It’s a cool sort of night for June, symptoms of a summer that’s still frightened to show its face in the presence of a particularly chilly and violent spring. They’re too far away from the coast to get a whiff of the ocean air, but sometimes, when the wind picks up just right, Eddie swears he can smell it, salt and sand and freedom.
Eddie dreams of the coast, of icy water touching his skin and awakening his soul, spurring him on to up and leave it all behind, throw himself to the tide and let it take him. He dreams of the smack of the Atlantic weaving its way through his hair and into his heart and carrying him away. There’s an unpredictability to it, an endlessness that makes him uncomfortable with yearning.
He recalls his father’s tattered National Geographic s, shoved to the back of the hall closet. Full color pull outs of islands being thrashed by tumultuous water. Tiny boats on an endless blue sea, no end in sight. Lighthouse warning of the danger, the ocean calling ships towards the rocks. It’s chaos and infinity, unpredictable and unable to be controlled.
Completely untamed and untamable.
Known, and completely captivating, every time.
The alcohol heightens the romance of these sorts of thoughts as he sits on Stan’s back stoop. He takes another prim pull from his beat up Poland Spring bottle; the vodka-masquerading-as-water tastes like he imagines lighter fluid does, but when in Rome, and everyone is already at least two sheets gone to the wind.
He tugs his hoodie around himself, legs drawn up to ward off the wind that kicks up from time to time. It’s nice out here, quiet; it’s not that Eddie dislikes parties, he just sometimes gets too overwhelmed and has to find a quiet corner, sort out his head. There’s so much jamming the space between his ears lately that he finds himself becoming overwhelmed much more easily. Between packing and preparing for Boston and his summer internship with the bank, he’s spent every spare moment soaking up the presence of his friends.
In just a few months they’ll all be flung to the corners of the country, save for Mike. The thought is tentatively exciting, the pull of the unknown causing a cautious, buzzing excitement within him. But there’s an overwhelming gulf of sadness, too. Eddie feels like he’s being uprooted against his will, pried away from a place where–though home to the scariest parts of his life—he has people who care about him, outside of whether he’s taken his supplements and put on sunscreen.
Derry is a place of permanence for the people that he loves; without Derry, who are they? If they hadn’t been thrust together by terrible circumstance, Eddie wonders if they’d even be friends at all.
Without the common binding of a zip code, can their friendships withstand being apart? Eddie knows it’s silly, and stupid, but he can’t shake the itchy feeling that his friends are going to fracture apart and fade away. They’re going to forget him as soon as they hit the New Hampshire border and they’re not going to look back.
It makes him queasy and short of breath. That he could ever cease to exist in his friends’ minds is terrifying.
He sucks in a quick sip of air and cranes his neck towards the sky. He doesn’t want to do this, not now and certainly not here, where he can hear someone vomiting into Stan’s hallway toilet.
When he gets like this while they’re in public, Richie usually finds him and tugs him into a bathroom or a hallway and will sit with him until he can get his breathing under control, but he hasn’t seen Richie in awhile, not since he gave up on a game of flip cup. He’d watched him come out back, and then nothing.
Eddie presses himself to his feet and gives himself a moment to get his bearings; he’s not drunk, but he’s getting there. He can tell by how he tips slightly to the left and has to catch himself on the banister.
He makes it down the stairs easily enough and sidesteps a quiet group of juniors who are doing their level best to get some hacky sack going, despite clearly being stoned out of their minds. One of the girls offers him a hit of a joint but he demurs. Crossfading has never been his thing; he gets too emotional, too liable to agree with any dumb thing any dumb person suggests.
Eddie weaves his way past a couple making out beneath the Uris’s flowering apple tree and around the side of the house. This is where Mrs. Uris keeps her roses; a tiny winding path leads him between sharp bushes, beneath unruly vines that trellis and interweave, creating a patchwork canopy that allows its delicate scents to waft down towards passersby.
For a brief moment, Eddie is reminded of a funeral, of the flowers atop a casket, but he shoves the imagery away. Tonight is supposed to be fun. He’s determined to have fun, like a normal person.
He ducks down beneath a tangle of thorns and takes a left at the heavy stone bench that is now gritty with disuse. Eddie has always loved this part of the garden. When they had been younger, the Uris rose garden had transformed into their cave and their castle. It had been an evil villain’s underground lair and a lush, jungle paradise through which they hunted buried treasure. Eddie has always felt safe here, cocooned but not trapped.
There’s a small pocket of space beneath the dining room’s bay window; the siding juts out just far enough to create an overhang, under which Eddie and Richie, Stan and Bill would huddle during summer thunderstorms. It was just high enough that Mr. Uris could tuck himself beneath and pop out to startle Mrs. Uris as she worked in the garden. It was where Stan went on the rare occasion he got high.
It’s where Eddie finds Richie, back up against the chalky paint of the shingles, joint tucked behind his ear.
“Way to be creepy,” Eddie says quietly and takes a step into the floral alcove. There’s just enough light filtering down from the open window that Eddie can make out his face, mouth half-tipped in a casual smile.
Richie shrugs, a handle of liquor sloshing at his side. “It’s my default man, just can’t help it.”
“Like you even try,” Eddie says, not unkindly, and angles himself against the house so they’re next to one another. Richie lifts his handle and Eddie his water bottle and they click the plastic caps together.
“Cheers man, final countdown.” Richie twists off the cap and sucks down a mouthful of whiskey, wincing as it hits the back of his tongue. Eddie does the same, belatedly, taking a quick little sip before twisting the cap back on.
Eddie’s not sure what his own “poison” is, but he knows it’s definitely not whiskey. Richie had taken to drinking whiskey because that’s the first booze he’d stolen from his father and it had stuck.
Richie’s the reason they have alcohol in the first place. It’d been his brilliant idea—as soon as he’d turned eighteen—to drive to Canada and take advantage of the younger drinking age. He hadn’t been stopped crossing the border yet, and was making quite a bit of money on the side, filling orders for Derry’s underaged delinquents. He’d saved up enough that with the trade in value for his dad’s old Buick, he was able to snag a flashy little Mazda that had good mileage and a bumper sticker touting Clinton/Gore that Richie found hilarious.
Sometimes, he let Eddie drive it, and they always wound up doing carefully-spun doughnuts in the parking lot behind the abandoned Hannafords.
Eddie’s going to miss that car.
They stand next to one another, quiet, glancing up at the sky between the breaks in greenery. They’re far enough outside of downtown that there are stars that are visible, and it gives him something to focus on instead of Richie’s profile.
Above them, there’s the sound of metal clinking glass, and Beverly shouting, “Fuck you, cheating at Quarters, seriously?” followed by raucous laughter and Eddie uses the noise to clear his throat.
Standing this close to Richie has been a problem, recently. It makes him feel all warm, tingly, like there’s electricity beneath his skin waiting to sizzle out. Somewhere between fourteen and eighteen Eddie had forgotten how to be close to Richie without feeling like he needed to say something. There’s always something behind his ribs, wanting to wheedle itself out, and Eddie’s not sure what to call it.
He’s not sure what to call it when his mouth dries when Richie pulls off his shirt at the quarry. Eddie is completely clueless why his fingers want to reach out and touch the muscles that have corded themselves along Richie’s biceps. Eddie feels insatiable for his presence; when Richie begins speaking he never, ever wants him to stop.
Eddie’s going to miss the sound of his voice.
“Sounds like Bev’s crushing it in there,” Richie says quietly, and Eddie catches on his tone.
Richie is never not the life of a party when he can help it. If he’s not talking Eddie off of a ledge somewhere, he’s holding court in the living room, impersonating their principal or Kasey Kasem, pouring shots for the jocks and holding back girls’ hair as they puke up Goldschlager. Parties are always great for Richie, because there’s suddenly a space where everyone wants to hear what he has to say, and everyone laughs, which is a nice change of pace.
When school had been in session, everyone would forget by Monday just how close to pissing themselves Richie had gotten them and it was back to “fag” and “fairy.” But now school is out, and Richie doesn’t have to face a Monday morning ever again. Eddie would have thought he’d be letting loose, trying out the Fran Drescher he’s been working on since March.
“Well, Bev’s a ringer at Quarters, I’m not surprised,” Eddie tries, backing up his statement with a weak laugh, but Richie remains uncharacteristically silent. Eddie leans over and nudges against Richie with his shoulder, ignores the warmth that curls in his stomach with the simple gesture.
“The Nanny not calling to you tonight?” Richie glances over at him, eyes glinting with the castoff from the dining room chandelier. Eddie breathes in, carefully, wanting to remember just how Richie looks in this moment.
Eddie tries to place it, what he’s looking at. Richie is soft and open, his eyes bright and he looks as sober as he’s ever been, though half of his handle has already been drained. “Nah, just guess I didn’t really feel like being around people… tonight.”
It stings; even if Richie doesn’t want to be around people, he’s always wanted to be around Eddie. “Since when am I people?” Eddie asks, and his voice is teasing, because it has to be.
“You’re the only person,” Richie says quietly and leans so that his head is resting against a jut of wood, tipping his gaze back towards the sky. “Always… the only person.”
Eddie snorts through his nose. Words like that don’t make sense. Not coming from Richie, and not directed at him. They’re the sort of words that get lodged in your belly, make it do flips, make you read into thoughts and words and actions in a dangerous way. Eddie can excuse it so easily as drunken rambling, if he wants to.
He’s not sure that he wants to, is the thing.
Eddie isn’t sure what he wants to do, but he doesn’t want to excuse it.
Eddie unscrews the cap on the vodka and takes a long, painful swig. He feels Richie watching him, and that’s fine. He’s never not wanted to be watched by Richie. Especially when Richie had been paying attention to anything or anyone else. He’s always wanted his attention, in whatever way he could get it.
His wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand and falls back into the wall behind him. “The only person?”
They’re quiet for a long while, Richie picking at the fraying label on his whiskey, Eddie watching his fingers move against the glass and paper.
“We have, like three months before we all leave and I can’t stop…” His mouth does something funny, screws up and then plummets into a frown. It’s like he’s considering his words, something that is a rare occurrence; it makes Eddie squirm. “You’re the only person that’s ever got me, Eds. And I can’t stop thinking about if you’re the only person that ever will. Like, will I meet someone else, at college, whatever, that gets me like you do and I think. I, you know, I don’t want to.”
Eddie’s head’s all turned around. Richie never speaks like this, even when he’s wasted. Richie Tozier has never been one to wear his heart anywhere remotely near his sleeve. It’s like Richie’s speaking an entirely foreign language, leaving Eddie unmoored.
“You don’t want to make friends?”
A low growl unfurls from Richie’s throat as he tosses his head back, frustrated. “Not, fuck, okay. Not friends, Eds.”
“You’ll… find people that. That get you. I don’t… and we’ll still talk Richie. All the time. I won’t. Be gone.”
“This is bad,” Richie says, quietly enough that Eddie thinks he might be talking to himself. “This is a bad time.”
“Hey, are you… okay? Are you, like, drunk? I know you’re usually taking care of me at these things but if you’re-”
“I’m not drunk,” Richie says succinctly, as their gazes meet and hold. “I just. I don’t know how to say that we’ll be gone from this fucking hell hole in three months, thank fuck, but… I don’t want to leave, like, at all, if it means that I’m leaving without you.”
“It’ll be hard, but Stan’s going to be at Columbia and you two will-”
“Not, not Stan, Eddie, jesus, just.” He runs a hand through his hair and allows his eyes to fall closed and Eddie watches him. “Just you,” Richie admits quietly, and reaches out to encircle Eddie’s left wrist between thumb and forefinger. “I don’t know how to say it without… fuck, you get it, right? Tell me you get it. It’s always been you.”
Eddie doesn’t even think to deny it, doesn’t think he has the willpower to concoct a charade. Certainly not when Richie is pleading with him, touching him so gently but with a hesitance that means he might pull away at any moment. Eddie doesn’t want him to pull away, not ever.
“I get it.”
“Yuh-you--” Riche pulls away, hand clutching at his hair as he gestures with the bottle. His voice is raspy and double speed. “You can’t get it, there’s no way, Eds, it’s just not something... You wouldn’t get it. It’s not possible, like at all, that you get it. Even if I want you to. You don’t.”
Richie paces shortly, two steps and then back, spares a glimpse up at the dining room windows before staring steadfastly at the ground. “We promised we’d always tell each other… that we’d be there, right? We all did, but you and me. You and me, we said-”
“Anything,” Eddie promises. “Ever. I remember.”
Eddie’s hazy mind is tugged immediately back to Richie’s bedroom, three summers ago, when memories of the clown had begun to fray at the edges but still hung at the forefront of their minds.
Richie had been wheedling him all evening, through a truly marathon run of Zelda, over the entirety of a pepperoni and mushroom pizza, about why he was acting so strangely. He’d finally agreed to give it up and go to bed, put out, clearly hurt.
They were on the cusp of sleep, windows open to a late summer breeze that rustled through the trees. It was late, past midnight, and Eddie had turned onto his back in Richie’s bed and said, to the ceiling, “I can tell you anything, right?”
Richie had shifted, reached out and found Eddie’s hand between them. Richie’s touch has always done something to calm him; he slows to meet Eddie’s pace sometimes, and it feels like they’re synced, right down to their blood. He’s a tether to reality, a reminder that he’s strong and brave and loved.
Richie used to touch him more, when people could see them, and some time along the way he’d stopped. But as long as Richie touched him like that, Eddie felt right, even if it was always in private, in the dark.
“Don’t be dumb, Kaspbrak.” Richie’s fingers began to move, up and down, wrist to the crease of the elbow and back until Eddie had been lulled to complacency and had let it slither right out.
Eddie drifted, eyes fluttering closed to Richie’s careful movements. In the quiet safety of Richie’s bedroom, Eddie allowed his more secret, tender thoughts to be fully realized. No one has ever made him feel like this, not just protected, but treasured. Eddie didn’t know what to do with that, how to show gratitude for Richie’s unwavering support, his steadfast presence.
Truth be told, it didn’t fully make sense to Eddie, except to make him hope with a confusing yearning that Richie felt the same about him. He knew he’d never be able to harbor Richie, never be able to shield him from the world, but he wanted to, and that had to count for something.
“Okay,” Eddie said eventually, squeezing Richie’s callused fingers between his own. “Thanks.”
“Is it,” Richie began, voice shaky and off-kilter, pushing in a gentler way than he usually did. “Is it your mom?”
Eddie thought on that for a long while. It wasn’t not his mother. But it was everything else, too. Every filthy word thrown at them in the hallway, every off-hand comment that strangers made, every sideways look that he was given when he touched Richie like he wanted to touch him.
“I just, people want... she wants me to be… different, you know? And I don’t know how to be anyone than who I am. And I don’t know, I don’t know if this is who I’m supposed to be .”
Richie breathed beside him, paced and even and Eddie mirrored him, bringing his bubbling anxiety to a calm hum.
“She wants you to be who she wants you to be,” Richie said slowly, thumb ghosting over the pulse in Eddie’s wrist. “But it’s okay to be who you want.”
“You’re you, I wouldn’t like you if you were anyone else, you know?” Richie looked at him then, moonlight in his eyes and Eddie felt a shifting in his gut that diffused and settled and he knew there was nowhere else he’d rather be than curled in Richie’s bed, Richie warm and pliant and reliable next to him.
He never wanted to leave. Not ever.
“You can tell me anything, you know that,” Riche said quietly, facing Eddie, moving his hand to the center of Eddie’s chest. “Always.”
“You too, Rich, always,” and they’d let it settle, had drifted off to sleep with the knowledge that they were harbored with one another.
That had been three years ago, but they’d honored that promise, has whispered things to one another in the dark that they’d never told anyone else. The bond between them filled with dreams and secrets and wants that Eddie didn’t understand, not fully.
Not until now, with Richie flushed and agitated, trying to say the very same thing that Eddie has found he’s always wanted to say, but didn’t have the right words for.
Richie’s hand cups the side of Eddie’s neck and it’s so warm, and so sure, and Eddie feels like he’s about to fly apart. He knows what’s about to happen just as he can’t even possibly begin to imagine what’s about to happen. “We’ve always been safe here, right Eds?”
And Eddie doesn’t know if he means this physical space, or their closeness—their friendship—but either way, Eddie nods.
“Do it, Richie,” Eddie says, because Richie makes him big and brave. Because Richie has never—not once—forgotten about what they talk about in the dark.
The bottle of whiskey hits the ground with a dull clang and Richie curls his other shaky hand around Eddie’s hip. “Eds, you know-”
“Do it,” Eddie says again, and then Richie’s lips are against his, feather-light and warm.
Eddie exhales out his nose, and Richie does too, and then Richie carefully leans in and opens his mouth. It feels right, even if Richie’s kiss is off-center and gasping and Eddie has no idea what to do with his hands.
When Richie twines his arms around Eddie’s back, Eddie goes willingly, trusting Richie to take them wherever they’re going to go. It’s confusing and messy and Eddie can’t seem to get as close to Richie as he feels he needs to be. He’d crawl into his skin, dissolve into his blood if he could.
It overwhelms him, the taste of whiskey and cigarettes and his best friend underneath. There’s the heady scent of the flowers, and then there’s Richie, smoke, sweat and something spicy, something that cloys in Eddie’s nostrils and drills into his mind. Richie smells amazing, like he normally does, but better , and so Eddie’s lips find their way without much thought down to the space behind Richie’s ear.
“Ah,” Richie gasps, his fingers tightening their hold and Eddie wants more of that. His tongue snakes out to touch Richie’s skin and Richie jerks in his arms, a warm puff of breath gusting over the nape of Eddie’s neck. “Eds.”
For a brief flicker of a moment, Eddie thinks he’s done something wrong because Richie sounds like he’s in pain, but then Richie’s hands are tangling in his hair and tugging on him to slot their mouths back together. “God Eddie,” Richie whines into his mouth.
Eddie can’t help the smile that curls his lips, even as he presses in further, causing Richie’s body to fall back against the side of the house. It’s exactly where he’s needed to be, it’s what he’s been craving, he realizes as the giant cavern of need opens, deepening even as he sates some of the gnawing hunger.
Their pace slows even as their hands continue to skate over clothing and skin. Richie begins to tremble in his arms, limbs and lips becoming uncoordinated, and Eddie steadies him, pressing around Richie’s body and holding him up. They fall into a sweet give and take of pecks and longer, lingering kisses.
It only occurs to Eddie as they pull away, how he’s not afraid, not a bit. Richie’s hands are on him, and he’s always wanted Richie’s hands on him, and he wants Richie to hold him like this forever.
He’s feels incandescent.
“Hey,” Eddie whispers, and feels his cheeks heat; his face feels like it’s going to crack under the breadth of his smile.
Inside, people have started singing along to Kris Kross and the revelry canopies over them. Alcohol sings through Eddie’s veins, and he’s the happiest he’s ever been. In front of him, Richie pushes a hand through his hair and Eddie watches as a cautious, slow smile spreads across his face.
“You don’t hate me?” Richie asks carefully.
Like Eddie ever could.
Eddie reaches out and hooks an index finger through one of Richie’s belt loops.
“You’re you,” Eddie breathes, knowing Richie Tozier to the marrow, right down to the ground. “I wouldn’t like you if you were anyone else.”
Richie steps close to him, presses his hand to the center of Eddie’s chest and rests their foreheads together, and Eddie swears he can smell the ocean on Richie’s skin.