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i didn't realize what a kiss could be

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Eddie’s life is easy.

He wakes up at seven o’clock every morning, gets ready for the day before eating breakfast with his wife, Myra, who he doesn’t love. Then, he leaves his house, wishing it would be the last time, and drives to his horrible job at the IRS tristate headquarters in the city. He spends most of his day thinking about where he’d go if he left, but then he always just drives home at five o’clock anyways. Myra makes them both dinner, and she usually goes to sit in bed to wait for him, but he hasn’t come up before she fell asleep in years.

He spends the last couple hours of the day alone, downstairs, in his living room. He listens to the radio, because an old friend of his has a radio show, and it’s nice to hear a familiar voice, even if he hasn’t seen the kid in years. He drinks, a little bit, during the show.

Sometimes he wonders what he’d do if he left now. The day is peppered with moments like that.

When the radio show ends, he goes to bed. Myra’s asleep every time, or at least pretending to be. He sleeps with his back to her, then wakes up at seven o’clock again the next morning.


Eddie is walking a fucking tightrope, and any deviation from the norm, he thinks, will send him hurtling to the ground, and so he’s on high alert when someone rings the doorbell at 7:30 in the morning. He pauses, toothbrush in his mouth, and listens for Myra. Nothing. She must not have heard it from the kitchen.

Eddie spits into the sink and goes to investigate himself. He hasn’t shaved yet, but he’s mostly dressed, so he figures he’s presentable enough for whatever milkman or newsboy needs their attention this early in the morning.

Except it’s not a milkman, and it’s absolutely not a newsboy. It’s a vaguely familiar adult man, dressed in an unbuttoned blazer thrown over a shirt that would be nice if it wasn’t so rumpled, and Eddie frowns for a moment before it clicks. Richie Tozier.

“Eddie Kaspbrak?” the guys asks, and if Eddie hadn’t already just put the pieces together, the voice would’ve sold him. It’s the exact voice he listens to every single night while he idly wonders what would happen if he ran away and never looked back.

“Richie Tozier,” Eddie breathes. He looks over his shoulder guiltily, as if he had done something wrong by answering the door when someone rang the bell, but Myra still hasn’t come to see what’s going on. He almost pushes Richie out to talk on the front porch, but that’s foolish. He’s not thinking clearly. “What— What are you doing here?”

“I’m in town for a couple months, thought I’d look up some old pals and see if anyone was still hanging around,” Richie says. “And who do I find but ol’ Eddie Kaspbrak, still living in the same house he lived in when we were kids together.”

“I inherited it when my mother died,” Eddie tells him.

“Sorry to hear that,” Richie says, but he doesn’t sound sorry. He’s the first person who didn’t sound sorry when they said it, and that sends a little thrill through Eddie, for some reason. Probably because he’s not entirely sorry, either. “Can I…”

“Oh, of course,” Eddie says, stepping back and allowing Richie inside the house. He’s got a jacket slung over one shoulder that he hangs on the coat rack when Eddie motions towards it, and it gives him a second to look Richie Tozier over. He hasn’t seen him since they both graduated from college four years ago and kissed each other behind the town hall after graduation. Richie’s filled out since then, grown into broad shoulders and his curling hair, the easy grin that has stretched across his face since they were children together.

“So, how’s life treating you, Eds?” Richie asks. He’d taken his blazer off, too, after a moment of hesitation, leaving him in his rumpled button-up and a pair of suspenders Eddie hadn’t noticed before. “Place looks nice.”

“Thank you,” Eddie says. “Well, I— I’m married. Oh, God, I forgot—”

“You forgot you were married?” Richie asks, and Eddie stops to laugh.

“No, no,” he says, “I forgot to tell Myra I answered the door.” He pauses, and he accidentally lets it go on too long before he says, “Oh, I should— Would you like to meet Myra?”

“Would I like to meet the woman who captured Eddie Kaspbrak’s heart? Yes, please,” Richie answers. He slings his arm across Eddie’s shoulders like no time has passed at all since they separated after graduation.

“She hasn’t—” Eddie starts to say, then stops. Richie glances down at him. He’s always brought out the fucking god-honest worst in Eddie. He could never shut up around Richie Tozier, and it had never caused him anything but trouble.

“Hasn’t captured your heart?” Richie asks, because he’s never been able to shut up, either, as it turns out.

“That’s not what I meant to say,” Eddie snaps.

“What did you mean to say?” Richie asks. Eddie can’t think of anything fast enough, so Richie says, “I’m not married.”

“You’re not?” Eddie asks, more confused than anything. “But you talk about your wife on your show.”

Richie barks a laugh, tugging Eddie in to mess up his hair. Eddie scowls at him, bats his hands away. “You listen to my show, Eds? I’m so flattered, honest. That’s sweet of you. Do you still talk to any of the other boys? Do they listen to my show, too?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never brought it up,” Eddie tells him. Richie stops mussing his hair, pulling back a little to look down into Eddie’s face. He can feel himself heating up, skin flushing, so he ducks out of Richie’s warm touch. It’s for the best, even if it hurts like a physical pain to pull away from him like that.

“Keeping me a secret, Eddie?” Richie asks. His voice is too low. Eddie’s balance on the tightrope is slipping. The nebulous daydreams about running away from his life start to take a harder sort of shape in Richie Tozier. It’s all too much.

“Of course not,” Eddie says, and has to force himself to turn away from Richie. It hurts, God, it hurts, but if he doesn’t do it now, he never will. “Come meet Myra. The woman who stole Eddie Kaspbrak’s heart.”

Eddie doesn’t look back, but he can hear Richie following at his heels after a moment. He doesn’t make a comment, which is rare for the Richie Tozier that Eddie remembers, but he takes the small blessing if it means he’ll behave in front of Myra.

“Myra, darling, we have a guest,” Eddie says, and Myra spins away from the stove, hands clutching at her chest.

“I’m not dressed properly,” Myra snaps, then turns an apologetic smile on Richie. “I’m so sorry, come in. Eddie should’ve told me he was expecting someone.”

“No, no, that’s my fault,” Richie says, taking the seat Myra motions to. It’s right next to Eddie’s regular spot, which means it’s not weird that Eddie sits right next to him. In fact, it’d be weirder if he didn’t sit there, he tells himself. Reassures. Justifies. “My name’s Richie Tozier, sorry, I just realized I didn’t introduce myself. Well, I’m an old friend of Eddie’s, and he— I just dropped in, poor Eddie had no idea I was coming. In all honesty, Mrs. Kaspbrak, neither did I. I’m going to be doing my show from the city for the next few months, something of a test run to see if I can do a better job nationally, see, so they sent me here and I realized, I’m not sure if I knew anyone still hanging around back home.” Richie grins at Eddie, and he’s been talking for so long Eddie’s entirely forgotten that it’s nearly 8:00 and his entire day’s pretty much shifted off its schedule.

“My goodness,” Myra says, in response to all of that. “Have you eaten?”

“I couldn’t impose,” Richie tells her.

“No, no, we insist,” Myra responds. Eddie partially wants to hug her and partially wants to throttle her, and all for the same reason: the longer Richie stays, the more Eddie’s skin itches. His balance is shifting, he knows it is, and everything he’s so carefully buried and ignored for years is clawing its way to the surface.

“If you’re sure,” Richie says, blissfully unaware of Eddie’s world tipping to its side.

“Of course, we’re sure,” Myra says, ever the false front of the gracious hostess. It’s better than the cold silences, Eddie supposes. “Eddie can give you a ride to your new house on his way to work, where’d you say it was?”

Richie and Myra make small talk with one another while Eddie watches in horror. These are the only two people he has ever kissed and meant it seriously, even if it was in very different ways. The thing is, Richie knows he must’ve kissed Myra, at some point, even if Eddie hadn’t known where to send an invitation to his wedding and so Richie hadn’t come.

The difference, though, is Myra has no idea that Eddie has ever kissed Richie. She has no idea he has ever kissed any boys, not Bill Denbrough when they were boys, or Stanley Uris when he’d been a bit older than a boy. He’d kissed Richie more than once in that time, and the last time had been when they graduated, before he had said, “Richie, we can’t,” and Richie had left and Eddie had never seen him again.

“Eddie, honey, eat your breakfast, you’re going to be late,” Myra says, snapping Eddie back out of his daze. He’d just been staring at Richie’s profile, he realizes with horror, at the curve of his mouth as he laughs and the warmth of his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

“Sorry,” Eddie mumbles, shoving his toast in his mouth and draining his coffee mug before standing.

“Dear, you haven’t shaved,” Myra reminds him. Eddie fights back a sigh.

“I wouldn’t want to be late,” he manages, before getting up and kissing Myra on the cheek. “I’ll see you tonight, Myra.”

“Richie, will you join us for dinner tonight?” Myra asks, the second before Richie leaves the room, and Eddie closes his eyes. He gathers himself, then turns to look at Richie. The two of them lock eyes.

“I’d love to,” Richie says. Eddie’s heart sinks.

“Wonderful,” Myra says. “I’m looking forward to it. You’re not allergic to anything, are you?”

“No,” Richie says, though Eddie knows full well he’s Jewish, and there were dietary restrictions that went with that, but Richie’s still looking dead on at him, and he can’t find the words to speak up.

“I’ll make us a roast, then,” Myra says. Richie finally looks away from Eddie to grin at Myra.

“Thanks so much, Mrs. Kaspbrak,” Richie says, shaking her hand and then kissing the back of it with a big, theatrical grin, making Myra laugh with that strange false-high tone she gets. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Goodbye,” Myra says, and Eddie all but shoves Richie out the door. He manages to get him back into his blazer and jacket before shoving them in his car.

“Do you have your own car?” Eddie asks, suddenly realizing there’s no other vehicles outside. “How did you get here?”

“I took a cab,” Richie tells him. “There’s supposed to be a car at the house, I came straight to you.”

Eddie fights down the flush that threatens to spread across his face at that. “Why would you do that, Richie?”

“Because I missed you.” Richie turns to face him, but Eddie doesn’t look away from the road as he drives, trying to find the address Richie had given him. “I’d hoped you missed me, too.”

Eddie doesn’t respond. Richie sighs, looking away again, out the passenger side window. The silence grows stifling, but Eddie doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what pushes the line and what doesn’t. He doesn’t know if he wants to be faithful to Myra or faithful to Richie, and even that thought is absurd, because Myra is his wife and Richie is someone he hasn’t seen in four years.

“I did miss you,” Eddie finally manages to say. Richie turns to look at him again; he sees it in his peripherals. “But things are different now, Richie. I’m married.”

“You’re married,” Richie says. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“And how would you propose I do that?” Eddie demands, white-knuckling the steering wheel. “I didn’t have an address, Richie. Or a phone number. You just left.”

“After you told me you couldn’t be with me anymore,” Richie reminds him.

“Because I couldn’t,” Eddie says, begging Richie to understand. “Richie, we couldn’t.”

“No, you couldn’t,” Richie snaps. The silence comes back, and it’s worse, somehow. Rotting. The air feels stuffy and hot, so Eddie rolls down his window. They get to the address Richie gave him, and he parks on the street, rolling to a stop right outside the house. It’s a nice little place, not far at all from Eddie’s house.

“Richie—” Eddie starts to say, just as Richie says, “Eds, I—”

“Go ahead,” Richie allows.

“I’m sorry,” Eddie tells him. “I didn’t— I never wanted to lose you. That’s why I didn’t say anything for so long. I was scared I’d lose you.”

Richie frowns at him. He looks confused, like he’s still trying to work something out. “Eddie, can I ask you something and have you be honest with me?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie admits.

“If you can’t be honest, don’t say anything at all, then,” Richie says. Eddie nods. “Eddie. Are you happy?”

Eddie starts to say Yes, starts to say Of course, starts to say What kind of a question is that, but the words all stick in his throat. He stops, then looks down at the steering wheel. Like Richie told him to, he doesn’t say anything at all.

“Okay,” Richie says, in the silence. He looks out the car windows on all sides, then leans in and says, “Stop me if I’m wrong, Eddie.”

He kisses him on the cheek. Nothing untoward, not even close to his mouth. It still makes him feel more than Myra has in four years. Eddie shuts his eyes, warmth flushing over his skin, and he shivers. Richie pulls back.

“I won’t go to dinner tonight if you ask me not to,” Richie tells him. Eddie can’t find the words for what he wants. All he knows is that what he wants is very, very different from what he’s supposed to do.

In the end, he gives in to temptation. “Come.”

Richie smiles at him. “Okay, Eds.”

“I’ll pick you up on my way home,” Eddie tells him, even though he can see the car in Richie’s driveway just as well as Richie can. “And give you a ride back afterwards, if that’s alright.”

“That’s alright,” Richie answers. After a moment of silence, he says, “Well… Alright, then,” and gets out of the car. He leans in the open door for a beat, then decides against whatever he was going to say and instead says, “Have a good day at work, Eds.”

“See you at five, Richie,” Eddie replies. Richie shuts the car door and heads up his walkway. He kicks a rock aside near the front door, then bends down to pick something up from under it; he turns back to Eddie, triumphant, holding a key above his head, and Eddie can’t help but laugh. Richie manages to get his front door open, and he waves to Eddie before going inside.

The door shuts behind him.

Eddie takes a full additional two minutes before he musters the strength to continue his drive to work.

The entire day is a wash. All Eddie can think about is Richie kissing him on the cheek. That’s all. He feels it on his face still, as if he’d been branded by Richie’s lips. In a way, he feels, he has been. He feels marked, somehow. By a kiss on the cheek. He hasn’t felt this way in years.

Since Richie left, his mind unhelpfully supplies. Eddie tries to focus on the meeting he’s in, but he just can’t find it in himself. The minutes drag. His mind is plagued by thoughts of Richie’s broad shoulders, his laughing mouth, the warm press of his arm along Eddie’s shoulders, Richie’s hand in his.

More than once, Eddie goes to the men’s bathroom and splashes cold water on his face. More than once, too, he contemplates going into one of the bathroom stalls and silently solving the problem himself, but it feels too far in a way he can’t begin to wrap his thoughts around, so he doesn’t. Instead, he suffers through the entire day flushed and hot and wanting.

Five o’clock comes to him like a slug, and he all but bursts out of his office to leave the second he’s able to. He rockets down the stairs rather than wait for an elevator, and certainly pushes the rules of the road rushing back out of the city and into the suburbs, but there’s nobody to see him do it but him.

He makes it to Richie’s house in record time. After a beat of hesitation, he parks the car and goes up to Richie’s front door, knocks. He can hear running footsteps inside before Richie throws the door open.

“You came back,” Richie says, grinning, like he didn’t think Eddie really would. “Come in, sit down, I’m just getting myself together. You got here quicker than I thought you would.”

“Not much traffic,” Eddie lies. He sits down on Richie’s sofa. The place doesn’t look like it was decorated by Richie at all, but he’s already started throwing his things around everywhere. Eddie’s sure it’ll look pretty much like every room of Richie’s always had — that is to say, a total mess — within the week.

Richie ties his shoes on, glasses slipping to the end of his nose as he works. He’s showered and redressed, but he hasn’t shaved or anything like that. He’s still a little rumpled-seeming, but in a more deliberate way. He stands up, dusts himself off. When he spreads his arms out, he grins. “How do I look?”

“Great,” Eddie says without thinking. He stands, too. “Richie, I—” He starts to say, then stops.

“What’s bothering you, Eddie?” Richie asks. “You’ve been too quiet. It’s unsettling.”

Eddie shakes his head, then says, “I wish we could, Richie.”

“We can.” Thank God. Richie’s always known what Eddie means from what he says, even if Eddie himself hasn’t always known. “Eddie, we can. You know that, right?”

“We can’t,” Eddie insists, because if they can, he’s wasted four years of his life without Richie for no reason, and that’s unacceptable. “Everyone— Richie, everyone wants the— the house! And the wife, and the white picket fence, and the job, and all that. It’s the American dream, Rich.”

“But is it your dream?” Richie asks. Eddie stares up at him, brow furrowed.

“What?” Eddie says, just to stall. He has no idea what to say.

“I’m just saying,” Richie says. “You said it’s the American dream. It doesn’t really sound like it’s your dream.”

Eddie frowns. “You don’t know me.”

“I guess not,” Richie replies. “What do you want, Eddie?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie tells him. It’s as honest as he can manage. “I don’t really know.”

“Alright,” Richie says. He goes to walk away, but Eddie catches his wrist. He doesn’t mean to, and he’s not even sure he does it consciously, but there they are, Eddie’s hand wrapped around Richie’s wrist. They stare at each other for a long moment.

“It’s a nice bachelor pad,” Eddie says, which isn’t what he means at all. “You’re not—”

“Married?” Richie says. “No, I told you. Not married, not seeing any pretty ladies. Completely unattached.”

The way Richie looks at him says he’s not completely unattached. Eddie aches to see it.

“You can visit any time you’d like,” Richie tells him. He pulls free of Eddie’s grasp and goes to the dish next to his front door, fishes out the spare key. He presses it into the center of Eddie’s palm. After a moment, he curls Eddie’s fingers around it for him, and puts his own hand over Eddie’s. “I mean that, Eddie.”

Eddie sighs, then tips his face up. Richie’s so close, looking down into his eyes so intensely that Eddie’s heart jumps, and he just has to stretch up and press a kiss to the corner of Richie’s mouth. Richie’s eyes close, slowly, and he leans into Eddie, one hand coming up to cup Eddie’s face in his hand.

“Richie,” he murmurs. He pulls back. Richie lets him go, steps away, too. The two of them stand, nearly vibrating out of their skin.

“We have to go to dinner,” Richie reminds him. The words are like a cannonball from a cannon that Eddie somehow hadn’t seen, sideswiping them both. “Your wife—”

“She can’t know,” Eddie says. He doesn’t even know what she can’t know. That he kissed someone else? That he kissed a man? That he kissed Richie? That this isn’t the first time he kissed Richie? That he wishes he could keep kissing Richie?

All of it. None of it.

“I won’t say a word,” Richie says, and Eddie knows he won’t. He kisses the corner of his mouth again, but doesn’t allow himself any more than that before he’s stepping away.

“You’re right, we have to go,” Eddie agrees. He leads Richie out to his car quietly, and they only make it a minute into the ride in silence.

“I’ve missed you something stupid, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says. Eddie laughs.

“Don’t call me that,” Eddie admonishes.

“Aw, you always liked it before,” Richie says.

“I did not,” Eddie says, warming. “You insisted I did, but I’m sure I told you—”

“You told me a lot of things, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says, “and I hung on your every word. You were too pretty to ignore.”

“Richie,” Eddie snaps.

“I can’t do it at dinner,” Richie reminds him.

“You shouldn’t do it at all,” Eddie says, but he doesn’t have time to elaborate further, because that’s the note they pull into his driveway on. It’s already past sunset, since they’re heading into the colder parts of fall and, soon, winter, so Richie’s face is lit in the darkness by his porch light as they jog up to his front door.

“Eddie!” Myra exclaims, as the two of them come in. “Mr. Tozier, come in, I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Richie’s fine,” Richie says, letting Myra take the jacket from his hands. Eddie sees her nose scrunch up at the feel of the jacket under her hands.

“Richie, then,” she says, hanging the jacket up. Eddie trails after them as Myra fakes her small talk and Richie tries to ask genuine questions, but he can’t find it himself to speak up. He just listens, lost in his own thoughts, drifting through his meal. A foot against the inside of his calf brings him sharply back into the present, and he realizes it’s not a heel far too late. He looks up to Richie, eyes wide, and Richie just smiles at him.

“Welcome back to planet Earth, Eddie,” Richie says. Myra laughs. Eddie feels his face heating up, embarrassed, so he takes a drink of his water and focuses on his food. “What were you thinking about?”

“Just troubles at work,” Eddie lies easily, because it’s what he says whenever Myra catches him getting lost in thought like that. Typically, he’s thinking of walking out on her. It’s just easier to say work’s been rough lately.

“Eddie has a lot of troubles at work,” Myra tells Richie. “It’s because he’s so important over there.”

“I’m sure,” Richie says. His touch travels up to Eddie’s inner thigh, and Eddie looks away a second too late to miss Richie’s wink at him.

“You wouldn’t know anything about that, I’m sure, being a radio man,” Myra says, in that tone she gets when she’s pushing for information. Richie laughs, jostling his touch on Eddie. He huffs, filled with hot yearning and distracted fog.

“You’d be surprised,” Richie says. He fills Eddie’s silences with stories about the radio station, about how recording the shows works, about what brings him to town. Eddie just grows warmer, then hotter, Richie’s ankle hooked around his, one of his hands drifting over the inside of Eddie’s thigh, making him ache for something he hasn’t felt in so, so long. He chases it, pushes back, antagonizes Richie when Myra’s in the room and when she isn’t. It’s wrong, he knows, it’s horrible, but it doesn’t feel horrible. It feels worse to be unfaithful to Richie than it does to be unfaithful to Myra.

“Can you stay for coffee?” Myra asks after dessert. Richie looks to Eddie, who shakes his head, nearly imperceptibly.

“No, unfortunately,” Richie says. “Early day tomorrow, with all this radio work, you know. It’s an all-day project, getting set up.”

“Of course,” Myra says, even though she doesn’t know anything about it. Eddie just wants to get Richie back outside. He feels like a live wire, as though Richie’s touch would send him sparking into flame. He feels dangerous, foolish, hot and angry and searching and wanting.

“I hope I’ll see you again soon,” Richie says, looking from Myra to Eddie. “Will you give a poor old radio man a ride back to his humble home, Mr. Kaspbrak?”

“Go, go,” Myra says, before Eddie can even answer. “I won’t wait up, you two go catch up.”

Eddie’s heart speeds up to a thundering roar. He feels like a locomotive.

“Goodnight, Myra,” Eddie says. He forgets to kiss her on the cheek before he leaves, but he doesn’t even realize until he’s already in the car with Richie. His pulse is thrumming through his veins, echoing in his ears.

“Are you okay?” Richie asks, reaching out and setting his hand on Eddie’s thigh. It’s like a hot brand, even through Eddie’s pants, and he full-body twitches in response to the feeling. Richie’s hand pulls back, hesitant, then returns, creeps up Eddie’s thigh. Eddie shivers.

“Let me drive,” Eddie says quietly. Richie pulls his hand back, and Eddie starts to drive. He’s a little reckless, sure, and a little fast, but he gets them back to Richie’s house in one piece. He’s the first one out of the car, and he uses the key Richie only just gave him to let them both in to his dark, mostly-empty house.

“I’ll get us a drink,” Richie says. He leaves the room and goes to the kitchen, leaving Eddie alone in his darkened living room. He switches on the overhead light, but it’s too bright. He opts for the lamps instead, and the room glows with soft light, warm; it’s more intimate, but, Eddie supposes, that’s what he’s going for.

Richie comes back with two glasses of something, handing one over to Eddie. He sits down on the sofa, so Eddie follows his lead, sitting just a little bit too close. Richie drinks half his drink.

“I’ve missed you, Eddie,” Richie repeats. “I just wanted you to know that.”

Eddie’s already stayed longer than he should’ve. He should have left Richie at the door and went home to Myra. He should’ve made sure he got inside safely, then gone. He shouldn’t have come inside. He shouldn’t have sat down. He shouldn’t have taken the drink.

There are so many things Eddie should and should not do on a daily basis.

“What do you want, Eddie?” Richie asks again.

“I don’t know,” Eddie answers, same as before. It doesn’t feel quite as true this time. Richie doesn’t push. “I— I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Richie allows. “Think about it.”

Eddie decides he’s told enough lies. He’s sitting too close. He’s staying too late. He’s lying too much. He’s sick of it, sick of all of it, sick of Myra and sick of his job and sick of his house, and he’s aching.

Rather than lie again, Eddie kisses Richie. This time, neither of them pulls back. The kiss isn’t on the corner of his mouth, and it isn’t on the cheek. It’s on his lips, the way it used to be, the way it was the last time they kissed, really kissed. Richie tastes just the same, tastes like something Eddie hasn’t been able to find again in years.

“I’ve missed you,” Richie says again, setting his drink down on the coffee table. He plucks Eddie’s drink from his fingers and sets his aside, too, then roams his hands over Eddie’s shoulders, down his chest. Eddie lets the dam break, lets himself touch and be touched in return. He shivers. He had no idea what feeling was, really feeling.

He kisses Richie again, mouth opening wide as he does, and Richie gasps into him. He kisses back, hungry, desperate, and Eddie’s pulse races, his hands shooting up to grab Richie’s face. He scrambles up into his lap, shoves Richie’s suspenders off his shoulders and sets to unbuttoning his shirt. It’s familiar and unfamiliar and terrifying and enlightening, and he sobs when his hands get to Richie’s skin.

“Oh, God,” Eddie whimpers, and Richie kisses him again. “Richie.”

“Yes,” Richie answers, kissing him again. “Eddie, what is it?”

“I’ve missed you,” Eddie echoes. “God, Richie, I’ve missed you, too. I’ve missed you so much.”

There’s more to say. He wants to say, I haven’t felt alive in years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the way I feel when I’m with you, and I know it’s crazy and it’s only been a day but I want to run away with you, but he can’t. He can’t, he knows that. He can hide here tonight, he can lie and cheat and pretend nothing ever happened, but he can’t leave his life behind. He can’t. People don’t just do that.

“Come back,” Richie says. “Stay out of that pretty head of yours. Stay with me.”

Eddie does. He gives himself over to what Richie is offering, his hands over his chest and his mouth on his. His hands are searing flames that tear up his flesh, and he gets them both out of their clothes and into Richie’s bed within minutes. He doesn’t know what to do, has never been sure what would happen at this point. Richie takes over from him, takes the lead, wraps his hand around them both and strokes them until Eddie’s moaning into his shoulders.

“Hold on,” Richie murmurs, and slithers down his body to wrap his mouth around Eddie. Eddie wraps his hand up in Richie’s hair. Richie works him so tenderly, so softly, so hungry and wanting, just like Eddie is. He feels like he wants to swallow Eddie whole.

“Fuck,” Eddie whispers. Richie moans around him, and Eddie’s gone, can’t stop himself, can’t help from coming down Richie’s throat. He sobs as he does, completely breaking apart under Richie’s hands. He understands, in a jarring moment of clarity, exactly what he wants, and it’s Richie.

Richie kisses him after, guides Eddie’s hand to the hard line of him. Eddie shivers.

“Eddie,” Richie whispers. Everything is hushed and humid, dark and warm and wrapped up in Richie. Everything, everything is Richie. “C’mon, Eds. Come on.”

Eddie’s spurred to movement, strokes Richie in the same way Richie had stroked them both. Richie’s huge in his hand, and it sends a thrill through Eddie that he doesn’t fully get the chance to examine before Richie’s shaking apart under him. He shudders through it.

“I don’t want to lose this,” Richie murmurs to him, in the silence that follows.

“You won’t,” Eddie tells him. “I promise, I’ll— I’ll tell Myra something. I’ll come back.”

Richie huffs a humorless laugh. “You’re not happy with her, Eddie. Just leave. We can just go.”

Eddie’s blood heats up. “We can’t just go.”

“Maybe someday,” Richie allows magnanimously. Eddie’s not sure what got him to back down, but then Richie’s kissing him again. “I’ll get you out of this hell someday, Eddie. I promise.”

Eddie doesn’t know what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. He lets Richie kiss him, and then he drags himself to Richie’s bathroom and cleans himself up. He’s careful not to use anything of Richie’s that smells too strongly, in case Myra smells it on him.

Richie crowds him up against the wall next to the front door before he leaves, kissing him softly, his back pressed nearly into the doorknob.

“Come back,” Richie says again.

“I will,” Eddie promises, even though he knows he shouldn’t. Even though he knows he can’t, that this can never happen again.

It happens again two days later. Eddie shows up on Richie’s front door at 8:30, looking down at his shoes when Richie opens the door.

“Mr. Kaspbrak, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Richie asks, and Eddie slips in through the crack in the door to kiss him again. He’d spent the last two days doing nothing but thinking of Richie’s hands on his, his mouth on his, God, his mouth. He didn’t realize what being with another person could be like. He can’t live without it. He didn’t know what he didn’t have until he had it and now he needs it.

“I missed you so much,” Eddie murmurs, kissing Richie while he unbuttons his shirt. He shoves Richie’s suspenders down, then pushes his shirt backwards off his arms.

“I can see that,” Richie says. “What did you—”

“Shh,” Eddie says, and sinks to his knees. Richie’s fingers tangle up in his hair, and his head thumps back against the wall right next to the door, and he’s occupied for long enough to forget whatever he was going to ask. He drags Eddie down the hall and wraps his mouth around him, too, licks him and kisses him and reaches behind him, opens him up under his hands.

It’s all insane and strange and new, but Eddie can’t give it up. It’s all he has to live for, now. He doesn’t even know how he was living before, because every day was grey nothingness, a slog of the same innane shit, day in and day out. Richie’s the only bright spot he has now. His days go faster because Richie’s waiting on the other side. His nights are better because he spends half of them with Richie before sneaking back home.

He lies to Myra. Of course he lies to Myra. He says they’re having a harder time at work than usual, pulls up random names and dates and fiascos until Myra gets so lost in what he’s saying that she just accepts it. She doesn’t really care what he does, as long as he goes to functions and things like that with her. She doesn’t really care about him and, he’s finding, he doesn’t really care about her, either.

It breaks Eddie’s heart to lie, but not to Myra. It breaks his heart to lie to Richie, who thinks this is going to be more than it is. Richie, who kisses him and whispers into his mouth that he’s going to take him away from all this. Richie, who has no idea that he’s lying, because he still believes he can convince Eddie to go.

The thing is, Eddie can’t go. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said that to Richie. He doesn’t see why they can’t just keep going like this, where he stays at home just long enough to convince people he’s normal, and then he goes to Richie’s house where he can be happy.

It goes further than that. Eddie starts staying at Richie’s house longer, starts getting there earlier. Richie makes him dinner. Eddie goes to the radio station to listen to his shows when he records them and when he broadcasts them. They get milkshakes and burgers and sit on the hood of Eddie’s car together at night, like they had in high school, and it feels like he’s getting a second chance, until he goes home to Myra again and he remembers—

He remembers he’s twenty-six, and Mrs. Waverley next door keeps asking when the kids are coming, because he’s not getting any younger, and neither is Myra, didn’t he know? Didn’t he know what’s expected of him?

“Why does she care if we have kids or not?” Eddie snaps, as Richie sets two plates of food down at his kitchen table and sits beside Eddie.

“Because she’s nosy, you know that,” Richie reminds him. He twirls spaghetti around his fork, looking down at his dinner, uncharacteristically quiet. “Hey— Hey, Eddie.”

“Yes?” Eddie asks. He sets his own fork down and waits. Myra thinks he’s staying late at the office, and assured him she wouldn’t wait up. He’s never wondered what she gets up to while he’s not home. He wonders if that’s a bigger sign he’s missed.

“Do you think you’re going to do it?” Richie asks. His voice is still small, and it almost sounds like it breaks.

“Do what?” Eddie asks.

“Have kids,” Richie clarifies. “Have a baby. With Myra.”

Eddie doesn’t answer. The two of them fall silent. Richie sets his own fork down, food uneaten. He buries his face in his hands.

“I can’t,” Richie whispers. Eddie’s attention snaps up to him, and Richie’s wiping the backs of his hands under his eyes. “Eddie, I— I can’t watch you do that.”

“We don’t have to have kids,” Eddie tells him desperately.

“I can’t watch you be married to her,” Richie says. “I’m— I want you to love me like you love her. I don’t want to be your secret, Eddie. I’m not— I’m not your dirty little secret, okay? I can’t be, I can’t—”

“I don’t love her,” Eddie says, cutting him off. Richie actually starts crying in earnest, looking away from him, and Eddie’s heart breaks. He’d do anything to keep Richie, anything. “We’re not going to have kids, Richie. We won’t. I love you. Okay? I don’t love her, I love you.”

Richie looks up at him, red-eyed and wet-cheeked. “What?”

“I love you,” Eddie repeats. Richie laughs through the tears, and Eddie gets up to hug him.

They don’t bring up kids again.

Richie doesn’t, anyways.

Myra does.

“People are starting to ask,” she says one morning, while Eddie’s buttoning his shirt with his back to her. He has a love bite on his chest that he’s hiding from her. “I— Is it— Do you want children?”

“Do you?” Eddie asks.

“That’s what comes next,” Myra tells him, which isn’t an answer.

Everything with her has always been about what’s supposed to come next. He met Myra, and was supposed to ask her on a date. Then, he was supposed to ask her to go steady, then to marry him. Then, they had to get married, to move in together, to have sex, even if Eddie had hated every second. It was what was supposed to happen.

He hasn’t had sex with her in five months.

Richie only moved back three months ago.

“It’s what we’re supposed to do next,” Myra says, and that’s not good enough for Eddie anymore. He’s not sure when that changed, when what he was expected to do just wasn’t enough to justify doing anything anymore. He’s not sure when, but he knows that’s exactly what got him here. The same reasons he can’t leave are the same reasons he wants to: because he has a house, and because he has a wife, and because he has a job, and because it’s 1954 and the neighbors are all looking at him and wondering what he’s doing wrong, wondering why they don’t have any children, wondering why they’re not expecting, wondering why they’re not doing what’s expected—

“I don’t care about that, Myra,” Eddie says. He leaves without eating breakfast.

Eddie knows what happiness is, because he knows what it’s not. It’s not his easy life. It’s not waking up at seven o’clock every day to a face he hates, attached to a woman he just can’t connect with, a person he doesn’t love and never has. It’s not going to a job in a city that’s too cold and impersonal, and it’s not working for eight hours or more a day doing something that doesn’t matter to anyone. It’s not living for the scraps of Richie that he can get every night, surviving off a few hours of his technicolor at a time so he can make it through the black-and-white everyday of his stupid, sepia-toned, shitty life.

Happiness isn’t found on the tightrope of Eddie’s life, he finds, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying to finally lose his balance and fall.

It all comes to a head at a housewarming party for a new family down the street. Their last name is Hindley, that much Eddie knows, and he sticks close to Myra’s side the entire time, because he doesn’t know much else.

“Oh, it’s that Richie Tozier from the radio,” the woman Myra’s talking to says, and Eddie’s head snaps up. Myra’s does, too, except she’s frowning and she looks angry for no reason. “I didn’t know he lived nearby.”

“He’s only a couple of streets over,” Eddie says without thinking. “He’s an old friend of mine.”

“Oh, lucky you,” the woman says. “He’s very funny.” She’s looking Richie up and down, and Eddie’s flesh is crawling. Something deep inside him wants to scream at her for doing this right in front of him, but he can’t, he can’t, because Richie’s not his, he’s—

I’m not your dirty little secret, Richie’s voice rings in his ears. Eddie’s wedding ring is a red-hot brand on his hand, weighing a thousand pounds all of a sudden, and his arm around her waist is suddenly so damning, he wants to pull away.

“Is he married, do you know, Eddie?” the woman asks. He doesn’t even know her name.

“Yes,” Eddie lies. “Well— He’s seeing someone, but he said it’s getting pretty serious.”

“What a tragedy,” she says. “Well, I’ll introduce myself.”

She walks away without saying so much as goodbye, which is, Eddie’s brain distantly registers, somewhat rude, but most of his brain is occupied by forcing his body to stay still. She walks right up to Richie, starts talking to him and laughing when he responds. Eddie feels sick, like the room is spinning and his stomach is turning.

“Eddie, what’s wrong with you?” Myra demands under her breath. “You’re acting ridiculous. Should we just go home?”

The woman — and what the fuck is her name — touches Richie’s chest, and Richie’s eyes shoot up to look into Eddie’s. They lock onto each other, making hard eye contact, and Eddie’s arm around Myra is suddenly the worst, worst thing. Richie’s eyes dart down to his hand, then back up to his face. He looks away.

Richie goes outside after a few minutes, begging off conversations to get some air, and Eddie sneaks out after him to find him smoking under the back patio light.

“Are you okay?” Eddie asks. Richie turns to look at him, hands shaking on the match and a cigarette in his hands. He goes to Richie, takes them both and strikes for him, lighting the cigarette. Richie’s trembling, but he’s so goddamned handsome, well-dressed and cleaned up and so tempting, Eddie could kiss him now.

He does. He kisses him softly, once he double-checks that nobody can see them where they are. Richie pushes back down into him, smoke trailing from his mouth still as they kiss. He pulls back.

“I wish I could kiss you inside,” Richie murmurs.

“Me, too,” Eddie says, but they can’t.

“What if we did?” Richie asks, hands untucking Eddie’s shirt from his slacks. Eddie whimpers. “What if I took you in there and put my hands all over you, Eddie Kaspbrak? What if I kissed you in front of all those ladies and Myra and took you away from all this?”

“People don’t do that,” Eddie whispers.

“We could,” Richie insists, desperate. “Eddie, please. We can do it. Please.”

Eddie runs his hands down Richie’s chest. He can’t put his hands on Richie when they’re with anybody else. It’s only ever when they’re alone, and they’re never alone enough. Eddie has parts of the morning, most evenings, some nights, and he still doesn’t have enough; he’s not married to the person he spends most of his time with, in secret, and it’s still not enough.

“Okay,” Eddie whispers. He’s sick of this. He’s sick of seeing Richie looking so tempting, not even realizing what he’s doing to Eddie. He’s sick of having to keep his hands and his thoughts and his words to himself at stupid casual neighborhood gatherings like this one, when Richie’s the subject of scrutiny and Eddie’s supposed to be producing children with a woman he hates.

“Okay?” Richie echoes.

“Okay,” Eddie whispers. “I’ll start packing to go. I’ll— I have money put away, and I’ll get my things together to leave, and I’ll find a day when we can do it.”

“Eddie, if you’re not fucking serious, I’ll kill you,” Richie says, near tears. Eddie reaches up, frames Richie’s face in his hands. In this moment, Richie is everything; he would do anything he asked, anything, anything, because he can’t live without Richie. He understands that now. It doesn’t matter what he’s supposed to do, or what anyone is supposed to do. All he knows is he’s supposed to be with Richie, and the rest is gravy. That’s it.

“I’m serious,” Eddie tells him. It’s wild and insane and he’s out of his mind, but it’s the most he’s felt at all since Richie left the last time, and he’s never going to waste that much time again, not ever.

“Okay,” Richie says. He laughs, then drops his cigarette and scoops Eddie up off the ground, swings him around. He laughs so hard he cries, burying his face in Eddie’s hair. Eddie has to kiss him for it, then pull back, brushing the ash and smoke off his clothes and the smile off his face before he goes back inside.

Richie reappears after a few minutes, grinning like a monster. He winks at Eddie when he passes by, and Eddie doesn’t even pause to think if Myra catches it. He’s already smiling right back. Richie beelines past him, hand brushing Eddie’s as he goes, and gets a drink from Mr. Hindley, behind his new bar. He leans on the bar counter, laughing and talking loudly.

“I’m tired,” Myra says, and Eddie doesn’t even register it as something he has to do anything about until he remembers the person saying it is his wife, technically, and he’s her ride home.

“Let’s say our goodbyes, then,” Eddie says. Myra heads over to Mr. Hindley, so Eddie follows at her heels closely, stopping right behind her to make eye contact with Richie over her head.

“We’d love to have you and Samantha and the kids over for dinner sometime soon,” Myra tells Mr. Hindley, grasping his hand. “When are you free?”

“Oh, actually, we’re around tomorrow night,” Mr. Hindley says. “We’re trying to get to know all the neighbors.”

“I won’t be around tomorrow night, unfortunately,” Myra says. “I’m visiting my sister, she’s just had a new baby.”

Eddie actually had no idea that had happened. He wonders if Myra told him and he forgot, or if she just hadn’t mentioned it, and both options are equally likely. He looks to Richie again, and finds him already looking back. Nobody’s looking at Richie, so he mouths, Tomorrow night?, and Eddie only has a split second to think before he nods.

Tomorrow night, Eddie reminds himself, as Myra makes her last goodbyes and drags Eddie back out to the car. She complains about the Hindleys and the party and that Richie Tozier the entire ride home, but Eddie tunes her out entirely, thinking tomorrow night tomorrow night tomorrow night on a record-skipping loop.

He packs his bags after Myra’s fallen asleep. He digs through his clothes and only pulls out the things he likes — really likes — to wear, and nothing his mother chose, and nothing Myra chose. He sneaks out the very few articles of clothing left that fit that criteria and pack them into his bags with his books, his important paperwork, and the money he’s been putting away into a hole under the floorboards in his office since they got engaged.

The bag isn’t all that heavy, but he can’t find much else in the house that he wants to take with him. He grabs a few sentimental items — family heirlooms from his mother and his father, old things from his childhood that remind him of the friends he had had and of Richie, and he grabs his father’s wedding ring out of the bottom of his sock drawer.

He packs it all neatly. There’s still room in the bag. Eddie wonders what it means that his entire life, everything he has that makes him him, can fit into one bag with room to spare. He hopes this is the beginning of fixing that for himself.

The next day is a Sunday, so Eddie goes to church with Myra like normal. He counts himself lucky that Richie is Jewish, because there’s no way they’ll run into each other. The morning is spent in church, the afternoon is spent getting lunch with Myra’s friends from church, and the late afternoon is spent driving Myra to the bus station.

“I’ll be getting back while you’re at work on Wednesday, so Mrs. Potter is going to call me a cab to get home,” Myra tells him, as he drops her off. Eddie wonders what she’ll think when she takes her cab home and pulls up to a dark house, only to find Eddie gone, never to return. He pushes it from his mind.

“Have a nice trip, Myra,” he says. Myra doesn’t lean in to kiss him, or hug him. She forgets to wave. He waves at her bus as it departs, but she doesn’t wave back. He wonders if he’ll ever see her again.

He drives home in a daze. When he gets to his house, he’s shaking. He was sure, so sure that she was going to find out. That she would find the bag, or overhear him on the phone, or read his thoughts and figure out that he had been sleeping with Richie for months and was going to leave her for him.

It takes too much time and none at all, for Eddie to get into the house and grab his bag. He hears Richie’s car pull up outside at exactly seven o’clock, twelve hours since Eddie woke up that morning, on the dot. To the minute. To the second.

Eddie slides his coat on his arms and looks over his house. He was born down the street, and grew up in the house before taking it over when his mother died. He’s never lived anywhere else.

Richie honks his horn.

Eddie shoulders the bag and runs out the door, tossing his bag in the backseat and kissing Richie safely in the dark of the suburban night. The sky’s filled with stars above them as Richie steps on the gas, the tires screaming as he whips down the street and takes a sharp left, taking them further and further through the town until they’re passing a sign that says You Are Now Leaving Derry!, and Richie throws his head back and laughs.

“Never to return!” Richie exclaims. Eddie thinks he might be legally, certifiably insane, to leave his job and his house and his wife, but he also thinks he’d be beyond the point of no return if he stayed at the job and the house and the wife when he knew there was an alternative. If he knew Richie was out there, and he still stayed with Myra, he was dying, dying. The last four years, he’s been stumbling, eyes shut, asleep, slowly withering away.

Richie’s alive. Life with Richie is life awake. The American dream turned fucking nightmare is gone, lost in the wind whipping through Richie’s hair as he rolls the top down on his car. They drive through the night until the sun comes up, Eddie pressed up under Richie’s arm on the leather bench of the car’s front seat. Richie kisses him on the top of his head and drives him away, further and further west until the sun sets rather than rises over the water and all the supposed tos are gone.

“What do we do now?” Eddie asks, when it’s been days and days of driving and motels before they reached California. Richie bought them both ice cream cones and they sit on the hood of his car, shoes off, eating them in the hot rays of the setting sun.

“I think we get jobs,” Richie says, “and a house, and we tell people we made a promise to each other in the war, or that we’re brothers, or something, and we just— We live. We do whatever we want, Eds.”

Eddie looks out over the pink of the sunset. The waters and skies are blending together and, behind them, the glow of the city. Eddie’s never been out west before, never.

He slides himself under Richie’s arm and kisses him on the jaw. Nobody’s there to see, and Eddie’s not sure what he’d do if someone was. He loves Richie too much not to kiss him right now.

“I love you,” Eddie murmurs. Richie tips his head down and smiles. When he kisses Eddie properly, he tastes like strawberry.

“I love you,” Richie whispers back. “I can’t live without you.”

Eddie smiles against his lips, cups Richie’s face in his hand and kisses him again.

Eddie’s life is easy.

He wakes up around eight o’clock every morning, whenever his boyfriend (lover/partner/person he would die for) Richie, who he loves, comes in and wakes him up with coffee. They make breakfast together. Then, he leaves their house, wishing he could stay a little bit longer, and drives to his classes in the city, where he’s learning what job he really wants to do. He spends most of his day thinking about the homework he has to do, and what he’s bringing Richie home for dinner, and then leaves at roughly five, because he wants to be home with his (lover/partner/boyfriend/person he would absolutely kill for) …Richie. They eat dinner together, and read together, and play games together, all before they go to bed together, kissing and laughing and roaming hands all over each other.

He spends the last couple hours of the day in bed, with Richie, in their shared bedroom. They keep the radio off, because the radio host Eddie used to listen to all the time is here in his bed right next to him, and it’s nice to hear his familiar voice whispering right in his ear when he can. They drink, a little bit, together, get tipsy and kiss each other some more.

Sometimes he wonders what he’d be doing if he hadn’t left when he did. The day is peppered with moments like that.

When Eddie starts yawning, Richie turns out the lights and tells him to go to bed. He falls asleep as Eddie does, tangled up in his limbs and their shared bedsheets, face pressed close to Eddie’s as he mumbles in his sleep. Eddie sleeps with his face buried in Richie’s hair, and wakes up to him holding a mug of coffee and grinning again the next morning.