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honey, there is no right way

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Maggie Tozier believed firmly in fate, especially when it came to love. She’d told Richie as much from the time when he was barely tall enough to look over the counter where she was chopping vegetables for soup, steadfast and even.

 

“Everybody has The One, you know,” she says, sweeping the vegetables into the pot with a deft flick of the knife. Richie watches steam rise from the pot, eyes curious and magnified behind the glasses that seem too big for his face, mouth quiet and his whole body vibrating with the need to ask questions. 

 

“Your father was The One for me. You’ll find The One for you someday.” She ruffles his hair as she goes to retrieve the meat from the fridge. The lights above paint the kitchen in a warm orange glow.

 

“How do you know?” asks Richie, sitting down at the worn wooden table. It’s covered in dents and nicks from years worth of use, an old family heirloom Maggie had taken with her when she got married.

 

“How do I know you’ll find The One or how will you know if you find The One?” asks Maggie with a soft smile.

 

“How will I know?” asks Richie, kicking his legs. They’ve been almost perpetually bandaged from the time he could walk, random cuts and bruises from the trial and error of being alive. “What does it feel like?”

 

“Oh,” sighs Maggie, stirring. “You’ll know when you feel it, I think. I met your father and realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with anyone else. He was it.”

 

“And she’s regretted that decision ever since,” says Wentworth, stepping into the kitchen. “Hey, Maggie May. Hey, squirt.” He presses a kiss to Maggie’s temple and ruffles his hair, mirroring Maggie. 

 

“You do make it difficult sometimes,” says Maggie lightly, tapping the spoon against the pot and setting it on the counter.

 

“Your mom got the short end of the stick with this one,” says Went in a stage whisper, winking conspiratorially at Richie. Richie stifles a giggle and looks at Maggie, who puts her hands on her hips.

 

“I did not ,” she says fondly.

 

---

 

When Richie is in eighth grade, he’s almost certain he’s found The One. Peter Landon kisses him in the dark gym after the basketball game is over and the adoring fans have gone home and holds his hand when it’s just the two of them in the woods. It makes him feel warm, thinking about Peter giving him attention. It also makes him feel giddy, thinking about what they have. No one else knows, but they’re in love. He stops by the comic store one day after school, picks out one of the new Batman comics on the shelf. 

 

When he knocks on Peter’s door, Jenna Marshall answers. She looks him up and down derisively. He’s already gained quite the reputation in small-town Derry as “Richie the Flamer” or, more descriptively, “that faggot with the glasses”. 

 

“Do you need something?” she asks. Peter comes to the door and wraps an arm around her protectively, pulling her in for a kiss. Richie feels his heart shatter into a million pieces as Peter’s eyes plead with him to go, go, don’t tell anyone about this Richie, I’m serious, it would ruin everything for me

 

“No, think I’ve got the  wrong house,” says Richie, and leaves, still clutching the gift in his hands as he fights back tears.

 

Later, Peter kisses him in the quarry, pleads with him for forgiveness. 

 

“I’m sorry, Rich, you know how it is here,” he says. “I couldn’t… nobody could know about this.”

 

“I know,” says Richie. “It’s okay.” He just wants to keep this.

 

The Homecoming dance in Derry is different from a lot of bigger places because almost anyone at any age can go. He goes alone because he overhears Peter say he’ll be there.

 

He asks Peter to dance out of earshot of anyone else. 

 

“If we did it over here, no one could see us,” Richie says, borderline begging. “Just for a little bit,” but Peter is already backing away, back towards Jenna, back towards the rest of Derry, away from Richie.

 

Richie goes home early that night and burns his boutonniere that Maggie made. He sets off the smoke alarm and wakes up his parents. Maggie asks bleary-eyed what he’s doing and Richie bursts into tears so they take it outside and let it burn. Maggie pulls Richie close to her and lets him cry into her shoulder, the flames casting shadows over both of them. She doesn’t ask questions. 

 

Peter doesn’t talk to him again after that.

 

---

 

The next one is Matthew Ellis in senior year, who asks Richie to blow him in the janitor’s closet. It becomes a regular thing. Richie will meet him after Honors Biology and go down on him in the dark. It smells like chemicals and a little like mildew.

 

Richie thinks he may be falling in love with Matthew, but he knows better than to ask for more this time. Matthew has a girlfriend, but he’ll take what he can get; if that’s soft breaths and hands tangled in his hair and a quiet “ fuck , Richie,” then that’s fine.

 

Matthew approaches Richie one day at the lockers. 

 

“Hey,” he says quietly.

 

“Hey,” says Richie with a cautious smile. “What’s up?” 

 

His heart pounds. Hope is dangerous but he can’t help but think maybe, maybe .

 

“You have the answers for the History review?” asks Matthew. “I didn’t do it.”

 

“Uh, yeah, sure,” says Richie. “I think it’s somewhere in my bag, I’ll dig it out and get them to you at lunch.”

 

“Thanks,” says Matthew, and smiles at him. “You’re a lifesaver, Richie.”

 

“Uh-huh,” says Richie, completely smitten.

 

Later, when Matthew and some of the other boys on the football team beat the living shit out of Richie, he thinks about that smile.

 

---

 

Richie meets Stan and Bev in college and they get along like a house on fire. Anything nasty he says to Bev, she can give it right back even worse. Stan is even better because he has the incredible ability to deadpan every joke he makes. He and Stan were randomly assigned roommates but Bev may as well live in their dorm too, she’s there so often.

 

Stan is a very good friend that comes with very good benefits.

 

After they’re done one night and still trying to catch their breath, Richie opens his mouth to ask something, then thinks better and snaps it shut.

 

“What?” asks Stan. 

 

“Can you just,” asks Richie, face beet-red. “Can we just like. Cuddle.”

 

“Sure,” says Stan. “You wanna be big spoon or little spoon?”

 

Stan ,” says Richie. “Little spoon. Clearly.”

 

“Oh yeah, clearly , you’ve got like 4 inches on me,” says Stan, wrapping his arms around Richie.

 

“I thought closer to 2,” says Richie, giggling.

 

“Oh fuck all the way off,” says Stan. 

 

They sit like that for a little bit before Richie starts crying.

 

“What the fuck,” says Stan. He sits up to look at Richie. “What happened? You okay?”

 

“Sorry. I’m sorry, fuck. It’s just nice,” sobs Richie. “No one’s ever wanted to like… touch me. At all. Before.”

 

Stan looks lost and a little heartbroken.

 

“Do... you want to go smoke?” he asks slowly.

 

“Yeah,” sniffles Richie. “I do.”

 

They go get Bev, who is more than delighted to find out that Stan is offering free weed and tags along with them. They walk to a park nearby while Bev tells them animatedly about a guy that is in her English 100 class.

 

“He’s dreamy ,” she says, “shut up, Richie, I’ve never called anyone that before but he is . He looks like he would walk old ladies across the street. I want him to fold me like a pretzel.”

 

“Descriptive,” comments Stan drily, exhaling. 

 

“Does Mr. Dreamy have a name?” asks Richie, laying down with his arms behind his head and trying not to think about how distant he already is from the concept of having a crush.

 

“Oh shit,” says Bev. “Um, it started with a B? I think? Damn, I think it was like… Brendon? Wait, fuck…” She gestures impatiently to Stan who passes the blunt with a roll of his eyes. She takes a long drag and her eyes light up. “No, it was Ben!” she says excitedly, and immediately goes into a coughing fit.

 

Later when Stan tells Richie about a girl named Patty he meets in a local bookstore, Richie recognizes the look in his eyes. It’s the same look he remembers from his mother’s face in the kitchen. He tries to ignore the sinking feeling in his heart as he smiles and encourages Stan to call the number she’d given him. He’d known it was strictly friends with benefits, but a small part of him wants to be selfish anyways.

 

Stan still makes the effort to just touch him sometimes. Lay his head in Richie’s lap or lean against his shoulder. Bev does it too. Richie loves the both of them so much it aches.

 

---

 

There is a fairly constant stream of hookups through college, after Richie gets his own shitty one-bedroom apartment. It’s much easier to be gay here, where there are more people in his grade than were in the whole of Derry.

 

It always goes like this:

 

Richie visits a gay bar by himself, always on a Saturday night. His Fridays are still reserved for Stan and Bev. Some guy sits next to him, starts a conversation, offers to buy him a drink.

 

Richie can flirt with the best of them. 

 

He can also dirty-talk with the best of them.

 

The guy always says your place, not mine , and Richie obliges. They’re both usually drunk enough to have no inhibitions, but not drunk enough to forget everything. It’s always sloppy, fast, hands and mouth and wet.

 

This is where it varies slightly. 

 

Sometimes the guy is gone when Richie gets out of the shower.

 

And sometimes the guy is gone when Richie wakes up in the morning.

 

It hurts a little less every time it happens until he feels nothing but a faint twinge of something like regret when he sees his empty bed.

 

It goes like this, rinse and repeat, until Richie has a degree in English that ends up being next-to-worthless and a heart that’s gone numb. 

 

---

 

He’s on the up-and-up in comedy after he graduates. At least he’d like to think so as he works all-day shifts at a music store in L.A. and takes the time slots that nobody wants at a nearby bar. He’s been told he’s genuine, which seemed like it might have been a backhanded compliment but he’s willing to take it.

 

He meets his prospective manager one night after being slipped a business card and any concept of “genuine” goes out the door.

 

“You’ve got a great stage presence,” says Steve, “really great. I mean, you’re so charismatic you could tell a story about paint drying and people would laugh.”

 

“Thank… you?” says Richie. His leg is bouncing so fast he might wear a hole in the floor.

 

“That’s pretty much what you’ve been doing though,” says Steve. “Your material needs work. I’m thinking we hire a writer, someone to do the heavy lifting for you. Then all you have to do is get up there, say the words, and look pretty.”

 

“That last part might be hard,” says Richie. He cracks a nervous grin.

 

Steve laughs. “Yeah. Funny guy! You in?”

 

“Haha, no, dude,” says Richie. Steve looks a little put out. “I’m broke as shit in Los Angeles. You think I have the money to hire a fucking writer?”

 

“Let me take care of it,” says Steve. “We can worry about that once you start touring nationally.”

 

“Uh huh,” says Richie. “You take I.O.U’s?”

 

---

 

It turns out that he doesn’t need them. He keeps drawing bigger and bigger audiences until he’s got a devout following who think his jokes about his non-existent girlfriends are the best thing since sliced bread and eat up every misogyny-laden joke like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard.

 

“I still think you should try to write your own jokes again,” says Stan. Richie is standing barefoot in his new three bedroom apartment, which is a significant step up from the place where he was living where the sink had a tendency to belch dark, slimy fluid from the people upstairs who didn’t know to not dump their fucking grease down the sink.

 

“Why?” says Richie, beginning to pace. “This shit’s so much easier.”

 

“Because,” says Stan, “and you had better not hold this against me, but you’re funny. The jokes you’re telling on stage are not.”

 

“I’ve got a packed venue tonight that would beg to differ,” says Richie.

 

“Hm,” says Stan. Richie hears Patty ask who Stan is talking to and then holler “Hi, Richie!” when he tells her.

 

“Don’t fucking ‘hm’ me, Stanley Uris,” says Richie. “You don’t literally always know better than me.”

 

“Yes, I do,” Stan says patiently. “I just think you should give it a shot.”

 

“Then why don’t you talk to my manager about it? I’m sure he’d be ecstatic to know that someone else was evidently just as informed about my career decisions as he is,” snaps Richie. “Tell Patty I said hi and to keep her husband from sticking his fucking nose in everybody else’s business,” and hangs up.

 

---

 

It is easy to get up on stage and tell other people’s jokes. It is not easy to also feign heterosexuality when one has never even gotten as far as first base with a member of the opposite sex.

 

Richie has to be a lot more careful about hookups now that he’s relatively in the public eye. His whole career is built around his Trashmouth stage persona, who is decidedly and grossly straight. This means no more gay bars and a lot more Grindr.

 

It’s the same as college, really. It’s the same as it’s always been.

 

He takes a guy to his dressing room and blows him and the guy leaves.

 

He lets a guy in his apartment, they fuck, the guy leaves.

 

Richie meets a guy one night who seems different.

 

“You’re a comedian, right?” he asks, eyes warm. Andy. That’s his name.

 

“Yep,” says Richie. He doesn’t know how to do this part any more. There’s usually not any talking.

 

“Any good?” Andy asks.

 

“Nope,” says Richie. That gets a laugh. One word answers. Don’t show your hand. That gets you left on the dance floor at Homecoming, gets you beaten within an inch of your life in the locker room, gets you heartbroken over and over until it can’t break anymore.

 

“Come here,” says Andy, and Richie moves on to the part he does know how to do.

 

After they’ve both cleaned up, Andy climbs back into bed with Richie and nuzzles into his chest.

 

“Y’r warm,” he sighs.

 

Richie wraps his arms around Andy, buries his face into Andy’s hair, and tries not to hope.

 

“I like you,” says Andy, and drifts off into sleep. Richie is awake for another two hours thinking about it.

 

When Andy leaves in the morning, he also leaves a number on Richie’s bedside table. When Richie texts it, he gets a response from an elderly woman in Wisconsin who doesn’t know any Richies.

 

So much for not being able to break anymore.

 

---

 

After that, Richie doesn’t hope for anything. Dating is a lost cause.

 

He catches one of his hookups leaving one morning by accident.

 

The guy looks almost guilty as Richie wakes up to see him walking out the door.

 

“Aw, leaving so soon?” says Richie, but there’s no real feeling behind it. Of course he’s leaving.

 

“Uh… I have work. In like an hour,” the guy says awkwardly. He shifts from side to side and eyes the door.

 

“I’m just fucking with you dude,” says Richie. “Bye. See you never.”

 

The guy laughs, strained. “What if I did want to see you again?”

 

Richie shrugs. “It’s what happens. I fuck a guy, he leaves, we never talk again. Last dude left me his grandma’s number, I’m pretty sure. I mean, how fucked up is that, right?” 

 

The guy stares at him for a second and practically bolts out the door. 

 

---

 

Richie meets Bill and Mike at some charity event hosted by a library about an hour away from where he lives. Steve said it would be good for PR. Richie couldn’t give less of a shit. If someone points him in a direction, he’ll go. They pull the strings, all he has to do is dance.

 

Richie gets up on stage, tells jokes, gets off. They come find him after the show. He knows Bill vaguely from headlines about his new book and knows Mike vaguely because he had clicked on the links to look at Bill’s hot husband.

 

“Richie, right?” Mike asks, offering a handshake and a smile.

 

“Depends on who you ask,” says Richie, taking his hand. 

 

The Hanlons are clearly head-over-heels for each other. Mike smiles at Bill like he’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and Bill is practically glued to Mike’s side. Richie keeps sneaking glances at them like it’s something he’s not supposed to be looking at, like he’s 16 and looking in the window of a sex shop. It makes his skin crawl in a way he knows is wrong. He remembers the phrase “The One” and puts it out of his head.

 

When they ask him to go get drinks later, he is so surprised to find that they’ve been around him for longer than an hour and still want his company that he says yes. He gives them his number and swears up and down that if he finds it listed on eBay later he’s coming for them.

 

He figures having more than four friends would be nice. Ben, Bev, Stan, and Patty are great, but just thinking about the fact that he’s made it to 40 with only four friends ever is disheartening.

 

When he meets them Bill is well on his way to being drunk already and is dangerously close to sitting in Mike’s lap. Mike looks apologetic. Richie coughs “lightweight” as a greeting and sits next to them.

 

“I invited another one of our friends, I hope that’s okay,” says Mike.

 

“It’s not,” says Richie, teasing. “Am I not enough for you, Hanlon?”

 

“No,” says Bill. “You sssssuck,” and struggles to right himself as he almost pitches off the half of the barstool he’d been occupying.

 

“Oh, there he is,” says Mike, completely ignoring Richie, who is delighted by this fact. 

 

Richie’s really praying that the “he” Mike is talking about is not the guy who just walked in the door, because that guy is exactly Richie’s type and he’s already short-circuiting just looking at him.

 

The guy sees Bill and Mike and makes a beeline for where they’re sitting. Shit.

 

New Guy shoots a quizzical look at Richie, who feels like he’s on fire and like he’s been doused with ice water all at the same time.

 

“Eddie Kaspbrak,” New Guy says, and sticks out his hand for a handshake.

 

“Richard Wentworth Tozier the Third,” says Richie, adopting a posh British accent and mock bowing after shaking his hand.

 

New Guy - Eddie - goes red so quickly that Richie knows immediately he’s found his new favorite game.

 

“What the fuck, dude?” Eddie asks, seething. “Are you making fun of me? A handshake is a perfectly normal thing for grown adults to do when they’re introducing themselves!”

 

Grown adults?” grins Richie. “You’re not exactly grown! What are you, like 5’6”?” 

 

“Oh fuck you,” Eddie says. “I’m 5 foot fucking 9 which is average-

 

“For a Munchkin!” crows Richie.

 

Mike looks like he’s watching a car crash. Bill looks ecstatic.

 

Richie learns that the three of them met in college and that Eddie is working as a risk analyst. Richie fake-snores when Eddie describes exactly what that entails which earns him a “fuck you” in response.

 

“I’ve actually been meaning to do something else,” Eddie says, and Richie recognizes the tone in his voice as faux-casual-this-means-a-lot-to-me-and-if-you-make-fun-of-me-for-it-i-might-combust-on-the-spot so he decides to not make fun.

 

“Like what?” he asks, swallowing the obligatory comment about professionally counting blades of grass that would typically follow that question.

 

“I’ve actually been thinking about going back to school,” says Eddie, and his eyes light up. Richie thinks in that moment that Eddie is so beautiful he’s going to melt into a puddle on the floor. “To be a mechanic. I’ve always been interested in cars.”

 

“Oh that’s cool,” says Richie, trying desperately to sound nonchalant despite the fact that his brain is saying “I would die for you already”. 

 

“Thanks,” says Eddie, sounding pleased. “So what do you do?”

 

Bill chokes on his drink and Mike tries to cover his smile with his own drink.

 

“You don’t know?” asks Richie, and feels like an ass. He’s not quite that famous. 

 

“Should I?” asks Eddie, raising an eyebrow.

 

“I’m… a comedian,” says Richie. His face flushes. Mike smacks Bill when he goes into a giggling fit.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be funny to be a comedian?” asks Eddie.

 

Richie falls in love right then.

 

—-

 

He falls in love even more pressed against his apartment door with Eddie kissing him sloppily like his life depended on it.

 

“Unlock,” says Eddie, out of breath, “the fucking door. Or I think I might kick it down.”

 

“I’m trying ,” says Richie. “Someone keeps getting in the way.”

 

“Richie,” says Eddie in a warning tone. 

 

Richie unlocks the door and lets Eddie in. The door is barely shut before Eddie is on him again.

 

“So fucking hot,” Eddie pants in between kisses. “Fuck, Richie.”

 

That’s new. They don’t usually say anything like that to him. Richie is a bit taken aback before Eddie is on his knees in the living room fumbling with his belt buckle.

 

“Je sus , Eds, I have a bedroom,” says Richie, strained.

 

“Not my name,” says Eddie, but relents anyways and follows him there. 

 

Eddie pushes him back onto the bed and gets on his knees.

 

“Hey, you don’t have to…” Richie begins, but cuts himself off with a moan when Eddie mouths at his cock through the fabric of his boxers.

 

“I know. I don’t have to do shit,” says Eddie. “I want to,” and pulls down the elastic waistband to wrap his lips around Richie’s cock. 

 

Fuck, that’s good. The guys Richie usually has sex with aren’t typically interested in foreplay much beyond a fast handjob to get both of them hard. This is so much better.

 

Eddie runs his tongue over the tip of Richie’s cock before taking the head in his mouth and sucking gently. Richie moans and tangles his hand in Eddie’s hair.

 

Eddie swallows his cock down to the root and Richie sees stars. He bucks his hips, out of control, and Eddie gags slightly but doesn’t relent. 

 

He pulls off with a wet pop, lips shining and swollen. “How do you want to do this?”

 

“Huh,” says Richie, because he’s not feeling particularly well-spoken right now.

 

“Do you want to fuck me,” Eddie asks slowly, “or do you want me to fuck you.”

 

“Uh,” says Richie. “I don’t. Care. I don’t. Do what you want.”

 

They don’t usually ask him.

 

“Oh my Gooooooddddd, just pick,” groans Eddie. “My dick is going to explode. You’re insufferable.”

 

“Fuck me,” says Richie immediately. “Please.”

 

“Okay,” says Eddie. His pupils have gone wide. “Where’s your… your stuff.” He waves his hands vaguely, desperately.

 

“Bedside drawer,” mumbles Richie from behind the arm slung over his face. “Fuck. You’re gonna kill me.”

 

Eddie laughs breathlessly and retrieves condoms and lube from the drawer. He wastes no time in slicking two of his fingers and pressing gently at Richie’s entrance.

 

“You ready?” he asks, and Richie nods so hard it almost shakes the bed.

 

Eddie opens him up quickly, efficiently, and Richie can’t help but think about Eddie doing this to himself - fingers working inside himself, head tipped back, panting.

 

“Please,” Richie says. Words are so hard right now.

 

“Please what?” Eddie asks, feigning innocence. It’s hard to be believably innocent, though, since he’s currently working three fingers inside Richie.

 

“Fuck me,” Richie says, and it comes out a bit more whiny than he means for it to. He guesses that still does it for Eddie because he licks his lips and pulls down his own boxers.

 

He has a pretty cock , Richie thinks hazily as Eddie presses a kiss to Richie’s collarbone and lines the head of his cock up with Richie’s ass.

 

Eddie pushes in slowly, carefully, and Richie whines again, hooking a leg behind him and trying to pull him in faster.

 

“Would you be fucking patient?” Eddie asks, but there’s no venom behind it. 

 

“No,” says Richie. “Hurry the fuck up,” but he’s so breathless and wanting that it comes out more as begging than a demand.

 

After Eddie is fully inside of Richie and he’s had a moment to adjust, Eddie asks if he can move.

 

“Fucking please ,” says Richie.

 

Eddie starts slow, then builds up to a rhythm that matches the way he talks - hard, fast, with a snap of his hips at the end for emphasis. Richie can’t do much but take it, eyes rolling back in his head and punched-out moans falling from his mouth.

 

“Close,” Richie pants. “Fuck.”

 

“Mmm,” Eddie groans in response, which Richie takes to mean he’s close too.

 

Eddie wraps a hand around Richie’s cock and strokes once, twice, and Richie is coming so hard his vision goes white. He’s vaguely aware that the sound he makes should be embarrassing but it’s been a long time since he’s had sex this good that he thinks he can deal with it.

 

When Richie’s vision returns to normal, Eddie is still inside him, thrusting shallowly. Richie can tell he’s trying to avoid overstimulating him but it’s not enough.

 

“C’mere,” Richie says, sitting up. He kisses Eddie long and filthy, biting his lower lip. He lowers himself to his knees, wincing slightly, and takes Eddie’s cock in his mouth.

 

“Richie,” moans Eddie, who can’t keep from bucking his hips and causing his cock to hit the back of Richie’s throat. “Fuck, I’m gonna come, fuck-

 

Richie swallows around his cock as Eddie comes, head tilted back and moaning, punched-out and relieved.

 

“God,” says Eddie, flopping onto Richie’s bed.

 

“Not quite,” says Richie, grinning.

 

—-

 

Richie is pleasantly surprised to find Eddie asleep in his bed whenever he gets out of the shower.

 

He is also pleasantly surprised when Eddie turns over in his sleep and octopus-wraps himself around Richie and doesn’t let go for the rest of the night. 

 

He is even more surprised when Eddie wakes him up before leaving.

 

“I just wanted to let you know I was going,” says Eddie. He’s fidgeting with the watch around his wrist, hair fluffy and all over the place without product to hold it stiff. Richie is distracted.

 

“Oh,” he says, tearing his eyes away from Eddie’s hair. “Yeah, thanks. Appreciate it.”

 

Eddie looks up at the ceiling, sighs, and visibly steels himself. “Give me your phone.”

 

“Wh-“

 

“So I can put my number in it, dipshit,” says Eddie, face bright red.

 

Richie retrieves his phone wordlessly from the bedside table, unlocks it, and hands it to Eddie. Eddie, true to his word, creates a contact named “Edward Kaspbrak” and hands the phone back to Richie.

 

“Bye,” he says, and walks out the door.

 

This time, when Richie texts the number later, he’s not met with someone’s confused grandmother.

 

—-

 

Richie is so in love he feels hopeless.

 

He texts Eddie every day. It’s usually some dumb thing he sees in a store like a mug that says “Crabby” that he sends with a text that says this u? or a dog he sees on the street. Eddie texts him back , which is something that’s become so uncommon in Richie’s “relationships” (read: one-time hookups that leave him high and dry in the morning) that he can’t help but be excited every time he gets a message back.

 

He learns that Eddie has put in his two weeks’ notice at the job that he hates, that Eddie moved here from New York after a midlife crisis, and that Eddie is so perfect it makes Richie wonder how he’s a real person.

 

He desperately wants to see Eddie again. He can’t bring himself to ask.

 

So Eddie asks him. They’re on a phone call while Richie is doing dishes (because apparently Richie does this now, despite the fact that the only other people he’s ever called of his own volition were people he’s known for years) when Eddie says “I was thinking about coming back to see you.”

 

Richie drops the spoon he was washing. “Shit,” he hisses, going to retrieve it from the tile.

 

“You there?” asks Eddie, voice tinny from the phone speaker.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” says Richie, standing up and throwing the spoon into the sink. “That, um, that sounds nice.”

 

“Nice?” asks Eddie. 

 

“I want you here,” says Richie. 

 

Eddie hums, pleased. “When do you want me?”

 

“Always,” says Richie, and before he can stammer and try to take it back, Eddie laughs.

 

“Okay, does Saturday work?”

 

Richie pauses. BenandBev (one word most of the time, one beat) and the Urises had made plans earlier to visit him. “Some of my friends are going to be here. If that’s okay?”

 

“My friends made you meet up with me,” says Eddie. “I’m sure I can deal with yours.”

 

“Yeah,” says Richie. “Never thanked them for that. Hey, your best friend is also the best lay I’ve ever had, so thanks!”

 

Eddie goes quiet and Richie realizes what he’s said.

 

“Not that you had much competition,” he says quickly, “I’ve, like, never spoken more than 3 sentences to any of the rest of the guys I’ve hooked up with.”

 

Oh, that’s not better. Richie you dumb stupid fucking idiot.

 

“Anyway,” says Eddie, and now he sounds kind of sad, “I’ll be there. Saturday.”

 

“Okay see you then bye,” says Richie, and barely waits for Eddie to say “goodbye” before he hangs up.

 

He puts his phone gently on the counter.

 

He takes a deep breath and yells “FUCK” at the top of his lungs.

 

—-

 

Richie throws up three times on Saturday morning. He is still a little green around the gills when Stan and Patty arrive at his door.

 

“Hey, Richie!” says Patty, and gives him a hug much stronger than you’d think her capable of. “We brought wine! It’s terrible!”

 

“Hi, Pats, thank you for the terrible wine,” says Richie. “Hello, Staniel.”

 

“Hi, Rich,” says Stan. He also hugs Richie, because he still remembers college and still , decades later, makes the conscious effort to touch him, even though he’s typically averse to touch.

 

Ben and Bev are there shortly after with the same bottle of wine.

 

“Oh shoot,” says Ben, looking morosely at the label.

 

“Same brain!” says Bev cheerfully. “Hey guys!”

 

“No one is allowed to drink these now,” says Richie, patting Ben on the back. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

 

It’s easy to fall into conversation with them, even though they don’t see each other nearly as often as they’d like. It feels a lot like Richie has known all of them his whole life.

 

It’s enough to distract from the fact that Eddie still has yet to show up.

 

When the doorbell rings, Richie freezes.

 

“Oh, is that Eddie?” Bev asks with a shit-eating grin.

 

Richie glares at her and gets up to open the door as she cackles from her position on the sofa, sprawled out with her feet in Ben’s lap.

 

“Hey,” says Eddie. He looks nervous.

 

“Hey,” Richie says softly. “You wanna come in?”

 

“No, I want to stand outside your apartment door all fucking night,” says Eddie.

 

“Be my guest,” says Richie, and closes the door.

 

“FUCKER,” Eddie shouts from outside the door, “YOU ARE NOT AS FUNNY AS YOU THINK YOU ARE. LET ME THE FUCK IN.”

 

Richie opens the door, laughing. “Please tell me you didn’t bring wine.”

 

“I did not bring wine,” says Eddie, and shoulders past Richie.

 

“Rude!” Bev yells. 

 

“Shhhhh!” says Ben, desperately. 

 

Eddie introduces himself to everyone. Richie stands behind him, pleading with his eyes for everyone to just be normal. Stan only raises his eyebrow slightly, which is worlds better than what Richie had expected from him.

 

Eddie is perched a bit awkwardly in a chair, sitting stiffly, like he’s not sure he’s allowed. Richie crashes next to him.

 

“Oh my God, absolutely not,” says Eddie, trying to shove him to the floor and failing. 

 

“Absolutely yes,” says Richie smugly. “It’s my apartment.”

 

“I’m going to throw you out the goddamn window,” says Eddie, but he already looks more comfortable, which is all Richie wanted, really.

 

Stan looks at Patty knowingly. Richie flips him off from behind Eddie’s head. 

 

“So, Eddie, what do you do?” Patty asks sweetly. 

 

It’s almost scary how easily Eddie gets along with the rest of them once they make an active effort to include him in the conversation. He and Ben are talking excitedly about cars and Bev looks like she’s in another place of existence when Stan motions for Richie to follow him into the kitchen.

 

Stan leans on the fridge and crosses his arms.

 

“What?” Richie asks, shoving his hands in his pockets.

 

Stan just looks at him.

 

“I hate it when you do this,” Richie says. “You look like an elementary teacher when the class is talking and then they just say ‘I’ll wait’ until everyone is quiet. That’s the exact face you’re making right now.”

 

“You really like him,” Stan says simply. 

 

“No shit,” Richie says. 

 

“I haven’t seen you like this with anyone ever,” Stan says. “You weren’t even like this with me when we were regularly having sex.”

 

“Yeah, but it was different with you,” Richie says, “I didn’t ever feel like this about you, I knew I didn’t lo-”

 

Richie swallows. Stan is almost definitely going to argue with him about this, Richie you’ve only known him for a month tops, you can’t know if you love him yet, you’re being ridiculous-

 

“Love me?” Stan asks. “Yeah, you did. You do. But you’re right. It wasn’t like this.” To Richie’s surprise, he smiles. “I’m happy for you.”

 

“Oh,” says Richie.

 

“I knew I loved Patty pretty much on day one,” Stan says, eyes going soft the way they only do when he talks about her. “It can hit hard.”

 

“Yeah,” says Richie, choked up. “Uh. Thanks.”

 

“Have you told him how you feel?”

 

—-

 

Richie has not told Eddie how he feels. He would rather chew off his own foot than tell Eddie how he feels, so he doesn’t tell him.

 

Even after Eddie is the last one there.

 

They talk for a while. Eddie goes home. It’s entirely anticlimactic. Richie takes a cold shower, doesn’t think about what Stan said.

 

Here’s the thing.

 

Richie has tried love. He’s fallen in love a little bit with everyone he’s ever touched. The problem is, they never fall in love with him. He’s always the stepping-stone, the transition period, the person that other guys dated before they were ready to be out of the closet.

 

He can’t lose Eddie like that. They’ve hooked up once, hung out twice. He will sound absolutely batshit if he tells Eddie he loves him now.

 

So he doesn’t. 

 

Instead, he texts Eddie later.

 

u get home okay?

 

I can’t believe you’re 40 and use “u”, but yes. 

 

if u need help removing the stick from ur ass i’d be happy to help later ;)

 

Jesus Christ.

 

it’s richie actually

 

Go to bed.

 

Richie grins at his phone.

 

gnight eds 

 

Not my name. Good night.

 

Richie feels very teen-romance-comedy as he flops onto his bed and sets his phone on the nightstand. The difference is, Richie knows that his stories don’t end with a confession in the rain and a kiss with a dramatic swell of music. His stories end with an empty bed and watching a boutonnière burn in a trash can on the front lawn.

 

His phone dings with a message from Patty. He opens it.

 

Thought you would appreciate this! <3

 

It’s a picture of the two of them squished into Richie’s armchair. Eddie is laughing, eyes closed. Richie is looking at him like he hung the moon.

 

thanks pats

 

He sets the picture to his home screen and smiles to himself.

 

—-

 

He continues texting Eddie.

 

He continues hooking up with Eddie.

 

It’s still always his place. He makes a joke about it one day and Eddie’s mouth goes thin and his eyes harden.

 

“It’s okay,” says Richie nervously, noticing the look on his face. “I don’t mind having you over here.”

 

Eddie looks at him, then at the ceiling. 

 

“I’m divorced,” he says.

 

“O...kay?” Richie says. 

 

“It was awful ,” Eddie says, and it seems like he visibly relaxes. 

 

“Did he like… did he hurt you?” Richie asks. “Because I promise, I would never, and I totally understand if you don’t want-”

 

She ,” says Eddie, and Richie winces, “didn’t hurt me? I guess? Not physically. But she wasn’t good. For me. And when something would happen that made me realize that, she would always talk me back into staying.”

 

“Jesus,” says Richie.

 

“Yeah,” says Eddie. “And when I told her I was gay, she didn’t even believe me. Said because I had never had sex with a man, I couldn’t possibly know. So I just left. I would only talk to her through lawyers. She made it hell. It took months .”

 

“Fuck,” Richie says. “What a nightmare.”

 

“No kidding,” says Eddie, and he laughs like he has to laugh or he’ll start crying. “No fucking kidding.”

 

He looks at Richie, and his face softens. “It’s not your fault. I’m still. I don’t want to move too fast. I did with my shit show of a marriage, and look where that got me.” He takes a deep breath in, lets it out slowly. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s fine,” says Richie quietly, because it is. 

 

When guys usually say “your place,” what it actually means is this:

 

This means more to you than it does to me. I don’t want to be seen with you. You are just a gateway to something better.

 

When Eddie says “your place,” what is actually means is this:

 

I am still healing and am afraid of letting anyone too close, but I’m working on it. I’m trying, and I’m trying with you.

 

Eddie sighs and rolls over, smashing his face into Richie’s chest. He says something, indecipherable.

 

“Hey, Eds, didn’t catch that,” says Richie, laughing softly.

 

“Tits,” says Eddie by way of explanation, and buries his face back into Richie’s chest.

 

This makes Richie guffaw with laughter, which makes Eddie yell at him for moving, which makes Richie laugh harder.

 

When they’ve settled down and Eddie has resumed his position on Richie’s chest, snoring, Richie tries not to think about how absolutely fucked he is. 

 

“Slow” means he cannot tell Eddie he loves him.

 

—-

 

Richie is fine with this whole “casual” thing because it’s actually much less casual than anything else he’s had so far, except for maybe the weird amount of time that he was actively hooking up with Stan.

 

He and Eddie fuck on a regular basis.

 

They also hang out with each other’s friends on a regular basis.

 

Richie is not sure if this is normal in a “casual” relationship or not, but he really does like Bill and Mike, partly because Eddie likes them and he likes Eddie, and partly because Richie never has any idea what the fuck the two of them are talking about. They are the weirdest couple he’s ever met. He observes their conversations about mythology from a civilization he’s never even heard of like he’s watching a movie, nodding where it feels appropriate, which isn’t often because the two of them are in their own bubble most of the time.

 

Eddie seems to get along well with Richie’s friends too. Richie isn’t sure whether he should be troubled by this, because the inevitable fallout between the two of them will be even more awkward if they’re both friends with each other’s friends. It’s still nice to be able to introduce someone to the most important people in his life and have that quiet, private thought, I knew him first. 

 

Bev really likes Eddie because Eddie seems to hate all the same people she does. This realization had culminated in a very drunk Eddie draping himself over Richie’s arm and saying, quote, “You are the only bitch in this place I can trust,” then immediately apologizing for saying bitch while Bev fell off the couch from laughter.

 

Stan still gives Richie eyebrows whenever Richie gets too close to Eddie, looks at him a little too long, and Richie typically responds to that raised eyebrow (a patented Stan-ism, like the prolonged eye-roll and beleaguered sigh and the crooked half-smile whenever Richie says something but he doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of laughing) with sticking out his tongue or something similarly immature.

 

Ben seems to realize what’s going on too, which is especially annoying, because he keeps giving Richie knowing looks and sending him poems about love and looking sappy during the same moments that Stan raises his eyebrow.

 

Richie loves his friends. He really likes Eddie’s friends.

 

So why does he get nauseous immediately whenever Eddie suggests that all of them get together?

 

It’s a good idea. Richie’s sure that everyone will get along. But it’s like this:

 

Having everyone in the same place feels dangerously close to stability. It’s closer than Richie’s ever gotten to an actual relationship. The more he builds, the more connections he makes this way, the worse it will be when Eddie moves on.

 

Because of course, Richie won’t move on. He feels it this time. Something about Eddie is different, captivating, and Richie knows deep down that this is it. He’s always fallen in love too hard, too fast, and gotten left behind. He knows that this will be the same as it always is, but he’s content to love Eddie from afar. If Eddie ends up only wanting to be friends, then Richie will hold tight to that for as long as he can.

 

---

 

He ends up being right. Everyone does get along.

 

Ridiculously well.

 

They meet at a bar that Stan recommended. It’s trivia night. The seven of them, with their differing areas of weirdly specific knowledge, do very well. Stan is so pleased with Mike for knowing the founder of the Qin dynasty that he hasn’t stopped grinning. Patty giggles every time she looks at his face.

 

Ben is talking to Bill about Bill’s most recent book and how he actually really enjoyed the ending. Bill might be tearing up. Bev and Eddie are talking shit on some celebrity promoting weight loss supplements. Patty is talking to Mike about his research on indigineous cultures in Maine.

 

Richie is so content in that moment that he almost forgets that all of this is temporary. 

 

The seven of them stay late, get more drunk than they probably should at 40. Ben makes a group chat with all of them. Bev titles it “lozers” and it is quickly changed (by Eddie) to “losers” ( we’re fucking 40 years old Beverly, we don’t spell shit with a z! ). Stan leaves and Richie adds him back instantly.

 

Richie can’t help but feeling a sense of impending doom about all of this.

 

He’ll take it while it lasts, though.

 

---

 

When Richie wakes up the next morning, Eddie is still asleep in his bed. He takes a moment to just look.

 

Sunlight streams through the window. Eddie’s face is smashed into the pillow. He’s drooling slightly and his hair is a mess. Richie is so in love.

 

He’s also so, so, hungover, and makes his way to the bathroom as quickly as possible because throwing up in bed is not something he wants to deal with right now.

 

From his position slumped in the bathroom floor, he hears Eddie sit up, say “Oh my fucking God,” and roll back over.

 

Richie brushes his teeth and shuffles into the kitchen to make coffee. He’s pretty sure his eyes have been closed this entire time. 

 

Eddie comes in behind him, swaddled in one of the several blankets Richie keeps in his room. 

 

“Morning,” says Richie, voice gravelly.

 

“Mmn,” grunts Eddie, and wraps his arms around Richie. “Make the coffee go faster.”

 

“I can’t?” says Richie, grinning. “What the fuck?”

 

“Ugh,” says Eddie, pressing his face into Richie’s back. “I think I’m dead.”

 

Richie laughs, then winces. “Ow.”

 

They drink their coffee in relative silence. Eddie keeps kicking Richie’s leg under the table until Richie grabs his foot and places it in his lap.

 

The whole thing feels so domestic and natural that Richie could scream.

 

---

 

Of course he has to fuck it up.

 

The worst day of Richie Tozier’s life (worse than Homecoming, worse than getting his nose broken in a locker room, worse than getting ghosted by every guy ever) goes like this.

 

Eddie is at his apartment again. Richie has still not been to Eddie’s apartment. 

 

They’re in bed. Eddie looks so perfect. Richie feels like swallowing batteries.

 

He can’t stand silence.

 

“Can’t believe you haven’t gotten sick of me yet,” Richie says.

 

“What?” Eddie asks, brow furrowed. “Of course I’m not sick of you.”

 

Richie laughs. “Good one, Spaghetti Man.”

 

“I’m not fucking joking,” Eddie snaps, and Richie thinks oh shit, did I piss him off?

 

“Wh-” Richie begins.

 

“Do you think I would have a boyfriend that I didn’t want to be around?” Eddie asks.

 

Boyfriend?

 

“Boyfriend?” Richie asks.

 

Eddie’s face falls.

 

He’s quiet for a long time. Richie is quiet too, struck dumb by the word that no one else has dared to call him.

 

“What the fuck ,” Eddie seethes.

 

“Eddie, wait-” says Richie, but Eddie is already getting out of bed.

 

“I can’t fucking believe you,” Eddie says, pulling on his clothes. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I’m with you literally all the time, I- what the fuck.

 

“Eddie-”

 

Don’t, ” Eddie says, and leaves.

 

The whole thing takes 5 minutes.

 

Richie stares at the door, so shocked that he can’t even process what happened.

 

When he does, it feels like his heart has been ripped out of his chest. Eddie had wanted Richie. Had actually wanted him. Had thought that they were already together.

 

Richie replays the last couple of months.

 

They were friends with each other’s friends. Eddie was over at his apartment all the time. Richie made him coffee. More often than not, Eddie falls asleep clinging to Richie like he’s a particularly stubborn barnacle. 

 

Eddie trusted him.

 

Richie realizes that he’s been so focused on the idea that nobody could ever want him that he’s ignored the fact that one person did.

 

And now he’s gone.

 

---

 

Richie’s week after that is a daze.

 

He tries calling Eddie, texting, but he has a sinking feeling that his number is blocked.

 

He goes to meetings, nods, cracks jokes, shakes hands. 

 

All he can think about is Eddie.

 

It’s been exactly a week since Eddie left when he calls Stan.

 

“What,” says Stan.

 

“I really fucked up,” says Richie, voice shaky. 

 

“Yeah, I noticed when you started looking like somebody shot your dog and wearing nothing but sweatpants,” says Stan. “What did you do.”

 

Richie explains.

 

He hears a heavy sigh from the other end of the line and what sounds suspiciously like a copious amount of alcohol being poured into a glass.

 

“Just talk to him,” says Stan.

 

“I can’t ,” says Richie, “he.” He has to pause to take a deep, shuddery breath. “He blocked my number, I’m pretty sure.”

 

“Then go talk to him in person?” says Stan.

 

“I don’t know where he lives,” says Richie.

 

Holy fuck, find out then,” says Stan, and hangs up.

 

Richie stares at his phone in disbelief.

 

He tries Mike next.

 

---

 

Richie is standing outside Eddie’s apartment and really considering leaving.

 

That is, until Eddie opens the door and looks like he’s seen a ghost.

 

“How did you know where I live,” he says, still and wide-eyed like a deer caught in the headlights. 

 

“I called Mike,” Richie says quickly. 

 

“Oh good, glad to know that anyone can just call Mike and he’ll tell them where I live, that’s not dangerous at all,” says Eddie, and he sounds a bit like he’s going to start hyperventilating.

 

“I told him…” Richie starts, then revises the sentence in his head. “I told him I wanted to say I was sorry. And-”

 

“Oh good, you’re sorry ,” Eddie says, laughs disbelievingly. “Sorry for what? That you let me make an ass out of myself for months telling people about my boyfriend ? Is that what you’re sorry for?”

 

Richie winces. He can’t make himself make eye contact. “I didn’t think you wanted-”

 

“Didn’t think I wanted that?” says Eddie, voice rising in pitch and clinging to the door with a white-knuckle grip. “What the fuck did you think I was doing?”

 

“I don’t know, I thought-”

 

“No, you didn’t, you obviously didn’t think, why else would I be at your apartment all the fucking time-”

 

“Because nobody else has ever wanted that before!” Richie practically yells. 

 

Eddie has the deer-in-the-headlights look on again.

 

“Nobody has ever wanted me like that,” says Richie. “I’ve never had a. Nobody’s wanted that.”

 

“Nobody?” Eddie asks, voice small.

 

“Yep,” says Richie, cracks a shaky grin. “Now you see why, I guess.”

 

“No-” says Eddie, and cuts himself off by surging forward to grab Richie’s face with both hands and kiss him.

 

It’s soft, gentle. Eddie pulls away and looks at Richie, eyes shining.

 

“I thought you didn’t want me ,” says Eddie. “Of course I want you. I like being around you. You make me happy, Rich.” 

 

Richie makes a punched-out noise and Eddie buries his face in Richie’s neck.

 

“God,” he says quietly. 

 

Richie sniffles. “Are you still mad at me?”

 

“No, Richie, fuck’s sake,” says Eddie, voice muffled. 

 

“Oh,” says Richie, and lets Eddie lead him inside.

 

—-

 

He tells Eddie about everything. About the shitty small town he grew up in where being gay was like wearing a sign that said “Please do everything you can to ensure I don’t have a future”, about the endless stream of men who wanted nothing more than a quick fuck.

 

Eddie looks a little shell-shocked when he’s done. 

 

“Please say something,” says Richie, shaking hands wrapped around a mug of tea.

 

“What the fuck ,” says Eddie, eyes glassy.

 

“Your turn,” says Richie. “Tozier Trauma Time is over.”

 

Fine ,” says Eddie.

 

Eddie tells Richie about everything. How his mother had tried to control him his whole life, how he fed into the cycle of being trapped by marrying Myra, about how he hadn’t known how to have a real relationship after her.

 

“Guess that makes two of us,” says Richie. “Relationships aren’t. Weren’t. Exactly my forte, either.”

 

“I kind of picked up on that,” Eddie huffs, bemused. 

 

“Hey, you don’t get to make fun of me!” says Richie, mock-offended. “You left before I could even string a sentence together!”

 

“All you said was ‘Boyfriend?’” Eddie says, mocking Richie’s tone. 

 

“Oh my fucking God,” says Richie. “You said boyfriend first and my fucking brain stopped working. You can’t drop the ‘boyfriend’ bomb on me like that!”

 

“Well I like you!” says Eddie, trying and failing to smother his giggles. 

 

“Fuck off!” says Richie, beginning to laugh.

 

Eddie smiles at him, eyes soft. “So.”

 

“So.” says Richie, with a smile of his own.

 

“Do you want to try this again?” asks Eddie.

 

“Be my guest,” says Richie, with a flourish.

 

“Would you be interested,” Eddie starts slowly.

 

“Go on,” says Richie.

 

“I’m getting to it asshole, shut up,” says Eddie.

 

“Gotta say, you’re losing me here, dude,” Richie says.

 

“Oh I’m going to throttle you,” says Eddie, “DON’T SAY THAT YOU’RE INTO THAT. I KNOW.” He takes a deep breath before Richie can interrupt again and asks, all in one beat, “Doyouwanttobemyboyfriend.”

 

“What was that?” Richie asks, grinning.

 

“DO YOU WANT TO BE MY BOYFRIEND,” Eddie yells. His face has gone slightly pink.

 

“Oh I got it the first time,” Richie says with a lopsided smile, “I just wanted to hear you say it again,” and leans across the table to kiss Eddie.

 

It’s soft, like when Eddie kissed him at the door. The difference is this: the kiss at the door said I’m sorry, welcome back, I’m glad to see you. This one says We’ve got all the time in the world. I’m happy to have you.

 

Eddie leans back, face flushed. Richie can’t keep the lovestruck grin off his face.

 

When Maggie Tozier told him at eight years old, all scraped knees and wide eyes, that he would find The One, he’d believed her. He’d stopped believing her somewhere around the 15th time he’d had his heart broken.

 

Now?

 

Now he believes her again, and he’s got nothing but time to enjoy it.