back, but he catches himself and it turns more into a strangled yelp. 

“What the fuck, you trying to kill a guy?” Richie asks, hand pressed to his chest like an old maid who’s been given a fright. Eddie feels dizzy, he has no idea what the fuck that was about, he just needed Richie to stand up and that seemed the fastest way to go about it. 

“No, sorry, I don’t know why I thought that would be funny. Anyway,” he says, brushing past it and hoping Richie will follow suit, “do you need anything? I already paid but I can-”

“No, I don’t drink, but thanks, Eds. I am trying to find this stupid cranberry mixer shit that Mike likes, though, if you wanna put that tiny body to good use and help me out,” he says, and Eddie is thrown in about fifty different directions. He decides to give up on all of them and slink toward Richie instead, reaching out an arm for some reason, hoping that will help. Richie’s forehead wrinkles and he points to the bottom shelf. Eddie’s face heats when realizes he’s really going to have to crawl down onto the floor.

Hiking up his jeans, he looks to Richie. 

“Cranberry what?” he asks, and Richie stares at him, unblinking, for a few seconds. “Rich? I’m not crawling down there and waiting for you to grow a brain. Tell me and I’ll grab it.” 

Richie’s throat works at something, then he says, “Bubbly cranberry mixer.” 

Eddie nods, a man on a mission, and gets to his knees on the floor. 

The bottle is way back there, so Eddie’s soon on his stomach, reaching his arms out as far as they go. 

As soon as the arm of his jacket glides over the floor, he knows it’s disgusting. There’s got to be years and years of grime down here. His mother’s shrill voice echoes in his head, germs and disease and how her friend got AIDS from the floor of an old booze shop in Massachusetts.

He tries to quiet the voice with his favorite technique: expletives and volume. 

“What the fuck, this is really far back. I am shorter than you, asshole,” he yells up at Richie. “Your arms are longer, why am I doing this?” He hears Richie laughing above him and the sound pushes him a little bit further, until he’s finally got his hands on the red bottle of carbonated liquid. “God, I hope this is fucking worth it,” he hisses out as he straightens himself to standing again. 

“Wow, uh,” Richie says, stammering, his lips a little wet. His eyes are stuck on Eddie’s mid-section, where his jacket and shirt have ridden up from laying on the floor. Eddie pulls them both down and hands the bottle to Richie. 

“It’s almost-” Eddie looks at his watch. “Six. We should probably get going. I’ll get this,” he says, snatching the bottle of cranberry stuff back from Richie, who’s still staring at him like he’s a ghost, and heading back to the cash register. Richie closes his mouth with a click and follows without a word. 

Once they get back in the car, Richie seems to have shaken off whatever he was feeling in the store. He whistles along to the radio and occasionally busts into his Bruce Willis impression, which Eddie doesn’t like as much as Donald Duck, but it’s still stupidly endearing. 

“Do you do impressions at all these mic nights?” Eddie asks, after Richie’s done trying to pinch at his cheeks where they’re red from the cold. 

“Oh, shit, no,” Richie says, voice getting tight and a little unsure, “I don’t really have an, uh. An act, so to speak, I just basically get up there to make Stan and Bev laugh.” He grips at the wheel and runs a quick hand through his hair. “Works like half the time. Our Beverly is an easier sell. You gotta really work for that Uris chuckle. He’s got a weird fucking sense of humor.”

It almost sounds like he’s insecure about it, which Eddie finds hard to believe. Richie’s so fucking funny, it’s weird he’s not trying to make it as an actual comedian. 

“I’d like to come see you sometime.”

It’s out of his mouth before he knows it, but he just feels so comfortable, laughing and poking at each other with easy hands and light touches. Eddie feels good and happy, and it’s… it’s different. 

Richie stares at him a little too long until his eyes drift back to the road. 

“Sure, Eddie, that’s. I mean. There’s not much to see, but yeah, I can. I’ll let you know the next time I plan on going.” Richie sounds so nervous, and his fingers are wiggling against the steering wheel and it’s actually kind of… cute?

Eddie smiles and nods, biting at his lip when Richie looks back to him. 

“What?” Richie asks. 

Eddie shakes his head, then says, “Nothing, I just can’t wait to heckle you.” 

Richie sticks out his tongue, and Eddie is instantly reminded of Bev.

“D’you think you and Bev are the closest?” Eddie asks on instinct. He really wants to know more about these people. And he especially wants to know anything Richie will tell him. 

Richie looks surprised at the question, but then he nods. 

“I guess so,” he says, tapping along to the song on the radio, his long fingers drumming at the wheel, “haven’t really thought about it that way in a long time.”

“What about Bill?”

Eddie cringes, thankful that Richie’s eyes are on the road and that the sun has been completely set for a couple hours. Why the fuck is he pushing this so far? 

Richie takes a longer pause before answering this time. 

“Oh, Billiam. He’ll always have a small piece of my heart,” Richie says, putting on an affectation, and Eddie feels a little flushed. Does he mean that he and Bill- 

“Oh, so you two-” 

“What?” Richie snaps, jolting the wheel so the whole car suddenly quirks left. 

“Holy shit, be careful,” Eddie says, grabbing at the dashboard with both hands. Richie’s breathing heavily in the driver’s seat.

“Sorry, sorry, shit, you surprised me, fuck,” Richie says in a rush. 

Eddie’s stomach drops a little. “Sorry, didn’t mean to imply anything weird-”

“No, it’s not-” Richie starts, lifting up a hand, but Eddie just stares at it, “It’s not that, I don’t. It’s Bill, we haven’t.” He stops again, and Eddie is halfway between impatient and sorry, so he waits. “I guess we just aren’t as close as I thought.” 

Richie’s eyes stay on the road, and Eddie wonders what the hell that means. 

They’re quiet for awhile, and Eddie feels awkward. He shoves his hands between his legs to warm them up. They’re almost at the house. 

The past two hours have been great, but now there’s something fraught and he doesn’t like it. Richie is guarded, and Eddie doesn’t know him well, but that’s never a word that’s applied in their short time together. 

“I’m- I do like guys,” Richie says, and it cuts through the quiet so sharply that Eddie almost startles. 

“Oh,” is all Eddie can say, a steady stream of static clouding his brain. He looks to Richie, whose eyes are still on the road. 

“Just didn’t want you to think that’s why I almost drove us headfirst into a concrete wall,” Richie says, and Eddie laughs, a little relieved. Richie has a way of doing that - making people laugh, easing the tension.

They make the turn onto Ben and Bev’s street.

“It did seem a little homophobic,” Eddie says, and he sees Richie grin. He takes a deep breath and pushes it out through his nose. 

“Watch it, I can still crash this car,” Richie says, spinning the wheel up, but they’re so close to the house it’s clearly a bluff. Eddie giggles anyway. Jesus.

“You’re lucky we made it here in one piece,” Eddie says, moving to get out once they’re parked. He grabs the wine, whiskey and bread and slams the door shut. Richie’s behind him, waiting to walk up to the door. 

“I would never let you down, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says. Eddie clings tightly to the alcohol and wishes he could say the same thing. 

**

“Eddie and Richie are here!” Ben calls back to the kitchen from the front door, and Bev and Stan pile out to greet them. 

Eddie hands Ben some of the bottles he’s holding and Richie reaches out to give the bread to Bev, since he managed to sneak it back from Eddie before they got into the house. He’s holding it like a religious offering, and Bev takes it gingerly from his hands, and then they both grin at each other. 

Eddie watches them and flushes with something like happiness. 

They have dinner around the table again, and this time, Eddie almost feels like he belongs. 

A feast of food is passed around. Eddie fills his plate and Richie snags a chicken wing away from him and he elbows him in the side. Richie leans toward him the whole time, their legs close under the table, Richie’s laugh almost in his ear as they trade stories and jokes until late.  

When they’re all migrating to the living room, stretching out on various pieces of furniture to watch the television as it approaches midnight, Stan pulls him into the hallway.

“You doing okay?” he asks, and Eddie blinks. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s had a couple glasses of wine, his whiskey gift went off without a hitch, and Richie’s been making him laugh all night. Everyone’s been looking at him like he’s one of them. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Eddie says, nodding, patting at Stan’s arm where they’re huddled together, “I’m really good. Why?” 

Stan steps back. “Oh. Nothing. You looked freaked at the hospital when they invited you, so I wanted to make sure.” 

“Yeah, yeah, I was. I’m not big into parties, and tomorrow’s a-” he says, stopping himself. He’s laid enough of himself on these people. They don’t need more of his shit, especially not Stan. Definitely not Stan, who’s checking on him, like he’s not lying to all of his closest friends. 

“Tomorrow?” 

Eddie waves a hand. “Don’t worry, Stan. I’m good.” 

“Okay,” Stan says, looking hesitant. “Just let me know if Richie’s hanging on you too much.” He rolls his eyes, leaning into Eddie like he’s going to follow suit. Eddie shrugs.

“He’s actually been really nice.” 

“Oh,” Stan says, again, and Eddie feels caught. 

Of course, there’s nothing to be caught in. He and Richie are just becoming friends. Eddie’s not used to that, and that’s why it feels so nice, why it makes his extremities tingle and why he can’t stop reaching to find Richie in every room. 

Stan stares at him and crosses his arms. 

“Thanks, Stan, but let’s get back in there,” he says, avoiding Stan’s eyes and turning on his heel. 

“Fine,” he hears behind him. 

Eddie walks to the living room and sees Richie sprawled out on a giant armchair. He smiles as soon as Eddie gets closer, and Eddie’s heart does something of a flip. He looks over to see Stan watching them from the corner. 

**

Midnight comes and goes without much fanfare. Both Ben and Richie are snoozing a bit in their chairs, and Bev smacks a kiss to Ben’s cheek as the ball drops, then shrugs at Eddie across the room when he barely notices. Eddie ducks his head in a laugh. Richie pops his head up at the sound, waving the noise-maker in his hand in a crooked circle. 

“Happy new year?” he asks, and Bev nods. “Happy New Year!” he says again, with more feeling. Eddie snorts, but tries to cover it in a cough so Stan won’t notice. 

Stan’s been glaring at him since they talked. Every time Eddie looks up, Stan shifts his focus, pretending that he’s not, but Eddie can feel it. He’s been trying not to look at Richie, to make conversation with Ben and Mike, but Mike is also tired from sleeping at the hospital so much and Ben really loves talking about different types of furniture, so Eddie’s talking points wiggled down to null pretty quickly. 

Now that Richie’s awake, Eddie sees his opening to leave, hoping a good night’s sleep will help Stan reset and then they can discuss in the morning how all of this needs to end because Eddie has lost his mind and Stan is being too kind in keeping this secret. And maybe that will distract him from the fact that he and Richie have been spending way too much time watching each other across various rooms. 

“I’m pretty tired, actually,” Eddie says, getting up and stretching. “And Richie is my ride, so I think we should get going before he falls asleep again. He already almost killed us on the way here.” 

Richie gasps. “That was not my fault.” He eyes Eddie strangely, and Eddie worries he’ll say something about their earlier conversation, although he’s not sure why.

“I’m just saying, you look all partied out, Tozier,” Eddie says, trying to keep the shaking out of his voice. Richie clears his throat and wrenches himself out of the chair, nodding.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m coming, you never let me have any fun,” Richie says, and Eddie clenches his teeth. Now that he knows Stan is paying attention, everything seems so much more obvious to him. How Richie talks to him, how they act around each other. When the fuck did this happen? How did they slip into this so easily? 

Ben packs up some leftovers for each of them to take and Eddie leads Richie out of the kitchen to put on both of their coats. 

Mike gives them both hugs goodbye, and Stan waves awkwardly from yet another corner while Bev hugs Eddie. Ben smiles, bags under his eyes.

“Go take your woman to bed,” Richie tells him as they hug, too. Bev smacks Richie over the head instead of hugging him, but Eddie kinda figures that makes more sense.

Eddie’s already hovering in the door, excited to get home and fall into bed as well, although he’s definitely not in the mood for his woman to join him. Lucy’s claws are lethal at night. Richie approaches him and they both turn to give one final wave, when Ben laughs, pointing above them. 

“Fuck, Bev, you forgot to take the mistletoe down from…”

Ben,” Bev says, a tense whisper, and Ben’s mouth clicks shut. 

Eddie looks up to see that, indeed, there is a dumb sprig of mistletoe hanging above he and Richie, tied together with a red string at the top. Richie is looking too, and when Eddie’s head falls he’s staring right at Richie’s long throat, and he sees it bob before Richie’s eyes are on him instead. 

“Well,” Richie says, and then Bev is clapping behind them, and Eddie turns to look. 

“Go on, kiss him!” she says, who knows to which one of them, and when Eddie looks back at Richie, his eyes definitely aren’t guarded, but they’re something else Eddie hasn’t seen before, and it scares him. It honestly scares him.

Then Richie turns to Bev.

“What the fuck were you two doing with the mistletoe that Ben can’t-”

“Beep fucking beep, Richie,” Ben says, his eyebrows a hard line on his face, and Eddie’s too lost in Richie being so close to figure out what that means, but it stops Richie from talking. 

“Yeah, just kiss him and get outta my house,” Bev says behind a yawn. 

“Oh my god,” Richie grumbles, throwing his hands up and setting them down on one of each of Eddie’s cheeks. He’s fucking holding him, and Eddie is panicking but he’s also leaning up, he hasn’t been kissed in years , and now there’s a very tall man with really good cheekbones looking at him like he’s asking permission and Eddie presses up the last bit to kiss him. 

It’s quick and dry and even though Richie’s hands are on his face he reacts like he didn’t quite expect it. Their bodies are both tense and Eddie pulls back as soon as it happens. There’s a quiet sound of the phone ringing in the background but Richie’s eyes are still closed, when did they close? Eddie moves to peel a hand off his cheek. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Richie says, opening his eyes and stepping back, smacking the back of his head against the doorframe. 

Eddie reaches forward, resting a hand on Richie’s shoulder. “Fuck, you okay?”

Richie’s already nodding. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, jesus, I’m smooth,” he says, and Eddie opens his mouth to answer when Bev rushes into the room.

“He’s awake,” she says.

They all turn to her, Eddie’s hand still on Richie’s shoulder. 

Stan’s face is flushed red. Mike’s jaw pops open like a spring. Bev and Ben watch each other quietly. 

And when Eddie looks back to Richie, whose eyes are wide and frightened, he kind of wants to throw up.

Chapter Text

“Eddie?”

Eddie looks up and sees Mike trying to get his attention. He’s sunken into the big armchair, numb and reeling, and the only thing he can feel is Stan’s eyes on him. Still. It’s starting to feel like his face will burst into flame from the power of Stan’s judgment. 

“What?” Eddie asks. Richie walks up behind Mike and raises his eyebrows.

“You ready to go?” Richie says, and Eddie looks back to Mike.

“I was saying, we’re all going to head to the hospital - me and Stan are going with Ben and Bev and you and Richie can go together, since his truck can only fit two. Is that okay?” 

Richie rocks on the balls of his feet. He looks tired. So does Mike. They’re all tired, wandering around the house like they were shocked awake and now have to deal with it. Which, they kind of were.

The hospital had only called five minutes ago, and Eddie immediately had to sit down, and then spent the entire five minutes staring at the doorway where he and Richie had just kissed. 

They kissed. And now Richie was staring at him with a crooked smile, waiting to take him to the hospital, waiting to sit next to him on the truck bench and pretend like they hadn’t just been peer pressured into kissing and that Eddie’s face wasn’t still tingling from where they had touched. Richie had touched him a lot over the past week, but this was a new one. Eddie did not like it. 

But he also really fucking did

“Yeah, okay,” Eddie says, the words sticking. He doesn’t really want to go to the hospital but it won’t make any sense if he doesn’t. None of this makes sense. Bill’s going to wake up and immediately start screaming, there will be a strange man in his room who clearly doesn’t work at the hospital, and then everything will really come crumbling down. 

But he gets out of the chair anyway, and he climbs into Richie’s truck, and Richie drives the whole way there in silence.

**

Eddie feels the tears welling as soon as he and Richie get into the elevator. 

They’ve barely said two words to each other, and Eddie’s heart feels skewered in his chest. Eddie doesn’t really want to talk, has no idea what he would say, but something about Richie not even trying makes him ache. 

Once they start walking down the hall to Bill’s room, Ben heads them off a few doors away. He grabs at each of their arms, ushering the three of them together.

“Hey, let me tell you what we know,” he says, and Eddie can feel his heart pounding in his ears. 

The hallway is dark, and there’s a few nurses hanging around their station still pumped up on celebrating the new year, the walls decorated with gold streamers and big, puffy 1996 balloons, and a few of them snuck in a bottle of champagne to share, but Eddie doesn’t notice any of that, because he’s too busy hearing Ben say:

“He doesn’t remember anything after the book party.” 

Richie’s hands grab at his hair and he wheels back to walk a circle around Eddie and Ben. Eddie’s ears surely must have misheard, he doesn’t-

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Richie says, instead, and Eddie thinks that about sums it up.

Ben’s head falls, dangling and tired. “No. I’m not kidding, why would I- anyway. We only just got here, and as soon as we walked in Bill was-” Ben hesitates, his hands clenched. 

“Bill was what?” Richie asks.

“He was surprised to see Mike, for one,” Ben says, strained. 

Richie grunts. Eddie just stares at a glittery piece of streamer on the floor and listens. 

“Is there a two?” Richie asks, after a moment. 

“He doesn’t remember Eddie,” Ben says. Eddie’s eyes snap up to meet his, and he looks so… sad. 

“Whoa, what?” Richie asks, the only one capable of questions. Eddie’s hands have gone numb and he tries to comprehend what he’s just been told. Is he… getting out of this? 

Fuck, he’s horrible for even thinking of that. This man has amnesia? Is that even a thing?

“We kept him talking and he said that’s the last thing he remembers. Mike storming off and the rest of us saying good night. Doesn’t even remember leaving the party. I guess that’s why he doesn’t remember meeting-”

“Eds, are you okay?” 

Eddie’s notices it’s Richie that asked, suddenly talking to him again, suddenly making eye contact and concerned. 

“I don’t really know what I’m feeling,” Eddie says, honestly. Richie nods and presses a hand to Eddie’s arm. 

Stan appears behind Ben and Eddie’s heart almost stops. Does he have a radar for Richie touching him or something? 

“Hey guys,” Stan says, and then turns to Ben. “You can go back in, Ben, I think Mike is getting ready to leave.” 

“Shit, okay.” Ben turns back to the room, going pale. Richie’s hand is still on Eddie’s arm, and Stan’s eyes catch there first before landing on Richie’s face. 

“Can I talk to Eddie for a second, Richie?” he asks, and Richie looks a little surprised. He turns to look at Eddie, smiling sad with tight lips, squeezes his arm once more, and then walks away from the both of them. 

Eddie feels like he might pass out. He stares at the floor after Richie leaves and tries to summon the courage to look at Stan.

“So things have changed,” Stan says, simply. 

“Yeah,” Eddie sighs, into the floor. 

“What are you doing?” Stan asks, and that makes Eddie look up. Stan is tired, like the rest of them, stubble on his chin, curls flat to his head, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hands are on his hips and his back is bent, curled in on himself, like he’s already given up on Eddie. He probably should. 

“I’m. Panicking?” Eddie answers, because that’s all he can really land on for sure.

“No, I mean. What do you want?” Stan asks, eyes suddenly soft. 

“What do I want?” Eddie asks, slowly.

“Yeah, what do you really want?” 

“God, Stan, I don’t- I don’t know.” Eddie sighs, feeling those tears crawl back. “I thought you were mad-”

“Do you want to be apart of our group?” Stan asks, like he’s expecting a simple answer, his tone light. Eddie’s so close to a sob.

“I-yes. Yeah.” 

Stan nods again. He’s so serious but he doesn’t look mad, and Eddie wonders if he’s misread everything. 

“Then let’s make this work.” 

**

He and Stan had argued for a hushed five minutes about the game plan, with Eddie voting to tell everyone the truth, including Bill, and Stan voting for convincing Bill that Eddie is a great guy and making this fake couple actually work. 

“What’s the harm?” Stan had asked, and Eddie had considered it for one brief moment before shaking out of the dream world and adamantly refusing. 

“You need to tell them and I need to leave,” Eddie had said. 

Stan stared and nodded, pretending to think on it before rushing to say, “Mine is better.”

Now Eddie is climbing into Richie’s truck for the third time tonight. 

They decided not to let Bill see Eddie - he was far too upset. Eddie didn’t really ask why, didn’t ask any more details about that night or his fight with Mike. It was after a book party, now he knows that much. But he also doesn’t want to give himself away. Maybe if he and Bill had actually been dating, Bill might have told him. 

Bill might’ve whispered it to him, close in a dark restaurant on their third date, before walking Eddie up to his apartment and kissing him in the hallway. 

Before leading him inside and kissing him into the sheets, too, so grateful that he can tell Eddie things. 

Instead, Eddie had gone home every night by himself. 

Instead, the only kiss he’d gotten was a brief mistake under the mistletoe.

Tonight, he’s walking down his hallway with Richie, who had, several times, insisted he could drive home at 4am in the newly-falling snow, but finally caved when Eddie offered his couch, his brain short-circuiting from all the fatigue. 

Eddie turns the key in his lock and swings open the door a little too hard. Richie’s hand flies up to stop it, gripping around the top, and Eddie turns and blinks at him, a little impressed. Richie’s chest is broad and stretched under his shirt, his jacket open and flurried with specks of melting snow. His hair is a pattern of black and white, wavy curls alternating with droplets of water. One falls onto the side of his cheek as he smiles down at Eddie. 

“Didn’t wanna wake the neighbors,” Richie says, as a way of explanation, and Eddie just nods, eyes heavy. Richie closes the door and follows him inside. 

“The couch is right here, the bathroom is at the end of that hall, shouldn’t be hard to miss, it’s just that and my bedroom.” 

Richie chuckles quietly. “I’ll make sure not to mix them up.”

Eddie blinks again, far too tired for this. He takes one look at the couch and reaches for the lint roller. He cleans it almost every day, but Lucy is fluffy and her hair leaves her body in wisps that gather quickly. Certainly not fun to sleep on. Eddie didn’t have time to clean this morning, and he certainly wasn’t expecting any visitors. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s had anyone stay on this couch before. 

“I’m sorry if it’s not comfortable,” he says, as if Richie has a choice. Richie just grunts behind him, and Eddie turns to see him removing his jacket. His shirt comes up a little and Eddie whips the roller frantically across the cushions, inadvertently ripping the sticky piece of paper attached in half.

“Fuck,” he says, then turns again to Richie, who’s now watching him in a t-shirt and jeans. “I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t- it’s. Eddie. Are you okay?” 

Eddie shakes his head, definitely doesn’t want to talk about that right now, his stomach is in knots and he had one too many glasses of champagne and there’s a sweet center of pain thrumming at the back of his skull. A hangover might be in the cards tomorrow, and Eddie almost groans at the thought. Just what he needs. 

Plus, it’s not like he and Richie didn’t just spend two extended car rides not speaking to each other. And now he wants to talk? Now that Eddie is finally home and within arm’s reach of sleep?

“Yeah, I’m. I just need some time to think,” he says, not really meaning it to come out. 

Richie nods. “You should get some sleep.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. No shit. 

“I’ll be fine here,” Richie says, then, “but do you have a blanket? It’s fucking freezing.” 

Eddie laughs, and it feels good. Richie smiles at him and it feels even better. He hates that he’s glad Richie is here. 

He throws him a few blankets and a fitted sheet, which Richie immediately discards on the armchair next to the couch. Eddie’s too tired to fight him. 

“Good night Eds,” Richie says as Eddie walks down the hallway to his bed, Lucy following on his heels. He pats at her head and points her toward the living room. 

“Go cuddle with the guests, Lucy, you’re being a horrible host.” She rubs around his legs in a discontented circle. 

“What?” Richie asks from the other room, and Lucy follows the sound of his voice. Sucker. 

“Nothing, good night, Richie!” Eddie calls after him, rushing to close the bedroom door behind him before Lucy wisens up.

Just as he crawls into bed, he hears Richie yell, “What the fuck, ow!” and falls asleep smiling.

**

As soon as Eddie wakes to the blue tint of the winter sun through his blinds, he wants to burrow under the covers and never come back out.

It’s a new year. Eddie usually doesn’t make resolutions, has never really been able to keep one to his own satisfaction, and that always makes him further disappointed. But that seems to be the game with resolutions. They’re tied up in buying more things or hating yourself more or pretending to love yourself when really you’re just trying to change. 

The only thing Eddie wants to change about himself is that he exists at all, and that he’s currently nose-deep in an absurd and manipulative situation that he crashed into like a test dummy, helpless but destined, enjoying the ride before the wall sneaks up on him. 

Rather fatalistic, but again, resolutions are pointless, and this one is as unattainable as the others. 

When five minutes pass without him bursting into a cloud of smoke at the mere mental suggestion, Eddie wrenches himself out of bed and gets dressed. He wants to check on Richie before jumping in the shower, he should probably get some coffee started, maybe even make them both some food. He doesn’t work again today, and he assumes they’ll visit the hospital, but he has no idea what plan anyone else made for the day. 

Eddie wasn’t listening when Bev was talking last night, so he hopes Richie was taking notes.

As he approaches the living room, the noise that comes out of his mouth rivals that of the creak of his feet on the wooden slats of his apartment floor. 

Richie is curled up on his side, knees hanging off the cushions, long body far too big for Eddie’s practical loveseat. His mouth hangs open, and Eddie’s sure he’s been drooling, but he doesn’t consider the stains that will leave on his throw pillows, at least not for too long, because Lucy is tucked against Richie’s stomach. The only space for her coiled form and she took advantage of it. Eddie wonders how long they’ve been like that, accommodating each other sleepily, two chests of opposite sizes moving in the tandem of shared breath. Eddie’s own chest moves a bit quicker as he watches them. 

Eddie’s never lived with anyone but his mother and his cat. There was his dad for the first few years, but he hardly remembers. Unfortunately, he won’t ever forget living with his mother. 

She was, at the end of the day, and certainly at the end of her life, a cruel woman. She feigned love and attention but it was simply control. Control and capped up emotions that spilled at the flip of a random switch. She was abusive and smothering and Eddie realized it right as she got sick, almost as soon as he turned twenty-five, way too late, so he spent as much time away from her as possible, which wasn’t much, considering they didn’t have enough money for home help. 

Eddie did most things for her until she died, and it never left any time to meet new people. Friends, boyfriends, support. Roommates. 

He sat around in an empty two bedroom for six months before breaking the lease, sick of the ghost of his mother lurking around every corner. Instead he found himself a one bedroom, a cat, and a new appreciation for his own space. His mother had been hoarding money, but even without that, he doesn’t need a roommate. He can afford it on what he makes and by living simply. But it doesn’t mean he evades loneliness. 

Waking up to someone here is almost nice. Lucy didn’t even scratch on his door this morning, and that’s unprecedented, so maybe someone else giving her attention was needed. Eddie knows all too well the shining warmth of Richie’s attention. 

Richie stirs on the couch, his knee twitching. Lucy wakes to stretch her paw out onto Richie’s stomach, curling her nails gently against Richie’s shirt. Richie jerks to swipe her away, and Lucy recoils slightly, then repeats the motion. This time, Richie just accepts it. Lucy purrs so loudly Eddie can hear her across the room.

Like father, like daughter.

Eddie takes a deep breath and turns to start on coffee. While the machine is going, he takes a shower and dresses for the day, jeans and a sweater, a dark red one he knows looks good with his eyes. If he’s going to meet Bill today, he has to make a good first impression. He combs his hair with a little more care than usual, gels it into place and sprays some cologne for good measure. 

He stares at himself in the mirror when he’s done and contemplates the events of his life. The third anniversary of his mother’s death. All decked out to visit a hospital and meet his fake boyfriend for the first time. Escorted by the cute man sleeping in his living room with his cat. Surrounded by lovely people who think he could be one of them. 

He switches off the light and leaves the bathroom before he can think himself out of this. 

Richie’s sitting up on the couch now, Lucy happily purring in his lap, her fluff spilling out past his knees. He smiles when Eddie emerges, bags under his eyes and glasses crooked on his face. 

Eddie walks over to peer down at Lucy, her eyes closed in the mirth of a good cuddle. Eddie’s a little jealous. He tickles at her dangling paw and Richie laughs.

“She’s a good fucking cat,” he says, and Eddie grinds his teeth to keep from smiling, “nails like fucking swords, though, jesus, I’m gonna have some battle scars.” 

Eddie lets himself laugh this time, loud and true. No one’s ever really known Lucy but him. Something about her being so fully understood by another human being is kind of delightful. 

“Yeah, sorry about that, should’ve warned you,” Eddie says, as if he didn’t have any openings last night. Richie shakes his head.

“Nah, she was a good sleeping buddy. Very warm, very comfy,” Richie says, smiling at her, “Much hairier than I’m used to, though not by much.” 

“Oh?” Eddie says, amused when Richie’s mouth screws up all funny. 

“Uh, wow, yeah,” Richie starts, coughing out a laugh.

“I assume you’re not talking about short haired cats,” Eddie says. Richie laughs again at that, and Eddie tries to focus on patting at Lucy’s head while Richie works her belly. She usually only lets him pet her belly, but she’s cool as a cucumber, no sign of tension as Richie’s hand ruffles at her hair. 

“Nope, I am a feline-free household,” Richie says, poking at Lucy’s nose, “but she might just convince me.” 

“So lots of burly dudes then, I gather.”

“Oh, tons of beefcakes. Every night.” 

“That’s what I thought,” Eddie says, and his face must be bright red but Richie’s kind of is, too. 

“No, I uh,” Richie says, watching Lucy, and Eddie smells the coffee wafting in from the kitchen, “I’m actually not really out to people, per se.” 

Eddie blinks. “What? What people?” 

Richie’s hand moves in a circle through Lucy’s hair, again and again. Eddie watches it. 

“Uh, any people?” he says, looking up to Eddie for a beat, but quickly back down. “I haven’t told anyone.” 

“But you told me.” 

“Correct.” 

Eddie needs coffee for this. “You haven’t… wait. No one?” 

“Nope,” Richie says, plopped out of his mouth like he’s spitting tobacco. 

“What the fuck, why?” 

Richie glares at him and Eddie swallows, pinching his brow. 

“Sorry, sorry,” he says, walking around Richie’s knees to sit next to him on the couch. “But… why? Not even your friends?” 

He hears Richie inhale sharply and tries to calm his own heart. 

“Honestly, I don’t fucking know,” Richie says on a long breath, like he’s been holding it in, the words and the air, “We grew up in this super fucked up, really conservative town in Maine, and this guy got killed for walking around with his boyfriend when we were all fourteen and I think it just set this sort of tone in all our brains. Don’t fucking talk about it. Just try to forget. So I did. And I think the rest went with it.” 

They both watch Richie’s hand skim over the expanding bulge of Lucy’s stomach. 

“I didn’t know Bill had told people,” Richie says, a little quieter, and Eddie wants to reach out to him again, wants to touch him so badly, because he’s never told anyone this before. “I don’t know why Bill didn’t tell me. But I didn’t tell him either, so I guess I shouldn’t be fucking surprised.” 

Eddie shakes his head. “Neither of you knew. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, just like you didn’t.” 

Richie’s head falls a little. “I guess. It just feels so pathetic, you know? I know no one would have a problem with it, I know they love me.”

“They do,” Eddie agrees. Richie’s looking at him now. Looks a little lighter. 

“Then you fucking waltz in here with your big gay boyfriend Bill and make it all look so easy,” Richie says, and Eddie feels like he should be mad, but instead he’s smiling.

“I can’t waltz to save my life,” he says instead, because it’s easier than you make it easy

“Yeah, yeah, well,” Richie says, helping Lucy down off his lap so she doesn’t land on her head, “seeing everyone treat you like Ben when he fell in love with Bev made me realize I don’t know why I thought it would be anything but easy with these losers.” 

Eddie feels like he could cry. “It wasn’t, uh. I mean,” he starts, trying to catch that swooping feeling in his chest to steady himself, “it wasn’t always easy. My mom was, pretty-”

“Oh, shit, right, Eds,” Richie tries to interrupt, but Eddie presses a hand to his knee, suddenly right next to him in the absence of Lucy sprawled across his lap. 

“It’s okay.” 

Richie stares down at his hand. “Okay.” Eddie takes a breath and removes his hand. His fingers clench, wishing for a cup of coffee to keep them busy. 

“My mom was homophobic. I came out to her a few times but it never stuck. But each time felt… harder somehow.” 

“Shit,” Richie mumbles. Eddie nods.

“But she also, uh. She was also sick for a long time. And I took care of her. I had to, I was the only-” Eddie’s voice really catches this time, swelling in his chest and balling up in his throat. Richie repeats his earlier motion and grabs at Eddie’s knee, and Eddie meets his eyes. Easier. 

“She died today. I mean, three years ago. Today. It’s the anniversary,” Eddie says, finally. Richie’s hand grips a little tighter as they hold each other’s eyes, and Eddie laughs, a little wet. “I haven’t told anyone that, either.” 

Richie’s eyes bug. “What? Why not?” 

“I don’t know,” Eddie says, and Richie goes a little still. “Same as you, I guess.” 

Richie quirks a brow. “Deep repression?” 

Eddie laughs, which feels bizarre in the moment, ripped from his throat, although he does feel a little torn open. 

“Well, maybe a little of that,” he says, swaying his knees to knock into Richie’s. “But mostly it’s never felt this easy.” 

Richie bumps their knees back the other way. Eddie feels like he’s in grade school, teasing and making excuses to touch, but with the added layer of deep emotional honesty cloaked in self-deprecating humor. They are adults, after all. 

Eddie considers going to get coffee, looks up at Richie to ask if he wants one, but the words can’t form once he sees Richie’s face. His eyes are wide, flicking down to Eddie’s lips when Eddie clicks his jaw shut. 

“Eddie, I-” Richie starts when the phone rings on the side table. 

Eddie almost startles, then his heart sinks, expecting Donna, calling to ask him to cover a shift when he finally reaches to pick it up. 

“Hey Eds, you and Richie up yet?” Bev asks into his ear, and Eddie’s panic heightens. 

“What? Why? Of course.”

“Oh,” she says, and he clenches a fist. “I just wanted you to know Bill’s awake again. A little more calm this time, too, right?” she says, her voice drifting off like she’s asking him. Eddie’s head is starting to hurt. “And I think he wants to meet you.”

“Oh god,” he says without thinking, because seriously, what the fuck, “I don’t know, Bev.” 

“Sweetie, I think you should just try talking. I know it’s a lot. It’s been a lot for all of us.” 

Her voice is sweet and patient and Eddie looks up to see Richie embodying the same energy, but stubbly and sleepy, sinking into his couch, and he wonders why he ever tries to resist these people. At this point they could convince him a pile of shit is pure fucking gold. 

“Okay, I’ll uh. Okay,” he says, then adds, “Richie and I will be there soon.” 

He hangs the phone back on the receiver and turns to see Richie with a small, sad smile. Then he turns up his nose, sniffing at the air.

“Do I smell coffee?” Richie asks, and Eddie laughs, jumping off the couch to fill a couple mugs. 

“You sure do, and we’re going to stop to get another gallon of it on the way,” he says, entering the kitchen to see Lucy spread out on the floor, tummy up, eyes wide and interested. She looks lopsided, but as comfortable as could be. He shimmies past her to the mug cabinet, shaking his head. “Your life is so easy.”

**

“You gotta do it sometime, man,” Stan says, almost into his ear. 

“Do I really, though?” Eddie answers, eyes stuck on a very alert, very not-pale Bill sitting up in his bed, idly chatting with Ben. 

Bill looks good, almost as good as before. Ben’s got him smiling a little, and Eddie remembers that same smile as he slid Eddie tokens, as Eddie watched him from the other side of the glass, as Bill greeted him for the first time on Christmas. When he was Prince Charming. 

The name makes Eddie cringe now, standing just outside the room, out of view, willing his legs to move.

Stan’s trying his best, too. 

Yes. It’s like the slate was wiped clean. And if you two don’t click, then that’s that.” 

Eddie’s eyes flip to Stan. “Thanks. That makes me feel better.” 

Stan rolls his eyes. “You know what I mean. He’ll love you.” 

“What makes you so sure? Isn’t this fucked up?” Eddie asks, hands flinging through the air. He feels like he’s losing his mind.

“We all love you, Eddie. It’s been a week. Why would Bill be any different?” 

Eddie’s defenses falter under such a sweet sentiment. He wonders if Stan does this on purpose, saves his really juicy one-liners, the very sappy shit for when he needs to drop it like a bomb. It fucking works. He also ties some logic in there, too.

“Plus it’s not fucked up if you’re starting over. It’s like you just met.” 

“Godddd, fine,” Eddie’s saying, and Stan is shoving gently at the back of his arm, and then he’s standing at the foot of Bill’s bed with Stan’s hand still hovering over him. 

“Bill, this is Eddie,” Stan says, patting him a couple times on the shoulder before moving away. Ben’s the only other one in the room, both Bev and Richie have had their moments and decided to grab lunch while Eddie took some alone time. 

Eddie thinks back to that first night, introducing himself to Bill. Now that he has to do it again, it seems a lot scarier. Bill can actually respond this time. 

“Hi,” Eddie says, because it seems like a good place to start. 

Bill chuckles a little, so Eddie figures he’s onto something.

“Hey, Eddie.” 

“I’m sorry to burst in on you like this-”

“No, no,” Bill shakes his hands in front of him, and Ben takes his cue and stands up. “No, you’re fine, I t-t-thought we should talk.” 

Eddie’s a little surprised, he didn’t know Bill had a stutter, but then again, why would he? He tries not to look weird, but Ben is pressing a hand to Bill’s shoulder. 

“Buddy, when did the stutter start again?” Ben asks, brows pinched in worry. 

Bill swallows and looks a little pale. Fuck. Eddie’s fucking this up already. Is it possible to give someone a stutter?

“I don’t, uh. I d-don’t know,” Bill says, and Eddie starts backing away on instinct. 

“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out,” Ben says. Bill smiles up at him and Ben smiles out at Eddie, and Eddie wants to fade into the corner of this hospital and evaporate. 

“Anyway, Eddie, I’m sorry, come sit,” Bill says. He gestures to the chair Ben’s vacated, and Ben passes behind him on his way out, patting his back too, the straight man’s comfort. He turns to see Stan has fled as well, leaving he and Bill alone. 

“Uh,” Eddie says, working on that good ol’ first impression. 

“Please,” Bill says, pointing at the chair again. Eddie gives in and sits. His fingers fiddle in his lap. “Thanks for coming.”

“What? Of c-of course, Bill, I.” It feels weird saying his name, calling him Bill like Eddie fucking knows him. 

“I’m so sorry about all of this,” Bill starts. He sounds like a businessman, not a writer. Eddie grimaces.

“You’re sorry?”

“Yeah, that you’re in the m-middle of all of this,” he says, and Eddie shrugs. 

“It’s really okay. I’m just glad you’re going to be okay.” 

Bill smiles at him. “All thanks to you, I hear.”  

Eddie blushes. “Oh, I-”

“You saved my life. They told me,” Bill says, softly. He looks down to Eddie’s hand, splayed out and gripping his own thigh, then back to Eddie’s eyes. 

His stare is pretty piercing, and Eddie’s spent a week without it but the memories come flooding back - three solid months of those eyes, smiling at him across the glass, kind and big and beautiful. Blue and solid and reeling him in, making him believe maybe they could really be something, if Eddie somehow got lucky enough. 

And now he’s here, thanking Eddie, smiling up at him but actually meaning it for something this time. Eddie’s heart doesn’t fail to skip a beat, but there’s a dark shadow over the thrill. 

“You would’ve done the same thing,” Eddie says.

Bill shakes his head. “Don’t sell yourself short.” 

Eddie’s whole body goes hot under Bill’s gaze. He clears his throat and tries to move onto a tamer topic. 

“You just missed New Year’s,” Eddie says, laughing nervously. Bill heaves a sigh, smiling wider.

“Yeah, that’s what they tell me. Last thing I remember it was April.” His eyes go a little fuzzy with the admission, and Eddie bites at his lip.

“That must be so weird, I’m sorry.” 

Bill nods. “It is, yeah. Especially with-” he stops, pressing a hand to his forehead. 

“Maybe you should rest,” Eddie says, concerned, but also willing to take any excuse to cut this a little short. It’s even more overwhelming than he anticipated. Bill nods again, mouth screwed up into a hard line.

“Sorry, Eddie, I really wanna get to know you better.” 

Eddie waves a hand at him, raising up out of the chair to give him the room. 

“We’ll talk later, I promise,” Eddie says. A promise? God, he just loves to self-sabotage. He leans forward a little to scoot past the bed, but Bill just sees him dipping in and reaches out to take his hand but catches him around the wrist, and Eddie freezes. 

His mind runs with a million and one ways in which he could escape, but most of them include screaming something, and Bill just woke up from a coma one day ago, so it seems unfair to scare to death. 

Instead, he just stares, and feels the grip of Bill’s soft hand around the bones of his wrist. 

“I’ll see you later then, Eddie,” Bill says, and Eddie smiles nervously, pulling his arm back as soon as Bill releases him. 

He sits outside the room until Bev and Richie arrive, listening to the comforting beep of Bill’s monitor. They stand close on either side of him, asking how it went. 

“We didn’t talk much, he was tired,” Eddie says. His thumb rubs small circles into the skin of his wrist. He wants to go home. 

Bev puts a hand on his arm. “He’ll be up in a little while,” she says, then holds up a bag, “we brought you back a sandwich.” 

“Oh, god, thanks, but I think I might go-”

Richie takes a step toward him. “Eddie-”

“I’m fine, it’s just, yeah, it’s a lot, like you said, Bev, it’s a fucking lot and today was already a lot so I think I need a bit of a break. A day at home,” Eddie says, all at once, breaking from Bev’s grip and shifting toward the elevator bank. Richie watches him go, arms dangling at his sides. 

“I’ll call after work tomorrow, guys, I’ll be fine,” he says as they’re already behind him. 

He almost burns a hole right through his wrist that whole night, irritating it with anxious circles, thinking of Bill’s kind eyes and Richie’s hand on his knee.

Chapter Text

The cold stings at Eddie’s cheeks. He clenches against it, as well as the oncoming stress headache. 

He’s been massively cut on hours for the upcoming week, and he hasn’t worked anything short of full-time for the six years he’s been employed with CTA. He stews in it from the moment he arrives to see the schedule, clung to the stool, alone in his booth for hours. 

When Donna shows up to check on him, all cozied up in a parka, he meets her on the platform, so amped up he’s shaking.

“You could have asked me, Donna,” Eddie’s saying, trembling even harder. He’s always so much braver in his imagination. Then he opens his mouth. 

Donna doesn’t seem convinced either. 

“Myra told me about your boyfriend being in a coma, and I figured you had more pressing things to deal with,” she says, rubbing her mittens together, “can we just go in your booth for this, at least keep out of the wind?” 

“Fine." Eddie leads her in, and luckily Ted doesn’t show up until three, otherwise they’d be packed like sardines. She was right, though, the chill isn’t as daunting with walls. 

“I’m sorry, Eddie, I should have asked. But I didn’t want to pry.” 

Eddie sighs. “It’s complicated.” 

It’s an understatement. But she nods, like she understands, like he deserves some modicum of sympathy. 

“Just let me know how the week goes. I put the schedules together on Thursdays for the part-timers, so I can fit you in whenever you need.” 

“Okay,” he says, still annoyed. “I’ll let you know, but I’d bet on me being here a full week.” 

Bill’s awake now, there’s no reason he needs to be at the hospital all the time, and then they’re sending him home and this whole thing will probably end. 

Donna tips her head, eyebrows thick with skepticism. She leans forward to pat a hand against his arm, then rears up her coat around her neck and exits out into the cold. 

Eddie falls heavy into the seat in the corner, staring out at the meager few people traveling mid-day. 

He probably could have been nicer, but it’s really none of her business. She’s never been this interested in his life before. Now that he has a partner he deserves the time off, the caring looks, the hand on his arm? Where was this when he was single and caring for his mom? They were understanding, sure, but he was also in his mid-20’s and was good at hiding his fatigue after rough nights. Everyone assumed he had gone out drinking, or maybe had a big group of friends keeping him up. 

Eddie blinks. Did he ever actually tell anyone what was going on? Myra hadn’t started yet, and she’s the closest he’s ever gotten to a coworker. He’s known Donna for six years and she barely knows anything about his life. No one but Myra even knows he’s gay.

He thinks of all the things he’s told the group at the hospital, at New Year’s dinner. How much he told Richie yesterday and how much Richie told him. A bolt of fear knuckles its way through his chest at the thought of people knowing him so well. Even though his mother knew him his whole life, she never really knew him. He had to keep so many parts of himself away from her, protected from her cruel grasp so it wasn’t used against him. She couldn’t possibly have known him.

Eddie’s chest is a little hollowed out with the memory of loneliness. He didn’t really feel it at the time, gliding through life and doing what he had to until he jumped off those train tracks. 

Maybe Bill does deserve to get to know him. Maybe they could start from the beginning and see where it goes.

**

Eddie goes home to change and feed Lucy after his shift, warming his hands on her mane of hair while his microwave meal spins. It’s only slightly better than hospital food, but Eddie’s not sure he’s going to be able to stomach anything once he sees Bill again. 

He gets to the hospital around eight, and Bill and Stan are there alone, just chuckling to themselves about something. Eddie stands outside the door for a moment, watching them, and desperately, suddenly, wants to give this a real chance. 

“Hey guys,” he says when he enters, and he feels warm and fond as they both smile up at him. 

“Hey Eddie, didn’t know if you were gonna show today,” Stan says, and his eyes are sharp. Eddie presses his lips together and looks to the floor. He knows he should’ve called, could have probably assuaged some fear for a few of them. But he just… couldn’t. Wasn’t even sure he was really showing up until he walked in the front doors a few minutes ago. 

But he made a stupid promise.

“Sorry about that, I worked today-”

“Eddie, no, it’s fine,” Bill says, shaking his foot out at Stan in a dorky scold, “don’t make him feel bad. He can’t just skip out on his job like all of you slackers.”

“I’ve had an eight hour client meeting today,” Stan says, fake-checking his wrist, void of a watch, “so please expect my bill shortly.” 

“Shuddup, you barely charge me,” Bill says, winking at Eddie. Eddie blushes and Stan rolls his eyes.

“His head’s all mixed up,” Stan says. Bill’s jaw drops.

“Eddie, will you please sit down and tell this guy to be nicer to me? I’m a fucking coma patient.” He’s pointing behind Eddie to the gaggle of chairs abandoned from the day, so Eddie pulls one from the group and drags it over.

“Did you see everyone else today?” He asks once he’s seated. Stan crosses his arms and puts his feet up on the end of Bill’s bed. Eddie’s tempted to do the same - it was a long day at work and he was too anxious to do anything but stand most of the time. Now that he’s in a chair more comfortable than a metal stool, he’s tempted to stay the night.

Bill hums affirmatively. “Yep, they were bothering me all day.” 

“You just missed Richie,” Stan says. There’s no flicker of anything weird over his expression, so Eddie tries to chalk his looks from New Year’s up to holiday anxiety and move past it. 

Eddie shrugs. “I’m sure I’ll see him tomorrow.”

“Nah, he’s on call, so he won’t be back til the day after,” Bill says, still smiling easily. 

“How was your day?” Eddie asks Bill, trying not to focus on the ache in his gut from that bit of news. He feels a little conflicted about seeing Richie now that Bill is awake. Almost like he’d be splitting his focus, but that’s more… that’s not what it really is. Bill just needs his attention right now. 

“Oh, it was great,” Bill says, haggardly, “had to do a lot of brain tests, trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me. Lots of weird sticky things tugging at my scalp. I’m just glad they didn’t have to shave my head or anything.” He runs a solid hand through his hair a few times, and Eddie follows the movement with his eyes.

“Yeah, me too,” Eddie says, then gulps at the admission. It’s so easy to fall into fawning over Bill. He’d become an expert at it from behind the glass. Bill, for his part, looks pleased.

“Thanks. Uh. Did you-” 

A snore rumbles from the other side of the bed. 

They both look over to see Stan asleep, hands clasped firmly over his belt, body completely still. Bill presses a hand to his chest in a silent hiccup of a laugh. 

“He does this. Richie and Ben always fall asleep if there’s a place to sit, but Stan will sneak up on you. He’s talking one minute and the next-” he snaps his fingers, “out. It’s kind of impressive. He’s got such a dry sense of humor, too, I used to wonder if he was faking.”

“I am faking,” Stan says suddenly, his eyes still closed, and both Bill and Eddie jump. 

“Fuck you, Stan!” Bill says, his chest shaking with laughter. Eddie’s laughing, too. 

He missed them. Missed laughing and being surrounded by people. It’s not something he ever thought he liked. 

Then Stan springs from his chair. 

“Alright, I’m heading home. I actually do have some real client meetings early tomorrow,” Stan says, patting at Bill’s arm. Bill watches him fondly. It’s nice to see him awake, see him interact with these people, see the light in his eyes when they make him laugh. Eddie’s glad he’s not the only one. Bill’s had this for most of his life. Eddie will be a lucky man if he gets another week. 

Stan presses a soft hand onto Eddie’s shoulder before he leaves. 

“You’ll be here most of the day tomorrow?” 

Eddie nods. “Yep. Might stay the night, if Bill wants the company,” he says, tongue sticking around the commitment, but he’s giving this a shot. It’s not all going to be easy.

Bill’s eyes widen, his cheeks going a little pink. It’s fucking adorable. Some things will be easy, no doubt. 

“Have fun boys,” Stan says, throwing them a couple waves. 

Eddie watches him go, then turns to see Bill smiling at him. 

“So I get you to myself all night long?” Bill says.

“Uh-” Eddie starts, and Bill splutters from the bed.

“I didn’t, I’m s-s-sorry, Eddie, I didn’t, uh,” Bill’s stutter has come back, and Eddie feels a little bad, but Bill looks so genuinely flustered, arms flailing, that he can’t help but laugh. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Eddie says. Bill calms at that. 

“Jesus, I am really bad at this.” 

“Yeah, you’re not great,” Eddie says, reminding himself of Stan. This is why they click. 

It surprises a laugh out of Bill, and he seems to breathe a little easier after that.

Maybe they click, too. 

**

Eddie does end up spending the night, mostly because he and Bill talk all the way through it. 

They dole out short versions of their entire lives, and it doesn’t slip Eddie’s notice that his is far less lengthy than Bill’s. But he knows there are gaps in each of their tales.

When Bill talks about his hometown, he jumps around, skating over the details Eddie thinks might hold some pain. But the stories also vary into vague almost unintentionally. He’s not even sure Bill notices it. Similarly, Eddie doesn’t divulge fully about his mother or lack of social life. 

He certainly doesn’t tell him he hasn’t dated anyone seriously before. Or, well, kind of, ever. But Eddie thinks it’s fair - they barely know each other. Bill just woke up to memory loss and bereft friends and now a man they all assure him he was really into before he was unceremoniously pushed off the train platform.

As the night edges on, they’re both feeling the weight of the day. The whole wing is motionless around them, the faint sound of beeping and small conversation between nurses barely registering. Eddie sinks into vulnerability like the hospital chair, shoes kicked off and feet tucked under him, mouth moving a little slower around the words from fatigue. 

“I guess I always considered myself ‘out and proud,’” he says quietly, throwing up air quotes and then immediately feeling like a bitter old gay. “But lately-” he pauses, shaking his head a little, frustrated.

“Lately you find yourself still whispering about it in an empty hospital,” Bill finishes, and Eddie sighs. 

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess so,” he says, huffing a pained laugh. Bill’s smile is lopsided with understanding. 

“I get it. I mean, I was honestly surprised when they told me we were dating,” Bill says, fiddling with the edge of his blanket, his eyes dodgy. Eddie freezes. 

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I haven’t exactly, uh. Dated. A man.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Eddie says, like he knew, which he kind of did, but it feels disarming to hear out loud. From Bill. He wants to curl in on himself, the concept of outing someone so unintentionally and sweeping across-

“It’s good, I mean,” Bill starts, breaking into a smile. Eddie’s breath shudders out of him. “I’m g-glad.”

“Yeah?” Eddie asks. 

Bill ducks his head, and Eddie’s heart swoops. 

“Yeah, of course. You’re g-g-great,” Bill says, huffing a little, “and please don’t let my stutter deter you, I don’t f-fucking know what’s happening, I haven’t stuttered in years.” 

Eddie laughs quietly. “God, no, of course not. I’m sorry,” he says, feeling a little like he could cry. 

“Don’t be sorry, I uh. It’s been really good. I never thought coming out to my friends would be so easy,” Bill says, almost to himself. Eddie thinks of Richie. 

“They’re great people,” he says, meaning it.

“Mhm,” Bill says, eyes blurry with sleep.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a close group of friends,” Eddie says. 

“I think it’s a little unconventional,” Bill says, laughing. 

Eddie smiles. “I think you’re probably right.” 

“Well, I think we all had kind of. Uh-” Bill hesitates.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t-”

“No, no, Eds, it’s okay,” Bill says, the first time he’s used his nickname. Eddie didn’t know you could further shorten a nickname, but these people have made it into some sort of art. And not just Richie. Stan hardly calls him Eddie anymore. 

“Okay,” Eddie says, quietly, while Bill’s mouth works around something. 

“I think we all got a little closer after my brother died,” Bill finally says, eyes dropping. 

“Oh god, I’m-”

“It’s okay. I was thirteen when he died. Just a freak accident in a rainstorm,” Bill says, and then after a beat, “He was only six.”

“Jesus.” Eddie literally cannot imagine. He’s always been an only child. His father died when he was young, but that always felt more like an absence than a loss.

“They all sorta rallied around me. It was rough.” 

“That’s…” Eddie starts, the loud memory of them piling into his hospital room catching in his brain, “that’s great.” 

“It was. I don’t know why I thought I had to keep myself from them. Why I thought they might not… For some reason before I just c-c-couldn’t do it. I don’t know what the fuck I was so afraid of,” Bill says, hugging his arms to his chest.

“It’s hard. Being honest about yourself,” Eddie says, “being honest with yourself.” He watches his hands grip around the edges of his knees. Bill hums. 

“No kidding,” Bill says. “I’m not sure why they’re even talking to me.”

“They love you,” Eddie responds, and Bill sighs. “Have you thought about… discussing it?”

He doesn’t want to push too hard, but Bill is nodding.

“I was going to, but then Richie told me he was gay.”

Eddie’s eyes snap up to meet his. "Really?” 

“Yeah, he said he told you first?” Bill says.

“Yeah, yeah, I guess he did,” Eddie says, his chest tight.

“Well thanks for that, too.”

Eddie startles. “What? That was all Richie-”

“He said you being here was kind of a catalyst. And it was for me, too,” Bill says, his eyes genuine and soft.

Eddie’s face is burning hot. He didn’t do any of this - he certainly doesn’t deserve the credit. It’s not like he’s a savant at being honest about his sexuality. The only person he really cared about telling was his mother, and she refused to listen. 

“You were out before I came into your life,” Eddie says, and it’s true. Bev and Stan both knew Bill was gay. Bill tips his head, clicking at his teeth.

“That’s true, but I think I may have exploded otherwise. I had to tell someone,” he says, chuckling, but all Eddie can think of is Richie. Alone with his own secret, never able to tell a single soul. Not even in desperation. No one he felt was listening, either. 

“Well I’m really glad for you. For the both of you,” Eddie says, but it feels like swallowing around a lump of ice.

They each fall asleep gradually, half in conversation until Eddie gives up and lets his eyes slip closed once and for all. 

**

The next morning he wakes to the hustle and bustle of everyone arriving. 

They spend the day keeping Bill company, and every once in awhile, Eddie catches Bill watching him. 

Eddie mostly watches the door, hoping that somehow Richie will make it, so Eddie can tell him how fucking proud he is. How he’s been beaming all day long, and how very little of it has to do with jokes anyone is telling or the lovely camaraderie the hospital visits have turned into now that Bill is awake and there’s no underlying current of anxiety.

Bill sustained a head injury, but everyone seems comfortable focusing more on the “no further damage as far as we can tell” thing rather than the “you lost a good chunk of time there, buddy, and we’re all sort of falling back into the flow of how things used to be” thing. Eddie knows something happened the last time they all saw each other. But when they’re together, there’s nothing but easy laughter and reminiscing. Eddie’s a weapon of distraction to them, in a way. Much simpler to catch up the new guy than drive into any new material.

It’s an easy role to fill, and Stan seems pleased that Eddie fits in with ease. 

“Yeah, we talked a lot last night,” Eddie’s saying, sipping at his second coffee of the day, stretching his legs in the hallway.

Stan smiles, standing next to him, looking pleased. “Good! I knew you two would get along like a house on fire.” 

“He’s got a thing for model trains, so we talked about that.”

“You like trains, too?” Stan asks. Eddie nods. “Oh god, another one?”

Eddie feels his cheeks heating. It’s one of the only things his mother let him retain from his father, other than his jacket. A large, colorful collection of trains in every shape and size. There was a little town, too, but it had been torn apart by the time he got to it, all of his cousins picking pieces they liked and leaving nothing for Eddie to work with.

Over the years he’s found some vintage sets to go with what he’s kept, set up on his dresser. Sometimes when he wakes up to the little town, it makes him feel less alone. 

“This is why he doesn’t discuss it with you anymore,” Eddie says, and Stan cracks a grin. 

“Yeah, yeah, I can’t wait for you two to start crawling around on the floor making little choo-choo noises.”

“Oh my god.” 

They hover in the hallway for awhile, chatting aimlessly, until Eddie can’t take it anymore.

“Have you talked to Richie lately?” he asks, avoiding Stan’s eyes.

“Lately? Yeah, I saw him yesterday.” He takes a drink from his cup. 

“Right, obviously, sorry,” Eddie says, shaking his head.

“Why?”

Eddie shakes his head harder.

“Nothing, nevermind. Let’s go back inside,” he says, not sure why he asked in the first place. 

He feels so stupid, thinking about Richie when he’s had uninhibited access to Bill all day. Especially since Bill does actually seem a little enamored with him. Eddie’s seen him blush more than a few times today. Bev keeps winking at him, but that could mean anything. She doles out winks like candy, like the sauciest house on the street at Halloween.

Eddie’s torn between guilt and flattery. All of this could be so much simpler if he and Bill worked things out, so he tries to lean into the latter best he can. 

“Is it weird that I’m bitter about you going to dinner with my friends?” Bill says, later that night, as Eddie’s putting on his jacket to leave. 

Eddie laughs. “A little? Are you really bitter, or is it jealousy?” 

“That you get to go outside and eat real people food? Both,” Bill answers, and Eddie snorts. 

“We’ll be back tomorrow. We’ve gotta get ahead of the snow,” Mike says, trying to usher Eddie out of the room. They all bid simple goodbyes and head out into the cold together. 

By the time they make it to the house, there’s a few inches of snow already on the ground. Eddie’s already dreading his commute home. It’s supposed to snow even more tonight, and the flakes are coming quickly. He’s retroactively thankful he doesn’t have to work again tomorrow. Turns out maybe Donna did do him a favor. 

“Hey hey, and the final stragglers have arrived!” Richie announces from the front door. His cheeks are already red, probably from talking, and he’s hanging off the door jam like a monkey, long arms stretched above his head. He’s wearing a purple Dark Wing Duck t-shirt and a pair of jeans. He looks kind of like a mess, half shaved, wild hair blowing in the wind of the oncoming storm. 

It’s been almost two full days since Eddie’s seen Richie, and as he climbs the stairs to the house, he can’t really focus on anything else. Richie’s eyes rake him up and down, just like they did the first time, right here on this porch. Eddie bites his lip against the thread of want that digs through him. 

Fuck. 

Richie leads both Eddie and Stan through the front door, all the way into the kitchen, grabbing at Eddie’s jacket to peel it off his shoulders. He crowds against Eddie’s back as he removes it, the breath of him so close to the skin of Eddie’s neck. Eddie turns once it’s off, and Richie smiles at him, big and blushing, shoving his coat onto a hanger lazily, barely paying attention to what he’s doing. Eddie laughs like a dope, and he probably looks like one, too, caught in the headlights of Richie’s unhindered gaze. 

Eddie’s spent so much time with Bill, talking with him, getting to know him, as much as he can in such a short amount of time. They laughed and shared secrets and it felt good, it felt like friendship, like the blossoming of something.

But none of it ever felt like this

**

The snow falls in oppressive clumps while they eat dinner. 

Eddie’s perched between Richie and Bev at the table, so he doesn’t really notice. 

“And then this fucker completely blocks me in,” Richie’s saying, his hands flying in a blur past Eddie’s face, mimicking the small Honda that parked too close to him on the curb, “so I had to sit around and wait for him to leave work, and then he barely says two words to me!” 

Bev shakes her head. “I told you you park too close.”

“Me?” Richie yells. Eddie’s already halfway to a laugh. Ben is rolling his eyes across the table. 

“Yes, you have a massive fucking truck with a plow on the front. You need to give it space,” she says, getting up to refill her drink. “Anyone want anything? Not you, Trashmouth.” 

Richie’s face falls, but he throws Eddie a wink once Bev is out of the room. 

“Well this Trashmouth heard some very interesting gossip the other day, straight out of Big Bill’s Big Suite, and it has salacious implications if it is true,” Richie says, staring excitedly at Stan. 

Stan sighs. “If by gossip you mean me literally telling you I’m going on a date with a nurse, then yes, I gossiped to you. I told you a goddamn fact.”

Ben whoops quietly, clapping a large hand over the nape of Stan’s neck. 

“Stanny!” Ben says, and Stan blushes, head lolling to the side, “Is it the blonde I always see you chatting up?” 

“Her name is Patty,” Stan says. 

Eddie thinks on it for a second, trying to peg her, when he remembers the name tag on the nurse that told… Patricia.

“Was she with us on the first day?” Eddie asks. Stan nods.

“Yeah, she was,” he says. Eddie holds his eyes for a few beats, but Stan’s are steady. He knows what Eddie’s thinking. 

“Good for you, Stan, she seems sweet,” Eddie says, and he means it. He couldn’t be mad at her that first day. Just like he never manages to maintain any irritation at Stan, despite his constant insistence this will all turn out fine. 

They must’ve talked about it. About the poor guy swept up in a lie and how they’ve so thoroughly helped lead his little story along. What a match-maker good ol’ Eds has turned out to be. Maybe they’ve been in cahoots since the beginning. 

Eddie shakes himself out of that conspiracy to notice Richie biting at his lips. When Eddie catches his eye, a grin slides slowly over Richie’s face.

“Guess it’s just you and me, Michael,” Richie says, lifting a glass to clink with Mike’s. 

“Hmmm? The single guys?” Mike asks, his glass meeting Richie’s regardless. Richie nods, gulping at his sparkling grape juice. Eddie thinks it’s disgustingly sugary but Richie drinks a whole bottle in a night. 

“Yes indeed.” 

Eddie watches Richie’s eyes shift toward him, and he aches to tell him the truth. And not just to commiserate with the single men’s group. 

Ben leans forward a little in his chair just as Bev is returning. 

“I meet plenty of nice women when I’m on the road, Rich. What’s your type?” Ben says, and it seems innocent, but Bev is immediately aghast.

“You meet plenty of nice women, Benjamin?” she asks, poking him hard in the shoulder. Ben hisses, pulling away, but she loops both her arms around his neck and squeezes. He bites playfully at the meat of her bicep and she giggles down at him, all pretenses gone. Eddie almost wants to look away, it feels so fucking intimate. He’s never seen two people move around each other so seamlessly. 

Richie clears his throat and Eddie almost jumps.

“Are you two quite done being adorable? Us lonely hearts will thank you to take that shit to the next room,” he says. Ben rolls his eyes.

“Fuck off, Rich. Answer the question.”

There’s suddenly a lump in Eddie’s throat, so he reaches for his glass of wine. The first sip burns going down. The rest get progressively smoother until there’s nothing left. 

“Uh,” he hears Richie stumble, and he wants to grab at his leg under the table, just to help soothe him, until he hears him say, “I like ‘em tall. Tall and quiet.” 

Bev snorts. “Uh huh.” 

Eddie feels a little stunned, turned toward Richie, eyes stinging from chugging pinot grigio like he’s dying of thirst. Richie’s hiding behind his own glass. Eddie’s about to excuse himself, splash some water on his face to counteract the dizziness, must be too much alcohol, sometimes it hits in mere seconds, but then Ben grunts.

“What the fuck are you talking about? We’ve seen you date exactly one person, and she was small and talked a fucking blue streak,” he says, and Richie stills, cup pressed to his lips. Eddie’s teeth bite desperately at the inside of his cheek to push down the burst of adrenaline slamming through him. 

“Fuck off, Haystack, that was years ago,” Richie says, leaving to get more of his syrupy drink. 

Eddie’s foot hammers against the floor in his absence, trying to calm the even faster beat of his heart.

**

The snow gets worse as the night drags on. By the time it’s ten, they’re all convinced the best course of action is to stay at the house. Everyone but Eddie.

“I’m sure the trains will still be running. I can make it,” Eddie says, but he’s yawning from his seat on the couch, the wine buzz slowing his limbs from actually taking action. 

“There’s plenty of room, Eddie,” Bev says, slapping at the side of his thigh, all tucked up next to him. Gentle and persistent. She should wear that on a sash.

“Yeah, and we can all gather ‘round and read Bill’s latest book to lull ourselves off to dreamland,” Richie says, words soft from where he’s cozied up in his usual chair, but his eyes are cold. The whole room falls quiet. 

“Just don’t, man,” Mike says gently. Richie scoffs.

“What? I’ve been thinking about it, all right? Are we just supposed to forget what happened?” 

Bev grumbles. “If anything I would think you’d be upset, Mike.” 

Mike’s just shaking his head. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“We’ve never talked about it! And that’s another thing,” Richie says, voice raised, just a little, enough to blow a line of fear through Eddie’s unblinking eyes. “What the fuck is up with that? Why haven’t we talked about this?” 

“About what?” Stan asks, standing behind Mike’s chair. Mike buries his head in his hands, groaning. 

“About the fucking book party,” Mike says, and Eddie flinches. He’s never heard Mike swear before, but there’s no bite, he just sounds… tired. Richie, on the other hand, is riled up.

“Yeah, about how he almost didn’t let Mike into his fucking expensive little shindig,” Richie says, and Eddie feels like he’s been slapped. What

“It wasn’t just me, you know that,” Mike says, rubbing his hands frantically over his thighs. 

“Yeah, okay, but it wasn’t as big of a deal until you showed up. Then suddenly he didn’t want anything to do with his fucking childhood friends. He’d moved on,” Richie says, and Eddie has no idea where this is coming from, how they spent this long avoiding the conversation only to have it flow through them now, dug down from the pits of Richie’s gut, screamed out like he’s not even sure why he’s doing it. 

His face is red and strained, desperate and angry. 

“It’s true, Mike,” Bev says, the only one in Richie’s corner. Eddie reaches out to wrap a hand around her socked foot, already propped up on his lap. Her eyes bounce between Mike and Richie. “He didn’t like any of us being there, but it was like you were the last straw.”

Mike falls back in his chair. He looks absolutely crushed. 

“Just leave him alone, guys,” Ben says quietly. 

“All I’m trying to say is that Bill owes us a fucking apology,” Richie says, nodding once, like he’s done, before adding, “‘specially Mikey.” 

“I’ll drink to that,” Stan says, draining his entire beer as the rest watch in silence.  

**

Richie chooses the room at the end of the hallway to sleep in that night, so, naturally, Eddie chooses the room on the opposite end. 

He’s worried about Lucy, which he knows is stupid, but it doesn’t stop him from snapping awake in the night wondering if she somehow smuggled herself out the window and thumped into a giant snowbank. He stares at the ceiling for a good half an hour, convincing himself it’s ridiculous, until he decides a glass of water will probably calm him down more than his own, fevered word. 

Padding down toward the kitchen in bare feet, he hears noises as soon as he gets to the bottom of the stairs. He stops, frozen mid-step, and lets the sound relax in his brain so he can figure it out. There are small, quiet sniffles and a familiar voice. 

“This is really selfish, Beverly,” Richie’s saying, and then Eddie realizes the sniffling is Bev crying

“Oh my god,” Bev says, almost whispered, but Richie’s voice is stronger. 

“I’m pretty sure the person coming out is usually the one who cries.” 

“I know, god, I’m sorry,” she says, a hiccuped gasp. 

Eddie clutches at his chest. Did Richie seriously just come out to Bev? His eyes find the giant wall clock to confirm: it’s the middle of the night. If Eddie hadn’t pounded wine at dinner maybe he wouldn’t have woken up thirsty and butted in on this moment. Goddamn it. 

“-didn’t know how you would-” Richie’s saying when Eddie starts listening again, and he hears Bev interrupt him with a shush. 

“I love you, you knucklehead, what’d you think, that I’d disown you?” 

“No, mother,” Richie says, then, “Ow!” because Bev most likely slapped him. 

“Fuck you, you’re an annoying little shit all but one percent of the time and I still love you, you think you liking dick would change that?” 

“Good god, Beverly, you are the crudest person I’ve yet to come out to,” Richie’s saying through a laugh, and Eddie almost bursts into tears. Richie sounds calm and happy. Eddie hopes that’s how he feels. 

“Who else have you told? I’m not the first? The fuck, Richard?” 

“Wow, that turned fast.”

“Shut up and tell me.” 

Eddie hears Richie heave a sigh. “Bill, and uh. Eddie.” 

There’s a pause. 

“You came out to Bill? Talk about a fast fucking turn, Richard.”

“Would you stop it with the Richard shit? Are you moving onto middle names next?” Richie asks, and even Eddie can tell it’s a deflection. 

“I’m about to-”

“Jesus, please, stop, you fucking monster,” Richie sighs. “I don’t know. I guess telling him settled something in me. Left room for other things to grow. Like unbridled anger.” 

Bev does something like hum, Eddie can barely hear.

Then, “Oh god, I’m sorry Ben was trying to set you up at dinner.” 

Richie chuckles. “S’okay.”

“I’m sure he meets plenty of nice men on the road, too. Just doesn’t spare them a second glance,” she says. 

Eddie smiles, even though his heart is straining at the thought of Richie with a nice man

Richie coming to dinner with a nice man, his arm slung around the back of his chair. Richie poking fun at the nice man until his cheeks turn pink. Richie kissing the nice man under the mistletoe, and not banging his head, but winding their lips together deliberately, cupping at the back of the nice man’s neck and pulling him closer. Richie and the nice man getting snowed in together, sharing the bedroom at the end of the hall, having their own whispered conversations that Eddie couldn’t possibly manage to overhear. 

He snaps out of it, shaking away the sneaking feeling crawling up toward his bellybutton, too hung up on the fucking mistletoe, just in time to hear Bev ask-

“Is there someone, though?” 

Richie laughs, but it sounds sadder, more forced. Eddie wants to sprint up the stairs, doesn’t want to hear this, no matter the answer. But his feet are stuck, super-glued to the wood, grain holding him there to listen without his consent.

Richie sounds a little breathless when he finally says, “Yeah, I think there might be.” 

Eddie claps a hand around his mouth, torn between crying and puking. He moves up the stairs as slowly as he can, praying to all that is good and holy that they don’t creak. He makes it back to his bedroom in what must be thirty seconds, his feet overpowering his senses to get him somewhere safe. 

He sits on the end of the bed and white-knuckles his fists over his knees. 

Richie is allowed to be interested in someone. He’s finally coming out. He must feel like a new man - a new life on the horizon, wherein he can finally be happy, be himself, fall in love. Eddie’s a little jealous, staring dead into the blinding light of a fake relationship he’s not sure will last. And sue him if he actually thought that every time Richie looked at him, smiled, tried to make him laugh, poked him in the ribs, that maybe something real was blooming in the midst of all this. 

But of course that was all a fucking pipe dream. Richie wouldn’t be interested in someone who is dating his best friend, that would be…

It would be too good to be true.

 

Chapter Text

Eddie doesn’t sleep the rest of the night, and come morning, he’s decided to blame it entirely on Richie. 

So when he shuffles down the familiar wooden stairs yet again in the early light of day to see Richie still seated at the kitchen table, presumably where he was last night while talking to Bev, Eddie almost groans. 

Instead, he follows the smell of coffee and finds himself a mug to fill to the brim. Thank fuck these people make it strong. 

“Early riser, Spaghetti?” Richie asks around a yawn. This time, Eddie does groan. 

“Not early enough for that nickname.” 

Richie smiles, and Eddie tries to ignore him, coffee sloshing around the edges of his mug. He tears some paper towel off the roll and sops it up as Richie fidgets in his chair. Eddie can hear it squeaking, like he’s a fucking child, mouthing around a spoonful of what looks like Fruit Loops. Why the hell is he attracted to this guy again? A lanky man-child with a penchant for sugar and obnoxious jokes, who teases him every chance he gets and ignores every single social cue imaginable? 

He turns to take a seat at the table, sluggishly excited for his coffee to begin cooling. He puts a chair between he and Richie. Richie presses his lips together into a tight line. 

“You sleep well?” he asks, and Eddie shrugs.

“Not really.”

“Worried about little miss razor sharp edges?” Richie says, blowing at his own coffee. 

Eddie blinks at him. “Uh, actually. Yeah.”

“I’m sure she’s fine. You’ve taught her well, no doubt,” Richie says. Eddie feels something lighten in his chest. He’s right. God, Richie can be so fucking unpredictable, it’s maddening. Right when Eddie’s about to write him off he says something so… comforting. 

“Thanks, Rich,” he says, hovering over his coffee to warm his face. The heat in the old house works pretty well, but the wood of the kitchen floor chills his feet. 

Richie clears his throat, his spoon abandoned in his half-full bowl of cereal. 

“Did Bill tell you? That, I-”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, sitting up straight, “yeah, he did.”

“I thought maybe he had.” 

“I’m really-” Eddie starts, grinding his back teeth, as if his heart is still trying to keep the words in, but Richie deserves to know, no matter what Eddie does or doesn’t mean to him. “I’m really fucking proud of you, Richie.” 

Richie stares at him, eyes a little wobbly, and Eddie has to look down to keep from crying. God, he’s got it bad. And admitting it to himself last night was the final straw. He’s absolutely screwed. 

“Eddie.”

The words and the dull throbbing of Richie’s eyes on his feel like a question, and Eddie’s bringing his hand up to rest on top of Richie’s on the table, just holding, the touch certainly feeling like an answer. 

“I’m happy for you,” Eddie says, small and quiet. He so wants it to be true. Maybe speaking it into the world will make it happen.

Richie flips his palm on the table to face up, pressing against Eddie’s, watching their fingers tangle together. 

“Thanks, Eds.”

There’s wetness pressing at the edges of Eddie’s eyes, but Richie’s are a little watery too, and they both break away to drink their coffee and covertly get themselves under control. Eddie’s heart beats thoroughly in his ears when Richie finally clears his throat and smiles at him.

“So, I’m doing, like, a five minute set at club on the East side tonight, if this shit clears up enough,” he says, flicking his hand toward the window at the snow, and Eddie perks up. “If you wanted, uh. If you - you said you wanted to maybe see me?”

He looks so nervous, as if Eddie would really say no. As if Eddie wasn’t the one who initially suggested it. 

“Tonight? That was quick.”

Richie smiles, all dopey and excited. “Yeah, they had a last minute slot open up when I called.”

“Meant to be,” Eddie says, without meaning to. Richie’s eyes stop, the light dimming for a moment when he looks to Eddie.

“So you in?” he asks, again.

“Of course,” Eddie says, nodding. Richie’s smile evens out, pinched up at the corners, his dumb overbite peeking out under his top lip. Eddie ignores his equally dumb, fluttering heart. “A five minute set? I thought you only did open mic.”

“Yeah, well,” Richie says, pulling his feet out from under him and crossing his legs under the table. “I’ve been working on some stuff.” 

“Oh yeah?” Eddie asks, breathing a little easier. 

“Mostly just stealing shit from other acts, you know how it is.” He grins wide. 

“Right. Fart jokes and Donald Duck.”

Riche laughs. “Wait, I thought you hadn’t seen it?” 

Eddie kicks him under the table. He doesn’t need the coffee steam to heat his face this time. 

Beverly yawns from the staircase, moving for the coffee as soon as she’s in the kitchen. Eddie jerks his foot back underneath him.

“Mornin’, Bev,” Richie says, all smiles. Bev just grunts into her mug. 

“I can’t feel my tongue but my god this is good,” she says. Richie flings his hand into the air for a high-five.

“I’m not Stan, don’t look at me like that,” Eddie says. 

Bev sighs in a quiet giggle. 

**

Most of the snow is melted by late morning, so the whole group breaks off and agrees to meet later at the hospital. Eddie wants time to feed Lucy dinner before the show tonight, so he goes home, changes clothes, confirms that Lucy is alive and well, and he’s in the elevator up to Bill’s room before he knows it. 

Stan’s sitting next to the bed already when Eddie approaches.

“I just think you should think about it, since you- Eddie!” Stan says, looking like a deer in headlights. “You’re here early.”

“Oh,” Eddie says, feeling pathetic, “sorry, I didn’t work today and I figured I’d just head on over. No one else is here?” 

Bill shakes his head, eyes glazed. Eddie wonders what Stan was saying. He’s sick of walking in on the lingering air of a serious conversation. 

“I’m actually gonna go pick up some food for us, okay, Bill?” Stan says, his eyebrows inching to his hairline, and Eddie is definitely missing something here. Bill nods at him, squinting a little, and Eddie takes a seat.

“You don’t have to leave, Stan,” Eddie says, but Stan’s already shaking his head.

“No, no, I’ll leave you two to talk.” 

Eddie’s watching him leave when he feels a hand cover his own. He turns to see Bill’s staring at him, wide-eyed and serious. Eddie gulps. 

“You know, I’m getting out tomorrow,” Bill says, and Eddie blinks.

“Oh, that’s- that’s great.” Eddie fidgets in his seat. 

It’s not great. That’s soon. That’s fucking tomorrow. Bill getting released from the hospital feels like the end of something more than the beginning. But Bill’s smiling at him.

“Yeah, I’m glad.” 

He squeezes at Eddie’s hand, now cupped in his own. 

“I’ve been thinking a lot, over the past couple days. I guess a near-death experience will do that to you,” Bill says, and Eddie wants to protest, no one was going to die, but that feels rather dismissive and his heart is in his throat so he just stays quiet and watches their hands, clasped together, just like he and Richie this morning. 

“Anyway, the thing is. Before all this happened, I got a little spooked about coming out publicly,” he says, and Eddie’s brain goes cold. The terror seeps through him, imagining how scary it must be to face talking about your life to strangers. Then again, he’s done it a few times in the past couple weeks. Bill’s eyes are gentle on him, like they’re sharing this.

“Yeah, that’s. That must have been hard,” Eddie says, relaxing into Bill’s touch. His thighs settle a little easier against the chair. Bill smiles, lips clenched. 

“Thanks, yeah, I, uh. I didn’t h-handle it well. I had an agent that wasn’t encouraging, and I was s-sc-sc-” he stops, taking a breath, “I was so sc-s-s-”

“Scared.” 

Bill meets his eyes and swallows. 

“Yeah. I was scared.” He closes his eyes again, hard, sucking air in through his nose. Eddie waits on him. “Too scared to let it ruin my career. Instead of considering that maybe that wouldn’t be a career worth having. That’s what Mike actually s-s-said, when I-” he stops, shaking his head, “Anyway, in the time I was without my friends, because I acted like a fucking cowardly jerk, I met you. We-we met and we must have clicked and I think we click, that we click now, Eddie.” 

Eddie’s mouth pops open. “We, I mean-”

“Listen, you can say no, okay? You can definitely say no. Okay?”

“Okay.” Eddie’s totally lost, so he follows Bill’s lead, Bill’s hand holding his, firm without force. 

“I think we should give this thing a shot. Again. Start from scratch,” he says, and Eddie’s brain whites out. “I mean, I don’t really have a choice, but let’s maybe-”

“Bill-” Eddie starts, but Bill’s on a rampage, and Eddie is caught. 

“Let’s live together? I don’t know how serious we were before everything but I think you’re great, Eddie, and I know you live alone but my place is big enough for the both of us, if you- I mean if you- w-w-want.” 

Eddie’s whole world draws down to Bill’s eyes on his, pleading. He doesn’t understand.

“You want to live together?” 

Bill nods. “Yes.” 

“You barely know me. I mean. Anymore,” he says, catching himself, though the lie feels so thin he could break through it with one single tap.

“I know, I know. But it doesn’t feel that way. My friends love you. Everyone’s singing your praises, and they’re not an easy group, Eddie. They’re pretty tight-knit, and they protect each other. I trust them,” he says, eyes falling off Eddie for the first time, losing focus for a moment before he remembers himself, “I know that now. They want what’s best for me.” 

Eddie’s heart pounds in his ears.

“I’m done being afraid,” Bill says, so genuine and strong, and Eddie thinks of Richie, can’t stop thinking of Richie and Bill, and how brave they both are, and how much of a chickenshit he is - how much he wishes he could just stand up and -

“I’m done looking past what’s right in front of me,” Bill says, voice low, and it shivers something in Eddie’s spine. Bill’s suddenly so close, pressing forward from where he’s seated in bed, hand curled over Eddie’s.

“Bill-” Eddie tries again, but Bill’s moving closer, eyes flicking down to Eddie’s lips. 

“Can I kiss you, Eddie?” His eyes are dark and set, and Eddie feels wanted. Bill’s asking, and Eddie’s never really been asked , so he nods before his head even catches up. 

Bill presses in, soft and careful, their mouths touching gently. Eddie’s eyes pinch closed at the swell of nerves. Bill pulls back to hover, their breath close and warm, and Eddie opens his eyes, fraught with the pause, just in time to see Bill closing back in, and then his thumb sweeps over Eddie’s bottom lip and Eddie leans back in, too. 

It’s sweet, and Eddie’s fingers tingle a little because Bill’s a good kisser. Eddie hasn’t been kissed in a long time, mistletoe not included, and it’s overwhelming to be so thoroughly zeroed in on. Bill takes his time, and Eddie lets it happen, tries to shut off his brain and be fucking kissed , because Bill wants to be here, Bill initiated this. 

Bill turns his head and brings his hand up to Eddie’s cheek and Eddie’s shifting his feet to pull away when he hears an awkward cough behind him.

His heart drops. Of course Stan chose this moment to make his return. But when he turns around, Richie’s standing there, a cup of coffee in his hand, face white as a ghost, staring back at him. 

“Richie, Jesus, give a guy a minute,” Bill’s saying, voice rough from kissing, and maybe two seconds ago it would have given Eddie a thrill, but now every inch of his body burns from shame. 

Richie’s still frozen in the door, gaping at the both of them, his nails denting the styrofoam cup in his hand. Eddie’s never seen him so blank, like he’s been powered down.

Eddie wants to wipe at his mouth, knows it’s shiny with spit from when Bill- fuck. And Richie saw. How long was he standing there? How long had they been kissing

“Richie,” Bill says again, because he hasn’t moved, and Eddie braces his feet on the ground, summoning all the strength in his body to keep from running, from crying, from shooting through the roof just to avoid dealing with this. 

Richie sticks one foot out toward the room, moving forward in a dumb little gallop, his throat working at something.

“Sorry, I uh. I got you some coffee, man, here,” he says to Bill, awkwardly circling the bed with big movements, like he’s forgotten how he usually uses his legs. Eddie watches him, mesmerized and panicked, eyes unblinking. Richie places the cup of coffee on Bill’s bedside table and then retraces his own steps. 

“I can’t really drink, uh- are you leaving?” Bill asks, and Eddie goes numb when he sees Richie walking back toward the door. 

“Yeah, yeah, I forgot I need to help Marsh park the truck, she’s useless with a monster like that, I guess she doesn’t get much experience at home with Hay-”

“Beep, beep, man,” Bill says with a laugh, but Richie just stares at Eddie, face slack, words tumbling out like he’s a ventriloquist’s dummy, a puppet with his strings cut. He’s pointing toward the elevator bank. 

“Just a quick stop, Billy boy, wish me luck at the show tonight,” he says, and Eddie wonders for a split second when he told Bill about the show, if he’s been here this whole time, and then Richie is out of sight and Eddie’s bouncing out of his chair.

“I’ll be right back,” he says to Bill before he knows it, and then he’s running toward the elevators to see Richie jamming at the button. 

“Richie, please, don’t go,” he says.

“I told you, I have to-”

“I’m so sorry you walked in on that-”

“Oh, god, please, it’s- I should have known-”

Eddie’s heart clenches. “It kind of caught me off-guard.”

Richie scoffs. “Yeah, me too,” he says, then jams his thumb against the button a few more times. 

There are a million things Eddie wants to say, like that wasn’t what it looked like or he kissed me and I thought it would be rude to stop him or even I’m allowed to be interested in other people too and then, desperately, it didn’t leave me reeling like the mistletoe but instead he’s taking a messy step forward to press a hand to Richie’s arm, and as the doors ding all that comes out is:

“Richie.” 

Richie doesn’t meet his eyes, just watches where they’re connected before pulling away and walking into the elevator. 

“I’ll see you at the show, Eds,” he says, hands in the pockets of his jackets, pressing himself to the far wall of the elevator. 

The doors close and Eddie’s hand hangs in the air, fingers clenching around the empty shape of Richie’s arm.

**

When he makes it back to the room, Bill’s looking kiss-drunk, smiling easy and long before Eddie tells him he has to go home. 

“Are you- Eddie, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to push you too-”

Eddie shakes his head. “No, no, it was- that was a good kiss,” he says, because it’s true, but he thinks of Richie’s stricken face in the aftermath and the words feel like acid. Bill looks pleased.

“Oh, good, I thought so, too,” he says with another smile. His lips are still red, and Eddie thinks of how easy it would be to sit back down and continue, to crowd into Bill and kiss him until someone else inevitably shows up. A sharp flash of pain stings at him. He just wants to go home and he has to go to Richie’s show tonight, after all this. 

It feels like suffocating.

“I just need to think,” Eddie sputters, “I need- I need some time to just get my-”

“Eddie, Eddie, it’s okay,” Bill says, light and breezy. Eddie feels just about the opposite. He takes a breath. His fingers clench. Fucking inhaler.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he wishes it held everything he meant. But instead Bill is waving him off, like it’s something easy, like it’s something he could do without a thought. Like he has any idea what he’d be getting himself into. 

“Don’t be sorry, just. Take some time. But I’ll be here,” Bill says, then adds, “until tomorrow.” 

Eddie winces. “Right,” he says, then remembers, “I work in the afternoon but I’ll be here before you leave.”

Bill shrugs. “Guess I’ll see you in the morning.”

“I’ll see you then, I guess,” Eddie parrots.

“It’s a date,” Bill says, voice light, eyes holding Eddie’s. Eddie nods, walking aimlessly out into the hall. 

The clock on the wall reads three. He turns on his heel toward the elevators when he sees Stan walking toward him. 

He almost bursts into tears.

“Hey, Eddie, whoa,” Stan says, catching Eddie in a hug when he falls forward, “you okay, man?”

Eddie knows Stan hates hugs, and Eddie’s never been a big hugger either, but he dives head first into it out of pure need. Stan’s arms wrap around him tightly and they squeeze each other for a full second before Eddie pulls back, feeling guilty. These people make him think maybe he’s been a secret hugger all along.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he says, head hung low between them. 

“It’s okay, Eds, seriously,” he says, voice quiet, hand still on Eddie’s arm, “are you okay? What happened? I just saw Richie downstairs and he looked-”

Eddie groans. Stan pulls him back into a hug and it’s like the air is sucked out of him. It tumbles out of him. He can’t hold it in any longer. 

“Bill kissed me,” he says, right into Stan’s shoulder, and Stan tenses against him. He pulls away, a hand around each of Eddie’s arms, and then they’re face to face. 

“He did? Wow,” Stan says, blinking, “That was fast.” 

What?” Eddie practically squeaks. 

Stan takes a step back, releasing him.

“I may have, y’know, encouraged, uh.” He forces a cough into his fist. Eddie takes a step forward. “I may have told him to go for it. With you.” 

Eddie buries his face in his hands with another groan. 

“Was that not- I thought that’s what you wanted?” Stan asks. Eddie sighs. How the fuck did this get even worse

“I thought I did, fuck, I really thought I-” he starts, but this is Stan, and none of this matters if he can’t at least be honest with him. Through all of this, Stan has somehow stuck with him, and he can’t just hold this. He can’t go on holding everything for himself. Some things are just too heavy.

“Eddie,” Stan says, hand on his shoulder. 

“It’s- it’s Richie,” Eddie says, then, when Stan just stares, “I think I want to be with Richie. Not, uh. Not Bill.” 

Stan’s elbow joint locks, the pressure of his hand on Eddie’s shoulder piercing. Stan drops his head and Eddie wonders for one ridiculous moment if he’s crying and then he starts to shake in a quiet laugh. 

“Are you- you’re laughing. You’re fucking laughing at me.”

“I can’t believe this,” Stan says, high and tight, laughter still bubbling, and Eddie doesn’t know whether to join him or start screaming. 

“I know, god, it’s so fucked up,” Eddie sighs, but Stan’s shaking his head. 

“No, no,” he says, gasping and patting at Eddie’s shoulder. “Patty totally called this. And she hasn’t even seen you two outside the hospital.”

Eddie’s heart stops. “What,” he spits, and Stan rubs at his leaking eyes, coughing out a couple more amused wheezes.

“I thought it was just Richie being Richie but then the fucking mistletoe happened,” Stan says, glaring, and Eddie flushes at the thought of it, “and then Bill woke up and I guess I panicked and tried to look past it.”

“Stan-”

“You’re quite the moving target, you know,” Stan says, and Eddie groans again. 

“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” Eddie says, biting at his lip, “Richie saw us kissing.”

Stan’s hand is back to clenching at him, and Eddie grasps at his elbow on instinct, the pressure making him reach out. 

“Are you kidding?” Stan asks, eyes wide.

Eddie shakes his head. “You’re the one with the messed up sense of humor, man.” 

They let it sink in for a moment, holding at each other, hospital action flitting around them, unnoticed. Stan’s eyes are floating back and forth, working something out, and Eddie watches it in silence. It’s not the first time he’s been party to Stan’s internal configuring, and most of it doesn’t end up panning out, but he’s willing to try again and again because at least they’re in it together.

“Richie’s show is tonight,” Stan says finally, staring straight into Eddie’s eyes, and Eddie nods. 

“Yeah,” he agrees. Stan straightens his shoulders, like he’s rearing up for a fight. 

“You should go.”

“I am, I’m- I was planning on going,” Eddie stutters out. Should he not go? 

Maybe he shouldn’t. Richie looked absolutely devastated, but Eddie’s not sure why, he said he was interested in someone, but then Stan is thumbing a dent into the space beneath his collarbone and Eddie hisses.

“You should talk to him,” Stan says, ignoring him. “You should tell him the truth.” 

“What?” Eddie says, again, but softly, because he knew it would have to happen sometime. With Bill leaving tomorrow, that timeline has naturally moved up. 

“You’ve wanted to do it from the beginning. I think he needs to know.”

Eddie clenches his fists. “He’s… what? Why? This whole thing is-”

“I’ll talk to Bill in the morning, we should get going,” Stan says, glancing at the clock on the wall, “the show is early, this place is a joke, and not in a good way.”

He’s pushing at Eddie’s shoulders now, toward the elevators once again, and Eddie goes willingly. He was just about to leave, it’ll take him awhile to get home and figure out how to get to the club, and Stan’s giving him some sort of stupid hope that all of this isn’t over, but he can still feel the wet press of Bill’s lips to his so he plants his feet and turns back. 

“It’s all gonna fall apart no matter what I do, Stan,” he says, his throat catching, crumpled up hands curled against Stan’s chest, and Stan must feel his desperation because he pulls him into another hug. This has to be some sort of record for the both of them. 

When Stan pulls away, he presses the down button and looks back to Eddie. 

“I think it might need to, Eds,” he says. 

The words ring in Eddie’s ears the whole evening. It keeps his feet moving but the hard thumping of his heart in the middle of his back doesn’t let up. 

**

The events of the day swirl dangerously in his head as he makes his way out the door of his apartment. Lucy mews angrily at his feet until he remembers he has yet to feed her.

“Oh shit,” he murmurs, dumping some dry food in a bowl and sliding it to her across the floor. She stares at him, unimpressed, before ducking her head to munch on a piece. He sighs in relief and swings the door open to see Richie, hand raised in the mime of a knock. 

“Oh, shit,” Eddie says again, then steps back, hand to his chest.

“Eddie,” Richie says, quick and surprised. 

“What- Richie-” Eddie starts, leaning back to look at the clock. The show begins in an hour - Richie should be at the club by now. Instead he’s standing in Eddie’s doorway, boots damp from the slush, face lined, hair drooping pathetically over the arches of his eyebrows. He looks how Eddie feels: defeated.

“Glad I caught you, the uh,” Richie says, fingers fidgeting with the keys to his truck, “the show is cancelled.” 

Eddie doesn’t know where to start. “You came down - wait. Cancelled? What happened?” 

Richie nods, eyes still blank. “Yeah, pushed out by another regular, guess it happens all the time.”

“Oh.”

“Not like I’m anyone special anyway, shouldn’t really be surprised,” Richie says, low and sarcastic, and Eddie wants to reach out, so he grips his hand tighter against the door. 

Lucy’s given up on her last-minute dinner and starts circling his feet, but they both ignore her. 

“Richie, I’m sorry,” Eddie says. Despite being nervous as fuck, he still really wanted to see Richie’s set. Wanted to know what he’s been working on, wanted to see him up on that stage, in the lights, smiling down at the audience. Smiling down at him

“Don’t be sorry, not your fault,” Richie says, swaying away like he’s going to leave, like he’s been making the rounds dropping off the news like a sad, tall paper boy.

“I mean, not just about that-” 

“Don’t know why I thought I had a shot, really, it was dumb to get excited,” he interrupts, and Eddie almost bursts to get the words out.

“That’s bullshit,” he snaps.

“What?” Richie asks on a shocked laugh. 

Eddie sighs, deflating then pumping himself back up, full on the confidence of knowing Richie fucking deserves this.

“You’re fucking great, Richie, and you deserved that. You’ll get another one, you just have to keep trying,” he says, knocking at Richie’s chest with his knuckles because he’s so close in the doorway, “It’s not easy, getting what you want, right? It can’t be, that would be way too-”

“Easy,” Richie says, eyes locked on his, suddenly smiling, just a little. Eddie nods, breathless, but he pushes on, even though Lucy is clawing at the side of his leg, trying to get his attention. 

“Yeah, and things aren’t fucking easy, but you just came out to your friends, Richie.”

Richie kicks a toe at the floor, mumbling, “Just a couple.”

“It doesn’t fucking matter!” Eddie says, loud and insistent, and he’s worried he’s going to do something stupid, but instead the words just keep tumbling out, “It doesn’t matter how small you start, but you have to know how fucking brave, how fucking-”

“So you and Bill are back on, then?” Richie asks, and it’s so out of nowhere that Eddie feels like he’s been punched.

“What? Richie-”

“No, no, I totally get it, big author, great head of hair, doesn’t give you pasta nicknames you fucking hate,” Richie’s saying, and Eddie’s throat is closing up, and Lucy’s still clawing but he could care less, could be cut and running with red and wouldn’t even flinch because Richie looks fucking mad and Eddie has no idea why, he’s talking like he’s- like they’re-

“I don’t hate it,” Eddie tells him quietly, and Richie stops, hands pressed to either side of the doorway, face craned down toward him. 

“What?” Richie asks. He looks so sullen, so caught and sad. 

“I don’t hate the nicknames, I just, I just didn’t think-” Eddie trails off as he steps a little closer, not knowing what he means, not knowing what he should say , just not wanting Richie to leave.

The corners of Richie’s mouth flinch, threatening a smile, but they pinch back down into a frown and Eddie wants to cry. 

“You didn’t think… what?” Richie asks, leaning forward. Eddie can see the stubble clung rough and messy to his face from this close, his pupils flexing, his jacket lapels damp from the lazily falling snow. Eddie thinks maybe mistletoe might make this easier, might give him an excuse not to explain and just pull Richie into a kiss, wetting his fingers with a tight pressure on Richie’s collar, lips dry and chapped against each other, but he knows he can’t. Knows it’s not what Richie wants.  

“Bill asked me to move in with him.”

Both of them reel back once it’s out of Eddie’s mouth, and it’s not what Eddie meant to say, but it’s some semblance of some truth, and it feels like a start? A really, really soul-crushingly horrible start that drains the returning color from Richie’s face. It’s his turn to look like he took a punch, and Eddie feels fucking horrible, because it suddenly seems like he read all of this all wrong.

“God, uh,” Richie sighs, thumbing hard at his eyes and backing into the hallway, “that’s- wow.”

“I don’t know if I’m actually-”

“No, you should,” Richie says, and Eddie’s jaw shuts with a painful click. 

“I should?”

Richie nods, a little hysterically, like he’s trying to flick his head off his neck. 

“Yeah, you, if that’s what you want,” he tells him. He pauses to take a breath while Eddie watches him, mind blank, no idea how he fucked this up so badly. This isn’t what Stan told him to do, but it’s what came out, and now Richie thinks he actually wants to live with Bill and this has all gotten completely away from him.

He’s never had a handle on this fucking thing but at least he felt like he was on top of it, and now it’s flailing out from under him like a bucking bronco. 

“I don’t know what I want,” he says, even though he does, and it’s standing right in front of him. But he’s not as brave as Bill, or Richie. He can’t just reach out and take what he wants.

Richie coughs out a laugh, eyes on the floor, and Eddie’s so fucking afraid he could start crying, right here, right now. He’s been riding on the edge of it for days. 

“Well, I hope he makes you happy,” Richie says. Eddie just wants the floor to drop out and swallow him whole. 

“Uh huh.”

“I guess we’ll still be seeing a lot of each other, as long as Big Bill comes back into the fold.”

Eddie nods slowly. “Yeah, I- I guess.” 

He thinks of holiday parties, Christmas next year, hand in hand with Bill, watching Richie with some other guy, and his stomach churns. It’s not- it can’t possibly be-

“Anyway, I should get going, just wanted to give you the news,” Richie says, lifting his hand in a wave, and Eddie unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth.

“Wait, uh.” He doesn’t know what the fuck he wants to say, but Richie can’t just leave , not when they feel so close to tangibly speaking about this thing between them, but then he thinks of Richie late last night, his there might be, with a wistful hope in his voice, and he crushes all the hesitation down to a question, “is there any reason you don’t think I should? Live with Bill?” 

Richie is pale, skin pulled tight over the muscles in his face, and his jaw shifts, grinding a circle with his teeth. He pushes his glasses up against the bridge of his nose, even though he doesn’t need to, and Eddie waits. A slow grin creeps over Richie’s lips, and Eddie thinks that maybe he didn’t read it wrong, maybe there is -

“No, I don’t. Uh. I don’t think so,” Richie answers, solemnly. His smile is small and sad. Eddie nods. “Goodnight, Sp- um. Goodnight, Eddie.”

All the lights in Eddie’s head are blinking. Warning. Warning. 

“Goodnight Richie,” he says, creaking the door closed, and Richie’s already halfway down the stairs by the time Eddie slinks to the floor and lets the tears fall.

Chapter Text

His phone rings about seventeen times that night, and he lets the machine get them all. 

It’s mostly Stan, then Bev a couple times, then Stan a few more times. 

Eddie only listens to a few of the messages, mostly Stan asking questions: 

Did you get the news about the show? We’ll have to come up with a new plan.

Holy shit, did Richie catch up with you?

Eddie, please call me back, I have to talk to you.

Eddie, please? 

He loves Stan, but he deletes them all and falls asleep curled around Lucy, lines of dried tears tracking his face.

By the morning, having slept less than a total of three hours, he’s formulated a plan. 

Turns out he doesn’t need Stan to help him out there, but he still misses him. He misses them all, and it hasn’t even been a day. 

He dresses slowly in the cold morning light, and Lucy keeps him company, though he almost trips over her a few times, so if she’s trying to cheer him up, it’s not working.

He comes upon the hospital for what feels like the millionth time, and as he’s riding the elevator up, he also comes to a certain level of peace. Bill’s getting out today, so it’s the last time, but even if he weren’t, Eddie would still be here to tell them all. 

Hoping he can get Bill alone first, he made it here before nine, since the whole group usually congregates around ten, but then he walks into the room to see all of them crowded around Bill’s bed. Bill stands in the corner, and it occurs to Eddie that he hasn’t seen him out of bed in two weeks. 

It feels like the opposite of when Bill first arrived, first transplanted into his hospital bed from a stretcher, a large bruise on his face that’s now mostly healed, body limp and face pale. 

He looks a little more vibrant today, smiling shy and holding a box of his belongings. The rest of them are standing around him, looking concerned but happy, and then Eddie sees Richie at the end of the bed, and that’s familiar too, but it’s Richie’s face that’s pale this time, and Eddie wants to take everything back. 

If he hadn’t jumped on the tracks two weeks ago, none of this would be happening. He would have gone home to his cat, and cried on New Year’s Eve instead of last night, and he would never have known what it’s like to feel thoroughly understood and loved by other human beings. Who knows what would have happened to Bill, or if Richie would have come out, or if Stan would have met Patty.

Maybe Eddie’s seen It’s a Wonderful Life a few too many times, but it all feels like some sort of opportunity he was this close to missing. He takes in the whole room, holes boring into his face from six different directions, swallows every single urge he has to run, and takes a few steps forward.

“Morning, everybody,” he says, receiving a few smiles in return. Richie just turns away, and Eddie feels it like a stab to the chest. 

“Morning, Eddie,” Bill answers, the only one, and Eddie notices Stan fidgeting in the corner. 

“I’m glad, uh. I wanted to talk to you guys,” Eddie says. Stan holds a hand out, but Eddie can’t stop now, with all of them facing him down, he’s got to just get this out. 

“Sure, Eds,” Ben says, oblivious, and Eddie smiles before forging on.

“There’s been a mistake,” Eddie says, and it feels like a cruel start, but he’s not about to start doubting himself now. That would be… far too consistent of him. “Bill and I were never together.” 

“Uh,” Stan says, at the same time Bev whispers a harsh, “What ?” 

“I know, I know, this is all going to sound really fucking horrible. Because, well, it is horrible, but it kept getting away from me and I just need you all to know,” he says desperately, “It was never true.”

“You didn’t pull me off the tracks?” Bill asks, and Eddie tips his head, measuring. 

“Okay, yes, that’s true, I did jump on the tracks. Because I work at the station. I saw you fall from my booth and then I came with you to the hospital and Patty must’ve misheard me because she assumed-”

“Assumed you were gay?” Mike asks, peeking out from behind Richie, who’s jaw is practically on the floor, but Eddie’s doing his best to ignore it. 

“I guess, yeah. She told you guys Bill and I were together and you were so stressed with him in a coma and I was caught up in everything, and then before I knew it you were inviting me to Christmas and giving me gifts and making me laugh, and-” he stops, pressing a hand to his mouth, and Richie’s body folds into itself in front of his eyes. Eddie clenches them shut and keeps talking.

“I didn’t mean for it to go this far. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. But I don’t regret that it did, not anymore. I’m so glad I met all of you. I’m just so sorry,” Eddie says, and then the tears are falling again, the floodgates open from his conversation with Richie last night, and he sees both Ben and Stan take steps toward him. He flinches backward, further away. 

“It’s okay, I don’t. I just need you guys to know I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry for lying to you. For deceiving you, especially you, Bill, god, I-” he stops, looking up to see Bill’s head in his hands. But the whispered words he hears next come from Richie.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks, low and quiet, like Eddie’s the only one who can hear him. Eddie gulps, a tear slipping down his cheek. 

“I didn’t know how,” he answers. Richie pivots on his foot, turning toward the window at the back of the room, hands on his hips. Eddie’s heart is failing. If you hooked him up to one of these machines, all he’d have to give is a fucking flat line. 

Everyone else has gone silent, faces drawn, letting it fall over them. Bill looks devastated, akin to Richie yesterday, but then he glances at Mike, right in front of him, and Eddie’s seen that look on Richie before, too. A flash of something, a light in his eyes, and then Bev is walking into his space.

“Eddie, why didn't you tell us this sooner?” she asks, a gentle hand on his arm. It almost makes him jump. He assumed that once they found out, they would immediately shun him. Not that that’s out of the cards at this point, but he’s alarmed at how soft Bev sounds, like she’s not about to kick him out of this hospital room and all of their lives forever. 

Eddie takes a breath, but Stan beats him to the answer.

“I told him not to.” 

Everyone turns to look at Stan, eyes still glazed over, and this time, Eddie’s included. 

“Stan, you knew?” Bill asks, and Eddie thinks of their earlier conversation, of Stan telling Bill to give Eddie a chance, and he can’t imagine how painful this all must feel. How confusing and disarming it must be to find out the people you loved were lying to you in your most vulnerable moment. 

Eddie wants to leave so badly he almost starts walking. 

“Yeah, I knew,” Stan says, arms crossed as per usual. Eddie wonders if it’s his fighting stance. He’s seen a lot of it over the past couple weeks. “I knew, but can you fucking blame me? Can you tell me we haven’t been better in the past two weeks than we were in the whole time Bill was gone? In the whole time we’ve known each other?” 

Eddie wipes at the tears on his cheeks and shakes his head.

“Stan, you don’t have to-”

“No,” Stan snaps, pointing at him, “don’t, Eddie, just let me do this. We were together again and I didn’t want to lose it. Who wants to tell me that isn’t true? That we haven’t felt… closer since Christmas?” 

“I mean, I-” Bill starts, a small squeak from the corner, but Stan’s on him quick.

“Bill, hush, this isn’t about you, we’ll get to you later.”

Eddie would laugh if he weren’t already crying. 

“I - yeah. It’s true, things have been really good,” Bev says, meeting Eddie’s eyes. She smiles, small and sincere, and it warms Eddie’s extremities like a cup of coffee, flowing through his veins. 

“I knew we needed this, since the party. Since Bill left and we started to fall apart. I know it sounds ridiculous but it all just sort of happened, like Eddie said, and then after a while it started to feel-”

Richie turns away from the window to look at Stan. “Like it fit.” 

Eddie can’t breathe, can’t think. He expected everyone to scream at him, but as he looks around all he sees are sad, understanding eyes and Richie’s fallen face, and for the first time in his life he wonders how one orchestrates a group hug.

Then Bill scoffs, a harsh noise beating through the center of everyone’s sympathy. 

“I still don’t get why you didn’t tell me this yesterday, Eddie.” 

Now everyone’s back to staring at him. Eddie wonders if everyone knew, if everyone thought Bill was going to take Eddie home with him when he left the hospital, but at this point, it doesn’t really matter. He can’t stop the train barreling toward him now, either, so he gives it his all and tumbles himself sideways off the tracks. 

“I wasn’t sure yesterday, but then, then when you- when you kissed me,” he says, and Mike turns like a shot, eyes wide at Bill, who looks suddenly contrite, “and Richie saw, I think I finally figured out what I actually want.”

Richie shuffles his feet on the hospital floor, and it’s the only sound they all hear, waiting for Eddie to finish his thought. 

“Which is what?” Bill asks, glowing red under Mike’s gaze. Eddie sucks in as much air through his nose as he can and spits it out like a promise.

“Richie. I’m- I’m in love with Richie.” 

It’s so fucking scary, right in front of him, and Richie emits a squeak that he tries to cover with a cough but Eddie feels his face heating and Richie’s eyes are stuck on him like glue. 

He said it, he actually said it, and he knows Richie likes someone else, so he keeps going before Richie can turn him down.

“But I’m. I’m really in love with all of you,” he says, and Richie’s face falls a bit. Ben’s, on the other hand, lights up.

“With- with me?” Ben asks, gesturing to himself. Eddie laughs, despite himself. It feels good.

“No. Yes. With- with all of you,” he says, gesturing, instead, to the whole room. Everyone looks around, a little blindsided, like someone else is going to appear, some other-worldly entity who will explain more sufficiently why this is happening to them. 

“I’ve been alone most of my life. Both of my parents are gone and I’ve never really had friends,” Eddie says, catching the second swell of tears before they start. “But you guys took me in and you were so nice and you made me feel like I belonged. I’ve never felt like I belong. Not with anyone important. Not with anyone who mattered.” 

He looks at Richie. 

“I didn’t want to let it go,” he says, then, to Richie, “I didn’t want to let you go.” 

Richie’s eyes are wet, his face crumpled, and Eddie’s chest stings with shame. He looks to Bill.

“Before Christmas, I was floating through life, barely paying attention, just letting everything happen to me. But now things feel… different,” he says, staring down at his hands, flexing his fingers against his palms, feeling the bite of his nails in his skin, “I know I jumped on the tracks that day, but I really think you’re the one who saved my life.” 

He wants to laugh, he knows it sounds absurd, but the words are solid on his tongue, and he nods, knowing it’s how he feels. Knowing it’s the truth. And that’s all he can give, now, this late in the game. He owes them all that. 

He owes Richie that. 

“Eddie-” Bill starts, but Eddie’s said what he wants to say, and the rushing removal of belonging snaps at his heels like an attack dog. 

“I should let you guys, uh. Talk,” he says, backing out of the room. Richie takes a step toward him but stops, mouth snapping shut when Eddie meets his eyes. There’s so much more he could say, so much more he wants to say to Richie, but he knows he had his chance already. 

He’s just glad he could tell him. Just once. 

He turns and heads toward the elevators one last time, hoping to hear someone call out to him the whole time he’s walking down the hallway.

No one does. 

**

Eddie works a nine hour shift because Myra has the flu, but frankly, he’s never been more grateful for a distraction. His booth is familiar and quiet. 

He spends the afternoon after the hospital explosion chatting idly with Henry, whose kids are six and eight, and he finds himself engaging a little more than usual. Turns out Henry’s always been really into trains, and they talk about the different models they grew up learning, and suddenly it’s the end of his shift. 

He feels a little numb when he gets home, but the warmth of a good connection seems like some sort of sign. 

The light on his answering machine is blinking, and when he gets closer, there’s a singular, glowing one lighting up the little box in the corner. Before he can press play, there’s a knock on his door. 

Eddie’s not sure who he’s expecting when he opens it, but it definitely isn’t Mike. 

“Mike,” he says, and Mike nods, looking shy. He rubs at the back of his neck. 

“Hi, Eddie.”

Eddie’s still got his coat on, and Lucy is waiting in the kitchen for her dinner, but he feels rude leaving Mike out in the hallway, so he shifts to the side and ushers him in. 

“Sorry to surprise you, I left a message on your machine,” Mike says, pointing to the blinking one with a knowing look, “I see I jumped the gun on that, huh?” 

Eddie laughs uneasily. “Oh yeah, I just got home from work.” 

“Oh,” Mike says, hovering over Eddie’s couch, “I can give you some time to settle in, if you’d rather-” he’s pointing at the door, like he’s an old timey gentleman who intruded, but Eddie shakes his head.

“No, no, it’s okay, I’m glad you’re here,” he says, although he’s not sure it’s true. He hasn’t had any down-time since the hospital, and getting through work unscathed was one thing, but he has to work again very early in the morning and he’s both physically and mentally exhausted. And now Mike is looking at him like he feels sorry for him, and for some reason, coming from Mike, it feels pathetic in its glowing level of pity.

But Mike seems to calm at his reassurances, and Eddie nods when he goes to sit on the couch. Eddie sits in the chair across from him.

“I wanted to check on you, after the hospital, see how you’re doing,” he says, and Eddie swallows. It hasn’t even been a whole day, but it feels like he’s lived a thousand lifetimes. 

“I haven’t really had time to, uh.”

“I know, I’m sorry-”

“Stop apologizing, Mike, Jesus,” Eddie snaps, and Mike folds his hands together. Eddie takes a breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get upset-”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I feel like you- I feel like you don’t like me very much, Mike, and I totally get why, but you didn’t like me before today, and I could never quite figure it out,” Eddie says. He’s told the truth about literally everything else today, so he figures he’ll toss one more on the pile. Mike did show up unannounced, he can’t have expected a polite and dodgy conversation. 

Mike’s nodding, so Eddie assumes he didn’t miss the mark. They sit in a heavy silence for a few minutes until Lucy yowls in the quiet of the kitchen. 

“Sorry,” Eddie says, standing up and finally removing his jacket, “I’ve got to feed her real quick, just give me one second.” 

Mike nods again, and Eddie heads to the kitchen to spoon out some chicken chunks onto Lucy’s plate. As he’s setting it on the ground, he hears Mike’s voice from the living room. 

“Bill and I talked a lot after you left this morning,” he says, and Eddie peeks out from the doorway to see Mike staring at the ground. “Everyone else left in a pretty quick hurry, I think they wanted to tend a little to Richie.” 

Eddie’s head swims at that, imagining what kind of help Richie might need, how he was feeling today in light of everything. 

“Anyway, it was the first time we’d really talked since he woke up. Since the fight, for sure. For- for the both of us,” he says, wringing at his hands, “It’s not like there was anything about our relationship he had forgotten, we hadn’t talked since the book party.”

Eddie slowly makes his way back to the chair, and as soon as he sits, Mike continues, eyes on him. That’s one thing Eddie knows about Mike - when his eye contact is there, it practically holds you down. 

“I came here to check on you, Eddie, but I also came to apologize.” 

Eddie balks. “Apologize? I told you, Mike-”

“No, I know. I know you lied and I understand that, Stan and I talked about that, too, and I think everyone forgives you,” he says, then his lips curve in a reluctant smile, “except maybe Bill, but he’s always been the stubborn one.” 

Eddie can’t help but smile, even through the rock of guilt dropped low in his stomach. 

“The day before the book party, I told Bill he should come out,” he says, and Eddie more or less knew, but it has the cadence of a secret, and it doesn’t feel unlike one. “But I was being selfish. And I was being selfish in how I treated you, Eddie, when I thought you and Bill were together.” 

Mike grips at the arm of the couch, the mushy sounds of Lucy eating in the other room hanging in the air. 

“I told Bill to come out for him, of course I did. But I was also planning on telling him, well,” Mike hesitates, and Eddie sits up to listen. “He didn’t take the first part well. None of us could really- be honest about that. I don’t know what it is. And I think he was afraid of his feelings.”

“I wanted-” Mike starts, and Eddie leans forward in his chair, as if that will somehow help. “I wanted to be with Bill. Just like-” He points to Eddie, and Eddie follows suit, thoroughly shocked. 

“My god, Mike.” 

“I know, I know.”

“I’m so sorry,” Eddie says, and Mike’s head lifts suddenly, eyes shocked. 

“You’re sorry?” 

“Of course, I- I had no idea.”

Eddie feels stunned. He saw the look between Mike and Bill in the hospital room, when he mentioned that Bill kissed him, but he didn’t think- he’s just been so focused on what was going on in his own little sphere, he didn’t even think to consider what Mike was going through. 

“Mike,” he says, suddenly so desperately sorry, the gravity of everything falling on him, that through everything Mike was sweet and kind to him, even if he did it quietly, even if he kept his distance. He was meeting the man he thought won out over him, the man Bill had chosen instead of him, and then Eddie thinks of Richie, the look on his face when he caught Bill and Eddie kissing, and the plethora of complications this whole situation has wrought feels endless. 

“I hadn’t even told him, until today,” he says, and Eddie presses a hand to his eyes, rubbing until he sees stars. “But after you told everyone, I couldn’t not. After you told everyone about Richie-”

Eddie groans. “I swear to god, Mike, if you tell me I inspired you I might scream.”

“What’s so wrong with that?” Mike asks, and his voice is so innocent and understanding that Eddie wants to scream anyway. 

“I’m sick of everyone acting like I know what I’m doing!” Eddie says, and he knows he’s yelling but it’s been such a long fucking day and he wants everyone to stop pretending he’s worth all this. “I’ve been lying to all of you since moment one, and you treat me like I’m a magical tether that’s connected all of you together. You were always connected. You didn’t need me. I’m the one who needed-”

Eddie’s throat cuts, and he gasps to catch his breath when he sees Mike get up off the couch and walk toward him. He crouches next to Eddie, hand pressing to his knee, and Eddie wants to flee. This is too nice, too good, and it’s the last thing he deserves, just like his mom said, just like she always told him-

“Eddie, hey, calm down,” Mike says softly, rubbing his hand over the bump of Eddie’s knee, and it’s only then that Eddie realizes he’s hyperventilating. “Do you need a glass of water or something?” Mike asks, but Eddie’s already bending himself in half to place his head between his knees. 

Mike’s hand splays out on his back as his chest rises and falls in huffing, desperate pulls of air. It takes a few minutes for him to come back to himself, for the static to clear in his vision, but when he sits back up, Mike is still there, hand keeping him steady, eyes on his. 

“You know we aren’t all bullshitting you, right?” Mike says, and it surprises a laugh out of Eddie. He feels the blood rushing back to his face, the breath coming easier. 

“I mean, I guess?” Eddie says. Mike smiles. 

“You’re brave, Eddie,” Mike says, strong and simple, like it is. Eddie opens his mouth to protest, but Mike pulls the hand from where it’s been smoothing circles into his back and holds up a finger to his face. “Trust me.”

Eddie sighs instead of arguing, but still says, “I’ll work on it.” 

“I’ll take it,” Mike answers. 

Once he sits back on the couch, Eddie feels much more relaxed. And a little impressed.

“I can’t believe you told him, Mike, that's great.” He knows first-hand how hard it is to confess your feelings. Mike waves a hand at him. 

“It took me long enough,” he tells Eddie, but that light is back in his eyes. Eddie’s stare lingers, and Mike squirms under the force of it. 

“What did he say?” Eddie asks, then second guesses, “I mean, you don’t have to tell me, it’s really none of my business-”

“He, well,” Mike says, biting at his lip, and Eddie definitely knows that look. “It went well. It went- It went well.” 

They smile across the room at each other. Mike beams, and Eddie laughs. 

“He’s a good kisser, huh?” Eddie says, feeling bold, and Mike rolls his eyes.

“Man, that room’s seen a lot of action,” Mike laughs, rubbing at his eyes, and Eddie gasps. 

“Did someone else make out in there?” 

Mike nods, grinning wide. “Stan and Patty, apparently. While Bill was still asleep .”

“Oh my god.”

“My favorite story of the year. Hands down,” Mike says, and Eddie’s tummy aches from laughter after they calm down. 

Eddie offers him a drink, but all he has is an old bottle of Pinot Grigio from the convenience store on the corner, so they sip it out of coffee mugs, now together on the couch. 

“Bill is horrible at flirting. I couldn’t believe he felt the same way. It was like talking to a sexual brick wall for months,” Mike says, and Eddie’s close to hyperventilation again, but this time’s much more fun. Mike is fucking hilarious. For a second, he’s a little mad at Richie for stealing Mike’s thunder. It’s hard to get a word in when you’re friends with Richie Tozier. 

“I kinda wish Richie was worse at flirting,” Eddie says, because he’s exhausted and the mugful of wine is getting to his head. All he can think about is Richie, where Richie is, if Eddie inspired him to confess his feelings, too, if he’s somehow making out in that old hospital room with a sexy male nurse that passed Eddie’s notice because he was always so busy staring at Richie when they were there. 

Mike just sighs. “I really don’t think he’s that good at it, Eddie.”

Eddie eyes him, pulling again from his mug.

“What do you mean?” 

Mike wipes at his mouth. “He’s different around you. I know for a fact he wouldn’t have invited anyone else to his first comedy set after knowing them for a couple weeks. He didn’t let Ben come to his open mics for years.” 

Eddie blinks, swirling the clear liquid in his PRIDE 1994 mug, stomach butterflying. 

“Did he say anything before he- after the hospital? This morning?” Eddie asks, heart rocketing into his throat, and Mike’s eyes bore into him, but this time, it feels soothing. 

“Yeah, he,” Mike says, clearing his throat, “he told us he decided not to go through with the show himself. After he saw you and Bill.”

Eddie’s stomach drops. “What?”

“He and Bill got into it a little bit, I think Bill was still pretty upset, and Richie was, well.” Mike licks over his lips, setting his mug on the coffee table. “Stunned. I don’t even think he meant to tell us, but Bill asked once everything settled down and the truth just… came out.” 

“Why would he cancel? He was so excited,” Eddie asks, fingers clutching his mug so tight it’s beginning to hurt. This all makes no sense. 

Mike shrugs. “He said he couldn’t go through with it. Wasn’t in the right headspace.” 

“After-”

“Yeah,” Mike answers, void of a question. 

“I don’t-”

“You need to talk to him, Eds.” It’s the first time Mike’s called him that, and Eddie pushes past his defenses and looks up, and this time there’s no pity, just understanding. Eddie wants to cry again, and somehow, he thinks that if he did, it would be alright. 

But he doesn’t. He just nods and drains the rest of his wine. 

**

Mike’s words spin through Eddie’s head the whole night after he leaves, slightly buzzed but promising to call when he got home, which he did, just in time to say goodnight and tell Eddie, again, how brave he is. 

Eddie likes being friends with Mike. He really hopes it sticks, even if Richie never speaks to him again. For, you know, ruining his comedy career before it began and lying to him and falling in love with him inexplicably for making a few jokes and forcing him to come out. 

And even if Richie was crushed when he saw Eddie kissing Bill, even if it seems like maybe Richie is interested, Eddie has far and away missed all of his chances. He doubts Richie will want to hear from him now, now that he’s blown this whole thing wide open. At least, he thinks, he gave Bill and Mike a chance to be happy together. It almost makes losing Richie worth it.

That’s what he tells himself, alone and desolate on his metal stool, as he watches the same hundred tokens slide through the slot, stinging at the tips of his fingers like the cold. 

He’s so lost in a fog of regret and replays, Richie’s face when he told the truth, when he confessed his feelings, when Bev said, just kiss him and get out of my house, that he doesn’t see a tall, brooding form appear on the other side of the glass. 

Luckily, just like last time, Richie raps on the glass to get his attention. 

All of Eddie’s breath catches in his throat when he looks up to see Richie, and behind him, a huddled group containing the rest of them, Bev and Ben and Mike and Bill and Stan and even Patty, who waves excitedly at him, hair pulled back in a ponytail, bundled up in the red scarf Stan got from Richie for Hanukkah. 

“Hey, Eddie,” Richie says, and he’s beaming, cheeks pink from the wind, and Eddie wants to press a hand to the glass, just to make sure he’s real. 

“H-Hi, Richie,” he says back, instead. 

Neither of them say anything for a moment, just mooning at each other with a huge sliver of plexiglass dividing them. Then Bev clears her throat, hanging off of Richie’s arm. 

“Are we going to have to do this for you, Trashmouth?” she asks Richie, and Richie shakes her off. He points into the booth, raising an eyebrow, smiling wide.

“Can I come in there?” he asks. Eddie’s heart is beating out of his chest, but he looks down at the counter and shakes his head. 

“No, Rich, I don’t think so,” he answers, and Richie’s face falls. Eddie bites the inside of his cheek. “You’re going to need a token.” 

Stan laughs, muffled by the glass, but Richie’s eyes hang on his, the heat palpable. His smile is contagious, gleaming with anticipation, and Eddie wants so badly to kiss him that he can feel it in the crooks of his knees, the hair raising on the back of his neck. 

Richie plunks a silver coin into the slot and Eddie reaches to unlock the door, shaking. 

The group titters with excitement as Richie steps inside, and he looks so fucking tall, towering over Eddie with dark eyes, hands rubbed raw from the cold wind, and Eddie turns the stool to face him. Richie leans over him immediately, crowding him into the wall, eyes so intent Eddie can feel it vibrate through his whole body. 

“Hey,” Richie says again, and Eddie exhales in a laugh. 

“Hey,” he says back, then, because there’s so much more he wants to say, “Richie-”

But Richie’s even closer, hand on his cheek, thumb nudging a line over his cheekbone, just under his eye. 

“I love you,” he says.

Eddie closes his eyes, surprised when it squeezes out a tear. He hadn’t realized he was this close to crying, but now Richie’s touching him, looking at him like he’s the only thing in the world, and he thinks maybe that’s what all this was for, all along. And he loves… him. Richie loves Eddie, no one else, no mystery nurse, no unnamed nice man he’ll bring to future group get-togethers.

Richie wipes the tear away, off Eddie’s face, and Eddie wants to look away, but Richie holds him there, and he’s no longer afraid. 

“I love you back,” Eddie tells him. “I’m so sorry for-”

“Don’t,” Richie answers, clearing another tear, eyes circling Eddie’s face greedily, “please don’t be sorry.” 

Eddie laughs, strangled. “Too late.” 

Richie’s smile goes crooked for a moment. Eyes flicking to Eddie’s lips, he licks at his own and raises his eyebrows. Eddie nods.

There are several pairs of eyes on them, but Eddie could care less about their penchant for kissing with an audience when their mouths finally meet. 

Eddie wants to cry, but he already is. Their kiss is wet from the beginning, and it’s already fifty times better than chapped-lip-banged-head peer-pressured fucking mistletoe. This time, Eddie knows Richie loves him and means this and Eddie wants Richie to hold him, close and warm, hands framing his face and body leaning for the next, well, eternity. 

Eddie’s always been a bit dramatic. But the way Richie’s shaky fingers glide across his jaw, the way Richie’s forehead clenches tight when they break apart, the way Richie plants a kiss on each of Eddie’s damp eyelids before pressing back in to his waiting mouth, Eddie thinks maybe they’re a match made in heaven. 

Richie’s feet shuffle toward him, in between his open knees, and Eddie’s hands find Richie’s middle to pull him even closer, fingers slipping to his hips. The heat of their bodies together is consuming, and Eddie’s most of the way to forgetting it’s winter and he’s still at fucking work until he hears someone clear their throat, loudly. 

Both of them pull away in an instant, arms still clutched around each other. Eddie’s chin is numb from Richie’s stubble and Richie looks thoroughly debauched, mouth shiny and panting ever so slightly, and Eddie wants to reel him back in, but their giddy group of fangirls has clearly lost interest as their view has become more, uh, intimate

Eddie hardly feels bad. In fact, he thinks this is the best he’s ever felt in his life. He buries his face in the warm, beating center of Richie’s chest, and even through his coat, he can hear the frantic thrum of a heart. 

“Calm down there, Eddie, you’re still on the clock,” Mike says, and Eddie laughs into Richie’s body, tingling and thrilled. Richie’s hands sweep over his back a few times before forcing him upright. His eyes are wide and genuine when Eddie meets them, and no amount of voyeurs or professionalism could stop him from stealing another quick kiss. 

Richie groans when Eddie moves away. “Oh god, how much longer are you here?” he asks, and Eddie searches his memory, pressing his lips together and catching his breath. 

“Um, I’m- Another hour? What time is it?” 

Richie laughs, eyeing the clock on the wall. “Four.”

“Oh my god,” Eddie sighs, “I’m done, it’s done,” he says, and he knows he needs to wait for someone to relieve him, knows that someone could walk in at any moment, but Richie’s grinning, all messy hair and roaming hands, and Eddie wants to kiss him again, so he forces their bodies back together into a desperate hug. 

“Do you wanna,” Richie gasps, gripping tight, “do you wanna get outta here?”

Eddie laughs, sitting up again. “You bet your ass I do.” Richie ducks his head, taking a few steps back so Eddie can stand. Richie turns to the group.

“I think I’ve got it from here, friend-o’s, you can all stop gawking like fish,” Richie says, and Eddie swings his badge off around his neck with a smile, catching a glimpse of Henry walking toward the booth to start his shift. “Get it, Eds, cause of the glass?” 

“Thank god,” he says, then, because Richie is staring at him, giddy and shining, “yeah, yeah, I get it, you’re a fucking riot.” 

Richie leans over to stage-whisper, “They insisted on coming with me, I’m clearly the most interesting one in the group.” 

Eddie grabs at his hand as Henry’s popping the door open behind them.

“Can’t argue with that, Rich.”

Chapter Text

Everyone sweeps them both into a hug as soon as they’re outside, and Henry stares at them through the glass, but Richie throws an arm around Eddie’s shoulders and he lets it happen, lets himself be swept. If it feels a little like they’re in a cult, bear hugging on a train platform in some sort of prayer, Eddie ignores it. 

When they’re making their way to Richie’s truck, just the two of them, Eddie grabs at Richie’s dangling hand to tangle their fingers together. Richie sways toward him, and the bitter cold nips at both of them, but Eddie’s fit to burst into flames. He could heat the whole city on the look in Richie’s eyes. From the gentle way he helps Eddie into the passenger seat, a big hand on the small of Eddie’s back. From the way he slides in next, an arm already over the bench to get closer. And definitely from the way his cheeks pink when he shyly says:

“Hey, Spaghetti, could I ask you something?” 

Eddie nods, heart in his throat. There’s still some lingering anxiety swirling through him, despite the phenomenal kissing and Richie’s hand creeping across the fabric of the seat to tickle at his shoulder. 

“Would you, uh,” he says, eyes hard on the steering wheel, “would you wanna come to the party with me tomorrow? At the house?” 

Eddie blinks. It would be a lie to say he had forgotten about the third annual party their group throws. All night long he thought of basically nothing else, knowing deep in his gut there wasn’t an invitation for him. Now Richie is offering one up on a silver platter, and it’s not only a party but maybe a date and he’s never been so happy to be proven wrong. 

“Of course,” Eddie says, feeling bold when Richie turns to look at him, “there’s no way you’re getting rid of me now, Trashmouth.” 

Richie’s face is going to crack from all this smiling, and his eyes flash at the nickname, and Eddie recognizes it: that look. He’s been looking at Eddie like that since they met, since he snapped at him on the porch and clocked him for a comedian and accidentally knocked their knees together under the kitchen table. Eddie wonders if it was always there. If Richie was caught up in this from the beginning just like him, as tempting and inevitable as their fucking group hugs. 

“Good to know,” Richie answers, quietly, shifting closer on the bench. 

“I don’t work tomorrow,” he says, mind suddenly full to the brim with the promises of a whole day together, if that’s what Richie wants, too. He needs to buy Donna a new space heater. She’s been complaining about the broken one in the office for months and he owes her for all the time off.

“Is that right?” Richie’s grin is leering, and it sends a chill up Eddie’s spine at even the chance he might be thinking the same thing. “We’ll have to find something to keep you busy.” 

Eddie’s always liked to think he has a certain level of self-control. In fact, most of the time, his sense of control overwhelms his desires. But not today. Today he’s ready to throw control straight out the window of Richie’s muddy, salt-stained tow truck to be carried away by the brutal Chicago winds. 

He closes the gap between them with a bitten-off groan, quickly ticking up the number of kisses he’s been a part of this week. Bill’s a good guy, but he wants to drown out the memory of anything but Richie’s lips on his, Richie’s hands on his face, Richie’s thigh straining against his on the seat. 

Richie’s arm leaves the seat back and snakes around him, pulling him closer and slotting their mouths together. He kisses like he’s concentrating on a test, brows pinched carefully, fingers scratching their answers gently over the skin on the back of Eddie’s neck. Eddie already feels that stir, knows he’s on his way to getting hard, and then Richie’s hand wraps around the top of his thigh and it’s embarrassing how quickly he makes it all the way there. 

It’s been a long time since he’s been touched like this, if ever. Most of his experience sums out to one night stands and a relationship that lasted two months, and that’s being generous, considering Jason was on sabbatical in Rome for some two weeks during that time. Richie’s tonguing at his bottom lip and moaning into his mouth and scooting him closer on the seat so they’re practically in each other’s laps and Eddie knows this is unlike anything that’s ever happened to him. 

The windows are fogging by the time they split apart, Eddie’s hand fisted in Richie’s collar, Richie’s hands dragging strong lines of pressure up Eddie’s sides. 

Logically, Eddie knows it’s getting dark because the days are so short, but any fool off the street could tell him they’ve wiled away days making out in the car and he would believe them. Richie’s breathing frantically between them, and Eddie watches the fog creep further along the glass to calm himself down. 

“We should, we should go,” he whispers. Richie ghosts a hand over the back of Eddie’s head and nods, pecking at his lips before turning back to the wheel. Eddie’s thigh is still pinning his down, and his coat is spread open from where Eddie’s hands tried to pull it off of him, and his head drops back onto the seat with a whine. 

Fuck,” he says, hands flying up to the ten and two, squinting out the cloudy windshield, “I can barely see.” 

“Here, roll down the windows, that’ll help,” Eddie says, already turning at the crank on his door. 

“Wasn’t really talking about the- but. Yeah, okay,” Richie mumbles, and Eddie smiles as he works at his window. The breath of cold air relieves a little of the pressure, but when he looks over to Richie, his side is still snugly closed. 

He hears tiny squeaks and Richie turns to grin at him, gesturing to the dripping R + E he traced into the steam. 

When he closes the letters into a heart with his pinky finger, Eddie throws his head back to blink away the stupid fucking tears threatening to fall. Jesus Christ, they’ve both got it bad

“Did you walk straight out of a cartoon?” he asks, hoping Richie catches the snark instead of the sniff near the tail-end. 

“Please, I haven’t done anything straight in years,” Richie answers, finally rolling down his window to erase his dorky message and get this show on the road. 

Eddie laughs, and it steadies his heart to keep teasing. “Didn’t I hear something about a tiny, talkative date you brought to the house all those years ago?” 

“Yes, yes, in my youth I strayed,” Richie says, turning the key in the ignition, “but this is the best date I’ve had in years and we haven’t even left the fucking car.” 

Eddie gulps in the dark, dissipating fog of the car and wills his erection to go down, at least for the drive. 

**

As soon as they’re in Eddie’s apartment, Lucy flocks to Richie, giving Eddie a little time to get his bearings. He throws a can of wet food at Richie and tells him to feed the needy fluff before shutting himself in the bathroom to primp. 

He knows where this is going, and short of jumping in the tub for a quick shower, he needs to be a little more prepared for the eventuality that Richie will soon up his game and be all over him.  And if he doesn’t, Eddie is more than willing to fall on the metaphorical and literal sword to make it happen. 

He’s free of stubble and train station grime by the time he’s back in the kitchen, where Richie is crouched down next to Lucy on the floor, watching her gobble up dinner. He bolts to a stand when he sees Eddie, eyes bouncing from his jaw to his bare arms in his white sleep t-shirt. Layers are a fool’s game. 

“Did you… shave?” Richie asks, and Eddie rubs at his chin.

“Oh, yeah,” he tells him, and when Richie deflates, he panics and adds, “but don’t worry, the stubble burn is kind of a turn on.” 

He wants to smack himself when it comes out, but Richie’s eyes go dark and hungry like he wants to swallow him whole. Eddie wants to get there, eventually, but he’s had a few minutes to think in the bathroom, and it feels like they should get some things out in the air before they fulfill the promise Richie’s stare is currently tattooing on his skin.

“Do you, uh, want to sit and talk for a minute?” Eddie asks, pointing to the living room. 

Something goes lax in Richie’s face, his smile gentle across the kitchen. 

“Sure. Of course.” 

Eddie gets them each a glass of water and both are drained by the time they’ve sunken into the couch. Their knees are crowded and Eddie takes a deep breath before breaking the silence.

“Why did you cancel your show?” 

Richie looks surprised at that, but Eddie can’t stand the thought of not being direct after everything they’ve been through. Richie sets his empty glass on the coffee table and palms around his own knees. 

“Who told you?” he asks, then waves it off, “Nevermind, I guess it doesn’t matter, cat’s out of the bag at this point.”

“It was Mike,” Eddie answers anyway. “He came by to see me last night, we had a couple drinks.” 

“Oh, so you plyed him with alcohol?” Richie’s eyebrows flick up. “Too bad that trick doesn’t work on me, Spaghetti.”

Eddie frowns. “So you’re not going to tell me?” 

“I’m getting there, just-”

“You seemed so excited,” Eddie says, fingers twitching. 

Richie sags a little into the couch, breath seeping from him in a long, quiet whine. Eddie knows he’s pushing, but since the cat is out, he wants to give it a few laps.

“I’ve never really wanted to do a show before,” Richie says, a whisper in the dark blue of the living room. Eddie forgot to turn the lights on, but the shining yellow of the street lamps set Richie in a golden silhouette. “But I started writing about this whole fucking thing with Bill, ‘cause like, what the fuck, right? My friend gets amnesia and that’s how we find out he’s gay and meet his boyfriend, it felt like I could twist it into some weird comedy gold.”

Richie looks amused with himself, hands folded over his own lap, Eddie craned next to him, listening. 

“I had this whole spiel about meeting you, and Bill and I coming out to each other, happy as a fuckin’ clam that you agreed to come see me, and then I walked in on you two kissing,” he says, and it’s like someone dropped a hot shard of coal down the center of Eddie’s throat. Richie bites at his lip before continuing. 

“It’s not like I didn’t know you were together, obviously, that was the whole thing, but something about seeing you two, seeing you pressed together-”

“Richie, god, I-”

“No, no,” Richie stops him, gathering their hands together and scooting forward to the edge of the couch. “I don’t want to hash out this shit and feel like fuckin’ morons, not anymore, I don’t- I just want to be with you. And I knew it when I saw you and Bill. All I could think was ‘fuck that, he’s supposed to come to my show,’ and I realized the only reason I wanted to be up on that stage was so I could look down and see you.”

Eddie heaves a sigh, hanging his head in the space between them. Richie lifts him back up gently by the chin until their eyes meet. 

“I realized I loved you,” he says, jaw muscles clenching, and Eddie’s hands find his thigh, desperate to touch him.

“I love you too, and I need you to know that I only ever wanted to kiss you, I just thought-”

“Left you wanting more after the mistletoe?” Richie says with a wry smile, and Eddie leans up to kiss him, just to prove it.

It’s slower than the booth or the car. Eddie still feels frantic adrenaline rushing through his body, but Richie’s hands are so soft, trailing over his thighs, his hips, the line of his ribs and the curve of his neck, that all the tension seeps out under his touch. His long fingers finally settle around the nape of Eddie’s neck, controlling the rhythm, tilting their heads back and forth, tipping Eddie’s up to kiss him deep. 

Eddie’s hands are on Richie’s thighs, broad and solid against his palms. He wants to spread them open and crawl into Richie’s lap, but then Richie is moaning softly into his mouth and Eddie’s intentions switch gears. He lifts at the hem of Richie’s shirt, and Richie’s hands fall from his neck to help him take it off. 

Eddie sits back a little to take in Richie’s bare chest, smattered with the same dark hair that covers his arms. He rakes a hand down the length of his torso and Richie hisses. 

“Hey, even steven, you tease,” Richie says, moving to pull Eddie’s shirt over his head. Once they’re both shirtless, straining a bit at their jeans, they smile at each other in the dark. 

Eddie’s never really had a type other than “whoever seems interested and nice.” While Richie fits that bill to a t, Eddie knows now, his type is Richard fucking Tozier hands down. He’s funny and kind and loyal with a ragged head of hair and horrible taste in clothes, and here, in the quiet of his apartment, among the stir of the city outside, Eddie’s never wanted anyone more in his entire life.

Just when he’s considering how to go about doing something, Lucy jumps into his lap. 

“Lucy, Jesus, get down,” he chides, brushing her away. She hops to the floor only to move to Richie’s lap next. 

Richie smiles up at Eddie while he begins to softly pet over Lucy’s head. 

“This is the most effective cock-blocking I think I’ve ever seen, and I can’t even be mad,” Richie says, right into Lucy’s face, scritching below her chin to stare into her eyes. Eddie watches them, stunned from both Lucy’s smug arrival and the word cock coming out of Richie’s mouth. He swallows down the flood of saliva and takes a breath. 

“I guess maybe we should slow it down,” he says reluctantly. 

“Oh,” Richie says, staring down at the cat, “yeah, yeah, that’s fine.”

Eddie nods, crossing his arms over his chest. “Yep. Sounds good.”

**

Twenty minutes later, Richie’s between Eddie’s legs where he’s seated on the kitchen counter, sucking a spot onto his collarbone.

“I can’t, Eds, I can’t keep my hands off of you. Now that I’m allowed it’s like I’ll die if I stop touching you,” he mumbles into Eddie’s skin, hot and damp, voice rough. 

Shit,” Eddie groans, reaching down to cup around the hard line in Richie’s pants. Richie’s head thumps against his chest. He shudders out a breath as Eddie shifts his hips on the tile. “I don’t want you to stop.”

“Yeah, fuck slow,” Richie whimpers as Eddie’s hand strokes him over his pants. He feels wild and confident, tugging at the button of Richie’s jeans to pop them open slowly, legs squeezed around Richie’s hips. 

“Can I-”

“Yes, please, it goes both ways, man, please touch me- oh god ,” he moans when Eddie finally pulls him out and wraps a hand around him. He’s perfect - big and desperately hard, red and wet at the tip, and Eddie’s never really wished a specific dick was in his mouth, but there’s a first time for everything.

“You’re so hard.” 

“You don’t say,” Richie breathes, hands scrabbling to touch every part of Eddie he can reach. He drags their mouths back together, but Eddie breaks off to spit into his palm, and Richie thrusts up into the circle of his fist as soon as he’s back to touching him. “Oh, Eddie, honey, that’s so- nnngh.

Eddie’s heart skitters at the name and his hand pumps faster as Richie falls apart against him. 

Richie’s panting into Eddie’s mouth, hands printing bruises onto his thighs, and Eddie’s jerking Richie’s cock like it’s going out of style, and when he wets two fingers on his tongue and dips them down between the crease of Richie’s ass, Richie grunts low in his chest.

“Shit, fuck, I’m gonna come,” he grits out. It’s so fast that Eddie gasps, wants to pull off and take it into the bedroom, but everything is too far gone and he’s suddenly breathless to see Richie come.

He twists his wrist and rubs hard at the head, gripping his other hand around Richie’s ass and encouraging the restless motion of his hips. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay, we have time, Rich, you can come,” Eddie whispers into his mouth, because he wants to spend the foreseeable future touching and kissing and holding Richie as much as possible. He’s never felt this fucking hungry for someone before. 

They both lean back to watch Richie move through Eddie’s fist, arm flexing with the effort, and Richie’s hands fly up to grab at Eddie’s face. 

“Just can’t, hah, just want you so bad,” he says, their foreheads stuck together as Richie’s dick twitches in his grasp and his hips kick forward in unsteady circles. 

Eddie sloppily catches what he can in his hand as Richie comes. Richie’s destructive and somehow also gorgeous, upending the salt shaker with a flying hand in the wake of his orgasm, which shatters on the floor, but he’s still palming the other over Eddie’s hip, keeping them close, and Eddie lifts up to kiss him through it, shards of glass be damned. 

Richie is sweet and heavy against his lips, pressing little hurt noises between them. Eddie’s as hard as he ever remembers being in his entire life, but his cheeks still blush a painful heat at the way Richie clasps a hand around his neck and smiles at him when they pull apart. 

Shit.” Richie stares down at the mess on Eddie’s hand. And his chest. And stomach. “I can’t believe I came so soon.” 

Eddie rips a paper towel off the roll and wipes at his chest while Richie watches him. He’s painfully hard in his jeans and Richie’s hands are starting to get antsy about touching him, but he scrubs at his skin and suddenly his vision is blurring under a relentless thumping of his heart. 

This isn’t going to happen. It’s going to be fine. It’s only his chest, and Richie is most likely clean, and there’s nothing that can be absorbed through his skin of course, and everything is fine. 

You could catch something, Eddie.

Eddie’s head thunks back against the cabinets while his heart dances in his chest. This has happened to him before in particularly vulnerable moments, the voice of his mother, the sheer terror of being unclean, of enjoying his own pleasure.

But it’s been three years. Three years since he’s heard her real voice and been forced to listen to her nasty words and he’s done with it. Except that he’s wheezing air through his nose at the speed of light as his thighs vibrate on his own kitchen counter, so, decidedly, not done with it. 

Richie’s gripping at him with frantic hands and staring with even more frantic eyes, and Eddie tries to reassure him that he’s fine, but he’s not really breathing enough to talk, so Richie ends up going first.

“Eddie, you- are you panicking? Are you okay?”

Those questions have opposite answers, so Eddie rolls his eyes and loops Richie’s hands around his. It actually kind of works, and Richie holds on and stays quiet while he calms himself. 

The whole time he’s one bad breath away from finding his emergency inhaler in the junk drawer, but after a few minutes the static has left his vision. He looks up to see Richie still watching him. 

“Thank you,” he sighs, Richie’s eyes soft on his, “I swear that wasn’t about you, I’ve just been thinking a lot about my mother lately and I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve-”

“Me too.”

Eddie blinks at him, then down at their locked arms and the drying come on his stomach. 

“You don’t say.” 

Richie breaks away with a gasp, “Oh, he’s full of jokes so soon, no wonder I’m so fucking attracted to you, never cutting me any slack.” 

Eddie laughs as his lungs fill back up with air. Richie soothes a hand down his bare shoulder and he wants to sit in this moment a little longer but his body is sagging from the edge of panic. His erection has wilted, and he’s far too tired to do anything about getting it back up tonight. He’s most of the way to feeling like a pathetic date when Richie presses a kiss to his forehead.

“Why don’t we clean up and order some food?” Richie says, and Eddie floods with relief. “We can talk.” 

Richie backs up and offers Eddie a hand, helping him hop off the counter into a safe glass-free area.

“We have time,” he tells Eddie, arms circling him. 

Eddie buries his head in Richie’s chest and believes him.

**

Eddie takes a shower after they sweep up and vacuum the glass. Richie calls for a pizza. 

While Eddie is drying off, they wait in the kitchen, bodies leaning in tight lines against the counter and each other, Richie’s arms slung around Eddie’s waist and chin pressed to his cheek as he talks about his mother. 

“No problemo, condoms are our friends, Eds,” Richie says, nonchalant. Eddie grips him tighter. 

“It’s not that I don’t-”

“Hey,” Richie interrupts, pulling back so Eddie can see his face, “you don’t have to explain. Seriously.”

Eddie buries his face back in Richie’s chest and sniffs a little, hoping Richie won’t notice. 

“I’m just sorry you’ve got all this shit tied up in your head,” Richie says, softly, and Eddie lets a tear fall. 

“This helps,” Eddie answers, leaning up to look at him.

Richie nods and rubs at Eddie’s back, looking a little stunned, and when there’s a knock on the door, Eddie breaks away from where Richie’s kissing him softly, whispering sweet nothings between breaths. 

Richie insists on paying for the food. Eddie lets him eat it on the couch instead of the table.

Hours pass as they chip away at the pizza and old memories. Childhoods and fears, past relationships or lack thereof, parents and Richie’s siblings and their hopes and dreams, and Eddie struggles to remember the last time someone asked him his favorite color, but he’s told Richie everything else, so he makes one up.

Because the last time was never. 

They talk themselves through cleaning the kitchen and brushing their teeth, because Richie had a spare bag in his truck for emergencies, and when their bodies hit the bed Eddie crawls into the crook of Richie’s arm and listens to him talk about Ben and Beverly’s wedding. 

“Oh, buckets of tears. From all of us. Stan the worst.”

Eddie hooks a foot around his. “You were the worst, weren’t you?”

“She was covered in lace and I’m only human,” Richie whines, stretched out in nothing but a big pair of boxers. “She’s my best friend.” 

Eddie grips him around the middle as Richie rubs a circle into the skin of his upper arm. 

“Have you ever thought about, you know. Walking down the aisle?” Richie asks. “Do guys do that?”

“Get married?”  

Richie presses a nose into Eddie’s hair. “Yeah.”

Eddie tenses. “I’ve never really thought about it.” 

He has. A lot. 

“Me neither, I guess,” Richie says, chest rising and falling in a solid beat, like he’s somehow calm. “Not until recently.” 

Eddie shuts his eyes against the wave of emotions. 

His mother never wanted anyone else to have him, really, when all was said and done. She told him constantly, and in the later years, almost daily, how she was the only person who would ever truly love him. He’s spent so much of his life afraid that she was right. 

Eddie shifts to look up. Richie’s biting at his lip.

“I’m now realizing it seems like the theme of this date is ‘you’re going way too fast, Tozier,’ and I’m gonna start toning it down any minute, I promise-”

Eddie presses a hand to his arm.

“How long?” 

Richie chokes out a laugh. “Since you practically ordered me to hold the mashed potatoes for you on Christmas?” 

“Oh my god.” Eddie feels so stupid. 

They’re stacked together on the bed after two whirlwind weeks of heavy flirting and flustered confessions that culminated in the best date either of them have ever had, decided once and for all after Eddie pinned Richie to the wall and worked a hickey into the skin right above his nipple. 

They’ve been wrapped up in each other since the beginning. 

“I know I’m an idiot, you were fake-with someone else-”

Eddie sighs. “It’s okay-”

“-and I know that someone was my friend, but I think we all could have called the Bill and Mike thing from a mile away-”

“You are so full of shit.”

“- and if it’s not obvious by now how fucking gone I am on you then I should probably just give up and live in the mountains as a neurotic hermit.”

Eddie slaps at Richie’s side and shuts him up with a kiss. 

“There was never anyone else,” he says when they break apart, both to Richie and himself, because Richie was talking to Bev about him and he feels like an idiot for not seeing it sooner, when Richie said he loved him, or kissed him stupid, or held him while he cried, or fed his cat and cooed at her until she finished. 

Richie shakes his head. 

Eddie slides the rest of the way on top of him. Long fingers stretch over his ribs while Richie holds him there, and they kiss and kiss and kiss until both of them are desperately hard again.

**

This time, there’s nothing fast about it. 

“I think we can both agree I owe you,” Richie says, sweaty legs interlocked and writhing, after finding out Eddie has an almost-full bottle of lube in the bathroom. 

Eddie thumbs over the wetness at the tip of Richie’s cock and hesitates.

“And you want me to-”

Richie jerks in his hand. 

“Yes.”

It feels like Eddie’s first time, though it’s far from it. He’s usually on the other side of things, but he’s done this a few times, too. It used to make him feel a little powerful, especially since so many guys treated him like he was going to break. But as he’s gently petting over Richie’s stomach, adding a second finger to the stretch, licking at the blooming hickey through the beaded sweat on Richie’s throat, it seems a little less like power and a little more like utter absorption in another human being. 

When Eddie presses in deep from behind, it punches an “oh” from the both of them. 

“I didn’t, didn’t, guh,” Richie mumbles into the pillow shoved between his arms. Eddie frantically nods, looping his arms around Richie’s body, knowing what he means, even if neither of them can say it. 

“I know, god, Rich, I know,” he says, anyway.

Richie spreads his legs a little, bracing himself. “Keep going, please don’t stop.” 

Richie scrabbles a hand over the back of Eddie’s thigh, reeling him in. Eddie tongues over the notches of Richie’s spine and stops hesitating. 

Later, Richie’s on his side, knees pressed to his chest, body twisted, arm dripping sweat where it’s looped around Eddie’s neck. Eddie’s thrusting in clean circles from above, working himself inside, and when he bottoms out, he reaches forward to catch Richie’s lips with his. It’s a stretch, and he almost slips out, but then Richie gasps into his mouth and Eddie pulls back when a shiver runs up his spine.

“Oh, this is the one,” Richie moans when Eddie forces his leg up a little higher. He’s got a tight hold on his own cock, and he’s covered in bite marks and faint stubble burn, even after Eddie’s shave. 

Eddie could come just looking at him. He’s glad Richie jerked him off after suggesting this. Otherwise he’d barely be able to keep it together.

“That what you want?” he asks, shaking with the effort of holding back. 

Richie clenches his eyes closed and groans. “Yeah, yeah, s’good.” 

“Rich,” Eddie whispers, a hand stroking through his hair. He turns to press a kiss to the inside of Richie’s arm. 

“Fuck, please,” Richie says back on a whimper, and Eddie pulls out slowly to push back in. Richie’s arm falls slightly to grip his hand around Eddie’s shoulder instead, helping to control the rhythm. 

This is the third position they’ve been in, and Richie is thick but flexible, so each one felt amazing, but Eddie can’t deny watching him all folded up, eyes rolling back in his head, pushing down for more isn’t the hottest thing he’s ever seen. And it’s still technically their first date. Richie might just kill him someday. 

But what a way to go. 

“Can you come like this?” he asks, because he’s feeling that incessant pull in his abdomen but he really wants to watch Richie fall apart again, and this time from above, holding him in his arms and taking care of him. Not in a rush next to the fridge. 

Richie bites a groan into the pillow and nods. 

“Do you- do you want me to-” 

“Yeah, yeah, Eds, c’mon,” Richie says, hand slipping from the swell of Eddie’s shoulder to palm over his stomach, right above where he’s fucking into him. 

Eddie watches Richie move against him in a daze, mesmerized by where they’re connected, where Richie’s stroking frantically at himself, where he’s reaching for Eddie, trying to draw him closer, and he comes hard into the condom, stuttering his hips against Richie’s, feeling safe and unafraid and hopelessly, desperately in love, as sure as the pounding of his heart that he’s in the right place and that Richie loves him back.

When they’re cleaned up, Eddie lies down against the curve of Richie’s spine and they fall asleep. 

Lucy scratches the door around six until they wake to feed her, but they cuddle back up and drift off again until late morning. 

Richie makes eggs while Eddie traces letters over the expanse of his bare back. Richie guesses at the words and Eddie gives him a kiss for each one he gets right. He’s pretty good, so they’re ready to stumble back to the bedroom as soon as they finish breakfast.

They stay inside until the clock’s relentless blinking forces them to face reality and get dressed for the party. 

“Two outta three ain’t bad, Spaghetti.” Richie’s twirling his keys in the doorway while Eddie pulls on his coat. “It’s too many parties anyway.”

“We’re going, Richie,” Eddie says, tying up his boots and mentally preparing for the cold. He’s spent most of the last day wrapped up in Richie’s arms, and he’s not exactly thrilled about venturing back into the world, either, but he wants to see Richie’s friends. Their friends. 

“Or we could return to the couch,” Richie says, his voice low, as if Lucy’s innocence needs to be protected. “I think with a few more wits about me I could show you a thing or two.” 

Richie grins at him and Eddie’s mind goes momentarily blurry with remembering.

They’d gotten each other off this morning with hands and the teasing press of Richie’s mouth, just for a moment, until Eddie came so hard he saw stars, positive he was wrung dry. But after wandering out to the couch to snuggle under a blanket, Richie found It’s a Wonderful Life on cable, and Eddie didn’t even consider stealing the remote. 

Ten minutes later he turned to see Richie mouthing Jimmy Stewart’s lines and promptly marched to the bathroom to get a condom and dropped himself in Richie’s lap. 

He had spent long minutes grinding back on Richie until he got hard. He made Richie open him up with long, deft fingers, taking his time because it had been a minute. He’d rolled on the condom and rode him, slow and lazy, with Richie’s hand on the small of his back, watching him like he’d thrown his own lasso around the moon. When Richie had pulled him down gently, rocking out a small groan, they’d both lost it. 

It will be difficult to hear Buffalo Girls again without popping a boner.

Now Richie’s strong thighs and long fingers and beautiful dick are all within arm’s reach, and extremely willing. Eddie swallows around the lump in his throat.

“We need to get the fuck out of here,” Eddie says, rushing past Richie and out into the hallway. 

“But do we?” Richie yells after him.

Eddie loops back to pull at Richie’s coat, dragging him into the flurries of an early January snow. 

**

When they get to the house, Bev pulls both coats off and wraps them into hugs. 

“Didn’t know if you’d make it out of the apartment,” she whispers in Eddie’s ear, winking up at Richie. Richie hoots in laughter and Eddie tries not to blush, but then Richie kisses him sloppily on the cheek and he’s a lost cause. 

Eddie spent the whole drive worried everyone would be awkward, but he enters the kitchen to nothing but smiles and some enthusiastic cheering, so he figures the blush will be accompanying him the entire evening.

“Hey, Eddie,” Bill says, seated at the table, handing him a glass of eggnog. Eddie’s nose crinkles at the vague sniff he takes of it, but Mike nudges him with an elbow. Ben’s desperately shaking his head, stirring a pot of something over the stove.

“Try it, Eds. Bill made it,” Mike says, eyes wide. Bill’s watching them both intently over two full pitchers of the milky stuff, so Eddie screws his mouth open and pours a healthy amount down his throat. 

It’s something akin to glue. 

“It’s- wow. Is there alcohol in there?” Eddie asks, and Mike nods shakily. 

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, leaning over to whisper, “thank god.”

Bill grumbles behind them. “Okay, okay, I get it, it’s nasty. It’s always nasty, but you gave me the worst job.”

Mike pats Eddie on the shoulder and smiles.

“He’s on a low dose of painkillers for the week, so Bev didn’t want him in control of anything-”

“Anything important,” Bill finishes. 

Mike groans. “You hate to cook!”

“It’s the principle!”

“Wow,” Eddie says, watching them, “have you two always been like this?” 

“Yes,” Richie answers, sidling up next to Mike and accepting his own glass from Bill with curious eyes. Eddie would stop him, but he’s decided to be extra-special nice to Bill for the next twenty years, just to even the score a little. 

Plus, he had to drink it, and this is what Richie gets for being far too handsy in the car. 

“Bill, what the fuck,” Richie spits, tongue lolling out of his mouth until he can get it all down. “Don’t even make me tell you what that reminds me of, I’m trying to behave tonight.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Eddie. 

“Come the fuck on, guys, you’re all being babies,” Bill insists, swigging a bit out of one of the pitchers in a defensive instinct. 

Stan and Patty walk in just in time to see Bill vomiting yellow slime into the sink.

**

“We probably should have asked you more questions?” Bev’s saying to Eddie through a yawn, stretching out after dinner. 

Patty had taken a few minutes to apologize to everyone, including Eddie, for starting this whole mess. None of them had really accepted it, least of all Eddie, because beyond the absurdity of everything, he could hardly be angry when it all led him here, tucked up with Richie on the couch, meandering through conversation easily with the group. 

It seems everyone feels a whole lot of the same.

Richie nods. “Yeah, we would be really shitty detectives.” 

“What were we supposed to do, quiz him?” Stan asks. Patty’s eyes look a little wobbly, and when Stan notices, he weaves their fingers together. 

The room feels full yet complete, coupled off in a way that would usually make Eddie roll his eyes but now just seems… right.

“No, no, you didn’t tell us either, Stan the Man, you don’t get to ride on the complain train,” Richie says. 

“Didn’t see you trying too hard to prove it, either, Trashmouth,” Stan says, flipping Richie the bird. Richie shakes with a laugh.

“Yeah, I guess we were all in it together,” he says, turning to Eddie, “one way or another.” 

Eddie moons back at him, but they keep their distance. 

They had agreed they wouldn’t kiss tonight, not out in the open, and definitely not in front of Bill. Richie was adamant that he and Mike were going to make it work, and now, seeing them across the room, cuddled together in a chair like the rest of them, Mike’s hand working a soothing pattern over Bill’s healing bruise, Eddie knows that’s probably true. 

Bill was at the station with Richie. He’s been nothing but happy smiles and friendly touches tonight. 

But when the group breaks up to clean up and get dessert, Eddie feels his heart pound as Bill drops next to him on the couch. 

“Hey,” Bill says, and Eddie tries not to panic. 

“Hey, how are you feeling?” 

“Oh,” Bill says, waving a hand, “I’m fine, I’m fine. Especially now that Bev dumped the rest of the eggnog, though I don’t think I’ll ever live that down.” 

Eddie smiles. “Probably not.” 

It’s easier to stare out into the middle distance while side by side on the couch, and Eddie takes advantage of it while waiting for Bill to speak. 

He can hear clattering in the kitchen. The murmur of voices. Mike’s laugh. Music is playing somewhere, as it usually is, and Eddie is still trying to make out the lyrics when Bill turns to face him. 

“It all kinda worked itself out, didn’t it?” he says, his eyes gentle, and Eddie could cry, but instead he laughs. 

“It kinda did,” he agrees, just as Richie’s returning with two plates of cheesecake. 

“I know we said we were going to put this past us, Big Bill, but I can’t have you stealing my seat or I’m gonna get suspicious,” Richie says, and both Eddie and Bill groan. Bill leaves anyway, and Richie’s pressed against Eddie before he even realizes it. 

“You should talk, Rich,” Bill says, heading back to his own chair, and Eddie wonders if they call him Big Bill because of the smile, teeth gleaming white and pleased, “how long did it take you to snatch Eddie out from under me, huh?” 

Richie throws his head back in a laugh, fork poised with his first bite of cake. 

“You got me there, Billy boy,” he says, and Eddie’s helpless to do anything but watch him, his own dessert forgotten, “don’t think it took long at all.” 

Richie isn’t able to eat his cake and hold Eddie’s hand at the same time, no matter how hard he tries, so Eddie settles a hand on his thigh instead. 

Stan and Patty watch them from across the room, and when Eddie catches her eye, Patty throws him a thumbs up. Stan slaps her hand down in a panic, but she just giggles and pecks him on the cheek.

Eddie smiles and leans over to press a kiss to the side of Richie’s neck. 

Richie balks, mouth still full of cake. “Hey-” he starts, then swallows before he chokes. “I thought that was against the rules."

Eddie shrugs. “I think everyone is pretty on board.” 

Richie smiles back at him, setting his plate on the nearest surface he can find. He leans in to Eddie’s mouth, crumbs spilled all down his shirt, raspberry sauce smudged on his cheek. He’s a mess, and Eddie fucking loves him.

“I know I am,” Richie says, low and sultry. Eddie rolls his eyes, pushing Richie’s heavy body to the other side of the couch so he can focus on his own cake. As a bite hits his tongue, he looks over to see Richie puzzling over something.

“What’re ya doin’?” he asks, his mouth full of food, but he’s with his friends, and his mom can’t get him, not even the voice in his head, not even the dull thrumming of his old habits telling him to swallow before he speaks, and when Richie shines at the sound of his voice, he knows none of that matters, not when he’s here, not when he’s with Richie, not when he knows he’s brave and wanted and loved

Richie grunts, oblivious. “I’m trying to come up with a dirty train pun.”

“Don’t even-”

“You started it! On board? I gotta top that,” he says with a grin, body sinking into the cushions like he’s gearing up, and Eddie frantically swallows what’s left in his mouth before Richie adds, “I guess I’ll have to learn how to better conduct myself.”

“Fuck off-”

“I hope you’re ready to get railed-”

“Oh my god,” Eddie says, burying his face in his hands and laughing, “your train has left the fucking station, Trashmouth.”

Richie explodes with delight, sidling up closer and catching Eddie’s forehead in a dumb, sweet kiss. Eddie settles against his arm and devours the rest of his cake without a thought.