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Eddie Kaspbrak does not manage his own Twitter account, and therefore he does not immediately know when the news breaks.

It's a Thursday, sometime in May. He's not particularly keeping track of the date because his latest project is in post-production and he's not due back on set until late July. Six whole weeks without obligation. He's treating it as something of a vacation - not necessarily because he wants to, but because Stan refused to send him another script until he swore to take it easy.

So, he's taking it easy.

He's cooking because he rarely has the time to do it for himself these days. What was originally an omelet has become scrambled eggs, made colorful by diced up green peppers and red onions and ham. He takes a picture, uploads it to Instagram - the one social media platform he handles for himself - and then doctors his plate with hot sauce and sour cream.

He eats outside on the porch because the weather's nice. The weather is always nice in Los Angeles. It's nothing like back home, where it was mostly cold or mostly wet or mostly cloudy. He misses New York sometimes, but not now. Right now, he's more than happy to stretch his bare legs out into the California sunshine.

It's probably too hot to be wearing black, but Eddie can't be bothered to change. He always wears this shirt around the house, an old threadbare band tee that does not technically belong to him. Richie left it behind a couple of years ago, like the egotistical bastard he is - because, really, who wears their own band's merchandise unironically? Richie insists it's pride, not narcissism, but Eddie makes fun of him for it anyway.

Richie plays guitar for Gunslinger, a surprisingly successful neo-punk band. Their upcoming tour sold out within the hour, and the Hollywood & Highland Hot Topic storefront has been dedicated to them for months. Eddie only knows this because Richie sent him a picture of the display, insisting it to be the peak of his career.

Eddie and Richie have known each other for a long time now. Like most good things in Eddie's life, it's because of Beverly.

Bev Marsh was the wardrobe supervisor for one of the first movies Eddie ever filmed. She was - and continues to be - a small firecracker of a woman, taller than Eddie only because of her heeled boots, all red hair and orange lipstick and black humor. She moved to California from Chicago the year before Eddie did and spent her first few months in the city sniffing out coffee suited to her New England tastes. When she met Eddie, she was more than happy to share her secret.

The tiny coffeeshop in Pasadena has a quiet little bookstore attached, and both are owned by Mike Hanlon, the kind of man who is successful enough to hire someone to manage his establishment but who insists on doing it himself. He was originally from Maine, but his accent has been muted by years in the city and he teased Eddie relentlessly for the way he pronounced cawfee.

Bill Denbrough, ever the writer stereotype, spent most of his afternoons in that coffeeshop, typing rapidly on his laptop, head bent low, not looking the least bit interested in conversation. That hadn't stopped Bev, who had never met a stranger. She had sat right down with him and dragged him into their conversation, easy and expectant like they had all been friends for years. Bill had turned out to be mostly-sweet and kind of sensitive and painfully heterosexual, exactly the kind of boy Eddie would have fallen all over himself for in high school. Eddie liked him in spite of this.

Bill's roommate was Ben Hanscom, the kindest, shiest man Eddie had ever met, who wrote poetry and played the drums with tight-mouthed intensity and knew more about the structure of the city than the rest of them put together. He was the entire reason the apartment he shared with Bill was decorated with any modicum of taste. Ben could best be described as a good man: well-kept, polite, and honorable.

Ben introduced them all to his bandmate Richie, and Richie... was none of those things.

Richie was a shock to the system. He was loud, and his presence was huge, as big as his hands and his dorky glasses. He towered over Eddie - well, he towered over most everyone, but especially Eddie - and he used some iteration of fuck in every sentence. He was painfully unstylish, and his long hair was perpetually swept up into a messy bun, sometimes with flowers or ribbons laced through. He wore Velcro shoes so often that none of them were really sure he knew how to tie his laces. He liked to get drunk off fruity drinks and flirt with anyone who looked his way.

Eddie adored him.

They had become friends almost on sight. Since they met, most of Eddie's time in Los Angeles has involved Richie in some way.

It's a little different, now that they're both famous.

It's a little different, now that they're sleeping together.

Well, to be fair, they've been sleeping together for a long time, but. No one knows, not even their friends. Eddie has been very careful about that. It's just not the sort of publicity he needs.

So when Beverly calls him that sunny Thursday morning, the last thing he expects her to say is, "You're fucking Richie?"

Eddie knows, in theory, that Los Angeles is never truly quiet. The morning traffic should still be a cacophony of enthusiastic background noise, but somehow everything sort of fades out and all Eddie is left with is the echo of that question in his ears. You're fucking Richie? Jesus. That's the last thing he ever wanted one of his friends to ask him.

"He told you?" Eddie asks. He could deny it, but what's the point? He's kept it from her for this long. Lying to her face will only make things worse.

She doesn't sound angry, though, or miffed, the way he expects. In fact, her voice is quiet and shaking and upset when she finally says, "Not exactly." Something about her tone makes Eddie's heart jolt up into his throat. "There's a... it's all over Twitter."

Eddie feels a bit like he's two huge steps behind this entire conversation. "What's all over Twitter?"

"Your, uh. Your sex tape." Bev pronounces the words slowly, like she doesn't want to say them at all, and her Chicago accent makes them sound almost funny.

Except it's not funny. Not at all.

"Let me call you back," Eddie says, faintly, and hangs up without waiting for an answer.

His phone sits heavily in his hand, unassuming and brightly lit. His background is an old picture from three summers ago - Ben and Richie on either side of him, Bill crouched in front, almost on his knees and still up to Eddie's chest. It's their favorite cosmic joke - how did whatever higher power there is stuff all that Eddie is into such a small body? Eddie hates it, but the picture always makes him smile.

He's not smiling now.

Christ. He doesn't even have Twitter downloaded onto his phone. He could just Google himself, but he swore to Stan a long time ago that he wouldn't ever do that.

Well, fuck it. Surely this doesn't count.

He types Eddie Kaspbrak into the search bar and -

And there it is, bad news blaring in big bold font.

Eddie Kaspbrak sex tape leaks online!

Six different headlines, all a variation of the same thing. A few sites are claiming to host the video, just a click away. Eddie doesn't click. He doesn't need to. He knows exactly what he'll find.

Eddie doesn't remember which one of them first brought it up.

It was probably Richie, but Richie would probably say it was him. Maybe it was both of them, gravitating towards the same conclusion after months of sexting gone stale. There are only so many ways to phrase I wanna fuck you, and they had gone through every iteration by month two of Richie's three month tour.

It had been easy at first. I miss the way you taste, Richie had sent from Reno, and described in explicit detail the sounds Eddie made when Richie's tongue was inside him.

And then, in Houston, Richie had texted You should see this hotel, it's huge.

Everything's bigger in Texas, Eddie had sent back, and Richie had proved it with a picture of himself in bed, huge hand casually cupped around his equally huge dick. They had never sent pictures like that before. Eddie had scolded him for it and then had spent the rest of the night fervently jerking himself off, thinking about Richie - not much different than any other night, but made better with visuals.

In Brooklyn, Richie took a picture of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and said Wish you were here. Nothing else, and Eddie had wanted him more for it. He'd wished so much for Richie to be back in California that he didn't even touch himself that night, going to bed cold and dejected and alone.

Richie had finally come home two weeks later, and they spent three days holed up in his apartment, making up for lost time. And then Eddie had to be in Canada for an audition. It was only for a couple of days, another week at the most, but Richie got real clingy about it, mopey and upset like he hadn't left for three whole months. Eddie didn't really get it. He liked having Richie around well enough, but the sex was casual at best. Still, even he had to admit the idea of spending another night alone with his right hand and imagination was hard to stomach.

The tape had been the compromise.

In Eddie's defense, he hadn't been famous yet. Hadn't even been a blip on the radar. And Gunslinger was doing well, but they weren't exactly selling out arenas. It hadn't been a good idea, but then, a sex tape never is. And besides, Richie Tozier is the king of bad ideas. Eddie is his consort.

They made the tape, and then got famous, in that order. It happened fast, without warning, the way fame often does. Richie first, and Ben by extension - signed to Epitaph Records following the release of a weirdly, wildly popular EP. That month had been a blur of release parties and promotional parties and after parties, and that was how Eddie met Stan.

Stanley Uris can best be described as a dictator, a warlord, a king, trapped in the body of a 5'7", thirty-something public relations expert. Eddie met him entirely by accident, a friend of a friend of a friend, and had gotten swept up into Hurricane Uris helplessly and immediately.

"You're an actor," Stan had said, the very first time they met. It hadn't been a question. His expression had been intent and calculating, and Eddie had left the party with Stan's business card tucked into his back pocket. By the next weekend, he had a manager.

The thing about Stan was that he liked to know everything. Birthday? Mother's maiden name? Ever been convicted of a crime? Don't lie, he'll know if you do. He asks Eddie's shoe size, his inseam. He asks about Eddie's childhood, and about his relatives dating back three generations. He asks about relationships - boyfriends, lovers, one night stands.

Eddie doesn't know what Richie is, exactly, so he doesn't say anything about Richie at all.

And then, finally, Stan asks him, "Is there anything else I need to know?"

Eddie thinks of the tape, but does not mention it.

The reporters start showing up at his house around noon, so by one Eddie pushes out the front door, sunglasses on and head down, refusing to answer the questions they shout at him. They're persistent, but they at least move out of the way when he eases his car out of the drive.

He realizes, turning off his street and into the heavy flow of midday traffic, that he has no idea where to go. So he does what he always does when he has no real place to be. He goes to Richie's.

He shouldn't. He knows he shouldn't. But every illicit detail of their relationship has already been plastered onto the internet - it's not like he can make things worse. So he lets himself into Richie's apartment with the spare key Richie gave him for emergencies.

Richie's not home, which might be for the best. Eddie doesn't know where he is, but that's not unusual. It's not like they share schedules. Their relationship these days has been reduced to a You free? text whenever either of them has more than a handful of private minutes.

Eddie can't remember the last time he and Richie spent any real amount of time together. Their friendship has devolved into a 346 day long Snapchat streak, the unfulfilled promise to get together whenever things slow down, and a 46-minute sex tape.

Christ. He needs a drink.

Richie's liquor cabinet is as fully stocked as ever. Richie doesn't even drink anymore - the product of a hard-won battle for sobriety a few years back - but he's a surprisingly good host. There's a nearly-full bottle of the coconut rum Beverly likes, and an expensive-looking scotch for Ben. Eddie knows, if he opened the fridge, he'd find more than a few craft beers, the kind Bill loves that taste like pine needles. There is also a full bottle of tonic water, which Eddie pours over a generous helping of gin and drinks in three swallows. He sips more slowly at the second, but he's on the third by the time Richie comes home. He feels decidedly less sober than he did when he first let himself in, loose-chested and hazy, but the sound of Richie's key in the lock puts him right back on edge.

Richie doesn't seem surprised to find him there, half-drunk in his kitchen. He shrugs off his jacket, hangs his keys on the hook, and leans his back against the door like he's too tired to hold himself up. He stares at Eddie. Eddie stares back.

"I'm sorry," Richie says eventually, which is not at all what Eddie thought he would say.

Eddie blinks at him. "What are you sorry for?"

"For the -" Richie clears his throat, shifting his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "You know."

There's something about Richie not being able to say sex tape that makes Eddie feel simultaneously better and worse. "It's not like you filmed me without my permission," he points out. "I agreed to it."

"No one was supposed to see it," Richie says, like Eddie doesn't know that.

"Well, they did." Eddie stares down at the remnants of his gin and tonic, then finishes it off in one go. He puts the glass down on the countertop, and the clink is loud in the silence. He feels hot and angry, but also sad and trembling. He feels a little drunk, and a little heartbroken. He wants to blame Richie, but that isn't fair, and it isn't even a little bit true. It's not Richie's fault. Shit happens. This is just the sort of thing he gets for being famous. This is the sort of thing he gets for fucking his best friend and thinking it could ever go right.

Richie opens his mouth, then closes it. He pushes off the door like he might cross the room, then seems to think better of it. There is about six feet of space between them, but it might as well be six miles. Eddie feels suddenly very tired. He wants to sleep for an hour, for a week, for forever.

His phone rings. As soon as Beverly broke the news, Eddie set it to do not disturb. There is only one person his phone is programmed to ring for, no matter the circumstance.

Stan is the one and only person Eddie has to talk to about this. Stan is simultaneously the last person Eddie wants to talk to about this.

He answers on auto-pilot. There's no time to brace for it. "Hello."

Stan is all business, as always, which is equal parts comforting and frustrating. "I assume you've heard the news."

"Is that what we're calling my sex tape?" Eddie asks. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Richie flinch, just a little. "The news?"

Stan goes on as if Eddie never even spoke. "Come to my office. I'd like to talk to you, face to face. Unlike some people, I prefer to leave technology out of personal matters." Before Eddie can fully process the insult, Stan adds, "Bring Richie," and hangs up.

Eddie sighs, lowering the phone. He looks at Richie. "Stan wants to see us. You're driving."

Richie opens his mouth to say something but seems to think better of it. He takes his keys back off the hook and twirls them anxiously around his fingers. Eddie stumbles to the door and lets Richie lead him out.

A blinding, deafening crowd of cameras follow them out of the building. Between the lights and the liquor, Eddie is unsteady on his feet, but Richie puts a firm hand on the small of his back and guides him swiftly to the car.

Eddie feels entirely too sober by the time they're facing Stan.

Stan’s office is spacious and well-lit, sixteen floors above Los Angeles’ financial district. His desk is a massive thing, red-oak and permanently organized, paperwork lined along it with razor-sharp precision. Eddie has never seen a single piece of paper look even slightly askew. Today is no different.

Stan looks as put-together as his desk, his crisp white linen shirtsleeves rolled up precisely twice, exposing the delicate chain of daisies tattooed on the inside of his forearm. His suit jacket hangs from his straight-backed chair, stiff and pristine. His expression is studiously, expertly blank. He has his fingers steepled under his chin like some cartoon villain. He’s surprisingly intimidating.

There is usually only one chair in front of Stan’s desk, but today a second has been pulled up for Richie. He’s sprawling more than sitting, legs spread almost obscenely, knee jogging up and down, fast. His fingertips are drumming a quiet, erratic rhythm on the arm of the chair. He’s staring past Stan, out the wall of windows. He hasn’t said one word. It’s starting to make Eddie nervous. A lot of weird things have happened today, but Richie’s silence is probably the weirdest.

“So,” Stan says finally. It’s the first time any of them have spoken. “Do you have something you want to tell me?”

Eddie is still half-drunk and moody, and he really doesn't like being talked down to. “Could you please not talk to us like we’re children?” he sighs. His nerves have already been shredded by the click of cameras and the weird silent tension between him and Richie. Stan’s faux-professionalism isn’t helping.

San’s expression softens, just a little. “I’m not trying to make this worse,” he says. “But we have to talk about it.”

Eddie knows that. Of course he does. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.

“Richie and I fucked,” Eddie says. Richie’s knee stops moving then starts up again, faster than before. “We filmed it. Someone leaked the video. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Stan is not usually a paragon of patience, but today he inhales slowly and sits back in his chair, folding his hands together like he has all the time in the world. “Was that the first time?”

Richie shifts in his seat. Eddie stares steadfastly at Stan and says, “No.”

Stan stares back, unblinking. “The second? The third?”

“No. To both.”

Sighing, Stan says, “You’re gonna have to work with me here, Eddie. I’m on your side.”

I didn’t realize there were sides, Eddie wants to say, but Stan’s right. He’s only trying to help. Being stubborn about it is just going to alienate him from the one person who might be able to dig him out of this mess.

He takes a deep breath and, without meaning to, glances at Richie. Richie is already staring back. “We’ve been doing it about twice a week for six years," Eddie says, and then he has to break the eye contact because it's the first time he's ever admitted that out loud. "I couldn’t tell you which time it was.”

Stan, for his part, manages to look only marginally surprised. “That’s a pretty well-kept secret.”

“Not anymore,” Richie mutters.

“I don’t suppose you have anything else to tell me?” Stan asks, voice lilting like he’s hopeful about it. “It would make things a lot easier if you two were secretly married.”

Eddie personally doesn’t believe that would make things easier at all. “No,” he says. “Just long-term friends with benefits.”

Stan looks down at his desk and then selects a piece of paper, seemingly at random. The page is mostly blank except for the tiny, quiet scrawl of his handwriting cramped in one corner. It doesn’t surprise Eddie that Stan has been taking notes.

“In that case, there are a couple options,” he says, and that sounds encouraging until he follows it up with, “The first is that we wait for this to blow over.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” Richie says, which is saying something, coming from the king of bad ideas himself.

“Yeah,” Eddie agrees. “This isn’t gonna just blow over.”

“No offense,” Stan says, “but I think you overestimate how much people care about your sex life. It’ll be big news for awhile, but it’ll die down. Eventually.”

“How long is eventually?” Eddie asks.

Stan hesitates for the first time. “A few months. A year at most.”

A year in Hollywood is twenty years to the rest of the world. A year is more than long enough to ruin a career. Eddie doesn’t have that kind of time.

“What’s the other option?” Eddie says, his voice sort of faint. Richie reaches over and takes his hand, squeezing their palms together.

Stan is staring at the link of their fingers when he says, “You could be in love.”

Eddie stares at him blankly, sure he has misheard. “Excuse me?”

“We’re not in love,” Richie says at the same time. His voice sounds sort of funny, high-pitched and strangled.

“But you could be,” Stan insists. He looks hard at Eddie, as if willing him to understand. “You’re an actor, aren’t you?”

Eddie opens his mouth, then closes it, then opens it again. “You want me… to pretend to be in love with Richie?”

Stan nods. Richie and Eddie exchange an uneasy glance.

“Nobody has sympathy for you two right now,” Stan says. He’s always brutally honest but something about that particular dose of cold reality makes Eddie wince. “But that could change, if this tape was supposed to be private. If someone just dragged you out of the closet without your consent.”

“Everyone already knows I’m gay,” Eddie points out. He’s been out since high school, and he wore knee socks and short shorts long before that. Nobody ever had any doubts. “And Richie wears his World’s Okayest Bisexual shirt three times a week.”

“But you’ve kept your sexuality separate from your career. You’re kept your private life very private,” Stan says. “As far as anyone knows, you’re not seeing anyone.”

“I’m not seeing anyone,” Eddie says, uselessly.

“You are now,” Stan says. “You’re in a long-term, monogamous, dedicated relationship with Richie Tozier. The two of you made a sex tape. Anyone who watched it has violated your privacy.”

"That's true whether we're dating or not!" Eddie insists, feeling hot and prickly. Richie squeezes his hand, which Eddie only now realizes he's still holding.

"You're right," Stan agrees, his voice even and careful, like he's trying to keep a misbehaving toddler from throwing a temper tantrum. "But I can't change society's moral fabric, Eddie. This is the easiest way to handle this. If you two are together, it's an invasion of privacy. If you're not, it's hot gossip." He sits back in his seat, his hand dealt, aces in place. "It's up to you."

It feels like it's been ten years since Beverly called him. Was it really just this morning that his entire life changed? Was it only last night that he went to bed without an anxious ache in the pit of his stomach? He feels old. He feels ancient. His entire body sags down in his chair. He doesn't have the energy to lift his head, to face this.

Richie's thumb drags over the ridges of his knuckles. "We don't have to do this," he says softly, kindly, like he's trying to offer Eddie an out. But he's wrong. This is the only option and they both know it.

Eddie forces himself to look at Stan. "How long will we have to do this for?"

"A believable amount of time. A few months, at least."

A few months. That will be the longest relationship Eddie's had in years.

"So I can either spend a few months being hot gossip, or I can spend a few months being Richie's pretend boyfriend."

It's not really a question, but Stan nods anyway.

Eddie turns to Richie. "How do you feel about this?"

A very small part of him wants Richie to turn him down, to tell him this is a bad idea and he's not interested. But Richie just shrugs. "My schedule's free," he says, and he smiles the same way he always does when he's making a bad joke. "Got nothing better to do than you."

"Gee," Eddie says, flatly. "Thanks. Glad I can count on you." But he covers his mouth with the hand Richie's not holding, shielding the start of a smile. It's not the time to fall for Richie's effortless humor.

Richie's smile settles into something quiet, genuine. "You've got me," he says. "For as long as you want me."

Stan picks up a pen and jots something down on that mostly-blank page. "We need to make a game plan," he says without looking up. He's all business now that they're all in agreement. He always gets like this whenever contracts are involved. It always makes Eddie feel a little like he's about to sign his soul away to the devil - now more than ever.

"You're not gonna give us a script or something, are you?" Richie asks. He sounds a little terrified by the prospect. Richie is not an actor. He's not even a particularly good liar. There's something too genuine about him, something unapologetically honest. Eddie has no idea how he plans to fake something like this.

He's starting to picture all the ways this is going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Stan levels Richie with a flat look. "Not a script. Just a few guidelines. And there are some things we need to discuss."

Eddie doesn't like the sound of that. Richie doesn't either, by the looks of it. But neither of them argue.

Stan puts down his pen and folds his arms onto his desk. "We just need to make sure no one's going to poke holes in your story whenever we go public. It's not going to do us any good if he claim you two have been in a committed relationship for a few years and then some girl crawls out of the woodwork claiming Richie got her pregnant."

A few years. A few years? Eddie has never, ever dated someone for that long, fake or not.

Richie laughs, but it sounds awkward, caught uncomfortably in his throat. "That's not gonna be a problem."

"It happens more often than you think," Stan says, like he's the reigning expert on managing fake relationships. Maybe he is. Eddie and Stan are friends and all, but it's not like they talk about Stan's other clients. For all Eddie knows, Stan could be engineering half the relationships in Hollywood. It really wouldn't surprise him at this point.

Richie shifts in his seat. "No, I mean. Uh. It's really not going to be a problem." He combs his hair back with one hand, tucking it nervously behind his ear. It's coming loose from his ponytail and curling frenetically around his face. The effect is surprisingly charming, especially considering how bashful he looks all of a sudden. "I haven't slept with someone else in three years," he admits, staring at the carpet.

Okay. Eddie was wrong, earlier. Of all the weird things about today, that is definitely the weirdest.

Eddie wants to say something, but his lips part and no sound comes out.

Richie, who is eternally bad at awkward silences, says, "I mean. We fuck all the time. I didn't really need to go looking for it somewhere else."

"But..." Eddie is hearing the words, but none of them are processing right. He had been under the assumption this entire time that Richie has a whole roster of people lined up to sleep with him. And that might still be true, but apparently he's not taking any of them up on it and that's... that's... "What about on tour?"

"I'm not interested in fucking groupies," Richie says. Eddie knows for a fact that hasn't always been the case. When they first met, when Gunslinger was still playing places like the Silverlake Lounge and Echoplex, Richie had always been more than willing to take home one of the more enthusiastic girls in the crowd. When had that stopped? When had Eddie become enough for him?

"So there's been no one else," Stan says. Richie shakes his head. Eddie feels pinned to his chair, his heart beating stupidly hard in his chest. As if drawn to the thunderous sound, Stan looks at him. "What about you, Eddie?"

"I..." Well, what about him? Surely it hasn't been that long. Three years is a long time to spend fucking the same person. But, when he tries to picture someone else, he can't think of anyone. There was that one guy right after he moved to the city, almost seven years ago. And the guy he was seeing for a few weeks before his schedule got too hectic for dates, back in... oh, when was that? Four years ago? Five?

He can't recall sharing his bed with anyone else. All of his hazy, late-night bedroom memories start and end with Richie, Richie, Richie.

Eddie ignores the way Richie is staring at him and says, "No one else for me, either."

Stan looks like maybe he wants to say something about that, but he doesn't. He jots down another note and nods to himself. "So. You've been dating for three years."

The idea of it makes Eddie's skin prickle. He can't imagine actually being with someone for that long. He has worked too damn hard for his own independence. It would be such a shame to give it all up again. What would the payoff even be? A couple of kids, maybe a dog, a white picket fence? No fucking thanks.

But he can pretend. That's what he's good at.

"We've been dating for three years," Eddie parrots back obediently. Next to him, Richie nods.

Stan looks between the two of them. "How did you two meet?"

"You know how we met, Stan," Eddie huffs.

"The reporters don't."

Richie jolts up in his seat. "We have to talk to reporters?"

"Yes," Stan says, not at all sympathetically. "If you want to get ahead of this. Otherwise you're always going to be a few steps behind."

Eddie is sick of feeling behind. "We met through mutual friends," he says. "My friend Bill was roommates with Richie's friend Ben. They introduced us, and we clicked."

That much is true, at least. Something eases in Eddie's chest. Maybe it doesn't all have to be a lie.

But then Richie, without prompting, squeezes his hand and his heart clenches up tight again.

"That's good," Stan says. He nods at their hands, still entwined. "Hold hands. Kiss each other. Be affectionate."

"Richie is always affectionate," Eddie points out. Richie is about as touchy-feely as it gets. He's always got his arm slung around someone's neck, his lips on someone's cheek.

"Yes, but you aren't," Stan says. "Like it or not, Eddie, this is about you."

Eddie doesn't have to ask why. His face is in the video. Richie's isn't. He's the one on full display, legs spread, hands clenched up in the sheets. The only reason anyone even knows Richie is in the video at all is the way Eddie says his name, over and over and over again.

He wonders, suddenly and for the first time, if Stan has seen the tape. Eddie wants to believe he hasn't, but he probably has. Stan's job is to know everything, especially about his clients, and maybe that includes the way they look when they come, on-camera. God. How embarrassing.

He just wants all of this to go away.

He pulls Richie's hand into his lap. "I can be affectionate," he says, determinedly. Whatever he needs to do to get this over with.

"Good." Stan grants him a small, pleased smile that lasts for barely a second. "Now, tell me how you met again."

This is just like preparing for an audition, Eddie tells himself. He's just learning his part.

"Through mutual friends," Eddie says. "My friend Bill was-"

"Bill Denbrough," Stan interrupts. "Don't be afraid to drop names. The more people who can back up your story, the better. Especially people with credibility."

That's not a bad point. Bill's the quiet sort of famous, the kind that authors often are: he doesn't get stopped on the street, but his books line the front windows of every bookstore in the city. His word means a lot to more than a few people.

"Shouldn't I talk to Bill before I start putting his name in this?"

Stan waves his hand dismissively. "I've got it covered."

"Should I tell Ben?" Richie asks.

"It's been handled."

Eddie squints at him. "Did you expect this?"

Stan quirks an eyebrow. "Are you asking if I expected for you to film a sex tape with Richie Tozier? Or if I expected that tape to leak today?" He doesn't quite smile, but he does look amused. "No. I did not expect this."

That's not what Eddie meant. "No, I... did you really expect us to say yes to this? You just seem... prepared."

"I'm always prepared," Stan says drily.

"Were you a Boy Scout?" Richie asks. "You give off a strong Boy Scout vibe."

Stan ignores him. He settles back in his chair like he plans to be there for awhile. "Tell me how you met one more time."

By the time Stan is satisfied with their story, it's late afternoon, almost evening, and Eddie is tired to the bone. He feels like he's been awake for days. Years. Centuries. Certainly not just eight hours.

Richie drives him home, which he expects, but then follows him into the house, which he does not. He's too exhausted to argue about it - not that he particularly wants to. Company sounds nice. The last thing he needs is to be left alone in his empty house and his busy head.

"You care if I shower?" he asks Richie. It feels sort of strange to ask, but it feels even stranger to leave Richie alone after... well. After everything.

"It's your house," Richie says, and he flops onto the couch, grabbing for the remote. At least one of them is acting like nothing has changed.

Eddie takes long showers at the best of times, but this is probably excessive. He washes his face and his hair and his body and then just stands still under the spray until the water runs cold. He's dead on his feet, scared to close his eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. He's never been this tired in his entire life. He fully intends to hibernate for a few days. Maybe a few months.

He sort of expects Richie to have left by the time he comes out of the bathroom, but Richie's still there, sprawled out the same way Eddie left him. His long legs take up an impossible amount of room, so much that Eddie would have to sit on him in some way if he wanted to join.

He doesn't.

It's probably too early to call it a night. "I'm going to bed," he announces anyway.

Richie looks at him. "Okay," he says. He turns off the television, then sits up, then stands. Eddie is sure he's going to leave, but instead he stands up and walks in the direction of the bedroom, the exact same way he's done a thousand times before. It's different now, though. The sight of Richie standing there in the doorway of his bedroom after everything is almost too much to bear.

"What are you doing?" Eddie asks, winded-sounding like he's been gut-punched.

"Coming to bed," Richie answers, slowly, like it's obvious. And it is. But it also isn't.

"You're staying over?" It wouldn't be the first time, far from, but it's also not the norm. Richie has his own apartment, just across the city. And they both like their privacy. They both like to sleep on the right side of the bed.

But Richie sheds his shoes and then his shirt and pulls the covers back from the left side. "Am I not allowed?" he asks. It's not really a question. His mouth quirks. He's always been good at pretending things are okay. "We're dating now, you know."


Well, he has a point. It will look better if his car stays in the driveway. It will make Stan happy. And it's not much of a hardship to sleep beside Richie, who doesn't hog the covers and only snores when he sleeps on his back.

Besides, he's too tired to argue. He crawls into the bed and lets Richie arrange the covers around them. He falls asleep fast, hard, with just enough time to feel the weight of Richie's arm braced around him.

Stan calls a press conference for Monday morning, so Eddie spends the weekend preparing: first with Richie, then alone.

Richie, for his part, is handling the entire thing better than Eddie expects. Eddie sort of thought he'd be sullen about it, at least for a few days. He doesn't like being told what to do, least of all by Stan. But, for the most part, it's like nothing has changed.

Well. That's not entirely true. It's not like they used to do this before: sitting together at the kitchen table, flashcards in hand, quizzing each other on their nonexistent relationship. Eddie spends two hours making the cards, carefully printing out all the questions he could think of: What year did we meet? What's your favorite food? What color are my eyes? Richie looks amused by the whole thing, but he eventually sits down to help without Eddie asking him to. It turns into a game - Eddie writes the question and Richie writes the answer. He doesn't get a single one wrong.

It's around this time that it hits Eddie, out of nowhere, that Richie is his best friend. He knew that before, of course. If someone had asked him even before this mess who his best friend was, he would have said Richie, hands down. But, well. That particular revelation feels different somehow, after everything.

It's sort of overwhelming. Whenever Eddie thinks too hard about it, his chest constricts. By Sunday afternoon, he's on the verge of a panic attack. So he sends Richie home to his apartment. Richie refuses at first, but Eddie convinces him that they both need to get some rest before the big conference. "I could just sleep here," Richie says, but Eddie argues that if he stays over, they won't do much sleeping.

Which isn't true. Richie has spent the last two days on Eddie's couch or in his kitchen and the last two nights in Eddie's bed, and they haven't fucked once. Eddie has considered it, but every time he thinks about Richie's mouth or his hands or his cock, he remembers the video and his interest wanes.

So Richie goes home.

Eddie spends the first hour regretting it. The house is quiet without Richie, and it's too big for one person. He considers taking a nap, but the bed smells like Richie and it's entirely too distracting. He thinks about going out, but there are still more than a few reporters hanging around the house and that's the last thing Eddie wants to deal with.

He ends up on his computer, catching up on work. Stan has sent him a few scripts, a kind attempt at distraction, but none of them interest him. He also sends bad news: the project Eddie is meant to start working on in July has been postponed indefinitely. It happens, sometimes. Eddie can't help but wonder if it's because of him. He's too proud to ask.

His mood is sour for the rest of the night. Mike texts him, and he's very kind and supportive about the whole ordeal, but Eddie wishes he wouldn't bother. He wishes his friends would tell him he's an idiot, would remind him that it's a bad idea to be fucking Rockstar Richie. He wishes they had never made the fucking tape.

He thinks about the video for awhile. Not on purpose, not in-depth, but it's been just beneath the surface of his thoughts for days now and it's just quiet enough in the house for his mind to circle back to it, again and again, unbidden, unstoppable.

He doesn't remember it, exactly. It's been a long time since he watched it. Did he ever really watch it? It wasn't really for him. Sure, they had filmed it together, for each other, but. Eddie only ever really did it for Richie. He had liked the idea of Richie having something to watch when he was away.

It seems stupid, now. They weren't dating. Richie could have gotten off just fine to porn, or with someone he picked up on tour. Not that Richie was doing that, apparently. Three years. Christ.

Eddie drinks a glass of wine, and then another. And then one more. It's a bad idea to get drunk, considering his bad mood - he'll only get weepy, and the last thing he needs is to cry over spilled milk. So he sips slowly at that third glass, maintaining a gentle buzz. His head feels clouded over, hazy, like all of the emotion that has been threatening to consume him has been turned way down. His chest isn't so tight. He feels alright for the first time in days. He understands suddenly why people use alcohol to cope. It's a dangerous thought. He puts the wine glass down.

He's still online, fucking around on Instagram and then Facebook and then, because he's braver when he's been drinking, Twitter. It makes him feel better for awhile. More than a few people have tweeted their support at him: big name celebrities who know how it feels to have their privacy invaded, fans who want to express their undying love.

But not everyone is so kind. Eddie learns quickly that many of his followers are fair-weather fans, and also that homophobia is alive and real. Apparently, he's going to hell for having sex with another man - like his mother didn't tell him that three times a week after he came out in high school. She's been dead for a few years now, but he can still hear her voice in his head. I told you, she'd say. Nothing good could ever come from this little phase.

The worst of it, though, are the links. Those aren't even addressing him directly. He's just linked by proxy: @eddiek sex tape --> attached to that horrible thumbnail, where it's dark and miniature but Eddie can still make out the fine spray of freckles on the back of Richie's hand where it's gripping his waist.

He spends a long time staring at that picture. It's not an objectively bad shot. It's not even obscene. He's almost fully clothed, his shirt rucked up almost to his nipples, his hipbones on display. If he remembers right, it's about six minutes into the video. Maybe ten. Might be twelve.

Fuck it, he thinks and clicks the link.

For a few seconds, the screen goes entirely black. He belatedly realizes that he probably just accepted all sorts of viruses onto his laptop, and won't that be a bitch to explain to the tech guy. Yeah, sorry, if you could just get rid of all that porn that keeps popping up on my home screen. I was trying to watch my own sex tape, not everyone else's. Fuck.

But then the video starts to load. He hears the sound of his own laugh, and his heart drops to his stomach. He sees Richie's bed, his own face. Gone are the days of shaky handheld video recorders. Richie's iPhone had picked up every fine detail in stunning, sickening resolution.

Richie had turned his camera on mid-joke, Eddie remembers. He can't remember the punchline now, but on-screen, his face is scrunched up, both amused and exasperated, the way he so often is with Richie.

"You're not funny," video-Eddie says, but he's still half-laughing, looking past the camera, at Richie. It's been five years since they filmed this, but not much has changed. Eddie's hair is lighter now, bleached by the California sun, and he's not as youthfully, naturally lean anymore. He has to work for it now, muscles tapered by strict diet and exercise. Back then, he could take shots of tequila until five in the morning and then sit in a diner stealing the last bites of Richie's pancakes until six, and then he'd be awake again at noon.

It's not like that anymore. Eddie feels suddenly, stupidly nostalgic. He half-wishes he could go back.

Would he change things if he could? Would he have kept Richie closer, refused to let him drift so far away?

Would he have never made the fucking tape?

They're kissing, in the video. He can't see it, but he can hear the second, the slow-wet way their lips part and then come back together again. "You sure about this?" Richie's voice says, quiet, not for show. Eddie doesn't remember that. He could have sworn this had been spur of the moment. Had they planned this? Had they gone into this with intention? Eddie can't remember. Would that make things better or worse? Eddie doesn't know.

"I'm sure," video-Eddie's voice says, steady and confident. "I promise."

Eddie feels sort of sick.

The next few minutes are awkward, incriminating shots of Eddie's face. He's smiling, his face soft. He looks so young. God, they really were just stupid kids, weren't they? Late twenties never looked so naive.

There's some undressing, the camera unsteady. Richie was holding it with one hand, stripping out of his shirt with the other. Video-Eddie starts to tug his own shirt off and there it is, the thumbnail shot. Richie's hand curls around his waist, big enough to span most of his side. He traces his thumb over the protrusion of Eddie's ribs. It's more intimate that Eddie expects, or remembers. Did they always touch each other like that? Or were they putting on a show for the camera?

This is exhausting. He should turn it off.

He doesn't.

Richie spends a long time working him open. It's kind of hot, in a horrifying way. Eddie can hear every noise - the squelch of Richie's fingers, his own quiet moans, Richie's shaking breath. Richie's saying things, murmured so low that the camera doesn't pick it up, but Eddie knows that voice. Good boy, he's probably saying, or you look so good. That's the sort of thing Richie always says, even now. They've been doing this together for years, and still Richie always sounds this earnest, this honest. Eddie's getting kind of hard, despite himself. Is that narcissistic? Well, whatever. It's not like anyone will ever know.

Just like no one will ever know about the tape.

The thought makes him nauseous. He jerks his hand away from his crotch. He refuses to get off on his own exploitation.

Oh, God. Have people gotten off on this? He hadn't even considered that possibility. But of course they have. Eddie is not unattractive and Richie is, by all standards, good at this. His rough, long fingers are not hard to look at, and neither is his smooth, long dick. Fuck. When did he take all of his clothes off?

It's distracting, watching Richie roll on a condom, one-handed. "You're such a tool," movie-Eddie gasps, his face and chest splotchy-red, the way it always is when he's aroused. "You can't put the phone down for five seconds?"

"And miss this?" Richie replies, aiming the camera at Eddie's face, where his eyes are narrowed and his mouth is swollen-red. "Not a chance."

Eddie is sure he had something to say to that, but it gets lost because Richie puts the head of his dick against Eddie's hole and zooms in on that. It's so explicit that Eddie, in the present and just as flaming-red as film-Eddie, covers his eyes, peeking at the video through them. This was a bad idea. He doesn't want to see this.

Except that he does. He watches the way his own body opens for Richie and listens to the way his own voice moans for it. God, oh God, oh God, movie-Eddie whines, a high-pitched mantra that matches his thoughts now.

He goes to bed and lies there for a long time, refusing to touch himself because the only thing he can picture when he tries is himself, lying there on Richie's bed, spread open on Richie’s dick. Which, well. That’s not the part that bothers him. What he doesn’t like is the look on his own face, staring up at Richie like Richie is… like any of it means anything.

If anyone attending the press conference has seen the video (and of course they all have), they'll have no problem believing Eddie and Richie are in love, considering that look. And Eddie doesn't know how to feel about that.

The press conference is at 9 AM. Eddie has always liked press conferences. He’s good at them. But he has never done one with Richie at his side, and it makes him uncharacteristically nervous. His palms sweat the entire time. It’s probably pretty gross, but Richie doesn’t let go of his hand, not once.

They answer questions for almost  full hour. What took you so long to come out with this? Careers came first. What made you think a sex tape was a good idea? People do crazy things when they’re in love. When’s the wedding? No fucking comment.

It’s an exhausting but overall positive experience. Eddie gets the feeling that everyone believes them. Sure enough, twenty minutes after the conference comes to a close, the first headline shows up online: Eddie Kaspbrak confirms he’s dating Gunslinger guitarist Richie Tozier. Eddie never knew those words could make him so happy. It’s the first time in days his name has been linked to anything besides that stupid tape.

To celebrate, Eddie and Richie go out for lunch together. It’s not altogether unusual, but they’re a lot more touchy about it, Richie especially. They sit in a small corner booth and Richie takes Eddie’s hand across the tabletop, hooks his foot around Eddie’s ankle underneath it. They make small talk - none of it is very memorable, or maybe it is and Eddie’s just distracted by how surprisingly good Richie is at all of this.

Three years, Richie had said. It’s been three years since he did any of this with someone else. Eddie doesn't even remember the last person Richie brought around more than once. Did Richie miss it all these years - the easy, casual affection of dating? Is he enjoying having a hand to hold, a warm body to sleep next to? Or is he counting down the minutes until this is all over?

“Earth to Eddie,” Richie says, waving his hand in front of Eddie’s face.

Eddie blinks. “Shit, sorry. I was thinking.”

“Clearly,” Richie laughs. “What’s up, doc?”

Like Richie doesn’t know. Eddie levels him with a flat look. “Three guesses.”

Richie leans his elbow on the table and pointedly taps his chin, pretending to think. “You’re thinking about how great I am in bed.”

Eddie snorts. “No.”

Richie hums, furrowing his eyebrows as if in deep thought. “You’re thinking about letting me have the rest of your fries.”

“Nope,” Eddie says, but he pushes his plate in Richie’s direction anyway.

Richie pops a fry in his mouth, licks the salt from his fingers, and says, still chewing, “You’re thinking about spending the rest of your life with me.”

It’s not at all what Eddie’s thinking, but he still hesitates.

“Do you want to get married?” Eddie asks, which is probably ill-advised, but he's never had to censor himself around Richie before and he has no plans to start now that they're supposed to be even closer.

Richie’s eyebrows shoot up. “What, to you? Are you proposing?”

Eddie huffs. “No, idiot. I just… do you? Eventually?”

Richie fiddles with another fry but doesn’t lift it to his mouth. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Really?” Eddie is genuinely surprised. “I thought you would have it all planned out, down to the details of your dress."

"Fuck you," Richie laughs. It's nice to hear him laugh. “I guess I do want to get married. You know, someday, when I’m old and ugly and no one wants to watch me shred my guitar anymore.”

Like that will ever happen.

“I don’t want to get married,” Eddie says, after a moment.

Richie stares at him. “Why not?”

I’m never going to find someone who I can tolerate for that long, Eddie thinks but does not say. I’m never going to find someone who will tolerate me.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Don’t really need the tax break.”

Richie grins. “That’s not the only reason people get married, you know. Some people do it for love.”

Yeah, well. What the fuck would Eddie know about that?

He looks down at the table and picks at a nick in the linoleum. “I’m sorry about all this,” he says quietly. “I know it’s not... ideal.”

“Hey.” Richie’s voice is just as soft, and he reaches over, covering Eddie’s hand with his own. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.”

That’s not the point. Eddie’s not blaming anyone. He’s not sorry about the tape. He’s sorry about the aftermath. He’s sorry that whoever Richie ends up marrying is just going to have to accept the fact that he spent a few months fake-dating a man he fucked on-camera.

“Just a few months, right?” Eddie says, trying to sound upbeat and failing. “Just a few months and everything goes back to normal.”

“Yeah,” Richie agrees. His smile is a little bit tight-lipped, like maybe it’s finally hitting him that they’re stuck together for awhile. Eddie feels abruptly worse. He pulls his hand out from under Richie’s and finishes off the last few fries in silence.

Things are weird for a couple days, mostly because of how not weird things are. Nothing really changes, and that’s particularly uncomfortable for Eddie, who is just now starting to realize how much of their behavior could be misconstrued as romantic. Richie touches him near-constantly, his face and his hands and his hips. But that’s just Richie. The weird thing is how often Eddie touches Richie back.

They go out for dinner on Wednesday and Eddie, without thinking, reaches across the table and brushes crumbs from Richie’s mouth. On Thursday, he drags Richie out for a morning run and then afterwards, when Richie’s hair falls from his ponytail and spills into his face, Eddie combs it all back behind his ears before Richie gets the chance. Just now, Friday night, they’re getting ready for a party together and Eddie has spent more time on Richie than himself - smoothing down his shirt, dusting off his jacket, brushing his fingers across the front of Richie’s pants just to hear his sharp intake of breath.

They still haven’t had sex since the leak. They probably should, if only to maintain the illusion, but — well. It would feel like a chore if they fucked now. Like an obligation.

Eddie sort of wants to, though. He’s toying with the idea of dropping to his knees when Richie’s phone rings.

And, actually, isn’t that the problem? Every time Eddie starts to consider the idea of sex, something comes up. Something always comes up. Is this what relationships are like? God, no wonder all of Eddie’s married friends are miserable.

Well. That’s not entirely true. Stan’s been married for almost a full decade, and he seems pretty happy about it. He has a beautiful photo of his wedding day framed and centered on his desk, the two of them wrapped up together in their elegant clothes, sharing a private smile. His wife’s name is Patricia, but she goes by Patty. She’s beautiful and interesting and Stan looks at her like she’s the entire reason the sun comes up in the morning.

“Have you said hello to the birthday girl yet?” Stan asks. They’re all there to celebrate Wanda, an actress friend of Eddie and Stan’s who is married to Jared, the lead singer of Gunslinger. Circles in Hollywood run small and tight. Eddie knows most of the people clustered in the living room, but there are a few unfamiliar faces scattered around. Several of them are looking at him and Richie with interest. Eddie is trying very hard to ignore them.

“She was busy when we got here,” Richie says. He has his arm around Eddie’s middle, holding Eddie to his side like he’s afraid Eddie might bolt. It’s not an entirely unfair assessment.

“Well, first order of business, you need a drink,” Patty decides. She herself is not holding a drink, but Stan is carrying a long-stemmed glass of red wine that Eddie would bet is actually hers. Stan might like to appear sophisticated enough to drink wine at a house party, but they all know he prefers wine coolers and bottom shelf tequila.

“As always, you’re brilliant,” Richie tells Patty. He squeezes Eddie’s waist. “Want one, Eds?”

“I could use a beer,” he says agreeably. He doesn’t like beer that much, but it’s something to sip on. He doesn’t want to get drunk. It seems like an impossibly bad idea, given the circumstances.

Patty takes the wine glass out of Stan’s hand, confirming Eddie’s suspicions. She drains it in two swallows, and hands the empty glass back to Stan. “Would you get me another?” she asks him sweetly. He laughs, kisses her head, and then he and Richie disappear together out of the living room.

Eddie doesn’t realize he’s trapped until it’s too late. His palms immediately start to sweat, and his heart rate spikes. Patty is not altogether intimidating, but something about her expression makes his stomach hurt.

“So,” she says, her voice somehow both airy and intent. “Stan told me about Richie.”

“Which part?” Eddie murmurs. He doesn’t actually know Patty that well. For all he knows, she might not have any presence online. She might not have seen the tape.

But her expression does something interesting, wavering between regret and sympathy, and Eddie knows. She’s seen it.

“I’m sorry someone did that to you,” she tells him. She sounds as open and honest as ever. Patricia Uris is a sweet, good woman. Eddie truly believes that. But he still doesn’t want to hear this. Not from her. Not from anyone.

“It’s okay,” he mutters. He wishes he had a drink to occupy himself with. He wishes Richie would come back and distract them all with a joke. He wishes he hadn’t come to the party at all.

“It’s not,” Patty says fiercely. She reaches out and touches his arm, her hands soft and well-meaning. “I know you don’t want to talk about it. But, for what it’s worth, I think you’re handling it very well.”

She couldn’t be more wrong. Eddie is not handling it at all, much less well. He can’t even manage a smile.

She squeezes his arm. “And I think Richie could be really good for you.”

“You’ll have to excuse me,” Eddie breathes, taking his arm out of her grip more roughly than he means to, searching blindly for a way out. He can’t breathe. It’s too hot in the house, too loud. He dodges through the throng of party guests and stumbles out onto the balcony, closing the doors firmly behind himself, then goes to lean over the railing, gasping for air. It’s barely cool out, refreshing, but he’s shaking like it’s freezing.

God. He needs to get a fucking grip.

He knows Patty didn’t mean anything by it. He’s sure Stan has told her everything, so she probably just meant that Richie would be good at scraping them out of this mess. And he agrees with her, for the most part. Richie is already doing so much better than he is, with the casual affection and the delicate intimacy. At least he’s not breaking down out here on some balcony. Christ, he’s a fucking wreck.

He hasn’t cried about this whole ordeal yet, and he really doesn’t want to start, especially not now. But there are tears welling up in his eyes, unbidden. He squeezes them shut and grips the railing, his breathing stuttering and shaky.

He hears the balcony doors open. He doesn’t look. He doesn’t know who it is, but he knows he doesn’t want anyone to see him like this. So he tries to steady his breathing, his eyes firmly closed.

Arms slide around his waist. Big hands, rough and familiar. That smell, the one that has lingered on Eddie’s pillow on and off for years now. Long hair, brushing under his collar, ticklish. “Are you okay?” Richie’s voice asks in his ear, sounding surprisingly serious. Eddie shivers.

No. He’s not. But he feels better, like that, Richie’s body shielding him from the noise of the party.

“Patty thinks you’re good for me,” Eddie says. He’s not sure why he says it. It should be funny, but neither of them are laughing.

“Yeah?” Richie’s mouth is just behind Eddie’s ear, his breath stirring Eddie’s hair. “Maybe she’s seen the tape. Saw just how good I was for you.”

Part of Eddie wants to berate Richie for bringing it up, but his brain sort of goes offline, hearing Richie say something like that, his voice low and close. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Eddie whispers. He pushes back into Richie’s arms. “I thought I was good for you.”

Richie inhales slowly, deeply, his thumb tucking beneath the waistband of Eddie’s jeans. “You are,” he says. “Always.”

Eddie likes the sound of that. He feels sort of better. His chest doesn’t hurt and he’s not about to cry.

“You’re good, too,” he murmurs. He leans his head back onto Richie’s chest. “You’re a good guy.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Richie says. “It’s a secret.”

“We don’t keep secrets,” Eddie says. He’s thinking about the tape, about how every intimate, private detail that should have been just between them is out there now, for anyone to find.

Richie laughs quietly, but it sounds strange, like it’s not really a laugh at all. “Everyone has secrets, Eds.”

Eddie turns around in Richie’s arms then, facing him. Richie’s hair frames his face, and the light from inside makes him look soft, yellow-toned and glowing. Eddie is stupidly, suddenly glad Richie isn’t in the video more. He wants to keep that to himself — the way Richie’s eyes get dark when he’s turned on, the way his pretty mouth parts even when he’s not talking like he can’t focus enough to keep it closed.

“You good now?” Richie asks him.

“I’m good,” Eddie says. He even smiles.

“Good,” Richie says back, and he kisses Eddie on the corner of the mouth. He doesn’t have to do that. Nobody is looking at them. But it makes Eddie feel better.

They go back into the party, hand-in-hand. Patty looks at him from across the room and mouths I’m sorry. He blows her a kiss. It’s not her fault that he’s such a mess.

Someone posts a picture from the party. Stan is thrilled. You two are doing great, he texts them both with the image attached, which might actually be the nicest thing Stan has ever said to either of them.

He’s not wrong, though. They do look good. They look natural, which is a stunning feat, considering none of it is real. Richie is on the couch, talking to Jared, and Eddie is on his lap, turned sideways, facing Wanda. They’re not even looking at each other, but Richie has his big hand splayed on Eddie’s thigh and Eddie is playing absently with his fingers. It seems more genuine than if someone had caught them making eyes at each other or sharing a kiss.

The picture makes a few headlines, and then dies down after a few days. They don’t go out together during that time, afraid of overkill, but Richie still spends every night with him, car parked in the driveway, a new landmark of the Kaspbrak residence. A few reporters stay on the sidewalk, but for the most part, the attention starts to wane. They’re not doing anything interesting anymore. They’re being painfully domestic, excruciatingly quiet. Even romantic comedies don’t give this much attention to a stable, silent love life. Eddie is hopeful about what it all means. Maybe they won’t have to fake it for much longer.

He shouldn’t be that worried about it. It’s not like it’s a hardship, fake-dating Richie. Things are just as quiet inside the house as they seem. They spend their nights watching movies together, or cooking dinner, or sometimes in entirely separate rooms, with Eddie reading through new scripts and Richie plucking at his guitar. Those nights feel the most real. Ironically, Eddie likes them the best. Sometimes he takes his headphones out just to listen to the dim, distant rhythms Richie plays, echoing beautifully through the empty house.

Well. Not so empty anymore. The two of them manage to fill the space together quite well. Richie has started leaving some of his things — not an attempt at domesticity, but out of convenience. Eddie does the laundry and finds almost as many of Richie’s shirts as his own. Not that it matters. Eddie steals them and wears them to bed, which Richie seems to enjoy.

They’re still not having sex.

Eddie tries to remember the last time they did it. A month ago? Maybe two? They hadn’t done it in a couple weeks even before the tape leaked. Eddie doesn’t like to think he misses it, but…well, he does. He’s been thinking about it a lot. He knows Richie has, too. He can tell by the way Richie’s eyes linger on his legs, his throat. He can tell by the way Richie starts to reach for him at night then thinks better of it.

He can tell because, just now, Richie has come up behind him, big hands sliding possessively onto his hips.

He’s standing at the kitchen sink, washing the last vestiges of the dishes left over from dinner. Richie cooked, so now he’s cleaning. It’s been their routine for the last week, and it’s been working well, but this… well, this hasn’t been part of it. He almost drops the plate he’s scrubbing when Richie touches him, half-surprised, half-interested. Richie’s grip is firm, and his palms are hot.

Eddie starts to put down the plate, but Richie stops him. “Don’t move.” His voice is a deep, quiet rumble that Eddie can feel, Richie’s body pressed up close against his.

“What are you doing?” Eddie whispers. The kitchen is suddenly fraught with tension, the air hot and vibrating between them. The pit of his stomach is tight. It won’t take much for him to get hard.

Richie moves back and pulls Eddie’s hips with him, tugging him back a few steps. At the same time, one of his hands spreads out over the middle of Eddie’s back, pushing him down so he’s bent over the sink. It smells like the floral dish soap he likes, and it’s sticky-hot, the water still steaming. Eddie’s face is probably already red, only half because of the heat. He’s sort of embarrassed to be bent over like this in his own kitchen, but it’s kind of hot, too.

Richie, seemingly satisfied that Eddie won’t move, takes his hand off Eddie’s back and holds him by the waist again, pushing his crotch against Eddie. Oh. He’s hard.

“Missed this,” Richie sighs. His dick feels huge, even trapped in his sweatpants. “Missed you.”

Eddie finally puts the plate down and grips the sides of the sink, white-knuckled. “Richie,” he gasps. “We can’t —”

“We can,” Richie insists, and he starts to push up Eddie’s shirt, baring the small of his back. His thumbs sink into the dimples on either side, a perfect fit. He pulls Eddie back against him again and Eddie can’t help but whine. His body feels taut and electric. It hasn’t even been that long — they’ve certainly gone longer without doing it, but. God. He could probably come, just from this.

Except… except.

It feels weird. Sort of wrong. Those noises Richie’s making, that heavy, unsteady breathing… those are the noises from the tape. Those are the noises that underscore the entire film. Eddie has heard those sounds a thousand times before, over and over and over again, but it’s different now, because all Eddie can picture is his own face, the face that has been blasted six ways to Sunday across the internet.

Richie’s holding him tightly, but not tightly enough. He twists out of Richie’s grip, standing up, straightening his shirt. “Not tonight,” he says, avoiding Richie’s eyes.

There’s a few seconds of tense silence, and then Richie huffs out a breath. “Eddie,” he says, voice rough. “Are you serious?”

Eddie doesn’t want to fight, but he also doesn’t want to fuck, and those feel like the only two options right now. “Yeah. I am.” He crosses his arms over his chest tightly. “I don’t feel like it.”

“And that’s fine,” Richie says. “But can you at least tell me why you don’t feel like it?”

Eddie doesn’t say anything.

Richie sighs, pushing a hand through his hair. “Yeah. I didn’t think so.”

That’s not fair. That’s not fucking fair. This is happening to him, not Richie. He’s the one with his face in the video. He’s the one with a professional career. Richie is a rockstar, for God’s sake. He could film himself fucking someone different every night and people would probably praise him for it. But the one time Eddie does it, his entire life is ruined. And Richie has the audacity to get mad at him for it? Fuck that.

“I don’t owe you an explanation for why I don’t wanna fuck you,” Eddie snaps.

“You’re right. You don’t.” Richie’s voice sounds frustrated, fraught with tension. It’s like all of the hot sexual energy from before has seeped into his skin, turned him into someone passionate and wild-eyed. He’d be handsome, if Eddie weren’t so angry. “But you do owe me an explanation for why you’re pretending you don’t want me.”

Eddie jerks back as if struck. He didn’t expect that. “What?”

Richie stares at him relentlessly. “I know you, Eddie. I’ve known you for a long time now. We’ve been doing this for, what, five years now?” He doesn’t give Eddie time to agree. He already knows he’s right. “You were pushing back onto my dick just a minute ago. And now you’re picking a fight. So what’s the fucking problem?” His voice wavers suddenly, and his expression starts to soften. “Did I do something wrong?”

Yes. No. Eddie doesn’t fucking know. His head hurts.

“I’m just tired,” he mutters, lamely. “I’m just…”

There aren’t words to describe how he feels, so he doesn’t try.

“I just want to go to sleep,” he says, much more quietly. He steps around Richie, careful not to touch him, and drains the dishwater from the sink, then he wipes his hands dry and leaves the kitchen.

Richie doesn’t follow him. He sleeps on the couch.

Eddie is glad none of the reporters can see into his house. They don’t look so picture-perfect anymore.

It’s been a month since they announced their relationship, and things are… things aren’t great. They haven’t talked much since they fought in Eddie’s kitchen, and Richie hasn’t been staying over. They’re playing it off with the media like Richie is just away gearing up for Gunslinger’s next tour, but that’s not entirely true. They’re avoiding each other.

Eddie’s not sulking. He’s not. He’s just… well. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, exactly.

If he were being honest with himself, he’d say he misses Richie. But he’s not often honest with himself.

It’s looking like another night spent alone at home. Normally, that wouldn’t bother him, but he’s kind of gotten used to having someone else around, and the house feels too quiet without Richie around.

He’s toying with the idea of inviting Bev over. Hey, party girl, he texts. You free tonight?

She’s not, of course. Bev is never free. She’s a social butterfly, thriving on the noise and the chaos that comes with a crowd.

But she’s never too good to drag along a date, which is how Eddie finds himself in her favorite club, nursing his third gin and tonic, something that gives him a weird sense of deja vu if he thinks about it for too long. Bev is dancing. Eddie thought about joining her at first, but he’s not really in the mood. The club is too loud and the lights are too bright. Eddie feels old. He finds himself texting Richie about his nursing home preferences before he remembers they’re not speaking.

He’s kind of drunk. The liquor snuck up on him. It always happens when he’s with Bev, who flirts with bartenders in the hopes that they’ll pour stronger drinks - and they always do. She’s beautiful and charming and she hangs out with famous people, always dragging musicians or actors or athletes around by the hand. People love Beverly Marsh. Eddie does, too, but he’s cursing her name now. The room is spinning, and his mood is still very sour.

Someone slides into the seat beside him. This wouldn’t be unusual if Eddie was at the bar, but he’s not. He’s tucked away in a corner booth, purposefully backed into the shadows so no one will see his face. He doesn’t want attention. He doesn’t want anyone to ask why he’s here with Bev and not Richie.

But the guy suddenly beside him doesn’t ask.

He’s good-looking in a California sort of way — almost too pretty, bleached teeth and bleached hair and a shirt cut specifically to display his smooth, tanned biceps. His eyes are dark, maybe blue but maybe brown, impossible to tell under the dim bar lights. He’s probably a few inches taller than Eddie, even though he’s slouched back in his seat. He drags his tongue over his teeth, looks Eddie up and down, and then leans in.

“Buy you a drink?” he asks. His voice is deeper than Eddie expects.

The guy is not necessarily Eddie’s type, but he’s handsome and it’s been awhile. Eddie’s been thinking about that night in the kitchen on a quiet loop for days now, and a slow thrum of arousal blossoms in his stomach, warm and wonderful. He doesn’t lean away.

“I’ve got a drink,” Eddie tells him, lifting his glass.

“I see.” The guy doesn’t look, not taking his eyes off Eddie’s face. “Maybe there’s something else you need, then.”

And, God. What a line. What a terrible, awful line. Eddie really should send this guy packing, or maybe teach him a thing or two about how to talk to a lonely guy in a club like this. But, well. Something about it almost makes Eddie laugh. Eddie thinks, inexplicably, of Richie. Richie would have said something like that, once upon a time, before he didn’t have to say anything at all to have strangers throwing themselves at him.

“Does that ever work for you?” Eddie asks. He lifts the drink to his mouth, taking a heavy mouthful through the straw he deliberately tightens his lips around. The man watches him helplessly, his own lips parted. Eddie wants to smile, but he also doesn’t want to ruin the effect. This is the best part - the tease, the initial appeal, that slack-jawed incredulity when a man realizes how out of his depth he is. This is what Eddie is good at. He hasn’t gotten to do it much lately, considering that’s the kind of publicity Stan can’t scrub out, but…

Something about the thought of Stan gives him pause. Was he supposed to call? Did Stan ask him to do something? He can’t remember. His head is swimming, strongly. He hasn’t had this much to drink in… God, how long? When was the last time he did this, entertained some stranger in the back corner of a club? Since before he got famous, surely. He’s been careful.

But he’s so tired of being careful. And he’s tired of going to bed alone. Sure, Richie’s there, but…

Oh. Richie.

He realizes suddenly how close this guy is to his face. He can feel the man’s breath on his lips, whiskey-smelling and warm. Their faces are tilted together, and so are their bodies. From the wrong angle, it probably looks like they’re kissing.

Eddie knows just how bad the wrong angle can be.

Eddie jerks back. “I’m sorry,” he says, and starts to slide out of the booth. “I’ve gotta go.”

The man might say something, but if he does, Eddie doesn’t hear it over the thumping bass, the chatter of the crowd. He should find Beverly, but he doesn’t. Maybe he should call Stan, but he doesn’t. He does what he always does. He runs from his problems, shoving through the club door and into the cool, quiet night.

The picture is everywhere the next morning. Eddie has three missed calls when he wakes up, all from Stan. There is only one voicemail, three seconds long: Get to my office.

Eddie got home the night before and fell into a deep, drunken sleep hard and fast without changing into pajamas. He’s still wearing his club clothes when he races out the door, stopping only to grab his keys and a jacket. He realizes, about halfway to Stan’s office, how bad that might look. Not only is there a picture of him cozy in the corner of some club with someone who isn’t Richie, but now he’s doing the walk of shame in that exact outfit. He didn’t take the man home with him, and he didn’t go back to that guy’s place, but no one knows that, especially not from looking at him. He considers turning around, but ultimately decides against it. Stan doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

Sure enough, Stan is waiting for him. He’s as pristine as ever, blank-faced, but there’s a weird, fraught energy in the room, fragile like glass. Eddie sits down in the chair across from Stan and immediately looks down at the ground like a chastised child.

He’s expecting the lecture of the century, but Stan only sighs, long and loud.

“Tell me what happened,” he finally says. He sounds very tired.

Eddie feels sort of angry about that. Stan’s tired. Really? He’s not the one who has to watch his every move. He’s not the one who had his personal life blasted all over the internet. He’s not the… but, no. That’s not fair. None of that is fair. It’s not Stan’s fault.

“It was a mistake,” Eddie says. “I only talked to the guy for maybe five minutes.”

Stan’s expression is carefully neutral. “It looked cozy,” he says. Not a judgement. A fact.

Eddie’s throat feels tight. He refuses to cry about this. He fucking refuses. He didn’t do anything wrong. “I don’t need you to tell me how it looked,” he murmurs. His voice is shaking. “I need you to tell me how to fix it.”

Stan laughs, but it’s flat, not actually amused. “Fix it? There’s no fixing it, Eddie. You dug yourself a hole with the tape, and now you’re burying yourself alive.”

Eddie’s fingers tense on the arms of his chair. He can hear the sky is falling from anyone else, but not Stan.

Stan sighs, and he rubs his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. He looks ancient all of a sudden, like he’s lived a thousand years. He looks as bad as Eddie feels.

“You need to talk to Richie,” he says eventually, and drops his hand, looking Eddie full-on. “That’s the best advice I’ve got.”

Richie? Well, Eddie supposes that makes sense. As far as anyone knows, Eddie is cheating on him.


“Did you call him?” Eddie asks. It would be unlike Stan not to be ahead of this. Eddie is honestly surprised Richie hasn’t joined them.

Stan shrugs. “He’s not answering my calls.”

Eddie checks the time. 10:04. “He might not be awake yet,” he says, not very convincingly. Richie is a surprisingly early riser for a rockstar. He’s more likely ignoring Stan’s calls, which is… not good.

No missed calls, no missed texts. Radio silence on Richie’s end. It’s not surprising, considering the fact that they haven’t really talked in about a week, but surely Richie would have something to say about this. Richie always has something to say, especially when Eddie has fucked up.

“Eddie.” Eddie looks up. Stan is staring at him like he’s trying to figure something out. “You guys were doing so well. What happened?”

Eddie stares back at him blankly. What happened? Stan makes it sound like any of it was real. Like Eddie actually betrayed Richie’s trust. He might have wasted Richie’s time, forced him into a lie, but they both agreed to it. They both knew what it was. Sure, it’s surprising that Eddie is the one that messed up, but it was always a possibility. They didn’t get married, for God’s sake.

“I was drunk,” Eddie admits. “It won’t happen again.”

“It might not matter,” Stan says. “You just publicly ruined a relationship that was supposed to save you from public ruin. You can’t imagine the amount of damage control you’re facing.”

Oh, that’s not true. Eddie can surely imagine it. There’s a weight on his chest, the full, heavy reality that he might be about to lose everything he’s worked for.

“I’ll fix it,” Eddie swears. He stands up, unable to stand Stan’s pristine, oppressive office for any longer. “I’ll go talk to him.”

Stan doesn’t say anything until Eddie is almost out the door, and then he says Eddie’s name. Eddie pauses with his hand on the doorknob. Stan’s face does something interesting, like there’s a lot he wants to say, but he settles on, “Good luck.”

It’s not at all what Eddie expects, but maybe Eddie needs to get a little more familiar with the unexpected, given the circumstances.

Eddie gets another strange sense of deja vu when he lets himself into Richie’s apartment. It feels like just yesterday that the tape leaked, that he spent the afternoon drinking alone in Richie’s kitchen, acquainting himself with the idea of the internet knowing how he looked when he orgasmed. Richie had been kind when he had come home, if not a bit fumbling. He had apologized. He had looked at Eddie like he had wanted to sink his hands underneath Eddie’s skin, piece all the broken up parts back together.

Richie does not look at him that way now.

Richie looks… well, Richie looks tired. Worse than Stan, even. He’s purple under the eyes and his lashes hang heavy, like he’s preparing to nod off. His body is splayed on his couch, contorted into angles that don’t look very comfortable, like he threw himself there and couldn’t bother picking himself back up. He looks heartbroken. He looks high.

He’s not supposed to look like this, not ever again. He promised.

Eddie sweeps around the apartment with purpose, collecting trash that must have been accumulating for at least a week - takeout containers, straw wrappers, the caps of pens that have nearly been chewed through (a nervous habit Richie has had since before Eddie met him). He lifts up magazines and the cushions off the armchair, peering underneath. He’s rifling through the mess of Richie’s medicine cabinet when Richie appears in the mirror, leaning against the doorframe, slouched over like it’s hard to keep himself up.

“What the fuck are you looking for?” he asks. His voice is impossibly rough, like it hasn’t been used in a couple of days. “It’s not like you to self-medicate, Eds.”

It’s probably a joke, but Eddie’s history with medication is touchy at best and he feels his hackles rise. “Where are they?” he demands.

Richie blinks at him, slowly, his lashes fluttering like it’s hard to lift them up again. “Where is what?”

“The needles.” Eddie slams his hand down against the marble countertop, agitated. “You know what I’m fucking talking about, Richie. Don’t play dumb.”

Richie jerks back as if Eddie hit him. His face gets paler, somehow, which makes the purplish bruises under his eyes look more stark by comparison. “You think I’m high?” he asks, his voice thready, disbelieving.

“I know what you look like when you’re fucked up,” Eddie snaps. “I’m sure you don’t remember it, but I was there last time.”

It’s a low blow, because of course Richie remembers it. In bits and pieces, sure, but he certainly has to remember waking up in a hospital, trembling through withdrawals, begging for more morphine just to feel human again.

Five years. It’s been five fucking years since Ben found him, blue and unconscious on this very same bathroom floor. He had missed rehearsal, which hadn’t been too unusual for him back then, but he also hadn’t talked to anyone in a few days, which had been more than strange enough for Ben to check on him. He had insisted on riding with Richie in the ambulance, and he had called them all from the hospital waiting room. They had converged on Cedars Sinai within the hour. Eddie had been in Stan’s office when he received the call, and had been so immediately hysterical that Stan had to drive him there. The six of them had sat together in the waiting room, alternating between crying and comforting one another, even Stan, who had been enveloped into the group’s collective energy without a second thought. And then the doctor had come out and told them that Richie was going to be fine. Eddie had sank to the floor and Bev had folded herself around him, and then Ben on his other side, and then Mike around them. Stan had tried to stand off to the side, to give them their space, but then Bill had pulled him in and they had all cried together.

Ben had gone into the room first, and then Bev, and then Eddie. Richie had looked tired by then, barely awake, his eyes more closed than open. But he had perked up when Eddie leaned over his bed. “Hey, Eds,” he’d said. He sounded horrific, as wrecked as his exposed arms, ruined by track marks, most of them painfully fresh.

“You idiot,” Eddie had said. “You fucking idiot.” And then he had cried, falling over the bed and Richie’s body, clutching him tight. Richie's body had felt brittle. Breakable. Eddie had felt like an idiot for not noticing. He swore he would notice, next time.

Richie, now, in the doorway, is staring at him hard. His face is entirely blank. “Fuck you, Eddie,” he finally says, and turns around and walks away.

No. Fuck that. Eddie is spoiling for a fight, hot and angry and hurt. Richie had promised. He had taken Eddie’s hand in that hospital bed and he had sworn not to touch that shit ever again.

“You’re not even denying it!” Eddie said, following Richie into the living room. It looked worse than it had when Eddie got there. Ransacked. That was Eddie’s fault. He’d be the one to clean it all up, as soon as he found the evidence he was looking for.

“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” Richie tells him, his voice carefully neutral. He sits down on the couch and stares at the television, which isn’t even on. “I don’t owe you anything.”

“Like hell you don’t.” Eddie’s hands are balled into fists at his sides, tight and trembling. “We tell each other everything. I’m your best friend. I’m your —”

Eddie isn’t sure how he was going to finish that sentence, but it doesn’t matter, because Richie looks at him then, his gaze cold and withering. “Were you going to tell me about that guy?” he asks.

Guy? What guy? Eddie has almost forgotten what he came over for in the first place. What does that even matter, compared to this?

“Is that why you did it?” Eddie demands, sounding frantic. “Because I was with some other guy?”

Richie sneers, vicious and ugly. “I’ve been sober for five years, Eddie,” he says. “Your little boy toy isn’t enough to change that. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“He’s not my —” Eddie stops. That’s not the point. “Richie, I’m just trying to help.”

Richie huffs a laugh, brittle and bitter-sounding. He rubs a hand over his face. “I did this for you,” he says, muffled behind his fingers. His voice is still hard, but something about his expression is soft. Vulnerable. Eddie’s insides ache. “I didn’t have to sign up to be your fake boyfriend, or whatever the fuck I am. But I did it for you.” He looks at Eddie for a long time, then pushes up the sleeves of his shirt, first the left, then the right, exposing the soft insides of his elbows. They’re smooth and unblemished apart from age old scars. “I’m not high, Eddie,” he says. “I’m tired.”

Eddie swallows. For some reason, his heart is pounding, harder than before. He doesn’t say anything.

Richie hunches over, his elbows on his knees, his hair hanging into his face. “I thought I could do this,” he says quietly. “But I can’t.”

It feels like everything Eddie could possibly say is jammed up in his throat, crowding it shut.

Not that it matters. Richie isn’t finished.

“I can’t fake-date you, Eds. I can’t hold your hand for the cameras and stay the night in your bed just so reporters can get a good shot of my car in the driveway. I can’t cook you dinner and cuddle with you on the couch for your Instagram posts. I can’t look at pictures of you cuddled up in some club with another guy.” That’s what they’re supposed to be talking about. God, how has this conversation gotten so out of hand? Richie finally looks up, his hair falling back so Eddie can see every heartbreaking angle of his face. “I can’t let you pretend to be in love with me while I’m actually in love with you.”

Oh. Oh, Richie. Oh, no.

Eddie stumbles back, loses his footing, falls heavily against the wall like he can somehow escape the conversation if only he can sink through it. “Richie,” he says, his voice ripped open and raw. “I-”

“Don’t.” Richie shakes his head. “I know you don’t feel the same way. It’s okay.”

It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all.

Richie sits back, brushing wrinkles from his clothes, occupying his hands. “I just thought you should know,” he says, clearing his throat. He manages a tiny, unconvincing smile. “You know I can’t keep my big mouth shut for long.”

Eddie’s not smiling. “How long?” he asks. “How long have you—” He can’t finish the sentence. How long have you been in love with me? Christ.

Richie’s smile fades. He shrugs a shoulder, awkward. “Three years, give or take.”

Three years. The same amount of time he’s spent not sleeping with anyone else. Because he didn’t want anyone else. He was in love with Eddie, this whole time.

Eddie has to get out of here.

“I have to go,” he says, a quiet gasp of sound. “I have to — I’m sorry.”

Richie, for his part, doesn’t look all that surprised. He doesn’t get off the couch. He doesn’t even look at Eddie. He doesn’t make any attempt to stop him.

The last thing Eddie sees, closing the door behind himself, is Richie hunched over, his face cradled in his hands.

The media has a field day with Eddie and Richie’s sudden radio silence. Are they, or aren’t they? Everyone has a different opinion. For every old picture of them beaming at each other, kissing or touching, there’s a new one of Eddie’s empty driveway, his solo shopping trips, the fresh bags beneath his eyes.

They haven’t made an official announcement, mostly because they haven’t spoken in almost two weeks. It’s almost August. Gunslinger kicks off their fall tour on the first of the month, right there in Hollywood, and then they’ll be on the road for two months. Eddie usually dreads when Richie goes away, but it’s not like it’s going to make things much different.

He spends the first week after their final fight alone, licking his wounds. And then he calls Mike. Kind, generous Mike, who always has a cup of coffee waiting for him, freshly brewed no matter the time. They meet up at the coffeeshop and Eddie tells him everything, from beginning to end, all the gory details that no one but he and Richie know. It feels surprisingly good to tell someone the truth for once. Mike listens without comment, and then, at the end, he takes Eddie’s hand and says, “I love you, but you’re both idiots.”

So that isn’t helpful. Eddie doesn’t understand how he’s being an idiot about this. Okay, sure. The whole fake-relationship thing wasn’t his brightest idea, but really, that was Stan’s fault. And Richie had agreed to it. And it’s not like that had made Richie fall in love with him. That ship had already sailed.

The next week, Eddie calls Bev. They haven’t really talked since the ordeal with the man at the club, and she apologizes profusely for dragging him out in the first place. He assures her that he doesn’t blame her. His relationship with Richie was a ticking time bomb. Carnage was inevitable. She might have sped up the timer, but she didn’t light the fuse.

She comes over to his house and they watch scary movies and he drags her feet into his lap and paints her toenails. Richie usually does it for her because he has the steadiest hands, but Bev hasn’t been spending much time with Richie. Apparently, Richie hasn’t been spending much time with anyone. Eddie wants to worry about that, but it’s not his place anymore.

Still, he texts Ben, just to make sure. Ben assures him that Richie is fine. Not great, of course. But fine. Eddie knows how to read between the lines. He’s heartbroken, but he’s not shooting up. Good enough.

He gets a little too wine-drunk with Bev halfway through the first movie and spills his guts. He tells her the story, start to finish, even the graphic details that make her squeal and cover her face. He’s sure that if any of his friends will have an opinion, she will. But in the end, all she does is pat his thigh and say, “You’ll figure it out.”

There’s nothing to figure out. Eddie spent a few good years sleeping with Richie, and Richie caught feelings. That’s all there is to it. If anyone needs to get their shit together, it’s Richie. Not him.

He doesn’t tell Bill, because he knows what Bill will say. Bill can be something of an asshole about things like this. He’s the opposite of a hopeless romantic. He will tell Eddie that he should have expected this and that it was only a matter of time before it blew up in his face. Eddie knows all that. He doesn’t need to hear it from Bill. So, no, he doesn’t tell Bill.

He thinks about telling Ben, but that feels like a conflict of interest. Ben is his friend, but he was Richie’s friend first. Ben’s not the kind of guy to make that distinction, but it feels wrong, somehow, dragging him into the middle. Richie deserves to have a least one person he can talk to without Eddie’s interference. And besides, Richie has probably already told his story, probably already painted Eddie as the ice-cold villain.

Well, that’s not true. Richie wouldn’t do that. Richie says some stupid things, but not usually out of anger or frustration. He’s surprisingly level-headed when he gets his feelings hurt, hiding himself behind humor instead of barbed wire, so unlike Eddie. He’s kind to a fault. At the end of the day, Richie is a sweetheart. One of the good guys. The best man Eddie has ever met.

On August 1st, an alarm goes off on Eddie’s phone: Richie’s tour! He remembers adding that reminder, back when things were good, back when no one had seen the video, back when Richie was his best friend and he was Richie’s and everything made sense.

Nothing makes sense, now.

The worst part is how much Eddie misses him, still, more fervently than ever. They weren’t seeing each other before, but at least it was an option. Now Richie is out touring the country and he might as well be on Mars for how inaccessible he feels.

“You’re moping,” Beverly tells him. They’re at lunch together, a small deli that Eddie has never been to with Richie but is sure Richie would love. They shave the dark crusty parts off their subs, the way Richie likes. He wouldn’t have to spend ten minutes picking at his sandwich if they came here.

“I’m thinking,” Eddie corrects her.

“About what?” she asks. She’s smiling, a little, like maybe she already knows. It’s not nearly as amusing as she seems to think it is. Eddie takes a massive bite of his sandwich so he can’t expose himself, lifting his middle finger in her direction. The bitch has the audacity to look smug. “I thought so.”

He doesn’t ask. He doesn’t want to know what she thinks he’s thinking.

They don’t talk about Richie, and then they do. Eddie doesn’t even realize he’s crept up into the conversation at first, but that’s always how it happens. Eddie has a bad habit of carrying Richie with him everywhere he goes. ‘Richie would like that,’ he’ll say in a thrift store, holding up a truly hideous salmon-orange striped shirt. ‘Richie would hate this,’ he’ll say, listening to Gunslinger play over the speakers in the frozen yogurt place Richie can’t stand. It’s healthy ice cream, Eds, he said on one of their dates, wrinkling his nose up at the whole concept. What’s the fucking point? But he had still eaten some, and then stolen a few bites of Eddie’s after.

Bev, for her part, never looks tired of hearing about him. But she does look… well, it’s hard to describe her expression. Soft, mostly. A little sad. Hopeful. Eddie stops trying to identify her emotions after awhile because they all depress him. 

They walk The Grove together, arm in arm. Eddie has on sunglasses that take up half his face, and Bev has her red hair stuffed under a ball cap. They don’t get noticed, which Eddie is grateful for. He doesn’t feel much like posing for pictures. He’s sick of pictures.

They pass the storefronts slowly. Bev is window shopping. Eddie is lost in his thoughts.

“Hey, Bev,” he says after awhile. She hums an acknowledgment, peering at the display of Coach bags, arranged by color. “Did you watch the tape?”

She looks at him, surprised. “No. Of course not. That’s private.”

It doesn’t make him feel better, but it doesn’t make him feel worse. He wouldn’t have blamed her for watching, just out of sheer curiosity. He wouldn’t have watched her sex tape, but that’s mostly because the last time he suffered through a porno starring a woman was before high school and he’s pretty adamant about not changing that.

“I did,” he admits, surprising himself. “I watched it.”

Bev smirks at him. “Well, yeah. I hope so. Otherwise what was the point?”

“No, I mean.” Eddie looks away, into the brightly-lit innards of a jewelry store. “Recently. Like, after it got leaked.”

“Oh.” Bev seems to consider that. “Well. That’s probably normal. Know your enemy and all that.”

Is the sex tape his enemy? A month ago, he would have thought so. But now… well, the sex tape almost feels unimportant, after everything. Secondary.

They’re quiet for awhile, and then Eddie says, “Richie’s good in bed. Like, really good.” He doesn’t know why he wants Beverly to know, but he does. He wants to talk about it. He wants to spill his guts and make room for all the emotion that’s been threatening to choke him for weeks now.

Beverly laughs, surprised and delighted. “Yeah? I always thought he would be.”

“Did you ever…?” Eddie asks. “With him?”

Bev’s laughter chokes off. “What?”

He feels stupid for asking. But now he kind of wants to know. “I mean, you two… I know he had a thing for you, a long time ago.”

She raises her eyebrows. “That’s news to me. Where did you hear that?”

Eddie shrugs. “You just seem like his type.” Short and feisty, mean as hell when provoked. Gee, Eds, who does that sound like? Eddie looks away from Beverly’s pointed stare.

“I never did anything with Richie,” she says. “Besides the fact that we’re not interested in each other like that, he always felt a little off-limits.”

“What?” Eddie’s eyebrows scrunch together. “Why?”

Bev shrugs. “A vibe, I guess.”

A vibe. Right. Because Richie has been in love with Eddie for a long time. Because, perhaps unintentionally, he’s been closing himself off to his options, because the only option he’s interested in is Eddie.

Eddie feels a selfish little thrill of pleasure over that, and then feels abruptly sick with himself. You can’t have it all, Kaspbrak.

But you could have Richie, something wicked and unbidden whispers in his head. Like he doesn’t know that. Like he isn’t perfectly aware that he could call Richie tomorrow and have him on the next flight home. It’s so much power. Too much power. It’s scary. It’s thrilling.

Eddie would never do that. He’s selfish, but he’s not cruel. He wouldn’t string Richie along. He would only ever go after Richie if he wanted Richie the way Richie wants him. And he doesn’t.

He doesn’t.

Eddie has three wet dreams in a row about Richie. And then, just when he’s starting to expect it, he wakes up trembling, the ghost of Richie so tangible that he reaches across the bed and nearly cries when all he touches are ice-cold empty sheets. It isn’t a sex dream, this time. In the dream, they wake up together in slow increments, sleepy and soft and touching everywhere, Richie’s legs tangled with his, Richie’s hand on his jaw. They kiss, and then kiss again, slow, open-mouthed. Wet and wanting. Eddie is hard when he wakes up, but his erection is distant, unimportant.

He lies awake in the grey morning light and tries to picture someone else. Anyone else. He wants so fervently to want someone besides Richie.

But the idea of waking up like that with someone else makes him feel cracked-open and hollow.

There is no one else. It’s Richie. It’s always been Richie.

Eddie Kaspbrak has gotten very good at running from his problems, so he refuses to acknowledge this development for another full week. Richie is in Ohio by then. Eddie knows this because of the tour website, not because Richie has texted him. The last time Richie texted him was before the first time they fought, back when things were simpler and the roughest parts of their relationship had been the tape and Eddie’s unreasonable reaction to Richie bending him over the sink. Turkey sausage is God’s gift to the world, he had said. But you know, Jewish God. Cause kosher

Eddie rereads that text - and the rest of them, as far back as they go - an embarrassing number of times.

So he’s pining. Just a little. He’s allowed, isn’t he? It’s not like he’s going after someone he has no chance with, or someone who’s uninterested. Richie has proven time and time again that he’s interested.

And that… well, that’s the problem. Eddie has to be careful with this. He can’t come on too strong.

He’s half-tempted to say fuck it and text Richie I take everything back. I want to spend my life with you and adopt two kids and three dogs. But that would be nothing short of a disaster. He doesn’t want Richie to think he’s mocking him, or worse, pitying him. Because he’s not. He means it. But he’s made a royal ass of himself about the whole thing. What had Stan said? He dug the hole, and then buried himself alive. So now he has to claw himself out before he runs out of air.

Dramatic, maybe. But he does feel like there’s a bit of a time limit. How long will it be before Richie moves on? Has he already? Has he spent these few weeks on tour drowning his sorrows in someone else? Multiple someone elses? The thought makes Eddie feel sort of sick, but he would understand. Richie deserves to move on. Richie deserves better.

He’s going to spend the rest of his life making it up to him, if Richie will let him.

He has a plan. It’s a bad one. Mike assures him of that. “White people are so dramatic,” he sighs when Eddie explains the entire thing, but he doesn’t try to discourage Eddie. “Go get your man,” he says, and hugs Eddie tight. Eddie can’t help but wonder if Mike expected this.

Beverly certainly did. She has told him time and time again. “I knew it,” she crows. “I knew you were in love with him.”

“You didn’t even know we were fucking until the sex tape leaked,” Eddie points out. “You didn’t know anything for five years.”

She gets a little sour about that particular reminder, but she gives him her blessing. “I hope everything works out,” she murmurs in his ear when she hugs him close. Eddie does, too. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if it doesn’t. He hasn’t planned that far ahead.

In the end, Bill is the most helpful. For someone who is surprisingly skeptical about romance, he’s good at it. “What about this?” he asks. “What if you did this?” They spend an entire night together, plotting, their heads bent together over a notebook. Eddie literally bought a notebook to make sure he worked out all the details.

So maybe he’s already a little bit whipped. Whatever.

By the time Eddie calls Ben, he’s confident about the entire thing. That confidence wanes a little, hearing Ben’s voice for the first time in a long time. “Hi, Benny,” he says softly into the phone. “I need your help.”

Ben is a good man and a better friend, and he doesn’t ask questions. “Tell me what you need,” he says, like maybe he already knows what’s about to happen. Eddie wouldn’t be surprised. Ben always seems two steps ahead of everyone else.

“I need you to clear ten minutes in the show tomorrow night,” Eddie says. “And I need you to pick me up from the airport.”

Ben doesn’t pick him up from the airport. Eddie’s flight lands late in the afternoon, too close to showtime for Ben to escape. But he sends someone - a nice, middle-aged man who apparently tours with the band solely to do things like this. He regales Eddie with tales of coffee runs and late night grocery trips. He sounds happy about it. Eddie tries to listen, but for the most part he can’t focus, a jittery shaking mess in the front seat, vibrating with so much nervous energy he’s surprised he doesn’t burn a hole through the seat.

Security expects him. He thought maybe he would have to explain himself, but they wave him through like he belongs. Or maybe they think he does. For all the rest of the world knows, he and Richie are still together.

Ben meets him backstage. He looks good the way he always does before a show, fresh-faced and pink-cheeked, still sweating from sound check. He looks at Eddie for a long moment like he can't quite decide if he should be happy about seeing him, then gives in and tugs Eddie into a long hug.

"Please don't make me regret this," he says, his voice quiet, next to Eddie's ear. "Please don't hurt him."

More. Please don't hurt him more. That's what Ben is really saying.

"I won't," Eddie promises. "I won't."

Ben pulls back and looks at him for a long moment, then nods. Ben believes him. Eddie knows this because Ben is a trusting friend. A good friend. A better friend than he probably deserves.

"We're on in twenty," Ben says. "I told Jared what you told me, but." He sort of shrugs, like he doesn't know what to say. He probably doesn't - it's not like Eddie explained his plan. It's not like Eddie has a plan. Eddie has an idea at best. A hope. A fervent fantasy that just might blow up in his face.

Not like it can make things worse, though.

"I don't want to ruin the show," Eddie says. "Jared can tell me when to come on. Or..." He doesn't finish. He almost says that he could just forget it, give up on the whole thing, but that's not an option. It's now or never. This is his last hope, and he's not giving up on it. He can't. He just fucking can't.

Ben smiles, but it's sort of wan. "I don't think you could mess the show up." He says this with meaning, staring at Eddie intently. Eddie thinks maybe he gets it. He’s seen the tour clips, the youtube teasers that he spends guilty evenings watching, missing Richie with every fiber of his being. Richie hasn't been performing the way he usually does, not since...

"I'm gonna fix this," Eddie says.

"I hope so," Ben says, and then, with one last hug, he's gone and Eddie is alone, his heart jammed up hard into his throat.

The first half of the show is a blur. Eddie's watching the entire time, carefully concealed backstage, but as soon as the band starts up another song, Eddie can’t remember which song they just finished. He knows the names of all the songs, most of the lyrics too, but he just can't focus. There's something so magnetic about Richie and his long fingers, gripped firmly around the neck of his guitar. He's not playing with his usual enthusiasm and he's still the star of the show, his face stoic in concentration, angular under all the lights. He's beautiful. Eddie has never realized how fucking beautiful he is, not like this.

Jared talks between songs. Hey, Atlanta, thanks for having us! He's a good showman, grand and enthusiastic and comfortable. He slings his microphone around by the cord and walks the stage in broad circles, his movements easy and long like he owns everything he steps on. Richie, by comparison, looks reserved. Withdrawn. He smiles and he laughs and he talks into his microphone, but something's off.

Eddie knows exactly what that something is.

It's nearing the end of the show when Eddie finally works up the courage. He almost backs out altogether, his nerves hot and tight in his throat, but then he sees Ben. Ben is peering into the wings, squinting against his spotlight, and though Eddie knows Ben can't see him, he still feels that piercing gaze. He knows that look. What are you waiting for? Good fucking question, Ben.

Eddie has spent too much time waiting. It's time to fucking do something for once.

He walks onstage, slowly at first, then with more confidence. He's good at this. He's a performer at heart, and the crowd doesn't intimidate him - it invigorates him. God, he hasn't been in front of a live audience like this since college. He decided early on that he preferred films, but he had still starred in a stage production or two. This is... well, this is nothing like that, but Eddie can pretend. He's good at pretending.

He's tired of pretending.

When Jared sees him, he looks almost relieved. Did Ben tell him? Well, of course he did. But did Ben tell him everything? Doubtful. Ben doesn't know everything. Unless... God, did Richie tell them? That's embarrassing. But also unlikely. Richie is surprisingly tight-lipped about his personal angst, preferring to laugh it off if at all possible. So maybe… maybe Jared is relieved because he thinks Richie will be happy to see him? That's encouraging.

Except, when Richie sees him, he looks surprisingly dead-eyed. Not shocked, or surprised. Just blank. His face doesn't so much as twitch. His hands slide a little on his guitar. Maybe his palms are sweating. Eddie's are.

The crowd is cheering. Do they recognize him? Well, yeah. Of course they do. These are fans of Gunslinger. Probably fans of Richie. They'd know... well, they'd know everything. Every sordid detail that has been so painfully public this entire time. God.

Eddie tries not to think about that. He doesn't need to make himself more nervous. His hands are already shaking when he takes the microphone Jared offers him.

"Um," he says into it. "Hi." His own voice booms around the packed arena, echoing strangely back to him. He's not wearing an earpiece to dim down the feedback, so he can hear the roar of the audience. His entire body is trembling now, not just his hands.

The reaction is encouraging. People are screaming for him, cheering wildly, like they haven't all seen the headlines, like they still think Eddie and Richie are living their happily-ever-after daydream.

"So. I just flew from California this morning to be here," he says. Richie is staring at him, hard, his mouth moving a little, like he's thinking about saying something. Eddie needs to say this first. "I’m sorry to interrupt. I'll be quick, I promise. Do you guys mind?"

No, the crowd does not mind, if their cheers are any indication. Eddie doesn't actually care if they do, because he needs to get this off his chest one way or another. But he's trying to be thoughtful. It's something he needs to practice.

"Okay. Well. As you know, Richie and I are dating." It’s not like it’s a secret, but the crowd screams like it’s the first time they’ve heard the news. Eddie smiles, just a little. He likes the idea of people being so enthusiastic about their relationship. "We've been dating for awhile now. And I don't mind him coming to perform for you, but this tour has taken him away from me for almost a month now, and I've missed him."

Ben's voice is suddenly there, amplified loudly. "You came this far because you missed him?"

It's not a real question. It's a prompt. Get to the point, Kaspbrak. Right.

Eddie puts on his best, most winning smile. "Well, that's not the only reason."

Richie, for his part, hasn't moved a muscle. He looks frozen. He looks scared. He's breathing rapidly, his shoulders rising and falling, rising and falling, a rabbit-quick rhythm. Don't freak out, Eddie begs him. Not yet.

The audience is strangely, suddenly silent. They're no longer cheering. A swollen hush has fallen, taut with tension, fraught with anticipation. Eddie squints past the lights, trying to see the crowd, but he can’t. Everything is hazy and dim behind the blazing white spotlight. So he focuses on Richie.

Richie, who probably hasn't blinked in three full minutes.

"I love you," Eddie says into the microphone. His voice sounds strange, magnified, but genuine. "Richie, I love you so much. You're my best friend in the whole world. I can't imagine a life without you." He laughs, sort of awkwardly. “Well, actually, I can. But that life is awful. It's dull and it's depressing and it's quite honestly the worst thing I can imagine." Eddie knows this first-hand. The past month has been hell on earth. "I don't want a life without you," Eddie admits.

Richie blinks, finally, and his shoulders jerk a little, as if Eddie physically struck him.

"I want you," Eddie says, soft and urgent. "I want everything with you. I want to be with you. For as long as you want me."

For as long as you want me. Hadn't that been what Richie had said, back in Stan’s office, back before this whole mess? Eddie hadn't known what he meant then, but God. He gets it now.

The audience isn't cheering, exactly, but there's a lot of noise, quiet at first but building, crackling with hectic energy, a buzz of excitement.

Apropos of nothing, Eddie realizes that everyone in this arena thinks he's proposing.

Well. Fuck. Maybe he is. He's proposing something, at least. Something better. Something more. Something real.

"So, what do you say?" He walks across the stage in Richie's direction, slow at first and then with intent. He stops two steps from Richie and, before he can doubt himself, sinks down onto one knee. The guitar finally slips from Richie's grasp and hangs loosely from his neck, his hands outstretched like he's still holding it. He’s staring like God Himself has kneeled down before him. "Richie Tozier," Eddie says into the microphone and reaches for one of Richie's hands, lacing their fingers together. "Will you…” He pauses, takes a breath. There is an impressive silence, so absolute that the only sound is: “Will you film another sex tape with me?"

The crowd loses it. So does Richie, who makes a sound like a sob and finally gives in to the tears that have built up in his eyes. They stream down his face and drip from his chin, but he ignores them, pulling Eddie to his feet to envelop him into a tight hug. It's uncomfortable with the guitar smashed between them, but that's the last thing Eddie is thinking about. All he can focus on is the way Richie smells, like cologne and sweat. Like home. God. Eddie wants his bed to smell exactly like that from now until the end of time.

Maybe he is fucking proposing.

“You mean it,” Richie says into his ear, choked up. It doesn’t sound like a question, but Eddie nods anyway, clutching him close.

“No more secrets,” Eddie says back. Everyone has secrets, Eds, Richie had said, and then he had ripped himself open and exposed his insides for Eddie to inspect. Richie’s biggest, best-kept secret was how much he loved Eddie. Eddie doesn’t want either of them to ever hide something like that again. If he has to come onstage and bare his soul for the rest of the tour, for the rest of Richie’s career - well, he’ll do it.

“No more secrets,” Richie agrees, and then kisses him, right there in front of everyone, tasting like salt and tears and the best few years of Eddie’s life.

Stan’s office hasn’t changed, but it’s much less intimidating to be there of there of his own free will. Even Stan looks relaxed about it. He’s leaned back, hands folded casually over his stomach. He’s wearing a polo, for God’s sake.

The second chair has been pulled up again, and again Richie is spread out on it, incapable of sitting like a normal person. He looks well-rested, his hair hanging loose for once, curling against his collar. He’s smiling. He’s beautiful.

The tour has been over for a week. Richie’s home again - and by that, Eddie means Richie is staying at his house, taking up half the closet and half the bed. He gets the right side. It’s the compromise for how long Eddie made him wait.

“So,” Stan says. “I hear congratulations are in order.”

“Do you ever talk like a normal person?” Richie asks.

“We’re not getting married,” Eddie says. “That whole article was bullshit.”

Stan scoffs. “You think I trust Entertainment Weekly? Edward, I’m a professional.”

Fair enough. “I just thought you should know that we’re really doing this.” Eddie reaches for Richie’s hand, lacing their fingers together. It’s similar to the first time they did this, sat side by side in Stan’s office, but also so, so different. “We’re dating now.”

Stan, to Eddie’s great surprise, doesn’t pull out a pen and notepad. “I’m aware,” he says. “Congratulations,” he adds, belatedly, when Eddie stares at him for a long minute.

“You’re not surprised?” Eddie asks.

Stan raises an eyebrow. “You flew cross-country to get down on one knee in front of this man without asking for my advice,” he points out. “If you weren’t dating, I’d lock you two in a closet myself.”

“So many gay jokes,” Richie sighs. “So little time.”

This… is going so much better than Eddie could have hoped for. “Well, that’s all I wanted to say,” he says cautiously. He’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It can’t possibly be this easy.

Stan nods. “Thank you for telling me.” He turns to his computer and starts typing rapidly, a clear dismissal. Eddie hesitates, then stands. So does Richie. He leads Richie to the door by the hand he’s still holding.

Just as he touches the doorknob, Stan says his name. He’s still typing when Eddie looks at him, but he pauses long enough to make eye contact, intent and meaningful. Eddie’s stomach drops. This is it.

“If you film another sex tape,” he says, “please send it to me first. I’d prefer to get a head-start on the damage control for next time.” And then he smiles, slow and amused.

Eddie doesn’t know what to say, stunned silent. Richie waggles his eyebrows. “Don’t worry, Stanny,” he says. “You’ll be the first to know.”

And then he tugs Eddie out of the office, their laughter echoing all the way down the hall, their fingers still firmly laced.

They fall into bed together that night, skin against skin, touching everywhere. Eddie’s on top, and then Richie rolls them over and finishes like that, his mouth on Eddie’s throat, his quiet voice murmuring praises into Eddie’s ear.

When it’s over, they lie side by side, panting. It’s sort of hot in the bedroom, and Richie’s skin is sweat-sticky everywhere they’re pressed together, but Eddie doesn’t move away until Richie reaches over the side of the bed and shakes his phone free from the pocket of his jeans.

Eddie covers his face, turning onto his side. “You weren’t serious, were you?” he groans. “No offense, Rich, but the last thing I want to do is make another tape.”

But Richie only laughs. “Just your face,” he promises. “I don’t need to film you again.”

“Yeah?” Eddie can’t help but smile, peeking at him through his fingers. “Why not?”

Richie puts the phone aside and rolls on top, bracing himself with his arms on either side of Eddie’s head. “When we made the tape last time, it was so I’d have something to watch when I was away.” He puts his forehead against Eddie’s. “But I'm not going away, this time."

That’s not exactly true. Richie is still a musician, a successful one, and there will always be another tour. But that’s not what he’s talking about and they both know it.

Eddie combs his fingers through Richie’s hair, still tacky with sweat. "Yeah," he says. “Me either.”

And if it sounds like a promise, well, that's because it is one.