He couldn't believe he'd done that.
Jesus fucking Christ.
His manager was talking shit in his ear, prowling after him like fuck knows what, talking about "there'll be backlash for this" and "not part of the plan", and even "you've ruined your whole fucking career". The usual stuff, really. Richie couldn't bring himself to give a shit though, not right now. His heart was pounding ridiculously loud in his chest, blood rushing through him and making him feel dizzy – adrenaline mostly, but also some anxiety too.
Somehow he found himself in his backstage dressing room, manager still nagging him and furiously demanding answers. Pull it together, Tozier, pull it together.
"What in God's name were you thinking?!" Brad hissed, slamming his hand down on the dressing table; the bottle of water next to the mirror topped slightly from the force of it. "This is a PR nightmare!"
"I don't give a shit," Richie said simply, giving a shrug. "What can I say, man? Gotta be true to myself."
A vein seemed to throb in his manager's forehead. "You just announced that you're gay in front of hundreds of people, Richie, most of whom are within the demographic that are the least accepting of homosexuality! You think you're the first gay person to be in this position? Because you're fucking not, okay, there's a reason PR is a thing! Your image is going to be ruined within just a few short hours of all of this!"
"So you want me to lie about it?" Richie snapped. "I'm done lying, okay? I'm done with the dumb girlfriend jokes, I'm done with the misogynistic shit that I'm having to recite, I'm fucking done! I shouldn't be ashamed about this, it's 2017 for fuck sake!"
"Alright, sure, it's a more accepting time, but your fan base...in case it escaped your notice, you have a certain demographic, and it's not 'woke' gay people. The people who came to your show tonight wanted to see the Richie Tozier they know and love, they wanted those jokes and that humor - not your life story and an impromptu coming out!"
"Well, tough shit to them - like I said, if I'm doing these shows, I'll do it with my own jokes, not hiding who I am anymore."
"Richie, it's not that simple-"
There was a knock on the still-open door; a stagehand gawked at them, a little nervously, before clearing her throat. "Um… I'm sorry to interrupt, I… Well… These guests have VIP passes, and they wanted to see Rich- I mean, Mr Tozier right away."
Behind her, Richie could see the rest of the Losers Club waiting awkwardly, clearly trying not to look at him or his manager. He cleared his throat and gave what he hoped was an at least somewhat polite nod. "Yeah, they're friends of mine. Thank you. Brad," He turned to his manager and gave him a meaningful look. "Some privacy please?"
Brad straightened his blazer but nodded too. "Of course. I have...things to try and fix. We'll discuss this later, Richie."
He waited until both the stagehand and his manager were out of earshot before gesturing for his friends to come into the dressing room; all of them looked nervous, clearly trying to pretend that they hadn't overheard the argument, but he couldn't bring himself to mind - he was just so glad to see them all right now.
"So…" He said, closing the door behind them and trying to look like he was holding it together. "What- What did you think?"
"You were great, Richie," Bill said sincerely - and that seemed to make the others more comfortable too, judging by how they all started to smile and rush to embrace him.
"You did a wonderful job, Richie," Beverly told him, giving him a squeeze and beaming at him. "You had us all laughing the entire show."
Ben was grinning widely. "Far funnier than any of your old material, that's for sure."
"You were actually funny," Stan said, though he was smiling fondly. "Never thought I'd say that, Trashmouth, but it's true - if only you were that funny when we were kids."
"Ha, fuck you too, Stan Urine," Richie joked, but he was unable to stop himself from exhaling in relief. "I'm glad you all enjoyed the show - was kinda worried it wouldn't get the same laughs as my old stuff."
"Your old stuff was fake," Mike brushed off, giving him a kind smile. "We could see it was really you up there, being yourself."
Richie felt a little dazed by all the attention; he was briefly aware of Bill and Mike both patting him on the back, of Stan and Patty sharing a small laugh as they recounted something he'd said during the show, Audra congratulating him and saying how happy she was to finally meet all of her husband's friends, Ben grinning widely, Beverly holding his arm and stating that she was so proud-
"Has anyone seen Eddie?" He blurted out, unable to stop himself. Everyone else fell into silence. "Oh shit. Fucking shit-"
"He just went out for some air," Beverly said quickly, though she looked uncertain. "I think it's just...a lot for him."
"I gotta go find him," Richie muttered, immediately heading for the door. "Fucking fuck..."
Ben's arm stopped him before he could touch the handle. "Rich, I'm not so sure that's a good idea."
"No, I need to apologize to him, I need to explain-"
"Richie," Bill said quietly. "You just said you've been in love with him since we were kids, in front of hundreds of people. Everyone will know by tomorrow, even if they weren't at tonight's show. It's a lot for him to take in."
Something anxious and vile reared up in Richie's chest, making him feel like it was difficult to breathe. "I've fucked up. I've fucked this up, oh fuck...I'm a fucking idiot."
"It's okay, Richie, don't panic-"
"Shit, what's he gonna think?! Fuck, I've ruined our whole friendship, what the fuck is wrong with me?!"
"You haven't fucked anything up, Richie."
"Rich, please just breathe, okay?"
He was only somewhat aware of Beverly's hand in his arm, gently pulling him over to the nearby chair and sitting him down. "Richie, honey, have some water and just focus on breathing, okay?"
Knowing he had no choice in the matter, he took a gulp from the water bottle she passed him, focusing on her voice and doing his best to push his fears away. Tonight was supposed to have been the opposite of this - he was supposed to be brave, to stand tall, to not be ashamed of who he was. Instead he was terrified, filled with regret and uncertainty.
A part of him was briefly aware of someone (Bill, he figured) saying they were going to find Eddie before stepping out of the room. A minute or so later, he noticed the others starting to filter out of his dressing room, muttering that they were going to give him some space to breathe and not overcrowd him - they'd wait for him outside. He could only hope that security had managed to get any fans waiting out back to go away - normally he didn't mind signing autographs or saying hello to people, but after tonight's show...no. He couldn't.
You've really fucked this up, Tozier.
Beverly walked with him as they left, her presence welcome and calming; she didn't speak, and he was grateful for that - he just knew that she understood, that she was on his side no matter what was to come. Then again, he was sure all the Losers would be there for him no matter what - they were like a family, he sometimes thought, a family of misfits and nobodies that found each other, found a group where they could be themselves.
Fuck, he loved his friends so much.
"You want me to drive?" Beverly asked finally when they reached the car park, looking around; the others were nearby, crowded together and talking amongst themselves. "Or do you have a limo these days, Mr Comedian?"
"Hilarious," He said dryly. "No, but I have a driver sometimes. I can call him and tell him to head home for the night though."
They had nearly reached the others before Richie realized that all of his friends were there.
Eddie was there.
His throat closed up. No, no, he couldn't do this, he couldn't-
"Eds," Beverly said softly, giving him a kind smile.
Eddie gave a small nod, hands in his pockets and suddenly looking awkward. "Yeah… Erm… Hi, Richie."
Everyone was silent. The tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife as they all debated what to do, none of them clearly sure of what to say in this situation. Richie tried to meet Eddie's eye, only to find the other man staring at the floor resolutely; anxiety and worry gnawed at Richie's insides at the sight.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of awkwardness, Mike cleared his throat and looked around at everyone. "How about we go grab a drink?" He prompted. "You know, to celebrate."
"Sounds like a good idea, Mikey," Bill sighed with relief, quickly glancing at Richie and Eddie.
"We're all booked in the same hotel, right?" Beverly decided quickly, not waiting for an answer before continuing. "How about we go for a drink at the bar? That way none of us need to worry about driving or trying to find our way home."
The others murmured in agreement, though it was clear that things were still awkward. As they started to make their way out of the car park, Stan and Bill navigating and leading the way, Richie noticed Beverly's hand leave his arm; before he could question her, however, he found himself face-to-face with Eddie - immediately his throat felt dry, voice mysteriously gone for once in his life.
"Richie." Eddie's expression was hard to read; he didn't seem angry but he didn't seem happy or pleased either, just...carefully neutral. "Look, we need to… We need to talk."
"Yeah," Richie managed. "I guess so."
Eddie hesitated for a second or two before turning to call to the others over his shoulder. "We'll meet you guys there."
None of the other Losers commented on this; instead, Bill merely nodded and gestured in the direction that they were heading. "Sure. Take your time."
As soon as their friends were far away enough not to overhear, Eddie looked at Richie pointedly. "Is there somewhere private we can go or…?"
"Err… Dressing rooms might still be open?"
"And we won't be overheard?"
"No. I have a private dressing room, dude."
Eddie rolled his eyes at this but gestured back towards the theatre. "Alright, fine. Lead the way, Trashmouth."
Weirdly enough, the nickname made him feel more comfortable - it was almost like nothing had changed, like he didn't just admit in front of hundreds of people that he was in love with this man, like he didn't admit it in front of said man. For a moment, Richie allowed himself to think that everything would be fine; they'd talk it out, maybe be able to laugh it off, and it would be good. Not great, to be honest, but better than this hiding and lying.
Thankfully security had allowed him to go back to his dressing room, under the guise that he had "forgotten" something, and they didn't ask about Eddie accompanying him - awkward questions would have made it much more humiliating for all parties involved, he thought. Richie wasted no time in opening the dressing room door to let Eddie in before closing and locking it for good measure, just to be sure that they wouldn't be interrupted.
"Here, urgh… You take the chair, I can sit on the table," He offered.
"Don't worry about it," Eddie brushed off, crossing his arms and suddenly avoiding his eye. "I'm kinda too nervous to sit."
"Oh. Thank fuck, me too."
He noticed Eddie's lips quirk upwards, as if he was trying not to let himself smile - that was definitely a good sign. He waited for the other man to speak first, partly to be fair but also because, frankly, he had no idea what to say.
"So… Congrats on coming out?" Eddie finally offered - and then they both burst into laughter. "Fuck, that sounds so dumb."
"Yeah, but it's kinda cute," Richie chuckled before he could stop himself - and then he froze up again. "I mean… I don't mean…"
Eddie seemed to realize what he meant and his smile faded. "Right. That."
"I'm so fucking sorry," Richie said quickly. "I should have told you in private or something, not on a fucking stage in a stand-up routine. I mean, I was going to imply that I'm gay as fuck, that was planned, but I wasn't going to just put it out there like that, it just happened. And shit, I wasn't even intending on saying all that about you, but I saw you sitting in the front row and… Jesus, Eddie, I just saw you laughing and I-"
"Richie," Eddie interrupted, and the other man fell silent. "Look, man, this is all… Okay. Alright." He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before speaking again. "What you said during the show about me…about how you feel...you meant it."
Richie swallowed the lump in his throat. "Yeah, I meant it."
"Since we were kids?" Eddie continued, waiting for the other man to nod. "Okay… Richie, I swear to God, if this is some practical fucking joke or whatever - something for you to get laughs or make fun of me or whatever dumb shit goes through your head - then I will punch you in the face right fucking now."
"What? No, no this isn't a fucking joke!" Richie retorted, almost offended by this accusation. "You think I would say all that shit on-stage in front of hundreds of fucking people just for a joke?! Fuck off."
"Okay, okay, I know, I'm sorry, I just… It's a lot to take in," Eddie muttered. When his friend didn't say anything, he cast a look at him, seeming to study his face, before sighing. "Rich, I'm not about to turn around and start screaming slurs at you just because you had a crush on me."
"I can see it on your face, dumbass. Richie," He leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder. "You're my friend - one of my best friends, actually. Nothing you say could make me hate you...well, not anymore than I do already."
Richie gave a small, pained laugh, though the relief was evident on his face. "Right. Yeah. Thanks, Eds."
For a long moment that seemed to stretch on for a lifetime, neither of them said anything else; Eddie's hand remained on Richie's shoulder, the taller man just looking at him gratefully. There was still a nagging feeling within him, something eating up at his insides and wondering if Eddie was just hiding any anger or disgust, maybe he just didn't want to ruin a good night; they still hadn't really addressed the whole "hey, I'm in love with my best friend Eddie" thing either, that could be awkward-
Richie blinked. "What?"
Eddie's hand fell away, and he merely just shrugged as he looked away from Richie. "Me too. I'm...I'm gay."
"Oh. Oh. Eddie…"
"During the divorce proceedings with Myra, I...I started to think," He continued, almost to himself. "Actually, it was before that, before I even left Derry. I would hate myself, you know, for every time I looked at a cute guy too long, every time I thought they were handsome in their best clothes or whatever. I'd push it away because I'd think it was not okay, that I was being disgusting or dirty or…"
Richie was stunned by this, suddenly at a loss for words. "Dirty? Come on, dude, you're like the cleanest asshole I know - there's not a microbe of dirt or whatever the fuck on you."
"Hilarious. Really." But Eddie wasn't smiling. "Look, ever since the day we...we defeated IT, I've thought about it. I have. I thought about you helping me out before that fucking nightmare of a house collapsed, thought about you dragging my ass to hospital and demanding I get immediate attention, about how brave you were that day. After that I decided that I wanted to be brave too - you made me want to be brave and stand up for myself." He paused. "That sounds cheesey as fuck, I know, but it's true. And tonight, when you were telling your own jokes, stuff you'd written and worked hard on, I realized it again - that I want to be brave. I don't want to be scared to admit it."
Eddie nodded. "Yeah. But there's something else, Rich...the only person I told before now is Bev, and that's because she guessed, you know? She could tell, but I also knew she'd listen and not judge." He took a deep breath. "When I was in the hospital, every time I woke up, you were there - you refused to leave me. The others would be there too, usually taking turns, but you didn't do that - you were always there. And before that, when we were stuck in that fucking thing's lair, I saw you…" His voice failed for a moment, and he hurriedly looked away. "Fuck, Richie, you were under the deadlights and I...I thought I was going to lose you. I couldn't bear it, Rich - I just couldn't. I had to do something, I had to save you even if it meant putting myself in danger."
"Well…" Richie wasn't sure what to say - this wasn't how he imagined this conversation going at all. "It worked. I'm not dead."
"No, I know. But do you get what I'm trying to say, Richie?" Eddie asked anxiously. "Why I'm telling you all this?"
"I dunno, man," Richie said dazedly, trying not to get his hopes up - he couldn't, he couldn't let himself think one thing and be brought down when it was not true, not if he could help it. "This whole night has been a clusterfuck for me, and I'm not entirely convinced I'm not high and hallucinating right now."
It wasn't true - he hadn't been high in nearly five years, and he'd given up excessive drinking after reuniting with the Losers. He knew Eddie knew that already, but it was the first excuse he found himself latching onto.
"Jesus Christ, Richie." The smaller man rolled his eyes but remained otherwise serious. "I'm trying to say that I've...I've liked you since we were kids too. Loved you, actually. God knows why since you're an idiot who annoys the shit out of me, but damn it, I love you, Richie Tozier."
"I was never going to tell you," Eddie admitted, folding his arms and looking rather uncomfortable. "Even though I decided I was going to try to be brave, that I wasn't going to keep up with a sham of a marriage, I thought that you weren't…you know. And I thought that even if you were, then I'd be the last one you'd want to be with." Strangely, he gave a smile. "Fucking dumb, right?"
Richie nodded. "Very fucking dumb. Jesus, Eddie, do you not see the way I've been looking at you? Fuck, there's been days you've given me boners in public just because I was thinking about you."
"Urgh, too much information, asshole," Eddie huffed – but the affection behind it was obvious, his facial expression softening. "So…where does this leave us, Richie? What happens next?"
"Next?" Richie considered this. "Well, being honest, I'd love to take you out and do this shit properly, but…"
He hesitated, giving the other man a surprisingly serious look. "But that's your choice – if you wanna stay friends, I respect that."
To his surprise, Eddie huffed before stepping forwards; before Richie could say anything else, he was being kissed firmly on the mouth, hands cupping his face and pulling him close. He wasted no time in closing his eyes and kissing him back, his heart soaring as his entire body came alive.
For the first time all night, the panic and anxiety that had set him on edge flowed away completely: all he felt was exhilaration and relief – and love, love for this man in his arms. Suddenly it didn't matter about what anyone else thought – whether 'fans' would send him hate online, how this could impact his entire career, his manager hounding him with how much he'd regret this – because none of it was important, not as important as this, as finally being able to hold the person he loved, who he'd always loved, and being able to be open with himself as well as those closest to him.
Yeah, Richie thought to himself blissfully, he didn't regret his decision in the slightest.
Feel free to check out my tumblr (alwaysahiccupandastrid) for more Reddie fangirling as well as my Reddie Social Media AUs - there's a social media au that actually goes with this fic and offers more insight, but Fanfic Net won't let me post those :/
Thanks for reading!