When Eddie was a kid, he used to take the same roads home from school. Off the front steps, down Lafayette, across Flanigan, around East, which wasn’t actually called that but it was an extension of East Fifth that curved like a lengthy driveway all the way to Sunshine. He did it every day, from first grade to senior year, because his mother never let him get his license.
It was dangerous, he could get in an accident, or he would take the highway north and he would go and go and go and never look back.
Eddie had applied to seventeen different colleges. He got a job waiting tables at a diner in town and saved every penny just so he could pay for applications, and with his perfect grades, he waited. There was no ‘dream school’ in his life, only one that would offer him a full ride scholarship and take him somewhere far away from home, and it landed him in Maple Steep, Oregon.
It’s cold, but it’s safe, and most of the town is just buildings that make up the college anyways, and Eddie takes new routes back to his apartment every day. He’s walking near the river, behind the industrial looking warehouse that houses the art studios. “You’re not going to jump are you?” Someone shouts at him. The guy is sitting on the back steps, ridiculous legs practically folded in half with how long they are, knees up to his chest. He’s got wild black curls and giant black glasses, the plastic frames glinting under the overhang lights, and he points at Eddie with his cigarette. “It’s not worth it, there’s— I’m sure you have things in the future that you’re looking forward to, right?”
Eddie blinks, wrapping his arms around himself, like the wool of his coat will protect him from whatever the hell is happening, “I’m not going to jump. Why would I jump?” He has to yell just to reach him.
“You have sad eyes.” He unfurls himself from the stairs, mobilizing like a rusted colossus, coming back to life. “What’s your name, sad eyes?”
“Don’t call me that.” Eddie scowls, and looks at the man’s offered hand, the yellowing filter of the cigarette peeking between his fingers, “My name is Eddie.”
“I’m Richie.” He says, and he grins like they’re both in on the world’s greatest joke, teeth oversized and crooked in his mouth, “How did you get these sad eyes, Eddie? Did someone break your heart?”
Richie touches Eddie’s face; just a quick press of his thumb against Eddie’s cheek, underneath his left eye, and then he retracts it. His mind tells him to shut down. Reject his touch, scream and yell, push Richie into the river, but he had done it with such a familiar ease like he had truly meant to comfort him. Eddie blinks up at him instead, “It’s genetic.”
Richie lets out a quiet huff of a laugh, pulls his sleeve down over his hand and rubs it over the spot of Eddie’s face, “Sorry, I got charcoal on you.” Eddie flinches at the thought, and his skin itches with the need to climb into his shower and scrub it raw, “You still look beautiful, don’t worry.”
It makes him feel faint, and his ears prickle with embarrassment, “I thought I look sad?”
“Both. You look both.”
Eddie spends the rest of his walk home in a daze, and when he gets into the shower, he stands underneath the water and keeps his hand pressed to his cheek.
Eddie likes his roommate.
Eddie loves his roommate.
He could’ve ended up like most roommate situations, where they coexisted just fine as acquaintances, passing each other on the way to and from school and work; and that would’ve been good for Eddie! He could function with a roommate that smiled politely, maybe watched a TV show with here and there, it was better than ending up in a hell situation where his roommate was some violent freak, or filthy.
Mike Hanlon is Eddie’s friend though. A real one.
He’s studying history and clean and calm. He’s loving and kind, and he’s also hilarious and thinks that Eddie is A-OK, even with his incredible amounts of baggage. “I think i’m about to start our first real fight.” Mike says, his entire down comforter draped over his head and wrapped around his body, turning him into a formless mass of navy blue cotton.
Eddie toes his boots off by the door, “I’m trying to think of why, but i’m pulling up short.”
“Eddie, I’m cold.” Mike says, and then, “We gotta turn the heat up, bud.”
It’s hard for Eddie to notice, because he’s just come in from outside, and although January in Oregon isn’t as brutal as the ones he grew up in in Maine, it comes pretty close. He takes in Mike’s pitiful expression and laughs, “Have you just been freezing in here all day? Turn the heat up, I’m not a dick.”
Mike breathes out dramatically and skips away to the thermostat, “I just know you like to be frugal, that’s all.” His voice carries down their narrow hallway, muted by the comforter and the carpeting, “Hey, I met this guy today, he’s a creative writing student—”
“Bleh.” Eddie rearranges Mike’s school books on the single couch they own so that he can sit down. “Was he pretentious?”
“Okay,” Mike holds his hand up, face stunned and offended, “Mr. I met a weird art student that touched my face and called me sad and now I’m in love with him and I think I might be his muse? Care to withhold judgement for a moment?”
“You make it sound really weird.”
“It was really weird.” Mike sits down next to Eddie, holds open his blanket so that Eddie can huddle in next to him. It’s sweet, but it’s also a ploy to leech some of Eddie’s body heat. A much needed symbiosis. “Anyways, I met a guy today and his name is Bill. He’s staying up in his parents place in Woodridge, some big cabin that they used to use as a vacation home.”
“So you got a sugar daddy?”
Mike ponders this, “I think he might be younger than me, actually? Well,” He waves his hand dismissively, “what I thought was sort of a neat little tidbit, is that he has three roommates up there. An accounting major named Stan, and two of those studio kids you walk past every wednesday through friday.”
Eddie makes himself mighty interested in the frayed stitching of the duvet cover, “Did he tell you their names?”
He never told Mike the name. It felt like it would make it real. Or undo it all and turn it into a dream.
“Beverly and Richie.” Eddie jerks out of Mike’s side, hands pressed to Mike’s thigh for support and he laughs, “That’s him? Richie?”
“Did you know? Did he know? Did you tell him?”
Mike is a terrible liar and it’s why he never does it, “I might’ve told Bill that my roommate had a run in with an artist down by the river, and he might’ve told me that sounds like a match for his friend.”
Eddie’s heart is rabbiting in his chest and his slides off the couch, frantic, “I have to go lay down. I have to take a shower.”
“You’re gonna lay down in the shower?”
“Yes.” Eddie treads a circle around the living room and then he locks himself in the bathroom.
Mike yells out to him, “Bill invited us to come over this weekend.”
The house is actually a cabin, and Eddie marvels at all of the lived in spaces of it. There’s pictures, four worn out decks of cards, a heap of shoes by the doorway, a radio, a record player, a laptop propped open and playing music next to all of it. Bill and Bev look like they’ve come built into the house; eased into the woodwork with the way Bill keeps himself propped against the kitchen bar, the sleeves of his henley pushed up to his elbows and the boyish grin on his handsome face. Bev, her legs draped over the arm of the couch and curled over so that she can ask Eddie what he’s studying in school.
“Um, mechanical engineering.”
Bev inspects him head to toe and decides, “You don’t look like a mechanical engineer, you look like you would be— hmm,” She taps her finger next to the corner of her lip cartoonishly and Eddie can’t help but smile, “You look like a professor. It’s okay, we live with Stanley and he’s the most professoriest looking, right Richie?” She looks past Eddie and he feels his entire body tense.
He keeps his eyes on the wood floor underneath his boots when the sound of a bedroom door clicks shut behind him. “Stanley Uris looks like he plays whist and keeps werther's in his pockets, and yet— so much potential.” A hand slips up Eddie’s back, rests between his shoulder blades, “I know you.”
Eddie thought that whenever he saw Richie again, it would be an imperfect memory. He would look at his face and realize, it’s not actually as strange and lovely as he’d been dreaming about it. That Richie would be just another standard twenty something year old with standard features and a standard voice, and Eddie had been so certain that he would be able to breathe again. That it had just been his own loneliness and his own projection that had turned Richie into something beautiful.
He was wrong.
Richie was more than he had remembered, and in the soft, warm lights of his own home.
Every cell in Eddie’s body is alight and he inhales sharply through his teeth and snaps out, “Yeah, you thought I was suicidal because of my face.”
Richie’s eyes go wide and shocked behind his glasses for a moment before he points out, “Not your whole face, just your eyes.”
“Oh,” Eddie crosses his arms over his chest and turns to look up at Richie, “You’re so right. That makes it all better.”
A tense quiet falls over the house, and Mike looks like he’s getting himself into a position where he can break up a fist fight, but then Richie throws his head back and laughs. It’s loud and snorting and the most grating sound Eddie’s ever heard in his life. He wants to hear it all the time. “You’re a little spitfire, Eds.”
Richie pulls him up against his chest and Eddie squirms against his tight grip, “What is that? Don’t call me Eds!”
It all comes out vaguely muffled in Richie’s shoulder.
“Oh, you two are going to be a dream.” Bev practically sings in her giddiness, “I can’t wait until Stan gets home, he’s gonna shit.” She hauls herself over the arm of the couch, stalks past them like she’s sizing them up.
Richie pinches Eddie’s cheeks like a pleased aunt at family holidays and kisses him loudly on the temple, “Fuck, I wanna fall in love with you.” He says it low against Eddie’s ear and gets himself a pinch on his hip for it.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Eddie warns him, and he takes Richie’s phone so that he can put his number in it.
“What’s Richie’s deal?” Eddie drags the broom over the floor of Bill’s cabin. It doesn’t need a real sweeping, Stan owns a roomba, but the motion of it knocks Eddie’s anxiety down a few pegs.
“Does Richie have to have a deal?” Bev has a colored pencil tucked behind her ear and four more clutched between each individual knuckle on her left hand. She hunched over a drafting table that she was gifted by an architecture student named Ben who is only pining a little. “You talk to him more than I do anyways, I figure you know better than me at this point.”
It’s been six months. Six months and not a single day goes by that Eddie doesn’t hear Richie’s voice, either in person or over the phone. “It’s not the same, you grew up with him.”
Beverly looks up, every angle of her face dramatically lit by the intense overhead lighting, “Are you guys fighting or something?”
There’s genuine concern then and Eddie clutches the broom with both hands, “No! No, I was just wondering about him as a person, you know. He’s this amazing artist and he’s friends with like, ninety percent of the university— which is ridiculous, because no one is popular in college, and yet.” He holds out a hand, “He should be in LA or something. New York.”
Beverly hums, but it feels like she’s taking Eddie in more than anything he’s said about Richie, “He does feel very larger than life sometimes.”
“He’s happy.” Beverly collects all of her excess pencils together and rests them on the metal ledge of the desk, “Isn’t that why we all ran away to Maple Steep? Anonymity? A chance to carve out who we finally want to be?” Beverly smiles then, “Richie has always had a big heart. All he ever wants is for everyone to be happy, and to make them laugh. He told me one time that someone laughing at one of his jokes might be the first time they smile all day. It’s important to him; that people aren’t ever quite as sad as he felt sometimes.”
Eddie pushes the broom over the wood carefully. Quietly, in case the sound of it brushes away his thoughts. And then Beverly says, “You make him the happiest.
Richie looks the most at home spread across his bed, surrounded by sheets of newsprint and butcher paper that’s covered in charcoal and pastels; conte crayon that’s carved out into the shape of ribcages and bird cages. It’s held to the wall with thumb tacks, the corners curled and smudged with thumbprints. Eddie takes in his long limbs, pale against the dark grey sheet. The sharp jut of his knees, soft skin and soft black hair on strong looking thighs where they’re exposed in his threadbare boxer briefs.
He looks up at Eddie from underneath his sleepy black eyelashes, “Hi, beautiful.” His voice is rough and tired, “Did I sleep in too late?”
“No.” Eddie touches the edge of a toothy illustration board next to the door. The hunched over, stalking skeleton of a wolf done in india ink. “It’s only seven, Bill let me in.”
Richie rolls onto his back, stretches his arms high above his head, his shirt hitched up to his ribs from thrashing wildly in his sleep— because even then Richie can’t be tame. “ ‘S early, baby.”
He gets like this when he’s really tired. Softer Richie, with delicate words and pretty names to call Eddie like he’s his. “I wanted to see you.” Eddie says, too honest, and then he pushes at the cover of the sketchbook on Richie’s desk, “Can I look at this?”
He’s protective of his art sometimes, and Eddie can get that. It’s personal, or he’s not satisfied with it. Richie doesn’t answer him right away and then tells him, “If you want to.”
Eddie glances back, his eyes are closed again, breathing still slow and deep, and Eddie wonders if he would put up more of a fight if he were more awake. The first couple of pages are half hearted sketches. Still lifes, hands in various positions, and then they become more detailed. A profile that gives way to real features. Features that Eddie knows. A face that he sees in the mirror every day.
There’s pages of Eddie, hunched over his homework, his eyes fixed on something in front of him, his hands folded in front of him, his face turned up in a laugh— There’s drawings of other people in there too, Bev curled up on the couch, Mike and Stan playing video games on the floor— and then it’s more of him. He’s drawn with such care, from every freckle to the bump in the bridge of his nose, and his eyes. Always his eyes given extra attention so that they’re dark and unavoidable on the page.
Eddie closes the book slowly and looks back at Richie, where his chest is rising carefully in sleep again, his face slack. Eddie maps him out, and he thinks about how Richie does this to him. Unspools him so that he can then rearrange him on paper, the way he sees Eddie. The way Eddie sees him. As if he’s in love.
He kicks his jeans off, and his hoodie, and gathers up the blankets where they’ve collected at the end of the bed. When he wraps himself around Richie, he’s warm and feels as soft as he looks. Richie doesn’t startle awake or tense up; he shifts so that Eddie can more comfortably fit himself into Richie’s side and lets out an easy sigh, “Tired?” He drags his hand heavily down Eddie’s side, resting it on his ribs. When Eddie nods he laughs, a low rumble in his chest and works up enough energy to kiss him on top of his head, “That’s because you decided to come here at the crack of dawn.”
He’s not tired, but it relaxes him, being in Richie’s arms. Feeling his skin where he runs his fingers over his exposed side, breathing him in, being surrounded by him. Eddie thinks he could track his hands over every inch of Richie’s body for the rest of his life and never find it anything less than adventurous, but Richie reaches under the covers and stills his hand where it’s on the curve of his hip, “You gotta stop, Eds.” Richie huffs out a small laugh and cracks his eyes open to look at him, “You’re waking me up a little too much.”
They’re close like this, noses nearly brushing, and Eddie bumps them together, “Sorry.” He says and grins.
Richie grumbles out a half hearted, “Little shit” and stays rolled on his side, letting his eyes fall closed again. Eddie moves his hand from Richie’s hip and brings it instead to his thigh. “Eddie.” Richie growls and it sounds like a warning.
“Richie.” Eddie says back and it comes out sounding so needy that Richie opens his eyes, “Do you want to sleep with me?”
Richie leans up on his elbow, his hair wild around his face and he rubs his eye with the heel of his free hand, “Do I—? Eddie are you asking if I want to like, sleep sleep, like, next to you?” Eddie shakes his head against the pillow, “You’re asking if I want to have sex with you?”
It seems really indelicate when Richie says it out loud, “I want to. With you. I don’t know, I keep thinking about it.”
“Hang on.” Richie leans over him and Eddie can actually take in the differences of their bodies when they’re pressed together. How many parts of Richie are much larger, more capable of engulfing him in it. Richie shoves his glasses on from the nightstand, a series of upended milk crates, and takes a moment to study Eddie. Making sure it’s really him, “Eddie, what do you want, baby?”
“That.” Eddie grips Richie’s hip, can’t help but pull him closer, “When you call me ‘baby’ and you talk to me all kind and make me feel— important. Like you’re looking at me.”
Richie brings his hand up to Eddie’s face, rubs his thumb over Eddie’s cheekbone, “I am looking at you. I feel like I'm looking at you too much.” His smile is cautious, faltering. He’s afraid, like he’s wanting this too much and Eddie will realize.
He does realize it, because it’s how he feels too, and he shakes his head, “You’re the only person I want to know me all the time.”
Richie kisses him, slow and deep and exactly how Eddie knew Richie Tozier would kiss. It lights his entire body up, makes his toes curl, and he wraps his arms around Richie’s neck, wanting to pull him closer, kiss him deeper, feel more. He kisses Eddie’s neck and his jaw and it’s all unhurried, “I want you.” His expression is wide and dreamy, “You’re it for me, Kaspbrak, you do me in. I want everything with you, but can I just hold you for now?”
They settle in, Eddie perfectly slotted into Richie’s arms and Eddie can feel him trembling, just slightly. “Are you okay?”
Richie kisses his shoulder, “I’m okay, this is just a lot.”
Eddie thinks about what Beverly said. About Richie having a big heart; wanting happiness for everyone else but never expecting it for himself. He wraps Richie’s arms around him and he falls asleep.
Richie’s hands are covered in ink. It’s black and makes the tips of his fingers tacky when it mixes with sweat dug into Eddie’s skin. His head is tilted back against the computer chair he’s slouched down in, lips red and slick where Eddie’s kissed them over and over. He shifts, just so he can try and keep Eddie comfortable in his lap, “Does it feel good?” Richie’s voice is strangled like he’s the one getting fucked.
It feels— overwhelming.
It doesn’t hurt, Eddie just feels incredibly full. Stretched to his limits and like Richie’s taken root in every inch of his body. Eddie can’t say he thought his first time would be in a second hand office chair, struggling to catch a full breath. “I’m—” Eddie shuts his mouth quickly because the urge to start crying claws up his throat.
“Do you want to stop?”
Eddie shakes his head. He shifts his hips, slowly rocks back against Richie’s thighs, and there’s a promise of it there. A twinge of pleasure that settles into the base of his spine and triggers his brain to tell him, ‘Oh, this can feel really good. Let Richie carve out his home inside of you, and he’s gonna have you falling apart in his hands’. Eddie can feel every inch, every slow drag inside of him and Richie’s trying hard not to fidget his legs too much, fighting back the urge to push up. ‘I’m doing this to him’, Eddie thinks, ‘I’m making him feel like this.’ “It feels good.” He breathes against Richie’s mouth when he leans forward to kiss him.
Richie looks glassy eyed, a little wondrous, and he runs his hands soothingly up Eddie’s thighs where they’re spread over Richie’s lap. He leaves a trail of fingerprints in his wake, branding him. Richie Tozier was here, smeared over his skin while he pants into the kiss. “Eddie,” His name is a broken whine on Richie’s lips, “Fuck, baby, you’re killing me.”
“I’m barely moving.” Eddie grips Richie’s shoulders, pulls up higher so that more of Richie’s cock drags inside of him.
“You’re moving plenty.” Richie assures him, “It’s just— you. You’re what’s driving me crazy.”
Eddie whimpers, presses along Richie’s chest. His thighs ache and he ends up leaning entirely on Richie, who holds Eddie’s hips steady and thrusts up into him careful and shaking. Laughter carries down the hallway from the living room, where Beverly is yelling about someone cheating at Mexican Train and Eddie feels less like the entire world can hear every hitched sound of his breath and pass judgement on him. For being so needy, so desperate, so new at this. “Can we lay down?” He whispers against Richie’s ear, conscious now about how loud he gets.
Richie kisses him, squeezes the tops of his thighs, “Yeah, come on.” Eddie extricates himself carefully from Richie’s lap, hyper aware of the ache between his legs— how open and wet he feels without Richie inside of him anymore, “Take this off.” Richie pulls Eddie’s shirt over his head, spreading his palm wide over his bare chest for a moment before pulling their bodies together. “Did you want to keep going or do you want to stop for today?”
The mattress is sliding off the bed frame and Eddie uses the backs of his thighs to try and shove it into place before laying down, “I wanna keep going.”
Richie nods, grabs the lube off his desk and strokes more over himself when he crawls between Eddie’s legs. His cock looks painfully hard, red and dripping and Eddie thinks, ‘From me. I did that to him, I made him that hard. I turned him on with my body, with all the lights on, while he could still see all of me.’ Richie drags his palm over Eddie’s own length then, half hard and slightly neglected. Eddie moans, spreads his arms above his head as if he can’t help but let his body uncurl for Richie. He wants to be on display for him, set open like petals.
When Richie sinks back into him, presses their bodies chest to chest, hands gripping Eddie’s hips so that he can steadily grind into him, Eddie feels entirely awash with pleasure. He digs his fingers into Richie’s hair, rolls his body up to meet every thrust and moans out things like, It’s so good, Richie. Don’t stop. I need you. I want more of you, all the time, just like this. I love you, Richie.
He comes with Richie buried deep inside of him, tears spilling out of the corners of his eyes, and Richie gasping against his mouth until he bites his lip and fills Eddie up.
Later, when he’s lying in Richie’s bed watching the breeze from the box fan kick up the bottom of a figure drawing done on butcher paper, the haunting urge to cry rewrites itself inside of Eddie. He presses his hand over his mouth and is helpless to stop the stream of laughter that spills from between his fingers. Richie is still naked, and he grins, rolling over on top of him, “You doing alright, Spaghetti?”
“Don’t call me that.” Eddie grabs his face with both hands and runs his thumb over Richie’s bottom lip and looks, really looks as his beautiful and strange face and he sighs, “I love you.”
“You said that.” Richie reminds him and without his glasses on, Eddie can see the delicate skin under his eyes turn red and the way he has to grind his teeth together to keep from crying.
“You don’t have to say it back, Richie.” Eddie continues mapping out his face with careful fingers, “I don’t expect anything from you, I just wanted you to know. You made it too easy to fall in love with you.”
They fall asleep and wake up in the evening when Eddie climbs into RIchie’s lap and takes him again.
“I think I’m a slut.” Mike pushes all of his photocopied pages of the Book of Kells around on the cement.
“Oh yeah,” Eddie yanks the lone earbud out, “I wanna hear the rationale on this one.”
Mike looks up at him, all shell shocked and hunted and then he grins, “Put out on the first date.”
“Are you still a virgin Eddie? I feel sinful being in your presence now.”
“Virginity is a social construct.” Beverly stabs her straw around her cup to relocate the ice. Eddie points at her sagely, “Also, no he’s not, because Richie’s art totally fucks now.”
Eddie splutters magnificently and Mike laughs loud and unnecessary, “Are you a muse now, Kaspbrak? Do you lay around naked and let him paint you in the sunlight? I’m losing my mind, Beverly, get us one of his sexy Eddie paintings to put up in our living room.”
“Shut up.” Eddie hisses, “He rarely paints anyway, he’s more of an illustrator.”
“Oh, my bad.” Mike mutters and rights something in pen on the corner of his paper
Beverly’s knee taps against Eddie’s, and she smiles kindly at him, “I’m happy for you. For both of you.” She knocks some ice into her mouth and crunches it, words slurred when she says, “You wear love very nicely.”
It’s bittersweet; love. He thinks about loving Richie and his heart feels full and uncontrollable. Like being in love with him has finally set him free. But then he thinks about the fact that it’s been nearly a month since he told him, and he’s never said it back, “It’s— It feels nice.” He tells Bev but he taps aimlessly at his phone instead of looking at her.
“He told me.” Beverly pats his knee softly, “Give him time.”
Guilt sours inside of him and Eddie shakes his head, “I don’t expect him to feel the same way, this isn’t— it’s not conditional.”
“You don’t think he loves you?”
He’s so aware of Mike and Bev looking at him with open sympathy he feels like a caged animal, “Don’t do that.” Eddie’s voice is quiet and pained, “Just— Let me love him. That’s enough.”
They don’t push any further. Beverly rubs his back and Mike diverts them into a conversation about his very bizarre first date with Bill.
He’s sitting on a bench in the student gallery when his mom calls. There’s no one else in there, the lights aren’t even on, just the natural sunlight pouring in through the full length windows. “Hi, mom.”
“Is this a joke?” Her voice is strangled with anger, “You don’t talk to me in over a year, you don’t answer my calls, you don’t tell me where you are, and then ‘hi, mom’? As if you didn’t abandon everything?”
He sets the phone on the bench next to him, her voice echoing in the empty room. “I’m sorry. I needed time.” Eddie runs his sweaty palms over the tops of his knees.
“Time for what?” Eddie forgot what sort of venom his mother was capable of spitting, especially when he was in the saccharine grip of her overwhelming need to nurture him, “I didn’t even know you went away to college until a couple months ago when they sent a registration confirmation for your classes to the house. Oregon, Eddie?”
Richie’s shoes are beat to shit and seeing them step into his eyeline is the only thing that sends him into a panic. He looks up and mouths ‘sorry’ at him, but Richie just knits his eyebrows together in concern. “I had to do something on my own. I had to feel like I could do it or it wouldn’t be real.”
“So you ran away to the other side of the country where you don’t know anyone, where I don’t know where you are— What if something happened to you? Would they even contact me, or were you going to just die alone in some hospital in some backwoods town in Oregon?”
“I don’t understand you. You have someone here in Derry who cares about you and you just— isolate yourself. You’ve always done this. You push everyone away because you don’t know how to do things on your own. Who is supposed to be there for you now, Eddie? I know you don’t have anyone over there right now, I know you’re alone—”
“—because you make it damn near impossible for anyone to love you.”
“Jesus Christ.” Richie mutters and he hits the end call on Eddie’s phone, but it’s all too late. Eddie buries his face in his hands and he cries. He can’t breathe with how hard his chest heaves, sobs hiccuping out of his throat. Richie is kneeling on the ground in front of him, hand gripped around Eddie’s forearms, “Baby, look at me. Hey, Eds, look at me—”
Eddie shakes his head, lets Richie pull his hands away from his face but keeps his eyes pressed shut, aching from the sudden rush of tears, “Just leave me alone.”
Richie tries to wipe away some of the tears but ends up leaving streaky smears of wetness all over Eddie’s cheeks, “No, what the fuck. Eddie I’m not going to just fuck off after listening to someone tell you that.” Eddie feels the creeping shame and guilt, hot floods of embarrassment for where he came from, for who he is. “You grew up with that? Listening to that shit?”
“It’s not fine!” Eddie looks up at Richie’s face then and it’s wrought with concern and sadness and anger, “It’s not fine, and she’s not even slightly right. You do know how to make it on your own, frankly, you’re fuckin’ knocking it out of the park, and, Eddie— You’re not impossible to love.”
Eddie wrenches his hands out of Richie’s, grabs his phone and shoves it into his pocket when he stands, “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what? Eddie, you can’t possibly think no one loves—”
“You don’t!” Richie looks for a moment like Eddie’s slapped him, and then he sighs and scrubs his hand over his face, “Look, I meant it when I said I didn’t expect you to return my feelings, but you don’t get to sit here and tell me that I can be loved when you don’t.”
“And that’s not your fault! My mom is cruel and she was hard to grow up with, but she’s not wrong, Richie. It’s me. It’s all of these little, tiny things, that make up all of me and they’re so ugly and difficult, but there’s so much of it I can’t shake it. You told me when we first met that you wanted to fall in love with me, and it’s been nearly a year and you still can’t. You wanted to, and you can’t.”
“I can.” Richie pleads, “I did! God, Eddie, I fell in love with you the first time I saw you walking by the river, and then I met you and you became my best friend, and I— I’ve just been done for with you, for so long.” Richie takes his hands, slowly, until he can pull Eddie close to him, “I’m a lot, Eds, you know that. I’ve always been a lot, and I've run people off with it. I didn’t want to run you off too, but fuck me, Kaspbrak, I’m so fucking in love with you. I was hoping you would know just by the way I am with you, in case I said it out loud and lost control of how much I need you.”
Eddie buries his face in Richie’s shirt and cries again, shaking in Richie’s arms.
Richie makes a sad noise and kisses his temple, “Oh, baby, i’m so sorry. I really fucked up.” The side of his glasses are digging into the top of Eddie’s head, but he still clings to him tight, “I love you, I’m gonna tell you every day all the time now, I promise. I’m gonna give you so much love you’re gonna be sick with it.”
Eddie takes a deep, steadying breath before he pulls back enough to look up at Richie’s face, “I need it. All of it, I want it.”
“I know that now.” Richie kisses him quickly on the mouth and Eddie is grateful he didn’t linger because he can’t breathe out of his nose and he feels gross, “Don’t ever go back to her.” RIchie says it gently, more of a favor than a demand, “She doesn’t love you, that was— I can’t listen to anyone talk about you or to you like that again.”
“I think she loves me.” Eddie says, but it even sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.
Richie laughs humorlessly, “I know she’s your mom, but fuck that ghoul. That’s not how you’re supposed to be loved. Let me love you. And Mike, and Bev, and Bill, and Stan. Even Beverly’s little hottie boy toy.”
“Yeah, he came over and chopped down a tree in the backyard last week, it was holy.” Richie laces his fingers in between Eddie’s, brings his hand up to his mouth and kisses it.
Eddie feels exhausted now, “Sometimes I ask Mike to open jars that I could probably do if I tried, just so his arms will do the—” He flexes his skinny arm, “you know?”
Richie laughs, delighted, “Genius! Ah, I knew my baby had taste! Even if he is dating me.”
“In love with you, even.”
They’ve cycled back around to winter, but the sun is out and it makes everything feel crisp, “Let me take you back home and show you just how much I love you.” Richie kisses all over his face and Eddie laughs, “I’ll show you over, and over, and over again. We’re gonna get noise complaints about it, you’re gonna be begging me to show you even harder and faster.”
It makes Eddie flush then and he tugs his bottom lip between his teeth, “Can you show me on your knees?”
Richie leans in close, his pleased grin pressed against Eddie’s mouth, “Every way you want it.”
Richie doesn’t paint often, but when he does, it’s a spread of color— thick and wild, pressed into every inch of the canvas, either vibrant, or soft. There’s motion in every stroke and it’s got Richie layered into all of it.
“This one’s my favorite.” Mike says, standing next to Eddie in the gallery. It’s filled with people, mostly professor’s, milling about and picking apart their students' work, but also gallery owners looking to fill their walls with the newest up and coming talent.
It’s a large canvas, easily 36 inches tall and 54 inches wide. Eddie had watched Richie dig into it with smears of white, pink, yellow, brown, blue, all blurred and soften, writ with desire at the end of a palette knife— usually spread across the sheets, sometimes still catching his breath. “Are you going to let me see it?” He had asked him every time and Richie would tell him no and, always when he was working on the painting, he would put down the brush or the dull blade and he would come back to bed and kiss Eddie, touch him, bite him, slide back into him until they were both exhausted all over again.
“It’s my favorite too.” Eddie says, and looks at himself as openly as Richie does. Tan skin tangled in white bed sheets, tinted gold in the sunlight, with freckled shoulders and kiss bitten lips, and sad brown eyes. Not sad. Not while they’re looking up at Richie under the frame of his black eyelashes. Just genetic, he thinks, and Eddie laughs.