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It Must Be Love

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Richie was standing in the middle of their living room, his hands perched, indignant, on his hips. “I do not! Eds, I’m not obsessed with being soulmates. That’s unfair, and you know it.”

One of Eddie’s eyebrows reached towards his hairline. He’d initiated this challenge, and now he had to see it through, to hold his ground. “Is it?”

“Fuck yes it is – seriously? I just like it. I like you!”

"Okay," Eddie said. "Then name five things you like about our relationship that are completely unrelated to being soulmates."

For a moment Richie just went quiet; brows raised, mouth open in apparent shock that Eddie had been so bold. Then he shrugged, and a cocky grin crept onto his face. "Easy. First of all –" he grabbed at Eddie, but Eddie dodged, scowling. "You're cute!" Richie said anyway.

Eddie was not letting him wriggle away like that, though. "Five things that also don't include my physical appearance, Rich."

"Woof!" Richie said. "Hard mode!" But Eddie watched his face turn thoughtful, and genuine. Eddie crossed his arms a little nervously, pretending like he wasn’t invested in the answer. Behind them both, one of Richie’s records spun on his turn-table. Eddie closed his eyes briefly, listening to the music.

“Alright,” Richie said, voice soft and serious. “Okay. Here’s one – you laugh at my jokes, even when they’re dumb.” He smiled a very fond smile. “You’re the best audience a guy could have, even when we’re just in our kitchen messing around.”

 

I.

Richie had the phone propped up under his chin, grinning into the receiver. “Okay, Stanny, I’ll let you go now…” There was a beat as Stan said something. “Uh-huh. You and Patty have fun – not too much fun, though, I don’t know that the world is really for any little Urises running around –”

Eddie laughed, beside him in their kitchen, and set a hand in the small of Richie’s back. Richie winked at him, exaggeratedly. “Well, Eddie thinks I’m funny, so –” he laughed, joyously, at whatever Stan said. “Yeah, yeah.  Love you, man. Buh-bye.” He hung up the receiver, and leaned a little into Eddie’s hand.

“Don’t let it get to your head,” Eddie said. “You’re really not that funny.”

“You sure know how to flatter a guy,” Richie said, turning bodily around so he could kiss Eddie.

“Mm,” Eddie said, breaking their kiss. “What’s new with Stan?”

“He and Patty are going on vacation to the coast.” Richie leaned in for another kiss, but Eddie tilted his head away, grinning.

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Eddie said. “How come you never take me to the beach?”

“Jeez, first I’m not funny enough, now I’m not thoughtful enough…?”

“Really,” Eddie grinned, “what are you good for?”

Richie looked hopeful. “Sex?”

Eddie wrinkled his nose.

“Okay, ouch —”  

“It’s a good thing you got money,” Eddie said, he wrapped his good arm around Richie’s neck and kissed him, catching Richie open-mouthed with laughter.

“I really love you, Eds,” Richie said, when they pulled apart. “Thanks for playing with me. You should be my straight man on the late-night show.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow. “Straight?”

Richie actually giggled. “See? God. You’re a natural –”

“I love you too, but I’m not going on the radio with you.”

“Harsh.”

“There’s limits, Rich. Every man has ‘em.”

“’There’s limits, Rich,’” Richie parroted back at him, frowning exaggeratedly. He broke the illusion when he grinned down at Eddie.

“Are you – seriously? That didn’t sound anything like me.”

“It’s a work in progress,” Richie said. “If I can’t have ya with me, that’s the next best thing.”

“As who? Your mean gay roommate?” Richie hadn’t made his voice particularly stereotypical, but he’d pitched it up a little. Which was – Eddie’s voice was higher than Richie’s. Fine. It was fine.

“You are my mean gay roommate.”

Eddie attempted to ignore the way his stomach recoiled a little at that. “Thanks…”

“You’re my cool gay roommate,” Richie said, eyes wide behind his glasses. “My smart gay roommate. My very handsome gay roommate.”

“Stop saying ‘gay’,” Eddie said. “You’re stressing me out.” But he pulled Richie down, to kiss him, intensely, open-mouthed.

“Wowza,” Richie said, in-between kisses. “Gets ya hot and bothered, does it, Eds? I can do another one. Lemme –” he cleared his throat, then said – a little gruff and quite low – “Kiss me again, Rich.”

Eddie nipped at Richie’s lip, disapprovingly. “I don’t sound like that, either.”

“But you do want me to kiss you again,” Richie said, “so if you think about it, it was accurate.”

“I’d do anything to get you to shut up,” Eddie said. He stuck his tongue in Richie’s mouth, which achieved that goal for a long minute. When they broke apart, Richie’s pupils were blown wide, and Eddie could feel him; could feel Richie’s arousal curling in his stomach. He wasn’t there himself, yet, but he could probably be persuaded.

“Oh, wow,” Richie said, grinning with kiss-red lips. “Anything?” His hands went to Eddie’s hips, creeping under the waistband of his trousers. As his fingers brushed over Eddie’s lower stomach, his breath hitched a little, and Richie slowed, as he always did when Eddie’s breath skipped. Eddie gripped the back of Richie’s head and pulled him down so his face was pressed into the curve of Eddie’s shoulder.

“Yeah, Rich,” he said, and huh – his voice did get a little deeper when he was aroused, look at that – “Kiss me again –” Richie kissed the curve of Eddie’s neck, just like Eddie had wanted. He massaged at Richie’s hair; let his eyes slip closed as Richie’s hand went in-between his legs. He knew Richie could feel his own arousal now; still lighter than Richie’s but lapping at its heels. It seemed absurd and childish that they were still in their kitchen, but Eddie couldn’t move, and he very much doubted that Richie could, either. He let himself sink into the juvenile absurdity of it; he tugged Richie’s shirt-tails gently out of his pants, and Richie laughed, delighted, in between kisses. 

 

“Okay,” Eddie said, smiling a little. “I like that, too.”

“We’re good together, Eds,” Richie said. “Hey, let’s sit down, I got lots more to say.”

Richie sat down, expectantly on their couch, and looked up at Eddie. Eddie had not prepared himself for A Serious Conversation. Neither of them was particularly good at those, but they tried.

“Okay,” Eddie said, softly, and he sat on the other end of the couch, away from Richie but bodily facing him.

Richie smiled a little. “See? You listen.”

 

II.

“Cool,” Richie said, hanging up the phone. “That went well…”

Eddie was folding his newspaper back into shape. Or trying to, anyway; it was kind of hard, one-handed. He didn’t like reading the newspaper, exactly, but he’d always read it over meals with Myra, and he hadn’t quite kicked the habit yet. He heard something in Richie’s voice that made him look up.

“Your manager?”

Richie nodded. Eddie peered at him – he was pale.

“Rich?”

Richie bit his lip and looked away from him. He raised one hand, and adjusted his glasses. Eddie sat the newspaper down, and stood up.

“Rich, what happened?”

“It’s fine,” Richie said. “I’m fine.” His voice was rough, and unconvincing. Eddie reached tentatively up, and touched his elbow. He wasn’t great at initiating touch, and he knew that, but he was trying. Trying to be better about it.

“I’m just totally going to get dropped by the management I’ve had since I was like, twenty-five, but who cares, right?”

He turned, wide-eyed, to Eddie. Eddie had half-expected tears, but there were none. Richie just looked tired, and upset.

“Why would he drop you?” Eddie said. He tried to say it gently, but then – he didn’t know if Richie actually wanted gentle. It frustrated him how little he knew about how to handle all of this. He knew Richie, but he didn’t know – lots of things.

“I’m ‘abandoning my job’ and a whole bunch of other shit.” Richie turned towards Eddie, and smiled, cupping his elbows in his hands. Eddie didn’t react to the sharp twinge of pain as his left arm bent, but Richie winced.

“Sorry,” Richie said, softly, and he leaned down to press his face into the curve of Eddie’s shoulder. Eddie reached his good hand up and gripped the back of Richie’s neck.

“It’s okay,” he said. “He said that – because you’re here? Because you moved in with me?”

Eddie had offered to go to L.A. Well – they’d talked about it, at least. But both of them knew that moving Eddie’s business would be difficult-leaning-towards-improbable. And Richie could DJ out of any city. Or so he’d said.

“Yeah,” Richie said. “I guess. I mean – he’s been pissed at me…I fled to Maine and then, like, I never came back.” He laughed a little. “Now I’m on the other side of the country…and I won’t tell him why…”

Eddie didn’t really know what to say.

“Do we need to talk about moving?”

“I can’t ask that of you,” Richie said, into Eddie’s shoulder. “I can’t. And I don’t wanna move, Eds. I like it here. I’m tired of being a big-shot L.A. guy.”

“Okay,” Eddie said, and then he waited him out. The back of Richie’s neck was warm, but his shoulders were tense with stress.

“I don’t wanna lose my career, though,” Richie said, quietly. “For a long time that was…the only thing…” Richie let the sentence trail off, but Eddie knew what he meant. For quite some time, his job had been the only thing he’d really had, too.

“You won’t,” Eddie said. He tangled his fingers into Richie’s hair; he liked doing that. “Rich, you’re famous. You don’t need management anymore.”

“I guess,” Richie said, without any of the habitual smugness. “I’m just scared. And I’m…I wish I could tell him, like – I met my soulmate. It’s a classic story!”

Eddie chewed at his lip until it hurt. Hopefully not hard enough that Richie could feel it, too. “I don’t know if you should tell him that.”

“Probably not,” Richie said. Finally, he raised his head. Eddie looked him over, carefully, but there were still no tears. “Kinda fucking sucks, though.”

Eddie just nodded. He’d never liked talking about his personal life, so nothing had really changed for him, but Richie was so – open. Exuberant. He had private thoughts and feelings – probably a lot more of them were private than some people would expect, but he really did like sharing, too. Eddie cupped the side of Richie’s face with his hand, and kissed him. He tossed around for something that Richie would like.

“D’you wanna go to the movies?” he said. He had no plans for the rest of the day, and didn’t want Richie to get hung up thinking about this.

Richie laughed. “Thank you for trying to cheer me up. Is there anything good airing right now?”

“Probably not,” Eddie found most movies that Richie liked either vaguely boring or actively annoying. But he smiled as he said it.

“A horror movie?” Richie said.

Eddie shrugged.

“I’ll hold your hand if you get scared, Eds,” Richie promised. There was a little color back in his face.

“Fuck off,” Eddie said, but he smiled. In the dark of the theater, Richie would put his hand on Eddie’s arm, or his thigh, or lean his head on Eddie’s shoulder. It was half the reason he agreed to go so often.

“Here,” Richie said, letting go of Eddie to run a hand through his hair, and tuck his shirt into his slacks. “I’ll make ya a deal. I pick the film, you pick where we go for dinner. Even if the place is boring and only serves, like, salads.”

“I feel like you’re getting more out of this than I am,” Eddie said, but he smiled.

“Good thing you love me, then,” Richie said; and he had turned bodily away, but tilted back his head to watch Eddie’s reaction.

Eddie raised his eyebrows. “Yep,” he said, easily. “Good thing I do, I guess.” Richie grinned, and it really was so easy, loving him. Easier than Eddie had ever realized love could be.

 

“And in the end,” Richie finished. “You didn’t even hate the movie that much. At least, I think you didn’t.” Richie had leaned back, now, looking more relaxed as he settled into what Eddie thought of as his ‘story-telling mode.’ The stories weren’t usually about them, though.

“It was okay,” Eddie said. He didn’t really remember The Return of the Living Dead, but he remembered Richie holding his hand – his left one; massaging Eddie’s limp fingers, gripping his wrist.

“Just okay, huh,” Richie said, smiling a little, folding his arms behind his head. “You got your little opinions, don’t ya.”

“I’d hope so,” Eddie said, smiling at him.

“Well, I like that, too,” Richie said. “You compromise, even when I’m being unreasonable. But you stand your ground, too, when it’s really important to you, and I appreciate that. I like knowing that I can’t force you into something you don’t want.”

Eddie laughed. “That’s a really sweet way of calling me stubborn, Rich.”

Richie grinned, and shrugged. “It’s a good stubborn!”

 

III.

“Rich,” Eddie said, and he was trying to keep the exhaustion out of his voice, but he didn’t think he succeeded. “I think – I think I’m done.”

“Hm?” Richie was perched on the edge of the bed, lining up antibiotics and pain meds; measuring out a dose of something so strong Eddie didn’t really know if he should be taking it.

“With – you know.” Eddie tried to roll over to face him, but it hurt too much. “With surgeries.”

That made Richie turn; his brow furrowed. “Does it hurt that bad?”

Eddie wondered if Richie noticed that his own left arm was shaking a little. Only a little; it was barely noticeable. But Eddie did notice it.

“Yeah,” he said. “It does. And it hurts you too, Rich.”

Richie’s mouth opened a little, then closed – tight, pursed. “Eds –”

“Richie,” Eddie said, and suddenly he felt so completely miserable. “Rich, this…I can’t even move –” he made another aborted effort to roll over; this time Richie saw it and got his hands under him, helping him shift. The sensation was so heavy and uncomfortable that Eddie felt his throat tighten, and gasped a little. Richie set him down half-turned on the pillows propped up on their bed.

“Eds?” he said, gently.

Eddie blinked back tears.

“Feel that?” he said.

“Yeah,” Richie said, face pale. “I do…hey, look –” he lifted the pain medication, and Eddie swallowed it, only a little reluctantly.

“I can’t do this,” Eddie said. “I can move my arm, I can bend it; the punctures healed well. Richie, it’s enough.

“But your hand,” Richie said. He cupped both of his own hands around Eddie’s face, as if to prove the point. “And…driving…”

“I can figure that out,” Eddie said. “Really. I can. But I can’t keep doing this…it’s exhausting. Rich, I’m tired.”

Richie’s face was distant and pinched. “I don’t want you to…to fucking disable yourself because you’re scared of hurting me,” he said. “Christ, Eddie, I can fucking take it!”

The tears that had threatened were welling over now, dripping down Eddie’s cheeks, and he raised his good hand to wipe at them. “Well, I can’t,” he said, and his voice was so rough that Richie’s face went sad and still.

“I can’t,” Eddie said again. “God, Rich, what are you gonna do? Make me?”

Richie let go of his face, and sat up.

“No,” he said. “Shit. Of course not, Eds.”

“I don’t wanna fight about this,” Eddie said, softly.

“I’m not.”

“You are, though. Having a bad hand isn’t the worst thing in the world, is it?”

“No – Eddie, no, you’re –” Richie’s face twisted. “You’re perfect, Eddie.”

“I am not perfect,” Eddie said. But he smiled. “But I can take care of myself. And I can take care of you, too. Let me choose this.”

He watched as Richie chewed at his lip.

“Later,” he said.

“What?”

“You could always get more surgeries down the line, I guess,” Richie said.

Eddie laughed a little. “Sure. I could.”

Richie smiled at him a little, though his face was still startlingly pale, drawn with stress. “I guess you probably won’t, though. You sound pretty sure.”

“I am pretty sure,” Eddie said. “Thank you for respecting my choice.”

“No other way to go, Eds.”

“I’m not giving up, Rich,” Eddie said, gently grasping at Richie’s nearest hand. “We still got all those physical therapy sessions to get through. It’s just – this sucks, and it hurts, and I really – I just want to heal. I want us both to be able to start moving on.”

Richie was silent for a long moment. “I think maybe I’m scared of that,” he said.

Eddie thought so, too, although he hadn’t wanted to accuse Richie of anything. “That’s okay,” he said, softly. “I’m scared, too.” (And he was; of going back to his job, and dealing with his employees, and with the hospital bills, and with tying his own goddamn shoelaces when he couldn’t really move the fingers on his left hand –)

“Together?” Richie said.

“Together.” Eddie squeezed his hand, tight.

 

That was an odd choice. Eddie frowned, waiting for an explanation.

“I know,” Richie said, “that sometimes I’m too much.”

Eddie opened his mouth to speak, but Richie sprung forward on the couch, grabbing Eddie’s hands in his, and Eddie stilled.

“No, it’s okay. I am! But it’s – Eddie, we’re both so –” Richie seemed a loss for words, which was always worth paying attention to. “We’re almost forty years old, yanno? And we’re coming from shit that’s built up for so long, from our own experiences and…our fears. Or whatever.”

Is he trying to talk about trauma? Eddie thought. I think he’s trying to talk about trauma. And regular stuff, too, I guess, but…

Richie sighed. He leaned forward, so that he and Eddie were very close; their foreheads almost touching.

“You know what I’m trying to say, Eds?”

Eddie was pretty sure that he did. His right hand rubbed circles on Richie’s hand and wrist; feeling the raised vein-bumps of his pulse, his lifeblood. He hoped it was comforting; he hoped it shrank any pain Richie felt at the recollection.

“I know,” he said. “I appreciate that you respect my choices the way you do. I hope that I give that back to you. It’s just I’m not sure I always do.”

“Hey,” Richie said, softly. “You try. I try. It’s – we don’t always get it right, and I guess that’s a point in your favor, because soulmates are supposed to be perfect, but –”

“Maybe soulmates are,” Eddie said, “but people aren’t. And I’m just…” I’m hurt and I’m scared and so are you, he thought, and he didn’t know how to change that; if that even was changeable.

 

IV.

Richie’s hand was pressed tight against Eddie’s cock and Eddie’s head was thrown back against the pillows of their bed because he was overwhelmed, because his mind was on fire. Richie grinned, and then laughed, bright and loud.

“Yeah,” Richie said, fond, “you want that –” Richie gripped at the waistline of Eddie’s briefs and pulled them off, standing at the edge of the bed to wrangle them off Eddie’s ankles. “Mm,” he said, and Eddie’s eyes flickered open to watch Richie standing before him, admiring the view.

“Rich,” Eddie groaned.

“Yep,” Richie said, grinning.

“Rich!”

“Okay, Mr. Impatient,” Richie laughed, and then knelt at the edge of the bed. “Hey –” he pressed a hot hand to Eddie’s thigh, tight and demanding. He leaned it. “Eds, can I use my mouth –”

Eddie was frozen for a moment, unable to speak. Richie leaned in, and kissed the inside of Eddie’s thigh. No one had ever touched him like that before. For a moment he was frozen; then finally his body came back to him and he reached out instinctively, kicking one leg. He caught Richie on the collarbone and pushed him back and away.

“Ow!” Richie said, falling back onto the floor. “Eds? What the hell –?”

Disgust was creeping up Eddie’s spine, and it was horrible, because Richie was still aroused, and he could feel that too, pleasure and fear mixing in his mind. The sensation was overwhelming – he gagged; he couldn’t help it.

Richie had got to his knees, and was staring at Eddie with wide, fearful eyes. “Eddie? Are you okay?”

Be forceful! Eddie thought, wildly. “No, Rich,” he said, as calm as he could manage. “I’m not even – I’m not even wearing a condom!” And you wanted to put your mouth on me!

“What?” Richie said. Arousal was still lapping at the corners of Eddie’s consciousness, warring with the thick disgust; Eddie was either going to vomit or start wheezing. He hated both options. He closed his eyes, but it didn’t help.

“Eds?”

“I’m going to be sick,” Eddie managed, and then he scrambled off the bed and into their bathroom. He gagged over the toilet, but nothing actually came up. Small blessings? Richie hovered over him, but apparently seeing Eddie bent over their toilet killed his arousal to nothing, so the horrible swirling in his mind was finally over.

“Eddie?” Richie said. His voice was so nervous, now. Eddie didn’t like to hear it. And it was all his fault.

“Are you okay?” Richie said. “What happened? What did I do?”

“You can’t…” Eddie got up off the floor. Now his nakedness was just awkward. “I don’t want you doing that. It’s…” he couldn’t think of what to say, other than how he felt. “It’s dirty,” he said, eventually; quietly.

Richie’s lips parted slightly in confusion. “Dirty…” he said.

No, no, Eddie thought. “I mean,” he tried to clarify. “I just. I just don’t like it, okay?”

“Okay,” Richie said, but he was wide-eyed, and chewing his lip. He left the bathroom, and Eddie felt like shit.

“Richie…” he said, crossing back into their bedroom. He snatched his briefs off the bed, and pulled them back on.

Richie looked close to tears, which terrified Eddie – he really had not expected him to be so upset, and he didn’t –

“I’m sorry,” Richie said.

“I’m not mad!” Eddie tried to tell him. “Just –”

“Dirty?” Richie said, his eyebrows raised. “I’m dirty?

“Not you,” Eddie said. “Just – that. It’s dirty. Not you.” How could Richie think that?

“I want to do that!” Richie said, gesturing big into the air. “So yeah, I’m dirty! What the fuck!”

“Rich…” They were approaching this, Eddie realized dimly, completely at cross-purposes. But how to get them back on the same page? He did not want to talk about it. He really did not want to talk about it.

There were tears in Richie’s eyes. Oh, fuck. Actual tears.

“Hey,” Eddie said, and crossed over to him, reaching up and cupping his good hand around Richie’s neck. “I’m sorry –”

“Shit,” Richie said. “I’m reacting really bad to this. I know – I’m – you can say no to whatever you want –”

“I kicked you,” Eddie said. “Richie, I’m so sorry, okay?” He pulled Richie down, and he came easily. Eddie kissed his neck, gently.

“It didn’t, like, hurt,” Richie said. “It was kinda funny. What’s not funny is you having to run to our fucking toilet.”

“That wasn’t really funny for me either,” Eddie said, dryly. Richie cracked a smile, but didn’t laugh.

“You’re not dirty,” Eddie said, as sternly as he could. “I really don’t think that. I just have stupid personal baggage.”

“I guess it’s not fair for you to be comfortable with all this stuff so fast,” Richie said.

‘All this stuff’ being baseline homosexual sexuality? Eddie thought. He sighed. “Well,” he said. “That’s what you get for dating a closet case, Rich.”

Richie’s eyes went wide. “You’re not a closet case, Eds,” he said, earnestly. “You’re so brave.”

Eddie scoffed, and Richie did that thing he did when trying to be convincingly sincere, where he bounced up and down on his heels. “You are!”

Eddie did not know what to say to that. “Well,” he said, eventually. “Don’t…don’t expect me to get over that one, okay?”

Richie was still a little jumpy, a little wide-eyed. “Okay,” he said. “That’s fine. Seriously! We don’t even have to talk about it.”

Sure, Eddie thought, I won’t talk about my shit and then we also won’t talk about how that made you cry. Sure, Rich.

“I’m not going to push the issue,” Eddie said, “But. I think maybe we should talk about it.” He pressed his hand to his forehead. He was getting a headache. “Just – maybe not right now.”

Richie grimaced. “Talking about feelings, huh?”

Talking about trauma, which is actually far worse.

“But, later,” Eddie said. He reached up and swept his thumb under Richie’s eyes, wiping away the last of his tears. “Okay?”

Richie nodded even though he was frowning. “Okay.”

Eddie sighed again, and leaned forward, laying his head against Richie’s naked chest. Richie wrapped his arms around him, rubbing at his back.

“Shower with me?” Eddie said, eventually. He was still feeling it; a tenseness in his muscles, the approaching fear; and a near-overwhelming desire to be cleansed.

“Yeah,” Richie said, softly. He kissed the top of Eddie’s head. “Sure, Eds.”

The shower was clean and hot and it was safe there. Eddie closed his eyes against the harsh stream of water, and he pressed his body up against Richie’s – keeping them close; closer; as close as two people could be. His right hand found Richie’s waiting free hand, and Eddie entwined their fingers, and held on tight. 

 

“That’s not a good memory,” Eddie said.

“Maybe,” Richie said. He pressed their forehead together for a brief moment, then pulled back, smiling a little. “But it’s not a bad memory, either.”

Eddie remembered the tears in Richie’s eyes and did not agree.  But he and Richie had many differences in perspective; he accepted that fact.

“I guess I just don’t understand,” Eddie said, “why you would mention that, when there are so many...”

That made one-half of Richie’s mouth hitch up in a little smile.

“Oh yeah?” He said. “So many what? Do you have one for me?”

Well. Surely Eddie could answer that in return.

 

(V.)

Richie stretched out Eddie’s arm, and Eddie let him. The pain whirled up his elbow; to his shoulder; to his head. He closed his eyes.

“Okay?” Richie said.

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Are you –?”

“I’m okay,” Richie said, gently, and Eddie tried to calm the turmoil in his stomach. This was what he didn’t like; what made soulmates so dangerous. As a kid he’d been scared of someone else hurting him, but he knew now that the opposite was actually worse. Despite what Richie said – despite what Richie had nearly yelled at him when Eddie wanted to stop the surgeries – this hurt him. The shared sensation was nauseating. Sometimes, that sensation alone made it hard to breathe.

“Feel that?” Richie said, his fingers pressing lightly to the underside of Eddie’s forearm.

“Yes,” Eddie said. The touch was light and gentle. He and Richie were very close, the centers of their bodies pointed at each other. There was an undeniable intimacy to this, but – he didn’t know that it was a good intimacy. He thought, as he frequently did, about what it must have been like for his mother while his father slowly died. He closed his eyes.

“Eddie?”

“Rich?”

“Do you feel this?”

Eddie didn’t. He opened his eyes; Richie’s fingers were gripping either side of his wrist.

“No,” Eddie said. “Rich, I want to stop.”

“We can’t stop. You have to stretch your muscles.” Richie lifted Eddie’s limp hand to his lips, and kissed his curled fingers. Eddie watched him do it but not feel his lips.

“I said I don’t feel it,” Eddie said.

“Yeah, I get it. But –” Richie tilted Eddie’s wrist back. “But the paperwork they gave you said to do this, so I’m doing it.”

Leave me alone! Eddie thought, wildly. Let me hurt on my own time. This is mine, and only mine.

“Don’t worry so much about it.”

“Do I look worried to you?” Richie said. Eddie peered closely at him. His glasses had slid a little down his nose as he’d leaned closer to Eddie, and his hair had fallen partially out of its careful coif. But no, he did not look particularly worried. 

“I guess not,” Eddie allowed.

“Exactly,” Richie said, and he smiled at Eddie, very gently. “I’m not worried, but I do want to do this for you.”

Eddie closed his eyes again, as Richie’s hands crept up and down his forearm and wrist. For a moment, he couldn’t look at all. When he opened his eyes again, he didn’t watch Richie’s fingers; instead he watched the purse of his lips; the pinch of his eyebrows.

 

“I don’t know that that’s a good memory,” Eddie said. “But there. You take care of me, too.”

“Why is it not good? Eddie, help me understand.”

“That’s what all yours are. Me doing things for you or you doing things for me.”

“Uh, yeah, ‘cause that’s what relationships are…”

“No, they aren’t,” Eddie said.

“If this is about your mom –”

“Oh, fuck off,” Eddie snapped, without meaning too. Richie wasn’t getting what he was saying, and he didn’t know how to say it any plainer. “Don’t bring my mom into this.”

Richie let go of Eddie’s hand to raise his hands in exaggerated surrender. “Eds, I’m not the one bringing Sonia Kaspbrak into this relationship.”

For a long second, Eddie saw red. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, and out through his mouth. His good hand balled into a tight fist. When he opened his eyes again, Richie looked sheepish.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “That was too far. But Eddie –”

“Can you give me a second?” Eddie said, through clenched teeth.

“Yeah. I’m sorry.”

After a long moment, Eddie said, “I just think it should be equal.”

“And it’s not?”

“No,” Eddie said. “I want to be good to you, too. I want to protect you.”

Richie smiled that crooked half-smile again. The anger Eddie was holding inside did not go out, but it flagged…he wanted the pleasant moments between them back. He reached forward, and took Richie’s hand back in his good one.

“God, Eds,” Richie said. “Fuck! Of course you protect me.”

But that wasn’t really what Eddie wanted, either; it felt bad and uncomfortable in the way everything else about care did. It was tiring; he wanted to just – to feel normally about this; to understand what Richie was saying. But he couldn’t.

“You’re so good,” Richie said. His voice was a whisper. “You’re gentle with me. I don’t think anyone’s been gentle with me for a long time. You don’t – that means so much. Really it does. You give me what I want even when you worry it.”

 

VI.

“Are you sure?” Eddie asked, again. “I mean it, Rich, are you sure?” 

Richie was already on the bed. He was already naked. And below the buzz of his own nervousness, Eddie could feel that he was already very aroused.

“For God’s sake, Eds,” Richie said. “I am literally so sure. I have been sure for like, ever.” 

Eddie had an absurd urge to tell Richie not to blaspheme, not here. He swallowed it. “But –” Eddie said, even as he was stepping forward, so that he could lean down over Richie. He had just showered; the only thing he was wearing was a towel around his waist and the brace on his arm. Richie reached gentle hands to his shoulders. 

“You know I’ve done this before, right?” Richie said, his voice light but serious. 

“But not with me,” Eddie said, even if was still kind of hard for him to imagine Richie doing any of this before, with anyone. Eddie let the towel fall. He didn’t mind being naked; they were well past that, at least, but…

“I don’t want to hurt you, Rich,” he said. It was inadequate, but maybe Richie would get what he meant. 

“If it’s horrible we can stop. Okay?” 

“Okay,” Eddie said, and that was sort of novel and great, too – if either of them wasn’t liking it, they could just – stop. Sex wasn’t a utility. It was fun, or at least it should be. That was a thing that it had really taken him far too long to learn. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be horrible, though,” Richie said. “C’mon...I want you, Eds…” 

Eddie swept Richie’s hair off his forehead, and kissed him. He did not always know what he wanted, but his body did – already he was starting to respond. Richie bit at his lip and Eddie reached down and stroked the length of his cock, once, just to feel the jerk of tension as it was sent through both of them. Richie groaned into his mouth.

“Teasing,” he said. “Mean.” Richie always got incoherent so fast, it was pretty funny. 

Eddie’s head was still buzzing but Richie’s desire was so present that he was able to feel his own a bit, too. He grabbed his own dick and jerked it swiftly in his hand until he was upright. He hoped that Richie felt the strain of it. He’d been so scared of that sharing sensation at first, but it was...it could be alright.

“Okay, Rich,” he said, his easy tone not revealing the mess of his desire. “Turn over.” 

Richie blinked at him. “But your arm –” He helped hold Eddie upright, when they played with each other.

Turn over,” Eddie said again, annoyed. 

“‘Kay,” Richie said, obedient and wide-eyed. He rolled over on the bed. For a long moment, Eddie just looked at him – at the length of his body; at the little curve of his lower back. Eddie uncapped the lube and squeezed some of it onto one finger; he ran that finger over the curve of Richie’s ass. 

“Guh,” Richie said, into the towel. “Cold.” A shiver ran down his spine.

“I’m going to use my fingers first,” Eddie said. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Richie said, and Eddie frowned, because Eddie knew that he could've said absolutely anything and right now, Rich would agree.

“Richie,” he said, insistently.

Yes! Fingers! Please!” 

Eddie tore open the condom package with his teeth. He had, perhaps, practiced this. It was not easy to do all of this one-handed, but it was not impossible, either. His left hand twitched uselessly; he flexed his elbow and let the slight glance of pain ground him. 

“Eds?” 

“Be patient,” Eddie said. The condom fit nicely over the first two fingers of his right hand. It was pre-lubricated. Safe. He wasn’t going to hurt Richie. He straddled Richie’s thighs; and pressed very tentatively to his hole. 

Richie shuddered, but Eddie felt it – that was not revulsion or fear it was something entirely different – Richie really did want him to – 

He opened Richie’s body up; slow; he slid his fingers all the way in.

“Okay?” his voice was nervous. Damn. No point in hiding that, though.

“Move,” Richie said. 

“It’s uncomfortable?” 

“No – it’s –” Richie shifted underneath him, suddenly; he nearly lost his balance. He bent down over Richie’s shoulder, bracing himself as best he could with his injured arm. 

“Eds! Shit, sorry –” Richie stilled, but he was – shaking, slightly. 

“I’m okay,” Eddie said, righting himself. “Rich…”

“It’s not enough,” Richie said. Slowly, Eddie spread his fingers. 

“Jesus fuck,” Richie said, and something exploded behind Eddie’s eyes. 

“Oh,” he said, wonderingly. “You really do like this.” 

“Yes! Fuck! Eddie, please –” 

“Shh,” Eddie said; that had jolted something within him and suddenly the fingers were not enough for him, either. He withdrew, slowly, from Richie; who groaned in disappointment, wriggling on the towels below him.

“I’m giving you what you want,” Eddie said, and then he slid the condom off of his fingers. It was harder to open the second one; he was shaking; he felt – he felt the way it usually took him ages to get; usually Richie had to touch and kiss and pry and it out of him; but the arousal came now so fast that it was almost overwhelming – but not quite. He finally got the condom on his cock and then he gripped Richie’s shoulder.

“I’m going to –” he said. “Now –!”

He went slow; slow as he could make himself go and then even slower still. “Don’t move,” he hissed when Richie tried to buck; he pressed at his shoulder as hard as he dared without hurting. 

“Eds,” Richie said, but it was more of a gasp than a word. 

Eddie let himself fill Richie. All the way. Christ. 

Richie made an odd gagging noise, and Eddie didn’t dare move. 

“Okay?”

“Yeah – let me –” Richie moved then, but carefully; he was just situating himself. Eddie felt when he found it; everything slid into place. His head spun with the strange doubling sensation; being penetrated and being the iniator all at once. He had to close his eyes.

“Oh,” Richie said, hazily, and he was feeling this too, of course – “You really like this, Eds.” 

Eddie didn’t know what to say to that. Apparently, he did. He was not sure he could actually form words to speak. His body was screaming at him to move, and Richie was so hungry for it, too...he listened. He let his hips roll forward.

It crashed some new wave of sensation into Richie; he made a choked off noise that turned into a moan. 

“Yeah –” Richie said; and then he did buck under Eddie and Eddie had to grip his shoulder again to keep steady, but he did – and then they were moving together. 

It took a few tries to find the rhythm, but then Eddie was hitting some spot inside of Richie that had him shuddering, shaking; groaning; sweat dripping down his back. Eddie leaned his head down, watching Richie’s back roll with the movement, the roots of his hair dark with sweat.

Richie had managed a few gasps of Eddie’s name at first, but even that was beyond him now; the sound from him was desperate moans and that was all. Each one made Eddie’s breath pick up; he couldn’t have said a word either. His hand on Richie’s shoulder was his only grounding point; he hung on tight as their bodies moved together; as white-hot lightning – that was the only way he could describe Rich’s desire, it burst like stars – sparked in front of his eyes. Yes, God, yes – there was no part of this that could be wrong, surely it was not hurting –

“Oh, Eddie,” Richie breathed, and Eddie knew he was about to come because so was he; he thrust his hips in one last stroke and then something that had not yet happened to them occurred; they both came at the same time. The orgasm was white-hot; it burst out of Eddie’s body and into his head, and so did Richie’s; a rainbow of desires behind Eddie’s eyes; they were for once in-sync so delightfully. 

It was overwhelming and perfect and suddenly it was also completely impossible to stay upright; he fell on top of Richie. 

“Rich,” he said. 

Jee-zus,” Richie said. “Oh my God, Eddie…”

Eddie pulled out of him, carefully; maneuvered his shaking body so he could lie down beside Richie. Richie was shaking, too, and his face was red.

“Hey,” Eddie said, softly, a little spike of left-over fear going through him. He lifted Richie’s hair off his forehead so he could look at him. Richie wasn’t wearing his glasses; Eddie had to push himself closer until Richie’s eyes focused on his. “You okay?” 

“Thank you,” Richie said, simply. He sniffled a little, and then gripped Eddie’s face between both palms, and kissed him. 

“Rich –” Eddie said, flushing pink. “I was – I mean –” 

“It was so good,” Richie said, and then he kissed him, again. “Please, Eddie, don’t – don’t apologize, not for that –”

“But I –” Eddie said. “I mean...I…” 

“I wanted it,” Richie said. “You know that, right? I said so, every time, but you – I mean, Eds, you know that, right?” 

Eddie felt guilty, suddenly – guilty that Richie felt guilty; guilty that it was so hard to give Richie what he wanted. 

“I know,” he said. “Richie, I – I know. It’s…it’s okay. I’ll give you what you want.”

“Will you?” Richie said. It was almost, but not quite, a joke. There was a vulnerability to his words.

Eddie’s heart pounded pathetically in his chest. “Of course. Rich – fuck, of course I will. I – some things are hard for me. You know that. But…”

Richie’s eyes slipped closed; he leaned forward to press against Eddie. “Yeah,” he said, softly. “I do know that. Eds…”

Eddie was moved by a sudden urge to touch him again; he curled himself tightly against Richie’s chest. Richie looped his hands around Eddie’s shoulders, and they tucked their heads close to one another. Moving in unison; two-as-one. Is that what soulmates is? Eddie thought, wonderingly. Then I guess that’s not so bad, not so bad at all… He didn’t know what soulmates were but he knew what he and Rich were, maybe. At least, he hoped that he knew.

He pulled his head away, and Richie blinked at him, questioningly.

“Let me see it,” Eddie said.

“Hm?”

“Your mark,” Eddie said, and his good hand found it, the little silver mark on Richie’s hip. Richie smiled with a pure joy when Eddie pressed his fingers to the warm spot of flesh.

“That’s you!” he said, with a goofy grin that made Eddie laugh.

“What?”

“You sound ridiculous,” Eddie said. Richie pouted, and held out a hand – Eddie rolled his eyes, but he lifted his leg so Richie could touch his mark, too.

“I know what you think,” Richie said, and he closed his eyes, pressed himself closer. “But you get what I feel too, right? This is proof. That we’re good together.”

“No,” Eddie said, and he let go of Richie’s mark to stroke at his sweat-dampened hair instead. “It’s proof that we can be, maybe, but we make this good. Okay?”

“I don’t know,” Richie said. Richie admitted. Eddie chewed his lip.

“I do,” he said. “I know. I like being with you because you’re you, Rich.”

Richie was silent, his fingers gripping Eddie’s leg with near-painful intensity.

“Okay?” Eddie said, insistently.

Richie sighed. “Okay.” He pressed his eyes closed, briefly; Eddie let his fingers trail lightly over his closed eyelids.

“Don’t worry, Rich,” he said, and suddenly his feelings for Richie were so heavy in his chest he had to talk around them or they’d weigh him down. “I’m gonna take care of you.”

A little smile curved over Richie’s face.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Eddie said, and he meant it, too. I’ll go to the clinic even though we both know how nervous it makes me. I’ll get the safe-sex pamphlets and the condoms they hand out for disease prevention and I’m gonna take care of you. I’ll make you coffee, but only let you drink two cups instead of the full pot like you want. I’ll put a multivitamin on our shopping list, and make sure you get enough fiber. When my alarm wakes us both up, I’ll kiss you until you agree to go back to sleep. I’ll…I’ll… It was too much; there were too many things he wanted to do and say. He rubbed his thumb over the curve of Richie’s brow. Somehow, he thought he didn’t need to say those things. He and Richie understood each other. 

 

“I hope you remember that one as fondly as I do,” Richie said. He laughed, lightly. “God, you blew my mind. You know I always did want to…you know. With my soulmate. And it was so much.”

“I remember,” Eddie said. “'Course I remember.”

“Good. I thought you might have some sort of weird gay guilt complex over it.”

Eddie’s lips parted softly in surprise. He let his head drop, his eyes closing again. “Jesus, Rich,” he said. “It’s like you’re trying to piss me off.” He wasn’t mad, though, not now.

“Sorry. In my defense that’s always been part of my personality. So you’d think you’d be used to it by now.”

“The worst part is I think I am,” Eddie said, because he was. Maybe parts of Richie were unknowable, but not all of them. Definitely not all of them.

 

VII.

“Richie,” Eddie said. “Richie. Wake up.”

“Ngh,” Richie said, and rolled onto his side.

Eddie frowned down at him. It was nearly noon, although in Richie’s defense he was working mostly nights, now.

“Rich,” he said, running a finger over the curves of Richie’s profile, “I have the day off, remember?”

Richie finally opened sleep-bleary eyes, and blinked up at him. “Oh shit, yeah. That means we have the day together!”

“Less than,” Eddie said. Richie was working late that night, too. “And each hour you sleep shrinks it.”

“Okay,” Richie said. “Needy.” He was looking at Eddie with wide eyes, but Eddie knew he couldn’t see it when Eddie rolled his eyes. He leaned close, close enough that their noses were almost touching, and rolled his eyes again so that Richie could get the picture. Richie laughed, and they were already so close, so Eddie kissed him gently on the mouth, for good measure.

“Get up,” Eddie said. “Brush your teeth. Your mouth is gross.”

“Bossy, too,” Richie said, but he grinned and sat up. His undershirt rode up, exposing the pale slope of his stomach, as he stretched. He pulled Eddie close and kissed him again, this time open-mouthed.

“How’s that for gross?”

“Ew,” Eddie said, but he was smiling, too. It had been a very quiet morning, without Richie. Perhaps too quiet.

“Alright,” Richie said. “I’m going, I’m going.” His hand flopped around vaguely on the bedside table until he located his glasses and planted them, lopsided, on his face. “You’re in a mood today.”

“No, I’m not,” Eddie said, just to be contrary, but he darted in and kissed Richie’s chin, because he was.

 

Richie emerged a while later from their bathroom, his shirt half-buttoned and his hands busy styling his hair.

“What’re we doing today, Eds?” he said, yawning a little. “It’s your day off.”

“Not going to see a bad horror movie, I think,” Eddie said. Richie had used his last day off to drag Eddie to see A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and Eddie was still kind of mad about it.

Richie groaned. “Look, I told you already, I didn’t know it was gonna be like that, okay?”

“I forgive you.”

“Thank you.”

But we’re not going to the movies.”

Richie pouted dramatically. “You’re gonna hold this grudge, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Eddie said. “Now come eat your breakfast.”

Richie traipsed into the kitchen obediently, and Eddie smiled to himself at the little surprised noise that came out of his mouth when he saw his set place.

“I can’t believe you made me breakfast on your day off,” Richie said, and Eddie resisted the urge to call him on the touch of genuine emotion that had made its way into his voice.

“I made us breakfast,” he corrected. “I just had mine already. Now eat your toast before it gets cold.”

“Yessir,” Richie said, and he did, although he kissed Eddie very firmly on the mouth before he sat down.

 

Eddie drove, and he did not tell Richie where they were going. He let Richie choose the radio station, so long as it was music and not talk-shows. (I hear enough chatter at work, Richie said, and put on some golden oldies.)

“Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop,” Richie said, reading off the sign as he climbed out of their car. Eddie paused, his hand on the secondary steering knob that allowed him to drive one-handed, and made a mental note based on how much Richie had squinted at the sign, to get him to an optometrist in the near future.

“Huh,” Richie said, and Eddie smiled a little to himself, and turned off the car.

“You’re a smart guy,” Eddie said, joining him on the sidewalk. “I’m sure you can figure out the theme.”

“Aw, Eds,” Richie said, as he pulled open the door for the both of them, “was that a compliment?”

 

There was photo-copied art print on the wall; Eddie didn’t know enough about art to recognize the artist, but he knew the subject was St. Sebastian. Richie looked at it for a long time. Eddie came up behind him and set his hand in the small of his back.

“Alright?”

Richie startled a little at his hand, then seemed to take a moment to purposely compose himself. Eddie watched his eyes flicker to the quiet, unassuming man behind the cash register, and then away.

“Yeah,” Richie said. “I’m good.” His eyes tossed around again, and lighted on the discreet safe sex display.

“Oh!” he said, crossing over and pulling one of the pamphlets from its shelf. “Hey, I recognize this. You got it here?

“Yeah,” Eddie said, softly. “I came in here, completely panicked, and they helped me.”

“Oh,” Richie said. His hand ghosted down the back of Eddie’s arm, gripped his hand for a second, then fell away. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “I don’t know, I just…wanted you to see it, too. They have fiction –” He crossed to the bookshelf and tilted back a copy of Giovanni’s Room — “But I know you only like pulp shit, so they do have political and artsy stuff, too.”

“I do not like ‘pulp shit’,” Richie said. “Jeez, you’re mean sometimes.” But he was smiling, his lip twitching up, like he wanted to grin but wasn’t quite ready for it yet.

“Take a zine,” Eddie said, in lieu of arguing.

Richie accepted the folded paper. Across the front, it said, Gay is Good! and had a drawn image of two hands clasped. Eddie watched Richie just look at it for a long moment. Richie reached, almost self-consciously, to the little diamond stud in his right ear; he’d only had the piercing for a few weeks, but Eddie felt that there was no remaining soreness when he tugged it.

“How’d you find this place, Eds?”

Eddie smiled a little. “I – uh, I’ve actually known about it for a long time. In a kind of vague way, I guess. I didn’t go in until last month.” It had happened in a moment of need, of near-desperation; to prove to himself that he could love Richie and it wouldn’t hurt him.

Richie nodded to himself. “I want this,” he said, gripping the zine very carefully.

“Okay,” Eddie said, gently tugging in from his grip. “I’ll buy it for you. Do you want anything else?”

Richie shook his head, but Eddie knew they’d be back, and maybe next time they’d actually really look around. There were stories, books, that Eddie thought maybe Richie would like, even if they weren’t cheap sci-fi paperbacks.

Making his purchase, Eddie smiled at the man behind the register. “Hi, Eric,” he said.

“Nice to see you again, Eddie,” Eric said. “Find everything okay?”

Eddie could feel Richie hovering behind him, and smiled gently again at Eric so Richie could see that, too. “I did, thank you.”

“You ever have any questions, just ask. I’m here to help.” He’d said something like that to Eddie when Eddie had first come here, and Eddie had been so flustered. But then he’d found himself in front of a pamphlet telling him how to make love to another man, and the only thing he could think was Is this true? Please someone tell me what’s true, and Eric had been there, calm and gentle and with gray in his hair; wise and experienced.

“Thanks,” Eddie said, again. “We’ll be back in sometime, I’m sure.” They nodded to each other, a little knowing nod, and then they were out the door and onto the street, the zine carefully stowed in a little paper bag.

“Hold this,” Eddie said, and Richie did, very carefully, as Eddie unlocked the car and let them both in. He turned on the ignition, but before he could pull out of the spot, Richie reached out his hand across the cup holders between them. Eddie gripped it.

“You wanna go anywhere else, Rich?”

“Nah,” Richie said, and he brought Eddie’s hand up to his mouth and brushed his lips against Eddie’s knuckles. “I’m good. Let’s go home.”

“Home it is,” Eddie said, and then he waited for Richie to release him.

“Rich,” he said, after a long minute. “Uh – I need my hand.”

Richie blushed and dropped it. “God, sorry.”

Eddie reached up and brushed a few strands of hair back off Richie’s forehead. “It’s okay,” he said. The first time he’d come to the bookshop, he’d just sat in his car afterwards; completely in silence, the pamphlet sitting on the seat beside him. He’d needed space to just accept it. In the present, he rubbed fondly at the back of Richie’s neck; then he pulled his hand back and took them home.

 

 

“Did I ever thank you for taking me there?” Richie said, in the present safety of their living room. He leaned in close, closer, until he pressed his forehead into the curve of Eddie’s neck.

Not in so many words, but he had. “It’s a good place,” Eddie said. Friendly, and clean.

“Yeah,” Richie agreed, easily. Suddenly, he sat up, and then sprung to his feet. “C'mon, Eds. Get up. I’m not convinced you get it yet.”

Eddie got to his feet, and as soon as he did, Richie gripped his good hand, settling the other in the small of Eddie’s back.

“I don’t get what?” Eddie said. “I don’t get the inherent romance of slow-dancing to The Rolling Stones?”

“That too,” Richie said, solemnly, over the strains of ‘Wild Horses.’ He pulled Eddie close, and dragged both of them into a swaying back-and-forth that could be called a dance only very generously. “But I mean…every single one of those things I mentioned is special to me. Really! And yeah, it’s ‘cause they’re all things you did for me or things you let me do for you.”

“Romance isn’t a back-and-forth of service.”

Richie’s hand on his back held him steady and Richie dipped him, carefully; gently.

“Okay,” Richie said, and kissed him sternly on the lips. “You’re right. But Eds, wanting to take care of me – or me of you – isn’t bad and it certainly isn’t anything like your mother. It’s just…it’s normal. It’s part of love.” The blood was going to Eddie’s head; eventually Richie righted them both, and Mick Jagger drawled on in the background.

“It’s ‘cause we’re in this together, man,” Richie said. “Us against the world, Eds. I’ve never…well…I don’t know that I’ve ever loved someone enough to move across the country for them. But for you, it was easy. It made me happy to do that!”

Richie had held tight to Eddie’s waist as he dipped him; now he raised his hand to take up Eddie’s bad one, and pressed at his limp fingers. “It’s like…” he said, and Eddie thought about how Richie was so rarely hesitant in his speech, but he was always was when he talked about them, like he felt more than he could say. He felt more than he could say about Richie, too.

“All the songs,” Richie said, “About soulmates. They’re always going on about…loving although it hurts. It’s like they think the only thing that makes a soulmate is pain. But I’m trying to tell you that it doesn’t hurt. You’ve never hurt me.”

After one of his surgeries, when the pain medication had worn off, Richie had helped Eddie with his physical therapy, and they’d been so close and it’d hurt so much that Richie had cried. Eddie saw that in his mind a lot; Richie’s face, splotched red, his cheeks wet. In the months since they’d met each other again, he’d seen Richie cry so much more than he ever would’ve expected. It was terrifying, sometimes, that vulnerability; and a reminder of how closely their fates were intertwined.

“I’ve hurt you lots of times,” he said.

“Please don’t think that, Eds,” Richie said. “You haven’t. I swear to God you haven’t.” He pulled gently at Eddie’s arm, stretching it to its full length. As his elbow locked into place some of the lingering pain rippled through Eddie’s shoulder.

“If I didn’t want to feel this I would still be in California,” Richie said. “I am choosing to feel it because it’s part of you. And I love you more than this will ever hurt.”  

It was too much. “Because I go to the movies with you, even though you like stupid action flicks and bad horror sequels?”

Richie laughed, a little wetly. “Because of all those cheesy things I said. ‘Cause you’re gentle with me and you laugh at my jokes and you dance in the living room with me, and because I know you’d fight my dumb homophobic manager for my honor if I let you.”

Eddie smiled at that; he’d never met the man, but he would.

And because you’re my soulmate and you’re cute,” Richie said, and he grinned, and tilted his head back. “But. Mostly those other things. Does that answer your question, oh Edward?”

Eddie’s heart-rate was still uneven. He’d half-forgotten that it was his own challenge that had prompted all this; he’d asked Richie for all those words, but he didn’t know that he had the words to give in return. He’d never – he’d never been good at that; he’d never known the words to please Myra, or to comfort her. But Richie had just told him – just told him that it wasn’t about words and it wasn’t even about Richie thinking the universe intended them to love each other. It was about the things they did for each other, and he’d keep doing those things, he’d do them every day for the rest of their lives if God let him. If Richie really felt like that – and he knew, almost innately, that Richie would not lie to him about this – then maybe it was something that could be good for both of them.

He let out a little breath, and pressed both his hands to the sides of Richie’s face; even though his left one couldn’t grip, Richie could still feel the warmth of it, the pressure of it. Not perfect, but still there.

“Thank you,” he said quietly, and his right thumb brushed over the stubble on Richie’s chin and he pulled him down and opened his mouth to him; heat and movement and wetness. Richie’s glasses bumped awkwardly against his forehead and he laughed into Richie’s mouth, suddenly so happy it overwhelmed him. He pulled back only so much that their mouths were separate, their noses still touching.

“I love you,” Eddie said. He looked at Richie; his eyes were tightly closed, his cheeks flushed red. Eddie breathed a solemn breath; Richie’s eyes finally peeled open; they were dark with arousal. He looked a little dazed; it was very easy to daze Richie. At least – it was for Eddie.

“Yeah,” Richie said. “Love you, too, Eds, that’s what I’ve been saying—

“Shh,” Eddie said, pressing a finger to Richie’s lips. “No more talking.” He pulled Richie’s glasses off and folded them on top of their entertainment center, where they’d surely be forgotten, and he’d have to go fetch them for Richie since he was blind without them. Eddie smiled at the thought.

“I can’t say it as fancy as you,” Eddie said. “But I think I get it, now. I know you like this. I’ll show you, okay?” Service as an act of love? Sure, if it’s shared. I will show you, every single day.

Richie was already blushing, pink to the tips of his ears, his lips red from kissing. The arousal was growing in him, and in Eddie too, and there it was; the wave of shared passion that had scared him at first but that he welcomed, now. That he could feel what Richie felt – well! He understood why it could perhaps be seen as a blessing.

“From start to finish,” Eddie said, softly. “I’ll have you.” That was a line, an old one, from a black-and-white film about star-crossed-soulmates. Eddie pressed his hand to Richie’s chest, so he could hear how Richie’s heart picked up, when he said it.

“Yeah?” Richie whispered. “You already have me, Eds. I think you’ve had me for a long time.”

“That’s why the line is ‘start to finish’,” Eddie said. “But I don’t know that I’ll ever be finished.” Behind them, Richie’s record ran out; there was a small pop sound as the needle lifted away, and then they were just standing, pressed close, in the quiet of their living room.

“Okay,” Richie said, into the silence. His face was still very flushed. “Let’s keep going forever, then.”

“Forever,” Eddie agreed, softly. Once upon a time, that had been a terrifying word to him. Not now, though. He grabbed Richie’s hand in his own and entwined their fingers again. “Sounds good, Rich.” Sound like happiness. Sounds like love. I think I got my answer, even if I don’t understand it all, yet. Richie’s hand was warm in his grip, and that was his answer, right there – crystallized in touch. Eddie closed his eyes, and let himself feel it. Richie squeezed their hands together, and – Eddie choose it, right then and there. He decided it. Accept the love. Okay, then.

He smiled at Richie and Richie smiled back. In the end, maybe it could be as simple as that.