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like a prayer against his skin

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“Oh, I’m very important,” Eddie mutters in a low pompous gravel as he watches a hefty man with a stark white mustache check his watch. “If this train doesn’t arrive within my standards I will have no choice but to call the blah blah blah...”

Eddie shifts his gaze to a young woman with long hair and massive combat boots. She keeps her eyes locked on her phone as a greasy-haired boy sits far too close and tries to strike up a conversation, with little success.

Pitching his voice up to a nasally twang, Eddie looks at the boy on the screen and says, “If she talks to me I think I’ll piss my pants.”

Then looking at the girl, Eddie shifts into some sort of irritated businesswoman voice and says, “If he talks to me I’ll jump in front of this train.”

There was little to entertain Eddie on this job. Imagining the lives of train passengers as he watches on through the black and white screen was one of the few things he resorted to in order to pass the time.

On weekdays Eddie works at a local cafe, but on Friday evenings and weekends, he works as a security video monitoring operator at New York’s lesser-known train station, Maturin Station. 

On one such Friday evening, Eddie is at the end of his shift when he sees something, for lack of a better word, peculiar.

It’s a man. And he’s looking at the camera. 

He’s got hair that curls around his ears and thick rimmed glasses, and he’s staring. Eddie tenses, wondering if this is the day that he actually needs to involve security in his slow moving job.

Then, the man does something strange. He smiles. 

Eddie blinks, eyes stuck on the grinning man. It’s a nice smile, admittedly, and the way that he holds eye contact with the camera makes Eddie squirm in his seat. Then he looks away. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but it felt like ages. 

Should I...report that? Eddie thinks, unsure. It didn’t seem like anything serious or threatening. Just some idiot goofing off. But he can’t really help but think about how the man’s eyes scrunched up when he smiled. He was charming, Eddie could admit that much. 

He waits for the minutes to count down until finally it’s 9pm, and Eddie is free to leave. He speed walks to his car, hungry to get behind the wheel. 

Eddie is fully aware that the New York traffic will spike up his road rage, but he’s one of the few people in the world (possibly the only one) who thrives off of driving in insufferable traffic. He finds it cathartic, shouting to his heart’s content within the confines of his Honda Civic. 

He’s ten minutes into his drive when a particularly irritating driver in a Toyota Corolla cuts him off, and he decides to put on the radio to keep his heart rate down. He enjoys the drives, not stress-induced heart attacks. 

He tunes into a random radio station, where a man is in the middle of telling a story.

—my friend Adrian says, ‘I’ll give you a 20 if you eat it.’ So, obviously, you know me, my name isn’t Trashmouth for nothing. I take the whole bite, in all it’s honey-pickle-and-mayonnaise glory, and—” 

Eddie gags and changes the channel. 



 

When Eddie enters his apartment, he finds his roommate, Bev, lounging on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. She feeds a piece to Ben, her boyfriend, while they watch Back to the Future on their minuscule television. They both glance over at the sound of the door opening, greeting Eddie as he walks in. 

“Where’s Stan?” Eddie asks. 

“He’s in his room, so he’s either sleeping like a grandpa or he’s sexting Patty,” Bev says.

“Ew, ugh,” Eddie says, scrunching up his nose, “I don’t want to think about Stan sexting.”

Bev smirks, before shouting, “Stan, are you sexting Patty?”

From his bedroom down the hall, Stan shouts back, muffled through the walls, “I wish I had never met you!”

Bev smiles and cheerily replies, “Tell her I say hi!”

“You’re dead to me!” He says in the same jovial tone. 

Ben looks red with embarrassment, and Eddie tries to keep the scowl on his face, but he can feel the edges of his lips quirking up into a reluctant smile.

“Did anything interesting happen at work today?” Ben asks Eddie, wrapping his arm more securely around a still-giggling Bev.

“You ask him that every time and the answer is always the same,” Bev says, shaking her head.

“Usually I’d say you’re right, Bev, but something actually did happen for once,” Eddie says, taking a seat on one of the spinning stools by the kitchen counter. Ben gives him a curious look, and Bev moves to turn down the volume of the movie to show Eddie that he had their attention.

“There was this man,” Eddie starts. He looks down at his hands. “Kept looking at the security camera. I thought he was shifty at first, but then he just...smiled.”

Eddie looks up to see Bev looking at Ben with a devilish grin. She turns back to Eddie and says, “Was he cute?”

Eddie lets out a string of scandalized noises before taking a breath, clearing his throat to say, “That doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, so he was hot.”

“That is not what I said, Beverly!” Eddie screeches. 

Bev falls back against the couch, cackling. Ben, bless his heart, gives Eddie a sympathetic look, although he’s chuckling as well. Eddie doesn’t know whether it’s because he finds it genuinely as funny as Bev, or because he just loves the sound of Bev’s laughter. Suddenly Eddie feels very lonely. 

Eddie hops off of the stool, telling Ben and Bev to enjoy the movie before heading to his room. When he enters the room, he finds himself stopping to stare at the old digital clock on his nightstand. He thinks he remembers—when he first moved into the apartment and bought the clock—the box saying that it was a radio as well.

He’s not sure why he does it, but he sits on the edge of the bed and drags the radio-clock into his lap. It takes a few minutes of fiddling (he only ever used the old thing to tell the time) but he eventually gets a low hum of static playing as he clicks through the channels. 

Finally, he hears a familiar voice. The man from the radio in the car.

That was ‘Friday I’m In Love’ by The Cure, just in case any of you listeners are uncultured enough to not know who they are. That song sure does bring back a lot of memories. I remember blasting this song in my room, taking out the cheap pack of cigs I stashed in my underwear drawer. Sweet, sweet nostalgia.”

Eddie is captivated by his voice. The man is describing what it was like to smoke his first cigarette at fourteen, laughing about how he had nearly called 911 because he thought he was suffocating. Eddie is fixed on the way he talks—the way he’s so confident in his words, as if he never feels the need to second-guess what he says, like Eddie so often does. His voice was sort of nasally, so Eddie would’ve thought he would be irritated by the man’s stream-of-consciousness babble, but instead he finds it soothing. 

Then the voice started calling out a phone number.

Give us a call,” he was saying, and before Eddie even knew what his hands were doing, he was typing in the number into his phone.

Oh shit! Looks like we’ve got one,” the man says on the radio, and then he’s in Eddie’s ear. “Trashmouth speaking, who do we have here?

Eddie panics once the call goes through, and resorts to what he does best. 

“You know how unhealthy it is to smoke, right? Like, there’s literally tons of research that proves that and if you’ve been smoking since you were fourteen then I’m surprised your lungs haven’t shriveled up like raisins.” It’s out of his mouth before he can stop it, and Eddie shuts his eyes in annoyance with himself. 

Surprisingly enough, the man just laughs. “Good thing I quit five years ago, then, huh?

Eddie flushes in embarrassment. “Oh. Um. Congrats.”

Trashmouth—that’s what he called himself—laughs again. He laughs a lot. It’s loud and obnoxious and absolutely not endearing whatsoever, Eddie tells himself. “What’s your name, dude?

“Um,” Eddie hesitates, years worth of stranger danger lectures bubbling up into his brain. He scrambles for a moment before saying, “K.”

K?

“Uh, yeah. I don’t think I feel comfortable giving you my name, so, uh. My last name starts with K. You can call me K.” 

Alright, Dr. K—” 

“I’m not a doctor.”

Could’ve fooled me,” he says. “What are you doing with all that health anxiety if not fixing up poor smoke addicts like fourteen year old Trashmouth?

“I’m, uh,” Eddie thought about which answer he should give. Does he want this stranger—and whoever else is listening—to know that he’s working two jobs just to barely afford an apartment with two roommates? Not that it wasn’t common in New York, but he’d rather keep some of his life private. “I work at a local cafe.” It was a half truth, at least. 

Oh, that’s cute,” Trashmouth says, and Eddie purses his lips to stop himself from smiling.

Eddie is about to reply when he hears muffled talking from the other end, and then Trashmouth is cursing into the receiver, saying, “Shit, I’m sorry, I lost track of time. I’m gonna have to let you go, but please, feel free to call again, Dr. K.”

“Yeah, you too,” Eddie says, and then smacks himself on the forehead, because that doesn’t even make sense.

Trashmouth laughs and says, “Gonna give me your number so I can call you instead? Shit—yeah, yes, Bill, I’m going! ” 

And then the line goes dead. Eddie scrambles to turn up the radio, just in time to hear the man sigh wistfully and say, “Well that was new. Next up we have Dazey and the Scouts!

Eddie stays up until the end of Trashmouth’s segment, in which he announces that listeners can catch him every Tuesday and Friday night from 9:15-11:15pm. Eddie takes out a notepad to write down the times. He tells himself he doesn’t know why, but he knows well enough.

 

 

Over the duration of the weekend, Eddie spent his time on shift at the train station looking out for the smiling man on the security cameras, but he was nowhere to be found. With each passing moment that the man didn’t appear, a pit of disappointment grew in Eddie’s stomach, which he had steadfastly ignored. 

At one point, a man with shoulder-length hair and thick rimmed glasses came onto the screen, and Eddie had shot up out of his chair with embarrassingly fast speed. It wasn’t him. Wrong height, wrong face shape. Eddie had sat back down in his chair, face burning in shame, thanking God that he worked alone.

It’s a relatively boring job, considering the station isn’t as popular as New York’s other well-known train stations—it’s natural to want his one source of entertainment (if he could even call it that) to come back. That’s what he told himself, at least.

Now it’s Tuesday afternoon, and Eddie is at his weekday job in the cafe, buzzing with anticipation. The train station man was still in his mind, but it was overshadowed by the knowledge that today was Trashmouth’s radio show. The segment wasn’t until that night, and yet Eddie couldn’t help but open his phone for the seventh time that afternoon, checking and double checking to make sure he still had the number for the station saved in his previous calls list.

“What’s got you so jumpy?” Mike, his co-worker, asks. It’s a relatively slow day, so he thankfully doesn’t hound Eddie for going on his phone every few minutes.

“Sorry, man,” Eddie says, pocketing the device that has been the source of all his anxiety. “Just an off day for me, I guess.”

“You know,” Mike says, adorning a grin that does no good at putting Eddie’s mind at ease, “Bev told me there might be a cute guy you’re interested in. Does this have something to do with that?”

“Hey, how’s online dating going?” Eddie says, swerving around Mike so that he can start baking more macaroons, just so he has something to do.

“I know that you’re avoiding the subject, but I actually do want to talk about that, so I’ll let you off the hook,” Mike says, helping Eddie with the preparations despite knowing that they don’t really need to make any more macaroons. Mike’s a good friend like that.

“Oh? Did you find someone?” 

“I did, actually,” Mike says, smiling until his dimples come out. Eddie wishes he were attracted to him more than just on a physical level. Life would be much simpler if that were the case. “His name is Bill. We’re going on a date soon.”

“That’s awesome, Mike!” Eddie says, clapping him on the back. It gets flour on his shirt, but they’re both used to it. “What’s he like? What does he do for a living?”

“He works at a radio station,” Mike says, and Eddie swallows the groan that immediately bubbles up in his throat.

Now he’s thinking about Trashmouth again. 

Eddie spends the rest of his shift anxiously watching the clock. The fact that it’s a slow day makes things worse, because he’s left with only his thoughts and Mike, who’s too busy texting his new man to distract Eddie. 

When 6:30pm finally rolls along, Eddie darts out of the shop, thanking Mike on his way out for closing up, and speeds home. It wasn’t necessary to speed considering Trashmouth’s segment wouldn’t start for a few more hours, but he had to get that anxious energy out of him somehow.

He very deliberately avoids wondering why he’s so eager to call the station again. He accidentally taps his breaks once on the way home because of how much he was jiggling his leg in anticipation. When he finally gets home his skin is still buzzing, so he takes one look at the slight clutter on the kitchen counter and in the connected living space, and decides that the entire apartment needs a deep clean. 

 

 

 

“Are you having an episode? Do I need to call Bev?” Stan asks when he comes home, Patty in tow.

Eddie looks up from where he had been hunched over on the floor, vigorously scrubbing at scuff marks.

“You’re not supposed to be home until 9,” Eddie says instead of giving him an answer.

“Eddie, honey,” Patty says sweetly. She’s always so sweet. Eddie hopes Stan marries her. “It’s, like, 9:13.”

“What?” Eddie says, dropping his cleaning supplies. “Fuck. Shit. I got distracted, I need to—”

Eddie scrambles until he’s standing again and races to his room, leaving behind the cleaning supplies and a slightly wet floor.

“I’ll just clean this up then, shall I,” he hears Stan mutter, and Patty laughs, before he slams the door behind him.

He hunkers down in front of the radio, feeling like Ralphie in A Christmas Story waiting to hear Little Orphan Annie’s secret message. He doesn’t even need to click through the stations, because he hadn’t changed the channel since Friday. At 9:15 exactly, Trashmouth’s voice fills the air, and Eddie feels his heartbeat just a little bit harder in his chest.

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the show! I am your host, Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier—

Eddie perks up at the mention of a name, and he quickly pulls out a notepad—the same one he used to write down the dates for Trashmouth’s segments—and scribbles out “RICHIE TOZURE (?)”. He then adds a second note underneath it that says “MIGHT BE SPELLED DIFFERENTLY”. 

Trashmouth—or, Richie, as he called himself—starts off by playing a few more selections from the Cure (which Eddie quickly realizes is a Trashmouth favorite) and one from a group called Prefab Sprout (which Eddie had never heard of, but decided quickly, sounded like any other 80s song ever made). At this point, Eddie is itching for him to start talking. And then, he does.

Alright, folks, as you frequent listeners know, I try to add little stories throughout my segments to keep things interesting. Don’t worry, I’ll still be doing that, but we’re also going to try something different today! My hopes are a little high for this one, but we’ll just see how it goes. If you’re listening, give us a call! ” 

Richie calls out the number for the station, but Eddie already has it queued up on his phone. He hesitates for a moment, just long enough to hear Richie give an uncomfortable laugh and start to repeat the phone number. Eddie clicks the call button. He hears Richie say “We got one? Already? ” and then there’s a click, and suddenly Richie’s voice is in his ear, just the same as the first time Eddie called.

Welcome, caller, to the marvelous Trashmouth show!

Eddie hears a distant voice shout, “That’s not what it’s called!

Not yet it isn’t! ” Richie says back, and then says in some sort of pompous voice, “With whom do I have the honor of speaking to presently?

“You don’t do calls often, do you?”

Oh my god. Oh, please, please tell me it’s who I think it is,” Richie says, sounding absolutely delighted.

Eddie sighs. “It’s K.”

Dr. K! ” Richie shouts, and Eddie huffs. “Boy, I was praying you’d come back, and here you are! Begging for my attention. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?

“What the hell does that mean?”

Well, your mom was begging for my attention too, just last night. I told her you said hi, don’t worry.

There’s a pause before Eddie says incredulously, “Are you making a mom joke live on the radio, you absolute ass of a man?”

Watch the language, Dr. K, you’re live on the radio! ” Richie says in the same scandalized tone.

“Oh, shut the fuck up, I’ve heard you curse plenty of times during your stupid fucking story times, asshole,” Eddie shoots back, and Richie absolutely loses it. He’s full-blown cackling, and Eddie knows Richie’s probably in trouble with whoever is monitoring him during his segment. 

He catches himself smiling in the mirror and immediately scowls at his reflection for betraying him. 

“You didn’t answer my question,” Eddie says. Richie makes a curious noise and Eddie continues, “You said you were trying something different today. Do you not do calls usually?”

Nah. I sometimes give out the number during the show, but people rarely call so it’s usually just me playing tunes with occasional anecdotes to mix things up .”

“So why did you do it this time?” Eddie says.

Honestly, I, uh...I was kind of hoping you’d call in again,” Richie says, and if Eddie didn’t know any better he would say that he sounded embarrassed. 

“Oh,” Eddie breathes out, face feeling warm. 

Yeah,” Richie lets out a soft chuckle. “It was pretty fun talking to you last time, not going to lie. And my supervisor, Bill, agreed, so, uh...I thought I’d give it a shot. Turns out I had my hopes up for good reason .”

“I guess you did,” Eddie says, and he’s fairly certain he’s going to pass out from all the blood rushing to his face. 

It’s quiet for a moment, before Richie says, “Want to hear about the time I didn’t shower for a month on a dare?

Eddie squawks, “Do you just have worms for brains? Like, seriously? If I take a look inside your head, will there be a single wrinkle on that jelly bean of a brain you have?”

I’ll have you know, I was valedictorian at my school,” Richie says. 

“I find that incredibly hard to believe.”

It’s true! I graduated with a 4.0, but just the other day I forgot what a shopping cart was called for a solid thirty minutes. My brain is massive but empty, like a hot air balloon,” Richie says, sounding far too proud for a man who just admitted to forgetting the word shopping cart. “Wait, shit, I could’ve made a dick joke right there .”

A voice, presumably Bill, shouts distantly, “No you could not!

Eddie stifles an incredulous laugh, because the last thing he wants is for Richie to know just how genuinely funny Eddie actually thinks he is. Unfortunately, Eddie thinks he already knows. 



 

Friday comes and Eddie waits. He’s at the train station, monitoring the security video, waiting. He tries to remember what time it was the last time he saw the smiling man. It was near the end of his shift, right? Around 8, maybe 8:30? And here Eddie is, at 7:17pm, eyes darting across the screen just to make sure he doesn’t miss him. If he even is coming, that is. 

The later it gets, the lower Eddie’s expectations drop. It’s around the same time the smiling was there last week, and if he hasn’t shown up yet, then Eddie may as well give up on seeing him ever again. 

The train pulls in, and Eddie has given up hope. But then, a man comes running into view. Not just any man, it’s the man, the smiling man. His chest is heaving, out of breath and obviously in a hurry. And yet, despite how he very nearly missed his train, the man still takes the time to step into the same spot where he was last week—directly in front of the camera, as if he wants to make sure somebody sees him. Then he pulls down his glasses as if he were checking someone out, and winks at the camera, before rushing onto the train. 

Eddie resists turning off the camera completely, as if he were caught doing something he shouldn’t be. He grumbles, feeling a burning hotness trail up his neck. Stupid. 

Eddie adopts a new routine. Every Tuesday night he talks with Richie on his radio show. Every Friday evening, Eddie watches the train station man flirt with the security camera—winking, smiling, bouncing his eyebrows up and down suggestively, each action making Eddie sweat for reasons he doesn’t want to think about. After that, Eddie rushes home to talk to Richie on his show again.

That’s what he’s doing now, although this time he was too eager to wait until he was home to call Richie, so he made a call in the car on the way home instead. That may have been a mistake.

“Hey, dickhead! My mom drives faster than you, and she’s dead!” Eddie shouts. Richie is cackling on the line, echoing between the phone and the radio, which was turned down to the minimum.

You kiss your mother with that mouth? ” Richie says.

“I literally just said she’s dead, Trashmouth,” Eddie says, although not at all as pissed off as he was only moments before. Turns out Richie had that effect on him.

Talented woman, then, because she’s still the best lover I’ve ever had,” Richie says, and Eddie laughs.

That’s another thing that has changed since Eddie started calling in regularly. He lets himself laugh. He was worried that Richie would never let him hear the end of it, that the infamous stick-in-the-mud Dr. K actually found Trashmouth’s humor funny. Instead, Richie’s voice would get this softness to it that made Eddie feel like a cage of wild moths were raging inside his stomach. 

“You really are something, Richie,” Eddie says. He had finally arrived at his apartment, so now he’s just sitting in his car, parked but keeping the car on so he can still hear the radio.

Yeah? ” Richie says, his voice doing that soft thing again. Eddie feels like he could melt into his seat.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “Don’t let that get to your head, though.”

Oh, too late. It’s already inflated to the size of a relatively large watermelon, ” Richie says. “Not, like, competition-winning, but it’s pretty damn big .”

“Please don’t say it—”

Just like my dick,” Richie says, and Eddie sighs, although he’s smiling all the same. “You know what I call my dick, Dr. K?

“I don’t think I want to know.”

Steve Buscemi. ” Richie pauses to let Eddie snort. “Wanna know why?

“No I do not,” Eddie says, although he definitely does.

Because he’s in everything.

Eddie wheezes and laughs, a loud guffaw that he never thought he would be comfortable enough to let out. He can hear Richie chuckling on the other end—encouraged by Eddie’s own deranged laughter, no doubt. 

“You’re an idiot, Trashmouth,” Eddie finally says, still chuckling.

That’s my name, baby, don’t wear it out,” Richie says, a smile in his voice.

Eddie squirms in his seat, reminding himself that this is just a radio persona. He’s a flirty guy, that’s just who he is. Maybe when he’s off the air he’s entirely different. Maybe he’s shy, even. Maybe he gets embarrassed when someone else calls him a cute pet name for a change...

Eddie startles when someone bangs on his window, palms flat against the glass like a police raid. 

“Christ!” Eddie shouts, and he hears Richie make a startled noise. Bev stares at him through the window with a single judging eyebrow raised. “Shit, sorry, it’s—it’s Bev, I gotta go. Talk to you next time, Trashmouth.”

Eddie hangs up, distantly hearing Richie’s voice on the radio saying, “You listeners must be wondering, who in the world is Bev? Well, so am I! Find out next time with Trashmouth and Dr. K! ”  Eddie smiles to himself, allowing himself a childish moment to appreciate the sound of their names together, before rolling down the car window.

“What the hell are you still doing out here?” Bev says immediately. “I saw you park, like, 10 minutes ago.”

“I just got distracted!” Eddie says, pocketing his phone. He knows he looks guilty, and it’s only made worse by the flush creeping onto his face. 

Bev smiles like a shark who’s smelt blood in the water, and Eddie is already shaking his head.

“No, no, Bev, not like that—”

“It’s a boy, isn’t it? It’s definitely a boy, I can see it on your face.”

“No!”

“It totally is!”

Eddie huffs and opens his door, consequentially shoving Bev out of the way as he heads towards the apartment.

“You’ve literally got the complexion of a fire hydrant right now,” Bev says, catching up to him before he can go inside without her.

Eddie opens the door for her despite his irritation, “Fire hydrants aren’t always red, you know; they can be yellow, or green, or blue if it’s a waterworks hydrant, which is not actually meant for fire use.”

“Wow, your face just keeps getting redder. Is he really that hot?”

“Shut up, Beverly!”

They bicker as they go up the three flights of stairs it takes to get to their apartment, and continue to do so when they get inside. She pesters him up until he slams the door to his bedroom in her face. He can hear her laughing even as she walks away, and he can’t help but smile and shake his head. He never had a sister before, but if anyone came close to it in his life, it was Beverly Marsh.

Eddie strips down, about to change into his pajamas when he stops, catching his own eye in the mirror. He was hunched over, about to put a leg in his pants, but he drops them and stands up straight. He takes himself in, only wearing his boxers. 

He’s a fairly fit guy. He’s not Ben levels of ripped, but he works out regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He looks down at himself, poking the skin near his belly button. He doesn’t grow a whole lot of hair, so his stomach is toned and smooth, apart from a tiny happy trail that he usually keeps shaven. 

Richie would probably call me a twink, Eddie thinks before he can stop himself.

Eddie slaps a hand over his eyes, hissing at himself to quit being so fucking stupid. He shoves on the pajama pants, and then watches the blush across his chest disappear as he slides on an old ThunderCats t-shirt. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Eddie turns on the radio. Richie isn’t talking, it’s just music, and Eddie fears he’ll fall asleep before he can hear Richie talk again. Then, Forever Young fades out, and Trashmouth starts talking.

So, I think I’ve mentioned him before, but my friend Adrian got married this past week! Now, some of you may be wondering, ‘Is this the same guy that performed the entire Single Ladies dance routine in the middle of psych class in order to get out of taking the final, and succeeded?’ Yes, indeed! ” Richie throws on an announcer voice and says, “Ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, our very own Adrian M. got hitched! Who would’ve thought? Not me!

He only talks for a minute longer before going into the next song, but Eddie wishes he would keep going. Just two hours straight of Trashmouth telling stories that usually have nothing to do with the songs he plays, but they draw the listener in none-the-less. Trashmouth had made it seem like he didn’t have that big of a following, but Eddie couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be immediately invested upon hearing his voice. Everything about him just screams ‘Listen to me. Listen to me. I could talk for hours on end and you wouldn’t have a single problem with that because you want to hear my voice until it goes raw from exertion .’

Okay, maybe that part’s just Eddie.

Soon enough it’s nearing the end of Trashmouth’s segment, and Eddie has nearly called three times. He doesn’t do that, that’s not the routine—he calls once each segment and then listens to the rest until it’s over or he falls asleep. He already called in the car, he can’t do it again. Would they even accept it? They couldn’t, could they?

Alright folks! We’re nearing the end of the show, so as always I wanna say a big thank you to all my listeners—

Eddie already has his phone up to his ear.

Oh, looks like we’ve got a scraggler! ” Richie says on the radio, and then he’s talking on the phone. “Hey there, this’ll have to be a short call since we’re wrapping up soon, but I can never deny my fans a chance to listen to my handsome voice up close and personal. What’s your name, caller?

Eddie takes a deep breath, willing himself not to hang up and let Richie assume it was a prank call. He can do this. 

“Hey, Trashmouth. Me again.”

There’s a pause, and then a soft noise, like disbelieving laughter. “My, my, do my ears deceive me? Dr. K, is that you? For the second time today?

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get a big head about it,” Eddie says, burrowing into his covers as if he could hide from the embarrassment. “This is a one time thing.”

And what exactly is ‘this’? ” Richie asks.

Eddie bites the inside of his cheek, then says, “It’s stupid, honestly, I just...”

You just...?

Eddie swallows his pride, and mutters, “I just wanted to say goodnight, Trashmouth.”

Silence.

Oh,” he says, a whoosh of air against his microphone more than a word. He clears his throat. He says in the same quiet tone, as if any louder will break whatever tension is in the airwaves, “Goodnight, Dr. K. Get some rest, you have lives to save in the morning .”

Eddie snorts, “You know I’m not a doctor, asshole.”

Well, you’ve certainly stopped my heart,” Richie says.

Ignoring the pounding in his chest, Eddie says, “Doctors are supposed to start hearts, not stop them, dumbass.”

Richie chuckles and says, “And I thought you were saying goodnight .”

“I was! I am. Goodnight, Richie.”

Goodnight, K.”

The line goes dead, and Eddie moves to turn up the radio. It’s quiet for a moment, and Eddie briefly wonders if he ended the show already.

Then, Trashmouth clears his throat again and says in a voice that’s much more gentle than his usual brash enthusiasm at the end of shows, “ Goodnight everybody. Enjoy some painful longing while I sign off—my name is Richie ‘Trashmouth’ Tozier, thank you very much .”

Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears pours out of the radio, and Eddie wonders if it means something. If Richie is thinking of him—Dr. K—while this song plays.

Eddie lays down and closes his eyes, letting the music wash over him as he imagines what Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier might look like.

Long hair—not too long, just longer than Eddie’s. Just below his ears, maybe, and a dark color. Brown, almost black.

Glasses with thick rims, the lens so thick it would probably be illegal for him to operate heavy machinery without them.

Obnoxious Hawaiian print button ups...

Eddie’s eyes snap open when he realizes he’s been picturing the man from the train station. Eddie groans, slipping the pillow out from under his head and stuffing it over his face.

So he has two crushes. One on a man he’s never seen before, and one he’s never even spoken to. Fucking marvelous.



 

The next time Eddie talks to Richie on the radio, neither of them bring up Eddie calling just to say goodnight. Why would they? There’s no point. Richie does, however, bring up something else.

Do you have Twitter, Dr. K?

“What? No, why would I?”

You’re in your mid-twenties and you don’t have Twitter?

“I literally just said that I don’t.”

Well, my followers sure seem interested in you.”

“They—what?”

And Richie, being the ass that he is, doesn’t elaborate any further, so that leaves it to Eddie to download Twitter later that day and see just what the fuck he’s talking about. He doesn’t personalize his account in any way, just leaves it as the default profile picture and header, and goes straight to the search bar.

He looks up “trashmouth” and gets thousands of results.

 

amy asf @trashmouthstoe

anyone else wanna see dr. k become a permanent part of trashmouth’s show or



marie | 9 days!!! @1980shorrorfilm

is it just me or is dr. k’s voice like...hot as fuck



dear god give me rest @givebillrest

Replying to @1980shorrorfilm

you do know that’s a real person, right? quit being creepy



marie | 9 days!!! @1980shorrofilm 

Replying to @1980shorrorfilm @givebillrest

relax dude trashmouth literally liked my tweet lmao

 

Eddie spends a minute trying to figure out how to look at the specific people who liked that tweet, and sees that Richie did, in fact, like it. @trashmouthofficial is the username, and Eddie clicks on it faster than he’s ever clicked on anything before. 

He has 200k followers, which was way more than Eddie had expected, and yet he’s not surprised. If anything, now that he thinks about it, he should have more. His account doesn’t have any pictures of him though, Eddie realizes with disappointment—just a generic photo of a radio microphone as his profile picture and then TRASHMOUTH in big bold letters as his header. 

Then he sees his latest tweet, from two weeks ago.

 

TRASHMOUTH @trashmouthofficial

anyone else thinking about dr. k

 

The tweet has thousands of comments, retweets, likes. Eddie has to sit down and run through his breathing exercises in order to get his face back to its normal temperature. Then he likes the tweet.



 

When Eddie sees the train station man on Friday again, he’s expecting to get the usual. It normally goes like this: the man enters the camera’s field of vision, he waits until he hears the train coming (his head always perks up a little bit, which is how Eddie knows the train is about to arrive), and then he shoots a flirty look the camera’s way before leaving. (Eddie’s vaguely aware that he should be paying just as much attention to the other occupants in the train station, but he can’t help that his focus is drawn to him so easily. Nothing happens at the train station anyway, so what harm is being done, really?)

This time, Eddie sees the man step into the frame, and instead of waiting for the sound of the train first, he immediately starts bouncing his eyebrows up and down in a ridiculous flirty face. Almost like he was trying to get Eddie’s attention. He winks to complete the look, and then does something even more peculiar—he nods his head in a “c’mere” sort of gesture, but Eddie obviously can’t come down there, so he does the closest thing to it and zooms in on him. It must have been what the man wanted, because suddenly he’s holding up a small sign. In big, sloppy handwriting, it says:

Text me! XOXO ;)

At the bottom is a string of numbers. A phone number. 

Eddie immediately whips out his phone before the sign can disappear. His palms are sweating and he feels lightheaded as he types, so he makes the text as aggressive as possible to make up for the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability in his chest.

 

To: Unknown Number

Do you know how fucking easy it would be for a serial killer to see you broadcasting your phone number to the world, this is so fucking stupid and reckless.

 

There, he sent it. Contact with train station man has been made. 

 

From: Unknown Number

it got ur attention didn't it?

 

Eddie huffs and tells himself that wasn’t charming, not in the least. He sees the typing bubble pop up again before he can respond.

 

From: Unknown Number

so what made u answer this time? i tried the same trick on tuesday and got nothing

 

To: Unknown Number

You’re telling me this isn’t the first time you flashed around your personal information like a moron?

 

And then, before the man could respond:

 

To: Unknown Number

I don’t have any shifts on Tuesdays.

 

From: Unknown Number

fridays work tho?

 

To: Unknown Number

Obviously they do. I’ve been watching you flirt with the security camera for weeks now.

 

From: Unknown Number

and u just left me hanging? wow :/

 

To: Unknown Number

I literally had no way of contacting you, asshole, what the fuck did you expect me to do?

 

From: Unknown Number

easy with the cursing sailor! i could report u!

 

You don’t even know who I am, Eddie responds, although he realizes he should probably ease up on the insults just in case. This was a complete stranger, after all.

 

From: Unknown Number

unclench, mystery person, that’s all part of the fun

 

To: Unknown Number

If you have me saved as ‘mystery person’ in your contacts, I’m blocking you.

 

From: Unknown Number

why, what do u have me saved as?

 

To: Unknown Number

Oh. Um. 

 

From: Unknown Number

u don’t even have my contact saved do u????

 

To: Unknown Number

We’ve been talking for like five minutes!

 

From: Unknown Number

but i’ve been flirting with u for weeks ;)

 

To: Unknown Number

You’ve been flirting with a security camera.

 

From: Unknown Number

and now i have u!

wait, if u don’t mind me asking, are u like a dude or

 

To: Unknown Number

Yes. I’m, “like, a dude.” 

 

From: Unknown Number

perfect, that would’ve been awkward as fuck if u weren’t

 

To: Unknown Number

Why?

 

From: Unknown Number

i know i’m unbelievably attractive and no one can resist my ruggedly handsome looks...

 

Eddie snorts at his phone.

 

From: Unknown Number

but i only play for one team

 

A pause, and then:

 

From: Unknown Number

the gay team, if that wasn’t clear

 

Eddie stops to stare at the words. He’s ashamed to admit that he never even considered the possibility that the train station man could have been straight in the first place. Technically, he never considered the possibility he was gay, either. He never thought he would talk to him whatsoever, so he figured it didn’t matter.

 

To: Unknown Number

Oh. Okay.

 

From: Unknown Number

is that...okay??? 

i mean if ur a homophobe you can fuck right off 

 

To: Unknown Number

No! No, I’m not homophobic, fuck no.

 

From: Unknown Number

oh. cool.

so are you

like

ya know

 

To: Unknown Number

I don’t think that’s any of your business.

 

Eddie thinks the guy will laugh it off, make a joke about it, maybe prod him some more. But he’s surprised when he responds with more understanding than he expected.

 

From: Unknown Number

no right yeah of course that was totally crossing a line

if i ever go too far just say “beep beep richie” and i’ll shut the fuck up

 

Eddie holds his breath. No way, no fucking way.

 

To: Unknown Number

Two things. One, stop apologizing, it’s weird. Yes, I’m gay, I was just fucking with you. 

Two. Richie? That’s your name?

 

From: Unknown Number

ah, fuck, i ruined the mystery

yeah that’s me

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Cool. Good to know.

 

He can see Richie’s head lift up in the security camera, looking towards the arriving train. He glances back down at his phone, typing.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

gotta go, mystery man

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

See you next time, Train Man.

 

He sees Richie look down at his phone and laugh, shaking his head with a smile. Eddie finds himself smiling as well as he watches him hop into the train and disappear.

They’re both named Richie. What a fucking coincidence, he thinks.

Unless, of course, it isn’t one.

Chapter Text

Eddie speeds home after his shift is done, impatient to finally get to the safety of his room and call in. He didn’t even turn on radio Richie’s show in the car because he knew that the sound of his voice would just make him wonder if that’s what train station Richie sounds like—if they are, in fact, the same person. He’d be too preoccupied thinking ‘Is it you? Are you him? Is he you? ’ to properly pay attention to the road.

He fast walks into his room as soon as he enters the apartment, ignoring Stan and Bev’s questioning looks, and turns on the radio. Trashmouth is in the middle of a story, but Eddie could care less about interrupting.

So I was stuck there, bare ass in the wind for all the world to see, and it takes at least half an hour for someone to get me out!

Eddie pulls up his phone and calls.

Right on time, ” Richie says on the radio, and then on Eddie’s phone, “Welcome to the Trashmouth show, listener, you are live!

“You’re an absolute buffoon. I’m the only one that ever calls, why do you always act like I’m gonna be one of your six other listeners,” Eddie says, and he feels himself relaxing. 

Ow! Ouch! Dr. K going in for the kill! ” Richie laughs.

Eddie remembers what he was planning to do. “Hey, how do you spell your last name?”

Richie spells it out, T-O-Z-I-E-R, and Eddie types it into the search bar. “Why? Doing some snooping? Gonna find my address and finally kill me? "

“Finally give your listeners some peace and quiet,” Eddie mumbles, and Richie chuckles. “No, I just kept thinking about—”

Eddie pauses, realizing how bad it sounds to tell him ‘I think about what you look like.

“I, uh,” Eddie continues, “it’s just weird not knowing what you look like when I’ve talked to you so many times. So I wanted to see if you’d show up on the website for your show.”

We have a website? ” Richie says, muffled, probably talking to Bill. Then he says to Eddie, “Wait, so you’re looking up my picture as we speak? I’m gonna get a live reaction?

“Sure are,” Eddie says, before his voice stops working, because he found a picture, and it’s just as he suspected.

Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier is the man from the train station. 

“Oh my god,” Eddie says.

What? Is that a good ‘oh my god’ or a bad ‘oh my god’? Did my unbelievably attractive face blind you, do you need an ambulance? ” Richie rambles on, and Eddie can tell it’s more nervous than anything.

“I just,” Eddie hesitates, thinking of anything to say that isn’t ‘I knew you were attractive but seeing you through a gritty security lens did not do you justice. ’ “I just didn’t know there were people that got fashion inspiration from Gonzo.”

The train station security feed was in black and white, so Eddie never knew how loud and bright Richie’s shirts were. He almost has to squint at the conglomeration of colorful patterns. 

Ha! ” Richie lets out a bark of laughter that sounds kind of relieved. “I don’t think I’ve ever been compared to a muppet before.”

“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner,” Eddie says.

Alright, so, what do you look like then, Dr. K? ” Richie says, and Eddie shrugs before he remembers he can’t see him.

“Just your everyday white guy. Brown hair, brown eyes. Average height,” Eddie says.

Average height, what’s average height for you? ” Richie says, sounding amused.

Eddie sniffs, “You know. 5’9. Average height.”

Richie lets out a noise, like a wheezy exhale that kind of sounds like a laugh. “Oh my god. That’s adorable. I could fit you in my pocket.

“Shut the fuck up, you can’t be that tall,” Eddie snaps.

My dude, my man, I’m 6’3. I could stomp you like a bug,” Richie says, and Eddie doesn’t know why he finds himself flushing.

“Oh, you’re really tall,” Eddie says, sounding more breathless than he likes. 

Oh? ” Richie says, sounding amused. Then he does something that leaves Eddie feeling mortified. He drops his voice to a sultry gravel and says, “You like tall men, Dr. K?

Eddie, unaware that he could embarrass himself even further, lets out some sort of squeaking noise before slapping his hand over his mouth. There’s laughter on the other end of the phone, although he barely hears it over the pulsing in his ears.

Alright, alright, Bill says I gotta quit flirting with my listeners so this is my queue to let you go. Until next time, Dr. K,” Richie says, and Eddie barely gets his senses together long enough to say a strangled ‘bye’ before the line goes dead. 

You like tall men, Dr. K?

Eddie stays up listening to Richie’s segment, the words ‘you like tall men, Dr. K? ’ repeating in his brain like a broken record. The last song Richie plays is Man or Muppet by Jason Segel, and Eddie vaguely thinks of Gonzo right before he falls asleep.

 

 

 

He texts Richie in the morning.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

My name is Eddie.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

eddie spaghetti

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

No.



 

Thankfully Richie doesn’t go to the train station on Saturdays or Sundays, so during the time that he should be carefully monitoring the security cameras, Eddie instead deals with his inner turmoil over the fact that his two crushes are the same person.

He should be ecstatic, shouldn’t he? It makes things so much easier if they’re the same person. No worries about breaking anyone’s heart.

Except, who’s to say that Richie even actually likes him back? What if he likes Dr. K, but not Eddie? What if he doesn’t even like Dr. K? Sure, they flirt, but that’s just who Richie is. That’s just what he does, he’s a flirty guy. 

Eddie contemplates this even as he goes out with Stan, Beverly, Ben and Patty for dinner. He knows they can all tell he’s distracted, so he takes out his phone and ignores their semi-concerned glances.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

I’m going out to dinner so if I take a little while to respond, that’s why.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

oh shit wait for me, i’ll eat at the same time as u so it’s like a virtual date!!!!!! ;)

 

Eddie flushes as he takes his seat at the country style restaurant that Ben recommended, letting his heel crunch on the shell of a peanut.

“You alright there, Ed?” Beverly says from where she sits across from him in the round booth. “Need me to turn up the fan?”

Eddie looks at the overhead fan, wobbling precariously above their heads. “If you make that thing go any faster it’ll fall apart like a Nature Valley granola bar.”

After asking the waiter for an extensive list of the ingredients used, Eddie decides on getting the house salad and steak, along with a glass of beer that he knows he will switch out with water halfway through. He takes out his phone, ignoring the others’ looks, and sends a picture of his meal to Richie.

Within a minute, Richie sends a picture back of a soggy-looking microwave meal that was probably supposed to be a pizza. He captioned it with a chef emoji followed by a lipstick kiss emoji. Chef’s kiss. Eddie snorts.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Do you know how insanely unhealthy that shit is? I’m surprised you haven’t died of some obscure heart disease if this is the kind of shit you put in your body.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

ooooh tell me more about what things i should put in my body ;)

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

I’m going to block you.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

empty threats, spaghetti man

 

Eddie shakes his head at his phone and pockets it, and when he looks up everyone at the table is staring at him.

“What?” Eddie says.

“You’re smiling,” Stan says.

“No, I’m not.”

“See, the thing is, you are, though,” Bev says. 

Eddie touches his cheeks, which are rounded with the force of his smile, and he forces his lips into a flat line. His skin itches at the attention.

“Something you wanna tell us, Eddie?” Patty says, always so kind and unassuming, but Eddie knows her better than to think she isn’t eating this up as well.

Eddie clears his throat, cutting into his steak just to give his hands something to do. “I may be...talking to someone.”

“I fucking knew it!” Bev says immediately, and Ben puts a hand on her shoulder to calm her down.

Eddie rolls his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, you were right. It wasn’t exactly hard to guess, though, so don’t expect a medal from me.”

“Is it the train station man?” Bev asks.

“Or that guy from the radio you keep talking to?” Stan says, and Eddie straightens in his seat.

“You—how did you know about that?” Eddie asks.

“Our walls are thin,” Stan says, taking a sip of his wine, “and he makes you laugh louder than I’ve ever heard you laugh. It would be cute if it didn’t also disrupt my sleep schedule.”

Eddie grumbles and shoves a forkful of steak into his mouth, chewing it deliberately slow so that he’ll have time to think over his answer. They all wait patiently for him to speak, and Eddie sighs.

“So, I may be talking to...both of them,” Eddie says.

“Eddie...” Ben starts to say in that disappointed dad voice that makes Eddie squirm.

“But it’s fine because, turns out, they’re the same person!” Eddie blurts before any of them can form a worse impression of him.

“Oh, fuck! What a twist!” Bev shouts, and Stan shushes her, but Patty just chuckles and nods her head in agreement with Bev.

“Does he know you’re the same person as well?” Ben asks. 

“Okay, so, about that—” Eddie says, and Stan groans.

“Eddie,” Stan says.

“Yes, Stan?” 

“Please tell me he knows you’re the same person.”

“I. Um,” Eddie shuffles uncomfortably, crossing and uncrossing his ankles. “So, I may, possibly, go by Dr. K when I talk to him on the radio?”

“That’s kind of sexy,” Patty says, wiggling her shoulders.

“Babylove, I adore you, but you’re not helping,” Stan says, exasperated. “You have to tell him, Eddie.”

Eddie sighs, slumping further into his seat, wishing the cushion in the booth would swallow him up so he wouldn’t have to think about anything else any longer. His phone buzzes a few times, and he reaches for it, ignoring the pointed glare Stan throws his way.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

so we’ve been talking for a while and i was just thinking

u’ve seen me, yeah?

do u think maybe

idk

i can see u? a photo for ur contact picture maybe?

 

A long pause where Eddie just stares at his phone. Richie must get nervous because he adds on:

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

just a thought

 

Eddie sighs. He looks up at the others. Stan has his eyebrows raised, Bev looks interested but sympathetic, as does Ben, and Patty is too busy eating her bacon burger to notice Eddie’s internal conflict. Eddie looks back down at his phone.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Maybe another time, Train Man.

 

Eddie curses himself for being such a coward.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

no yeah of course, sure thing eds

 

And it’s the worst, because Eddie knows that he’s disappointed him, and yet Richie is still acting as if it’s no big deal just so Eddie doesn’t feel bad. Eddie rubs at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and sighs.



 

When Eddie gets up for work on Monday, he feels like every bone in his body has been replaced with lead. He checks his temperature, and his throat, and anything else that could point to a physical sickness, but he seems perfectly healthy. He calls Mike.

Hey, bud, what’s up? ” Mike answers.

“Hey, Mike, I just started getting ready for work and I just feel fucking awful. I don’t think I’m sick or anything, but just the thought of doing any work today sounds...”

I think I know what you mean, ” Mike says. “Are you sure you’re not mentally worn out? There are more ways than one to get sick, you know .”

Eddie thinks about it for a moment. He’s been stressing over the Richie dilemma for a few days straight now. His old therapist told him that his anxiety might not always be obvious, like panic attacks, but that it might bottle up and stir inside him if he doesn’t do anything about it. Just another thing he fucked up—he can’t even stop from making himself sick.

“I’m sorry,” Eddie says. He doesn’t know why he says it, but on days like this he feels like he needs to apologize just for existing.

Hey, hey, none of that,” Mike says in his kind fatherly-friend voice. It helps to release some of the tension in Eddie’s shoulders. “You can take a mental health day, you know. You haven’t taken a day off once since you started working at the cafe, I think it’s about time you do. I can have someone cover your shift, it’s alright.”

Eddie feels like he could cry. “Thank you, thank you, Mike. Seriously, I appreciate it.”

No problem, man. And you know you can talk to me about anything if you need to, right?

“Yeah, of course,” Eddie says. “I appreciate that.”

What are you gonna do with your day off? ” Mike asks.

Eddie hums into the receiver before he gets an idea. “You know what, I think I’m going to do something that every New Yorker except for me has done.”

Oh yeah? What’s that?

Eddie smiles. “I’m going to take the train.”



 

Despite having lived here since his freshman year of college, Eddie never once took the train. He would always take his car, for two reasons: one being that it was much more sanitary than the inside of a train could ever possibly be, and the other being that his father gave it to him before he passed away, so it was close to Eddie’s heart.

No, Eddie had never taken the train before. So no one could blame him for the anxious way he shifted in his seat at Maturin Station, running through his breathing exercises to distract himself from how many germs are probably on the very bench he was sitting on.

He could have chosen to go to one of New York’s more popular stations to get the full tourist experience, but going to Maturin Station was a strategic choice. From his experience observing the security tapes, he knew how empty the station was even on a good day, so he could easily stay six feet away from any and all passengers if need be. And it was a Monday, which means the chances of Richie being here were little to none. 

That’s what he thought, at least, until he saw Richie bound into the station.

Eddie froze, lifting the collar of his shirt up as if Richie would even know what he looked like enough to recognize him. Eddie watched him walk up to his usual spot, right in front of the camera. It was strange being on the other side for once.

He couldn’t see it since he was facing away from him, but Eddie assumed that Richie was making some dumb flirty face at the camera. Then Richie paused, shaking his head while he laughed quietly to himself, then pulled out his phone. Eddie’s phone buzzed. 

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

i’m at the station today and i totally just flirted with the camera again. force of habit

had to stop myself when i remembered u aren’t here on mondays

hope i didn’t weird out whoever is watching lmao

 

Eddie felt a prickle of heat in his face at the thought that Richie was only doing the flirty faces for him. He knew it was dumb to get excited over such a small thing, but he felt giddy despite himself.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

That would be Don. Recently married, sorry.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

nothing to be sorry for spaghetti, u know u’re the only one for me ;)

 

The text was teasing, but when Eddie snuck a glance up at Richie, he could see the flush on his cheeks as he stared at his phone. Richie drew his bottom lip between his teeth, letting out a huff of air as he waited for a response. Eddie pursed his lips and returned to his phone.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

You’re a nightmare.

 

Eddie looked up to see Richie laughing to himself, typing out a quick response.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

oh so ur saying u dream abt me?

 

Eddie laughed, far too loud. He clamped his mouth shut, but when he spared a glance at Richie he realized it was too late. Richie was looking at him. 

And then he was walking towards him.

Fuck fuck fuck.

“Hey, anyone sitting there?” 

Eddie looked up, mortified, as Richie towered over him like the Big Friendly Giant. “No,” he said, his voice small. Christ. He cleared his throat and shook his head before repeating, “No. You can sit.”

“Thanks,” he smiled, and this close Eddie could see two crooked teeth in the bottom row that made his smile even more endearing than before.

Richie sat down next to him, comfortably close as if they knew each other.

We do know each other, Eddie reminded himself. He just doesn’t know that yet.

“So, business or pleasure?” Richie asks, and Eddie’s already planning his funeral.

“Pleasure,” Eddie says, hoping his curtness will scare Richie off, but he really should have known better. 

“Oh, I bet,” Richie says, which only barely makes sense, and then he winks and Eddie feels every butterfly that’s ever hibernated in his stomach start to flutter up into his throat and choke him.

“What about you?” Eddie says, if only just to get the attention off of him.

“Unfortunately, business,” Richie says. “I’ve got a show tonight.”

And Eddie wants to say, ‘What do you mean you have a show, you only have segments on Tuesdays and Fridays,’ but obviously he can’t, because that would make him look like a stalker, so he just nods instead.

“Do you use the train often? I don’t think I’ve seen you here before but maybe we just miss each other,” Richie says, and why is he still talking to Eddie? What did Eddie do to deserve this?

“Oh, uh, no, first time actually,” Eddie says, crossing his ankles and holding his hands together as if he could fold himself up into a little origami swan and hide from this entire conversation.

“Oh! You new to New York, then?”

“Actually, I’ve lived here since college. I just drive everywhere,” Eddie says. “More sanitary. This place is infested with germs, it’s disgusting, really.”

“Mm, I know someone who would say the same thing,” Richie says wistfully, and Eddie’s heart hurts. “What made you change your mind today?”

Eddie starts to respond before he hears the train coming, and both he and Richie straighten in their seats, heads perking up like meerkats. Richie turns to Eddie and raises his eyebrows in a way that says, ‘You coming?’ and Eddie follows him. Of course he does. They get into the train and sit next to each other (which was against Eddie’s original plan of staying six feet away from every passenger) before Eddie remembers that Richie asked him a question.

“I guess,” Eddie starts to say, considering his answer. “I mean, I guess I just figured that I should start experiencing things like everyone else does. I can’t keep being scared of things, you know?”

And Eddie’s saying a lot more than he thought he would, but Richie is just nodding his head and listening to every word, so Eddie keeps going.

“You know, I took a mental health day at work today,” Eddie said, and Richie makes a face that conveys his surprise. “Yeah, I know. Take a mental health day just to go to a place that makes me anxious. I guess I thought it would help me feel more normal or something, I don’t know. It’s stupid.”

“Nah, I don’t think that’s stupid at all, man,” Richie says. “I think that’s pretty brave actually.”

Eddie can feel his face heating up, and Richie has made him blush plenty of times before but never where he can see it, so Eddie looks out the window. 

“Oh, hey, we’re about to go under the tunnel,” Richie says. “I usually try to see how long I can hold my breath for.”

“Are you serious?” Eddie says, whipping around to glare at him. “Do you know how dangerous that is? You could pass out! You could give yourself brain damage from lack of oxygen, or—”

“Three, two, one, go!” Richie shouts, and takes a big gulp of air and puffs up his cheeks to hold in as much oxygen as he can.

And Eddie doesn’t know what compels him to do it, but just as the tunnel casts a shadow across the interior of the train, Eddie draws in a deep breath and holds it, staring at Richie with furrowed eyebrows.

Richie looks incredibly smug. He also looks dumb, with his puffed up cheeks and tiny grin. He raises his eyebrows and wiggles his whole torso in a little happy dance, and Eddie can tell he’s proud of himself for getting him to join in in his stupid game.

Eddie furrows his eyebrows even deeper, scrunches up his nose and sticks out his tongue, and he knows he must look like an idiot as well but it makes Richie laugh and lose the game. Eddie takes a deep gulp of air and grins.

“That was cheating,” Richie says, face returning to its normal color now that he was getting a regular supply of oxygen to his brain. 

“You never said there were any rules against sabotage,” Eddie says, satisfied.

“It’s definitely implied.”

“I think you’re just a sore loser.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Richie says, and he’s grinning and Eddie feels happy. Really happy.

And then Richie is looking at him in a way that makes Eddie feel like his whole body is on fire, and he realizes that Richie has probably been flirting with him. And it makes his heart soar and his stomach sink at the same time, because if he’s flirting with him then he might ask for Eddie’s number, and that can’t happen because then he’ll realize that he already has Eddie’s number.

“Look,” Eddie says, and Richie’s face starts to fall, and Eddie’s brain is screaming shut up shut up shut up just let it happen but he can’t, and he hates himself, but he has to stop before it goes any further. “You’re honestly a really good looking guy—”

Richie blushes and huffs an embarrassed laugh, and Eddie ignores it because if he doesn’t then he’s going to combust on the spot.

“—and I would absolutely give you my number if I were still in the dating scene. I hope you understand,” Eddie says, and he’s starting to understand his high school bullies because he would absolutely beat his own ass right now if he could.

“Oh! Oh, no, shit, sorry, um,” Richie shakes his head. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re hot as fuck, but, ah. I’m actually talking to someone right now anyway.”

“Oh!” Eddie says, not knowing whether he should feel rejected or not.

“Yeah,” Richie laughs awkwardly, rubbing a hand across his neck. “We’re not, like, official or anything, just texting right now, but, uh. Well, I’m kind of hoping something comes out of it. Which is crazy, since I don’t even know what he looks like.”

Eddie tamps down the traitorous bubble of hope inside of him, telling himself it could be anyone—but really, what are the chances? “You’re texting someone and you don’t even know who they are? Are you looking to get murdered?”

Richie laughs, loud and bright and ten times more beautiful than anything Eddie had heard on the radio or seen on the train station cameras, because it’s right in front of him. “Yeah, that’s what he said, too,” Richie says. 

Eddie’s entire body feels like it’s going to light up like a Fourth of July parade. He feels the train start to slow down.

“You know,” Richie says, “you sound kind of familiar.”

Eddie feels his shoulders tense and he stands from his seat just as the doors open, saying, “Goodbye, nice to meet you, good luck at your show,” in quick succession before darting out of the train.

He doesn’t really know where he is (there are so many people at this station, it’s not at all like Maturin) but he knows he has to leave before Richie realizes where he knows Eddie’s voice from. It’s hard to recognize someone’s voice if you’ve only heard them on the phone, right? You’d have to know them really well. Then again, Trashmouth has been talking to Dr. K for twice a week for several weeks now. Maybe Richie will say something on the radio the next time they talk, he’ll call Eddie out for being at the train station and not revealing himself, and then he’ll find out about Eddie working at the train station, somehow, and Christ it’s so fucking loud here—

Eddie? ” Bev says over the phone.

Eddie didn’t realize that he had called her, but he’s glad he did.

“Hey, Bev,” Eddie says, voice wobbly, breathing fast.

Can you tell me five things you see, Eddie? ” Bev says. Straight to the chase, just what Eddie needs.

“I’m at a train station. Not Maturin, uh—somewhere else. I took the train and he—Richie—”

Five things you see, honey, you can do this,” she says, keeping him on track.

“Right. Um. Clouds,” he says. “Train. Train tracks. Does that count separately from the train?”

I would say so. Two more, keep going.”

“Baby stroller. Telephone.” 

Good. Five things you hear?

“People talking. Someone’s phone going off. A baby crying. A bird. A dog. I didn’t think dogs are allowed but I don’t know, I’ve never been here.”

Do you want to talk about why you’re there? ” Bev asks.

“I just wanted to try something. I just wanted to do what normal people do all the time.”

Is that why you’re panicking?

“Not exactly.”

Do you want to talk about why you’re panicking?

“No.”

Okay. Turn on your location, I’m coming to get you.”

“How do I do that?”

How the fuck do you not know how to turn on your location, you are a grown ass man,” Bev laughs, but it’s only teasing, and Eddie smiles at the sense of normalcy.

Bev finds him at a 24 hour breakfast joint, eating a plate of hash browns. She doesn’t ask anything, just sits down and steals some of the hash browns before ordering some mozzarella sticks herself.

“Mozzarella sticks?” Eddie asks when the waiter places the plate of fried cheese down. 

“They’re surprisingly good. Here, try one,” she says, and she holds one up, and he moves away from it, his brain telling him that it’s going to clog his arteries and he’s not going to make it out of the diner if he eats it. It doesn’t make sense, because he had been eating an entire plate of hash browns already, so what difference is a mozzarella stick going to make? But Bev stays patient anyway. “Only if you want to.”

Eddie eats the mozzarella stick, and it actually is pretty good.

They drive home. Bev borrowed Ben’s car, so when they turn on the stereo it starts playing a New Kids on the Block CD, and Eddie snorts because it’s just so Ben, and they don’t talk about what happened to Eddie at the train station. 



 

Eddie feels drained the next day. Mike asks if he needs another day off, but Eddie insists that keeping his mind occupied with work is best right now. He can tell Mike wants to say more with how much he keeps glancing at Eddie after every order he takes, but Eddie is thankful that he doesn’t. He’s not sure whether he would smile or cry if Mike said something else to him. Maybe both.  

That night, when Eddie prepares to call Trashmouth, he feels more anxious than he ever has before a call. His hands are sweating and he actually feels like he might throw up if Richie says anything about Maturin Station; not that he ever has before, but maybe this will be the first. 

It’s already the last half of Richie’s segment. He can tell Richie is getting antsy. He’s calling out the radio station number after every song now, as if Eddie didn’t have it saved into his contacts. Eddie bangs his phone against his head a few times and finally forces his finger to hit ‘call.’

Dr. K! ” Richie answers immediately, and Eddie sighs.

“How’d you know?” Eddie says.

I believe you said, quote,” Richie says, putting on a voice that doesn’t at all sound like Eddie, “‘I’m the only one that ever calls, why do you always act like I’m gonna be one of your six other listeners?’ End quote.”

“I don’t sound like that.”

Which one of us listens to you talk twice a week? ” 

“I still hear myself more than you do! What—do you think I just stop talking when I’m not talking to you, you narcissist fuck?”

Well, obviously, what other reason would you have to speak if not to speak to me?

“You are such an asshole,” Eddie says through an incredulous laugh.

Yeah, you love it.”

“Whatever, Trashmouth.”

Richie snickers, then says, “So what have you been doing that’s been keeping you so busy? You usually call in earlier than this. Uh—not that you’re under any obligation to call in or anything.”

Eddie fiddles with a loose string fraying from his comforter. “I actually, um. I had kind of a bad mental day yesterday. I don’t know if you know this, but, uh. I have anxiety.”

Wow, wouldn’t have guessed,” Richie says.

“Shut up,” Eddie says lightly. “I just. You know that’s why I’m—the way that I am, right? Everyone’s got messed up shit from their childhood, but my messed up shit from my childhood made me scared of basically everything and now I’m just fucked up and can’t even enjoy a mozzarella stick without thinking of the probability of me dying of a heart attack.”

A mozzarella stick? ” Richie says.

“Yeah. My friend Bev gave me one yesterday and I nearly had a panic attack again. It’s—stupid.”

Not at all,” Richie says. “I mean, you ate it didn’t you? Even though it scared you?

“I wasn’t scared of the mozzarella stick, dick.”

No, yeah, I know. But you were scared of what it could do to you, even though the possibilities of anything bad happening were low. You were scared, but you did it anyway. That’s pretty fuckin’ rad of you, dude.”

Eddie pauses, taking it in. “Yeah?”

“Hell yeah! You know, I met a dude on the train yesterday that was kind of the same way.”

Eddie tenses, waiting for Richie to say ‘it was you, wasn’t it, you fucking liar? ’ but he doesn’t.

He was scared to take the train because of the germs, but he did it anyway. You know what I said to him, Dr. K? I said that’s brave as hell. And this is the same, man, even if it seems silly to other people, I still think that’s brave as hell.

Eddie relaxes against his bed. He doesn’t know. He didn’t figure it out. Eddie doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“You really think so, Trashmouth?” Eddie says.

You bet your ass I think so,” he replies.



 

Mike often likes to decorate the cafe as if it were a much fancier place than it really was, which is why Eddie finds himself placing fake candles on every table and booth. A Cheesecake-Factory-level decoration for a barely-Starbucks-level cafe.

Eddie is placing a fake candle down in the center of a table when he spots two little eyes peeking at him over the booth connected to it. A young girl—a toddler—stares at him, large brown eyes similar to that of a baby cow’s, and big curly brown hair. She glances at the candle.

Eddie scrunches his nose at her. He never thought he was much of a kid person. She scrunches her nose back at him, then looks back at the candle.

Eddie looks down at the candle, bringing it up near his mouth. He “blows out” the candle, just as he clicks the off switch. The girl gasps. He looks up at her, lifts a finger as if to say ‘watch this,’ and then wiggles his hand around. He snaps at the same time as he clicks the on switch, as if he were magically lighting the candle with his mind. The girl squeals in delight. 

Eddie glances around at the nearly empty cafe, making sure he wasn’t needed elsewhere, before moving the candle closer to the girl. She eyes it, then looks back at him. He makes an exaggerated blowing face, then nods at her. She blows at the candle, and he turns it off at the same time. She squeals again, and her mother must finally notice, because a hand comes up to shove her down in her seat and the girl’s big curls disappear behind the booth. 

“I didn’t know you liked kids.”

Eddie’s shoulders jump up to his ears and he spins around to see Mike giving him a smug look.

“I don’t,” Eddie says, marching back to the counter.

“Uh-huh,” Mike says as he follows him, clearly unconvinced. 

“I don’t have to like kids to not be an asshole to them,” Eddie says, cleaning the closest surface with a rag.

“That’s a fair point, but that wasn’t just not being an asshole, you totally adored her!” Mike says, laughing. “It’s cute!”

“It is not cute—”

The door chimes as someone enters the cafe.

“Welcome to Neibolt Coffee, we’ll be right with you!” Mike calls out.

The man who just entered doesn’t look up from his phone for a moment, which gives Eddie just enough time to duck and hide under the counter, because of course, of fucking  course. It’s just his luck that Richie Tozier is in his cafe.

Mike looks down at Eddie with a curious look, but god bless him, he doesn’t say a word about it.

“Hiya, sorry about that, I was just getting my buddy’s order,” Richie says, and god, just the sound of his voice has Eddie’s heart tripling in speed. 

“No worries!” Mike says. “What can I get for you?”

Richie says his order, and Mike thankfully doesn’t force Eddie to get up from his hiding spot and make them. Eddie barely has time to process that what Richie ordered was disgustingly sugary, how the fuck is he still alive, honestly. 

“Thank you very much, uh...Mike!” Richie says, probably reading Mike’s name tag. “Huh, small world. See you around!”

“Come back any time!” Mike says.

Eddie listens for the jingle of the door before finally standing up, letting out a long breath as if he were holding it in. Mike turns to him.

“Are you a fan or something?” Mike asks with an amused smirk.

“A—a fan?” Eddie asks, still gathering his wits.

“Yeah, that’s that comedian guy, right? He has some stand up bits on YouTube that are pretty popular, I figured that’s how you know him.”

“Oh,” Eddie says. He definitely didn’t know about that. “Yeah, uh. Something like that.”

Mike hums, eyeing Eddie skeptically before another customer comes in. Eddie says he’ll take care of it, thankful for the distraction from his ongoing crisis.

That night, Eddie types ‘Richie Tozier comedy ’ into the YouTube search bar. He finds a compilation of Richie Tozier stand up, and settles into bed. 

He was funny, honestly. Eddie doesn’t know how he could make middle school humor funny, but he does it nonetheless. And it’s not just the jokes, it’s the way he says them—his walk, his delivery, his entire stage presence just makes it all the more entertaining. He would speak as if he were talking with his audience rather than at his audience. 

He’s only slightly more cleaned up than his everyday look, but it’s just enough for Eddie to notice and blush at his gelled hair and suspenders (thank you video #5). He looks  nice . Really nice.

Eddie ends up watching and re-watching all of Richie Tozier’s videos until he passes out from exhaustion.



 

It was Friday again, and Richie was pulling his usual stunt at the train station. He didn’t even try to be nonchalant about it anymore, just faced the camera head on and made the most ludicrously flirtatious faces he could master. Eddie let him make a fool of himself for ten straight minutes before he sent him a text.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

You do remember that you have my number, right? You don’t need to act like an idiot to get my attention anymore.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

u mean to say i’m not absolutely charming ur socks off rn, eds?

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

You’re a menace to society.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

i’ll take that as eddie-speak for ‘oh richie ur so devilishly handsome pls sweep me off my feet’

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Very cute.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

am i?

 

Eddie looks at where Richie was flashing a flustered glance towards the camera. Eddie wishes it were easier to tell if he was blushing on the black and white screen. He hopes he is. He feels a little mean flirting when he can’t even reveal himself yet, but the fact that Richie might just feel the same makes some risky actions seem inconsequential. 

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Tragically. Can’t say the same for your clothes, though. You look like a nine year old dressed you.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

hahahahaha

u know someone told me something similar, he said i look like gonzo lmao

 

Eddie almost starts to reply before he sees those three dots pop up again, and he looks at the camera to see Richie nervously biting his lip as he types. The three dots disappear, then reappear before finally another message is sent.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

u ever listen to the radio eds?

 

Eddie feels his entire body freeze, a paralyzing sense of dread washing over him. He thinks he’s going to be sick. Why would he ask that? Does he know? He must have figured it out, there was no other explanation.

Richie is just staring at his phone, looking up at the security camera every few seconds as if that will compel Eddie to answer. The three dots pop up again, and Eddie quickly shoots out a reply before Richie can say anything else.

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

No, not really. 

 

Eddie smacks his hands against the side of his head four times, hissing ‘ stupid, stupid, fucking idiot ’ with every hit. On the screen, Richie’s entire demeanor shifts as if he’s trying to hide his disappointment.

 

From: Richie (Train Man)

oh haha ok

well i have a show every tuesday and friday, u should tune in some time

 

To: Richie (Train Man)

Yeah, maybe I will. :)

 

The smiley face is enough to get Richie grinning again, if only a bit dimmer than before. Eddie feels like someone dropped a load of bricks down his throat. 



 

Eddie takes his time driving home after his shift. For a split second he thinks about not calling in at all, but then he thinks about Richie waiting for the phone to ring with a worried pout and he curses at himself for even considering it. 

Eddie had a chance to come clean. Richie was surely about to confront him, and Eddie could have finally told the truth. Instead, he made an even bigger liar of himself. 

Eddie makes it home far too quick, so he sits in his car for an extra few minutes before finally forcing himself to get out. He slowly makes his way up to his apartment, as if he were a prisoner on death row on his way to his execution.

Don’t be shy, Billy Boy! ” Trashmouth is saying when Eddie turns on the radio. “Bill won’t show me what his new man looks like cause he thinks I’ll embarrass him, but just going off of the blush on his face right now I’m gonna say he’s a Hunk with a capital H.”

Eddie feels his lips twitch into a smile despite the dread that had been pooling in his gut for the past hour. 

Hey, Big Bill, think you can sprinkle some of your magic luck on me? I don’t know what devil you sold your soul to to finally get laid, but I’ve been trying to get in Dr. K’s pants for weeks so anything helps.”

You haven’t even met him! ” Bill shouts, muffled.

Semantics!

Eddie smacks his cheek a few times, willing for the flush on his face to die down, and calls.

Well, look who it is! Just the man I was looking for,” Richie answers.

“I don’t believe you know what semantics even means,” Eddie says, slipping into their usual banter like a second skin.

Looks like someone forgot who graduated as valedictorian.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if you bribed the school staff for that position.”

Richie laughs, “God, can you imagine? What a lame fucking thing to bribe someone for.” He puts on a voice that sounds like something between a mobster and pubescent teen and says, “'I’ll bum you a smoke if you let me graduate top of the class.’ Christ, what a loser.”

Eddie chuckles into his hand, “You are so not funny.”

Your laughter would beg to differ, methinks,” Richie says, smug.

“You know,” Eddie says, “I found some of your stand up on YouTube. My friend told me about it.”

You talk to your friends about me? ” Richie says, sounding genuinely touched despite the teasing way he tries to say it.

“Shut up,” Eddie says. Then, because he’s feeling braver than he did at the start of the call, he says, “Of course I do.”

Oh—” Richie makes a string of flustered noises. “‘Of course’ he says. Naturally, yeah.”

Eddie laughs again, emboldened by Richie’s floundering.

Richie continues, “So, what did you think? Of the stand up?

“I didn’t know a grown man could build himself such a following when his only material consists of mom and dick jokes.”

He expects Richie to laugh, but instead he gets quiet, and says, almost shy, “Well, maybe you can come see a show for yourself sometime. If you want.

It goes silent, in which Eddie feels like the entire world is holding its breath. He’s surprised that Richie doesn’t follow up with a bunch of nervous babbling. He wonders if he’s biting his tongue like Eddie is doing now.

But fuck it. Eddie already let him down once today. He doesn’t think he can do that again.

“Yeah, alright,” Eddie says. “I think I will.”

There’s a sound like a gust of air blowing into the phone, as if Richie let out a breath he had been holding in. There’s a little disbelieving chuckle, then Richie says, “Really?

“Yeah, Trashmouth, really,” Eddie says.

Shit. Okay, that’s—fuck, that’s great. I’m, uh, actually going to be doing a show at—at this bar called The Dead Rabbit. Morbid name, but they pay well.

“I’ve heard of it before,” Eddie says, as if this were a conversation about the weather instead of the world-altering decision it felt like to him.

Right, yeah, you live here, of course. Um,” Richie stutters, and it makes Eddie feel marginally better that Richie seems nervous too. “Well, I—yeah, I have a show there tomorrow, actually. It starts at 9. Does—does that work?

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “Yeah, that works for me.”

Awesome. Great. Fantastic,” Richie says. “Holy shit. Fuck. Bill quit glaring at me for cursing, did you not just hear that I’m finally going to meet him? Oh my god.”

“You’re making me question which one of us is the celebrity,” Eddie says, face burning.

Oh, you, one hundred percent. If you had Twitter you’d see how all of my followers only care about you, and honestly, it’s understandable,” Richie says easily, and Eddie smacks a hand over his eyes as if that’ll stop the embarrassment.

“Shut the fuck up,” he mutters.

Oh, dude, are you embarrassed? ” Richie says with a giddy laugh. “That’s cute as shit, Jesus Christ.

“I’m hanging up now.”

See you tomorrow, my love!

“Goodbye, Trashmouth,” Eddie says, hitting the end call button before throwing the phone onto his nightstand and stuffing a pillow over his head. 

Over the radio, Richie says, “This one’s for you, Dr. K.” 

Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne starts filtering through the speakers. Eddie slowly removes the pillow from his face, staring at the radio in disbelief. He starts to laugh, and it sounds hysterical even to his own ears, but he can’t find it in himself to stop.

He laughs for so long and so loudly that eventually there’s a knock on the door, and there’s barely a pause for an answer before Bev filters in, closely followed by Stan.

“You okay there, bud?” Bev says, eyeing him warily as he continues to chuckle like a maniac.

“Oh, just fine, Bev. I feel like the world is conspiring against me, but I’m just peachy.”

Bev takes a seat at the edge of his bed while Stan remains standing with his arms crossed.

“Is this about that guy?” Stan says. “The one from the train station and the radio?”

“Yeah,” Eddie admits easily. There’s no use beating around the bush. “I agreed to meet him. He has a show tomorrow night and I said I would go.”

“Holy shit!” Bev says, and even Stan looks surprised. “Well, that’s great isn’t it?”

“Yeah, in theory. But there’s still the fact that I haven’t told him who I am yet. He still thinks Dr. K and Eddie from the train station are two different people. And not only that! We met at the train station the other day and I pretended I didn’t know who he was! So he’s definitely going to know I’m a fat fucking liar as soon as he sees me at his show, and—shit,” Eddie gasps, struggling to lift himself up. 

Stan rushes forward to help Bev maneuver Eddie until he’s sitting upright. Eddie clutches his chest with his left hand, his right hand grasping onto Bev’s arm like it’s a lifeline.

“Deep breaths, buddy, you’re okay,” Stan says, easily giving up on the constantly-annoyed facade. 

“I’m sorry,” Eddie wheezes.

“Don’t be, you idiot,” Stan says. Bev nods her head in agreement.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, babes,” Bev adds.

“You warned me, Stan, you said I should tell him, and I only made things worse,” Eddie rambles, feeling his body heating up and a sheen of sweat coat his skin like he has the flu. “Fuck, it’s—it’s too hot, I can’t—”

“Okay, okay, try to do your breathing exercises, keep a level head,” Bev says. She turns to Stan and says, “Can you get the fan?”

“Of course,” Stan says, and bolts out of the room like there was a fire to be put out. Eddie definitely feels like one.

“Okay, honey, I’m gonna take your shirt off for you, is that okay?” Bev says, touching his arms. He focuses on her hands, how cold they feel against his burning skin.

Eddie nods weakly and lifts his arms so Bev can get the shirt off of him. Stan returns with the portable fan they keep in the living room and sets it on Eddie’s nightstand, pointing it in his direction. The cool air hits him like a train (Eddie laughs weakly at the thought) and he lays back down, counting each breath he takes.

Stan leaves again, and Eddie barely registers it. He knows he’s panicking, he knows it happens and what he should do to calm down, but his mind keeps going back to Richie and Trashmouth and he starts hyperventilating again.

“Eddie, focus on me, okay? Nothing else. You’re safe, you’re in the apartment. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You’re safe,” Bev says, laying her palms flat against his arms again. Eddie focuses on them, letting each press of a finger ground him.

“I’m safe,” Eddie repeats back to her.

“That’s right. You’re in the apartment.”

“I’m in the apartment.”

“And you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

Eddie closes his eyes, breathing in through his nose and forcing it out of his mouth until there’s no air left. He thinks about holding his breath with Richie on the train.

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.”

“Exactly,” Bev says, stroking his sweat-damp hair. 

Stan returns with what looks to be a wet washcloth in hand, and he leans over to gently place it on Eddie’s forehead. Eddie sighs at the cool contact. They sit there for several minutes, Stan and Bev exaggerating their own calming breaths so that Eddie can copy them. They stay there in a half circle, the sound of their loud synchronized breathing filling the room. He eventually feels settled enough to speak again.

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” Eddie repeats. 

“I shouldn’t have pressured you,” Stan says, his eyebrows furrowed in regret.

“No, no. You’re right,” Eddie says. He feels his heart rate slowing down and latches onto it. He’s come back from attacks before, he’s doing it right now, and he can do it a thousand times again. “Both of you are right. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to...but I do have to do this.”

“Eddie—” Stan starts.

“No, it’s okay. I want to do it,” Eddie says. “Just because something scares me doesn’t mean I should run from it.”

Bev looks at Stan, then back at Eddie with a fond smile on her face, still running her fingers through his hair. “When did you get so wise, mister?”

Eddie laughs, feeling the nausea fade away with every passing second. “Funnily enough, the guy I just had a panic attack over helped me figure that one out.”

“Hm,” Stan says. “I think you figured it out on your own. He might’ve helped you put words to it, but you were certainly one of the bravest men I knew even before you started talking to him.”

Eddie smiles, “And when did you get so sincere, Stan?”

“It’s a limited time offer, only valid when my friend’s soul looks like it’s on the verge of leaving his body.”

Eddie barks out a laugh, tapering down into little giggles as Bev and Stan join in. He stares straightforward, making patterns out of the ugly popcorn ceiling. 

“Are you sure you don’t want one or both of us to come with you?” Stan says.

“Yeah, if this dude makes one wrong move I’m pretty sure Stan will attack him like a feral dog,” Bev says, nudging Stan with a smirk. Stan rolls his eyes but doesn’t deny it.

“No, no, it’s alright. This is something I should do on my own, I think,” Eddie says with a resigned sigh. 

“Okay. Call us if you need an emergency ice cream trip, yeah?” Bev says, patting Eddie on the ankle once.

“I’ll keep your number on speed dial,” he says, smiling.

“You mean you don’t have it on speed dial already?” 

“Get out of my room already, jeez,” he laughs, shoving at her with his foot. She raises her hands in surrender and ushers Stan out of the room as well. She turns one last time to give him a wink and a proud smile before shutting the door behind her.

Eddie notices that the radio is still playing. The song fades out, and Trashmouth starts to speak again. Despite having been the source of his anxiety, the sound of Richie’s voice still manages to relax all the tension in Eddie’s muscles. Eddie closes his eyes and listens.

Alright, everybody, it’s about time for Trashmouth Tozier to sign off! I honestly can’t wait to sleep so that tomorrow can come quicker. Is that cheesy? Shit, that’s cheesy as fuck, isn’t it? I really hope he fell asleep already. Okay, I’m signing off now, arrivederci, trash heads!

That’s not what they’re called! ” Bill’s muffled voice shouts.

It’ll catch on! ” Richie says back, just as the last song of the night fades in.

Eddie falls asleep to Africa by Toto.

Chapter Text

Eddie decides to walk to The Dead Rabbit, hoping that the chilly night air will cool off his sweaty palms before he arrives. It takes fifteen minutes, and he feels like he’s holding his breath the entire way. The sun is just beginning to dip behind the buildings, so everything is covered in shadows upon shadows. 

When he sees the neon rabbit logo above the bar entrance, he stops in his tracks. 

“C’mon, c’mon, don’t clam up now,” Eddie mutters.

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and releases it. He’s a little early. Richie is probably still getting ready in the—do they have a backroom or something for entertainers to get ready? He doesn’t know how this works. He doesn’t know how anything works.

Thinking about Richie in the backroom giving himself a pep talk for his show makes Eddie feel queasy again. He can imagine Richie staring at himself in the mirror, thinking about the possibility of Dr. K being in the audience and—yep, the nausea’s coming back, so Eddie marches inside before he can change his mind, or pass out from anxiety.

It’s surprisingly crowded when he goes inside, but not nearly as unsanitary as the outer appearance of the bar made it seem like it would be. There’s a stage engulfed in warm lighting. Richie will be in that very spot any minute now.

Eddie takes the coward’s way out and sits down in the farthest booth in the corner. He can still see the stage clearly, but hopefully the blinding lights will keep Richie from spotting him immediately. 

He keeps wanting to check his messages, as if Richie will have texted him to ask if he was there yet. But Richie didn’t ask train station Eddie to come, he asked Dr. K, and isn’t that just the whole can of worms that Eddie is neglecting to open right now?

Tapping his fingernails on the table, Eddie wishes he had gotten a beer before sitting down, just to give him something to do. He’s halfway out of his seat when a voice calls out from the overhead speakers, and he slams back down into the booth so fast that he feels his knees pop.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Richie says, and he’s not on stage yet, but his voice is all around them. People start to cheer and call his name, and Eddie feels like he’s in the middle of a storm in the ocean and a boat is about to capsize on top of him. 

“I hope you guys are ready to get, like, massively turned on, cause if not this is gonna be super awkward,” Richie says, and people laugh and cheer some more. Eddie thinks it’s a stupid joke, but he’s holding the edge of his table in a white-knuckled grip anyway. Richie continues with an exaggerated announcer voice, “Please get ready for the sexiest man you will ever see, the one, the only, Richie Tozier!”

He jogs on stage as he says it, and everyone is applauding and some people even start chanting ‘Trashmouth’. All Eddie can do is stare. He looks deceivingly relaxed, but Eddie can see the tension in his shoulders no matter how much he tries to hide it as he takes a lap around the stage. 

“So, how many of you are here tonight because of my radio show?” Richie starts off with, and fuck, Eddie doesn’t know why he thought this was a good idea.

A decent amount of people clap and holler, and Richie looks genuinely surprised for a moment before his lips stretch out into a dopey grin.

“Alright, alright! That’s what I like to hear,” Richie says, nodding his head. “Okay, so, some context for those of you who don’t listen to the show—which, if you don’t, you really should, it’s a blast. But anyway, on the show, you have the option to call in if you want, right?”

Oh, fuck.

“Well, only one dude calls in. I call him Dr. K.”

Oh, fuck .

A few people familiar with the show hoot and whistle. Someone even cheers ‘Dr. K!’

“Yeah, hell yeah, Dr. K!” Richie says, eyes bright after hearing someone recognize the name. “Well, Dr. K—I call him Dr. K because the dude will literally call in every time just to criticize me about my health. No joke. And you guys know how I have a thing for being bullied, so the first time he called in and yelled at me for my old smoking habits, I swear to god I just—” 

Richie stops to bite his lip and take in a shuttering inhale, before letting out an exaggerated moan into the mic. “Say that again, you sexy little Keebler Elf,” Richie says in a breathy voice that makes Eddie want to cover his face with his hands. He almost does.

“Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, he’s short as fuck, hence the Keebler Elf,” Richie explains. Eddie feels himself bristle at the short comment, of all things. 

“Now, I don’t know that he’s short because I’ve actually seen him, no, he told me that little fun fact himself,” Richie says. “I actually haven’t a single clue what the man looks like. Which is fucking unfair, because this little shit looked me up online to see what I looked like, while we were still live on the radio!

The audience erupts into laughter, and Richie nods fervently with his eyes blown wide and his mouth agape, as if he couldn’t believe it himself. “I know! I fucking know! I got a live reaction, and you know what he called me? He basically said I look like a humanized Gonzo from the Muppets.”

Richie looks down to examine his outfit, then says, “He’s not wrong.” 

Eddie finds himself snorting, despite everything. 

“Fuck, it was so funny though, I just about lost my shit. Man, honestly, he could steal my job. Dr. K is funnier than I could ever hope to be. Shit,” Richie says, still chuckling. 

Then he looks around at the audience, less calmly observing and more anxiously searching. Eddie sinks further down into his seat.

Richie grabs the water bottle that was on his seat and takes a swig, wiping his mouth before saying, “So, yeah, I have no fucking clue what he looks like. But if you listen to my show, you’ll know that I invited him here tonight.”

The crowd whistles and cheers, and Richie grins and laughs weakly, nervous. 

“Yeah, don’t worry, Dr. K, I won’t make you come up on stage or anything, I wouldn’t want you to pull a me and yartz on the crowd. That only happened once, don’t worry, you’re safe,” Richie says to the couple in the front, and they laugh and the dude gives him a thumbs up. “But if you are here, and you still wanna meet, well. Find me after the show.”

Richie winks into the crowd, and he looks like he’s either about to vomit or throw himself off the Grand Canyon, which is just about how Eddie feels as well. 

The rest of the show goes well. Richie doesn’t bring up Dr. K or the radio show again, and Eddie is grateful for that much. Richie delivers every line perfectly, and the crowd is responsive and alive. One man tries to be the center of attention by heckling Richie, but Richie gives just as good as he gets. When Richie tells the guy to fuck off halfway through, Eddie finds his stomach erupting in butterflies. 

“Thank you so much, everybody, you’ve been a wonderful crowd. Goodnight!” 

Richie jogs off the small stage, and he’s immediately swarmed by fans. Eddie forgets just how popular he actually is. He towers over nearly all of them, and Eddie remembers what Richie said about being 6’3. Eddie really desperately wishes he had gotten a beer.

Richie is scanning over the heads of his fans, looking for something. Someone. And Eddie knows who.

Eddie waits for Richie’s eyes to catch on his own, but they don’t. There’s too many people, too many lights, too many distractions for Richie to notice him.

Eddie nearly goes to him. He even rises from his seat, takes a step towards him. 

Then Eddie thinks about Richie saying ‘I think that’s pretty brave, actually.’ 

And Eddie thinks, I’m not. I’m not the brave man that you think I am.

And he turns around and leaves the bar. 



 

Eddie feels the familiar sting in his eyes as he walks down street after street, and he tells himself he’s not allowed to cry. This was his choice, to run away like a coward. He’s the last person who deserves to cry. But that doesn’t stop the tears from falling.

He scrubs his sleeve against his eye as if he could physically force the tears away, but all it does is leave his face burning and irritated. 

With every step he takes, the more Eddie spirals. He’ll never be able to talk to Richie again. Not as Dr. K, not as Eddie from the train station, not as anyone. 

He deserves more than me, Eddie thinks, with a numb sort of acceptance. 

He finds a bench outside of a 24 hour diner, similar to the breakfast joint he went to with Bev, with the mozzarella sticks. He sits. It’s damp from the bout of rain from earlier that day, but he barely registers the water seeping into his pants. Barely registers the tears on his cheeks drying against the cold wind. He just feels empty. 

He doesn’t feel like walking anymore, so Eddie takes his phone out of his pocket, prepared to dial Bev and ask for a ride. That’s when he sees the text, sent only a minute ago. From Richie.

Eddie reads over the text once, then twice, feeling all the blood drain from his face.

He gets up, and runs. 



 

“Of course he didn’t come, what the fuck were you expecting, Tozier,” Richie mutters to himself.

He’s not far from the bar, down an alleyway so no one could see him, just in case he started crying like a little bitch. He didn’t need his reputation ruined on top of everything else.

“Christ, you’re fucking hopeless,” Richie sighs, leaning his head back against the musty brick wall. There was a dumpster nearby, and it smelled disgusting, and Richie wondered what Dr. K would say if he knew where Richie was right now.

He does know where you are, you fucking invited him and he didn’t show, Richie thought. 

Richie lifts his head up and drops it back against the wall a couple of times, cursing with each hit. 

“Ow, fuck,” Richie winces, rubbing his head. “What good was that gonna do? Dumbass.”

Richie takes out his phone, checking for messages. Nothing from Eddie. 

For a moment, Richie could have sworn it was him. He could have sworn Eddie was Dr. K. They talk the same way, they use the same mannerisms. It made sense. But if they were the same person, wouldn’t Eddie have told him by now? 

It didn’t matter anyway. Eddie said he didn’t listen to the radio. Richie was hoping against hope that his two crushes were somehow, impossibly, the same person—but it was a radical dream. 

But didn’t that also make things a little easier now? Dr. K didn’t show up, so he obviously wasn’t interested in Richie like Richie had thought he was. Eddie was still a possibility.

Richie pulls up Eddie’s messages, ready to send a text, when a voice calls out from the shadows.

“Hey. You.”

Richie jumps, spinning around to find where the voice had come from. It was a man at the entrance of the alleyway, wearing jeans and a dark hoodie that cast a shadow across his face. Richie glances behind himself, and sure enough, it’s a dead end. That’s just his luck.

“Wallet. Now,” the man grunts.

“Ooh, very spooky,” Richie says, voice shaking only the smallest amount. “You’ve really got this whole bad guy voice down, would you mind giving me some pointers?”

“You think this is fucking funny?” He marches forward, and something glints in his hand.

Richie squeaks, “Oh fuck—knife.”

“Yeah it’s a fucking knife, now give me your fucking wallet,” he says, shuffling towards Richie.

Richie sees the knife shake, and he sees the man’s hand is trembling, and he looks closer at the hoodie and sees what looks to be a high school logo.

“Hey—you’re just a kid,” Richie says.

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Listen, man, you don’t have to do this—” Richie tries to reason, lifting his hands in a placating manner, but then the guy is charging at him.

“I said, shut the fuck up,” he growls, and forces the blade into Richie’s stomach.

Richie gasps, a broken sound like the air was punched out of his lungs. He blindly reaches his hands out for stability and ends up grabbing onto the guy’s shoulders, and the guy shoves him backward. Richie stumbles and collapses to the ground.

The boy kneels down and opens Richie’s jacket, locating his wallet, and just as quickly as he had arrived, he’s gone. 

Richie’s vaguely aware that he’s dying. It hurts really fucking badly. 

Fuck, I need to...do something about this...probably, Richie thinks, his thoughts foggy. He folds his hands against his stomach, remembering something about keeping pressure on the wound. It doesn’t feel like it’s helping. It just fucking hurts. 

Richie opens his mouth and tries to call out for help, but all that comes out is a broken whimper and blood that drools from the corner of his lips.

Richie turns his head to the side, the edges of his vision getting darker. He doesn’t have a lot of time before he passes out, he thinks. Then he spots his phone. 

Richie lets out a groan and starts to move at an army crawl towards the device. The broken asphalt scrapes against his torn stomach and he hisses at the burn, but he doesn’t stop. He reaches out and grabs the phone with blood-slick fingers. 

 

To: eddie spaghetti <3

911

alley

dead rabbit

stabbed

 

He thinks, I hope that made sense , and fades out before he can hear the ambulance sirens.



 

Eddie has never run so fast in his entire life. He was the fastest there was back when he did track in high school—even won some awards—and he still never ran as fast as he was running right now.

“Yes—male, mid-twenties, he just—he just texted me about being stabbed, fuck,” Eddie rambles on to the 911 operator. 

His feet pound against the earth, his blood pulsing in his ears like the beat of a drum. Which alley, which fucking alley?

“I’m trying to find him right now, I—shit, Richie!” Eddie spots him and dashes down the alleyway. 

Richie is crumpled into a heap on the ground, blood surrounding his body in a pool. Eddie watches the blood mix with the puddles of rainwater in morbid fascination. Richie’s hand is loosely grasping his phone, where it’s still lit up with the texts he had sent Eddie. 

“No, no, no, please,” Eddie whines.

Sir, please focus, is he responding? ” The 911 operator says.

“Um—I-I don’t know, hang on,” Eddie says, putting the phone on speaker and placing it on the ground before dropping down to his knees next to Richie. 

“Rich? Rich, can you hear me?” Eddie says, patting his face lightly. Richie’s eyelids flutter open for a moment then close again. “He’s passed out, I think." 

Sir, can you hear the ambulance?

Eddie lifts his head up—just how Richie would lift his head every time he heard the train. 

“I hear them.”

They’ll be there soon, sir. Help is on the way.



 

Richie wakes up briefly in what feels like a moving vehicle. Everything hurts. Nothing makes sense.

“Rich? Are you with me?”

That definitely doesn’t make sense. For a moment it sounds like Dr. K is talking to him.

“Hrrm,” Richie groans, then passes out again.



 

When Richie wakes up again, it’s to bright white walls. Everything is out of focus. He glances around him and sees a machine beeping out a slow rhythm. He’s in a hospital bed.

He looks down to where he feels a weight on his arm, and he sees a blurry figure grasping onto his hand like Richie will float away if he doesn’t. The man has his head resting on top of their intertwined fingers. Richie wiggles his pinky, and the man’s head shoots up. He says Richie’s name and starts to stand, as if he’s about to call for a nurse, and Richie slips under once again.



 

When Richie wakes up a final time, he notices that everything is clear again. Someone must have put his glasses on for him.

“Richie, can you speak?” Someone says from the foot of the bed. A nurse.

“Hnn...yuh?” Richie says. The nurse smiles kindly.

“Don’t stress, you’re on some medication. You’ll probably feel pretty groggy for a while. It’s completely normal,” they say.

Richie nods, then looks across the room. The man who was holding his hand is there, staring at him intently. Richie blinks, wondering if he’ll disappear when he closes his eyes, but he’s still there when they open again. The man blinks back at him.

“Did you get that, Richie?” The nurse says.

Richie raises his eyebrows as if to say ‘me?’ not having realized she was still talking to him. The nurse turns around and gives a pointed look to the man across the room.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says.

The nurse nods and walks out of the room, reminding them where the call button is if they need her at any time.

The man steps up to the bed and sits down next to him in the empty seat. He doesn’t grab Richie’s hand like before, although Richie kind of wishes he would.

Richie stares at the man for a long minute, and the man stares back, as if waiting for Richie to come to a conclusion. Then Richie remembers.

“I’ve seen you before,” Richie says, words thick like honey, heavy in his mouth from the drugs slowing his brain down. “At—at the train station. We held our breath together.”

“Yeah,” he grins, and it looks sad. “Good to know you don’t have amnesia.”

“Why...are you here?” Richie says. The man huffs.

“Hey, you invited me.”

“I did?”

“You texted me, dumbass,” he says, his voice kind despite the insult. 

The man takes his phone out of his pocket and shows the screen to Richie. The man looks uncomfortable, trying not to look at the screen himself, as if he were avoiding having to relive the experience. It takes a moment for the texts to focus, but then Richie sees it. The texts he sent to—

Eddie,” Richie breathes.

“Yeah, that’s me. Kind of ruins the mystery, but whatever,” Eddie says.

Richie laughs, and then winces when he feels a pull at his stomach. Eddie jumps forward, hands hovering over him as if he were ready to stitch him back up himself if he had to.

“You need to be fucking careful, Rich, or you’re gonna tear your stitches, and then they might get infected and you’ll have to be here even longer than necessary,” Eddie snapped, an anxious wrinkle in between his brows.

Richie stares at him, eyes wide as if he had been revealed the mysteries to the universe.

“I knew you sounded familiar on the train,” Richie says.

Eddie falters, his hands dropping down to his sides. He looks at Richie, anxious and waiting.

“Hey, Dr. K,” Richie drawls, smiling wide.

Eddie lets out something between a laugh and a sob. “Hey, Trashmouth.”

Then Richie blinks and says, “Why didn’t you come to the show?”

Tears immediately spill over and race down Eddie’s cheeks, and he slumps into the seat next to Richie, already babbling, “I did go, I just hid in the corner like a fucking wuss, and then when you said to meet you after the show I just realized that I’ve been lying to you this whole fucking time and you deserve so much better than that, Rich, so, fuck, I ran away cause I’m a coward and—I’m so fucking sorry, I—”

“Hey, hey, none of that now,” Richie says, raising his hand so he can wipe the tears from Eddie’s eyes. Eddie hiccups and holds Richie’s hand against his face, palm against cheek. “None of that. Look at me, Eds, do I look like I’m mad at you?”

Eddie sniffs and shakes his head.

“Of course I’m not mad at you,” Richie says, voice sweet and forgiving. “I wish you had told me who you were earlier, but it’s okay if you weren’t ready. I understand.”

Eddie lets out another broken sob, turning his face into Richie’s hand so he can press his lips against his calloused fingers. Richie feels his face flush, and the heart monitor beeps just a little bit faster. “You’re here now, that’s all I care about, Spaghetti.”

Eddie huffs a wet laugh, “That’s still an awful nickname.”

“Nah, you love it,” Richie says.

Two figures pass by the glass wall on Richie’s right, and Richie turns to see Bill waving at him. Richie raises his unoccupied hand and waves back.

“Look at that, you lived!” Bill says as he enters the room, dragging a very tall man behind him.

“I lived bitch!” Richie says happily.

“Don’t listen to Bill, he cried the entire way here,” the man behind Bill says. Then he looks at Eddie and staggers.

“Mike?” Eddie says, dropping Richie’s hand and straightening in his seat.

“Eddie? What are you doing here?” The man, Mike says.

“Hey, I’ve seen you before! At that cafe! Wait,” Richie looks at Eddie, “you know Bill’s Mike?”

“Of course I know Bill’s Mike, he was my Mike before Bill! We work at the cafe together,” Eddie says.

“Aw shit—I never saw you. I must have missed you,” Richie says.

Eddie blushes and looks down at his fiddling fingers. “I may have, uh...panicked when you came in and...hid under the counter.”

Richie looks absolutely delighted with this information. 

“Wait a second,” Mike says, turning to Bill, who had been watching the entire interaction with a painfully confused expression so far. “This is the Richie you’ve told me about? The same Richie who you bet $10 to lick a light socket and he did it for free?”

“Kids do dumb shit all the time!” Richie protests.

“Bill said that was two years ago,” Mike says.

“You licked a light socket on a dare in your fucking twenties? Are you an actual imbecile?” Eddie says furiously.

“My brain is too drugged up to process all of this,” Richie whines. 

Eddie sighs like Richie is the bane of his existence, but Richie doesn’t miss the way that Eddie’s lips quirk up into a smile, no matter how much Eddie tries to fight it off. Eddie looks over at him, and Richie pokes his tongue out between his teeth as he smiles back, and Eddie shakes his head with a laugh. 

“Hey, uh, I wasn’t lying, I’m still super drugged up so I’m like really fucking tired, if you guys don’t mind,” Richie trails off.

“Oh, yeah, of course!” Bill finally says, and ushers Mike out the door. “Call us if you need us—but please don’t need us for like at least another hour.”

Richie laughs at the wink Mike throws him. Eddie starts to get out of his seat, and Richie’s arm shoots out to hold onto his sleeve like a child.

“Hey, slow down cowboy, where do you think you’re going?” Richie says.

Eddie looks at where Richie is holding onto his shirt with mild alarm. “I thought you said you wanted to be alone?”

“I wasn’t talking about you, stupid,” Richie says, and tugs on Eddie’s sleeve until he’s seated again. He sighs. “What a wild day.”

Eddie nods his head, his eyes tired. “You’re telling me.”

Richie stretches out his fingers, and Eddie takes the hint and intertwines them. Richie rubs his thumb across Eddie’s knuckles, smiling gently. 

“Are you...disappointed?” Eddie says, so quiet and scared.

Richie looks at Eddie in confusion, but Eddie has his eyes locked onto their joined hands. It takes a minute for Richie’s clouded mind to realize that Eddie is asking, ‘Are you disappointed it's me?’ Richie is shaking his head before he even has the words out.

“Are you serious?” Richie says, genuinely baffled. “Eds, at the risk of sounding like a total dweeb, you’re the most breathtaking man that I’ve ever seen. That, and you literally saved my life. If I weren’t stuck in bed I would be swooning right now.”

Eddie chuckles, but his face had gone dark at the mention of Richie’s brush with death. 

“That was so fucking scary, Rich,” Eddie mutters, voice thick with emotion. “God, you were just lying there, and...fuck, what if I had been too late?”

“But you weren’t,” Richie says. He leans his head down until Eddie finally makes eye contact with him again. “You weren’t. I’m here. You saved me. What you did was brave as fuck, dude.”

Eddie scoffs, “You’re the one who got stabbed.”

“Yeah, and it was easy peasy. All I had to do was lie there like a sack of potatoes and let someone else do all the hard work,” Richie says, shrugging.

Eddie smiles at him, an amused huff escaping his lips. Then says, “You know I’m, like, super into you, right?”

Richie barks out a laugh, and his grin is brighter than the sun. “I would sure hope so. Otherwise it would be super awkward if I tried to kiss you.”

“You’re gonna kiss me?”

“Still hurts to move right now, but it’s comin’,” Richie says. “Just you wait, Dr. K, I’m gonna sweep you off your feet.”

“Idiot,” Eddie mutters. “You already have.” He blushes as he says it, the apples of his cheeks a muted red. 

Damn, Richie thinks. He really is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.

Richie tries to reply, but his words are interrupted by his mouth breaking into a yawn so big that it cracks his jaw.

Eddie chuckles, his eyes crinkling with the force of his smile, and Richie wishes he could make him smile like that forever. 

“Alright, you’re obviously about to fall asleep,” Eddie says, rising from his seat. “I should probably leave you.”

“You could always join me,” Richie says, bouncing his eyebrows up and down flirtatiously.

Eddie laughs and smiles like he doesn’t mean to, and Richie wonders if that’s the same face he would make when he would watch Richie make a fool of himself on the train station cameras. He hopes it is.

“As enticing as that sounds,” Eddie says, “I don’t think I would fit.”

Richie blinks, and it takes just a second longer for his eyes to open back up. He’s falling asleep quickly, and Eddie is already halfway across the room.

“Wait,” Richie says, reaching his arm out. Eddie stops and turns towards him, head tilted curiously. “If I ask you to stay, will you?”

The expression on Eddie’s face is so openly fond that Richie almost wants to look away. He doesn’t. He lets it consume him, blanketing him like a warm summer evening.

“Of course,” Eddie says, and sits back down. 

He holds Richie’s hand, and uses his other hand to run his fingers through Richie’s hair. Richie knows his hair must be greasy, and yet Eddie doesn’t seem to mind.

“Go to sleep,” Eddie whispers. “I’ll be here when you wake up, if you want me.”

Richie hums, closing his eyes. “You know I do.”

He hears the slow creaking groan of the chair, feels the brush of lips against his forehead, and he falls asleep.



 

After clearing his week of work, Eddie spends most of his time at the hospital with Richie. He texted Bev and Stan to let them know what happened, and they both agreed that he should be with Richie as much as he needs to. Eddie could tell they thought it was more for his own benefit than Richie’s.

The day came where Richie was ready to be discharged, and there were a few awkward minutes where they danced around the whole ‘where are you going to stay,’ subject. 

“Bill is definitely getting laid on the nightly at his place so that’s off limits,” Richie says. He looks at Eddie with a hand on his neck and says, “I mean, I could just go back to my place, but—”

“No way am I driving to your place every day to take care of you, Trashmouth,” Eddie finally spits out, letting logic take over his embarrassment. “You’re staying at my apartment, end of discussion.”

They were both well aware that Richie could easily take care of himself at this point, but neither one of them was going to make that argument.

Richie makes a spectacle of himself in Eddie’s car, grasping onto the oh-shit-handle after every turn as if Eddie were about to flip the entire vehicle. 

“Slow down, you mad man, you’ve got injured goods!”

“Quit whining, you big baby,” Eddie says as he weaves past a lingering car, honking at it furiously. “I’m barely going past the speed limit.”

“That’s not what my intestines say,” Richie says dramatically. “When I said I wanted my guts rearranged this was not what I meant.”

“Fucking gross! Shut up!”

When they get to the apartment and Eddie opens the door, both Stan and Bev are sitting on the couch, and Eddie suddenly remembers that he never warned them about Richie coming over.

“Eddie,” Stan says slowly, an eyebrow raised in suspicion. “Who is this strange man you’re bringing into our apartment?”

Bev snickers and Eddie rolls his eyes before saying, “You guys remember that guy I talked about? The one who was, you know, stabbed?”

“Aw, Spaghetti Man, you talk about me?” Richie says. Eddie glares at him as his face begins to burn.

“Wait, holy fuck, this is hot train guy?” Bev says, straightening in her seat. 

Eddie hangs his head down and sighs as if he’s in actual physical pain, which he might as well be. He can feel Richie turning towards him, and when he looks up, sure enough, Richie has the biggest shit-eating grin on his face that Eddie has ever seen.

“Hot train guy, huh?” Richie says, absolutely delighted.

“Those are Bev’s words, not mine,” Eddie insists.

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

“I’m moving out.”

“No you’re not,” Stan and Bev say together.

“Goodbye,” Eddie says, grabbing Richie by the wrist so he can drag him away to his room. Bev wolf whistles and Eddie throws up a middle finger.

Richie is still snickering when Eddie closes the door behind them. He leans against it, watching as Richie takes in the decorations. 

“Make yourself at home,” Eddie says.

It wasn’t much. Eddie had two cacti on his windowsill, one of which was starting to wilt. He didn’t think cacti were easy to kill, but apparently Eddie had a talent.

The rest of the room was fairly bland, with a few posters of bands that Eddie only vaguely listened to. Richie hums in approval at the Prefab Sprout poster that Eddie had bought after hearing them for the first time on Richie’s radio show, and Eddie looks down at his shoes.

Richie pauses when he gets to the digital clock on Eddie’s nightstand.

“Is that a radio clock?” Richie asks in what seems like wonder.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, understanding his underlying question. “That’s what I would listen to your show on, if I wasn’t listening in the car on the way home from the train station.”

“Wow,” Richie whispers. He sits down on Eddie’s bed, still staring at the clock. “This is where you would sit whenever we talked on the radio. I can just imagine you going on your fucking rants right here. That just...fuck, I think I’m still processing that you’re him. That you’re here.”

Eddie sits down next to him, sliding his hand over until he can wrap his pinky around Richie’s. Richie turns to him and they share a smile that’s just for them.

“It’s real,” Eddie says. “I’m here.”

Richie looks into his eyes, drawing his lip between his teeth in what Eddie now recognizes as a nervous tick. Then he says, “Remember when I said I would kiss you?”

Eddie flushes and nods his head.

“I’d like to do that now, if you don’t mind.”

“Please do,” Eddie pleads.

When they kiss, it feels like everything is how it’s supposed to be. Their lips meet in a desperate crescendo, and Eddie thinks, how have I lived this long without knowing the taste of your mouth?

They’re rushing to meet every press of lips like it’ll be the last chance they get, their noses bumping against each other. When Richie’s glasses bump against Eddie’s cheek, Eddie snorts and pulls back. He gently removes Richie’s glasses, all the while Richie stares at him as if he hung all of the stars in the sky right in front of him.

“C’mere,” Eddie whispers.

He holds Richie’s face in both of his hands, something precious. He draws him in and kisses him softer than before. Slow and gentle. Richie sighs and presses into him, his thumbs digging into his hips with a comforting sort of pressure.

They pull back again for air, and Richie looks dazed when he says, “I think you’re the best thing to ever happen to me, Eds.”

Eddie feels his heart hammering in his chest, all the air leaving his lungs—not in panic, but in wonder. What can he say that can even compare to that? 

Eddie smiles and says, “I’m so glad you flirted with the train station security camera.”

Richie laughs, that loud, unapologetically Richie laugh. “Twerp,” he says, leaning back in.

“Dumbass,” Eddie mutters.

They fall against the bed, laughing against each other's lips. They don’t say it, but they both know that this is what they want for the rest of their lives.

Chapter Text

They made sure to talk about it. After everything, it was important to both of them that they kept up a healthy amount of communication, especially in terms of what either of them expected from their relationship. So of course, they talked about it. That doesn’t mean it was any less surprising when it finally happened.

It starts with a call.

“Don? Is everything alright?” Eddie asks when he picks up the phone. Don was the other security camera monitor at Maturin Station. He and Eddie rarely talked, but they exchanged phone numbers for work-related business and other emergencies.

You need to come down to the station, man,” Don says in a distressed voice. “There’s something going on with the screens.”

“Can you not call the security guards?” Eddie asks, but he’s already pulling on a coat. Richie was out with Bill for drinks tonight, so Eddie made sure to give their pomeranian, Sock, a quick treat to tide her over before rushing out the front door and locking it behind him.

No, not yet. You have to come see, it’s important,” Don says in a rush. 

“Alright, alright, calm down, I’m on my way,” Eddie says.

He hops in the car, feeling the engine roar beneath his fingers before pulling out and speeding down the road. It doesn’t take long to reach the station, but Eddie is itching with adrenaline by the time he gets there. He doesn’t know what to expect, so his body is in fight or flight mode.

Eddie bursts into the security monitor room. Don whips around with a smile.

“Oh, good, you made it,” Don says, sounding much calmer than he did on the phone.

“Uh, yeah,” Eddie says as Don takes him by the shoulders and leads him to the stand in front of the screens. “Everything alright, buddy?”

While Eddie worries about his acquaintance’s health, Don simply pats him once and says, “Just watch.”

“I don’t...” Eddie looks at the security feed. His voice gets stuck in his throat when he sees a man on the screen. His man. 

“Richie?” Eddie mutters, leaning in closer. He casts a glance back at Don, who simply nods at the screen as if to say, ‘Keep watching.’ Eddie obeys, only to see Richie holding up a small sign.

Text me! XOXO ;)

The same sign he used nearly four years ago to get Eddie’s number. The same exact one. He kept it after all these years.

Richie looks down at the sign, jumping exaggeratedly in alarm as he makes an ‘oops, wrong one,’ sort of face. He throws the sign behind his shoulder like a used tissue, then bends down to pick up what looks to be several large poster boards.

I KNOW THIS IS CHEESY AS HELL...

Eddie feels the air leave him in a gasp. Richie switches to the next sign.

SOME REAL “LOVE, ACTUALLY” KIND OF BULLSHIT. BUT THE SETTING FITS.

He switches to the next sign.

IT’S WHERE WE MET, AFTER ALL.

Next sign.

WELL, SORT OF.

Eddie laughs, and it’s wet from the tears that have already begun to spill. 

I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD GET TO LOVE SOMEONE LIKE THIS.

I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE THE HONOR OF BEING LOVED IN RETURN.

ESPECIALLY BY YOU, EDDIE SPAGHETTI KASPRAK.

“Fucking idiot,” Eddie laughs to himself, eyes still locked on the screen.

SO I JUST HAVE ONE QUESTION TO ASK YOU...

Eddie gasps, waiting. Richie drops the card, holding one left.

TURN AROUND?

Eddie furrows his eyebrows in confusion, before whipping around. Don was gone, and instead, Richie was waiting on one knee with an open ring box in his hand. 

Eddie chokes on a sob, hands flying to his mouth. Richie was crying as well, but he was smiling like the world could end and it wouldn’t even matter as long as Eddie was with him.

“Eddie,” Richie starts, voice choked up by tears.

“Shut the fuck up,” Eddie says immediately, and Richie laughs.

“I kind of can’t if I’m gonna ask you what I want to ask you,” he says.

“Well, then, get to it, Richie, Christ,” Eddie says, wiping at his nose. He must look disgusting, all snot and tears, but Richie still looks at him like he’s the first sunrise he’s ever seen.

“Eddie Kaspbrak, you make me want to be a better man,” Richie starts, and Eddie feels like he’s going to fall apart at any minute. “And I know literally every proposal starts with that phrase, but, fuck, it’s true. You make me better, Eds. Every minute spent with you is a minute I get to fall in love all over again. You keep finding ways to amaze me, and I want to spend every second of the rest of my life with you.”

Richie pulls the ring out of its box, holding it up towards Eddie with a trembling hand. 

He takes a deep, shaking breath, and says, “Marry me, Dr. K?”

“Of course, you fucking idiot,” Eddie laughs, voice thick with tears and emotion. “Yes. Yes. Of course I will.”

It takes a second because both of their hands are shaking, but Richie eventually slips the ring onto Eddie’s finger, a perfect fit thanks to Bev. Eddie pulls Richie in by the face and kisses him gently, the taste of salt on his lips. Then he tackles Richie to the ground, arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Richie chuckles and wraps his arms around Eddie’s waist, burying his face in Eddie’s hair.

“I love you,” Richie whispers.

They’re going to get married, Eddie realizes, and he laughs in elation. They’re going to get married, and maybe adopt a couple of bratty kids, and they’ll grow old together. He’ll hold Richie’s wrinkly old hand in his own wrinkly old hand, and they’ll sit on their porch and bicker about meaningless things just because they want to hear the other’s voice.

They can have this. They’re allowed to have this.

“I love you,” Eddie says in return, like a prayer against his skin.