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the years go by like days

Chapter Text

This is more than some chemical reaction,
This is more than some young adult attraction,
I know, I know.
This is more than some blind infatuation,
This is more than a strong inclination,
I know, I know.

---

He is high on the sofa with a gaggle of strangers when Eddie finds him. "Time to go, asshole," Eddie says. Richie is surprised. He hasn't seen Eddie since he wandered away from his friends to find where the smell of weed was coming from. Eddie's cheeks are flushed a pretty, pleasant pink, and Richie doesn't realize he's staring at the soft, pretty edges of Eddie's blush until Eddie snaps his fingers in Richie's face.

He blinks. "What?"

"I have a curfew, remember?" Eddie says.

He looks at the girl to his left. She's got blonde bangs falling into her eyes, lipstick on her teeth, and a glossy, unfocused sheen in her gaze. He pats her affectionately on the thigh. "He has a curfew," he says. Her answer is merely a smile. He lurches to his feet.

It's lucky that Eddie is there, that Eddie can push his way through the crowds of people, and Richie can follow.

He doesn't really love these kinds of parties, but this one wasn't too bad.

He's happy to go if Eddie's ready to go, though.

He's startled by the cut of cool, crisp air when they escape onto the porch. It's quieter, too. He hadn't even realized how loud the inside of the house was. He pauses. The sky above is a black velvety blanket that's littered with pinpricks of bright white light.

"Seriously?" Eddie says. "Can you be high as a kite some other fucking time? My mom will kill me."

Richie's old, beat up 1978 Volvo station wagon is parked several blocks down the street. It's kind of nice, though, to walk in the cool, dark emptiness. Once they reach the car, it takes a minute of fumbling for Richie to find his keys, but he does, and he starts the car, and they get on the road at last.

"How high are you right now?" Eddie asks.

"I'm high," Richie says. "But you, Spaghetti man, are drunk." He grins.

"I had a drink." He can hear the scowl on Eddie's drunk, flushed face. "It was foul. That whole fucking party was foul. I just spent two hours in a petri dish of drunk, sweaty bodies. Why were we even there? Bill was invited. The rest of us were just tagging along to . . . what? Drink gross beer? Stand awkwardly around the kitchen of some random junior?"

"You're cute when you're drunk, Eds."

"Shut up, fuckface."

He glances at Eddie in delight. "Your mom likes fucking this face," he says.

Eddie leans over to punch him right in the kidneys.

"Fuck!"

He is driving at a crawl, so it shouldn't be a problem when he has to swerve for a cat. He thinks it's a cat. It could also be a leaf. Or it might have been a shadow. The point is that on a dark, empty road, Richie swerves suddenly, and the car ends up driving into the woods while Eddie screams until it bumps a tree, jerking to a stop.

There's a pause.

"What the fuck?" Eddie cries, clutching at the dashboard.

Richie bursts into laughter.

"You—I—" Eddie's face pales. "I'm going to be sick," he says, and he lurches for the door, shoving it open and leaning into the night, making a gross gagging noise.

"You doing okay over there, cutie?"

In reply, he gets a gasping, wheezing noise that's blended with half a cry, half a gag.

Richie is alarmed. "Eds?" He pats Eddie on the back, but Eddie flinches away. "Eds, can you breathe? Do you need your inhaler? Eds, are you dying?" Richie is completely, irrationally certain that Eddie is dying, and he scrambles to get an old, spare inhaler out of the console, and he has a fight with his seatbelt but manages at last to clamber out of the car, and around to Eddie, only to burst into laughter again.

Eddie is just dry heaving.

"Aw, Eds," he says, grinning.

"Shut up!"

"Eds, Eds, Eds," Richie says, falling to his knees in front of his friend, "my man!" He grabs at Eddie's knees.

"Don't call me that."

He'll think later that it was because he was high.

He was high, and, in that moment, it made him stare into Eddie's face, stare at the sweep of his eyelashes and the slant of his nose and the shape of his lips. He kisses him. He just pushes right into Eddie's face, and he kisses him.

Eddie shoves him away instantly. "What the fuck?" His eyes are almost comically owlish.

"Sorry," Richie says, lifting up his hands in apology. "Sorry, I—"

"I'm not gay!"

"I know!" He swallows. "I know. I'm sorry." He pauses. "You just—you look so cute." He grins like this is a joke. "Come on." His heart is beating way too fast, but he's pretty sure that's because the kids at the party had shared really good shit with him, and he's really, really high.

"You can't just go around kissing people," Eddie says, cross.

"I know."

"It isn't funny, Rich."

"Right." He makes his face as serious as possible. "It's fun, though. Right? Kissing, I mean." His gaze flickers down to Eddie's lips, and up again. Quickly. He hopes it was quickly.

Eddie is starting at him with glassy, confusing eyes. He's drunk. And, fuck, Richie knows Eddie, and he knows that Eddie probably thinks kissing is disgusting, because it's an exchange of gross bodily fluids, and spit is probably a carrier for millions of diseases, and if there's anyone Eddie wants to kiss, it isn't the guy who's literally called Trashmouth.

"I don't think kissing is disgusting," Eddie says.

"What?"

Eddie just stares at him.

"I should go back to my seat," Richie says. "Can't forget about that curfew. Right-o, chappie!"

But just when he's starting to push to his feet, Eddie grabs Richie by the t-shirt, yanks him forward, and slams his lips to Richie's in an angry, uncoordinated kiss. Richie flails awkwardly for a second, but he gets it together, and he gets a grip on Eddie's face, tilting his chin, and pulling away slightly to slow the kiss, to focus it.

"I'm not gay," Eddie says, gasping the words, and the heat of his breath is intoxicating.

"I know."

By seventeen, Richie has made out with a handful of girls.

It's never, ever been like this.

This is a fierce, opened-mouth mess from the start, is full of spit and teeth and harsh, ragged breaths. Eds, Richie thinks. He slips his tongue into Eddie's mouth, sliding it along Eddie's tongue, and tasting the dozens of mints that Eddie must have chewed after drinking a beer. Eddie. Eddie grips fistfuls of Richie's shirt, and he grips at his arm, at his sides, at his back. Richie is intoxicated. He brushes his thumb against Eddie's pretty pink cheek, and he shifts up slightly out of the ditch, into the car, and Eddie is shifting, too, hugging Richie closer.

He's never, ever wanted a kiss as much as he's wanted kissing Eddie.

He wants to push his hand into Eddie's hair. He wants to climb on top of Eddie, wants to kiss his throat and tug off his shirt and bite his collarbone. He wants to rub his dick against Eddie's thigh until he's coming in his pants.

He's already as hard as a rock. He's seventeen, okay? He gets a stiffy when there's a nice, strong breeze.

He doesn't know how long has passed when they break apart, panting. Eddie's lips are too red, too plump. Richie watches Eddie wipe the spit off his face with the back of his hand.

It's quiet.

Make a joke, Richie thinks. Use a voice. Make him laugh.

"If I'm late, my mom will call the police," Eddie says.

"Right." He nodded. "Can't have Ms. K worrying!" He plasters a grin to his feet and surges to his feet. He forgets, though, that he's halfway into the car, and he slams his head into the roof of the car. "Fuck!" He stumbles backwards unsteadily.

"Shit," Eddie says.

"I'm fine!" He winces. "I'm fine!" He circles the car, tripping on something only twice, and gets in again. "O—kay." He blows out a breath. "Let's blow this pop stand!"

"Hold on." Eddie leans over to inspect Richie's head. "I'm not letting you drive with severe brain damage."

Richie is silent. Eddie's fingers comb in his hair. He winces at the press of soft, cold fingers to the bump in his head.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Eddie asks.

"Eleven." He grins. "Get it? Eleven? 'Cause you're holding up two, and it looks like—"

"Just take me home, asshole," Eddie says, slumping back against his seat again.

It takes a minute for Richie to reverse his way back onto the road, but he manages, and he starts slowly down the road again to Eddie's.

They don't really talk on the drive.

Mrs. Kaspbrak is waiting on the porch for them in the warm yellow glow of the single porch light. The door is open at her back, allowing the chord of the phone to follow her, and she's got the phone to the ear. She lowers it, though, when Richie pulls to a stop outside the house, and Eddie sighs loudly at the sight of her, closing his eyes for a moment, and swallowing visibly.

"You want me to revv it?" He hits the gas with the car in park. "Get the hell out of here?"

Eddie just shakes his head. "If she doesn't kill me, I'll see you at school." He opens the door of the car.

Before Richie can think of something to say in reply, Eddie has slammed the door of the car and is gone, crossing the yard to his mother and disappearing into the house.

---

Richie doesn't actually know when he started to hang out alone with Eddie. They had been friends for years. But for a lot of those years, they only hung out together with the rest of their friends.

Stanley the manly was always Richie's number one. Eddie, though. Eddie could give it as good as he got it, and that made him worth keeping around. He didn't just roll his eyes like Stan, or laugh softly like Bill. He fired right back.

Richie got Eddie a box of fishing bait worms for his birthday when they were twelve because "exposure to germs helps build up immunity, Eds!" and, in response, Eddie got Richie a bar of soap for his birthday to use on his hands, his face, or his filthy fucking mouth.

He could always count on Eddie for a laugh.

And when they were made lab partners in biology their freshmen year, they started to hang out more.

("If our frog's a dude, where's the dick?" Richie asks, prodding at the insides of the frog.

Eddie has a hand over his eyes. "It should be easy for you to find," he says. "You have to find the super tiny dick in your pants every time you want to take a piss."

"Yowza!" Richie says, laughing.)

At first, they were hanging out because they needed to work on assignments for lab.

They started doing other things, too until suddenly it was normal for them to hang out alone. They read comics together, watched TV together, went to the arcade together, and Richie took some hand sanitizer from Eddie when he offered it, because, sure, he could believe controllers at the arcade were fucking nasty.

They were fourteen, and they were friends.

Richie got a lot of nightmares at fourteen.

(He's taken by It, but nobody comes looking for him. They don't know, or they don't care. He manages to escape, and he sees Stan, but Stan doesn't even know him, has forgotten him, and It is back, is dragging him down into the sewers again, and he screams and screams and screams, but nobody is listening to him, and Eddie sees Richie, but he stares blankly while Richie is dragged off.

Nobody cares about the weird, uncoordinated boy who makes dumb voices.)

He told Eddie about the nightmares. He had to. Eddie would listen, and Eddie would make Richie look at him, and Eddie would reassure him. It would never get you. We would never forget you. I would never abandon you. Richie didn't know why, but, of everyone, talking to Eddie was always the easiest.

By sixteen, the nightmares were starting to fade.

And, still, Eddie was his friend. Eddie was pretty fucking great, okay? They were friends. Just. Always. Best. Friends.

---

At seventeen, they kiss, and he has no idea what it means.

---

It isn't something they really talk about. But now that they've started, they can't seem to stop. It becomes a thing: if they're alone, they're making out.

At Richie's, they're watching a movie, and it's easy, normal. They're friends. But then the credits are rolling, and it's dark, and they're sitting right beside each other on the sofa, and, in a blink, they're kissing. Eddie straddles Richie. Richie gets his hands under Eddie's shirt, and they're kind of humping each other, swearing under their breath.

("What are we doing?" Eddie asks, breathless.

"Kissing."

"We shouldn't be."

"Relax, Eds. It's fun. Can't we just have fun without you policing it?" He tilts his head, and he starts a line of hot, open-mouthed kisses down Eddie's neck.

"Don't call me that," Eddie says, fisting a hand in Richie's hair, and pressing in closer.)

They kiss in the Richie's after an evening at Bill's until Richie actually comes in his pants, which makes Eddie groan in disgust.

At Mike's, Stan has to look at a bird, and Mike has to show him where the bird is, and Ben likes birds, too. Or something. The point is that Richie finds himself alone with Eddie, and, sure, Eddie is glaring at him because Richie got hay in Eddie's hair, and Eddie swats Richie's hand away when Richie tries to rectify the situation, and he swears at him, and he ends up pulling him closer, and they make out against the side of the barn like the randy, desperate fuckers they are.

("Your breath smells like fucking death," Eddie says.

"Thanks," Richie says, breathing a hot, stinky breath into Eddie's face, and making Eddie shove him away in disgust.)

They are meant to study for exams at Eddie's, but Richie gets Eddie under him on the bed, and they kiss and kiss and kiss.

Richie's feels Eddie grow hard.

He isn't high or drunk or hiding in the dark when he reaches down between their bodies, palming Eddie through his trousers. "You want a hand with that?" he murmurs. He keeps a grin on his face, and he's ready to let the rejection roll right off his shoulders if Eddie tells him to fuck off.

"Depends," Eddie says, breathless. "When was the last time you washed your hands?"

Richie's grin widens, because he's going to take that for a yes, and he gets his hand down Eddie's pants, gets Eddie's dick in his dirty, unwashed hand, and he jerks him off.

He blows his wad, too, pretty soon after, humping Eddie shamelessly while Eddie pants against his neck.

Mrs. Kaspbrak is ready to glare at Richie as soon as he comes down the stairs. "Hey, Mrs. K!" he says, cheerful. She can hate him as much as she likes, but it won't change the fact that Richie's grubby hands just had their way with her precious, perfect son, and he plans to do it again and again and again.

---

They don't ever talk about it, but Richie thinks about it. He's into girls, he knows. Until he started getting Eddie on the regular, the time he got to squeeze Carry Wilder's tits over her sweater while they were swapping spit at a party on the Fourth of July was probably the highlight of his life.

But he's into Eddie, too. He's really, really into Eddie. He can't get enough of Eddie.

He stares at his parents at dinner, and he wishes he could just bring the subject up with them. Hey, Mom, I like girls, so I think I'm straight. Right? But, also, I like boys, so I think I'm gay. Is that possible? Can I be a both, Dad? Is that a thing that can happen? Of course, he'd rather stab himself with a fork than actually say anything to either of them.

He thinks about it, though.

---

Outside of the kisses they share in secret, Richie can safely say they remain what they have always been. Friends.

It's a regular Friday thing for the Losers to go to Blockbuster for movies they'll stay up watching for hours. Even after school has started up again, they continue to do it. On a Friday in September, Richie buys candy at the counter, wastes a couple of minutes arguing about movies with Stan, and goes looking for Eddie at last, finding him looking at the horror movie selection

He throws an arm around Eddie's shoulders. "What's your pick?"

"If I knew my pick," Eddie says, testy, "I would have brought it up to the counter."

Richie grins and grabs a movie for him. "There." He laughs when Eddie elbows him in the chest. "Come on! You know you're going to pick it anyway!" Eddie is predictable about movies.

He has some weird obsession with Nightbreed. It isn't a slasher, or a proper horror movie in any possible way. But, admittedly, it's fun to watch it for the sake of mockery.

"Are you going to kill him or not?" Richie asks, using the high, nasally voice of Narcisse in the movie, and flaring his nostrils in imitation of him, tilting his head. "Only I want his balls! And his eyes! Unless you want them?"

"I will punch you in the face," Eddie says flatly.

"Look!" There's laughter from down the aisle. "The fairies are picking a movie for their date!"

Richie just makes a face at the jocks, and turns away pointedly. "Come on." He touches Eddie's shoulder.

"Don't," Eddie says, jerking his shoulder away with a kind of violence.

There's another bout of laughter at his back when Richie watches Eddie stalk away from him.

They don't really talk on the drive to Bill's.

At the house, everyone has to pile in tightly to see the screen. Richie assumes Eddie is going to avoid being squashed in next to Richie. He may have wanted to. But they tend to sit the same way every single week: Bill always gets the recliner, and Ben always makes a mountain of pillows for himself on the floor, Mike always gets the big poufy chair, and Stan, Eddie, and Richie always share the sofa. To put it plainly, Eddie is forced to sit with Richie.

Richie is careful to keep his hands to himself. It's impossible to resist the temptation of talking, though. He keeps up a running, whispered commentary on the movies that's just for Eddie's ears, making a lot of jokes in a lot of new, terrible voices. It works. After a while, Eddie is smiling, and laughing, and joining in.

He dozes off in the middle of movie number three. In sleep, he's softer, somehow, and he's a warm, trusting weight against Richie's side. It's nice.

In the morning, they have to get up at the crack of dawn to pile into cars again. Richie isn't big on getting up early, but he has to show his support. Ben joined track when they were freshmen, and he convinced Eddie to join when they were sophomores, and the Losers are always in the stands when the meets are at home. Ben's still get some heft on him, but he's tall now, too, big and strong and fast. And, of course, Eddie's always been a speedy little spitfire.

Before the events have even started, Richie is hollering at the top of his lungs. "Work it, Eds!" He cups his hands around his mouth. "WORK THOSE SHORTS!" He strikes a pose to demonstrate. See? Supportive.

In reply, Eddie flips Richie off with both hands.

Mrs. Kaspbrak is there to support her son, too, of course.

She's made it clear that she does not approve of his decision to join the team, but he refused to listen to her opinion. He still has asthma attacks occasionally, born of panic. He isn't asthmatic, though, and he knows that now, and he can run without fucking keeling over. And, actually, he can run really, really fast. Richie was there when Eddie told his mother that if she really loved him, she would just support his interest in track, and it seemed to have struck a nerve with her, because she buys him what he needs for it and she comes to his meets and she supports him.

On that particular, rainy morning, she's got an eye on Richie from the start.

He waves. She purses her lips at him. He ignores her happily for the rest of the meet.

Eddie wins the 300-meter hurtle. He wins! Richie almost falls off the bleaches in his excitement, screaming and cheering and jumping around wildly. He won! He smoked the rest of those slow motherfuckers! He looks at the bleachers after, panting, and clutching at his knees, and when he makes eye contact with Richie, Richie goes berserk, and Eddie fucking beams at him.

To make it the best fucking day ever, Ben wins the 800-meter dash right after.

The moment the meet is over, they jump the boys.

They hug them, and slap their backs, passing them around to give them hug after hug after hug.

Richie spanks Ben in celebration.

It's Eddie he wants to get a hold of, though, and he does, tucking him under his arm, and ruffling his hair, making him laugh. He's startled when Eddie looks at him with such happy, shining eyes. And, for a split-second, he's tempted to kiss him right then, right there in front of everyone.

He wants to. Badly. He doesn't.

He leans in, instead, and he smacks a loud, wet kiss to Eddie's cheek, punctuating it with a "mwah!" He does it again and again. "I'm so proud of my little Eds Spagheds!" he exclaims.

"Get off me!" Eddie says, laughing and shoving him away, swatting at his hands. "You're such a piece of shit! Get off!"

If Eddie was mad at him earlier, he's very clearly over it now.

"Eddie!" calls Mrs. Kaspbrak.

"I'm going to breakfast with my friends, Ma!" Eddie says, quick. "I'll see you later!" He starts almost herding the group towards the cars, and they know why, that he wants to escape Mrs. K before she can insist that he needs to rest after that exertion, and they are happy to help.

---

He finds Ben working in the back of the library. "Haystack, my man!" He drops into a seat across from him.

"Don't you have calculus right now?" Ben asks.

"I got kicked out. I can't remember what precisely Mrs. Patrowski said, but something like this isn't comedy hour, Mr. Tozier, or some such thing. I think the word impertinent might have been thrown in there. Whatever. No wuckin' furries, mate! What are you up to in here? Some nerd shit?"

Bens holds up a book to show the cover.

"She's Come Undone," Richie says. "That looks . . ."

"It's good."

"You have weird tastes, man."

He shrugs. "It's kind of depressing, but it makes you think. I think Bev would really like it."

"Bev?" Richie can't help his surprise.

"Yeah. I keep a list of books I think she'd like. Just, you know. We used to exchange book recommendations a lot. It's habit."

"Shit," Richie says, "I haven't thought about Bev in, like, years."

(The thought of Bev makes him think of the sewers, of the bodies that floated, of a clown. It. He suppresses a shiver. Fuck. He hasn't thought about It in a long, long time.)

"She never did come to visit, did she?"

"We were keeping up with each other for a while," Ben says. "But we both got busy, and—stuff. It's hard to keep in touch when you're just writing letters." He drops his gaze to his book, and Richie's struck suddenly with sympathy for Ben.

"You really had it bad for her, didn't you? I mean, I know everybody kind of had a thing for Bev. But you really, really had a thing."

"She was cool."

He nods. "She was."

"I thought we might be able to meet up once," Ben says. "In Chicago. My uncles live nearby, and when I went to visit them over the summer, I thought I could maybe take the train into the city to see her, and we could go to the Chicago Pride Parade, and maybe see some of the museums, or something. I wrote her about it. It didn't work out, though."

"Sorry."

"It's okay. Chicago was cool."

"Fuck, yes," Richie says. "That's where my fucking awesome keychain is from." He pulls his keys from his pocket to display that keychain that reads my friend went to Chicago, and all I got was this lousy keychain.

"I'm glad you like your totally original, obviously expensive gift," Ben says.

"I appreciate high quality, Benjamin." He tips his chair back until it tips, spinning the keys on his finger. "You didn't really go to a museum, though, right?"

"I went to three."

"Haystack."

"The Art Institute was actually really great. My uncles loved it, too. And I just went to the Pride Parade with them, so the trip really was a lot of fun."

"I take it I'm supposed to know what the Pride Parade is?"

"You know." Ben tilts his head like that's supposed to make it clear. "The Pride Parade. Chicago's Gay Pride Parade. It's the huge deal. You've really never even heard of it? Happens every year. People get dressed up, there's music, and it's just, you know, to celebrate.

"Right." He stares. "To celebrate . . . gay people?"

"It's fun."

"Are you . . .?" He raises his eyebrows.

"Gay?" Ben says. "No. My uncles are gay, though, and I support them."

Richie is kind of floored.

"Is that okay with you?" Ben asks.

He blinks. "Yeah. Sure, yeah. I mean, I haven't been to any parades lately, but I'm cool with—everybody." He shrugs. He kind of wishes he hadn't gotten them into this conversation.

"Good."

"Mr. Hanscom." It's the librarian. "Mr. Tozier." She puts a hand on her hip. "Are we studying over here, or are we talking?"

"We're actually just leaving now," Ben says, smiling, and standing, starting to pack up.

She leaves, and Ben watches her leave, glances at Richie, and, covertly, unzips the front of his backpack just slightly for Richie to see the pack of cigarettes hiding inside. "I could go for some fresh air right about now." He smiles. "What about you?"

"Haystack, Haystack, Haystack," Richie says, grinning. "My man."

They spend the rest of the period smoking behind the school.

"If you were gay, I would be okay with it," Richie says. "For the record." He blows the smoke from his mouth.

"For the record?" Ben says.

Richie turns his head lazily to look at him.

"If you were gay, I would be okay with it." He smiles.

"Cool," Richie says.

This is the part where he should say that isn't, where he should make a joke about how many ladies at school have enjoyed his wang, or how the defense calls Eddie's mom to the stand to testify on behalf of his dick.

"Do you want to hear a voice I'm working on?" he says.

"Hit me."

"Awesome." He stubs his cigarette on the ground. "Ready? It's French. I hope you like wee wee jokes."

---

Richie smiles when Mrs. K opens the door to him. "It's Sunday," she says, a hand on her hip. She fills the whole fucking door, blocking his entrance.

"The day of rest, I know," Richie says. "Try telling that to our teachers, though." He shakes his head.

"What do you want?"

"Oh." He blinks. "I'm here to work with Eddie on a project for physics. He didn't tell you about it? He's expecting me. You can check with him." He frowns. "Is he feeling down today? I can just come in quickly, and grab the stuff for it, do it for both of us."

She narrows her eyes. "Wait." She closes the door in her face.

The door opens again pretty quickly. "—going to make him do it by himself!" Eddie says. He turns to Richie with a look of exasperation. "Come on, Rich. We can work on it in my room."

Richie follows Eddie up the stairs.

"You know," Eddie says, closing the door of his bedroom, "one of these days my mom is going to call the school to complain about the amount of projects I'm assigned, and the jig is going to be up, because she's going to realize I haven't been assigned any projects in physics." He sits at his desk.

Richie toes off his shoes before climbing onto the bed. "I had to get out of my house. I think I've filled out an application to every fucking school in America, and my dad has more for me."

"Seriously? You've already applied to, like, twenty different schools."

"I know!"

"Have you picked which you'll actually go to?"

He scoffs. "I have to get in somewhere first," he says.

"Is that a joke?"

"What?"

"You're going to get in everywhere, dumbass," Eddie says. "You don't even have to try, and you ace every single class. What's your GPA? 5.0? And your handwriting is shit, but I've read your papers before, and you can write, like, surprisingly well, so I bet all of your essays are awesome, too."

"Well, I declare," Richie says, slapping a hand to his chest, "you are making me blush. Keep it up, and I'll be fixin' to give you a kiss, cutie." He bats his eyes at Eddie.

"Something in your eye, Rich?" Eddie says, unimpressed.

Richie grins. "What about you?" he asks. "You never talk about where you're applying."

Eddie's face changes with that. "I'm not really applying anywhere right now," he says, busying himself rummaging in his desk for something.

"What?" Richie is surprised. "You aren't even going to apply to anywhere?"

"What's the point?" He looks at Richie. "I'm going to end up at Eastern Maine. My mom's already started talking about how she is saving to buy me a car for the commute." He shrugs.

"Eddie, no," Richie says.

"Richie."

"You can't just go to the closest community college, and commute!" He's incredulous. "Come on! Don't you want to get out of here?! Get away from your mother?"

"Obviously," Eddie scoffs, "but—"

"But?!"

"It isn't that easy! You know how my mom is. And I have been thinking about trying to apply to a couple of schools in New York."

"You should!" Richie says. "I'm applying to NYU."

"Really?"

"I'm applying basically everywhere, remember? You should apply to some in New York. We could go to New York together! Or, wait, you have to apply to some schools in California, too. You want me to bring over some of the brochures from UCLA? It's probably my number one choice right now."

"California?" Eddie says, doubtful.

"Cowabunga!"

Eddie just shakes his head. "My mother would never let me go to California."

But the more that Richie thinks about it, the better the whole idea seems. He hadn't really wanted to admit to himself how much he wanted to go to UCLA in case he was rejected, but he really does want to, and if Eddie was going, too? It would be the most fucking awesome thing ever.

"If she even hears you talking about me going to California, she'll handcuff me to my bed."

"Kinky."

"Beep, beep, Richie."

"You have to apply at least," Richie says. "You don't have to tell her about it. Just think about it. The both of us in California? It would be the bomb, Spaghetti man!

"I'll—" Eddie sighs. "I'll think about it."

"Good."

"Now can we stop talking about fucking college applications, and talk about this?" He holds up the X-Men Vol. 2, #37 comic.

"Shit!" Richie's eyes widen. "Is that Generation Next? Fuck, yes! FINALLY! Have you started it yet?"

"I just got it." Eddie joins Richie on the bed. "I was waiting for you."

They read it side by side, lying on their stomachs, and they have a way of reading it: reading a page in silence, exclaiming at the twists, and arguing over characterizations, tossing around predictions, and flipping the page to read the next in silence.

They finish this comic pretty quickly.

"Fuck," Richie says. "That's it?! I need more now!"

"It was good," Eddie says.

Richie just flops onto his back in frustration. At the quiet that follows, he looks at Eddie, and sees that Eddie is looking at him. He opens his mouth, only to forget what he was going to say when Eddie pushes onto his elbow, and reaches to remove Richie's glasses.

Richie goes still.

There is something weirdly intimate to Eddie taking his glasses off his face so easily, so casually. It makes Richie's heard beat stupidly faster. Eddie has demanded that Richie hand over his glasses for Eddie to clean plenty of times in the past, but he's never just taken them right off Richie's face.

And, today, he doesn't start wiping off the smudges.

He turns, stretches, and places them carefully on the stand by his bed. "They always get in the way," he explains. He scoots back close to Richie, and he touches his face, leaning in.

It's a slow, gentle kiss.

Richie's hand shakes slightly when he reaches up to touch Eddie's side, to slip his hand under Eddie's t-shirt, and run his hand up the soft, smooth skin of Eddie's back.

Eddie's got fucking soft skin, okay?

The slow, gentle kiss turns dirty. Eddie presses closer. Richie slides his hand down again, into Eddie's pants, and squeezes his ass. Eddie's breath hitches slightly against Richie's mouth. Richie isn't going to ignore the stiffy that's poking his thigh, though, and he shifts, because he's right-handed, and he isn't about to give Eddie some half-assed, left-y handjob.

"Wait, wait, wait." Eddie's hand grabs Richie's wrist. "Sit up."

"I've got my hand on your dong, and you're telling me to wait?" He raises his eyebrows.

"Did you just call my dick a dong? Seriously? How the fuck old are you?"

In reply, Richie just squeezes Eddie's dick.

"Fuck. Here. Wait." He unbuttons Richie's trousers to reach in, to take Richie's dick in his hand. "Now—" He meets Richie's gaze, starts to smile, and gives him a hot, messy kiss.

They jerk each other off together.

It's the best fucking that thing that's ever happened to Richie.

They pant into each other's mouths on Eddie's small, neatly made bed with soft, yellow morning sunshine coming in through the window, grunting, and swearing, hands down each other's pants.

Richie knows when he's about to come, but he'll be damned if he comes without Eddie. He surges in closer to kiss Eddie sloppily, and he tilts his head, presses his mouth to Eddie's neck, and bites. It works: Eddie makes the hottest fucking noise before he's coming, and Richie is coming, too.

Eddie has baby wet wipes for them to clean up with after.

He changes into fresh, clean shorts, too. Richie gets an eyeful of his pale little ass. Even as blind as he is without his glasses, the sight is enough to make him half hard again.

"How the fuck do you get these so dirty?" Eddie asks.

He blinks. "What?"

Eddie is cleaning his glasses. "Doesn't it bother you having to look through dirty finger print smudges to see?" He's smiling, though, when he hands them back to Richie.

And when Richie looks at him, he thinks, I'm taking you to California with me. It's decided. There's no way he's leaving this perfect human being to rot in Derry, Maine, with his crazy, overbearing mother.

---

He ends up applying to UCLA for Eddie. He has to. The deadline is earlier than most, and whenever he brings up the subject, Eddie just brushes him off. "I don't have the money for the application," he says. "I don't think I'd even get in, Rich," he says. "My mom cried when she found the application for CUNY York College," he says. It's really just easier for Richie to do it himself.

He spends more time writing the essay than he spent on any of the essays for his own, twenty-something applications.

He forges Eddie's signature, and he mails it.

---

Eddie is holed up with his mother for most of the gray, snowy break from school.

Richie is left to have a quiet, boring Christmas with his parents, to bother Stan when he can, and to keep a list in his head of jokes he's going to regale Eddie with when they return to school.

He sees Eddie down the hallway at school, cups his hand to his mouth, and screams his name.

Eddie just flips him the bird.

He's in a mood.

At lunch, Bill asks Eddie how his break was.

"Depressing," Eddie says, unwrapping his sandwich. "My mom couldn't stop talking about AIDS coming to Derry. She was relentless. How the fuck is AIDS going to come to Derry?" He shakes his head.

"Remember that time you got a splinter at the lake," Richie says, "and your mother had you tested for STDs?"

"For a splinter?" Ben says.

"Let's talk about something else," Eddie says, sour. "Please."

---

They're at Richie's when it happens. It's a Sunday. Rainy. Richie is making a mixtape for Mike. Eddie is sprawled on his bed, doing his reading for English, and offering occasional commentary on the music.

"How did you manage to finish this book in an afternoon?" Eddie asks. "I can't read more than a page without falling asleep."

"Fortitude," Richie says, breezy.

Eddie huffs softly in reply.

It makes Richie look at him, and once he's looking at him, it's hard to look away again. He's twisted every which way on the bed in the hour that he's been trying to read, and he's wound up lying on his back with his feet on the backboard. His shirt has ridden up slightly, and his hair is curling from when he was caught in the rain on his way over earlier, and his shorts are way too short.

Richie's eyes travel along the lines of Eddie's small, pale thighs.

Eddie's a runner, and it shows.

Richie wants suddenly to touch Eddie's thighs, to feel the muscles flexing under his hands.

He's been having these kinds of thoughts a lot lately. He doesn't just want to kiss Eddie, or get him off. He wants to touch him. He wants to play with his hair, wants to run his hands along the smooth, taught skin of his stomach, wants to kiss the freckles on the tops of his shoulders.

He wants to fuck him, too. He has that dream a lot, actually. He just wants more, and he wants it with Eddie. If that makes him gay, fine. He's gay.

"Fine." Richie sighs dramatically. "I'll save you."

"Save me?"

Richie pushes back from his desk, and starts to head for the bed. "The things I do for you, honestly," he says. He climbs onto the bed, throwing a leg over Eddie's hip to straddle him.

"No," Eddie says, shaking his head. "Nope. I have to finish this book.

"I'll tell you how it ends." He leans in for a kiss.

Eddie shoves his hand in Richie's face. Richie has to lick it, okay? Eddie makes a cute little noise of disgust, pulling a face, and yanking his hand away to wipe it on Eddie's shirt.

Richie is inspired. His grin starts slow, and Eddie sees it, understands it. His eyes widen with the start of a protest, but Richie is already lunging forward to lick a wet, messy stripe up the side of Eddie's face.

"You disgusting, fat-tongued—!"

Richie just laughs, and blows a loud, spit-slick raspberry into Eddie's cheek while Eddie struggles under him. "What's the matter, Eds?" He sticks his tongue in Eddie's ear.

"Get that THING out of my EAR!"

"I can stick my tongue down your throat, but I can't put it in your ear?"

Eddie gets wise, and jabs a hand in Richie's armpit, making him jump, and loosening his hold, and Eddie's able to flip them over, swatting at Richie's grabby, eager hands.

"Aw, cutie," Richie says. "If you wanted to be on top, you could've just asked!"

"You are the bane of my existence," Eddie says, matter-of-fact.

Richie grins. It's been weeks since they've done this, since they've been alone, and able to touch. Ever since they got back from winter break, Eddie's been busy. Now, though? He brushes his hand up Eddie's thigh. "Want me to make it up to you?" he asks. His fingers sneak easily under the edge of Eddie's little sporty shorts.

"I want to read my book."

"You don't want me to lick your hand or your face or you ear," he continues. "What about your dick?" He grins.

Eddie's face freezes. "What? You—you aren't serious right now."

"Am, too," Richie says. "I want to."

"You want to—"

"Blow your pretty little dick? Yup. Don't look at me like that, Eds. I'll do it. I'll blow you."

"Stop." Eddie says the word so sharply it cuts. "That's—" Eddie isn't reacting like Richie had though he would. He is shaking his head, is scrambling off Richie. He can't even look at Richie. "That's so fucking gay, Richie."

"Eds—"

"Don't call me that!" His chest is rising too quickly. "Don't—"

"I'm sorry."

Eddie tears across the room, and searching desperately through the drawers of Richie's desk, and he finds it. An inhaler. He shoves it into his mouth, closing his eyes, and breathing in desperately.

Richie doesn't know what to do, what to say. "Did I miss something?" he asks.

"You missed the part where I'm not fucking gay!"

"Right," Richie says. "Eddie, what the fuck is the matter with you? Why are you acting like this? I thought—"

"You were wrong," Eddie says. "Okay? You were wrong. Just because we've made out before, doesn't mean—" He clenches his jaw, unclenches it. "That was just us being fucking horny and desperate and stupid, and it's over," Eddie says. "It's over. I'm not some dirty queer. Got it?"

Richie is stunned. "Got it." His chest is burning with a cocktail of feelings he can't even begin to process. "Here." He tosses Eddie's book at him. "You should probably finish at home. I don't want to distract you." He doesn't wait for Eddie to spit something else awful at him. "I have to—" he starts, and doesn't bother finishing, opening the door of his bedroom, and leaving, making a beeline for the bathroom, and slamming the door shut behind him.

He catches his gaze in the reflection.

What the fuck?

He runs the faucet for a moment, staring at the rush of water. He splashes his face with some. The cold is biting, and he grabs for a towel, drying off quickly, and breathing into the towel.

After a couple of minutes, he emerges from the bathroom. Eddie is gone. He left in such a hurry, he forgot his Walkman.

---

He smokes a lot that afternoon. If his parents notice that he's super fucking high at dinner, they don't say anything. He kind of wishes they would.

---

He goes to Eddie's to talk to him. He needs to tell him that he's sorry he came on way too strong, that he thought they were kind of going down that road, but he can put the brakes on if Eddie isn't comfortable. He rehearses the speech in his head.

Mrs. K won't let him into the house.

He sees past her to where Eddie sits on the living room floor, watching the TV, and his back is to Richie, but there's no way he can't hear Richie. Something in Richie's insides flips unpleasantly. He leaves without trying to push his way past Mrs. K, though he's done it before, and he knows he can. If Eddie doesn't want him there, he's not going to push his way in. The whole drive home, he can't stop seeing Eddie's rigid back. Eddie might like messing around with him, but he doesn't want more than that. And, eventually, he's going to get bored of even that, and decide he doesn't want anything with Richie.

Richie wonders if that time has already come, and Eddie is done with him.

---

He decides he'll cut ties first. He's tired of having to pretend he isn't actually into Eddie, of having to pretend he believes there's something wrong with him for wanting to be with Eddie, for wanting to kiss him and blow him and love him. If Eddie doesn't want Richie, then Richie doesn't want Eddie.

He can't avoid Eddie entirely, of course.

Instead, he ignores him.

He doesn't sit beside him in class, or stop by his locker to make a crack about his mother. He jokes with Stan and Bill and Ben at lunch, and is careful to keep his gaze from wandering to Eddie. He spends his afternoon at Ben's, and doesn't really acknowledge when Eddie shows up with Bill to watch a movie.

It takes about a week for Eddie to corner him at his locker.

"You're seriously just going to ignore me forever?" Eddie says, glaring.

"Sorry, Kaspbrak." His voice is steady, emotionless. "I thought I was doing you a favor." He can't look at Eddie, though. "I figured you didn't want to hang out with some dirty queer like me."

"Rich," Eddie says, quiet.

Richie just slams his locker shut again, and passes him. He hates that he wants to cry. He hears footsteps chase after him, and he's ready to jerk away from the hand that grabs at his arm, only it isn't Eddie who's grabbed him.

Stan pulls Richie to the side. "What the hell?" he breathes.

"What?"

"I heard you talking to Eddie." Stan's eyes are wide with disbelief. "Did he really say that to you?"

Richie can't meet his gaze. "Basically."

That starts a rollercoaster of shit, of course. Stan is pissed. He tells Bill about it right after English with Richie in tow, and Bill insists Eddie would never, ever say that, but Ben says that, well, Eddie is kind of like that sometimes.

At lunch, Stan confronts Eddie.

In that moment, Richie is unable to look at any of them.

"I didn't say that," Eddie says.

"Really? Then why has Richie been ignoring you for a week?"

"We got in a fight. Yes. But I never said Richie—"

"Richie isn't a liar," Stan hisses. "He said you said it. What's the matter with you?"

"I didn't say it!" His voice is hot with indignation. "Rich! Tell them—" He stops, and some of the fire leaves him. "Tell them I didn't say that to you," he says, swallowing.

Richie has to look at him. "Okay." He sniffs. "You're right." He looks at Stan. "He didn't say that to me. But I'm sure Eddie wouldn't want me tell you what actually happened, what he actually said. Or am I wrong, Kaspbrak? Do you want to tell them, or should I?"

Eddie is silent.

"S-someone tell us," Bill says.

"Forget it." Richie pushes up from the table, grabbing his lunch. "It's not worth it."

Stan follows him.

"I didn't mean to lie to you." Richie leans against his car, lighting a cigarette, and avoiding actually looking at Stan. "I just . . ." He shakes his head. "He didn't say it, but it's what he meant."

"Tell me what happened," Stan says.

He takes a drag. "He didn't say I was some dirty queer." He blows the smoke out again. "He said that he wasn't. This was right after I said I wanted to blow him, because I like kissing him and I like touching him and I like jerking him off, and I like him, and I thought he liked me, too, and I thought—" He cuts himself off, because he's said more than enough.

He realizes that he's completely fucking terrified.

What is Stan going to think?

Stan rocks on his heels for a second before leaning over suddenly to hug him.

Richie is startled. But. "Stan the man." He clears his throat. "Is that a pencil in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

Stan laughs, and pulls away awkwardly, shoving at Richie.

He never asks Richie if he's gay.

Richie's glad.

He is what he is, and Stan? Stan gets it. He never should have worried it would be any different.

They spend the whole weekend just dicking around. They play Stan's boring ass games on his DS for hours, giving each other a lot of shit, and falling to sleep on the sofa in front of the TV to the tinny, repetitive tune of a game. They listen to records. They drive to the Barrens, and he lights up while Stan watches his birds. And, for the weekend, Richie is distracted.

(Your memories are your own, and nobody should be able to take them from you, to make you forget the people who made you who you are, who loved you when you didn't love yourself.

It really was a piece of shit.)

Bill calls Richie a couple of times on Sunday, but Maggie, thankfully, understands the wild, cutting gestures that Richie makes at her, and she tells Bill that Richie can't come to the phone right now.

If there's a line in the sand, Richie knows where Bill stands.

And since Bill isn't some dirty queer, Richie is sure that Eddie is happy to have him.

---

His parents ask him what he wants for his birthday that year. "It's a pretty big year!" says Maggie. He doesn't bother thinking twice about it before he requests the house to himself for the night on Saturday.

"If you had more than five friends, I'd worry you were going to throw a party," Went says.

He gets what he wants, though.

They agree to spend the night at a cousin's, warn him repeatedly against the follies of trying to throw a party, and leave at two in the afternoon on Saturday.

Half an hour, and Mike, Stan, and Ben are at the door with alcohol in tow.

Stan isn't interesting in drinking, of course, and Ben only sips at the vodka he's watered down significantly with Coke, but Mike is more than happy to drink with Richie on his birthday.

By five o'clock, Richie is wasted.

Stanley is DJ for the night, and Richie is dancing around already with Mike when Stan decides to play a record that includes Bob Seger's hit, so, of course, he tears off his pants, tries to pop his collar only to realize that he isn't wearing a collar, yells "Risky Business, bitch!" anyway, and slides dramatically across the room in his socks.

Mike isn't a buzzkill, so joins in, jumping on the sofa, and using a bottle of Jack for a microphone, belting the lyrics.

Richie is spinning in sloppy, drunk circles when Bill shows up.

Eddie is with him.

"H-happy Birthday," Bill says, smiling, and holding up a small, wrapped present for Richie to see.

"Why aren't you wearing pants?" Eddie asks.

Richie leans heavily on Mike, because he really can't fucking deal with this on his birthday. "Is my present some alcohol? That's what I requested. Is it the best whiskey bottle you could find?" He props his elbow on Mike's shoulder, leans his head in his hand.

"I—" Bill is slightly at a loss. "I d-d-didn't know that's what you w-wanted."

"Whatever," Richie says. "Time to party. Staniel! Turn it UP!" He shoves away from Mike.

The rest of the night is kind of a blur.

After getting loudly egged on, Mike proves that he can, in fact, pick up Richie, throw him over his shoulder, and spin in a circle while Richie screams hysterically in delight. Ben tries to teach Richie how to blow a circle of smoke. Stan turns off the music to make chicken noises for Richie when Richie starts performing a pretty fucking great chicken dance.

At some blurry point in the evening, Bill is drunk, too, and he wraps his arms around Richie's neck, and they half-dance, half-sway with their foreheads pressed together, belting out lyrics to a song.

"Billy," Richie says, panting.

"I l-love you, Richie. D-d-do you know that? I l-love you."

In reply, Richie smashes Bill's cheeks with his hands and leans up, smacking a loud, wet kiss to his forehead.

He remembers, in the morning, that at some point during the night, he tripped, and he stumbled into Eddie, but he thinks he managed to move away quickly.

---

He wakes up on the sofa with a crick in his neck, pantsless, and his head in Mike's lap. The curtains over the window are glowing at the edges with bright morning light. He takes in the fact that Mike snores with his mouth wide open, files it away for use in the future, and sits up, yawning and wincing and surveying the mess that's littered in front of him.

Stan is curled up in a ball on the recliner.

Bill is sprawled on the floor.

It looks like Eddie is gone. Ben, too. Ben must have given Eddie a ride.

He heads to the kitchen. He needs a glass of water. His mouth tastes disgusting, and his tongue is a dead, dry sandpaper-y thing, and, fuck, his brain fucking hurts.

In the kitchen, he sees his present from Bill.

His eyes move quickly past it, though, and stick on the bottle of mouthwash that's sitting right beside it. Eddie. Across the label, TRASHMOUTH is written in neat, block capital letters. It's what they always do. Richie gets Eddie some disgusting, germ-infested gift for his birthday while Eddie gets Richie some random, unnecessary personal hygiene product.

It's a thing.

Or it was. He's surprised Eddie bothered this year.

He picks up the bottle, stares at Eddie's perfect block writing, and dumps the whole stupid thing in the trash.

---

They are assigned a project in physics. It figures when Richie doesn't have any reason to use that excuse any more, it would actually become a thing. The teacher says she'll let them pick their partners, and she starts saying names, making the students choose partners right then, right there.

"Mr. Kaspbrak," she says. "Partner?"

"Richie," Eddie says.

Richie is actually shocked enough to turn in his seat, to look at Eddie.

Eddie is staring at his notebook. Richie can't believe this shit. The teacher is writing it down, though. It's done. They are going to have to work on this fucking project together.

They have to start planning their project in class that day, which means Richie has to move to sit with Eddie. It's awkward. But it's been two months to the day that everything went straight to hell, which means awkward has become a kind of new, miserable normal.

"So." He taps his pencil rapidly against the table. "Could we just wrap the egg in a pillow?

"I don't think that would work," Eddie says.

"What's your idea?"

"I think we should be friends again."

"If a pillow isn't going to keep the egg from cracking, I doubt our love is going to do the trick."

"I'm serious."

Richie can feel Eddie's gaze.

"I hate fighting with you. I—can't things just go back to normal? I know I'm the reason everything's so fucked up. I know, and I'm sorry. I'm really fucking sorry, Richie. I swear. If I could take it back, I would. Can't things just go back to the way they used to be?"

"What is it you want to take back?"

"I—what I said."

"Why?" He meets Eddie's gaze at last. "It wasn't true?"

Eddie hesitates. "Richie, I—"

He shakes his head. "Forget it. It's okay. I get it. And I get that you want things to go back to normal, but they just can't. I can't." He pushes to his feet. "Ms. Griswald? I have to take a piss."

"Language, Mr. Tozier," says the teacher.

He is allowed to escape the classroom, though. He spends the rest of physics back behind the school, smoking by himself. Sometimes, he wishes he could make himself hate Eddie.

---

He goes to a party with a couple of guys he's kind of friends with. He hasn't been to a big, raucous house party in over a year. He doesn't get invited to this kind of party, because he isn't Bill, and he hasn't yet grown out of being a loser in the eyes of everyone at school, and he only ever goes to parties like this when he tags along with someone else.

"Hi, Richie," says a girl.

He blinks.

"Got a light?" She's got a cigarette in between her fingers.

"Sure."

He's surprised when she joins him on the sofa after she gets the light, when she offers him a drag. "You know, you'd look less like a dweeb if you got contacts," she says. She pushes a hand into his hair, and he can smell the scent of her flowery, cloying perfume.

---

He hears someone come into his bedroom, but he's listening to Soundgarden, and his eyes are closed, and he assumes it's his mother to drop off a load of laundry.

He sits up indignantly when she has the audacity to touch the volume.

It isn't his mother.

"I can't hear myself think when it's that loud," Eddie says.

"What the fuck do you want?"

"I got in a fight with my mom." He takes the chair by Richie's old, lopsided desk. "It was bad. It—this came in the mail." He holds up an envelope.

Richie is unimpressed. "Should I know what that is?"

"It's a letter of acceptance to UCLA. Ma had a lot to say about me applying to a school in California. Thing is, I didn't apply to a school in California."

"You got in?"

"I got in. Why didn't you tell me that you applied for me? It was you. Right? I know it was you."

He shrugs. "What's it matter?" He drops onto his back again, closing his eyes. "You aren't going to go when you could stay within half an hour of your mother. And, believe me, I'm no longer under the impression that I'm an incentive to go to California."

It takes a moment for Eddie to reply. "Did you get in, too?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry," Eddie says, quiet. "Rich, I'm really, really sorry. I shouldn't have said it."

"We've already had this conversation."

"Can you just . . . ?" Eddie makes a small, frustrated noise. "Fine," he says. "Here's something we haven't talked about. I heard you went to that party at Lucy Atkinson's last week."

"Seriously?"

"You went with those guys you like to smoke with? That's what people were saying. And you made out with Jen?"

Richie has to sit up again. "The fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"You made out with Jen."

"Seriously?" Richie is incredulous. "Yes, I made out with Jen. So? Is this you calling me a slut, or something?"

"No, I just—"

"For the record, I never made out with anyone else when we were . . ." He clenches his jaw. "I never even looked at anyone else when I thought I got to have you. That's over now, though. I got the message. We aren't a thing. And, yes, I've figured out that I like making out with girls, and I like making out with boys, too, and I don't know why. It's just what I like. If you have a problem with that, just fuck off."

"I don't like making out with girls," Eddie says. "Just the thought of kissing a girl is . . ."

"Better keep that shit under wraps, Kaspbrak."

Eddie huffs. "Can you not be an asshole for, like, five fucking seconds?"

"Me?"

"Yes." Eddie has the gall to glare at him. "Shut the fuck up for a second. Let me talk. I need to say this." He breathes in, and out. "My mom—she lost it when this came in the mail. She was crying about how I wanted to leave her and how I didn't love her and how she needed me—"

"I get the picture," Richie says, terse.

"Would you let me fucking finish?" Eddie yells.

Richie makes a show of pursing his lips, of crossing his arms, and glaring at Eddie.

"Thank you," Eddie says. He sighs. "She was upset, and I told her I wasn't sure I was going to California, but I wanted to consider my options, and I said you were going to California, and—Richie, she called you—" He stops. "I—hearing it come from her, I . . ." He shakes his head.

There's a lot Richie wants to say.

"She was going on and on about how I should stay away from you, or you'd infect me, and she—I just—that's when I realized she'd done it to me again. She'd—she did it to me again, Rich. And I let her."

Richie frowns. "What are you talking about?"

"She made me think that I was sick. Again. She made me think there was something wrong with me for—for—" He isn't looking at Richie, is looking at anything but Richie. "She's been saying shit to me my whole life about dirty, diseased boys, and she's really been going on about it lately, because she must have known that I—that we—" He looks at Richie at last. "She made me think something was wrong with me, and I—" His eyes are glassy with tears.

"Eddie." Richie is scrambling to his feet before he even realizes what he's doing. "There's nothing wrong with you."

"I'm gay," he says. "I am. I know I am. I've always fucking known. But—fuck, I miss you. I miss you so, so much. And I hate that I hurt you, and I hate that I lost you, and I hate that I believed her, that I still can't get her out of my head—"

"You didn't lose me," Richie says, desperate.

"And when you said you wanted to blow me, I just had this gut reaction that I couldn't even explain. I was terrified."

"It's okay."

"I don't want to be this way," he gasps.

Richie doesn't know if he means that he doesn't want to be gay, or that he doesn't want to think it's wrong. He doesn't care. He stumbles to cross the distance between them, and he pulls Eddie out of the chair to hold him, to hug him.

"I'm sorry," Eddie says, crying.

"I'm sorry, too," Richie says. "Fuck, Eds. I'm sorry, too."

"I want to go to California with you." His face is pressed into Richie's neck, and his voice is thick with tears, but Richie hears him. "I want to be with you. I want—" He clings to Richie, curls his fingers in Richie's t-shirt, holds on like he's afraid of letting go for fear of losing him entirely.

Richie hugs him tightly right back.

And when Eddie tilts his head up at last, his eyes are wet with tears, and it nearly makes Richie cry, too.

He doesn't, though.

Eddie's eyes drop to his lips. And, after a beat, they surge in together. The kiss is desperate, frenzied.

Richie can taste the salt of Eddie's tears, and he holds Eddie's face in his hands, deepening the kiss, wanting everything Eddie is willing to give, and he loves that Eddie is desperate, too, that Eddie is clutching at him, is clutching at his arms, at his shoulders, at his back.

Their difference in height never makes kissing on even ground very easy, though.

They stumble their way back towards Richie's bed.

The back of Richie's legs hit the bed, and he sits, meaning to pull Eddie into his lap, wanting to grab Eddie and lay him out on the bed, to climb on top of him and cover him in kisses. But Eddie just stands between Richie's legs, kissing him desperately, and pulling at Richie's unbuttoned, long-sleeved flannel shirt. Richie is happy to shrug it off. And when Eddie starts tugging up Richie's t-shirt, Richie lifts his arms to make that easier, too, and he's quick to return the favor, to pull off Eddie's polo. The blood rushes straight to his dick when Eddie kisses his way slowly down Richie's neck, down his chest.

He starts to unzip Richie's jeans.

Richie thinks Eddie is going to jerk him off. He's wrong. Eddie tugs Richie's jeans down completely, and his briefs, too, and, suddenly, he's got Richie's dick in his hand, and he's dropped to his knees.

"Eddie, wait—"

Eddie looks at him. "You don't want me to?"

"No—I do! Of course I do. But you don't have to. I don't want you to if you don't—"

Eddie shifts up to kiss him again. "I want to," he breathes. "I get to." He swallows. "You're mine. Right?"

"Fuck, yes, I am."

"Good." He smiles. "I, um. I don't know what I'm doing."

"Me, neither."

Eddie is smiling at him with a tenderness that makes Richie feel almost full to bursting, and when Eddie reaches up to wipe at the tears that still cling to his lashes, Richie reaches up, too, and does it for him, swiping his thumbs gently under each of Eddie's eyes.

"We can figure this out," Richie says, softly, and he doesn't mean the blowjob.

"Yeah," Eddie says.

"C'mere." He pulls Eddie closer, wrapping his arms around this perfect, perfect boy, and hugging him. "I shouldn't have walked out on you so easily," he murmurs.

"I needed it. I needed the push."

He smells like soap and deodorant and clean, unscented lotion with SPF 25, and Richie can't bother to hide the way he turns his face into Eddie's neck, the way he breathes in deeply.

"Now I just need you," Eddie says.

"You've got me." He loosens his hold on Eddie at last. "So." He smiles. "What are you going to do with me?"

Eddie's blotchy, tear-stained face brightens slightly. He tucks Richie's hair behind his ear, smiles, and drops to his knees. The visual of that alone makes Richie hard. Eddie licks his palm before he takes Richie's dick in his hand again, stroking him roughly a couple of times, twisting his wrist, and drawing a groan out of Richie.

"You're sure about this?"

"Shut up, Rich."

He grabs at Eddie's hair when Eddie tentatively licks his dick, when he swirls his tongue around the tip.

Richie doesn't actually last long. Eddie takes Richie's dick into his mouth, sucking on the tip, and he bobs up and down a couple of times, and it's more than Richie can fucking handle, seeing Eddie's lips close around his dick, and feeling the heat of Eddie's wet, wet mouth, feeling the scrape of Eddie's teeth by accident, feeling his dick slide against the roof of Eddie's mouth. He comes in less than a minute.

Eddie pulls away quickly when Richie starts coming, stroking him through the rest of it.

He got some in his mouth, though, and on his face, and he wipes it with the back of his hand. "You couldn't give a guy some warning?" he says, but his eyes are bright, and he's smiling when Richie hauls him up to kiss him. He can taste himself when he kisses Eddie wetly, and Eddie's hand is sticky on Richie's cheek, and it's gross and intimate and really fucking great.

"Should we ask Mrs. K how many germs are in my swimmers?"

"Beep fucking beep, Richie," Eddie says, petting Richie's hair with a kind of affection that makes Richie's heart beat faster.

He starts to unbutton the top of Eddie's shorts. "My turn." He grins, and pecks another kiss to Eddie's mouth.

"Wait, um." Eddie stops him. "Can you just—can you just jerk me off?" He's tensed, and he meets Richie's gaze with a kind of trepidation. "I just—I have to get past some of the shit that's in my head first."

"Okay."

"It doesn't mean I don't—"

"I know." He smiles, and he's gratified to see Eddie relax again.

"Also, I don't really want—" Eddie looks apologetically at him. "I don't want anyone to know about us. Still. Even though we're together properly now, I'm not ready for anybody to know that I'm—" He seems to struggle with himself for a moment. "—gay."

"Honestly?" Richie says. "Me, neither."

"Really?"

"Stan knows now, and I don't think I can lie to him when he asks if we made up, but he won't tell anyone."

"I trust him," Eddie agrees.

"Can I kiss you now?"

They kiss, and, this time, when Richie starts undoing the top of Eddie's pants, Eddie doesn't stop him. He gets his hand in, and pulls Eddie's dick out. He loves Eddie's dick. He thinks it's the prettiest fucking thing, and he thinks about telling Eddie that now, but he decides to save it for some other time. He starts slowly the way that Eddie likes, building up speed, and waiting for Eddie to tell him to grip him harder, to tug him faster. He gets him off in record fucking time. And, for that, he earns another slow, dirty kiss.

They're kissing again when there's a knock on the door.

They freeze and whip their heads to the door in terror, because they're half naked, dicks out, and covered in cum, making out.

"Richie, dear," says his mother, muffled by the door, "is Eddie going to stay for dinner?"

"I—yes," Richie says.

The door isn't locked. Richie thinks he might be having an actual panic attack at the realization. Why the fuck isn't it locked?!

If they tried dressing quickly now, could they do it silently?

"Ten minutes," Maggie says, and they hear her footsteps quietly heading off.

"Shit," Eddie says, shoving his dick into his pants. "Shit, shit, shit. I think I just had a heart attack. Shit. Did you know I was sucking you off with the door unlocked? And with your mother right downstairs making a family fucking dinner?!"

Richie starts laughing.

"This isn't funny, numbnuts!"

"This is hilarious," Richie says, and when he reaches for Eddie to pull him in for another kiss, he's shoved away, and Eddie is pulling his shirt on backwards, and Richie starts tearing up from laughter, falling back onto the bed.

---

Now that they've made up, things go back to normal with the rest of the losers, too. It was super fucking awkward for a while, because nobody could ignore how Richie ignored Eddie, or how snappy, quiet, and unlike himself Eddie was. Richie had almost forgotten that he actually liked having the whole gang together.

But that's the way it's supposed to be.

And, finally, they're allowed to hang out together again, watching a movie or shooting the breeze at Mike's or lounging at the old, beloved diamond at eleven at night on a Saturday.

Tonight, the game is actually to settle an argument.

Stan is pitching, Mike is catching, and, with a bat in hand, Eddie is hitting, and, in his opinion, proving that Stan can't pitch worth a damn.

Richie prefers participating from the sidelines when sports are involved, because he finds his talents lie primarily in heckling.

"You're kidding," Eddie says, eyeing the battered baseball helmet. "I have no idea where that's been."

"You don't want to get hit in the head by a baseball," Stan says.

"How about you just don't throw the ball at my fucking head, Stanley?"

Richie's been to every varsity game that Stan has been in. He's seen Stan play baseball more times than he's beat his meat. He knows that Stan is going to whip Eddie's butt. That's Eddie's problem, though. Richie? He's having a great fucking time. He's got peanuts, he's got weed, and he's got the sight of Eddie wearing short blue shorts, a t-shirt, and a cute little scowl.

"You're in a g-good mood," Bill says.

"I am." He throws a peanut up, tilts his head, and catches it in his mouth.

"UCLA?"

"Yup."

"P-plus, there's the f-fact that you m-m-made up with Eddie."

He grins.

"You're really never going to tell us what happened with the two of you?" Ben asks. "You just had a huge fight, didn't talk for two months, and now you're great again, and both of you are going to UCLA, and we're never going to talk about it again?"

In reply, Richie shoves a handful of peanuts into his mouth.

"Seriously?"

"Mind ya own fookin' business, guv'nor!"

"That's strike two," Stan says.

"Bite me," Eddie says.

And when Ben reaches for the peanuts, Richie turns away, elbows him to keep him back, and throws a peanut at his face.

---

They spend Saturday night in bed with a box of pizza, a 2-liter of Fanta, and Nightbreed on VHS.

It's a date.

They sit side by side, slumped on the pillows, and close: shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and thigh to thigh, with Eddie's left ankle hooked easily over Richie's right ankle, and if Richie were to turn his head, he would be able to smell the soft, clean smell of Eddie's shampoo.

Richie isn't great at staying still during a movie, though.

His gaze gets stuck on Eddie's hand. He takes it. He traces his fingers down Eddie's fingers, and turns Eddie's hand, brushing a thumb along the lines of Eddie's palm. Eddie doesn't react, but he lets Richie play with his hand. Eddie's got small, unblemished hands with nails that are short and even and clean. He doesn't have any hangnails, or little, forgotten scars hidden in his knuckles. His palm is so soft it's smooth to touch.

After a while, Richie intertwines their fingers, settles their hands on his thigh, and returns his focus to the movie.

He's never actually been a real, legitimate date before.

This is his very first one.

In the glow of the blue TV light with Eddie tucked snugly into his side, he thinks this might be the best first date in history.

---

Mrs. K releases the lowest, longest sigh when she opens the door to Richie. "You look like a drowned sewer rat," she says. She's got curlers in her hair, smears of some green goop on the bags under her eyes, and her eyes are especially red, watery, and narrowed this afternoon.

How can this woman have birthed the most adorable human on Earth?

"It's raining," Richie says.

She glares.

Someday, she is going to murder him. It's how he's going to go. Richie is certain, and he's come to terms with it.

There are footsteps in the house. "—Richie?" Eddie asks. Before his mother can stop him, he's pushed his way into the picture, and he beckons Richie quickly into the house. "It's pouring!" he says. "Do you want to catch a cold?" He's already tugging Richie up the stairs.

"Eddie," says his mother.

"Richie is here to work on a report for physics, Ma."

In his room, Eddie starts toweling Richie down in a matter of seconds: he assaults Richie's head with a towel, saying he needs to remove his t-shirt, and when Richie does, he starts to dry his arms and hangs a towel around his neck and orders him sharply to remove his socks, too, while he searches for a pair that Richie can borrow.

"I can't believe she was going to leave you standing in the rain," Eddie says.

"I know!" Richie says, shaking his head. "Unbelievable. And here I thought she loved me."

"You should take your jeans off, too."

"Careful. If Mrs. K is listening at the door, she'll have heard that."

"I don't fucking care," Eddie says. "She might not know yet, but she's going to know soon. She's going to know I'm gay, and she's going to know I'm leaving her to go to UCLA, and she's—" He shakes his head. "She's going to have to live with it." He purses his lips.

Richie gathers Eddie into his arms. "I love it when you're an angry little cutie." He kisses Eddie's scowl.

---

The whole fucking school starts obsessing over prom at the start of April. Overnight, it's everywhere. There are fundraisers, and a vote on the theme, banners hung throughout the school that proclaim the sale of tickets, and there are stories, too: about this boy asking this girl, about who refused and who accepted, about who is renting hotel rooms, who is spiking the punch, who is throwing the best, biggest after prom party.

Bill is the first of the Losers to get a date. He isn't the only, though. Stan has a date by the week of prom, and Ben, too, gets a date. They're excited. And, honestly, Richie is happy they're happy.

He, however, could not possibly care less about prom.

He's told repeatedly by everyone that he'll regret not going, that it'll be a lot of fun, and that, really, Richie, it isn't too late to get a date.

"G-girls think you're g-good-l-l-looking," Bill says.

"I am good-looking. But, guys, come on. Why would I need a date when I've got this cutie here?" He tries to pinch Eddie's cheeks. "Cute, cute, cute," he sings.

Eddie bats Richie away before throwing a baby carrot stick at his face.

"Eddie should c-come, too," Bill says.

"Nope," Eddie says, shaking his head. "I have no interest in going to a dance with some random girl who just says yes because prom is this weekend, and she's desperate. No way. And I really, really have no interest in cramming into a gymnasium of sweaty, drunk people groping each other while bad pop music plays too loudly. I'll pass, thanks."

"Gee, Eddie," Stan says. "Tell us how you really feel."

On the bench, Eddie's thigh is lined up comfortably with Richie's.

Sometimes, Richie can't help but wonder what the others have figured out. They've never, ever talked about it. And, in front of his friends, he is careful to treat Eddie just like always. Eddie is, too. They are careful with their touches, with their words.

There's a part of him that desperately wants them to know.

They would be okay with it, wouldn't they?

But for that to happen, they would need to define precisely what there was to know. That they were dating? That they were a couple? That, to put it simply, they were together? He didn't know whether Eddie was technically his boyfriend.

And if he told them he was in love with Eddie, would they know what he meant?

(Here's what he means:

He's in love with the way Eddie's hair curls when it's damp. He's in love with the sound of profanity in Eddie's voice. He's in love with Eddie's neat, perfect little fingernails. He's in love with Eddie's enthusiasm for comics. He's in love with the lines of Eddie's back. He's in love with Eddie's flat, deadpan face after a joke. He's in love with the taste of Eddie's minty, dentist-recommended toothpaste. He's in love with the way Eddie actually listens to everything he says even after he's been talking on and on and on.

He's in love, and it's scary and familiar, it's wonderful and unreal and unbelievably, absolutely intoxicating.)

He is pretty sure Bill is clueless. Mike, too. He thinks Ben might have guessed that something is between them, because Ben is wise to shit like that.

And, of course, he told Stan when they made up, and Stan had smiled, had said he was glad, and hadn't asked any questions.

He must know they're together, though.

That's the best way to put it.

The night of prom, they are together.

They decide to watch horror movies at Mike's, actually. It's great. What more could he want than cheap, shitty beer, two of his absolute favorite fellows, and a night of gory, terrifying films?

He drops onto the sofa with a beer in hand, kicking up his legs, and putting his feet in Eddie's lap.

He knows that Eddie is going to shove his feet away immediately, but that's half the fun. Except. Eddie just shifts, and he rests his arm over Richie's calves, and he continues to explain to Mike why seeing a lot of blood on screen is easier to stomach than seeing a lot of vomit.

What the fuck?

It doesn't bother Eddie that Richie's surely dirty socks are touching him?

What about the fact that Mike is here?

Richie decides he'll have to keep his feet there, see what happens next. He ends up with his feet in Eddie's lap for the whole first movie. But when Mike is putting on the second, he has to get up to get a drink.

And when he returns, that's when it happens.

"You guys really didn't want to go to prom?" Mike asks, conversational.

"I'm gay," Eddie says.

It's silent.

Mike is gaping at Eddie.

"I'm gay," Eddie says, breathing a little hard, a little fast. "I'm gay, and Richie is my boyfriend." His eyes dart over to Richie. "I—I hope it's okay that I said that. To Mike. I just—I wanted to have said it before we graduated. Once. To someone." He looks at Mike again.

Richie is stunned.

And, apparently, Mike is, too. "Okay." He clears his throat, and smiles. "I'm glad you told me." He starts the movie, grabs a bowl of popcorn, and returns to his seat.

Richie sits, too.

Eddie is rigid on his corner of the couch. If he got knocked over, he'd shatter. He is staring at the screen, too, like he can't look away. Richie wants to catch his gaze, but it's hopeless. He realizes that Eddie is probably internally freaking out right now.

If Mike knows they're together, is Richie allowed to pull Eddie into his side, and scratch at his scalp until he relaxes?

The movie's barely started when Mike stands up abruptly. "I, ah, I'll be right back." He leaves the room.

Eddie's gaze follows him before snapping suddenly to Richie in alarm. "Is he . . . ?"

"I have no idea, babe," Richie says, shaking his head.

"Fuck." He pats at his shorts with a kind of wide, faraway look in his eye, thinking. Richie is familiar with the gesture. Eddie is searching for an inhaler. "I shouldn't have said it."

"I'm glad you said it."

"Really?"

Mike is back. "Come on," he says, smiling, and nodding his head. "I have an idea."

They follow him into the hallway, and, to Richie's confusion, out of the house. "Is your plan to murder us?" Richie asks. "If so, I should tell you that people know we're here right now. Seriously. You won't get away with it." He realizes that Mike is carrying a boombox, and his confusion literally doubles.

They go around to the back of the barn.

"I don't know if you'll like my taste in music," Mike says, setting the boombox on the ground, and starting to play a CD. "It's the best I can do, though."

"I'm sorry, what's happening right now . . .?" Eddie asks.

"You should get a prom."

"Mikey," Richie says, understanding.

"I don't have decorations, or anything. I figured the stars look better than whatever paper decorations they've got up at your school. And if you want, I can go make some punch." He grins. "I can even spike it for you, Rich."

"This isn't necessary," Eddie says. "Seriously, Mike—"

"If it would've been possible to go to the prom with Richie, would you have wanted to?"

"I . . ." Eddie glances at Richie with wide, uncertain eyes. "I guess. But—"

"Right-o!" Richie grins. "Come on, chap! This good old fellow has put on a mighty good song just for us." He offers his hand to Eddie with a flourish.

"Now's the time for the British guy? Really?"

"You know, I think the voices are improving," Mike says.

Eddie's glare cuts immediately to Mike. "Do not encourage him."

But it's too late. He said it. Richie grins and takes a breath and is going to regale Mike with the best fucking hoity-toity British voice he's ever fucking heard.

He falters, though, when Eddie takes his hand.

Where does he put his hands? How does this work? How the fuck do you dance when you're talking about real, actual dancing instead of, like, jumping around wildly? "I hope you're better at this than your mom," he says. He puts his hands on Eddie's hip, and steps in closer.

"Make another joke about my mother, and I will punch you in the dick."

"Have neither of you ever danced before?" Mike is amused, crossing his arms, and looking at them with a poorly disguised, smug little smile.

"I've danced with my dick," Richie says. "Does that count?"

"What does that even mean?" Eddie says.

"Here." Mike steps in between the pair of them. "I'll get you started, okay?" He wraps an around Eddie's waist, bringing him closer to his chest, and takes his hand. And, in soft, sure steps, he starts to dance with Eddie.

Eddie's arms come around him easily.

"I can do that," Richie says.

"I kind of like it with Mike. It's nice. He's strong." Eddie looks brightly at Mike. "Mike, will you be my date to prom?"

Richie makes a squawk of indignation.

Mike grins. "I'd love—"

"No way!" Richie strides up quickly, snaking an arm around Eddie from behind, and yanking him away from Mike. "Get your own!" He brandishes a finger at Mike.

Eddie laughs, and he leans into Richie, tilting his head up to grin at him.

"I think this is my cue to see if I can find something to spike the punch with," Mike says.

But after he leaves, there's a pause.

"Do you want to—?" Eddie jerks his head awkwardly, and there's the hint of a blush creeping softly into his cheeks.

Richie turns Eddie in his arms, and holds him the way that Mike had, takes his hand, and starts to shuffle his feet. "So." He tries to keep a straight face. "I heard you have a boyfriend." He can't keep a straight face, though, breaking into a grin Eddie when he meets Eddie's gaze.

Eddie stops dancing with him.

And, with Eddie's bright, tender gaze on his, Richie's heart jumps into his throat.

"Is that okay with you?" Eddie asks.

He nods. "Yes." He clears his throat. "Yes, that's okay with me."

"Kiss me."

Richie kisses Eddie.

It's a sweet, chaste kiss. It might be the best kiss they've ever shared. And when it's over, Eddie wraps both of his arms around Richie, and lays his head on Richie's chest, and Richie sways slightly, holding him, and thinking that, fuck, this might be his new favorite way to dance.

(He's in love with the feel of Eddie's head on his chest.)

Mike does return after a couple of minutes with what remains of the cheap, shitty six-pack of beer that Richie had brought for the night. "It's the best I could do," he says, shrugging. They open three beers, toast to Mike's great theme for prom of A Night Under the Stars, and clink their cans together with a laugh.

Eddie makes the most hilarious face when he takes a drink.

The rest of the night is fun, easy.

They dance to faster, louder songs, and they make Mike dance with them, because "this is your prom, too, Homeschool!" They even dance the Macarena after Mike admits that he's never, ever danced it before. Eddie teaches Mike the moves while Richie sings the song for them, screeching, "HEEEEEEEEY, MACARENA!" at the top of his lungs.

Who knew prom would be a night to remember?

(But, actually, what Richie remembers is that Eddie said he was Richie's boyfriend that night, and he remembers dancing slowly with him under the stars, falling in love with him. The rest just fades away. He forgets why it happened, and who made it happen, forgets how much he loved that strong, quiet boy, that wonderful, wonderful boy.)

---

He makes the mistake of thinking the future is set in stone. They are going to graduate in a couple of weeks, they are both of them going to UCLA, and they are going to do it together. He thinks that nothing is left to stand in the way of everything he wants.

He's a dumbass.

After everything that she's done, Richie should have fucking known that Mrs. K was going to put up one last mad, manipulative fight.

---

It starts when Eddie misses graduation. He misses it. Richie doesn't actually start panicking until the music is playing, and they are filing into the seats in front of the stage, and he realizes that Eddie really, truly isn't there.

What the fuck?

The moment the ceremony is over, he escapes his parents, and he drives to Eddie's.

But after he pounds on the door for a couple of minutes, he realizes that nobody is there. He shows up late to the party at Stan's, and he tells the rest of the losers in the privacy of the bathroom that Eddie wasn't there. "I think Mrs. K kidnapped him," he says. He knows that Eddie was working up toward finally telling her that he was, in fact, going to UCLA, and he might have done it yesterday, and she might have knocked him over the head, dragged his body to the car, and drove off with him in the dead of night.

"I doubt she's hurt him," Stan reasons.

"If a mother in Derry was going to murder her son, wrap his body in a curtain, and bury him in the backyard to keep him from leaving her, who would it be? Huh, Stan? Whose mother would it be?"

"It's o-okay, Richie," Bill says, reaching to rest a hand on Richie's shoulder.

"I still can't believe his mother made him miss his graduation," Ben says, frowning. "I can't believe she would miss it. And didn't he even say that all of his aunts were coming into town for it?"

"Yes!"

"He might be sick," Mike says.

"Or m-maybe his m-m-mother thinks he's sick, a-and—"

"Boys!" Mrs. Uris is carrying a camera, and looking at them with half-amusement, half-exasperation. "Is there a reason you're huddled in here by yourselves? This party is for you! People want to see you, congratulate you!"

"Mrs. Uris, we're kind of in the middle of a crisis," Richie says.

"I'm sure."

"Eddie is missing!"

"Eddie?" She blinks. "Dear, something just must have come up with his family. I wouldn't worry about it. Come on. I want to take some pictures!" She ushers the lot of them out of the bathroom, ignoring Richie's protests, and patting his back in reassurance.

---

He doesn't really leave his house for the first two, miserable weeks of summer. He can't. He wants to be there if the phone rings, if Eddie finally calls.

"You can't waste the whole summer lying on your bed," Stan says.

"Watch me," Richie snipes.

But, after a couple of weeks, he agrees to go to the Barrens with Bill, Stan, and Ben on a bright, breezy Monday under the condition that they'll leave him alone for a while if he does. There's a part of him that appreciates how much they care. They have beer, and they brought Stan's transistor radio, and they're trying really, really hard to make it fun, to distract him.

He can't just pretend that everything is normal the way that they can, though.

Eddie was kidnapped.

He's lying in the tall, wavy grass with a pack of smokes when a shadow steps rudely into his sunshine.

He opens his eyes. "Bill."

"Hey, R-Rich." Bill drops down to sit beside him, and hold a hand out toward him, too, which Richie understands to mean that Bill wants a drag of his cigarette. He gives it easily. For a couple of minutes, it's quiet. "We're w-worried a-about him, t-t-too," Bill says, soft. "I kn-know you d-don't believe me, b-but—" He sighs. "There's n-nothing we c-c-can do."

Richie just takes a drag.

"You've b-been quiet a l-l-lot l-lately," Bill says. "It's w-weird."

"I'm in love with him," Richie says. He doesn't look at Bill when he says it. "I don't mean I love him. I mean I'm in love with him. And I'm pretty sure he's in love with me, too." He stares at the clouds moving slowly, slowly in the sky.

"A-are you g-g-gay?"

"I guess. Eddie is. That's what we were fighting about. He—" He stops. "We broke up. Sort of. But we made up again. Everything was great."

"Why d-didn't you t-t-tell me?"

"I don't really know." It's the truth. "It was hard to know what to tell you. For months, we were just . . . we didn't know what the fuck we were doing, what . . . It took us a while to figure our shit out."

"I g-get that." He pauses. "C-can I ask a q-question?"

"Shoot."

"D-d-does he makes you b-brush your teeth b-before you kiss?"

Richie smiles slightly despite himself. "Sometimes," he says. "He got pissed at me once because I'd smoked a cigarette before meeting up with him, and he tasted it when he kissed me, and he immediately started lecturing me about how gross cigarettes were, how they have formaldehyde in them, and blah, blah, blah. He was sitting in my lap, and my balls were turning blue, Billy, and he wouldn't stop carrying on about why would I think he could possibly kiss me when I tasted like fucking corpse juice." He shakes his head.

"Oh, m-my God," Bill says.

"I know!"

"You are g-gay."

He grins. It fades, though. He's gay, and he wants to know where the fuck his boyfriend is.

"It's g-going to b-be okay. R-really. I'm w-w-worried, too. B-but Eddie is a f-force to be r-reckoned with when he w-wants to be. He w-won't let his m-mother k-k-keep him f-from you for long."

"Yeah."

Bill ends up lying with him in the grass for the rest of the afternoon.

At home, he finds his mother in the kitchen with bills spread in front of her on the table. "How was your day with your friends?" she asks, frowning at the paper in her hand.

"Fine. Did Eddie call?"

"Nope."

In his room, he lies on his bed, and stares at the ceiling. After a minute, he gets up, goes to the bathroom, and brushes this teeth three times until he's sure his breath is minty. He returns to his bed, and watches the fan circle slowly above him until he dozes off at ten p.m.

---

He wakes up with a start. Sunlight is pouring in, but the clock by his bed reads 8:34 in the morning. He frowns, and that's when he realizes that he isn't alone.

He twists.

Eddie is sitting on the bed. "Morning." He smiles.

Richie just lunges for him, pulling the stupid little fucker in and half on top of him, making him laugh. "Where the fuck have you been?" he exclaims. He rolls to trap his boyfriend under his weight, and lets his gaze rake over him. Richie doesn't have his glasses on, but Eddie's close enough that Richie doesn't really need his glasses to know.

It's real.

He's back.

"I told my mom about UCLA," Eddie says.

"I figured. Jesus, Eds. It's been two weeks! I thought—I thought she might have killed you! I thought—"

"I'm fine." He pushes a hand through Richie's messy hair. "I knew you'd be freaking out, though. I'm sorry I couldn't get away sooner. My mom sort of had a stroke."

Richie opens his mouth, and closes it. "Fuck, Eddie. I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Eddie sighs. "I think she faked it."

"She faked it?"

He nods. "I told her about UCLA, right?" He shifts, and Richie shifts obediently, too, until they're lying side by side, nose to nose. "She flipped, and she said there was no way she was paying for that. I told her, though, that I'd already paid for it. She wanted to know how, and I told her I used the account that my dad had set up before he died. It was specifically for my education, so my mom's never been able to touch it. Now that I'm eighteen, it's mine. Anyway, she didn't take it well. She was crying and screaming and saying I was killing her."

"And that's when she faked a stroke?"

"No, that wasn't until we got to my aunt's. She told me that if I had ever loved her, I would at least go with her to see her sisters, and I would help her understand my choice. And I—I agreed. I just didn't know how to . . ." He looks apologetically at Richie. "I didn't—I don't—want to hurt her."

"I know," Richie says, gentle. "She's your mom. I get it."

"Well, we get there, and my aunts start going in on me immediately. Why do I want to leave Maine? How could I go behind my mother's back like that? Don't I love my mother? Don't I appreciate everything she's done for me? Don't I think my dad would be ashamed of the way I was behaving? That got to me."

"They really tried to use your dad?"

"Right?" Eddie says. "I was pissed, and I . . . might have started to yell, and I might have maybe just screamed at them that I was gay. It just—happened."

"Shit."

"There was a lot of crying. I just went to bed. I said I was leaving in the morning. But when I woke up, there was a pastor there. Rich, they called a pastor." He drops Richie's gaze. "It was awful. It was seriously the worst thing that's ever happened to me."

"I kind of want to punch your mom," Richie says.

"Yeah, well. That's when I gave up trying to make her listen to me. I packed my stuff, and, what would you know, she has a stroke. I knew—I knew it was fake, but I just . . . couldn't leave her. She seemed so . . . pathetic."

"I—" Richie hesitates. "I hate that she's fucked with your head so much," he says.

"Me, too." He rests a hand on Richie's chest, traces a letter on his old, ill-fitting t-shirt with his finger. "I told myself when we were younger, and I found out how she'd lied about me being sick, that I was done putting up with her bullshit. But when she started making me feel bad about being gay, I let it happen, and after I got past it finally, I told myself again that I was done putting up with her bullshit. And, still, I ended up sitting on a couch between my aunts while a pastor told me I was going to hell unless I trusted God to fix me, and sitting by her bed in the hospital while she cried about how I'd done this to her because I didn't love her, and I . . ."

Richie is desperate to say something. But he has no idea what to say. It seems like he always has something to say until it matters. He clasps Eddie's hand in his. And when it makes Eddie look at him, he lifts their hands, and presses a kiss to Eddie's fingers.

Eddie's eyes actually grow wet. "I hate that I'm like this."

"Like . . .?"

"Just—" He wipes at his cheek. "Weak."

"What?" Richie says, pushing up. "No. You're the toughest little asshole I know."

He snorts.

"I'm serious. You think I could handle everything your mother's done to you? I'm scared of the woman, and she isn't even my mother. You—the way you stand up to her, the way you're your own person despite her—" He shakes his head. "Eds, you're amazing."

"Do you want to know a secret?" Eddie asks.

"Obviously."

"I don't really hate when you call me that." Eddie smiles tearfully at him. "Eds. I kind of like it."

Richie cups Eddie's cheek in his head.

They lean in together.

It's a slow, lazy kiss, and he thinks for a moment that his breath is probably fucking terrible. Eddie doesn't seem to care. He presses in closer, curling a fist in Richie's t-shirt, and parting his lips, making a soft, wanting noise when Richie's tongue slides slowly into his mouth.

After, they just kind of look at each other.

Eddie's fingers trace circles around Richie's eyes. "She said it was your fault, you know," he murmurs. "She told me that everything was fine until I allowed you to touch me, and fill my head with sick, twisted ideas. He's fooled you into loving him more than you love your own mother, she said. And that's what did it." There is something so bright in his eyes, bright, and hopeful.

"Did it?"

"That's when I finally bought a bus ticket, and came home. She said that, and I realized she was right. I do—I do love you more than I love her, and I had no idea what the fuck I was doing at her bedside when you were waiting for me here."

Richie's heart starts beating faster.

"I love you, Rich," Eddie says, swallowing. "I'm in love with you."

"I'm—"

Eddie smiles.

It makes the words rush right out of Richie. "I'm in love with you, too."

They kiss again, and again. Richie pushes his fingers greedily into Eddie's hair. Eddie's lips are chapped, and Richie knows he must have gross, sleep sour breath, and it's a shaky, desperate kiss. It's perfect. Eddie's teach sink into Richie's lip, and it makes Richie rock into Eddie. Eddie's hand has snuck under the covers, has snuck under Richie's shirt, and he brushes his hand up Richie's back, pulling him closer.

"Fuck, I missed you," Richie pants.

Eddie's breath fans hotly over Richie's face. "I can't wait for California," he murmurs.

"Can't wait to catch a totally sick wave, dude?"

Eddie sighs loudly.

Richie grins, and kisses him again. It's a short, sweet kiss. And, impulsively, he starts to pepper Eddie's face in kisses: to his cheek, and the side of his nose, to his chin and the corner of his lip and his eyebrow.

---

They've put down the backseats in the Volvo. The windows are starting to fog. Richie's glasses have been tossed aside somewhere, and everything is a dark, lusty blur for him, lying on top of Eddie, sucking on his neck, and rutting desperately against him.

He has a hazy, half-completed thought that this is what fucking will be like.

The way they're moving together against each other is the way they'd move if they were fucking right now.

Eddie's hand are everywhere at once: pulling on his hair, and pushing up his shirt to grasp at the damp, bare skin of Richie's back, dipping under his jeans, under his boxers, and grabbing his ass. "Rich," he pants. He starts tugging more insistently at Richie's shirt, and Richie rises up enough to pull it off, tossing it, and Eddie takes the opportunity to tug off his shirt, too, and to unzip his shorts, starting to shimmy his way out of them.

Richie presses a kiss to Eddie's collarbone, grazes his teeth over Eddie's nipple, and licks at the sheen of sweat that coats Eddie's stomach.

He gets his hand into Eddie's pants, and he's about to rise up again, to kiss Eddie while he jerks him off.

But before he can, Eddie pushes lightly on the top of his head.

He pauses.

"Can you—?" Eddie says, squirming.

"What?"

In answer, Eddie just curls his fingers in Richie's hair, and pushes on the top of his head again.

Richie puts it together. "Yeah? You sure?" He drops a kiss to Eddie's bellybutton, and looks up, wishing he could make his stupid, useless eyes focus, and see more than the shape of Eddie's face, than the gleam of his eyes in the dark. "You really want me to?" he asks, soft.

"Please?"

He grins. "Tell me to stop if you start feeling weird."

"Just fucking do it!"

He laughs at that, and feels a surge of affection for angry, mewling Eddie. But he does what he's told: he pulls Eddie's underwear down further, and he ducks his head, flattening his tongue to the tip of Eddie's hard, ready dick. Eddie's hips buck immediately. Richie has to put a hand on his stomach to pin him down, and he licks him, teasing him, and when Eddie is tugging on his hair hard enough to hurt, he gives in, and takes Eddie's dick in his mouth.

Eddie never does tell him to stop.

Afterward, Eddie wrinkles his nose when Richie tries to kiss him, but Richie just turns his face, and presses his smile into Eddie's cheek.

---

The last day that everyone is together is one of the first cool, breezy days of August.

In a lot of a ways, it's a day like every other day. They dick around doing nothing for most of the day, going for a swim at the quarry, and drying in the sunshine, having a bonfire at the Barrens, and spending the evening at Mike's, lying in a maze of bodies in the grass, and staring at the stars, drinking and smoking and joking. It doesn't feel like the end of something.

But, in the days to come, each of them will leave for school.

They'll spend their nights with new, different people who don't know what they know, who haven't grown up in Derry, Maine, and who won't ever know what it was like to be a loser.

The darker the sky above gets, the more aware Richie grows of that strange, sad truth.

It'll be months before everyone is back in Derry for the holidays.

"Do you guys want to know a secret?" Ben asks.

"No," Richie says.

Somebody throws an empty, crushed beer can at Richie, and he doesn't see who it is. He doesn't care. He laughs, and turns his head to look at Ben, to share a smile with him.

"I don't want to leave tomorrow," Ben says. "I don't want to start over again. I'm afraid that I won't ever make friends like you guys again."

"Y-you'll always have u-us, though, Bill says.

"I know."

"We should all say a secret," Eddie says.

It's quiet.

"Sometimes," Stan says, "I—" He stops. "Sometimes, I'm sad, and I don't know why. I wake up, and I . . . I just wish I could go back to sleep. It's not all the time. It's just . . ."

"I think that's normal." Ben's voice is soft, kind.

"Probably." Stan clears his throat. "Somebody else go."

"I forget," Mike says, abrupt. "For days at a time, I forget about It. It. Then, suddenly, I blink, and I remember, and I don't know how I forgot."

It.

The sewers. George. The house on Neibolt. The clown. It.

"I forget, too," Richie says. He can't even remember when he last thought about It.

"Me, t-too," Bill says.

Eddie's hand finds Richie's hand. It's easier to forget, isn't it? They want to forget, and, most of the time, they do. There's something scary about that, though. They shouldn't be able to, should they?

"Anyway." Richie clears his throat loudly. "My turn?" He makes a drumroll noise. "I'm gay. For real. I like boys."

"This is a secret?" Stan says.

"I thought you were bisexual," Ben says.

"You thought I was what?"

"You know, you like girls, and you like boys. Bisexual. You're dating Eddie, but you've been with girls before, too, and liked it."

"There's a word?" He sits up. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Ben is amused. "Yeah. It's—if you're attracted to men as well as to women, you're bisexual. I mean, I know we've never talked about it, and I shouldn't just assume, but—"

"I'm bisexual!" Richie says.

There's laughter.

"Congratulations," Mike says.

"I can't believe you've been withholding this information from me, Haystack. Here I was, questioning my state of being, and what do you do? Nothing. Here I bestowed my friendship on you, and you betrayed me."

"I didn't know you didn't know!" Ben says, laughing.

"I'm sorry, I, a bisexual, can't hear you over the sound of your betrayal."

"W-what about E-Eddie?" Bill asks.

"What about Eddie?"

"I'm don't like girls," Eddie says. "I'm not like Richie. I'm just regular, old—gay. I guess you guys all already knew about us, so that isn't really a secret. But. Yeah. Gay."

"How did you—?" Stan stops.

"How did I bag a catch like Eddie Spaghetti?" Richie says. "Easy. Charisma, persistence, and, of course, pure animal magnetism. He couldn't resist this tight bod. The real question is, how did Eddie Spaghetti bag a catch like me?"

"I think I just threw up a little in my mouth," Eddie says.

"Aw, Eds!" He rolls over, and throws a leg, an arm, and half of his body onto Eddie. "Don't be shy, my little sugar cookie!" He smacks a loud, wet kiss to Eddie's cheek. "Mwah!"

"Get off me!"

"Mwah, mwah, mwah!"

Three different crushed, empty beer cans are thrown at Richie.

He flops onto his side with a sigh.

"You're disgusting," Eddie says, pulling up his shirt to wipe at the spit on his face.

"I h-have so m-many questions about you t-t-two," Bill says.

"Please don't ask them here," Stan says. "I'd really rather not know. I'd rather know as little as possible, in fact."

"You don't want me to give you the details on how big Eddie's—"

"Beep, beep, Richie!" Eddie screeches.

There's a round of laughter, and Richie grins at the sky above him. He can't help it. All of his friends know the whole, forbidden truth about him now, and they don't care, hardly even batted an eye.

"What were you going to ask before, Stan?" Ben asks. "How did you . . . ?"

"Oh." Stan is quiet. "Just—how did you guys know that you were gay? Or bisexual. Or, no, wait. Stop. I revise my question. Eddie, how did you know you were gay?"

"I was just never . . . interested in girls. And I was interested in Richie. And when he kissed me, it—I don't know. It took me a while to admit it to myself. I knew, but I refused to know. Honestly, though? Now that I look back? I'm pretty sure I should have known years ago. I think I used to have a crush on Bill."

"Bill?" Richie says, outraged.

"R-really?" Bill says.

"Is that weird to say?" Eddie asks, something newly hesitant in his voice.

"H-hey, Trashmouth," Bill says, grinning. "Remember that t-time your b-b-boyfriend had a c-crush on me?"

"Nope. That never happened. It's a lie. Eddie is known for lying! He's notorious. Moving on. It's your turn to share a secret, Big Bill. Let's hear it. Spill."

"O-okay." He pauses. "I . . ."

"You don't have to if you don't want to," Stan says, soft.

"I w-want to. I think s-s-sometimes, my p-parents wish i-it had b-been me. Instead of G-Georgie. And they s-say they don't b-b-blame me, b-but I know they d-do. S-sometimes, I d-do, t-too."

"It wasn't your fault," Ben says.

"Yeah, I—I know."

Richie's parents wish for another, different kid, too. And, sometimes, it feels like it's his fault they didn't get what they wanted. He can't say that, though. It isn't the same. Bill has it worse. Bill has it much, much worse. Richie will never really know what it was like for Bill to lose Georgie, what it's like for him to live every day with having lost the person who was most important to him.

"You know we love you, right?" Eddie says.

"I know y-you do." There's a smile in Bill's voice.

"Daggoneit!" Richie rolls over onto his stomach, and pushes up. "You wanna go, amigo?" he yells. "We can go! We can take this outside right now!"

"I'm sorry, is that a Spanish voice?" Stan says.

"I think it's a cowboy voice," Eddie says.

"I didn't know cowboys said amigo," Mike says.

"I'll take all y'll!" Richie shouts. "Pow, pow, pow!" He maims shooting guns at them. "I'll shoot all y'll dead! 'Cept you, cutie. I'm keepin' you." He clicks his tongue at Eddie.

"I'm touched."

Bill laughs. "Ben is r-right. I d-don't think I'll ever m-m-make f-friends like you g-guys a-again."

"To the losers!" Richie says, lifting a can of beer.

"To the losers!"

Richie could have lived in that night forever.

If he'd known what was going to happen, he might have wanted to. If he'd remembered whom he'd already lost, he might have wanted to reach for whatever he could have touched in that moment: Stan's arm, Mike's leg, Bill's head. If he'd known what It was already in the process of doing to them, he might have cried.

He didn't know any of that, though.

Lying in the grass with the people who were supposed to be his best friends forever, Richie was simply, irrepressibly happy.

---

Eddie is stressed in the airport. He's stressed when they're boarding, and he mutters about his inhaler while he's settling into a tiny ass seat, while he's using a bunch of wet Clorox wipes on everything in reach. And when the plan takes off, he's a mess.

He squeezes Richie's hand so tightly it hurts.

Richie's struck suddenly with the thought of what this would be like if Eddie hadn't decided to go to UCLA, too.

He can't even fucking imagine.

He squeezes Eddie's hand right back, and he leans in, starting to talk in a low, gravely pilot voice, cracking dick jokes about the power of the engine. It makes Eddie snort. He keeps on talking and talking and talking, and he doesn't stop until Eddie is laughing, is shaking his head, is opening his eyes to look at Richie, and telling him fondly to shut the fuck up.

---

There was a spot on the forms that asked you if you had a request for a roommate, and said that preferences would be given if the person you requested had requested you.

Richie put Eddie's name in big, block letters.

Maggie was unimpressed at the news that they planned to share a room. She warned Richie that it wasn't always a very good idea to live with friends, adding that, really, he should seriously consider the opportunity that a random roommate presents. Richie couldn't have cared less what she thought.

He did it anyway.

Why would he want to live with some random person when he could live with his fucking favorite person?

And that's how they wind up living together in a closet that's fifteen by fifteen feet.

("Do you know I never considered the fact that I would be sleeping on an actual used mattress?" Eddie says, standing in the doorway, and scanning the small, empty room, eying one of the thin, bare mattresses.

"You can always sleep in my bed," Richie says.

"You say that like you, too, won't be sleeping on a mattress that's seen God knows what."

"It's going to have seen a hell of a lot more when I'm done with it." He drops his duffle by one of the beds, and sits on the mattress. "Supple," he says. He pats the spot beside him. "Come on, lover."

"Gross," Eddie says, and, with a sigh, he rolls his suitcase into the room.)

It's great.

Everything about college is great.

After a week, Richie can safely say that he fucking loves college.

He loves doing stupid icebreaker games with the guys in his dorm. He loves that his R.A. tells the group of them to keep the door shut if they're doing something they shouldn't, and to buy Febreze to spray around if he knocks on the door, so he can honestly say to his superiors that he didn't smell anything weird.

"He's talking about weed," Richie says, gleeful.

"I got that," Eddie replies dryly.

He loves arguing with Eddie about how to arrange the furniture in the room. He loves the food in the giant, crowded dining hall. He loves how everyone is excited, how everyone is friendly, how everyone he meets didn't know him when he was five, and has no irreversible, preconceived notion about him, is happy to meet him.

He loves that at the end of the evening, he closes the door to where he lives, and Eddie is there to stay.

(You know what's a totally awesome thing?

He gets to see Eddie after he showers.

His skin is particularly pink, and his wet, messy hair is plastered down stupidly, and he looks adorable in his plastic shower shoes with a towel wrapped around his waist. Plus, he's got a routine. He combs his hair in the mirror they've put on the back of the door, and he checks his entire fucking person for new, suspicious moles, lumps, or other warning signs, and, oh, also, he rubs a lot of lotion on his arms, and his shoulders, on his legs.

"Do you have to watch me?" he demands.

"Eddie Spaghetti, my love, I could not look away from you right now if I tried.")

Nobody has made the leap that they're together.

It isn't something they talk about. Why would they? They're practiced at acting like friends in public, and there isn't really a reason to change it. They might have told the losers, but neither of them is ready to tell the world. They have plenty of time to themselves.

Truthfully, they fight a lot in those first few, new weeks over what a "slob" Richie is.

("Is it really that hard to respect the fact that we have a designated shoe bucket for putting your shoes, and it ISN'T the middle of the fucking room?!")

But.

Here's the thing about sharing a room.

Richie comes back to the dorm at the end of his very first week of classes, and he's in good fucking mood, because he likes a lot of his classes, and now it's the weekend, and he likes that even more than he likes his classes.

Eddie is sitting on his bed.

"You want to go see a movie?" he asks. "This guy from my sociology class invited me." He drops his backpack by his bed. "He's from New York, and his father is a baker, and I told him the joke about the muffin, and he thought it was fucking hilarious. You know the one I mean? Two muffins are in the oven. One muffin says to the other, whoa, it's hot in here! And the other muffin says, holy shit, a talking muffin!" He laughs. "He's cool. Kevin. That's his name."

"I bought some condoms," Eddie says.

Richie actually chokes on his own fucking spit.

"Lube, too."

"Fuck."

"That was generally the idea." His voice is steady, is mild, and relaxed, but there's a tinge of pink on his cheeks. "Do you want to?" he asks. "I did some reading about how to prepare, and get, like, clean—" His whole face starts growing red. "And I sort of already did that. Cleaned up. Earlier. Fuck, this is awkward. So . . . ?"

"Yes." Richie nods quickly. "Yes. I'm not sure what's on the table, but I'm in. Yes."

"Can you lock the door?"

He trips in his haste to lock the door.

That makes Eddie smile. He closes the textbook that was on his lap, shifting to put it on the desk by his bed, and Richie takes that as an invitation to sit on his bed with him. Eddie turns to face him on the bed. "I figured we didn't have to have, like, actual sex tonight. But. We could practice some of the stuff you do to get ready for it?" His face is nervous, but his eyes are shining.

"Okay," Richie says. "Definitely." Impulsively, he takes Eddie's hand.

Eddie must have liked that, because he leans up, and kisses Richie softly. "Do you—do you have a preference for . . .?" He pulls back slightly to meet Richie's gaze.

It takes Richie a minute to catch up. "Oh, um. Do you?"

"Kind of."

He raises his eyebrows.

"I thought I might like to . . . take it." He flushes.

Richie grins slowly. "Is my little cutie Eddie Spaghetti saying he'd like me to stick my noodle up his—"

Eddie claps a hand over Richie's mouth. "No," he says. "Nobody is talking about noodles." He lowers his hand, and he shifts, crawling into Richie's lap, and straddling him. "I'm saying I want you to fuck me in the ass, Richie." He kisses him.

Richie is stunned.

"What do you think?" Eddie asks, and there's something smug in his voice.

Richie just grabs his face, and kisses him properly: a hot, opened-mouth kiss that makes Eddie him curl his fingers in Richie's t-shirt, that makes him press in closer.

They don't go to the movies that night.

But Richie makes Eddie come with a finger up his ass, so he isn't really disappointed about missing the movie.

They order pizza, because the dining hall closed while they were in bed.

And when Eddie is starting to nod off during the movie, they call it a night. They go down the hallway to the bathroom, and they brush their teeth side by side, and wash their faces, and Richie whines profusely while Eddie makes him floss.

Back in the room, Richie is going to get into his bed.

"We just ate pizza on your bed," Eddie says.

"If you'll recall, someone fucking refused to have any food on his bed."

"And now I have nice, clean, pizza grease-free sheets to sleep in. Come on. There's room." He is setting in under the covers, and he's scooting back against the wall, and Richie realizes that Eddie wants him to sleep in his bed with him. "Just don't breathe your gross morning breath in my face when we wake up tomorrow," he says.

"I can't promise that," Richie says, climbing into the bed, and pulling up the sheets.

It is, honestly, kind of uncomfortable to sleep in a tiny twin bed with another human being.

Half an hour, and Richie pulls Eddie half on top of him just to make better use of the space. Sleepy, Eddie doesn't protest beyond making a soft, snuffling noise. Richie still can't sleep very well, but he just doesn't fucking care.

His mother is an idiot if she thinks there would have been a better way for this to go.

Sharing a room with Eddie is the best.

Eddie is the best.

The next four years are going to be fucking great. He doesn't know what he wants to major in, and he couldn't answer any of last week's dumb icebreakers that asked what his dream was, but he'll figure it out, and Eddie will figure it out, too. They'll figure it out together.

---

("Rich, you know it was just a nightmare," Eddie says. "You have to know. You think I'd just walk away if It had you? I'd fucking murder that clown the moment he looked at you."

"I—I know."

"It was just a nightmare."

"Yeah."

Eddie takes his hand. It startles Richie. It shouldn't, though. It's normal for Eddie to take his hand, a way to comfort him. Still. It makes Richie's heart skip a beat, and he looks up, and he meets Eddie's gaze, and, at fourteen, he thinks for the very first time that he really, really loves Eddie.

"You're pretty much my best friend, Richie," Eddie says. "I'd never abandon you."

"Me, neither," Richie says.

"I know." Eddie smiles softly. "I always know I can count on you. You've already proved it. And now you know that those nightmares are bullshit, because you know you can always count on me."

Richie is going to make a joke, going to use a voice. He doesn't, though. Before he has the chance, Eddie leans forward, and hugs him.)

---

tbc.