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They come in every Tuesday morning. Clockwork as told by the most constipated looking couple that’s ever walked through the sliding doors, always arguing over granola until the eyebrow-ier half conceded to his partner’s final say. Most of the employees, Richie included, tend to make themselves scarce when those two roll in. It’s not like they’re rude, or even that they seem like terrible people. It’s just so fucking awkward! They’re clearly married — Richie’s eyed the rings on both of their hands out of sheer curiosity, of course — but they act like strangers, communicating answers to each other’s questions mostly through huffs of breath (no) or shrugging of shoulders (yes). They buy the same items every single week, never straying towards the eye-catching candy near the registers (though Richie’s seen the yearning gaze towards the chocolate peanut butter cups from the husband) no matter what new items are hanging on display. 

Regardless of their weird ways, they’ve become almost a staple at, er, Barter Jack’s, just like all the other odd customers who’ve reached regular status. Every Tuesday they come in together, shop together, leave together, and every Tuesday the staff who had to interact with them during their trip will gossip about it on their lunch break. Every Tuesday. 

Until one day they both disappear. 

Not literally. There’s not, like, missing posters spread around town or anything; they just stop coming in. For weeks. And then that’s the talk of the breakroom because while Barter Jack’s is a pretty prominent and popular store this side of New York, it’s small enough that the employees can really engage with their customers. The couple’s random disappearance after almost three years of tandem shopping is big — at least for those who work at a grocery store and don’t have much else to entertain themselves with. 

It’s big for Richie especially, who’d always been more invested in the two strangers than he’d like to admit. Obviously, it had nothing to do with how cute and crushingly magnetic the man was, all thin lines and heavy eyebrows. Obviously! Like, Richie didn’t know anything about him, and the guy spent most of his time facing his wife or looking at his stupid blackberry, so how could Richie even think he was the most beautiful man he’d ever laid eyes on? Sheesh. For all the times he’d cashed them out with his classic and very hilarious line of food-themed jokes, there’d barely been any conversation between the three of them. Sometimes the woman would say thank you to Richie’s in-theme send-off of smooth sailing to ya’!, but the man never gave him the time of day. In fact, most days, as Richie slid their organic broccoli and chia seeds over the scanner, the man would direct all his attention to the frankly boring concrete floors. 

Like he was actively avoiding making eye contact.

Richie tried not to take it too personally, which never worked because he takes everything personally all the time always, but it did make him work even harder on expanding his grocery-themed jokes (of which there are only so many). Once — December of 2014 — he thought he saw the corner of the man’s lip quirk up to a tragically terrible avocado pun, but it was so fleeting that Richie’s co-worker Danny decided he must’ve been hallucinating. 

It doesn’t matter now, of course. Over a month without any sign of either of the two has Richie coming to the conclusion he’ll never get the chance to make that little grumpy man smile. 

Ah, well.

 


 

Barter Jack’s was supposed to be temporary. A pit stop, he once called it. Rehab sucked and being sober sucked more, but worse than both of those was being 34 and broke, so Richie got himself something to fill all those hours with and make money while doing it. Overall a relatively easy job: putting cans on shelves and practicing his tight five on customers who just want to get their groceries and go. No stress, good pay, and he doesn’t feel like killing himself, which is cool. There had been a time, surrounded by coke and whiskey, where Richie didn’t know if he’d make it out alive. Trying to make it in comedy was easier in concept, even for a bonafide funnyguy, and the pressure from managers to keep his jokes “family-friendly” led him down paths he didn’t know were dangerous until he woke up the next morning with a nose bleed and no recollection of the night before.  

Now he’s clean and spends his days explaining the difference between jelly and fruit preserves to women named Linda or Carol. Which is cool. You can never be too gay for a grocery store themed like a pirate ship. 

Anyway, it was supposed to be a pit stop while he got clean and patched his life back together, went to therapy, and tried to unlearn the self-hatred he spent his whole life perfecting. But then he… kind of loved it. There’s no second-guessing in groceries. Each morning he goes to work, puts lettuce into bins, talks to customers about their shopping choices, and clocks out. There’s no pressure to be anything but himself. If a joke about applesauce doesn’t land, he doesn’t run the risk of getting lectured on the content of his stand-up. 

Plus, the fact that he sucks dick in his spare time doesn’t keep him awake for days at a time over ruining his career anymore. 

Richie likes it here. He likes his co-workers, and he likes Brenda from the furniture store next door who always comes by to get a salad and flirt with his manager on her lunch break, and he likes helping kids convince their moms to buy them the dollar candy on the register ends. It’s easy. It’s familiar. It’s been six years, so, realistically, this isn’t just a pit stop anymore. Richie’s gone and sold the whole fucking car. He really doesn’t mind. He gets a great discount here. Plus everything is organic, which is supposedly very good for his aging body. 

An aging body that is currently sore from knuckle to knuckle with arthritis brought on by the intense chill of the walk-in fridge. When he’d first started, Richie had almost cried with restrained laughter when his manager — mate, they call them — told him to go “work the box”. Like, really? Surely they had noticed their terminology innuendo. Actually, Richie had snorted at that every time since then, too, because he’s 40 but he’s not lost his sense of fucking humor. 

Richie’s not laughing now. His eyelashes are wet from the condensation and he’s both burning hot and freezing after being in here stocking yogurt for the last 45 minutes. Luckily, he’s almost done. Unluckily, he’s beginning to lose feeling in his toes. Richie claps his gloved hands together to get the blood flowing again before starting to push the boxes of milk forward.

That’s when he sees him. Him. Eyebrows. But it’s — Richie checks his watch — 7:43 on a Thursday night? And he’s alone? Richie squints through the fogginess of his glasses. It’s definitely Him: he’s making a series of complicated frowns at two Roma tomatoes, weighing them in his hands. Seriously, who thinks this hard about produce? Richie stands there, staring at this total stranger trying to grocery shop, for a solid thirty seconds before he whips off his gloves and pulls out his phone. 

 

richie, 7:43pm

dude he’s here

 

danny, 7:43pm

Who?

 

richie, 7:43

THE guy, dude

 

danny, 7:44pm

Oh?? 

 

richie, 7:44pm

without. wide

wide

wife

hands shaking i’ve been working the box all hour

;))))

 

danny, 7:44pm

Please think about how your words affect others, Richie.

So are you going to talk to him? 

 

richie, 7:45pm

fingers fell off try another number the caller is not available etc

Phones aren’t allowed on the floor, and Richie doesn’t have a reasonable excuse to give Danny for not talking to this guy other than pure unadulterated fear, so Richie shoves the thing back in his pocket and tries to focus on getting through the last fifteen minutes of his shift. The man has disappeared from produce anyway, so Richie has no choice other than to go back to moving the milk around so he can put the last case up. Because of his height, Richie’s eyes fall just above the shelf he’s working on, which means he doesn’t see it coming when he reaches forward to grab almond milk and comes up instead with — another hand?

Richie freezes. Ungloved from the phone conversation, he’s definitely palm against palm with some poor customer right now. And neither of them is moving. Slowly, Richie bends his knees, which only give a little resistance. There, on the other side of the overpriced milk, is Eyebrows. Holding his hand. The pool of charm Richie usually draws from for entertaining customers is apparently drained, because all he can manage is:

“Can I help you?”

The man stares, so wide-eyed that Richie’s afraid it might actually hurt. “No,” he says quickly, and then yanks his hand away a second too late. “Why’re you trying to hold my hand?”

“I was aiming for the almond milk.”

“Well so was I.”

The buzz of the walk-in fridge is loud but Richie can hear the this is in no way my fault in the stranger’s voice loud and clear. It’s so stubborn that it makes Richie’s lip quiver with the urge to grin. He gives in with ease. 

“My bad. Totally mistook your human hand for the inanimate, cold plastic jug of milk.” Richie pulls his hand (which had been resting on the shelf awkwardly) back through the shelf and motions towards the stranger. “Go ahead.”

“Okay,” Eyebrows says quickly, stilted, and then reaches once more for the almond milk. Hesitates. Richie watches, silently amused but not completely sure why. Then the guy disappears, likely further down the dairy case. Reappearing almost immediately, Eyebrows holds up a small carton of whole milk. “Um. Thank you for your help.” Then he’s gone. 

“Anytime,” Richie says quietly to himself, eyes still stuck on the stranger’s receding figure. As he blinks himself out of it and drops his gaze to his bare, calloused hands, he feels a buzz in his palm. In the brief moment of connection, he’d felt no ring. 

 


 

It’s Sunday morning, mid-afternoon, and Richie’s got a mother in stitches near the cheeses because all the best jokes come from aged whites. At this point, he’s laid out at least six different god-awful jokes about dairy products all in the pursuit of recommending her the best party cheese. Physical comedy using organic gouda cheese sure sounds depressing, but honestly, having the rapt attention of both the mother and her tottering child is making Richie feel pretty damn hilarious. 

Halfway through a joke about skateboarding cheese (it totally shreds), Richie catches a small snort from his left side. A third audience member? He turns to involve whoever it is, always willing to turn his one-man act into a full comedy special. 

It’s Eyebrows.

Inspecting a block of feta and wearing the most intense frown that Richie’s ever seen, Eyebrows carefully avoids the eye contact that Richie’s attempting to make. He clears his throat. There’s a silent message here, somehow, radiating from the suspiciously neutral gaze that Eyebrows is directing towards the cheeses: nope. Didn’t laugh. Wasn’t me.  

Interesting.

“Thank you again!”

Apparently, the conversation had gone on without him during his brief hypnosis via hot stranger, and the PTA mom-of-the-year wheels her cart away without any room for a closing joke. Ah well. Back to work, then.

“Finding everything okay?” Richie says at the same time that Eyebrows blurts out “My wife took the recipe books in the divorce.”

Okay. Richie hasn’t followed baseball in a long time but he knows that’s out of left field. Eyebrows flushes and he looks momentarily horrified at his outburst, but the scowl somehow remains intact. Now, sure, Richie’s in customer service so he’d be expected to finish out this conversation with a smile regardless of who was on the other end of it, but he’s genuinely intrigued by literally everything about this man. Like, the interest he had before? Somehow quadrupled with that sentence. 

“Did you fight for them? Make a passionate speech in court?”

The guy still looks miserable, but he drops his hand so the block of feta isn’t in such a defensive position anymore. “No. I can’t cook anyway. I fought for the glassware and the good pans.” 

Richie’s brow quirks up. “And did you get them?”

With as much attitude and smugness that can fit into a single syllable, Eyebrows says “Yes.” 

The smile Richie wears only fucks with his down-pitching whistle momentarily. “That’s harsh, dude. Left the woman with all the recipes and nothing to make them in. Cold. Very cold.”

There’s definitely the start of a turn in Eyebrows’ mouth, like maybe he might actually give a little peek of a smile, but— 

“You work here?” 

Richie blinks at the intruding customer; a tall gentleman with the kind of beer belly that one could only be jealous of. He looks very out of his element, and Richie remembers his job is to be helpful to all customers, not just cute ones who start word vomiting about their divorce. 

“No, just a big fan.” The customer’s face twists in confused laughter and Richie waves him off. “Of course, man, how can I help?”

The guy describes a product to Richie three times before he eventually figures out that he’s not looking for some “specialty European meat” for his wife, but instead gyro meat for Greek sandwiches. At least they got there eventually. Eyebrows isn’t by the cheese display anymore, which is more disappointing than it ought to be, but on his way up for shift change to the registers, Richie catches him by the dried prunes. The feta rests on the top of his handbasket. 

“Grab some grape tomatoes before you leave. When you go home, throw them in a glass pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil, if you have it. If you know what basil is—”

“I know what basil is.”

“Put the block of feta in the middle of the tomatoes and roast it on 400 degrees for, what, maybe 25 minutes? While you’re doing that, boil some pasta — you can boil pasta, right? —”

Eyebrows frowns but Richie steamrolls on.

“Take the tomatoes out, squish ‘em down whilst avoiding juice spray, mix it with the cheese, throw in the drained pasta, and voila.” Richie pinches his fingers together, voice leaning into a perfect Italian accent. “ A pasta even Mama would be proud of. ” 

He kisses his fingers too, for show. For the joke.    

Eyebrows doesn’t seem so convinced. His mouth goes pinched like he’s chewing on something sour, or maybe judging Richie very deeply. 

“That sounds incredibly unhealthy. Is that not just macaroni and cheese with feta and tomatoes?”

Richie goes starry-eyed, hand to his heart. “Yeah.” A pause; he glances up to where his manager is clearly waiting for him to take off a co-worker from the register. “Besides, what else are you going to do with it?”

“You’re right,” Eyebrows says, and his crow’s feet begin to crinkle. Richie’s heartbeat picks up. “I don’t have any feta ideas.” 

And then it happens. Right there beside the freeze-dried fruit, this complete stranger that he feels magnetically drawn to, smiles. Richie swallows hard, then laughs in a burst of astonished amusement. 

Richie has to go, and Eyebrows seems to sense that. He grabs a package of apricots from the shelf and then gives Richie a polite little nod. He stares at Richie’s chest briefly; maybe he can hear how loudly Richie’s heart is knocking against his ribs. 

“Thanks for your help… Richie.” 

And then Eyebrows is gone. Again. Richie looks down to wear his nametag sits, pinned to his floral tee. Right. 

 


 

Two nights later he’s back. Eyebrows, that is; browsing the salmon and looking very divorce court chic in his suit. The jacket is folded over his arm, too, just like every men’s business magazine cover Richie definitely didn’t jerk off to as a teenager. He looks tired. And also very, very hot. 

Richie doesn’t get to interfere this time, though; he’s stuck on register talking to Doris, the little old lady who comes in every evening to buy a single can of cat food. 

“And he gets cold, you know, in the winter times—”

“As one does,” Richie nods, scanning the cat food and putting it in the brown bag Doris always asks for despite her order being a single can of cat food. He keeps glancing over across the store at Eyebrows. Now, the guy has a hand on his hip, standing in very intense judgment of the seafood. 

“Rich,” comes a voice from behind him at the other register — Danny — and Richie snaps back to where Doris is holding out a wrinkled fiver. 

“Right! Out of five, then…” Richie counts out her change — twice, because she’s one of those people — and lays it in her hand before sending her on her way. “And tell Peanut he’s a good boy for me, alright?”

She waves, and when Richie turns to help the next customer, his lips pull up like they’re attached to strings. Eyebrows stands there with a package of salmon in one hand and two lemons in the other, jacket still glamorously draped over his arm. The full package. 

“Find everything?” 

“Um,” says Eyebrows, who blinks a few times in Richie’s direction as he hands over the salmon before seemingly remembering something he’d forgotten. “No. Can I go grab…” He makes a vague hand movement that Richie can’t fully comprehend, but of course he says yes. 

“Take your time,” Richie says to the air where Eyebrows had previously stood. Damn, he really wishes he could stop calling him Eyebrows in his head. Whatever; it’s weird to ask a customer’s name. He’s just trying to shop. Richie scans the fish — halting everything until Eyebrows comes back. It’s not like it’s busy anyhow.

“I can’t believe your favorite customer came to visit you two nights in a row.” 

Danny sounds so fucking smug. Richie can only imagine the look he’s got on his stupid face. He scoffs. 

“I wasn’t even here last night, man.”

“Yeah, but he was.” That grabs Richie’s attention. He turns, eyebrows and hairline practically high-fiving at the height of his interest. Danny nods slowly. “Came in and walked around for a bit then left. I mean, he bought a packet of coffee bean chocolates, but—”

“Nobody comes in here just for a packet of coffee bean chocolates,” Richie says in tandem with Danny. He squints. Nah, it can’t be. Can it? A weird feeling bubbles in his stomach. Not indigestion, but maybe not not indigestion either. “He probably just forgot his list or something.”

Danny hums. “Sure. Okay.”

“Shut up, shut up,” — quieter, as Eyebrows comes (lightly jogging?) back — “shut up. ” He’s holding a six-pack: Stella’s, of course. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to hold up the line. Here,” Eyebrows hands over the beer, and then, like an afterthought, the lemons. Before Richie even has a chance to ask, the guy’s pulling out a crisp trifold wallet, too. “And, um, my ID. For the beer that I’m buying. Legally.”

“You know, I wouldn’t have questioned it before, but you sound incredibly sketchy right now.” Richie takes the extended wallet — the perfect opportunity to finally find out Eyebrows’ name. Almost too perfect, actually. Like it had been staged. Richie tilts his head as he pulled the ID closer to his need-replacing glasses and feels indescribably played. 

Edward Kaspbrak. 

A sharp pang of — of something echoes behind his ribs at the name. For a moment he wonders if all that coke really did do him in and now he’s having a heart attack in the middle of a chain grocery store. The name’s so familiar it hurts, literally, physically, and Richie can’t stop the small breath of oh! he makes. Shit, Jesus, gotta cover that up. 

“November 10th? Your parents must’ve really liked Valentine’s day.”

Behind him, there comes a shocked scoff from Danny who is very obviously eavesdropping, and Richie’s cheeks go red because 1. he’s at work?? and 2. Richie’s methods of flirting are and have always been juvenile at best so joking about a hot guy’s parents doing it is pretty on brand, but 3. he’s at work?? 

Against all odds, Eyebrows — Edward Kaspbrak — fights back a smile. At least, Richie thinks that’s what he’s doing; he kind of just looks really adorably constipated.

“I prefer not to talk about my dead parent’s sex lives over groceries, thanks.” 

Richie bites back his instinct to ask but over dinner isn’t out of the question? so hard that he tastes copper where he sank his teeth into his cheek. It was hard learning the lines he could and couldn’t cross while at work, and asking a customer (who he doesn’t even know is interested in men, or, for that matter, into Richie ) on a date is definitely a line that could, if viewed through the wrong manager’s lens, get him fired for fucking sexual harassment or something.

As you wish, Edward ” Richie says with a half-assed curtsy and a full-assed butler Voice. His goal is to return the (very expensive-looking) wallet, but something catches his eye before he can hand it over. “Wait a minute, does this say you’re 5’10?” 

Edward’s face flies through like 6 different expressions before he blurts out “It’s Eddie,” followed by a scowly “and yes.”

Richie’s not subtle about the way he scans Eddie’s frame (and Eddie feels more right, like it fits the face and the Apple watch and the shoes that probably cost an entire Barter Jack’s paycheck) but he’s allowed because “There’s no fucking way you’re 5’10, dude. Did you wear heels to the DMV?”

“I feel like you’re not supposed to say fuck to a customer.”

“And I feel like you’re not supposed to lie about your height on a driver’s license.” 

“By two fucking inches!” 

“An extra two inches goes a long way, Eddie.”

That one catches them both off guard. Richie’s opening his mouth to apologize before his brain can even catch up with the exact meaning of his own dick innuendo, but then Eddie laughs. Startled, slightly nervous, but mostly a genuine, beautiful laugh that zings through every aching joint in Richie’s body. 

“That was inappropriate, I’m sorry.” 

“Yes, it was.” The smile still rests at the edges of Eddie’s lips. Richie watches him flip through a few credit cards before his slender fingers pause in their search. “How much was the total again?”

“Oh, right, uh — $22.28.” Damn. There’s still no line, which means Danny must be shooting customers through his just so Richie could stand here like a fucking moron because he made a dick joke to a total stranger. Danny’s such a good fucking friend. Seriously, after Richie survives this horribly long interaction watching Eddie dig through his wallet for the exact change, he was going to take Stanny out for drinks. Er, Danny. Take Danny out for drinks. Richie finds himself frowning at the odd internal exchange he’s having but decides not to look into it right now because Eddie’s triumphantly handing over $22.28 in exact cash.

“You know, you should think about getting your height changed on your license. It’s probably a pretty quick fix at ye olde DMV .” Richie places the lemons on top of the salmon in the paper bag and slides it across the counter. Eddie smiles (all dimples! all fucking dimples!) and grabs both the bag and the beer by the handles. 

“You know, you should think about saying fuck less at work.”

“Yeeowch. Fair enough.”

“Excuse me, sir?” From the left, the voice of an annoyed soccer mom. Richie turns to answer her because it’s his job or whatever, no matter how much he wants to continue the most awkward flirting Richie’s ever done in his life. And that’s saying a lot because, you know, for someone as hilarious and charming as him, he tends to talk himself into terrible places, so. Mrs. Soccer Mom waves politely. “Are you open?”

“Yes, just one mo—” Richie turns to say goodnight to Eddie, but the man is already gone. Disappeared into the night. Richie blinks at the space he used to occupy and then returns to Mrs. Soccer Mom, his customer service persona saved. “Yeah, come on up. How ya’ doin tonight? This the last stop of the evening?”

On and on.

Traffic slows and then drizzles off completely as they lock the doors for the night and prepare to unload the pallets. Danny slides up next to Richie looking extraordinarily smug. 

“You’ve got it so bad. So insanely bad, Richie.”

All he can do is put his head in his hands, smudging up his glasses in the process. “I know, dude,” Richie says. “I know.”

 


 

Eddie doesn’t come back for over a week. Richie jacks off more than he’d like to admit. For a forty-and-change-year-old man, he sure as fuck feels like a teenager again. Not just with the whole whacking off thing — which is a definite increase though still not abnormal — but with this weirdly intense middle school crush he’s got going with a divorced customer. Every time Richie sees a short man in a sport coat or a suit he practically breaks his neck trying to see if it’s Eddie finally coming back to buy his fancy organic kale again. It usually isn’t, and Danny is usually around to laugh his ass off at the poor sap that has possessed his best friend. 

“Pining? At your age?” 

“Not everyone can marry their best friend in college, Dan. Go fu— Hi! Yes! This lane is open, come on down!” 

After three weeks of no Eddie-sightings, Richie decides to give up on looking. Holding this much space in his heart for a guy he really knows nothing about is just sad at this point. Sure, Eddie’s weirdly familiar in a way that makes Richie’s brain itch, and making him laugh felt like doing a line, but it’s sad! And another thing!  Even if he’s hinging on the slim chance that Eddie is interested in men, there’s an absolute zero chance that he’d be into someone who looks like a hairy tub of quick oats. Richie has to look at himself every day; he knows what he’s working with. It’s not like he’s ugly or anything! It’s not like he can’t pull! Richie totally has sex. Well, had sex — it’s been a little over a year since the last time, but the point stands. The issue is that Eddie looks like he runs 5 miles a day and pounds straight protein powder for every meal, so his interest in fucking a man who looks like a hairy tub of quick oats is probably minimal. 

Jesus fuck, Richie doesn’t even know if Eddie’s into men!

In the pursuit of trying to shake off the incredibly detailed imaginary scenarios that he thinks about all day in order to survive his retail shifts, Richie clocks out with the full intention of going to his favorite bar. Not for a drink, obviously — he’s come way too far to throw sobriety away for an existential crisis about a cute guy — but for the best fucking bowl of onion rings you can buy this side of Manhattan. He only gets as far as the floral department. 

“Well, well, well,” Richie starts, ignoring the weird fluttering of his heart that starts up the moment he lays eyes on that classic scowl — that classic scowl that morphs into something a little more pleasant when Eddie looks up to see who’s talking. Richie shoves his hands into his pockets. “The weary traveler returns for…” Blue eyes scan over the single item in the basket that hangs from Eddie’s grip. “Mayonnaise?” 

“I’ve never tried it,” Eddie says. A bit embarrassed if Richie’s reading the crease in his eyebrows correctly. “I was never allow— I’ve never tried it. I’m going to put it on a ham sandwich. On white bread.” 

“Good for you, buddy.” Richie’s grinning; he can’t help it. “Did you try the feta pasta?”

Eddie cuts him off halfway through the sentence. “Yes. Do you know how many calories are in that? An entire block of feta cheese and noodles? With olive oil? It was a heart attack waiting to happen and I ate half of it in one go, Richie, it was so fucking delicious. I went back and bought fresh basil for it — because I know what basil is —”

Richie snorts, delightfully pleased with the update.

“ — and then when I took it out of the oven I stirred it together and I ate it right out of the pan. I didn’t even get a fucking bowl, man.”

Eating straight out of the cookware is a habitual practice in the Tozier household, so that doesn’t sound like something to sniff at, but Eddie seems oddly proud of himself so Richie feels proud by proxy too. Richie will be the first to say that he can be kind of thick, but he’s also observant when something — or someone — catches his interest. The way Eddie talks about cheesy pasta dishes and mayonnaise and how he’s a middle-aged man who doesn’t know how to cook leads Richie to believe the guy probably lived a lot of his life on a leash. A leash which is now non-existent, or, at the very least led by his own hand now. 

“You’re an animal,” Richie teases, and Eddie’s laugh sounds like a scoff but it’s still a fucking laugh, okay. “What’s next — you gonna eat the ham sandwich off the dirty floor?” 

Eugh, that’s offensive on, like, several different levels. Do I look like the kind of guy who has a dirty kitchen floor? Seriously?” 

Fair point. “No, you do not. Do I?”

Eddie takes too long to answer, eyes guilty, and then it’s Richie’s turn to laugh. He wonders if Danny can see this, or other customers; he wonders what he and Eddie look like, two old men giggling next to the dahlias at 6 pm on a Friday. 

In the midst of their private moment, Eddie seems to notice the jacket Richie’s pulled over himself to obscure the fact he’s wearing his uniform. Normally it’s enough to dissuade customers from bombarding him with questions on his walk to the parking lot, but he’s actually kind of happy it didn’t stop this particular one. 

“Are you off the clock? Shit, I’m sorry. I’ll just — you’re probably trying to go home and I’m keeping you here like an asshole—”

“What? No, dude, it’s all good, I’m the one who—”

“I have to go make this sandwich anyway, you know. Very pressing matters. So I’m just gonna.” Eddie points vaguely toward the deli meats across the store, and Richie nods, a bit thrown by the suddenness with which the conversation has shifted. “But thank you for your help. And if you have any more recipes or anything, let me know. Next time.” Eddie nods, this awkward, sweet, stupidly adorable thing, and then gives an equally awkward wave. 

“Uh, yeah, anytime, I—” Eddie’s leaving, his determined legs already carrying him in a different direction. Another chance, disappearing. A chance at what, Richie’s not sure, but he knows it’s fucking something, okay! Three weeks without anything had him panting for another awkward conversation like an addict and he’s just going to let Eddie walk away for another indeterminate amount of time? Ch’yeah, as if. Richie doesn’t consider himself to be particularly brave — actually presented some very ripe coward behavior during his years in the comedy limelight — but something about Eddie’s presence makes him want to be. Makes him want to say something. 

“I’m just going to get some onion rings across the street.” Eddie pauses, but he doesn’t immediately come rushing back to the conversation, so Richie shrugs a shoulder and does what he does best: keeps talking. “Well, it’s not exactly across the street. Ten-minute walk tops. This little bar, it’s got the worst fucking theme — and I can say fuck because I’m not on the clock, so don’t even start with me — the theme is like, a circus? And it’s executed in the most lazy way, like you can’t even tell it’s circus-themed if you don’t look closely at the menu or the walls, but they have this giant, ugly clown statue right outside of the bathrooms? It’s so fucked up. Back when I still drank I threw up all over its shoes, which was actually a moment of pride for me, so. Anyway, that’s where I’m headed, so if you happen to find yourself unsatisfied with the whole ham sandwich thing, you could totally grab some onion rings with me.”

Good Christ. Richie might vomit right now, actually, he’s so digestively hyped up from asking this guy to join him for fried food. Eddie’s cheeks have taken on a fuzzy pink flush in the time that it took for Richie to finally get to the fucking point. While his lips part thoughtfully, he doesn’t actually say anything, which doesn’t at all help Richie’s nervous stomach. He braces for a rejection based on the total misread of the situation. Eddie’s just a normal, straight, post-divorce, lonely, middle-aged man looking for some social contact via grocery store employee, and now Richie’s gone and fucked up this fragile dynamic because he has a weird crush the size of the Titanic. Classic! 

Eddie clears his throat, stopping Richie in the middle of imagining throwing himself into traffic. “The onion rings… are they good?”

“They’re very good.”

“Greasy too, right? Probably pretty bad for you?”

“In the long run, yes, these will eventually lead to my demise via my boner for fried food, but right now they’re just really fucking delicious.”

Whatever Richie says seems to do it for Eddie and he nods, taking the mayonnaise from his basket and setting it on the closest shelf — a rack of whole-grain bread — before he meets Richie back in front of the floral display. He sets the basket in the pile of returns. 

“Yeah, sure. Let's go to the onion rings.”

“Please know that if I were clocked in I’d be muttering about how big of  a shitbag you are for leaving the mayo there instead of putting it back where it belongs.”

“But you’re not clocked in.”

“No,” Richie grins and Eddie grins right back at him, all teeth and dimples and shit, Richie’s in trouble. “No, I’m not. C’mon, I’ll show you the shortcut.” 

The “shortcut” is actually three minutes longer than the normal route to the bar, but it’s not like Eddie knows that. Eddie, who is with Richie, walking alongside him with quick, even strides that easily match Richie’s longer, lazier, tall-person steps. Actually, it’s almost surprising how well he keeps up; Richie’s walking a little faster already just so he doesn’t get blown behind in the dust. 

“You don’t drink,” Eddie says suddenly, the first thing either of them has said in at least three whole minutes that wasn’t left? — yeah, left. Richie’s hands, stuffed in the pockets of his leather jacket once again, clench and unclench before he shrugs nonchalantly. 

“I do not.”

“Okay.”

Richie lifts a brow, giving his company a solid amount of side-eye. “What, you’re not going to ask why?”

“Can I?”

“I mean, I’m not the fuckin’... question police, or whatever. If you want to know, just ask.” 

“Okay.” Eddie nods. It’s not a particularly windy night, but the gentle breeze pushes through the soft waves in his hair and flutters little curls onto his forehead. It’s indescribably cute, especially with how often he keeps reaching up to push the wisps out of his eyes with a small, disgruntled sound. He does it again, just now, and Richie can’t help the endeared smile that overtakes his expression. He looks off into traffic so Eddie doesn’t see him being gay, or whatever. “So I can ask anything?”

“Yeah.” 

“Why the fuck are you working at Barter Jack’s?”

Richie’s laugh echoes, dances off the streetlamps. “What’s wrong with Barter Jack’s?”

“I mean, nothing, you just don’t seem like…” Eddie’s face scrunches up tightly as he searches for what he means to say. His hands spasm at his sides, as though filled with potential energy waiting to explode. It seems as though he’s holding back; Richie would scrape out the dredges of his savings just to see Eddie fully unleashed. “I don’t know. The type? Is that mean?”

“Incredibly.”

“Shit. Nevermind, nevermind.”

Richie’s grinning. He gets it, but he also doesn’t mind the embarrassed flush that peppers below Eddie’s faded freckles. They’re coming up on the bar now, a little hole in the wall joint that Richie can’t remember how he found. Faded, chipped brick decorates the exterior, and the only indicator that they’re at a bar and not a foreclosed building is the flickering neon sign above a solid black door: no words, just a turtle with a turtle-sized jester’s hat. Though Richie reaches out and holds the door for his newly-made friend, he also continues to razz on him because that’s been his self-assigned job since they met. “No, please, go on. What exactly is the type to work at a grocery store?” 

“I didn’t mean it like that, obviously, I just meant—”

“Well, you said I’m not the type so—”

“But I didn’t mean it like that, I meant —”  

“That you look down on retail workers?”

“NO! I meant that, like, you know, it’s—”  

“Surprising that a handsome, charming,  deeply sexy man such as myself would sink as low as ringing elderly women’s groceries instead of being the model for romance novel covers…?”

“Can you shut the fuck up for two minutes?” The question should’ve burned Richie into surrender, but Eddie barely manages to get it out through the grit of his teeth that stop his laughter. Richie’s on top of the goddamn world right now. His shit-eating grin? The shittest. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry — Please, sir, go on. ” The butler Voice requires an obnoxious “ the floor is yours ” hand gesture to Eddie, which Richie does while ushering Eddie forward through the dim light of the small entry hallway. 

“Fuck you. I’m just saying that you— shit, wait, I think I’ve been here before.”  

Eddie stops suddenly which means Richie stops suddenly so he doesn’t go barreling into him like a really gangly bowling ball. Instead of looking at Eddie like Richie wants to do, he looks at the bar. It’s relatively small but it doesn’t feel it, the short hallway opening up into a cavern-esque room filled with… so, so much. Wall to wall prints of various circus acts from completely different companies splatter the wall, drawing the eye in with death-defying feats from trapeze artists or idiots with their heads in the chops of a dangerous beast. Wall space that isn’t covered with posters is covered with other scrapbook memorabilia: ticket stubs, folded popcorn bags, postcards from different cities and countries around the world that, for however brief a moment, held all the magic of the circus. Richie could spend hours examining the faded minutia until his bifocals snapped and he’d still never see every little detail. 

It’s pretty fucking sick, even to a guy who used to flinch every time he even heard the word clown.

“Are you sure? I don’t know, it seems like a pretty common concept. I’m sure there are a million circus-themed bars in — wherever you’re from.”

Eddie’s too busy taking everything in to do much more than flip Richie off (which makes a delighted smile pop up on the latter’s face). The former looks like he’s trying to figure something out, or maybe remember something; Richie doesn’t know. Either way, his eyebrows are doing that scrunching thing again as he runs his fingers over the dark wood of one of the empty booth tables when they pass it. Richie supposes the dark wood’s intent is to make the place seem fancy, but that’s a hair past impossible when the booth covers look like big top tents and a seven-foot clown stands guard over the bathroom. Eddie’s entranced either way; Richie is too but by shorter, snappier subjects. 

"Aw’righty then! ” Richie says suddenly when Eddie’s big eyes go glassy with wonder at a blown-up poster of a sword swallower (Richie can see flecks of hazel, too, and caramel just around the pupil, and his eyelashes fan out against the tanned skin below his eyebrows and Christ, dude, get with it ) and instead of making a vulgar joke about his own sword swallowing abilities, Richie nods toward the bar. “Drinks?”

“I thought you didn’t—”

“What, you think I’m gonna’ go in on some onion rings with no cold bevvie?” A prick of pain that feels like a static shock pinches at the middle of his spine on the last word; Richie blames it on his sciatica. “I’d choke to death from dry mouth after the third ring. Bars serve drinks other than alcohol, you know that, right?”

“Fuck you.”

Richie shoots a pink-cheeked Eddie two finger guns and then heads to the bar before he does something stupid like flirt or maybe ask Eddie to marry him. 

In all honesty, it’s weird how strongly Richie’s pulled to this near total stranger. Sure, he forms connections with a lot of his regular customers — it’s part of his job! — but those are connections that don’t involve heart palpitations and alarmingly sweaty armpits. He’s not thinking about it; he is thinking about whether or not his sweat stains will show through his t-shirt. 

As it’s only eight o'clock on a Thursday, the bar hasn’t yet settled into any kind of bustling activity. There’s a handful of customers scattered through the bar — couples, loners, a small group of what looks to be a college improv troupe (gag) — and a few more on the stools nursing their drinks and their phones. There’s a quiet loudness to the room that feels comfortable: not enough to make Richie feel like he’s suffocating, but enough to feel like he can slip between the sounds — to hide his old man cackle and too-loud Voices under a mix of clinking glasses and the soft music that drifts from the ceiling speakers. 

Without a flock of customers demanding shots or complicated mixed drinks, Richie grabs the attention of the bartender — young, with curtain bangs and a bad case of don’t fucking look at me eyebrows — fairly easily. 

“What’ll it be?”

“Two waters: one with no ice, and the biggest, greasiest basket of onion rings you can handle, please.”

“Kitchen’s closed on Thursdays.” 

Richie gapes. “You’re shitting me.”

The only response from the bartender is a silent eyebrow lift as she begins pouring the requested water. Her Twinkie earrings dangle somewhat threateningly. 

“Can’t you—”

“Kitchen’s closed.”

Richie throws a look over his shoulder. Eddie’s picked a booth toward the back and sits on the side facing the bar, his suit jacket folded neatly beside him on the vinyl; he’s not paying attention to what Richie’s doing, however. In fact, he’s very studiously focused on the table in front of him where he’s slowly and methodically folding a napkin smaller and smaller and smaller. Richie turns back to Twinkie Earrings, who looks a lot less murderous now. 

“You’re on a date?”

“What? Psh. No. I don’t even know that guy.”

“You came in with him.”

“Well, I mean, yes, but like, as friends.”

“But you don’t know him?”

“Ok, maybe friends is a strong word. I work at the grocery store he shops at.”

“So, what, you stalked him here?” Twinkie Earrings flips up the tap for the water at the perfect time, filling the glass all the way to the brim without spilling a drop. “You think he’s hot.”

It’s not a question. Richie resists the urge to look back at Eddie again. “Voluntary kidnapping, actually, and yes, to the point of begging some poor bartender to make me some onion rings so he’ll stay longer and I can keep pretending I’m not pining over some recently divorced Wall Street bro.” 

That finally breaks the bartender and she snorts, slides the drinks across the bartop into Richie’s waiting hands. Her long blue acrylics leave lines in the condensation. “He thinks you’re hot.”

Richie’s ears burn. For someone who deals out jokes like it used to be his job, he sure can’t take one. “Ha ha. His divorce was from, like, a woman, actually.”

“Tell me how many straight men you know that can tie a Balthus knot that evenly.” 

“What the fuck is a Balthus knot?”

Twinkie Earrings rolls her eyes. “Plus he keeps staring up here like he can’t take his eyes off of you.”

Richie turns so fast he feels something crack in his neck. Eddie’s still got his eyes glued to the napkin he’s now ripping into straight, even pieces. Nada. Even with no hopes, Richie still finds himself teetering on the edge of disappointment. “Yeah, sorry lady, ain’t no Frankie Valli to be found.”

“You’re blind as shit.”

“Hence the glasses. Is this how you make all your tips? Verbally abuse them?”

“That, and I’m hot. Two bucks please.” 

With a little smile and a shake of his head, Richie reaches into his pocket so he can slip her a ten. “Fucked up that you guys charge for water.”

“We don’t. That’s for the advice I’m about to give you.” Twinkie Earrings leans across the bar, the hem of her plaid shirt barely avoiding a small spill of beer. “You’re, like, ancient. Go rock that man’s shit tonight before you break your back going down the stairs, or whatever. He’s into you, onion rings or not.”

Richie blinks. Twinkie Earrings pockets the ten without offering to get him change and heads off to help a man on the other end of the bar top. He can’t help but feel like he just got slapped left right and center by some lesbian with no filter, but he’s not exactly mad about it. It feels strangely familiar, actually — along the same vein of familiarity he feels around Eddie, minus all the romantically tinged edges. There must’ve been someone early on in Richie’s life, long erased by years of cocaine and alcohol-induced memory loss, that talked bluntly and lovingly enough to get through his impossibly thick skull. He tries to remember, pushing at the dark, fractured edges of his memory but comes up short. Whatever; this lady’s gotta be high as shit to see interest like that from Eddie anyway. Richie grabs the waters and makes his way back through the growing maze of people. 

(Only there’s something growing in the pit of his stomach: something that wriggles and stretches and begs to be addressed. It’s small still, fragile, but Richie can feel it seeping into his veins like an IV drip. Light and airy, something that makes his lips turn up involuntarily as Eddie spots Richie’s return and gives a stunted little wave. Hope. A seedling of it, quickly growing and twisting around every attempt to stomp it out before it overtakes Richie’s mind completely and he tricks himself into believing someone like Eddie could be into someone like him — or men at all.)

“That napkin owe you money or something?”

“Wha—?” Eddie looks at the remains of paper shredded into a little pile before him. His cheeks color, illuminated by the obnoxious hanging lamp shaped vaguely like a top hat. Richie slides over the glass of iceless water and sets his own on the table before dropping into the unoccupied side of the booth, which squeaks alarmingly as he wiggles out of his leather jacket. When he looks over at Eddie again, a frown has started tugging at the corners of his lips. “Richie…”

“I swear to God that was the booth.” 

“No, not — I know — I just…” His eyebrows waver and then lift and then drop again, and Richie watches with careful attention like he’s at some sort of eyebrow aerial performance. “There’s no ice in my water.” 

“Oh, dude, fuck, I’m sorry, you wanna switch?” It’s Richie’s turn to do some complicated eyebrow work, embarrassment and confusion shooting from his knees to neck. “I don’t even know why I assumed—”

“No, no, this is— I hate drinking water with ice. At least without a straw because I hate accidentally swallowing them and it’s not like I’m going to spit it back into the glass because that’s fucking gross and if I don’t swallow the ice cubes they bump up against my upper lip and make it all cold and gross so I have to use a straw to avoid doing either but 1. straws are fucking horrible for the environment, you know, and 2. the metal ones taste like, well, fucking metal, which tastes like blood, which is gross, and on top of that do you know how bad for you ice cold water actually is? It contracts your blood vessels and restricts your digestion because your body gets so focused on, fuckin’ —” 

Eddie briefly interrupts himself to take his first breath of the rant and a small sip of (iceless!) water as well before jumping right in like he’d never stopped. 

“Returning the body temperature to homeostasis and making sure you don’t freeze to death from the inside out so your digestive system ends up doing a shit job of absorbing nutrients as well as failing to effectively breakdown fats and —” Eddie stops suddenly, the realization of his long-winded explanation manifesting into a shameful look towards the glass he’s got cradled between his small, bony fingers. “Jesus, sorry. Anyway, this is perfect. Thank you.”

Richie, the poor bastard, is enamored. And also maybe a little slightly freaked out that he’d nailed the water order so excellently and offhandedly. Like, it’s really hard to fuck up a glass of water, yeah, but knowing exactly how Eddie would want his served up and then proceeding to ask for it like he’d done it a thousand times before? On top of the inexplicable familiarity that being around Eddie brings on, Richie’s feeling a little psychic. Or crazy. Or both. He’s definitely feeling like a creep, but the snappy bartender’s advice rattles around his frazzled skull and uses false hope to soothe those worries. Eddie’s here, after all, not running screaming toward the door, so Richie shoves his confusing cocktail of emotions under the rug and pretends like he’s totally fine and normal. 

“You’re very passionate about ice cubes. Does that passion extend to musical artists as well? Big Friday fan by any chance?”

“He really shines in Barbershop .”

Tension broken, levity added. Richie throws back his head and laughs, partly out of relief and mostly because Eddie Kaspbrak is one of the funniest fucking men he’s ever met; if Richie didn’t so viciously hate the industry, he’d pitch a career in comedy. 

“You know I—”

“Shit, before I forget—”

Eddie concedes before Richie can, his jaw snapping shut and his hand coming off the glass to motion for him to keep going. 

“No onion rings.”

Tension bleeds away from Eddie’s face and he leans back in his booth. “No onion rings?”

“Kitchen’s closed.”

“You’ve gotta’ be fucking kidding me.”

“For once, I’m completely serious. I even offered to give the chef a handy, but.” Richie makes a tch sound. “No dice.” 

The choking sound that comes out of Eddie before his stifled laugh is fully worth the jabbing kick to the ankle he receives. 

“Shit, dude, why’re your toes so fucking pointy? You got steel in those wingtips?” 

“They’re oxfords, actually,” Eddie scoffs.

“Oh, excuse me, ” Richie sniffs, his voice going high pitched and tight. “How could I have missed such an important detail, Mr. Kaspbrak, I’m so sorry for calling them wingtips, Mr. Kaspbrak, please, don’t fire me, Mr. Kaspbrak.

He cuts off the Voice at Eddie’s entertained little eye roll, partly due to his laughter at his own lowly secretary impression and partly — to a lesser extent — due to how much he was starting to enjoy saying Mr. Kaspbrak like that. 

“Fuck off, dickhead. Just because you don’t know how to dress—”

Richie leans forward, elbows on the table. “Oh, I don’t know how to dress?”

Eddie raises his eyebrows but doesn’t say anything, choosing to hide his smile with a drink of water. “If the New Balance fits…” 

“I work at a fucking grocery store, man! What, are you expecting me to throw on some fuckin’... Louboutins to stock celery?” Eddie’s losing himself in a fit of laughter across the table. Richie’s torn between watching him laugh, unrestrained, and doing whatever it takes to keep Eddie laughing like this forever. He reaches up to adjust his glasses, fruitlessly wishing for perfect vision so he could see Eddie’s dimples in hi-def. “I’d have to take out like, 6 loans to afford shoes like yours anyway.”

Untrue, though it’s not like Eddie could know that. And yet.

“Bullshit.”

“Bullshit?”

“Bullshit.” 

“How the fuck would you know? Mr. I-wear-eight-hundred-dollar-shoes-to-grocery-shop.”

“First of all,” Eddie slams his cup down on the table in order to gesticulate with both hands so hard that water sloshes up over the side. “I came straight from work, you prick; we can’t all wear fuckin’ — jeans and Hawaiian shirts to do our jobs.” 

First of all, ” Richie starts in a perfect impression of Eddie (who protests loudly, but Richie barrels on even louder. “Only the managers wear Hawaiian shirts; the rest of us peons wear t-shirts. Do you know what a t-shirt is, Eddie? It’s this thing that normal people wear, normally made of some sort of cotton blend instead of the silk you’re used to in the Wall Street world, or whatever.” 

“I know what a fucking t-shirt is, I— wait, you think I work on Wall Street?” The gagging sound Eddie makes is so realistic that Richie almost thinks he’s about to horf all over the table. That doesn’t force away the grin he’s been wearing since their banter started, though, and it definitely doesn’t do anything to squash the ever-growing crush that’s taken hold. If anything, Eddie’s apparent hatred for the stock market makes Richie’s dick harder. “Of everything you’ve said to me so far, that’s the worst. Including when you implied I had a dirty floor.”

My sincerest apologies, Master Edward —” Eddie flips him off with one hand, lifts a drink with the other. “Please, educate me on the whims and woes of — of whatever the fuck it is you do.”

“What is that supposed to be— Alfred?”

Richie’s face lights up, both impressed and delighted. “More of a general Butler thing, but I’ll take it.”

There’s a soft moment between them then, a dip in the conversation when they both take sips of their water and try to avoid grinning at each other like idiots. 

(Hope pulses through Richie, warm and pleasant. He feels dangerous; he feels brave. He feels, for lack of a better explanation, like himself for the first time in as long as he can fully remember.)

“Hey, what were you saying earlier? I cut you off and you—”

“Oh, it’s.” As beautifully as Eddie had opened up in the last twenty minutes, he retreats into himself again. Richie’s stomach tightens up in tandem. He reaches up to adjust his glasses as Eddie takes a deep breath. 

“I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

“So you do work on Wall Street.” 

“No, dickhead,” Eddie says in exasperation (although Richie thinks he might hear a layer of fondness there too, just beneath the surface). He won’t look at Richie, which sets off the nervous bouncing of his right leg. There’s a concentration in Eddie’s face like he’s silently arguing with himself; one side wins eventually and he steals himself, brown eyes finding Richie’s blues.

“I used to watch you. Your comedy, I mean, when you — I went to your shows, sometimes. When Myra was away.” 

“Oh.”

Oh. The tightness in Richie’s stomach clenches and then releases, disappointment dropping through him like lead. So, what — Eddie’s some sort of fan? It seems like a stretch considering how horrible Richie’s early work was, but he can’t see any other explanation as to why he’d be so nervous to bring it up in the first place. The booth squeaks when Richie leans back, but there’s no crude fart joke follow-up for this one. 

It’s heartbreaking in a funny way, Richie thinks. Of course Eddie’s only here for Richie’s previous fame — if being a C-list comedian could even be considered fame. Someone on the other side of the room cackles drunkenly and Richie’s eyes track automatically to the source, seeking a distraction from the fact he’s spent the last however-long attempting to romance a man who’s probably only interested in a fucking journalistic tell-all of Richie’s downward spiral or, like, an autograph. And, like, he’s run into fans at work before, but it’s one thing to bear a grin and suffer through a college frat boy poorly repeating his old misogynistic jokes back to him; it’s another to completely misread a fan’s fucked up Make-A-Wish fulfillment as genuine connection.

“Onion rings,” comes a flat voice from the left. “Compliments of the chef.”

Twinkie Earrings drops a plastic platter of onion rings in the center of the table, cutting through the tension that had built like a lesbian Paul Bunyan. Half of them are burnt. When Richie opens his mouth, though, she lifts a single eyebrow as though daring him to say something. He does not. She leaves, curtain bangs unwavering and intentional death glare unforgiving. 

He’s into you; onion rings or not.  

Maybe Richie could fuck with the whole fan thing. He’s done it before, obviously, but all of those experiences involved a lot more tongue and a lot less publicity. On some level, it’s kind of a twisted compliment that Eddie would go through all this effort just to— 

“Can you fucking say something?” 

Eddie’s eyes bug out like he hadn’t meant to be so loud about it, but he doesn’t apologize. Just clears his throat and looks somewhere above and to the left of Richie’s head. 

Dinner is served,” Richie manages. Eddie barely lets him finish before he’s launching into action again. 

“Your stuff sucked, you know. All of it. Almost all of it, I mean, there was good shit too, but—”

“Ouch.”

“Am I wrong?”

“No, but ouch.”

“I’m sorry.” This, Richie can tell, is genuine, though unnecessary. Maybe Eddie isn’t an obsessed fan after all. “But you did. God, you were awful. Amazing stage presence—”

“Thank you.”

“Completely ruined by shitty college Tosh.0 humor about fucking bimbos, or whatever. I went to every show I could and I fucking hated every single one. It was all bullshit.” 

Richie shrugs, at a loss. He feels like he’s been thrown in a cocktail shaker and jerked around so thoroughly he can’t even find words to defend himself. Like, Eddie’s not wrong, but also what the fuck is happening right now?

“Why’d you go then?”

“What?”

“To the shows.” Richie sits up, adjusts his glasses. Adjusts them again, runs his hand through his hair, wishes he had a fucking cigarette or one of those stupid vape pens he’s been eyeing every time he walks into a gas station for a burrito. “If you thought I was ass why’d you go to so many?”

“I… I don’t know.” Eddie’s turn to shrug. He reaches up and tugs at the knot of his tie, loosening it until it hangs wilted and sad against his chest. “I mean I do, but you’re going to think I’m fucking crazy.” 

“You’re a fully grown man who’s never had mayonnaise: I already think you’re crazy.” 

A hint of a smile, there in the soft light of the top hat lamp, but it doesn’t quite reach Eddie’s eyes. “Thank you.” 

“So what, was it some sort of fucked up self-flagellation? Watching bad comedy as punishment? Or like, some sort of rebellion? Sneaking out away from — who’d you say? Myra? that your wife? — just to feel something.” 

Eddie’s face sours. “Ex-wife.”

“Shit, right.” Like Richie could forget. If he keeps talking he’s going to end up with his New Balance in his mouth so he shoves an onion ring in there instead. Crunchy. Burnt. The bitterness isn’t enough to stop him from grabbing another one, though. 

“Are they good?”

“They’re greasy.” The words come out muffled around two oversized, half-chewed onion rings, but Richie can’t bring himself to care. Eddie looks like he’s physically biting his tongue to keep from telling him not to chew with his mouth open. 

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“You didn’t answer mine.”

Eddie doesn’t argue, likely because Richie’s got a point. Instead, he reaches for an onion ring of his own: tepidly, fingers hovering over the selection like he’s trying to find the Perfect One. In a single motion, he shoves the entire thing in his mouth. Richie would laugh at the way Eddie’s brows zing upwards on his forehead if he wouldn’t spray spit and crumbs all over the guy’s everything. 

“Jesus.”

“Uh-huh.”

“They are greasy.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And fucking delicious, holy fucking shit, dude.” 

Eddie all but moans when he bites into another onion ring and Richie nearly chokes. Doesn’t, but it’s a close thing. Eddie eats like a starved man after that, floodgates apparently slammed open as he shoves greasy ring after greasy ring into his mouth, barely swallowing between them. His fingers shine under the bar lighting, there are crumbs on his cleanly pressed white shirt, and Richie can’t help but watch in awe while Eddie sucks down this bar food like a goddamned Hoover. 

“Jesus Christ, man, are you okay?” 

Big eyes snap to meet Richie’s, soft and suddenly embarrassed. That pretty red color dances down his cheeks, a little splotchy in a way that makes Richie — even in his shaken-not-stirred state — want to lean across the table and kiss each flushed cheek. It takes three napkins for Eddie to clean his fingers and mouth to his standards, and Richie watches with a level of attention he’s not physically capable of giving to anyone or anything but this small, strange man. 

“I don’t really — I didn’t really get the chance to eat much fried food. With Myra. Or even before, I think. My mom was always… careful with me. From what I remember, anyway. I didn’t get to do a lot of things because everything made me sick.” Eddie shrugged. The napkins crumple in his fist, then fall delicately to the table when he releases the tension in his hand. “Myra was worried I’d develop the same heart problems as Mo— as my mom. My mother. She died.”

Richie frowns. There’s a really messed up feeling in his chest right now that he can only identify as relief, which makes no sense considering Eddie just said his mom died. “I’m sorry for your loss, Eddie.”

“No, no, it was years ago. It probably happened for the best. She spent the last few years of her life doing nothing but calling me to try and guilt trip me into moving back home. Anyway, I’ve been — well, lately I’ve invested in therapy—” Eddie glances up at Richie briefly like he’s afraid there’s a joke coming his way, but Richie would be the poster child for hypocrisy to rag on getting help like that. Besides that, besides everything, he gets the feeling that not many (if any) people get to see this side of Eddie. Richie will listen to everything, and he’ll bite off his tongue before he makes a joke and ruins this fragile bridge between them right now. “— and Jamie, my therapist, she says that I need to 'lean into the urge to counteract everything I’ve ever known’, whatever that means, so every time I think of something that Myra or my Mother would’ve disapproved of, I do it.”

“Like eating greasy food,” Richie offers. 

“Like eating greasy food, yeah.”

“Or tricking a washed-up comedian into paying for said greasy food.” Richie’s mouth twists into a sort of half-smile, too self-deprecating to be any kind of authentic, and he reaches for another onion ring of his own to wash down the acidic taste of his own bile creeping up his throat. 

“What?”

Eddie looks so genuinely confused that it almost makes Richie hesitate, but he’s never been good at stopping himself from ruining every could-be-good thing for himself. 

“You still didn’t answer my question. Why did you come to my shows if—”

“I’m gay.”

Richie laughs, so startled that the anxiety rips through him and bursts out as this hysterical, high-pitched guffaw. Several people turn to look at him, adding to the burning gaze that Eddie’s holding already. 

“You—”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Eddie waits there, looking like he’s fucking brimming with a million different things to say. He doesn’t say them, though; he’s patient, fingers practically vibrating on the almost-empty cup of water as Richie fish-faces across from him. 

It feels, in the most indescribable way, like this is news that Richie’s waited to hear for much longer than he’s even known Eddie. His heart is in his throat, so he clears it. 

“Why does that —”

“I hated every inch of the content in your stand-up and I still went to any show I could. Figure it out.” 

Now that… that is an admission. One that seems to take a lot of weight off of Eddie’s chest, because he sags back against the booth with a small grunt, eyes fluttering closed. 

“Myra hated your stuff. One of our first dates was to one of your little start-ups. Open mic night, whatever. A bunch of comedians that weren’t funnier than you but had better ghostwriters, and then you. She walked out halfway through your set but I stayed because — and this is the part where you think I’m crazy — but I swear, I thought I knew you. Or I thought, fucking, I don’t know, that you seemed familiar? I can’t describe it, but I’ve tried to with Jamie. See I’ve got all these memory problems and I can’t — I just can’t fucking remember anything from my childhood. I mean, I do, but I don’t. Nothing important: what I did, where I went to school, people… Jamie thinks it’s part of my repression and whatever traumatic experiences led me to do so much of it. It’s — the memories are there, I think, because sometimes I’ll meet someone and I’ll have this feeling that they’re similar to an old friend of mine, but because I can’t remember anything, I never really know.

“So I went to all your shows and I waited for you to get better and I waited to — to remember fucking anything because every time I sat in that audience it felt like I was on the brink of a goddamned breakthrough. And also, apparently, because I thought you were hot. Which,” Eddie downs the last of his water in a single go. Richie doesn’t blink. “Myra evidently picked up on long before I did. She’s the one who pitched the whole divorce thing. Actually, I had no idea I was into men at all until she handed me divorce papers and told me to reevaluate why I enjoy watching the men’s Olympic volleyball matches so much.” 

Unable to resist making things worse with a joke, Richie says “Men’s Olympic volleyball is pretty fucking gay, dude.”

Beneath the surface of Eddie’s sharp glare, Richie sees something akin to relief. A smile, even. “Yeah, you’re telling me.”

“I’m gay too, you know.” 

“Yes,” Eddie says slowly, the smile breaking through and a single dimple curving against it. “I am aware. There were like, a dozen internet articles about it before you checked into rehab and all the news about you turned to that.”

There is so much to process from this conversation that Richie almost doesn’t know where to start. His mind is a hive of buzzing, Eddie’s words flashing through in a messy jumble to the point that all he’s really getting is Eddie Gay and Eddie Think I’m Hot? over and over again. There are more pressing concerns to focus on here, though, so Richie pinches the bridge of his nose until he can properly function again. 

“I get it,” he begins slowly. He has the urge to shove his hands in his pockets but he took his jacket off ages ago and he’s at the wrong angle to try and get his meaty paws in the tiny ass pockets of his jeans, so he crosses them awkwardly over his chest. “The whole memory… thing. I got fuck shit as far as early life goes, man. Actually, all the way through high school. Things get more clear in college, but that’s also when I learned the in’s and out’s of binge drinking, so I’m not working with much. I always thought it was more to do with my whole…”

Richie mimes doing a line. Eddie nods. He is beginning to look more and more distressed, particularly in the pinch of his eyebrows and dip of his frown, but remains silent for Richie to continue on. 

“Anyways. I get it. And you — Jesus, it’s getting so fucking loud in here — the familiar thing. You’re so fucking familiar, Eds, it’s like I’ve met you a million times but I don’t remember any of — hey, are you okay?” 

Eddie’s gone pale, concerningly so. Horf-all-over-the-table kind of pale, and Richie’s caught between leaning forward so he can place a steadying hand on the man’s shoulder and leaning back to avoid the incoming spray. Eddie doesn’t vomit, though his eyes do go very wide and his hands very still. The full picture is very alarming; Richie’s about to pull out his phone and call a fucking ambulance. 

“I have to — I have — I have to —”

And that’s when it all goes to shit. Eddie goes from frozen in place to panic attack at a whiplash pace, his chest heaving. He scrambles to get out of the booth, legs like a baby deer’s skittering to hold himself upright. 

“Eddie, what —” Richie gets up, knocking into the table and sending the contents of his water all over the table. “What’s going on? Talk to me, Eds, just look at me —” 

“I have to — I need — I have to —”

Eddie stumbles but rights himself before Richie can reach out, and then he’s gone, half-running to the bathrooms. Obviously, Richie’s moving his hairy tub of quick oats body as fast as he fucking can toward the still-swinging bathroom door because he’s gotta help Eddie, he’s gotta get his inhaler, and it’s usually right there in his fanny pack but Eddie can’t unzip it when he’s having an asthma attack and — 

A splitting bolt of pain cracks through Richie’s head and he grabs onto the first thing he touches so he doesn’t pass out where he stands. 

Eddie’s inhaler. His inhaler, his fucking inhaler for his asthma. His asthma that — how does Richie know he’s got asthma? It’s not asthma though, is it, it’s all gazebos — placebos — it’s all a fucking ruse, it’s lies, it’s Sonia Kaspbrak and her iron grip on her Eddiebear. It’s Eddie (Eddie Spaghetti, Eddie baby, Eddie my love, Eddie Eddie Eddie always Eddie). It’s Eddie in the decrepit kitchen screaming don’t fucking touch me! while curling as close to Richie as a broken arm would allow, it’s the scream that he barely heard over the snapping of bones back into place.  

“Hey man, are you okay?”

“Leave him alone, he’s about to ralph all over that clown statue.”

It’s the clown. That fucking clown. All of it, everything, it was that fucking clown in the sewers — in the drains — in the park — in Neibolt house, taunting him with fake missing posters and black sludge dripping down Eddie’s chin.

“Eddie,” Richie says, trying to blink away the throbbing pain behind his eyes. “Eddie.” 

He remembers, is the thing. All at once, like a tidal wave that sucks him in and pushes him all the way to the shell-covered sand — fills his ears and his nose and his lungs and then forces everything back to the surface. 

The clown, of course. IT. Georgie and Bill, and Stan — god, how could he forget Stan? — and MikeBenBev, too, laid out over warm rocks with their eyes closed and their hair wet from the quarry. Greta calling him a fag-o every day at lunch like the world’s worst in-person alarm clock; Henry’s barely legible Richie Tozier sucks cock scrawled on every stall in the boys’ bathroom (and the girls’ too). All those kids, all those poor fucking kids, bodies floating in some sort of fucked up kebob situation. Nightmares — dozens of them, persisting through his teenage years and his adult years and even last Wednesday when he didn’t understand why he woke up crying after dreaming about puppets. A bridge, a knife, his heart on display for every passing car. He remembers all of it.

He remembers Eddie. Over everything, it’s Eddie. It’s always been Eddie. 

And then it stops. As quick as the pain came, it’s gone again, and when Richie comes to he’s clutching that goddamn clown statue like a life preserver. 

“Stupid fucking clown,” Richie says, finally able to breathe again. “Fuck. Eddie.” 

There’s no heavy, panicked breathing echoing off the tile when Richie pushes open the bathroom door, which means Eddie’s either fine or dead. It’s the former, apparently — or, if not fine, at the very least he’s alive. Standing in front of the double mirrors, he clutches the edge of one of the sinks. When Richie gets closer, he can see Eddie’s face in the reflection; he can see the wild look fading from those big, beautiful eyes, and the color slowly draining back into his cheeks. He can also see his own reflection, which looks scarily similar to the way he used to look back when he carried a cut straw in his pocket. He looks back to Eddie’s reflection instead.

And Eddie is looking right back at him.

“You remember,” Eddie says. It’s not a question. Richie nods, nothing more than a slight tip of his head forward. Eddie’s eyes go glossy, and suddenly Richie can feel tears springing up in his own. Then Eddie turns, and Richie gets to face the reality that everything he never knew he was waiting for is standing right in front of him. 

“Richie,” he whispers, 27 years of loss packed into two broken syllables that nearly brings Richie crumbling to the ground. And then the rubber band snaps and Eddie flies forward to meet Richie, who lets himself be shoved against the wall by surprisingly strong forearms. Hands on his face, fingers running over the age lines and gray streaks and wobbly glasses and whatever else Eddie can get his hands on — trying to remember all the years he missed. 

Richie’s in the same boat, caught between holding Eddie so tightly that he pops and dipping his thumb into one of the sweet dimples that frame Eddie’s teary smile. He settles for both, somehow, one hand clutching at a bony hip and the other ghosting delicate touches against Eddie’s ribs, clavicle, pressing flat against the rapid thumping in his chest. 

And then Eddie pulls away, though not enough for Richie to have to give up his hold. Enough for Eddie to look at him, unwavering, and enough for him to, after a moment, give up on his gentle touches and punch Richie in the shoulder. 

“You fucking jackass,” Eddie says after Richie gives a whiny little ow. There’s heat in his words, but his expression is soft. “You were supposed to write to me.”

“I forgot,” Richie manages. Because he did. They all did. “Why didn’t you fucking write to me?”

“I forgot,” Eddie says, and then they both laugh, and a tear rolls down Richie’s cheek in the most cinematic display of homosexuality he’s ever been part of. They’re back to staring at each other and Eddie’s gaze is so intense that it makes Richie feel shy. He’s 40 years old and he’s getting fucking bashful in the dingy bathroom of a clown bar. There’s always been bravery in Eddie, though, so much that just being around the man would make Richie feel like he could maybe almost do anything and everything as long as he knew he had Eddie to do it for. 

So Richie doesn’t look away, and he doesn’t make a joke either. Instead, he asks a question he already knows the answer to because it’s too good to be true. To be real. 

“Was it me for you, too, Eds?”

Eddie’s hands are back on his face now, cupping the stubbly line of his crooked jaw and looking at Richie like he’s something to be adored. A thumb brushes over his cheek, and Richie forces back his tears so he can see Eddie in all his perfect, beautiful, shitty-fluorescent-lit glory. Eddie nods and Richie’s chest swells, expands, explodes.

“You know I always loved you, Rich.” 

That’s all it takes. His glasses are fogging up from the heat of his gay ass fucking tears but he doesn’t need to see what he’s doing because the moment his lips touch Eddie’s his eyes squeeze shut anyway. 

The kiss tastes like onion rings, mostly, and Richie fucking loves it. Eddie’s lips are soft, like he drinks enough water and actually takes care of his body, which briefly has Richie feeling insecure about his own lips and whether or not they were too dry, but then Eddie slides his fingers up into the graying curls of his hair and pulls and then Richie isn’t thinking about much at all, actually. They kiss and then they kiss again and then Richie tilts his head so he can kiss Eddie’s wet cheek (and breathe) and then they kiss again. With Richie’s shoulders pressed into the wall and Eddie’s chest pressed into his, they kiss until their heartbeats align and every second of those twenty-something years they spent apart melts away. 

“Holy fuck, Eds,” Richie manages when they finally separate. They’re still too close, unable and unwilling to put any sort of physical space between themselves until they have to. Richie hasn’t felt this loved in… ever, maybe, but at the very least since the Losers began to leave Derry one by one. It’s overwhelming to the point he’s glad he’s got the wall to lean against; two handfuls of Eddie and the lingering taste of him on his lips are making Richie feel dizzy. 

On top of that, Eddie looks… Jesus, so fucking good. His eyes still shine from the tears but there’s an unmistakable gleam in them, shimmering like the spit on his slick lips. The gel that held his hair in place so neatly has slackened due to time and Richie’s greedy hands, so wisps of gentle waves fall across his forehead in a way that begs for Richie to play with. He’s beautiful, full stop. Always has been, always will be, and this time, Richie won’t forget it. 

“Good?” Eddie asks, like Richie’s not falling apart in front of him.

“You have no idea how long I waited for that.” 

“Yes I do,” Eddie says, the implied moron tacked on at the end. “I waited too. I’ve wanted to kiss you since, fuck, always?”

Richie’s voice cracks. “Me?”

“Yes, you.” An eye roll, one that comes paired with an easy smile and both (both!) dimples that Richie can’t help but match. His cheeks are starting to hurt from all this gay smiling, so he forces himself instead to frown. Eddie’s eyebrows twitch together. “What?”

“Oh, nothing, it’s just… I don’t know what I’m going to tell my girlfriend about this.”

Eddie’s expression goes confused, then hurt, then flat. “What?”

“Yeah,” Richie sighs, over the top by a hair too much. “Mrs. K is gonna be heartbrok— hey! Stop fucking hitting me!” 

“Don’t” hit “fucking” hit “talk” hit “about my mom” hit “when I’m trying to talk about how much I love y— let me go, you dick — mmph !” 

Richie finally manages to stop the attack from Eddie’s stupidly strong little arms (like, seriously, back when they would wrestle as an excuse to get close to each other, Richie usually won by height and dirty tricks alone, but Eddie put up a wild fight that sometimes led to a bruise or two that Richie cherished until they faded) by circling his hands around thin wrists and pulling Eddie into another kiss. 

This one’s slower, their smiles hindering them only briefly before Eddie’s lips are parting for Richie without hesitation. It’s insane — like fully, deeply insane — that Richie’s got his tongue in Eddie’s mouth (and Eddie’s in his?) right now for multiple reasons, but mainly because they’re in a dirty public bathroom where anyone could walk in. That thought actually spikes Richie’s pulse, makes him fumble and try to pull back so he can let Eddie talk some sense into him about what’s appropriate for two middle-aged men to be doing in public. 

(And he’s scared, too, because even with Eddie in his arms that fear and self-loathing that’s built his whole life is hard to shake; isn’t Eddie ashamed to be seen like this?)

But when Richie tries to break apart, Eddie makes a disapproving noise and grips Richie’s shirt (where his fists have balled up the fabric spread over his chest) even tighter. Richie’s dick is, like, rock fucking hard right now. Any common sense or little bit of self-preservation about being caught gaying it up in his work uniform right now starts to slip away, then completely disappears when Eddie leans forward on his tiptoes to bite down on Richie’s lower lip. 

“Eddie,” Richie moans, hands twitching where they hold Eddie’s hips. Can he touch his ass right now? Is he allowed? He wants to touch Eddie’s ass so badly. “Shit, we— the door—”

“It doesn’t lock, I checked.” Eddie settles his hand deeper back into the short curls at the base of Richie’s neck and tries to fucking kill him when he tugs. “C’mon. Kiss me.” 

“You checked ?” 

“It’s a swinging door, Richie, kiss me .” 

Richie obliges, head swimming. The sound of them right now is obscene — is kissing always this loud? The bathroom acoustics probably don’t help, every click and smack of their lips and every whimper and groan turned deafening. It’s so fucking hot. That year of accidental celibacy isn’t doing him any favors because he’s rock hard and already a little desperate for it (though, really, he’s always desperate for Eddie — his touch, his attention). They have to get out of here before he busts in his pants like the sad, horny old man that he is. 

“Eddie—”

Richie—

Even annoyed like this Eddie’s voice is so sweet, goes straight to Richie’s brain like a shot of espresso and replays over and over. 

“We can’t—”

Eddie pulls away with a frustrated groan. He looks like he’s been mauled. The beginnings of stubble burn color his face and his lips are red and slick. There are wrinkles in his shirt, which Richie didn’t know could be a kink until right now when his dick twitches at the sight. Eddie’s hard too, Richie realizes. He slumps against the wall and pushes his glasses up so he can rub at his eyes and not have an aneurysm. 

When he opens his eyes again, Eddie’s still looking at him. His eyes are dark, hungry. Richie’s first instinct is to shrink against the wall, unused to this unrelenting intense attention. Most of his hookups happened with the lights off, and those that didn’t weren’t as satisfying because Richie spent the whole time thinking about how stupid he probably looked with his hairy ass out. His second instinct is to drop to his knees and beg Eddie to, like, fuck his face or something because he’s so fucking hot right now it’s making Richie’s brain turn to scrambled eggs. He does neither. Eddie licks his lips. 

“Richie,” Eddie says, slowly, like he’s explaining something to a child or a fully grown dick-stupid man. “I am so hard right now I can feel it in my ears.”

“Me too.” 

“Then why did we stop?” 

Good question. Why did they stop? Oh, yeah. “We’re in a public bathroom.”

“Yes, it’s disgusting, I’m trying not to think about it because I really really want you to put your tongue in my mouth again.” 

Richie’s so in love. “But what if someone walks in?”

Eddie looks studiously at the door, then twists his head and looks studiously at the stalls. He makes up his mind. Attention back on Richie, Eddie’s expression remains heady. “Then I guess we’ll have to be very, very quiet.”

Yeah. Well. Okay. Fuck it, then. 

The moment the stall door is closed and locked, Eddie’s back on Richie with renewed vigor. Hands everywhere, ruffling up his shirt and running over his biceps as they kissed until Eddie moans fuck you and Richie almost snorts. 

“What?”

Strong. Why the fuck are you so big for?” 

Richie's cheeks flame but he grins, finally taking the double scoop of Eddie’s ass that he’s been panting for. Eddie straight up moans where he’s mouthing at Richie’s neck. “I lift boxes for a living, Eds, I gotta have something to work with.” 

“I’m going to bite you everywhere.”

“Cool with me.” 

Eddie could do literally anything to Richie right now and he’d be okay with it, honestly. Biting is actually pretty high up on the list, too, so genuinely very completely fine with whatever Eddie decides to do to him in the back of this bar right now. 

For now, Eddie decides he has a personal vendetta against the inch of skin at the base of Richie’s neck where he’s sucking the biggest, gaudiest hickey. It’s making Richie’s knees buckle, but he’s got a door to lean against so he grabs Eddie’s ass and pulls him up closer — gets his thigh between Eddie’s legs. They both moan at the feeling of that; Eddie’s hard cock jerks against the feeling of Richie’s big thigh and he doesn’t do a very good job of covering the long whine that slips out as he arcs his hips into it again. 

“I thought we were supposed to be quiet,” Richie pants, ever the tease, and Eddie retaliates by pressing his hip against where Richie’s leaking into his boxers, rolling forward so they grind together. “Shit, okay, yeah, I’m gonna cream my pants in like one minute flat.” 

Eddie moves to the other side of Richie’s neck, breath hot against the skin as he sucks a matching mark there, too. “You can’t come yet I want to suck your dick.” 

“Eds, baby, you say anything else like that and I’ll come now. ” Richie keeps his grip on Eddie’s perfect ass, guiding his hips forward as they rut up against each other like horny teens. “Fuck, forget about that, can I touch you? Eds, can I—”

“Yeah, yes, please, just fucking touch me, Rich, can I…?—”

“Yes, fuck yes, absolutely.” 

Richie’s hasn’t moved this fast in years. It’s like he’s possessed by the need to get Eddie’s stupid Wall Street bro slacks open and whip out his dick. Eddie’s moving with the same sense of desperation like he’ll die without getting his hands on Richie’s cock. It fills Richie with this weird, overwhelming wave of emotion; he feels so profoundly wanted that it makes his fingers stutter on Eddie’s zipper. Strange, feeling this loved for the first time in his life standing four feet from a toilet. 

“No fucking way.”

“What?” Richie looks down. “Did it fall off?”

Eddie looks angry now, like he’s annoyed with the cock that he’s pulled out of Richie’s Hamburglar print boxers. Not to brag, but Richie doesn’t usually get complaints about the meat he’s packing in the butcher shop, so seeing Eddie react like this is making his stomach twist nervously. 

“Your dick is huge,” he finally says, annoyed and turned on all at once, and then Eddie’s hand wraps around the base of Richie’s cock before squeezing experimentally. “Jesus Christ, Richie, what am I even supposed to do with all of this?” 

The noise that comes out of Richie’s mouth when Eddie gives a slow pump across his length is half-choked and completely embarrassing. Everything about Eddie does it for him, but Eddie talking about his dick like this is kinda really doing it for him. “I don’t know, Eds, fuck. Seriously, I’m already so close.” 

“I changed my mind, I’m not gonna suck your dick right now. These floors are so fucking gross.” Richie nods, delirious, while Eddie uses his other hand to finish the job Richie couldn’t and pulls out his own cock to add it to the equation. “But I’m going to later. Do you think I could get it all in there? Do you think I could take it?”

Nghyh,” Richie says. He’s trying so hard not to come. It’s not his fault! Eddie’s a fucking sex machine tuned directly to all of Richie’s stations. He’s lucky he’s lasted this long at all. There’s enough sense left in him to wrap his hand around both of their dicks, something Eddie’s hand is too small to do, and the feeling rips needy sounds out of both of them. Richie’s head is going to explode. 

“I’m going to take it all.”

“I know you are, you determined little twerp.”

“Don’t call me a twerp with your hand on my — fuck, yeah, Richie, faster — on my dick. You’re going to fuck me too. And then I’m going to fuck you. Okay?” 

Richie makes a strangled, affirmative sound in the back of his throat and surges forward to kiss Eddie’s beautiful, beautiful, dirty mouth. Isn’t Richie supposed to be the Trashmouth? They get distracted like that for a moment, sloppily making out and jacking each other off. Everything is wet and hot and Richie remembers how much Eddie hates getting messy or out of control so having him messy like this — dick leaking and thrusting into Richie’s grip — is so rare and so, so hot. Having him at all is hot. If he thinks about it too long he’ll start crying again, so he focuses on giving Eddie the best orgasm of his life. 

“Your hands are so fucking big, fuck, are you half giant or something? Jesus.” 

“Are you complaining?”

“I’m — shit — allowed to complain about things I like.” 

Richie hides his grin in Eddie’s neck, mouths along the skin there. He tastes like sweat, smells like expensive cologne and coconut shampoo. Eddie does this magic thing with his thumb against the head of Richie’s cock and he swears, nips at the front of Eddie’s throat. “You’re so contrary.”

“Thank you.” 

The angle isn’t perfect considering their height difference and the fact they’re trying to do all this while standing and leaning against a stall door that sounds minutes from rattling off its hinges, but Richie’s knees have enough life in them to hold steady as he keeps one hand on their dicks and slides the other down the slanted hem of Eddie’s slacks. His fingers ghost over the warm skin of Eddie’s ass, nothing more than a light touch, before he dips his middle finger down between the cheeks and presses firmly against Eddie’s hole. 

HolyshitI’mgonnacome,” Eddie pants out, breath making a damp spot where he’s leaning his head against Richie’s chest. His hips are fucking jackhammering into Richie’s grip, trying to both get more friction there and press onto Richie’s finger. Eddie abandons his efforts and instead grabs onto Richie’s shoulders with both hands, using them for balance so he doesn’t collapse with the force of pistoning his hips up. They’re being so insanely loud right now that if his brain could process more than make Eddie come right fucking now he’d be worried about getting kicked out of the bar. “Right now, I’m gonna — yes, Richie, Richie, Rich —”

And then Eddie comes. And it is spectacular. Richie sees stars and he’s not even the one getting come all over his shirt! Eddie’s neck arches back gracefully and the vein that’s usually reserved for when he’s yelling about staph infections pops out, makes Richie want to lick it. He barely gets to enjoy the total vision (though he does memorize the way Eddie’s lips opened in ecstasy, how his moans went silent and his body jerked forward with overstimulation) because after a few more desperate pumps, Richie’s following right over the edge. 

They stand there trying to catch their breath for a long time. Richie doesn’t mind, and he doesn’t think Eddie does either — he likes the warmth — but the mess on his hand starts getting tacky and he’s not prepared to be glued together in the back of this circus bar. 

“Hey,” Richie says. Gives a little nudge so Eddie will look at him. His eyes are blown big and wide and sated, a pleased little smile sitting at the corners of his mouth. A month ago, Richie would’ve done anything to get this man to smile. The same is still true. “We gotta clean up before this gorilla glue dries and we have to walk out of here in even worse shape.” 

Eddie nods. Richie misses the line of his body immediately. They clean up as best they can, but cheap toilet paper only does so much. Richie ends up wiping a lot on his boxers. Poor Hamburglar. 

“Sorry I got cum on your uniform.”

“It’s literally the hottest thing that’s ever happened to me so please don’t apologize.” Richie looks down at the mess, pulling his pants up, too. “It’s kind of cool. Doesn’t this jizz stain kind of look like Arizona?”

“No,” Eddie says flatly. He totally wants to laugh. It really does look like Arizona. “Are you going to take me to your place now?”

“You…” Richie hesitantly adjusts his glasses, which had slipped down his nose and gone crooked with all the movement. “You want to come back to mine?”

Eddie flushes, suddenly embarrassed and annoyed about it. “Well we don’t have to, I just assumed that after all of that maybe we could—“

“We can do literally anything you want, Eds,” Richie says quickly. He doesn’t want to give Eddie the wrong impression.  “I’d go kiss that clown statue if you asked me to. I mean, I probably wouldn’t do that, but if you wanted it, I’d have to.”

“Why the fuck would I want that?”

“I don’t know! I’m just saying! Whatever you want, Master Edward.

“I want you to cut it out with that accent.”

“I know you secretly think they’re good.”

“It’s not a secret, your Voices are great. I just don’t want to hear them after you’ve had your hands all over my dick.”

“Technically every point from now on is post-dick-touching territory, so—“

Eddie’s grimace looks a lot like love, but Richie still gets a little shove when Eddie goes to open the door.

“What I really want is to go home and sleep next to you instead of in the empty bed I used to share with a wife I never loved.” Eddie doesn’t look at him for a moment, and when his gaze flickers back from the overflowing trashcan in the corner of the stall, he looks vulnerable. Open. Beautiful. “Is that okay?”

Richie kisses him in lieu of a proper answer. Soft and gentle, just a delicate promise that Eddie could have every ounce of love inside him and then some. Eddie’s palm spreads briefly over the even thumping of Richie’s heart, and then they leave the stall because it’s really starting to smell like sex in there. Which, honestly is probably better than the smell of bathroom, so. 

As they wash their hands, Richie can’t stop peeking over at Eddie. Eddie keeps peeking at Richie, too: this little back and forth, trying not to get caught but not really caring if they do. Little smiles exchanged under sink lights, paper towels balled up and thrown in an act of childishness they haven’t been able to participate in for years. Eddie makes Richie pick the trash up before they leave, though he would’ve done that when they were twelve, too. 

While Richie’s expecting the entire bar to turn and stare for the amount of noise the two of them had made, no one does. Not a single person; not even the bartender (who Richie really should thank for the onion rings and, like, getting him shacked up with the forgotten love of his life). Eddie’s eyebrow arches, also confused, but Richie’s not going to look a gift clown in the mouth. He’s got a cum stain the vague shape of Arizona on his stomach and the last thing he needs right now is everyone in the bar clocking him as a slutty Barter Jack’s employee. He is one, yeah, but strangers don’t need to know that. 

Their jackets remain untouched on the booth seats — odd, considering the fact the size of the crowd has doubled since their arrival. It’s like no one noticed they were gone for fifteen minutes or moaning like touch-starved forty-year-olds in the men’s restroom equally as long. 

“You want the rest of these onion rings?” 

Eddie shakes his head. He seems sleepy, his eyes heavy and shoulders drooping. He’s smiling, though, so Richie assumes it’s the exhaustion of being reverse-concussed with half a lifetime of memories and then coming his brains out all over Richie’s hand. “We’ll come back eventually. Or you’ll cook me better ones later."

“You are putting a lot of faith in my cooking skills, Eds; I might burn the shit out of them, too.” 

“Bullshit — you’re telling me you retained none of Maggie’s cooking lessons? Her recipes?”

“Uh, I retained her heart patterned apron and her cocktail mixing kit.”

“...Well as long as you wear the apron, I’m sure we can figure something out together.”

Richie laughs, a little wheezy because he’s old and his heart is busy trying to jump out of his chest and into Eddie’s palm. “Yeah. Together. Right-o then, chap, let’s get a move on! The city awaits!

“Your British guy has gotten a lot better over the years. Did you finally start practicing?” Eddie grins. Richie knocks him with his elbow, briefly flipping him off before he drops a twenty on the bartop. Twinkie Earrings raises her eyebrow from across the way, and Richie thinks he might be hallucinating, but he’s almost sure he sees her smile, too. There’s something magical about her, Richie’s sure, but he’s a lot more interested in the man beside him who is slowly but surely slipping their hands together. 

“No,” Richie says finally, his heart doing fucking gymnastics in his chest. Eddie fucking Kaspbrak is holding my hand! Take that, you stupid clown! Take that, Bowers! Take that every angry short guy with big eyes I slept with, not knowing why! Eddie loves me! ME! He wiggles his eyebrows at Eddie as they push open the door to the street. “I just slept with a lot of British guys and eventually got the hang of it.”

Eddie’s laugh echoes down the street, and their hands swing between them all the way home. 

 


 

They never end up going to that bar again. It’s closed the next time they try and then they never see the little neon turtle again. Richie chalks it up to the ever-changing streets of the city and briefly mourns his opportunity to barf all over that clown’s shoes again. Eddie and him find a new onion ring spot at a greasy diner two blocks from Richie’s apartment, and it gets a lot easier to go splitsies when Eddie sells his old loft and moves into Richie’s two-bedroom. They fall together so easily it’s almost like they never forgot anything at all. 

Two months later, Richie’s phone buzzes with a call from Derry, Maine. He picks up.