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It takes Richie’s agent four months after the success of his first Netflix special (which, yeah, is still fucking crazy to him) to convince him to move out of his small but lived-in apartment, and into an actual house in some boujee neighbourhood on the other side of Los Angeles. His palms sweat the first time he views it and he sees the swimming pool and the five bedrooms and huge fucking lounge that he categorically does not need, and all he can think is that he does not belong here.

Dave’s adamant, though. It’ll be good for your image, he says, as though Richie’s trash-talking, just rolled-out-of-bed-without-brushing-his-hair demeanor can be fixed by his owning a house in a place where everyone’s richer and far more famous than he is. But whatever. He’ll bite.

It’s just that he’s spent the better part of his career feeling like a fraud, and now that he’s living life as his ‘authentic self’ – whatever the hell that means – after coming out just before the very, very gay Netflix special dropped, he figures that that feeling should have dissipated by now. The whole point of his coming out and sacking his writer and starting to write his own jokes was so that he could be himself, and not feel like he wants to crawl out of fucking skin all the time.

Perhaps he's being harsh.

Richie isn’t sure he’s felt it near as strong as this in months, all things considered – pulling up outside the imposing home that he now actually owns, perched at the top of the hill and overlooking what is, admittedly, one of the nicer parts of the city. The views from up here are probably the thing that really clinched the deal for him, anyway; he can look past the unnecessary space and the faux rustic feel of the building for the view, and the view alone.

He stops his car just shy of the middle of the road, getting out just to look at the house (his house, apparently) for a moment. To get himself – you know. Acquainted with it.

All of his stuff is already here, he knows, because he’s been putting off the actual move for weeks now. But after his beloved soft leather vintage sofa was taken yesterday, he figured it was time.

He’s just staring dumbly, arms heavy and dangling at his sides, when he hears the most irate voice he’s ever heard in his life.

“Dude. What the fuck?!”

Richie turns to stare dumbly instead at the man who’s joined him on the sidewalk; short, dark, about this close to tapping his foot impatiently on the pavement.

“Uh.” He says. Eloquently.

“You can’t park here!” Short, dark and incredibly handsome is snippy. He puts his honest to god hands on his honest to god hips.

“Shit, yeah,” Richie looks at the car, as though he’s only just realised this, before turning back to the guy. “I’ll move it. Into the drive.” The guy’s looking at him like he’s an idiot, like he can’t possibly fathom why Richie hadn’t done that in the first place. “Do you live here…?”

“No.” He gives Richie a glare that is truly withering. Richie could probably melt into his trainers right now. “I just know that you’re violating at least six traffic codes right now. What were you going to do if someone drove up here? Do you even know how dangerous this is –”

“Hey, okay, sure, I get it.” Richie holds his hands up in the universal sign for surrender. His lip itches to twist into a smile. “I mean, if someone drove up here I’d have just – moved the car, I guess? It’s not a big deal.”

Clearly, this is the wrong thing to say.

“Not – Not a big deal?”

Richie honestly didn’t know that someone could go that red. He’s mildly concerned that this guy’s head is gonna blow off, and wouldn’t that be great? He can see the headlines now: Trashmouth Tozier irritates man to death!

It has a certain ring to it.

“ – you could kill someone. Do you know that? Someone could die because you parked your stupid ass car in the middle of the road, like – like a fucking hazard machine, and it’s not a big deal?”

He’s definitely missed the first part of this rant. How did they get onto death?

“I said I’ll move the car! I’ll move it! Right now!” He throws his hands up to show his exasperation at the situation, though admittedly he could never even hope to be as exasperated as this guy is. He’s, like, practically frothing at the mouth. Is it normal to consider that to be hot?

Richie steps back off the pavement, flinging the drivers side door open with a little more vigour than he had intended, before getting into the car and revving the engine. He rolls the window down as he passes the guy standing on the sidewalk, because apparently he’s going to watch Richie park on his drive like he’s an actual toddler or something.

He pauses the car beside him.

“You know, shortstack,” he says conversationally, delighting in the way the guy’s face somehow gets three shades darker. He looks like a beet. It’s adorable. “We could’ve done this a lot sooner if you hadn’t gone all ‘boys in blue’ on me.”

Now, this. This is the most withering glare he’s ever received before.

He cackles as he pulls into the drive fully. By the time he’s parked and out of the car, short, dark and handsome is nowhere to be seen.

 

*

 

In retrospect, Richie will allow himself to admit (inwardly, and never once out loud) that Dave was perhaps not wrong about this move being good for Richie.

But Dave’s a smug asshole at the best of times, so he’s definitely not going to tell him.

The location is pretty damn beautiful. He’s never thought of Los Angeles as beautiful before – not because it isn’t, but because it’s never really been anything other than the place that he felt was best for him, career-wise. When he’d graduated school he’d flown across the entire country to get to this place, like every other small-town kid with a dream and an undefined amount of talent. The difference being, maybe, that he never left. That and the fact that he’s somehow done pretty well for himself after all.

He doesn’t hate Los Angeles. He just doesn’t love it, either.

It is home, though. It’s seen him as a struggling artist, getting booed off the stage at twenty-two by people who would never have gotten up there in the first place. It’s seen him getting by spilling somebody else’s jokes out of his mouth like a performing monkey, letting himself be the butt of jokes that always felt insincere to him (because they were). And now it gets to see him like this – the best version of himself, apparently.

He’s on his way to believing it.

Anyway, the neighbourhood is far quieter than he had ever expected it to be, and he likes it more than he ever thought he would. Maybe Dave’s right. He’s getting old. At forty, the stillness of the place gets him thinking he should have, like, a zen rock garden out back, with some bullshit new age vibes that he’ll never understand.

But it’s nice. Peacefulness is nice. Who would’ve thought it?

He plans to ruin it all by throwing a housewarming party, two months into life at the new place. ‘Party’ is definitely an exaggeration, considering it’s going to be more of a small gathering with his closest (and only real) friends. It’ll still probably get loud and out of hand because it’s him and it’s Bev and it’s Bill, and they’ve never been a great mix. Stan’ll be there, obviously, but he’ll also give up trying to reign them in after four beers, so his presence effectively means nothing.

“Bev, what are you doing on Saturday?”

He has his cell phone balance precariously between his shoulder and neck; held in place only by the tile of his head pressing his ear to it. He has one hand on the handle of the frying pan, the other mixing the peppers and chicken and spices around with a wooden spoon, tongue poking out slightly in concentration as he tries to focus on cooking and speaking at the same time.

“I’m guessing… something involving you?” comes the wry reply through the phone. Richie can practically see her smiling in his head.

God, he misses her; all of them, really.

His own life has calmed down now that the special has been out for a while and he’s not being pressed for so many interviews and appearances, but Bev’s got some kind of fashion show coming up, and Bill’s been working twenty four seven on the ending of his new novel (after Richie had told him the current one sucked, and after Bill had then sulked for seven days straight). He can’t remember the last time they all got the chance to meet up, which brings him to his current suggestion.

“Good answer,” he advises her, tossing some five spice mix into the frying pan for good measure. “Housewarming party. By party I mean you, Stan, Bill and the guest of honour – that would be me – and enough alcohol to sink a ship. You in?”

Bev hums which is, frankly, rude. She’s not considering this. There’s nothing to consider and Richie knows this.

“If you say no, you’re off the guest list at my next show.”

“Hm. That’s actually really tempting...”

He snorts despite himself. “Yeah, yeah, you say that now, but a month down the line when everyone’s watching me bomb on stage, you’ll be regretting it.”

“You don’t bomb, Richie.” There’s a softness to her tone which makes him grimace, but she saves it by then saying, “Not anymore, anyway.”

“Rude.” He remarks blandly, even though she’s right and they both know it. “So… Saturday?”

“I’ll be there. Not sure you’ll be able to drag Bill away from his writing desk, though. I’m pretty sure he was crying when I called him last week.”

“He was?” Richie’s mildly concerned at that, pausing where he’s turning the heat down on the stove.

There’s a faint noise of confirmation down the line, before, “though I don’t think it had anything to do with the book. He was talking about some travel writer who mentioned one of Bill’s books on his blog? It was kind of hard to work out, between all the sobbing.”

Richie is delighted at this. “Sobbing!? Oh man. Oh, that’s good. Why didn’t you call me immediately after, Bev?”

“Because I’m a good friend, and he was in need.” There’s a pause. “Also, I recorded the conversation to play you when I see you next.”

Richie whoops, almost knocking the frying pan over in the process. “God, I love you. Have I ever told you that, Red? I love you so much.”

“I know.” He can hear the grin behind her words. Bev is a devious little minx by all accounts, and it’s his favourite thing about her.

“Send me the link to this travel writer guy so that I can stalk him before Saturday.” It’s not like he needs any more ammunition to use again Bill because, quite honestly, the guy seems to give him so much on a daily basis as it is – but this is too good to pass up, and Richie is nothing if not human. And quite possibly a terrible friend.

He’ll repent in hell for his sins, or whatever, yada yada, he’s already on his way there according to Fox News, so he figures it’s go big or go home at this stage anyway.

He hangs up the phone after a bit more back and forth with Bev, dishing up spicy fajitas for one, and eating it on the couch in front of the television rather than the dining table. It’s his house. He can do what he wants.

 

*

 

Sunday – the day after the ‘housewarming party’ --, Richie wakes up at the asscrack of dawn with a revolting hangover, the likes of which have not been experienced by him since his unexpected showing at the Emmy’s last year, just before his – well. The point is, his body hates him.

He manages to drag himself out of bed to take a piss and brush his teeth, but the thought of standing in the shower makes him feel nauseous. More sleep, he reasons with himself, would be good, so he makes his way back towards the bed on shaky legs, pausing in front of the window to stretch.

He’s just trying not to think about the click and pull of his bones – because Jesus, fuck, he’s decidedly not old enough for this shit – when his eyes just about catch the movement at the bottom of his drive.

It takes him a moment too long to get his glasses on, because he can’t see for shit, fumbling about on his bedside table before he can slide them onto the bridge of his nose.

There is someone at the bottom of his drive.

He squints, pressing closer to the window as though it’ll make much of a difference –

-- and immediately jumps backwards when he realises he recognises the person.

Recognises is perhaps too strong a word, considering he doesn’t know the guy at all. But he does know the height – or lack thereof – and the tightness of the shoulders that, Christ, he can see from here. He doesn’t know what the hell this guy’s problem is, but Richie’s never seen anyone look so pathetically uptight.

Distantly, Richie knows that this is something he probably should not remember about a man he has only met once, for a matter of five minutes at most. Less distantly though, he simply doesn’t care to acknowledge it.

He doesn’t turn away from the window. He justifies this by reminding himself that technically, the guy is on Richie’s drive, so he has every right to stop and watch him like a crazy person, or the neighbourhood pervert, or –

The guy takes off running quickly, and for a second Richie’s mind goes blank – did he see him? Why was he – and then he realises that running is a thing that people do. He’s never understood it, but it’s a legitimate hobby, and clearly the guy was just catching his breath for a moment or something.

So now he definitely feels a little weird about literally just standing and watching the guy, but he also reminds himself that it was a perfectly reasonable and rational reaction.

Who the fuck runs at five thirty in the morning, anyway? That, he concludes, is the sign of a psychopath, and taking note of such a person is merely his job as an upstanding citizen who cares for the people of this neighbourhood that he’s never actually bothered to meet.

He crawls back into bed, setting an alarm to wake him up at midday, like a normal person.

 

*

 

It becomes a common occurrence.

On the days that Richie is actually up early enough – which isn’t that often because, as previously ascertained, he’s a normal person and not, like, a fucking robot or something – he catches glimpses of short, dark and handsome running through the neighbourhood.

Most of the time, he’s wearing typical work out gear, running tights beneath longer shorts on particularly cooler mornings; the kind of clothing that Richie doesn’t and won’t ever own, because exercise has emphatically never been for him. He’s a forty year-old comedian who makes a living telling self-deprecating jokes about his gangly limbs and beer gut; it’s okay.

Some days – the best days – the guy wears what can only be described as booty shorts.

The first time Richie sees them – tiny, red, barely covering the tops of thighs that he can tell even from his vantage point are tanned and powerful – he’s convinced he’s having a heart attack. His heart races almost painfully in his chest and his head gets all light and airy from a lack of oxygen and he’s pretty sure he blacks out for, shit, like, thirty seconds or something, because when he comes back to his senses, running guy is gone.

Until the next day.

The shorts become more of a frequent inclusion in his work out wardrobe from then.

On this particular day, Richie’s stood by his window, holding a steaming mug of black coffee, and wondering if he’s missed the running guy. It’s six thirty, so he wouldn’t be surprised if he has, but he would be bitterly disappointed. He’s always been an evening guy, which stems from having to do so many late night gigs and shows over the years, but he’s been getting up at a ‘healthy’ time (healthy according to Bev, at least) for two weeks now.

It has both nothing and everything to do with short, dark and handsome.

He’s beginning to lose hope, glancing at the time on his phone and wondering whether he should go back to bed or actually tackle the day, when he sees him. Running past the house, as usual. Sometimes he stops, like that first time, to catch his breath – but mostly it’s just this. Him running (which Richie still doesn’t get, but he guesses this is at least a pretty nice place to it if that’s what you’re into) and Richie watching.

God, when did he become the creepy middle-aged guy?

“Bev wasn’t joking when she said you were sort of functioning like an adult these days, then.”

Stan’s voice rings out clear, crisp and sarcastic as all hell behind him, and Richie almost drops his mug in his haste to turn around. He’d completely forgotten that Stan had spent the night after coming over for some of Richie’s famous Thursday Night Chilli, because this house is big enough that he can forget these things, apparently.

“Uh – “ He says, but Stan is already squinting at him. He moves forward from the doorway to start peering out of the window over Richie’s shoulder.

“What are you looking at?”

“Nothing.” Damn. That’s definitely too quick and too guilty.

Stan’s eyes narrow even more. “Sure. Because you’re the kind of guy who just looks out of the window for no reason in the morning. You’re not Bill, Richie.”

Which is – fair.

Richie pointedly does not look out of the window. He’s hoping (and almost certain) that running guy is entirely out of view by now, but then he hears Stan make an interested sound.

“Richie,” he looks at him. “Were you just watching that man run past your house?”

No. I was admiring the birds, actually.” Richie replies loftily, because he knows that nothing gets Stan going like talk of birds.

But there’s none around. Not one single, measly bird. Interesting, considering how many seem to be around and tweeting when he’s trying to sleep. The world is against him.

“Oh my god, you were watching that man! Who is he?”

There’s no point denying it now. Richie deflates slightly, letting his shoulders sink forward. He actively tries to avoid looking at Stan’s smug and all too amused expression.

“I don’t know.” Richie admits. Which, when he thinks about it, is so much worse. “I mean – I’ve met him once. When I moved in.”

“Hm.” Stan tilts his head to the side. “Was he nice?”

A bark of laughter escapes from Richie’s chest, and he shakes his head, “No. Not in the slightest.”

“And now you’re, what – just watching him run from your window every day? I don’t think I need to tell you how weird that is.”

“Not every day.”

“Richie.”

“Fine – whatever! It’s mostly by accident. Why does he even run past here anyway? It’s – it’s unfair to the people of this community. He doesn’t even live here!”

Stan – Richie’s oldest and worst friend, undeniably – levels him with a flat gaze. Richie doesn’t know how he does it, especially when he still manages to exude so much amusement. “Okay, Rich.” He moves past Richie to exit the room, clapping him companionly on the shoulder as he does. “I’m telling Bev, by the way.”

Richie does not crash into the door jamb and bruise his shoulder in his haste to follow Stan out of the door (except that’s exactly what he does).

 

*

 

Richie’s been in Los Angeles since he was eighteen, but it takes him until he’s forty to set foot in one of the whole foods, farmers market esque places.

It’s so intrinsically LA in every single way, and he looks at the place doubtfully, before letting out a sigh and going for it. It’s the closest place to get good fresh ingredients and he’s actually cooking now, so he figures it’s probably for the best. Cooking is another thing that it’s taken him almost forty years to decide to pick up, but he’s glad he’s finally doing it – taking a little more care of himself than he has before this.

He thinks back on his twenties and early thirties and grimaces these days, which is definitely a sign of his maturity. Sure, he sent Bill an ‘I fucked your mom’ text just last night, but that’s kind of his brand. It doesn’t count.

It’s also still just super fucking hilarious to him that Bill doesn’t expect it. Every single time.

He’s shaking his head and laughing under his breath, two sizeable aubergines in his hand, when he hears the voice.

It’s truthfully terrifying how quickly his head shoots up. Seriously, he thinks he heard something click in his neck.

But – yep, he was right – even after hearing that voice only ever once in the history of his life, he knows exactly who it belongs to.

Sure enough, running guy is standing at the end of the aisle, hands on his hips like it’s his fucking default setting, chewing out some poor employee about his apparently ‘dangerous’ handling of the nut counter.

Richie feels himself wince. He simultaneously pities the guy and wants to be him.

He moves forward as though on auto-pilot, aubergines still in hand, like he’s about to fucking martyr himself for the safety of this store employee. He opens his mouth, meaning to say something casual and easy like ‘hey’ or ’can I help’.

What he actually says is, “Oh, look, it’s the cop.”

He feels the blood drain form his face.

Shortstack spins on the spot, brow creasing furiously until he sees who it is. Then he just glares, letting his gaze drag from the top of Richie’s head to the tips of his toes, and wearing an expression that tells him that he’s just been evaluated and has come up short.

It’s nothing new. He barely seems to meet anyone’s standards and at this stage in his life, it’s just another punch to roll with.

“You.” Short, dark and handsome says.

“Me.” Richie says.

Short, dark and handsome (and God, Richie really needs a name to go with that description) looks at the two aubergines in his hands with a raised brow, and then folds his arms across his chest. “I’m not a fucking cop.”

“Are you sure?” Richie’s a little on the incredulous side, but mostly he just wants to be glared at more. It’s a real problem. “Because – no offence, man – but you literally look like the textbook definition of a narc.”

Shortstack actually bristles. Richie can see his chest physically start to puff. “Oh yeah? Well, you look like a fucking tweaker!”

The inherently elated grin that breaks Richie’s face in half would be embarrassing, except he thinks he might actually be in love. Seriously. This guy is giving him the worst stink eye he’s ever been on the receiving end of in his life – and he has literally made jokes about fucking people girlfriends at his shows in the past, with them right there – and Richie could melt with it.

“Why are you laughing at that? Stop laughing. It’s not funny. I was being serious.” Short, dark and handsome is now short, dark and beet-red. Richie thinks it’d be more threatening if he didn’t sound so adorably petulant.

“So was I, man!” Richie throws his hands up – still wielding the aubergines – and laughs. “What kind of person knows about traffic violations if they’re not a cop?”

This guy is looking at him like he’s clinically insane. He might be. “Oh, I don’t know – how about law abiding citizens who drive?!”

It’s – this guy is too much. He is the definition of too much. Everything about him – from his hiked-up canvas shorts and tucked in shirt to his ergonomic sandals – is just too much.

Yet Richie still wants more.

“Of course. Right. My mistake.” He grins around the words like an idiot. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Every American should read the traffic code in their spare time.”

The guy looks every bit like he’s going to start chewing Richie out even more. Instead, he seems to visibly take a breath, narrowing his eyes. “I know you’re being sarcastic but what you said is accurate, so I’m going to ignore that. Anyway. I’m a risk analyst, moron.”

He might actually be a psychopath. Richie is practically vibrating with glee. What the fuck is a risk analyst anyway? He’s ninety nine per cent sure that that isn’t a real job.

“And you just let that guy go!” Running guy is gesticulating wildly to the now blank space behind him, where the employee had been. The man had the good sense to flee the scene. “He was using the same scoop for the nuts and the seeds. Am I the only sane one here? Am I the only one who recognises the risk in that?”

“I think he got the message.” Richie replies not unkindly, unable to stop grinning. His face might genuinely be stuck like this now. He finds he doesn’t mind. “You know. After the first few times of you yelling it in his face.”

“I wasn’t yelling.” Short, dark and handsome doesn’t seem to understand what ‘yelling’ means, because he’s yelling right now, even, but – semantics.

“If you were talking any louder, my mom would’ve been able to hear you. And she’s buried six feet under in Maine, so.”

“Well maybe if people would just listen, I wouldn’t have to yell.”

“Okay, fine.” Richie nods. “I’m listening now. Is there something you need to say?”

He seems to wilt at that, air puffing out his cheeks before he releases it, looking slightly put out. “Well. No. Not anymore.”

“Great.” Richie realises, too late, that he’s still holding the aubergines. He fidgets with them for a moment, before dropping them into the basket hung over his forearm. “What’s your name?”

Shortstack blinks at him. He looks defensive for a moment. “Why do you want to know?”

“This is the second time I’ve run into you. Feels rude not to know it.” Richie’s shrugging. Like it’s the only reason. He hopes he isn’t as obvious as he feels like he is.

After a moment that feels entirely too long, running guy nods shortly. “Fine – it’s Eddie. Eddie Kaspbrak.”

Richie’s so busy celebrating the fact that he finally – finally – knows his name that he barely realises that Eddie’s walking off until it’s almost too late.

“My name’s Richie!” He calls pathetically at Eddie’s retreating back.

Eddie does pause to look back over his shoulder when Richie says it, though, so he takes it as a semi win.

 

*

 

“I think I’m going to take up running.”

The absolute exhaustion of the sigh that hits Richie’s ear through the telephone is frankly insulting. He also thinks it’s entirely fair, so he doesn’t say anything.

“Richie.” Bev says, once she’s finished sighing and has apparently decided she’s able to talk again.

“Beverly.”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the guy Stan told me about, would it?”

“Stan told you about a guy? That’s great! I’m very happy for him.”

“Richie…”

Richie frowns, rustling the papers in front of him. “Okay, fine, I know what you’re talking about.”

Silence.

Honestly, he needs more supportive friends.

“But no, what the hell? Can’t a guy care about his fucking health, or something?”

“Yes.” Bev agrees. “But you’ve literally never cared about your health before.”

Richie gawps at the reflection of himself in the mirror. Then he realises how stupid he looks and shuts his mouth. “That’s not true. I gave up alcohol two years ago for my health.”

“Yes.” Bev agrees again. He doesn’t like where this is going. “For a week, Richie.”

He sighs, rifling through the sheaf of papers with a bit more force than necessary. “Ugh, fine, you’re right. I hate it when you’re right.”

“I just think you should think this through a bit more. Can you even run?”

“Running is basically walking, just… double the pace. How hard can it be?”

“You get breathless walking up the stairs.”

“Okay, this is getting incredibly personal, Beverly.”

Bev sighs again, but there’s an edge of amusement to it now. He always wins her round eventually.

“Just don’t go doing anything stupid.”

“Would I?” Richie pauses. “Don’t answer that.”

“I won’t. For both our sakes.” He can hear the grin in her voice. He can also hear another voice in the background; distinctively male.

“Do you have company? Oh, you dirty dog!”

“Richie!” She laughs through her exasperation. He thinks he can hear the moment her head drops into her hand. “It’s just – remember I told you about that guy I was dating?”

He has to wrack his brains for a second, before the lightbulb goes off. “The hot, fancy architect? What was his name – Ben?”

“Mhm.”

“That’s going well, then?”

“Mhm.”

He can definitely hear her smiling now. It’s disgusting. He’s ecstatic for her.

They hang up the call after he promises not to do anything rash or stupid. Then he goes to dig in the back of his wardrobe for the running trainers and sweatpants he’s sure are still in there from some skit he had done ten years prior.

 

*

 

In Richie’s defence, he truly does not intend to bump into Eddie on his first run.

Admittedly, that is still the sole reason that he decides to take up running at all, but --

The point is, he knows he’s in the wrong, but he’s also tried to avoid this at least partly.

He chooses just after midday for the first time. He’s not entirely convinced that he’s not going to eat dirt, for one, so he’d rather there be less people around and, for another, he’s fully intending on doing one lap around the area and returning home. The jury is out on whether he’ll even finish a lap at this stage, but he’s nothing if not an over achiever (and he’s absolutely not going to be quoted on that, because every single one of his friends would disagree unequivocally).

It’s pretty awful from the off. He gets a stitch about five minutes in, and he’s appalled at how quickly he gets out of breath; how loud, even to his own ears, each heaving intake of air is. But, he reminds himself, that this should be the point. Getting fit! Being at one with nature! The weird metallic taste on his tongue and the feeling that he’s going to hack up a lung!

He focuses on the slap slap slap of his steps on the tarmac, on the slow breaths in and out, and he’s not convinced for one second that this is actually good for his body, and everyone who does this out of choice is definitely a psychopath and –

As though on cue, he lifts his head to see a flash of red running up ahead of him, immediately faltering in his steps. He’d recognise those shorts anywhere (which is objectively a really fucking weird thing to think, he knows this, okay).

Richie lets out a groan, slowing down but not quite halting. He turns his head this way and that, trying to find a much needed out to this situation, because this is really not what he had in mind. He was hoping to become, like, a fucking expert in running before he even thought of accidentally on purpose bumping into Eddie on this route. As it is, his old band shirt is sticking to his torso from the sheer amount of sweat that he’s producing, and his lungs are about two seconds from giving up on him completely.

It’s too late.

He watches in abject horror as Eddie throws an almost inadvertent glance over his shoulder; watches as his eyes catch on him, watches as they widen before narrowing, brow wrinkling into a deep frown.

This might be worse than his show last year where –

Okay, no, it’s not worse than that.

 

 

 

Still. He swallows nervously as Eddie stops, removing his ear buds and seemingly turning off the music on his phone with a slow preciseness to his movements, before he’s turning fully to look at Richie.

“Uh –” Richie manages, before Eddie is barrelling forward.

“Are you following me?”

Richie’s beginning to realise that Eddie is constantly on the defensive. Or that’s how it seems, at least. Maybe in this situation he’s not actually wrong to be, even if no, Richie isn’t technically following him. Not on purpose, anyway.

“No.” Richie winces. “I live here.” Eddie raises a brow at him. “Well, not here obviously. That would be uncomfortable, because this is a road.” The brow seems to get higher. “But in the neighbourhood – down there.” He waves vaguely behind him.

“Okay.” Eddie says slowly.

“I wouldn’t,” Richie continues quickly. “Follow you, I mean. That would be creepy.”

“Yes,” Eddie nods. “It would be really fucking creepy.”

It’s mostly the truth, Richie reasons. It wasn’t like his plan was ever to follow Eddie. It was just to – bump into him, at some point, in a highly orchestrated plan of action.

But the heart wants what it wants, or something. In the movies this kind of thing always seems sweet. It’s mostly just uncomfortable, like most of the romantic endeavours in Richie’s life have been to date.

“I haven’t seen you running before.” Eddie continues. He’s not sweating at all. It’s ridiculous. Richie can practically see the tendons in his thighs and his calves. It should not be as sexy as it is. “I run here a lot… most days, so.”

“You do?” Richie curses inwardly at the sudden higher pitch of his voice; the way it comes out sort of strangled at the end. “You don’t live here though, right?”

“No.” He’s defensive again, folding his arms across his chest. “But the routes here are better for running. It’s not illegal, is it?”

Richie feels the edges of his lips start to turn up at that, because honestly, “You’re the cop. You tell me.”

“Not a cop!”

“That’s exactly what a cop would say.”

“You’re insufferable. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe. Every day.”

The back and forth is nice. It’s not like he’s the only one enjoying it, either. Richie can see the way that Eddie’s trying not to laugh; the way his eyes are bright with it, the waver of his lips into a small smile that makes Richie tingle all over. It’s sickening. He wants more of it.

“Okay. Well, I’m gonna – “

He can see Eddie starting to tug at his ear buds again, and it makes him panic, like he’s not ready to let this conversation die and the “Wait” tumbles out of his mouth before he can stop it.

Eddie pauses where he’s untangling the wires, one earbud already in and his thumb paused over the play button on his screen. He looks at Richie quizzically.

“Can I run with you?” Richie regrets it almost immediately. He can see the confusion crossing Eddie’s face, half parsed with skepticism, and he can’t blame him. There’s no way in hell Richie can keep up with someone like Eddie when it comes to running. “Not right now. I’ve already done fifty laps or something, obviously – height of fitness, you know?” He motions to himself jokily, feeling another wave of regret when Eddie’s eyes follow the movement. “But maybe tomorrow?”

The ensuing silence seems to last for hours. Richie shifts from foot to foot, and just barely resists running in the opposite direction. Why doesn’t he ever listen to Bev? He’s going to start listening to Bev. This will be the last time he does what she’s basically warned him against doing and –

“Sure.”

“What?” he blinks.

“I said sure.” Eddie shrugs, allowing a quick, small smile. It has an edge of sharpness to it that fills Richie with dread and want. “I’ll wait for you outside your house at 5.30.”

5.30. God, he’s –

“You’re trying to kill me.” Richie groans as Eddie starts moving again. “Fine. Fine.” As though he didn’t ask for this. “I’ll see you at 5.30, Eds.”

The “Don’t call me that” he hears in response is faint with the distance between them and sounds half-hearted at best.

 

*

 

Richie rolls out of bed at five am the next morning, scrambling to get himself together in time to actually be on time. He manages to shower and brush his teeth quickly, throwing on a pair of sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt that has seen better days. A part of him thinks he should at least try to look good, but he also recognises that’s an entirely moot point.

He doesn’t have time to have a coffee, but that’s probably a good thing. The last thing he needs is a shit emergency whilst he’s trying (and failing) to keep up with Eddie. He waits at the bottom of his drive, making some half assed attempts to stretch, though he barely knows what the fuck he’s doing, and he’s sure he looks even more of a big, gangly idiot than usual.

Eddie is, predictably, precisely on time.

He’s wearing the shorts again.

Gulp.

Richie has to physically tears his eyes away. It’s unfair. It’s so unfair. He’s not sure Eddie realises how short those shorts are. Or maybe he does realise it and he knows what a thirst trap it is – Richie kind of hopes he doesn’t, because that would mean that he was trying to thirst trap someone in particular, right? Why else would you wear your thirst trap shorts out constantly?

Regardless, Richie knows he’s going to have to try and keep on a level pacing with Eddie, or else he’ll end up falling behind and being distracted by the view.

“Ready?” Eddie’s chipper in the morning, Richie notices quickly. He’s wearing a smile that’s so bright that Richie’s light-headed for a couple of seconds.

“Do I look ready?” Richie’s aiming for confidence, half leaning into the wall, but Eddie just snorts, rolling his eyes.

“Come on.” He says, moving forward and glancing at Richie over his shoulder. “We’d better set off before it gets too hot.”

It’s fairly pleasant to begin with. Eddie is clearly slowing down his pace somewhat so that Richie doesn’t have to struggle to keep up. It’s cute, and Richie has half a mind to say as much, except he doesn’t doubt that Eddie would leave him in the dust if he so much as mentioned the word cute right now.

Richie still doesn’t get the appeal though. Maybe for Eddie, who hasn’t broken a sweat and barely seems to be breathing differently at all, but for him – he’s already drenched and sticky, already feeling like his heart is beating dangerously quick, though there could be a myriad of reasons for that. Like the fact that Eddie’s right next to him. He can feel the warmth coming off of his body. Richie’s eyes slide sideways to look at Eddie from his peripheral vision.

It is, perhaps, one of his worst mistakes.

He misses a step and feels his heart pitch into his stomach as his feet fumble for purchase on the ground; instead, they just seem to catch air and he feels himself tumbling forward, shoving his arms out in front of him to stop himself from going face first into the gravel. The jarring impact of his palms against the floor is one thing, but the sudden searing pain in his left ankle is another altogether.

He vaguely hears Eddie’s concerned sounding ‘fuck’. Mostly he’s just trying to disappear into the ground. Like if the earth could actually open up and take him right now, that would be perfect.

“Rich, Richie, fuck, are you okay?”

Richie opens his eyes to see Eddie’s face swimming into his vision. He’s doe-eyed and stricken, panic written all over his countenance, and Richie feels his heart tug even as he grimaces.

“Yep. Perfect.” He manages. “I think my pride might be broken, but what’s new?”

It’s worth it to see the relief overtake Eddie’s body. He slumps a little, the apparent tension dissipating from his taut shoulders instantaneously, reaching a hand out for Richie to hold onto.

“That looked really bad.” He’s biting his lip even as Richie takes his hand. Eddie pulls him up in a surprising show of strength, and Richie gets that light-headed feeling all over again, until he tries to stand on his own two feet and almost immediately buckles.

“Rich?” Eddie’s there immediately, holding him up with their hands still clasped.

It’s miserable. Richie can’t even enjoy it, because he’s too embarrassed and too in pain.

“Think I twisted my ankle.” He admits with a hoarse laugh. “Would you believe it if I said this is the first time I’ve done this?”

“Considering you literally started running this week, yes,” Eddie rolls his eyes as Richie’s head shoots up, but he’s smiling in a way that seems almost affectionate. Maybe Richie’s just delirious. “And yes, I know you’ve never run a day in your life before yesterday. You have terrible form, man.”

“You’ve been checking out my form?” Richie jokes because he can’t help it, feeling a thrilled rush go through him when it brings a faint dusting of pink to Eddie’s cheeks. “Take a man on a date first, Spaghetti.”

Spaghetti.” Eddie mutters under his breath disgustedly. He’s shaking his head, and Richie half expects him to just leave him for dead on the sidewalk, but he tugs Richie’s arm around his shoulder instead. “Okay, let’s just get you home.”

It’s decidedly awkward. Richie has a good many inches on Eddie, and he’s half stooped the entire time, trying in equal parts not to put too much wait on Eddie or his twisted ankle. Thankfully, they weren’t too far into the run, but it still takes them well over double the time to get back to Richie’s place, and then there’s the awkward fumble in his pockets for his keys.

“I can probably take it from here.” He says doubtfully at the threshold.

The glare Eddie levels him with shuts him up immediately.

He dutifully lets Eddie help him into the house, quietly amused by the amount of fussing. Like, seriously. The guy sets him down on the sofa and immediately pulls his leg up, muttering about blood flow and other things that Richie doesn’t really understand but thinks are at least vaguely accurate.   

“Are you gonna be okay? Should I call someone?”

“Uh, no.” He can’t think of a single friend that he would want to call right now. All three of them (ha) would laugh at him. He’s not emotionally prepared to handle that, given the current situation. “I’m good, man. Sorry I ruined your run.”

“It’s fine. It’s not ruined. I can pick it back up.”

Richie tugs his trainers off with some difficulty and wincing at the jolt it sends through his ankle, avoiding Eddie’s not so subtle stare. His stomach twists queasily as he decides to just bite the fucking bullet, because Richie Tozier does nothing in halves.

“Let me make it up to you,” he shrugs. “Saturday? I can make lunch.”

Eddie purses his lips thoughtfully. “Okay.”

 Okay?

Jesus.

He didn’t think it’d be that fucking easy.

“On one condition.”

And there it is.

He sighs, deflating somewhat. “Yeah, sure, Eds, what is it?”

Eddie’s halfway to the door, but he turns, lips upturned like he can’t help it. “No more running.”

 

*

 

Saturday rolls around in a summer haze; anticipation and anxiety bleeding into one to make Richie nothing if not restless. It’s the exact way he feels before every show, which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but he wants to make a good impression.

He’s pretty sure he’s not made a single good impression any of the four times he’s spoken with Eddie, but if life has taught him anything, it’s that there’s a first for everything.

He’s wearing a violently loud Hawaiian shirt, because he needs to make an effort, but he also needs to look like him. He figures it’s fine. He’s still not entirely sure whether Eddie even knows who he is, which – like, he’s pretty famous. Not to blow his own horn or anything (though he’d love nothing more), but his twitter following count has been climbing since he came out, and subsequently did the Netflix special. There are Buzzfeed lists focused entirely on his tweets now.

Still. It’s not been brought up yet. It’s kind of refreshing, since the last guy he fucked around with was exclusively in it for the name drop. Not that this is anything like that. No fucking around going on here.

Is he hoping that’ll change? Fucking obviously.

Eddie’s pretty much his dream guy wrapped up in a five foot eight body. It’s awful.

He answers the door on the second knock, pointedly not looking at his reflection in the mirror before he does so.

Eddie is so hot. Richie wants to melt into a puddle at his feet. He’s got this uncertain expression on his face and a shirt pulled tight across his biceps. Richie wants to lick them.

“Welcome to Casa Richie.” He says jauntily, stepping aside to let Eddie in. Eddie’s already rolling his eyes, and it feels like a win to him. “Is pesto pasta okay with you? I didn’t know what you liked and then I remembered the thing with the nuts, so…”

He’s rambling, a little nervous. He digs his hands deep into his pockets just to give them something to do, to hide the slight shake of them.

“Pesto is… fine.” Eddie nods. It’s jerky and uncertain and Richie raises an eyebrow quizzically. “It sounds good.”

Richie isn’t sure which of them he’s trying to convince more, but his voice is this hard, determined thing, and he knows better than to question it already.

“How’s the ankle?”

“Great.” Richie does a little hop and a jump to evidence that. “See! No lasting damage. There were some concerns back there… mentions of amputation, you know.”

“Of course.” Eddie eyes him drily. “You’re so brave.”

“Some might say I’m an American Hero.” Richie presses a hand to his heart exaggeratedly, leading them towards the kitchen. “But I just did what had to be done.”

“You’re an idiot.” Eddie mumbles it like he knows it’s too fond, and Richie hides a smile.

He heads to the stove where the pasta is bubbling away, peppers and onions and garlic frying in the pan. He gives it a stir, pointing it towards one of the stools against the kitchen island and ordering, “Sit. I’ll cook.”

He busies himself with adding some herbs and spices to the pan, sighing in contentment at the fragrancy that rises as he does. He can feel Eddie’s eyes on him; but it’s more emboldening than it is nerve-wracking somehow, here in the comfort of his kitchen where he feels at home.

“Do you cook a lot?”

Richie turns to see Eddie watching him. He looks impressed, and Richie feels a rush of warmth towards him. It makes him proud. “Yep. Every day.” He nods, noting the way that Eddie’s eyes light up at the mention. Interesting. “I didn’t always. I used to live on takeaways and instant ramen it was – disgusting.” He laughs, slightly sheepish but unabashed.

“Sounds like a frat boy diet.” Eddie wrinkles his nose.

Richie laughs been more at that, full-bodied and loud. “You’re wouldn’t be far off. Except for the fact that I was never a frat boy.” The thought itself makes him laugh even more.

“Weird theatre nerd?” Eddie’s smirking.

Richie adores it.

“Hole in one, Eds, my love!” He crows. “How did you know? Do I not look like a footballer to you?”

“In height, maybe.”

He’s pretty sure Eddie is teasing him. It’s joyous. He seems miles away from the uptight person Richie’s known before this, and a part of him jolts with the thought that he did that. He’s making Eddie smile and laugh and maybe even relax.

He dishes the pasta up, mixing in the pesto with the noodles and the vegetables, pouring them each a glass of white wine on the side. He finds himself watching Eddie take his first bite, his entire body suddenly on edge; not helped by the fact that Eddie himself looks tentative about it, as he’s twirling some noodles around his fork, swallowing apprehensively.

“Oh my god,” he practically moans, less than ten seconds later. “This is amazing, what the fuck?”

Richie feels flush from his head to his toe, partly from the god damn sound Eddie just made, and partly from the compliment. “Yeah? It’s good?”

“So good!” Eddie nods. “I’ve never had pesto before.”

“Never?” Richie whistles, adopting an exaggerated English accent. “Well, I’m just honoured to acquaint your taste buds with it, good sir!”

“Oh, god,” Eddie shakes his head, glaring at him without heat from across the island. “Not the voices.”

The recognition sends surprise through Richie. “You know the voices?”

“Dude. Do you think I live under a rock? I know who you are.” He says it so mildly. Like it doesn’t really mean anything.

Richie’s glad of it.

“Wow, Eddie Kaspbrak knows who I am! Is this – is this what real fame feels like?”

“Shut up, fuckface.”

“Is that any way to speak to your host? Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”

“Nope.” Eddie grins, smug and wide. “I did learn to have a good taste in comedy, though.”

“Is this your way of telling me you don’t think I’m funny? I’ll have to stop you there. You might actually hurt my feelings.”

Eddie pauses. When he speaks again, it’s a little softer, “No, you’re funny. I like your newer material, anyway. Since – you know.”

“Since?” Richie prompts carefully.

This is the moment that always makes him cold. It could be one of two things, you see. The breakdown, or the coming out. The breakdown – that makes him nervous. The coming out feels more like a celebration.

A strange expression crosses Eddie’s face. “Since you came out.”

“Ah. Yeah.” Richie shrugs, any tension bleeding from his muscles. He wonders if his relief is obvious. “Something about living as my ‘authentic self’, or some bullshit. That, and I write my own stuff now, so.”

“I knew it!”

“What?” He’s half alarmed at the suddenly thunderous expression on Eddie’s face.

“I knew you didn’t write your own stuff before! It was all –“ Eddie pulls a face. It’s bordering on the edge of agonised. “Low hanging fruit, Rich. Real low hanging fucking fruit.”

Richie laughs, swallowing down the bite of food he’d just taken quickly, almost choking on it. “It was pretty dire.” He admits. “But interesting to know that you’ve watched my specials. Even the ‘terrible’ ones.”

He leans back in his chair, eyeing Eddie in a self-satisfied way. It only deepens when Eddie’s face flushes rose, a muttered “shut up” falling from his lips.

 “I’m gonna have to tell Hanscom about this.” He says next, and Richie’s head shoots up.

“You know Ben Handsome?”

“Pretty sure that’s not his name, but yeah…”

Richie’s already reaching for his phone, shooting off a text at Bev.

Trashmouth: why didn’t u tell me ben knows eddie!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“You know him?”

He glances up, huffing a laugh. “Indirectly. He’s – dating my friend Bev.”

Bevvie: who tf is Eddie??

Trashmouth: [running man emoji, love heart emoji, peach emoji]

He puts his phone away, just in time to see the incoming text from Bev (!!?!?!?!?!??!!??!?!) and watches Eddie literally clear his plate. Is it weird to be attracted to someone eating your food? It’s probably weird.

The rest of the afternoon does nothing to dissuade him.

 

*

 

Over the next few weeks, Richie finds himself spending more and more time with Eddie. It’s a blossoming friendship, one full of snark and sarcasm and unheated debate, and he knows it’s a dangerous line to tread when he feels so completely gone for the man already. He spends his time watching Eddie from the corner of his eye, hoping the other doesn’t notice – or maybe hoping he does. Something dances at the edge of their friendship; something that neither of them seem willing to touch upon yet.

See, for all of Richie’s flirting and joking, he’s never been much for making the first move.

He’s lived the best part of his life closeted from the entire world, and he hasn’t had much experience with men outside of that. The app on his phone burns a hole in his pocket but leaves him distantly uncomfortable, and he hasn’t even considered using it since he met Eddie, as though he’s waiting to have a decisive reason not to.

He can’t know what Eddie’s feeling or thinking, but sometimes he wonders. Sometimes, he feels Eddie’s eyes on him. Sometimes, he spots the flick of his gaze when he looks over at Eddie, as though he was a second away from catching him looking right back.

It’s not much to go off.

Richie’s never been good at rejection. Whether it be from his parents, from the comedy community, from his fans. He knows it’s partly why he took so long to come out (partly because mostly it was the layers and layers of fucking repression).

He’d figured that this would all be easier once he’d come out. He’d taken the scariest step, suffered through some of the fallout, but ultimately come out the other end better, happier, stronger.

This isn’t easier, though. Their friendship may be new, but it still feels like a lot to lose.

He makes the decision not to press the issue.

As always, it comes tumbling down within a matter of days.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and they’re watching a Fast and Furious film – if a gun was pointed to his head, he wouldn’t be able to confirm which film it is, because he’s watching with rapt attention as Eddie rants on and on about how the laws of physics would not allow for a car to be driven out of a plane.

His arms are flying around and he’s red in the face, mouth moving a mile a minute. Richie pretty much stopped listening about two minutes ago, focusing instead on watching because Eddie’s kind of beautiful like this. It’s gross. It’s such a gross thought. He hates himself for being pathetic. But Eddie’s fucking passionate is what he is, and god, if Richie wasn’t a sucker for short, dark, handsome and ‘could kick his ass’.

“We should go out.”

He hears himself saying it before he even thinks it. Before he makes a conscious decision to do anything.

They both freeze.

“Um.” Eddie says.

“I mean,” Richie presses on, leaning across the sofa a bit. “For food, or something. On a date?” He winces. It sounds childish to his ears, but then he’s mostly always been romantically challenged and adverse, so it’s probably fine.

“You want to go on a date.” Eddie looks pale now.

It’s too late to take it back.

“Yes.” Richie nods. He swallows around the unexpected lump in his throat; tries to swallow the sudden dread down with it. “If that’s something you would want.”

He doesn’t recognise the expression that shifts across Eddie’s face, but it’s twisted. His lips pull to one side, and he squeezes his eyes shut so tightly Richie has to wonder if it hurts.

“No.”

It’s faint, but Richie hears it all the same.

“No?” He repeats, swallowing again. “You mean -- ? Uh. No. Right. Of course.” He’s pushing himself up off the couch abruptly. It’s a little awkward, his limbs feeling laden, as though heavy with the weight of his own emotion. “That makes sense. It’s fine.”

“Richie…” Eddie’s looking at him but he can’t look back. He thinks he might be sick. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine!” It’s too cheerful. Richie still can’t look at him. “Don’t worry about it, man. I shouldn’t have assumed – I’m a fucking idiot. We can forget about this.”

The silence stretches between them. His skin feels too tight for his body, like it’s itching with the effort to stay intact right now. He wants to crawl right out of it and dissolve. It takes him right back to that show, a year ago now – stood on stage under the blinding lights and blinking rapidly, hearing the distant sound of heckling and jeers, stuck frozen to the spot and unable to move. He’d tried to speak, to say something, anything and – nothing had come out back then. Here, now, he’s too afraid to open his mouth again for fear the same will happen.

“I’m gonna go.” Eddie says softly.

He sidles past like a criminal escaping the scene of the crime, and Richie just… lets him.

 

*

 

“Ben told me you’re avoiding Eddie.”

Richie pauses where he’s fiddling with his brand new coffee machine; tongue out and brow forming a ‘v’ shape. There’s no viable reason for these things to be so complicated.

“Well, hello, Beverly. Good morning to you, too. I’m fine, thanks for asking.”

“Richie.”

He sighs. She has her patient voice on, so he figures he’s actually going to have to deal with this conversation.

“I’m not avoiding him.” He lies breezily. “I just haven’t seen him for a few weeks.”

A pause. “You haven’t seen him since you asked him out?”

Richie closes his eyes. “Thanks for reminding me of that happy memory, Bev and no, surprisingly, I haven’t.”

“Oh, Richie.”

He can’t take the pity. He can take the patience and the questions, but he can’t take the pity. Even when it’s from Bev, who knows him better than anyone (except maybe Stan).

“It’s fine.” He presses some buttons on the coffee machine deliberately. “I asked him out. He said no. I’ll just – add it to my show for next time, hm? The fans seem to dig it when I delve into my sad, sorry love life for some reason.”

“You should talk to him.” Bev says, as though she hasn’t heard a word that he just said.

“I can’t explain to you how much I don’t want to do that.” Richie sighs; long, audible, weighted. The kind of sigh Bev usually reserves for him. “I’m a big boy, Beverly. You think I can’t get over a bit of rejection? I’ve been rejected, like, ten times worse than this before.”

It’s easier to force a cheerful tone, even if it’s on the edge of bitter, and even if she sees right through it each and every time.

She doesn’t seem to be in the pressing mood, though. He’s grateful for it.

“Okay. I just worry about you, Rich. We all do.”

He has to close his eyes then. He pushes his glasses up, squeezing the bridge of his nose with his fingers.

“Jeez,” he laughs thickly. “Give a guy some warning next time.”

“Shut up.” Bev says affectionately, and then, “Come for dinner next week. Ben wants to meet you. Also, Bill’s still moping about the travel writer guy; Mike? He’s hopeless, you have to see it for yourself.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Richie agrees gently. “Don’t make him cry until I get there. I mean it.”

He hangs up the phone and makes himself his damn coffee, finally.

 

*

 

Richie wakes with a start. He blearily blinks himself awake, noting the still darkness of the house, and rolls over onto his side. The alarm clock on the bedside table signals it to be 1:40 am in flashing red, and he cringes, trying to work out what it is that has woken him up. He scrubs a hand over his face roughly, groaning into it, and –

Knockknockknock.

The sound is sudden and loud enough in the quiet of the house to have his adrenaline spiking, sitting bolt upright in the bed. His heart thunders in his chest, eyes wide and body on high alert, before he wakes up enough to realise that the sound is someone knocking at his door.

It comes again and he shakes his head free of the last remnants of sleep, sliding out from under the comfort of his duvet and padding downstairs towards the door.

Maybe he shouldn’t open the door. He halts, thinking about the time, the lateness – and then he thinks fuck it because he’s still half asleep, and anyway, no criminal is going to knock on their victim’s door before fucking burglarising them or something.

So he opens it.

He squints behind his glasses. “Uh – hello?”

“Hi.” Eddie says. From his position on Richie’s doorstep. Where he’s stood, at 1:45 in the morning. “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” Richie steps aside because he’s tired. He realises instantaneously that he’s not wearing a shirt, because he was in bed, and he wildly hopes for one second that Eddie won’t notice.

Eddie does notice.

Richie watches his eyes track over his chest before flicking back up to his face; wide and semi-erratic.

“I was sleeping.” It comes out all defensive, as though he thinks Eddie’s about to rail on him for being half naked in his own home.

“Right.” Eddie winces. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Richie feels like that’s his auto-pilot response at the moment. It’s all he seems to be saying, even though everything is not fine at all and, actually, pretty shit,

“I wanted to apologise.” Eddie’s saying, and Richie blinks at him.

“I think you just did that, Eds.” The nickname slips out. It hurts, a little.

“No. Not for waking you up – though I am sorry for that, too. Shit.” He shakes his head, his lips set in a grimly determined line. “I didn’t realise the time.”

“It’s fine.” Richie repeats. “Look, do you – do you want a glass of water or something? You look –” Crazy. “ – worked up.”

“No.” Eddie shakes his head, stepping towards Richie. “I came to – I think I made a mistake. The other week, when you asked – “ He stops, taking a moment to stabilise himself or something, before rushing into it. “When you asked me to go on a date, I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have said no.”

“Eds…” Richie shakes his head, leaning back against the wall tiredly. “I already told you, it’s fine – it’s not a big deal. You’re not – gay, or you’re just not into me specifically, it’s fine. You think this is the first time -- ”

“Shut up, Richie, God, I’m trying to be heartfelt here – “

Which –

Richie shuts up. He feels the horrible urge to mime zipping his lips shut, but he manages to not do that. Barely.

“I shouldn’t have said no,” Eddie continues. He glares at Richie as though daring him to interrupt again. “I shouldn’t have said no because I didn’t want to say no. I just – I panicked, okay? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty much a nightmare to deal with, and I just – I like you. I didn’t want you to have to – deal with all of that.”

And, okay.

It’s not like Richie hasn’t noticed Eddie’s neuroses, or whatever, but he’s never fucking cared.

“Okay,” he says slowly, raising his hands carefully, palms outright as though he’s taming a wild animal – or a scared one. Eddie looks like he could run at any minute. “Don’t you think that’s kind of for me to decide, though?”

Eddie stares at him, all hard-faced and thin-lipped, and then his face just seems to crumple.

“Oh, god, okay, uh –” Richie blusters, hopping from foot to foot, before he moves forward and pats Eddie gingerly on the arm. “It’s… okay? We’re okay, right? I think?”

God, he’s fucking terrible at this.

Eddie doesn’t seem to care though. He nods, smiling even though his eyes look suspiciously like they’re shining. “Yeah. Okay. I think we’re okay.”

“And, just to be clear –” Richie looks at him hopefully. “That’s a yes for the date?”

Eddie pushes forward, backing Richie up against the wall with a single motion and the fortitude reflected in his eyes. Literally. That’s all it takes. Richie is so fucking weak for him.

He has half a moment to let his gaze flicker over Eddie’s face, his eyes, before they settle on the lips that are getting closer and closer – and he meets him in the middle. He ducks his head down, let’s Eddie capture his lips with his own, and it’s – clumsy, at first. A little off centre. He feels Eddie tilt his head to the side and then – oh, that’s it. The slick sounds of the slide of their lips sends shivers down his spine, one hand resting on Eddie’s lower back as he pulls him closer. The move seems to pull a moan from Eddie’s chest, his own hands sliding up Richie’s chest and coming to rest on his shoulders, neither pulling nor pushing.

Richie pulls back after what feels like a lifetime, lips numb and tingling, blinking at Eddie a little dazedly. “Definitely a yes then. I didn’t think you could resist this for long.”

The punch to his shoulder is entirely worth it.

 

*

 

Trashmouth: can i bring eddie for dinner next week?

Bevvie: ?!?!?!?!??!?!?!