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When they were kids, Richie was almost always glued to Eddie’s side. During that fateful summer, he’d faced death a dozen times, and every time he’d sought Eddie out, because if they were going to be eaten by a monster clown, the last thing Richie wanted was for Eddie to face It alone. He should have known it would be no different now, huddled against the rock of Its lair as the rest of their friends take on what he can only hope will be their final confrontation, one way or another. 

He watches the shallow, labored rise and fall of Eddie’s chest, averting his eyes from the gaping wound that his balled-up T-shirt is doing a half-assed job of staunching. Eddie’s eyes are open, and Richie tells himself that’s good — he’s just gotta keep him awake.

“It’s gonna be okay, Eds,” he says. He puts his hand on Eddie’s arm and gives it a gentle squeeze.

Eddie tries and fails to smile. “I’m fine,” he mumbles. “It doesn’t really hurt anymore.”

Richie’s pretty sure that’s a bad fucking sign, but he doesn’t want to make Eddie panic; he forces his face to stay as calm as it can, given the circumstances, and says, “Good. That’s good.”

“Rich…” Eddie trails off, coughing, spitting blood. 

“Listen, man, if this is another your mom joke I’m not exactly in the mood, but I respect your dedication to the bit,” Richie says.

Eddie laughs weakly, which makes Richie feel at once pleased and guilty, because laughing can’t be good for him in this state. “No, jackass. Just. Thanks for… for staying with me.”

And shit but if that doesn’t make Richie want to start bawling his eyes out. He smiles weakly. “Sure, Eddie. I hate to break it to you, but now that I remember you again you ain’t getting rid of me that easily.” He hesitates. There’s more he wants to say, buried confessions bubbling up to the surface, but the very act of sharing them would feel like accepting the idea that Eddie is about to die, and Richie cannot accept that. He watches Eddie take another raspy, wet-sounding breath, and tears prickle behind his eyes. “Hey, hang in there. We have a lot of shit to talk about when we’re out of this hellhole. And I mean serious shit.” 

“I don’t think you’re capable of serious, Richie,” Eddie says, the corner of his mouth twitching up. 

“Ha-ha, you’re a real laugh riot. Guess you’ll just have to stick around and find out what I’m capable of, huh?” 

Eddie’s eyes flutter momentarily, and Richie’s heart seizes with panic, but then Eddie slowly nods. “Okay.” 

Reacting on impulse, Richie lifts his hand and cups the side of Eddie’s face. His pulse is buzzing in his ears, and the shiver of fear over something so wholly mundane when they’re mere feet away from an enormous clown-spider feels absurd, but it happens all the same. He looks into Eddie’s face, and Eddie looks back, blurrily, and Richie feels such a horrible tenderness in his chest like he wants to wipe the blood from Eddie’s lips and cradle him in his arms. It’s terrifying. He keeps his hand where it is.

Clumsily, Eddie’s arm lifts and he puts his hand over Richie’s. His thumb smooths over the back of Richie’s hand. His fingers are cold. 

Some distance from them, the sounds of Ben, Bill, Mike, and Beverly shouting down Pennywise are growing more and more empowered. Richie’s view is slightly obstructed, but the clown is shrinking, retreating, growing small just the way Eddie said it would. 

Eddie pats his hand. “You should go.”

Richie shakes his head. “They can handle it. I’m staying right here.”

“Richie, don’t be an idiot. They need you.”

You need me, Richie thinks. But Eddie is insistent, and Richie lets his hand fall from Eddie’s face if only to stop him from overexerting himself. “I will be right back,” he says seriously. “So you just — don’t go anywhere, got it?”

Eddie cracks a smile. “Where am I gonna go?” he asks faintly. 

They both know the answer. Richie chooses not to say anything. He shoots Eddie one more anxious look before jumping to his feet and rushing over to help his friends bully Pennywise to death. 

And it works, by some goddamn miracle, and he takes a moment to let the truth of Its defeat settle in him before his mind jumps right back to Eddie, Eddie, and he’s rushing back to the alcove where he left him. He’s still sitting there, propped up against the wall and holding Richie’s shirt to his chest. 

“Eddie, hey, we got him, we got Pennywise, man.” Richie drops to his knees beside Eddie, a giddy, shaky grin crossing his face. 

Eddie’s breathing is even shallower than when Richie left him only a few moments ago. His eyes struggle to focus on Richie, but his bloody lips twitch in a semblance of a smile. “Fuck yeah,” he whispers. More blood trickles from the corner of his mouth. Instinctively, Richie reaches over to wipe it away with his thumb. Eddie’s eyes shut.

“Hey, hey, what’re you doing,” Richie says, cupping Eddie’s jaw and tapping the side of his face gently. “C’mon, Eds, we gotta move.”

“’M tired, Rich,” Eddie whispers. “Really tired.”

“I know, bud, and you can sleep all you want in the hospital. Not in this — this nasty old cave, right? All full of dirt and bugs and alien clown disease? You don’t wanna sleep here, no way.” Richie knows he’s rambling, and the whole cistern is starting to shake and crumble. Bill’s hand is on Richie’s shoulder, squeezing it urgently.

“We gotta go,” Mike says. “Ben, help me get Eddie, come on.” He and Ben come to either side of Eddie, whose eyes are still closed, and ease him onto his feet. Eddie winces and lets out a quiet yelp of pain, and Richie lunges forward to hold the shirt to his wound again, applying pressure. Rocks and debris start to fall all around them.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Mike yells, gesturing with the arm that’s not holding Eddie upright, and Bill and Beverly start booking it, leading the way as everything falls to shit around them. Eddie’s head lolls to one side, and Richie presses hard against the balled-up shirt, in part to keep the pressure and in part to ensure he can feel Eddie’s weak breaths. 

It’s another miracle that they make it out, although Richie’s starting to think he doesn't believe in bullshit like miracles at this point. They watch the house on Neibolt Street as it collapses into the earth, Richie crouching on the sidewalk and holding Eddie against him. Eddie’s eyes are open again, but hazy, and he’s not looking at the house. He’s looking at Richie.

Richie glances down at him and startles slightly. 

“Richie,” Eddie mumbles. “I don’t feel so hot.”

Richie laughs, though it comes out sounding slightly choked. He smooths down Eddie’s grimy hair. “Well you look like a million bucks, lemme tell ya.”

“Asshole,” Eddie whispers, grinning. 

They bundle Eddie into Bill’s car, and Richie keeps an iron grip on Eddie’s upper arm the whole drive. He has never been one for prayer, but he finds himself silently whispering to a vague something — the image his mind conjures up, funnily enough, is Stan — please, please, please. He’s gotta make it. Please. 

--

After Eddie is rushed into surgery, there is nothing much to do but wait. It could be hours and hours before they hear anything, before they’re allowed to see him. The five remaining Losers sit in a corner of the waiting room, ignoring the vaguely disturbed looks from everyone around them at the state of their clothes. Richie is filthy with god knows what — Eddie’s blood, for a start — and he fucking reeks. He’s tapping his foot against the linoleum floor, drumming his hands against his knees. He’s vaguely aware of the others talking around him; Bev’s voice is soft on his right, Mike’s a comforting murmur on his left. 

He’s thinking about cradling Eddie to his chest on the sidewalk. Practically caressing his face in the cistern. He’d found plenty of excuses to touch Eddie when they were kids, ruffling his hair to piss him off or play-fighting with him and wrestling him to the ground. But there was an undeniable intimacy to what he did back there, and now that he’s out of the chaos and in the stark light of the hospital, panic starts to stir behind his ribs. What had his friends thought, seeing him like that? What are they thinking now? What are they saying now — are they talking about him? 

All at once the waiting room is too much — it’s loud, and there are so many people, and all of his friends are just staring at him, he can feel it. Maybe everyone in the room is staring at him, looking through him and seeing the thing that’s twisting and roiling in his chest. They all know your secret, Richie

He stands up out of his chair so suddenly that he feels lightheaded. The others startle at the motion, eyeing him with concern. He runs a hand through his hair and realizes he’s shaking. He feels like he might puke. 

“Rich? You okay?” Bill asks.

“Yeah, yep, hundred percent, I — uh —” he swallows, clears his throat, and tries again. “Just need some air.” And then Richie books it out of the hospital doors before anyone can ask him anything else. 

He’s shaky and sucking in breath like he has a punctured lung by the time he’s standing outside in the afternoon sun. Fuck, he could really use a drink right about now. Maybe it’s the exhaustion catching up to him, all of the adrenaline leaving his body in a sudden whoosh, but his legs start to wobble and he finds himself plunking down on the curb in front of the hospital before he really knows what’s happening. 

He closes his eyes and shoves his glasses up to scrub a hand down his face. He can see Eddie, covered in grime and his own blood, choking on it, tearful and calling Richie’s name as the clown’s clawed arm pierces his chest. Richie opens his eyes again, if only so that he doesn’t actually puke. He’s a little startled when he realizes his eyes are welling up. A dam breaks, and Richie pushes his face into his knees and sobs. 

It feels like a long time, but probably isn’t very long at all, before he hears footsteps approaching. Sniffling, he lifts his head and wipes uselessly at his nose with the back of his wrist before he looks up. It’s Ben. Not who Richie was expecting, but not an unwelcome presence. 

Ben gives him a small smile and nods to the pavement next to Richie. “Can I join you?”

“Why the hell not,” Richie says, shrugging and patting the ground. “Pop a squat, Benny boy.” 

Ben eases himself onto the sidewalk and sits cross-legged beside Richie. He looks down at his lap, fidgeting with his hands for a moment, and then glances at Richie again. “He’s gonna be okay, you know.”

“Sure. Sure.” Richie nods. 

They share a moment of companionable silence. Richie side-eyes Ben, who is looking calmly out at the sky over the parking lot. Richie follows his gaze. It’s funny, how beautiful the sky looks when you’ve just spent hours in a demon clown from outer space’s lair. Richie huffs out a laugh.

Ben is watching him again. “Kinda crazy how we can be away from this place for so long and it still feels like we never left,” he says.

“Mm, yeah, really loving being transported back to my tween years. Nothing but fun memories there,” Richie deadpans. 

Ben laughs. “Hey, I hear you. It took a lot more than a memory wipe to get over my childhood trauma. But it hasn’t been all bad, I think.” His expression softens. “The moment I saw Bev it’s like it all came rushing back. Everything I felt, like I’d never really stopped. I don’t think I had stopped, even if I couldn’t remember.” 

When Richie saw Eddie for the first time in 27 years in the restaurant, he hadn’t been prepared for how it would hit him all at once, every pathetic heart-fluttery feeling slamming back into his chest cavity and nearly knocking the breath out of him. It was all a bit much for someone who’d spent his adult life valiantly trying not to feel anything remotely close to the deep, genuine affection and love that burned him up inside the moment he and Eddie locked eyes from across the room. 

“Richie,” Ben says, when Richie continues to stare into the middle distance with red-rimmed eyes. Richie looks at him, frowning slightly. “It’s okay, you know.”

Richie’s eyes widen. “What is.” 

“Richie,” Ben says again. He knows, Richie realizes, and the thought panics him even though it probably shouldn’t. He squeezes his eyes shut and turns his head away. He feels Ben’s hand, tentative, on his shoulder. He says, “It’s okay,” again, and then, “I get how you feel.”

“No,” Richie says, before he can stop himself. “No, you really don’t.” 

He feels Ben shift slightly. “...you’re right,” he says slowly. “You’re right. I don’t. I’m sorry.” 

Richie winces. He opens his eyes and Ben is looking at him slightly guiltily. “It’s fine. Fuck. I hate this goddamn town.” He sighs, long and slow. “I didn’t even remember this place, but the bigotry sure lodged itself in deep. Jesus Christ. Childhood trauma, huh? What a load of crap.”

“None of us think any different of you,” Ben says. 

“Oh good, so you all know? Have you been having little conversations behind my back? ‘Welcome home, did you hear Tozier’s a queer?’” Saying it out loud, even in a sarcastic way, is at once freeing and terrifying. They’ve been talking around it up to now, and he feels splayed open on the pavement. 

“Rich, come on, I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean… it’s obvious how much you care about Eddie.” Richie’s shoulders hunch, but Ben continues. “And I think it’s good. It’s good to hold onto that. Even if it hurts sometimes. When you love someone, enough that it lasts through everything we’ve all been through, it shouldn’t be a secret.”

Your dirty little secret. Richie shakes his head a little, to clear it. “You always were a fuckin’ poet, Ben, I’ll give you that.” He looks into Ben’s earnest, open face and feels the knot in his chest loosen just a little. Ben is unfailingly kind. Richie had forgotten what it felt like — to have friends who give a shit. “Thanks, man. Honestly.” 

“You bet.” Ben claps his shoulder. “You wanna go back inside?”

Richie shrugs. “I guess.” He allows Ben to hoist him to his feet, but he pauses for a moment. “So… everyone knows, huh.”

Ben tilts his head, considering. “I don’t know if they all do.”

“But you knew?”

Ben laughs. “Yeah. Let’s just say I’ve got a good eye for people desperately pining over someone else.” 

Richie grimaces. “Alright, touché.” 

 

They decide to take shifts going back to the inn to clean up, and after some strong-arming from Bill, Richie agrees to go back first, with Beverly. Bill’s reasoning — that the sooner Richie gets cleaned up, the sooner he can come back and wait for Eddie to be out of surgery — is enough to convince him. Bev drives, and Richie stares out the window, vaguely aware of his shaky hands.

“You got a cigarette I could bum off you?” he asks.

Bev hums. “I think they all got trashed when we were in the sewers.” She glances at him. “You still smoke?”

“Nah,” he says. “I just, ha, need a little something to take the edge off.”

She clucks her tongue at him. “You shouldn’t smoke, Rich. You’ll ruin your nice voice.”

Richie stares at her like she’s grown a second head.

“What?” she says, feigning innocence. “Isn’t that your moneymaker?” 

He barks out a startled laugh. Fuck, he’d missed getting tooled on by his idiot friends. “I don’t think anyone has ever called my voice ‘nice’ in my goddamn life. You definitely haven’t.”

“First time for everything,” she says, snickering.

At the inn, Richie takes the longest shower of his life with the water turned up as hot as he can stand it. He scrubs Eddie’s blood off his face, and then scrubs everywhere else until his skin feels red and a little raw. He rests his forehead against the shower wall as the water — with decidedly unimpressive water pressure — beats a steady rhythm against his back. He’s fine. He’s fine. And Eddie is… probably also fine. Not that he’ll know until he’s back at the hospital. Richie turns off the shower.

Once he’s dressed, he grabs his phone and texts Mike: any news?

You know I’d tell you if there was, buddy, Mike replies.

Richie sends back four thumbs-up emoji, four of the “hang loose” emoji, and a single clown emoji in response. Mike sends back a frowny-face, typed out. Richie rolls his eyes. 

 

In the end, it’s four hours before the doctor comes out into the waiting room. It’s dark outside, and they’ve all cleaned themselves up and resumed their posts in the corner of the waiting room. Mike is dozing. Beverly is sipping her third styrofoam cup of coffee. Richie is staring up at a crack in the ceiling, not really seeing it.

Bill notices the doctor coming and elbows Mike awake. The Losers rise to their feet. Richie’s heart is in his throat. He hopes he doesn’t barf on the doctor’s shoes. 

“You’re Edward Kaspbrak’s entourage?” the doctor confirms. They all nod. “Well I’m happy to let you know that he’s out of surgery now and he’s stable.”

Richie sags, and it’s only Bill’s steadying grip on his upper forearm that keeps him from collapsing. “He’s okay?” 

“He’s on his way to being okay,” the doctor says. “It will take some time before he’s ready to be discharged, and several weeks of at-home rest after that. But we’re optimistic about his recovery time, considering the circumstances.”

“Can we see him?” Bev asks.

“He’s on a lot of painkillers, and he’s still coming out of the anesthesia. Only one or two people in the room at a time for now.” 

“Richie, you should go first,” Ben says immediately. Richie looks at him, still reeling from the news, and Ben smiles slightly. No one else seems to have any protests. 

Bill tags along with Richie, and it feels like this is exactly how it should be — Eddie’s oldest friends, the original Losers. For the millionth time since he returned to Derry, Richie wishes Stan was there. 

When they enter Eddie’s hospital room, he’s propped up in the bed with blankets tucked around him, fresh stitches in his cheek and sleepy, half-lidded eyes. He’s hooked up to an IV, and he’s got a monitor device attached to his finger. He lifts a feeble hand in greeting. Bill and Richie just sort of stand by the foot of his bed, and Richie’s stomach is doing backflips to see Eddie sitting there, awake and alive if not fully alert. 

Eddie looks between the two of them for a moment and then says, slightly slurred, “Jesus fuck, you two look grim. Who died?”

“The clown,” Richie replies solemnly. “We’re a little devastated by it, Eds, be sensitive.” 

“Jackass,” Eddie says. He laughs, then winces and clutches a hand to his abdomen. “No, shut up, don’t be funny.”

Richie grabs Bill by the shoulder and shakes him slightly. “Mark this day on your calendar, Big Bill, Eddie just admitted I’m funny.” 

“That’s not what I fucking said, oh my god,” Eddie groans. Richie is beaming uncontrollably, and even Bill looks amused. Eddie gestures weakly toward the chairs beside his bed. “Sit down, you guys are creeping me the hell out looming over me like that.”

“I thought you’d be used to that, Eds. Everyone looms over you.” Richie swings the chair around so he can sit on it backwards. This, he can handle. The bickering, the back-and-forth he and Eddie have had since they were kids. He can already feel the stupid jokes coming up like a wall against the unbearable vulnerability he’s already let slip through today. 

But then he thinks about Ben’s kind face, how he’d said that love shouldn’t be a secret or whatever the fuck. The fact that Eddie is alive and spitting ridiculous insults at him makes Richie want to cry his guts out from sheer relief, and yeah, okay, maybe Ben has a point. 

“How’re you feeling, Eddie?” Bill asks.

Eddie lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “Like I got skewered. What’d you tell them happened to me, anyway?”

“Car accident,” Bill supplies.

“They gave us hell for not calling an ambulance and removing the ‘shrapnel’ ourselves and shit,” Richie adds. “It was fucking annoying, by the way, like I’m so sorry we couldn’t leave the clown arm lodged in your guts, y’know?”

Eddie winces. “Can we talk about something else, actually? Like, literally anything else?” 

So they do, for a few minutes — Bill assures Eddie that everyone else is fine, they make smalltalk about the hospital and Eddie’s expected recovery and if the nurses have been nice so far. Eventually, Bill slaps his hands against his knees and gets to his feet. 

“Guess we should rotate out, let someone else come say hi,” he says. He turns to Richie and nods toward the door. “You coming, Rich?”

Richie stands up. He glances at Eddie, and then away. He sighs. “Y’know what… gimme like ten minutes? I just gotta talk to Eds in private for a second here.” 

Bill gives him a funny look, but nods. “No problem, take your time.” He pats Eddie’s leg. “It’s good to see you’re okay, Eddie.”

“Thanks, Bill,” Eddie murmurs. 

The two of them watch Bill leave the room, and then Richie forces himself to look away from the door. Eddie is staring at him, dopey and drugged up and with that little furrow to his brow, like he’s constantly on the edge of being irritated or worried. It makes Richie’s heart feel like it’s about to beat out of his chest, and that makes him want to go lay outside on the pavement, but he makes himself stay and smiles slightly at Eddie instead. 

“Everything okay, Rich?” Eddie asks.

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” Richie shoves his hands in his pockets. “You, uh, remember how I said we had shit to talk about?”

Eddie nods slowly. “Sure. Serious shit. What is it?”

“Well, I, uh…” Richie laughs nervously. “Well. Funny thing, Eds. Really funny thing. I am, as it turns out… gay. I’m gay.” He pauses, and then laughs again, this time more to himself than anything. “Huh. Never said that out loud before. Okay.” 

Eddie’s expression is as neutral as it can be when he’s wacked out on pain meds. “Okay,” he repeats. “You haven’t told anyone else? Ever?”

“Nah,” Richie says. “I mean, apparently Ben figured it out because he’s perceptive as fuck, I guess, but no, you’re the first person I’ve told. Ever. In my entire life. So congratulations on unlocking my deep dark closet door.”

Eddie smiles. “Shut up, Richie.” And then, a moment later, “Thanks for trusting me with that, man.” 

“Well I’m glad you’re taking it well, Eds, because there’s more.” Richie can’t help himself, he starts pacing. He definitely can’t look at Eddie for this part. “I — hah. I’ve been crazy about you since we were kids, Eddie. Like, legit embarrassing head-over-heels in love bullshit. And it turns out 27 years and an erased memory doesn’t mean jack shit, because I took one look at you and I was a goner all over again, if that isn’t the most pathetic thing you’ve ever heard. And I realize this probably isn’t the kind of confession I should be making while you’re high off your ass on painkillers, but hey! Maybe you’ll forget all about this conversation and I can be less of a moron about it the second time around.” 

He stops talking. He’s facing the wall to the left of Eddie’s bed, staring determinedly at the seam in the wallpaper. His hands, in the pockets of his jeans, are trembling. 

If Eddie hates him now, Richie is going to fully blame Ben Hanscom. 

Eddie finally makes a noise, a little inhale like a fish out of water. Richie looks at him. Eddie’s eyes, extra glassy from the drugs, are wide. “Oh,” is all he says.

“Yeah.” Richie smiles humorlessly. “Anyway. You don’t have to say anything. Ben thought this would be a good idea, so really this is his fault —”

“Rich, just shut up for a second, I swear to god. Let me think for a second. Jesus.” Eddie sounds stern enough that Richie actually listens to him for once. “And would you sit the fuck down?”

Richie blinks at him. He sits back down in Bill’s vacated chair, the one that’s facing the right way. Eddie lets out a long, slow breath. Richie’s foot starts bouncing.

“When Mike called me,” Eddie says, picking at a bandage wrapped around one of his fingers, “and I started remembering — everything, Derry, you — I was fucking terrified. I’d spent my whole life convincing myself that if I was just, you know, the good son who married a woman exactly like his fucking mother, I could. Pretend. That I wasn’t… and I didn’t fucking remember you, so I guess that helped? But then I did remember you, and you completely fucked up my whole sham of a life.” Eddie looks up at him. Richie is aware he’s sort of gaping a little bit. His foot has stopped bouncing, at least. “Well go on, say something, asshole.”

“You… I… this is a lot to take in,” Richie says. He leans back in his chair and runs a hand through his hair, laughing. “Holy shit, Eddie. Fuck this fucking town, huh?” 

“Yeah, no shit.” Eddie makes a confusing motion with his hand, and Richie sort of stares at him. “Come closer,” Eddie demands.

“Why?” Richie asks.

“Because I want to hold your stupid hand.” Eddie is scowling at him. Richie has never felt more pathetically in love. He scoots his chair forward and takes Eddie’s hand, squeezing it slightly, and actually touching him again now that he knows Eddie is alive and going to stay that way… he feels tears well up in his eyes again.

“Ugh, no, don’t look at me for a second,” he mutters, staring up at the ceiling and willing the tears to go away. “You know, when I was a kid I used to think I was gonna go to hell for this.” 

“Yeah. Me too.” Eddie’s voice has lost its perpetually annoyed edge. “You don’t still think that, right?”

“Of course not.” Richie grimaces. “I think what I saw in the deadlights was basically hell, anyway, so we’re probably good now.” 

“What… did you see?”

Richie shakes his head. “I don’t really remember anymore. And I’d rather not try to, if I’m being honest.”

Eddie’s thumb brushes over the back of Richie’s hand, like it had back in the cistern. A lump lodges itself in Richie’s throat. 

“What about your wife?” Richie asks, just to divert attention away from his impending emotional breakdown. 

Eddie sighs. “Myra… she’s not a bad person. She’s — I think she’s a sad person, like me, and our marriage is like. We’re punishing ourselves because we don’t know how else to exist except in the same shitty cycles. It’s not a good situation. Splitting up will be the best thing for both of us.” He nods, mostly to himself. “Anyway, sometimes I think maybe she already knows. That I’m… you know.”

“Hey, Eds?” Richie leans forward, and Eddie looks at him quizzically. “You gotta say it, man. You’ll feel better.”

“Do you?” Eddie asks skeptically. “You looked like you wanted to barf.”

“I did! But I do feel… better. I guess. I don’t know. I’d actually feel better if you said it so I know for sure I’m not misinterpreting whatever the fuck you’re trying to tell me right now.” 

Eddie rolls his eyes. He chews on his bottom lip for a moment. He takes a deep breath. “I’m gay.” 

“Hell yeah.” Richie clings to his hand, grinning at him. “Don’t you feel all freed from your burdens and shit?” 

“You are so fucking annoying,” Eddie says. “Come here.”

“I am here.”

“Come here,” Eddie insists, tugging at his hand. Frowning slightly, Richie gets up from the chair and leans in closer. Eddie releases his hand, but only in order to grab the collar of his shirt. Richie’s eyes widen, and he has just enough time to think oh holy shit before Eddie is pulling him down and kissing him square on the mouth. 

It is not, all things considered, a particularly graceful kiss. Eddie’s motions are clumsy and Richie is shell-shocked and they’re both nervous out of their minds, but it’s — nice. Eddie’s mouth is warm and soft and huh, Richie’s never kissed someone with stubble before, that’s pretty fucking great, actually. Richie cradles the base of Eddie’s skull with one hand, using the other to hold himself up as he leans over Eddie’s torso. Eddie still has one hand fisted in Richie’s shirt, the other one sort of weakly stroking Richie’s forearm, and Richie decides that actually, this is a fucking excellent kiss.

Eddie tries to lean up to deepen the kiss and immediately pulls back with a groan of pain. Richie draws away a little, but Eddie’s hand catches his wrist and keeps him from moving too far. 

“Easy there, compadre. I know I’m hot stuff, but I don’t need you reopening your wounds just to get to second base with me,” Richie says.

Eddie thwacks him on the arm, which would have been more impactful if he had any strength at the moment. “Don’t ruin it, jackass.” 

Richie beams at him. “Aw, Eds. Would it ruin it if I tell you you’re about as threatening as a baby kitten right now?”

“I swear to god, Rich, as soon as I get out of this hospital I’m going to throw you in the quarry.”

“Sure thing, Kaspbrak, it’s a date.” Richie winks at him.

Eddie’s irritable facade falters, and he sighs, closing his eyes and leaning heavily back against the pillows. A pained expression creases his brow, and Richie’s stomach lurches with concern. 

“Are you okay? Do you need me to get the nurse?”

“No, it’s fine. Just… hurts. I’m really tired.” Eddie opens his eyes again. “This fucking sucks, man.”

“Could be worse,” Richie says.

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess it really could.” Eddie fumbles for Richie’s hand again. “You kinda saved my life back there, I think.”

“You saved mine first, so don’t worry about it,” Richie says. He looks into Eddie’s big dumb brown eyes and feels like his chest is cracking open. “I’m… really glad you’re not dead, Eddie.” 

“Me too, Rich.” They sit there for a moment, finally with no secrets between them, and a sort of serenity comes over Richie. He’s holding Eddie’s hand, no bullshit to hide his intentions, and they’re both here, alive on the other side of nearly three decades of shit that should have killed them both. He smiles, soft and genuine, and Eddie smiles back. 

“Guess it’s been ten minutes, huh,” Richie says.

“Oh, definitely more than,” Eddie affirms. 

“Alright. Time to get the rest of your adoring public in here.” Richie squeezes Eddie’s hand once more before he lets go and rises fully to his feet. He starts toward the door when Eddie calls him back, and he turns with his eyebrows raised in question.

“Richie… for what it’s worth. I loved you back then, too. And now. In case you didn’t. Get that. With the uh, kissing and shit.” 

“Eloquent as ever, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says, only joking to hide the fact that he’s about to start bawling again. 

“I’m on drugs, give me a fucking break,” Eddie retorts. “Go get Mike or something.”

Richie shoots him one last fond smile, which Eddie immediately returns, before he ducks out of the room. He takes a moment to just lean against the wall outside, covering his face with his hands and grinning like a lunatic. Holy shit.

“Everything’s coming up Tozier,” he mutters to himself. Then he drops his hands, shakes himself a little, and hurries back to the waiting room, where everyone else has been very impatiently awaiting his return. 

--

He takes Eddie to the kissing bridge, when he’s deemed well enough to leave the hospital. They’re not leaving Derry just yet, although they’re the last ones still there besides Mike now. Every day that Richie wakes up and can perfectly remember Bill and Bev and Ben is a tiny moment of relief. He and Eddie aren’t staying much longer, because Mike is ditching Derry as soon as he can and frankly Richie has been itching to get out of his hometown from the moment he set foot back in it again. In any case, Eddie has been cooped up in the hospital with its stale air and fluorescent lighting, and Richie thinks it’s high time he took a brief excursion to stand in some real sunlight for a bit. 

Eddie talks his ear off the whole way there about how disgusting hospitals actually are, how they’re the prime breeding ground for all sorts of germs and diseases and antibiotic-resistant super-parasites — or something along those lines. Richie has no idea what Eddie’s even talking about half the time, but his rapid-fire rants and wild gesticulating bring a warmth to Richie’s chest that he hasn’t felt in 27 years. 

He stops on the side of the road next to the bridge, and Eddie wrinkles his nose when he realizes where they are. “Aw man, Rich, this place always gave me the creeps.”

“What, why?” Richie asks.

“Bowers was always lurking around waiting to jump people over here,” Eddie says with a shudder. 

“Well he’s not here now,” Richie says. “C’mon, we’ll be quick. I just wanna show you something.”

“Okay…” Eddie gets out of the car, still moving gingerly and putting a hand against the side of his ribs when he stands up. Richie quickly circles the car and puts a steadying hand on his arm. Eddie shoots him a brief, grateful smile. Then he nods to the bridge. “What’re we looking at, exactly?”

“Right. Okay. Lemme see if I can find it.” Richie leads Eddie over to the bridge and kneels down, scanning the faded wood pockmarked with names and initials over the decades. When he spots it, he feels momentarily transported — he’s 13 again and he’s got his pocket knife in his hand, making careful, precise motions and nothing has ever felt so important as this. He can never speak it aloud, but here, it’s secret. It’s safe. R+E, engraved in the side of the bridge. It is the closest Richie gets to admitting anything, even to himself, for 27 years. 

He brushes his fingers over the carving now, and smiles slightly. “Here it is.” 

Eddie puts a hand on his shoulder and leans close to look at it. “You carved that?” he asks. His voice is uncharacteristically soft. 

“Yep. When I was a kid.” Richie laughs slightly. Then he gets a little embarrassed, because Eddie isn’t really saying anything and Richie feels oddly exposed. “Anyway, ha, wanna add a 4EVER underneath or something?”

“Shut up, Richie,” Eddie says, still sounding soft and fond. He squeezes Richie’s shoulder. “We should leave it like it is. I… I like that it’s been here all this time. Even when we couldn’t remember each other, this bridge was here, holding onto this memory of you and me. And not even the fucking clown could take that away.” 

Richie looks up at Eddie with an enormous, sappy grin on his face, and Eddie eyes him suspiciously.

“Why are you making that face? Don’t laugh at me, asshole, I can be sentimental if I want to.”

“I’m not laughing,” Richie promises. He stands up, and Eddie’s hand slides off his shoulder. Richie holds it. It’s unbelievable, that he can just do this now. “How about this, you and me come back here in another 27 years and we can touch it up together. Sound good?”

He hopes it’s clear what he’s really asking — stay with me another 27 years?

And Eddie just smiles, which is the only answer Richie needs. “It’s a deal,” he says.