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we're f***ing killing it, babe

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Eddie is dead. 

 

That's what they keep saying. ‘He's dead, Richie.’ ‘Let go, Richie.’

 

And Richie held him up until he couldn't hold him anymore, until the others needed him to kill that fucking clown for good. And while Richie was gone, Eddie… was alone. Was he holding hands with the rest of them? No. Was he part of the group? Fuck yes. Who else wanted to kill that fucking clown more than Eddie Kaspbrak? 

 

“I was kidding about the sacrifice, dipshit!” Richie yells, voice directed at It, even though It is no longer there. “He’s not going to fit on a fucking barbecue!” 

 

The caverns are collapsing around them. Without It's power that kept the impossible structure up, it'll be a miracle they make it out with all their limbs still attached, much less an extra body. 

 

"We have to go," Mike insists, pulling on Richie's shoulders. 

 

"He's dead, Richie. Let him go," Ben says, at his other side. 

 

"We can still help him!" Richie yells, grabbing Eddie's arms. “He’s okay. We can still help him!” 

 

It's hard to hear as the ceiling disintegrates into chunks of rock, huge boulders crashing into the ground, so maybe that's why Richie says what he does. Maybe it's because nothing matters. Maybe it's because It is gone and the fear which tangled up his throat and caught all his secrets inside has dissolved under the weight of grief. Maybe that's why he speaks. Or maybe he just needs to say it, even if the person who needs to hear it never will.

 

Eddie's dark eyes are closed, like he's just fallen asleep, if people could fall asleep with a gaping hole in their chest. His head is tilted to the side, chest covered by Richie’s jacket that Richie had been pressing tightly to the wound. 

 

Richie reaches out to touch the side of Eddie's face. Just like Eddie reaching out to touch the side of Richie's face, while he lay there in the dirt, bleeding out. 

 

Goddamn cinematic parallels. Real life doesn’t fit together like that. 

 

"I love you," Richie says quietly through the sobs that are catching at his breath. He can't look away from Eddie; he needs every second he can get. He should have said it earlier, he should have said it so much earlier, why was he such a coward, why is it always the living that are such cowards—

 

Mike and Ben are yanking at his shoulders, but he won't let go of Eddie. 

 

Richie says it again, louder now. This time, he wants to be heard. 

 

"I love him! I love him!" 

 

He's never said the words before, not like this. Grief catching at his words, hope a thin thread through them all. Truth making them solid, unbreakable. He won’t turn around to see his friends' expressions. Why would he? What does it even fucking matter, now? 

 

"I won't leave him here! He deserves better than— than to be stuck down here forever!"

 

The insistent hands on his shoulders stop trying to drag him away and Richie thinks it’s all over. That’s it. Thank you to all his fans. 

 

Then Richie’s friends are around him, dead or alive. No one has time for this, or the strength; they're realistically all moments away from being buried alive, and yet Bev and Mike and Ben and Bill are all there with him and Eddie. 

 

Losers Club final meeting, please sign in at the door. 

 

"We can’t leave him here," Richie sobs, and he can feel the warmth of his friends as they hug him, and the coldness of Eddie's skin. “We can still help him. Please.”

 

It's stupid and illogical and batshit crazy, just like Eddie used to call all of Richie's plans, except Eddie can't say so now. It might get them all killed or maimed or trapped to use so much energy to carry Eddie out. Richie knows it doesn't make sense to the rest of the Losers to carry Eddie out.

 

They carry him out anyway. 

 

Richie tries and he helps, he thinks he does, through the rising grief, but it's mostly Mike and Ben who bear the physical burden of Eddie Kaspbrak up to the surface. All Richie can do is think, we can help him, he's okay, he's just hurt we can help him

 

Eddie can't be left in It's lair. That wouldn't be fair. Even Stan got away, even if he didn't survive. 

 

Eddie can't be left behind with It, to be buried in the same grave. 

 

Unsanitary, Richie, it’s completely unsanitary, Eddie would say. 

 

The Losers make it up to the surface with only seconds to spare. And so the house on Neibolt Street collapses in front of them as they all huddle there together, dirty and bloodied and broken in so many ways they weren't before today, but alive. Alive, they're alive. 

 

On the asphalt, Richie falls to his knees. Gently as he can, Mike lays Eddie's body in his arms.

 

Richie doesn't watch the house collapse. It doesn't matter. That part's over, the grief’s just beginning. He holds Eddie's body tightly to him, as if it matters, like he'll be able to do more than put him in the ground again in a couple of days. He holds Eddie's body tightly to him, because it does matter, because he'll have to put him in the ground again in a couple of days.

 

Maybe just for a minute, Richie can hold him close. 

 

When Eddie moves, Richie is holding Eddie so tightly and shaking so badly from the adrenaline and the tears that he doesn't notice. He's staring at Eddie's face, which is so pale under the bandage on his cheek. Even in death, Eddie has a little frown on his face, pushing a crease between his eyebrows.

 

Richie thinks that's funny, just a little bit. Eddie, frowning even now. It's funny how bodies carry traces of someone's personalities in their wrinkles and scars, even when the person is gone. Richie reaches up to smooth away the frown, to let Eddie finally relax.

 

Then Eddie coughs, just barely, just enough. Blood from his mouth splatters on Richie's chin and the bottom of his glasses.

 

Richie freezes.

 

Eddie's chest is rising and falling just slightly, barely at all, but it's enough. Anything is enough.

 

Richie opens his mouth. Wild hope and blindingly abject misery battle in him for a chance at his first words with a not-dead-Eddie. 

 

His brain settles on the eloquent: "What the fuck—?"

 

Then, he nearly drops Eddie. He shouldn't be holding someone so gravely injured, should he? Isn't that going to make it worse? Fuck, he has no clue, the only one among them who would know is Eddie, the injured, the alive— "What the fuck! You're— Eddie, he's — help! Fuck, we need help!" He turns to his friends, all wrapped in their own grief and triumph and revelation, and yells, "Get a goddamn ambulance!"

 

Ben puts a hand on Richie's shoulder. "He's dead, Richie. We know you love him—we all do—but he's gone."

 

Richie is about one second from punching someone in the face, and it's only because he's holding Eddie's body that he can't. (Okay, he's a coward, too. He knows Ben wouldn't retaliate, but he's seen Ben's abs). 

 

He glares at Ben. "I'm gay, not stupid! He's breathing, you asshole! Just get an ambulance, I swear—!"

 

Not the best coming out he's ever heard, but the circumstances are dire.

 

Bev turns around and then Mike and Bill, too, and someone gets their phone out and Richie is just holding Eddie as they wait for the ambulance to arrive. Everyone is giving conflicting advice— put him down, no don't move, hold him tight, let go of him we should put him on the ground, he shouldn't move if he has a spinal injury, well he might not have one, he got hit straight through the torso he probably has a spinal injury oh my god— and Richie hears it all but he's not listening. All he can focus on is the slight intake and release of breath coming from Eddie's lips. He's holding the jacket Mike ripped off to Eddie's wound and thinking, we can help him, we can help him, we're helping him...

 

Richie makes the kind of promises everyone does in that moment: he promises he's going to tell Eddie he loves him, he's going to start writing his own jokes, he's going to stop wasting time on stupid shit, he's going to become, like, a vegan, he's going to...

 

And then the ambulance arrives.

 


 

 

Eddie is not dead. Surprise!

 

Richie wades through the next forty-eight hours like he's half-asleep, alternately nearly catatonic with exhaustion or overstimulated by everything.

 

He breaks down in tears approximately five times, which is fine since the alternative is worse (they don't allow alcohol in a hospital, shockingly enough). He sleeps maybe three hours of the forty-eight, and that only because Mike forces him into a chair and exhaustion knocks him out.

 

Eddie goes into two surgeries, gets through both of them. Richie watches the clock on the wall as it mercilessly ticks through time, dragging through the seconds or leaping across the hours and Richie has a fucked up sense of time already and this just makes it worse.

 

Then he meets Eddie's wife, which is like meeting the elder Mrs. Kaspbrak all over again. He has to bite down on a joke because weren't Eddie's last words 'I fucked your mom'?

 

Seems like he wasn't the only motherfucker.

 

Eddie would murder him if he said it, though. Richie comforts himself with the fact that Eddie is alive enough to possibly threaten to murder him one day, rather than face the fact that Eddie hasn't been conscious long enough yet to do any threatening.

 

By this point, Richie is already coming down from the adrenaline high of It's lair. It’s a huge high which drops him down low, lower than he's ever been. He's been fighting tooth and nail against his own brain to stay at least a tiny bit positive, because reality is brutal. It's not just being alive—it turns out it's really the living that's hard.

 

Eddie is alive. 

 

Eddie is married. 

 

Eddie is alive. 

 

Eddie is not gay. 

 

Eddie is alive. 

 

Eddie has been unconscious or asleep for two days and is still very much in critical condition, even if he's no longer in the could-die-at-any-moment stage.

 

Eddie is alive.

 

Richie has been having what he thinks a psychologist would describe as 'a hard time.' He feels like he's been oscillating between two very disparate states of mind and the slightest thing is going to kick him straight into the deep end.

 

He thought it would be meeting Eddie's very real wife, but it turns out to be when Myra Kaspbrak stops short at the sight of her husband connected to an IV and a heart monitor and an oxygen flow. She looks around at the Losers Club, now all gathered around her husband's bed. Tears are in her eyes and for a horrifying split second Richie thinks, Oh, she's going to thank us.

 

What's Richie gonna say? ‘Yeah, I saved him so he could go right back in your arms, you're welcome, Mrs. K, please continue to squeeze him so tight every bit that made him Eddie leaves him and he's just a crumpled up freeze pop.’ For some reason, that prospect horrifies him the most.

 

"Get out." Myra turns to them, hands tightly clutching Eddie's limp one between hers. She has the same face Mrs. K got on whenever Richie came over and inevitably made too much noise. "Get away from him right now!" Myra screeches. "I know you did this to him. You get away from him!"

 

Just kidding! This is worse.

 

Everyone is too stunned to react. Richie feels about one second from puking his guts out, though he hasn't eaten anything in about 72 hours. 

 

"We're not leaving," Mike responds, as calmly as possible. "We're his friends."

 

"You're not his friends. I've never met you before in my life!"

 

"We're childhood friends," Bev says, with a soothing tone. "We all grew up here, in Derry."

 

Myra's eyes lock on to Bev. "Who are you?" she spits out, venom in her voice. "What have you done to my Eddie?"

 

Ben steps up behind Bev and lays a gentle hand on her shoulder. It's probably supposed to make Myra feel less jealous, to indicate that Bev isn't in love with her husband ( Ha ha, that's me! Richie thinks), but it's clear Myra doesn't take it that way.

 

Ben gives Myra a sympathetic look. "We're here for him. We brought him in. We all got attacked when we met up."

 

Myra scans Ben up and down, looking skeptical. 

 

Richie's gotta admit this excuse would probably work better it Ben looked even a little fucked up, but in a clean shirt and jeans, the guy looks basically untouched. 

 

"So it was your fault! He meets you and next thing I know he's in the hospital? How could you do this to him?" Myra is glaring at them all like they were the ones who stabbed Eddie and not a killer clown slash alien slash whateverthefuck. Nobody responds, and Myra's voice ratchets up another notch as she yells, "And I told you to get out! I. Am. His. Wife! LEAVE!"

 

"I'm— we're not leaving." Richie shoulders his way up to the other side of the bed, where he gingerly picks up Eddie's left hand. There's a heart rate monitor on the finger and a plastic hospital bracelet around Eddie's bruised wrist. Richie's been avoiding touching Eddie, partially because of the whole critical-condition-don’t-touch situation and partially because he didn’t know if he could handle it if Eddie’s skin is cold again, and this is just all just a fucked up dream—

 

Richie looks grimly back at Myra's horrified expression. Eddie's hand is hot in his grip and Richie has to fight down tears at even this tiny detail. He never thought he'd get this again. Eddie had been so cold down in Its lair. So cold and so, so still.

 

Myra didn't have to deal with that. She didn't have to see Eddie getting a claw stabbed through his chest, didn't have to get sprayed with his blood. She didn't hold Eddie's body as he bled out, telling himself we can still help him we can still help him wecanstillhelphim

 

She doesn't have to wonder what would have happened if they had left Eddie down there, if Richie hadn't insisted they carry him up, with Eddie still alive as the tunnels collapsed...

 

Richie yanks his thoughts away from that black hole. He can recognize a self-destructive mindfuck when he sees one and that one is—as the kids say—a doozy. 

 

"We're staying," Richie repeats firmly. "We saved him. We're his friends. His real friends. You're just a—"

 

"And who are you?" Myra interrupts. She looks ready to slap Richie's hand away from Eddie but doesn’t dare. "And what do you mean, you saved him? You got him into this, I bet you did! He’s never been in trouble like this before, but now! Oh, look at you, you're filthy and covered in—in who knows what and I want you out of here! Eddie doesn't know you, if I don't know you!"

 

Richie can hear the echo of It's final hiss, the quiet, mocking voice, I know your secret, Richie…

 

He hates that fucking clown. It's not a secret, not anymore. He's not going to lie anymore.

 

"But I know you. I know exactly who you are. You're exactly the same. You put him through the same bullshit he's been put through his entire fucking life. You're just like her."

 

"Like who?!"

 

"His mother!” Richie shoots back.

 

Myra looks unable to respond. 

 

“Bet you he's even called you 'Mommy' before, right?" Richie knows that one hits home because Myra's eyes go wide and her mouth pops open, but he keeps going, digging in. All the things he wanted to say for years to Mrs. K come bubbling up. "And guess what? It's because you're her goddamn doppelganger! A fucking carbon copy. You do the same shit she did. The same exact shit. Acting like you can control who his friends are, or what he does. I bet you make him think that he's small or weak or whatever you need him to be, because you don't want him to fight back. Even though he's the opposite of all those things. Guess what you are? You're a fucking bully! An abusive, controlling bitc—"

 

Myra can't take this last insult. Her face screws up and she bellows, "I SAID, GET OUT!"

 

"AND I SAID, MAKE ME!" Richie is aware he sounds like a kid, but it doesn't feel right, leaving Eddie alone here with her. It wouldn’t be fair, right?

 

Turns out, though, she does have the right to make them leave. The ruckus catches the attention of a tired-looking nurse, who calls security.

 

"Finally!" Myra huffs. She glares at Richie, who is still holding Eddie's hand. 

 

Eventually, Bev and Bill manage to convince Richie to leave, if only because if security has to drag him away, he won't be allowed back into the hospital. Period.

 

Myra remains with a smug glare in their direction. As Richie walks backwards, guided by a tall security guard, the curtain slides shut on a sleeping Eddie. The crease in his brow has deepened slightly but the lights on the monitor are still steady. Myra leans over him even as the nurse puts out a hand to keep her back.

 

The Losers decamp to the hospital cafeteria. Bev heads over to the counter to get everyone some drinks and Mike drops into an open chair, looking exhausted. Ben gets out his phone and calls a lawyer and Bill does the same, but both of them look dubious about getting back in there, at least for now. 

 

Myra Kaspbrak is Edward Kaspbrak's wife and the Losers are just some nobodies from his past that he completely forgot about up until a week ago. And until Eddie wakes up, that's what they're gonna be.

 

Richie slides down into a plastic chair and buries his face in his arms. The hospital cafeteria table smells like chicken sticks and some weird cleaner. He is so fucking tired.

 

Richie thinks vaguely, This is what they were fighting for, with the whole gay marriage thing… visiting rights in hospitals…I get it now... but in the moments before sleep, he forgets that he and Eddie aren't married. 

 


 

 

Twelve hours later, Richie wakes up in a bed. It takes him a second to work that one out.

 

He blinks at the ceiling, then lurches up, tangles himself in the sheets as he tries to run away, and trips into the door. He only narrowly misses slamming his face into the doorknob and when he spins around, looking at the room that's slightly familiar and mostly unknown, a cold sweat has broken out on his forehead and neck. 

 

He spots his glasses on top of the bureau and scrambles to put them on his face. The clarity is not helpful.

 

"Where the fuck am I?" He yells, mostly to hear himself speak. Is this another illusion? Where's Pennywise? Didn't they kill It? He feels alive and the fear he feels is nothing like the creeping, unforgiving dread that It gave him, so that's something.

 

Then there’s movement at his back and he screams, leaping away from the door. 

 

The door swings open to reveal Bev, looking tired but with a small smile on her lips. "Hey, Richie. You're awake."

 

Richie blinks at her. She looks real, and unthreatening, enough. "Yeah? Where the fu—? Where are we?"

 

"The inn. We brought you back when you fell asleep."

 

"I did not 'fall asleep.'" Richie narrows his eyes. He knows that much.

 

Bev shrugs. "Looks like you did."

 

"Mike put something in my drink, didn't he?" When Bev doesn't deny it, Richie throws up his hands. "And how the fuck did you get me out of a hospital when I was passed out?"

 

"Ben carried you."

 

"Something tells me that Ben fireman-carrying an unconscious body out of a hospital might raise some red flags,” Richie replies sarcastically.

 

"It was actually bridal-style." 

 

"Fuck you," Richie says, but there's no heat in it. He’s so exhausted, even now. "How'd you do it?"

 

"We put you in a wheelchair," Bill says, appearing behind Bev. Richie fights down the urge to jump. "P-pushed you right out. No questions." 

 

Richie points at him. "I have some serious fucking questions about how Mike got a tranquilizer so quickly. And how comfortable you all were with drugging someone. Not just someone— me! You practicing your Ted Bundy skills or what, dude?" 

 

Mike appears around the other side of the door, apparently summoned by the sound of Richie's dramatic awakening. "Benadryl is sold over the counter, Richie. Not gonna kill you." 

 

"Sure. That's what you think. Next time, I’m going to give you my prescription list so there’s no contraindications.” Richie hears himself speak as if he's standing outside himself. Con-tRA-in-di-CA-tions

 

Mike just stares at him, with one eyebrow raised. "You sound just like him." 

 

Richie pointedly ignores that last jab. “I guess that at least explains the headache," he mutters. He feels dizzy, but he can't tell if it's the lack of sleep or the aftereffects of the Benadryl. He claps his hands together, looking at his calm-faced friends. "So, now that I'm awake after your drug-fueled ‘intervention,’ anyone down to drive me to the hospital?” He waits barely a second for a response and gets none. “No? Okay, I'll do it myself." 

 

Bev, Bill and Mike all step in front of the door, blocking Richie in. 

 

Bill puts a hand on his chest. "Richie, wait.”

 

Richie laughs because dread is already making a home in his stomach. It’s clacking down foundations like Lincoln Logs and making a tiny wood cabin right in the center of his chest. He knew he shouldn’t have fallen asleep. The terrible stuff always happens when someone falls asleep. 

 

“Alright, what is it? Is he dead? Is he really dead this time?” Richie jokes because, again, the alternative is worse. Reality is worse.

 

“He’s not dead,” Mike says. “Eddie’s alive and doing pretty well, considering. We know that much.”

 

“Great! Great. Good… good to know.” Richie hates how relieved that makes him. A week ago, he didn't even remember the guy and this week a decade's worth of forgotten feelings have crushed him like a pathetic little bug. Wasn't it easier to not know why he felt like there was a hole in his heart sometimes, a phantom ache he couldn't explain and couldn't assuage?

 

The answer is yes. And no.

 

It's like being twelve years old again and looking across the couch at your best friend and realizing you’ve loved him since the beginning. That first kick in the heart that wakes you up and tells you this is what a heart is for, this feeling; and the first monumental drop in your stomach that’s you realizing you can never, ever tell him. It's a thousand opportunities to say something that you never take, all those words swallowed up inside and building into something so large you can't see around it. It’s wanting to kiss him and have him kiss you back; it’s aching to love him, and to have him love you back. 

 

It’s knowing he won’t.

 

It’s the worst.

 

If Richie had lived with this love—if he had remembered—maybe he would be over it. It's hard to carry a love from childhood to adulthood knowing that it's hopeless. A torch will burn itself out. But to forget it completely and have it come back as strongly as he first felt it means he's totally unprepared for the burden. 

 

Love is heavy, it seems. And he knows grief would be heavier.

 

He takes a couple of steps back and lands on the edge of the bed, his legs collapsing under him. It’s actually only then that he realizes he’s only dressed in a pair of boxers and an undershirt he doesn’t recognize.

 

“Excuse me… who stripped me?” Richie demands, trying to distract himself. He plucks at the undershirt with two fingers. "Who wanted to see me naked?"

 

Bill’s face turns the color of a tomato. He opens his mouth but can't seem to get the words out. Richie raises his eyebrows at him.

 

“Your clothes were gross, Richie. We threw them out," Bev replies. 

 

“Thanks, but there is such a thing as a washing machine." Richie tries to keep his tone light, because he has a feeling that there's something they're not telling him and it has to be bad. "I know how to use one of those. I think."

 

"You can go dig them out of the Dumpster if you want," Mike offers. 

 

"Maybe in a minute. Trashmouth, okay? Not a trashbody." Richie looks around at his friends, who haven't yet stepped inside his room. They're blocking the hallway of the tiny inn, afternoon light filtering in through a dirty window at the end of the hall. Where is the innkeeper of this place? Did she get eaten by It? Was she never real?

 

God, this town has fucked with his head. LA is going to feel like a paradise after this. 

 

"So, what's the terrible news?" Richie asks, trying to grin. "What are you not telling me?" he teases even as the hole in the pit of his stomach grows wider with every second of silence.

 

Bev is the one who speaks. "Ben's at the hospital right now. He's spoken to the doctor about Eddie and she's agreed to share updates about his condition." 

 

Richie makes a 'come on' motion with his hands. "Okay, and? What's the catch?" 

 

Bev and Bill exchange a look. "Well, for one th-thing, Ben says Myra is still there. And right now, you're a p-persona non grata to the critical care ward. Myra got to the manager of security somehow." 

 

Richie's heart sinks. "And they didn't take one look at her and 5150 that shit?" At his friends' curious looks, he explains, "It's a California thing. So what you're saying is, you can go to see him, it’s just that I can't go see him." 

 

"Actually, th-thats what we're working out." Bill has that face on that means he has a plan. "We have a plan."

 

Good to know Richie's instincts haven't failed him. 

 

"We're going to get Myra away from him, and get you in there,” Mike says.

 

"Okay. How? You're gonna drug me again? This face—" Richie draws a circle around his face "—is memorable. Or is this a Hannibal Lecter situation?" He puts on his best Anthony Hopkins, “Clarice… do you hear the lambs crying at night?” 

 

Bev smirks. "Nope. You're just not going to be Richie for a minute." 

 

"Who am I gonna be? Eddie's long lost cousin? A doctor? A corpse?"

 

"You're going to be… Ben." 

 

"Ben?!"  Richie is dubious about this. Ben is six foot something of muscle and good looks. Richie is six foot but gangly and ab-less and still wears glasses big enough to cover half his face. "Do I look like I belong on the front of a romance novel to you? Do I look like Jack, the buff but lonely farmer with a heart of gold?"

 

Bev laughs and Mike looks amused. "I am going to tell him you said that."

 

"Don't you fucking—"

 

"Okay, okay," Bev cuts in. "I get what you’re saying. You’re nowhere near as buff.” Richie wishes he could be more offended by this, but it’s true. “But you're the only two who are of similar heights. We can work something out." 

 

Richie frowns, but it’s not like he has another option. Besides, probably not the wildest plan he’s ever been a part of. “Alright! Might as well.” He slaps his hands on his bare thighs and stands up. “When we get arrested I can guarantee you that it’s because my biceps aren’t the size of my face.”

 


 

They don’t get arrested. They do, through subterfuge—Richie smashing in to a single bathroom stall with Ben to change clothes, Richie doing a straight 180 when he sees the blurry figure of a security guard coming close (Mike tells him later that it was a janitor), and the rest of the Losers club engineering it so that Myra gets a phone call from her mother that she’s forced to take outside because of volume issues—actually succeed. 

 

Richie slips inside the curtains drawn around Eddie’s bed. 

 

It’s eerily quiet in the critical care ward. There’s not as much frantic movement as there was in the ICU, which means Richie can hear his own heartbeat as loudly as the steady beeping from the heart monitor next to Eddie’s bed. Richie pulls his glasses from his pocket and puts them on, blinking at the sudden clarity.

 

Eddie looks… good. Considering. He’s no longer deathly pale, for one thing. Under his hospital gown Richie can see the lump of bandages across his chest and there are random bruises and scrapes up and down his arms and neck that match the ones the rest of the Losers have, too. But he’s breathing steadily, eyes closed as if he’s asleep. This time, he really is asleep. 

 

Richie steps closer. “Hey, Eddie…”

 

The white gauze on Eddie’s cheek marking where Bowers stabbed him in the face has been replaced by a row of black stitches. Richie reaches out and traces over the stitches in midair, careful not to touch. 

 

“That—” Richie clears his throat, aware of how tight it’s become, just looking at Eddie. He can’t fucking cry right now. “That was so badass. I can’t believe you stabbed Bowers with his own knife and insulted his mullet with blood pouring out of your face.” He tries to say it with levity, but he can feel his eyes prickling with tears. 

 

He lets his hand touch Eddie’s cheek below the cut, where Eddie’s normally clean-shaven face has two days' worth of beard growing in. 

 

“You’re my— my goddamn hero, you crazy bastard.” Richie pats the side of Eddie’s face. He doesn’t think anything of it, since Eddie has been unconscious for the last few days.

 

“Ow.”

 

Richie snatches his hand away from Eddie’s face and takes a quick step backward. Eddie is frowning, brow crumpled up and his mouth is moving and he’s saying something.

 

This went way past Richie’s plans for today. All he wanted to do was see Eddie, make sure he was doing okay, secretly confess his feelings and suppress them all again for another twenty-seven years. What was it that Eddie said about putting off defeating It until next time? 'We'll be seventy years old, asshole!' Sounds like the right time to confess an unrequited love.

 

Eddie blinks, dark eyes coming in to focus on the ceiling. He looks confused. “Wh… where am I?”

 

Richie isn’t going to respond at first, but then Eddie tilts his head slightly, gaze sliding over to him. That gaze is going to be the death of him. He never thought he’d get to see it again, Eddie’s dark eyes frowning at him, assessing, trying to figure him out. 

 

“Hospital,” Richie blurts out. His heartbeat is pounding in his ears. 

 

Eddie’s gaze slides to the curtains drawn around the bed, the hospital bed with its guardrails, the IV attached to one hand and the heart monitor attached to the other, beeping away at the side of the bed. “Yeah…” Eddie says slowly, clearly still working out how to speak. “I got that.”

 

Richie wants to laugh and cry at the same time. He’s saved from responding by Eddie clearing his throat. 

 

“Water?” Eddie asks, looking up at Richie.

 

“Oh, uh, yeah. Of course.” Richie spins around, trying to locate the rolling cart that had the water cup and jug with it. By the time he does, Eddie has stopped clearing his throat and is instead watching him with something like fondness. Or maybe it’s the pain meds that he clearly has to be on, having had major surgery less than two days ago. 

 

Richie fumbles with the cup and straw, but manages to get it situated right after a minute. This means he has to hold the cup right near Eddie’s face, because Eddie can’t move to hold it, obviously, and it means Richie's hands are centimeters above Eddie’s bare chest (too high to touch the bandaged area, but he’s still nervous). 

 

Eddie takes a couple of sips of water. He’s looking at Richie like he’s still trying to figure something out. “You look… very familiar.”

 

Richie turns around to put the cup down, and to hide his expression. He pushes his glasses up his face in a long routine motion and scrunches up his nose, trying to rearrange his expression into something a little less… sad. So, Eddie doesn't remember him. 

 

"Thank you," Richie says with his usual joke-y false confidence. "I get that a lot. It's the face." 

 

"Uh-huh." 

 

Richie hates that Eddie can look so skeptical even when lying in a hospital bed three days after nearly dying. God, he fucking loves him. 

 

Then Eddie turns his hand up toward Richie and crooks his fingers. "Come here." 

 

Richie really wishes he had the wherewithal to not immediately step closer, right next to the bed, but he's weak, okay? It's fine. "Yes, Your Highness?"

 

"Shut up, asshole," Eddie responds automatically. Even he looks a little surprised. He blinks quickly, obviously trying to regain his footing. "I'm the one in the hospital bed." 

 

"You are." 

 

"You're supposed to be nice to people who are sick." 

 

Richie raises his eyebrows. "Is that true?" 

 

"Yes! It's called basic courtesy!" 

 

"Well, then—" 

 

"Mr. Kaspbrak?" A voice comes through the curtain before it’s pulled back to reveal a young nurse, blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck. The nurse looks up at Richie and back to Eddie. “Edward Kaspbrak?”

 

"Yes, that's me," Eddie says. 

 

"I think she knows that," Richie can't stop himself from whispering to Eddie. "You are the one in the hospital bed."

 

Eddie glares at him. 

 

"Good afternoon, Mr. Kaspbrak, my name is Annie. I'm one of the nurses on your team. I just need to do a couple of quick checks now that you’re awake again, is that okay?"

 

"Yes, that's fine."

 

The nurse comes over and starts taking down his vitals, checking the stitches on his face and lifting up the edge of the bandage on his chest. 

 

Richie waits in tense silence for her to finish her work. He doesn't want to leave but he doesn't know how long it's going to be before the nurse realizes who he is or Myra returns, neither of which appeals. 

 

After a minute, Annie pulls back, looking satisfied. She writes a few quick things on Eddie's chart, before pulling out a couple sheets of paper from the back of the clipboard. 

 

"Alright, Mr. Kaspbrak, everything seems to be going well. Dr. Aster will be over later this afternoon and there's a couple of things she'll want to go through with you in regards to your care. Here are some forms for you to review. You can go through them again with her and she'll answer any questions you have. How is your pain level? Are you doing alright?" 

 

Eddie shoots a sideways look at Richie. "It's… okay. A little elevated."

 

Annie nods. She fiddles with one of the IV drips next to Eddie's bed. "There. You might feel a bit sleepy but let us know if you're experiencing any rise in pain levels. Okay?"

 

"Okay."

 

Annie is about to leave when Eddie says, "I don't know if I can sign anything." He raises his hands a little and squeezes his hands open and shut, but it's obvious he's still weakened greatly. 

 

"That's fine," Annie says with a smile. Her eyes slide from Eddie to Richie and back. "Your spouse can sign for you in the presence of the doctor, with your verbal consent." 

 

Eddie blinks at her. Richie feels his mouth open but, for once, can't find the words. 

 

Did she just—?

 

Annie apparently doesn't notice their surprise, and disappears through the curtain without another word. 

 

Eddie looks down at his left hand, which is coincidentally the one closest to Richie. Richie looks down, too, to see a gold band he doesn't remember seeing before on Eddie's ring finger. Had Eddie been wearing that the whole time he was back in Derry? Richie doesn't remember. Maybe Myra put it back. 

 

"Oh, shit. I'm married." Eddie stares at his hand. It's obvious whatever the nurse did to his medication that he's getting sleepy. He peers up at Richie. "Why didn't you say anything?" 

 

"Say what?" Richie's eyes feel as big as his face. He's babbling now. "What would I say?" 

 

"That we're married!" 

 

Richie feels like he's the one who got stabbed in the chest this time. All the air leaves his lungs at once. "We're not married," he ekes out. 

 

"Bullshit." Eddie's face is pure disbelief. "Yes, we are. You think I don't know?"

 

"Yes, I think you don’t know! You don't even know my name!" 

 

Eddie's eyebrows push together, and even though his gaze is becoming less focused, it's clear he's thinking hard. "Ry—hmm. Uh. Ri-Rich."

 

"You guessed that!" 

 

Eddie looks smug, but his eyes are blinking for longer and longer. "Rich ie ." 

 

Richie tries to protest but his throat is feeling tight. Eddie, saying his name again. He never thought he'd hear that. "Eds…" he starts, about to deny the whole we're-married thing again. Where the fuck would he start?

 

"Y’know, never thought I'd marry someone like you…" Eddie says softly. He's looking sleepily up at Richie. 

 

"Uh, you mean a dude?" 

 

Eddie's hand lifts slightly, just enough to cover Richie's where it’s resting on the guardrail. His hand is warm, and bigger than Richie remembers. Or maybe it just feels that way, on top of his. Proof that he's alive. That this is real.

 

Richie turns his hand until it’s holding Eddie's and their palms press together. It's the hand they marked as children, with the scar that's now gone. The last thread that was really tying them together.

 

"No, dumbass," Eddie says. "A dude with a goatee." 

 

Richie blinks through the tears forming in his eyes. His throat is tight and his eyes are burning and just the touch of Eddie's hand on his makes him want to fall to his knees again. "What?" he asks, voice hoarse. 

 

Then he remembers that, as part of his transformation into Ben, Bev had to shave his four or five day old stubble into Ben's goatee. Again, it worked much better on Ben than it does on Richie. Just like the double denim he's sporting. "Oh."

 

Eddie squeezes his hand very slightly. "You know, babe… only one of us is allowed to have a goatee."

 

Babe babe babebabebabe. Babe. Richie is gonna die, and it's going to be because of this conversation. "Really? One goatee to a relationship? And who should get that honor?"  

 

Eddie's eyes are almost closed. He's clearly almost asleep and under the influence of strong pain meds, so he really shouldn't be taken seriously. "That'd be me," he murmurs. 

 

"Okay, you can have the goatee, babe," Richie says. 

 

Eddie's eyes close and his chest is rising and falling steadily, so Richie lets the tears that have been burning at his eyes fall down his cheeks. This all feels too real, and his heart is too raw for this. When Eddie wakes up again, he'll have forgotten all of this but Richie will have to live with it. He tries to make himself smile, to laugh at how terrible this all is. "If you get the goatee, though, I get the rest of the beard. Muttonchops are sexy, right?"

 

Eddie's eyes fly open. "What?!"

 

Richie lurches back, though he doesn't let go of Eddie's hand. "Holy shit." 

 

He never thought he could revive Eddie with bad jokes.

 

"What are you… like... a f-fucking Civil War general? No muttonchops." Eddie is glaring at him with eyes that are going unfocused and his words are slurring a bit. "Promise... me..." 

 

"But if you get a goatee, what do I get?" 

 

"You get… you get…" Eddie is clearly struggling on the edge of sleep. His eyes are starting to close on him. The momentary awakening is passing quickly. "I don't know… me? I guess…" 

 

Then Eddie falls asleep, for real this time. 

 

Richie can't even make himself speak. This is almost worse than it was down in It’s lair. Down there, he had no hope and only a shitton of blind belief. They had just killed an alien through the power of believing they could, why would it be any different to heal a wound inflicted by said alien? Richie had believed because there was nothing else to do. Because hope wouldn't have been enough. When he said "We can still help him!" he believed he was right, and he was. He couldn't let himself feel any of that pain that would come from Eddie dying, because if he thought that it was true, it would be. 

 

But now every millimeter his hope expands in his chest, the faster the pain floods in. The hope for something else, something more, is all tangled up in knowing that there probably isn't going to be any more. They finished out the story. They killed It. They survived. When they leave Derry again, they'll probably forget. 

 

Richie bends over and presses his lips to the center of Eddie's left palm. There's no scar there anymore, like he knew there wouldn't be. But he tells himself the body will remember, even if Eddie forgets.

 

"I love you," Richie murmurs, too quiet to hear. This one is just for him. 

 

Richie will remember. The ache in his own left hand matches the ache in his chest. He pulls himself away, makes himself take a few steps back. He doesn't know what he wanted out of this, beyond having Eddie look up at him and call him an asshole one more time, and he got that, right? 

 

That should be enough, but he knows it’s not.

 


 

"Richie." 

 

Something violently jolts the chair Richie is hunched over in, asleep. He sits up with a snort, looking wildly around the hospital cafeteria.

 

"What the hell, dude?" Richie adjusts his glasses and Bill comes into focus in front of him. He's pretty sure Bill just kicked his chair. 

 

Bill is just staring down at him, which is unnerving because Bill barely comes up to Richie's armpit when he's standing. Richie has not been able to leave the hospital because his phone died when they jumped in the cistern (RIP his new iPhone) so he can't call a ride, he can't find his car keys (he suspects Bev took them off him at some point), and he'd probably run off the road even if he did try to drive. Not that he has anywhere else to be. Did he even buy a return ticket? 

 

"You were s-sleeping." 

 

"I know!" Richie can't help being annoyed. "Someone told me that was good for me. Sorry for taking that advice, I guess." 

 

It was Mike who told him, but the sentiment is the same. 

 

Richie sits up and cracks his neck back in forth in a way that would make Eddie wince, if he could hear it. "What's up? You wake me up just for kicks?" 

 

He smirks at his own joke and Bill rolls his eyes. 

 

Hey, a guy's got to find his jokes where he can. 

 

"Eddie's asking f-for us." 

 

It takes Richie a second to comprehend this. "Eddie? Eddie Kaspbrak? As in, ‘can't tell his wife no and she hates us and will never let him see us,’ Eddie?" 

 

He's maybe a little on edge. It's been another nerve-wracking twenty-four hours wandering around the bowels of the Bangor County General Hospital, listening to the real Ben talk to Dr. Aster about ‘HIPAA this’ and ‘best interests’ that, or holding Bev's hand as she calls a lawyer to initiate divorce proceedings, or playing Egyptian War with Mike with a beat-up pack of cards they find in the pediatrics department waiting room on the third floor. All with absolutely no word from Eddie (or Myra, but Richie considers that a blessing).

 

Eddie's been awake, he knows. Obviously. Besides the time with Richie, Dr. Aster tells them that he's woken up a few times for longer and longer periods of time. All things considered, the the puncture through his chest is healing faster than they ever expected. Almost… if not magically, then at least due to some freaky circumstance none of the doctors understand. Eddie is doing well and seems not to have any memory loss. 

 

That just makes it worse. 

 

Richie wants to sleep forever and maybe never face any of this ever again. 

 

But Bill didn’t get the Losers to climb down a well and through the Derry sewers to kill an alien-slash-amalgamation-of-your-greatest-fears because he was willing to take no for an answer. If they’ve gotta do it as a group, he’ll make sure they’ll do it as a group. Bill raises an eyebrow. "Yes, that E-Eddie. C'mon." 

 

Richie drags himself to his feet. The rest of the Losers are waiting at the hospital side entrance of the critical care ward. Bev takes one look at his face and grabs his hand. Richie tries not to take this as a sign that he looks really bad, but it’s hard. He’s pretty sure he looks really bad, and there’s no one to blame but himself for that. 

 

The first thing they hear when they enter the critical care ward are raised voices. 

 

“—why are you doing this? Why would you do this to me, Eddie?”

 

“I’m not doing anything to you, Myra. I just want to see my friends. That’s completely norma—”

 

“But I don’t understand why you would hurt me like this! Why would you want to see them? They’re horrible people, Eddie! They were horrible to me!”

 

"I’m— I can’t speak to that. But I’m not hurting you by wanting to see my friends. I explained all of this to you already. They’re my friends. I’m seeing them. I have already asked you to leave.” There’s a momentary pause. “I want you to go.”

 

“But why?! Eddie-bear, I don’t understand. We’ve been so happy together all this time and now you’re just saying… saying all of these terrible things. What have they been telling you about me? Don’t you love me?”

 

At these words, the Losers abruptly stop a couple steps away from the curtain drawn around Eddie's bed. 

 

On the other side of the curtain, there’s a long pause where Eddie is clearly coming up with an appropriate response. 

 

“Myra, it’s not about anything they’ve said to me.”

 

“So they have talked to you!”

 

“No. Myra, you know that we talked about this when I left. I told you I wasn’t coming back.”

 

Richie can tell Ben and Bev catch each other’s eye at these words. It sounds ominous, especially after everything that happened in Derry in those short two days, but Richie doesn’t think that’s it. If Eddie had foresight good enough to predict his own possible death, he wouldn’t have shown up in Derry at all. 

 

But Eddie continues. “We weren’t happy—"

 

"I was happy!"

 

"Fine. Okay, you were happy. But I wasn't!”

 

“And I didn’t think when you said you weren’t coming back you meant you were going to die, Eddie-bear!” 

 

“Okay, because that’s clearly not what I meant! Who predicts their own death? I packed suitcases! I told you—”

 

Their voices start to overlap.

 

“—and how would I live without you, I can’t even imagine it—”

 

“—that I would be filing for divorce and I would not be coming back!”

 

“—I just don’t understand—”

 

“Also, besides the point, but I didn’t even die— 

 

“—what you meant by that!

 

“I’m sorry, Myra, that you didn’t understand. But what in the absolute fuck, may I ask, was not clear about the words: 'I WANT A DIVORCE’?!'”

 

Myra’s sharply scandalized inhalation is audible even on the other side of the curtain.

 

Richie wonders vaguely if Eddie has ever sworn in front of Myra before. It's hilarious considering how open he is about swearing in front of his friends.

 

“Don’t you talk to me like that! And don’t you raise your voice at me! I won’t talk to you if you use that tone!"

 

“I’m sorry for yelling. But it doesn’t even matter what tone I use, Myra, because—”

 

"I will only come back when you promise to be polite!" Myra snaps. 

 

There’s the squeak of rubber soles against linoleum and the curtain around Eddie’s bed snaps abruptly open. Myra pauses for a moment, obviously taken aback at the Losers standing right outside and catching every word of her fight with Eddie. Then her face sets into what Richie recognizes as the Mrs. K face. Angry but not willing to talk about it until someone comes crawling to her. Her eyes slide across all of them, but catch on Richie last of all. There seems to be an unnaturally large amount of ire reserved just for him.

 

“MOVE!” Myra bellows, and the Losers part like the Red Sea. Her footsteps squeak across the ward at a quick pace and then they’re gone. 

 

“—you still won’t hear me,” Eddie finishes. 

 

The Losers turn to look at him. 

 

Eddie’s staring after Myra with an irritated look on his face, but it dissipates quickly as he catches sight of them. He looks relieved. "Hey, guys." 

 

"Is this a good time, Eddie? Or do you want some time… alone?" Mike asks slowly.

 

"God, no. I think if you're with me, she won't come back, at least. Thank fuck. It’s been like this for the last hour. That clown was a goddamn nightmare but this is just—" Eddie makes a strangled noise, raising his hands like he always does when he’s wound up about something. His hands are shaky and he’s barely able to lift his elbows off the bed, but it’s so Eddie that Richie feels his heart contract at the sight.

 

Richie has to let his eyes close briefly as he takes a deep breath. This is harder than he thought. 

 

It's hard to see this Eddie, who's sitting up in the raised hospital bed. Still fucked up with the stitches in his face and the bandages across his chest, but he’s clearly cognizant now. He seems fully unaware of the events of last three and a half days, though. 

 

It's bad enough seeing Eddie's eyes light up and, as he speaks, the deep dimples in his cheeks flash. Those dimples that would appear at even the slightest suggestion of a smile. 

 

Richie remembers with the force of something striking him hard in the chest: Eddie, when they were kids, with the quickest suggestion of a dimple in his pale cheek when he'd smile. Richie would reach out to touch the indent sometimes, so curious at the intricate expressions that would animate Eddie’s face. Eddie would slap his hand away most of the time. (Once or twice he allowed it, though.)

 

Okay, if Richie could stop remembering things now, that’d be great. He’s been back in Derry for three days and murdered an Eldritch horror-esque monster from space or possibly from some weird meta-verse, who knows, and faced both of his childhood fears of clowns and his own death , as well as the possibility of losing his first love just as he remembered they fucking existed, he’d like some slack cut for him on the emotional front, thank you!

 

Richie steps up to the end of Eddie's bed as the others circle around the sides. It seems like he must have forgotten their last conversation.

 

Did Richie tell anyone the details of his conversation with Eddie? No. Does he wish he did? Also no. It's bad enough everyone else in the Losers Club knows that he loves Eddie and Eddie doesn’t. Even without any looks in his direction, he can tell they're thinking about it. 

 

High-stress situations and the confessions they might force aside, Richie doesn't need to share with the class the fact that he cried like a baby in a supply closet at the thought of him and Eddie being married. 

 

Thanks, but no thanks. That's going into the box he'll open up again in twenty-seven years, too. Emotional repression? That fucker is his best friend.  

 

In the hospital bed, Eddie's eyes track across them, that half-smile on his lips. Richie thinks he's imagining it when Eddie's gaze seems to stutter slightly as it passes over him. 

 

Richie can tell this is supposed to be one of those big emotional moments where the camera pans across them as they laugh and smile, except his emotions have recently had a rough going over with a cheese grater. That shit's raw right now. No panning, please.

 

It seems likely he’s going to start crying again, so Richie says the first thing that pops into his head that's in the vaguest shape of a joke. "So, now that you're single..."

 

Immediately, Eddie's eyes snap to him. 

 

"...you gonna text my mom back, or what?" 

 

There's a distinct pause that stretches long and extremely awkward over the whole group. 

 

Mike closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. 

 

The rest of the Losers are looking at him like he's lost his goddamn mind. He probably has. You're probably not supposed to antagonize someone in a hospital bed. Blood pressure, or something. Eddie would know.

 

But Eddie—the hospitalized—rises to it. " Fuck you, asshole!" 

 

A smile spreads across Richie's face. He can't even look at Eddie anymore but he starts laughing anyway. It's relief, he knows it's relief, but it's so Eddie to look pissed off like that, barely able to lift his hand but still pointing at Richie like he's gonna come at him. 

 

So, Eddie remembers. At least that much. Eddie was always rose to a challenge, even back then. Richie remembers the way Eddie went at It the first time, ready to fight a supernatural entity with little more than a fiberglass cast and Cortez tennis shoes. Is that reason enough to fall in love? Maybe it is. 

 

"I had just gotten stabbed, asshole, can you not quote me?" 

 

Richie is still laughing hard and tears—he tells himself they're happy tears and they might be—are beginning to slide down his cheeks. He can barely speak through the laughter. "No?"

 

Eddie’s voice rises. "No?" 

 

“No,” Richie repeats, voice shuddering. 

 

“Are you really saying no?" 

 

"Yeah. That was… that was the best thing I've ever heard you say." Richie tries to wipe his face with one hand while the other is clutching the guardrail at the foot of Eddie's bed, keeping him upright. He's laughing but it's starting to hurt, the laughter. His chest feels tight.

 

"'I fucked your mom' is the best thing I've ever said? Are you serious?" Richie can picture Eddie's expression so clearly based only on his tone. Those eyebrows, furrowed together; Eddie taking a deep breath through his nose, mouth scrunched up. 

 

"Yeah, man. I couldn't believe it. Those were some, uh, epic la-last—" Richie swallows, feeling suddenly like he's gonna choke. He has to force himself to finish the sentence because everyone else is completely silent. "Epic last words, Eds…" 

 

Richie has stopped laughing. That's one thing. He clamps his jaw shut. He doesn't want to look up at the rest of them but he can't exactly stand here looking straight down at the linoleum for the rest of time, can he?

 

He forces himself to look up. Bev and Ben have caught each others eye from either side of the bed and are clearly having a silent conversation. Bill is looking back and forth between Eddie and Richie in the most surreptitious way he can (which is not very). Mike is looking straight at Richie. 

 

And Eddie? 

 

Eddie is staring at him with the exact expression Richie pictured. Eyebrows pushed together, mouth scrunched up. Like he's about to go on a rant about MRSA Super Bugs and the standard of hygiene in modern hospitals today. But there’s something a little different in his expression, something caught or vulnerable and hurt that’s reflecting the way Richie is feeling right now. It’s that strange sense of understanding you get sometimes from someone through a single glance and it, too, hits Richie like a knife to his chest. 

 

It’s pain. That’s what the look is. 

 

And Richie would like to not be stabbed every five seconds by repressed memories, thanks. Fuck It for taking away his childhood through its existence or its lack or whatever the absolute fuck the universe decided today, Richie’d like to be able to remember shit about his own past without every memory being a traumatizing experience every fucking time, alright?

 

"Clearly, those were not my last words because I'm not fucking dead, am I?" Eddie retorts, at last. It's almost his usual tone, but not quite. His eyes skate over to Bev, standing at his left shoulder.

 

Bev smiles at him. "No, honey, you're not dead." 

 

A tiny bit of tension goes out of Eddie's shoulders, like he had been worried this whole thing had been an illusion. "Good. See? Not my last words." 

 

"G-guess you set the b-bar high for yourself, for next time, huh?" Bill jokes. 

 

Eddie looks irritated, but also relieved the other Losers are trying to make this conversation less awkward. "I have another thirty-eight years to think about it. I think that's enough time to come up with something better." 

 

"That's plenty of time," Mike says.

 

"Thirty-eight years?” Richie hears himself speak like he physically cannot get himself to shut up. “Thirty-eight years exactly?" 

 

Eddie's dark gaze flashes to him. "The average lifespan of a man in the United States is seventy-eight-point-six years, so yes, thirty-eight years."

 

"Wo-ow." Richie draws the word out long. "Risk assessment skills coming in handy." 

 

"I can't believe you remember I'm a risk assessor,” Eddie retorts with a narrowed gaze. “I thought you fell asleep just hearing me say the words. And yes, it is a skill."

 

"Well, to come up with something better than 'I fucked your mom' you're going to need the whole time," Richie says. "Especially the last zero-point-six years."

 

Eddie raises his eyebrows at him, clearly unable to resist rising to the bait. "And what? Are you going to judge them? Are you going to be there at my deathbed, to judge my last words?" 

 

Yes, Richie thinks. 

 

Out loud, he says, "Only if you die on a beach in Bali, which is where I'm going to be in thirty-eight-point-six years. You’re welcome to join me." He pointedly does not look at any of the others. 

 

“I’ll put it on my calendar.” Eddie looks exasperated. "Also what is on your face?" 

 

Richie reaches up and pats his cheek. He had almost forgotten about it. "These babies? They're muttonchops." 

 

It's only one day worth of growth, having just shaved off the pseudo-Ben goatee and left the rest of the beard to grow in as it would. But he knows he's pale (lack of sleep and a fucked up performance schedule will do that to you) and the shape they make on his jawline is obvious.

 

"Muttonchops ? Who in this fucking century would have…" Eddie trails off. He's frowning at Richie, confused. Then his expression widens into something bordering on realization. "A goatee…" he breathes out. 

 

Richie tenses, grip tightening on the handrail of the bed. Eddie is staring at Richie like he’s seen a ghost.

 

Ben says, "I have a goatee." 

 

No one responds. 

 

"What the fuck are they talking about?" Bill whispers to Mike. 

 

Mike looks like he wishes he could cover his entire face with his hands but is valiantly holding it in because he's An Adult. "It's Richie and Eddie," he whispers back.

 

Richie tries to play this off like it's nothing, that Eddie remembering the conversation where he thought Richie was his husband doesn't even matter, but it's hard. The facial hair seemed like a good joke at his own expense, to make himself sad because apparently he enjoys a nice bout of self-flagellation every now and then, except now it's publicly biting him in the ass. 

 

Eddie's mouth snaps shut and he has that same worried look he always got before Richie did something really stupid. A bright red flush rises up his neck and the lower half of his face like floodwaters rising up below a bridge. 

 

The funniest thing about this conversation is that Eddie is still wearing a heart monitor. Richie can see, over Bev's shoulder, the line tracking his pulse. It's rising and falling like a frantic little wave, and moving way more quickly than before. 

 

Eddie doesn't say anything else, though, which probably worries Richie the most. 

 

Thankfully, at that moment a voice comes from behind the curtain. "Mr. Kaspbrak?”

 

Everyone jumps.

 

“It's Nadine, your day nurse. Is this a good time?" 

 

Eddie blinks. His hands are twisting the light green blanket on his bed between his fingers. "Y-yeah. Yeah, this is fine." 

 

The curtain swings open to reveal an older nurse in blue scrubs, her curly brown hair pulled into a bun. She looks a little surprised to see so many people around Eddie's bed, but also pleased. 

 

"Mr. Kaspbrak, you're so popular! Ah, that's so nice for you." Nadine bustles up and moves Richie out of the way to grab the chart hanging off the end of the bed. She moves the rest of them away as she rounds the bed and starts checking the monitors for information. "When we move you to your new room you can have as many visitors as you want, okay? There's no space right now in the step-down ward for so many of your friends, honey. Now, Dr. Aster will be doing her rounds soon, so we need you all to clear out, okay?"

 

Nadine looks at all of the Losers. Her expression is friendly, but firm.

 

Perfect, Richie thinks, and uses the opportunity to escape.

 


 

Richie hears the footsteps approach. He has his face fully buried in his arms and his arms are resting on his knees, so he can’t see who it is. "I don't want to talk about it," he says, voice muffled.

 

The footsteps pass by without stopping. 

 

Richie raises his head from his arms and turns to see two doctors at the end of the hallway, walking away from him. The sun is already setting through the row of windows on one side of the hall, spreading golden and red light across the wall behind him and Richie cannot remember the last time he was willingly asleep. He can’t remember anywhere that isn’t Derry or Bangor or the house on Neibolt Street. He can’t even remember the last time he ate a full meal. Maybe he’ll just straight up shrivel up and die before he gets out of this fucking town. 

 

“D-do you want to talk about it?”

 

Richie looks around. Bill is standing at his left side, looking down at him. There’s no kick at his chair this time. There’s just Bill, his arms crossed across his chest and pale spray of hair from the natural parting of his hair. 

 

That’s one of the things he remembers now that bothers him most of all. Bill, growing up beside him. Bill, his best friend from the day they met in second grade, with Ms. Evans asking them to choose a partner for some activity he can’t remember and Richie chose Bill, with his floppy brown hair and big grin. Even when they fought, even when Bill punched him in the face at age thirteen, they were still best friends. And Richie, well… 

 

He just forgot. All of it. Their strange games on the jungle gym, pretending to be warriors and adventurers trekking through the Amazon; the stories they’d tell in a circle with other fifth graders behind Mr. Deaton’s classroom, tanbark digging into Richie’s thighs and the clanging of chains against metal as other kids played tetherball; the steam rising from the abandoned quarry’s water as they looked down from the high jump point, each of them elbowing the other to go first, no you go first, what, why me! 

 

Was it supposed to be a reward for everything that happened down in the cistern? Was he supposed to be grateful for not remembering everything and everyone from his past? Was he supposed to be happy to be dropped face-first in LA at eighteen years old, fast-fading past at his back and the future coming at him like a tsunami, black water rising around his legs and up his chest and over his head in an inevitable surge that dragged him straight back to sea with the rest of the lost, the forgotten, the unlucky, all caught unawares? Was he just supposed to be happy about it? 

 

Richie rolls his eyes. “No, I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“Good.” Bill seats himself next to Richie on the plastic chairs. Crosses his arms. Looks decidedly ahead. 

 

Richie sighs. He slumps back in the chair, arms tight across his chest, long legs stretched out into the hallway. He looks out the window to the hospital courtyard, same as Bill. 

 

He frowns. Can’t hospitals get something other than those ugly ladyfinger plants or little crepe myrtle trees which are always inevitably stunted by harsh Maine winters? It’s still summer and this is already depressing.

 

"You know, the first time I told Audra I l-loved her…" Bill begins.

 

Richie throws back his head and groans. "Oh, my God. Don't.” He turns his head, neck digging into the back of the plastic chair. “Also, who is Audra?"

 

Bill gives him a funny look. "My wife." 

 

"You have a wife?" 

 

"Yes, I have a w-wife. I've talked about her before. Audra Phillips."

 

"Isn't she that actress? Who did that one movie… with that other actor?"

 

Bill's response is dry. "Yeah, that one." 

 

"Wow. She's really h—” Richie clears his throat at Bill’s look, “—beautiful. How'd you manage that ?" He smirks, aware of the bad joke he's making. Richie hopes this conversation will not go back to focus on him. 

 

Bill looks back at him calmly. "By f-finding someone I felt like I c-could be myself around, who understands me the way I understand them. Someone who I c-can be emotionally open with."

 

"Hm." Richie can't think of a response. 

 

"And someone who m-makes me laugh when things are at their most difficult."

 

Richie thinks of laughing as Eddie lay there in the dirt, blood turning his t-shirt dark red, Eddie's joke making him think okay we can do this we can win. He thinks of Eddie laughing at his jokes for all those years; that little snort he would make sometimes that was so endearing, Richie felt like he would burst into flame every time he managed to make Eddie do it, he was so happy. "Well, that's… that's good for you, man. I'm happy for you."

 

Bill stares at him. "Richie." 

 

"What?" 

 

Bill puts his hand on Richie's shoulder. It's funny how tiny Bill is as an adult, and yet his presence strikes Richie just as it did as a kid— that unwavering loyalty and understanding making him taller or bigger than he really was. Big Bill.

 

"I’m talking about you.”

 

Richie lets his mouth fall open. He can’t resist. “You love me?”

 

Bill rolls his eyes in frustration and takes a deep breath. “Yes, Richie. I l-love you, too. But I’m talking about you and Eddie.”

 

“Hmm. I dunno, I think I have to talk to your wife about this.” 

 

Bill ignores this. “I r-remember… a lot more now. About growing up here, about all of you. And we were best friends, a-all of us, but you and Eddie… you were always on your own thing. Your own channel. You riled each other up in ways I can't even b-believe. I mean, no matter what you did, he'd-he’d respond.”

 

“Yeah, because I annoyed the shit out of him,” Richie says, although even as the words come out, they feel untrue. Well, he probably really did annoy Eddie, but it never seemed to be in a bad way. 

 

He just wanted so badly for Eddie to look at him, to listen to whatever he was spouting off about that day and take whatever he was saying seriously, for Eddie to take that energy he seemed to have an endless supply of and boomerang it back, concentrate it on him, so Richie would feel like he was at the center of someone else’s world. And Eddie would always pick up what he was saying even when it was quiet, or to someone else, even when it seemed insignificant, and he would never let Richie feel alone or forgotten. 

 

It was the same when they saw each other again, twenty-seven years later. Immediately, all Richie wanted to do was get Eddie to look at him with that same intense focus. It was that same feeling he used to get as a kid and sometimes even now, as an adult, like bees were buzzing under his skin, like he had too much energy and nowhere to put it. And Eddie, even now, had matched it, just like he had then. 

 

But Richie remembers, even with all that frenetic energy, for all they raced their bikes down the side lanes of Derry or dunked each other in the quarry, they had their quiet moments, too. They would lie next to each other in the sun and accidentally fall asleep and get burnt to a crisp together, or they would pile into the hammock together (on purpose or because Eddie would yell about Richie hogging it) in the clubhouse. Always, eventually, they would settle down and they’d both be quietened by the other’s presence, their legs a warm tangle and their knees digging into each others sides. 

 

“You w-were always looking out for each other, too,” Bill says in a soft voice.

 

That somehow affects Richie the most, those words. Looking out for each other. That means it wasn’t just him. It means Eddie was watching him back. That tiny sliver of hope digs into his heart, as painful as always.

 

It seemed so impossible then, that Eddie would love him back. It seems impossible now, too, but for different reasons. They were just kids, then. Now they’re adults and Richie has just remembered this love. It shouldn’t be so hard to give it up, but it is. Telling the truth about it seems like the surest way to end it. 

 

But the real truth is, one day—hopefully soon—they’re all going to leave the Bangor County Hospital and go back to their lives. Either they’ll remember, or they won’t, but there’s nothing to stop it from happening. It’s going to end, one way or another. They can’t stay here (and Richie is sure that none of them want to, not really). The past is already gone, and the future is all he has, anyway. 

 

If he has to go back to living like he has for the last twenty-seven years, he can do it. He’s done it before. 

 

Richie looks up at Bill and that’s a mistake, because Bill is looking at him with an understanding that makes Richie feel like his skin has been ripped off and everyone can just stare at his exposed body. He does stand-up on a regular basis and it’s less painful than this. Richie wishes he could make a joke but he can’t say anything. 

 

Bill says it as if he knows, because he does know. “You-you’ve loved him for a long time, haven’t you?”

 

Richie opens his mouth, to lie, to make some joke, but the words get caught in his throat. The fear that had long kept him quiet is softer now, less sheer terror and more knowing this part of his life will be over soon, one way or another. He doesn’t know how it’s going to go after this, but he supposes he’s going to have to figure it out. Maybe this time he can be honest. 

 

“Yeah,” he says quietly. “A long time.”

 


 

Richie wanders restlessly around the hospital the rest of the evening, unable to take being with more than one of his friends at a time. When they're all together, eating dinner in the hospital cafeteria, there's an unspoken avoidance of all things Eddie related, which is hilarious (Richie hears it the way Eddie pronounced it, hil-AIR-i-ous, with that rising cadence) because the whole reason they're at the hospital is because of Eddie. One-on-one they each try to give Richie advice, which is nice, if ultimately ineffective. 

 

Ben's advice in particular is amusing to Richie, partially because Ben is so sweet that Richie can't imagine saying any of the things Ben suggests with a straight face. Also because the circumstances of Ben’s reconciliation with his childhood love are way different than Richie's would be.

 

Richie doesn't exactly have a poem he secretly wrote Eddie when they were thirteen that he can reference. Eddie already made the mom joke. Any further and Eddie might think Richie really wants him to hook up with his mom (he thinks with a stab that Eddie doesn't even know Richie's mom died when he was twenty-five). 

 

The reality is there is no easy answer. Saying you love someone is the hardest and the easiest thing in the world. There is no perfect frame of reference, no cookie-cutter mold for Richie to try to fold his long, awkward self into, and there's no advice than he can get that's going to make this less painful for him.

 

Richie does then what he always does. He avoids anyone trying to talk to him about it. He spends a little time brooding self-indulgently in the tiny smoking area by the long-term care ward but he doesn't smoke anymore and besides, he's too self-conscious to spend so much time looking sad in public. 

 

It's made easier by the circumstances of Eddie's hospital stay—they're told late in the evening that Eddie will be moving from the step-down ward to a regular hospital room the next day, apparently, and Dr. Aster wants him to rest (the stress induced by all the tests and the visits means no visitors at the moment). None of the medical team are sure why he's healing as fast as he is, but apparently they've said he's on track to be released sooner than expected. 

 

With no possibility of seeing Eddie that day and assured of his continued recovery, the Losers head back to the inn. Richie tells himself he's going to stay awake but within minutes of getting in the backseat of Ben's rented SUV, he's asleep. He remembers being hefted into strong arms and carried up stairs, and then nothing else.

 

Eddie is moved to one of the regular wards the next morning. They go to visit him in the morning, Richie standing awkwardly at the back of the group and avoiding direct eye contact with Eddie. Richie shaved that morning, and his face feels weirdly bare. 

 

Somehow, the group gets into a discussion about where Eddie should go after he gets out of the hospital. Myra, Eddie says, will be at their apartment in New York. Bill will be flying back to London, where shooting for the film adaptation of one of his books is still in progress (it is bizarre to think about how the rest of the world keeps going, without regard to the fact that It, a malevolent otherworldly creature terrorizing a small town in Maine for generations, is now gone). 

 

Bev and Ben are going back to NYC or maybe back to Ben's place in Nebraska, so they're a real option, but no one wants to be the third wheel in their relationship. Mike is driving down to Florida and won't have a place to stay just yet. The consensus somehow becomes to have Richie and Eddie go to LA. 

 

Sometimes, Richie's friends are the worst. He's partially convinced they're trying to torture him. 

 

Richie agrees and makes a halfhearted joke about, ' and they were roommates ' which no one seems to get and which makes Richie want to smack himself on the forehead for. Why is he quoting Vine? They're all forty years old. 

 

At least Eddie seems okay with it. He actually seems excited. 

 

They get shooed out a while later by a nurse and only go back after lunch. They each take their time in the room one by one. Richie defers until last because he doesn’t know if he can do it if he knows the rest of them are outside, waiting. 

 

Eventually, it's just Richie waiting in the hallway. As Bev comes out, she shoots him a small smile and touches him lightly on the shoulder. 

 

Richie is feeling like he's going to throw up, except there's a huge lump in his throat that he was only barely able to get part of a piece of toast past this morning (apparently there really is an innkeeper and shes a tiny lady named Maureen who cooks them all breakfast and doesn't let them leave until they've eaten something no, dear, you must have something more than just coffee, here, try the eggs… ). Richie has no idea how he's going to get words past the lump in his throat, much less vomit, so nerves-induced nausea it is! 

 

Richie gives Bev a half-smile which feels a bit more like a grimace, in return.

 

Bev disappears down the hallway and Richie figures he better not wait any longer, so he shoves his hands in his second-best jacket and heads inside.

 


 

Eddie is talking about going to LA with a grin that Richie hasn't seen for a week or more, and then two decades past that. Eddie looks so excited to go, he gestures with his hands as he talks and Richie just watches him talk. 

 

This is the before, he thinks. Richie could just go along with it. He could have Eddie move in with him for a while and they could live together as roommates and annoy the shit out of each other as they eat takeout on the couch or fight over who gets to choose the Netflix show they watch, Richie could come back after a show and Eddie would be sprawled out on the couch, reading a book or in the kitchen making food (‘Healthy food, for once, Rich, please!’), and it's nice to think about.

 

But it's not real. It would be—if not quite a lie, then a deliberate omission. If Eddie knew and still wanted to stay with him, it would suck but at least Richie wouldn't feel this creeping sense of guilt rising up his throat. As friends, it would be okay and Eddie might stay with him for a while but then he'd find his own place and they'd be close, for a while, but soon they'd be down to once a month meetups, then just holidays or birthdays, and then just Richie would just see him on Facebook or whatever, posting about his new life. That would be okay.

 

But pretending everything is the same as it always was would be a shitty band-aid over a wound that Richie knows is splitting open fresh just there, just below his breastbone. It's the lie, and how it tears you apart.

 

And more than that, Richie needs to say the words. It'll just prolong it, put off the inevitable.

 

"—have you been to the Griffith Observatory? We should go there, they have some cool exhibits about—"

 

"I think you should go with Bev and Ben," Richie interrupts. “Or Mike.”

 

"—black holes that—wait, what?" Eddie frowns at him. "Why?" 

 

Richie shrugs. He tries to temper it with a joke. "Go see the crocodiles. Apparently they like the taste of fresh meat and you'd probably smell pretty tempting." He reaches out to poke at Eddie's chest with one finger, which Eddie grabs briefly before directing it away. 

 

"First, they could be crocodiles or alligators. Florida has both. Second, neither species hunt full-grown humans. Not on purpose, at least." 

 

"That a risk you assess often?" Richie asks with a raised eyebrow. "Alligator attacks?"

 

"You'd be surprised at the amount of illegal exotic animals in the US," Eddie replies. "There's more Bengal tigers in Texas than there are in… Bengal." 

 

"Cool. Damn, I haven’t seen a tiger up close since I was a kid. Can you bring me along when you go assess those ri—"

 

"But why?" 

 

"Why are there more Bengal tigers in—"

 

"No. Richie." Eddie pins him with a look that's equal parts guarded and searching. "Why would you—do you not want me to come with you to LA, or something?" 

 

Richie convinces himself he's imagining the rejection in Eddie's tone. Before he can respond, Eddie is off again. 

 

"I mean—fine. Alright, that's fine.” Eddie waves his hands in front of his face. “The others offered so I thought you had all talked about it, but okay.”

 

“Well, we sort of talked about it… and it’s not that I don’t want you to come, it’s just that, well...” Richie takes a deep breath. Say it say it say it Richie just go ahead and—

 

Eddie looks at him, dark eyebrows furrowed. Before Richie can get the words out, Eddie asks, very quickly, “Is it about what I said?" 

 

"What? What did you say?" 

 

Eddie's face starts to flush again, red against his still-pale cheeks. "Richie," he grinds out, like Richie is being deliberately obtuse. 

 

Richie widens his eyes. He is often obtuse but this is actually not one of those times. What the fuck is Eddie talking about? "Eddie. What thing you said?" 

 

"About you being my— my—" 

 

All of a sudden Richie gets it. His heartbeat spikes. " Tu esposo, Eduardo? " Eddie shoots him a glare so of course Richie has to ratchet that shit up. "Your baby? Your sweetie? Your sugar-lollipop?" 

 

“Ye-es.” Eddie looks about ready to crack a tooth. "My sugar-lollipop,” he repeats slowly, with a forced smirk. 

 

Richie was unaware until this moment that he was kept alive solely long enough for Eddie Kaspbrak to call him sugar-lollipop to his face. Richie feels like he looks entirely dumbstruck. He is dumbstruck. 

 

Eddie’s smirk fades a little. “Did it make you—uh, uncomfortable? To call you that? Not the lollipop thing, but the, um, my. My husband? Because, I mean, look, Rich, I was really—I think they had me on morphine or something, because that whole time is very, sort-of, fuzzy, really. I think I saw I was married and I just, well, you were there and—” Eddie is explaining very quickly, clearly trying to keep his gaze on Richie but it keeps bouncing around, from Richie’s face to his shoulder, to the IV coming out of Eddie’s hand, to the window, and Richie can’t take it anymore. If Eddie explains any more about how Richie should forget that Eddie thought, even for a second, they were together, Richie will never be able to do this. 

 

Richie interrupts. “Eddie, I’m in love with you.”

 

The words come out, easy. Easier than he thought. 

 

“—know I'm g—wha...t.” Eddie abruptly falls quiet. He must realize Richie isn’t joking, because he closes his mouth and swallows nervously. His worried brown eyes can’t seem to move from Richie’s. “For how long?” he asks weakly.

 

Richie feels emotion rise up his throat. “Since we were kids.” Richie tries to laugh, almost cries. His hand is twisting the thin blanket on the edge of Eddie’s bed in tighter and tighter circles around his hand. It’s a phantom pain, the sharp stab through the center of his left palm, but it aches just the same. 

 

Eddie isn’t saying anything.

 

“I fucking forgot,” Richie says, voice hoarse. It should be funny, really. How can you forget something like this, that feels so sharp and so real, even now, decades later? 

 

Eddie’s eyebrows are making a little peak of wrinkles, just in the center of his forehead. “How long have you known?”

 

Richie tries to think, beyond the million other things racing through his mind. “Since we were… twelve, maybe? I’m not sure, really. It felt like I had known forever, and then when we all moved out of Derry—”

 

“No—” Eddie’s gaze flits to the ceiling and then back to Richie, as if he’s frustrated at himself for not saying the right thing. “How long have you—when did you remember?”

 

That much, at least, Richie knows for certain. “When I saw you again. At the restaurant. It was like, ‘Oh, there he is’ as if I'd been waiting for a long time for it and I just like—” Richie snaps his fingers for emphasis, “—boom. Got it.”

 

“Is that why you rang the gong?” Eddie asks. He looks a little amused and Richie isn’t sure what to do with that.

 

“Uh, I mean. Probably. I think I was freaking out a bit and they just left the, what’s it called, the gong stick—"

 

"Hammer."

 

"Okay, hammer, right there! So I just grabbed it and, well, you know.” Richie imitates a gong going off. “The rest is history.”

 

Eddie still looks sort of stunned. He frowns and looks away from Richie.

 

Richie is so used to a rapid-fire response from Eddie that the moments that stretch longer and longer start to freak him out. So, he does what he does, and he talks. 

 

“Obviously, you don't have to do anything or say anything I just... I promised myself I'd tell you and I can’t become a vegan. I tried a vegan cookie and it was the worst fucking thing I've tasted and believe me, I have eaten some really gross shit on dares, so just. Keep that in mind. And I need to keep one of those promises. So I’m just, I guess—” Richie takes a deep breath. “—telling you. There’s people out there who love you. I mean, that's obvious. You know that. But there’s me, too.”

 

Eddie’s face has shifted from stunned to confused. Richie doesn’t know how to take that and his brain is telling him, Retreat, retreat! Retreat now! Get out of there, you dipsh— Richie silences his thoughts and nearly springs to his feet. “Anyway Eds, I'll see you later—”

 

The response this time is automatic. “Don’t call me Eds…” Eddie murmurs. 

 

It’s a well-worn part of their routine, he knows, but it strikes Richie like a rejection. He takes a step back. “Oh. Uh...”

 

Then Eddie, love of his life, typically, totally fucking blindsides Richie. 

 

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Eddie asks, finally snapping out of his stupor and looking up at Richie with a look that is equal parts flustered and perturbed. 

 

“Huh?” Richie feels like the words ping-pong off his forehead, that’s how much he understands them at first. Maybe he needs to be a little more clear: “What?”

 

Eddie raises his eyebrows. “The... ‘my girlfriend caught me jerking off to her friend’s Facebook page’ thing?” he says slowly, then makes a quick but devastatingly accurate jerking-off motion that Richie has never actually included in his show but might need to add pronto. Or maybe just have Eddie demonstrate. 

 

Richie drags his mind from out of the gutter where it slid embarrassingly fast, and focuses on the issue at hand. The important issues. The big things. “Eddie…” he says, voice soft. Eddie stares up at him with big brown eyes that would devastate him, if he let them. “You've watched my stuff?”

 

Eddie’s eyes go even wider. There is a distinct pause. “No.”

 

"You've totally watched my stuff."

 

"Oh, my God," Eddie groans in a way that Richie knows means he's exasperated but is also really fucking funny because Eddie has watched his stuff

 

When did he have the time? It has to be before they got back to Derry. It has to be. That means Eddie knew who he was before they met up again in Derry, so he must have recognized Richie in some way even back then, how long ago was it that people started posting his bits to YouTube or what if Eddie even came to a show, no don't think about that—

 

Richie allows himself to sit down casually on the edge of Eddie’s bed again. He crosses his legs and props one hand on his chin. The thing about Richie is that it’s always easier for him to make the joke than anything more sincere. He remembers now the conversation in the restaurant, before all this had really begun and that kid said that ominous crap that was really from Richie’s show and Eddie had recognized it. 

 

“Uh-huh. So, Eddie, I’ve gotta ask... do you think there's a real Masturbators Anonymous?” Richie almost can’t keep his face straight from the grin that’s trying to break free. “Uh, or should I ask, do you think Masturbators Anonymous is real?”

 

Again, Eddie, love of his life, completely blindsides him. “Yes, it's real. Of course it is. It was founded in 1969 by—” he seems to realize Richie is staring at him with his mouth half-open, because he stops in his explanation. “Don’t you do research?”

 

Richie wants to laugh so hard he’s going to cry, but he can’t do anything but stare at Eddie’s lovely, exasperated face. “No?” he responds, voice rising in disbelief. He cant believe Eddie has not only watched his stuff but researched his jokes. That’s more than even Richie has done.

 

"Okay, it's real. I'm serious, Rich. Look it up." 

 

Richie doesn't think the truly most important part of this conversation is whether or not there's a real Masturbators Anonymous, but he's willing to roll with it a couple minutes more. "Uh. Sure. Okay, let's look it up. Where's your phone?" 

 

Eddie gives him a look, but his tone is darkly amused when he says, "I think I may have lost it when I got stabbed." 

 

Richie's mouth snaps shut. He's got that feeling you get when your teeth don't line up just right when you bite down, or your knife scrapes against a plate with that sc-ree-eetz sound. Wildly uncomfortable and off-kilter because of a tiny misstep.

 

Eddie looks at him in concern. He reaches out and touches Richie on the knee briefly, but the effect ricochets through Richie's body like a shot. "Sorry, that was a joke." 

 

Richie blinks and looks up. "Oh, uh, yeah. Let me, lemme see if they—" Richie waves uselessly behind him, except they're alone in the room, all the other Losers having left them alone.

 

He pops up and pokes his head into the hallway. Ben and Bev are sitting on a pair of chairs down the hall, talking quietly. They both look up in surprise when Richie walks up. 

 

"Hey, Rich, how'd it go—?" Ben starts.

 

Richie puts out his hand instead. "Can I borrow your phone? Just for a minute." 

 

Ben is already reaching into his pocket as Bev watches Richie, her gaze assessing. "Are you okay?" she asks. "Did you tell him?"

 

"Yeah, just, something we need to clear up real quick," Richie says as he takes Ben's proffered phone. "Do you have a—oh, guess not."

 

Ben has a picture of a big German shepherd dog panting into the camera as his lock screen, and apparently no password. Richie shakes his head. Who doesn’t have a password on their phone? Nebraska, man. 

 

"Wait, what did he—" Ben starts again, but Richie is already turning away.

 

"Thanks, I'll be back!" He strides quickly down the hall back to Eddie's room. Right before he goes in, he spins around and points at them. He doesn't know why he says it, but he does. "Don't come in."

 

"But why—?"

 

Bev murmurs to Ben with a smile and a raised eyebrow, "Do you really want to know why he needs a phone and is telling us 'not to interrupt'?"

 

The priceless look on Ben's face is something Richie will hold very close to his heart for a long time. Precious, truly.

 

"Alright, Google has arrived!" Richie announces as he crosses the room and plops himself on the edge of Eddie’s bed again. 

 

Eddie has sat himself a little further up on the bed in Richie's absence. His cheeks are pink and his dark eyes are bright, focused. Even with the dark scruff that's coming in on his jaw and the waves curling his just-a-bit-too-long hair—or perhaps because of both of these things—Eddie looks… good. 

 

Hot, Richie’s brain supplies and he smashes the thought down. With one nervous hand, he pushes the edge of his glasses up. Not that Eddie can read his thoughts through eye contact, but he can't risk it. 

 

Richie clears his throat. "Alright, ready? Let's find out the truth." 

 

“Oh, I’m ready,” Eddie replies. “Because it’s true.”

 

Richie makes a non-committal sound, because it's not as if he’s actually invested in proving Eddie wrong. This is all just a stopgap measure, really. He types in ‘masturbators anonymous real’ and raises an eyebrow at the results. To be honest, it’s what he expected.

 

He scrolls through the first page of links and very deliberately does not look at what Google Images is bringing up for him with those words. Even with Safe Search or whatever the hell Ben probably has enabled on his phone, the results are… what they are. 

 

“What does it say?” Eddie asks.

 

Richie’s gaze flashes up to him and back down to the phone. He is not going to show the search results to Eddie. Eddie, who seems to be in some ways so wound up internally even the slightest suggestion of something untoward suggests he’ll blow a fucking fuse. So Richie is mixing metaphors, what of it? Maybe Eddie will combust at the sight of a dick that isn’t his own. Maybe he’ll have a heart attack.

 

Involuntary manslaughter by dick pics. That’ll be a good clickbait headline. 

 

Richie leans back. “Let me refine that for you, babe.”

 

It just slips out and he thinks Eddie is going to be, well, he’s not sure, creeped out possibly, by the words. But Eddie rolls his eyes as he leans forward to try to take the phone. “Oh, whatever. Let me see. Richie!”

 

“No! Let me— Jesus, Eddie, let me just—” Richie wrenches the phone from Eddie’s outstretched hands and starts typing in whatever qualifying words he can think of into Google to hopefully not pull up dick pics this time.

 

‘mastotbators anymm,ous richi e tozier comAdian organization program real Website plEAse’

 

Do you mean ‘ masturbators anonymous Richie Tozier comedian organization program real website please' ?

 

Richie scrolls down the suggested results. Eddie has grabbed a fistful of his collar and is leaning forward in a way that is possibly not very healthy for someone who had a gaping chest wound less than a week ago. 

 

“What does it say,” Eddie breathes out, and his voice is right next to Richie’s ear. He is fully breathing into Richie’s neck.

 

Richie looks over. Eddie is right there, right next to him, hand clenched in Richie’s shirt and body exuding heat that Richie can feel from right behind him. Richie might die. “Uh…”

 

Eddie jabs at the tiny screen with a finger. “That one. It’s that one, I’m sure.” He seems to realize then that he’s leaning forward on Richie’s shoulder and freezes.

 

Richie blinks. For a second neither of them move.

 

Then Richie turns and clicks on the link with a finger that is not trembling, thank you very much. He’s fine. This is all fine. “Let’s see,” he mutters. His heartbeat feels like it's going at the pace of a fucking racecar but that’s normal, thanks. 

 

Eddie’s hand unclenches slightly but he doesn’t really lean back so Richie is left with Eddie leaning over his shoulder like some sort of a hawk as he brings up the page. 

 

It’s a fairly normal website, except for the huge letters proclaiming ‘MASTURBATORS ANONYMOUS’ on the top of the page. There’s some generic photograph as the header and what looks like something copy-pasted from the website of Alcoholics Anonymous but ‘alcoholics’ replaced by ‘masturbators’. Richie isn’t a hundred percent sure of how ethical that is but to whom does one report those things? 

 

Anyway.

 

Richie starts clicking through some of the links on the front page, like Our Mission—which is generic enough for Richie want to fall asleep—and then to Our History.

 

Richie skims through the first couple of paragraphs before a laugh bubbles up his throat. “Eddie, uh…” he starts to laugh. “Are you seeing this?”

 

Eddie’s eyes are flitting back and forth across the tiny text. “What?” he asks, obviously distracted. 

 

“This.” Richie points at the page. 

 

Eddie shoots him a sideways look. “Okay. What about it, Richie?”

 

Richie is trying so hard to contain his laughter but his face is turning red, he’s sure, and he can barely get the words out (because of amusement, this time). “Eddie… please.”

 

“What?!” 

 

“The—the founding—the founding members are,” Richie starts, but he’s not sure if he’s just so tired this is fucking funny, or it’s the stress and the lack of sleep and Eddie’s perplexed face, but Richie feels like he can barely breathe. “The f-founding members are, Rich.. Richard ‘Dick’ Touchin and— and Mr. Kerr… first name…. Wan. Wan Kerr. Wanker.” Richie clarifies when Eddie looks confused. “Wanker. Oh, my God, Eddie, to WANK? Dick Touchin and Wan Ker?” 

 

Eddie is staring at him. 

 

“Mr. DICK-TOUCH and MR. WANKER founded a society about MASTURBATING in 1969… sixty-nine. Eddie, please tell me you know what sixty-nine means.”

 

Eddie’s face is the color of a tomato. “Sixty…”

 

“Sixty-nine,” Richie finishes. Is he going to have to explain this? Guess so. “Sixty-nine-ing. So, it’s when you go like this—” He spreads his fingers into two peace signs to represent legs and tries to turn his hands to embrace each other but before he can, Eddie has grabbed one of his hands and yanked it away.

 

“I know what it means!” Eddie practically yells. “Fuck, Richie, it’s… that’s obvious.”

 

"Personal experience, huh?" Richie jokes, and he expects Eddie to maybe play along, or call him gross. But Eddie responds sincerely.

 

"No." Eddie has a straight, if bright red, face. He's staring directly at Richie. "You?" 

 

Richie swallows nervously. "Uh, no." He realizes Eddie is still holding onto his hand. 

 

Eddie leans back a little, but he doesn't let go of Richie. "I've never… never even…" he mumbles, gaze skittering away. The color on his cheeks is deepening from red to a deep maroon. "Never done that." 

 

"Sixty...nine-ing?" Richie asks slowly. He feels like he's just saying words at this point. "Yeah, man, I know, me neither—" 

 

"No. Not just-just that." Eddie looks up at him with an expression which is both vulnerable and guarded. He licks his lips, evidently trying to find the right words. 

 

Richie watches him with his heart beating in his throat, holding his breath. He's never been top-tier at reading emotional situations but he knows this is important. 

 

"I've never done… any of that." 

 

It takes a second, but then it hits Richie like a brick. Eddie has never done 'any of that'. Eddie has never had sex. Eddie is a virgin. Eddie is telling him he's a virgin like Richie's going to run screaming in the other direction.

 

"Ohhh," Richie exhales. He feels like his face is going to burst into flame. "Okay. That's just—” He wants to make this easy for Eddie but he’s not quite sure how. “That’s fine. Well, if you didn't want to, you didn't want to. If you never had the opportunity, you never had the opportunity." Richie tries to shrug casually but he's not sure if he pulls it off. 

 

"You're fine with a middle-aged man who just got out of a bad relationship and is still a virgin?" Eddie asks. He has a look about him that is dubious in the extreme. 

 

"Yes," Richie immediately replies. 

 

"Do you have some sort of, uh, type or something? Some sort of fetish?" 

 

Richie files away Eddie Kaspbrak saying the word 'fetish' into the box with the jerking-off motion, because he can't deal with that right now. "My type being middle-aged men who just got out of bad relationships and are virgins? Who I was childhood friends with?" Richie tilts his head toward Eddie, making it clear who, exactly, he's talking about. "And who maybe just fought a demonic clown that fucked up one summer of our childhood and made them forget almost three decades of their past? Who recently got stabbed because he was a brave-ass hero who was trying to save his friends from an alien who eats children alive? And that I've been i-in love with since I was twelve? That type of man?" 

 

Eddie's eyes are wide. "Yeah," he replies, but his voice is a little high. 

 

"Then yeah, I guess I have a type." Richie reaches up and places his index finger at the apex of Eddie's eyebrows. That little ridge of wrinkles relaxes under his touch, although it doesn't fundamentally change Eddie's expression. "Luckily, you fit the mold exactly." He taps Eddie lightly on the nose.

 

That breaks through the dubious look. Dimples appear in Eddie's cheeks as he half-smiles, dark eyelashes flashing down over his dark eyes. He looks almost abashed. 

 

That's the thing about Eddie. For all he and Richie would bicker, for all they accidentally (or deliberately) annoyed one another, they were soft, too. It wasn't always easy being vulnerable with another boy when you grew up in a small town in Maine in the 80s, but Eddie never made him feel bad about it. 

 

Eddie always made him feel, well, loved.

 

Eddie's expression folds into something more serious. "What if I'm not like you remember?" he asks, his voice quiet. 

 

Richie isn't sure what to say to that, so he chooses his words carefully. "No one's exactly who you expect, but I don't think that means you can't… a lot is different about us—about all of us, maybe—but a lot is the same. And that's what relationships are for, right? Figuring out if you work together. You start not knowing much, maybe, but you want to know more. Right?"

 

Maybe Eddie doesn't know. Eddie married Myra young, apparently, and maybe he didn't have any other relationships. Richie has barely had any, and none got very far.

 

"I'm willing to—I mean, I want to give it a shot. But that's me." Richie tries to crack a smile but it's still difficult. Eddie has an inscrutable expression, dark eyes focused directly on him. "I'm not expecting anything from you, Eds. You just—" 

 

"Kiss me." 

 

Richie blinks, thinking he's misheard. "What?"

 

Eddie swallows, clearly nervous, and Richie wonders if he's going to take it back, what Richie thinks he heard Eddie say. 

 

But Eddie is nothing if not stubborn. "I said, 'kiss me', Richie."

 

"Uh," Richie replies, because he is an intelligent human being with a razor-sharp wit. 

 

So, Eddie really did say that. 

 

Eddie is still sitting up, right hand curled over Richie's shoulder and the other clenched tight in the hospital blanket. He's so close and yet it feels like Richie is reaching through the decades to cup Eddie's cheek. 

 

He feels like that nervous fourteen-year-old kid again, knowing he wants his best friend in a way that's going to get him hurt. Knowing he wants his best friend in a way that best friends don't want each other, that they're not supposed to. 

 

But now Richie's best friend is looking at him, asking Richie to kiss him. And it feels different than he ever expected, of course. Eddie has several days' worth of stubble coming in on his jaw and the smile lines around his mouth are deep instead of quick flashes in a round cheek. But Eddie's brown eyes give the same clear, penetrating look; that gaze that Richie always tried to catch by joking or flirting or whatever means he could. 

 

"Are you going to do it or what?" Eddie murmurs. 

 

Richie shakes his head as he leans in. "Impatient," he replies softly. 

 

Even though his eyes are drifting closed, he can feel as Eddie tilts his chin up, coming closer to Richie. It's the searching that makes Richie's heart ache in his chest, that momentary proof of Eddie leaning up toward him, breath soft across his skin and then they're kissing. Just a brief press of lips, but he feels Eddie inhale unsteadily, like he's been surprised. 

 

Richie's cheeks are burning and Eddie's lips are soft against his. Eddie is close, so close, and he's holding tight to Riches shoulder as they kiss. Richie feels like his head is spinning as he pulls back. It's… a lot. 

 

Eddie's eyes are closed, and he's breathing a little more quickly, more sharply than before. His chest is rising and falling and his lips are parted slightly. He is very still in a way that Richie knows means he's thinking.

 

Was it bad, what the fuck, should I have— Richie's own thoughts are flying past him, dizzingly fast. When he drops his hand from Eddie's cheek, Eddie looks up. His eyes catch Richie's and the intensity stops him up short. 

 

"Wha—" Richie starts. 

 

Then Eddie does two things that makes Richie choke on his own words. Eddie's hand slides up Richie's shoulder to cup the nape of his neck, warm, strong fingers brushing the sensitive skin there. And then Eddie pulls him forward, and there's no hesitation this time as he kisses Richie.   

 

Eddie is kissing him. 

 

He's kissing Eddie. 

 

Eddie's hand is cupping the back of his head and his fingers are clenching in Richie's hair which is just about the best thing Richie has ever felt. He reaches back up to cup Eddie's jaw again and Eddie makes an 'ah' sound, soft and almost breathless, against his mouth. 

 

Richie is about one second from dying, thanks. 

 

A wave of heat rises up Richie's body and he feels something like a white-hot strike of want goes through his body. He reaches over with his left hand to grab Eddie's where it's still clenched on the bed, and completely forgets he's still holding Ben's phone. 

 

It slips out of his hand and clatters to the floor with a thunk.  

 

Richie and Eddie jump apart, startled. They look at each other and then down to the floor, where Ben's iPhone is lying facedown on the hospital linoleum. Richie's heart is beating double-time in his chest and he can't tell if it's more nerves or residual fear.

 

"Well, that's fucked," Eddie declares dryly. "Who's phone is that?"

 

"Ben's." 

 

"Does he not have a case, or something?" Eddie's voice is full of the disbelief of someone who gets a new phone put in an Otterbox at the store. The incredulity, at this moment, where Richie is still sitting at the edge of his bed after they've literally just made out and Richie confessed his suppressed-for-three-decades feelings, is incredibly funny to Richie. "What kind of idiot doesn't have a case for their phone?" 

 

“Nebraska, man,” Richie mutters, then bites his lip to keep the laughter that’s bubbling up, inside, as he leans over to pick the phone up. When he sits up and flips it over, dreading the thought of giving the phone back to Ben with a huge crack on the front, he's so surprised by the result he starts to laugh. 

 

"Eddie, you—" he chokes out. “You’re gonna hate this.”

 

"What?" Eddie frowns at him. 

 

Richie hands the phone over to him, and the series of expressions Eddie's face go through are priceless

 

"Wha—what the fuck? Are you serious?" Eddie spins the phone around and the sight of the immaculate, unbroken screen makes Richie break into a renewed round of laughter. "What kind of—I took my phone out of the case to clean it once and it hit the table and the screen just—" Eddie makes an explosion sound, which is probably one of the cutest things Richie's ever heard him make. "That guy is so lucky." 

 

"He's not the only one, huh?" Richie jokes, with an exaggerated wink. For a second he's not sure he should have said it; it was more an automatic reflex than anything and even though Eddie kissed him back, he's not sure how comfortable Eddie is with jokes about, well… them. If there is a them. 

 

Then a grin breaks Eddie's incredulous look. His eyes crinkle as the smile spreads. "You are so—"

 

"Cute?" Eddie puts his hands under his chin, like he used to as a kid. 

 

Eddie laughs, and it's been so long since Richie has heard it he can't help but smile, too. They've been so wrapped up in the negative aspects of their past for the last few days, all the things they never wanted to see or think about ever again, so making Eddie laugh is like a balm over emotions that are still so raw. 

 

It's a joyful sound, before it's cut short by an 'ow.' Eddie puts a hand to his chest, a pained look on his face.

 

"Oh shit, are you okay?" Richie reaches out and grabs Eddie's shoulders. His heart leaps to his throat.

 

"Yes," Eddie takes a couple of deep breaths. He looks up at Richie and points at him. "But don't make me laugh. Not yet.”

 

“Not yet?”

 

Eddie leans back onto the pillows, arranging himself. He looks tired, but pleased. His hair is a little mussed and his lips and cheeks are both a little pink from kissing. From kissing Richie, which is something Richie still hasn’t fully wrapped his mind around.

 

“Yeah, not yet,” Eddie says. “Not until I’m healed. Still hurts like shit.”

 

"How long until you can handle my brilliant wit again?" 

 

"They said usually it would be six to eight weeks for most of the healing to be done, but in my case apparently it looks like it might be just three weeks. Which, I don't know how much I trust that, but probably keep your wit to yourself for another week."

 

“Eddie.” Richie leans forward, bracing his hands on either side of Eddie’s hips. Something has just occurred to him and it makes a faint spark of hope light up in his chest. “Does that mean you’re coming home with me to LA?”

 

Eddie gives him a look. “Yes, I’m coming home with you to LA." He seems to read the hesitance in Richie's expression, and the look softens. "Was that really in question?”

 

"Uh, maybe? I mean, I just confessed gay feelings for you that I've had since we were kids, and not everyone wants anything to do with that."

 

"Well, I want to do it." Eddie sounds determined. "If you're there, I want to be there, too. That's what I want." 

 

The finality of his tone makes Richie smile. Eddie wants to go to LA with him. Eddie wants to go home with him. He feels strangely light with joy, or maybe it's sleeplessness and anemia. Hard to tell at this point. And of course he has to make a joke. "The kiss was that good, huh? Really changed your mind?" 

 

Eddie hmms. "Oh, I don't know. I think it can be improved upon."

 

Richie gasps, a little dramatically, perhaps, but the situation seems to call for it. "You're saying my lips didn't convince you?" 

 

"I'm saying, I think we need practice." Eddie looks significantly at him. 

 

Richie raises his eyebrows as he leans in. "Practice? With me?" 

 

"Yeah. Exclusive offer. You up for it?"

 

"Oh, I am up and down and left and ri—" Richie starts, but then Eddie cups his face in his hands and pulls him in and they're kissing again and Richie really can't think of much else but this. 

 

Eddie is here, with him and their friends, smiling and joking and living and that would be enough, even if it was just that. But Eddie's also coming home with Richie and they’re going watch bad movies together as they cuddle on the couch and eat breakfast together and burn toast and make terrible roast turkey for Thanksgiving (and go out to eat instead because neither of them can really cook) and spend New Years up at Ben and Bev’s house in Nebraska. They are going to love, and be loved. 

 

Eddie is alive, and he is loved.

 

Eddie is not dead. 

 

THE END