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Trials and Tribulations

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Being in college is awesome . Like, for real. Eddie’s doing well in all his classes, he’s learning a shit ton, and LA? Amazing. He’s not sure if it’s because the sun is literally always shining or what, but everyone is so laid back here. He only gets the occasional glare when he holds hands with Richie and no one has threatened to try to beat the gay away, so it’s basically heaven on earth. 

 

There are some things he misses about Derry. Or really, there are some people he misses in Derry; namely Went, Maggie, and Nana June. 

 

He had been nervous moving so far away from Richie’s parents, especially because he’d just lost one parent. The idea of leaving the two he was taken in by was daunting, to say the least. He had a minor meltdown the night before they were set to leave, but Went and Maggie talked him down, assuring him that if he needed anything at all, they would be on the first flight to California. It was a little embarrassing that it was him and not Richie who freaked out, but later that night, on his way back from the bathroom, he saw Richie laying in between his parents on their bed. They were having a quiet conversation, Richie holding his mother’s hand while Went rubbed his back, and Eddie caught Richie wiping away a few tears. He’d crept back into their room and when Richie curled up behind him, he pretended not to notice his red rimmed eyes. 

 

His relationship with Nana June is so new and he was sad that they didn’t get more time together before he’d moved. They’d hit it off at the graduation party, after a bit of an awkward start, and he’d visited her as often as he could during the summer. She’s spunky-- there’s no other way to describe her. She has a raspy voice from years of smoking, her hands are covered in rings, her house always smells like incense, and she’d cleansed him and Richie with crystals the first time they visited her. Richie adores her, mainly because she laughs at her own raunchy jokes. Eddie thinks they might actually get along a little too well, but she did give him an old acoustic guitar she had lying around and he’s been obsessed with it ever since. He’s getting pretty good; he can play some simple songs and he likes to put on little concerts for the losers, singing made up songs with goofy lyrics. 

 

That’s the other thing about college-- living with the losers is so much fun. He’s already thinking of ways to convince them to be roommates forever. All of them have their little quirks, but they balance each other out and they know when they need to compromise. They’ve all reined in their messy tendencies for Stan (Bill and Richie more than anyone), they put the toilet seat down for Bev, and Eddie makes sure everyone is washing their hands regularly. Sure they fight sometimes, but they’ve always done that and it’s usually forgotten by the next day. 

 

So yeah, Eddie’s killing this whole college thing. One thing he didn’t expect to worry about, however, is how many girls are into Richie. And okay, obviously Eddie knows that Richie is handsome and cool, he married the guy for christ’s sake, but back in Derry it seemed like the losers were the only ones who realized that. So it’s a little shocking to suddenly see him getting hit on. Not that Eddie’s jealous. Definitely not. That would be idiotic, like the girls who hit on Richie are. He has nothing to worry about, he knows that logically, but no matter how many times he repeats that in his head, he still ends up clenching his fists when some blonde stands too close to Richie and laughs too hard at his jokes. 

 

(They really aren’t that funny, and Eddie would know-- he’s been listening to them for thirteen years.)

 

Today he just wanted to have a nice lunch with his husband and now he’s stuck here, watching Tracy from Richie’s statistics class put her hand on his bicep while she flips her hair and giggles. Whatever. She sounds like a hyena. 

 

“Oh my god, Richie, you’re so funny! And super smart. I don’t know what I would do without your help in stats, you’re seriously a life saver.”

 

“Nah, I’m not that smart. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m actually terrible with numbers, but you see these glasses?” She nods. “They’re magic-- I put these suckers on and suddenly I’m like Isaac Newton, busting out equations left and right. They’re my secret weapon. Don’t tell the government though, they were pretty mad when I busted them out of the bunker.

 

“Richie!” Tracy shoves at his shoulder playfully. “I bet you know how to have fun when you take them off.” She twirls a strand of hair and checks him out, head to toe. 

 

“With the right company.” Richie looks back at him and winks. Eddie rolls his eyes.

 

Tracy though-- she looks ecstatic at that response, even if he wasn’t looking at her when he said it. “So maybe you’d like some company tonight? You could pick me up at eight and we could go out, anywhere you want. Or we could stay in.”

 

Is she seriously biting her lip right now?

 

“Well goodness gracious is little old me getting asked on a date?” Richie drawls in his southern belle accent. 

 

“You sure are. What do you say, you wanna have some fun?”

 

Eddie’s eyes are going to get stuck mid-roll if he has to listen to any more of this. 

 

“I’d have to ask the ol’ hubster first. What do you say, Eddie? Can I go on a date with her?”

 

“How you spend your time is none of my business.” 

 

“Oh I’m so sorry, he said no.”

 

Ha, finally something she doesn’t find funny. 

 

“Hubster?”

 

“Yep! This is Eddie-- the love of my life and the only person who keeps me company when the glasses come off. Say hi to Tracy, cupcake.”

 

Eddie finally gets up from the table. “Enough with the nicknames, Rich, jesus.”

 

“But sugar muffin, you know those nicknames are a pillar of our marriage,” Richie says, dropping an arm around his shoulders.

 

“Yeah, well I’m looking to remodel.” He crosses his arms and looks her over, lifting an eyebrow. “Hi.”

 

She glances between them . “So you two are…”

 

“Married. I think he was pretty clear about that.”

 

“I’m just a little surprised. I didn’t know he’s…” She clears her throat. “He never mentioned you.”

 

“I talk about Eddie all the time,” Richie says, his face scrunching up in confusion.

 

“Yeah, but you never said you were married. I thought he was, like, your best friend or something.”

 

“He is. Do you know how healthy marriages work?”

 

Eddie snorts and Tracy looks like she just sucked on a lemon.

 

“Well Stacy--”

 

“It’s Tracy.”

 

“--It was great to meet you, but me and Richie kind of have a standing lunch date on Wednesdays so...”

 

Her jaw clenches and she shoots him a passive aggressive smile. “I’ll leave you to it, then. See you later Richie.”

 

He lifts his hand, but he’s already shifted his attention to Eddie. The irritation radiates off of her and Eddie smiles to himself. 

 

“She seemed nice,” he says, sliding a plate over to Richie. 

 

“She’s alright. This girl she hangs out with all the time is a little...pushy.”

 

“Ohhh poor baby, are you getting bullied by a girl?”

 

“Dude, don’t let Bev hear you say that. She’s been taking that self defense class and I swear, she’s just looking for an excuse to kick someone’s ass.”

 

“If she hasn’t pulled the moves on you yet, I think I’m safe.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Is that a brownie?”

 

Eddie was planning on splitting it with him, but he hands the whole thing over instead. Look, he’s not rewarding Richie with a treat for showing no interest in that girl, but he’s not not doing that. 

 

“You’re the best,” Richie says enthusiastically. He gives Eddie a quick peck on the cheek before digging into the dessert. 

 

Rewards work and Eddie’s a genius. 

 

* * *

 

His friends going to different schools is taking some getting used to. Eddie, Richie, Bill and Mike all go to Long Beach, but Bev is off at her design school, and Stan and Ben go to fancy ass UCLA, which Richie also got into but declined the offer. He says it’s because he wants to be in the entertainment industry so what’s he need an expensive degree for, but Eddie’s worried he really did it because he wanted to stick close to him. He feels guilty whenever he thinks about it, but he can’t say he’s mad at the outcome . If he had his way, they’d all be going to the same school like they did for thirteen years. Yes, change is good, personal growth, blah blah blah, but it’s just weird not knowing what your friends are up to and that’s why Eddie is speechless when Stan comes into the kitchen as they’re making dinner to tell them that he met a girl.

 

Eddie and Richie are snapping green beans side by side, and they share a look. Mike pauses his chopping while the rest of the losers start razzing Stan and asking for details. Eddie watches him try to physically shake it off before he gets back into cutting the potatoes and pastes a halfhearted smile onto his face. It’s painful to look at.

 

“Her name is Patty. She’s Jewish and she’s also hoping to go to law school. She’s a junior and she’s really nice.” Stan brightens when he talks about her and Eddie really wants to be happy for him, he does, but all he can think about is how hard it would be for him to listen to Richie talk about someone else and how miserable Mike must feel. 

 

“Stan the Man, I never thought I’d see the day.” Richie’s heart clearly isn’t in the teasing, but no one notices in the excitement.

 

“You’re gonna ask her out, right?” Ben prods.

 

“Actually, she asked me. We’ve got plans for Friday night.”

 

“A girl who goes for what she wants? I like her already,” Bev says approvingly.

 

“Oh, do you respect her for having the balls to do what you couldn’t?” Richie asks with an impish grin.

 

“Shut it, Trashmouth.” She flicks some food at him. 

 

“Remember how me and Eddie had to push those two together? If it weren’t for us, you all would still be dealing with that overwhelming romantic tension. Which was somehow worse than sexual tension, congrats guys.”

 

“Whatever, you owed us for having to put up with you and Eddie.”

 

“Put up with? Excuse you, we’re a fucking delight,” Eddie says, affronted. 

 

“Yeah, you guys should count yourself lucky to witness a love as pure as ours.”

 

“‘Pure’. Uh-huh. Is anyone here still scarred from when they discovered hickies?”

 

All of the losers raise their hands and Eddie’s face burns. “We only did that once.”

 

“Once a week maybe,” Ben mutters.

 

“Weren’t we talking about Stan?” Bill says, ruffling Stan’s curls while Stan tries to smack his hand away. 

 

Damn it. Eddie was embarrassed, sure, but he’d gladly get made fun of by his friends if it meant Mike was back to smiling. The longer they talk about Stan’s date, the more his glow dims. Richie nudges Eddie and cocks his head at Mike subtly. Eddie nods; the time has come for them to talk to Mike and let him know they’re here for him. Hopefully it won’t go horribly. 

 

“So where are you two going?”

 

“Just to a little cafe over by campus-- the vegan one I was telling you about, Mike.”

 

Mike gives him a small smile but doesn’t say anything. Stan definitely notices that something’s up, but the losers keep asking questions and he doesn’t have a chance to comment on it. Thank god for nosy friends. 

 

It’s not until after dinner that they can make their move. They wait until everyone has wandered off to do their own thing, leaving Mike alone in the living room. 

 

“Okay we’re gonna talk to him, but you have to take this seriously,” Eddie whispers, peeking his head around the doorway. 

 

“I promise, babe.”

 

“That means no dick jokes.”

 

“I wasn’t going to. Any and all comments regarding dick are going to be serious, helpful tips. Friend to friend.”

 

Eddie smacks Richie in the stomach. 

 

“Oof. Okay no comments about dick at all, got it.”

 

“Do we need a game plan? I feel like we need a game plan. Maybe we start off by casually mentioning things about our own experience, test the waters a little. And then--”

 

Richie pushes past him and calls out, “Yo Mikey, what’s up man?” 

 

“Richie!” Eddie hisses, trailing in after him. 

 

“Homework? You know, that thing you never seem to be doing?”

 

“All a part of my mystique. Soooo, this Stan thing-- crazy right?”

 

Mike goes back to his book. “Yep, pretty crazy.”

 

“You have any feelings on it? Feelings of jealousy perhaps?”

 

It’s the clumsiest way he could have possibly gone about it and Eddie can’t do anything but put his head in his hands.

 

A look of panic crosses Mike’s face. “What? What are you talking about?”

 

“It’s cool, dude. Me and Eddie figured out that your loins are a-burning for him a while ago. We weren’t gonna say anything but we thought after tonight--”

 

“Well you thought wrong,” Mike says, slamming his book shut. 

 

“Mike, c’mon,” Eddie tries.

 

“No, I’m not talking about this. There’s not anything to even talk about, so forget whatever you thought you had figured out.” He stands up and heads towards his room.

 

“If you ever need to talk we’re here for you!” Eddie throws out. They’re met with the sound of his door closing.

 

“Well that could have gone worse,” Richie says cheerfully. 

 

“It didn’t go anywhere because you have a big mouth and no tact.”

 

“You didn’t seem to mind my big mouth last night.”

 

“Shut the fuck up. How did I get stuck with such an idiot?”

 

“God gave you me, remember?” Richie wigg les his eyebrows. Eddie’s pretty sure it’s supposed to be seductive, but it misses the mark by about a thousand miles. 

 

“Don’t suppose you know his return policy by any chance?”

 

“Sorry, Eds, you need a receipt and I burned that sucker years ago.”

 

* * *

 

Eddie and Richie are playing Mario on the Nintendo when Stan comes out of his room. 

 

“Well. I’m off to my date,” he says, adjusting his cardigan self-consciously.

 

Mike, who had been clanging around in the kitchen, comes and leans against the doorway. 

 

“You okay? You’re a little green there, man,” Richie says. 

 

“Yeah. Yes. Of course I’m okay. Just a tad nervous. It’s my first date and all, I want to make a good impression. I mean, we’re already friends but--”

 

“You look good, Stan,” Mike says, interrupting his rambling. 

 

The tension melts out of Stan and he gives Mike a grateful smile. “Thank you, Mikey. You don’t think it’s too…”

 

“Nerdy? I do, thank you for asking,” Richie says.

 

Eddie flicks him in the ear.

 

“No, it’s perfect. Very you. Besides, she’ll be too enamored with you to even notice what you’re wearing,” Mike says. He’s holding onto his arm the way he does when he’s trying to shrink himself, a childhood habit he never quite grew out of. Eddie is so proud of him for being a good friend despite what it’s costing him. 

 

Oh my god is Stan blushing?

 

“I don’t know about that,” he says shyly. 

 

“He’s right; it’s perfect and if she’s smart, she’ll see that too,” Eddie offers. 

 

“Thanks guys, I really needed that. I have to go, but I’ll see you later.” 

 

As soon as the door shuts behind him, Mike comes and drops down between RIchie and Eddie on the couch. They don’t say anything, giving Mike the space to share when he’s ready. After a while, he lets out a small sigh and says, “I’m gay and I’m in love with Stan.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“How’d you guys figure it out?” he asks, rubbing his forehead.

 

“There was a disturbance in the force.”

 

“Oh my god, shut up Richie. It wasn’t anything big. You got kinda twitchy and nervous when we made gay jokes, you never really talked about girls, Stan made you go all gooey. Also I caught you checking out his ass when he bent over once. That one kind of sealed the deal.”

 

“He has a white boy booty, why do I think it’s so cute?” Mike whines into his hands. 

 

“I ask myself the same question every day,” Eddie says consolingly.

 

“Hey, yours is hardly any better.”

 

“Look, it’s not the end of the world, Mike. In fact, I think it’s great that you love Stan. You two would be perfect together.”

 

“Great? You think this is great? He’s off with some girl and I’m here getting comforted by the married couple who makes everyone around them feel painfully single. What about this is great?”

 

“Well maybe it’s not great now, but c’mon, it’s one date. Who knows what’s going to happen after that. Maybe she’ll be awful and he’ll come home and never talk about her again.”

 

“I don’t want that,” Mike says, alarmed. “I hope he has an amazing time because he’s a wonderful person who has so much to give and he deserves people in his life who will love him and make him happy. That’s all I want for him, y’know? I just want him to be happy and loved, even if it’s not with me. I mean, isn’t that what you would want for each other if you were in my situation? Wouldn’t you put aside your own feelings to make sure he got the world?”

 

Richie lets out a breath. “Yeah, Mikey. I would.”

 

“Not me.”

 

They both turn to look at him. “What?”

 

“Yeah, no-- fuck that,” Eddie says with a shake of his head. “If you were off with someone else I would be pissed and I would do everything I could to make you miserable. You think someone else could love you the right way? No chance in hell. Your whole world is right here and I’d be doing you a favor by reminding you of that.”

 

Mike stares at him in shock, but Richie burst into laughter. “This guy is my fucking soulmate, man. I love him so much.”

 

“I don’t know if that’s romantic or messed up, but I could never do that to Stan. And even if it doesn’t work out with them, it doesn’t change the fact that Stan has never showed interest in guys.”

 

“Stan doesn’t show interest in anything except birds,” Richie says.

 

“Yeah, I’ve never heard him talk about liking anyone before this Patty girl. You know Stan, he’s not exactly a ‘heart on his sleeve’ kind of guy. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance you two could happen.”

 

“I appreciate the support, but I can’t get my hopes up. I can’t.”

 

Richie pats him on the back. “It’s alright buddy, we get it. But hey, congrats on being gay! It’s an exclusive club for only the coolest of the cool. Bet it’s a relief to finally get it off your chest, huh?”

 

“Uhh, actually you aren’t the first people I’ve told.”

 

“WHAT? I swear to god, Mike, if you told one of those hetero chumps we hang out with--”

 

“No, no, none of the others know. I uh-- I told my parents, before we left.”

 

“Holy shit, dude,” Richie exclaims. “That’s a big deal, how did it go?”

 

“Really well,” Mike says with a small, pleased smile. “My dad told me that it takes a strong man to be honest like that and he seemed...proud. My mom said she still expects grandkids.”

 

Eddie looks down at his hands. Okay, big deal, his mom hasn’t tried contacting him since he moved out and probably hates him now. So what? Just because he’s the only one whose parent wasn’t supportive, doesn’t mean he can’t be happy for Mike. And his mom’s reaction was not a reflection on him. It wasn’t

 

He looks up to find Mike watching him with sympathetic eyes. “Sorry, Eddie. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

“Oh my god, do not apologize.” Eddie pulls him into a hug and rests his head on Mike’s. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m happy for you, Mikey, I promise.”  

 

Richie takes Mike’s hand and uses the other hand to pet Eddie’s head. It’s nice, their little affection train. 

 

“So does this mean we can take you to a gay club, find you a man? I’m pretty sure you’re gonna be like gay catnip. Eddie definitely wants to jump your bones.”

 

“You’re the one who asked which of the losers I would hypothetically have sex with, I was just being honest.”

 

“Yeah but I was hoping you would say Bev ‘cuz then I’d know you wouldn’t be able to get it up for her.”

 

“Jesus, Richie,” Eddie chokes out as Mike laughs.

 

“What? You can be honest but I can’t?”

 

“Thanks-- for the laugh and the offer-- but I think...I think even if I can’t tell Stan, I’m also not ready to let go yet. I know it’s probably dumb of me, but I’m gonna wait for him for just a little longer. And maybe if the universe gives me a sign, I’ll do it, I’ll be honest with him. Do you think that’s stupid?”

 

“No, I think you should do what feels right-- just like you told me when I wanted to tell my mom. It’s up to you when and where you tell him, if you ever do,” Eddie reassures him. 

 

“Yeah, you do you Michelangelo, we got your back. Even if we think you two would be perfect for each other, we’ll let you figure that out on your own. Promise,” Richie says. “Now, let’s have some fun and celebrate what an awesome day this is! What do you say we grab Bill and play some pictionary, huh?”

 

“How is that a celebration? We play that like once a week and you and Eddie always obliterate everyone else. Your creepy mind meld is impossible to beat.”

 

“We are incredible at pictionary, it’s true,” Eddie says, high fiving Richie. 

 

“But we’ll split up and make it fair. You know you wannaaaa.”

 

Mike sighs. “Fine, but I get Eddie.”

 

“Yes!” Richie hops over the couch, screaming Bill’s name. Eddie and Mike share a fond, exasperated look. That boy. Such a lovable menace. 

 

* * *

 

The losers aren’t what anyone would call social. Obviously they hang out with each other all the time, but none of them have much patience for casual friends and acquaintances and their wild Friday nights usually consist of playing board games or going to the movies. Sometimes one or two of them will go to a party, but mostly they stay in. It’s what they like, so why change it? No, seriously, why is Richie insisting they all go to some lame sounding party with him?

 

“It’s college, guys! I know we have fun at the apartment but it wouldn’t kill us to try to get the whole college experience, parties and all.”

 

“At a sorority house?” Bev asks skeptically.

 

Bill makes a face. “Some of those girls are mean .”

 

“Yeah and I just got that card game I’ve been telling you about.” Mike holds up a pack of cards. 

 

“Oooh, is that the one--” Stan starts, but Richie cuts him off.

 

“Doesn’t matter which one it is, we’re not playing it because tonight you’re all joining me at this party which is, yes, getting thrown by a sorority.”

 

“That sounds awful, Rich.”

 

Richie sighs. “Look guys, I promised Mark I would go and help him look good in front of some girl he’s into and I don’t wanna let him down when he hooked me up with the job at Surfside.”

 

Eddie’s reluctance waivers; Richie loves his job at Surfside Video Shack and he’d gotten an interview through a friend from class whose brother manages the place. Richie had showed up and, before his interview even started, convinced a couple to rent four movies, buy an armful of snacks, and sign up for their rewards program. Mark’s brother hired him on the spot and he got promoted to shift lead after his first day because of his ‘unique spirit’, which Eddie’s pretty sure is referring to his inability to shut the fuck up that makes some customers so uncomfortable that they rent things just to get him to stop talking. Eddie’s real proud. 

 

“So why do we have to go with you?” Ben asks.

 

“Because! We’re the three musketeers plus four! All for one and one for all!”

 

“Why wouldn’t you just say the seven musketeers?” Stan ask.

 

“C’mon guys,” Eddie says before Richie and Stan can start bickering, “Richie hardly ever asks anything of us and he wants us to go to this party with him so we’re gonna go.” Stan is still pouting and Eddie kicks him in the ankle. “Aren’t we Stan?”

 

“Ow, fucking yes, we’ll go,” he agrees, glaring at Eddie. 

 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Richie coos, pulling Eddie against him and kissing all over his face. “My baby knows how to get these kiddos in line.”

 

“And that’s my cue to go get ready,” Bev says. 

 

“Okay we leave in half an hour! Go team!”

 

Eddie drags Richie into their room and starts going through their closet, searching for something that’s appropriate to wear. What the fuck do people wear to parties? Is there an unofficial dress code he needs to be aware of? He voices his concerns to Richie who reassures him that anything will do. 

 

“That’s not actually helpful,” Eddie grumbles. 

 

“Just wear whatever makes you comfortable. Seriously, it’s chill, babe. I’m just stopping by, staying as long as I need to appease Mark, and then we’re bouncing.”

 

Eddie lowers the two shirts he was holding up to himself in the mirror and looks at Richie. “You really don’t want to go to this thing, huh? You usually don’t mind parties, why is this one different?”

 

Richie picks at some non-existent lint on their bed. “It’s not really my crowd. Plus I really did want to hang with you guys tonight, so I figured even if it’s not our first choice, we can still manage to make it fun.”

 

He can tell that Richie is leaving something out, but he’d tell him if it was important. Richie’s incapable of keeping anything to himself, which is why any secret Richie knows becomes a secret Richie and Eddie know.

 

“Okay, sap.” He picks up Richie’s hand and gives it a small kiss before turning back to the closet. “I’m thinking this shirt.” He strips off his old shirt and pulls on the new one with it’s wide navy and yellow stripes while Richie cat calls him from the bed.

 

“You look cute, Eds.”

 

“Shut up, I wear this all the time,” he says, tucking the shirt into his pants. 

 

“Yeah and you look cute all the time. Cute, cute, cute.”

 

“Alright Romeo, I get it, I’m cute.”

 

“I do think one thing could make you even cuter.”

 

“I’m not letting you give me a hickey, they just gave us shit for that.”

 

“Wow, it’s like you think I only have one thing on my mind. I can multitask, I’ll have you know.”

 

“Fine, what is it?”

 

Richie slips off his denim jacket, now almost completely covered in patches and pins, and holds it out. Eddie’s caught off guard by the offer; it’s not that Richie is protective of the jacket, per say, but it’s almost always draped over him, like a second skin. The patches he’s added over the years are pure Richie and the few times Eddie’s worn it, it felt like he was wrapped up in him. He slowly slides his arms into the sleeves and adjusts it, turning to the mirror. It looks good on him, adds a little originality to his otherwise average style. Richie pulls him to his side and rests his chin on Eddie’s head. 

 

“We look pretty good together, huh?” And he means it. Richie’s lanky body towers over Eddie’s shorter frame, and his pale skin stands out against the sun kissed glow Eddie’s gained since moving here. More than anything, they look happy-- just as happy as they were at six years old, dreaming of this future. He can’t help the soft look he gives Richie in the mirror.  

 

“We’ve always looked good together. Personally, I think that’s mostly thanks to you. Hard to look bad standing next to a guy who looks like a movie star.”

 

Eddie laughs. “For the last time, I do not look like Anthony Perkins. Besides, if I look like a movie star, you look like a rockstar,” he says, tugging a strand of Richie’s long hair.

 

“Guess it’s perfect that we ended up in LA then,” Richie replies, patting a beat against Eddie’s belly. He sways them to the beat while Eddie giggles softly. 

 

Bill knocks on their door and pops his head into the room. “You were the one who said half an hour, so let’s get a move on and get this over with.”

 

Richie takes Eddie’s hand and twirls him around dramatically. “Let’s go have some fun, Prince Charming.”

 

* * *

 

Eddie is not going to have fun. The party is loud; that’s the only thing Eddie can focus on as they walk into the huge house that’s overflowing with college students. They’ve set up speakers and are blasting Nirvana, forcing people to yell to be heard over the music, and the dim lighting is made worse by a haze of smoke that reeks of weed. As soon as they step into the living room, the song switches to ‘Nuthin but a G Thang’ and some girls in the corner start screaming and jumping around.

 

“Those girls are in my econ class and I heard the blonde one say they should be careful leaving open bags around me ‘cuz I’m black. And now they’re dancing around to hip hop and singing the n-word,” Mike says, shaking his head.

 

“Jesus. You want me to sic Eddie on them?” Richie offers.

 

“Nah, man. I know he’d do some serious damage.”

 

“Yeah, they deserve some serious damage, what the fuck, Mike? Why didn’t you tell us?”

 

“Eddie, if I told you every time I had to deal with racism, it would be all we talked about.”

 

Bev rubs his arm. “We’re here if you need us. And if you need me to find a drink that I can ‘accidentally’ spill on the blonde demon, I’ll happily do it. Happily.”

 

“Thanks guys, but I’m good. Really.”

 

They all gather in a corner awkwardly while Richie looks around for Mark. “As soon as I see him, I’ll go over, talk him up to that girl, and then we can head to that theater that plays the classics. I think they’re doing--”

 

Stan lets out a happy little noise that sounds like a bird, making the losers all snicker. He doesn’t even notice them as he takes off towards the kitchen.

 

“I think you broke him, Rich. He couldn’t even get through one conversation without a drink,” Ben jokes.

 

“He might have the right idea with that,” Bev says. “You boys want some booze to help ease the next hour?”

 

Before Eddie can go off about the dangers of alcohol and why they shouldn’t be drinking underage, Stan comes back. Only this time he’s with someone. A girl someone. 

 

Oh please don’t say-- 

 

“This is Patty!”

 

God damn it. 

 

The losers greet her excitedly as Stan introduces them. Eddie watches Mike out of the corner of his eye and he’s keeping it together pretty well, but if Eddie thought he lost his shine when Stan talked about her, it’s nothing compared to now. He’s back to holding onto his arm and trying to blend in with the wall. 

 

“So Patty, are you from around here?”

 

“No, actually I grew up in the midwest. My parents owned a farm,” she explains. 

 

Eddie coughs and Richie starts fidgeting beside him. He recognizes that movement; it’s Richie’s ‘I-so-badly-want-to-say-something-but-I’m-trying-to-keep-it-inside’ fidget, and he squeezes his hand in warning. 

 

“That’s cool,” Eddie manages to get out. “Did you and Stan have a nice time at dinner last week?”

 

“Oh, it was the best. That diner was awesome. I’ve been vegan for about a year now and it’s hard to find good places to eat sometimes.”

 

A quiet wheeze escapes Richie and he loudly says, “Oh look, it’s Mark! I have to leave now!”

 

Eddie steps in closer to Mike who is…staring at the wall?

 

This kid has really got to work on his acting skills. 

 

“So did Stan invite you or was this just a happy coincidence?” Bev asks.

 

“Oh no, just a coincidence. I’m friends with one of the girls in the sorority.” Bev wrinkles her nose. “I know, I know, some of them are the worst. That’s why I was surprised to see Stan here, I didn’t think this was his scene. Are you friends with someone in the house?”

 

“Richie dragged us along. He knew some guy and got invited. And apparently where one of us goes, the other six follow,” Bill explains. 

 

“I have to say, I was amazed when Stan told me how long you guys have known each other. I don’t know anyone who's that close to their childhood friends, especially not in college. Two of my freshman roommates were best friends before coming to UCLA and by the end of the year they hated each other.”

 

“Well that won’t happen with us,” Stan says resolutely. 

 

“Yeah, losers stick together,” Mike says. They’re the first words he’s spoken since Patty joined them and they’re said in such a grave tone that it’s immediately back to being awkward.

 

Thanks, Mikey. 

 

“Losers?”

 

“It’s what we call ourselves. You’re looking at the official losers club. Minus one,” Ben says. 

 

“Aw, you shouldn’t call yourselves losers, you all seem great.”

 

“We know we’re losers, and we always will be,” Mike says, still avoiding eye contact.

 

Bev and Ben have a silent conversation between themselves and Bev says, “Well this has been a blast, truly, but I think me and my boy are gonna go find something to drink.”

 

“I’ll go with you,” Bill says quickly. “It was nice meeting you, Patty.”

 

They leave and Eddie’s stuck with the love triangle that only he and Mike know is a love triangle. Fuck this shit; he failed geometry for a reason. 

 

“So Mike, Stan tells me you want to become a librarian.”

 

“Maybe, yeah.”

 

“UCLA has a great library science graduate program. I know it’s pretty far off for you but--”

 

“I’m sorry, does that drink have alcohol in it?” Mike interrupts.

 

“Uh, yeah? It’s jungle juice, it has a lot of alcohol in it.”

 

“Where’d you get it?”

 

“There’s a big bucket of it outside,” she says, clearly confused by the sudden shift in conversation. 

 

Mike nods and takes off without saying goodbye, leaving a hurt looking Stan behind. 

 

“I--I’m sorry about him, I think he hit his head earlier today and it’s been making him wacky. I’m gonna go check on him,” Eddie says. 

 

He heads in the direction that Mike went but the sprawling sorority house is packed and by the time he finds him, Mike’s reaching the end of a red solo cup. He’d chugged it so fast there’s trails dripping down the corners of his mouth. 

 

Mike reaches for a second cup and drinks half of it before Eddie can wrestle it away.

 

“Noooo, he was on a roll little dude! Three cups in under a minute is mad impressive!” some trashed frat boy yells.

 

Oh great, it was his third. Also ‘little dude’? Seriously?

 

Eddie ignores him in favor of laying into Mike. “What the hell! Are you really going to get drunk right now? That’s your solution?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“Mike--” Eddie wants to go off on him, but it’s hard when he looks so sad. He’s even got the puppy dog eyes going, the bastard. He sighs. “I get that this is rough, and I feel for you, but this?” He lifts the cup and shakes it. “Not the answer. You hardly ever drink and who knows what’s in here.”

 

“It’s got rum, gin, tequila, vodka...” The frat guy starts listing off the frankly lethal amount of alcohol in the juice and Eddie face screws up. 

 

He takes a small whiff of the drink and rears back. “This shit smells like paint thinner!”

 

“It just tasted like juice going down, but it doesn’t feel like juice in my stomach,” Mike says, grimacing. 

 

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re gonna get some food to soak up the booze, drink a little water, and find a nice quiet corner to hunker down in until we leave. Understood?”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Good.” Eddie grabs his arm and leads the way back through the throng of drunk college students to the tiny kitchen. 

 

The room is only slightly less busy than the rest of the house, but at least the walls mute some of the blaring music. He releases a breath and grabs the whole bowl of pretzels from the island.

 

“You aren’t supposed to take the whole thing,” says some girl from the corner. She’s surrounded by other girls, one of whom looks familiar. He’s pretty sure it’s the idiot who flirted with Richie at lunch the other week-- Stacy, or whatever.  

 

“Uh-oh, she’s gonna get the wrath of Eddie,” Mike says, swaying where he stands. His eyes are significantly glassier than before. Eddie tries to ignore her and focus on getting Mike somewhere he can sit down, but she moves to block the doorway.

 

“Is that Richie Tozier’s jacket?”

 

Eddie doesn’t like how she’s assessing him. Also who the fuck is she and why does she recognizes Richie’s jacket in a dimly lit room?  

 

“Yeah, and?”

 

“Oh my god, Jess! This is the kid I was telling you about!” 

 

“Nice to see you again, Stacy,” Eddie says flatly. 

 

“It’s Tracy .”

 

“Yeah, I really don’t care.”

 

“So you’re the one who thinks he’s married to Richie?”

 

Thinks? Thinks? He holds up his left hand, the ring now perfectly fitted to his finger, and points at it. “Yeah. Pretty sure we’re married.” He leaves off the ‘bitch’ at the end because Bev would give him a twitty twister if she heard, but it’s implied.

 

“It’s true, they are married,” Mike says cheerfully. “I was the one who married them. To the sweet sound of Al Green. And I said--” He starts laughing. “I said mattress homie, Eddie do you remember that?” 

 

Eddie has to catch him when he laughs so hard he falls over. “Jesus Christ, Mikey.”

 

“Gays can’t get married,” she sneers. 

 

“What are you, the fucking hetero police? Go to hell.”

 

“I’m just saying. That whole thing isn’t real. Like, legally speaking. Plus we’re super young-- stuff like that doesn’t last. The whole high school sweethearts thing is tragically lame. Most guys don’t stick around when they’ve finally got options.”

 

She looks deeply satisfied and it makes Eddie want to douse her in jungle juice and light a match.

 

“You don’t know shit about Richie, or about us.”

 

“I know that he doesn’t have a ring and that he’s never mentioned being married. It’s not hard to read between the lines. You know, if I were you I’d be kind of embarrassed. You’re hanging on to this little fantasy and Richie already has one foot out the door. I just don’t know that I could stay with someone who wouldn’t even bother with a ring, the simplest way to let people know you’re taken. I guess that’s not the message he wants to be sending. How sad for you.”

 

“What’s sad is that you’re clearly so into Richie, but he’ll never be into you. You’re lame and probably not funny, and if you’re hanging out with Stacy, I don’t imagine you’ve got much going on upstairs. I’m sure you had some grand scheme, but lemme make one thing clear: there is nothing you could do that would make Richie look at you twice. Now move.”

 

She looks furious, but steps aside. Eddie grabs Mike’s arm, bowl of pretzels cradled in his elbow, and yanks him through the rooms until he finds an unoccupied couch. He shoves Mike onto it and hands him the bowl.

 

“Eat.”

 

He sits down and fumes as Mike crunches away on the snack. Fuck her. Fuck her whole thing. She thinks because she’s sort of pretty, if you squint and tilt your head, that she can just get what she wants? It’s bad enough that all these girls are fawning over Richie without them dragging him into it like that. Who hears that someone is married and then verbally attacks their spouse? Does she think Eddie’s not going to mention it to Richie? He definitely is! And Eddie may not be good at flirting, but he’s one hundred percent positive that talking shit to someone’s husband is not an effective technique. She clearly doesn’t know Rich at all, or she’d know that getting on Eddie’s good side is the easiest way to gain his affections. And what, she was going to try to break them up? Was it some mind game to make Eddie so insecure that he fucks up their relationship? Or was she just planning on getting Richie to cheat with her? 

 

He’s so mad he could rip his hair out, but his internal rant is cut short by Mike’s quiet laughter. His eyes are closed and he’s shoving pretzels into his mouth, giggling to himself. 

 

Eddie nudges him and raises a brow in question. 

 

“You--” Mike loses himself to laughter. “You’re Bert.”

 

“What?”

 

Mike’s almost crying from whatever nonsense he’s trying to communicate. “When you get mad. I always thought it looked familiar and it’s Bert. And Richie is Ernie. Bert and Ernie. You’re a muppet,” he says, poking above Eddie’s eye. “Angry brow.”

 

“You’re the least funny person I know.”

 

“That’s not true! Stan isn’t funny either!”

 

“Yeah, you two deserve each other.”

 

“Tell him that.”

 

“Okay.” Eddie makes as if he’s going to get up, and panic flashes across Mike’s face.

 

“No, Eddie, don’t!”

 

He laughs. “I’m just kidding, Mikey. I’m not that evil.”

 

“You aren’t evil, you’re the best. You’re my best friend, do you know that?”

 

“I sure do. You’re my best friend too, bud.”

 

“And you’re the best husband. Did you hear what that girl was saying back there?”

 

“When she was speaking directly to me? Yeah, I caught bits and pieces of it.”

 

“Man, she’s nuts, huh? She’s gotta be--” Mike twirls his finger by his head. “Loco, ‘cuz you and Richie are super in love. I’ve never seen a better couple, and my parents are so in love it’s gross. Do you want to know something?”

 

“Hit me.”

 

Mike leans in like he’s telling a secret. “I always hoped that if me and Stan were ever in love, we’d be as great as you and Richie.”

 

“What?” 

 

“Yeah, ‘cuz you guys, like… okay so, I read all the time, right? And all these writers have written all these stories about these couples and they’re supposed to be the most romantic thing in the world, but I have never read about any love that compares to yours.”

 

“Wow, Mike, that’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said. You really think that?” 

 

“Yeah, but I’m drunk so what do I know?”

 

Aaaaand the moment’s over. Thank god, because Eddie really did not want to cry at a sorority party. 

 

“How ‘bout some water?”

 

“Yes, please,” he says sweetly. 

 

“Oh, a drunk with manners, that’s a first.” Eddie stands up. “I’ll be right back. Do not move.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“And behave,” he says, pointing a finger menacingly. 

 

“Whatever Bert says.”

 

Eddie turns his back on Mike’s ridiculous grin and heads to the kitchen. Thankfully the pack of girls has moved on and he can get some water in peace. Or as peacefully as one can when there’s music and yelling and smoke and shitty flashing lights. 

 

He had a feeling that leaving Mike there alone was going to be trouble, but it isn’t until he turns the corner and sees Stan that he knows why. Stan is at the other end of the room, Patty in his arms, and they’re kissing. Nothing too outrageous, but his stomach drops and he whips his head to the couch where Mike should be. Where he should be, but isn’t. 

 

Shit. 

 

He rushes over to the pair of guys now occupying the couch. “Hey did you see the kid who was sitting here before?”

 

“Black kid?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yeah, he rushed out the front door real fast.”

 

Double shit. 

 

Eddie bolts outside and looks around frantically, hoping to catch sight of him. For once during this godforsaken night, luck is on his side. Mike is halfway down the street but Eddie can make out his silhouette and he runs after him. 

 

“Mike! Mikey!”

 

He ignores Eddie and keeps walking. Eddie huffs, speeding to catch up, and grabs his arm. “What the fuck, dude! You can’t just take off like that, you’re drunk--”

 

“The cold air sobered me up.”

 

“--and where exactly were you planning on going? The apartment is like twenty minutes away. By car!”

 

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t be in there anymore.”

 

“So you just left without saying anything to me? How were any of us supposed to know where you went? And if you were okay? Like, all these drunk people, statistically some of them are gonna drive drunk and what if they’d hit you! Or you could have gotten lost, I mean, we’ve never been over here before and your judgment is impaired! Cops too, if they saw you stumbling down the street, they’d pick you up, and you know how much I worry--”

 

“Eddie, Eddie, I’m sorry. You’re right, okay, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry.” Mike pulls him into a hug.

 

Eddie closes his eyes. “I know you didn’t.” 

 

He pinches Mike’s side.

 

“Ow!” 

 

“That’s for being a buttface.”

 

“I guess I deserved that,” Mike concedes. He looks at his feet. “I don’t know if you saw Stan.”

 

“Yeah, I saw,” Eddies say softly. 

 

“Yeah, so I guess it’s time to move on.”

 

“What? Just because they were kissing? He’s eighteen and making up for lost time, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are deep feelings involved. You of all people should know that considering your first kiss was Richie.”

 

“That was during spin the bottle, Eddie. This isn’t a game, this is Stan choosing her.”

 

“It’s one girl and one kiss at one stupid party!”

 

“Eddie! This is the sign! This is the universe saying ‘See! They’re meant to be together!’” Mike yells.

 

“Stop being so dramatic, that’s my job!”

 

“I love you, but you don’t get it. You met Richie and everything fell into place and now you get to live happily ever after. But it’s not that easy for the rest of us. I was too scared to tell him how I feel and now he’s halfway in love with this Patty girl, who looks beautiful and is probably as amazing as Stan and I bet she loves birds and wants to have little Jewish babies with him.”

 

“They barely know each other! You’re a loser-- whatever crush he has means nothing compared to what he feels for you. And yeah, I lucked out with Richie but saying everything fell into place isn’t exactly true. My mom hates me, in case you forgot.”

 

“Yeah but you were so sure about Richie that you took that chance. I’m not sure about Stan. I mean, I’m sure about my feelings, but I’m not sure about his, so I can’t risk it. The losers mean everything to me and I can’t put our friendship on the line like that.”

 

“C’mon, give us more credit than that. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could tear us apart. Except if we got, like, amnesia and forgot each other, and even then I think we’d find a way back to each other. Worst case scenario is that Stan doesn’t feel the same and it’s a little awkward between you guys for a bit. It wouldn’t be forever and the rest of us would be there to ease the tension, and eventually you’d go back to normal. But at least if you tell him, you’ll know for sure and can move on. It hurts to see you upset like this, Mikey. If Stan is stupid enough to pass on you then you need to go out there and find a guy who can appreciate what a catch you are.”

 

Mike scuffs his shoes on the pavement. “You’re just saying that because you wanna have sex with me.”

 

“Ahh, there’s that terrible sense of humor I love so much.”

 

“Sorry, I know I haven’t been a great friend tonight.”

 

“You’re always a good friend, Mike. It’s in your blood, like some superhero shit,” Eddie argues.

 

“I don’t think Stan would agree with you right now.”

 

“So why don’t we go back inside and you can apologize.”

 

Mike nods, wrapping his arm around Eddie’s shoulders and leading them back to the party. “I don’t really know what to say to him that isn’t too honest.”

 

“Well if you aren’t going to be honest-- which, for the record, I think you should-- then you can lie and say you hit your head. It’s the excuse I gave when you were weird earlier and we might as well keep the drama going at this point. 

 

“I’ve never been dramatic in my life.”

 

“Oh no, never. The full presentation you gave us on why we should go vegan was not at all dramatic. I, for one, thought the graphic pictures of animal processing plants were very casual.”

 

“Hey, it convinced Stan. And Bev doesn’t eat meat anymore,” Mike points out. 

 

“For once the drama worked. Don’t tell Richie it’s possible though or he’ll never stop, and I’d really like to avoid a murder-suicide situation.”

 

They enter the living room and find Stan with Bill, Bev, and Ben; Patty is nowhere in sight and Mike visibly relaxes. 

 

“So...apology time?” Eddie prods.

 

“Yeah. Hopefully he’ll actually buy the whole ‘hitting my head’ thing. Should I play it up and rub my head or something?”

 

“Please don’t subject any of us to your acting. It’s so bad, Mikey. It’s really, really bad.”

 

“Okay, fine.”

 

They go to join the others and Eddie looks around for Richie; it’s weird that he’s not with the rest of them. 

 

“There you guys are! We were wondering where you ran off to.” Bev’s arms are linked through Ben and Bill’s. 

 

“Oh, Mike needed some fresh air. He bumped his head earlier and the smoke was giving him a headache. Right?” Eddie says, nudging Mike subtly. 

 

“Yeah, that’s-- that’s what happened.”

 

Eddie has to hold back a pained face. You’d think after all these years and all the shenanigans they’ve gotten into together, his acting would have improved. It hasn’t though. In fact, it might be getting worse if Stan eyeing them up is any indication. 

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“I’m okay, thanks Stan. I’m sorry about earlier, my head was killing me and I uh-- I thought maybe alcohol would help?”

 

“You drank with a head injury?” Stan asks, alarmed.

 

“I mean, I don’t know that I would call it a head injury, I just hit it on the cabinet door,” Mike says, but Stan is already reaching up and feeling around on his head. He starts asking Mike a bunch of questions and telling him to follow his finger like he’s got a fucking concussion. Yeesh, and they say Eddie’s bad.

 

Stan glares at him. “Aren’t you a nursing student? You should have been watching him better.”

 

Eddie’s jaw drops. “I--” He can’t tell Stan it’s a faked injury, especially when Mike finally has a smile on his face from the attention. He huffs. “You’re so right, Stan. My bad,” he says tightly. 

 

He turns back to the other three who are watching in amusement. “What’d you guys get up to?”

 

“We found the attic.”

 

“And you went into it?”

 

“Yep. And we rearranged. The next person who goes up there is going to be greeted by a terrifyingly human looking shadow in the corner,” Bev says with a smile. 

 

“Plus we found some paint. There may or may not be some satanic symbols on the walls and floors now,” Bill adds. 

 

“And you went along with this, Ben?”

 

He shrugs. “One of the girls in the sorority called me Porky as we were heading upstairs. I’m not too concerned.”

 

“They’re getting off easy then. Did you happen to see Richie anywhere during your graffiti adventure?”

 

“I think I saw him upstairs talking to some girls.”

 

He sighs. “Probably his fan club. I’m gonna go grab him so we can get the fuck out of here.”

 

“Hey, if you see any of the sorority girls on your way up, will you tell them that you heard some weird noises coming from the attic?”

 

“Can do,” Eddie says with a laugh.

 

He heads up the stairs, narrowly avoiding getting a drink spilled on him, but he only cusses out two people so he’s going to count that as a win. Apparently his luck has run out because Richie’s nowhere to be seen. Eddie’s trying not to get annoyed with him, but it’s Friday and he’s tired and cranky and he just wants to leave and end this shitty night. 

 

Eddie reaches the end of the hallway and is ready to start banging pots and pans together and shouting his name; they’ve been here way longer than Richie said they would and he spent the whole night hanging out with other people. He’s about to head back down but he sees that one of the bedroom doors is cracked and he can hear voices coming from inside. He pops his head inside just to check and lo and behold, Richie’s in there. With the girl from the kitchen. Alone.

 

Eddie watches as Richie stumbles, trying to move so the bed is between them. “I’ve told you I’m not interested. Like, several times.”

 

“I find that hard to believe,” she says, slinking across the room. 

 

“What, you need it signed and notarized?” Richie picks up a pillows and holds it like a shield. 

 

She giggles. “No, I need you to say yes. How many times do I have to offer before you’ll finally take me up on it?”

 

“You could ask a billion and one times, I’m telling you there is no chance in fuckin’ hell.”

 

“C’mon, I promise to make it worth it.” She starts to climb onto the bed, but he throws the pillow at her.

 

“I’m married!”

 

“Pff, hardly. If playground marriages counted, we’d all be cheaters.”

 

“Something tells me you wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Eddie says, stepping fully into the room.

 

“Eds!” Richie whips his head around so fast that his glasses nearly fall off. 

 

Eddie stares down Jess who seems to feel no shame.

 

“I told you guys don’t stick around long when there’s better options,” she says with a smirk.

 

“You think I didn’t hear him turn you down multiple times? Did you bring him in here just to prove me right?”

 

“He’s only turning me down because you’re around. You should see him in class, he pretty much spends the whole time flirting with me.”

 

“Hey! That’s--”

 

Eddie holds a hand up to stop Richie, not breaking eye contact with Jess. “He said he’s not interested. So either you back the fuck off, or I make you regret it.” 

 

“What the hell are you gonna do?”

 

“I don’t know, but I’ve got five very resourceful friends, so whatever it is, I’ll get away with it.”

 

She looks to Richie for support but his eyes are on the floor. She huffs, stomping her foot like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and pushes past Eddie. She pauses by the door just long enough to say, “You’re gonna regret turning me down, Richie. I could have been the best you ever had.”

 

Eddie scoffs and flips her off. 

 

When they’re alone in the room, he reaches out and grabs Richie’s hand. “Hey, you okay?”

 

Richie clears his throat. “Yeah. I’m sorry, she cornered me. I’d been trying to avoid her.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

 

“I don’t know,” Richie says, still looking down at his shoes.

 

“Bullshit. You tell me everything, even things I don’t want to hear about, like what your shits look like or when you get awkward boners.”

 

“You gotta admit, the one in the pet store was weird.”

 

“Richie, stop. I know there’s a reason you never even mentioned it, so spit it out.”

 

He adjusts his glasses. “I was worried.”

 

“About what?”

 

“I was worried you’d think I did something to lead her on.”

 

“Richie—“

 

“I never wanna upset you. I kinda made a promise not to when I was six, y’know? And I was worried that if I told you about her, you’d think maybe I was flirting or joking too much with her but I wasn’t. You’re it for me, I don’t even notice anyone else.”

 

“I know, Rich—“

 

“And I don’t want you thinking otherwise. ‘Cuz that would bum me out so much, dude.” He sniffles and rubs at his eye. “Being your husband is like the one thing I’m sure about. I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, but I know what I’m good at and that’s loving you. I am so good at loving you, and it’s what I’ll be proud of when we’re 90 and holding hands in our hospital beds, and I couldn’t stand the thought of you thinking any differently or trusting me any less and so I just didn’t say anything at all and I’m so sorry Eddie, don’t be mad.”

 

“Oh Richie, baby, I’m not mad, I promise. I was just worried. Don’t cry, okay?”

 

Richie nods sadly, a few tears rolling down his cheeks.

 

Eddie holds Richie’s face in his hands. “I trust you completely. You don’t have to explain anything to me, because I know you and I know that you would never do something to hurt me. You know how I know that?”

 

Richie shakes his head.

 

“Because I would never do anything to hurt you either. We’re in this together-- partners, remember? And after all this time, you have to know that I’ll be on your side no matter what, just like you’re on mine. Have I ever given you a reason to think otherwise?”

 

He shakes his head again.

 

“So talk to me next time, okay? I get that you were nervous but you never have to worry about us. I know you love me because you show me everyday and worrying about it is just a waste of time. And also it’s definitely my thing, dude, please leave it to the professionals.”

 

Richie lets out a weak chuckle. “It is your thing and you’re really good at it.”

 

“Yeah but you always know how to bring me back down. Sure the breathing exercises help, but what really grounds me is knowing that you’re there for me and that you love me regardless of my crazy brain. I can handle anything with you by my side.”

 

Riche presses his lips to Eddie’s temple. “They should make little pills from our love, like they do with placentas.”

 

“Ew! What the fuck, Richie? Why would that be your comparison?”

 

He starts laughing and makes an exaggerated shrug. “I read about it last week.”

 

“Where?”

 

“Reader’s Digest.”

 

They laugh so hard that they accidentally knock heads, which only makes them laugh harder.

 

“You’re so stupid,” Eddie tells him and loops his arms around his neck to pull him into a sweet, slow kiss. “You feeling better now?” he asks when they finally pull apart. 

 

“Nah, not quite yet,” Richie says with a smile. “But I think if you gimme a little more sugar, I’ll be right as rain.”

 

They lean in, but their matching grins make it impossible to kiss. “Stop smiling, idiot.”

 

“You first, dingus.”

 

Eddie steps back and offers Richie his hand. “C’mon, let’s go and collect our friends. I think we can still make the last showing at the theater and turn this garbage night around.”

 

“Sounds perfect.”

 

* * *

 

Eddie’s not feeling too generous the next morning considering what a shit show the night was, which is why he barges into Mike’s room at exactly eight o’clock, puts his mouth right next to his ear and yells, “WAKE UP.”

 

Mike bolts up in bed, but he’s on the bottom bunk so he smacks his head; he groans and clutches his forehead. “What the hell, Eddie?”

 

“Oops. I guess now the whole bumping your head thing isn’t a lie. Maybe you can get Stan to rub it some more,” Eddie says loudly and Mike hisses at the volume. 

 

Karma.

 

“Why are you in here so early on a Saturday?”

 

“Because we have an errand to run.”

 

“No, no, no.” Mike slides a pillow over his face, muffling the protests. 

 

Eddie grabs the pillow and throws it across the room. “Yes, yes, yes. I need help with something and I think you owe me for last night.”

 

“I do, I know I do, but please Eds, not this morning. Now that I don’t live on a farm, I finally get to sleep in. Don’t take that away from me.”

 

“Should have thought of that before you acted like an idiot. Get up. We leave in fifteen minutes and you’re driving.”

 

Eddie’s not really expecting Mike to be ready that quickly, but at exactly 8:17, Mike meets him by the truck, still shovelling a toaster waffle in his mouth. He must feel pretty bad about the party.

 

“Do I ever get to know what this errand is or are you still punishing me?”

 

“Just take the next left,” Eddie says. He gives him more directions before finally telling him to park. 

 

“A shopping center? If you wanted fashion advice, you probably should have gone to Bev.”

 

“I’m not getting clothes. There’s a jewelry store in here.”

 

“Okay? Are you looking for a new accessory?” Mike asks. “Because I have to say, I’m not sure you can pull off serious bling.”

 

“Not for me, idiot. Richie didn’t want me to say anything, but last night that girl from the kitchen, you know the awful one? She came onto him and I guess she’s been, like, aggressively hitting on him in class and stuff. Anyways, it was a whole thing but it made me realize that he doesn’t have a ring-- I mean, he’s got the decoder ring that he wears on a necklace, but that doesn’t exactly scream ‘symbol of my devoted loved’ y’know. So I decided that I should finally get him an actual adult, grown up wedding ring. Grown ups don’t use the term ‘grown ups’ do they? Nevermind, not the point.”

 

Mike is beaming which Eddie takes as a good sign. 

 

“Richie’s going to cry,” Mike says, delighted. 

 

Eddie laughs. “So you’ll help?” 

 

“You really want me to?” 

 

“Yeah, Mikey. I trust your opinion. Plus you’re the best with secrets so I don’t have to worry about you spoiling the surprise.”

 

“Ah, a strategic move, I see.”

 

They head into the store, and Eddie can’t help but ask. “Did you mean it?”

 

“Mean what?”

 

“That I couldn’t pull off bling,” he says playfully.

 

“Oh, did that hurt your feelings?” Mike says, laughing. “I don’t know, you got that stunner ring-- it would be hard to top.”

 

Eddie smiles down at his wedding ring. “It would be.”

 

He remembers the first time it had fit. It was during their senior year and Eddie couldn’t sleep, too worried about telling his mom about Richie and LA. Richie was asleep beside him and he’d been idly playing with the ring. He hadn’t tried it on in years and out of curiosity, he unclasped the chain and slid the ring onto his left hand. Seeing the ring sitting perfectly on his finger, he felt like a piece of the puzzle had clicked into place, and when Richie mumbled his name and pulled him closer, he knew that all the stress about telling his mom would be worth it; they were worth it. Once they moved to California, Eddie started wearing it all the time and being able to look down and see it-- he can’t even explain how it makes him feel. It’s his grounding stone in times of stress and a beautiful reminder that he belongs by Richie’s side. It’s comfort and peace and knowing that at the end of the day, he gets to go home to a loving husband who makes all the bullshit worth it. Richie deserves to know that feeling too. 

 

As soon as they get inside, Eddie’s anxiety skyrockets. Everything is in glass cases that look one untied shoelace away from disaster, and the sales associates are wearing suits and ties like this is a business meeting or something. One guy is helping a customer and he’s wearing gloves while handling the rings. Gloves. 

 

“Mikey, I think I made a mistake. We don’t belong here,” Eddie says, grabbing onto Mike’s sleeve. 

 

“Of course we do.” Mike walks right up to the counter and says, “Excuse me, we’re hoping you can help us find a wedding ring.”

 

The man, clearly a professional, only nods. “Of course. Anything specific you’re looking for?”

 

Mike turns to Eddie. 

 

“Uhhh, I’m pretty open to anything.”

 

“I can pull out our most popular rings and see if we can find the one for your lucky lady.”

 

“Oh, it’s actually a lucky man.” Eddie hasn’t hidden his sexuality since he left his mother’s house and he isn’t going to start now. 

 

The associate stares at them blankly and for a moment Eddie worries he’s going to be asked to leave, but then the man blinks twice and a smile overtakes his face. 

 

“How wonderful! I’ve been with my partner for fifteen years and I can’t tell you how nice it is to see young people being so open. Let me go pull out a couple of drawers with rings more suited to your needs and I’ll be right back.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“Yeah. Three more years and you’ll be married for as long as that old guy.”

 

Eddie smacks him. “Shut up. You’re just mad I got a head start.”

 

The man comes back carrying two trays of rings, all perfectly arranged in velvet rows. “Now these are some of our more simple, masculine looking options. As you can see, we’ve got a variety of metals, a few with some gemstones, and some with more unique designs. I’ll let you two browse these options and I’ll be right over there if you have any questions.”

 

Mike and Eddie start looking at the rings, although Eddie is too scared to touch them. 

 

“Do all of these seem too boring to you?” Mike asks holding up one of the multiple plain wedding bands. 

 

“Pretty much. I don’t want anything outrageous, but Richie needs something special.” That’s when his eyes land on a ring with a strip of wood running down the center. “Hey, what do you think of this?”

 

Mike nods in approval. “I like that. Nothing crazy, but it’s different, and Richie can make a lot of jokes about his wood. Kind of perfect.”

 

“Excuse me, sir. How much is this one?”

 

The man comes back over, slips on the white gloves and drops the ring into his palm. “Very nice choice. This ring is made of platinum with a maple wood inlay, and it’s priced at four hundred dollars.”

 

Eddie’s eyes widen and Mike sucks in a deep breath beside him. “Hmm, interesting, interesting,” Eddie says, playing nonchalant. “Do you have it in any other metal?”

 

“I’m afraid this is a custom design made solely with the platinum.”

 

Mike tugs on his elbow. “Excuse us for just a moment, we need a quick sidebar.”

 

“Sidebar?” Eddie asks as Mike pulls him a few feet away. 

 

“It’s a thing in court. I don’t know, Stan explained it and it made sense.”

 

“Oh Stan explained it did he?”

 

“Shush. How much do you have for a ring?”

 

“I saved up two hundred,” Eddie grimaces. 

 

“Okay that’s not bad, but I’m getting the feeling you won’t find what you’re looking for in your price range.”

 

“Yeah, I kind of figured that out too, Mike, but thanks for the reminder.”

 

“Let me finish. So you probably can’t buy a unique ring, but I think we could make one.”

 

“What? Really?”

 

“Yeah, I mean, you liked the wood on that one and I think we could make it happen. It’ll have to be just wood, but all you would need is the right tools. I think. I can ask my dad, he’s good at woodworking stuff.”

 

“And we’d be able to get what we need for it, you think?”

 

“Yeah, I doubt it’s anything you can’t get from Home Depot or something.”

 

“Mike.” Eddie grasps his shoulders. “You’re a fucking genius.”

 

He blushes slightly. “I just want you to be able to do something special for Richie.”

 

“It’s perfect, oh my god. He really will cry. Thank you, thank you!” Eddie squeezes his middle tightly. “Now let’s tell this guy nevermind and get out before we somehow break everything.”

 

They tell the associate that they need more time to think before making such an important decision. 

 

“I completely understand. I do hope you’ll come back to us. And can I just say, I think you two make a lovely couple.”

 

The assumption has Eddie’s jaw dropping; what about them says couple? He’s like this with all the losers!

 

Oh god, do people think I’m dating my friends?

 

Mike beams at the man. “Thank you so much. We really have something special, don’t we honey bun?” he says, wrapping an arm around Eddie and shaking him. 

 

Eddie just grunts. 

 

Mike keeps his arm around Eddie as they exit the store. “So what should we do now, my vanilla swirl?” 

 

Eddie shoves him off. “Don’t ever call me either of those things again.”

 

“I’ve heard Richie use both of those and you looked at him like he hung the moon.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Eddie says, adjusting his shirt in embarrassment, “he’s my husband, there’s nothing I can do about the nicknames.”

 

“You like them!” Mike accuses him gleefully.

 

“No I don’t! Shut up!”

 

“You do! You like being Richie’s little belgium waffle! You want him to eat you up!”

 

Eddie tries to smack a hand over Mike’s mouth, but he dodges it and starts running toward the truck. 

 

“Get back here, asshole! I’m gonna kill you!” He ignores the glare of the old lady on the street and takes off after Mike. “I’m gonna tell Stan!”

 

He only gets laughter in return. Figures. 

 

* * *

 

They decide to do it at Eddie’s work, not only to keep it a secret but also because his boss has the weirdest shit in the back room. God knows why he needs a vise in a corner store but Eddie’s not going to question it when it’s coming in handy.

 

“Are you really the only person working here?” Mike asks, placing the box of supplies they’ve been gathering onto the counter. 

 

“Yep.”

 

“What if a customer comes in?”

 

“I’ve been here for about a month and that’s happened twice. I told a guy in my class that I work here and he cringed. No one comes to this dump.”

 

“I’m surprised you want to work in a place like this.” Mike looks around with a slight frown. 

 

“Yeah, well, no customers means I can get some homework done while I’m getting paid. Plus the owner is old as dirt and just kinda lets me do what I want. He might be a little crazy, though. Last week he came in and seemed surprised that I was actually here during my afternoon shift and then he just closed the store and made me eat lunch with him. And he keeps calling me Antonio. I think he thinks I’m his grandson or something, which is kind of sad, but if it means he keeps bringing me a bunch of food, I’m okay with it.”

 

“And he just keeps all this stuff in here? It’s like hoarders, how are you not going insane?”

 

Eddie shrugs. “It doesn’t bother me so much. It’s not like my mom’s house was much better. But Stan came by to visit the other week and he could only stand it for like a minute before he had to leave.”

 

“Yeah, this is pretty much his worst nightmare,” Mike says, pulling out all of the tools. “Alright, do you have the wood?”

 

“Got it.” Eddie holds up a gnarled chunk of wood. 

 

“Where’d you get that?”

 

“It’s from a trip I took with Richie’s family when we were younger. We went to a state park and it was my first time hiking and Richie said I needed something to remember it by. We spent the whole hike looking for the perfect thing but never found anything, so near the end of the trail Richie just picked up this weird shaped wood and made up some absolutely ridiculous story about it so I would think it was a good memento.”

 

“Please tell me you remember the story.”

 

“All I remember is that it involved a time travelling gnome and his pet snail.’

 

“Wow, you actually kept it for all these years and now you’re using it as a symbol of your love for him. This almost too much for me, oh my god.”

 

“Yes, our love is a miracle, blah blah blah. Now can we make this thing?”

 

“You better be nice to me,” Mike says, taking the wood, ”I’m the only one here who knows what they’re doing.”

 

“Apologies, oh wise one. Can we pretty please do the thing we’re here to do?”

 

“Much better.”

 

Eddie sits on a stool next to the bench. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“What’s your favorite thing about Stan?”

 

Mike stops tightening the vise and considers the question. “I love a lot of things about him, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be how thoughtful he is.”

 

“Hmm. I never thought of Stan as thoughtful.”

 

“He’s got a grouchy layer for sure, but he always considers the rest of us. He’s the reason you have those great pictures from your wedding and he bought those shower caps for the clubhouse so we wouldn’t get spiders in our hair. And he went vegan with me. Plus he’s always giving us recommendations for books and movies and they’re always perfect right?”

 

Eddie nods.

 

“It’s because he thinks things through, pays attention to the details. He’s always intentional in what he says and does, like with bird watching; every move matters to him because the wrong one could send the bird flying off. He’s like that with words, too. That’s why he’s so good at arguing and is going to be an amazing lawyer. He analyzes everything and chooses every word to matter. Except when Richie riles him up, that doesn’t count.”

 

“Yeah our boys love each other but they’re like... a cat and a dog.” 

 

Mike laughs. “Exactly. Stan is the grumpy cat who just wants to sit quietly in the same room as you.”

 

“And Richie is the overexcited dog who wants to jump all over you and lick your face.”

 

“He actually tried doing that the other day.”

 

“Yeah, he’s disgusting,” Eddie says fondly.

 

“So what’s your favorite thing about him?”

 

“You can’t tell him this, but it’s his humor.”

 

“Really?” 

 

“Yeah, I mean, sometimes it’s over the top or nasty or just fucking stupid, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need.” Eddie pulls his legs up onto the stool and wraps his arms around them. “It’s like his super power, I swear. He can use it to make people laugh or to break the ice, but sometimes he uses it as a weapon, y’know? Like all the crap he used to talk to Bowers and his gang. He always knew just where to hit to make it hurt because that’s what he does best-- talk. But it’s a shield, too. He starts with the jokes because it means he doesn’t have to be real and vulnerable, which, I’m not saying is always good, but man, sometimes I’d kill for the ability to protect myself like that.”

 

Mike just stares at him.

 

“What? What did I say?”

 

“Nothing, I just...I forget sometimes how you guys are. It’s special, the way you see each other so clearly.”

 

“I don’t think it’s just us. All that stuff you said about Stan? You see him clearly too.”

 

Mike shrugs. “I don’t know if that’s enough though.”

 

“And you’ll never know if you don’t ask.”

 

“Easy for you to say. Richie did it all for you before you were old enough to be insecure about it.”

 

“Yeah, I really lucked out. He’s a brave one, but you are too.”

 

“Okay, okay, enough trying to convince me to confess my feelings. You have his ring size?”

 

“Yep, wrote it down and everything,” Eddie confirms, pulling out a sticky note. “Thank god he sleeps like the dead. I waited ‘til he passed out so I didn’t have to come up with some weird excuse about why I needed his finger measurement.”

 

“Alright, then we just have to drill and sand and it should turn into a ring.” Mike looks nervous as he says it.

 

“You got this, Mikey. It’s going to be perfect and then I’ll be the one who owes you.”

 

Mike takes a deep breath and starts drilling. 

 

Turns out he had nothing to worry about because he gets through the drilling just fine. He switches the wood with the drill in the clamp, adding a sanding attachment, and steps aside, gesturing to Eddie.

 

“Me?”

 

“Yeah, I can’t do all of it or it won’t be a Kaspbrak original. You’re just using this to create the shape and smooth the rough edges that the drill made. The only thing you have to be careful about is keeping the ring size and I’ll be here to help.”

 

“Okay, yeah.” Eddie doesn’t move from the stool.

 

“You good?”

 

“Yeah, I just--” I don’t want to fuck this up. Richie deserves nice things and it’s the least I could do for the boy who made his heart my home. 

 

“It’ll be fine, Eds, I promise. Do you wanna do this ‘Ghost’ style?”

 

The mental image of Mike wrapping his arms around Eddie and guiding him through it is enough to break him out of his anxiety. He laughs and stands in front of the clamp. “No thanks, Swayze.” 

 

Mike turns the drill on. Eddie breathes in, breathes out, and lightly presses the wood down. 

 

It’s not so bad once Eddie gets going, even if it does take him twice as long as it would have taken Mike. He’s glad Mike made him take over; he’ll feel more accomplished when it’s done, knowing he had a hand in it.

 

When it finally looks like a ring, and they’ve triple checked the measurement, Mike hands him a small strip of sandpaper. “The finishing touches should be done by hand so you don’t mess up the size too much,” Mike explains, “and when you get it how you want it, we’ll rub some oil on it and top it with beeswax.”

 

“I really don’t know what I would have done without you, Mike. Thank you, seriously, Richie is gonna love this.”

 

“It was no problem,” Mike says warmly. “All I did was call my dad and he told me how to do it. And I already had half the stuff we needed.”

 

“So humble,” Eddie teases.

 

The bell on the store entrance rings and Eddie sighs. “Of course my third customer would be today.”

 

He gets up to greet them, but the curtain for the back room opens and his boss walks in. 

 

Oops.

 

Mr. Ramirez looks between Eddie and Mike and then to the table covered in wood shavings. There’s a long stretch of silence before Mr. Ramirez says, “This your boy?”

 

“No, this is my friend Mike. Mike, this is the owner, Mr. Ramirez.”

 

“It’s nice to meet you, sir.”

 

“He’s a good looking boy-- strong. Why is he not your husband?” Mr. Ramirez asks.

 

“Uhh, I guess my husband just called dibs first.”

 

Mike snorts and Mr. Ramirez assesses him.

 

“You looking for a job?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“You sure? I could use a strong hand around here. Antonio can only do so much with such a tiny body.”

 

“Hey!”

 

“And I’m a good boss. Antonio, tell him I’m a good boss.”

 

“He’s a good boss,” Eddie repeats flatly.  

 

“You see? I treat the tiny boy well.”

 

“I’m sure you do, but I already have a job at the library where we go to school.”

 

“You’re in school?” he asks, addressing Eddie. 

 

“Yeah, it’s why I moved here.”

 

“Que bueno. Maybe when you finish, I’ll give this place to you. I’m too old to be running a business anymore.”

 

“What? No, no,” Eddie splutters, “I couldn’t run this-- I mean you don’t want--”

 

“You just finish school and then we’ll talk, okay? Now go close the store up. My wife made me promise to feed you more because she thinks you’re too skinny. Handsome Mike will clean up this wood and then we’ll eat.”

 

Mike looks at Eddie like he thinks Mr. Ramirez is crazy, which he is, but Eddie just shrugs and does as he’s told.

 

When he leaves the room, he hears his boss ask about Richie.

 

“I’ve never met a better husband. Richie started reading about anxiety when we were like ten so he could help Eddie when he had panic attacks…”

 

Mike’s voice trails off as Eddie heads to the door, but he can’t wipe the smile off his face. There’s a lot to be grateful for in LA. 

 

* * *

 

The losers are cooking dinner together when it happens.

 

It’s been a couple of weeks since the party and suddenly Stan cannot stop talking about Patty. 

 

“Dude, what the fuck? He hasn’t mentioned her since that night and now he won’t shut up?” Richie whispers while Stan blathers on behind them.

 

“I don’t know, but I would cut off your hand if it meant he would stop,” Eddie hisses back.

 

“My hand? Why not your hand?” 

 

“I’m gonna be a nurse, I need both of them. You can be funny without a hand. In fact, it might make you funnier.”

 

“Okay, as long as it’s not my left hand, that’s the one I use to--” 

 

Stan cuts Richie off before Eddie can strangle him. “So be honest, what did you guys think of her?” He addresses all of them but his eyes stay on Mike’s back-- the only part of him they’ve seen since Stan brought up Patty. 

 

Everyone but Mike gives enthusiastic replies about how nice and cool she seemed. The absence of Mike’s approval doesn’t go unnoticed; Stan’s face clouds over the way it does before an argument. 

 

Fuck .   

 

Eddie elbows Richie. 

 

“Yeah, maybe even too cool. How’d you bag an older chick like that?” Richie asks, eyes darting between Stan and Mike.

 

“Alright, that’s it, Mike,” Stan says, completely disregarding Richie. “What do you have against Patty?”

 

“What?” He finally turns and faces the rest of them. “I don't have anything against her.”

 

“Bullshit! You are dead silent whenever I talk about her— I’m lucky to even get a smile from you, which is weird considering your face is practically frozen in one. So what gives? Is it because she isn’t a loser? Because, you know what? One day it’ll be you and you’ll be expecting all of us to smile and be happy for you and some random girl.”

 

“Boy.”

 

“What?”

 

He lifts his chin. “It would be a random boy. I’m gay.” 

 

Stan is clearly thrown off, but he hasn’t been dreaming of being a lawyer for years for nothing and he bounces back fast. “I— That’s...Thank you for telling me and I’m proud of you, but the point still stands. I don’t know what you have against her, but I’m not going to ignore it anymore. Your opinion means more to me— I mean the losers, all of you, the collective your, obviously,” he stammers, “means more to me than anything. So tell me what the fuck is up, Michael .”

 

“Don’t call me Michael, Stanley . And it’s nothing okay, I really don’t have a problem with Patty. I’m sure she’s just lovely .”

 

“See! That right there! That tone is what I’m talking about!”

 

“There was no tone!”

 

“There was absolutely a tone!”

 

“Hey Stan, maybe lay off him a little, he—”

 

“Butt out Eddie. I know you’ve got your little Mikey on the back burner in case it doesn’t work out with Richie, but this is none of your business.”

 

Eddie’s jaw drops. Stan is being nasty. 

 

“Woah, Manly, I don't know who pissed in your cheerios this morning, but you can’t talk to Eddie like that.”

 

Stan ignores him. “I wanna know, Mike. I want to know why, when I finally show interest in a girl, you don’t like her. Are you intimidated by her because she’s so smart?”

 

“Stop it, Stan.”

 

“Or maybe it’s the Jewish thing— maybe you actually don’t like Jews and you’ve just been lying all these years.”

 

Mike looks both hurt and furious. “Don’t you even--”

 

“I have to say, I’m surprised. I never took you for a bigot, but maybe Derry rubbed off on you more than I thought.”

 

“Alright, you wanna know why I don’t like her, huh? You really wanna know, Stan?” 

 

“Yes, I wanna know!”

 

“It’s because I’m in love with you! It’s because I’ve been in love with you since we were fourteen and you took me bird watching and I couldn’t focus on anything but you and the way your face lit up when you saw the bird you’d been waiting for and suddenly I was questioning everything I thought I knew about myself, and it kills me to hear you talk about some girl when I spend every night imagining what it would be like to kiss you and hold you and love you! Is that a good enough answer? Are you fucking happy now?”

Mike storms out and Stan watches him go with a blank face. Before any of them can figure out how to respond, he growls, “That bastard,” and follows him out the door.

 

The losers blink at each other.

 

“Does anyone want some pasta?” Ben asks awkwardly.

 

“Holy shit, have we ever heard Mike swear?”

 

“That’s the part you focus on? Did you miss the part where he said he’s in love with Stan?” Bev asks in disbelief. 

 

“That’s old news, sweetheart,” Richie says in his old timey voice. “Me and the handsome man standing next to me figured it out months ago.”

 

Bev glares at them. “And you never thought to tell us?”

 

“Come on, Bev, you know it wasn’t our place to say anything. Besides, we didn’t know for sure until a few weeks ago and Mike’s been really cut up about the whole Patty thing.”

 

She chews on her lip. “I feel like a shit friend for not noticing.”

 

“Hey, it’s not your fault, he kept a tight lid on it. And you were there in all the ways that mattered. He knows we love him no matter what.”

 

 “Do you think Stan’s gonna break his heart?”

 

“I hope not.”

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

They’re quiet, thinking about the possible repercussions of Mike’s confession, until a loud gurgle cuts through the silence. They all turn to Bill.

 

He gives them an awkward smile. “Did you say something about pasta, Ben?”

 

Bev rolls her eyes. “Men.”

 

* * *

 

Eddie’s jerked from sleep by a knock at the door. He checks his alarm clock and the glowing numbers read “3:04”.

 

Whoever’s at the door better be dying or Eddie’s going the kill them himself.  

 

He stumbles out of bed and cracks the door; Eddie can just barely make out Bill in the dark and he looks kind of embarrassed. 

 

“Billy? What’s up?”

 

“What are you—” He shifts his feet awkwardly. “What are you guys doing?”

 

“Right now? At three in the morning? In our bedroom?”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Sleeping.”

 

“Oh. Cool.”

 

“Did you need something, Bill?”

 

“Uhhhh… I don’t know if they want me telling anyone, but Stan and Mike came back after their argument and they were kissing. Like, really kissing. They jumped apart when they saw me, but I made up some bullshit excuse to leave so they could do...whatever it is they’re going to do in private.”

 

“Oh they’re definitely boning,” Eddie says with a smirk. 

 

“Yeah I know, but thank you for putting the image in my head.”

 

“Oh you’re picturing it now? Little weird for a straight guy. Do you need to go punch something to feel like a man again? Bev’s got that painting of a naked lady, maybe you could ask to borrow it, take it into the bathroom for a few minutes.”

 

“You and Richie living together was a mistake, he’s rubbing off on you.”

 

“Unlike Richie, I don’t take the obvious openings so I will not be making a joke about him rubbing off on me.”

 

“What a saint,” Bill deadpans. 

 

Eddie finally takes pity on him and offers what Bill clearly came here for. “Do you want to sleep in here with us? We’ve got plenty of space on our bed.”

 

“A bed that someone died on before you got it. I don’t know how you’re not more creeped out by that.”

 

“It was so cheap that it was worth it. Maybe. Richie likes to make jokes about the bed being haunted and how the old man who died watches us have sex which makes me regret it just a little.”

 

“You’re really selling it.”

 

“You’re welcome to sleep on the couch where you’ll get woken up by Ben and Bev banging around the kitchen in the morning.”

 

Bill makes a pained noise. “You promise you guys won’t be gross while I’m in there?”

 

“Oh my god, what do you think we’re gonna do, just start going at it with you a foot away?”

 

“Ew! I didn’t mean it like that! I was talking about the weird tickle fights and the whispered conversations where you’re both just giggling the entire time. It’s disgusting.”

 

“Don’t worry Billy, we’ll include you in the tickle fight. We would never leave out our third wheel.”

 

“Oh god.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m going to be the third wheel. The single friend living with three couples. Oh this just got so much worse,” he whines. 

 

Eddie laughs and opens the door wider. “Let’s go to bed before you start thinking too hard.”

 

Bill enters the room, blanket draped over him like a cloak, and Eddie quietly closes the door behind him. Richie is sprawled on one side of the bed, snoring, and Eddie starts to get in beside him but Bill stops him. 

 

“I call the middle, that way I know you two can’t do anything,” he whispers.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“I really don’t want to wake up to you guys spooning next to me.”

 

“Why do we call you Big Bill? We should start calling you Baby Bill. ‘Cuz you’re a baby,” Eddie says quietly, rolling his eyes.

 

“Wow. What a funny joke.”

 

“Shut up. I’m tired and you—” Bill goes to lift the covers and Eddie remembers what Richie’s wearing. Which is nothing. “Don’t!”

 

Bill puts the blanket back down slowly, giving him a confused look. 

 

“You should sleep on top of the covers.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

Eddie opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.  

 

“He’s naked isn’t he?”

 

“Noooo,” he says unconvincingly. 

 

“Ew! Are the sheets clean at least?”

 

“Of course! Mostly.”

 

“Eddie!”

 

“You have your blanket, you’ll be fine!”

 

“I can’t believe you,” Bill grumbles, but he still lays down next to Richie.

 

“I know, I can’t believe I offered my bed to such an ungrateful baby,” he says, crawling in after him. “Now gimme some of your blanket, you’re on mine.”

 

Bill sighs and lifts the blanket for him. Just as Eddie gets settled, Richie lets out a loud snore that echoes in the quiet room. It’s really not that funny, but it’s late and Eddie’s tired. He has to cover his mouth so he doesn’t laugh and wake Richie and he can see Bill in the moonlight, making a ridiculous face trying to hold in his own laughter. Eddie almost has himself under control when Richie rolls over and spoons Bill, draping his arm over his hip and pulling him against his chest.

 

“Mmm hi baby,” Richie slurs, still mostly asleep, “Where’d you go?”

 

Bill looks at him with barely concealed terror and this time Eddie can’t help it— he starts laughing like a maniac. Bill tries to shush him, but he’s giggling himself, and they laugh until there are tears in their eyes and they can barely breathe. 

 

“What the fuck?” Richie lifts his head groggily and squints at them. 

 

“Hi, Rich,” Eddie giggles.

 

“Wait how are you over there?” He looks down and furrows his eyebrows. “Bill?”

 

“Hey, Richie.”

 

“Why are we spooning?”

 

“Great question.”

 

“You’re finally getting your dream, babe: a threesome with Bill.”

 

“Oh shit. Wake me up for the good part, ‘k?” By the time Richie gets to the end of the sentence, his head has hit the pillow and he’s breathing heavily again.

 

Bill looks back at Eddie. “Do I just have to sleep like this now?”

 

“You wanted the middle,” he says with a shrug. 

 

* * *

 

Richie is more coherent in the morning, but just as confused about Bill being in the bed. Apparently he was more asleep than they thought because he remembers nothing.

 

“You told me we were gonna have a threesome and I went back to bed?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

The disappointment on his face makes Eddie and Bill crack up. “We weren’t actually going to have a threesome, idiot, why do you look so sad?”

 

“It’s the principle of the thing. My cred is ruined.”

 

“You don’t have cred,” Bill says. “But I promise what happened in this bed, stays in this bed.”

 

“Not good enough. I want you out in the streets, telling everyone we know that we had a wild threesome and that I was awake for all of it.”

 

“I don’t need to go into the streets, everyone we know is in this apartment.”

 

“Okay, I really think you missed the big picture here, Rich,” Eddie says, steering them back to the original point. “Mike and Stan!”

 

“You’re right, who needs a threesome when we can have a foursome!”

 

“Oh my god.” Eddie can’t handle Richie this early. He gets out of bed and leaves.

 

“Wait! Edward, light of my life, I was just kidding! Come back and cuddle! Bill is lonely!”

 

Eddie hears two feet hit the floor.

 

“Aww Bill, not you too.” 

 

Bill comes trailing out after him and they meander into the kitchen. Eddie stops short when he sees the occupants. 

 

Mike is cooking on the stove and Stan is reading the newspaper at the table where Bev and Ben are already enjoying a plate of pancakes. It’s a normal, calm morning in the apartment.

 

It should not be a normal, calm morning in the apartment. 

 

Eddie and Bill stand there, unsure of how to react.  

 

“You two…” Bill starts to say.

 

They all look at him.

 

“Yes, Bill?” Stan says. 

 

“I mean, you guys are…”

 

“Are?”

 

Richie bursts into the kitchen, full of his usual morning energy, and completes Bill’s frazzled thought. “You two are fucking! Congrats! Eddie, baby, we gotta get these two a cake. A big ‘ol rainbow one that says something like ‘We Love You, Homos’ or ‘Please Sell Us the Sex Tape’.”

 

“Good morning, Richie,” Mike greets him, somehow completely unaffected by Richie being Richie.

 

“You two don’t seem surprised,” Bill says to Bev and Ben.

 

“No, the surprise came earlier when we came into the kitchen and saw--”

 

“Something we all agreed to never mention again,” Stan asserts.

 

Richie turns to Bev expectantly. 

 

“Stan had his hands down the back of Mike’s shorts.”

 

“Beverly!”

 

“It’s more fun if he knows,” she smirks. 

 

“Stan the Man! I didn’t know you had it in you! Or did Mike have it in him? Both?”

 

“Eddie, can you make him stop?”

 

“Nope.”

 

Stan looks taken aback by his tone, but he doesn’t say anything. Mike comes and sits next to him, laying his arm across the back of Stan’s chair.

 

“How did you guys find out?”

 

“Bill told us.”

 

“No, Bill told me when he came to our door pouting in the middle of the night. You were knocked out.”

 

“That’s where he ran off to?” Stan says.

 

“Yep, Bill slept with us. Crazy, I know, since Mike is the one I keep as a backup husband.”

 

“That was very inappropriate of me to say, Eddie, I didn’t mean it.” Mike nudges him. “And I’m sorry. Obviously. He knew that, Mike.”

 

“He doesn’t know until you say it,” Mike says calmly, taking a sip of tea.

 

“Yeah, I don’t know until you say it.”

 

Eddie really is upset about what Stan said to him; both the insinuation that he’s at all unsure about his marriage and that he acts any differently towards Mike. They’re all friends and Eddie would stand up for any of them if they were going through something. Stan should know that and Eddie’s not just going to let him off the hook because he’s happy for him and Mike. 

 

Stan must sense the sincerity of his words because he reaches over and takes Eddie’s hand. “I am sorry, Eddie. I was lashing out because I was jealous of the time you were spending with him, only I didn’t know that’s what I was feeling and it just-- you got caught in something that was entirely my own issue and that wasn’t fair. Forgive me?”

 

He wants to drag it out and make Stan work for his forgiveness but he was never any good at being mad at his friends. “Fine, you’re forgiven. No more being nasty to me, though.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“And you have to apologize to Richie too.”

 

Richie would never tell Stan, but those words had hit a nerve. If there’s one thing he takes seriously in this world, it’s their marriage; to hear his best friend say he’s not good enough, after he’d already felt bad for what happened with Jess...Richie might have kept a cool face in front of the losers, but once they’d gone to bed he was a mess. 

 

Stan eyes Richie. “Apologies, Richie. I promise that I have nothing but love and respect for your marriage. I was out of line and you were right to call me out.”

 

“You’re damn right I was. Hey, Eddie, tell him to apologize to someone else, I wanna see how far we can take this.”

 

Eddie laughs. 

 

“Quick question: were you and Patty not exclusive yet or do we need to shame you for being promiscuous?” Bev asks.

 

Stan looks embarrassed. “Actually, Patty told me after the party that she wasn’t really interested in dating me. Something about being too immature.”

 

“She thought you were too immature? She better not spread that around or she’ll ruin your chances with the grandmas. Or grandpas, since apparently you don’t discriminate.”

 

“No, she was pretty clear that it was mostly you guys, but I think that she was just put off by our friendship. Apparently real adults lose contact with their childhood friends and anything else is an indication that you aren’t growing.”

 

“Not true, Mike was growing last night. Or a part of him was,” Richie says, shooting a wink at Mike.

 

They all groan and Stan throws a piece of pancake at him. 

 

“I can see what she means about being immature,” Ben says with a sideways glance at Richie.

 

“So you haven’t been seeing her since that party?”

 

“No, it was really just the one date. And some kissing.”

 

“I don’t think you need to mention the kissing, man,” Mike says, frowning. 

 

“And all that stuff you were saying about her last night?”

 

The flush returns to Stan’s cheeks. “I may have been trying to bait Mike.”

 

“Oh my god, you little sneak! Isn’t that entrapment or something?”

 

“No, entrapment is-- no, I’m not explaining it to you again, you’re being stupid on purpose.”

 

“That’s mean. Eddie, tell him to apologize.”

 

“Wait.” Bill looks confused. “Bait him into what?”

 

“I had no idea. I just knew something was off and I couldn’t let it go, so I pushed.”

 

“Because you’re in looooooove,” Richie says, making kissy noises at Stan. 

 

Stan glares but as soon as Mike’s face lights up in a smile, he can’t hold onto his irritation.

 

All the losers coo at them teasingly. It’s reassuring that, despite such a big change, they’re still the same goofy group of losers; they love each other and that won’t ever change. 

 

* * *

 

Eddie’s been putting off giving Richie the ring. He was blaming it on the drama with Mike and Stan but now that that’s been sorted he has no excuse and has to admit to himself that he’s nervous. He knows Richie is going to love it, but a teeny tiny part of his brain is telling him that a ring he made won’t compare to the amazing one that Richie got him when they were six. Maybe he should just go out and buy a ring; fuck his bank account, he’ll splurge on something that Richie deserves.

 

“If you don’t give him the ring that we put all that effort into, I am going to be...very disappointed.”

 

“Uh-oh, he used the D-word, Eddie. It’s serious.”

 

Richie had gone to hang out with Bev for the day, so Stan and Mike invited him to the cafe a few blocks over from the apartment. It was meant to be a fun way to blow off some steam, but Mike asked about the ring and it was like a dam burst and all of his insecurities came flooding out. 

 

“I just want it to be perfect, you guys. Especially since I’m way late. I should have gotten him a ring years ago.”

 

“He has never said anything but obnoxiously sweet things about the decoder. You don’t even have to give him another one, but you’ve already made it so you should,” Stan says. 

 

“I know. I know, I’m being ridiculous. Stan, tell me I’m being ridiculous.”

 

“You’re being ridiculous.”

 

“Mike, tell me you’ll be disappointed in me if I change rings.”

 

“I’ll be extremely disappointed. I think that ring is amazing and meaningful and everything Richie could ever want.”

 

Eddie lets out a breath out slowly. “Sorry, I know I’m probably ruining what was supposed to be a nice date.”

 

Mike assures him he hasn’t ruined anything but Stan makes a face like he agrees with Eddie.

 

“Stan,” Mike chides.

 

He laughs. “I’m joking. It’s what we’re here for.” He looks at his watch and then nudges Mike.

 

“Oh, uh. It’s getting kind of late, maybe you should head home, Eds.”

 

“It’s only six.”

 

“Yeah, but you’ve got to-- I mean, the thing with the-- it’s just that it’s probably--”

 

“Jesus, Mike,” Stan cuts in. “There’s a surprise waiting for you at home, Eddie, and no we won’t tell you what it is. Please leave now or you’ll be late.”

 

“Yes, thank you,” Mike exhales, relaxing back into his seat. Stan rubs his shoulder consolingly.

 

Eddie glares at them both. “I don’t trust either of you, but you’ve piqued my curiosity.”

 

“Better go then.”

 

“Fine. Enjoy the rest of your date, losers.” Eddie tells them, getting up from the table

 

“Yeah, you too. Not that it’s a date! That’s not what I meant! Your surprise could be anything!”

 

Stan puts his head in his hands and Eddie laughs his way out of the cafe.

 

He practically skips home, he’s so excited to see Richie. Eddie doesn’t even care what it is; if the surprise involves spending time with his husband, just the two of them, then he knows it’ll be the best. They may spend a lot of time together, but they hardly ever do any big, romantic dates. Eddie likes it that way because it makes their dates mean so much more.

 

Like tonight, when Eddie opens the door and sees what Richie has set up. 

 

The couches have been pushed back against the walls and a blanket is laid out in the center of the living room. Richie’s lit a ton of candles, casting a beautiful glow in the room, and he even made a trail from the door to the blanket made of… pieces of paper?

 

“Sorry,” Richie says, popping out of the kitchen and scaring Eddie. He’s carrying two plates of food. “I know paper isn’t as romantic as rose petals but roses are fucking expensive, dude, did you know that? I used red paper so it’s kind of the same affect, right?”

 

Eddie can’t take his eyes off him. “Put the food down right now, Richie.”

 

His eyes widen and he drops the plates onto the coffee table. “Shit, you hate it don’t you? Sorry, I can--”

 

Richie can’t finish his sentence because Eddie launches himself at him. They end up on the floor, Richie’s noodle frame unable to hold them up, but Eddie doesn’t even care; he’s too busy kissing him deeply, overcome with love.  

 

“Mmm, babe the food’s gonna get cold,” Richie mumbles against Eddie’s mouth.

 

“Don’t care,” Eddie breathes.

 

Kissing Richie has always been one of Eddie’s favorite things to do, especially when they got older and the kissing became more . There’s just something about the soft press of their lips that’s both exhilarating and comforting. Eddie’s kissed him a million times, but it still fills his stomach with butterflies, still feels like coming home. 

 

“Okay, okay,” Richie says, pulling away. “You might not care, but I kind of do.”

 

Eddie pouts at him.

 

“I know, I know, but I planned this whole thing and made the other losers fuck off so I could woo you properly.”

 

“Fine. One more kiss though?” Eddie knows if he plays his cards right, one more kiss could turn into a lot more kisses.

 

Unfortunately, Richie also knows that. 

 

“Not a chance, you sneaky little minx. Up.”

 

Once they’re vertical again, Richie grabs the food and leads them to the blanket. 

 

“So what’s all this for?”

 

“There has to be a reason?”

 

“I guess not.” 

 

“I just figured we haven’t had much time for romance between work and school and, like, figuring out how to survive on our own. So I came up with this! You like it?”

 

“I love it, Rich.”

 

Richie looks pleased. Eddie’s always thought he looks the most handsome when he’s happy; something about the way he smiles with his whole face, like just a smile isn’t enough. He reaches up and traces the lines around Richie’s eyes, the ones he knows are going to stick around when Richie’s older. Richie takes his hand and kisses the tips of his fingers. 

 

“Well dig in, babe. It’s take out from this fancy Italian place. I thought about cooking for you but I figured we probably wanted something edible. And this place is super clean-- I asked to see their health inspection report because I know you worry about that stuff, and they got an A! Hopefully it tastes good too,” Richie says, swirling a fork full of spaghetti.

 

He says it so casually, like checking for health inspection reports is a totally normal thing to do for someone, and suddenly Eddies knows exactly how the Grinch feels; his heart just grew, like, three sizes at least. 

 

“Hey. I love you. And thank you, this is amazing.”

 

They eat their delicious food and talk about everything and nothing.

 

“Dude, I’m scared he really wants to give me the store! He keeps showing me how to do things ‘for when I’m in charge’.”

 

“Hell yeah! I hope he does. Can you imagine owning a store right out of college? We’d be light years ahead of the curve.”

 

“Do you have any idea how to run a business? I don’t! Because I’m studying nursing not business. And that place is...I mean, you’ve been in there, it’s like stepping into an alternate universe that’s only slightly different than our own. It’s unnerving”

 

“It feels like that now, but I bet we could spruce it up. It’s in a good location and everyone knows it, they just don’t go in because it looks cursed. And because you guys are closed during store hours a lot, which, gotta say, not a great business tactic.”

 

“That’s not my fault! Mr. Ramirez makes me lock up so he can feed me.”

 

“It’s like he knows I prefer a full plate of spaghetti,” Richie says with a smirk. 

 

“Shut up. Everyone gains a little weight their freshman year.”

 

“Yeah, I’m saying you look good!”

 

“Whatever. How are your classes going?”

 

“Oh, subtle change of subject.” 

 

“I really wanna know, asshole. You tell me some stuff but you never talk about stats anymore, don’t think I haven’t noticed. Those girls still bothering you? I can have Bev make an appearance.”

 

“Nah, don’t worry about it, everyone ignores me now.”

 

“Everyone?” Eddie’s offended on his behalf.

 

“It’s fine, I didn’t like anyone in that class anyways, they just wanted me to help them pass. Besides, Mike told me what Jess said to you at that party.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah. And I can’t really be mad that you didn’t tell me, ‘cuz obviously I didn’t tell you about her either so that’d be super hypocritical. But I just want you to know that she doesn’t know anything about us. You’re my husband and I’m so fucking lucky that I get to have you by my side for the rest of my life. That’s not something I would ever try to hide. I mean, you’re pretty much all I ever talk about because you’re all I ever think about.” Richie starts looking nervous, shifting around. “But I know she said something about the ring and I didn’t want you thinking that means anything so I--”

 

“No, wait!” Eddie yells, throwing his hands out to stop him from continuing. Richie’s not going to beat him to the punch on the ring. He’s not. Eddie will officially be the worst husband of all time and he can’t live with that shame. He jumps up and signals for Richie to wait, racing into their room.

 

He starts rummaging through their laundry basket where he’d hidden the ring inside an old mint tin. He chose it as a hiding spot because Richie hasn’t done laundry a day in his life and honestly, if Richie had somehow found the ring, Eddie wouldn’t have even cared because it would have meant that Richie did laundry

 

It takes him way too long to find it (see: Richie never doing laundry) and he lets out a triumphant cry when his hand wraps around smooth metal. He runs back out to Richie, who’s sitting exactly where he left him. Eddie knows he should say something romantic and beautiful, but he’s not like Richie; he hasn’t planned what he’s going to say so if he opens his mouth now it’ll be a word vomit of every random, loving thought he has about him, and while he’s sure Richie would appreciate that, Eddie would probably die of embarrassment. So instead he thrusts the tin at Richie and doesn’t say a word.

 

Richie lifts a brow. “Okay? Is my breath so bad that you had to give me mints in the middle of a conversation?”

 

“What? No, just open it,” Eddie says, wiping his sweaty palms on his pants.

 

Richie’s slowly lifts the lid of the tin and Eddie immediately regrets every choice that led to this moment. How the fuck did Richie propose to him when they were barely old enough to read? They’re already married and Eddie’s still freaking out like this ring is going to lead to divorce. “It’s okay if you totally hate it, like, I get it. It’s super lame, especially compared to mine and I made it, which was dumb. It was really dumb, I don’t know why I let Mike talk me into it.” Richie’s just staring down at the ring, silent for the first time in his life. Like, seriously? Eddie would kill for a stupid joke right now. “And I used that chunk of wood from that time we went camping, you remember? Probably should have thought this out more, because, like, obviously you don’t want this and now I don’t have that wood anymore and I loved that stupid story you made up, even if I can’t remember the specifics. Do you remember it? Because I told Mike about it and he really wants to--”

 

Richie covers Eddie’s mouth with his hand without taking his eyes off the ring. “You made this?”

 

Eddie nods, Richie’s arm bouncing along with his head.

 

“Out of that piece of wood I said came from a gnome who travelled through time with his pet snail?” Richie’s breathing has picked up like they’re in some kind of weird role reversal. 

 

Eddie nods again.

 

Richie’s hand slides down his face and lands limply in his lap. “Eddie…”

 

“I’ll be honest, Rich, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’re feeling.”

 

Richie starts wiggling his nose the way he does when he’s trying not to cry. “What do you think, idiot? I fucking love it.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. You gonna put it on me or what?”

 

Eddie smiles and takes the ring, sliding it onto Richie’s awaiting hand. The universe must be looking out for him because it fits perfectly. Richie holds out his hand and they both take a moment to admire it. 

 

Richie throws himself on Eddie, hiding his face in his neck and squeezing tightly. Eddie can barely make out his muffled but heartfelt thank you.

 

“Don’t thank me, Rich. I should have gotten you something a long time ago and you deserve, like, something amazing. Sorry that’s all I gave you.”

 

Eddie’s neck is starting to feel wet; it takes him longer than it should to realize it’s because Richie is crying. As much as he had joked about it with Mike, he hates Richie’s tears. 

 

“Hey, come on, don’t cry,” Eddie says weakly, rubbing a hand down his back. 

 

“‘M not.”

 

“I can feel it, babe.”

 

“That’s actually drool.”

 

Eddie groans and shoves him away. “Did you seriously have to ruin the moment? This was supposed to be romantic as fuck.”

 

Richie’s eyes are red and watery but he’s laughing. “It’s impossible to ruin this moment. You nailed it, Eds. I’m practically swooning, it’s so romantic. I mean, my husband actually put in the time and effort to make me my wedding ring. Out of something stupidly sentimental that I didn’t even know he still had, the big sap.”

 

“Alright, okay.”

 

“And managed to keep it a secret and surprise me with it during a romantic date.”

 

“That you planned.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you say something?” Richie asks, cupping his ear with his left hand to show off the ring. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

 

“I said you’re a dramatic idiot,” Eddie yells in his ear.

 

They both start laughing and Richie hooks an arm around his neck and pulls him down so he can noogie him. 

 

“Stop! No noogies, tonight is a special night!” Eddie cries.

 

Richie releases him, leaving Eddie lying on his back and looking up at him from his lap. “It is a special night, and not even noogies and jokes about drool would change that. Seriously, Eddie, I love the ring, it’s...I don’t even have words, which says a lot coming from me. You didn’t have to go to all that effort. You already gave me a ring, remember?”

 

“Pfft. The decoder ring does not count.”

 

“Says who?”

 

“Says me! You can’t even wear it like a ring.”

 

“So? It was special. You gave me, like, pretty much your most valued possession at the time. I just sprung marriage on you and you were like ‘’kay, here’s my favorite thing, it’s yours now’. How could I not love that?”

 

“Well six year old Eddie was lame.”

 

“Hey! I married that six year old!”

 

“Oh my god, you married a six year old? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal,” Eddie says, barely holding back his giggles. 

 

Richie bursts into laughter. “Dude!”

 

When they finally stop laughing, Richie brushes Eddie’s hair back gently. “I really love it, Eddie. Thank you.”

 

Their lips meet in a sweet kiss. Eddie’s palm slides to Richie’s neck, just to feel his pulse jump under his hand, proof that he’s as affected as Eddie is. He’s glad he’s already laying down because when Richie’s hand slips under his shirt and follows the curve of his back, he goes boneless; goodbye skeleton Eddie, hello jello Eddie. The hand resting on Richie’s neck slips down his chest and he’s kiss-drunk enough that it doesn’t immediately register that there’s something under Richie’s shirt. When it does, he pulls back and looks at him in confusion.

 

“Uh, what is that?”

Richie’s blinks slowly, his lips the nicest shade of pink; he’s as kiss-drunk as Eddie if his eloquent, “huh?” is anything to go by.

 

Eddie pats at his chest and he winces. “Is that a bandage?”

 

“Uhhh, yeah?” Richie confirms nervously. 

 

“Why do you have a bandage on your chest?”

 

“Okay, so it’s kind of a funny story.”

 

“I can guarantee it’s not.”

 

“Just listen, dude. Before you came out with the ring-- that I love and is perfect and I’m going to be buried with it- - I had been talking about what Jess said and how she thinks I don’t care about our marriage because I don’t wear a ring or whatever.”

 

“Richie, I know she was full of shit.”

 

“Yeah, but she had a point. I mean, not that I don’t care about our marriage! Obviously! But that I wasn’t wearing anything that showed my commitment to you, y’know?”

 

Eddie frowns. “This is leading to why you have a bandage on your chest?”

 

“Yeah, so it got me thinking--”

 

“Never a good thing.”

 

“--And I had an epiphany!”

 

Eddie rubs a hand over his eyes. “This is going in a bad direction, I can tell.”

 

“Hey, I told Bev and she…okay so she didn’t encourage it, but she didn’t outright say no either.”

 

“Oh god, if Bev wasn’t onboard this is bad.” Eddie’s starting to sweat because those two are troublemakers and Eddie can count on one hand the number of times she’s disapproved of his crazy plans. “Enough backstory, tell me what happened.”

 

“Before I show you, promise you won’t get mad.”

 

“Richie, what the fuck did you do?”

 

“Promise first.”

 

“Fucking fine, I promise I won’t get mad!”

 

“You’re already breaking your promise.”

 

“Richie!”

 

“Okay, okay.”

 

He lifts his shirt and sure enough, there’s a bandage taped over the left side of his chest. Eddie reaches out to soothe him instinctively and Richie gives him a nervous smile before peeling back the covering. 

 

To reveal a tattoo. 

 

Eddie’s mouth falls open.

 

There, on Richie’s smooth skin, are the initials ‘e.k.’. Tattooed. In ink. Permanently. 

 

The thoughts are racing through Eddie’s brain too fast for him to land on one; he sits there staring in silence, mouth agape, until Richie starts fidgeting.

 

“It’s your initials. E.K. Eddie Kapsbrak.”

 

“Yeah I fucking-- Jesus, Richie! Why did you--what? Like, seriously what the fuck? This is without a doubt the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. And the most dangerous!”

 

Richie opens his mouth, probably to defend himself, but Eddie isn’t done yet, oh no. He’s not even fucking close to done. 

 

“Do you know how many things can go wrong with tattoos? Did you even think before you let someone stab you with a needle? I mean, what if the guy didn’t properly disinfect before he started?”

 

“It was actually a woman.”

 

“Or what if she just reuses needles like some kind of psychopath? You know what kind of deadly diseases can be spread with dirty needles?” Eddie must have blacked out for a second because he’s pacing back and forth as he rants with no recollection of having ever stood up. “And that’s not even taking into account all of the shit that can go wrong during the healing process! But let’s say, by some miracle, you do manage to keep it clean-- guess what? You can develop an allergy to the ink! And then you’ll just have this raised, itchy welt to show for all of this. I mean, seriously, Rich, did you look into this at all?”

 

“Actually yeah, I did,” Richie says. He’s deflated during Eddie’s outburst and his shoulders are slumped, even as he’s halfheartedly standing up for himself. 

 

“And you still went through with something so stupid?”

 

“Is that really all you think about it? That it’s stupid?” 

 

Eddie wants to say yes so badly. His mouth is ready to say, ‘Yes, I hate it, what the fuck did you expect’, but…. But. Richie’s face is an open book, always. You can tell when he’s happy, scared, sad, just by the gleam of his eyes and the tilt of his mouth, and right now he looks completely blank. Which means that Eddie’s answer matters. Like, a lot.

 

“No, I guess that’s not all I think about it,” Eddie sighs. 

 

“No?” Richie still looks reserved and Eddie feels like a piece of shit for once again letting his anxiety get the better of him.  

 

Eddie sits back down and really looks at the letters. The tattoo itself isn’t horrible ; it’s in a neat cursive font, it’s not too big, the lines look pretty clean. He leans back slightly and takes in the whole picture-- Richie sitting shirtless, legs crossed, his smooth, pale skin bare except for the delicate lettering marking him as Eddie’s.

 

His heart flutters.

 

Oh.

 

He gently places his hand on Richie’s chest, his thumb and index fingers framing the initials. Richie’s heartbeat picks up at the simple touch and when they make eye contact, Eddie’s heart matches the beat, drumming mine, mine, mine

 

The panic that had overtaken him washes away. They belong to each other in a way no one will ever be able to touch; Richie’s tattoo is a reflection of that. 

 

Richie covers Eddie’s hand with his own and Eddie smiles shyly at him, embarrassed by the rollercoaster of emotions he just went through.

 

“I still think you’re stupid,” Eddie says. 

 

“You said that already,” Richie says, smiling widely. 

 

“Well it bears repeating.” Eddie’s thumb strokes gently beneath the tattoo. “Were you nervous?”

 

“A little.”

 

“Because of the pain or because of what you were getting tattooed?”

 

“Oh, pain all the way. You’re a sure thing, sweetheart,” he says, giving Eddie’s hand a squeeze. “I know tattoos aren’t your favorite. Is it okay that I got one for you? Be honest.”

 

“I’m honored, Rich. It’s just, I look at tattoos and I can’t help but see an open wound and an infection waiting to happen. You know how my stupid brain works. But I’ll get over that, promise. It’ll be easier once it’s healed. And I guess it’s pretty romantic, in a Richie way-- y’know, over the top and dramatic. You do realize that was not a good alternative to a ring though, right? Like, no one’s gonna see it but us.”

 

“Yeah, I realized that two seconds into the tattoo. But, I don’t know.” He looks down. “I think I needed to do it for me, more than anything. I had been thinking about it after that party and then Stan said that shit to you about having a backup, and obviously that was bullshit and we both know it, but I still got all weird and insecure again and that sucks. I hate that after everything I still need you to remind me that we belong together and then I thought about getting the tattoo and it just-- it felt good, yknow? Like a permanent reminder that I couldn’t deny. It would be proof that I’m yours and you’re mine and if I ever forgot, I could just look down and be like, ‘oh yeah, it’s me and Eddie for life’. And I know I probably should have checked with you first--”

 

“Hey, it’s okay, I’m not mad.” How could he be mad when all the reasons Richie wanted the tattoo were the same reasons Eddie loves his ring. He can’t fault Richie for needing the reminder, even if it’s not in the form Eddie had expected. “I’m not gonna yell at you about it again, that wasn’t fair. It’s your body, your choice. It’s not like you had never talked about getting one before, I just was surprised. But I like it and eventually, when I’m not in shock, I might even love it. Maybe.” 

 

“Hell yeah, I’ll take a maybe.”

 

“But for the love of god, give me some warning next time.”

 

“You gotcha. I’ll give you a heads up when I get your portrait tattooed on my ass.”

 

“Don’t even fucking joke.”

 

“Okay, okay, better idea-- we get matching ass tats and it’s a portrait of Mike.”

 

“I am begging you to shut up.”

 

Before Richie can continue to torment him, they hear a key in the lock. The door swings open and all five of the losers come bustling in.  

 

“Hey there, love birds,” Bev greets. 

 

“Why is there a bunch of paper on the ground?”

 

“Okay, I’m more concerned about the fact that Richie’s shirtless.”

 

“You know there’s an agreement on no sex in communal spaces. You signed a contract about it,” Stan says, crossing his arms. 

 

“Oh my god, we weren’t doing anything, he was showing me his tattoo.”

 

“Wow, I can’t believe you really did it, Rich,” Ben says as Richie shows it off.

 

“Looks like I’m winning as the most romantic partner in the apartment. The rest of you guys gotta step it up. Except you Bill, you’re single so it doesn’t matter.”

 

“A super helpful reminder, thanks Richie.”

 

“I don’t care about the tattoo, show me the ring I worked so hard on,” Mike demands. Eddie clears his throat. “I mean, we-- we worked so hard on.”

 

Richie sticks out his hands like the girls always do in the movies and he starts jumping and screaming. Eddie tries to get him to stop, but Bev and Mike join in and it’s no use after that.

 

Bill starts eating their food and Ben wants to know how he feels about the tattoo and the story behind the ring. 

 

As much as Eddie loves his time with Richie, the family’s not complete without all of their friends. Tonight they’ll move the couches back, tell each other about their day, and no doubt end the evening watching a movie they’ve all seen a million times, making stupid jokes and laughing their asses off. Eddies smiles. Yeah, college fucking rocks.