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If Eddie felt charitable, he might have admitted that he was not watching where he was going as he dashed through the city on his frantic lunchtime walk on a particularly pleasant afternoon in late August.

However, he wasn’t always a charitable person even when he hadn’t just been knocked on his ass and bitten his lip so hard that the pain kicked the breath right out of him, so no, actually he was going to punch the oblivious tank he had run into right in the stomach and then sue him.

“Holy shit, dude.” There was a hand in Eddie’s face and he ignored it, shielding his eyes from the sun so he could properly see the tank he was about to start screaming at, once he could breathe again.

“Fucking asshole,” Eddie gasped. The tank waved his hand a little more urgently at Eddie, who continued to ignore him and staggered to his feet under his own power.

“You’re bleeding,” the tank said.

“I fucking know I’m bleeding,” Eddie snapped, looking at his hands, which were scraped all to hell, little bits of loose gravel embedded in his palms.

“No, your lip.” The tank, who was not actually much of a tank—just a tall, gangly idiot, not exactly NFL material—reached out and swiped a thumb under Eddie’s bottom lip, holding it up to show Eddie that it was covered in blood.

“What the fuck,” Eddie squawked, slapping at his hand. “Who the fuck touches another person’s blood? Do you even—just fucking get inside, now.”

The sidewalk upon which the tall, gangly idiot had tossed him was right in front of a bar called the Barrens. It had a little shiny turtle shell on the sign, which made no sense at all but was comforting to him somehow, and it looked marginally cleaner than any other place on the block. He pushed the idiot toward the door, and to his credit, the idiot didn’t protest even when Eddie physically turned him with a hand on his broad back. He kept his hand there, low on the idiot’s back, guiding him all the way to the restrooms behind the dartboards. The restroom walls were covered in blackboard material and there was chalk in a bucket stuck to the wall. The idiot lit up at the sight of it and Eddie scowled and pointed at the sink.

“Wash my blood off your hands,” he said. “Do you know how stupid that was? You’re lucky I’m healthy.”

The lights in the bathroom were low except right over the sink, and he took a real look at the idiot for the first time rather than just assessing him for height, weight, and likelihood that he’d punch back. He was tall and his shoulders were broad, but he carried himself like he was a gawky beanpole and Eddie had the fleeting thought that he probably had been exactly that as a teenager and wasn’t used to being a man yet, though he had to be around Eddie’s age. He wore jeans and a black hoodie and Chucks, and thick smudged glasses.

“Give me those,” he said, waving at the idiot’s eyes. “How do you even see out of them? They’re like the windshield of a motorcycle on a highway.”

The idiot obediently gave Eddie his glasses and washed his hands, then squinted thoughtfully down at Eddie while he dried them. “Why don’t you wash your own hands?” he asked.

“I’m not the one running around sticking my fingers in other people’s body fluids,” Eddie said, but he handed the glasses back to him and turned the water on, catching sight of himself in the mirror above the sink. The idiot was behind him, watching him watching himself, his eyes wary. It didn’t sit well on his face, which seemed perpetually on the verge of laughter. The corners of his mouth were turned up whether he was smiling or not, and his eyes were observant and amused, laugh lines everywhere.

“I really hurt you,” he said softly, and he was very close all of a sudden. He didn’t touch, but his presence was warm anyway, and Eddie shivered as they both leaned toward the mirror to examine the cut on Eddie’s lip under the harsh light.

“It’s not bad,” Eddie found himself saying. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“Me neither,” the idiot said. “I was looking at my phone.”

He said it with a sheepish grin that exposed his dorky teeth, like he knew Eddie was going to get mad about that, and at any other time he might have done so. Today, however, Eddie only said, “I was too,” and pulled away from the sink. He backed into the idiot, who was still close behind him, but the idiot didn’t move and Eddie felt like he was being shielded by his body, somehow. He wasn’t that big, he thought, wiping his hands, but he had a brief sensation of safety nonetheless.

“Can I buy you a drink?” the idiot asked. “To make up for hip checking you into the core of the Earth?”

Eddie opened his mouth to say no, of course not, he was on his lunch break. But the end of his lunch break had already come and gone, hadn’t it? He wasn’t so much out for lunch as he was out for the afternoon, or maybe forever. He just hadn’t told anyone yet. For the first time in his entire life, Eddie Kaspbrak was doing something he wasn’t supposed to do, and he found he sort of liked it. In fact, he wanted to do more of it. He wanted this idiot to buy him a drink.

“Yeah,” he said. “But I like expensive shit, so don’t think you can just throw a Bud Light at me and call it good.”

“Okay, I feel bad, but not that bad,” the idiot said. “You can have, like, Jack and some Moxie.”

Eddie snorted out laughter before he could help it. “Moxie,” he said. “I haven’t thought about that in years. You’re gonna make me drink battery acid?”

“Hey,” the idiot said, a grin spreading across his face. “Are you from Maine?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I grew up in Bangor.”

“I grew up in Derry.”

“My friend Bev lived in Derry when we were younger,” Eddie said, and ushered the idiot out of the bathroom before he did something insane and reached out to touch the side of his face. What a weird fucking day it was turning out to be, he thought, a little dizzy, but—but somehow not bad. Not bad at all.

“I think I went to elementary school with a Bev,” the idiot said when they were at the bar, holding up a hand to the bartender. He ordered two Jack and cokes and Eddie didn’t complain because he liked the way the idiot turned back and focused on him, like Eddie was the only thing in the universe. Eddie didn’t enjoy being looked at, but this guy—it was different. He wanted this guy’s attention the way he had wanted things as a child, intense and all-consuming.

“I’m Eddie, by the way,” he said. “What’s your name so I can stop calling you the idiot?”

“The idiot, huh?” the idiot asked. “That’s very Russian of you. I’m Richie. I take it you don’t like C-list comedy, or you’d probably know who I am already.”

“No, I like things that are actually funny,” Eddie said.

“Ice cold, but not inaccurate.” Richie shoved a drink at him, and Eddie drank it in three harsh gulps, barely tasting it or noticing how much the alcohol burned the inside of his lower lip. “I’m gonna get you another one, but why don’t we sit down? You’re like the size of a toddler, man, that’s gonna hit you hard.”

“Oh, fuck you,” he snapped. “I’m average height and I’ve had a bad day, and then a fucking idiot tackled me to the ground.”

But he let Richie lead him to a table that was out of the way, tucked behind the staircase that led up to the second floor, and he stared blearily down into his second drink instead of throwing it back.

“What was your bad day about?” Richie asked, coming back to the table with a little bowl of fries. “Because I’m having a real turd myself.”

Eddie considered the fries, which he generally didn’t eat, and the man before him, whom he wouldn’t normally have let himself look at. Men—all men, but especially tall broad ones who made him laugh—were as off limits as sugar, fat, salt, and kicking his coworker Stu right in the fucking face.

“I…think I fucking hate my job,” he said finally. “I think I might have just quit.”

“Shit,” Richie said, pushing the fries toward him. “If you can’t tell, that usually means someone got punched. Did you punch someone?”

“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “I just—I started realizing recently, like really recently, that my job is a job for assholes. I guess I knew that. I don’t know, maybe I thought I was an asshole and it worked for me? But I don’t want to be an asshole.”

His eyes stung and he shook his head, embarrassed. Not wanting to be an asshole wasn’t anything to cry about. He just hadn’t realized how many things in his life added up to that, and when it was right there in his face, he thought about what he would have to say to himself as a little boy if he had to justify his life. I’m sorry was the first thing, and that wasn’t what he wanted. Not at all.

Richie was watching him, his face open and kind and curious. “It seems like you’re not an asshole, but you feel like you have to be one.”

His shoulders sagged, and he reached for a fry to cover up the fact that his lower lip was quivering. “Yeah,” he said when the urge to cry had passed again. “That’s probably true. I’m a risk analyst for an insurance company.”

Richie whistled and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “That is a job for assholes, man.”

He nodded. “And today it sort of came to a head because this guy Stu—are there any guys named Stu who aren’t fucking shitheads? Because I haven’t met any—he was joking about this lady he recommended against insuring. You get kind of desensitized after a while, but for some reason this one bothered me. She was old and high-risk and maybe she reminded me of my mom, I don’t know. I kind of went off on him, but obviously it wasn’t really him. It was me. I’ve been doing this since grad school and I’m just, like, fucking dead inside.”

“No, you’re not,” Richie said, so sharply that he looked up. “Sorry. I don’t know you. But you’re not dead inside. You’re kind of crazy eyed and you dress like a mortician, but you’re not dead. You seem really, really alive. To me.”

“Do I?” he asked. “I…I hate everything about my life.”

The urge to cry returned and it was too strong to push back this time. He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes for a minute while his face crumpled and he tried to force his breath to stop sobbing in and out.

“Fuck, sorry. You said your day was bad. Tell me,” he demanded, sniffling. “Ignore the pathetic asshole crying into his drink at two in the afternoon.”

“Shit,” Richie said. “Don’t put me on the spot like that.”

“If you don’t distract me from my misery right fucking now, I’m gonna leave,” he said.

“All right, what the fuck,” Richie said, pushing his glasses up by the side of the frame. No wonder they were dirty all the time, Eddie thought. This guy was a mess. “I have…a conundrum. About my job.”

“Your job being shitty comedian,” Eddie said.

“Yeah. It’s very.” Richie stopped, pressing his lips together. “It’s humor for a certain kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy?” Eddie asked. “Like the guys I work with? Asshole guys?”

“Yeah.” Richie laughed, self-consciously. “Yeah, asshole guys. Guys who think puking on a girl while she’s giving you a blowjob is the funniest fucking thing ever. If you can accidentally puke, jizz, piss, or shit on someone who wants to bone you, for who knows what fucking reason, that’s top of the line prime comedy.”

“Oh my god,” Eddie said, drinking deeply again. “I’m so embarrassed for you right now. You have no idea.”

“I know,” Richie said, and he was smiling, but his voice broke. “And it’s really working for me. I mean, there’s always gonna be an audience for wrong hole jokes. I just don’t think it’s funny anymore. Actually, I fucking hate it.”

“Poor you,” Eddie said. “Getting super rich from being a permanent twelve-year-old.”

“Poor you,” Richie said. “Getting super rich telling people they don’t deserve to live.”

The moment should have been brittle—he thought if it were anyone else, maybe he’d be furious. Maybe the other guy would be furious, maybe he’d throw a drink in his face, storm out. But he wasn’t angry at all. Heated, yes—he was lit up like a bonfire, but not with anger.

“Sorry if that was too much,” Richie said.

“It wasn’t.” Why the fuck was he smiling? He hardly ever smiled, now that he thought about it. Sometimes he gave what could be considered a smile to his coworkers, but that was probably more like the way monkeys bared their teeth as a warning. 

“It’s just like…I’m right on the precipice of getting really known. It’s my lifelong dream, but—” Richie made a gesture as if twisting a knob. “Not the way I want it. So I’ve been trying to make a decision, but if I do the thing I want to do, I can’t go back.”

“Can’t you just, like, change up your routine?” Eddie asked. Finally, tempted by the smell, he popped one of the fries in his mouth and had to physically stop himself from groaning at the burst of rough salt and heat. “I don’t fucking know how comedy works. Are you that guy forever?”

“This isn’t as simple as changing my routine. If I do what I want to do, it’s gonna blow up my entire career,” Richie said. He alternated between sitting back in his chair, arms crossed, or leaning heavily on the table, swirling his drink and watching Eddie, and either way Eddie couldn’t stop looking at him. There was something about his soft, nasal voice, the outline of him, the way his hair curled a little at the edges, the square spread of his shoulders, the way he moved his long fingers constantly, the hint of a t-shirt under his hoodie that Eddie desperately wanted to see—all of it was fascinating. He wanted to unwrap him the way he had unwrapped presents when he was little, with total glee and abandon. God, the fries were so good. The way this fucking guy looked was so good. What the fuck?

“What do you want to do?” Eddie asked. “Because it sounds like you’re thinking about murdering someone.”

Richie waved his hand. “I don’t think I could murder anyone, I barf too easily. No, I want to, uh. I want to come out. Like, publicly.”

It took a second—longer than a second, actually, which was especially ridiculous considering where Eddie’s thoughts had been taking him. “Oh, come out,” Eddie said. “Oh. Wow. Yeah, that would be…” He made an explosion sound, mimicking a mushroom cloud with his hands.

“Yeah,” Richie said in a small voice, staring down at the table.

“I bet it would be amazing, though,” he said.

“You think?” Richie asked. “Some days I think that and some days I want to run away to Ireland and become a clover farmer.”

“You can’t do that,” Eddie said. “You’d look so fucking stupid in overalls.”

“Well, that’s what’s been stopping me so far.” Richie toyed with the tiny straw in his almost empty tumbler, and Eddie went to the bar and got two more. It felt right to get something for Richie, the way it had felt right to clean his glasses. I want to look after you, he thought, and shook his head, angry at himself. That was Sonia Kaspbrak talking, but it gave him a thrill anyway.

“Don’t you think it’ll be nice to just be yourself?” Eddie asked when he sat back down. “I mean, you already are yourself, I guess. But it would be nice not to be scared of it.”

Richie shook his head, rubbing his neck. “Everybody already knows. We’re talking like, not even glass closet. Bubble closet. But part of me has always been like—at least the stories people tell about me are completely wrong. The idea they have of me is so off-base, I can’t even be upset about it. If they know this thing about me, though, they might get an idea of who I really am. What I want. It’s all right if I fail or fuck up or something terrible happens, as long as nobody knows it hurts me.”

“If you’re really real and everyone can see that and still reject it, that’s worse than if you’re fake and they reject it?” Eddie asked.

“Exactly,” Richie said. Eddie had been afraid he might be offended, but he sounded relieved. “Who the fuck cares if someone tells Trashmouth Tozier to fuck off? He’s an asshole who doesn’t care about anything.”

“But Richie Tozier cares about shit a lot,” Eddie said. “Don’t you? You care about everything.”

“Too fucking much,” Richie said. “I’ve tried to stop for like forty years and it’s not gonna happen, so I’m finally accepting the fact that I’m a sensitive little bitch.”

“Hey,” Eddie said, and grabbed Richie’s hand before he could push up his glasses. “Don’t fucking say that about yourself. It’s good to feel things. If you stop, you end up like me. You have to—to cry and be mad and be happy and excited and scared, all of it, the good shit and the bad shit, or it’s not real. I’ve been scared of the bad shit my whole life, but you can’t have a whole life without it, so I was like…what the fuck is that stuff that’s made of like, newspaper and glue? Paper something.”

Eddie didn’t think he’d ever held another man’s hand in his life, or at least not like this, snug and deliberate and meant to impart comfort. He never touched anyone, but it didn’t feel wrong or strange, here in this bar full of bright gleaming wood, sitting across the table from a stranger who knew more about him than anyone else in the world right in this moment. So much of his life had been spent not wanting his skin against another person’s skin because the discomfort hurt, like sandpaper over open nerves, but Richie’s fingers felt normal. Good, even, because his palms were still sore and Richie’s thumb was soothing, sweeping over the scrapes again and again.

“Papier-mâché?” Richie wrinkled his nose in confusion.

“Yeah. It’s flimsy, totally malleable—like, it’s nothing, really, but then you keep adding the nothing on top of it and eventually it’s this stiff puppet sculpture thing, made of nothing. I don’t want to be a fucking nothing puppet.”

Richie tilted his head and smiled, his eyes soft and affectionate. “Okay, first, did you watch a documentary on puppets or something? You know so much about this for a dude who does…what the fuck is it you do again?”

“Fuck off.”

“Right, something really douchey.” He ran his finger along the area between Eddie’s thumb and forefinger. “Second, you could never be a nothing anything. Eds, I don’t even know your last name and I know you’re—a lot.”

“I’ve been trying not to be.” He watched Richie’s hand in his hands, the interplay of their skin sliding together—desired for the first time, reached for for the first time, connected for the first time. Richie apparently bit his nails and around his nails, dug in deep with his teeth, and Eddie thought that should disgust him but it only made him wish he could kiss each finger for protection and tell him he didn’t need to destroy himself, that Eddie, a perfect stranger, liked each part of him and wanted to keep it all safe. It was his mother surfacing again, he thought, but fuck it, who cared if it was? Was it terrible to want to give care through protection? Maybe, he thought, maybe if protection turned into caution turned into fear, but he didn’t want to be cautious. He thought, in fact, that he never wanted to be cautious again.

“I think you should be exactly what you are,” Richie said. “You seem wild, man. I love that.”

“I could say the same thing about you,” Eddie said. He thought Richie would let go of his hands, but instead he brought his other hand up—Eddie imagined someone else in the bar seeing them hidden here behind the staircase, someone who had come in while he was absorbed in Richie Tozier, comedian, stuck in the closet, dressed like a teenager, beautiful crazy smile—and they were leaning across the table, fully caught up in each other.

“What else do you hate about your life?” Richie asked gently.

He closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t talk to people. I don’t have any fucking friends except Bev, and we’ve known each other since high school. How do you go through your entire adult life without friends, man? I tell myself I like to be alone because my mother told me I couldn’t, but I just don’t connect with anyone. I—I’ve never even dated.”

He opened his eyes, expecting laughter. The forty-year-old virgin joke was right fucking there, and he wouldn’t even blame Richie if he went for it. It wasn’t something he was ashamed of, necessarily, but it also wasn’t something he had ever admitted to anyone except Bev, and he knew it was—well, statistically unusual.

“No?” Richie said. “Did you even want to date anyone?”

He shook his head. “It would take too long to explain my mother, but I was a hypochondriac my entire life, didn’t want anyone to get near me. I sort of started to get over it after high school—I even met this woman who seemed interested in me. My friend Bev, she and I got this shithole apartment together in college. She used to date these guys who were exactly like her dad. Finally one of them hurt her bad, and she got a fucking restraining order and went to therapy and I guess, I don’t know, she’s working on that. Anyway, she took one look at this woman who was interested in me and realized what I didn’t, which was that she—Myra, that was her name—she was exactly like my mother. And I thought if Bev could get herself out of that cycle, maybe I could too, but then my mom got sick, and I just…never met anyone I wanted. I know you probably think it’s weird.”

“Not weird. You seem like you’re pretty particular about what you want.” Richie said it like it wasn’t a big deal, and Eddie’s stomach dropped at the sudden and fierce and astonishing sensation of being understood.

“I am. I really am. It’s not so bad. Nothing hurts me.” Eddie untangled their hands and finished his drink and realized he probably shouldn’t have another because he was feeling a little too good. “But I don’t feel anything.”

“All right.” Richie emptied his glass too, throwing it back while Eddie watched his throat working and felt like everything in the world had gone very slow and hot. “We’ve got a plan, Eds. I’m gonna come out, and you’re gonna get out.”

“I think I—I have to come out too,” he said, confused.

“I talk to you for an hour and you fucking bogart my life-changing event,” Richie said. “Get your own.”

“Eat a dick,” Eddie said. “What do you have to do, tweet a fucking rainbow and write some new material? I’m gonna have to find a new job. In New York. In the summer.”

“Why does it have to be New York?” Richie asked. “You get to figure out what you want now, don’t you?”

“Fuck,” Eddie gasped, and for the first time all day, he felt around for his inhaler. It was tucked into the leather bag he had carried with him since college, a gift from his mother, and he pulled it out with shaking hands. Richie raised his eyebrows, and when Eddie had given himself two sharp pumps from the inhaler, he said, “It’s fucking anxiety induced asthma. Not even real. Nothing in my life is real.”

“You can make it real,” Richie said, shoving his chair back and standing. “We can do this.”

“What, now?” he asked. He checked his phone and saw it was only three-thirty.

“Do you have a schedule for this? Like you have to get your car detailed before you tell your coworkers to go fuck themselves?” Richie put both hands on the table and leaned forward. “Eddie whatever-your-name-is, there’s a reason we met today. I was texting my friend Bill when I knocked you down. I was about to tell him I’d decided to take this role on a really fucking stupid show. That’s why I’m in New York. We’ve been going around and around about this show, and I was gonna say yes. I’d make a fuckton of money and I’d be—well, not C-list anymore. But I’d never be able to come out. Actually, I’d have to go farther in. Meet a centaur, become king, do a whole allegory.”

“Really,” Eddie said through numb lips, staring up at the sharp square of Richie’s jaw and wondering what he’d do if Eddie pulled him down and kissed him. “Maybe you could move up to B-list if you didn’t make Narnia jokes.”

“Oh yeah? Come up with some fucking better shit and I’ll give you a percentage of my gay royalties,” Richie said. “My point is I think you stopped me from making a big mistake. Can I do you a solid in return? Don’t go back to being an insurance asshole. I would fucking hate it if we left this bar and you didn’t at least try to find out what’s real for you.”

“You’re real,” Eddie said shakily, because it was true.

Richie shook his head, grimacing in disbelief. “I think I am, actually, with you,” he said, and Eddie stood up too because he did want to kiss him, right fucking now, but even more than that, he wanted—needed—to put his arms around Richie and hug him and be hugged, tight. He wanted to rest his forehead on the soft material of Richie’s hoodie and not care who saw him being held. He got up in Richie’s space and Richie moved back even as he let Eddie in, until they were tucked against the wall, still hidden from the rest of the bar, which had become busy and noisy outside their little cave. We’re both good at hiding, Eddie thought, but not for much longer.  

“One thing that’s definitely real,” he said, his stomach lurching up and down like he was on a roller coaster, “is that I want you to kiss me.”

Richie’s face softened into something almost sad, his mouth springing open in shock. “You do?” he asked.

“Yeah,” he confessed, and swayed closer for a moment before he realized he was presuming a lot. His stomach twisted again, unpleasantly, and he backed away. “Um, do you—it’s okay if you don’t want to kiss me.”

“Dude,” Richie said, sliding his hand up Eddie’s arm until it was resting on his shoulder, which he massaged softly. “Of course I want to.”

“So fucking kiss me then,” he said, scowling. “Dude.”

“Not on the mouth. Not yet,” Richie whispered, bending down so his lips just barely brushed the rim of Eddie’s ear. Eddie closed his eyes and gasped at the touch, which sent a wave of goose bumps across his entire body. The hair on his arms stood up and he could feel himself getting hard—well, harder; his cock had started stiffening the moment Richie had touched him, and heavy warmth settled into his pelvis.

“Why not?” he asked, clutching Richie’s hoodie. Every cell in his body wanted it. He shivered at just the thought of Richie’s lips on his and wondered how insane the reality would be.

“I think you’d regret it,” Richie said. He pressed a long, soft kiss to his temple instead. Eddie moaned and rocked forward so he was tight against Richie’s body, and Richie did pull him into his arms then, holding him carefully. Eddie leaned his head on Richie’s shoulder and breathed him in, shuddering. His skin was so sensitive right now he thought that if Richie moved his fingers at all—and then Richie did exactly that, running his fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and the noise Eddie made was so full of obvious need that Richie pulled him closer.

“I want it so bad,” Eddie gasped. “Please.”

Richie let go of him and held him by the shoulders, a solemn little smile on his face. “Shit’s about to get weird for both of us, Eduardo. I want to kiss you when the only thing you’re thinking about is kissing me back.”

“It is the only thing I’m thinking about,” he said.

“Well, you haven’t quit your job and I’m still the oldest closet case on the West Coast,” Richie said. “So let’s—let’s get it together.”

Richie let go of him but didn’t go far, only straightening enough to tuck his fingers into the collar of Eddie’s shirt.

“This Wall Street bro cosplay is killing me,” he said, tugging on Eddie’s tie.

“It’s not cosplay if I’m actually a Wall Street bro,” Eddie said.

“Okay, I’m not kissing you until you can no longer legally say that,” Richie said. He pulled out his phone, opened it up, and thrust it at Eddie. “Put in your number and tell me how your life explosion goes.”

“And then you’ll kiss me?” he blurted out. He didn’t think he’d ever felt this bare-faced need before, unfurling inside him like he had swallowed a seed and it was growing throughout his whole body, tendrils wrapping around his bones. Not a cruel need, which was all he had known before, but something unfamiliar and gentle and beautiful, warm where he had been cold.

“Yeah, sweetheart,” Richie said, cupping his face with the kind of tenderness Eddie had always assumed people put on as a performance until just this moment, when he could feel it pass through Richie’s fingers into him without any barrier between them. “I’ll kiss you so much.”

“And, um, call me that again,” Eddie said. Richie’s hands were cool on his hot face and he rubbed his cheek against Richie’s palm. “And touch me.”

“Anything you want,” Richie whispered, pressing their foreheads together. “Anything. I’ll send you the address for my hotel and you can stay with me tonight.”

“Oh my god.” Eddie closed his eyes and breathed in—Richie smelled good, weirdly like the best parts of the beach, sun and breeze and sand—and made himself pull back. “I’m gonna fucking jump on your dick if I don’t go right now.”

Richie laughed and Eddie—loved him. His mouth dropped open in astonishment. There was no fucking way love could happen that quickly, not for anyone and especially not for him, but the beautiful sweet burst of joy and affection he felt at Richie’s stupid wide-mouthed laugh and scrunched up nose said otherwise.

Shit,” he said in a small, quavery voice, backing away.

“Go throw some tables and get dragged out by security,” Richie said. “And don’t change before you come to the hotel room. I want to peel you out of that Gordon Gecko shit myself.”

“Maybe my coworkers will be too distracted by their favorite shithead comedian admitting he likes dick to care about me,” Eddie said, and he left the bar while Richie was still laughing.

*

His fantasies had lied to him; it was disappointingly easy to quit his job. He had always assumed someone would beg him to stay, because he was very good at what he did, he worked longer hours than anyone in his office, and he had volunteered to train all the new hires for the last four years. Everyone fucking hated training the new hires. That was how you became indispensable, doing the work no one else wanted to do without complaint. In his imagination, his supervisor Derek would stop him, tell him to think it over, offer him more money, and he’d have to turn down progressively higher and higher amounts until—well, maybe he might think about giving in. You can’t leave, Derek would say. How can you abandon us like this? You know how much we need you, Eddie-bear.

Instead, he walked into Derek’s office, which he had been eyeing for three years as his own future office, mentally replacing Derek’s mustard yellow mid-century modern chairs with his own sky blue mid-century modern chairs, and said, “Derek, I need to get the fuck out. I quit,” and Derek said, “Okay. The resignation forms are in the admin folder on the C drive.”

“Effective immediately,” Eddie said, tapping his fingers on Derek’s desk to get his full attention, which Derek did not give him.

“Yeah, I figured,” Derek said. He had a beautiful orchid sitting between his desk and the bookcase that was full of books Eddie knew for a fucking fact he had never read. The cleaning staff took care of the orchid. Derek, Eddie thought, didn’t even know that you weren’t supposed to put it in full sun. He just knew how much it cost.

“Are you mad?”

“Edward,” Derek sighed. “You’re the eighteenth person to quit this quarter. Stu’s been asking me when he can have your office for two years. No, I’m not mad.”

“What the fuck. All right, Derek, eat shit then.” Eddie stalked out of Derek’s office and into his own. He had bought himself an antique Emeralite when he got the job just out of his MBA, and he realized, looking at the cool, geometrically tidy room, that he didn’t even want that. But he’d be damned if Stu got it, so he unplugged it and carried it out with him. He stopped at Stu’s desk office, which was close to the bathrooms. Truly the bottom of the office food chain.

“Hey, Kaspbrak,” Stu said, giving Eddie a toothy grimace that tried very hard to be a smile. “Haven’t read your notes on my recommendation, but I can’t wait. You’re fucking brutal, dude, I love it.”

“You’re a soulless piece of shit, Stu,” Eddie said. “I hope when you end up in the hospital for choking on Derek’s balls, your insurance calls it a pre-existing condition and refuses to pay.”

“What?” Stu said, but Eddie was already down the hall, heading for the elevator.

*

Richie texted him the address for his hotel while he was gathering his lamp and realizing he had spent fifteen years doing absolute bullshit.

Are you fucking kidding me, he typed when he had put the address into his Escalade’s GPS. You stay at the fucking Essex House when you come to NY? How much money does barf dick comedy even make.

No I stayed at a normal hotel last night. I got my manager to book this for tonight. Makes me feel like I’m in ghostbusters, Richie replied.

Eddie wrote Ok but are you 12 years old? but knew it wasn’t the thing he really wanted to say. He deleted it and wrote That’s actually cool. The real one’s in LA right? instead.

Yeah, I’ll take you there if you want to come home with me, Richie wrote.

Eddie started the car and sat in it with the door open, one foot still absently resting on the running board. You get to figure out what you want to now, Richie had said. Did birds feel like this when they were released, like they hadn’t even known they were caged until the sky had opened up above them and now they weren’t sure where to go?

Richie was still typing, the three dots blinking again and again. Finally, he sent Sorry, that was weird. We just met three hours ago.

It’s not weird, Eddie typed, and deleted it.

What did he want? How was he supposed to know that it was really what he wanted and not just a momentary desire? Did what he really wanted need to be something that lasted? What if he did want that, right in this moment? He felt not just excitement because he wanted to touch Richie and Richie wanted to touch him, but a strange thick beautiful contentment at the thought of being with him that he had never felt about anything before, and so what if that feeling was gone tomorrow? He had it now and he would remember having it and know he was capable of feeling something so enormous and so saturated with color.  

It is weird, but I feel the same way. I want you, he wrote. That was what it came down to: he wanted Richie.

Well hurry the fuck up, Richie replied, and Eddie finally closed the door and started driving.

On the way, he told his car to call Bev.

“Hey,” he said when she picked up. “I’m about to do something crazy, okay? I don’t want you to talk me out of it, I just want you to know in case I disappear or something.”

“Back up, babe,” she said. “I can barely process you’re calling me at five in the afternoon on a weekday. You’re saying it gets crazier from there?”

“Uh, yeah,” he said, tapping his fingers on the wheel to stop himself from feeling nervous about driving distracted. “I met—a guy. I met a guy, Bev.”

“Oh, wow.”

“I’m gonna text you the room number just in case, like I said, but I’m—this is a big deal. I’ve known him for like three hours and I think I might have known him my entire life, or what the fuck ever.” He was breathing too hard, and glanced at the gigantic overnight bag he had packed. His inhaler was in the side pocket, but he didn’t think he needed it yet.

“This is amazing. Please tell me everything. Everything,” Bev said. “I am pushing back my five-thirty client. Explain.”

“No, I have to go. I’ll tell you afterward. But I quit my job. I know it sounds like I’m having a breakdown, but I swear, this doesn’t feel like that. I feel so good, Bev.” The last few words came out wobbly and he cleared his throat. “Actually, you might know him. He said he grew up in Derry.”

“Okay, no, now I’m worried,” Bev said.

“His name is Richie Tozier.”

“R—the comedian?” she asked, and he heard her frantically typing. “Oh my god, Eddie. Yeah, we were in elementary school together. I didn’t even know he was—wait. Richie Tozier, who just came out on Twitter an hour ago? That Richie Tozier?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, of course he actually did it on Twitter,” Eddie muttered. “Well, that makes it easier for you to track him down if he murders me. Gotta go, Bev. Love you.”

“Wait,” she said, but he had disconnected.

*

He assumed the lobby was beautiful. He didn’t even notice. Richie had one of the terrace suites—and Eddie was going to pay for half of it after he finished yelling at him for spending that kind of money on a single night—and it seemed to take forever to reach it. It was nearly six in the evening on a Tuesday and the light wasn’t right for a sexy assignation anyway, but there was no one around when he knocked and it felt cinematic. Then the door opened on Richie, still in his jeans and gray hoodie, and it was real again: he was real, right to the tips of his tingling fingers.

“You came out,” Eddie said, and Richie’s insane, lovely smile spread across his face. The way his left eye squinted slightly more than the right made him look sweet and daft, and Eddie wanted him.

“My manager’s about to kill me,” Richie said gleefully, gesturing for Eddie to come in. “He asked me like five years ago if I wanted to come out and I said no, and I didn’t even give him time to make a plan. Steve fucking loves plans.”

“I love plans,” Eddie said. “What’s wrong with plans?”

“Everything,” Richie said. “Eddie Kaspbrak, plans are for boring people. Not us.”

They stared at each other across the threshold for a moment, grinning like lunatics.

“Come here,” Eddie said desperately just as Richie said, “I need to touch you,” and he let go of his bag and threw himself bodily at Richie, who caught him close and kissed him on the temple.

“I thought for a second that maybe I was just going crazy, but this is the right thing,” Richie said. “It’s right, isn’t it. That’s not even a question.”

“Fuck, yes,” Eddie said, wrapping himself around Richie’s big warm body. “My entire life is like, fucking destroyed, and I don’t care.”

“Not destroyed,” Richie whispered against Eddie’s skin. “What do you call it when everything kind of fucking sucked before and it also kind of fucking sucks right now but in a different way, and there’s one thing that makes up for it?”

“A midlife crisis,” Eddie said.

“I already have an obnoxious car and first editions of every comic I liked as a kid,” Richie said, squeezing Eddie a final time. “This isn’t a crisis, right?”

His voice was so raw and anxious Eddie couldn’t even bring himself to tease him. “No. Or maybe. They don’t really talk about what happens after the crisis, you know? Like, is it better than it was before? Is it worth it?”

“It’s already worth it,” Richie said, swallowing hard. “Can I strip the Wall Street off you? Are you officially no longer a finance bro?”

Eddie started to loosen his tie. “Yeah, that bridge is on fire.”

“Did you punch someone?” Richie asked, brushing Eddie’s hands out of the way and reaching for the tie.

“What is it with you wanting me to punch people? My anger issues are not that bad, okay.” Eddie lifted his head and let Richie take off the tie and undo his top button, but when he started to shrug out of his suit jacket Richie stopped him.

“Let me,” Richie said. “Is it weird that I want to, like, undress you and everything? You’re just so fucking hot, it’s like unwrapping a present.”

“Yeah, it’s fucking weird,” Eddie laughed, holding his arms up so Richie could tug off his suit jacket. He automatically undid his cuffs and pushed his sleeves up while Richie watched him, and stopped laughing when he saw the look on Richie’s face.

“You really want me to touch you?” Richie asked. “Pickiest man in the world, and you pick me?”

“Fuck you, dude, you know what you look like,” Eddie said, peering over Richie’s shoulder at the rest of the suite. “Where’s the bedroom?”

Richie stared at him like he’d done something really strange for a second before he shook his head and took Eddie by the hand, leading him through the living area, which was almost the size of Eddie’s entire apartment, and into the master bedroom, which looked out over the park. The gigantic white lake of the bed looked inviting enough that Eddie daydreamed about sleeping there for a second, arms and legs spread out with the luxury of room and a warm body cozy beside him, before he remembered he had Richie right there beside him.

“You’re supposed to kiss me,” he said, turning to him accusingly. “You said.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Richie smiled down at him, equal parts nervous and affectionate, his eyes moving from Eddie’s eyes to his lips. There light outside was dying just as he leaned in and rubbed his nose against Eddie’s and stayed there. “You like being kissed?”

 “I don’t know, I never—I know it’s supposed to be, like, the quintessential high school experience, but I didn’t,” he said breathlessly. His lips just brushed Richie’s with every word and he felt almost unbearably needy, rocking up on his toes to get closer.

“First kiss, huh?” Richie whispered. His big hand slid up Eddie’s neck to cup the back of his head, his thumb stroking along Eddie’s jaw and making him close his eyes and sigh at the pleasure of it.

“If you ever fucking kiss me,” he said, intending it to be wry and sounding soft and longing instead. “Rich, come on. It’s the only thing I’m thinking about. It’s the only thing I want in the entire world.”

Richie got him right on the last word, sliding his lips over Eddie’s, slow and not gentle, not exactly, but considering, like he was measuring every movement to draw the most enjoyment out of kissing Eddie, specifically. Like he was saying This is what kissing you means to me. The heat of his mouth, his tongue and teeth pressed against the cut on Eddie’s lip with a quick, liquid pain that turned into something else, set off a flood of chills that poured from his scalp to his toes and he shivered so hard he gave a surprised, choked moan. He ran his hands up Richie’s arms to clutch at his shoulders through the soft cotton of his hoodie and held on tight while Richie kissed him and kissed him, sweeter, a little deeper, letting him catch up. Gradually, Richie moved him backward until he hit the bed and his knees opened around Richie’s hips, his breath catching in little hitches when he felt the rigid line of Richie’s cock against his abdomen as Richie stretched him out on the bed with slow pressure between his legs. The fabric of his trousers was thin enough to feel Richie’s jeans against the insides of his thighs, the heat of his fingers as Richie gripped his hips tight and rolled down against him and Eddie broke the kiss and cried out and curled helplessly around Richie. He put his foot on the back of Richie’s leg to give him more leverage and realized he still had his shoes on.

Richie pushed himself up enough to grin down at Eddie, bright and amazed, running his fingers through Eddie’s hair like he couldn’t stop touching him. “All right, rate your first kiss for me, Eds.”

“What’s the scale?” he asked.

“One is you saw god, ten is you saw god even more.”

Eddie tugged on Richie’s zipper. “Five, I guess. I saw god and told him my first kiss was all right.”

Richie’s entire face scrunched up with laughter, and he stood, propped against the bed with Eddie still spread out underneath him, to unzip his hoodie and throw it off. His green t-shirt said, “Guess what?” with a chicken underneath and an arrow pointing to the chicken’s ass.

“Oh my god,” Eddie said. “Get that thing off.”

“Yeah,” Richie said with a quick eyebrow waggle, tugging the shirt off. He was so broad across the shoulders, and it was even more clear that he had started off angular and gotten a bit bigger over the years without realizing it, some parts rounding out and some becoming more muscular. The result was pleasantly masculine. Idiot, of course he’s masculine, Eddie thought irritably, but there was a physical ideal Eddie hadn’t realized he even had, and Richie fit it—tall and big and square and hairy but not too much of any of those things, except Eddie could see how big the outline of his cock was and that…well, that might be too much, in the best way.

Richie unbuttoned his jeans and then reached out to undress Eddie first, fingers quick on his shirt buttons, on his fly, on his shoelaces. He pulled Eddie’s shoes and socks off and set them neatly beside the bed before Eddie could even open his mouth to complain, and tapped his side until he lifted his hips so they could push his trousers off together. Richie’s eyes fell between his legs and then skittered up to his face like he wasn’t allowed to look, and Eddie glanced down at himself, groaning at the sight of the big, slick wet stain on his underwear, spreading out from the head of his cock.

“What do you want?” Richie asked, his thumb soothing and almost ticklish on Eddie’s ankle. “I mean, I know you said you wanted to jump on my dick, but I’d be happy to jump on yours. Or there could be no jumping on dicks. What do you think, Eds? You seem like a guy with opinions about what goes in your ass.”

Eddie narrowed his eyes. “I definitely want you to fuck me,” he said finally.

“You look so sad about it,” Richie said, and Eddie could see himself under Richie so easily, surrounded by him, pressed down hard into the bed, his mouth open around the sheets or the pillow because he needed something to bite so he wouldn’t scream. Or maybe he’d suck Richie’s fingers. He thought Richie would be nice if he wanted him to be nice and mean if he wanted him to be mean, and that was a real thought, wasn’t it, that this man—definitely kind of an asshole, not someone who liked to be told what to do—would find out what Eddie wanted and give it to him. If Eddie said Actually, what I want is for you to spank me and then pirouette across the room, Richie would do exactly that, and if he whispered Will you love me, please, Richie would hold him tight and whisper every embarrassing, tender thing Eddie had ever wanted to hear while he made him come. Eddie didn’t know how he knew this, but he did.

Richie ran his fingers up from Eddie’s ankle to his knee, back and forth, back and forth. It sent little shockwaves of pleasure all over and his legs trembled, hips pushing his dick up against nothing in his wild need for friction, but he didn’t push him away. Richie slid up the bed so he was kneeling beside Eddie and ran a hand over him through his wet underwear, pressing the heel of his palm against the head until the tight, sweet pressure made Eddie toss his head from side to side, moaning through his teeth in hard bursts.

“I want it,” he gasped in an agony of sensitivity, grabbing Richie by the shoulders and digging his nails in. “Please, I want it so much.”

“You can have it,” Richie said. He was serious and tender in the low light. “You get whatever you want, sweetheart.”

“I just want you to fuck me, like now,” Eddie said, too desperate to be embarrassed. “And—and don’t fucking make fun of me if I go off really fast. I’ve been thinking about this since the second I saw you.”

“I won’t make fun of you. Ten bucks says I come before you do anyway,” Richie said, kicking his jeans and underwear off in one quick clumsy move and reaching for Eddie again, dragging his underwear down slowly and catching his cock before it slapped painfully against his stomach.

Eddie fucked up into his grip and couldn’t help the small panicked noise he made. “Don’t, I’m so close.”

“Fuck, okay.” Richie let go and ran a hand over his side, soothing him. “You want it like this, on your back?”

He shook his head. “I like it when I’m on my stomach,” he said, pushing himself up onto his elbows and tugging his undershirt over his head. Richie’s dick was right in front of him, and he wanted to touch it but couldn’t quite get up the nerve yet, biting the inside of his lip and trying not to stare at it. His initial observation had proven correct: it was big, thick and so hard it looked tight and painful. He felt jumpy, twitching like an aggravated cat, at the knowledge that it was going to be inside him.

“Oh, do you?”

“Fuck you, man,” he said, scowling. “Just because I haven’t done this with someone before, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I like.”

He forced himself not to watch while Richie grabbed lube and condoms from the suitcase he had propped up by the closet, nibbling on the tip of his thumb until he felt the bed shift under Richie’s weight.

“Look at you. God, I feel like I won the lottery and all I did was walk while staring at my phone like a fucking asshole,” Richie said. His big, warm hand skimmed over Eddie’s back and the curve of his ass before Eddie saw him opening the lube.

“Wait.” He sat up and grabbed the bottle. “Can I touch you?”

Richie held up his hands. “You have free rein with my dick. It’s your dick now.”

Eddie sighed with something that felt almost like relief mixed with a strange sense of accomplishment when he slid his slick fingers around Richie’s cock. Fuck, yes, he thought. The look he gave Richie was fiercely happy, and Richie leaned back on the bed and gasped and laughed at the same time.

“Fuck, please, play with it as much as you want,” he said, moaning when Eddie gave him a few short, tight strokes.

“You said it’s mine,” Eddie said, shrugging and trying not to smile. “Do you want to finger me or do I have to do all the work?”

“How did I never realize before that hot, high maintenance weirdos are my thing?” Richie tossed a pillow at him. When Eddie only stared at him, he added gently, “Put that under your hips so I can fuck you.”

He shuddered, closing his eyes and clenching his fingers in the pillow. He was definitely going to come all over that pillow the second Richie’s dick was inside him, he thought. “This is how I always used to get off,” he said. “Because I thought using my hands would be too gross.”

Richie guided him onto his stomach, hips up so he could slide the pillow under him. “But humping a pillow isn’t gross?” he asked, rubbing the small of Eddie’s back when he rocked down and moaned.

“Is that weird?” Eddie mumbled, hanging his head. Richie dipped down with him and pressed kisses all over the path his hands had been smoothing along Eddie’s lower back.

“Definitely, but on the plus side, this will be very retro for you,” he said against Eddie’s skin, and slid slick fingers between his legs, just barely inside him. Eddie jumped and Richie kissed him again and rubbed his scratchy cheek against Eddie’s ass.

“You don’t have to—I mean, I do this sometimes, so you don’t have to…” Eddie breathed too hard into the little cave he had created with his arms. “I like it when it’s a little rough.”

Richie made a considering hmm and pressed his fingers into Eddie with firm, confident movements, spreading him open fast—not treating him like he was about to break, not giving him a chance to check how anxious he was, giving him exactly what he wanted, even as he kissed all along Eddie’s side and then across his shoulder. Eddie pushed back into it, collapsing against the bed for a second when he felt the fat, stiff length of Richie’s cock against his hip.

“Oh my god, please, please,” he whispered. “I’m fucking dying here, Rich. Please, I need it.”

“I’ll give it to you,” Richie said, rolling away to grab the condom. The sound of him opening it and smoothing it onto his cock made Eddie grit his teeth in frantic impatience and spread his legs a little farther apart just to feel the stretch of muscle in the backs of his legs, digging his toes into the bed and anticipating how heavy Richie would be along his back. He wanted, he realized, to be engulfed, to have Richie all around him, but there was no way he could force the words out of his mouth no matter how painful the desire was. He was so tight with frustration that the touch of Richie’s leg against his startled an angry sob out of him.

“Is it too suffocating if I put my arms around you?” Richie whispered, kissing his shoulder.

“No,” he choked out. “It’s not too much. Please do that.”

Richie slid one arm under his chest and used his other hand to direct his cock, pressing it inside Eddie—too big, too big, he thought in an ecstasy of excitement and pleasure heavily limned with pain. Then Richie shifted up, blanketing Eddie, thick inside him and warm around him, and the pain receded to a thin line that was shortly eclipsed by pleasure. He dropped his forehead down onto the pillow and moaned, overwhelmed and shivering, not sure if he was cold or scared or happy or upset or so turned on he was about to cry, but then both Richie’s arms were tight around him, secure, beautifully safe, even as the angle of his cock shifted and the drag inside him went from mildly uncomfortable to fucking amazing.

Richie kissed his back and neck and shoulder blades, and found Eddie’s hand, slipping their fingers together. Eddie held on weakly, whispering Oh god oh god oh, oh, oh, oh until it ran together and dissolved into one long broken moan, and started to come the second he felt Richie’s hips hit his ass, stiffening and knowing he was making strange noises and not fucking caring because he was on another plane of existence entirely as pleasure detonated and rolled through him. He was coming onto the pillow like a fucking fountain, far too gone to be embarrassed, when Richie stilled.

“Oh my god,” he moaned. “Did you already—?”

“I told you,” Eddie gasped. He pushed up onto one elbow and reached down underneath him to touch his cock, still thick and heavy against the wet pillow. “Don’t stop, please, I need another one.”

Another—what the fuck?” Richie said in a high, strangled voice.

“I used to—oh god,” he moaned, pushing back onto Richie’s cock to get more. “I used to be able to come like five times in a row. This is nothing. Fuck, Rich, please give me more.”

“All right,” Richie murmured. “We’re gonna talk about that five in a row thing later though.”

Eddie laughed breathlessly and then arched, gasping and still laughing, when Richie began to move again. “It feels so good. You’re the best thing that’s ever fucking happened to me.”

“What, my dick?” Richie asked, picking up the pace until he was rocking smoothly into him.

“No, asshole, you.” Eddie held onto Richie with one hand and reached down to stroke himself again with the other, gulping out quick, choked sobs into the pillow. His second orgasm was always more concentrated, more intense than the first, and he was already losing it when Richie slid a hand under him and around his cock.

“Can I do it for you?” he asked thickly. “Please.”

And that was just fucking it. Before he could even draw in a full breath he was coming again, abruptly knocked out of the driver’s seat of his brain, and he could only cling to Richie and take it, hanging his head and making shaky guttural noises, one coming so close on the heels of the next that it almost sounded like they were overlapping. Richie suddenly gripped him hard around the chest and pulled him up onto his knees so he was sitting in Richie’s lap, and without even thinking about it Eddie leaned back into his arms and let himself be surrounded by him. Richie was pressed tight against his back, one hand on his cock and the other arm holding him up, forehead resting against the back of Eddie’s neck. His hips bucked, frantic and excited, and his breath abruptly grew ragged, and the knowledge that Richie was about to come made Eddie feel wild, like he needed to bite down on something hard and not let go of it. His eyes rolled back and he held onto Richie tight and came a third time, twisting in his arms as it was driven out of him when Richie’s thrusts grew slow and deliberate, cock pulsing inside him. 

Eddie sagged back against him limply, trying to catch his breath. They both stayed there for a few minutes, panting together while Richie pressed his lips against the side of Eddie’s neck and said, very softly, “God, Eddie, my baby, oh my baby, what the fuck was that,” sounding like he was near tears. Eddie turned his head to kiss him, exhausted and wide open. Sometimes he felt like this after he went for a long run, like he had melted into a pool of honey in the sun, but running never came with such deep satisfaction, or shoved everything inside him right to the surface. Richie stroked his hair as they kissed and it choked him up enough that he stopped kissing and just tilted his head back onto Richie’s shoulder, closing his burning eyes and letting himself feel the enormity his happiness. Richie kissed away the wetness on his cheeks and said nothing.

Finally Eddie patted Richie’s arm and squirmed in discomfort, his knees aching. “I’m gonna go clean up,” he said. “You can join me if you want. In the shower.”

Richie made a noise of laughing disgust as they separated and Eddie laughed too, but out of triumph rather than disgust. It was disgusting—beautiful, messy, revolting, human—and he had done it and liked it, and still liked it even after the flush of pleasure had receded. He didn’t believe—hadn’t ever believed—that sex was necessary to live a complete life, but he did think love might be, and he could feel that thrumming under his skin, just as messy and beautiful and disgusting. Richie followed him into the bathroom and he wanted it. He wanted to shower with Richie’s gawky limbs everywhere and listen to him sing the wrong lyrics to songs he hated, wanted Richie to wash his hair and insist on kissing his nose because he couldn’t see his mouth, wanted Richie there even though he would undoubtedly jump out of the shower and get water all over the floor because he had to piss and Eddie was weird for not wanting him to do it in the shower even though it went down the drain anyway.

The Eddie in the bathroom mirror was a funhouse version of himself—not wider or taller or distorted, but calmer, happier. His hair was all over the place, and everything from his chest to his thighs was messy, wet with sweat and come. There was a dark love bite on his stomach, close to his hip bone. He was used to seeing an anxious, angry face staring back at him, but this man was relaxed and exhausted and satisfied, a little embarrassed because it was so obvious looking at him that he’d been fucked and fucked well, but happy about it too. Someone had made him feel good. Someone wanted to make him feel good. He had let someone make him feel good.

“Are you okay?” Richie said from behind him. He had his arms crossed over his chest the way Eddie had come to realize he did when he was nervous. It did good things for his arms, so Eddie hoped he could convince him to do it when he wasn’t upset.

“Look at me, man,” he said hoarsely. He lifted his chin toward the mirror. “I’m definitely okay.”

“Yeah, you are,” Richie said, unwinding visibly, his dorky smile out in full force. He slid his arms around Eddie and nuzzled against the back of his head.

“Thanks for being a fucking idiot and knocking me on my ass,” Eddie said.

“Hm, you should see what I can do when I'm paying attention,” Richie said, sleepily swaying with him. 

*

The next morning, Derry residents would be astonished to discover that the rocky, desolate little area the kids loved to play in behind the dump and the train yard had burst into bloom overnight. Grass and clover and tiny shoots that would someday become enormous thick trees had begun to poke out of the thin soil. In a month the Kenduskeag, which had once covered the entire area and was now a sludgy, staid brown creek, picked up speed and began to run clear. There were turtles everywhere, the old men who ate at Nan’s Diner every morning told the Sunday Telegram. Not a turtle in the town for decades, and now the Barrens were full of them.