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Now What I'm Gonna Say May Sound Indelicate

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First Eddie sleeps, and then he hears talking. At first the talking seems rather unimportant—constant background noise the way that a fan in a room is calming—and then the more he wakes up the more he becomes aware of individual words.

“—starts out up here with the you’re so square, and then—” The voice suddenly drops into a bass. “—goes way down here with the baby I don’t care.” Then back to normal, familiar register: “I fucking love it when songs do that, man, it’s hot, I’ll fuckin’ say it. I don’t know if you remember the nurse yelling at me or what or I’d play you—there’s this song that does it, I don’t remember the name or who sang it but the album art is this frying pan with eggs and bacon in it, but inside one of the eggs is a lion’s mouth snarling? Anyway.”

Eddie thinks nurse? in confusion but then his exhaustion settles on him again. He’s sure there’s something on the other side of his eyelids—someone talking his ear off, someone there with him—but he can’t quite approach. There’s pressure in his chest, like bad heartburn, and he thinks that if he’s sleeping he ought to be sleeping sitting up with pillows stacked behind him, but he can’t find his body.

“…don’t know if you’ve heard of this—it’s like the planes that came back from World War One? World War Two? One of them. And people were looking at all the bullet holes and going, Well that’s where you should reinforce it, until someone pointed out, Hey, jackass, these are the planes that made it back, the ones that got shot in other places crashed over Germany, you know? So you hear about like a half inch one way, a half inch the other way. Like, uh, what’s it—” Faint clicking, someone snapping their fingers. “—motorcycle helmets. When they started requiring them, all these motorcyclists with head injuries came into the ER. Because they weren’t in the morgue. There’s a word for that, but I don’t know, I was shit at propaganda, I passed public speaking through sheer… well, you know…”

This is important, he’s sure of it. The voice says You know in a way more meaningful than a vocal tic, like they really expect Eddie to know. The words pass through his brain the way speech in a dream works—he gets bits and pieces and he can’t hang on to the full train of thought, he just knows that this is important and he can’t tell why.

“…and then it goes oo wee oo I look just like Buddy Holly—which, for the record, I totally fucking did, once upon a time, okay? Write it down. When you, uh, wake up and—never mind. And then it goes oh oh and you’re Mary Tyler Moore. But his wife was, uh… something Catholic. Maria something. She was from Puerto Rico. He asked her to marry him on their first date, can you even imagine? You’re on a date with fucking Buddy Holly and he just—hands you a flower and proposes marriage, and you’re like fuck yeah you’re Buddy Holly. Like, yeah, babe, you got stones…”

Eddie thinks Buddy Holly? and in his struggle to try to remember what the fuck Buddy Holly looks like, he thinks glasses and then he thinks Richie. Holy shit, that’s Richie talking to him.

There’s a loud beeping sound and Richie goes abruptly quiet.

Eddie thinks No no no I have to tell him and sinks back under.

“…think you’d fucking hate it, actually, I don’t know. The whole… juxtaposition of rock and roll with religion—which like, yeah, obviously, but you were always more into that than me—I think you straight up told me I was going to hell once, which I hope so, and then you and Stan argued about whether hell existed at all, and that was a fucking lot, and then I splashed you and you freaked out about piranhas—I swear to God and Don McLean, Eds, you thought there were piranhas in the Kenduskeag, I cannot make this shit up…”

Richie makes a lot of shit up, Eddie knows, but not his own material. But there’s something Eddie’s supposed to tell him, and he can’t for the life of him remember it because Richie is rattling on about… something Eddie can’t grasp, though he doesn’t know why his gut instinct about the piranhas is to go fuck you. That’s not what he’s supposed to tell Richie.

His chest really hurts.

“…found his glasses in, like, the eighties, they’d been in lockup as evidence, and then there was this court case about whether they should go to his wife or his parents, because they’d only been married for like six months…”

He should sit up, take some Tums, drink some water, eat some bread or something to soak up the stomach acid. That beeping rises in his ear again and then sinks away.

The next time he hears Richie, he’s singing “American Pie.” He’s a good mimic—never had a problem with parroting the latest song on the radio, could do an eerie Robert Smith when The Cure came on—but he’s not a singer himself. Their choral teacher used to despair of him, in grade school. Richie rattles along without music but with perfect timing, “Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll? Can music save your mortal soul? And…” He slows down, some of the cheer in his voice sinking low and serious. “…can you teach me how to dance real slow?” He stretches it out like taffy.

Eddie remembers in quick succession the words to “American Pie,” what he was supposed to tell Richie, and the fact that he got impaled through the torso. Suddenly the pain in his chest is obliterating, whiting him out, and his eyes snap open with a burst of stars.

Richie says, “Jesus,” and there’s a crash.

Eddie loses track, somewhat, of what happens after that. The pain dies down in his chest and knifes through his skull as the light pours into his eyes, and then that bodily grievance fades too. It lurks somewhere deep in him, below his conscious radar.

There’s a metal bar in front of him. He’s lying on his side, and he can’t feel the arm under him. The crash was evidently Richie falling out of a chair because now he’s scrabbling up and taking up Eddie’s whole field of vision, all glasses and wide dark eyes and shoulders.

“Hey, you awake, Eddie? You okay? This for real or one of those zombie blinks you’ve been doing, huh?” His hands come up like he’s going to touch Eddie, but then he drops them again.

Eddie stares at him and feels it—his heart clenching like a fist in his chest, just looking at him. He’s in pain but Richie’s here, and it’s going to be okay. He closes his eyes and grits his teeth against the wave of pressure that passes through his chest, wanting to bow forward but somehow immobilized. There’s a pillow jammed between his body and the metal bar, and much as he’d like to move, roll over, sit up, he can’t.

“Oh shit,” Richie says. Eddie opens his eyes and blinks. “Are you in pain? You’re not supposed to feel anything right now, your blood volume’s back to normal and you’re supposed to—” He turns to look over his shoulder and Eddie stares at the sharp clear line of his jaw before he turns back. He looks—like hell, actually, he needs a shave and he’s lost weight and his hair is wild in a way that Eddie remembers. Richie used to get bored and play with it and then he’d wander around looking like he’d gone through a dryer on the spin cycle, and Maggie Tozier despaired of him. In the fourth grade Mrs. Wilson actually summoned Richie over to her desk and brushed his hair right there, in the classroom, while Richie winced and whined.

Eddie has to tell him, so he swallows with his mouth dry as paper and tries to speak. His voice comes out in a little wheeze, and there’s an itch in his chest, somewhere deep down in his lungs. If he’d ever had bronchitis, he would understand that bubbling under his ribs. If he’d ever had pneumonia, he would understand the crackle. As it is, he only knows that instead of I what comes out is “Hh…”

Wild-eyed, Richie’s gaze snaps to his face. “Come on, Eds, nod or shake—are you in pain?”

It’s not important, because Eddie is learning something he learned long ago and forgot about—that he can be in pain and he can live through it. That the things he thought all along would destroy him have room for him, somewhere in there. He’s not exactly in pain but he is, at the same time, and it’s not a question with a nice neat answer, and Richie isn’t listening to him.

Richie brings up one fist, first bobbing it up and down and then shaking it from side to side. “Yes? No?”

Eddie rolls his eyes.

Richie bursts out laughing. “Oh thank god, you’re in there.” He shakes his head, then reaches out and grabs either side of Eddie’s head just above the ears, and plants a kiss on his forehead. He needs to shave; his stubble grates Eddie’s skin.

It is incredibly difficult to focus his eyes on Richie when he’s that close up. Eddie has a good perspective on his throat, his Adam’s apple, his collarbone, his T-shirt under another Hawaiian monstrosity under a leather jacket that for some reason doesn’t look quite right. Under the smell of leather there’s the stale smell of a body made to hurry up and wait. Eddie knows it from airports, from taxi trips, from business meetings that could have been emails, all salt and celery and something warm and animal wicking away. This is Richie, though. Eddie has an absurd instinct to stick his tongue out like he might have when they were kids, to pull a face, to just tap his skin once with that dry, dry touch.

He does not lick Richie. His mouth is so dry anyway.

Richie leans back, relief printed in the corners of his eyes, which are watering. “The last couple of times you woke up, you just looked at me like you had no idea who the fuck I was. Which, like, I can’t blame you, because—” He gestures at his own face with splayed fingers. He blinks several times. Eddie gets distracted by his eyelashes before he realizes that Richie is trying not to cry.

Eddie squints at him, trying to convey what’s the matter? with just his eyes.

“Yeah, I know,” Richie says, which is not a correct response to Eddie’s question, so Eddie must have failed in his attempts at eye-telepathy. He looks around again, all sharp profile, nose and chin. “Where’s the fucking doctor? Christ. Okay.” He turns back to look at Eddie and whispers, “Hey, buddy, if you remember what happened, please don’t tell the docs about the alien clown, because they aren’t too thrilled with me spending all my time in the ICU, I don’t want to know what they’re gonna do if I try to hang out in the psych ward with you, we’d have to call Stan about making a prison break and I don’t know what the fuck the protocols are like in Georgia but here—”

Eddie closes his eyes, trying to clear his head. He feels faintly dizzy and not quite aware of his body. There’s pain but it isn’t important. There are hands, but they aren’t important.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Richie says, and Eddie blinks his eyes open again. “Can you stay awake for the doctors? Please? They should be fucking coming any minute now, Jesus Christ I hate Maine. Come on, buddy.”

“Ri-chie,” Eddie says. His mouth seems intimidated by the second syllable, the ch like some insurmountable hurdle, and the vowels slur out of his mouth on an elastic stretch. His face feels cold and tingly, and his lips a little numb.

You’re about to pass out, his brain informs him helpfully, but there’s no wave of panic that accompanies that thought. He’s already on his side, laying down. His vision’s not fogging up or anything, and there’s no encroaching blackness. There’s just a steady slowness to his heartbeat—which he feels in his ears as he realizes that the beeping above is a heart monitor. He’s on a heart monitor.

“Yeah,” Richie says. “Yeah, I’m here. You all there, Eds?” Oh god, is Richie about to cry?

“I love you,” he says.

The words stumble out of his mouth in descending articulation; the you is almost mumbled. As soon as he’s said them he feels his whole body go slack in relief—there, there it is, he thought he was going to die before he managed to get them out, before he managed to tell Richie.

Richie’s face changes not at all, but he blinks once. He reaches out carefully and touches a fingertip just under Eddie’s eyebrow and lifts his eyelid slightly.

“Oh, sweetheart, they’ve got you on the good drugs, don’t they?” His mouth quirks up at the corner, and Eddie knows that look, the we’re going to laugh about this later look, and Eddie wants to say No! but he can feel himself slipping.

Sweetheart. His mind latches onto that. Sweetheart. Somewhere deep inside himself, Eddie Kaspbrak wraps his arms around that word and hugs it to his chest, a life buoy, as the room sinks away.

“Mr. Kaspbrak?” It’s an unfamiliar woman’s voice.

Eddie startles awake hard. There’s an almost anesthetizing effect to the fear—his chest is so cold and his heart thudding so hard that he feels no pain at all. There’s just the squealing of his heart monitor, and the sound of him trying to catch his breath, and the nurse gasping in response.

“I’m sorry!” she says. “Are you okay?”

She’s wearing bright blue scrubs over a long-sleeved green t-shirt, and she barely clears five feet tall. Maybe the least intimidating person he’s ever seen. She looks just as horrified to have startled Eddie as he feels for his own foolish response.

He tries to take a few deep breaths to calm himself, but that foggy numbness in his chest means he gets no satisfaction from it. No reassurance that he’s processing oxygen. Just the dim knowledge that something should hurt and vague disquiet that it doesn’t.

He read, a long time ago, that pain is a signal that something is wrong. That’s all it is. He spent his whole life expecting it as a symptom—he knew something was wrong, so there must be pain, and when there wasn’t he had to look for it. Every ache in his body, every stomach cramp, every stiff joint or achy neck in the morning, the way his knees started throbbing when he turned twenty—he anticipated them all. When they arrived it was with klaxons singing out, This is it, Eddie! Here it comes!

And then nothing.

“I’m okay?” he manages. He doesn’t mean it to be a question, but that’s how it comes out. He tries to refocus on the person asking him the question. “I’m okay.”

“Good,” she says. She comes a little closer to his bed, unclips his chart from its hook on the footboard, and glances up at his heart monitor. The dinging alarm cuts out abruptly, replaced by the electronic beep of Eddie’s pulse. “I really am sorry about that.”

“It’s all right.” He feels awkward, on his side in this hospital bed, swaddled up between safety rails and with a waffle blanket draped over him. She’s a stranger and his instinct is to be polite, but he has no idea what the social expectations are for intensive care patients. “I’ve been told I’m excitable.”

He’s been told a lot of things.

“Oh really?” She makes a note on his chart. “Do you think you’re excitable?”

He considers that. He wouldn’t call… look, he goes off on rants and tangents and tirades, but he doesn’t know that he’s been excited for any of them. He says what has to be said, and once it’s out in the world he can come down from it.

“I don’t know what I am,” he says. It comes out sincerer than he means it—but there’s a little wonder in it, too.

The nurse smiles. “Well, let’s start with your pain. Do you remember the scale I showed you?”

He stares at her and then manages, “I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“That’s okay,” she says. “Do you have pain?”

“No,” he replies honestly.

“That’s good,” she tells him. “Let me just run a few checks here, and then I think we’ll go for a walk, all right?”

He blinks and then glances down at his own body. His shoulder eclipses most of his torso, and from hip to toes he’s hidden by the waffle blanket, but the last thing he remembers is being impaled. As in, stabbed in the back so it came out the front.

“I can walk?” he asks.

“Every couple of hours,” the nurse confirms. “It’s important to keep your circulation going. Nowhere exciting, just around the room again, but we need to get you on your feet.”

Eddie blinks a few times, completely nonplussed. But she seems to think he can get up, and she’s a nurse. “Okay,” he says, and waits.

She checks his face, and then the little monitor clipped to his index finger. Then she calls in another nurse and, between the two of them, they get Eddie up and out of the bed.

He is wearing a hospital gown. Both the nurses are small enough to fit below his arms, their shoulders pressed into his armpits, their arms supporting his back. He’s very aware of his bare ass, as they creep around the room at a snail’s pace, slowly wheeling the IV and other plastic bags Eddie’s hooked to along with them. He feels almost nothing from his bare feet, not the linoleum under his soles, not even his own weight.

“Am I supposed to… not be able to feel anything?” he asks slowly. Moving this slowly makes his brain feel like he has to speak slowly too. His thoughts ooze like syrup.

“Like what?” asks the second nurse. She has her head shaved on one side and a flop of purple hair across the top. It’s extremely trendy. Myra would hate it.

“Your hair looks very nice,” he tells her. “It’s very bright.”

She smiles. “Thank you. What do you think you should be feeling?”

He looks down at his feet, at the vascularity marbling down his bare legs.

“I just feel cold,” he says.

“Would you like some socks?”

They put him and his equipment and tubes back in place on the bed, and then the first nurse retrieves some socks from the cabinet over the sink. She rolls the socks onto his feet and—Eddie doesn’t feel warmer, per se, but when they pull the blanket back up over him he can feel the impression of heat he left in the bedding. He waits for it to comfort him, for it to soak into his body again, but the little wisps of warmth fade from his notice.

“Comfortable?” the first nurse asks.

“Not uncomfortable,” he says. And that’s not bad. The absence of discomfort, after forty years, is an improvement.

He has never dreamed like this before. He’s aware of himself in this hospital bed, aware of his cheek pressed into the flat disposable pillow and the safety rail holding him up. But he also can see outside himself—not in perfect detail, but bleached out by the bright fluorescents shining down on him. He sees his body and is aware of his weakness and his inability to move.

There are flies landing on him. He cannot feel them walking on him, but he can see them. Fat indistinct black blobs. He cannot move to swat them away.

He hears the door open and voices talking—not Richie, a man and a woman, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He cannot move. It’s just the flies on him.

“—middle school. You want all the dirty secrets, these are the guys to ask.” The voice is a man, tired but faintly amused. Like he’s happy and washed out at once.

“Oh yeah?” the woman asks. “Good stories?”

“Let me think.” There’s a pause. Then: “The first date I took a girl on was to a laundromat.”

The woman laughs. “Really?”

“I mean, technically.”

Eddie goes in and out a little bit, watching the flies--he knows that they are flies, but he also knows they’re missing things, like eyes and wings, which is how he knows he’s dreaming--land on him. He feels as though someone is watching him, and he can almost see a face, but nothing clear. It’s dream logic again.

He knows what sleep paralysis is, but there’s no horror sitting on his chest or anything--and he’s had plenty of horror in the last… Well, he doesn’t know how long it’s been since he came back to Derry. He’s had a lifetime’s worth of horror, and no one can dispute that.

The next time the nurses come in and wake him up, he goes heavily. He has to blink several times before he can take stock of the room and notice that his guests--he thinks they were guests--are no longer there, and that the nurse with the purple hair is trying to get his attention.

“It’s too much morphine,” he tells her, his lips feeling numb.

She touches his face gently, turning his chin up and looking at his mouth; taking his hand in hers and examining his nails. “Are you breathing okay?”

“I don’t know,” he tells her honestly. When he thinks about it he starts breathing manually, but he can’t feel an ache in his chest or the constriction of what he used to think were asthma attacks. He can’t feel anything at all. No signals from his body telling him whether things are all right or if there’s something wrong.

Where is Richie?

The nurse with the purple hair clips a meter to his index finger and reports with a frown that his pulse-ox is a little low. “We’ll reduce the dosage,” she says. “You’re still replenishing your blood volume, even after the transfusions, so it’s likely that you’re going to feel pain.”

“That’s okay,” he says, because it is. He’s lived through pain--and now that he’s no longer in a sewer with a demon claw through his torso, it has to be downhill from here, right? Every other pain he’s going to experience will be less than that. A little reminder that something’s wrong--that there’s a breach in his cheek, in his chest--but that he lived through it. “I’m hallucinating when I sleep.”

The nurse frowns. “Hallucinating?”

“I could hear people talking,” he says, “but there were flies landing on me, and I couldn’t move.”

Her frown deepens. “Flies?”

“Dream flies,” he says. “Like I was dead.”

“Yeah, we’ll bring your dosage down,” she says. “I’ll make a note in your chart, we’ll get it approved.”

She and the first nurse get him up on his feet and make him walk around a bit. He’s amazed that they’re able to hold him up, small and slight as they both look, and dizzy and heavy as he feels. But the next thing he knows he’s back in the bed and they’re adjusting his pillows and asking him to sit up and do some deep breathing for them.

“I’ve forgotten your names,” he says apologetically.

The one with the purple hair smiles. “Tracy.” Now that he’s no longer at risk of falling, the other nurse has left the room. “And that was Sarah.”

“Tracy and Sarah,” he says slowly, trying to imprint it in his sieve of a memory. Tracy has purple hair. He thinks he can remember that.

Tracy counts for him as he tries to breathe according to her rhythm. He tries to look down at his chest to see if his stomach is expanding as he breathes, but he’s so thickly bandaged and padded that he can’t, and looking at the clean white gauze that his body vanished into makes him feel insubstantial. Eventually he has to tilt his head back and apologize, but he’s too dizzy to keep going.

“That’s all right,” she says. “You can rest for a minute.”

He isn’t sure what happens next, but he feels better as he relaxes back into the pillows. Distantly he hears shouting and beeping and someone yell, “The patient’s having a seizure!” He thinks consciously, Oh, poor patient, but then he fades out again.

“Mr. Kaspbrak,” says a low, thickly-accented male voice.

Eddie opens his eyes. There’s pain in his chest and in his head, and he can feel sweat drying all over his skin. He’s cold.

The doctor in the room with him is tall, black, and young. He looks very calm.

“Can you tell me your name?” he asks.

Eddie swallows against his dry throat and says, “Edward Francis Kaspbrak.”

“Good. And your date of birth?”

“November third, 1976,” he replies.

“Good,” the doctor says. His coat looks very clean. It still hangs stiffly, as though he’s just put it on. “Can you tell me what day it is?”

Eddie thinks about it and has to admit, “No.” Quickly, because he doesn’t want the doctor to get the wrong idea about his mental state, he says, “I’ve been sleeping a lot, but I came to Derry on August twenty-sixth, and I think I was here for maybe two days before… I got hurt?”

“Of what year?”


“And who is the president?”

“Barack Obama,” he replies.

“And you know where you are, yeah?”

Eddie blinks at him a couple of times. “The hospital?”

“No, I mean, what town.”

“Oh. Derry, Maine.” He blinks once and then considers the likelihood of Derry Home Hospital being able to repair whatever damage was done to his body. “At least, last time I checked.”

“We’ll give you that one,” the doctor says. “You’re at the Sovereign Light Hospital in Bangor, Maine. You got the state right, at least.”

Eddie feels mildly put out by that. If he was moved around while he was unconscious, he doesn’t feel that ought to be held against him.

“I’m Dr. LaCroix,” the man says, turning to look directly at him instead of at the clipboard in his hands. “Was that your first seizure?”

Eddie stares at him for several long seconds before he manages, “My first what?”

“I guess that’s a yes,” Dr. LaCroix says. “Do you remember what happened?”

“I told them they needed to turn down my dose,” Eddie says. “The--I don’t remember what I was on for pain, but the nurse--she kept checking my oxygen, she asked me if I was breathing--I was overdosed, right? She said I was replenishing my blood volume, that was probably the problem--did she say I had a transfusion? Where did the blood come from? Did you have to blood type me? I’m B-positive.”

The doctor’s brow furrows a little bit. He makes a show of raising the clipboard and writing a note, saying slowly as he does so, “Patient presents as alert and energetic.”

Eddie can’t help himself. He snorts and reclines hard against the pillows.

“To answer your question...s,” Dr. LaCroix says. “I agree that the morphine drip they had you on was likely too frequent considering your weight and your still-replenishing blood volume. You’ve had a number of blood transfusions, some from our stock of donated blood, some from volunteers. Your emergency contact, Ms. Marsh, was one of them. Is that your wife?”

Eddie swallows. “No,” he says, and then feels like he has to explain. “I mean, no, she’s… she’s my best friend, really, she’s like my sister. I mean, one of my best friends--we were… we met back when we were in middle school. That’s who I was with. I mean, not just her, there were six people.”

Dr. LaCroix makes an affirmative noise. “Yes, six people, five of whom volunteered to be blood typed to donate for you. You’re lucky you had a B and an O in the group. Four pints isn’t much, but you needed all you could get right then, if I’m reading this right. And you’ve had visitors almost constantly. You’re a lucky man.”

Eddie looks at him and manages, “I don’t really remember what happened after the accident. I mean, I don’t know… what the damage was. I’m missing… I mean, the nurses said they’d introduced themselves before, but I only remember seeing them one or two times.”

Dr. LaCroix’s face becomes blank and unreadable. “I’m not your primary physician here,” he says. “I responded when they called that there was an ICU patient having a seizure--but I don’t think you had one. Some people twitch when they pass out, is all. You’ve seen a number of doctors but the one in charge of your case is Dr. Fox.” He looks down at the clipboard. “Says she spoke to you after the surgery. But sometimes patients forget, coming out of the anesthesia and all.”

Eddie blinks once and then twice. He’s had surgery. Intellectually he knew that he’d probably had surgery--you don’t get an injury like he had without some surgery to repair the damage, they weren’t just going to pump him full of Bev’s blood without doing something to stop the leak in his chest and the damage to his organs--but hearing it said like it’s something he should know is weird.

“I don’t remember a Dr. Fox,” he says.

Dr. LaCroix nods slowly and says, “That’s all right. How you feeling right now, Edward?”

“Eddie,” he says automatically.

Dr. LaCroix smiles. His teeth are very white. “Eddie.”

He takes a couple of deep breaths, preparing himself, and is almost pleased to feel the ache in his chest and back when he does so. It’s not a stabbing pain, it’s a stretching pain. Some feedback from his body, warning him that there’s something wrong and not to overdo it, but reassuringly stable. There’s a chill between his thighs that he hopes is just sweat. He’s gonna be just mortified if it turns out he peed himself.

“Not bad,” he says. “Only hurts when I breathe, you know.”

Dr. LaCroix whistles. “You must be tough as nails, Eddie. Or you still got too much morphine in your system.”

“This is good,” he says. He breathes again to feel the ache. “No, this is good. I couldn’t feel anything earlier, that was… that was not good, but this isn’t bad. I’m…” He swallows again, doing a systems check. “I’m cold? And kind of thirsty?”

“Probably ought to replenish your blood sugar,” Dr. LaCroix says. “We’re gonna wait a little bit and then see if you can have some juice or a soda or something without throwing up, all right? I can get you some ice for now.”

He’s cold. The idea of more cold does not appeal, but the inside of his mouth tastes like death.

“Ice would be good,” he says.

Dr. LaCroix nods, opens the door, and leans out. Eddie hears low speaking. The doctor’s voice is easy to pick out, with its low rhythmic rise and fall.

Richie would like that, Eddie thinks. He met the Irish cop all of one time back in the Barrens the day they built the dam, and spent the rest of his life busting out his best Irish accent at the nearest opportunity. Part of Eddie wants to see if it’s gotten any better over the years. Part of him doesn’t want to give Richie the opportunity--it’s much funnier watching them come up organically.

When the doctor comes back in, Eddie says quietly, “Can I ask where your accent’s from?” Then, realizing how he’s absolutely going to come across like a racist man from backwoods Maine, he says, “I have a friend. He collects accents.”

“Collects accents?” Dr. LaCroix repeats.

Somehow Eddie doesn’t think explaining that Richie’s a semi-famous comedian will help the situation, because Richie’s latest content is pretty offensive. “He does voices,” he offers weakly. “He wanted to be a ventriloquist when we were kids.”

“A ventriloquist,” Dr. LaCroix says. Then he asks, “Not like that puppet guy, eh?”

Like most people, Eddie remembers consuming Jeff Dunham specials back in 2008 or so and laughing. He feels vaguely guilty about that now. Myra was right next to him telling him how offensive they were, and in a lot of ways she was right.

“Not like the puppet guy,” Eddie says.

Dr. LaCroix nods. “Port of Spain,” he says, and when Eddie looks blank he offers, “Trinidad.”

“Oh,” Eddie says, because he knows where Trinidad and Tobago is. Vaguely. He has an idea.

“Don’t get nervous,” Dr. LaCroix says. “I got my degree in Toronto.”

“I’m not nervous,” Eddie replies, and is startled to find that it’s true. He’s awkward, he’s like a blunt instrument trying to get through this conversation about race and immigration and prejudiced assumptions, but he’s not nervous.

Tracy comes back with a dish of ice chips and a can of Sprite. She asks Eddie how he’s feeling and he responds honestly that he’s okay, and Dr. LaCroix pats him amicably on the top of the foot and says he’s signing Eddie back over to Dr. Fox. Eddie eats his ice chips but keeps looking at the can of soda, sweating on the countertop over there.

Tracy follows his eyeline. “You feel nauseous at all?”


He’s thinking about sugar, about tooth decay, about the ways that dental problems can result in heart problems later down the line. He’s thinking about how he never drinks soda, even when he’s out in restaurants, because he made promises to his mother and his health teacher and his dentist and his wife.

He wants that soda so bad. At this moment, Eddie Kaspbrak cannot remember anything he’s ever wanted more than that can of Sprite. He could not be more enthusiastic about it if Lebron James himself came in and asked him if he wanted one.

“Okay.” Tracy pops the tab on the can with a crack and hiss. She half-holds the can for him--Eddie’s right hand is curiously clumsy.

He takes a few sips. The soda almost burns in its intensity, fizzing into his mouth, sugar and citric acid. He swallows and thinks about carbon dioxide, about the bubbles popping in his stomach, about increasing pressure, about burping, about fizzy lifting drinks, about Richie’s frantic Gene Wilder impressions from a long time ago.

“Good?” Tracy asks.

“Really good,” he replies. He drinks more.

They change his bandages. Apparently sweat is the enemy of his gaping chest wounds—incisions, the medical staff calls them, but the little voice in Eddie’s head that sounds like Richie Tozier definitely has more colorful descriptions. For the one on his back, he can’t look as Tracy wipes down the skin around it, but she definitely tells him not to look while she tends to his exit wound. “You already had one vasovagal event today, and lying down didn’t do anything for it,” she says. “The doc’s gonna come in and give you more instructions, got it?”

Eddie gets it. She’s being very careful as she cleans him up, but he still feels little frissons of pain as she wipes him down. He smells antiseptic. He’s not sure whether to be glad or disappointed when she wraps him back up in new waterproof bandages and ties the neck of his gown back in place. Part of him thinks that she’s a nurse, so she’s probably right that seeing the damage might make him pass out again. Another part of him thinks (knows) he’s tougher than that, and that keeping him from seeing it is just prolonging the completely unnecessary suspense.

The next doctor to knock on the door isn’t Dr. LaCroix--whom Eddie is already oddly fond of, considering the man asked him the terrifying question was that your first seizure?--but instead a woman with a broad face and a bright smile.

“Mr. Kaspbrak,” she says. “I’m Dr. Fox.”

“Eddie,” he corrects immediately. “How are you?”

Her smile widens. “I ought to be asking you that question. I hear you had an event today.”

“It wasn’t bad,” Eddie says, because it wasn’t. He didn’t have a seizure. Dr. LaCroix agreed that he was far too alert and coherent (read: ranty) to have had a seizure. Not that Eddie knows what one feels like. He was mostly happy to discover that the catheter meant he hadn’t peed himself. It may be the happiest any man has ever been to discover that he’s wearing a catheter.

“I guess you have new standards for ‘bad,’” Dr. Fox allows. “Dr. LaCroix told me that you had some confusion over what has happened since you arrived here and that you didn’t remember our conversation post-surgery. I also gave some instructions to your wife--” Eddie isn’t sure what his face does then, but the doctor breaks off immediately. “Not your wife?” she guesses. “Ms. Marsh?”

Eddie relaxes. “Not my wife,” he says. Part of him is flattered that she thinks a man like him could ever marry a woman like Beverly, but then he remembers that he has a wife and what does that say about her? Myra might be unfortunate enough to have a gay husband (yeah, Eddie, unfortunate, like you had nothing at all to do with that problem), but there’s no reason for her to have a rude one. “Bev’s a friend. She’s like my sister.”

Dr. Fox nods in what looks like complete understanding. “Right. Have you had a chance to speak with her about what happened?”

Eddie shakes his head slowly. “I only remember talking to one visitor, and the nurses. And Dr. LaCroix, I mean, I remember today. And I know I had guests, but I think my morphine dosage was too high, because I could hear them but I couldn’t respond and I was… having some weird dreams.”

She nods again. “That can be a side effect of morphine. Are you feeling better now that the dose is reduced? How is your pain?”

Eddie’s pain is… present. After Tracy cleaned up his wounds he felt a persistent sting, like she’d made them angry or something. Now it’s the stretching pain, making him alternate between breaths shallow enough not to strain them and deep breaths to test the boundaries of it.

“It’s okay,” he says.

Her face contracts in something like a sympathetic prompt to go on.

Eddie clears his throat awkwardly. “I mean, I can feel something, and that’s better. Earlier when they had me getting up to walk around, I couldn’t feel anything.”

“It’s better to feel some pain than none at all?” she asks, like she’s trying to clarify.

“I couldn’t feel anything at all,” Eddie replies. “I was just cold. I mean, I’m still kind of cold, but.” He shrugs and winces immediately.

“We are keeping the temperature in here low to prevent sweating,” Dr. Fox says. “Tracy tells me she’s discussed the importance of keeping your surgical sites clean. Since you’ve been sleeping a lot, and people naturally sweat when we sleep, we’ve been trying to compensate for that.”

What Eddie hears is that if he spends some time conscious, they’ll turn up the thermostat. “They got me socks,” he offers. “The nurses. Tracy and…” He closes his eyes, trying to think. “Sarah.”

“With the grips on the bottom?”

He nods. If he moves his toes he can still feel the rubbery bottoms of the socks.

“It’s very important that you do not fall when you get up to stretch your legs and move around,” she says. “That’s why I want you to be very careful, only try to get out of bed when the nurses are there to support you, and wear the appropriate footwear. Otherwise, just stay in bed.”

A faint frisson of anxiety goes through him. Go back to bed, Eddie-bear, a voice says from a long, long time ago.

But he just hurt himself shrugging, and he’s not sick. This isn’t an illness, this is an injury.

“Okay,” he agrees.

Dr. Fox smiles again. “So you’ve had three surgeries,” she says. “Your first was at Derry Home Hospital; you had some medical events on the table, and in response they brought you here in a Life Flight helicopter, where you underwent two more surgeries. When the beam went through you it punctured part of your lung, which collapsed, understandably.”

Eddie supposes he can’t hold that against his lung. He collapsed too. He nods for Dr. Fox to go on.

“There are also a lot of major blood vessels in the thoracic cavity,” she says. “The wound was low enough to avoid your heart, and seems to have missed your spine by about an inch and a half. You are very lucky.”

He breathes in and feels his chest ache as though in confirmation. He’s lucky. He gets to live to feel the chest pain. He thinks absurdly of Phineas Gage, that old nineteenth-century medical marvel who had an iron bar drive through his mouth, through his brain, and up out the top of his head, and got up, talked, and walked around after a few minutes. He’s Eddie Kaspbrak. He might not have the traumatic brain injury (please don’t let him have a traumatic brain injury), but he feels no less… marvelous.

“When you arrived you had lost a lot of your blood volume. Derry Home Hospital did their best to repair the damage to your blood vessels and supplied you with a transfusion, but your interrupted circulation might have some consequences. We’re a little concerned about potential nerve damage in your right arm. Also you sustained broken ribs while—it’s my understanding—your friends performed CPR on you while waiting for the ambulance.”

“Oh,” Eddie says.

“The friends also donated blood when you arrived, which is good. Hospitals are perpetually in need of more blood—that tided you over while we waited for another delivery from the Red Cross.” She smiled. “You’re still replenishing blood—you did lose a… frankly astonishing amount, to be honest. As a result, some of your responses to the anesthesia and morphine were concerning, but it’s encouraging that you’re as alert as you are now.”

“And you’re going to keep the morphine down?” he asks.

She nods. “We’re going to keep the morphine down. Our strategy is going to be medicating to manage the pain, not medicating to no pain. You still might have some odd dreams, though.”

That’s fine. Eddie’s head already feels clearer.

“When can I go home?” he asks, and feels like a child.

She nods her head in the general vicinity of his side. “We’re waiting to confirm that there’s no more air leaking from your chest cavity. We don’t want to have another collapse. Once your intercostal drain—that’s the tube in your armpit—shows that there’s no more air, and the fluid from your chest has decreased to an expected amount, we’ll take out the chest tube and see about sending you home. Where do you live?”

“New York,” Eddie replies.

Dr. Fox gives him a perplexed look. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what were you doing in an abandoned house in Maine?”

“Yeah, I was asking myself that too,” Eddie says, and declines to explain in any way that would be useful.

In a way, Eddie suspects that almost-dying is even more inconvenient than dying would have been. There’s a kind of lawlessness to Derry, a sense that you can get away with anything. (And fuck he needs to ask one of the Losers what the fuck they did with Bowers’s body; is Richie going to be arrested for murder before Eddie can see him again?) The hospital is, by comparison, so regulated that Eddie almost can’t breathe.

Almost. They’re very intent on him breathing here. There are deep breathing exercises every hour, and coughing exercises to come later, once they’re sure he’s not going to tear his stitches. There are brief walks around his room every two hours to be sure that he doesn’t develop blood clots. There are clean white plasters that stick to the skin around his incisions—not on his incisions, but around the stitches so it doesn’t pull on the thread when they have to be removed—and clean white bandages that go over and around his chest and back. It’s all very regulated. The nurses are good about wrapping his bandages just tight enough, and Sarah always finishes them with an oddly pretty knot instead of a metal pin.

There are visiting hours.

He knows he’s had visitors—has reasoned out that Richie was visiting, has thought back on his confused morphine dream and decided it was either Stan or Bill because they’re the ones who married, so maybe he’s about to meet Mrs. Uris or Mrs. Denbrough. He kind of hopes it’s Stan’s wife. Nothing against Bill’s wife, but he heard that she’s an actual movie star and Eddie has no idea what to do with that.

But who he really wants to visit him is Richie.

Obviously. It was like that when he was a kid too—maybe not early on but certainly later, when he started thinking I’ll walk down to the Barrens, see if Bill or Stan is there, but man I hope Richie’s free. And if he was, Eddie would try to hide how happy he was, how relieved he was, by packing all that delight down tight and then waiting for Richie to say something, and then just exploding at him. And Richie always looked pretty thrilled about it too, dumb grin getting wider, mouth getting smarter.

Eddie was friends with Bill because how could he not be friends with Big Bill Denbrough, who had the best games and the fastest bike and the kind of magnetic charisma that made Eddie want to run after him. The games they played involved running—sprinting—or walking for a long time, eating up the ground with their feet, or hiking up a snow-slick hill on hands and knees and pretending at being mountain climbers. Bill adventured, Bill traveled, and Eddie followed in his wake and was glad to do it.

And Stan was mostly still. He watched, he waited, he collected. He stared out into the distance as though at something none of them could see. Eddie would tilt his head and try to do it and sometimes he imagined he could see it, the world rushing up with all its information at Stan, everything open to his perusal. You could never hide anything from Stan, was the thing, and even when you thought you were being honest sometimes he’d look at you with a cutting stare as if he knew there was more, and sometimes he’d just shrug and smirk a little and let it go, but in a way that made Eddie almost feral with rage—what do you know? But Stan, aside from being Jewish, could almost always get Eddie out of the house when his mother came to the door, asking if Eddie could come over to work on a puzzle with him, or to help him with a school project, or to put together a model—and then they’d go play outside just like they had always intended. Stan could lie cold-blooded to Sonia Kasbrak like butter wouldn’t melt.

So Bill ran out ahead and Stan was still. But Richie would pop up out of nowhere and fucking tackle Eddie. And Eddie hit the dirt and shouted, Richie! Stop—knocking me over! But the outward annoyance hid some deep satisfaction. And Richie would pick him up and stand him on his feet and make a show of dusting him off and play the English butler.

All of this is to say that Eddie is ready for his first visiting hours once his morphine is down. He’s been awake for a little bit, he’s done his breathing exercises, and he stumbled around the room with Tracy, and when she asks him if he’d like to see his visitors he answers yes so fast she doesn’t even get all the words out. He apologizes. She just smiles and reminds him that he can have up to two visitors at a time and that she’ll be back in an hour to do breathing and coughing exercises with him.

So Eddie is… not exactly disappointed to see Bev. But he’s definitely surprised.

“I know,” Bev says, coming in and making room in the doorway for Ben. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ve been impaled,” Eddie replies seriously.

She bends to hug him as best she can while he’s sitting up in the hospital bed. Her cheek presses to his, and he raises his arm as best he can.

“Nice beard,” she says when she straightens up, smiling.

Eddie groans. “I know.” Tracy offered to shave it for him, and assured him that she shaved her own head regularly. But with the wound in his cheek, he’s still too jumpy to let anyone near his face with a blade.

Ben reaches out and clasps Eddie’s hand, and Eddie squeezes back as best he can. Sometimes he can tell why the doctors are worried about the nerves in his right arm. His fingers are thick and clumsy in a way they’re not usually.

“I hear you gave me blood,” he says to Bev.

She sits down heavily in one of the plastic chairs and leans back. She looks… tired, but also relaxed in a way she didn’t, even when they were all back at the restaurant. There was something about her that seemed brittle, even when Stanley staggered in half an hour late and she got up and threw her arms around him. Some of that brittleness has faded now. Eddie supposes that, like him, she’s realized what she can live through.

“Yeah, me and Richie,” she says.

Ben says, “We all tested, except for Stan, but they were the only ones compatible. I’m sorry.”

Eddie has to focus pretty hard on how Ben is apologizing for his blood type right now because if he doesn’t, he’s going to think about Richie’s blood going around in his veins and his heart monitor is going to do something to embarrass him.

“Is Stan okay?” he asks.

“He got an infection,” Ben says.

“His wife came up to meet him. He’s fine now. She’s really sweet.” Bev tugs on the hem of Ben’s shirt so that he sits in the chair next to hers instead of hovering there awkwardly. “She won’t swear. Or, she starts to and then she catches herself and says the name of a cookie instead.”

Eddie stares at her, nonplussed.

“Apparently she teaches elementary school,” Bev says.

Eddie looks down to Bev’s hand, which is still on Ben’s thigh. He looks back up at her, and then to Ben, whose blush is growing deeper the longer Eddie just looks at them.

“So is this happening?” Eddie asks dryly.

Bev grins. “Not that I haven’t been dedicating every waking moment to your recovery—“

Eddie blows a raspberry at her and then relaxes down against his pillows. As Bev laughs he observes, “Someone should be having a good time.”

Ben says loudly, “So what did the doctor say, Eddie?”

“I have a tube in my armpit,” Eddie offers. “And I can go home once they’re satisfied my lung isn’t leaking.”

Ben blanches a little bit.

“Can you walk?” Bev asks.

“Yeah, they get me up every two hours to do laps,” Eddie says. “Got to prevent blood clots. My hands are so cold, can you…?”

“I got it,” Ben says, and takes Eddie’s left hand and rubs it between both of his. The friction helps. He moves on to the other.

Into the silence of Ben rubbing Eddie’s hands, Bev says, “What else do you need, Eddie?”

There are a lot of possible responses Eddie could give to that, ranging from a twelve-pack of Sprite to for someone to tell me what the fuck happened with the demon and the dead body we left in the library to a working cell phone.

And Eddie is just ravenous. Eating through needles. Starved of information. Body numbed by drugs but waking up slowly and telling him about the things he wants, the things he needs, after decades of having every impulse carefully regulated, every input measured and every output clockwork smooth. He’s an automaton come to life. He’s Pinocchio who got his wish. Being a real boy hurts a lot more than he expected.

Against the white hospital wall, Bev’s hair warps as though distorted by heat waves. Eddie’s perception trying to make sense of something so bright after the bland inoffensive blankness of the hospital room.

“Did we do it?” he asks her, watching her face carefully. If she lied to him, he thinks he’d be able to tell. “Did we get It? Did we win?”

Bev blinks once, so beautiful Eddie feels like his safety rail ought to be a velvet rope between the two of them. She belongs in a museum. How did somebody like Bev Marsh ever come out of a place like Derry?

“Yes,” she says, her voice surprisingly sweet and hushed. “Yes, we did. You got It.”

Knots come untied in his body all at once, his whole spine slackening.

“Oh God, Eddie, we didn’t realize you didn’t know,” Bev sighs.

Eddie looks at her blankly. “How would I know?” It’s not even an accusation. As Bev and Ben exchange guilty looks, Eddie asks, “What about—the, the thing. In the library.” The body. What happened to the body? Tell me that we’re safe and nobody’s going to jail.

Bev’s face doesn’t change but Ben’s does, his eyes widening just slightly as if to tell Eddie to be careful. Which Eddie is. That’s why he’s being vague and saying the thing and not the axe-murder, did we get It and not did we kill that fucking clown.

“Yes,” Ben says, his voice just as soft as Bev’s. “Yes, we took care of it.”

A little pulse of stress goes through Eddie. A shadow of the same way that he felt walking into the library and figuring out that Bowers had attacked Mike too but Richie had killed him. It’s not that Eddie wants to be taken care of, because he doesn’t. He emphatically doesn’t. But it’s also nice, in a way, to know that things are settled.

“And Stan’s okay?” he checks again. If Stan survives the clown only to die of sepsis Eddie’s going to have to fight God with his bare hands or something. It’s enough crushing unfairness in an already-pretty-indifferent life.

“Stan’s okay,” Bev confirms.

Mike was also injured. “And Mike’s okay?” Bowers cut him and Ben bandaged him up and Stan watched and paled because Mike’s wound was also on his forearm, and Eddie watched him carefully to see if his blood pressure was just going to tank.

“Yes, Mike’s okay.”

“Did Mike get his—” He motions toward his own wrist, where the IV rests in his forearm. Eddie’s fully willing to admit that most of his life has been dedicated to unreasonable caution—but his job also counts on him knowing what is reasonable. He’s anxious, he’s not deranged. Mike walked through a sewer with an open wound just like Eddie and Stan.

“Yes, he did,” Bev says. “That’s fine too. I think they gave him something to take care of it.”

Okay. Eddie lets his hands rest on the waffle blanket, right palm turned up so that the IV tube doesn’t snag. He takes some breaths, feeling the slow stretch of his broken ribs. It’s like pushing a bruise; he can’t help doing it.

What does he need?

“Can I see Richie?” he asks without looking up. He kind of instinctively wants to check for their reactions—are they offended? Are they suspicious?—but it’s better for his peace of mind if he doesn’t. They asked him what he needed.

Bev hesitates.

That gets Eddie to look up. Anger spikes up out of nowhere, but it’s driven by fear. “Did he leave?” he demands.

“Not by choice,” Ben says quickly.

Eddie’s brain immediately clicks back to the murder. Was Richie dragged back to Derry in handcuffs? Ben said it was taken care of, what the fuck—?

“He just went back to the hotel,” Ben says.

Eddie is still stuck in Richie is in Derry mode, flatly uncomprehending.

“Look, he hadn’t slept in a couple days, and he was still pretty beat-up from—you know,” Ben says, trying to skirt around our trip through Derry’s sewage system in case anyone in the hospital overhears. “And we thought it might stress you out if the next time you saw him he was still wearing scrubs and a biohazard, and honestly we didn’t know whether they’d let him into the ICU like that.”

“What Ben means to say,” Bev says, “is that he and Mike threatened Richie into a shower, and then Richie was so exhausted he fell asleep, and we’re still waiting for him to wake up, realize that it’s visiting hours, and storm the hospital.”

Eddie has the cognitive dissonance of imagining thirteen-year-old Richie trying to storm anything—uh, no—and then remembers that Richie is not just an adult but a goddamn huge adult with the ability to make himself other people’s problem. So maybe.

“Oh,” he says, because he’s not sure what kind of response is appropriate there. Inexplicably he feels a little embarrassed for asking, and then wants to kick himself. There is nothing more conspicuous about asking for Richie when he’s in a hospital bed than there is in asking for any one of them, because he’s in a hospital bed, and even if there were—well, fuck conspicuous. He’s exhausted of worrying about other people’s perception, of moving through his life like a ballerina on eggshells as if that’ll stop people from making assumptions about his health or his—

Sex life, he tells himself flatly, and feels himself color immediately. You were afraid people were going to make assumptions about your sex life. No point in being squeamish about it now. The bluntness of his inner thoughts is unfamiliar. It doesn’t even sound like him all the way.

Well, Eddie can barely move. Nobody’s going to assume he’s asking for Richie so they can—and here his train of thought takes on a very Richie tone—fuck in this hospital bed. His blush deepens. There’s a safety rail. Eddie barely fits in here by himself, and Richie—

“I’m still a little high,” he says without looking up, because it’s the only way he can credit this frankly ridiculous train of thought. He has to blame it on the drugs.

“That’s fine, honey,” Bev says, but there’s no laugh in her voice, just a tender concern. Maybe Eddie’s blood levels haven’t replenished enough to make his blush conspicuous. He hopes so.

Richie would laugh at him, Eddie thinks, and his chest tightens in a way that’s not the pain of broken ribs or the constriction of an asthma attack. It’s—something like loss. Like the fear he felt when he thought Stan wasn’t coming to the restaurant at all.

He wants Richie, is all. Overlarge and casual in one of the cheap plastic chairs, loud and inappropriate and eating up the silence and the hours and distracting Eddie from the room around him.

“We can call him,” Ben says, helpfully pointing out the blindingly obvious.

“No,” Eddie says quickly. “No, let him sleep.”

Eddie said I love you and Richie laughed and asked if he was high. But Richie called him sweetheart when he did it, so. And maybe a hospital room isn’t the right setting for that kind of thing, maybe Eddie’s just going to have to wait for… for something. A moment. The ability to stand up on his own again. He doesn’t know.

“Can I see Stan?” he asks.

“Of course,” Bev says. “Do you want one of us to stay, or do you want to meet Patty, or do you just want to talk to him one-on-one?”

Eddie’s grateful for her laying out his options like that. He feels like his brain is struggling to build a roadmap.

“I’ll meet Patty,” he says.

All in all, Patty Blum Uris seems to be doing a great job adjusting to the existential horror that is her husband’s suicide attempt, subsequent escape from psychiatric care, flight to Maine, reunion with his childhood friends, and immediate re-hospitalization. That is: she’s still standing up, smiling, and making conversation, which is more than Eddie expected of any outsiders to the situation.

At first Eddie watches Stan carefully when Patty speaks. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for—some kind of guide to how Eddie should interact with the real world for the rest of his life, maybe?—but it becomes clear that Stan loves his wife.

Stan loves his wife. There’s a little smirk in the corner of his mouth when he says, “Eddie, this is my wife, Patricia.”

She immediately says, “Patty,” and leans over to carefully shake his hand, more squeezing it than anything else. “Do you prefer Eddie?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says.

Patty sits down in the other chair and laces her arm through Stan’s. They sit shoulder-to-shoulder—Stan, almost as reserved about touch as a child as Eddie was—and Stan’s smirk turns soft as Patty’s brow furrows. “I only ask because, uh, there’s someone here everyone keeps calling Trashmouth—”

This startles Eddie into a sharp jerk of laughter that really does hurt his chest, and Patty Uris begins apologizing.

Stan looks just as tired as Beverly. If Bev showed up to the Jade of the Orient looking brittle and shaken, Stan arrived looking fragile and drawn and sick. He still looks a little bit shaky, maybe, but the way he leans on his wife is… nice. Certainly nothing Eddie would think to do with Myra. She’s never been able to comfort Eddie just by pushing her shoulder into his.

It confirms something in the back of Eddie’s mind. Some sort of it’s not marriage, it’s just me question he didn’t know he was still wondering about. Some small issues settling as he understands better, though he couldn’t put it into words if he tried.

“Did you save my life?” he asks Stan, because that seems to be the most pertinent one.

Inexplicably Patty turns bright pink. It throws into relief how pale Stan still is, next to her. Patty is healthy and alive, and Stan’s still a little bit wan.

“I mean, I helped do CPR,” he says. “I breathed for you.”

“My lung popped,” Eddie says, in case Stan doesn’t know.

Stan almost smiles. “Yeah, but that wasn’t my fault.”

“I never said it was.”

“But.” Stan shrugs a little. “Trashmouth—” Patty looks around, apparently just as perplexed. “—doesn’t know how to apply pressure to a wound, so maybe a little bit.”

“A little bit?”

Stan nods.

Eddie smiles. “You saved my life a little bit?”

“Like, a percentage,” Stan replies.

“A percentage of my life?”

Stan’s smiling back now. “Yeah, a percentage.”

“I think the two of us can work that out together,” Eddie says. “Mathematically.”

“That’s right, what’s your job? Risk analyst?”

And Stan’s an accountant. They ought to be able to calculate, between the two of them, exactly what portion of Eddie’s life was saved by Stan, and what portion by Richie, and what portion by Derry Home Hospital, and what portion by Sovereign Light. The idea is oddly comforting. Stan’s hair has darkened a lot now he’s older, but Eddie can still remember sunlit afternoons in the Urises’ living room, him and Stan and Ben all putting together a LEGO kit to rigid specification.

“For now,” Eddie says. He’s been hospitalized with no word to work for a while; he might be fired by the time he gets back. There ought to be a swooping sensation of anxiety about that, but there isn’t, and he can’t decide whether he’s buoyed by the morphine or by that feeling of being not-bad that came over him in the cavern. He lets his head loll back on the pillow and asks, “What’s Georgia like?”

“But Stanley said you were in New York!” Patty bursts out, apparently very excited by this. She only calls Stan Stanley. Eddie wonders if she’s heard anyone call him Stan-the-Man in front of her, or if Richie has already warped her married name into Urine in front of her. “How long were you there?”

Eddie sighs a little. “Moved there when I was a teenager,” he replies. “It was…” He grins suddenly. “I hated it.”

“We were there in college!” Patty says, which Eddie realizes slowly is the point she finds interesting. “We met in New York, and we got married there. What if we’d met? What if we ran across each other in… I don’t know, a deli or something?”

Eddie knows too many health inspectors to dine out in New York with any regularity, and has too many dietary restrictions—or rather, has needlessly restricted his own diet for so many years that he hasn’t actually enjoyed food in…

Actually, no. Eddie can’t remember the last time he enjoyed food.

“You eat at a lot of delis?”

“Not in Georgia,” Stan replies dryly.

“There are some,” Patty says.

“Yeah, but not like we ate in college.”

“You ate in college,” Patty replies, a faintly sulky tone to her voice that makes Stan smile. “I was at least five-percent bagel in college.”

“Everyone is five-percent bagel in college.”

“I have definitely never been any percentage bagel,” Eddie replies.

“Have you eaten a bagel in your life?”


“Then at some point, you have been a percentage bagel. It might be—no, listen—it might have been a fraction of a percentage, but you were definitely some percent bagel.”

“No, no, no,” Patty says. “You can’t argue that the moment you consume the bagel it becomes a part of you. It’s not like uranium—there’s no half-life to bagels.”

Stan looks to her. “I mean, I’m not saying that he’s still part bagel.”

“No, but like, this is totally dependent on whether we accept ‘you are what you eat’ as true.”

At this point Eddie remembers that, before Stan showed up at the restaurant, Richie declared that Stan was a pussy. For several moments his attempts to stifle his giggling make Patty and Stan assume he’s having some kind of medical incident, until they just realize that he’s laughing over something that--as far as they know—isn’t that funny. Richie would make the joke out loud. Eddie’s just laughing over the idea of what Stan’s face would do and how horrified Patty Uris, elementary school teacher, might be. If it were just Stan he might make the joke, but the idea that anyone he doesn’t know might make any assumptions about his own sex life was so horrifying just a few minutes ago that he can’t say anything like that to Patty, it would just be unacceptable. And rude.

Richie would definitely make the joke, though.

Why does he miss Richie over something so stupid?

Well, maybe because he’s been quietly missing him for thirty years, but whatever.

Over the course of the conversation, Eddie learns that Stan and Patty have a house just outside Atlanta. Stan has his own practice, which is doing pretty well. No one speaks of any of the effects that extended unplanned time off work has on a career, but if Stan is his own boss, Eddie’s a bit less concerned for him than he is for himself.

“Do you and your wife have any kids?” Patty asks Eddie.

“No,” Eddie says quickly. “No, thank god.”

Patty’s eyebrows climb. “You don’t want them?”


Eddie doesn’t know what to say to that. Myra hasn’t been on birth control for years, and her doctors made some noises about her weight affecting her fertility, but her doctors always attribute her problems to her weight. But if Eddie thinks about it, thinks about having kids with or without Myra, he doesn’t know if he wants them. He doesn’t know what he’d do with a child, to be honest—doesn’t know the kind of parent he’d be, and is a little afraid to find out.

“I don’t know if I want kids,” he says, trying to be honest. “I don’t think… Myra and I would be great parents.” Regardless of their respective parenting skills, as a team they would… they would not be great. It would be irresponsible of Eddie to inflict that on a child. Part of Eddie wants to add I’m going to ask for a divorce, but he doesn’t think he can say that out loud to Stan’s wife before he says it to his own.

And that’s something he’s going to have to do, now that the clown is dead and Bowers is… taken care of, whatever that means. Besides the obvious, which is that Richie took care of it, but Ben said we took care of it, and Eddie isn’t sure who we is, but he knows that they’re protecting him and Richie and Mike. He’s going to have to ask for more detail when he’s assured that they won’t be overheard.

Eddie’s going to have to get on with the rest of his life. Which he thought he was doing, just by going out and living it and picking up the phone and saying Edward Kaspbrak speaking and by going to work every day and by speaking to Myra and by getting paid and buying groceries and paying bills. But he wasn’t, because he’s slowly understanding that he wasn’t really himself, after all these years, except in the ways that he doesn’t like. He’s sunk four decades of effort into… (and here the risk analyst portion of his brain is clicking online, trying to be heard over the morphine haze and the cavern-calm) the idea that he’s already started dating Myra and it’s what people expect so he might as well marry her, the idea that they’re not getting any younger and they’re already married so they might as well have children.

Eddie has arrived where his sunk-cost fallacy and his bygones principle intersect, and he can see it now. He’s a man who bought a ticket to a baseball game but now doesn’t want to go. He can go and be miserable, or he can waste the money but spend his time doing something he’ll like better.

Stan is an accountant.

“You know the sunk-cost fallacy?” Eddie asks him out loud.

Stan nods, apparently tracking the leap in conversation without issue. Patty’s brow furrows but she says nothing. To her, Stan says, “The idea that you’ve already invested time and money and effort into something, so you should keep investing.”

“I knew the gist, but that helps,” Patty says. “Throwing good money after bad.”


“Fourth-graders don’t really get into logical fallacies by name that way,” she says dryly.

“You do a lot of business like that?” Stan asks Eddie.

“Yeah.” Edward, what’s the risk of this promotion? What does our profit and loss statement look like? Is this a solid investment considering—But Eddie’s already thinking about the next steps after a sunk-cost fallacy, which is the idea that when the plan is already failing, you just have to keep going. That’s his marriage. He knew going in—he didn’t know, but he knew, in some way—that it was a bad idea, and yet he’s an aircraft pilot who knows the disaster is going to be fatal, but goddamnit he’s going to stick with the plan because it’s the only thing he has the nerve to do.

Well. Say you’ve bought the ticket to the baseball game. Maybe you’ll go on the off-chance that you might enjoy yourself, even though you’re reluctant about going. Eddie has had a number of social engagements turn out that way, especially when the alternative is staying at home. If you don’t have anything better to do with your time, maybe you’ll go to the baseball game. When the choice is between that and wasting the money with no guarantee that anything better is available, maybe that’s how the fallacy gets you.

Down the hallway he hears footsteps and he knows, without knowing how he knows, who they belong to.

A lot of Eddie’s success as a risk analyst is his ability to ignore the way that the investors settle on optimism. They don’t want to admit failure. They don’t want to think for themselves and voice the misgivings that they’re all feeling. They need Eddie to come in and be the realist and show them the numbers and what is and isn’t true and what the best and worst possible outcomes are.

One of the side effects of morphine--though, admittedly, the incidence is not known, is the false or unusual sense of well-being. But in all honesty Eddie has been riding this train since he started bleeding out, so he can’t chalk that up to the morphine; it’s going to be the exsanguination, and maybe a little bit of the new lease on life, and maybe a little bit of the conviction that something better has just walked back into his life.

Walked back into his hospital room with a new leather jacket and a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a scowl and perpetual stubble and smudged glasses and a declaration of “Fucking hate all of you—not you, Patty, you’re an angel and we’re happy you’re here—are there Jewish angels?—and  not you, Eddie, though if they’d told me you were awake—”

“Hi, Richie,” Eddie says.

Chapter Text

“Hello, Eddie my love,” Richie says casually, and puts a hand on the doorway. He leans down and stares at Stan pointedly, as Eddie tries to work out whether his face is actually burning or whether his recent blood loss prevents him from blushing properly. “And you, Stan, you can go fuck yourself, same as the rest of those Losers out there. Nothing personal, Mrs. Uris.”

Stan blandly holds up his left hand. “I’m married, Trashmouth, I don’t have to fuck myself.”

Richie snorts and Patty snaps, “I don’t like that, Stanley.”

Stanley turns to her and picks up her hand. He kisses her knuckles. “Sorry, babylove.”

“Babylove,” Richie repeats.

There are two pink flags standing out on Patty’s cheeks. Eddie feels bad for her.

“You can tell him to go fuck himself, if you want, Patty,” Eddie suggests. “Everyone does.”

“Everyone does,” Richie agrees. “I won’t be offended. It would make you part of the club. You can have one for free, go on.”

Without looking up from his wife’s hand, Stan says, “Richie, you leave her alone.”

“I don’t have a problem with her,” Richie says. He puts his back to the doorframe and sips his coffee, staring straight across the room out the window. “But there are two visitors allowed in this hospital room, and I’m not leaving.”

“I’ll go,” Patty says.

“No,” Richie says, “I’m not kicking you out, you can sit here with me until five PM, I’ll tell you every embarrassing thing Stan ever did, but you—” He points at Stan.

“Richie,” Eddie says.

Richie lets his free hand fall and looks at Eddie. There’s something sentry-like about him. Eddie’s almost distracted by the blue tinge under his eyelids; Bev said that he was so tired he fell asleep back at the hotel, but he doesn’t look like he’s slept at all.

Richie and Stan got vicious sometimes, when they were kids. They were best friends—Eddie always knew that Stan belonged to Richie, somehow, something that Eddie didn’t quite understand. Richie was an unstoppable force and Stan was an immovable object, and sometimes they would just shout at each other until Bill intervened or until Eddie interrupted and drew Richie’s attention away. Stan always took what Richie said personally, even if Richie was talking out his ass—and he usually was. And Richie could never stand being ignored, and Stan was great at ignoring him when he was annoying.

But Richie’s angry—like, really angry, in a way that Eddie can’t remember seeing on Richie except for one time, in the dark, when Richie was listing off everything Bill had done to wrong him as if he was just about to leave Bill there in Its clutches. And Patty is uncomfortable, and Stan is cold because that’s how he is when people throw tantrums, and Eddie is trapped in a hospital bed. He’s very aware of his own helplessness, that if Stan were to stand up and turn toward Richie there would be nothing Eddie could do to get between them.

Eddie looks at the angry set of Richie’s shoulders under the new leather jacket, the tension of his knuckles on the Styrofoam cup with its black plastic lid.

“Give me your coffee,” Eddie says.

Everyone stops and looks at him.

“What?” Richie says.

“Your coffee,” Eddie says, and holds out his left hand on the safety rail. “Give me it.”

There is silence and then Richie laughs. “Can you even have coffee?”

“Eddie, I really don’t think,” Patty begins, and then falls silent as Richie crosses the hospital room.

He puts the cup in Eddie’s hand. “Got it?”

Eddie hooks his pinkie under the bottom of the cup to steady it, wrapped around it with his other three fingers and thumb. “Yeah.”

Richie releases the cup and takes a step back. “It’s black,” he warns.

Eddie, despite living in Manhattan for basically the entirety of his adult life, has never been allowed to drink coffee. His mother certainly never allowed it when he was living in her house, and he and Myra never owned a coffeemaker. Sometimes he snuck it at work, but he was never good at brewing it in the office machine, and even when he bought them from coffeeshops he never managed to acquire the taste for it.

He considers the cup greedily. There’s a faint impression of moisture around the hole in the lid. Not wet enough to be the coffee itself. It’s a print from Richie’s mouth. If he were a woman it might be lipstick.

“Also it’s from the hospital cafeteria so it’s dogshit,” Richie adds. He digs his hand into his pocket and holds up a red bag of Skittles. “You want these, too?”

“Maybe,” Eddie replies. He sips the coffee and burns his lip immediately. The little wash of liquid that makes it into his mouth is bitter and scalding and he hates it. He swallows it and the heat flows all the way down his throat.

Richie starts laughing. “Didn’t like that?”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says immediately, and then adds, “Sorry, Patty.” He holds the coffee back out to Richie. “Take this back.”

Richie obliges. He grabs the coffee cup by the lid, all five fingers splayed carefully around the circumference, and lifts it casually out of Eddie’s hand. “You want the Skittles?”

A sip of coffee is different; Eddie doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop once he starts eating Skittles. And he’s been allowed to have one Sprite, after he fainted, but he’s still getting most of his nutrition through his IV. Sarah the nurse has suggested that he’ll be graduated up to Jell-O soon.

“You want to watch me eat the Skittles?”

“Yeah, there’s no TV in here.”

“I can do David Attenborough. Patty, do you want any Skittles?”

“I’m okay, thank you,” Patty says primly. She stands. “I’ll just let you all—”

“No,” Richie says, “I don’t want to drive you out.”

“Oh for—pete’s sake,” Stan says, glancing up. “Eddie, would you rather have Richie here looking like a zombie, still covered in blood and sewage, and wearing scrubs; or is it better that he’s taken a shower, changed his clothes like a grown-up, and had at least one nap?”

“Patricia, control your husband.”

“Richie,” Eddie says.

Richie peers at Eddie over his glasses and blinks at him once, dryly.

“Sit down.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Stan asks politely.

“I want both of you to shut up,” Eddie replies. “Patty’s my favorite now.”

“And after I gave you my coffee.”

“Yeah, well, it was dogshit.”

Richie sits down in Patty’s abandoned chair, faintly smirking.

Stan gets up immediately and sighs. “We’ll see you later, Eddie.”

The look that Eddie gives Patty says, on both sides, Sorry about him. And then Eddie’s alone in the hospital room with Richie.


Richie opens up the bag of Skittles.

“Time is it?” Eddie asks, some of his energy gone out of him now.

“Just after nine,” Richie replies. He picks one of the Skittles out of the bag with his thumb and index finger and pops it into his mouth casually. He holds the coffee cup pinched between his knees. “Still bright and early. I would have been here when visiting hours started, but there’s a conspiracy, and I’m pretty sure that Mike slipped something in my drink. Bill says Mike did that, so he knows how.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what kind of exciting things you think I get up to here.”

“Eh, you’re a dark horse.” Richie picks up his coffee cup in his free hand and swings his legs so that his feet are in the empty chair, his knees hooked over the metal armrest. It doesn’t look even a little bit comfortable. Then he takes a sip of his coffee and makes a face.

“Do you even like black coffee?”

“It ain’t about the taste, Eds.”

“Do not—” Eddie interrupts himself by laughing. There's no reason for that old call-and-response anymore. He's done pretending. Alarmed, Richie looks over at him. Eddie puts a hand to his chest and grimaces, but it doesn’t hurt that much while the laugh’s in him.

“What?” Richie asks, and when Eddie makes eye contact with him there’s such a transparent look of concern on his face that Eddie realizes he’s not asking why Eddie’s laughing, he’s worried.

“I’m fine,” Eddie says. He realizes he’s bracing himself on the wrong side for his surgical incisions, so it must be his ribs. “I got broken ribs.”

Richie’s expression doesn’t change for a long moment. Then he leans down, all long arms, to set his coffee down on the floor, and puts both hands over his mouth.

“Are you going to throw up?” Eddie asks.

Richie shakes his head.

Eddie watches him for long moments and then asks, “Are you going to cry?”

“No,” Richie says, definitely choked up. He blinks hard and then wipes the elbow of his sleeve across his eyes—there’s a screech from the leather—and lifts his head. “How do you feel?”

“Not bad.”

“You fucking psycho.”

Eddie smiles a little. “I don’t. Feel bad.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll have what you’re having.”

“They overdosed me.”

“Did they?”

“Yeah, I passed out and woke up and a Trinidadian doctor was asking me if that was my first seizure.”

Richie stares at him. “Holy shit, Eds.”

“I didn’t actually have a seizure.”

“Well, he’s a doctor, I would fucking hope he’d be able to tell the difference.”

“Yeah, he talked to me after and he said I was too coherent to have had a seizure.”

“You’ve never been coherent a day in your life.”

“Eat shit.”

Richie leans down and picks up his coffee again. “I’m drinking it.” He takes a pointed swig.

Eddie’s eyes drop to Richie’s throat and then back up to his face. “Anyway, I asked him where he was from because I thought you’d like his accent.”

“His Trinidadian accent?”


Richie swings his legs down again, braces his elbows on his knees, and leans forward. “I don’t know what a Trinidadian accent sounds like.” He stares at Eddie expectantly.

Eddie stares back at him before realizing what he wants. “No.”

“Come on.”


“Come on.”

“No. This is why you’re one of the most offensive comedians in America. That would be super fucking racist of me.”

“How is it any less racist for me to do it?”

“I’m hoping you’ll do some goddamn research. I know for a fact you’ve done voicework.”

Richie’s eyebrows shoot up. “Oh do you?”

Eddie… might have done some frantic Googling while he was waiting at his gate at the airport. Right around the time he remembered that Richie Tozier existed, and something about a pair of shoes.

“And you knew I don’t write my own material.”

“And thank fucking god, I don’t think I could speak to you again.”

“How much of my stuff have you seen?”

Eddie squints at him.

“Oh my god, are you a fan?”

Eddie knows this game, and if it means that Richie’s going to stop sulking, he’ll play along. “No.”

“You totally are,” Richie says triumphantly. “Do you have a shrine to me in your closet at home? Like, little pictures of my face cut out and stuck on the wall?”

If Eddie were a little bolder he’d say well since you mentioned closets and come out right there, but he’s afraid to watch Richie regress into that teary-eyed shell again, or the puffed-up anger at Stan. He doesn’t quite know what’s going on with Richie, and while Richie’s apparently willing to hand things to Eddie while he’s in the hospital bed, Eddie doesn’t feel great about prodding at him from a distance.

Also, he kind of wants the comfort of the bickering. The assurance that nothing has changed, after all these years.

“If I were gonna have a shrine, I’d pick a good comedian.”

“Name one good comedian that you even know,” Richie says.

Eddie looks at him incredulously. “John Mulaney.”

“That’s fair,” Richie allows. “Name a second good comedian that you even know.”

“We’re not doing this.”

Richie grins.

Eddie considers and says, “I told Dr. LaCroix that you wanted to be a ventriloquist and he asked me if you were like Jeff Dunham.”

Richie picks up on completely the wrong part of that sentence. “His name is Dr. LaCroix?”

Eddie frowns at him, confused. “Yeah?” It’s a real name. It’s French, Eddie’s pretty sure. Means the cross.

“Like the seltzer?” Richie asks. “Is he lightly strawberry-flavored?”


“LaCroix is this brand of seltzer. They say they’re fruit-flavored, but it kind of tastes like someone—” He glances down at the bag on his lap. “—dissolved maybe one Skittle in a keg of fart water.”

At the words “fart water” Eddie snorts so hard he starts coughing, and that really does hurt. He grits his teeth against it and everything, bracing his ribs with the knuckles of his left hand and grimacing as Richie asks, “Can you breathe? Do you need me to call a nurse?” He shakes his head and tries to hold his breath to steady his spasming diaphragm.

“Hey, dumbass,” Eddie manages, his voice breaking in the middle of the endearment. “If someone can breathe enough to cough, that means there’s air coming in and out. It’s why you don’t do the Heimlich on someone’s coughing.”

“Yeah, because I was getting ready to do the Heimlich on you.” Richie rolls his eyes and leans back in his chair, apparently relieved. He eyes Eddie contemplatively. “How many broken ribs?”

Eddie wants to shrug, but his shoulders tell him that’s a bad idea. He tilts his head instead. “I don’t know. If they told me, I forgot.”

“What, like, all of them?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s another thing,” Eddie says.


“Like, when you break off a piece of your whole ribcage—I think that’s called a flail chest. Like, when all your ribs are—” Richie covers his mouth with his hand again and Eddie changes tactics: “Don’t you dare throw up.”

“I’m not, I’m not,” Richie says, very unconvincingly. He swallows several times—the little click of it is audible in the room—and then lowers his hand. “Do you—do you have that?”

“Vomiting?” So far, no, and Eddie’s grateful for it. He doesn’t want to feel what those convulsions of his stomach might do to his already-hurt torso.

“Your floating ribs.”

“Floating ribs are something else. Everyone has floating ribs, they’re just ribs that don’t attach in front.”

“You know, for someone who thinks he’s allergic to cashews, you’re spouting off an awful lot of medical bullshit.”

Eddie gives him his best you moron look. “We were in health class together, Richie. Floating ribs are a thing.”

Richie shrugs at him. “It was public school in Maine. I got kicked out for making condom balloons.”

“We definitely did not cover safe sex and the skeletal system in the same class—”

“Clearly you have been having sex wrong this entire time, it's called boning, Eddie—”

“I mean, obviously—”

“Oh wait, I’m sorry, I forgot you’re a forty-year-old virgin—”

“Jesus Christ,” Eddie says.

To be fair, Eddie is reasonably certain that he has been having sex wrong this entire time. As in, with a woman. When he has had sex, that is, which hasn’t been for a long time and honestly that’s the way he prefers it. At the moment—he is vaguely sure he’d like to try having sex again at some point in the future, but all the parts of his nervous system that might influence that are offline, and Eddie is a little relieved by that too. He’s not too happy that he can feel his burnt lip; he doesn’t want to have to worry about getting a boner in his hospital bed.

Richie leans back in his chair again, apparently letting that particular bit go. He hasn’t actually apologized for not being here when visiting hours opened, but he definitely walked in like he was ready to fight everyone between him and Eddie’s hospital room, so Eddie knows he’s pissed about it. If Eddie wanted an apology he’s sure that Richie would give it, just like he gave Eddie his coffee.

Myra would make him spell out the apology, if she were in the hospital and Eddie were late. Come to think of it, Myra will probably make Eddie grovel by the time he finally gets around to contacting her.

He doesn’t want to grovel. He’ll apologize for leaving her in the dark for—however long it takes him to work up the nerve to call her and tell her what the fuck is happening. But he doesn’t want to grovel and abase himself, and he doesn’t want Richie’s apologies.

“Missed you,” Eddie says.

Richie’s eyebrows lift like he’s surprised. “Yeah?”

Eddie gives him an incredulous look. “Yeah.”

Richie looks bemused, eyebrows climbing higher and his lips pursing. “How’s the hospital?”

“Sucks,” Eddie replies.

“Yeah? No hot nurses?”

“Yeah, Richie, that’s the problem, there are no hot nurses, that’s my priority—I have a fucking hole through my chest and my ass is hanging out all the time, but the lack of opportunity to objectify—”

Richie interrupts him by laughing loudly and letting his head loll back against the wall. Once he quiets he adds, “Yeah, I missed you too, buddy.”

“You gotta fire your ghostwriter, you’re lazy now.”

Richie gives him the same kind of incredulous look that Eddie just gave him. “I was always lazy.”

“No you weren’t.” And he wasn’t. Richie was class valedictorian, could have skipped a grade in math if he’d wanted to (he didn’t want to), was always moving and reading and climbing trees and bobbing his head and wrestling Eddie into the grass and annoying anyone who happened to be holding something he found interesting. Richie was never lazy. He had ideas about what was and wasn’t important that didn’t line up with anything that adults would have preferred, but when something caught his attention he went after it.

“I mean, the jokes were never good, but the dream was always to get paid for doing nothing.”

Eddie stares at him for long moments. “No, it wasn’t.”

Richie’s head tilts back in mock surprise and then his eyebrows come up again, his gaze flicking to the side, dismissive. His lower eyelids are reddened where they meet his sclera—he’s definitely still tired, and if he’s adding coffee to the problem instead of sleeping, it’s not gonna get any better. He’s just gonna crash later. “I mean, for you, maybe.”

“You definitely wanted to be a ventriloquist,” Eddie says. “You wanted to be a famous ventriloquist and get out of Derry, come on.”

“Yeah, but there’s no such thing as a famous ventriloquist,” Richie says.

Eddie stares at him.

“Also puppets creep me the fuck out now,” Richie adds. “I don’t wanna talk about him, anyway.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Your nurse with the arms like ham hocks,” Richie replies immediately. “She called me out for playing music to you while you were sleeping. She’s like Bev’s height, purple hair. Scares me. I don’t argue with the hospital anymore, you know, in case she puts me in a half-nelson.”

Eddie continues staring at him for several long moments, trying to imagine it. He doesn’t know what a half-nelson is, but Richie’s big, especially when he’s treating the plastic chair like it’s a jungle gym, and Tracy is both very small and very nice. He hadn’t noticed her arms being particularly thick, but she was able to support Eddie’s weight. A grin grows over his face at the thought of her physically intimidating Richie, and then he starts giggling. Little, hiccing spurts of laughter.

It’s not exactly comfortable. He has the faint feeling that he’s doing something wrong—those signals of pain telling him something is wrong as though he doesn’t already know. But he’s felt like that for his entire life, no matter what he was doing. At this point the hurt is almost reassuring. He’s still here.

Richie stares back at him, grin stretching out wide and humorless. “Wow. So you take morphine and suddenly I’m funny? That’s the secret to comedy?”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “You were always funny. And I told you, they turned down my morphine.”

Richie knows he’s funny. He self-aggrandizes to the point of parody, but he always has. For every beep beep the gang dished out, he got twelve laughs. Eddie never really wanted him to shut up, even when he was telling him to shut up, even when his jokes were really stupid. Even when he was hunched over his phone at the airport, waiting for YouTube videos to buffer while Richie gargled out some truly pathetic ghost-written jokes, Eddie never closed the window. He wanted to keep hearing Richie talk, like he was waiting for something.

Maybe it was for the real Richie to emerge onstage. For him to say something that sounded familiar.

Richie blinks once and then his grin shifts a little, becoming real and crinkling his eyes. “Oh am I?”

Does he think that this is part of the game? That Eddie’s immediately going to open up this vulnerability made by a genuine compliment, just to knock him down a peg again?

He thinks, suddenly, of Bev and Richie pretending to kiss in the restaurant, right before Bev shoved food in his mouth. The surge of anxiety that spiked in Eddie’s stomach, making him wonder if he’d had too much to drink—and he definitely had, but that wasn’t why he felt so sick; and then Bev threw shrimp in Richie’s mouth and they all cheered, and the moment was gone.

He stares at Richie, trying to hold him in place with his gaze. “You know I think you’re funny, right?”

Richie blinks, his eyes wide. “I—uh.” And he says nothing. Trashmouth, speechless.

There’s a knock on the doorframe and Eddie is abruptly furious. He and Richie both turn their heads to look in the same moment.

“Sorry,” Tracy says. Eddie immediately wonders if she heard what Richie said about her and her arms—which, now that Eddie’s looking, don’t seem any larger than normal arms. “It’s about time to get up and walk around. We really have to do the exercises and the spectrometer. I can come back in five minutes, just to give you a warning.”

“It’s fine,” Richie says. He glances at Eddie. “If you need—it’s fine.”

Eddie abruptly remembers that he’s wearing a hospital gown. “You can come back,” he says. He really needs Richie not to be here for this. “I mean, it won’t take long. You can come back after.”

“I mean, I can give someone else a turn,” Richie says. “Who have you seen today? Since I kicked Stan out?”

“Richie,” Eddie says. “Leave and come back.”

Richie blinks once.

Eddie tries to soften his tone. “All right?”

“I—yeah. If you want.” He gets up, holding his coffee and his Skittles, and turns to go. He pauses in the door when he makes eye contact with Tracy, who steps to the side to let him out, and then glances over his shoulder at Eddie as he leaves.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Tracy tells Eddie. He can still hear Richie’s footsteps going down the hall. “I was just giving you the five-minute warning in case you needed to wrap up your conversation.”

“He’ll be back,” Eddie says. Or he better be. “I’d rather get it out of the way.”

“You are braver than most of my patients,” Tracy tells him.

Richie does come back, but he brings Mike with him. Eddie has no idea what to do with the surge of irritation that rolls through him. He’s pretty sure that’s not a side-effect of morphine, that’s a side-effect of Richie, but he genuinely enjoys Richie’s company and this confuses him.

But also he loves Mike Hanlon—Mike fucking Hanlon, who stayed in Derry longer than any of them, when Eddie and Richie both were ready to bail after about four hours—and who still has a bandage on his forearm, mostly hidden by the sleeve of his flannel shirt. Mike doesn’t look tired, the way that Beverly and Stan do. He looks awake and alert, even if the creases carved deep in his face are still there. Better yet, under the fluorescent lights of the hospital room, Eddie feels like he can really see Mike. Like Mike’s been hidden in shadow the entire time they were in Derry. He can’t decide whether that was psychological or not.

“Hey,” Mike says. “How do you feel?”

Richie sits down in the chair again, this time the one closest to the door, and crosses his legs. His coffee is gone, but he’s still fidgeting with the plastic Skittles bag. It makes little crinkles under his fingers.

“I feel pretty good,” Eddie says. “I mean, I’ve never been impaled before—”

Richie coughs.

“Fuck off,” Eddie replies automatically, as Mike grins. “—but I feel like, all things considered, I’m doing great.”

“Man, you have no idea how happy I am to hear that,” Mike says. He turns around, estimates the distance between Eddie’s bed and the little plastic chairs, and drags the empty one forward by about a foot. Then he sits close and wraps his hand around Eddie’s fingers where they hang casually over the safety rail. “Jeez, you’re cold.”

“It’s so fucking cold in here,” Eddie says. “I’m not allowed to sweat.”

“I’ve got—hang on, man.” Mike releases Eddie’s fingers and then pulls a pair of gloves out of his jacket. He slides one onto Eddie’s uncooperative left hand, pulling each digit through its little sleeve. Eddie blinks at his own pale fingertips, wondering why Mike Hanlon has fingerless gloves in 2016 like he’s Ash Ketchum or something, and then Mike pulls a fold of the material over and covers all Eddie’s fingers. They’re mittens that switch to being fingerless gloves, and the mitten sleeve is fleece. “My doctor recommended these, they’re the warmest things ever. I’ve got arthritis in my hands.”

Eddie turns his left hand from side to side, looking at his palm, and then carefully holds his other hand out for Mike to outfit. It feels almost childish, allowing someone to put mittens on him, like he’s a kid resistant to dressing for the weather (and Eddie was always resistant to dressing for the weather, as a kid, because his mother would have had him out in a sweater in June if he didn’t bolt out of the house before she could get it out of the closet). But with Mike, it’s okay, he tells himself. Mike was the one who lifted him into the basket of his bike, after Eddie broke his arm. Mike is the kind of man who does what has to be done.

“From jerking it?” Richie asks.

Mike snorts. “Yeah, Rich, from jerking it. No, you asshole, I’m a librarian, I have repetitive stress injury. My shoulder’s fucked, too.”

“I’ve got some kind of stress injuries from this week.”

“I am literally in a hospital bed,” Eddie reminds him.

“Are you?” Richie asks. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Mike has a nostalgic, indulgent kind of look on his face, like he’d be happy to listen to Richie and Eddie bicker for as long as Eddie can stay awake. Eddie supposes that’s something he had  to take into account when he decided to come into the room with them.

“How did you get a degree in library sciences without leaving Derry?” Eddie mumbles, confused.

“They’ve got online degrees,” Mike replies. “I did my thesis on Derry, actually.”

“Christ, that’s depressing,” Eddie says.

“Yeah. It’s in the DPL but the ink keeps degrading, believe it or not. I gave up printing and having it bound over and over again.” He shrugs. “But I felt like I ought to put some of this to use. And I did leave Derry sometimes—like, I was up here to do interviews.”

“Job interviews?”

“Nah, primary source interviews. They’ve got old men in nursing homes—well, he’s died now, but he was willing to talk to me. I came to Bangor.”

“Huh.” Part of Eddie’s brain spins a little deliriously, thinking about town limits and what it means to be a citizen of Derry. How long did it take him to forget, when his mother dragged him away from his friends kicking and screaming? How long did it take him to start living under the impression that he’d never had friends? And did his mother remember things that he didn’t?

Even if she had, she’d never have told him. And she’s dead now, so there’s no use worrying about it.

“How’s your arm?” Eddie asks him.

Mike grins a little bit and shows him the edge of the bandage. “I mean, I haven’t been impaled, so I’m doing pretty okay too.”

“It’s not so bad,” Eddie mumbles.

“Jesus Christ,” says Richie.

Eddie genuinely has no idea why Richie’s so combative at the moment. Maybe it’s because Eddie isn’t following the script he expects, isn’t bickering back the way he wants. Well, fuck him, Eddie’s tired and, again, literally in a hospital bed. He feels like he ought to be able to do whatever he wants.

“So they’ve got me doing these deep breathing exercises,” Eddie says, “and I passed out doing some of them.”

“Yeah?” Mike prompts.

“Yeah, and I woke up, and a very nice Trinidadian doctor asked me, ‘Was that your first seizure?’ Which is, of course, the question you want to hear after passing out.”

“I mean, yeah,” Mike agrees. “If someone isn’t standing next to my bed to ask me that when I wake up in the morning, I can’t really have a good day.” Eddie grins at that. Mike squeezes his fingers through the mitten. “You having seizures now, man?”

“No, that’s just it. Apparently I blacked out and just twitched.”

“Well, that gives me such confidence in the medical expertise here,” Mike says. “You know, and their ability to recognize seizures.”

“Yeah, and I blacked out and I heard someone yell, ‘The patient’s having a seizure!’ And I thought, ‘Oh, wow, sucks for the patient, I guess.’”

Mike laughs. “Jesus, Eddie.”

Eddie glances past him toward the door, but Richie, who has heard this story before, is still eating Skittles, and he’s not smiling.

“But they decided I didn’t have a seizure after all and when I woke up they gave me a Sprite. Mike.” Eddie squeezes Mike’s hand back with his left. “Mike, Sprite is so good.”

“After you pass out?”

“Yes.” He stares Mike in the eye, trying to convey the intensity that was the experience of drinking Sprite, in the tiny sips that Tracy allowed him, with all the pauses to see if he was about to throw it back up or not. “It was literally the best thing I’ve ever drunk.”

“You ought to do commercials.”

“I remember thinking that I could not want that Sprite more if LeBron James came up to me and offered it to me.”

“Is LeBron James in this hospital?”

Eddie grins back. “Yeah, you haven’t seen him?”

“Nah, man, I’ve been going back and forth getting my shit in order, must have missed the only other bigass black dude in Maine.”

“Well, he just hangs out here sometimes and offers patients Sprites. It’s part of their new advertising campaign.”

“And charitable write-offs.”

“I mean, obviously.” Eddie leans his head back against his pillows, tired, but pleasantly so. It’s like the tired of waking up in the middle of the night to hear it raining, and knowing that he’s inside and warm and he doesn’t have to go anywhere. Freedom to be tired without the knowledge that he has to get up and go to work and run errands and talk to people. “What are you getting in order?” he asks, trying to prompt Mike to talk a little more so he doesn’t have to.

“Well,” Mike says, and there’s a hesitation in his voice that immediately concerns Eddie. He frowns for him to go on. “I was suspended from my job.”

Eddie stares at him. “What? Why?” Ben told him that the whole Bowers thing was taken care of.

“Yeah,” Mike says. “There was—” He gives Eddie a significant wide-eyed look, a prompt for him to just go with what he’s about to say. “—some damage to a display of artifacts that technically belong to the town. Might just be kids committing some vandalism, breaking glass and the like, but there are no cameras, and my boss was…  concerned about the security risk of having someone living in the library building, you know how it is.”

There’s a certain resignation in his glare that makes Eddie think that he doesn’t know how it is, but Mike definitely knows how it is, and has put up with that in Maine for a long time.

“What, do they think you threw a rager in the library?” Eddie asks. Because Mike kind of did—they all brought alcohol, but they’re also all forty years old and boring, and nobody could have anticipated the escaped mental patient or the ax-murder. “Does anyone in Derry actually give a shit about… anything?”

Mike licks his lips, his gaze going to the window behind Eddie. “Funny thing is,” he says, his voice contemplative, “I think they’re starting to. Like, about weird things, too. Nothing like… like what happened when we were kids. But people are starting to look around them. To be more aware of their surroundings and the people who live around them. And there are… consequences to the things that people do, that there haven’t always been in Derry. It’s a good thing,” he adds quickly, his eyebrows lifting, like he’s in a hurry to explain to Eddie that it’s good that people won’t stand around and watch teenagers beat the shit out of each other anymore, or whatever the fuck Mike’s thinking of in this moment specifically. “But like, scrutiny has its downsides too.”

So Mike is… watched. He made the joke about LeBron James being conspicuous, but Mike is also conspicuous, in his way. By virtue of his height and his skin and his haunted eyes. And maybe it’s not charges of conspiracy to commit murder, but if Mike’s being suspended for something that—well, even the story that Mike said, it’s not Mike’s fault.

“So what the fuck are they suspending you for?” Eddie demands.

Mike brings his eyes back to Eddie and then shrugs. “What’s it called, when a company fucks up really bad in the public eye? Like, sues someone, makes them out to be the bully?”

Eddie blinks for long moments and then asks, “Optics?”

“Yeah. I think it’s optics,” Mike says. “Optics of having a librarian literally living in the library. And—it doesn’t matter, anyway. I cleared my stuff out and tendered my resignation.”

He doesn’t know why the words strike him like a blow to the gut. “What?” he manages. He glances at Richie, but Richie is still staring at the wall, angrily chewing Skittles. So he’s heard this before.

“Yeah,” Mike says. “I’m—gonna leave, I think.”

Eddie stares at him, reaching back for memories. “And… go to Florida?” he guesses.

Mike grins at him. “Maybe, on the way. I was thinking about hitting national parks to start with—the kooky towns next to them, making a whole road trip of it.” His expression turns dry, contemplative. “I’d say they can’t be any weirder then Derry, but I don’t want to jinx myself.”

And it makes sense. Mike has been trapped for so long—physically trapped, much more than Eddie ever felt that he was trapped in his own life, because Eddie’s life was his own fault, and Mike was carrying something that none of the rest of them could. If Mike had ever decided fuck this, this isn’t my problem—which it wasn’t—and high-tailed it out of Derry like the rest of them, like Richie always wanted to do when they were kids, he would have forgotten too. And It would have awoken again, after twenty-seven years, and feasted for another year. And then it would have gone back to sleep. And none of them would have been any the wiser. Maybe it would have been the way that Pennywise offered them, when It wanted to trade Bill for the rest of their freedom. Maybe they all would have gone on to lead long, happy lives.

Eddie closes his eyes at his own thoughts. He wasn’t happy. Not the kind of aching despair that Mike had to live with every day, just knowing that It existed at all, but he wasn’t happy. But Eddie doesn’t think he could be truly happy, never remembering them. His friends. The only real friends he ever had.

God, what if they forget again as soon as they leave?

“So you’re going?” Eddie asks, opening his eyes again. His eyelids seem to stick. He’s tired.

“Yeah,” Mike says. “I wanted to make sure that you were okay before I went, but—I mean, there’s no time limit on it. I’ll stick around until you’re released if you want, be part of your… your pit crew, I don’t know.”

Richie snorts.

“Don’t be stupid,” Eddie says automatically. What is Mike going to do for him, medically, aside from putting mittens on his cold hands and listening to his stupid jokes about LeBron James wandering the halls of Bangor hospitals? “No, you should—you should go. You deserve to go. I mean, out of all of us, you deserve—”

“We don’t get what we deserve, Eddie,” Mike says, with a grave tone that stuns Eddie into silence.

But not Richie. Richie pipes up. “Well, that’s for fucking sure.”

It’s bitter, not just defeated, and it makes Eddie look around in confusion. “What?”

But Richie’s not paying attention to him—which is fucking weird. Eddie realizes that he’s just accustomed to having Richie’s attention at all times, no matter who else is in the room. Demonic fortune cookies attacking them? Richie climbs out of the way onto the sideboard and calls out for Eddie, even as Ben tries to defend them both from a swooping bat.

“You said we filled the letter of the promise,” Richie says, anger in his voice only barely suppressed. “Just by coming back. Just by hearing you out.”

“And you did,” Mike says. He’s calm now, deliberately calm, his calmness increasing the more frustrated that Richie gets, and they feed into each other. “It was more than I really expected of any of you. You’re all… better than I could have hoped.”

Richie stands up suddenly, bag of Skittles still clutched in his free hand. “Right,” he says, and jabs his pointer finger in Eddie’s direction. “We didn’t have to do any of that. We could have walked away. So we fucking know that people don’t get what they deserve, because he sure as fuck doesn’t deserve that.”

Eddie feels…

Eddie’s skin switches off, abruptly. That’s how it feels. The cold in him, peripheral, something that couldn’t get to his core as long as he had the waffle blanket and the socks and the mittens and the warmth of his friends’ hands pressing into his, suddenly strikes deep into his stomach and freezes him inside.

And when he speaks, his voice comes out cold, too. Hard, like metal. He barely recognizes it as himself.


Richie, who has been talking about Eddie in front of him without really talking to him, throwing him at Mike like a weapon, like a sharp piece of garbage Bev picked up on the lawn of Neibolt house, switches gears abruptly. He stands there, looking as baffled as he did when Eddie reminded him they couldn’t come back and deal with this in thirty years, because they would be seventy years old and no good in a fight then. Frank incomprehension.

“Take a walk,” Eddie tells him.

Richie blinks. His mouth opens, closes, and opens again. “What?”

“Take a walk,” Eddie repeats. “Walk it off. Come back when you’ve calmed down.”

“When I’ve calmed down?” Richie demands, like there’s anyone else in the room getting ready to throw a fit.

“You heard me,” Eddie says.

Richie adjusts his grip on the bag of Skittles, drawing it tight to his chest. His forearm folds across his body like a shield, and he draws in a deep breath that makes him seem to swell, shoulders lifting, ribs expanding. Eddie finds himself mirroring it, just watching him—feels his own ribs stretch and ache and a worrying pulse from somewhere closer to his stomach, not nausea but a surgical site reminding him, Hi. You got hurt pretty bad. Might want to take it easy.

“Fine,” Richie says, and turns and leaves. Eddie can hear the half-stomp of his feet all the way down the hall. He and Mike just sit in silence, listening to him go.

Then Eddie takes in another deep breath, letting it hiss through his nostrils. “Has he been like that the whole time?”

“Yeah,” Mike says.

“I’m so sorry,” Eddie says, without really understanding why he’s apologizing for Richie. Maybe he knows that it’s because he’s hurt, and without him being injured, Richie would have a lot less ammunition. Only as much ammunition as the rest of them had.

Mike shakes his head. “It’s fine.” It’s not, but Mike carries on. “Have you two… talked? About?”

Oh Jesus. It’s that transparent.

“About him saving my life?” Eddie offers, because he feels self-conscious and on the spot all of a sudden. Talking about it with Richie is one thing, but he’s still not sure of how that’s going to go, not when Richie’s response to I love you was to laugh. Talking about it with Mike before talking about it with Richie is, like telling anyone in so many words that he wants to leave his wife before he breaks it to Myra, out of the question.

“Yeah,” Mike lies smoothly, like they’re exactly the words he would have chosen. He’s so full of shit.

“You think he’d be this pissy if we had?”

Mike gives a short chuckle. “Yeah.”

Eddie stares at him. “What?”

Apparently Mike didn’t expect that response, because he looks around at Eddie in confusion. “I mean, yeah,” he says slowly, like he’s got to defend his answer now. “He decked Bill when you broke your arm as a kid. I’m Bill now.”

“I—” Eddie didn’t see the fight, but he remembers the schism it caused in their friend group. Remembers Richie climbing through his window the day after Eddie was released from the hospital, hands raw where he’d skinned them on the bark of the tree outside. I hit Bill, he admitted, and then burst into tears. And Eddie was barely allowed outside of the house after that, not until he blew up at his mother over the pills and the inhaler after he got the call saying that Bev was gone, but he knows that no one went to Stan’s bar mitzvah except Richie. As if any of it were Stan’s fault; apparently no one wanted to risk seeing Richie there. It made Stan’s ceremony into a battleground.

Eddie is not going to allow his hospital room to become a battleground. Not for anyone except him.

“Did he hit you?” he asks, because that feels like the pertinent question.

“No,” Mike says. “I think he might have, if Ben weren’t there. Ben told him to stop being a child and to get in the shower or he’d strip him himself, and I think that was sufficiently intimidating to make him go clean himself up.”

Eddie stares and then asks, “What the fuck is happening outside?”

Mike shakes his head. “Nothing much. People are making plans. I mean—I’m kind of idly planning out my route, and Bill’s wife came in and they’re taking emergency leave from work, but I think they’ll have to go soon. Bill’s had his phone on mute the entire time he’s been here, so he’s definitely dodging something important. I’m lucky, I’m in a stage of my life where I can just pack up and go.”

Pack up and go. Some of the anger and indifference and iron-hardness melts out of Eddie at the words. He wants that as badly as he wanted that Sprite, he realizes. The memory of slamming the trunk of a car shut on a bunch of suitcases, those old paper maps that no one uses anymore tucked in the glove compartment. No one to answer to but himself.

“I’m not mad at you,” Eddie says. “You know that, right?”

Mike grins a little sadly, but shrugs his left shoulder. “I kind of think maybe you should be.”

“Fuck you,” Eddie replies automatically, and then shakes his head. “Shit, sorry.” It’s force of habit, now he remembers what it’s like to talk to Richie again. “No, man, you think I did it because you asked me to?”

Cause and effect-wise, yes, that’s exactly what happened, but only because Mike had to remind him of the dangers out there in the first place. There was a time when Eddie thinks he would have died for Bill Denbrough, if Bill had asked him to, but Eddie’s forty years old now. He still feels… close to all of them, in a way he’s never felt close to anyone, in a way he’s so relieved to remember it fills him up like food, like milk, but some of his slavish devotion is less… targeted, now. It’s less intense, maybe, but only because it spread from just Bill to all of them. A ring made of the six of them, all holding bloodied hands, and something pulsing through their joined arms.

“Why’d you do it, then?” Mike asks. “I meant what I said, any of you could have left after you remembered and I would have understood. I was just… astonished that any of you showed up. If I’d been one of the ones who left, I don’t know if I would have come back.”

Eddie hears something like fear in that. Mike’s on the verge of leaving, and they don’t know what separating is going to do to their memories. Whether they’ll fade like the scars on their palms again. Whether they’ll ever see each other again.

Eddie closes his eyes and tries to find an answer for Mike. A real answer, not an honest but unhelpful I don’t know.

“I think,” he says into his uncertainty, “because I knew it had to be me. Because nobody other than us could have done it. And I wasn’t going to let you—to leave all of you alone. And…” He doesn’t like how self-sacrificing that sounds, too authentic but too stupid at the same time, like the people who say I care too much or I’m too attentive when they’re asked to list a weakness in a job interview. “…I haven’t done much with my life,” he admits.

Mike blinks at him. “You’re very successful,” he says.

Eddie shrugs, hurts himself, winces, lowers his shoulder, and shakes his head. “Fuck,” he hisses, and then takes a deep breath. “Not like the others. Not like Bill or Ben or Bev.” He’s quietly successful in the way that Stan is, at best, and Stan is doing better because Stan has his own accounting firm, he’s his own boss, he isn’t answerable to anyone. “I mean… I think that’s the best thing I’ve done. I think—facing It—that’s the best I’ve ever been.”

Mike looks at him for long moments and then says, “No.”

Eddie’s just unburdened himself here. The flat refusal throws him for a loop, like a record scratching. “What do you mean, no?”

“You’ve always been the same,” Mike says. “I mean—it was always you. You were always you. You just… forgot. But you were still made of the same stuff. Otherwise you wouldn’t have come back. You didn’t remember who I was, when I called you out of the blue, but you still came back. You wrecked your fucking car when I called, and I went, Are you okay? And you said, yeah!” He laughs, suddenly, smiling.

“Did I?” Eddie asks.

“Oh yeah, I can’t make that shit up, man.”

“I don’t remember that.” He was too thrown by surprise and dread he didn’t understand to be intelligent at that moment.

“Yeah. That was Eddie Kaspbrak, right there,” Mike says. He shakes his head. “Just the same, after thirty years.”

Eddie looks at him for long moments, remembering Mike down the line. Simply-dressed, jeans and a white t-shirt, hard-working, hunted. Still looked at the world like there was always more to uncover, even after the horror that was that summer. Half ready to run at any given moment, but sticking around for these six idiots he just met only because they were marginally less racist than the other kids in town, that they were ready to declare him one of them because they hated the people who hated him. They shared one apocalyptic rock fight together and—it’s not like the kid who played at throwing pennies with him and Ben and Beverly, who cried when he lost and cussed Bev out until Ben chased him off. They knew almost the moment they saw Mike that he was one of them. And Mike was unfailingly loyal, beyond reason and self-preservation. Better than any of them could have asked for.

“You’re just the same too, Mikey,” he says, surprised to hear the baby name come out of his mouth.

Mike looks at him like he knows what Eddie’s thinking, but Eddie can’t tell whether he agrees. He’s beautiful, Eddie’s astonished to notice. He was always the tallest of them, always the strongest, but now he’s out from under Derry’s cloud, Eddie can see it. He feels his cheeks heat to think it.

Slowly, Mike shakes his head, his eyes far away. “I hope you’re right, man,” he says. “I hope you’re right.”

Bill comes in next, leaning anxiously around the doorway like he expects Eddie to be asleep or something. Unlike Stan, he doesn’t bring his wife. “Hey,” he says, when he sees that Eddie’s awake.

“Hey,” Eddie says. He remembers how it felt when they were kids, just to be acknowledged by Bill.

“How’re you feeling?”

He’s going to get tired of answering that question very soon. “Drugged,” he replies. “Mike loaned me mittens.” He splays his fingers inside the mitten to show him.

Bill comes into the white room, hesitant, his hair just as weirdly bright as Bev’s was, except for the gray streak swiping up from his widow’s peak. He’s wearing another plaid shirt over a t-shirt, and he looks exhausted. Not even the shreds of relaxation or curiosity that Bev and Mike still have. Bill looks like he hasn’t slept in ten years, like he hasn’t slept since he ran off to the Canal Days festival and saw the kid die in the house of mirrors. And honestly, maybe he hasn’t. That sounds like Bill.

“How are you feeling?” Eddie asks, because he’s too tired to carry the conversation himself and he also kind of wants an explanation. Like Bill should be called to account for why he looks so terrible.

Bill’s hands are deep in his jeans pocket, and he gives a short laugh in answer.

“That good?” Eddie slowly raises his right arm so that Bill can see the IV tube where it’s taped to his skin. “You want some of this? Cheer you up?”

Bill smiles at the joke and creeps over to one of the chairs. “I’ll pass for now,” he says.

“Good. I don’t want to share.”

Bill laughs at that again. “Mike said you’re doing pretty well.”

“I mean, I’ve never been impaled before, but honestly I expected it to be kind of worse,” Eddie replies honestly.

“You think about that a lot?”

“Nah, I leave it to the horror writers.” He can hear his own voice, sounding strange the way it did when he was angry with Richie early. Not metal-hard and cold this time, but definitely Manhattan, exaggerating the years and space between him and his one-time best friend. He’s definitely on the verge of falling asleep again—not passing out, he’s just tired and talking to the Losers has taken it out of him. “Did you get the inventory of everything wrong with me? To use for a book later?”

“I used to think I was very original,” Bill tells him, with the confessional aura of a man talking to a priest.

Eddie doesn’t really have the energy to laugh either, but he smiles hard and tilts his head back at that. “Make it a metaphor for midlife crises, you know.”

“It’s fucking hamhanded, is what it is,” Bill says.

There’s quiet silence. Under the window, there’s a faint hum from the radiator that Eddie still believes isn’t doing shit, because he’s so fucking cold. He hopes it’s the blood loss and he’ll regain the ability to self-regulate his temperature again, because if he has to be this fucking cold for however long it takes him to start producing more desirable fluid from his chest (he didn’t ask for too much detail about what his doctors are looking for, having the vague idea that knowing too much is bad for him) he’s going to demand Richie stage a jailbreak for him. He used to walk around in shorts well into October in Maine. He’s accustomed to running hot.

“I owe you an apology,” Bill says.

Eddie looks around at him and frowns. If Bill is about to confess that he’s been short with the other Losers because he’s been worried about Eddie too—or worse, if Richie talked Bill into thinking he needs to apologize—well, Eddie doesn’t know what he’s going to do. He’s probably going to take a nap first. But then he’s gonna have to do something.

“Why?” Eddie demands, incredulous. Because he’s been stabbed and impaled within a twelve-hour window, and Bill did neither of those, and at the moment those are Eddie’s biggest problems.

“For… screaming at you,” Bill says.

Eddie genuinely does not remember for several long seconds. Then he remembers Richie clinging to his wrist, shrieking indignantly Next time? And then he remembers Stan screaming, his voice rising in what Eddie, though dying of blood loss at the moment, was dimly aware was not English—and the rest of their voices rising too. Angry at It for what It did to them, what It was doing to Eddie right then, righteous fury. Eddie found himself drifting but oddly comforted by it too. Until then, he couldn’t remember ever having six people on his side.

“In the kitchen,” Bill clarifies.

Richie on the floor, a massive shape leaning over him, something like a dog but twisted, wearing scraps of yellow and blue silk on its torso, hands distended into claws. Eddie, paralyzed in the corner, unable to think of anything other than the leper in the pharmacy basement and how It crammed Its tongue in his mother’s mouth, afraid that It was about to do the same to Richie and Eddie would be unable to do anything other than watch—when Ben arrived with the piece of fencing. Ben brought the silver for the slugs when they were kids; Ben Hanscom is apparently not afraid of werewolves; and when the werewolf threw itself on Ben he just rolled, and Bev leapt on top of it, unafraid, hands feeling around for its throat.

And when they’d killed it—not It, just it—Bill turned to Eddie in a rage. The kid’s dead, he said, grabbing hold of Eddie’s collar. The kid’s dead—you want Richie dead too? You want Richie too?

And Eddie went… somewhere he didn’t recognize. Somewhere small, where Bill was mad at him and there was nothing he could do but cry and apologize. Bill had never been angry at him like that—annoyed, sure, but that was usually when he and Richie were being annoying. It never mattered like that did, just then. Please don’t be mad, Billy. I was just scared.

“Don’t even worry about it,” Eddie manages. There’s a sting of humiliation to the memory. Part of him resents Bill for bringing it into the room with him.

“No,” Bill says. “I—it wasn’t you I was mad at. You get that, right?”

“Yeah.” Eddie’s an adult now. A real banged-up adult, but he’s capable of putting things in perspective, now that he no longer feels he’s staring down the barrel of his mortality. He’s capable of looking at things from Bill’s point of view. It’s not like Bill hasn’t seen him through his own share of meltdowns. More than his share.

Bill fidgets, pushing at his hair with his hand, smoothing down that gray stripe. They got old, somewhere. Part of Eddie wishes he could pinpoint the moment, identify the tipping point between the Eddie he wanted to be and the Eddie he turned out to be. The veil sliding into place. Childhood slipping away.

“I was scared too,” Bill says, his voice low and soft.

Well, yeah. Eddie knows that. That’s part of the point.

“And grieving,” Eddie says. “I get it. It’s fine.”

“It’s not,” Bill says. “I—I don’t think I ever really stopped grieving Georgie, actually. I think I just buried it deep down for twenty-eight years. Like… skin over a blister. And coming back to Derry was just like…”

But Eddie understands. The way that the blister bursts and rubs raw. Infection. Sepsis. Gangrene. Death.

Okay, that’s not usually the outcome of blisters, dumbass, he tells himself, and tries to focus on Bill, who clearly wants to have a serious conversation here.

“Did I ever tell you?” Bill asks, lowering his hand and looking up at Eddie as though he’s just remembered he’s there. There confessional aura is still very much in the room. Eddie’s family were Presbyterians and they don’t really go for that, but Eddie has gathered the gist.

He blinks at Bill, feeling like he’s losing the rope of the conversation a bit. Is it because he’s tired or because Bill is?

“Tell me what?” he asks.

Bill lowers his gaze to his folded hands, clearly considering his words carefully. “You were like a brother to me,” he says softly. “I mean—you reminded me of him. I think because you were—”

“Doll-sized?” Eddie suggests dryly. He’s taller than Bill Denbrough now. He has that going for him.

Bill smiles apologetically, like he knows what Eddie’s thinking. “You were littler than me. And you had the big eyes. I mean, I chose to hang out with you, and Georgie was my annoying kid brother, but. After.” Hands still folded, he stretches his fingers out straight and looks down at them. “I love you like a brother. You know that, right?”

Eddie has been… so lonely. For so long. Just him and Myra, and no one ever really coming close to that thing at the center of him, that thing he drew the curtains over for years that turned out to be a furious child, full of indignation and the desire to protect his friends.

There’s another part of him that’s pissed that it’s Bill Denbrough in his hospital room, telling him on his sickbed that he loves him, and Richie Tozier is out there picking fights with all their friends. But that’s something Eddie will have to deal with later.

“I love you too,” Eddie says, and means it. That was half of what startled him, coming back here and meeting them all again. That there was not just one person he’d loved his whole life without remembering—that there were six, and at the time they were all so central to his being that he built himself on their foundation, and that he’d managed to turn forty without remembering. At the time like a brother didn’t really cover it—Eddie Kaspbrak loved Stuttering Bill the way he felt he was supposed to love God, the way that he would have loved an older boy who took him under his wing and treated him like he was cool and made him feel special except Bill was the same age as him, the way he loved someone who seemed big and bold and driven and took care of him and—

Fuck, Eddie realizes with dawning horror. I absolutely had a crush on Bill.

And of course Bill has to be in the room with him for this revelation, still dressing the same as he did when he was thirteen, minus the jean shorts. Two inches shorter than Eddie and apologizing for shouting at him and telling him that Eddie reminded him of Georgie.

Wow, Eddie thinks, and knows that he will never, ever be able to tell another human being about this. It’s kind of unfair, in a way. He feels like he needs a witness to the dramatic irony, someone to look at him and go, Aw, man, that sucks, except he also never wants to talk about this ever and maybe never think about it again.

Anyway, those feelings are gone now. And thank god. Eddie’s forty years old and he can only deal with one lovelorn teenage crush coming back to haunt him. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that what he felt for Bill qualified as that, even, it was so subconscious and tangled up in hero-worship, and also he was maybe seven years old when it started. There wasn’t even the hint of proto-sexual attraction, just a deep worshipfulness. Eddie felt like Bill saw him as a person.

And here Bill is, telling him that he saw him as something Georgie-adjacent. Maybe even a suspiciously similar replacement goldfish. Eddie’s not sure. But it doesn’t hurt his feelings. He was in that circle, making that oath with the rest of them. He’s sure that Bill sees him as his own person now.

“So I just wanted to—” Bill grimaces and then smiles a little self-effacingly, like can you believe me. “—this is gonna sound really fucking stupid, but I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t… do what you did, in response to what I said. Because I made you feel like you had to.”

Eddie stares at him for a long moment, his brain trying to set aside his fatigue to deal with this problem. “Is Richie being a bitch to you too?”

Bill frowns, apparently completely confused. “Richie?”

“Never mind,” Eddie says. “Apparently he’s walking around like he’s ready to fight Mike. I’m gonna tell you what I told him—I’m not… I’m not self-sacrificing like that. I mean, I—I love all of you, and I want to protect all of you, but it wasn’t like I was trying to be the hero. You didn’t bully me into it, or anything.”

Bill gives a small smile. “Beep beep, motherfucker?” he asks, and Eddie has a moment of spinning confusion where he tries to work out why Bill is beeping him, until he realizes that Bill is quoting him.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “Beep beep. I mean.” He clears his throat and feels an answering ache somewhere much further down in his chest. “I mean, I would die for you, but probably not just because you asked anymore.”

Bill laughs, probably because he doesn’t understand how seriously Eddie would have taken that at eleven, maybe thirteen years old. When Eddie saw It he was scared, but Bill gathered them all together and asked them to avenge his brother, and they were stronger together than they would have been with It picking them off one by one. Bill was the center that held them together.

“I have to go home soon,” Bill tells him, which is what Eddie expected him to say when he came in here in the first place.

“Yeah, I figured.”

“You don’t mind?”

Eddie almost rolls his eyes. “Why would I mind? Is one of you suddenly going to reveal that you’ve been an expert surgeon this entire time?”

Bill pauses and then says dryly, “I’m guessing Mike said something along the same lines?”

“Yes. Come on. The—the net outcome—” He waves his left hand, gesturing with Mike’s mitten. “—of what happens to me will not be changed based on whether or not the six of you are camped out in the waiting room, taking turns to come see me.” He frowns. “Eight?”

“Eight,” Bill confirms. “Did you want to meet Audra?”

Eddie almost wants to pull his waffle blanket over his head. “Please do not bring an actual movie star in here, I feel disgusting enough as it is.”

Bill laughs softly. “She’s just a person.”

“She’s a beautiful person and I have a hole in my face, I can smell my own hair, and I haven’t shaved since—” He almost says since an escaped mental patient stabbed me in the face but he remembers where they are and the likelihood of being overheard and catches himself in time. Instead he waves a hand, and Bill’s answering nod tells him that he understands.

“I promise she’s not going to hold it against you,” he says. “Not like the rest of us are doing much better.”

Eddie blows a raspberry in response to that bullshit, which makes Bill break into hiccupping laughter. “No,” Eddie says over his chortles. “I’m sure your wife is lovely. Do not introduce me to a movie star until I have had an actual shower.”

“Did you want help shaving?” Bill asks. “I can do that. Or you can ask Ben, he actually has practice sculpting facial hair. I’m sure he won’t hurt your face.”

Eddie is shaking his head already. “I think I’m gonna be a little touchy about anyone else approaching me with a blade for a while,” he says.

“Fair,” Bill allows. “Is there anything else I can do for you, while I’m here?”

It sounds like an any final requests kind of thing. Maybe Bill has the same fears that Eddie does, about whether they’ll be able to stay in touch once they all leave Derry for the last time.

“Write down your phone number,” Eddie says. He was told that when he was admitted to the hospital he had neither phone nor wallet, meaning no forms of ID, which is how the rest of the Losers got him medical treatment without alerting Myra. Eddie is not looking forward to paying for his hospital stay, let alone finding out whether he still has health insurance through his work to pay for this. “Mike says my phone is…” He jerks his head to the side in as best a shrug as he can manage right now, trying to indicate at the bottom of a sewer.

“Yeah,” Bill says. “You got a pen?”

“No,” Eddie replies. “You’re the writer.”

“I’ll leave it with you,” Bill says. “What else?”

Eddie thinks about it. “You leaving soon?”

Bill sighs. “Yeah. I think I have to.”

“Yeah.” Eddie takes a deep breath—ow, he’s definitely due for more morphine soon, he can’t even rationalize that pain away with how good it is to be alive. “So did anyone get my stuff from the townhouse, or am I still paying for a room I’m not in, or what?”

“Yeah, Richie got them,” Bill says. “Your bags, I mean.”

A little electric shock goes through him. He tries to ignore it. “Good. So in my toiletry bag, there’s a fuckton of pills.”

“Yeah,” Bill says, all I am with you so far.

Eddie inhales again—careful this time—and then says, “I want you to get rid of all of them.”

Bill blinks once. “All your pills.”


“Are they, like, over the counter, or…?”

Eddie shakes his head. “There’s prescription shit in there too.”

“And you want me to get rid of all of them.”

“All of them.” Eddie holds his gaze, still bright blue. “Can you do that for me?” He swallows, waiting for Bill to ask questions. The little crackle of his throat is like thunder in his ears.

Bill looks back at him and then nods. “Yeah, I can do that.”

Eddie waits, but that’s all Bill says. He slumps back into the pillows; he’s so tired. “Thanks. That’s—that’d be a really… a big help, I mean.”

“Every single pill?”

“Every single pill,” he says, and closes his eyes. “I took Myra’s Midol with me, I don’t know what the fuck I thought I was going to do with that, but yeah, get rid of them all.” He needs them gone by the time he gets out of here, if he ever gets out of here.

“Okay,” Bill says. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Eddie says. “That and your number. And…” He opens his eyes. “Try not to forget us, if you can help it.”

“I promise,” Bill says, and Eddie believes him.

He closes his eyes again. “Good.” He takes another deep breath and lets it out slowly. It hitches, his chest constricting. It’s not pain, it’s the fear of walking out of the hospital without his safety net. That’s why Eddie needs Bill to take care of it. “I’m falling asleep,” he admits.

“I can go,” Bill says.

“I don’t want to throw you out.” He doesn’t open his eyes. “Just—I’m not gonna be super entertaining.”

“Nah, I’ll go, let you sleep.”

“Send Richie back in,” Eddie says. One of the nurses will come back to wake him up within the hour, to run him through breathing and coughing exercises. He’ll just rest until then.

Chapter Text

Eddie wakes up, knowing that he fell asleep but also not convinced it was a big deal. He’s a little perplexed that the nurses didn’t come by to run him through exercises again, but they do give him a break to get a good night’s sleep sometimes, and maybe this is like that. Immediately he has a surging, clutching anxiety—blood clots! Pneumothorax—but he takes a breath and feels none of the sharp alarming pain, just the reassuring ache. He’s still here. He’s alive.

The dreams are still there, because he’s still on the morphine, and they’re… weird. Eerie. Not frightening, per se—Eddie doesn’t know if he’ll ever be properly frightened again, the way that he’s been for his life since he came back to Maine—but they’re unsettling. The one he wakes from is just his brain twisting the quick glimpses of Richie he catches when he opens his eyes until he’s back in high school, and some kind of curse of paralysis is coming down over him, but Richie can save it through some complicated magical procedure that involves trying to use a guitar like an abacus. He wakes feeling oddly grateful to Richie, and sweaty, and generally disoriented.

Richie is still in the chair, by the loosest definition of “in.” It would be more accurate to say he’s barely perched on top of one chair, looking as though he could go toppling over at any moment, stretched out across both chairs, one foot braced on the furthest armrest, his knee jabbed up at a sharp angle. The other leg is crossed over that. He looks positively geographic there, assembled like a mountain range on the far side of the room. It doesn’t look even a little bit comfortable.

On his folded knee, he has his phone balanced carefully, and his headphones are in. He doesn’t look forty years old. He looks… young and sharp-boned and somehow ageless. And he’s not still—his head is bobbing back and forth. At first Eddie thinks that he’s listening to music, but then he watches Richie’s eyebrows climb, his expression pull into incredulity, into a scowl. He waves one big hand like he’s swatting something aside, and Eddie realizes abruptly that Richie’s talking to himself. Or arguing with himself. Silently.

The fondness rolls through him, intense as a wave crashing. He hears his heart monitor pick up and he waits for Richie to notice, but he’s completely in his own little world. It’s kind of fun to watch him—the unexamined comedian—as Richie continues his wordless monologue, until at last he turns his head and makes eye contact with Eddie. Then his face blanks out and he freezes with his arm still up mid-gesture, eyes wide and caught.

“No, go on,” Eddie says, but the words bubble and creak out, choked with phlegm. He rolls his eyes and sits up to cough properly, feeling his lungs inflate all the way at the bottom and the little reassuring creak of pain. He twists away and covers his mouth with his elbow. When he coughs, the sharp percussion has an answering stab of pain in his torso—one, two, three.

“Do you need the nurse?” Richie asks. “Or the—the doctor, or—”

Eddie shakes his head. It’s a productive cough, at least. The stuff’s coming up and it sits thick in the back of his mouth. “Tissue?” he asks, pointing towards the box sitting on the sink.

Richie’s phone clatters to the floor as he lunges across the room to get Eddie what he asked for. Eddie winces automatically, still coughing. Richie comes around the foot of the bed and holds the tissue out to Eddie. Eddie takes it and braces himself.

If there’s blood, he’ll have to call the nurse. It’ll be a whole thing. He doesn’t want there to be blood, and he’s just going to have to steel himself for the possibility. For a moment he wants to cover his mouth, but then he remembers that Richie spent a good portion of their childhood watching him hock loogies off cliffs. He rolls his eyes at himself and spits into the tissue.

It’s green. Not red, not black, not dark brown. Just good old anaerobic bacteria, and getting lighter every day.

He almost dissolves in relief. “Garbage?” he asks, and Richie twists around to pick up the garbage can and holds it out. Eddie tries to throw, but he misses and bounces the tissue off Richie like he’s a backboard.

“What is that, two points?” Richie asks.

“I’m fucking hospitalized, it’s infinite points.”

“Well, everything’s made up and the points don’t matter,” Richie says good-naturedly, and sets the garbage can back down.

Eddie waits for a moment to see what he’s going to do, but Richie keeps standing there. Eddie waits for him to say or do something, but instead he just remains still, his hands tucked defensively in his pockets.

“Did you break your phone?” Eddie asks, when the silence gets too long.

Richie seems to snap back to life, immediately rounding the corner of the bed again and stooping to pick up his phone.

“Do not look at any of the bags!” Eddie says immediately, because there’s not just a bag of his chest fluid down there, he’s pretty sure there’s a bag of his urine.

“You’ve been asleep for a while, dude, I have seen the bags.” Richie stands up and holds up his phone, gleeful. The screen is undamaged.

“That fucker dropped you seven feet and your phone’s fine,” Eddie mutters. “Mine’s at the bottom of the sewers.”

“Yeah, well, you got the short end of the stick—which is appropriate, because all ends of your stick are short.”

“You fucking wish,” Eddie shoots back automatically, and then realizes what he’s said and blushes.

Richie raises his eyebrows dubiously and throws himself back down into the chair. “I don’t know, man, you’ve been asleep for long enough for me to make an Instagram completely dedicated to your catheter.”

Of all the things Richie could talk about, Eddie’s catheter is not quite the absolute bottom of the list, but it’s definitely low. Eddie stares at him. “What?”

“Very popular. Couple thousand followers.”

“What?” He sits up again, resisting the urge to shield himself with his hands, because he’s under the blanket. “What does that mean? Richie?”

Richie drops his phone into his pocket and holds up both hands. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I don’t know how the fuck to make an Instagram, I’m old.”

“What the fuck?”

He can recognize that Richie’s trying to re-establish their old pattern, but Eddie’s freaked out a little. Kind of stripped raw, actually. The blanket feels too thin, and he’s still wearing a hospital gown, every time he gets up from bed his ass is hanging out because nobody has seen fit to give him underwear since he woke up, and he can only hope they’ve burned his clothes as medical waste, and he’s so fucking cold.

Richie looks like he’s losing his confidence too. His eyes are widening a little, his expression turning softer at the edges. “I wouldn’t,” he says. “You know I wouldn’t, right?”

Eddie relaxes a little bit but braces himself on the safety rail. “Why are you being such an asshole?”

He looks surprised, but he asks, “You have met me, right? No serious memory loss with the injury?”

“Not to me, you dick,” he says. “To Stan. To Mike. Probably to Bill, but he didn’t complain about anything specific.”

Richie looks at him for a moment, his chin lowering and his eyes sharpening into a glare. “No serious memory loss? With the injury?” he repeats.

“Nuh-uh,” Eddie says, trying to shut that shit down. “I’m not pissed at them. And you didn’t get hurt, so I don’t see why you are.”

“You—” Richie’s mouth opens and closes. We’ll be seventy years old, asshole! He lowers his gaze to his knees again. “How’re your ribs?” he asks.

Eddie blinks once or twice, then taps experimentally at his own chest.

“Jesus,” Richie manages. Eddie looks up. The expression Richie’s giving him is genuinely horrified.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he says. “I’m bandaged to hell and back.”

“Christ,” Richie says. His lips have gone weirdly white, and he swallows once.

Eddie waits and then asks, “Are you going to throw up?”

“I have emotional responses other than throwing up,” Richie says, averting his gaze.

“Mm. Not an answer.”

Richie flips him off.

Eddie laughs. “I’ll take that.” He holds one hand braced on his ribs, but he really doesn’t feel much under the bandages. If Richie makes him laugh incoherently, for a long period of time, he’s going to hurt. But that used to happen, he thinks. He used to be thirteen years old and laughing with his best friends, his diaphragm aching because they’d been together all day and he’d laughed more than he talked.

Richie leans all the way back in his chair and watches Eddie contemplatively. He’s very aware of the patchy beard growing in on his face, more on his chin than on his cheeks—which is something of a mercy around the stab wound on his face—and the way he must look wizened and shriveled in this bed, under the thin blanket. He’s self-conscious in a way he usually isn’t—not the usual things he’s self-conscious about.

“You ever broken a branch off a tree?” Richie asks him. “Or like, pulled one up by the roots, or something?”

Eddie stares at him. Richie’s prone to nonsequiturs, but he’s completely left in the dust on this one. “No,” he says. “Not a lot of lawn care in the city. Or, uh. Botany. Arboreal care.”

“Arboreal care,” Richie repeats. And then, quieter, almost as though to himself: “God.”


He shakes his head. “Nothing. I just… forgot how much you sound like you.”

It almost hurts, and Eddie only barely understands why.

“Well, I should hope so,” he says. “Why?”

Richie considers and then says, “No reason.”

About eighteen hours after Eddie is congratulated on his intact intestines and granted Jell-O rights, certain events resume.

Sarah comes in when he rings and is polite about his visible discomfort. She’s overheard enough of his conversations with Richie during visiting hours—which these are not, Eddie is thankful for—that she seems perfectly unconcerned about professionalism when she asks, “Mr. Kaspbrak, would you say you’ve got to poop?”

Eddie wishes the clown had killed him.

He doesn’t, really, but he wishes to be as insensate in those lost hours immediately after his surgeries, where people talked to him and he remembers none of if. He covers both eyes with his hands and manages, “Yes.”

“Good!” Sarah says, with more enthusiasm than anyone has shown for Eddie’s bowel movements since he was two. One of the side effects of morphine is constipation. Eddie knows, generally, that this is a sign of good health and improvement, but then Sarah says the words that confirm his anxieties: “Would you prefer a male nurse to help you with the bedpan?”

Eddie considers. He supposes he’s supposed to feel more comfortable with his ass out in front of someone who also has a penis. But there are a lot of expectations and general assumptions Eddie has failed to meet over the years, and now he’s decided not to feel bad about it. At this point, he doesn’t think the gender of the nurse will make a difference.

“I will give you ten thousand dollars if you walk me to a toilet instead of a bedpan,” he mutters, lowering his hands so Sarah can see how dead his eyes must look.

Sarah immediately looks dubious. “You remember what Dr. Fox said about falling?”

“I promise not to fall off the toilet.”

“Oh, well, if you promise.” She smiles at her little joke, but she’s clearly thinking ahead. “I’ll have to see if anyone else is free to help you walk down to the bathroom, unless you think you can wait until the hour.”

“I can wait,” Eddie says immediately. He’s thinking of those rats that drowned in a bucket, who survived twice as long when they believed that someone was coming to save him.

Sarah gives him an assessing glance, like she can determine the capacity of his gastrointestinal system by looking at him, and says, “I’ll see if Nathan’s free. And Mr. Kaspbrak, I’m not allowed to accept bribes.”

Nathan is not free, and as if turns out Eddie cannot wait until the hour. The urge to evacuate his bowels fades after some time, which perplexes him, and then the nausea arrives, and then he throws up. He manages to twist to the side to puke off the bed, but it’s still onto the floor, and he feels awful as Sarah comes by to help clean up.

“Now will you use the bedpan?” she asks him, her expression far less judgmental than she could be. Less than Eddie probably deserves.

“Please don’t add insult to injury,” Eddie murmurs from where he’s curled on the pillows. They are so flat that they feel like they are filled with cotton balls only, and he’s miserable.

He still counts it as a victory when he makes it to his scheduled walk to prevent blood clots and Sarah and Nathan (tall, black, ex-military, sci-fi fan) help escort him to the hall bathroom. Even though he falls asleep sitting up on the toilet, like a drunk.

Nathan is turned politely with his back to him, but he hears when Eddie slumps back and rocks the porcelain tank. “Mr. Kaspbrak?”

“It’s been a long day,” Eddie allows.

“I think you’ve earned one,” Nathan allows, and waits while it takes Eddie maybe twice as long as it should for him to wipe his own ass, and carefully helps Eddie to a standing position so he can walk over and wash his hands. The catheter came out today, and his penis hurts, and his chest hurts. As he scrubs his hands in the hot water, very aware of his ass in the wind, Nathan asks, “Have you thought about assistance once you’re discharged?”

Eddie blinks. “What?”

Nathan’s face remains very calm in the mirror over Eddie’s shoulder. “Someone to help you when you’re back home? Take care of things in the house while your mobility’s restricted, run errands before you’re good to drive, pick up your scrips, get you water?”

Intellectually Eddie knew he wasn’t allowed to drive—he’s allowed to do precious little—but the reminder of how trapped he is closes down on him like jaws. He tries not to think about it. “Like a nurse?”

“Like a nurse,” Nathan says. “Or like a family member, a close friend—someone who can stay with you while you recover and do your PT, you know.”

Someone to clean up his vomit and help him to the bathroom. Eddie turns off the tap and stares at the drain. “I’d rather it be a nurse,” he says. He feels less horrible about the idea of assistance from someone who chose it as a job, from someone who’s getting paid to take care of him. He can’t imagine asking anyone to help him out of the goodness of their heart.

“I can recommend some agencies,” Nathan offers.

“Are any of them in New York?” Eddie asks dully.

“No,” he says. “Sorry, I’ve been here since I was like five, I’m a local boy.”

So with that on his mind, he’s just a delight by the time Richie arrives when visiting hours open at seven, as he promised. Apparently hours are extended on Saturdays and Sundays, visitors being kicked out at seven PM instead of five. Eddie’s morphine dosage has been reduced and he’s cranky and unshaven and itchy and achy by the time Richie comes in, hair still wet from the shower and holding a Starbucks cup.

“Fuck you,” Eddie greets him.

Richie peers at Eddie over his glasses, a gesture that makes him look weirdly studious. “Fuck you too, sugah,” he says in a sunny Southern drawl.

Eddie resists the urge to pull a pillow over his own face like a child.

“Bill still remembers us,” Richie says. “He’s been texting. If that’s what pissed you off. Unless someone finally broke it to you that you have a hole through your chest, because let me tell you, sitting on that has not been easy.”

Eddie turns his head far enough into the pillowcase to roar into it a little. Immediately afterward there is a moment of silence.

“Well,” Richie says. “That was adorable.”

And now Eddie wants to throw something at him. He’s just regressing down into thirteen years old again, ready to drown Richie in the quarry.

“I’m so fucking itchy,” he says, because it’s not just his hair, or even his stitches; it’s an itch so deep in his chest he imagines it rests on his heart. “And I’m disgusting, and I puked on the floor and I hate puking, and I don’t want to go back to New York.”

Richie says nothing for long moments, and then he sits down in the chair. Eddie can hear the faint scrape of its metal legs on the linoleum as he jostles it a bit.

“Like, at all?”

“No,” Eddie says, because he feels bad and he’s being childish and everywhere in the world is a stupid place full of stupid people. He had kind of naïvely hoped that Richie’s presence would take his mind off it, make him feel better, but his skin is crawling.

“I hate to break this to you, but you left something kind of important in New York.”

“Car needs work anyway,” Eddie replies automatically, muffled by the cheap pillow.

“...Oh my dear sweet lord,” Richie says slowly.

“I wrecked when Mike called me.”

“I… We’re gonna get into that, because you reek of safe driving discounts, but I was talking about your wife, genius.”

Ah, fuck.

“Oh,” Eddie says.

Richie scoffs. “Yeah, ‘oh.’”

And that doesn’t make him feel much better. If life is going on—bodies are working, days are passing, Bill is flying back to England—Eddie’s going to have to call Myra sooner rather than later. The longer he puts it off, the worse it’s going to be. But that doesn’t make the idea any more appealing.

Eddie sits up and scowls at Richie, like it’s his fault that there’s a world outside this hospital room but it’s not the one that he wants.

“I just want to take a shower,” he says. His voice comes out a little more raw and broken than he expected. It’s too vulnerable. Immediately he wants to reel the words back in.

Richie looks at him for a long moment, black eyes painfully sympathetic. Then he pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts tapping away at it with his free hand. Eddie assumes that Richie’s giving him the opportunity to get a grip on himself, so he tries to, taking deep breaths and trying to take comfort in the pain the way he did earlier, when he was drugged a little more. It works, but only barely. Eddie remembers that he has a body, and it’s difficult to focus on other things when it’s occupying so much of his conscious attention. This must be the principle behind meditation, behind yoga. It helps. Maybe he should take up yoga. Once the air vent cut through his chest is better and he can raise his arms above his head again, that is.

“Right.” Richie stands up. “Do you trust me?”

Eddie tries to convey fuck you again, but with just his eyes. “Are you gonna make me regret it?”

“I heard the ‘yes’ in there.” He claps his hands together. “I’ll be back, okay?”

Eddie stares at him. Being in the hospital fills up all his brain with its humming sounds and weird smells and constant low-level aching pain. But it’s so boring at the same time—excruciating to try to focus on, but impossible to forget long enough to think about something else. And Richie is just leaving?

“Don’t look at me like that, it’s extended hours, you’ll still get your usual dose of Trashmouth.” Richie smiles, tilts his head back to drain his coffee cup in several gulps, and then stoops to Eddie’s level. Before Eddie knows what’s happening, Richie has planted a kiss into his greasy hair and straightened up again. “Be good. Don’t make anyone cry.” And he just leaves.

But that’s plenty distracting. Eddie becomes almost immediately consumed with the kiss—the audible little click of his lips atop his head—and then the one he gave Eddie when he woke up. The latter could be excused by sheer relief that Eddie is alive at all, but he has no idea what to make of this one. Typical Richie Tozier audacity? Latent signaling? What does it mean when a guy brings up your wife and then kisses you on the head in the same conversation? What does it mean when he calls you sweetheart and sugar, but also says genius like he means you have the IQ of a candy bracelet?

Sarah looks in on him. “Where’d your guest go?”

“He asked me if I trusted him and then he bailed, so probably to commit a crime,” Eddie replies.

She laughs, but then she doesn’t know what they get up to.

Richie comes back just over an hour later, walking into the room without hesitation as if he’s just been down the hall getting something out of the vending machine.

Eddie is vomiting into a kidney dish. “Get out!” he snaps as best he can, but his words are slippery with acid.

Tracy, who has the misfortunate job of holding the kidney dish, tries to calm him with a murmured, “Easy.”

Vomiting into a kidney dish is not easy. Eddie is accustomed to—on the rare occasions he has had to throw up in his life—using either a toilet bowl or a garbage can, and the perimeters of those are much more forgiving. Tracy seems to expect him to simply sit there and open his mouth and be sick, instead of lowering his head and aiming, and if Eddie had the strength to do anything other than hold himself up, he’d hate it. The immobility of it, the expected helplessness.

He doesn’t look at Richie, but he knows that Richie is not getting out; he can hear the rustle of the plastic bag as Richie throws himself down into the visitor’s chair again. Between convulsions Eddie gasps out, “If you—sympathy vomit—”

Richie is loud in his response, so Eddie can hear it even as his ears pop and crackle. “Sorry, nothing about you grosses me out anymore, no danger there.”

“Fucking—liar,” Eddie manages, and pants. Tracy sets the one kidney dish down on the countertop and picks up a second one. Eddie focuses on not puking anymore. He dry-heaves once or twice, but tries to stop his stomach seizing. “I’m good,” he tells Tracy.

“Okay,” she says, and gets him a tiny cup of water to rinse his mouth out.

Richie is sitting in the chair with his feet drawn up to the seat, his chin on his knees, looking like he’s a seven-year-old watching Saturday morning cartoons. Eddie hates him a little. He doesn’t, but he does, a little. Richie’s arm is wrapped loosely around his leg, and the plastic bag hangs down past his feet.

Richie got tall first. Eddie remembers that. Spiky tall, like a grasshopper. It’s the width that’s new.


Eddie spits the oddly sweet water into the second kidney dish and then leans back on the pillows.

“On your side,” Tracy says.

“I know.” Eddie supposes he can’t blame her for not wanting him to aspirate on his own vomit, after all the trouble this hospital has expended to save his life. He rolls onto his side slightly and glares at Richie.

Richie opens his mouth and then makes a clicking sound. “So, uh, do you want me to...?”

Eddie continues glaring, just waiting.

“…Draw you like one of my French girls?” Richie finishes.

Fuck you,” Eddie says. He thinks he can hear Tracy chuckling from where she’s cleaning up.

Richie unfolds his miles of legs and leans back in his chair, waving his free hand. In a French accent he asks, “In your portrait, sir, would you like the vomit to be orange or pink?”

Eddie stares at him. Did Richie get good at accents at some point? What the fuck? “What the fuck?” he says out loud.

“Mr. Tozier, I’m going to have to ask you not to agitate the patient,” Tracy says.

“Ah, madame, you wound me.”

“I’ll wound you,” Eddie says.

Richie grins. “If you can get up from the bed to hit me, I’ll let you. Come on.” He tilts his head back, presenting his chin for a sock in the jaw.

Eddie grips the safety rail and considers whether he could lean over to reach him.

“Absolutely not,” Tracy says.

Eddie releases the safety rail and wraps both arms around the pillow, and sulks.

“Cute,” says Richie.

Eddie puts his knuckles to his mouth and takes a deep breath in. He can’t keep doing this to him. He can’t be oblivious to what he’s doing, anyway, he’s just…

“Are you sweating?” Tracy asks.

Of course he’s sweating. He’s cold and he just puked his guts out and now he’s all clammy. “Yes,” he replies flatly.

“Does it itch?”

Eddie can’t tell what’s actual itching and what’s phantom skin-crawling from the morphine. “Not sure.” He knows what she’s going to say.

“Okay.” She smiles pleasantly at him. “We’re going to wipe you down, just to be sure.”

He doesn’t want to argue with Tracy, so he just looks at Richie. “Go.”

Richie’s expression switches quickly from entertained to surprised. “Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“Seriously, why?”

Eddie fires back with what he has. “Why’d you ask me about trees?”

Richie shakes his head, mouth puckering into a grimace. “Uh-uh, Eds, one of these things is not like the other.”

“Because I don’t want you here, all right?” Eddie says.

Tracy interrupts. “Mr. Tozier.”

“Here comes the half-nelson,” Richie says, and gets up. He gives Eddie an obsequious half-bow. “Can I come back later, or am I banished before you even get to see your presents?”

“Just—” Eddie half sits up, still feeling shaky and nauseous. “Go away, I don’t want you to see me naked.”

Richie gives him a look so dry it could cause brushfires in California. “Unless they’re getting your dick out—”

“Mr. Tozier,” Tracy repeats, her voice sharper. Her hand rests on the countertop. “The patient has made a request. You can follow through with it, or I can call security.”

Richie looks genuinely surprised. “Jesus, purple haze, I’m going.”

“You don’t have to call security,” Eddie says quickly. He’s not that angry.

But Richie leaves, taking his plastic bag with him.

Eddie waits, sitting up, with one hand braced on the safety rail and his other fist on his forehead, as Tracy wipes the sweat off the stitches in his back.

“Sorry,” he says to her.

“For what?”

“Him,” he says, and then sighs. “Me.”

Tracy huffs a laugh that he feels on the back of his head. “That was mild. Don’t worry about it.” She puts a new waterproof bandage across his stitches—he recognizes the plasticky grip—and then says, “All right, doing the front now, don’t look.”

“Not looking.” He shifts around so that she has better access to his incision and stares determinedly past her shoulder. He can see the sunlight reflecting off her purple hair. “Do you like your job?”

She laughs. “Most of the time.” The cloth is just as cold as the rest of the room. Eddie feels weirdly self-conscious about his nipples. “Do you like your job?”

Eddie thinks about it. Really tries to think about it. To find something about his job that he’s excited to do. He likes the feeling of closing a spreadsheet, when it’s done; but it’s still tempered with the gnawing anxiety of wondering whether he’s missed something. At this point in his career, he very rarely misses things, but it’s always a possibility.

“I don’t know,” he admits.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a risk analyst,” he says.

Tracy whistles.

Eddie smiles. “Yeah, I know.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It’s, uh, economic risk,” he says. “Businesses need someone to tell them whether an investment’s a good idea, whether a new marketing campaign is a good idea. Not very exciting.”

“Does it pay?”

“Enough,” Eddie says. It was enough, then, to collect a paycheck for work he was good at and take it home and spend it on groceries and bills. Enough to make him keep going back. Enough to get him out of bed every day.

He can’t get out of bed now.

Tracy affixes the second plaster and then holds up the roll of gauze bandage. “Take a normal breath.”

“Well, you know I can’t do that now,” Eddie says, breathing manually.

Tracy laughs.

Richie comes back forty-five minutes after Eddie kicked him out. Eddie’s not exactly checking the clock, but there’s very little to do. Tracy offered him a book of crossword puzzles, but Eddie’s struggled enough with trying to use his Jell-O spoon. He doesn’t want to see how his right hand does with a pencil. It’s the medical dexterity equivalent of not looking at your bank account balance and hoping everything’s okay.

When he comes in he has one hand over his eyes. “Are you decent?”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says.

“That’s not an answer, Eddie, I’m a Victorian lady, I need to know whether I’m going to see your ankles and just drop dead.”

“You’re an asshole, is what you are.” Eddie, hospital gown tied around his neck and everything, watches Richie performing a dramatic version of Blind-Man’s Bluff between the doorway and the chairs. He broke his glasses doing that, once, back in like second grade, maybe third. Wandering around with his eyes shut and walked straight off the play equipment, banged his face on the fireman’s pole.

“Okay, I’m putting my hand down,” Richie says, and lowers it with the speed of dripping molasses. His eyes are still scrunched shut. “I’m putting my hand down, Eddie. Can you see? I can’t see if you’re looking. Are you looking?”

“Didn’t you break your glasses doing that once?” Eddie asks. “In ’83?”

Richie drops the gag and opens his eyes, shrugging. “If I wasn’t breaking ’em, someone else was doing it for me.” He looks almost proud of the fact, his shoulders squared. Suddenly he’s taking up a lot of space in the room. He holds up the Target bag. “Do you want to see your surprise, or not?”

Just like that? Eddie’s thrown by the switching gears. Normally when Richie finds a weakness he turns into a terrier, worrying it and worrying it until it no longer means anything. What the hell did he buy that he’s so excited about?

“Fine,” Eddie says.

“Do you want to guess?”

Eddie gives him a flat look and says, half-heartedly, “A live cockroach.”

“A—” Richie interrupts himself laughing and then nods. “Yeah, they sell live cockroaches at Target.”

“I knew it. You’re so predictable.”

“Predict this, motherfucker,” Richie says, and pulls a purple bottle out of the plastic bag like he’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It looks like fancy sunscreen. “Ta-da!”

Eddie stares at him. “The hell is that?”

“Well, I googled ‘wash hair no water,’ and it turns out that dry shampoo is a thing that exists,” Richie says. He waves the bottle around. “Made with, like, clay and shit. Well, not shit. But you spray it in, you mush it around, you brush it out. Clean hair. Hospital bed.” He holds the bottle up like he’s going to toss it to Eddie.

“Do not throw that at me, I cannot catch.”

“You could never catch.”

“I can’t lift my arms, you dick.”

“Excuses, excuses.” But he doesn’t throw the bottle of dry shampoo.

Eddie holds his left arm out as far as the safety rail and waits for Richie to put it in his hand. He does, not touching Richie’s fingers as they make the exchange. Instead he focuses on reading the ingredients and the instructions.

His scalp itches. A lot, now that he’s thinking about it. More than the rest of his skin, which means it’s probably not a side-effect of either the morphine or healing from major surgery.

Richie is watching his face and its burgeoning relief. “I figured you’d go apeshit over carcinogens and aerosols and everything,” he says, sounding proud of himself. He sits down on the chair and looks at Eddie with the casual confidence of a cat who has just brought its owner something dead.

“I’m going apeshit over my oily scalp,” Eddie grumbles. “I’m gonna have dandruff, and I’m breaking out like a fucking teenager because they don’t change the pillowcases every day.”

“You’re not breaking out,” Richie says.

“I am.” It’s one of the things Eddie noticed when he was holding himself up by the sink in the bathroom down the hall, staring into the mirror and wondering how this became his life.

Richie frowns, squints, leans all the way forward, and then says, “Oh, yeah,” with the slow realization of a man discovering something right in front of him. He reaches out and Eddie barely notices what he’s doing until one finger curls across his cheek, just a gentle brush. Eddie fumbles the bottle of shampoo. “I didn’t notice,” Richie says casually.

He’s doing this on purpose. Is he doing this on purpose? He has to be doing this on purpose. Right? Eddie’s skin prickles. “Well, don’t touch it, you’ll make it worse!”

Richie withdraws his hand but remains in that close lean. “Probably just because you need to shave,” he says. “You know, like when you have a beard and you get all dry.”

“I don’t know because I don’t wear a beard, jackass,” Eddie mutters. It’s maybe a little more vehement than he would otherwise be, but he’s tired of fending off offers of help with it, and it took him a really long time to get to the point where he can grow a full beard. It still comes in awkward on his cheeks, and there are two spots below his lower lip where hair refuses to grow at all, and he’s never liked shaving below his nose.

Richie, on the other hand, has consistent scruff that adds to his air of perpetual dishevelment. If Eddie reached out and brushed a finger across Richie’s cheek, it would be rough. It would scratch.

“I’m sure they can get a mirror in here if you want to shave,” Richie says. “Like old-fashioned barbershop rules. They drag therapy animals through here, I’m sure a therapy barber is a thing.”

They have therapy animals here? There’s animal dander in this hospital? Eddie feels himself lock up in panic and consciously unclenches his grip on the bottle, trying to focus on something other than allergies he probably doesn’t have or fantasizing about touching Richie’s face.

“I don’t want to shave,” he says, for what he hopes is the last time. “I just want clean hair before I peel off my own scalp.”

Richie gives him a sweeping after-you gesture. “I don’t know if you’re allowed to have aerosols in here, actually, so do it fast.”


“I don’t have a brush,” Eddie says.

Richie produces a brush from the bag. Eddie feels a prickle at his temples and wonders if he’s sweating. He should be too cold in here to sweat.

“I—can’t lift my arms over my head,” he admits, and holds the bottle back out to Richie. “Thanks, though. It was a nice thought.”

Richie does not take the bottle, just stares at him while gnawing the inside of his own cheek, fuchsia hairbrush still held in his free hand.

He can see the wheels turning behind Richie’s eyes. “No,” Eddie says.



“Why not?”

“It’s a complete fucking sentence, Richie.” He gestures a little more vehemently with the shampoo bottle and, when Richie doesn’t take it from him, drops the bottle between his hip and the safety rail and twists away from him. Slowly, though, because sudden movements hurt his chest.

“Clean hair,” Richie says.


His tone turns wheedling: “Clean hair.”

Oh god, is Eddie blushing? He might be blushing. “No.”

“Eddie.” Coaxing now: “Eddie.”

“Do not make me throw you out again.”

“Seriously?” Richie demands, all sugar gone now and just mad again. “Look, man, I’m not a doctor, I can do like very few things to help you, but this is one of them.”

“I don’t—” He grimaces. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Eddie doesn’t need help, because he does need help, and he hates it. But he also has help, in the form of several trained nurses who are receiving pay for what they’re doing and have several other patients besides. It doesn’t mean anything to them, that Eddie Kaspbrak in Room 15 needs someone (usually multiple someones) to take his weight on his walks every two hours, or is so constipated from morphine use that he keeps throwing up, and still insists on walking to the bathroom anyway. They’ve seen worse. Eddie’s not even a blip on their radars.

Richie, though—Richie doesn’t have to help him. Richie’s just a guy whose friend got hurt, and the fact that he’s still hanging around here while Eddie’s being a very large toddler still throws Eddie for something of a loop. Eddie doesn’t want to need help, doesn’t want to be taken care of, doesn’t want any of that—and he doesn’t want Richie to feel obligated to offer to help either.

But saying any of that out loud to Richie is way too intense for like nine in the goddamn morning, and the way that Eddie’s throat is tight makes him unsure about whether he’d go straight into an asth—panic attack, or whether he’d just cry. And both of those sound like the worst possible option at the same time.

He looks down at the purple bottle, its plastic cap, its pointed nozzle.

“I want to be able to wash my own hair,” he mutters.

Richie replies immediately, “Yeah, but you can’t.”

It stings. Like, Eddie’s ears ring a little bit, the way they did when he was little and someone swore in front of him, followed immediately by his mother’s bawling the offender out.

“What you can do, however, is get your old pal Trashmouth to make himself useful,” Richie says, tone just as chipper and bright. “And then you’ll have one less thing grating on you here. I mean—not me, I’m going to continue grating on you. But, like, you’ll have clean hair.”

Eddie thinks about it, considering. Richie’s going to have to touch him. Actually, Richie is asking to touch him, to help him clean himself up, to—put his hands all through Eddie’s hair.

“And,” Richie says, “I didn’t go out and buy this shit to wave it in your face and then yank it away from you. Come on, like, I made this mess.”

“You did not make this mess, my scalp made this mess,” Eddie says.

“Oh? One thing in the world that isn’t my fault? That’s nice.” When Eddie glances up at him, Richie’s grinning a little, eyes bright and mouth stretched wide in a parody of wholesomeness.

Richie’s too big to be cute. But like, he is, a little. Ghost of the frog-faced kid he was, beaming at Eddie from the other side of the hospital room.

“Okay,” Eddie says.

Richie’s smile opens to show teeth. “Okay?”

“Yes, fine, don’t make it weird.” He fumbles down with his left hand and looks away from Richie. It takes him two attempts to find the bottle, but he thrusts it blindly at him. Sweat prickles at the nape of his neck, and Tracy would be mad at him for it.

Richie plucks the bottle out of his hand. “Can’t help it, anything I do is by definition weird, and anything you do is definitely weird, so… net weirdness.” Eddie glances back up at him to find Richie is reading the instructions on the bottle, sliding his glasses down to the end of his nose to peer over them.

“You can’t read with your glasses on?”

“Just be happy I can read at all,” Richie replies immediately without looking up.

“Aren’t they—like, bifocals?”

He looks up for that one, grinning. “Bifocals? How old do you think I am, seriously?” He drops his gaze back to the bottle, face sobering, and says absently, “God, what black magic is this? Farrah Fawcett, eat your heart out.” He grimaces and then starts shaking the bottle aggressively. Eddie hears a metallic click from within its depths. “Seriously, this isn’t about to burst into flames, is it?”

Eddie squints at the little bottle in his hand, trying to figure out what the hell Richie is talking about. “Are you… thinking about open flame around oxygen tanks?” he guesses.

Richie’s expression clears immediately. “Yes, that’s it. Specifically guns, though, I saw this show one time where there was a shoot-out during bingo night at a retirement home. Okay. I feel a lot better now that I’m not about to kill you.”

There are a lot of things Eddie could pick at from that one, but he just asks, “You thought that this might kill me, and you were still trying to talk me into it?”

“Look, I don’t understand hair care, I’ve been using three-in-one shampoo, conditioner, and body wash my entire adult life.” He stops shaking the can. “Is that good enough?”

“Your personal hygiene? Absolutely not.” Richie had such beautiful hair when they were kids, all those curls. Eddie eyes his hair now, feeling something like grief. It’s not that Richie’s hair looks bad, per se, but he does look like he has never brushed his hair in his life.

“Your aerosolized clay, thanks,” Richie says pointedly, like he’s not delighted that Eddie took the joke he set him up for. “Is there a requisite hundred-and-fifty shakes before I can spray you, or what?”

“You read the instructions.”

“You also read the instructions! You committed the instructions to memory! If I gave you a stone tablet and a chisel, you could engrave those fuckers just off the top of your head.”

“God, it’s fine, Richie.”


And then Richie stands up, and Eddie’s whole limbic system does something weird.

Gets fuzzy around the edges, if that makes sense. Eddie is suddenly intensely aware of his body and the space he takes up in the hospital bed and how he’s still forced into a recline. It feels like the core of him is concentrated, somehow. Intense to make up for the way he can no longer feel his fingers or toes.

“Lean your head a little bit forward,” Richie says.

Eddie closes his eyes, takes a deep breath that aches, and holds it. He tilts his head forward so Richie can get the back of his head. He feels stiff as driftwood, as if he’s never leaned in his life. His body is a marionette and he's a puppeteer who has no idea what the fuck he's doing.

He almost startles at the touch over his eyebrows, as Richie lays the side of his hand there. “Trying not to blind you,” he says. Eddie opens his eyes reflexively, Richie’s palm and fingers so close they’re fuzzy in his peripheral vision, Richie’s thumb pressed to Eddie’s temple. He’s shielding Eddie’s eyes. Eddie closes them again. “Ready?” Richie asks.

Eddie says, “Ready,” and does not breathe in.

The bottle hisses. Eddie feels faint coldness on his scalp, a faint shift in pressure as something almost weightless lands on his hair. Hair strands don’t have nerve endings, but his scalp is trying to feel something. He can feel the trajectory, the way Richie moves his hand on Eddie’s forehead slightly as he shifts his weight to get the far side of his head, to work back around to above his other ear, to go over the part in Eddie’s hair.

Richie lifts his hand away. Clear cold spots stand out above Eddie’s brows where he’s no longer touching him.

“Oh god, you look like the kid who goes as Doc from Back to the Future for Halloween,” he says. “Like the kids who spray their hair gray. What even is this?” He doesn’t touch Eddie’s scalp as he combs through Eddie’s hair, but the bottle hushes again as he exposes new roots and coats them. Eddie feels like a book and Richie’s turning his pages.

“It absorbs the oil,” Eddie says, hoping that’s all that it is.

The hissing of the bottle stops. “Okay,” Richie says.

Eddie lifts his hands to the back of his neck and scrubs with his fingers as high as he can reach. He can get his elbows to a certain height without his shoulders rebelling. He doesn’t know why the tops of his shoulders are involved in a chest injury, but they have made it clear plenty of times that they’re on strike until he provides better working conditions. He’s not sure what to do about the numbness, the prickling, the nonresponsiveness of his right hand.

“Does it itch?” Richie asks, sounding nonplussed, and then: “Oh shit, did I buy itching powder by mistake?”

Eddie knows for a fact that Richie did not buy itching powder, but because Richie has a history of buying sneezing powder, a little part of Eddie’s brain still gets nervous about it. “I’m rubbing it in.”

Richie tosses the bottle onto the plastic chair. It rolls back off the seat, knocks into the wall, and then falls to the floor. “Whoops,” Richie says, and then cracks his knuckles dramatically.

The sudden flood of saliva under Eddie’s tongue is… startling. He has to swallow against it.

“All right, get ready to look like a Trollz doll.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, but Richie flattens his palms to the crown of Eddie’s head and smears them around.

“That’s not—it’s shampoo, Richie, you’re just messing up my hair.” And Richie’s definitely fucking with him.

“Oh, am I doing it wrong?” Richie asks dryly. “Is this not the standard dry-shampoo application technique?” His hands shift and his knuckles dig into Eddie’s scalp. Eddie instinctively recoils like he’s getting noogied, but Richie stops immediately. Then he drags his fingertips from Eddie’s hairline to the back of his head.

Eddie’s shoulders want to jump up somewhere around his ears, he’s so tense. Fortunately, his broken body will not let him. “What are you doing?”

“Does it hurt?”

“No.” He cringes. “Is my hair super gross?”

“Super gross,” Richie agrees pleasantly, which makes Eddie feel better than if he had tried to soften the blow. “It’s like they pulled you out of a sewer and straight into surgery.”

“Oh, Jesus,” Eddie says. “Please tell me that someone has washed my hair in all this bullshit.”

Richie’s nails scratch across his scalp and Eddie’s eyes flutter shut, like Richie has discovered a cheat code to Eddie’s nervous system.

“Yeah, we took you out and hosed you down in the front yard before we called the ambulance.”

“Ha fucking ha.”

“I mean, Stan wasn’t going for it, but I know you, all right, I knew ‘Eddie would rather die clean than live dirty.’”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says, because otherwise he’s going to have to explain to Richie about his new life philosophy. And Richie’s fingers are making small spirals across the top of Eddie’s head, which for some reason isn’t conducive to talking. He swallows again. “Are you moonlighting as a hairdresser?” His voice comes out lower than he expected.

Richie keeps making little circles on his scalp. “Yeah, people absolutely trust me enough to put their personal styling into my hands,” he says, as though Eddie isn’t doing just that. His fingers sink into the hair at the nape of Eddie’s neck, and then he pushes his fingers forward toward the crown of Eddie’s head. His nails score the back of Eddie’s skull.

It feels… really good. Like, really good. He keeps trying to open his eyes but they want to stay closed.

“It’s the homeless raccoon look,” Richie goes on. “Really sells them on me.”

He massages on either side of Eddie’s head, stroking from his temples, down behind his ears, and then comes back up to make little circles again. Eddie’s still leaning forward slightly so Richie has access to the back of his head while he’s still upright in the hospital bed, and as Richie moves his head around he has to kind of compensate from his abdomen so Richie doesn’t just push him over. But. It’s nice.

“You good, Spaghetti?” Richie asks.

Eddie has a snappy answer somewhere, but then Richie’s thumbs push into the tendons on the back of his neck, and his comeback just wisps away into nothing.

“Mmm,” he says vaguely.

There’s a laugh in Richie’s voice when he asks, “What, no complaints?”

No, not really. Eddie kind of expected noogies and scrubbing at his hair and generally something abrasive but that would leave him feeling stinging but clean when Richie was through with him. He didn’t expect to be… lulled.

“For someone who’s been sleeping for like a week straight, you’re still the tensest motherfucker I’ve ever met.”

Both of his palms settle on either side of Eddie’s head. He moves them back and forth, loosely pulling at Eddie’s scalp and hair, more purposeful and less willfully disorderly than before.

“It’s the company,” Eddie says slowly. He did puke, like, recently. He’s kind of physically wiped out. It’s not surprising that Richie trying to be… relaxing? (Is Richie trying to be relaxing?) is kind of winding him down, making him realize how tired he is.

“Oh, are you also scared of the nurse with the huge arms?”

“Her arms are normal-sized,” Eddie says, because what he almost says is You have huge arms. He feels stupid, but he’s not that stupid yet.

Richie curls his fingers in Eddie’s hair and tugs lightly. It doesn’t hurt. The pull is gentle and relaxes almost immediately.

Eddie should tell Richie to stop fucking around, to brush the dry shampoo out of his hair and get it over with. Acts of hygiene are for maintenance, not… whatever Richie’s doing.

Blissing Eddie the fuck out, is what he’s doing. His scalp is tingling where Richie’s nails raked over it.

Richie abandons any pretense of haircare and presses circles just behind Eddie’s ears, where it’s all skin and hopefully no shampoo. “Are you falling asleep?” he asks.

“Can’t,” he says without opening his eyes. “You’re running your mouth.”

“I have watched you sleep through my trashmouth, so I know that’s not true.”

Eddie doesn’t know why that surprises him, but he supposes it does, in a way. When he woke up this time Richie was silent—still talking, but he seemed to be careful not to wake Eddie. But the first time that Eddie woke up and Richie was there, he was running his mouth without concern about either disturbing Eddie or the lack of response.

“I heard you talking,” Eddie says.

Richie’s hands still. “Did you?”

There’s a note of tension in Richie’s voice that makes Eddie remember the first thing he said was I love you. So of course now he’s wondering what Richie said. What he said that he didn’t think Eddie would hear. And Eddie is just starving to know, but when he tries to think back it’s like a dream filtering away.

Richie is still holding his head.

“About music,” he says, and then opens his eyes. “Right?”

Richie laughs once and then continues massaging behind Eddie’s ears. “Yeah. I tried to play music for you, but the nurses came by and yelled at me about ‘distracting the doctors’ and how ‘causing a disruption in a hospital is an act of domestic terrorism.’”

Eddie sputters. “You’re making that shit up.”

“I am,” Richie says. “One time in college I climbed on the roof of the local hospital and when security came to get me he threatened me with charges of domestic terrorism. I told him I didn’t think Rent-A-Cops were authorized to do that shit, that was the FBI or something. I was also high as balls at the time. Anyway.”

“You—” That’s a lot to try to pick apart. Eddie doesn’t know what to do with that.

“But like, there’s a music therapist who comes in and plays live guitar, and that’s fine. She can do whatever she wants, which seems to be rocking out to ‘You Are My Sunshine’ instead of things people want to listen to.”

“Does anyone want to listen to your music?” Eddie asks, dryly, habitually combative.

“I have a lot of Spotify followers,” Richie says.

Eddie frowns. “Is that how Spotify works?”

“Yeah, I make playlists, people can see them, people can see what I’m listening to.”

“What’s your playlist for ‘long-lost friend in the ICU’?”

Richie laughs a little and releases him. There’s a faint ghost of pressure where he held Eddie’s head, and his head and neck feel… probably more relaxed than he’s felt in his entire adult life. Eddie is well aware of the medical advantages of massage, but he’s never been that comfortable being touched. Being half-dressed and forced into a recline with a near-stranger putting their hands on him was just out of the question for so long.

“If you want me to make you a mixed tape, you’re gonna have to work a little harder for that,” Richie says. Eddie opens his eyes to find Richie holding up the hairbrush. There’s still a price sticker on it. “Brace yourself.”

Eddie, instead of acknowledging the light threat that is hair styling by Richie Tozier, frowns. “Did you make me a mixed tape when we were kids?”

“I mean, knowing me? Probably,” Richie says indifferently. He steadies Eddie’s head with his left hand and starts brushing Eddie with his right.

Eddie briefly thinks about his bandages, about getting clay powder in his bedding and on his pillow and on his drainage shunt, but he’s wearing the hospital gown and the blanket is pulled up almost to his chest. It’s all covered. The anxiety serves no purpose.

And the teeth of the brush raking over his head feels really good, too. Sharp plastic.

“You don’t remember?” he asks.

Richie says, “You know how music is supposed to be one of those things that stays in your brain? I mean, I can remember the words to songs I haven’t listened to in years, just because I got fucking obsessed the first time I heard it.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. That makes sense. Music is related to brain development, and that’s why suddenly there’s a market for classical music made just for babies. You can play certain types of music to plants to make them grow better. It’s a documented phenomenon. No wonder this hospital has a music therapist.

Eddie woke up because he remembered the words to “American Pie” in his sleep.

“There is so much music I was into as a kid that I just forgot about,” Richie goes on. “I was listening to oldies. Not just the eighties, but like, the fifties. I was rocking out to the Bobby Day version of ‘Rockin’ Robin,’ not even the Michael Jackson one. I went in for all of my mom’s old records, and then the next time I heard them it was like—” He leans around Eddie and into his field of vision, gaze far away and dreamy, and mimes his own skull exploding. Then he goes back to brushing Eddie’s hair. “And I’m out here going, ‘Why the fuck do I know all these songs from yogurt commercials?”

“Yogurt commercials?” Eddie repeats uselessly.

“Yeah, they all end up in yogurt commercials sooner or later. ‘Hippy Hippy Shakes,’ ‘Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,’ it’s a whole marketing scheme. Maggie Tozier is their target audience.”

Eddie frowns. “Are your parents still alive?” he asks, stunned.

“Oh, do you want her number? Yeah, they’re still alive, fucker. In a retirement community in fucking Connecticut, playing bridge and going to wine night, Jesus, don’t ever let me get that old. My ma goes to Thirsty Thursday, I don’t even know what the fuck to do with that, it makes binge drinking uncool.”

A sinking, Maggie-Tozier-related horror is settling on Eddie. “I, uh, wouldn’t have said that about your mom if I knew—”

“Dude, is necrophilia okay with you but homewrecking is not?” The brush whisks over the top of his head, businesslike. Eddie closes his eyes to keep filaments of dust and clay out of them. “I won’t tell her if you won’t, but like, I talked a ton of shit about your mother, it’s only fair. I mean, to me, not to her.” His finger shift on Eddie’s head. Eddie feels like he’s in a hair salon. A hair salon that gets really weird Yelp reviews. “Uh, did your mom…?”

“2008,” Eddie replies dryly. “Pneumonia.”

Richie stills. “Shit, in this day and age?”

“No, in 2008.”

He goes back to brushing Eddie’s hair. “Oh, yes, the medical dark ages of 2008—man, your mom was up your ass about pneumonia literally all the time. You tried to convince me ‘walking pneumonia’ was a thing back in like ninth grade, do you remember?”

“Walking pneumonia is a thing, Richie.”

“No, it’s what you say when you have a chest cold but you’re mad that you still had to go to school.”

“Oh Jesus.” Eddie sighs through his nose. “She had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Diagnosed in 2005. Her lungs basically turned to stone.”

Richie stops brushing again. “Shit.”

“So yeah, pneumonia. She was on the lung transplant list, but for some reason—” He rolls his eyes under his closed lids. “—the ruling body thought she wasn’t a great candidate. And there’s something kinda gruesome about hoping someone’s gonna wipe out on their motorcycle and go brain dead so your mom can take their lungs and continue bitching you out for the rest of—all time, I don’t know.”

Richie says nothing. The brush moves rhythmically over Eddie’s head.

“You still there, Rich?”

“Are you an organ donor?” Richie asks.

Eddie frowns a little deeper. “What?”

“They asked us. I mean, they were going to check your name and see if it was on the registry, but.”

“Yes, obviously I’m an organ donor.”

“Oh, obviously,” Richie coughs.

Eddie thinks about that, feeling the brush continue scraping over his head.

“You gave me blood,” he says after a moment.

He waits for the next stroke of the brush. It doesn’t come.

Richie takes a step back and picks up the empty plastic bag, turning away from Eddie and throwing the brush back into it and then crouching to pick up the bottle of shampoo.

For a moment Eddie has the horrifying impression that Richie’s packing up to leave, and Eddie can’t stop him, and then he chokes down that particular anxiety. It’s his mother, roaring up out of him from eight years in the grave. Richie’s been camped out here and still came back after Eddie used his words and told him to get out. He’s not about to skip out of here because Eddie pointed out something Richie did.

Richie’s knee pops alarmingly. “Shit,” he groans. Eddie stares at the plane of the leather jacket spread over his back.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m forty.” He groans again as he stands up, holding the purple bottle up in muted victory. “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m just—fucking trashing your hospital room, why not?” He drops the bottle in the back with a crinkle of plastic and then stretches, arms up over his head and everything.

The hem of his shirt lifts slightly. Eddie can see the gleam of the button of his jeans, and he holds his breath again until Richie puts his arms back down. Immediately Eddie lowers his gaze to the linoleum floor, feeling his face burn. Part of him is afraid that Richie saw that, because if he did he’s definitely going to start in on that as a way of getting out of talking about something that makes him uncomfortable—and Eddie’s not sure why the blood transfusion makes him uncomfortable, but he’s being weird about it, instead of being grandiose and magnanimous and yes, Eddie, I gave you the very blood from my veins.

Actually it’s probably because Eddie threw a shitfit about Richie wanting to help wash his hair.

“Yeah, I gave you blood,” Richie says, voice almost understated.

It twigs something in the back of Eddie’s memory—Richie in the restaurant saying, Yeah, I got married. No big deal. Just like then, the delivery is all wrong. Being too cool about it. Something else coming up behind it. You didn’t know that I got married?

Probably because Eddie heard it and it set off rounds of screaming klaxons in his brain and he had no idea why, except he did, except he didn’t want to know why, because if he knew that he knew then—

“Type O, baby,” Richie says, and jerks two thumbs at his own chest. “Universal donor.” He sits down on the plastic chair. “I thought it would freak you out.”

Eddie blinks at him. “Why would it freak me out?”

Richie snorts. “Because you were super phobic about blood when you were a kid.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, “but that was during the AIDS crisis, and then last week all the blood came out of my body and I needed some new blood.” He shrugs, hurts himself, and winces. He shakes his head at his own stupidity—both just then and when he was a kid. He’s feeling a kind of sinking realization, a new and deeper anxiety making itself known. If Richie gave Eddie blood, that says something, because—“All those stories about contaminated blood transfusions were bullshit, anyway, they test the blood before they use it, and men who have sex with men aren’t allowed to donate.”

Richie is… not smiling. In fact, he’s very still.

It’s frightening, how still he is.

“What?” Eddie says, on the inside thinking, stupid, if Richie’s never—why would I think he’d even be interested—

“Not anymore,” Richie says slowly.

Eddie blinks at him. “What?” he says, because of course the rules against gay men donating blood only came into being after it was a medical concern, and that’s why there’s no donation anymore—

Richie’s eyebrows lift and it seems significant somehow. “They changed the rule in 2015,” he says. “Now if you’ve had sex with a man, but not in the last year, you’re allowed to donate.”


Eddie didn’t know that.

Because Eddie’s never had sex with a man.

Why does Richie know that?

“Oh,” Eddie says, wondering if he should ask and also waiting, waiting for Richie to say something to fill in the silence, to go off on a tangent or maybe fucking come out to him so that Eddie can come out in turn and maybe explain what the fuck he meant when he woke up in his hospital bed and said I love you, to tell Richie that it’s nicer to hear sweetheart than it is to hear was that your first seizure? but that he’d still like a fucking explanation—

“Anyway, you kind of got a lot of blood all over my jacket,” Richie says. He throws the plastic bag casually onto the empty chair and then folds his arms behind his head, leaning back against the wall and stretching out his legs. He looks diagonal to the floor and wall that way, and at Eddie’s height from the bed his brain pipes up, on display, but Richie’s rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling.

“And Stan’s cardigan. And also all of our clothes. So we thought, Hey, Eddie needs some blood, better get tested to see if we match, except not Stan and Mike, because they still had open wounds, and frankly I’m surprised they let Bev donate, she was just soaking in blood, but maybe they thought it was yours? But only she and I were eligible, so.” He shrugs—big gesture, toward the ceiling. Richie’s playing for the back of the theater.

Eddie keeps staring at him. Did they—did they ask Richie? Did they say have you ever had sexual contact with a man?

Did Richie say yes?

Did they say when?

“Anyway, you’re not going to throw a tantrum over us doing that, are you?” Richie asks, his gaze lowering and focusing on Eddie again. “Because I’m not gonna fucking apologize for that one, jackass. If you’re dying, you can shut the fuck up and take the favor.”

“I’m not dying,” Eddie says.

Richie just looks at him.

He feels… unmoored. Which is not something he’s used to feeling in this bed, where he’s extremely centered and aware of where he is at all times and very aware of the perimeter of his body and blood and fluids. He feels like he’s been in orbit for he doesn’t know how long, but something collided with him and knocked him off course.

And Eddie’s not dying. He’s not dying, and his bodily systems are waking up, and Tracy is telling him that the clarity of his lung fluid is improving, and Nathan’s pointedly hinting about what kind of care he’s going to have once he’s discharged and.

He closes his eyes. “Can I ask another favor?” It comes out as a croak.

Immediately Richie switches to alert and earnest mode. “Yeah, man, anything. What is it?”

And that anything is tossed out so casually—that’s what got to Eddie, about Richie saying I got married, in the restaurant. He was fucking lying, of course, but it was how he said the words like they were insignificant. Like they meant nothing. Like they could be taken for granted. A big momentous concept—Richie Tozier got married. Richie Tozier would do anything for me—reduced down to syllables and spat out without waiting for someone else’s reaction.

Eddie wants to cover his eyes, because he believes him. At this moment, he genuinely believes that Richie would do anything for him—or maybe he wants to believe it, and Eddie just feels like a piece of shit.

“Can I borrow your phone?” he asks.

He doesn’t look at him, but he can hear the creak of plastic and metal as Richie shifts his weight in the chair.

And there’s something defeated in Richie’s voice when he says, “Yeah, man. Of course.” Like he wanted Eddie to ask for something else.

Don’t ask me, don’t ask me, don’t ask me, Eddie thinks.

“Gotta make an important phone call?” Richie asks, tone too gentle, too careless, like it doesn't mean anything at all. I got married. Didn't you know I got married?

And Richie knows. Richie’s not an idiot, no matter what he likes to pretend. Eddie just has to get this over with, and then he can explain everything, he just has to get this out of the way for decency’s sake.

He swallows again and forces the words out. “Yeah. I have to call my wife.”

Chapter Text

It’s not that Eddie thinks he’s some kind of expert on pain now. It’s just that he’s experienced a lot of it in a relatively short period of time, and while he doesn’t enjoy it, he’s revised the amount of pain he thinks he can withstand.

The silence that Richie gives him in response is blistering.

He doesn’t look up. Richie might say that Eddie’s braver than he thinks he is, but he’s absolutely not brave enough for that.

The phone lands on his lap. Doesn’t physically hurt him, really, just a heavy, sudden, square weight on his thigh. The sound it makes when it lands on the blanket rings in his ears. He does look up for that—stupid—and Richie is just looking back at him. Something soft in his eyes.


Discomfort and awkwardness twist immediately to rage, giving Eddie fuel to burn if he wants it, giving him the opportunity to shout in his own defense if he wants to—but he doesn’t. He wants to throw Richie’s phone back at him, but he doesn’t, because he’s not a fucking idiot. Oh sure, Eddie can’t get up to go buy his own phone, isn’t that sad? Isn’t Richie taking pity on him by letting him borrow his phone when he so clearly doesn’t want to? And Eddie’s ashamed of himself for kicking Richie out again—the idea of Richie sitting casually in the visitor’s chair while he calls Myra and explains to her that it’s over is out of the question—but what the fuck else is Eddie supposed to do?

“Sure you do,” Richie says, the edge of a knife in his voice. His words are serrated. I don’t think you have to call your wife at all, those three words say.

What the fuck does Richie know about it? Richie’s not married, bad jokes aside. Richie has girlfriends that he treats like garbage and ends up making fun of in his comedy routine, but Eddie’s not like that—it isn’t Myra’s fault that Eddie decided marriage was something that he could do, despite knowing himself and his problems. Eddie feels like enough of a piece of shit already.

Jesus Christ, Richie’s tall. There’s something condescending in the way he puts his hands in his jacket pockets and leans back, something arch about the shift of his weight, the cast of his eyelids, the tight turn on his heel as he walks out of the room. And for Richie to leave without further comment—that’s probably the biggest warning sign Richie Tozier is capable of. Eddie wants to get up and go after him, to explain.

He can’t, though. Even if he were physically capable of catching Richie—and why does it feel so much like Richie’s running away when Eddie had every intention of asking him to leave in the first place?—he can’t conspire against his wife. Marriage is a partnership. You’re on the same team. Eddie can’t—can’t bring other people into it deliberately, can’t make someone else complicit in what’s going to hurt her. Can’t share the blame. It’s something he’s got to shoulder himself. If he’s going to break her heart—maybe not romantically, if Myra truly loves him, and… Eddie doesn’t have the time to think about that, it’s too cosmic and misfortunate a question—the least Eddie can do is listen to her when it happens. He’s got to do this, awkward as he is, and he’s got to tell her the truth, and he’s going to hurt her, and there’s nothing he can do about that.

A sunk cost fallacy. Eddie knew he was going to hurt her one day, and he was putting that off as long as he could, trying not to think about how the longer it took, the worse the hurt would be.


He picks up the phone and turns it over, taps the button to make the screen wake up. It’s a different model than his own—it responds to just the touch of his thumb instead of the actual pressing of the button, and between his surprise at that and his clumsy uncooperative fingers, it takes him a few tries to get the screen to switch on and stay on.

It asks him for a passcode.


Is this Richie’s punch back? He’s gonna leave Eddie here with a device he has no ability to use and no way to contact him to get him back?

He should have asked a nurse to borrow their phone, not Richie. But he wasn’t sure if any of the nurses would feel like they could say no—they’re at work—and he didn’t want to put them in that awkward position. There are some things you ask people who are paid to be there, and some things you ask people who show up because… because…

Why is Richie still here?

Not still here in this room, he’s definitely gone by now, but the general consensus is that Eddie’s going to live. Bill is gone, back to England with his wife to finish their project; Mike is getting ready to go, too. Beverly, Ben, Stan, and Patty are still here, though Bev has the excuse of leaving her husband and Stan is clearly taking his time after his suicide attempt.

Richie’s still here, like he’s got nowhere else to be. Like he’s fine to keep walking into Eddie’s hospital room and calling him sugah and sweetheart and Eddie my love and stroking his cheek and running his hands through his hair.

Carefully, left elbow held tight to his side, Eddie inclines his head a little and reaches up to feel his clean hair, post-dry shampoo. The texture is dry and dusty. He remembers what Richie said about Doc from Back to the Future and hopes he doesn’t appear to have just frosted his whole head. But the smell on his fingers is faintly sweet, and the itch on his scalp is gone, and he no longer feels like his hair is plastered to his head.

He stares at the lockscreen and keypad for several moments, and then he rings for a nurse.

Sarah arrives, leaning in through the door. “Everything okay?” she asks immediately. Eddie vomited this morning; she’s right to be wary.

“Yes, I’m so sorry,” Eddie says quickly, trying to get this out of the way in case she has real emergencies to tend to. “I have, uh, two weird questions, but if you’re doing something important it can wait.” All of Sarah’s job is important, she has more people to worry about than Eddie, and he feels bad for taking her time from them.

There’s a thrum of laughter bubbling under Sarah’s voice when she replies, “That’s fine. What’s weird question number one?”

He gestures to his own head as best he can. “Is there stuff in my hair?”

“Not that I can see,” she replies, tilting her head to the side and eyeing him from the door. “Did your friend do the dry shampoo thing for you?”

Eddie sits up, feeling as though he has only recently uncovered one of the secrets of the world. “Does everyone know about dry shampoo except me?”

“First time using it?” Sarah asks, and then nods. “It’s great. I have oily hair—if I don’t wash it every other day, you can, like, smell it. Some days I’d rather get twenty more minutes of sleep than spend fifteen minutes in the shower. Looks like you brushed it all out, from here. If not, I promise none of us will comment on it.”

He feels a little bit better that Richie didn’t leave him with a bunch of aerosolized clay in his hair.

“What’s the second question?” Sarah asks, smile tucked in the corner of her cheek.

The passcode is apparently six digits long. It’s time for Eddie to test his knowledge of Richie Tozier, after thirty years.

“Do you know the day that Buddy Holly died?” he asks.

Sarah looks at him for long seconds, her brow creasing in puzzlement, before she says, “Long, long time ago.”

Eddie snorts. Then he holds up the phone. “My friend walked out without telling me his passcode.”

“And it’s the day the music died?”

“He’s… a character,” Eddie says, because his first thought was a parody of himself.

She looks contemplative. “Mm, I don’t know off the top of my head—but I can ask Haley at the desk. She has the internet connection, she gets all the weird questions.”

“I—I’m sorry,” Eddie manages.

Sarah shakes her head. “Don’t worry about it.

He does worry, especially because she’s gone for ten minutes. He has to sit alone in this room, wondering what the hell Richie is doing now without his phone, as he turns it over and over in his palms, trying to get his dexterity to improve with a little practice.

When Sarah comes back she knocks on the sliding door and says, “Sorry about that. It was February third, 1959.”

“Thank you,” Eddie says, and opens up the phone to type it in. His right thumb doesn’t want to land on the keys. Too clumsy, too big. He switches to his left hand and types slowly, concentrating: 020359. Biting his lip, he hits enter.

The screen trembles in rejection.

“Damn,” Eddie hisses.

“Not it?” Sarah asks.

“Guess not,” he replies, before he feels the flag go up in his brain. “Actually.”

And he taps in 231959.

This time the phone opens to a grid of icons. Eddie sighs in relief.

“That was it?” Sarah asks.


“Great. Do you need privacy for your call?”

Oh jeez. The obstacle to defeat distracted him a little bit from his goal. Now he has no excuse for not calling Myra.

“Yes, please,” he admits, because this is going to be ugly.

“Okay.” She tugs on the sliding door. “I’m not gonna close this all the way, in case something happens and we need to get in. But I’ll close it like halfway and pull the blinds. Will that work?”

The blinds are important, he thinks. He needs them to hide his shame.

“Yes, thank you,” he says, and sits there awkwardly with the open phone in his hand while Sarah slides the door half-closed, then steps out to the window, waves at him, and vanishes behind the sudden unfolding of the blinds.

Then he steels himself—taking another long breath that aches deep in his body—and pulls up the phone function.

He memorized Myra’s number specifically for instances like this, where he doesn’t have access to his own contact list. He’s still a little surprised when she picks up for the unknown number, though.

There’s a tense breathlessness in her voice. “Hello?”

And suddenly Eddie has nothing to say.

“Myra,” he manages, tongue-tied.

For a moment she’s silent, as though stunned. Then when she speaks she sounds close to tears.


“Yeah,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

And then she really does burst into sobs.

There’s nothing Eddie can do about that but sit there and listen, every indrawn little breath and every pushed-out exhale grating on him. He doesn’t like tears—he never has, they’ve stressed him out since he was a kid—but he doesn’t know how long Myra’s had to live wondering if he was dead or alive, so he really has no right to complain about this. He listens to her cry.

“Are you okay?” she sobs. “Where are you?”

And that.

That’s difficult.

Because Eddie feels bad for Myra, but he still doesn’t want her to know where he is.

“I’m in the hospital,” he admits.

“Oh god,” she says wetly. Then, with sudden startling aggression: “I knew it, I’ve been calling ViCAP Unidentified Persons looking for you, but there was no one—I thought you might be dead.”

Oooh, that lands like she’s punched him. He kind of pushes out his chest a little, leaning into the very physical pain in the hopes he can ride it out faster.

“Which hospital?” she asks. “Where are you? What happened?”

Deep breath, aching all the way through to his back. “I was in a condemned house and it collapsed around me,” he says, reciting the lie Ben walked him through. “I had to have emergency surgery. I—my ribs are broken.” He adds that because he feels like he has to give her something, but if he gives her I’ve been impaled he’ll never get free, and if he tells her the whole truth here, on the phone, with the door open for the medical staff to overhear—he’s going to spend the rest of his life having brain scans. “This is the first time I’ve been able to get to a phone, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to let you worry.”

And those things are true. He clings to them. This is the first time he’s had access to a phone to call her, and he is sorry, and he never intended to cause her to lose sleep or to make her cry or to have her spend time calling hospitals and morgues for John Does matching his description.

“Oh my god,” Myra repeats. “Oh my god.” She breaks into little hitching sobs again. “God, I’m so glad you’re alive. Where are you? What do you need? What should I bring?”

Deep breath, deep pain.

“We need to talk, Myra,” he says.

There’s more of her wet breathing and then she says, her voice small with confusion, “…What?”

He tries to take another deep breath, to focus on the things that are true.

“I’m really sorry about this,” he says, as if that’s any consolation. God, he’s such a heel. He’s gonna hurt her as surely as if he raised a hand to her, and there’s nothing he can do about it this time. “But I’m not coming back.”

Again, this time a little stronger, more intense: “What?”

“I—I got really hurt, Myra.” He used to call her Marty, sometimes, and the instinct is still there, to soften the blow. He liked to call her Marty. God, he’s so stupid. He’s pretty sure he had to read a short story in college about a guy like him, trying to make his wife into the man he wanted. Myra doesn’t even like the nickname Marty, but she likes that he has a nickname for her at all, so she always took what she could get from him. What little she could get.

“You’re—you’re—you’re dying?” she asks, all of her earlier relief vanished under rising panic.

“No.” He can’t let her think that, that’s not fair. “No, but I got really hurt, and I feel like—I, like, understand things now, about life.”

“Eddie, I can’t understand you,” she says, and Eddie can hardly blame her for that, but then she goes on: “Slow down a little.” And it’s just because he’s talking too fast, in his own nervousness.


He doesn’t want to slow down a little. He doesn’t want to think about his words any more than he already has. But she has to comprehend him, at least. He tries to make himself talk slower, stringing each word after the other like cars in a train.

“And I thought—” This is awful to say, and he sounds genuinely defeated when he admits it. “—I don’t want to live like this anymore. I’m—I’m not happy. I’m sorry, but I’m not happy, and I don’t think you’re happy either—I know you’re not happy, and it isn’t fair to you, but—” Here he stalls, but he’s deathly afraid to let her get a word in before he’s done, so he stammers, “—but—but—this isn’t working out, this marriage, and I think we should—should admit it, by now. I think—”

She interrupts him. “Eddie, what are you talking about? Where are you? Just calm down, Eddie, okay? You’re really worked up, and—”

“I’m gay,” he says.


That’s one way to rip the Band-Aid off.

Myra is silent for a moment and then she says, “You’re not gay, Eddie. Look, where are you? We should talk about this in per—”

Her flat refusal of the facts makes it easier to fight with her. It’s always better to know that you’re in the right, easier to be confident with a touchstone to return to. And it’s—men. Eddie’s morphined pretty hard still, enough that his sex drive is basically offline, but his eyes still look and see. Defiantly, almost.

“I am definitely gay,” Eddie almost laughs, and then he hates himself for it. “I’m sorry, Myra, I thought if I didn’t think about it I would be able to make it go away, but it’s who I am, and it’s not your fault, but that’s how it is. I’m sorry—”

“Eddie, you’re not gay,” she repeats, shades of incredulity in her voice. “I might not—I might not be attractive, but we’ve had sex, and you were able to—to finish, you know, it’s not—”

He knew she was insecure when they started dating, but he failed to anticipate how he would aggravate that throughout their marriage. Just more of them laying in bed at night, carefully not touching, listening to crickets. White noise turned accusing and infuriating. He always knew it wasn’t her, and there’s relief now in admitting that the problem was him, because he knows how to solve it.

“No, no, no, Myra, it’s not your fault, it’s not about you being—being attractive, or not, and you’re not—not—not ugly, I swear, it’s not your fault, it’s never been—it’s always been me, you know, it’s not—”

“Eddie, where is this coming from?” Her tears are gone and instead of angry she just sounds confused, maybe a little exasperated. Definitely alarmed. “Just tell me where you are and we can sort this out!”

“We can’t,” he says. “And we shouldn’t try. I’m sorry, that’s how it is, we can’t be together anymore, it’s not your fault. This isn’t the hospital’s number. I’m so sorry.”

And he hangs up, her voice interrupted before she’s finished her outraged “Eddie!” He imagines her calling back and harassing Richie, trying to get him to put Eddie back on the phone, so he goes into Recents. She calls back when he’s in the middle of trying to block her number—he does not need Richie and Myra to interact, hopefully ever—and he hits the button on the side twice to dismiss the call, then actually blocks her.

Then he has to lie down and shake.

It feels like the cold is getting to him all at once, his muscles going tight, his teeth chattering. He holds Richie’s phone to his chest as best he can with his right hand, which still isn’t working correctly and thinking about that just hypes him up higher, makes him feel worse, so he tries not to think about it. He just lays there and trembles, sweat breaking out all over him.

Part of him thinks God, I wish Richie were here, but Richie’s mad at him too. He doesn’t know why he wants him, only that just having him in the room makes it feel warmer. Not physically warmer, but—he’s never been the kind of person to take comfort in someone else’s presence, but Richie makes him feel the way he does when he gets to travel for work, when he’s tired and he walks into the hotel room and sees there’s a place for him to lie down. A little island in the unknown, a little shelter in the strange. Stupid of him to think of it now, but he can’t help it. He feels helpless. He cannot help it.

His heart monitor starts doing the warning beeps and he tries to calm himself, but it isn’t long before Sarah’s back in the room.

“Everything okay?” she asks.

He looks up at her from the bed. “I broke up with my wife over the phone.”

“Oh,” she says, and then blinks. It might be the only possible response to such a declaration. Then she asks, as though to check: “On purpose?”

That almost makes him laugh. “Yeah,” he says, and then swallows. He hedges, “I might be having a panic attack?”

“Okay,” Sarah says, as though she sees this every day—and she might. “Can I hold your hand?”

He doesn’t normally like to be touched, but he nods. She walks over and wraps her hand tight around his; he’s constantly thrown by how strong these nurses are. Sarah has physically lifted and turned him over on the bed, and he’s still surprised by it every time. Her grip is strong and he holds back as best as he can with his weak right hand.

“This is your room,” she says. “It’s yours, and the only people who can come in are the ones who want to help you.”

But that doesn’t help, because Myra wants to help him, she just doesn’t know how, so she tried everything.

“You’re safe,” Sarah says. “It might not feel like it right now, but you’re safe here. Would another blanket help?”

He nods—he’s so fucking cold—and she goes over to the cabinet and pulls down another waffle blanket, this one cream-colored instead of blue. She lays it across him and he watches his own hand vanish under it, and then Sarah comes back and takes his hand up again and holds his gaze, and asks him to breathe with her. With her left hand she drums on her sternum. Eddie thinks that she’s keeping the rhythm to her pulse and that’s oddly comforting, the idea that no matter what happens her heart is slow and steady. He’s always had an easier time when someone else knew enough to guide him through what they were doing, and he feels his own heart rate slowly trying to match hers as they breathe together. It’s very much like his deep breathing exercises.

“Does that help?” she asks, when his heart monitor is no longer tattling on him.

He nods, surprised to find that it does. He might not have had real asthma, but it turns out the root of everything is in his lungs anyway.

“How about some water?” she suggests.

He wants that. He barely needs her reminder to take “little sips”—it just feels good to have the water clear the inside of his mouth, slide down his throat. Being home sick from school never felt this good—he was always sweaty under the blankets his mom piled on him, and no soup or water or hot tea could make him feel better than going out and just running on the grass would have, but this… this is almost nice. There’s something wrong and it’s in his head as much as there are very major things wrong with his body, but for once his body is soothing his brain.

“Is your friend coming back?” Sarah asks. She’s perched on the chair, one ankle tucked behind the other, her hands folded on her knees.

“No idea,” Eddie replies.

Sarah glances to where Eddie still holds the phone close to his chest and her eyebrows lift a little, but she says nothing.

“Is there anyone else you’d like me to call for you?” she asks. “Or would you like to call? I mean—a parent, a friend, if not… Your emergency contact?”

He has stress dreams. Strangely, not of calling Myra, or of the divorce. In his dream, he knows that she’s angry with him, and he’s scrambling to try to appease her. But it also happens to be Christmas, so he’s cooking dinner on his own. They’re having beef—grass-fed beef, because it’s healthy—and other things Eddie can’t make sense of with that fuzzy logic of dreams. And Eddie is, for some reason, in his mother’s house, and his mother’s in the next room and she’s talking to Myra. Sometimes he can hear them.

But inexplicably Richie is in the kitchen, perched at one of the chairs at the little table. And he’s talking and drowning them out—and half the time it works.

One of the alarms goes off and someone—Myra or his mother, he’s not sure—calls, “Eddie!” from the next room. Eddie goes over to the stove and tries to find the button to turn off the alarm, frantic.

Richie leans over his shoulder and reaches past him. When he pushes the button the alarm turns off and everything goes quiet.

Eddie sags with relief and leans halfway into him. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he mutters.

Richie pats him on the shoulder and takes a step back. Eddie can’t see his face quite clearly—dreams are like that—but something tells him that Richie’s hesitant. He doesn’t know what to say.

“What?” Eddie asks.

Richie sighs and says apologetically, “I’m Jewish.”

Eddie starts awake with an incredulous “What?”

Bev and Ben are staring at him. Poor Ben is cringing so hard he looks like he’s trying to vanish into thin air. Beverly looks a little more concerned.

Eddie tilts his head back and closes his eyes. “Sorry. Weird dream.” Then he remembers that Beverly has had some very weird and upsetting dreams for the entirety of her adult life and says, “Stress dream. I—I mean, it’s like, a normal dream, it’s not.” He sighs. “Fuck.”

“It’s okay,” Bev says.

Ben says, “Sorry to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” Eddie says. He wonders if it would be too weird to announce that Richie woke him, and then decides he doesn’t want to explain. “Sorry I was sleeping. How long have you been here?”

“Like half an hour,” Bev says.

Eddie has a moment of panic that comes from not knowing how long he slept, and fumbles around with his free hand. Richie’s phone is still there, half-wedged under one of the pillows and warm in the way that electronics retain heat. So not only has Richie not come back, but Eddie really did go through with breaking up with Myra over the phone.

“What is it?” Bev asks.

He looks up at her and it’s easier to say it to her, perpetually sympathetic as she is, than he expected. “I—told my wife I want a divorce. Over the phone. And then I had a panic attack.”

There’s a long pause and then Beverly says, “Good for you, honey.”

He thinks that he could have handled the good for you, but the honey gets to him. Because Richie called him sweetheart even as he laughed.

“It’s really not,” Eddie says. “It was pretty stupid of me, because now I can’t go home and I have no idea where I’m going to go but I definitely don’t want to stay here, and the nurses are already making noises about what kind of help I’ll need when I’m discharged, and I don’t want help, but I also can’t lift my arms up over my head, and there’s a muscle in my back that keeps twitching, and I’m so itchy.”

Bev watches him with her big green eyes and nods a little, just to let him know that she hears it.

“You smell nice,” she offers.

Eddie is so unused to this idea, especially because he hasn’t taken a shower in at least a week, that it makes him laugh. He holds the pillow tight to his chest. “It’s the dry shampoo,” he says.

“Oh, I love dry shampoo,” Bev hisses, reaching out and touching his hair very gently.

Of course everyone knows about dry shampoo except him. Eddie defaults to her better experience and asks, “Is it supposed to feel dusty?”

“Yeah,” Bev says. He can hear the faint rustle of his hair as she plucks at it gently with her fingertips. Once a hairstylist told Eddie that if he could hear his hair he shouldn’t use a brush on it, he should just use a comb and wait for it to dry—but Eddie can always hear his hair. “What kind stuff was it?”

“Uh, purple?” Eddie offers.

“Ooh, Aussie. That’s good stuff.”

Eddie has to take her word for it. “Richie bought it.”

Bev’s eyebrows lift like she’s impressed.

“He uses three-in-one body wash, shampoo, and conditioner,” Eddie adds.

“Yeah, that sounds more like Richie,” Bev concedes. She lowers her arm and leans back out of Eddie’s space. “How do you feel?”

In lieu of any words to answer that question, Eddie lets out a kind of frantic sigh. “Sorry,” he says. “I—I’m better now, I guess I had to get that out of my system or something.”

Bev smiles a little but from the faint concern on Ben’s face over her shoulder, Eddie guesses he could be more convincing.

“What do you need?” Ben asks.

Eddie stares at him. “What do you mean?”

“What do you need?” he repeats. “What things can I bring to you?”

“I—” Eddie exhales again and this time it comes out shaky. Inexplicably he can’t think of anything that isn’t soda or Richie, and those are not great pillars to build a reinvented self on. “I mean, I’m okay—”

Ben stares at him, face changing not at all but eyes going inexplicably hard.

Eddie recoils a little. “What?”

“Well, first of all,” Bev says, “if you’re leaving your wife, you need an attorney. Would you like mine?”

Eddie blinks at her. “You’re getting divorced?”

Bev nods.

He slumps sideways onto the pillow, so full of relief he can no longer hold himself up. “Do you think we’re having midlife crises?”

“Absolutely,” Bev replies without hesitation. “State of New York?”

Eddie does not understand.

“Are you filing for divorce within the state of New York?” Bev replies.

Eddie has no idea where else he would file. He and Myra have always lived in New York together. “Uh, yes?”

“Good,” Bev says. She glances at the phone gripped in Eddie’s hand and then frowns slightly. “Is that yours?”

“No,” Eddie admits.

“So a cell phone would be a good place to start,” Ben says, looking down at his own phone. From the tapping of his thumb, Eddie guesses that he’s typing out a list. “And then a divorce attorney.”

He finds himself laughing nervously.

Ben looks up, his gaze relaxed again. “Where do you want to go?”

Eddie blinks again.

“Once you’re discharged,” Ben clarifies. “If you’re getting a divorce, I’m guessing you don’t want to go back to New York City.”

“No,” Eddie agrees. He plucks at the uppermost waffle blanket, just for something to focus on. “And not here, either.”

“Okay,” Ben says. “Well, Stan and Patty are going to Buenos Aires, Bill and Audra are still filming somewhere in northern England right now, I think, and Mike is getting ready for a road trip.” He looks Eddie over. “I don’t think you’re ready for that,” he admits.

“I think you’re right,” Eddie agrees. He doesn’t know exactly what all the consequences of a collapsed lung are, but he has a vague idea that it has something to do with pressure in his chest, and that boarding a plane is something his doctors would have opinions about him doing. “Why’s Stan going to Buenos Aires?”

“Anniversary trip,” Bev replies calmly. “Apparently they bought the tickets the night of.”

The idea that Stan and Patty bought the tickets, that Stan then went upstairs and tried to kill himself in the bathroom, and that they’re still going on the trip makes Eddie’s head spin a little. He tries not to think about it.

“And as soon as Tom’s been served, Ben and I are going traveling,” Bev says pleasantly, as though she’s like Mike or Stan and is planning a nice little vacation instead of dodging the kind of man who leaves bruises on his wife. “But depending on where you want to go, we could make our plans around that.”

“No,” Eddie says automatically, but then he considers what it means that their circle is breaking apart. Bill already left—he has work and a wife he seems fairly attached to, and they had deadlines that Bill broke by coming to Maine in the first place—but Richie assures him that Bill still seems to remember them. And it doesn’t surprise him that Mike is ready to leave Maine. But the idea of Stan and Patty going back to Georgia and then back to their lives, and then Beverly and Ben taking off somewhere else—he feels their numbers dwindling.

Leaving him and Richie. And Richie’s going to want to go home. Probably sooner rather than later.

“I mean, I don’t know… where I’ll be allowed to go,” Eddie says. “Or where I’ll have to do physical therapy, or for how long—you guys can’t make plans based around me. I don’t…” He doesn’t know where to go, actually. Not Maine, and not New York City. There are a lot of places in the continental United States he could go to that match that description, but for some reason he can’t think of a single one.

Well, that’s not true. Richie lives in L.A. And his last show before he came out to Derry was in Chicago.

Just the thought of a car ride that long makes his back hurt. And—fuck, he’s going to be on painkillers. He’s not going to be allowed to drive or operate heavy machinery. Maybe he’ll have to stay in Bangor.

“Fuck,” he says aloud, his eyes unfocused until the waffle weave blends into a cream-colored blur. “My wallet. My driver’s license. All my cards.”

He has no money, no identification, and no proof of residence. And he’s just alienated his wife, who has all the documentation he could use to gather those things again.

He tries to take a deep breath but his chest is constricted, and—yep, that’s a panic attack. That’s the old throat-closing-up sensation that he used to call asthma when he was a kid, back when any emotional response was a symptom of something wrong. He sits up—he has vague thoughts about expanding his lungs and reaching more air when he’s not collapsed under the blankets—and focuses on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth.

“Eddie?” Bev asks.

“Okay,” Ben says, with none of Bev’s anxiety. “Are we taking some deep breaths?”

Eddie sucks in another breath and nods.

“Okay,” Ben says. “We can do that. Would a count help?”

He nods again.

“Okay.” Ben taps on the metal arm of the chair, like this is something he does in every social situation. Eddie hears the rush of his breathing, slow and easy and unconcerned. Unlike Sarah’s aura of expertise and generally being in control, Ben seems imperturbable, his steady calm making his presence in the room seem larger. Eddie doesn’t look at Beverly but he hears her breathing in time too.

They all appear to be doing some weird meditating when Nathan comes by to check on Eddie.

“Everything okay in here?” he asks.

“I made some questionable life choices,” Eddie admits. “I think we’re meditating now.”

“Sounds good,” Nathan says. “Gonna give you a five-minute warning before we go for a walk, all right?”

Eddie nods.

“Don’t hyperventilate,” Nathan advises, and then leaves.

Eventually Eddie gets lightheaded and lays back down on the bed.

“Better?” Ben asks.

“I mean, not really,” Eddie says. His situation has not changed at all, but he no longer feels like he’s actively dying. “I have no idea how I’m going to get out of Maine.”

“Do you ever bank online?” Ben asks.

Eddie nods—he went paperless some time ago, and he checks his bank information regularly. He’ll just have to go online, punch in his security questions, and submit a new address. That’s a thing that people do, right? He’ll have to get a new cell phone as well, whenever he’s mobile again. He should be able to go to the Verizon store or something and just get a new model, once he has some money.

He has no identification.

“Fuck,” he sighs again, but his body seems too tired to produce the same kind of existential despair it did before. “I have no money.”

“I’ll lend you money,” Ben says.

The fact that he says lend is what gets Eddie through it. If Ben had said it’s taken care of or I’ll give you the money, he would probably melt down again. But lend means that Ben is taking Eddie’s word for it, that he has funds and will be able to pay him back at some point.

“Are you sure?” Eddie asks anyway.

“Definitely sure,” Ben says. “I have had no one to spend money on since my mom died, my savings can take it.”

That’s right. Eddie had forgotten that Ben was also raised by a single mom.

“Here’s the other thing,” Ben says. “If Beverly and I are going to be traveling, I’ll need a house sitter.”

Eddie stares at him, hoping his skepticism comes through clearly. He knows what Ben’s doing.

“The place is in upstate New York,” Ben says. “So you’ll be able to do whatever legal stuff you need to from there. And when you have to come back up here to see your doctors, the drive shouldn’t be too bad. But I know there are physical therapy places in the nearest town. Otherwise it’s kind of out in the woods.”

“Of course it is,” Eddie says out loud, because Ben is basically famous for being a hermit, and of course he has some kind of cabin in the woods that he needs his sick friend to go live in for him while he’s traveling with the long-lost love of his life.

Injured friend.

Eddie’s not sick, he’s injured.

“Seriously, there’s a lot of glass, people can tell when the place is empty,” Ben says. “You’d be doing me a favor by scaring off burglars.”

“You don’t have a security system?” Eddie asks.

“I have a security system, but even if it went off, at this point I’d kind of be like…” He shrugs. “Fuck it.”

Eddie shakes his head. “How am I going to get to New York?” he asks.

Bev goes conspicuously still. Eddie looks to her and she looks back. “You and Richie haven’t talked yet?”

Eddie sighs through his nose. “No. Richie and I haven’t talked yet.”

Bev asks, “Did he say when he’s coming back?”

Grimacing, Eddie shakes his head.

“Okay,” Bev says in a tone that very much says it’s not okay. “Well, we could all drive down together. I’m in no rush, so if you want to interview in-home nursing care, Ben and I can stay for as long as that takes. And—Tom has no reason to think I’d be in upstate New York, so depending on—”

Eddie shakes his head again. “I don’t want you to put off your plans for me.”

“Why not?” Bev asks. “We love you.”

He doesn’t know why, but that hurts. Hurts him so physically that his hands fist, nails pressing into his palms, and he has to scrunch his eyes shut.

“What’s the matter?” she asks.

“I can’t,” Eddie says, and then shakes his head until Nathan comes back to walk him down the hall.

Bev kisses him on the cheek before they leave.

Richie is waiting on the visitor’s chair when Eddie comes back.

Nathan is still half-supporting Eddie, and Eddie’s ass is still hanging out.

“Fuck you,” Eddie says immediately. “Close your eyes.”

Richie can see nothing from his angle to the right of the door, and Nathan’s body blocks Eddie’s for the most part, but he rolls his eyes and then yanks off his glasses. “Happy?”

“No,” Eddie replies.

“Uh, Mr. Kaspbrak,” Nathan says.

“It’s fine,” Eddie says, and seethes a little bit as Nathan helps him settle back into bed. Eddie keeps glancing over his shoulder to check, but Richie has one big hand over his eyes again.

Nathan still seems dubious about Richie’s presence. “We really don’t like to have visitors being distracting during the exercises.”

“I’ll be quiet,” Richie says, eyes still covered.

Eddie scoffs. “You’re genetically incapable of being quiet.”

“I’ll be dead,” Richie says, and slumps back in his chair like a puppet with his strings cut. His head drops over the back, showing his jawline at a truly bizarre angle where his throat relaxes into it.

“Well, that’s a different medical concern,” Nathan says dryly.

But Eddie’s a lot less sensitive to the idea of Richie hearing him using an incentive spirometer or practicing his coughing exercises than he is to the idea of Richie seeing him shuffling around in a hospital gown, so he continues as though Richie isn’t there, and Richie lies on the chair with his arm thrown over his face like he is also not there, and Nathan definitely thinks they’re weird, but Eddie’s okay with that because it’s true.

When Nathan leaves, Eddie sighs and adjusts the blankets around him. Richie’s cell phone is no longer there. Either Richie picked it up when he came into the room, or someone stole it while Eddie left it unattended.

“Uh, did you get your phone?” Eddie asks.

Richie perks up, becoming animate again instead of playing dead, but keeps his eyes covered. “Me?”

“Yeah, you.”

He digs in his pocket with his free hand and holds up the phone for Eddie’s inspection. “Yeah.”

Eddie lets out another sigh, this one of relief. “Okay. You can look now.”

Richie lifts his head out of his elbow and pushes his glasses back onto his face. There’s something sharp about his features, about the tightness around his eyes and jaw.

“How’s Mrs. K?” he asks.

“Pretty mad,” Eddie says. “Probably because I told her I want a divorce over the phone.”

Whatever Richie was expecting, it clearly wasn’t that, because his eyes pop, round and black behind his frames. “Oh,” he says, mouth completely round too.

“So I blocked her number on your phone, because otherwise she’d be calling and calling,” Eddie goes on, riding the inertia of his irritation as far as it will take him. “If you unblock her and talk to my wife, Richie, I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”

Richie holds up both hands, fingers splayed and palms outstretched. “Got it,” he says. “Don’t need to get in the middle of the Kaspbrak marriage. There are easier ways to die.”

Eddie snorts and rolls his eyes, because the idea that Richie’s not already in the middle of Eddie’s marriage is ridiculous. Granted, it’s through no fault of his own, but he’s there. Eddie was never going to go back to Myra without thinking of Richie.

“And then I told Ben that I have no money, no identification, and no place to live, and now he’s offering to let me house-sit while he and Beverly travel as she gets her own divorce, so there’s that,” Eddie says. “That’s what you missed when you walked out without your phone.”

Richie grins humorlessly. “Well, sorry, I didn’t know if you and Mrs. K wanted some privacy for phone sex or something, because I—”

“I’m gay,” Eddie says.

And Richie chokes. Chokes so hard that his chest jerks forward and he breaks into a round of coughing, covering his mouth with his elbow again. Eddie watches him cough and flail uselessly, thinking of a summer day when he nearly drowned Richie in the quarry, not for any malice but because Richie was always so happy to physically fight Eddie in a way that no one else was. Richie would grab him by the arms and try to pin him to the ground and threaten to drool on him, and Eddie would shriek with rage and try to kick him in the balls, and they would go rolling over and over on the ground.

Richie never actually drooled on him, but he definitely licked the side of Eddie’s face once, and Eddie screamed so hard that a bunch of birds flew out of the trees like in a cartoon.

“I—you—what?” Richie manages.

“Tell me you’re not gonna throw up again,” Eddie says.

“What kind of homophobic—did I hear you right?” Richie scrunches his eyes shut and opens them again, like he’s trying to reset all his sensory input.

“Depends,” Eddie says dryly, “what did you hear?”

Richie stares at him. His hand is still resting on his shoulder, arm bent across his body, but he’s just gawping at Eddie like he’s forgotten about it entirely.

“Pretty sure it’s just men, anyway,” Eddie says. If there’s a woman out there that he can be attracted to, he hasn’t met her and he doesn’t think he will. Now he just has to hope that once he comes off the morphine his… system still works the way that he expects (and has feared for most of his life).

“Oh, so it could also be puppets?” Richie quips immediately.

“Go fuck yourself. How about that?” Eddie prompts. He glances up at the balloon. “And what the fuck is that?”

Richie glances upwards too, and then reaches out his free arm and begins twining the ribbon around his hand, reeling the balloon down. The balloon says in bold letters, SHE IS WITH JESUS NOW. Jesus’s unicorn appears to be leaping over a rainbow.

“What the fuck, Richie?” Eddie asks, bewildered.

Richie sighs, voice dropping low and exhausted. “I know, right? I had to buy it, it was like it was speaking to me.” He tips his head all the way back and props one arm under it to look up, dreamily, like they’re kids watching clouds again. “Is the rainbow in poor taste now?”

“I think that Jesus was in poor taste in the first place.”

“Well, you can take it up with Jesus,” Richie says.

“I’m taking it up with you, you bought the damn thing.”

Richie winces hard, eyes shut and nose scrunching as he grimaces.

“What?” Eddie asks.

Richie shakes his head. “You just set me up for so many gay jokes, and I don’t know how long of a moratorium is appropriate.”

“Oh, now you worry about being appropriate? Now? After forty years?”

“You only met me when I was seven, for all you know I could have spent the first six years of my life being a perfect angel.”

“Based on the fact that your parents stopped having kids after you, I’m gonna go with no.”

“Yeah, well, what’s that say about you?”

Eddie snorts. “My dad died, Rich.”

“Rather than be trapped in a house with you. What’s that say about you?”

Say something real, say something real, Eddie urges him. He takes a deep breath and extends his left arm as far as he can, feeling the protest of his shoulder joint in response. “And here you are,” he says.

Richie slides all the ribbon off his hand at once and the balloon leaps back up to the ceiling, where it bounces and then floats idly.

“And here I am,” Richie replies. Eddie glances back down from the balloon to find that Richie is watching him from his lazy slouch, his chin lowered slightly and his eyes trained on him from under his slashing brows. The fold of his arm and his knee say he’s being deliberately casual; the flat line of his mouth says he’s hiding what he’s really thinking.

Difficult bastard.

Eddie waits for him to say something, but he doesn’t, just lets the silence stand and toys with the end of the balloon’s ribbon.

“So,” Eddie says, watching his face carefully, “I wanted to ask you something.”

Richie’s gaze flicks over Eddie’s shoulder, toward the window, and there’s a faint pulse in his jaw.

Ah, Eddie thinks clearly. He’s afraid.

So he changes his mind.

“Are you Jewish?” he asks.

And he’s surprised Richie a second time; Richie actually sits up. “What?”

“Because I had this dream.”

Richie’s expression flicks to the incredulous. “And I was circumcised?”


Richie steers the balloon back a bit, as though to shield Him from the conversation. “Don’t bring Him into this.”

“Oh my god,” Eddie says. He wrinkles his nose and twists away from Richie entirely, trying to hide his blush. “It was nothing like that, you complete monster.”

“And I had a monster dick. Got it.”

“You are a monster dick.”

“And I was a monster dick? Just like, a walking talking dick?”

“No!” Eddie puts a hand over his mouth to try to stifle his own laughter before Richie can notice and feel encouraged. “I dreamed I was trying to make Christmas dinner, and you were there being—you about it, and then you told me you were Jewish.” As Eddie leaned on him. He takes a deep breath and feels the answering stretch on either side of his ribcage, then tries to make his tone as casual as Richie’s. “Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, that’s all. You’re always a walking talking dick.”

“That’s true,” Richie says. “See? You haven’t forgotten anything.” There’s a creaking sound as he shifts his weight on the plastic and metal chair. In a more subdued tone he says, “Dad’s Jewish.”

Eddie feels his eyebrows lift. “Really?”

“Yeah. And it goes through the mother, so I’m just a really bad Catholic. Like, the worst Catholic, actually. And Dad never kept kosher or anything. I had no idea what Stan was talking about with… anything, really.”

“Anything Jewish or anything at all?”

“Oh, anything at all,” Richie says airily. “I still have no clue, anything that Stan says. You were hurt, he was screaming and started yanking my jacket off, I was like, ‘What?’ until I worked out he was trying to stop the bleeding.”

Eddie blinks once, twice, and then he remembers—Richie still under him and with Eddie’s blood spilled across his face, and suddenly Stan out of nowhere, yanking his cardigan off. Move, move, he said, hand on Eddie’s arm and carefully guiding him away from Richie, Stan grabbing Richie’s hands and putting them on Eddie’s chest. Right arm. Left arm, come on. Come on. Richie taking his jacket off and holding pressure on Eddie’s chest, and Stan slowly lowering Eddie to the cavern floor.

It’s voice: Maybe you shoulda cut a little deeper, huh, Stanley? I can help with that. I can… HELP… with that.

Richie: Stan. Stan Stan Stan, get out of the way, Stan. Taking up space over Eddie.

“I remember,” Eddie says slowly.

Richie filled up most of the space over him, but he was all white and black in the dark cavern—Stan was pale, and utterly furious, and he startled all of them when he lifted his head up and screamed You’re fucking nothing! You’re fucking nothing, you don’t exist, you don’t exist, you don’t exist! And then It lunged for Stan and Richie dragged him down, half on top of Eddie, and the sudden impact should have hurt but it didn’t because Eddie didn’t have enough blood in his body to hurt, didn’t have enough pain left to direct toward the new impact. And then Stan looked from the bone spike embedded in the cavern wall to Richie and demanded, Why aren’t you maintaining pressure, numbnuts?

“Did he call you numbnuts?” Eddie asks slowly.

Richie gives a hollow laugh. “Yeah, I wasn’t maintaining pressure.”

Because Richie was stunned—Eddie was stunned, but he can remember that—he remembers Richie suddenly surging up and being certain that Richie had just been stabbed through too—the cross of his arms over his chest, the way he suddenly tipped over backwards, and Eddie thought, No, no, and then Richie was throwing the claw aside, because he’d just yanked Its leg off.

“You were—” Eddie says slowly. “You—”

“I’m sorry,” Richie says.

Eddie stills and then turns back to look at him. Richie has released the balloon—it’s floating limply on the ceiling, the ribbon hanging loose, red and flat and reassuringly not white string—and he’s drawn his feet up to the chair again, putting his arms around his knees. He looks young again.

Eddie stares at him. “For what?”

He’s still—big. His shoulders don’t fit in the chair; he has his chin tucked down behind his knees, so he just peers over his glasses at Eddie. One hand clasps the other, and his knuckles are white on both hands, and Eddie can see an inch of pale skin where the sleeves of his jacket don’t come down to cover his wrists. He’s wearing different shoes than he did when he arrived in Derry—they’re bright and clean, for all they’re ridiculous sneakers. When he speaks, his voice is very small.

“I was trying to keep you awake,” he says, and then clears his throat.

Eddie blinks at him. He has vague ideas about blood pressure and consciousness—nothing concrete, but he was bleeding out, he thinks that trying to keep him awake was probably a good idea. Eddie remembers talking—to Stan, mostly, because Stan seemed like he was on the verge of breaking down, and he had to assure him that Eddie’s blood was clean, that he wasn’t going to catch anything from Eddie, that he’d never been dirty after all, and then he remembered Richie and Richie was there, blocking out the rest of the cavern with how he leaned over him.

“Yeah?” he manages.

Richie takes his glasses off again and wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand, but his voice is relatively steady when he says, “And you kept falling asleep. So I… yelled at you, a little.”

Eddie blinks at him. “You always yell at me.”

But that’s not true either, really.

Richie shakes his head slowly. Not like this. Richie yells for fun, for dramatics, for a laugh. He’s never had to apologize to Eddie afterwards, because it’s never been to make Eddie feel bad. Not that keeping him awake would make Eddie feel bad—he’s hardly going to hold it against Richie for trying to keep him alive.

“And then I hit you,” Richie says, voice even smaller.

Eddie blinks, reminded of Richie at thirteen and confessional again. I hit Bill. Richie said that he was the worst Catholic—but he always went to Eddie to say the worst things he thought, the worst things he did.

“Okay,” Eddie says slowly. He can’t remember that—remembers Richie saying, Hey, hey, very gently, the same way he said I got married at the restaurant; remembers taking a moment to make a stupid joke, just to put a smile back on Richie’s panicked and bloody face; but he doesn’t remember Richie hitting him. “Like how?”

Richie’s shoulders ratchet up and then down in a slow-motion shrug. “Slapped you. Couple times. Trying to make you look at me.”

It was never an effort to make Eddie look at Richie. Eddie was always looking at Richie.

“Well that’s okay,” Eddie tells him. “I mean—I don’t remember it, it’s fine.”

“You passed out anyway,” he says, his voice curiously flat. “And Stan asked me if you were breathing, and then he told me to do chest compressions, and—” His hands come up and he covers his mouth with his fingers splayed over his jaw, patches of his stubble peeking through. He takes a breath and Eddie feels his lungs expand in sympathy. His eyes close. The next thing he says comes out too indistinct for Eddie to hear.

He leans forward. “What?”

“I broke your ribs,” Richie repeats.

Eddie freezes in place. He has to reach out and grip the safety rail to support himself. He swallows.

Richie is still speaking. “Sounded like tree branches breaking. You know what that sounds like?”

Well now Eddie’s imagination is being entirely unnecessarily illustrative. But now he understands why Richie asked him about trees.

“If it helps,” he says slowly, “I know you wouldn’t have done it if the—if I hadn’t been impaled.” He catches himself before he can mention the demon clown in the ward that is already being very nice about the idea of him leaving. “I don’t think you go around breaking people’s ribs willy-nilly.”

“Willy-nilly,” Richie repeats, his voice still weirdly flat.

“And—and it worked,” Eddie insists. “I mean, you did it to save my life, and it worked, so I’m not gonna hold that against you, not gonna be like, Well, Richie broke my ribs, so—what?”

Because Richie is staring at him now. His eyes and nose look red now, like he’s on the verge of crying, but he just looks at Eddie with something like horror. Slowly his legs unfold and his feet land on the floor with a thump.

“What?” Eddie asks again.

Richie has gone very white. He puts his glasses back on his face slowly. “They didn’t tell you?” he asks.

A well-suppressed panic is now making itself known somewhere beneath Eddie’s diaphragm. “Tell me what? Richie?”

Richie stands from his chair suddenly, holding his arms up as though ready for a fight. “They didn’t tell you,” he says again, but this time it’s not a question; it doesn’t seem he’s speaking to Eddie at all. “Those sons of bitches, I thought they’d told you, I didn’t think they’d—” He covers his mouth again and moves toward the doorway.

“Richie,” Eddie says, louder, urgently, “you can’t leave. I can’t get up, don’t leave.”

Richie turns back around, hands up and appeasing. “I’m not leaving, Eds, okay? I just—” He seems to rotate in place for a moment, and there’s not enough space for him to do it—Eddie expects him to collide with the cabinet. His hands go up like he wants to clutch at his head for a moment, and then they go back down. “Shit, shit, shit,” he mutters.

“Rich,” Eddie says again, trying to get his attention. Richie glances up at him. “Just say it.”

Richie shakes his head again. “Nope, I’m gonna fuck this up and it’s gonna be bad.” He covers his mouth again momentarily and then bobs his head like he’s agreeing with himself.

“You’re not exactly inspiring confidence,” Eddie warns him.

Richie turns on the spot again and then lifts his palms out to Eddie in the universal symbol for Whoa Nelly. “Okay,” he says. “What did they tell you about your surgeries?”

“I—had them?” Eddie manages. “Two at one hospital, one at the other?”

Richie nods. “That’s all?”

“That they had to fix a lot of blood vessels, and my lung?”

Richie tips his head back in a gesture that, on any other man, would be prayer for patience. “That’s all they told you. Okay.” He steeples both hands over his mouth, looks at Eddie very directly, and then points at him with his folded hands. “You died.”

Eddie blinks at him.

“No I didn’t,” he says stupidly. He’s right here. He’s not dead. Also he’s not high enough on morphine to start wondering whether or not he’s actually here—as far as dying dreams that are the last firings of his neurons go, this one is both too boring and stressful at the same time, and also all of Eddie’s teeth are still in his mouth.

Richie lowers his hands, lifts them again, and lowers them again. Then he says, “Twice.”

“I died,” Eddie repeats, trying to make sure he’s got this straight.

Richie’s wearing his yeah, can we have the check? face. He nods.

“Twice,” Eddie finishes.

Richie nods again.

Eddie has to take a deep breath at that; it hurts. “Okay,” he says.

Richie’s face goes flat and then almost indignant. “Okay?”

Eddie tries to shrug at him. It doesn’t change anything, it’s just more trouble with his surgeries, with his body. Dying, he slowly realizes, is just one more thing that his body can do, even without his knowledge.

“What do you mean, ‘I died’?” he asks, because he’s not completely sure that he understands.

Richie takes a deep breath now and Eddie mimics him almost instinctively. His chest hurts.

“They came out, when you were in surgery, and said you’d crashed on the table, but that they’d gotten your heart started and that you were breathing again. And then it happened again, and they resuscitated you again, and then they put you in the chopper.”

“Oh,” Eddie manages. “So how long was I… dead?”

“I don’t know,” Richie says. “I only heard the first one. No one was fit to ask questions except Bill. And, uh.” He shakes his head. “Someone gave me a sedative, because I was apparently out of my fucking mind. Sorry. If—if I’d known you’d ask questions about it—when your fucking doctor should have told you—Christ, I hate Maine.”

Eddie blinks, running back through the conversation he had with Dr. Fox that he actually remembers, since he knows he lost one to the anesthesia after his surgery. She mentioned events during his surgeries—medical events on the table.

“Holy shit,” Eddie says, staring vacantly at Richie without really seeing him. “She said I had events—she meant I died. She meant I died?” And he opens and closes his slow right hand—clumsy, now, he realizes, because of interrupted circulation that happened when his heart stopped. He looks down at his overlong nails. They need trimming, as surely as he needs a shave.

“She said events?” Richie parrots back, outrage rising in his voice. “Because yeah, I’ll say dying is kind of an event, yeah.”

Eddie lets his eyes focus and realizes that Richie is absolutely vibrating in place—not the way he used to buzz with suppressed energy when they were in school and he was on the teacher’s last nerve, but the same way he seemed ready to fight Mike in this room just days ago.

“Richie,” Eddie says, “sit down.”

Instead of listening, Richie tilts his head all the way back and groans. “How can you be so calm?” he demands.

And Eddie starts laughing.

It hurts kind of a lot actually. He pulls the pillow to his chest to brace on one side, and then he lies back on the others to try to put padding on his entry wound. He can’t stop laughing all of a sudden, just hysterical, because Richie asked How can you be so calm?


Richie has come closer, hands knitted around the safety rail. He leans over Eddie with concern—like Eddie’s dying, except Eddie’s not dying, he’s done that already and now he’s alive, he’s on the mend, he’s better than he ever thought he was. And Eddie can’t stop laughing.

“I’m not calm,” Eddie manages. There are tears running out of his eyes and they sting. “I’m not calm.”

“Yeah, I can see that, buddy.”

If Eddie had full range of motion, he would hit Richie with the pillow for that buddy. Eddie just came out to him; Eddie died; Eddie’s not his buddy.

“I’m not calm, and I can keep it together most of the time, but I can’t manage you, Richie, so you have to stop, all right? You just have to stop.” He wipes at the sides of his face. “Give me a tissue.”

Manage me,” Richie scoffs, but he’s already twisting around to grab the tissue box again. “What do you mean, manage me?”

“I mean—” Eddie accepts the tissue and dabs at his eyes. “—you can’t be running around picking fights with Mike and walking around without your phone and offending Patty. I have—” He laughs again and then blows his nose. When he looks up Richie is still watching him, his face set in a scowl. “—so much to worry about, literally more than I’ve ever had to worry about in my entire life.” And at the same time, somehow, less as well. Somehow the biggest things feel lifted off his infirm shoulders. “I’m having a midlife crisis. I can’t run interference for you too. I can’t run at all.”

“Yet,” Richie says. “You don’t have to run interference for me.”

He’s still scowling, but it feels harmless in a way. He holds his hand out for Eddie’s used tissue. Eddie gives him a revolted expression and Richie rolls his eyes and turns to pick up the garbage can again. His arms are so stupidly long that he doesn’t even have to let go of the safety rail to lean across the room and grab it, and Eddie pitches the tissue into it without comment.

“Good,” Eddie says, “I died, I’m too tired.”

Richie blinks at him and then smiles suddenly, looking shocked. He sets the garbage can back down. “You did,” he agrees. “Is that the kind of thing that only you’re allowed to make jokes about, or is it fair game?”

Eddie shakes his head. “You’re gonna have to work harder than that if you want to make jokes about it.” He heard what Richie said about having to be sedated, the first time that Eddie crashed on the table. “That’s the kind of thing you earn.”

“I’ll work for it,” Richie says calmly, and falls back into the seat. “Move your trash cans, bring you tissues, wash your hair, whatever you want. Carry you up the stairs to Ben’s place.”

Something inside Eddie goes very still and alert, watchful. Eddie dabs at his eyes with the back of his left hand and tries to conceal how attentive he’s become. “What?”

“Well, he’s an architect, he makes skyscrapers, I don’t want to know what he’s got going on in his own house. He looks like the kind of person who does the stairclimber machine at the gym.”

Eddie swallows. “You don’t want to go… go back to your tour or?”

Richie blows air out through his lips with a pbbth. “Cancelled that the night I choked in Chicago.” He raises his eyebrows. “Last time I heard from him, Steve was talking about terminating my contract, so.”

“Jesus, Rich.” Eddie stares at him. Mike might not technically have lost his job over the events in the sewer, but he might as well have; and Richie has the whole Bowers thing to contend with. Eddie still hasn’t heard the details.

Richie rolls his eyes as though it’s of no consequence. “He didn’t terminate it over the cocaine, he won’t over this.”

“The what?” Eddie repeats.

Richie waves one big hand. “Don’t worry about it, I’m forty, I’m boring now. This is the most interesting thing I’ve done in a decade.”

Eddie lifts his eyebrows. “Masturbators Anonymous?”

Richie smirks. “I knew you watched my stuff.”

“I told you I watched your stuff, I told you it was garbage.”

“You said I’m actually funny.” He grins a little wider, showing teeth, and tilts his head back and forth, proud of himself.

“Yeah, well, I knew none of that stuff was yours.”

“The Masturbators Anonymous thing is made up,” Richie says. “As is the girlfriend.”

Whatever thing sat up alert inside Eddie to pay attention to Richie now basically has its nose pressed to the glass.

“You made up a girlfriend for your show?” At Richie’s defensive hand-waving, Eddie corrects himself: “Sorry, your ghostwriter made up a girlfriend for your show?”

“Obviously,” Richie says, and waves at himself, long body and crossed legs. “Who do you think is going to want to put up with all this?”

Me, Eddie thinks clearly, and tries to reel it in.

“Men?” Eddie asks quietly.

Richie’s extended arm wraps around his torso and his other hand presses to his jaw. He looks down at his own knee. “Not recently,” he murmurs back, just as quietly in the room with the gentle beeping of Eddie’s heart monitor.

Holy shit.

“But—but—but you have,” Eddie prompts, feeling all of thirteen years old again, like they’re gathered around asking Bill about kissing a girl for the first time.

Richie lifts his chin and gives Eddie a look as bland as oatmeal. “I don’t date,” he says a little more firmly. He stops hugging himself too, shifting his elbow onto the arm of the chair, spreading himself out, making himself bigger. Challenging.

Eddie doesn’t want to pick up the challenge. He’s too busy trying to work out where all the screaming klaxons in his head came from and how to turn them off. Holy shit, holy shit. 

If Richie doesn’t date men, but—he hears a steady beeping and reminds himself to breathe regularly, because there are a bunch of electrodes wired to his chest at the moment that are ratting out his pulse rate. He absolutely, absolutely cannot think about Richie going out and having casual sex right now.

“You—uh, you don’t want to go back to Los Angeles?” he asks. “You don’t—I, uh.” He blinks several times, trying to reset his train of thought.

“No,” Richie says. His mild expression has changed a little, becoming harder; his arms are still spread like he’s sitting on a throne or something. He’s ready to fight with Eddie over this.

Eddie has to decide whether he’s going to fight with him.

“Why?” he asks.

Richie’s eyes are uncharacteristically serious; he does not give an inch. “Because you died,” he says sharply.

And that as a concept is pretty distracting. Eddie takes a breath, trying to keep his temper.

“I don’t,” he says, “want to be taken care of. Listen,” he adds, because Richie has opened his mouth and is definitely ready to argue. “I’ve been taken care of my whole life and I never needed it, and I’m sick of it. I don’t want—you, or Ben and Bev, or anyone else trying to do it. I’m—I’m done. Okay? I’m forty and I’m done.”

“What the fuck does that mean, you’re done?” Richie demands in return. “You’re not giving up.”

“Of course I’m not giving up,” Eddie says, incredulous. If he were giving up he’d allow all of the smothering to happen—he’d have told Myra exactly where he was and allowed her to kick his friends out of the waiting room and let her drag him home. “I’m—starting over. That’s what I’m doing. No more…” He doesn’t have a word to encompass it. “…of that.”

Richie tilts his head to the side, receptive, but his eyelids droop like he’s bored. “If I’m allowed to speak?” he drawls out.

“When has that ever stopped you?” Eddie demands, resigned.

Richie nods his head slowly, then lowers his gaze to inspect the back of his hand. Faux-casual again. Condescending, too. Looking for a spot to cut where it will hurt. “So aside from our rich and creative sex life, what exactly do you think I have in common with your mother?”

Eddie makes a revolted face.

“No, go on, I’m curious,” Richie says. “Even a little bit. Because I’m still not convinced I even qualify as an adult, and we both know she wasn’t human—“


Richie’s jaw snaps shut and he grimaces, looking away toward the sink in the corner.

“I don’t want help,” Eddie says. He tries to put some finality into it, to close the book on the matter.

Richie turns his head and just looks at him. Some of the condescension fades, leaving him soft. Eddie’s not used to seeing that on him; he’s used to Richie performing, strategizing, dodging. Even now, he doesn’t really trust the look of acceptance Richie’s showing him, until Richie speaks.

“Okay,” he says, like it’s that easy. “So what do you want me to do?”

That’s it. That’s all he says. He agrees with Eddie and then asks him what he wants.



Lot of possible answers to that question.

But the faint resignation on Richie’s face—brows and eyes slanting down, mouth gone flat—definitely indicates a genre. Like Richie’s expecting him to say go back to Los Angeles where you belong or something. And if Eddie were interested in doing the upright thing, the self-depriving thing, the reasonable thing, he’d tell Richie he doesn’t want to be a bother (he doesn’t) or to get in the way of Richie’s life (also true) and just let him go.


Eddie fucking died.

And he definitely doesn’t grasp what that means at the moment, but he knows that a) it’s a very bad idea for him to be alone with his thoughts right now, and b) he just wants to be around Richie. The nice thing in the middle of all the horror that was coming back home was discovering that in spite of the years, in spite of the changes, in spite of the person Eddie became that he could feel sloughing off him like dead skin at the table, they all fit together like nothing changed. Bev said, amazed, We all still love each other, and she was right. Eddie still loves them all in the same earth-quaking way he did when he was thirteen, and rediscovering them is like finding the places where he was dovetailed to accommodate their edges. There’s still room for them. All the space that Eddie was holding so carefully empty for all this time was because the Losers Club of 1989 had written DIBS all over it in clumsy capital letters.

If he says to Richie, just be you that’s no better than I love you at the moment. He feels too raw and open to keep that from coming out if he cuts close enough to it.

Richie is still watching him. He has one arm slung over the arm of the chair now, hand loose and fingers dangling casually, elegantly. He’s ignoring the trailing ribbon of the balloon and watching Eddie over his glasses, a distinctly un-Trashmouth-like move that makes Eddie feel pinned, somehow. Butterfly on a corkboard. It’s the kind of piercing stare he usually gets from Stan—are they at the point where they’re mimicking each other again? Picking up each other’s mannerisms—Stan doing Eddie’s cutting hand gestures and Bev bobbing her head like Richie and Ben adopting a little bit of Bill’s guilty pout?

Please just be you, Eddie thinks. His heart monitor continues throbbing over his head. But he thinks Richie understands it too.

“Don’t treat me different,” he says, and it comes out all wrong: too urgent, too needy, almost a plea. “I can’t—you said, down there, you said I didn’t need—the placebos or—you said I was brave enough, basically. You can’t take that back now.” He finds a loose thread in the blanket and pushes his index finger through it, making a fist in the fabric so the thread loop constricts like a ring. “If you start treating me different I’m gonna go fucking insane, you don’t even know.”

Are they different people after all? Can Eddie shed adulthood like a skin and climb back into the odd brave person who was ready to die for his friends? He found him there in the dark. He thinks his name is Eds.

“So—” Richie lifts his chin a little, one corner of his mouth pulling up. It’s like mid-afternoon; he needs a fucking shave, because just looking at him is making Eddie’s face itch. “—don’t be helpful.”

Eddie blinks at him once. The thread wrapped around his finger breaks.

“Like, even a little,” Richie says. “Just stand there, be the trashmouth, be lookout, watch you fall down the stairs and crack jokes.”

He’s saying it lightly, not like he’s trying to guilt Eddie or throw it back in his face. If he asked Myra to back off (he gave up on that after a while) she would ask him what she was supposed to do, just watch him struggle? But Richie sounds like Eddie’s ready to take him at his word as far as marching orders go.

“If I fall down the stairs, you can help me,” Eddie concedes. He’s not unreasonable.

“Help you fall down the stairs? Like, push you down the stairs?”

“If I fall down Tracy will put us each in a half-nelson, so you are allowed to disobey a direct order to prevent me from immediate physical harm.”

Richie’s smile widens. “In the interest of us not sharing one full nelson?”

“I don’t want to have to learn what a nelson is,” Eddie confirms. It has absolutely nothing to do with how nice it might be to be caught by Richie’s arms. He’s a grown man.

“So can I come to New York?”

Part of Eddie cries out yes, please come to New York! It’s somewhere between the fear he felt when he thought Richie was going to walk out on him earlier and the possessive thought I’m not done with him yet. How bereft he felt when it was time to go home at the end of the day.

“Don’t make me regret it,” Eddie says.

“Thought you said I wasn’t supposed to treat you different,” Richie says, and reaches out for the ribbon of the balloon. “Per the terms of our contract, I have to make you regret it, Eds.”

Eddie recognizes a call to response when he hears it. Richie wants him to be Eddie, too.

“Don’t call me Eds,” he replies, finishing the ritual and sealing the deal.

Chapter Text

Eddie comes off the morphine.

It turns out that he’s not actually doing as well as he thought he was.

“How are you feeling?” Dr. Fox asks him, the morning after his first night’s sleep minus the intravenous opioids.

Eddie stares at her. He’s kind of baffled, actually. He thought his body was fairly manageable, and now he discovers that western medicine is just full of all kinds of wonders. Devotee of prescription pills as he was for many years, he still had no idea.

“Ow?” he offers her weakly.

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” she says. “You’ll be taking painkillers by mouth for now. We still don’t want you getting up without help, so please call for a nurse instead of getting up on your own.”

She gives a stern look, like Eddie’s just ready to throw himself out of the bed. He’s not even ready to move his arms. He’s afraid that he’s just going to stay in this bed forever. His mother would love that. It just took forty years to break him.

“I promise not to get up on my own,” he says.

The last time he even brought up the subject, Sarah vanished and came back with a pamphlet titled Call, Don’t Fall! And what’s worse, she handed Eddie one and left a couple on the visitors’ chairs for his friends when they came in. Richie spent the rest of his visit coming up with increasingly unlikely rhymes, finally escalating into something incredibly contrived involving autoerotic asphyxiation (“Angle, Don’t Strangle!”), which sent Eddie into a coughing fit.

“Good,” Dr. Fox says. “And while we’re on the subject. Nathan says that you’ve been reluctant to use the bedpan or urinal.” She means the plastic one that’s supposed to guide his stream into a small jug now that the catheter’s out; Eddie’s general reluctance to use a urinal in a public restroom has, for his entire adult life, been based on the opaque social etiquette of which urinal to use when one in the row is occupied.

Eddie wants to sigh at her in response, but he also doesn’t want to make his ribs angry by drawing a full breath. “Yeah, I don’t want to do that.” He’s been impaled through the torso. He feels like he ought to retain some agency.

“Well, good news—you have a urinary tract infection.”

Eddie stares at her and then says, “Motherfucker.” That’s a bad habit; he hasn’t cursed in front of a doctor in years. It’s Richie’s fault. “Sorry. How the—how can I possibly have a urinary tract infection. Aren’t I already on antibiotics?”

Nathan made him pee in a cup. At the time Eddie thought it was because they needed to see how his body was metabolizing his morphine, but also Nathan probably noticed how he was hissing and cursing under his breath when he tried to use the toilet, because that’s what happens when someone’s job is to watch you take a piss, they notice you cringing. Eddie tries to feel less resentful of Nathan for ratting him out.

“You were on antibiotics, but we’re pretty satisfied that your initial infection has cleared.”

Eddie raises his eyebrows. “My what?”

Dr. Fox grimaces and looks down. “Sorry. You had a fever almost immediately after your surgeries, but it cleared with antibiotics. We think that, combined with the anesthesia, is probably why you’re having memory loss. Your MRIs showed no cranial trauma or inflammation in the brain, so we’re pretty sure it’s not injury-related, except for the shock of the blood loss.”

“What got infected?” Eddie asks, because that’s the most important question at the moment.

“Your posterior incision,” Dr. Fox replies. “We were pretty sure it had cleared by now, based on your drainage and the actual site itself. Your healing looks very good, considering the environment. We think that the amount of blood loss helped flush organic material out of the wound, because we didn’t find any wood in the injury.”

Eddie cringes hard, trying to project squeamishness as a way to get around discussing the holes in his cover story as well as his actual body. “So I had an infection,” he prompts.

“You did,” she says. “Which means that this one is likely antibiotic-resistant to what we’ve been giving you. So we’re going to take a second urine sample, do antibiotic testing, and find an antibiotic to target that infection specifically. In the meantime, I’m increasing your required fluid intake. You’re going to be drinking eight ounces of water every half an hour, and if you feel the urge to urinate—” She gives him a hard look. “—you may have to use the urinal, if none of the nurses are available to escort you to the bathroom.”

Oh god. There are no words for how much Eddie does not want that to happen.

“Does it have to be a nurse?” he asks. He will ask Ben to carry him to the bathroom before he uses the bedpan. Ben is not only capable but he probably wouldn’t even hold it against Eddie.

“Every time you get up,” she says. “Out of bed, out of a chair, off of the toilet. As long as you’re in the hospital, we’re liable if you’re injured—and forgive me, but we’re also responsible if one of your friends tries to take you to the bathroom and you fall and are injured. Also we don’t want that to happen, and our nurses are really good at catching people when they collapse.”

“I have noticed that.”

It’s her turn to raise her eyebrows at him. “Have you collapsed?” She glances back down at his chart, probably checking to see if there's a note about a fainting episode that she's missed.

“No, they’re all just really strong.”

Dr. Fox looks appeased. “They have a lot of practice. So. Do we understand each other?”

“Can I bribe them to take me to the bathroom?”

“I’m afraid that would be unethical and might interfere with other patients’ care,” she says dryly. “How are your bowel movements?”

The rest of the brief rundown of Eddie’s major organ systems is just as unpleasant, and ends with her prescribing him a powdered laxative to mix into his beverages (“or pudding, if you prefer,” as if Eddie’s going to spoil perfectly good pudding like that) until he stops puking from constipation.

The hospital food is doing nothing to help his constant low-grade nausea, but it’s also not that different from the food he ate when he was living at home with Myra. Myra cooked, and he appreciated that because he hates cooking and never learned how to be any good at it, but she had a lot of the same hangups regarding food and foodborne illness that he did, aggravated by nutritional concerns about weight. Mealtimes were always stressful, and they functioned best when they didn’t have to comment on or think too much about what they were eating. The night after the dinner at Jade of the Orient, Eddie was so sick from just the departure from his gastronomic comfort zone (as well as probably all the alcohol, since he definitely binged on that too) that after they had that revelation about Bev’s prophetic dreams, he had to go up to his hotel bathroom and lay down with his head on the side of the porcelain bathtub and try to keep it all down.

“The good news is,” Dr. Fox says with a smile, because Eddie’s doing absolutely nothing to hide how miserable both his physical condition and this check-in are making him, “we’re reasonably sure that your lung is no longer leaking air. And the drainage from your chest tube is decreasing at a very promising rate.”

Eddie nods blandly, pretending he knows what that means.

“Which means,” she adds, her smile a little wider, “if you keep this up, we’re looking at removing your chest tube at the end of this week.”

If he had the energy he’d sit up; instead he just tilts his head back, shifting her in the frame that is his field of vision to give her better attention. “This week?” he asks. “Do you mean Friday or Sunday?”

“We’re looking at Friday,” she replies. “Because your injury was so traumatic, I’d like to keep you for another day after your tube is removed, just to make sure there are no complications, but you could be discharged as early as Sunday. Have you worked out what your plans are once you’re out of here?”

He lets his head tip back a little further, taking the support of the pillow. “Well, I live in New York,” he says. “So. I’ll be going back there.”

“And is there someone at home who will be there with you?” she asks. “Or do you live on your own?”

“No, I’ll—I’ll have someone there,” he says. “My—I have friends offering to stay with me, so. I won’t be alone.”

“Okay,” she says. “You’ll be driving? Or, traveling by car—I don’t want you operating a vehicle.”

He nods.

“Good. You need to stay off of planes until you’re otherwise instructed,” she says. “Do you have a PCP at home?”

A PCP who’s been happily prescribing things to soothe Eddie’s internal and Myra’s external anxieties for the last ten years.

“I’m—in the market for a new one,” he says.

“Hmm,” she says. “New York City?”

“No,” he says. “No, upstate.”

“Well. You’ll have plenty of instructions for your discharge, about what to look out for with your incisions, the kinds of exercises you should do at home, the kind of physical therapy you should receive. We’ll give you print-outs so you can refer to them.”

“I normally have fairly good memory,” Eddie says, and then remembers that not only did he forget the first eighteen years of his life, he also forgot about his wife in favor of his car this week. But he doesn’t want to walk that back in front of his doctor.

“Standard procedure,” she says. “Also something your caregivers can refer to. Before you’re discharged we’ll schedule your follow-up appointment—will you be able to come back to Sovereign Light so that we can see how your outpatient healing is progressing?”

Eddie is reasonably sure now that he might as well quit his job, because if his job gets in the way of him healing from his gaping chest wound, he needs not to have it in the first place. He nods.

“We’re looking at anywhere between one and three weeks for you to come back for your checkup,” she says. “And remember—I’m not promising discharge on Sunday. If something happens—if your lung starts leaking, or if you have problems with your heart or breathing, or if you develop a fever, we might want to keep you a bit longer. Understand?”

“I understand,” he says.

“Good,” she says. “I’m going to get a nurse in here with your oral painkillers—I’ve prescribed them every four hours, but if you’re in unmanageable pain we can revisit that. We’re not medicating to no pain—especially not after your response to the morphine earlier.”

Eddie feels in a weird way like she’s blaming him for passing out, when he not only had absolutely no control over how much morphine he received while he was unconscious, but he was also there and didn’t exactly enjoy the experience. He tries to put aside some of that sensitivity and focus on his impending release.

“Do you have any more questions for me?” Dr. Fox asks.

“Yeah,” he says slowly. He tries to assess how much he wants to get into this right now, but he has a lot of free time on his hands and his sleep schedule is pretty bad at this point in his life; he has a lot of time to lie in the dark and think about his situation. “Uh, you said that there were… events, while I was in surgery. That I had some events.”

She lowers the clipboard and tucks it into her side, then nods slowly, so deeply that Eddie can see the part in her hair from his recline on the bed, and then back up. “Yeah,” she says. “You went into cardiac arrest during your initial surgery at Derry Home Hospital. I wasn’t there and I can’t speak to the events themselves, but when you arrived they told us that you had two periods of cardiac arrest during which you had to be resuscitated.”

“Oh,” he says. It wasn’t here. He feels a little weird asking her about it, because she also got this secondhand, but he also feels he really ought to have been told that he died, first thing when he woke up. “Uh—do you know how long?”

“The first time, about one minute,” she says. “The second time, about four minutes. You were on a ventilator. Your heart responded to the defibrillation, but you did have a brief period where you had no heart activity.”

“Oh,” he says again, and looks down at his right hand. It lies curled on his thigh on top of the cream blanket—they haven’t taken away his second blanket after his panic attack, and the part of him that’s still fucking cold is fiercely glad of that. They took out his IV and now he’s not so afraid to move the arm, now that he’s not afraid of jostling either the needle or the plastic tube, but its clumsiness is more pronounced now. Like trying to walk on a foot that’s still asleep.

“We think the interrupted circulation may have resulted in some nerve damage,” she says, following his line of sight. “How does that arm feel?”

“Uh,” he says, trying to think of an answer that isn’t cold . Then he reconsiders and says, “A little cold? And—clumsy? Like I’m trying to use my left hand instead of my right, except I have two left hands.”

“Is it numb?”

“A little,” he says. “I can still feel things with it—I can feel this.” He rubs his palm back and forth across the waffle weave of the blanket, feeling the roughness against his skin. “And I can feel cold, like—” He reaches out and touches the safety rail on the right side of his bed. “It just doesn’t seem to react like it used to—like, if I try to make a fist, I can. It just doesn’t feel right.” He shows her, holding out his fist with his palm facing up. The cotton ball taped to the inside of his forearm faces the ceiling. “My fingers don’t line up where I’m used to.”

“Uh-huh?” she asks. “Can you sit up for me?”

She comes around to the right side of his bed and puts a hand on his back to help guide him into an upright position. Then she puts one hand on his shoulder and asks him to extend his arm, carefully touching his elbow and following down to his wrist and then his fingers. She has him twist his wrist to turn his whole arm, asking him what hurts and where.

“Okay,” she says, helping him lower his arm back to his side without his whole back rebelling. “I think we might want to schedule some nerve conduction tests, maybe EMG to rule out muscle problems. We’re pretty sure we know the cause, so I don’t want to do a nerve biopsy. Have you broken this arm before?”

“Yeah,” he says.

She nods. “Yeah, we saw it on your X-rays. How old were you?”

“Thirteen,” he says.

“It… looks like it was set by an amateur?” she says slowly.

Eddie closes his eyes. “It was,” he replies. “My friend did it.”

She blinks at him. “Also a thirteen-year-old?”

“Yeah. He saw it on TV.”

“Oh my god,” she says. “Did you have radial nerve damage before this?”

He shrugs. “Probably not. I’ve always been pretty healthy.”

He reconsiders that, later, when Sarah brings him his cup of water and a smaller plastic cup with some pills resting in it. As soon as the pills hit his tongue he gets a wave of nausea that makes his throat close up. He used to be so good at dry-swallowing medicine that he could shake them out into his palm and gulp them down while he was driving a car on the phone. Now he gags on the pills and water and coughs a little.

“Not good with pills?” Sarah asks, a little concerned.

He clears his throat and drinks more water. “Guess not,” he says.

“My mom’s like that. My grandma used to hide her pills in peanut butter and she would still find them and spit them out.” She smiles. “My dog does that too—her dad gives them to her in hot dog, and she eats the hot dog and then drops the pills on the floor.”

Eddie elects to ignore the idea of a dog having a human father. “What kind of dog do you have?”

“Shepherd,” she says. “She’s really smart, but she’s also an idiot.”

Eddie nods. “I know a little bit about that.”

“Oh yeah? Do you have a dog?”

He shakes his head. “No, I just have some wonderfully stupid friends.”

Sarah beams at him.

He sets his cup down on his little tray. “What’s your dog’s name?” If she’s talking to him, it will distract him from this bland oatmeal that is his breakfast.

“Daisy Belle,” she replies. “Like the song.” She sings a little of it: “Daisy, Daisy.”

Eddie frowns. He’s pretty sure he remembers that song, but only in the context of a Peanuts cartoon. “Is that one about a bicycle?”

“It is! A tandem bike.”

He’s thirteen years old, clutching his broken arm to his chest and perched in the basket of a bicycle as Mike pushes the wheels over the broken ground of Neibolt House, his teeth chattering like it’ll do anything to make him feel better.

“I don’t like Pomeranians,” Eddie declares.

Sarah shakes her head in agreement. “Nah, big dogs all the way.”

“Not too big,” Eddie says. “No dog bigger than me.”

She laughs. “No Russian bear dogs for you?”


“I feel that. I only have fifty pounds on my girl. My husband’s six-four, though, so when we were training her not to jump—” She mimes pushing at something. “—he only had to flip her on her back like twice, and she never did it again.”

Eddie stares at her. “Your husband is six-four?” She’s five feet tall. She fits under his armpit when he stands up.

She shrugs one shoulder. “Yeah. His brother’s six-one, our brother-in-law is five-eleven. I like big dogs, big men.”

Eddie lowers his gaze to his oatmeal bowl and says, “I feel like I ought to salute you, but I don’t know why.”

Sarah laughs again, and then her gaze flicks to the side, looking for something to dwell on while Eddie eats his breakfast. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

And maybe he’s a little paranoid because the first thing he thinks of is please don’t ask me about my relationship to Richie, I’m forty years old and I don’t want to have to say ‘it’s complicated’ out loud.

“Sure,” he says, full of oatmeal and pain.

“What’s the deal with that balloon?”

It slowly rotates in the corner. The unicorn’s wild eye seems to roll.

The nice thing about Mike is that at the moment he’s so clearly brimming with his own excitement about his travel, it forms a kind of white noise for Eddie’s baseline energy level. It’s a low-stress interaction—Mike pulls the chair up beside the bed and sits so that Eddie can see as he shows him the trip itinerary he’s building. Eddie feels comfortable with the level of sleepy interest he can bring to the table.

“Because it’s the first national park in the world,” Mike says, quiet glee on his face. “Not just America—the world. I know people are always saying that North America is bigger than you think it is, Europe is older than you think it is—but I think there’s something there, you know?”

Eddie blinks a few times, trying to figure out whether Mike means that Yellowstone might also be harboring a demon alien. “What kind of thing?”

“Like—rhetorically. Symbolically. There’s a lot of loss to the idea that the natural beauty of Europe that could have been preserved in national parks… the idea wasn’t around then. You know?”

Eddie doesn’t have a lot of opinions about the natural beauty of Europe, or indeed natural beauty in general. He likes civilization, he likes cities despite the grime of New York. There’s something reassuring about the presence of infrastructure, of accessible transport, of the ability to get to where you need to go, of variety at your fingertips. A city is what you make of it—for all that for most of his NY residency he made very little of it. But he still associates the countryside with rural Maine and the feeling he got of longing, walking through the old trainyard. The desire to be anywhere but here.

But that’s not entirely true. The Barrens were a different sort of comfort.

“There are still forests in Europe,” he says, nonplussed. “The Black Forest? Are you going to Europe?”

“Maybe,” Mike says. “Depends on whether or not Bill’s still there by the time I finish with North America.” At Eddie’s confused eyebrows he explains, “I could fly in to where he’s staying, do touristy things, get a flight from England to the continent, take trains. I’m ready for America to have a high-speed rail, man.”

Eddie sighs, “I like trains.”

Which is of course when Richie walks in, plastic bag in hand, just in time to hear Eddie sound very stupid. He doesn’t acknowledge it—yet—but he instead says, “All right, I have completed your fetch quest, may I please be rewarded with the hand of the princess now?”

Eddie scowls at him. Mike straightens up and as soon as he’s less close the antiseptic smell of the hospital fades back into his notice again. Mike always smells nice. Eddie smells like disinfectant.

“What’d you get?” Mike asks.

Richie reaches into the bag and starts pulling out packets of candy. “Jellybeans, peppermints, Jolly Ranchers, Junior Mints, Skittles, butterscotch, Lifesaver gummies, Swedish fish, and a two-pound bag of assorted Hershey chocolates.” This last he hoists up and waves at Eddie. “What’re you starting with?”

“Skittles,” Eddie says. Richie throws a movie-theater sized bag of Skittles onto his lap and he and Mike pretend not to notice while Eddie struggles to tear it open. His index finger and thumb don’t want to cooperate with the perforation.

“Are you celebrating something?” Mike asks, tone slow and careful.

“Tentative release on Sunday,” Eddie replies. He gives up and rips the bag open with his teeth. A spray of rainbow-colored pellets spills down his front and land on the blanket.

“That’s great!” Mike says. “What’s your plan?”

“Ben’s house,” Eddie replies. He knows he’s being uncommunicative, but he’s both tired and distracted with scientific experimentation. Holding the bag in his right hand, he shakes some Skittles into his left palm and then takes a deep breath. Then he tosses the candy into his mouth like he’s throwing back pills.

The second the pellets hit his soft palate he gags. He tries to keep it mild, to conceal his sudden retching from Mike and Richie in case they have questions, but some of his revulsion must come through. He holds his hand over his mouth, trying to hide the way he almost wants to spit them out.

“You okay?” Mike asks.

Eddie works the candy into the front of his mouth and begins chewing. Searching for a distraction, he asks, “What the fuck did they do to the green ones?”

“Oh shit, you didn’t know?” Richie throws himself down on the open chair; it creaks dangerously. “They changed them to green apple. Like, years ago.”

“How is that any better than fucking lime?” Eddie demands, muffled around his mouth full of candy. Once the Skittles are pulverized they go down fine without making him nauseous; he holds the bag out to Richie. Richie leans forward and takes them without question. “Jellybeans.”

Richie trades him the Skittles for a pack of Jelly Belly 49 flavors. “Are you going through some shit here, or can I eat these?” he asks, holding up the red bag.

“Go for it.” Eddie has an easier time opening up the plastic on this bag. Different material, thinner cellophane or something.

“Hell yeah,” Richie says, and pours Skittles into his open mouth. Eddie does not watch this time.

Mike does, in something like horror. “Isn’t your dad a dentist?”

“Retired,” Richie says. “And if you think he’s disappointed in me now, you should have seen me like when I was just out of rehab, I could have done sponsorships for Skittles.”

That does make Eddie look up. Richie is eating more Skittles. Mike has a patient look on his face that tells Eddie this is not new information for him.

“Rehab?” Eddie asks.

Richie blinks twice and swallows his mouthful of candy. “Yeah, man, it was in the papers and everything. Like two-thousand…” He tilts his head to the side and his gaze flicks up, visibly counting. “2013?”

“Oh,” Eddie says. It’s recent. Not that there’s any period of time that he’d be cool with Richie having some kind of substance abuse problem, but three years ago is really recent, and Richie has been really stressed lately.

“You knew,” Richie says, looking at Mike, as though this is nothing more significant than a vacation Richie posted Facebook photos of. Mike nods. Richie smiles. “You fucking stalker,” he says affectionately.

“I had very little going for me in my life,” Mike says.

“Happy to provide that Schadenfreude,” Richie says. He glances back at Eddie and holds up the bag of Skittles, shaking it so that there’s a dull rattling sound from within it. “Anyway, cravings respond to inadvisable quantities of sugar.”

“Cravings,” Eddie repeats, and then shakes his head. “You don’t have to—“

“Cocaine,” Richie says patiently. There’s a moment of faintly awkward silence before he sings, “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie.”

Awkward silence is replaced by flat incomprehension.

Eddie asks, “Is that Eric Clapton?”

Mike says, “Oh, it’s Eric Clapton. I just thought he was being weird.”

“I mean, he was absolutely being weird.”

“Tough crowd,” Richie says. “Anyway, what are your other demands, my liege?”

“Well,” says Mike.

Richie blows a raspberry.

“My clothes,” Eddie says, because his ass is definitely currently touching these hospital sheets. Which are also not changed every day, and Eddie is still in desperate need of a shower, so it is as pimpled as his face and back at the moment. “New shoes. Since the hospital probably burned mine for being…” He tilts his head to the side, trying to indicate dragged through a sewer and full of my blood.

The jellybeans also activate his gag reflex. When he bites through them with his incisors, however, that nausea fades a little. Since Richie seems a little busy at the moment, Eddie hands the jellybeans to Mike.

“An insult to life and property?” Richie suggests.

“Yeah, that.”

“No problem,” Richie says. “I’ll get you new shoes before you make your escape attempt. What are you, size three?”

“Fuck off,” Eddie says.

“Two and a half?”

“Give me the fucking Junior Mints.”

The Junior Mints do not make Eddie sick. He assumes it’s because they’re larger than the Skittles or the jellybeans. Eddie knows that the mint flavor doesn’t actually do anything for his dental health, but it does make him feel better about the state of his breath. He brushes his teeth gingerly in the morning and the evening, during his first and last bathroom trips of each day, but the hole in his face makes him anxious about brushing with any real dedication.

He doesn’t know what a week of being seriously injured and receiving all of his medication intravenously instead of popping pills the way he did under his own power, but now he knows that he’s conditioned in some way to get sick at the very suggestion he might be swallowing a pill. It’s the shape of the candy that’s getting to him. He can only hope that will help him to commit to his new resolution, now that Bill’s thrown out all his pills.

 Sarah says, “Today’s the day!”

Eddie blinks at her. It’s Thursday, not Friday as he expected. “Am I getting my chest tube out?” he asks.

“Not today,” she says. “Barring any unforeseen events, tomorrow. Today you’re gonna look at your incisions.”

He feels his eyebrows climb up toward his hairline. “Oh,” he says, somewhat alarmed. He’d like to think that he’s brave about his injuries, especially since he… survived them, in a manner of speaking. But maybe the care that the nurses have taken to keep him from seeing his incisions has built it up in his mind. He feels a little pulse of anxiety at the idea. “Okay.”

“When you’re home, it’s going to be important for you to check for any changes that could indicate an infection,” she says. “They’re starting to heal—that’s why we’re releasing you—but if you have any fluid draining from the sites, write down the amount, the color, and the smell. You’ll need to talk to the doctor about that when you come back for your follow-up.”

Eddie is not enamored by the idea of writing down the smell of his own chest pus, but there has been very little about this entire experience that has been pleasant. “Okay,” he says.

He can sit up now on his own and support his own weight while Sarah removes his bandages, still talking.

“You don’t have stitches in the wound itself,” she says. “Aside from repairing the damage to blood vessels, and closing up your chest after repairing your lung—but that’s not in the original wound itself. And that’s a good thing, because you had an infection immediately after surgery and you don’t want material in the wound when it’s draining like that.”

“Okay,” Eddie says. He keeps glancing down to where she’s working steadily at his chest. He still has ring-shaped bruising on his chest from where he eventually picked off his suction cups from the heart monitor, but she’s very careful peeling off the waterproof bandage.

“Ready?” she asks.

He decides that watching is not going to help this process and closes his eyes. “All right.”

His skin stings as she pulls off the waterproof bandage. He continues feeling weirdly self-conscious about his nipples.

“Okay,” she says.

Eddie opens his eyes, and then he’s not so concerned about his nipples anymore, because his injury is kind of a feature dominating his entire chest. Purple and green bruising stretches across his ribs, far beyond the boundaries of either the stab wound or the surgical incision. The closer to the center of the injury the darker the bruising gets, until it’s almost black. The incision is, in comparison, pretty clean, with tiny neat dark blue stitches going up almost to his collarbone and almost down to his navel.

And the wound itself… When he looks at it, some part of his brain so deep says You should not have a hole there, your body is wrong, wrong, wrong —that he doesn’t realize he’s starting to pass out until sparks start coming up in his field of vision. Then he blinks and he realizes that he can’t really see because his eyes seem overtaken by gray fog.

“I’m passing out,” he says to Sarah, because it’s important she know that.

“Gotcha,” Sarah says. She puts one hand on his temple and the other on his shoulder, and guides him back down onto his right side. “Can you tuck your hand under your head?”

Eddie has no problem tucking his hand under his head and bending his knees. After a moment she pulls the blanket up over him to keep him warm. Eddie focuses on breathing and thinks about that feeling of clarity he got when he was bleeding out, the realization that nothing had been wrong with him after all this time. He meditates on it.

Sarah brings him some water and offers it to him in little sips. Eddie apologizes for his faint heart. “It’s all right,” she says. “The last time I had blood drawn I didn’t faint when I was in the chair, but I started to faint the next day when I took the bandage off. Seeing the bruise.”

“I didn’t know bruising could do that,” Eddie says.

“Yeah,” she replies, her tone resigned acceptance. “The worst part was, I was on the toilet and everything.”

That makes Eddie laugh, and he wraps his left arm carefully around his torso to support himself.

“Maybe we should look at it while you’re lying down, just to get you accustomed to it?” Sarah suggests.

So they do that. Sarah peels the blanket off his chest again and Eddie tries a kind of exposure therapy with looking at his own injuries, glancing down at his chest and then looking up at the balloon. The balloon is the antithesis of a gaping chest wound. He wonders if association with his injury is going to affect his perception of Jesus in general, as Jesus stares back at him from atop the unicorn.

Stan and Patty come to visit him later that day. His hospital gown is tied behind his neck again and he’s as decent as he can be while in the hospital bed and not wearing nearly enough layers. For some reason the fact that he has a hole punched through his body makes him feel less uncomfortable about his vulnerable state of dress. His body feels both like it does and doesn’t belong to him, and he’s in enough pain at the moment that he doesn’t have the energy to care about it.

“Richie said you wanted candy,” Patty says. “My kids are really into these.” From her purple Scandinavian backpack—one of the expensive ones Eddie associates with college students—she produces a box of Japanese chocolate biscuits labeled Pocky . They all sit around and eat them, letting them hang out of their mouths like cigarillos. Eddie feels like a 1920s flapper.

“So you’re going to stay with Ben in New York for a bit?” Stan asks.

He nods. If Richie were here, he’d put two Pocky in his mouth and do the walrus tusk trick. Eddie won’t do that, but he’s definitely thinking about it.

“Are you taking Trashmouth with you?” Stan asks.

Eddie blinks blandly at him. “Ben and Beverly are going to be traveling,” he says. He wonders whether it would be appropriate to suggest he thinks she’s avoiding her abusive husband. The fact that he has to wonder about it makes him think it’s probably a bad idea to bring it up. “So he asked me to house sit. But…” He grimaces and his Pocky snaps; he catches the rest of the biscuit stick in his left palm. “I’m not allowed to drive while I’m on heavy painkillers.”

“That’s a good call,” Patty says. She has opened up a second box of Pocky. This one is pink instead of red and has a strawberry icon on the front. The part of Eddie that knows that sugar is addictive and has consumed an awful lot of it this week is very curious about them.

“And I’ve been told… repeatedly… that I’m going to need assistance.” He crunches his Pocky and swallows before he says, “I’ve been thinking about hiring an in-house nursing service.”

“Why?” Stan asks.

Eddie blinks at him. “Because the last time I left my medical health in Richie’s hands I spent the next thirty years being told that my arm looks like it was set by an amateur.”

Stan snorts. “Yeah, that’s fair.” He holds his hand out to Patty. “May I have more?”

“I share with you.” She places a stick in his hand.

“You’re so nice.”

“I be your friend.”

Stan’s smile is somehow tucked-in, like he wants to hide it, but it’s nothing less than besotted. Eddie stares at them, somewhat bewildered by the display of affection. From Stan of all people. When he looks back up at Eddie he’s all business again. “What kind of help do you need?”

Eddie grimaces. “I don’t know. Lifting things. Picking up prescriptions.” That one makes Eddie incredibly anxious. He doesn’t like the idea of having to take more pills, but he also doesn’t like the idea of there being an intermediary between the pharmacist putting the pills in the bottle and Eddie shaking the pills out. It’s absolutely related to his mother, but he had that kind of pet peeve with Myra as well. “I still can’t get my arms over my head.”

When Sarah took his bandages off, she also walked him through the process of doing some exercises he’ll have to do on his own once he’s released. They seem to involve sitting in a chair and holding a towel over his head. When she supported his elbow he was able to lift his arm that far, but lowering his arm again felt like his whole back was going to split.

“So you’ll need food,” Stan says. “Are you sure you want to trust Trashmouth with that?”

Eddie wobbles his head because he wants to shrug but he’s slowly learning not to do that. “I trust him to order takeout.”

“Not Chinese?” Stan asks.

Eddie scowls. He’s just accepted that there’s a new world of culinary flavor out there. “I’m not letting that clown take Chinese food away from me.”

“That’s the spirit!” Stan says, and seems to toast him with a candy biscuit.

“Would you like another Pocky?” Patty asks him.

He accepts the strawberry Pocky she hands him. Both flavors are very good.

Stan and Patty are going back to Georgia. Eddie’s actually a little bit surprised that they’re still here. They seem to have every intention of sticking around Bangor until he’s released.

“Do you want to have, like, a celebratory meal before we all split up?” Stan asks.

It won’t be exactly the same, because Bill has already left. But Eddie says, “Yeah. Let’s get dinner.” Then he remembers: “I have no access to my money right now.”

“Man, you died,” Stan says. “Do you think you’re buying your own dinner?”

“Yes,” Eddie says, frowning.

“No,” Stan says.



“Eddie,” Patty says, her voice suddenly taking on a slightly admonishing tone. Parts of Eddie’s brain that he hasn’t accessed since he was in grade school suddenly sit up and pay attention. Eddie was the kid who had to go cry in the bathroom when the teacher yelled at him, which considering that Richie Tozier was one of his closest friends, made being seven through ten years old very difficult, until he developed a thicker skin. “We are so happy that you are okay. You should let us buy you dinner as a treat.”

Stan says nothing but he leans back a little, the corners of his smile becoming faintly satisfied. Eddie can read the warning quite plainly: Don’t upset my wife.

“I need a new phone, too,” Eddie says. “So I’ll have to do that before I get out of Bangor.”

Stan nods.

“And,” Patty says, some of that urgency still in her voice. Eddie glances back at her. Her eyes are just huge, like cartoon-character large behind her glasses. “You know you are always welcome to come visit us, when you feel up to it.”

Oh no. That urgent thread in her voice is sincerity.

“I—thank you,” Eddie says. He clears his throat a little bit. “If you’d like to come visit once I have a housing situation worked out.”

Apparently Stan and Patty are planning on going to Buenos Aires in the near future, but they assure him that they’ll let the Losers know about the dates so they can make arrangements around them.

Eddie has a future now.

Richie leaves Eddie his clothes on Saturday night at the end of visiting hours, so that Eddie can be ready to go when he comes to pick him up on Sunday. The shoes are new—running shoes, nothing too extravagant. They make Eddie feel weird as he laces them up, in a way that has nothing to do with the pressure on either side of his feet. Something about the fact of Richie buying him shoes. If he dwells on it for too long he feels like squirming, so he tries not to dwell on it.

His clothes are familiar. Reassuring, kind of. Richie went into his suitcase and pulled out underwear—and what a relief it is to be wearing his own underwear again—and socks, and his own trousers. No belt—one of the casualties of Its cavern. He keeps fidgeting with his waistband—he’s always been kind of skinny, but now his hipbones are basically the only thing keeping his pants up. He’s almost afraid to move, so he keeps sitting on the end of the hospital bed and tries not to fidget.

Nathan is there to offer Eddie help with his balance while he gets dressed. When Eddie squints at his folded shirt, Nathan considers and then nods in understanding.

Eddie wears mostly polos, and this is one of them. But polos are among those shirts that require him to be able to lift his arms over his head. And he can’t do that right now without feeling like he’s being stabbed again.

“I can support your arms,” Nathan offers. He does that sometimes when Eddie has to do his stretching exercises. Lowering his arms again when he’s done is almost as bad as trying to lift them.

Eddie’s considering the logistics of trying to take off his shirt again at the end of the day. He sighs and then says, “Yeah, this isn’t gonna work.”

“We can get you a shirt from the gift shop,” Nathan suggests.

Eddie looks around at him and slowly realizes that the incredibly bland look on Nathan’s face is actually deeply ironic. “To commemorate my stay?” he asks.

Nathan nods slowly. “To commemorate your stay.”

But a t-shirt from the Sovereign Light Hospital gift shop has the same limitations that Eddie’s polo does, and Eddie doesn’t want to have to ask for help with getting undressed at the end of the day. He puts his jacket on over his bare chest and zips it up carefully. There are patches of numbness around his incisions, but he can still feel the cold of the zipper teeth where they rest on his bare chest.

Dr. Fox gives him the rundown of how he’s supposed to behave once he is out under his own power. “Keep your bandage on for forty-eight hours,” she says. She means the one under his armpit from where his chest tube was installed. Eddie’s the kind of machine who has things installed in him now. “Make sure that you keep to your medication schedule. If it doesn’t relieve your pain—and I know you have a high pain tolerance, Mr. Kaspbrak, but don’t subject yourself to strain unnecessarily—please call. Do not drink alcohol, do not drive a motor vehicle while you’re taking your pain medication.”

Eddie blinks up at her. “Or operate heavy machinery?” he asks.

She gives a faint smile. “Or operate heavy machinery. Are you likely to be operating heavy machinery in the near future?”

He tilts his head from side to side. “You never know when you’re going to get the urge to operate a forklift.”

“I can honestly say, I do not know when that urge might come upon me.” She nods and looks back down at her clipboard. “But it better not come upon you while you’re still on the medication. You can supplement your meds with ibuprofen as your incisions heal and as you start to taper your prescription. Do not stop taking it cold turkey, you might get some nasty withdrawal symptoms.”

Eddie, who is accustomed to telling his doctors literally every tiny concern that he might have in the hopes of getting someone to fix the overwhelming sense of physical wrongness within him, tries not to grimace at that.

“Your pain level will probably increase as you increase your level of activity,” she says. “That’s normal. When you start to feel pain, that’s when you want to take your medicine. It can take half an hour to forty-five minutes to kick in, so don’t try to tough it out.” She narrows her eyes at him. Eddie feels himself smile a little at that. She’s different from most doctors he’s had, and he kind of likes the idea that she knows him enough to be suspicious of him.

“If the bandage from your chest tube incision gets wet within the next twenty-four hours, change it immediately. But after today, if the incision has no drainage—check the bandage when you take it off and see if it’s wet—you can leave that incision uncovered. If you still have drainage, however, you should keep it covered. Sometimes it might stop draining for a period of time and then start up again—that’s fine, that’s normal, we can talk about it at your follow-up appointment. Just make sure that you take note of any weird smells, weird colors that look like pus, anything that might indicate infection. Call us if you have any questions.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, though he’s privately resolving not to have questions if he can avoid it. “When can I take a shower?”

“Tuesday,” she tells him. “Forty-eight hours from your discharge.”

Eddie blinks at her. “That seems… arbitrary.”

“You seem like the kind of man to set a phone timer for forty-eight hours,” she replies.

This is true.

“Nuh-uh,” Eddie says intelligently.

She raises one eyebrow. “Oh?”

“No, I don’t have a phone.”

She does smile at that, lowering her gaze to her clipboard again. “Wash gently with soap—unscented soap, trust me—and pat gently with a towel to dry them after showering. You can leave them uncovered unless they’re draining. Do not take a bath.”

“Okay,” Eddie says. Even as a kid, he never liked baths. As soon as he got over the toddler fear of loud noises, he was in the shower. He has memories of being anxious about getting water in his eyes, so he wore sunglasses to protect them. He’s pretty sure his mother had a photo of that—him as a toddler, naked, with sunglasses too large for his face as he stood in the little shower stall.

“We’re giving you some informational handouts on your diet for your recovery. You’ll want to increase your protein and your calories, and drink plenty of water to prevent constipation.”

Eddie makes a resigned grunt.

“Call if you go more than two days without a bowel movement. You should aim for thirty minutes of exercise every day—walking and climbing stairs. Don’t overdo it, keep it light. No sexual activity for three weeks—you don’t want to get sweat in your incisions—and then afterwards wait for your incisions to heal, don’t do anything that will cause pain or fatigue. Don’t overdo it.”

His mouth is open. He consciously closes it and then manages, “Okay.”

She makes him sign some forms and then he waits in his own chair, his stack of instructional handouts and his folded shirt in his lap. Tracy asked him careful questions about who was picking him up and then instructed him to call when Richie arrives. But Richie comes in with his phone blasting ACDC without speakers or headphones or anything, so Eddie is sure the whole ward is aware of his arrival.

“Really?” Eddie asks over the sound of “Back in Black.”

Richie grins at him. “Really!”

“Tracy’s around here somewhere,” Eddie says.

Richie murmurs, “Oh shit” and quickly turns off the music. He drops his phone back in his pocket and then tucks his hands back in them. Then one of his eyebrows goes up and he squints at Eddie.

Eddie resists the urge to shrink a little further in his jacket. “What?”

Richie lets his head tilt to the side lazily. “Are you naked under there?”

“What?” He hunches his shoulders and feels the stretch of the adhesive on his back. The teeth of his zipper scrape against his throat. “Everyone is naked under their clothes, Richie!”

“Not Ben,” Richie says. “You seen how many shirts that guy wears? He’s just like… shirts all the way down. Meanwhile, it’s still fucking cold in this hospital room and your nipples tell me you can still feel it—”

“Jesus Christ,” Eddie says, and covers his chest with his hands. His stack of papers goes sliding off his lap onto the floor. He glances down but his jacket is thick enough he’s pretty sure that Richie can’t actually see his nipples poking through it, and he’s just being an asshole.

“—so I’m guessing there’s something wrong with your shirt,” Richie continues, unfazed.

Eddie glowers at the floor. “Can’t lift my arms over my head,” he says.

Richie blinks once. “Can Purple Haze lift your arms?”

He lifts his eyes to glare at him. “Tracy’s not coming home with me.”

“Not with that attitude, she’s not,” Richie says.

Eddie rolls his eyes. “You can’t be like that about people at work.”

“Be like what?”

“Be like…” He struggles for words, but Richie is looming and filling up the doorway and he’s not sure how to verbalize it.

“I’m not being like anything,” Richie says. “You don’t want help.”

“I don’t want help,” he confirms.

Richie stands there for a moment, watching him. Eddie can see wheels turning behind his eyes. Then Richie shrugs and starts taking off his jacket.

“Uh,” Eddie says.

Richie’s wearing his usual uniform of short-sleeved button-down shirt over a t-shirt, under his new leather jacket. It’s not a Hawaiian shirt, but it does have a repeating pattern of bright colored lines over it. The t-shirt’s black. Richie drops his jacket onto the spare chair and starts unbuttoning his shirt.

Again Eddie manages, “Uh.”

“I’m not helping,” Richie says.

Eddie doesn’t know where to look. Richie did this once in the Jade of the Orient—not the taking off his shirt, but the peeling off his jacket. Eddie was more than a little drunk and happier than he’d ever been in his life and Richie had a straining tendon in his forearm and Eddie had no words of his own, so he resorted to some South Park he’d seen once upon a time. Myra would never have approved of him watching that, so he only saw it when he was traveling for work in a hotel room by himself. He felt like that, in the moment.

Let’s take our shirts off and kiss.

Richie shrugs out of his outer shirt. It’s a casual motion—he does it every day, and pays the gesture no more mind than he seems to when he walks through the door. He rolls his shoulders back to pull his arms out of the sleeves and his t-shirt pulls taut across his chest. He’s. So fucking wide. What the fuck. He still wears his outer shirts big but at some point in adulthood Richie learned how to buy a t-shirt that fits him, so Eddie can see planes where the breadth of his shoulders smoothes down into his pectorals, clear defined lines in his biceps as he works the shirt back and forth to pull it off, and then he holds the shirt out to Eddie.

“Try that,” Richie says.

“I—” Eddie realizes he’s staring and jerks his eyes down to the outstretched shirt. Slowly he realizes that the short vertical stripes are a pattern of watches. It rides the line between preppy and tacky and somehow comes out the other side as appropriate for Richie Tozier. It’s nothing that Eddie would wear of his own accord.

He wants it. Like, really wants it.

Slowly he takes the shirt out of Richie’s hand, carefully not touching his fingers. The fabric’s warm to the touch. Maybe Eddie’s imagining it. He glances up at Richie, who reaches for his leather jacket and slides an arm through the sleeve—Eddie can’t trust himself to watch that any longer, so he jerks his gaze down to the shirt. Eddie slowly, awkwardly, turns in his chair so that his back is to Richie, and unzips his jacket.

His shoulders don’t want to cooperate, but he can pull each side of the jacket down one at a time. His arms don’t want to lift, but they can stretch just fine, and he gets one arm through the sleeve of Richie’s shirt. It’s not actually as warm as it feels—he knows that intellectually—but he’s aware of how exposed he is in this cold white hospital room with the waterproof bandage on his back and the other one under his armpit, and there’s something psychological about coverage. His range of motion is, predictably, better on the side of his body he didn’t have a tube installed in. He buttons up the shirt slowly, the white bandage on his chest vanishing under the colorful stripes of the watches. He can feel himself taking deep breaths, like he can catch Richie’s scent. When he’s dressed and has his jacket back on he leans down to pick up his papers and his folded shirt.

“All right?” Richie asks.

“Fine,” Eddie says, too quickly. He presses the button to call for the nurse. The shirt’s too big--he’s not swimming in it, he’s not that small compared to Richie, but there’s absolutely no danger of it catching on any of his bandages. His outer jacket covers most of the bright pattern, making it feel almost like a secret against his skin. Eddie cannot get used to this. He cannot use his injury as a reason to wear Richie’s clothes.

It would be kind of nice though. There’s a ghost of warmth in here, caught in the fabric.

Tracy comes back in, and Eddie understands why she didn’t wait with him. She’s pushing a wheelchair when she comes through the door. The second he sees it something in Eddie’s chest sinks down into his stomach.

“Oh god,” he says. “Can I sign a waiver? I really don’t want that.” The risk analyst part of Eddie understands about liabilities, but the part of him that was a boy whose mother wouldn’t let him participate in PE is balking.

“I’m sorry,” Tracy says. In the same way that Dr. Fox knew he was going to be resistant over the painkillers, she knows him pretty well by now too. “It’s policy.”

And Eddie understands that, but he’s trying to institute some kind of new policies himself. Get some kind of control. But the hospital can’t sue Eddie if his belated attempts to grow up result in another catastrophic injury. Spinal damage.

“Should get Bill in here to drive you,” Richie says lightly, watching Eddie melt down like it’s nothing new—and it’s nothing new, because Richie is used to him freaking out like this, and Eddie doesn’t want to be freaking out, but the freaking out is partially triggered by how much he doesn’t want to freak out. “Go really fast downhill, and tilt you like—” And then he leans forward at a forty-five-degree angle, which seems more than someone as large as Richie should be able to do without falling over.

Both Eddie and Tracy stare at him.

“Are you a smooth criminal?” Eddie manages, because he recognizes that lean.

“How long can you hold that?” Tracy asks.

Richie responds by trying to do the Michael Jackson “hoo!” and Tracy looks so alarmed that Eddie starts frantically apologizing on Richie’s behalf, because Richie doesn’t look apologetic at all. That’s how they get Eddie into the freight elevator and down into the lobby—with Eddie picking at Richie for his inability to use an inside voice after thirty fucking years. Not because it actually annoys him, but because he needs to focus on something other than the steady ticking of the floor numbers passing by, and Richie’s there, taking up space behind Eddie. Being pushed in the hospital chair makes Eddie feel like at any moment Richie will suddenly lay hands on his shoulders to startle him, but it never comes, and the anticipation is almost worse.

An orderly asks Richie if he wants to bring the car around. If so, he’ll wait with the patient in front of the door.

“Nah, I got him,” Richie says calmly.

“Yeah, he’s got me, we’re fine,” Eddie agrees without even thinking about it.

The orderly looks dubious.

“I’ll bring the chair back,” Richie says, like that’s the concern. “Is this like the grocery store? We’re over in that lot right there, it’s no problem.”

Apparently the orderly has had enough of Richie singing, “Annie, are you okay?” under his breath on the way down, because he agrees to let Eddie go without further supervision. About ten yards away from the sidewalk, out on the concrete, Richie suddenly leans down and mutters in Eddie’s ear, “Our brave heroes escape the torture facility!”

It’s cold out. Early fall in Maine. Nothing new, but Eddie feels almost numb by now, especially his ears. Richie’s proximity makes his skin prickle.

Richie makes like he’s about to speedup and Eddie grabs the seat of the chair. “Don’t you fucking dare, Richie.” But he wouldn’t mind if he did, actually. Now that Richie mentioned the grocery store Eddie’s thinking about shopping carts instead of wheelchairs, imagining them small again, Richie pushing him along in the basket and putting his feet up and gliding. It never happened—Eddie’s mother would never allow that, and Richie never had money or inclination to take Eddie grocery shopping when they were kids—but Eddie can imagine it. Them sailing under some dark sky, going fast and out of control but going together.

“Do not fucking touch me,” Richie parrots back in a strained high-pitched voice. It takes Eddie a second to recognize it as his own from 1989, after he broke his arm.

“Is that what I said?”

“That’s what you said, it was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life—”

“Well you thought you knew how to reset an arm, you were thirteen and you were just like ‘I’m gonna set it’ as if you knew what the fuck that meant—”

“And yet I still notice that you still have full use of the arm, thanks to my medical intervention,” Richie says loftily.

Eddie’s looking kind of absently for Richie’s douchemobile rental car, but he doesn’t see it. He keeps searching, absently saying, “My doctor told me that it looked like a real amateur did it.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Did so.”

He remains kind of nonplussed even as Richie steers the chair up beside a tall rust-red truck. It’s only when Richie releases the handles of the chair that Eddie realizes this is their ride.

“Oh,” he says, looking up at it.

Richie unlocks the truck with a clinking of keys and says, “Okay, so Mike’s six-four, which is cruel and unusual for like a lot of reasons, but you’re gonna have to climb up. I mean—gaping chest wound or no gaping chest wound, this is gonna suck.”

Eddie looks up at the roof of the truck, the height of the seat—cloth interior—and then up at Richie. For some reason he hadn’t consciously processed that Mike is taller than Richie, but as he rifles back through his memories of them standing side by side, he knows it again. Richie seems to take up the whole world.

“You all there, Spaghetti Monster?” Richie asks.

Eddie grimaces. “Fuck you,” he replies. “I’m getting up. Hold the chair.” It would be just his luck for him to knock the chair away in the middle of trying to stand, lose his balance, and fracture his tailbone in the hospital parking lot.

Richie clamps a hand on one of the handles. “Okay. If you need a boost—”

Eddie stands up slowly, puts one hand on the bench seat in the cab of the truck, and plants the other in the middle of Richie’s face.

“Oh, the glasses, man,” Richie complains, but he doesn’t try to move. His nose is squashed against the heel of Eddie’s palm.

Eddie relocates that hand to Richie’s shoulder and steps up to the cab. There’s a small step for just this purpose on the passenger side, and he doesn’t feel great  about the amount of effort it takes for him to hoist his body up into the truck, but it could be worse. He doesn’t black out or get dizzy or start coughing up blood, so he’s gonna chalk it up as a win. When he glances at Richie, Richie’s arms are up like Eddie’s about to fall and he’s gonna catch him.

“What are you doing?” Eddie asks, incredulous.

“I have no idea,” Richie says.

With that extended hand he grabs the buckle of the seatbelt and hands it to Eddie. Good thing, too—if he’d tried to buckle Eddie into the seat, Eddie would have had to physically fight him or something. He’s not a child. Eddie buckles himself in and finds Richie watching him with a familiar anxiety.

Package secured?” Richie asks. Eddie has a moment of flat incomprehension where he assumes Richie is talking about his dick, and then Richie appears to speak into his own wrist, putting on an official and top-secret kind of voice. “Package secured. Return to the rendezvous point.”

“Oh man,” Eddie says slowly, remembering. “We used to play that game.”

“We did,” Richie agrees.

Richie would always start it, because Richie usually started things. Mike usually caught on pretty fast—he had played before anyone introduced him to it, probably at his church group or something—and he would grin and raise a hand to his ear, and then Eddie, who was always looking at Richie, would catch on and put a hand up, and then Bev, and then Ben, and it was almost always either Bill or Stan who was the last to catch on before Richie screamed “Protect the president!” and they all pounced on him. Ben had never played the game before them, and was completely baffled on the way back from a day in the Barrens when suddenly his new friends just leapt on him shrieking, but afterwards he said You guys are so cool. Eddie showed him how to flip his bike upside-down and turn the pedal and make ice cream, which was a game Stan would go along with but Richie always ruined by ordering one dead fetus, please or something like that, and—

“Don’t you dare jump on me,” Eddie says.

Richie grins and widens his eyes at him threateningly, and then says, “Okay, I’m dropping this back off. Crack the window if it gets too hot in here, and remember, bystanders are allowed to break in if they see a dog in a hot car—”

“Get the fuck out of here,” Eddie tells him.

Richie closes the passenger door on him and goes, leaving Eddie in the artificial quiet of the cab.

It smells sweet in here. Like sugar and time, and something green—maybe cut wood. And then Richie, of course. Where did Richie’s flashy rental car go? It would be like him do declare he was busting Eddie out of the hospital in style, as if Eddie was ever in the mood to appreciate a convertible. He likes cars, sure, but he doesn’t like bugs in his teeth.

It’s September. What the hell was Richie doing with a convertible in September in Derry of all places? Who’s going to see him in that car?

Me, Eddie tells himself, looking a the tape deck in the cab console. He opens the deck to see if there’s a cassette in there, but it’s empty. He closes it again and then opens the glove compartment. There are some old tapes in there—the clear plastic ones with the dark tape winding through them, but none of them are labeled. Gotta be Mike’s, right? He sets them carefully back in their boxes and closes the glove compartment. He leans back gingerly.

The seatbelt goes straight across his chest. If it locks, or if they’re in an accident where it actually tries to hold Eddie in the seat, it’s gonna hurt like a motherfucker.

He fucks with it a little bit, pulling out the belt far with his arm until it locks, and then unbuckling it. He remembers too late that he can’t reach up to reset the belt, but he unbuckles the belt and carefully guides it clear of his body, and then watches it slide back up into the ceiling. Some kind of snake slinking into a tree and out of sight.

When Richie comes back, will he notice that Eddie’s unbuckled? Does he look at Eddie half as much as Eddie looks at him? Or is it all just in anxiety—Eddie’s fragile, Eddie’s a glass statute, Eddie’s about to shatter into a million pieces?

The idea of driving off—just going anywhere and throwing caution and law to the wind—makes Eddie feel like a wind is blowing through his body, scattering leaves and hair and bandages and papers in its wake. In the sense that all roads lead to Rome, once the car gets moving they can go actually anywhere. The limiting factor here is time.

And Eddie’s body.

He drums his fingers on his knees. They’re a little slower to respond than he might like—is it just paranoia? Is it nerve damage? Are they just stiff? He doesn’t know and part of him’s afraid to investigate it.

What do I want?

And then, a faint mocking voice: What are you looking for, Eddie?

And, If you lived here, you’d be home by now.

He shakes his head. He doesn’t feel much of anything when he does it; the painkillers are definitely working in his system. He’s going to have to stop by a pharmacy or something and he doesn’t know when, but he suspects it’s going to have to be soon—and he doesn’t have his insurance card or his ID. God, this is going to be a nightmare.

He tilts his head all the way back on the seat and closes his eyes and breathes in. Sugar and grass and varnish and motor oil and Richie. What does he want? And then he remembers, glances out the window to make sure Richie’s nowhere in sight and guiltily tucks his chin down until he can press his nose inside the collar of the shirt.

Somewhere in the last thirty years Richie started smelling good. It’s completely at odds with how unkempt he looks—he chooses to look, anyway—and the memory of the reeking teenage boy he used to be. The shirt carries the smell of new leather, of detergent, of soap and something dark and animal he’s convinced wicked off Richie’s skin. He breathes, glancing guiltily out the window, until he can’t smell anything other than clean fabric, and then he lifts his head.

He wants Richie to get in the truck, to lean across the bench seat, to kiss him. He wants to put his hands in Richie’s hair, to sink his fingers into the shoulders of his leather jacket—not warm enough for a Maine winter, no matter how many button-down shirts he piles on underneath it—to grab hold of his belt loops and feel up his back. He wants to hold Richie’s jaw when he does it, to feel the push and press of his mouth.

The idea starts an ache under his tongue that he doesn’t think he’s felt before. The need to be kissed as something his body wants, not just something it feels like the correct moment to do, like it’s the last thing on the checklist of what to do on a date. But he’s also faintly nauseated from the painkillers and the hospital breakfast. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he suspects fruit would be a good place to start. How has Richie been living, if he’s coming to the hospital every day and staying as long as visiting hours will allow him? What’s he eating?

And what the fuck did the rest of the Losers do about Bowers? Ben said It’s taken care of with such an air of finality that Eddie was ready to believe him because of how he said it, not just because it was the easiest thing not to worry about it in the hospital. Just to let it be taken care of. He doesn’t want them to take care of him, but if he has no choice but to let them take care of the rest of the world around them… well, he has no choice.

He raises one hand to touch the puncture wound on his face, gingerly. It’s healing now. He keeps probing at the inside of his cheek with his tongue, just gently. The doctor told him that the sutures will dissolve on the inside on their own. It ought to surprise him how fast it’s healing. A dental hygienist once told Eddie that the mouth is the second-fastest healing part of the body, and Eddie made the mistake of asking which was the first. “The eye,” she replied cheerily. Wentworth Tozier was probably the first dentist Eddie ever went to, and he used to get in with his reflective mirror and ask Eddie knowingly if he was sneaking cigarettes like Richie, and Eddie was horrified because the answer really was no.

Mouth and eyes. That’s Richie, all the way. What does it mean if those parts heal fast? Does Richie regenerate? Is that why as soon as Richie banged on the gong in the Jade of the Orient, Eddie felt that old quiver in his chest pick back up after thirty goddamn years—Richie’s just someone who can’t be kept down?

At that point Richie opens the driver’s side door and swings himself up. “Okay, Eduardo.” He slams the door. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

Eddie moves his hand from the wound in his cheek and presses it over his mouth. Guilty, almost. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want Richie to see him probing his injuries. He stares at the closed glove compartment.

Richie stops moving in his peripheral vision. He holds still and quiet for a moment and then asks, “What?”

Eddie braces one hand on his ribs to take a deep breath. Then he asks, “What did you do with the body?”

The silence holds for a moment, and then Richie reaches out and hits the button to lock the car doors. The locks click into place with a metallic chunk! Eddie lifts his head. Richie’s hands are resting on the steering wheel, knuckles loose.

“I don’t know,” Richie says.

Eddie stares at him, imagining he can hear a clock ticking. “You don’t know,” he repeats.

Richie doesn’t look at him, just stares at the logo in the center of the wheel. “Bill and Ben took care of it,” he says. The same words. Took care of it. It’s taken care of.

I don’t want to be taken care of.

“After they got tested to see if their blood types matched. They didn’t. Stan and Mike got cleaned up. They said you crashed. Ben held me down in a chair and someone stuck a needle in me. Then Bill and Ben vanished for a couple hours. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t ask. Maybe they went off to fuck in a supply closet and left me to hang.” Richie shrugs, but there’s no humor on his face even as he makes the joke. “Ben says it’s taken care of. That’s all I know.”

Eddie stares at him. All he can think of is that Bowers went after Mike in Mike’s place of work, and that Mike was suspended and then basically lost his job over this. People in Derry, Mike says, are starting to experience consequences. So what happens if someone finds Bowers’s body?

“You can ask Ben about it when we get back to the hotel,” Richie says.

“You haven’t asked?”

At that Richie turns his head to look at him, his eyes wide and his mouth stretched in a rictus sort of grin. “I don’t ask questions I don’t want to know the answer to,” Richie says. Then he turns back and reaches for his seatbelt.

“Uh,” Eddie says. Richie looks up, eyebrows all polite inquiry. Eddie swallows. “Can you—” He points up at the buckle where his seatbelt is retracted into the car roof.

Richie’s brow furrows, creases forming between his slashing brows and faint lines on his forehead, but he stretches out and leans across the cab without question. “Yeah, sure.” His body crosses Eddie’s for just a moment. His arm forms a barrier to Eddie’s torso, and that’s a good thing. If they were in Europe, in a car that drove on the right side, Richie’s chest would press right up against Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie doesn’t know what he’d do then. If he’d have to put his face against Richie’s throat and breathe deep, get a hit of his scent straight from the source where his skin is warm.

What is he supposed to do with all this want? It’s more than his body should be able to hold. Do people walk around like this every day? How does anyone get anything done?

Richie hands him the buckle and returns to his side of the cab. “You thinking about making a break for it?” he asks as he pulls his own seatbelt into place.

“Hmm?” Eddie asks, trying to focus on the Richie in front of him instead of the one in his mind’s eye.

Richie lifts his eyebrows and inclines his head toward the seatbelt.

“Oh,” he says. “I was just testing the give, so it doesn’t…” He slides his thumb under the belt and pulls it gently away from his clavicle, demonstrating the space between the strap and his sternum.

It’s clear Richie gets the point, because he winces suddenly. “Jeez, if that’s not pressure to drive safe…” He turns the key in the ignition and Eddie almost jumps as the engine rumbles to life under them.

“You should drive safely all the time!” Eddie insists.

Richie puts both hands on the wheel and just grins at him, then lifts his chin to check his mirrors. Then he reaches out and puts a hand on the back of Eddie’s seat to twist around and look behind him. “I’m a paragon of responsibility, Eds,” he says absently, as he puts the truck in reverse and slowly backs out of the parking space.

Eddie might have resolved that there’s no reason to push back when Richie does that, but the nickname combined with the reach is too much. “Don’t call me Eds,” he mutters, feeling himself blush. But Richie, mercifully, has his eyes on the road.

Eddie gets to have bad posture now. He sits carefully so that his shoulders are pressed to the seat, instead of his spine.

“Why do you have Mike’s truck?” Eddie asks.

Richie shrugs. “It was between that and Patty’s sedan. And I figured it would be better if it was something that… you know.”

Eddie, who has no love of convertible tops on cars, immediately feels himself bristle at the idea that Richie’s trying to protect him and keep him out of the wind.

“Belonged to us,” Richie finishes, which is not what Eddie thought he was going to say at all. “Not that Patty isn’t great, she’s hysterical, but. You know.”

He does. She’s not one of the Lucky Seven. The Losers Club that walked out of hell. Twice. He looks down at his own knees, looking at how sharp and thin they look under his pants, and waits.

Chapter Text

It’s not that Eddie isn’t totally aware of his situation, because he is. He smells like he hasn’t showered in a couple of weeks, because he hasn’t. There’s still dry shampoo, probably, caked down near his scalp, because when you have a powder like that how are you supposed to brush it all out? He’s been brushing his teeth gingerly using a cup of water and the generic toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste available for him at the hospital, and he’s sure he’s missing big spots because he’s avoiding the stitches in the side of his cheek, and he needs to see a dentist to see if Bowers damaged his tooth when he stabbed him. There’s a hole in his chest that, while no longer technically gaping, still stinks of old blood.

And Eddie has problems to deal with, now that he’s out of the hospital. Namely, what the fuck did Bill and Ben do with Henry Bowers’s dead body, after Richie killed him? How are Eddie and (apparently) Richie getting to Ben’s house in New York when Eddie’s car is still in New York City in the shop getting the dents popped out of the door and Richie has abandoned his douchemobile rental car? Is Eddie even going to have the energy to actually initiate divorce proceedings now that he’s announced to Myra he wants them? He doesn’t have a cell phone. He needs to call work and explain what the fuck happened to him.

And Richie’s being careful with him.

Maybe Eddie was too vehement with the don’t help me, don’t try to take care of me speech, because Richie keeps up a running string of commentary as they creep at a snail’s pace from the parking lot to the hotel lobby, but he doesn’t try to touch Eddie. This shouldn’t bother Eddie; he’s not really used to being touched, to the point that when someone actually embraces him he realizes all at once how the space around him aches a little just all the time. And he’s never really liked casual touch—his mother wiping his hair out of his eyes or cleaning dirt off his face, or Myra straightening his collar, or all the little casual touches that people use to assert affection. They always seemed performative, in some way—Myra loved them, asked for them specifically, but it never felt natural for Eddie to reach out and maintain her the way she did for him.

Richie, though, was always casually tactile when they were kids. Eddie was apprehensive about it when he met Richie—they were seven and Richie was always reaching out and putting a hand on Eddie’s shoulder—but Richie was just always like that, and with Bill and Stan too, and then he met Richie’s parents and saw how they casually held hands when they came to school events, how they sat shoulder to shoulder and tilted their heads to murmur to each other in the audience of the class play, and he figured this must be something that normal people did, something that his mother would do if his dad hadn’t died, and then Eddie would be used to touch instead of being scared of it. And Richie never had a problem with pushing Eddie on the swings, grabbing him by the ankles and yelling “Underdoggy!” as he sprinted under the parabola of Eddie’s feet on the playground, and that was convenient; and no matter how often Eddie lectured him on grass allergies he never seemed to think twice about wrestling Eddie to the ground like he did Bill and Stan and. It was kind of nice. That Richie didn’t change his approach at all. Sometimes he remembered when Eddie complained and apologized, but that happened less in later years as Eddie’s complaints and lectures got more and more frequent and Richie learned more swear words.

He was like that as soon as they showed up in Derry, too—grabbing Eddie’s wrist and taking things out of his hands and game for arm wrestling and standing at a slight stoop to stay at Eddie’s eye level even though he looked ridiculous. And Eddie knows Richie helped stop the bleeding, Richie did chest compressions correctly despite the consequences, Richie was able to physically lift him and carry him out of the pipes and into the Barrens. Eddie’s not saying he wants that right now.

But it is taking him far too long to pick his way across the parking lot on his own two feet. He’s got Call! Don’t Fall! stuck in his head, and while Richie’s clearly within arm’s reach, his hands are jammed deep in his pockets again and he’s making fun of Eddie like it’s his job.

It’s kind of a relief, actually, that he’s talking about it instead of politely ignoring it. When they were kids, Bill’s stutter embarrassed adults to the point it seemed they couldn’t stand it. Richie was always in there calling Bill Mushmouth, asking if he handed out towels with his showers—but he always let Bill finish his entire sentence, no matter how long it took Bill to get there. And considering how desperate Richie was one-hundred-percent of the time to get the last word, that meant something.

“It’s just ’cause of your short little legs,” Richie assures him. “Don’t worry about it; I knew when I offered to come pick you up it would take us two full days to actually get inside and that’s a risk I’m willing to take—”

Fuck you,” Eddie says.

He’s not quite panting but his breath hurts the back of his throat like it’s something sharp and solid there. And it’s cold—still morning, the sun hasn’t burned off some of that early mist—in a way that reminds him of the hospital, but it’s a humid kind of cold, so he feels clammy and sweaty at the same time, and he’s been reliably informed that sweat is the enemy of wound care. His jacket is warm enough for now, but just barely; his hands are freezing. If Eddie stops now to take Mike’s mittens out of his pocket, Richie’s going to mock him within an inch of his life. His fingers ache with cold.

“I’m average height. In most parts of the world.”

“Oh, most parts of the world,” Richie says. “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include this parking lot, considering it’s you and it’s me, and by definition, that means you are below average.”

Richie’s strides aren’t even noticeably bigger than his, though maybe he’s adjusting to match Eddie. He’s absolutely playing up how tall he is, though, hands in his pockets but his shoulders back and stretched so he can look down his nose at him.

The fact that Eddie likes it makes his insides squirm. It keeps him from reaching out and leaning on Richie like he’s tempted to do. Instead he puts his hand on a stranger’s car to catch his breath, and Richie stands there and shifts like he doesn’t know what to do with his arms and keeps chattering about mathematical concepts that are activating Eddie’s deep memory from like the fourth grade and seem to have no purpose.

“—so while I wouldn’t say you’re the average height in this situation, I’m very impressed by how you’re able to be the mean despite your stature,” Richie finishes, his tone trending towards something like pompous British professor without actually committing to the voice.

Eddie, aware he’s being incredibly rude by leaning on the trunk of this rando’s Pathfinder, looks up at him incredulously. “Are you telling me—” Inhale. “—that you can give me shit for forty-five minutes straight—” Bigger inhale. “—but that I have somehow hurt your feelings?”

“Oh, don’t be silly, I don’t have feelings,” Richie says so seriously and loftily that Eddie almost forgets to be horrified by the words themselves. “I’m just impressed by your badness level. It’s unusually high for someone your size.”

Eddie squints at him and asks, “Lilo & Stitch?”

Richie shrugs, unrepentant. “Hey, you recognized it. I’m a Loser—” Eddie can hear the capitalization. “—who goes to see kids’ movies by himself, but you don’t have kids either.”

Eddie blinks at him. “You just like the alien voice, don’t you?”

Richie grins and says, “Okay, okay, okay,” in the thick back-of-the-throat voice of Experiment 626. In his own voice, he says, “Bet you cried buckets during Lilo & Stitch, didn’t you? You look like the type.”

Eddie has a lot of complicated feelings about his “badness level” and his looking like any kind of type. He fires back, “You look like you can pick your nose with your own tongue.”

“Ha!” Richie barks. “Eds gets off a good one! Get your chucks right here, folks, hot fresh chucks—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Eddie hisses at him.

He did cry buckets during Lilo & Stitch. That was during the phase in his life where he liked to watch all of the Academy Award nominees so he could have opinions on them if anyone ever asked him about them, which no one ever did. He sat through Ice Age and the deeply disturbing Japanese movie about the bathhouse that year, and the opening to Treasure Planet made him tear up though he wasn’t sure why—something about the music—but the little animated child said “If you take him away, you’re stealing” and Eddie fucking lost it and had no idea why until right about now.

He watched all the Academy Award nominees until 2005 when he had to sit through both Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Corpse Bride in the same year and then he gave up on the Oscars as a whole, and only saw the movies if Myra expressed interest.

Eddie needs another rest when they actually get into the hotel lobby. There are lots of spindly little tables with cushy armchairs in there, and Richie proves that at some point he learned an inside voice, because he delivers his seemingly endless stream of chatter in such a normal and polite murmur that if Eddie reacts to any of the batshit things he’s saying he’ll be the one who looks crazy. And he’s definitely doing it on purpose, smirk widening every time Eddie breaks and asks, “What the hell are you talking about?” like that’s the game in the first place and he just never mentioned the rules to Eddie.

Eddie has a little bit of a fantasy in the freight elevator, though. On the way to the freight elevator, anyway. Reaching out with his useless arm and Richie ducking to hook it under the back of his neck, and then maybe Richie slinging his free arm around Eddie’s back and taking hold of him at the hip. Three-legged race all over again. He wants it, and the ferocity with which he wants it is dangerous and startling, so he doesn’t touch either. Just lets Richie stick a hand in the elevator door to stop it from closing while Eddie shuffles over to the control panel.

“What floor?” Eddie asks, resigned.

“Three,” Richie says, and then, “Wait, do you want to go to Ben’s first or do you want anything out of your bags?”

Eddie stands there with his index finger hovering over the elevator buttons, flatly uncomprehending.

“Because the Losers are there,” Richie says obviously. His fingers are still wrapped around the edge of the elevator door. The machine makes an urgent sound, tries to close the door, and relents as soon as it detects Richie standing there blocking it. “For, like, your victory lap, or whatever. I should probably text them and tell them to move the finishing line like real close so we’re not there for the whole month of September.”

“Richie,” Eddie says, meaning get the hell to the point.

“But your bags are on the fourth floor,” Richie says. “If you wanted to, like, I don’t know.”

He doesn’t know either, so he considers it. What he’d really like is to take a shower, but his doctors banned that. He’d like his phone so that he can really set a countdown timer for forty-eight hours until he can clean himself up, but his phone is currently in the lair of a hopefully-deceased pedophagic hell-clown. He needs a new phone, but he’s reasonably sure he can’t get one of those in this hotel, so it’s a moot point.

“I want to brush my teeth,” he says. Weirdly, he missed his toothpaste. Logically he knows it’s very unlikely for there to be sugar in toothpaste, but the little tubes of travel toothpaste the hospital provided for his careful and delicate usage were bright blue with sparkles in them, and Eddie’s a grown-ass man who doesn’t need sparkles in his toothpaste. Not that there’s anything wrong with men who do need sparkles in their toothpaste, he reminds himself immediately. If the best part of brushing your teeth is sparkly toothpaste, who is he to take that away from anyone? But Eddie’s been using Sensodyne for as long as he’s been able to buy it at the grocery store because it makes him feel better about his ability to eat cold or sweet things—not that he ate a lot of those, because he’s a grown-ass man who—

Wait a minute. Eddie just got out of the hospital. He can eat ice cream.

Richie is still standing, still ignoring the complaints of the elevator as he holds the door open. When Eddie turns his face up to him—and Eddie’s not sure what his face is doing—Richie immediately gets a suspicious sort of look on his face. “What?”

“Tell me someone grabbed my toothpaste from the Townhouse,” he says.

Richie rolls his eyes. “Yes, we got your toothpaste, we got your toothbrush. You didn’t even unpack that room. If I didn’t know you I’d be like ‘Did Eddie brush his teeth at all the whole time we were in Derry?’”

“Did you brush your teeth the whole time we were in Derry?”

“It’s hit or miss,” Richie replies blandly. “I mean, I forgot a lot about being a kid and a teenager, but turns out disappointing my father is just like a constant. Like a core part of my personality, you know?”

Eddie curls his lip in revulsion and Richie grins. His teeth look basically the same. White enough—not the blue-white of people who pay to whiten them, but like Richie has mostly taken care of his teeth as an adult, which is more than teenage Eddie would have expected out of him. He still has that fucking overbite, which always seemed like a cruel irony when he was growing up the son of the local dentist, but now just looks familiar and… weirdly comforting. Eddie feels like he shouldn’t be allowed to take comfort in someone else’s teeth, but a lot of weird things have happened on the inside of his head lately and he’s well past self-policing.

“So your toothbrush is on the fourth floor,” Richie says, and Eddie realizes that he’s basically looking a Richie Tozier in the mouth and quickly averts his eyes back to the button panel. “If you’d rather see that before all of our friends who are so glad you’re alive and recovered—” He says it breezily but Eddie feels his hackles go up.

“Don’t,” he says.

Richie’s brow furrows in something like confusion and he waits.

“I know you’re kidding,” Eddie says. “But don’t.”

Richie blinks at him and then his eyes flick up and away, unfocused. Eddie can practically see him rewinding the tapes in his mind, looking for the error. He used to do that a lot when he was talking shit back in school, trying to figure out what he said that crossed the line that made them all shout beep beep or that finally got the teacher to kick him out into the hall. Eddie remembers the oh shit moment of realization and kind of waits for the ghost of it to reappear on Richie’s new, square, adult face.

The elevator beeps for the third time and then starts to close the door without regard for the human being blocking it. Richie and Eddie snap back to reality at the same time and Richie says, “Oh shit,” and steps out of the way and into the elevator itself before it can crush him.

“That’s a safety hazard,” Eddie says.

“Yeah, you think?”

But Richie does not get crushed to death in an elevator door, and Eddie pushes the button for the fourth floor so that he can go brush his teeth and set his paperwork down and try to look a little bit less deranged by the time he sees his friends.

For some reason it does not occur to him until Richie unlocks the door and holds it open for him that, if Richie was able to bring Eddie his clothes from his suitcases, it means that all of Eddie’s stuff is in Richie’s hotel room. He comprehends it with sharp and completely unwarranted surprise as soon as he sees his three bags, all lined up with military precision, next to the couch.

Richie has a suite. This should not surprise Eddie, but it kind of does. There are a couch and two armchairs and a coffee table and a television, and a kitchenette with two rickety chairs and a microwave and a minifridge, and then two doors. The one directly out of the kitchenette leads to a tiny room with a toilet and a bathtub. Eddie can see straight through the other door to a queen-sized bed with rumpled sheets.

This is where Richie has been living when he’s not squeezing all the time possible out of Sovereign Light Hospital’s visiting hours, or trading vigils with the other Losers to allow Eddie to see the rest of his friends. And that’s where Richie’s been sleeping.

“Bill went digging through your stuff,” Richie says. “I asked him what the fuck he was doing and he told me to fuck off, that you asked him to get something, but if anything’s missing that shouldn’t be, you can blame him.”

“I did tell him,” Eddie says, and realizes he’s standing uselessly in the hotel room doorway. He takes a small step to the left to let Richie into his own suite. He puts his discharge papers on the countertop—this is a nice hotel, but it’s clearly fake marble or granite or whatever—next to the sink and concludes it’s probably best to sit down for a minute. Carefully he picks his way over to the table and its spindly little chairs.

Richie’s still looking at him as though for an explanation, but there’s a deliberate casualness to his face, like he’s ready for Eddie to tell him to fuck off too.

“It’s fine,” Eddie says. He’s about to open his toiletry bag and see it completely bereft of pills, if Bill followed his instructions. And he’s also going to get the sinking panicky feeling of when he doesn’t have all his stuff, when anything could happen and he’s not prepared for it; but he’s having that every time he remembers he lost his phone anyway, so maybe it’ll be manageable. “Can you do me a favor?”

Richie makes prayer hands over his chest and wobbles his head back and forth in wordless reference to I Dream of Jeannie.

“Can you bring my toiletry bag over here?” Last time lifting it was a strain; Eddie’s not even gonna attempt it in his current state.

“Yeah.” Richie effortlessly hooks it by the handle, crosses the room, and swings it up onto the table in front of Eddie. “Do you want your own shirt, too, while we’re going through your luggage?”

Eddie blinks at him, confused.

Richie shrugs. “I swear I’ve done laundry since we were here—Stan took us all to this laundromat—but if you have a shirt you can get your arms into I won’t be offended.”

Eddie remembers he’s wearing Richie’s shirt and almost blushes. “I don’t have any button-downs,” he says. He just tipped the next week’s worth of work clothes into his suitcase when he started packing. He was prepared for any number of business meetings, but not, apparently, for fighting a killer clown or getting out of the hospital. He remembers rolling up his pants to pick across the Kenduskeag down in the Barrens.

Also, he kind of doesn’t want to give up this shirt. Not just because he doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of changing in front of Richie again.

Richie gives him a grin that’s only half-leer, so that could be worse. “Well, my floordrobe is open to you,” he says. Eddie grimaces again and turns to start unzipping his toiletry bag. “Can I get you anything else? Sparkling water? Hot towel? Complimentary chocolate mints?”

Eddie has never eaten chocolate mints in a hotel. They buy them in bulk, and you never know how long it’s been since the hotel got their shipment in. And Eddie has read conflicting reports of whether dark chocolate or extra-dark chocolate is actually good for your heart, the same way the medical community is always waffling about red wine and tannins and everything, so he’s tried to steer clear of chocolate for a long time.

Eddie would actually like some chocolate now. Chocolate pudding cups were one of the things provided to him in hospital, as a dessert or as a snack or whenever Sarah seemed to think he was having a hard time. The chocolate helped ease the pity.

He looks around at the fancy hotel room. “Do they actually do chocolate mints?”

“They do,” Richie says on a laugh, “but I ate that shit like as soon as I got here. If you want them I’ll take the Do Not Disturb off the door and we can see if it’s a check-in benefit or if I have to go down to the front desk and beg for my friend just out of the hospital or what.”

“Aren’t we leaving tomorrow?” Eddie asks.

 Richie’s eyebrows climb in a way that Eddie notes with something like foreboding. “If you want,” he says.

Eddie doesn’t look away from him, letting his hand rest frozen on the toiletry bag. He’s trying to pin Richie with his eyes.

“Why wouldn’t we leave tomorrow?”

Richie shrugs. “Gotta get a rental car that can carry all your baggage,” he says. “So like a tractor-trailer. See if you feel like being in the car for ten hours.”

Really that shouldn’t sound like exertion but Eddie’s well aware of the micro-adjustments that your abdominal muscles make to keep you upright when you’re traveling at sixty-plus miles per hour. He’s gonna be tired and he’s gonna sleep a lot and he’s gonna be sore, and he really thinks he’d just rather put some distance between himself and the state of Maine, if he has the choice. He’s going to have to come back in three weeks for his follow-up, but he’d like to use the time that’s his while he has it.

“I feel like being in the car for ten hours,” he reports back.

Richie snorts. “No one really feels like being in the—” He interrupts himself and his eyebrows lift and his eyes widen. “Oh.”

Eddie was returning his attention to his toiletry bag and his impending dental hygiene, but at that he snaps his head back up to look at Richie, hands on the table. “What?”

“I forgot about your car thing,” Richie says. His expression is completely serious.

Eddie blinks twice, trying to figure out what his car thing could be. His Escalade, back in New York and still having the damage popped out of the body? The fact that while he’s on heavy painkillers—a thought which makes him feel weirdly nauseated despite the fact that none of the pills are in his possession yet—he won’t be able to drive? If anything, that last gives Eddie the most pause. It feels weird to demand Richie drive him ten hours away to New York to wherever Ben lives. Weirder than it feels to demand that Richie hand over his coffee or pick up some candy from the local big box store. Eddie’s going to have to go back in three weeks, and does he think that Richie’s going to drive him a collective twenty hours across New England, just because Eddie’s working through some stuff? The inconvenience feels bigger than should be allowed.

“My what?” he asks, nonplussed. He’s swallowing, trying to work out how he can make this fair—Ben offered the place, and if he and Bev and Richie have two cars and a rotation and Eddie is stoned in the backseat or the passenger seat it’ll be more of a group trip, less of a personal imposition, but that feels just as greedy to ask too.

“Your car thing,” Richie says. “Your raging hard-on for the automobile.”

Eddie blinks at him, then without looking wrenches the zipper of his toiletry bag open, fumbles inside with his useless right hand, and throws the first thing he touches at Richie. It turns out to be his little travel bottle of face wash.

Richie laughs, puts his hands up to cover his face, ducks. “Yeah, planes, trains, and automobiles. Your fucking fetish for the Industrial Revolution—hey!”

The moisturizer hits Richie in the eyeglasses, right on top of the frames. Eddie has a panicky moment where he thinks he’s going to break them, which would suck for so many reasons. But then Richie’s just laughing, looking a little dazed the way Eddie used to feel in school when the screen for the projector would wobble—whole perception of the world shaken.

“I’m sorry!” he blurts out automatically, surprised at himself. He puts both hands over his mouth.

That just makes Richie laugh harder. “Fucking why? Are you sure you’ve got nerve damage, because that was a beep beep motherfucker right there.” He tugs his glasses further down the bridge of his nose and—

“You’re bleeding,” Eddie says.

Richie frowns at him, incredulous. “No, I’m not.”

But basically right between Richie’s eyes there’s a little red line too bright and vivid to be anything but blood.

“Yeah, you are,” Eddie says, waving him forward. Richie stoops, brow still furrowed, and blood wells up and starts dripping. “Ah, shit.” Eddie flips the toiletry bag open and finds the pack of travel tissues—why the fuck didn’t he throw that at Richie?—and clumsily fumbles one out, presses it to the bridge of Richie’s nose.

“Uh?” Richie says, nonplussed.

“Shh.” Eddie hooks Richie’s glasses off his face and inspects the nose bridge on the frames. The outsides are black plastic—Richie wears the stupid Buddy Holly glasses, because of course he does—but on the inside there’s a clear plastic triangle to help keep them on his nose, and that’s much smaller and narrower than the blunt black frame, and when Eddie hit Richie in the face he managed to jam that back into Richie’s brow and it cut him. He dabs at it like he might a shaving injury. Head wounds bleed a lot. Richie has expressive eyebrows; the skin’s soft there.

“What the fuck?” Richie asks.

“I’m really sorry,” Eddie says, and means it.

“For fucking what?”

“Your glasses cut you.” He holds his thumb over the spot and watches Richie try to blink clear of the ends of the tissue where it touches his lashes. They’re very black, short and stubby. Richie’s looking at him—of course he’s looking at him, Eddie just wounded him with a skincare product. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to get you in the face.”

“I mean, I figured you didn’t mean to get me in the face, I’m just surprised you learned to throw somewhere in the last thirty years.”

Richie was unconscious in the deadlights when Eddie lanced It.

“Can you not?” Eddie demands, pulling the tissue away and finding a fresh new spot to blot on. “I’ve got Neosporin in here—should fucking clean it, your glasses are dirty.” If he’d hit Richie in the face with the bottle of hydrogen peroxide he would have really hurt him. What the fuck was he thinking?

“They’re not dirty, they’re new,” Richie replies.

Eddie blinks once and then looks down at the glasses, turning them this way and that as if he knows anything about the way glasses age. “Since when?” They look identical, not just to the glasses Richie showed up wearing at the Jade of the Orient, but also to the beer-bottle specs Richie wore when he was a kid and broke over and over again.

“Since I broke the old ones.” He gestures at the space over his eye, miming a lens. “Just shattered it. Fucking annoying, full of blood. That was dirty. These are clean.”

Eddie stares at him, because when he says full of blood he can remember, all of a sudden, the sudden spray of blood across Richie’s face. In the stinging moments of incomprehension—the obliterating pain that his body floundered trying to convey to him—Richie’s horrified expression was not quite the first, but one of the earliest warnings that something was seriously wrong.

Richie got new glasses because they were covered in Eddie’s blood.

“Shit,” Eddie says. “Hold that.” He waits until Richie yanks the other chair closer, sits down properly, and pins the tissue to his forehead.

Richie looks odd without his glasses on. They don’t have the magnifying effect of the glasses of their childhood—and thank god, Eddie likes Richie’s eyes as much as (more than) the next person, but it was a wonder Richie didn’t go outside on a sunny day and burn his eyes out like they used to roast ants with a magnifying glass. But Eddie’s used to the black lines around Richie’s eyes, making them seem to take up more of his face, interrupting the slashing lines of Richie’s brows.

Richie’s very close.

Eddie pulls the brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide out of the mesh pocket in the side of the toiletry bag and Richie tilts his head all the way back, leaning away from Eddie but keeping his elbow propped on the table.

“Uh-uh, don’t think so,” Richie says.

Eddie ignores him, going for the little travel case of cotton balls. “We gotta clean it, Richie. If you’re careful it might not scar—shit, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” Richie says. “But I’m not an eleven-year-old boy who fell off his bike, so I don’t need the hydrogen peroxide, thank you very much.”

Eddie scowls at him. “Are you still a big baby about it?” he asks, because Richie bitched and moaned about vaccines every year, about dental checkups, about papercuts, about pain in general. And Eddie’s sympathetic to a lot, but also. He has a big hole through his torso right now.

“There is no medical benefit to hydrogen peroxide,” Richie says matter-of-factly.

Eddie stares at him. “What?”

Richie lowers the tissue and waggles his eyebrows at him. The little cut between his eyes remains bright red, but doesn’t actively drip blood. It wasn’t that deep to begin with, but this is still reassuring.

“It’s a disinfectant,” Eddie says. “Why—it fizzes when it goes on, that’s how you know—”

“Oh, it reacts with blood,” Richie says confidently. “You get blood on a t-shirt and it’ll fizz, it’s got nothing to do with germs, baby.”

Now Eddie’s staring for multiple reasons. “It—it kills bacteria, Richie, you’re supposed to put it on a cut to clean it, everyone knows that.”

Richie’s grinning and he shakes his head, smug about knowing something Eddie doesn’t. It’s an expression Eddie recognizes—and not necessarily one he’s fond of. “Damages tissue, too,” he says triumphantly. “Look it up.” He fishes his phone out of his pocket and throws it on the table between them like a gauntlet.

Eddie blinks down at the phone and then back up at Richie. “You’re full of shit,” he says.

Richie sits back and then hooks one hand behind his head, his arm going up effortlessly, casually. “Look it up.”

Eddie, apprehensive and mistrusting, holds eye contact with him for several long moments before he breaks and grabs the phone.

“It’s—” Richie says.

“I know,” Eddie says, tapping in the passcode without looking up. “Thanks for not telling me that before leaving me to make a very important phone call on a phone I couldn’t open, by the way.”

Some of Richie’s casual confidence seems to fade a little. He doesn’t move in Eddie’s peripheral vision, but he sounds less sure of himself when he asks, “So what did you do?”

“I hacked your phone,” Eddie replies. “What do you think I did? I guessed.”

“You—guessed?” Richie asks, like he thinks Eddie hacking his phone would be more likely.

“The whole time I was out you talked about Buddy Holly. I made one of the nurses look it up on Wikipedia.” Eddie pulls up the web browser and finds that the last thing Richie Google searched was the phrase when the jaws open wide. Eddie closes his eyes, frantically hoping that has nothing to do with blowjobs or anything, but the results page seems to be full of pictures of eels.

“I—you heard that?”

Eddie looks up from Richie’s screen full of morays before he can search hydrogen peroxide cuts. “I told you,” he says, nonplussed. They’ve already had the conversation about Richie’s old school taste in music to go along with his fucking hipster glasses.

Richie’s watching him with a wariness that makes Eddie nervous in turn. “What’d you hear?” he asks.

“I—” Eddie blinks, because he was stoned out of his mind, missing most of the blood in his body, and only partially conscious. Immediately thoughts of proving Richie wrong filter out of his mind, ravenous curiosity seething at the forefront of his brain with What did he say? Because what could Richie have said that would make him react like this? He has to blink a couple more times as he tries to remember.

Did he say ‘I love you’? Did he say it and then you said it and now he’s not saying anything about it because he thinks you have an understanding and—

He tries to get a leash on that particular rampant bullet train of thought.

“Uh,” he manages. “You kept singing. That’s why I woke up, you were singing ‘American Pie.’”

He finally finds the word for how Richie looks without his glasses. Vulnerable. Like a wall has come down between him and the world, which it has, and now he can’t quite see, and his eyes look soft and naked, somehow.

Their knees are almost touching, with how close Richie has pulled his chair so that Eddie can tend to his wounds.

“I mean, I would come out of my grave for ‘American Pie,’” Richie says. There’s an intensity to his stare that doesn’t match his words. “You didn’t seem the type.”

Eddie snorts.

The corner of Richie’s mouth drags up in a lopsided grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. “What, was my rendition not worth coming back to life for?”

Richie’s rendition was basically tone-perfect except for his inability to stop interrupting himself to run commentary and chatter with Eddie, but that’s not the problem.

He pushes the phone into the space between them, calling attention to the fact that Eddie was able to guess Richie’s passcode after thirty years apart, since the last time they knew each other passcodes weren’t even a thing.

“I know you, so cut the bullshit and tell me what it is you didn’t want me to hear.”

Richie’s mouth is a little open, overbite resting on his lower lip in an almost contemplative look. Then he mirrors Eddie’s posture, and when he folds his arms his biceps are much more impressive than Eddie’s, even with the stupid leather jacket covering them.

“That’s some pretty big talk for a man who just cut me between the eyes,” he says coolly.

And Eddie is. So tired. He thinks for a moment of telling Richie to cut the bullshit, telling him that he’s being honest about his type for once in his life. Imagines Richie changing his mind, deciding to go back to Los Angeles. Or worse—coming along, but resenting.

“I heard you talking about World War Two fighter pilots,” Eddie says. He died. He’s gay. He’s clearly having a midlife crisis. His chest hurts a lot. “Why?”

Richie seems to consider this for a moment. Mouth still open, he runs his tongue over his front teeth contemplatively. Then he nods. “The helmet paradox,” he says.

Eddie raises his eyebrows and does not look at Richie’s mouth. Just at his soft eyes.

Richie says, almost casually except for the physical wall he’s made of his forearms, “All your docs were pretty clear about what would’ve happened if It’d hit you an inch left, an inch higher, whatever.” He nods again slowly, agreeing with himself, though this is the first Eddie has heard of any of this. “You hear a lot of those stories when people are talking about their injuries—if it had been an inch this way, an inch that way, I would have been fucking dead.”

The voice he does for the random patient, is, he’s pretty sure, Eddie’s own. Eddie has no idea what to make of that and looks at him incredulously. Richie shrugs, an old familiar gesture, and seems to visibly set the impression aside.

“Anyway, I was thinking about how everyone seems to have a one-in-a-million story like that. Like, in shows, in media, in real life, whatever. I mean, pretty unlikely things have happened to me too.” This last he says with the irony thick as paint.

Eddie waits. Richie talks for a living. He might not like his material—if it can really be called his material, even though it’s out there under Richie’s name—but Richie, somewhere, learned to read a room to his advantage. Learned to make people hang on his words. And Eddie wants his answers, so he’s going to wait and see what Richie says.

“But I was thinking, how can everyone have a one-in-a-million kinda story like this?” Richie grins without humor, showing all of his teeth. “And I thought, it’s because the people who don’t have a story like that—the people who don’t have that one-in-a-million kinda luck—those people are fucking dead. Obviously.” He shrugs. “It’s gotta be like, after they started requiring—I think it was motorcycles—motorcyclists to wear helmets, suddenly all these people started showing up in the ER with serious head injuries. So at first everyone was like, wait, do we really suck at designing motorcycle helmets?

“Is that Mike?” Eddie asks. “Are you doing Mike?”

Richie shrugs again. “He’s a researcher. And then someone made the brilliant leap of logic that said, No, wait, actually—” This is Ben’s voice now. Richie’s just showing off. “—all those people who were in the ER with head injuries, they would have been in the morgue if they weren’t wearing helmets.” He grins again and in his own voice says, “DOA.”

Eddie fails to see what this has to do with him.

Richie makes a ridiculous face at him, something between tongue sticking out and crazy eyes. He drops it almost immediately. “And the same thing happened with World War Two fighter planes,” he goes on. “All of these planes come back with holes through the hulls. Engineers look at them and think: the Germans are aiming here, this is where we should reinforce. Except—these are the planes that came back instead of wrecking somewhere over the Eastern front. Gotta reinforce all of the other parts of the plane.”

Eddie waits.

“You died,” Richie says. He’s the one who broke it to Eddie in the first place, but the words don’t feel any more real than they did then. “So that’s why I was talking about World War Two fighter pilots. Because all of these doctors and nurses kept walking in to get a look at the guy who died twice and telling us what a miracle it was that you survived that kind of injury. Except you didn’t. Because you fucking died.”

And that’s still not an answer.

Eddie considers his options and then gives up, leans back, and puts his feet up on Richie’s thighs so that Richie can’t get up and leave. His new shoes look very clean, considering that he technically wore them in the street. They look huge and insulating, like Richie went out and bought him some armor.

“What didn’t you want me to hear, Rich?” he asks quietly.

Richie considers and says, “What I said to everyone who got you killed.”

Ben’s hotel room is down on the third floor. Leaning over the bathroom sink turned out to be a lot for Eddie’s back to take, which is disappointing, but he brushed his teeth with his own toothbrush and toothpaste and he feels marginally better. About as much better as he can, considering all the things he’s either not allowed to do or can’t do on his own right now. Richie, checking his phone—Eddie forgot to look up the things about hydrogen peroxide, damn it—tells him that the Losers are ready to celebrate Eddie’s “release from captivity” (Richie’s words) “as calmly and boringly as you could wish” (also Richie’s words).

Riding in the elevator makes him nauseated. The second the floor starts moving under them Eddie scrunches his eyes shut as something shifts in his inner ear. On the way up he dismissed it as hyperventilation from his trek across the hotel parking lot or something, but there’s no reason for this.

“You good?” Richie asks him.

“Guh,” Eddie groans.

“You gonna hurl?”

“Shut up.”

“Okay.” And, bizarrely, for perhaps the first time in his life, Richie does.

As soon as the elevator stops moving he releases the handrail and straightens up. The door slides open slowly and Richie holds out his arm like they’re in a Jane Austen novel and he’s offering to take Eddie on a stroll.

Eddie eyes his bent elbow. “I will literally kill you.”

“Oh, literally,” Richie laughs, and drops his arm.

He has to lead Eddie down the hallway past the many identical doors, and it takes an embarrassingly long time. Eddie’s not quite winded but he’s not sure of himself either, not knowing where he’s going, and every time he asks Richie for the door number Richie says that it’s 69 or 420, so fuck him. Eventually Richie stops in front of a door and knocks, and Eddie tries to discreetly lean on the wall.

The door opens.

Richie announces, “Package delivered, mostly intact.”

The door opens a little wider and Stan peers around the edge to look at Eddie.

Eddie smiles at him, feeling caught with his shoulder pressed up against the wallpaper. “Hi,” he says.

Stan ignores Richie and steps right past him, basically shoving him out of the way. Richie reaches out and holds the door open. Stan hugs Eddie so hard around the shoulders that Eddie loses his balance a little and has to brace himself on Stan, who’s just barely taller than him but drops his head onto Eddie’s shoulder so that all Eddie can see is his crazy curls. Eddie blinks at Stan’s hair and then looks up at Richie for some kind of explanation.

Richie, still holding the door open, just shrugs. His eyebrows are a danger to low-flying aircraft.

Awkwardly Eddie puts his hands on Stan’s back. “You okay, man?”

Stan sobs.

Oh shit.

“Okay,” Eddie says, and tries to hug Stan back properly without actually putting any pressure on his chest. “I—okay.” He pats Stan between the shoulder blades.

Richie, eyes wide, watches and says, “Well, don’t hog him.”

“Fuck you, Trashmouth, you’re always hogging him,” Stan says, muffled into Eddie’s shoulder. He stands up and takes a step back, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, and clears his throat. He’s flushed but seems to have his tears in control. He clears his throat again and then says, “Sorry, Patty.”

From inside the hotel room, Patty’s voice comes: “You know what? I think it’s warranted.”

Then Bev: “Yeah, fig newton you, Richie!”

Mike echoes it. “Fig newton you!”

Eddie ducks under Richie’s arm to follow Stan back into the hotel room. It’s set up identically to Richie’s suite upstairs, except that this one is scattered with Losers: Ben at the spindly table, Bev on the couch, Patty and Mike in armchairs on either side of the coffee table.

Patty’s folding her arms as Eddie walks in. “I’m not apologizing.”

“Nor should you,” Ben agrees, his tone very hear hear.

The door swings shut behind them and locks with a metallic click. Eddie’s very aware of Richie standing behind him, as Stan walks over to his wife and perches on the arm of her chair. He glances from Patty to Ben and then back.

Stan nods.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “So, Patty.”

Patty smiles. “How are you feeling?” Her voice is effortlessly sweet, the way that Eddie slips into his customer service cadence when he picks up the telephone.

“I’m not bad,” Eddie says.

Ben asks, “Do you want to sit down?”

Mike is already getting up. “Nah, let him have the—”

“Dibs,” Bev says loudly, and draws her feet up on the couch.

“I,” Eddie says, and then because he doesn’t like feeling like the spotlight’s on him, he goes over to join Bev on the couch. It’s a respectable-sized couch, three cushions and all, and Bev’s tucked up in the corner against one of the armrests. Mike sits back down in the armchair.

For long moments they all just look at Eddie.

“You guys gotta stop,” Eddie says, which draws a general chuckle out of the rest of the group. It’s nice and warm in the hotel, especially with all of the people in it. He relaxes against the overstuffed back of the couch and tilts almost sideways into Beverly, who responds by slinging an arm around him and drawing him into something close to a recline.

“You want a blanket?” she asks. “Ben, go get Eddie a blanket.”

Ben’s already getting up.

“I don’t need a blanket,” Eddie says quickly. Bev’s really warm. Her freckled shoulders are exposed even in September, but she’s very warm and soft and not at all threatening, and it’s nice to be pressed up against her side. Safe, in a way.

Stan asks, “Is that Richie’s shirt?”

Eddie glances down and the hem of the watch shirt is poking out several inches beneath the bottom of his zipped jacket. “I can’t get my arms over my head, I need button-downs,” he says  defensively.

The whole couch bounces as Richie flops down onto the other side. He mimics Bev’s posture, pushing his shoes off and onto the floor and drawing his legs up next to him, putting an arm over the back of the couch. “No one offered me a blanket,” he says, squinting past Eddie at Bev.

“Would you like a blanket, Rich?” she asks.

“Maybe I would.”

“Good, go get it yourself.”

Everyone laughs.

Stan says, “If you need shirts I have button-downs. They’ll fit better than Trashmouth’s.”

Eddie shakes his head, feeling his face glowing a little. “I’m good for now. I just—I wear a lot of polos, I’m sure I have something in my suitcase.” It’s the middle of the day and he doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of changing shirts again. That’s all. It has nothing to do with wanting to wear Richie’s clothes. He doesn’t know how long Beverly’s been sitting here, but he’s content to lounge here in the shadow of her warmth. “I have to go shopping anyway.”

“You can barely stand,” Richie says.

“Fuck off,” Eddie replies immediately, and then remembers Patty just three feet to his right. “Sorry, Patty.”

“Let’s get one thing clear,” Patty says. “Eddie can do whatever he wants.”

“Agreed,” Mike says, and toasts her from the other armchair. He’s drinking coffee; Eddie can smell it.

“I like this rule.” Eddie pushes his shoes off his feet and then sticks his toes under Richie’s thighs.

Richie glances at him, then adjusts the position of his legs so it’s a little easier for Eddie to fit his feet under his knees. “Just don’t stick your socks in my face again and we’ll be fine.”

“I can do whatever I want,” Eddie says. He tilts his head in Patty’s direction, behind Bev’s shoulder. “Teacher said so.”

Richie’s eyes light up and he immediately looks towards Stan, a no-doubt dirty joke visibly waiting on his tongue. But Stan knows him just as well as they all do, and he leans forward and looks at Richie as though from the other side of a chessboard.

“Try it, Rich,” he says. “I dare you.”

Richie seems to weigh his chances and then blows air straight up out of his mouth, the lone Clark-Kent curl on his forehead thrashing. He shrugs. “I’ll save it for later.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” Stan says dangerously.

“So what do you want, Eddie?” Bev asks.

Some answers would be nice, but they’re not exactly alone. “Uh, Patty,” he says, “can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Patty says brightly.

He swallows. “What do you know about Henry Bowers?”

Patty’s eyes go hard immediately. Eddie’s a little taken aback, actually, by how fast that switch flicks. She says nothing and averts her gaze, looking down at Stan’s crossed knee and idly picking a piece of lint off his trousers.

“Good riddance,” she says, her voice still very pleasant.

Holy shit, Stan’s wife.

Eddie’s pretty sure his shock shows on his face. He glances around at the other Losers to see their reactions. Stan doesn’t look surprised at all, but even Ben’s looking a little wide-eyed. Richie’s mouth is open again.

Patty gives a massive shrug. “I don’t approve of hate speech!” she says, suddenly defensive. “It sounds like he was trying to kill Mike, and in that situation—well, you didn’t mean to, did you?”

Richie’s jaw snaps shut with a click of teeth and he looks away, staring down at Mike’s coffee balanced on the table. “I didn’t,” he says. “At the time.”

“Well, there you go,” Patty says, shrugging as though it can’t be helped. “Stan’s told me what it was like, growing up here.”

“He has?” Eddie says, and then shakes his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“I’m not gonna lie to my wife, Eddie,” Stan says flatly, his expression sharp.

Well, Eddie’s not going to ask him to do that. Not like he has any real expertise on functional relationships with one’s wife. Bev’s side is warm against the incision where his chest tube was, and he remembers at the same time that he’s not allowed to sweat and that heat is good for healing. He glances down and fidgets with the placket of his zipper.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “So, if Patty’s all caught up on Henry Bowers. Uh. Where is he?”

He keeps looking down at his own clothes, at the stray thread near the hem, but it gets extremely quiet. The friendly air of the room stills a little; Bev leans just marginally harder into Eddie’s side, like she’s trying to offer emotional support with the physical.

Ben says dully, “Clubhouse.”

Nobody says anything.

Nobody will ever find Henry Bowers if his body is left down there.

“The trapdoor,” Richie says at last, because Ben broke the trapdoor when he fell through it.

“Fixed it,” Ben says. Eddie glances up at him and finds that Ben is staring straight down into his own mug of coffee on the little dining table. “Put new sod on top.”

Eddie’s heart is beating hard. Killing a man in self-defense is one thing. Hiding the body afterwards is something else entirely. It’s not that he wishes Richie had surrendered himself to the police—without the protective fog around Derry that makes people not care what happens to others, he has no reason to believe Richie would ever leave prison; and if Richie were in prison when Eddie woke up, he doesn’t know what he would do. But.

It might be the worst thing they’ve done to a human being. Any of them. A clown is one thing. A man is something else.

He closes his eyes, thinking of their old hideout, the place that was just theirs. Dust and sunlight filtering through that little square in the roof. His mother never would have approved of him playing under the earth with the Losers, down in the Barrens, that dirty place with those dirty children who were his friends.

He used to climb in the hammock with Richie down there. Used to read over the comic books Bill was trying to draw himself, give him feedback; he was one of William Denbrough’s first readers! And now Bowers is down there. And Bill and Ben put him there, but it feels like an invasion all the same.

“Did you—” He clears his throat again and has to lean away from Bev to cough into his elbow. Then he says, “Did you have to put the trapdoor back together?”

There’s a faint scratching sound; Eddie checks and finds that Ben is dragging his thumbnail across the woodgrain on the table.

“Yeah,” he says. “You saw how hard it was for us to find. And we knew that it was there in the first place. You can’t even hear that it’s hollow. The boards must have rotted, I don’t know.”

“But—” Parts of his brain that watched crime drama with Myra in the evenings—she was as fascinated as she said she was disgusted and horrified; she said that they were too dark and awful television even as she buckled down for the next episode of Law & Order: SVU—are whirring, teaming up with the risk analyst part of his brain. He takes a deep breath. “Could it look like he’d fallen through the trapdoor? And died down there?”

There’s a silence as they all consider that. The way that Ben suddenly plummeted through the earth, the wood compromised after twenty-seven years in the suburban swamp that is the Barrens. The astonishing fact that the clubhouse rafters had even held, dirty and dusty and full of spiders but still preserved as though by something outside of time.

“No,” Ben says. “He took an axe to the skull. That’s gonna do something to the bone. They’re gonna know how he died, if they ever find him.” There is basically no inflection to his voice.

Eddie’s stomach twists, thinking about how Mike was suspended over the tomahawk, even though as far as the Derry Public Library knows he had nothing to do with the broken displays.

“Your work,” he says to Mike.

Mike closes his eyes. “Yeah. I know. But I think it would be a longshot, if anyone even cares enough to investigate.”

Eddie closes his eyes too and covers his mouth. He hates this part of himself—the one connecting the dots, seeking patterns, even when there’s no reason for any outsiders to assume there’s a connection—except the timeframe, and the murder weapon, and the way that Mike is planning to leave town, the state, maybe even the country if he was serious about going to visit Bill in Europe. He can’t help but think of some kids tromping through the Barrens, finding the door, walking down there and discovering something out of their nightmares.

Eddie knows what that feels like, after all.

The kids would call the police. Now that the veil or whatever it is is off of Derry, that’s the logical thing to do, right? Parents will care when their kids say Listen, this is what happened instead of saying This is what comes of hanging out with those dirty boys or We can’t afford to keep buying you new glasses! or Have you been playing down there? Playing with boys? What are you doing?

The Irish cop came to confront them about the dam in the Kenduskeag, and though Eddie knows the man is probably either dead or a nonagenarian now or something, Eddie imagines him climbing down the ladder to take a look at the body. Forensic investigations opening up. Surely there are dental records for Henry Bowers, who was institutionalized for his entire adult life. He was in the custody of the state of Maine. Placing a time of death relative to his escape—and the Derry Public Library had a break-in and a destroyed display right around the same time—and Mike had a key—

“Eddie,” Ben says.

Eddie opens his eyes and looks at him, at his painful earnestness.

Ben visibly swallows. Then he says, “We buried him. He’s not just there in the clubhouse. He’s under it. And no one’s going to find him.”

Bev says quietly, “I hate the thought of him down there.”


“That place was ours,” Eddie agrees.

“I hid from him down there, once,” she says. “He and his friend walked right over the top of it. They were looking for a treehouse. They never thought…” She shakes her head.

“Yeah,” Richie says, voice too loud and blasé. Everyone looks at him. He shakes his head. “Well, the only one who ever thought about what was under Derry was Bill, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Ben says softly. He grabs his coffee suddenly and drinks from it, large gulping swallows that Eddie can hear from over here. Then he sets the mug down.

“It’s over,” Mike says.

“Is it?” Stan asks.

“It is,” Mike says, “because if they find him, and if they figure out who he is, and if they put all those pieces together, they’re going to go after me for it anyway. And I intend to be long gone.”

Richie folds his arms up behind his head and stretches. Eddie looks down at where his toes are jammed under the crooks of Richie’s knees, the way his thighs shake slightly as he strains. Then Richie relaxes and puts his arms back down.

“Mrs. Uris, what do you know about the clown?”

“You can call me Patty, Richie,” she says. “Or Pat. Or Patricia.” She leans to the side a little, her hand reaching up for Stanley’s, and they loop together over the back of the chair. “Stanley’s psychic,” she says matter-of-factly.

Everyone, including Stan, blinks at this pronouncement.

Bev twists on the couch to make eye contact with her. She’s clearly choosing her words carefully, cautious as she says, “When you say psychic…”

“I mean he knows things he can’t know,” Patty replies, just as easily. “He knew we should move to Georgia. Trainor, Georgia. I’d never even heard of the place until I was looking for jobs. We were just out of school, we were poor. He told me not even to apply to anywhere else.”

Stan grimaces. “I didn’t mean you couldn’t apply for anywhere else.”

“You said Georgia was it,” Patty says. “And you were right.”

Stan blinks twice and then colors so pink that Eddie’s a little worried about him.

“And then,” Patty says, “you said, ‘The turtle couldn’t help us.’” These words she pronounces so carefully she sounds like she’s reciting Shakespeare.

There is a silence in the wake of it.

“Uh,” Stan says.

Patty turns her head to look at him, all calm concern. Eddie lowers his eyes immediately, feeling uncomfortable and not sure why. “Do you remember?” she asks. “I was filling out applications, and your eyes got all funny, and you said, ‘The turtle couldn’t help us.’” This time Eddie recognizes the falling cadence of her voice—it’s Stan’s words, not the way that Richie does impressions, but in the way that two people who have grown together know each other’s intonations and can invoke them effortlessly. “And I asked you what you meant, and you said you didn’t know what I was talking about. And you have a funny sense of humor, Stanley—I love you, but you do—but you don’t lie to me.”

Eddie sees her turn her head in his peripheral vision and looks up. She makes eye contact with each of the other Losers, her expression almost defiant. “Stanley doesn’t lie ot me,” she says.

Eddie’s stomach rolls.

Don’t you lie to me, Eddie, I know you’ve been running around with that Marsh girl and the Tozier boy, I can see the dirt on you, go take a bath right now and you better scrub, mister, I don’t want you getting sick, it makes me sick, how can you look me in the eye and lie to my face like that, whose child are you—

He pitches his head sideways into Bev’s shoulder.

“You okay?” Bev asks.


She shifts a little bit, moving her arms so her lap is free. “You can lie down if you want.”

“I’m okay.” Then he remembers that he needs to make sure Beverly’s okay with him hanging off her like this, effortless as it feels. “Am I too heavy, or—?”

“You’re fine, sweetie,” she replies, and pats the top of his greasy, greasy head.

Patty is politely quiet while this exchange happens, and then she says, “So if Stanley tells me about a  clown that he forgot all about for most of his life—then he believes there’s a clown. And seven people’s a little big for folie a deux, or whatever you call it. And I saw the scars that night—after you called, Mike—” Mike inclines his head almost guiltily. “—Stan had scars around his face that I’d never seen before, and we’ve been married for sixteen years, I would have noticed. They asked me at the hospital how he got the scars on his face and I didn’t know what to tell them, because they weren’t there until then.”

Stan’s blush has faded. Completely disappeared, actually. He’s gone deathly pale. And there are no scars on his face now.

“So, either Stan’s mentally ill and all of you are going along with it—which seems unlikely after twenty-something years apart—or there’s a clown.” She pauses for a moment and then says, “And then I saw how you all were after Eddie got hurt, and I decided no one’s playing games here. Stan’s completely sane.”

Stan gives a short humorless laugh.

“I mean, for a grown man obsessed with birdwatching, sure,” Richie says. “Sanest of all of us.”

Patty pauses for a moment and then says, “When I got in, I don’t think you could have lied to me either.”

Eddie looks at Richie almost automatically, trying to figure out whether Patty means you the group or you Richie Tozier. He has the fascinating experience of watching Richie blush all the way up from his throat to his ears. He looks up at the ceiling, not making eye contact with anyone.

“Well, yeah, I was a little bit stuck on The Ramones when you arrived,” he says in an airy voice that doesn’t match his expression at all. “And a nurse was yelling at me for singing too loud. You know what they say about singing—you can’t hide anything when you do it. I truly did wanna be sedated.”

“Then why did I have to wrestle you into a chair?” Ben asks dryly.

“Just wanted to see if the muscles were for show,” Richie replies immediately, which makes Eddie blush inexplicably. Ben coughs into his coffee.

Stan offers, “Mike’s pretty sane.”

“Eh,” Mike says, which makes everyone laugh.

“So,” Patty says. “Not much seemed important after… all that. I asked Bill’s wife—did you know she’s a movie star?” She sounds enchanted by the concept.

“Patty doesn’t like Bill’s books,” Stan reports with something like glee. “But she likes Audra’s movies.”

“You shouldn’t have told him that!” Patty says. “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings!”

To the Losers, Stan says, “He just said, ‘I don’t blame her.’” He smiles at his wife. “You didn’t hurt his feelings at all.”

Patty’s voice sounds faintly wounded. “It’s rude.”

“Darling,” Richie twangs, lowering his head and affecting a Deep South accent, “you’re in a room with me. By comparison, nothin’ you do or say can be rude.”

There’s a brief pause and then Stan responds in a startlingly good Deep South accent too: “Don’t you darlin’ my woman, Tozier, ’less you wanna take this ou’side.”

Richie recoils so hard he lifts his feet off the table and curls in on himself as he laughs. “Holy shit!”

“Get good,” Stan invites him flatly in his own voice.

“Holy shit!” Richie repeats, delighted.

“Your woman?” Bev echoes coolly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Patty replies. “I own him too.”

Richie seems unable to cope with this and keels sideways onto Eddie’s legs, still cackling. Eddie winces at the sudden weight but doesn’t move. “I can’t,” Richie mumbles. “I love her. I have never been happier. Fuck.”

“Fig newton,” Mike corrects.

“Fig newton me,” Richie murmurs to the room at large.

Bev shakes her head.

“And, um,” Patty says, and they all look back at her. She’s blushing. She blushes very prettily, little flags of color on her cheeks instead of an all-over flush like the rest of them. “Stanley says that you all talked, when he arrived in Derry?”

“We did,” Ben says hesitantly. Like the rest of them, he can sense that this is delicate ground, so Eddie is glad that of all of them Ben responds to it.

“And—and none of you have children,” Patty says.

“Oh, please don’t make Richie tell his vasectomy story again,” Bev groans.

Richie sits up, expression bright.

Eddie says, “His vasectomy spontaneously reversed but he still has no children. And—” He grimaces. He and Myra never had sex often enough for it to be a concern, especially in recent years, but they decided not to use birth control either. Eddie thinks, quietly, that if he’d wanted to use birth control but she’d had her heart set on children, he couldn’t have trusted any condoms left in the house with her. He would have had to sneak out and get a vasectomy too, disgusting as it would make him feel to hide that from her. She wouldn’t have accepted his no, and that’s part of why Eddie never bothered to give it. “—most of us had the opportunity, but no children.”

“Well,” Patty says. Her lips press together and she tries again. “We’ve been trying for fifteen years. And—doctors said there was nothing wrong. But—I think, based on what you said, Stanley—there was something to it. You know.”

Bev asks, “Do you ever dream, Stan?”

He arrived at the restaurant after the revelation about Bev’s dreams, just as they were all opening up their fortune cookies, looking like a madman with bandages wrapped up both his forearms. He heard what she said.

“Not about you all,” Stan says. “Sorry. I didn’t remember you guys at all. And—I don’t remember any turtle. But—” He looks back at Patty. “I believe that I said it. I just don’t remember saying it.”

“Richie?” Bev asks.

Eddie looks across the couch at Richie.

Richie beams. “Only the hot wet dreams about Eddie’s mom.”

“If I could pick my legs up, I’d kick you in the face,” Eddie tells him.

“Oh!” Richie sits up and yanks his glasses off. “Eddie hit me in the face and made me bleed, take a look, guys!”

Ben, Mike, and Patty have all heard the thing about hydrogen peroxide, and they are so rarely on Eddie’s side that he is forced to concede that Richie’s right. Internally. Out loud, he’s still withholding that particular acceptance. Richie looks smug anyway, which is part of why Eddie’s refusing to admit it.

With Eddie’s questions satisfied, Ben becomes fixed on planning. He has a pad of hotel paper and starts asking everyone what they want for lunch. Eddie can’t think of a single food that isn’t fig newtons right now, but Ben is being insistent on accommodating everyone’s needs.

“Gotta admit, I have been better about the kosher thing in my whole life,” Stan says drily when Ben turns to him.

“Did you eat shrimp again?” Patty asks.

Stan did, indeed, eat shrimp at the Jade of the Orient. He was shaking when he came in and looked about an inch away from death (which was truer than any of them knew at the time) and everyone was so concerned he was going to keel over that Mike ordered him a Coke and brought him a plate from the buffet. Mike looks stricken when he realizes he was responsible for this breach.

“I can’t help it,” Stan says seriously. “I can’t stay away from those prawny bastards.”

Eddie expects Patty to respond with the faint disapproval she’s been showing for swear words in general, but she surprises him by bursting into giggles.

Richie is watching too. “Prawny bastards?” he repeats slowly, like he can’t believe those words came out of Stan’s mouth.

“Richie, did you or did you not call a supernatural entity that was actively trying to kill you ‘a sloppy bitch’?” Eddie asks.

Patty is still giggling and at this she tips sideways into Stan’s chest. Stan puts an arm around her and holds her there.

“I did,” Richie allows. He sounds disappointed in himself.

Ben is still holding his pad of paper and a ballpoint pen with the hotel’s logo on it. He’s staring at Stan. “Do you want shrimp?”

“No,” Stan says.

Ben turns back to Eddie.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “I’m supposed to have protein and lots of calories.” He swallows and then admits, “And I don’t know what I’m actually allergic to or not, I didn’t have any reactions while I was in the hospital, but I decided a full allergy panel was too expensive.”

“Ah, the American healthcare system,” Mike says dreamily.

Richie is still twinkling at Eddie. “What happened to ‘if I eat a cashew, I could realistically die’?”

“I’m not taking criticism from a man who doesn’t recognize his own shows when he hears them,” Eddie replies.

Ben gives up on all of them. “Beverly, what do you want for lunch?”

“How about sandwiches?” Bev asks, perpetually reasonable.

Eddie knows he needs to get up from the couch and put on a warmer coat and get ready to go to the store so he can pick up his stuff from the pharmacy. He’s really comfortable, though, and his brain has the faint fogginess that tells him it’s getting ready for another nap, whether or not it plans to cooperate. He looks down with faint resignation at his own shoes.

“What?” Bev asks, so quiet that only he can hear her.

He shakes his head. “Just tired.”

“You don’t have to go to the store,” Bev says reasonably. “If you want something, one of us can pick it up. I’ll pick it up if you want.”

He shakes his head. “No, I want to walk.” He needs to walk, actually, needs to keep moving. He feels like a shark. If he doesn’t keep eating up the ground under his feet he doesn’t know if he’ll ever move again.

Then he imagines creeping at a snail’s pace through the aisles of a grocery store. He used to get so angry at slow walkers in New York—and not regular anger, anger that burned real hot, anger that made him understand why people always talked about erupting like volcanos, when he’d never felt anything like that in his life. He doesn’t want to be that guy. Doesn’t want to hear the impatient sighs of people behind him, doesn’t want to find he doesn’t have the energy to turn and demand what their problem is, doesn’t want to shuffle by pretending he doesn’t hear anything.

“Maybe not,” he mutters, tilting his head all the way back onto Bev’s shoulder. Then he remembers that he stinks and sits up again. “Sorry, I know I’m gross—”

“We hung out in a sewer together,” Bev reminds him. “Twice.”

Eddie gingerly lowers his head again.

“I know we were talking about doing dinner,” Stan says, “but it can be a weird hotel kitchenette hangout. Anything can be a dinner if you try hard enough.”

Mike offers, “Technically dinner is just a term indicating the largest meal of the day.”

“I’ve heard that,” Patty agrees. “We can do dinner without it necessarily being supper.”

“All of you are making stuff up,” Eddie mutters, still a little bitter about the hydrogen peroxide thing.

Ben and Richie go to the store. Eddie doesn’t truly understand that Richie’s planning on picking up his prescriptions until Richie is standing in front of the couch at that odd half-stoop that’s gonna give him neck problems.

“Eleven one seventy-five?” he says nonsensically.

Eddie stares at him. It’s a number out of Richie’s mouth that isn’t four-twenty or sixty-nine, so it takes him a moment to cotton on that it’s his own birthday.

“Oh,” Eddie says. “You don’t have to pick up my prescriptions, I can wait until—” Richie’s expression goes so blandly disbelieving he looks ten seconds away from death. Eddie glares at him. “I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine.” He lifts up one grasshopper leg and nudges Eddie with the toe of his shoe. He bought new shoes at some point too, and thank god, because if he was still running around with his sewer-shoes and he touched Eddie with one Eddie would have to scream. “Drugs are for keeping you fine.”

Eddie has been prescribed so many drugs in the interest of warding off infection, pain, fluid buildup, and all manner of things, that he cannot remember how many prescriptions he currently has waiting for him. He also has no idea what the copays are going to cost, but he has a suspicion it’s going to be bad.

“I can pay you back,” Eddie says.

Richie tilts his head back and starts snoring again. It’s probably one of the least attractive gestures a person can make. Eddie’s eyes still snap to his Adam’s apple.

Fuming at himself and Richie both, Eddie says, “I don’t remember how much stuff there is. It’s on my papers upstairs.”

“Gotcha,” Richie says, snapping upright again. That’s twice he’s done that now. Twice is a pattern. Eddie is… concerned.

Are you going to be like this the entire time we’re home?

“Other requests?” Richie asks.

He already knows Richie for new shoes, dry shampoo, and a fuckton of candy that he barely made a dent in. Where did all that candy go? He hopes Richie didn’t eat it all, partially because now he’s craving chocolate and partially because he would be concerned about Richie’s teeth.

Richie leaves his toothbrush and toothpaste out on the counter when he stays in a hotel. There’s no travel cap, no accommodating smaller sizes that would indicate Richie did anything other than throw his main toothbrush into his bag and head out to Derry.

He and Richie use the same kind of toothpaste.

“No,” Eddie says. “I’m—I’m fine. I’m all set.”

Richie winks at him and says, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” as he and Ben leave the hotel room.

Eddie has another little stab of panic when he again remembers that he doesn’t have a phone, but then he reminds himself that he’s in a hotel room with four other people, all of whom presumably have the ability to contact emergency services if necessary, and anyway Eddie has some kind of a duty to entertain them as they entertain him in turn. It’s just a reflex from years of business meetings that should have been emails—here is Eddie’s computer to hand, ready with an entire world of amusements for him to distract himself with.

He really does feel tired.

And hungry, weirdly. Thinking about the doll-sized portions of what he was allowed to eat in the hospital—not that he can blame them based on how frequently he vomited—just makes him want food. Not in the way that he’s been hungry for most of his life, feeling the emptiness in his gut and resigned to filling it in the near future or trembling from low blood sugar. His body was a disobedient robot that didn’t respond to maintenance in tried and true ways. Eating, no matter what he put in his stomach, always left him feeling a little bit off, a little bit queasy. And when he went to his doctor about food allergies, his doctor told him about restricting his diet to rule out things that might be causing a reaction. He tried it but it never seemed to do anything.

He’s absolutely fantasizing about cookies right now, thanks to Patty. Fig newtons, dense and sticky in his teeth. Oreos he snuck out of the cabinet when he was a kid and crunched in silence, standing in his mother’s kitchen, afraid to be caught. One time in college he ate a whole tin of shortbreads in one sitting and they filled up his stomach like a meal. Snickerdoodles with the cinnamon sugar coming straight off them and coating his tongue. Chocolate chip cookies warm and soft or guiltily picked out of a Chips Ahoy package, hard little knobs of chocolate mashed in his molars. He would eat raw cookie dough right now. And he has opinions about salmonella and the American poultry industry. But he would absolutely just cram raw cookie dough in his mouth right now.

He doesn’t say any of that. Instead, he sits and listens while Stan, Patty, Mike, and Bev compare travel plans. Bev keeps looking to Eddie for his input, but it quickly becomes clear that Eddie knows even less about what’s going on than he thought.

“How are we doing cars?” Eddie asks. He’s creaky with phlegm again and he sits up and scoots a little further down the couch so he can cough without getting germs on Bev. Mike wordlessly passes him a box of tissues.

“I flew here,” Bev replies. “Ben drove, so he has the car. Mike has his car, Patty—did you fly or drive?”

“We flew,” Patty replies, as Stan blanches a little bit at the mention of how he arrived in Derry in the first place. “We’re flying home.”

“And Bill wanted a favor—wants to know if one of us will hang on to Silver,” Mike says.

Eddie blinks a couple of times before he remembers—Silver! Bill’s bike, Silver! As much a part of Bill as a child as his hair or his shorts or his stutter. Silver made Bill into Big Bill Denbrough, to the point where when Eddie ran into Bill downtown after the pharmacy he stepped up onto Bill’s rear-wheel without thought. The bike was too big for the boy then, but Bill going fast down the road with his feet splayed out to show they were off the pedals and he was just coasting—that made Bill seem bigger than any of them, that was what turned being Bill’s friends into running with Bill Denbrough.

Eddie never rode on the back of Bill’s bike when they were kids—riding double, they called it. He was full of ferocious pride about it, didn’t want anyone to drag him around, wanted to move under his own power, didn’t want to be the baby. Georgie rode on Bill’s handlebars a couple of times, shrieking with joy, when they were kids, until Sharon Denbrough found out and forbade it, and then Georgie went to school and started getting his own friends and stopped begging so much to be allowed around Eddie and Richie and Stan. Eddie associated that with a young child; would never have permitted himself to be driven around on Bill’s handlebars. Even when he broke his arm and was too exhausted and shocky to walk under his own power, Mike put him in the basket of his bike instead of Bill putting him on Silver, and that was okay, because Mike carried meat in that basket and Eddie felt like meat, clutching his own arm and understanding his body in ways he hadn’t before. He can’t remember ever riding double on Silver.

But Richie did. Richie wouldn’t hug Bill in the street with the same abandon with which he threw himself at Eddie, but he rode double on Silver. The bike was big enough and Bill went faster than any of them. Eddie can remember Richie plastered up against Bill’s back, all wild hair and big eyes and sharp nose. He remembers feeling… jealous.

At the time he chalked it up to “wish I could go that fast, my mom would never let me.” Now Eddie’s reading through the lens of hindsight he wonders how badly he wanted to be looking over Bill’s shoulder, seeing the world like he did, borne away by him. And—he suspects a little—his memory might be colored by how badly he wants Richie close to him now. Ah well.

“He left Silver in Derry?” Eddie asks.

Mike shakes his head. “He’s in the back of the truck, didn’t you see?”

“Richie took it out and put it in Ben’s car to go to the hospital,” Bev replies. “We’re kind of playing hot potato with Silver.”

“I can’t believe he found it,” Stan murmurs.

“Doesn’t he want it?” Eddie asks.

Patty looks nonplussed.

Stan holds her hand and explains, “Silver was Bill’s bike when we were kids. He was hooked on The Lone Ranger, you know.”

Eddie and Mike cry, “Hi-yo, Silver, awaaaaay!” in unison. Bev laughs and Eddie breaks down coughing again.

“He found it in a pawn shop in Derry,” Stan goes on. “Didn’t even remember selling it. Some kind of miracle.”

Patty smiles and just listens.

“Stan took better care of his bike than any of us,” Eddie tells her.

“But Bill went the fastest,” Stan says.

“Bill Denbrough biked to beat the devil,” Eddie says without really think about it. The words come out like some kind of sacred pronouncement.

Patty closes one eye and squints, smiling. “Does the devil bike pretty fast?”

“Oh, the fastest,” Eddie says.

“Not anymore though,” Bev replies. “He went down to Georgia. Been to any fiddling contests lately?”

“Oh, who has the time?” Stan asks as Patty grins.

“I do love that song,” Mike murmurs, a little dreamily.

They go back to discussing travel plans. Stan and Patty are flying back to Georgia at their earliest convenience—Patty took some emergency time off work for a family crisis (there’s a certain sharp defiance in her face when she says this that no one presses, though Stan still looks sick and pale at the mention) but she’d like to get home soon. Eddie is immediately abashed that she would take off work while he was in the hospital despite that she barely knows him at all, only knows that Stan had a crisis and didn’t want to leave while Eddie was still an inpatient. He didn’t have to do that—and she really didn’t have to do that. Bill left for work and Eddie doesn’t blame him at all.

He’s definitely putting off calling his workplace. They have definitely fired him by now.

Eddie tries hard not to think about that any more than he thinks about his lack of a phone.

Ben drove here and he has a car. Bev flew into Bangor and took a taxi into Derry—which would have been expensive, but not out of the question, Eddie guesses. Now they plan on driving back. Bev suggests that they had better hang on to Silver, since Ben at least has a garage and a house, and Mike is planning on traveling for a little bit before settling down anywhere in particular. It would be more convenient for him to do that with a car than with a car and a bicycle, unless he’s planning on doing biking tours of national parks. Is that a thing?

Mike is not sure whether or not bike tours of national parks are a thing, but he’s sure there’s a market for it somewhere. It’s been a long time since he rode a bike, though, and that feels like more of a summer thing than anything else. At the moment the plan is to head out west instead of south to Florida. Patty tells him that he’s welcome to stop and visit in Trainor, Georgia—not Atlanta—on his way to Florida; Mike smiles and thanks her, but he’s definitely planning on going to Yellowstone before the weather turns. Did they know that the Yellowstone caldera has been due to erupt for some time now? Eddie did not know that. Eddie thinks he was happier before he knew that, actually. Catastrophizing about volcanic eruption is a problem he doesn’t need.

Mike turns to him and says, “Now, son, do you wanna tell me what you’re doing out here?” Except Mike’s face is obscured by bright sunlight and Eddi realizes, with a slow and unfrightening understanding, that he is dreaming.

He gets to his feet—he’s been crouching in bark mulch under the window of the Neibolt Baptist Church. It’s easy to catch him here most evenings, on his walks home. The choir practices before dinner, so he takes a detour and sits under the windows, listening. He can smell the mulch very clearly, actually, as he swipes bits of bark and dirt off of his pants. If his mother sees.

“I—um, I just—I’m sorry, I just—the choir, I like to listen to—um.” He falls silent in front of the man who is not Mike but looks like him, and Eddie stares a long way up to make nervous eye contact with him.

The man is unconvinced—Eddie can’t see his face too clearly, but he knows that, in the way you know things in dreams. “Uh-huh,” he says. “What’s your name?”

Eddie swallows and looks down at his shoes, but his feet are bare. That’s not right—he’d never do that, never walk around outside without shoes or socks on—this is Maine, there’s farmland nearby, he’s not looking to get hookworms, and this mulch is bits of wood, does he want splinters in the bottoms of his feet? This is how he gets splinters in the bottoms of his feet. And his toes are so cold.

Usually he stays until the sky starts threatening darkness, but here he is on a bright morning and no smoke from the volcano is clouding the blue overhead. He saw flyers for a performance by the choir—not a Christmas performance, because he wouldn’t have been able to sneak away, but it’s early spring now and the cold is clear but bearable—and it’s a Saturday performance, not a Sunday. He’d never have gotten away from his mother for a Sunday, but he’s able to sneak away on a Saturday. He likes to sit with his knees tucked up to his chest, but now he’s standing and the hole straight through him must be clearly visible to this Mike-who-is-not-Mike. The white siding of the building; the window behind him.

“Edward Kaspbrak speaking, sir,” he says, looking at his white toes in the brown mulch.

There’s a long pause and then when the man speaks again his voice is much warmer, almost jovial. “Your friends wouldn’t happen to call you Eddie Kaspbrak, would they?”

Eddie glances up and finds the man is smiling. His smile is bigger than his face—not that his teeth are large or that his smile stretches beyond the bounds of his head, but in the way that it takes over his features and produces light.

“Uh, yes, sir.”

The man laughs. “I’m Will Hanlon. I’m Mike’s dad.”

That’s no guarantee of safety—there are all kinds of parents in the world. The Denbroughs were all right until Georgie died and then Bill stopped inviting the Losers over so much and Eddie didn’t really see much of them, didn’t hear much about them except his mother tutting about how sad it was that they lost their little boy, how devastated she’d be if anything ever happened to Eddie, it would ruin me, Eddie, if anything ever happened to you, I couldn’t go on without you, it’s not natural, and Eddie sat there and thought about the trainyard where he saw It.

And Stan’s parents were rigid—oh, his mom was all right, but sometimes she would say things that sounded like she was quoting something and Eddie felt nervous being out of the loop, not knowing what reference books or Merck manuals or Dr. Spock she had used to raise Stan and what his mother would do if she got her hands on them. Eventually Eddie learned what a proverb was and how some of Stan’s wild intelligence clearly came from her, the way they talked about books together and she always asked Eddie what he was reading even though the answer was never anything as interesting as what Stan was reading for pleasure. But when Stan’s dad was home Stan always became a little bit less of himself, a little bit more the reserved shell he defaulted to when he was at school, when he wanted the teachers to look at him only long enough to see that Stanley Uris was doing what he was supposed to and he was quiet and he was smart that meant he was a good kid, and being a good kid meant that whenever Stan pulled a prank Richie was always the one who got blamed.

Richie’s parents were friendly and congenial in ways that made Eddie afraid to slip up and say something wrong, though he wasn’t sure why—Dr. Tozier was a good dentist and never hurt Eddie and counted his teeth out loud with him when he was nervous, though he was never as afraid of the dentist as his mother was afraid of him going to the dentist, and her anxiety wound him up until he could hardly breathe and he felt the removed sharpness of the metal tapping on his molars and Dr. Tozier saying in his faintly nasal voice, “One… two…” He knows that Dr. Tozier was actually doing his examination, in his routine of counting teeth, but Eddie was always a little proud of having the full set of thirty-two, of living up to expectations, so that whenever he had a loose tooth or an empty spot in his mouth it made him feel nervous and off-kilter, until Richie offered to help him with a bit of string and a slamming door and Eddie shrieked at the very suggestion—what would your dad say? But Eddie had been at Richie’s house when he and Dr. Tozier were going back and forth, in comfortable patter that would suddenly flip when Richie went too far and Dr. Tozier had to remind them both that he was a dad, not that Eddie knew how dads were, and Eddie sat there wishing to vanish while Richie teared up over his scolding. Eddie felt sick and furious in those moments even when he knew Richie was in the wrong, and he would wonder about having a dad and wonder if he should be grateful he didn’t have one anymore or just be grateful that Dr. Tozier’s scoldings never involved crying in front of them. And Mrs. Tozier would say, Oh, Richard, really in ways that meant she wasn’t happy, but she never burst into tears and said Richie-bear it’s like you don’t love me at all.

Eddie didn’t grow up with the others the way he grew up with Richie and Bill and Stan, but he knew Mike smiled when he talked about his dad. And that was reassuring, but you had to love your parents, didn’t you? Eddie spent years and years thinking he loved his mother before he uncovered the seething pit at the heart of him, and then he went through the motions anyway.

“Is Mike in the choir?” Eddie asks Will Hanlon. He’s pretty sure Mike would have mentioned that, or that Eddie would have asked some questions about it if he got the sense that Mike could sing the music he likes to listen to during the long summer sunsets, but sometimes Mike mentions being busy for “practice” and Eddie’s not quite sure what happens at the Neibolt Street Church School.

Will Hanlon shakes his head. “Mike’s mom is, though, so he’s in here too. You the kid who’s been hanging out under the windows for weeks?”

Eddie nods guiltily, nervously. It’s a parent’s job to tell you when you’ve crossed the line and Eddie doesn’t have a dad, but his mom wouldn’t like him sitting there in the dirt—in the mulch, under the bushes—listening at windows. She would be irate with the idea.

Will’s smile does not fade. It puts off light like the sun. “What’s your favorite song, then?” he asks.

Every song that Eddie has ever heard goes completely out of his head, “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and all. Five minutes ago he knew there was a song that was nothing but the word Hallelujah sung over and over and overlapping and driving and rising and ringing and then melting away, and even though the choirmaster was having the darndest time with it it sounded pretty good to Eddie. The audition for the solo in the set had been grueling, and one of the sopranos kept singing a high note that wasn’t written in and the choir director made them all go down the line trying to work out who was sliding up into “an open fifth” but on the spot the culprit stayed silent. And there’s one where the choir sings no more weeping and a-wailing but the choirmaster can’t get them to wail on it precisely the way that he wants them to. And Eddie knows all of this and has loved it for months and showed up here on his Saturday to hear them sing, but he can’t think of a single song.

Will Hanlon makes Eddie sing for him, right there.

Even the dream makes Eddie want to cover his head with his arms and hands. Once he proves he’s really a fan of the music, Will’s happy to bring Eddie inside—Eddie’s dirty jeans next to Will’s nice clothes—and sit him next to Mike for the duration of the concert. Mike leans forward—tall and flushed proud as he points out his mother in the alto section—and explains in whispers about which of the singers his mother has a rivalry with. And afterwards Eddie eats not just lunch with them, but a luncheon, a spread Eddie has never seen the like of in his life and is too hesitant about not going here to fill his plate at, so Mike distracts him by talking and then thunks big spoonfuls of Jell-O and pasta salad onto the little paper plate and, once Eddie has obediently cleared that, sets a cupcake in front of him. It’s the best cupcake Eddie has ever eaten.

But he still remembers, in startling clarity, how it felt to walk into the church with Will Hanlon’s arm over his shoulder and see any number of faces staring at him from the pews, and realize that if he could hear them outside they could hear him inside. Everyone in here heard his warbling attempt at the melody.

He wakes up with his heart racing. Someone threw a blanket over him and he’s limned in sweat, which he’s absolutely not supposed to be because of his incisions. Worse than that are the pinch of a headache at his temples and the very real concern that he might throw up.

Bev left the couch at some point and Eddie can’t see her but Patty is in the chair as Eddie tries to bat away the blanket with his limited range of motion.

“Hang on, hang on,” Patty says, and helps pull the blanket off him. It’s some kind of wool blend, tan in that way that seems unique to hotels. The second that it’s off him he feels like he can breathe again.

“You okay?” Mike asks.

Eddie slowly sits upright, feeling a scream in his chest and back as he levers himself up, and holds himself still for several moments to see if the nausea will go away. Like if he doesn’t move, it won’t be able to see him, like his stomach problems are the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.

He swallows. “I think I’m—” Gonna be sick is right there, loaded up in his throat, but he’s not sick, he’s not. “—dehydrated,” he finishes, and gets up to walk to the bathroom. The door is open so Bev’s not in there. He moves slowly, his balance wavering because his body’s still half-asleep.

The bathroom is partitioned almost like a jack-and-jill. In one of the little rooms is the shower and the toilet; then there’s a door closing off the room with the two sinks, so that two people can get ready at the same time. Then there’s another door on the other side that leads into the hotel bedroom. This one’s closed at the moment, so Eddie can only assume that Bev must be through there.

“You want some water?” Mike asks.

“Yeah,” Eddie pants, and sinks down onto the tile floor. When he pulls his knees up to his chest it feels like he’s sheltering his front incision a little bit. There’s dampness under his arms all the way down to his elbows from how far his sleeves were rucked up when he was sleeping, and he thinks with a little pang that this is not his shirt and how disgusting and dirty it is for him to ruin someone else’s clothing like that, and he’ll have to apologize to Richie. And he can’t do his own laundry. He leans his head against the cool side of the bathtub and contemplates the toilet bowl from floor-level, wondering if he’ll have to throw himself forward to vomit again.

He hears Mike come up behind him and then Mike is handing him a cold bottle of water. Eddie cracks the cap immediately and drinks from it in small sips, waiting for his stomach to calm. “There are a couple of these in the minifridge,” Mike says, and then lays a second cold bottle across the back of Eddie’s neck. Eddie sighs in relief. “Better?”

“Yeah,” he says honestly. His heart rate is still fast, but it’s not racing like an engine getting ready to shift gear. He can walk himself back from this, he’s pretty sure.

“Too hot?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, though now he’s cold again, especially his feet. “I’m not supposed to sweat, but jeez I’m so cold all the time.” He wonders if this sudden flush of heat is indicative of a fever and he blots at his cheek and forehead, trying to tell if his flush is normal.

Mike adjusts the way the bottle of water rests on Eddie’s spine and sits down next to him. Eddie’s just barely of a size to fold up comfortably like a child in this bathroom, but Mike is absolutely too big, one of the knees of his crossed legs pressed up into the far wall. “Your body temperature lowers when you sleep,” he says. “We just worried you’d get cold.”

Eddie pushes the sleeves of his jacket up and runs his fingertips across his inner arms, trying to see if he has the uncomfortable sensitivity that means he has a fever. A fever means infection and that means right back to the hospital, and he’s only just gotten out.

“I dreamed I was cold,” he says.

“Yeah?” Mike asks, politely encouraging.

Eddie smiles and sips more water before he says, “I dreamed about your dad, actually.”

Mike is quiet.

“Do you remember the day he made me sing in front of your whole church?” Eddie asks.

There’s an audible click as Mike’s lips pull into a smile. “Yeah,” he says, tone suddenly warm. “Everyone was like, ‘what is this white boy doing outside? Someone go find out if he’s planning a hate crime’ and Dad was like, ‘I got it.’”

“Oh, jeez, is that what they thought?” Eddie asks, chagrined. If he’d known that, he’d never have hung around scaring everyone.

“Well, not once Dad made you sing instead of you taking off,” Mike replies. “You weren’t half-bad, if I remember right.”

Eddie laughs shallowly. His back is aching from the position, but the rest of him feels better this way. “Of course I wasn’t half-bad, my voice hadn’t broken yet.”

Mike laughs at that too. His voice echoes in the little room through the open door out into the living area of the suite, where Patty and Stan are presumably still curled up in the armchair like kittens. “Do you remember it?”

“Even if I did,” Eddie says, “I have a hole in my chest. I’m not singing for you.”

Mike gives a noncommittal grunt. “Mom sang that while she was doing dishes, I can remember that.”

“You sing it, then.”

He’s mostly joking, but Mike straightens a little and draws a breath. He’s a rumbling bass and sounds nothing like Eddie did when he nervously sang the soprano part outside the Neibolt Street Church for a suspicious Will Hanlon, but the words are familiar. Eddie didn’t know he remembered them until right now.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, take Thy child home at last.” He interrupts himself. “I don’t know, man, I played the trombone.”

“You did play the trombone,” Eddie remembers suddenly. “I forgot.” He reaches out and nudges Mike’s knee with his elbow. “Do you remember the good part?” he asks. The reason the song was his favorite was because it rose to a high crescendo that felt better than anything when they held that note.

“I don’t remember the words,” Mike says, but he hazards a guess anyway, eyes scrunched in something like distaste as he approaches the top of his range: “with my dream of a world that is free…

Eddie nods and manages the highest part of the song at something like an airless whistle: “I have been—

Mike beams. “There you go, there you go, man. To the mount.” He’s grinning. “I have seen the promised land. Precious Lord, precious Lord, take my hand.”

In the wake of that, Stan and Patty applaud from the living area. “If you can do ‘Hanerot Hallaluh’ I’ll give you ten thousand dollars,” Stan says.

“Man, I’ll look it up on my phone, that’s how much I make a year after taxes,” Mike says.

“Need a better accountant then,” Stan replies.

Eddie grins a little and drinks more water and sweats, and when Richie and Ben come back from the store with his painkillers he takes them.

Chapter Text

Eddie spends approximately half an hour being very nervous about his bandages. His discharge instructions were not to take off the bandages for forty-eight hours. But they also told him to change them if they got wet. And he’s already had one infection in the incision on his back, and that’s the one he’s going to have trouble changing on his own. He doesn’t want to take off Richie’s shirt. He doesn’t want to ask Richie for help. He doesn’t want Richie to see his stitches. There are so many things he doesn’t want, but the fact that he’s letting them get in the way of his medical treatment is a bad sign, right? Unless it’s a good sign, because Eddie’s various neuroses would not have permitted this kind of hesitation before his new resolutions. But it’s definitely also a bad sign, because there’s no good reason not to take care of himself—there’s rational fear and then irrational fear, and now Eddie’s got to dial back all his phobias into rational fear, and he’s never been great at moderation or self-restraint, just self-denial, and—

He knows it’s been half an hour since he took the pills because suddenly he feels a headrush crash over his brain in a wave and he becomes aware that this is the best sandwich he’s ever eaten.

“Oh my god,” he says, muffled around the food in his mouth.

Everyone in the room goes very still. Opposite Eddie at the spindly table, Ben’s eyebrows go up slightly. This is the perpetually-calm Ben Hanscom warning sign that he’s ready to call emergency services.

Eddie looks down at the remaining three-quarters of a sandwich on his paper plate. “This is really good,” he says, staring at the edges of baby spinach leaves he can see poking out from the bread. He looks back up at Ben. “You make really good sandwiches.”

Ben’s eyebrows relax as he smiles. “Thank you.”

“Are his eyes all big again?” Richie asks from behind Eddie on the couch.

Eddie insisted on eating at the table, partially because they’re not animals and partially because his back will not allow him to lean over the coffee table like the others. He frowns, peering into Ben’s face. Ben has some big sad eyes, but he looks pretty happy right now.

“Uh, no?” Eddie says, perplexed.

Ben’s smile broadens into a grin.

“I meant you,” Richie says. “Ben, is Eddie high again?”

Eddie scowls and ignores Richie, because if he’s going to talk about Eddie like he’s not even here then Richie can see how he likes it.

“I fail to see how a man enjoying a sandwich means he’s gotta be high,” Ben demurs, because Ben is very nice. Eddie’s happy to be eating lunch with him.

“Yeah, Richie, Ben makes really good sandwiches,” Bev says. “Fig newton you.”

Mike and Stan take up the call: “Fig newton you!”

Patty giggles.

“I kind of want fig newtons now,” Eddie confesses to Ben. Then he gets concerned that Ben might not feel he’s appreciated enough for his sandwich making skills and quickly clarifies, “But this is a really good sandwich. Like, I can taste all the ingredients.”

Sandwiches have always been something of a stopgap for Eddie’s gastronomic needs. Sometimes he doesn’t have the energy to fight with Myra about making something for himself, because she’s always very happy to say, No, let me take care of it, you worked all day, but Eddie has never really enjoyed food, so being hungry has always been kind of unpleasant and waiting for well-done beef just kind of drags out a generally mediocre experience. Then he feels guilty for not complimenting Myra on her cooking or being properly appreciative of the things she does for him. Sometimes he just wants to eat something quickly and get back to answering his emails, he doesn’t want the rigmarole of a family dinner. I can do it myself, Marty—just let me make a sandwich really quick, my blood sugar’s low and I need to respond to this as soon as possible, this whole profile is urgent and can’t wait until tomorrow at the office. Or sometimes it’s all about forcing himself to eat breakfast because there are pills you don’t take on an empty stomach, so he’d choke down some granola and skim milk and still end up feeling queasy.

This is a good sandwich. Eddie went back and forth on whether he wanted to know what was in it, but Ben simply reported out loud when he was washing the spinach and tomatoes in the sink, and the meats and cheeses he pulled out of the grocery bags were in white deli wrapping paper, so everything seemed as trustworthy as a grocery trip could be. Then he just handed Eddie a prepaid cell phone and went to talk to the Urises about kosher ingredients.

Eddie got a little distracted, immediately going in and filling in contacts as a way to try to distract himself from the cooling sweat on his back and under his arms. Also Richie told him that the pharmacy couldn’t fill at least two of his prescriptions today—which Eddie should have foreseen, it being a Sunday and all—so their departure from Maine will be delayed by at least one day, which is making him feel more panicky than he suspects it should. So at some point he looked up from rapidly texting Bill (Bill, this is Edward Kaspbrak, can you confirm that this is your cell number?) to realize that Ben was holding a sandwich out to him.

Eddie cannot remember the last time he enjoyed a sandwich. Normally he ate very little meat that wasn’t certified grass-fed beef, and this is definitely some kind of poultry but it also tastes like actual food, which makes Eddie pretty sure this isn’t just sliced turkey. He knows things about the American poultry ranching industry. He should not be this okay with eating a bird.

Richie asks Stan if eating a bird is like cannibalism for him, and Stan, sounding bored, asks Richie if he knows even anything about kosher at all, and Richie’s answer is of course no, “but what is your deal with shrimp, man?”

“I can’t finish unless there’s cocktail sauce,” Stan says perfectly deadpan, and Patty covers her face with both hands as she laughs, like she’s embarrassed about finding it funny.

“...I think that’s just being gay, dude,” Richie says.

Eddie sits in the chair and tries to puzzle out whether that’s homophobic or just a real reach for a play on “cocktail sauce” and then wonders if the joke is that cocktail sauce is analogous to semen, which, gross. Eddie’s pretty sure now that he’s gay, but semen has not gained any magical appeal since he woke up and decided to start being honest with himself.

“I think that would really throw a wrench in my marriage,” Stan says blandly.

There’s a moment of silence before Eddie can’t help himself and blurts out, “You’re telling me,” and waits.

Richie loses it. There’s a thud and when Eddie slowly turns around in his chair to see what’s happening—twisting is one of the motions his back has decided he’s not allowed to do—he sees that there’s spinach and tomato seeds and bits of cheese basically flung across the table where Richie just threw his sandwich down, and Mike, Patty, and Stan have all recoiled to get clear, and Richie is just howling with laughter, tipped over on his side into the middle of the couch with his arms wrapped around himself. Bev gives him a look like she finds him faintly distasteful and then sets her plate down on the side of his head, like she can physically put Richie away.

Mike looks confused, peering over the back of his chair at Eddie. “Uh, is that…?” he asks, and then seems unsure how to continue.

“No, I’m absolutely divorcing my wife because I’m gay,” Eddie says. He tries to make it as matter-of-fact as he can—because it is a matter of fact that he is gay and that is why he is ending his heterosexual marriage, on top of not really being happy in it—but he also feels a little bit like the room is getting narrower around him and like maybe he might start sweating again—God those doctors were probably right about keeping everything subarctic, weren’t they?

And Richie’s bypassed laughter and appears to be just crying on the couch, under Bev’s paper plate.

Stan is grimacing and Eddie has a moment where he thinks oh no oh no oh no before Stan says, “Okay, I was not making a joke there out of your marriage, I was—I like my wife a lot—”

“We know,” Mike and Bev say at the same time, and Richie stammers out little hysterical giggles.

“—and the joke there is not that being gay is inherently funny—would you shut your mouth, Richie?!” Stan demands.

From the sound of it Richie does shut his mouth because the tone of his laughter becomes kind of muffled and frantic and also infinitely worse.

“So it was kind of a thoughtless response and I apologize,” Stan says, glaring at Richie the whole time instead of making eye contact with Eddie.

“No, it’s all right,” Eddie says. “Richie knew, that’s why he’s being such an asshole about it right now, but I, uh. Was planning on. Coming out to you all anyway, uh.”

“Congratulations!” Mike says, and Patty actually gives him another round of applause.

Bev is smiling at him. “I’m glad you felt like you could tell us.” Then she kicks Richie. “You knew and you still made that joke?”

“He said finish, cock, and sauce in the same sentence, what was I supposed to do?”

“Be fucking funny!” Bev hisses back, and then smooths her face out. “Sorry, Patty.”

Eddie glances back around to check on Ben but Ben is smiling gently. “Uh, I wasn’t keeping it a secret,” he manages, trying to justify himself, because Ben is perpetually receptive in a way that’s convenient for that. “It’s not like—not like I always knew and just didn’t tell you guys—I wanted to tell Myra first, is all, and, uh. It’s not you guys, it was me.”

Richie’s laughter dies down and the room settles.

“I mean, like. I had to be kind of high to put the dots together, which is… stupid, of me, I guess,” Eddie goes on. “And I was going to tell you because—I mean it’s not really anyone’s business if I’m not sleeping with them, but, uh. I love you guys, and you’re important to me, and. Um.” He breaks. “The joke was right there.”

That gets more laughs than Richie making that same argument, and Eddie feels warm in a pleasant kind of way, and also like his bones are settling for maybe the first time in his life after being jittery and dancing around for forty years.

Ben smiles at him again. “Do you want another sandwich?”

Eddie has to weigh the part of him that just wants to eat more fancy bread against his actual stomach capacity, which has diminished significantly over the course of his hospital stay. “No, I’m good for now,” he says. “They want me eating like six small meals a day or something but I don’t think I’m there yet.” He swallows and turns slowly in his chair and says, “I do need a favor though?”

Stan looks back at him, eyebrows lifted in something like surprise. In Eddie’s peripheral vision he sees Bev remove the plate and Richie sit up, but he keeps his eyes on Stanley. Stan silently points at himself, a quizzical look on his face, but when Eddie nods at him he only nods back in acceptance. Eddie turns, grabs one of the pharmacy bags off the table, and holds it up in demonstration. Understanding clicks onto Stan’s face.

“Gotcha. ’Scuse me, babylove.” He plants a kiss on her cheek, like a stamp on a letter, and Patty gets up. He has somehow eaten his lunch with one hand, using his other arm to keep Patty balanced in his lap. It’s ridiculous. Stan gets up, flicks his eyes at the bathroom, and walks in through the open door. Eddie picks up an unopened bottle of water and follows him.

Patty says, “Doesn’t semen look more like tartar sauce anyway?”

This sets off another small bomb in the room, obliterating the awkward silence with shrieks of disgust and hilarity, culminating in Richie yelling, “Stan, do you need medical attention?” as Eddie closes the bathroom door behind him.

He sets the bag of bandages and gauze on the counter. Stan is already washing his hands in the far sink. “One on your back?” he says knowingly.

Eddie exhales and it feels like all his stress of the last hour comes out in a miasma. “Yeah,” he says. “I sweated in my sleep.”

“Gotcha,” Stan says. “My right bandages were a mess.” He turns off the faucets and dries his hands on a clean towel.

He means the bandages on his right arm, where he had to change them with his nondominant hand. The simple understanding is why Eddie asked him.

“Can you get your shirt off?” Stan asks.

Eddie nods, undoing his buttons—Richie’s buttons. Shirt and jacket don’t want to come off over his shoulders, but he grits his teeth and manages it. It’s bearable with the painkillers, but he’s aware he’s probably making things worse for himself in the long run.

Stan accepts the clothes and sets them on the counter where they’re not in danger of wetness from the sink. Eddie turns to the side so that Stan has easy access to his back and also so that he doesn’t have to look in the mirror while this is happening. Stan starts gently peeling off the bandage. It is only mildly excruciating.

“So why does hydrogen peroxide fizz if it’s not killing germs?” Eddie asks.

The bandage comes free. Stan reports, “Doesn’t look like pus. No red streaks, doesn’t look swollen.” Eddie grimaces and scrunches his eyes shut at the thought that Stan’s looking directly at his incision. “Do I wipe around the wound or across it?”

Eddie takes a deep breath and grits his teeth. “Just water. Across it. Very gently.”

Stan replies with a word that Eddie does not understand, but he suspects it’s not in English. Stan seems to think this is unexceptional though, cracking open the bottle of water and wetting the gauze calmly, so Eddie doesn’t ask.

“And you know not to pull dirt into the wound?” he asks, nervous.

“Yes,” Stan replies. “Blood reacts with hydrogen peroxide because it has an enzyme called catalase in it.”

The first touch of the gauze on his back is cold. Eddie jumps a little, then grits his teeth. Stan is, true to his nature, careful about it.

“When the peroxide interacts with the blood, it creates water and oxygen. That’s why you can use peroxide to remove bloodstains from clothing.”

Eddie frowns. “Why do you know that?” What has Stan been up to that requires so much bloodstain removal, aside from the obvious recent trauma?

Stan sounds quizzical. “I live with a woman?” he replies. “Sometimes I do the laundry?”

Eddie does not understand until he remembers taking Myra’s Midol with him when he left the house in New York, and then he feels like a moron and a bad husband both. Myra did not like to let him do laundry, but she became very defensive about it when she had her period, embarrassed about it. Eddie genuinely did not mind that time of the month because Myra never suggested they have sex then, and Eddie was a little quietly relieved by that brief reprieve from pressure, and didn’t mind fitting up against her back and being her hot water bottle on those days. He never even saw bloody sheets when they were sharing a bed, Myra took care of them so rapidly.

“Oh,” Eddie says, wondering how much of that makes him a misogynist on top of being closeted. His mother never talked to him about women’s periods. He has vague memories of Bev explaining the process in high school and being very uncomfortable, but at least he no longer was horrified that women could walk around losing so much vital blood supply on a regular basis.

“I mean, hydrogen peroxide kills germs,” Stan says, oblivious to Eddie’s meditations. “But it also damages healthy cells.” He sets the gauze down in the nearest sink and wets a second one, which he wipes across Eddie’s shoulders. This is much less unpleasant, but Eddie is very aware of how long it’s been since he took a shower and that he reeks and poor Stan is subjected to it. “So it’s a double-edged sword.” He pauses in cleaning the sweat off Eddie’s back. “Is that actually the meaning of the phrase double-edged sword?”

Something that cuts both the wielder and the target? “I think so,” Eddie replies.

“I mean, I know what it means, it’s just not usually so literal.” Stan shrugs and drops the second piece of gauze in the sink. “How’s that feel?”

Cold. “Better,” Eddie says. “Thank you.”

“Do you want to do your front one while it dries and then I’ll help you cover it again?” Stan asks.

Eddie takes a deep breath. “Yeah.”

He manages to pick off his front bandage without any help despite his clumsy dominant hand. He wipes the incision and the wound down carefully.

“I swear I asked Richie to buy gloves,” Eddie says.

“Not to gross you out,” Stan says, “but if you have a bloodborne illness I definitely already have it.”

“I don’t have a bloodborne illness,” Eddie says. He remembers trying to tell Stanley—Stanley who was always rigid and particular—that it was okay as he was bleeding out, because his blood was clean. He glances up from his stitches and makes eye contact with Stan in the mirror. “I definitely thought about that in the cavern,” he admits.

Stan smiles. “I thought about it in the hospital bathroom. You were a little quicker on the uptake than me.”

And that makes sense too, because Stan was always clean, but Eddie was always afraid.


“Yeah,” Stan says. “I tried to breathe for you. I had—” He draws a circle around his mouth with his index finger. Lipstick, made of Eddie’s blood.

Eddie grimaces. “God, I’m so sorry.”

Stan shakes his head and looks down at the marble countertop. “Someone’s breathing, they’re still alive,” he says. “I got Richie to do compressions but I was not thinking clearly, I will be honest.”

“Hey, me neither,” Eddie says, and Stan makes a face a lot like Patty not wanting to laugh at the horrible thing but grins anyway. He throws his gauze in the sink and turns his back to Stan, looking in the bag for the bandages. “Thank you.”

Stan shakes his head. “You know who wrapped me up in the hospital?”

Hopefully a medical professional? “Who?”

“Ben,” Stan replies. “I was so afraid they were going to put me on psychiatric lockdown for a second attempt, I wouldn’t let any of the nurses see me. Ben found me in the men’s room.”

Eddie hisses. “Jeez.”

“Then Patty showed up and started thinking straight for both of us. Me and her, not me and Ben,” Stan says easily. He affixes the bandage to Eddie’s back, covering the wound without getting any adhesive on the stitches. “I still don’t like her to look at them, though.”

“Easier with Ben?”

“Easier with Ben,” Stan agrees. He takes a step back. “Do you need a new shirt, or do you feel better with the bandages?”

Eddie glances down at the watch shirt wrapped in his jacket on the countertop. “It’s fine,” he says. He doesn’t really want to give it up. And it’s dry by now, and he doesn’t want to go to the trouble of getting a new shirt, and…

Stan helps him pull the shirt over his shoulders and doesn’t say anything as Eddie fumbles the buttons closed. He tucks the used gauze pads into a Ziploc bag and washes his hands. When they come out of the bathroom, everyone is pointedly not paying attention to them.

“You good?” Ben asks.

From his space in the middle of the couch, Eddie jerks awake again, realizes that he was falling asleep, and groans. On his right, Bev looks amused. Richie is frowning down at his phone and texting with a speed that a man of his age should not possess.

“I’m sorry.” Eddie leans back, but most of the group are giving him indulgent smiles. “I’m really tired.”

“You just ate. All your blood’s in your stomach. It happens,” Ben says.

Eddie kind of automatically waits for Richie to make a boner joke, but it doesn’t happen. Into the awkward silence, he says, “I’m also kind of stoned.”

“Yeah you are,” Richie says without looking up, grinning.

“Richie, do you still own a D.A.R.E. t-shirt?” Bev asks.

“You bet I do.”

“Who are you texting?” Stan asks patiently.

“Eddie’s girlfriend,” Richie replies, still not looking up.

Eddie blinks. So does most of the room.

“Still gay,” Eddie says. This time there’s less pressure at the sides of his field of vision when he says it.

“I know, she’s gonna be crushed,” Richie says.

Bill actually texted Eddie back a little while ago—Hi Eddie yes this is Bill—but he hasn’t sent anything to the group chat yet today. Eddie signed into his email, then made Ben and Stan both proofread what he wrote to make sure he didn’t send his boss complete stoned gibberish to explain where he’s been since he took leave without warning back in August. That settled, he debated on whether or not to try online banking on his phone or whether he’d better give it a little bit and let some of the drugs process through his system before he tried to do anything serious with his finances.

Also, he’s a little afraid of what he might find there. He doesn’t know how angry Myra might be, and he’s too spooked to find out. What if he logs into his banking application and finds out that she’s cleaned the accounts? They have joint checking and savings accounts because they’re married, and she could have moved a lot of money out by now, even with a two-thousand-dollar per day withdrawal limit. Eddie’s both totally unequipped to fight her about it at this time and, in a way, stifled by his own guilt and wondering if he should just let it happen and try to get his half back later. And all that’s assuming that Myra would do something like that—which… he doesn’t know. He genuinely doesn’t know whether Myra would take all the money out of their shared accounts. There are some things he trusts her not to do and some things he doesn’t trust her not to do, and the fact that he doesn’t have an answer for this one is probably indicative of why he shouldn’t have married her.

You know, on top of the gay thing.

“If you want to go in and take a nap, you can,” Bev says. “I did.”

Eddie glances at the closed door to the bedroom and shifts his weight a little bit on the couch. He’s already fallen asleep on this couch once today, and while it wasn’t a bad experience overall, he is a little leery about falling asleep on these guys again. Not because there’s anything wrong with them, just because he feels like he’s failing some kind of social expectation. And if he falls asleep on this couch again, he just knows he’s going to end up slumped on Richie, and the fact that he wants that a lot is exactly why he shouldn’t do that.


No, self-abnegation is not why he shouldn’t do that. He shouldn’t do that because he would be getting more out of it than Richie would realize and what if it made Richie uncomfortable? And what if Richie had to get up or something but he just hung out there and didn’t move because Eddie kind of had him trapped? And also if he fell asleep on Richie all the others would see that and—he doesn’t need that. That idea is still embarrassing.

Stan and Patty are cuddled up to each other again, but they’re a couple and they’re married and both of them seem pretty happy about it. And Ben and Beverly are clearly together and sharing this hotel room by now, and that’s a different thing entirely. Even though they’re on other sides of the suite—Ben is still camped out at the table—he keeps shooting her soft looks and Bev keeps smiling. And there are no suitcases out here, so Eddie can only assume that there are suitcases in their bedroom, and what if they need something and have to go in there and Eddie is taking up space in their room and—no, it’s different.

And? he prompts himself.


He’d rather share a hotel room with Richie.

Which is fine, because Richie is absolutely coming to New York just to—be with him doesn’t sound right, but definitely to keep an eye on Eddie and help out if he needs it, and all Eddie’s bags are upstairs, and his discharge paperwork is upstairs, and he really ought to go put his new medicines in his toiletry bag and set up alarms for when he needs to take them and pack his bandages and—

“You can sleep upstairs if we’re being too loud,” Richie chips in. He’s still not looking up from his phone, and he says it in the same casual way he said I got married. Eddie feels himself tense up and tries to consciously relax. Richie raises his eyes and finds the rest of the Losers looking at him. “Fine, if I’m being too loud, I have my moments of self-awareness, okay?”

“Do you?” Stan asks.

“You missed the concert,” Mike says.

Richie frowns. “The what?”

“Mike and Eddie sang!” Patty says, sounding delighted.

“I did hear that,” Bev says. “Can I record that as my wake-up alarm? It was great.”

“Oh god, let me learn the lyrics first,” Mike says.

Richie turns to look at Eddie with an expression of utter betrayal.

“I did not sing,” Eddie says. “I have a gaping hole through my chest.”

“Not really gaping so much anymore,” Stan says helpfully. Eddie grimaces. “No? Sorry.”

“What did you sing?” Richie says, accusatory, like he’s saying Where’s my money? Maybe Eddie’s projecting.

There’s a headache pulsing at Eddie’s temples that he didn’t notice until now. “Choir music,” he says. “From thirty years ago.”

Richie peers over his glasses at Patty. “Was it good?”

“It sounded nice,” Patty replies.

Richie returns to giving Eddie the stink-eye, phone completely forgotten where it rests on his thigh. Eddie glances down just enough to see that the contact he’s texting is labeled Tu Madre.

“Your mom?” he demands, incredibly disappointed. “You called your mother my girlfriend?”

“Turnabout is fair play, Eddie my Eds,” Richie says, picking up his phone again and clicking the screen off.

“That is not what that means,” Eddie says. “It would be turnabout if I told you that I was dating your mom, which I am not—it is not turnabout if you are the one making jokes about me and your mother, you deeply disturbed person, I have a headache now.”

Richie purses his lips and whistles a little bit, small and shrill. “Mean stepdad.”

“Oh fu—fffffruit roll-ups,” he says, remembering Patty mid-sentence.

Patty giggles.

“Fruit roll-ups you,” Eddie finishes, glaring at Richie. “I’m going upstairs. You’re exhausting.” He folds his arms over his chest and leans back into a sulk on the couch.

Bev looks deeply amused.

“I have the key,” Richie sing-songs.

“Give me the key.”

“I will,” Richie says, the but first clear in his tone. “Once you sing for me.”


His voice turns almost sinister. “Sing. Sing, my angel of music.”

“Maybe we could go for frozen yogurt later?” Ben suggests.

Eddie considers. There are like thirty different frozen yogurt places that have popped up on his commute to work in the last five years, ever since frozen yogurt got trendy, and he has never been to a single one. But he has seen them. And he is aware of their diverse spread of toppings.

And man he’s been craving sugar.

Everyone is still looking at him, waiting for him to decide whether they’re all going to have an outing together or remain in this hotel room talking and doing nothing athletic.

“I want frozen yogurt,” he admits. He holds up his phone and looks at Ben, considering that Ben seems most concerned with logistics out of all of them. “I could set an alarm for when you guys want to go?”

Ben shakes his head. “We’ll go when you wake up.”

Eddie grimaces. He has no idea how long that could take.

“I, uh, threw out my ibuprofen,” he adds.

“I have ibuprofen,” Bev says.

“Is it gonna interact with your meds?” Stan asks.

Eddie grimaces. “She said to supplement with ibuprofen.” Feeling good reassuring pain in his body is one thing; a headache is just an annoyance.

Bev gets up and returns with a bottle of Advil. The pills are coated and sugared, so at least Eddie doesn’t get the instinct to retch the way he did when he took his prescription pills, but he still grimaces and chugs a lot of water. Actually, frozen yogurt is looking more and more appealing now. He gets up, picks up a new bottle of water—Ben seems to have stuffed an entire case into the minifridge and there’s another resting on the countertop—and surveys all the pharmacy bags he has to take upstairs.

He goes into the bathroom, picks up his jacket, and then comes back out. He points at Richie. Richie, who had returned to his phone, looks back up and immediately drops it, holding up both hands like don’t shoot.

“Help me carry stuff,” Eddie instructs him. He almost went full-out and said Make yourself useful, carry my bags, but he feels like that would be going too far.

Richie’s expression doesn’t change at all. “’Kay,” he says, and gets up and jams his phone in his back pocket. Eddie picks up some of his pharmacy bags and realizes quickly that Richie’s strategy is grab everything before Eddie can, because Eddie ends up with like two paper prescription bags and Richie ends up with several plastic grocery bags. Eddie peers in one and finds that, yes, Richie did buy gloves as Eddie requested, Eddie just didn’t see them when he was bringing his bandage materials into the bathroom. Did he get all of his bandage materials out of the bathroom? He ducks back in there to check.

“We’ll see you after naptime,” Richie says, holding the door open for Eddie.

Eddie creeps out under his arm, scowling. “I’m not a child.”

“I am very aware of that,” Richie says.

Eddie resists the instinctive what the fuck is that supposed to mean and tries to calm down a little. “Naptime is for children.”

“Naptime is for me.” The door swings shut behind them and they walk to the elevator. “Do you remember the first time I had coffee?”

Eddie blinks a couple of times against his vague memories. They all went and got snacks at the gas station at some point in high school. He remembers Richie pouring himself a big thing of coffee and cackling to himself under his breath, and Stan going, “Oh no, please no,” but Richie had lawnmowing money and he would not be stopped. They went to Ben’s house to study, and Richie drank the whole thing and immediately fell asleep on Ben’s living room floor, and only woke up two hours later when Ben’s mom came home and Stan started throwing pens at him.

“I do!” Eddie says, astonished. He glances up at Richie and Richie just grins down at him.

“Yeah, the effect did not change,” Richie says. “I turned my sheets blue in college because I kept climbing in between classes with my jeans on. Naptime every day, man.”

“You are a child,” Eddie blatantly lies. “A giant child.” That’s a little more accurate.

Richie grins and pitches his voice up as high and nasal as it’ll go: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Eddie makes an incoherent groan and gets in the elevator. As soon as the elevator starts moving he gets a rush of nausea, and he grimaces. “I think there’s something wrong with my inner ear,” he says, and then hears himself and says out loud, “Fuck.”

“Is it just when you’re moving?” Richie asks.

The meds left him kind of queasy in general, but as soon as the elevator starts he wants to puke. “Elevator’s worse,” he says. Oh god, he’s going to have to get in a car tomorrow. Or—whenever the rest of his prescriptions come in. “How long did they say it would take them to fill my prescriptions?”

“They said by Tuesday at the latest,” Richie replies. “And they said they’d have to special order the intrusive spectrometer, which I’m like, ‘why didn’t the doc send in the prescription earlier’—”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Eddie says, trying to ignore his own nausea. “Did you just say ‘intrusive spectrometer’?”

“Yeah,” Richie says, his face perfectly straight.

“Did you say ‘intrusive spectrometer’ to the pharmacy?”

“Yeah, the invasive splenectomy.”

He’s fucking with him. Goddamn it.

“Did they not have it because you kept making up stupid names for incentive spirometer?” Eddie demands.

“You mean the interesting spiralography?”

“I hate you,” Eddie says, and then shakes his head. “I don’t. But you’re an idiot.”

“Aww, you say the sweetest things,” Richie says. “No, they had no idea what the fuck I was talking about, then I said, ‘the medical bong’—”

“You did not,” Eddie says.

Richie just smiles.

“You did not. You are lying to me. You are lying to me right now. You better be lying to me.”

“The medical hookah.”

Fuck you.”

“Anyway, I checked and I can order one online,” Richie says, shrugging. “If you can wait that long, anyway.”

The incentive spirometer is supposed to measure his lung capacity and help incentivize him to take full breaths and increase it. Eddie grimaces. It’s changing the bandages all over again—if he behaved exactly like he did for most of his adult life he’d be foaming at the mouth right now about not following the doctor’s orders to the letter; but his discharge papers spelled out his coughing and deep breathing exercises pretty clearly, and if he can just hold out until they get to New York—which should be Wednesday at the latest, that’s only three days—but what if he regresses in terms of lung capacity over three days?

“I guess I’m gonna have to wait that long,” Eddie says.

Richie raises his eyebrows. “New chill Eddie.”

“Yes,” Eddie says. “Exactly.” He is new chill Eddie.

“Give me your bags.”

“Fuck off.”

Once they get into the hotel room Eddie decides to brush his teeth again, because he still feels nauseous and either he’ll throw up in the sink (not optimal, but at least the nausea will abate for hopefully long enough for him to fall asleep) or the minty taste will help. He sets his prescriptions down on the table and goes into the bathroom, and while he brushes his teeth his eyes flick to the side to look at the far sink, which Richie has visibly been using. He hasn’t rinsed any toothpaste out of the bottom of the sink, and his toothbrush is just hanging out there on the counter. If it weren’t for the doorway between the sinks and the toilet, Eddie would go back out and lecture him on the dangers of toilet plume.

Instead his brain clocks again that they use the same type of toothpaste and out of nowhere he has the thought I know what he tastes like.

Hooo boy Eddie needs a lie-down.

“I’m not setting an alarm,” he warns Richie when he comes back out into the living area.

Richie is already slung over the couch in the same spot and position he was downstairs. “No problem.”

Eddie’s kind of nonplussed, wondering if Richie’s going to go back to Ben’s room and the conversation now that Eddie and his stuff are secure in the room. “What are you going to do?”

Richie waves his phone over his head. “Wait until you’re snoring, then call Maggie.”

“I don’t snore,” Eddie says.

“You so do,” Richie replies.

“What’s your mom want?” He’s waiting for Richie to make a dirty joke out of it—not that he’s looking forward to that, but he knows Richie. He’s done like a statistically improbable phone guessing game that proves he knows Richie.

But Richie doesn’t take the joke set up for him. Instead he holds his phone out at arm’s length and squints at it like it’s something to interrogate. “Proof of life.”

Eddie raises an eyebrow at him. “And your texting back is not that?”

“Nah, for all she knows Steve—Steve’s my manager—took my phone and is Weekend at Bernie’s-ing me while I’m in rehab again.” He grins widely. A parody of sweetness.

Eddie stares blankly at him, horrified. “Is that a thing that happened?”

“No,” Richie says. “I asked if he would. He said no.”

Eddie doesn’t know whether to be relieved that Richie is… joking? or not, because he’s still not entirely sure.

“I, uh… don’t know what to do with that, so I’m going to sleep,” Eddie says. “Am I—couch?”

Richie lowers his phone and stares blankly at Eddie. “Are you couch?” he repeats.

“I mean—this is your room, it’s…”

Richie sits up straighter, hand coming down on the armrest as though to brace himself. “Yeah, and you’re fresh out of the hospital, so you’re not couch, you’re mattress, dude.”

Eddie doesn’t have anything more substantial to say than um so he just looks around at the suite, gesturing in a way he hopes conveys that he has no idea what he’s doing.

Richie’s expression softens. “Sorry about the—skin cells, I don’t know.”

“No, but, if we’re gonna be here for a couple of days. Uh.”

Eddie can see Richie switching gears, going from combative to teasing. “Oh, I thought I’d sleep, like, lying in front of the door to your room, ready to fight for your honor. Guard dog, you know.”

That’s a lot.

“It’s a sofa bed,” Richie says, reaching over and lifting up the middle cushion so Eddie can see the handle where the couch pulls out. “I’m good.”

“Oh.” He’s tired. He doesn’t know what to do with this swirling mixture of relief and disappointment.

“And I haven’t even jerked off in that bed, so like, it’s pretty clean as far as hotels go.”

That Eddie knows an easy answer to. He makes a loud revolted sound, steps back into the bedroom, and closes the door on Richie, who cackles, “I can jerk off in it if you want me to!”  Eddie stands there for a few moments, letting the good old banter reassure him.

It’s quiet behind this door. He can see the early afternoon sun, bright behind the curtains. There would have been a time when Eddie never would have thought about taking a nap at this time of day, no matter how tired he was; he would have chewed the caffeine gum or drank water or got up and paced until he woke up. Then he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night so he’d take pills for that too. The rush came over him two hours after he swallowed them, making him come over so unsteady he’d creep up the stairs to bed, hanging onto the handrail and steadying himself with his other hand on the steps as needed. Like a kid, lurching up the stairs on all fours, playing at… something.

Slowly Eddie turns to look at the bed.

It’s just a hotel bed. No black-out curtains on the window, just cream-colored cloth, so the room is thrown into heavy golden shadows. TV unit on the wall opposite the bed, a nightstand in dark wood on either side of the bed.

Apparently Richie has no qualms about using a hotel duvet. It’s the same brown wooly material as the blanket Eddie used in Ben’s suite, so Eddie’s instinctive distaste about hotel linens are kind of a moot point by now. The blanket hangs half off the bed, and but the sheets are pulled up and—Eddie can see the imprint of how Richie sleeps. Curled like a crescent. Two pillows are abandoned on the floor; two are still on the bed. One is at the head, a visible dent in it where Richie sleeps on it. The other is squeezed in the middle so it looks like bowtie pasta, left in the middle of the bed.

Eddie stares at it and has—not quite a flashback. Strong visual memory. Richie at sixteen, sprawled asleep on Ben’s floor, arms wrapped around himself. And even earlier—camped out in Stan’s backyard in a pop-up tent, a practice round for when Stan was going to be out in the woods with his scouting troop. Richie at maybe eight years old, not asleep under his blanket but with his arms around it.

Ah, fuck, Eddie thinks clearly. He’s still a sleep hugger.

That’s gonna be difficult knowledge to get out of his brain. Good thing he doesn’t find Richie’s arms super distracting or anything, right?

Eddie steps out of his new shoes again, balancing himself carefully on the end of the bed, and then sits down to peel out of his socks. He lays himself down almost gingerly. Hotel pillows are reused and—and full of dust mites—and plenty of people have slept on this bed before him, before Richie, and that’s fine, he can take a shower—oh wait, no he can’t.

He’s almost annoyed by the time he realizes that the sheets smell like Richie.

He grits his teeth and mutters, “Fuck,” too quietly for Richie to hear him through the door, then gives up, pulls the sheet over himself, and turns his head to the side. The pillowcase smells like Richie’s hair. Not dirty or oily, just… warm. Him.

Chalk one up for self-indulgence.

The leper opens the door and walks in without ceremony. Eddie lies still on the bed, sheet pulled up almost to his chin like a child. He can’t stop seeing it, can’t peel his eyes open, can’t call for Richie, can’t wake himself up. Can’t move at all. Just has to watch.

It walks like a man. None of the crawling lurching gait it had when Eddie was a kid, no lunge like it had in the pharmacy. It could be meeting Eddie in the lobby of his office building, standing upright in the elevator. The face is still twisted and malformed, the eyes lopsided, the hair long and ragged. It wears rags and its skin is still sloughing off, but there’s something almost comic about the way it stands there. Situational humor. Something doesn’t belong here.

Eddie stares at it, waiting for it to reach out and touch him. Waiting for it to speak in that rattling gasp.

Instead, in a completely normal, faintly Manhattan inflection, it says, “Actually, leprosy’s curable these days.”

Eddie’s instinct is to blink, but he can’t control his eyes. So he just listens.

“And they call them leprosy patients now,” it says. “Calling someone a leper is just insensitive.”

So what the hell is Eddie supposed to call it?

Its face doesn’t change, but Eddie can feel—in that weird way of dreams—that it’s smiling. It’s not a nice smile—not that any smile it could give would be nice, would be aesthetically pleasing, but. It’s unkind. Eddie is not safe.

“But you were never afraid of leprosy, were you?” the leper asks.

It reaches up with its distorted hands, its fingers swollen and short and studded with patches of broken skin, and begins pulling its hair out. The action seems to take no effort at all, to cause it no pain—it grabs big handfuls of hair and simply pulls them away, then shakes its hands clean. Clumps of hair dry as straw fall to the floor, slow like cinematic snowflakes.

“You knew,” it says, its voice almost resigned. “Even then. You were a kid, but you knew.”

And it begins taking off its rags. They come away in pieces, much like the way it rips off its hair. It drops them to floor just as apathetically. There’s a little ring of hair and rotting cloth around its feet.

“It was AIDS you were afraid of.”

There’s a rash across its chest and abdomen, its sagging skin. Its nipples are indistinguishable from the lesions except for their position. It is thin, so thin, that where the ribcage ends there’s a drop off, and then a sag to the stomach, the way that happens when people go so hungry their abdominal muscles support their organs. The hip bones stand out prominently. Instead of stretched taut, the skin looks thick.

Eddie, on the mattress, is at eye level with its penis, when it takes off the rest of its rags. There is nothing exceptional about it. It is a flaccid uncircumcised penis. The skin is no different there than on the rest of its body—there are red lesions across the pelvis leading down into the groin, and where there are normally creases and folds in skin these are rough and pebbled and bumpy.

Naked, the leper looks at him and then begins taking off its skin.

Eddie is frightened—of course, it’s a nightmare—but some of the supernatural dread is gone. They killed It. It confronted him in the pharmacy basement and he put his hands around Its throat, and choked It, and frightened It, and made It small. And then they did it again in the cavern—him and the best friends he ever had, and him half alive, and they still won. This is an it, not an It; not a She.

The skin comes away as easily as the hair. There is no blood. It starts at the top of its head, hooking its fingers under its eyelids and pulling up. The skin peels away as easily as wrapping paper, with no sound, no fluids, no grotesque jiggling or oozing. The leper pulls in asymmetric strips, and keeps talking.

“You were thirteen. No one had ever touched you. No one was ever going to touch you.”

Where the thick rough swathes of skin come away, new skin shows through. It’s not pink or raw or shiny. It’s white and clean. No lesions or boils or pus. When it tears away one of its eye sockets the eye falls out onto the carpet and bounces once, and then Eddie hears it roll under the bed. In the empty hollow, Eddie can see the flash of something dark and wet. Another eye. Not mottled and blue and clouded this time. Dark pupil. Bright, under the shadow.

No, Eddie thinks. No, please don’t. Please don’t be…

“And you were still so convinced you were sick!” the leper says. It—he, Eddie supposes, since he’s eye level with his dick at this point, he might as well call it a he—sounds almost surprised by what he says. A little bit outraged. The leper hooks all four fingers in its mouth and pulls down on its lower lip, and that comes away too, skin shearing away in a thick panel down to its neck. The chin revealed under the flesh mask—that’s what this is, it’s a flesh mask, it’s not a living organ, it’s dead—is perfectly normal too, small in relation to the jaw, cleft in the middle.

The leper always had a long face. A long, long, long face.

“No teachers putting their hands on you—no priests, and that was the time for priests—no bus drivers touching you where they shouldn’t—no one ever touched you. No one ever touches you, Eddie.”

That’s not true. That’s not true. Eddie’s thinking of the hospital, of the nurses pulling him to his feet, of Ben rubbing his hands to warm them and then Mike tucking them into his mittens, of Beverly allowing him to fall asleep on her on the couch downstairs. Of Richie, sinking his hands into Eddie’s hair.

The leper takes off his scalp like it’s taking off a bald cap. The hair underneath it is thick and dark and—surprisingly neat, considering it was crushed under the disguise.

“And you still thought you were sick!”

Eddie remembers. Under the porch of Neibolt house, where his mother told him never to go because vagrants slept there. Graffiti and beer and spent matches and empty chip bags, the signs of people just trying to make it. Eddie was eleven and he pretended he had no home to go to, no one to miss him—and he could still feel something crawling inside him, tendrils reaching up from deep inside him for his throat.

One arm comes off like a sleeve. The other he yanks away from as high up as the collarbone, following the space he ripped clean when he freed his jaw. It’s just a human jaw. Just a human under there. Not warped, not twisted. With less detail to worry about, the leper strips out of his skin like a mechanic pulling off coveralls, or a fisherman stepping out of waders. It’s clumsy and it’s cumbersome and it’s more athletic than he has any right to be, but it’s not so hard, in the end.

“Just that it was something inherent to you. Something key in your nature. Something everyone could see but you, and you were so young, and how could you have known?”

The leper—who is not a leper anymore—no longer has a rash spreading across his chest. No sagging skin. His stomach doesn’t bulge—in fact it’s hollow, like he’s lost a lot of weight in a short period of time. There are freckles on the shoulders, up the sides of the thighs. A pale brown birthmark on the outside of one knee shaped like a tongue of flame. Sparse spatterings of hair, follicles deigning to make a cursory showing, trying harder the closer to his groin. Body hair wiry; pubic hair wirier, penis flaccid and unexceptional tucked away in its foreskin as it is, half-hidden in the crispy curls. Faint strain on the abdomen where muscles are visible—that’s a symptom of dehydration, of starvation, of deeply unhealthy practices. Eddie looks at it and thinks that person is sick. Nobody’s taking care of that person.

And bisecting the chest, slightly asymmetrical—a deep gash. Bright red in a way that suggests it should be bleeding, but it’s not. Notched shut with sutures, the thread as thick as barbed wire. Something unnatural there, something that should have killed but didn’t, but it did, but it didn’t. A hollow in the center without stitches, punching almost neatly through the sternum—a little more to the left, the side of the body in which the heart is mostly located. It never thought of precision, Eddie thinks, in Its attacks—It went for whatever would frighten the most, and symmetry would be one more way to categorize the fear, to put It into a box, to understand It. Barely visible on the side, under the level of the pectoral, is a secondary red slash from the intercostal drain.

Eddie stares up into his own face.

“But nothing made you sick,” it says. “It was just you all along.”

And it tries to climb in bed with him.

Just clambering over his body, hands braced on Eddie’s chest, one knee reaching to land on Eddie’s other side, weight shifting. Eddie’s whole body goes taut with something sharper than fear, something trapped animal, something ready to chew through its own leg to get out, but he can’t move, he can’t—

The door opens so gingerly that at first Eddie doesn’t realize it’s happening, and then the creak of the hinges banishes the dream. Eddie doesn’t move, breathing deep as he can manage through his nose, trying to stay awake to chase any remnants of the dream away. The sheet is pulled up almost over his face.

A dark head leans slowly into the room. Richie’s glasses appear before the rest of his face does properly. He peers in at Eddie and Eddie blinks at him, at the room suddenly so dark, and wonders how much of him is visible.

There’s a phone pressed to Richie’s ear. In a whisper, Richie says, “Yeah, he’s fine,” and then gently closes the door again, leaving Eddie alone.

No, Eddie thinks clearly. No, don’t go. His eyes are closing—his head and eyes feel so heavy and it’s the drugs, he knows it’s the drugs—and he can’t resist falling back asleep anymore than he could resist watching the leper’s transformation.

No. No, no, no. This is my dream. This is my head, this is my dream.

The door opens again. Eddie thinks, No, defiant now instead of pleading, and in response Richie walks in. He’s dressed—nothing particularly special, something like a t-shirt—and Eddie can tell it’s a dream because the excruciating detail is gone, leaving behind only something like relief as he slinks casually over to the bed.

“You okay?” dream-Richie asks him.

“I’m fine,” Eddie tells him without moving his lips. “I’m not bad.”

“You’re not bad,” dream-Richie agrees, and climbs into the bed from the other side. The mattress doesn’t sink under his weight. The sheets don’t move. There’s no warmth to his body when he fits himself to Eddie’s back and slings an arm over his ribs. Eddie keeps his eyes closed and clutches the dream with both hands and holds it to him.

Naps are a mistake. Eddie brushes his teeth for the fourth time today and proceeds sourly downstairs, jacket back on and teeth gritted against nausea in the elevator. His instinct tells him that he needs to get Dramamine or Bonine or something for the car ride—or better yet, that he should call his fucking doctor and say what gives? The part of him that’s a thirteen-year-old boy rebelling against authority doesn’t want pharmaceutical help.

That just means the nausea’s not bad enough yet. Eddie’s had food poisoning in his life where he was ready for the end, if only it meant he could get some peace from his body’s demands.

Richie does not understand why Eddie’s so grouchy. At first he seems amused by it—“I’m watching ‘not a morning person’ happen at like four PM”—but when Eddie refuses to relax and chatter back with him, Richie retreats into himself a little bit too. Eddie watches him out of his peripheral vision. Richie’s scrutinizing him hard, getting ready for whatever Eddie’s about to do—battening down the hatches.

Eddie does nothing. He downloads the Wikipedia app onto his new prepaid smartphone. He didn’t know that prepaid phones came in smartphone versions, but of course he’s never been the kind of person to consider having a prepaid phone before. Prepaid phones are for people who are leading double lives, conducting illicit activities, cheating on their wives, or evading the law. Eddie watches the little wheel unfurl as the app downloads and wonders whether any of those have an appeal, now that he has the equipment to do so.

Don’t think so, buddy, his body reports back to him. He woke up in bed alone, of course, but he wasn’t even half-hard from having a full bladder. It’s not like he’s having graphic sex dreams or anything, but it looks like that whole part of his body is completely absent without leave. He wonders why his doctor even bothered to give him a three-week ban on sexual activity, since his nervous system seems to have decided it’s a nonissue.

And the point is that he’s not leading a double life. He’s been leading a second, bland, inferior life that he never wanted in the first place, and now he’s righting the course. And—well, he’s involved in a conspiracy to hide a murder, but there were mitigating circumstances; and he’s told Myra he wants a divorce and even if he hadn’t, no activity which could be construed as cheating has occurred; and he’s not evading the law so much as he’s evading all of the arbitrary laws he set up for himself over the last couple of decades.

He got an automatic reply to his email to his boss. This is not surprising. It’s Sunday.

The rest of the Losers meet them in the lobby. Bev hugs him as though they didn’t see each other three and a half hours ago and asks him how he feels.

He puts his head on her shoulder and says, “Naps are for children.”

“Blasphemy!” Richie says.

“My point stands.”

Unfortunately, Eddie himself is also standing upright. He’s got full-body ache, which he doesn’t think makes sense as a symptom of either having a big hole in his chest or as a side-effect of his medication. The only thing he can think of is that he overexerted himself by being stupid and not asking for help earlier, and now it’s too late for that, and he should probably take more ibuprofen.

A heating pad would be nice. Or just an entire electric blanket, damn the fire hazard.

Instead of Mike’s truck, Eddie and Richie ride in Ben’s car to the frozen yogurt place. Richie has the shotgun seat. Bev climbed into the back without discussing it, and almost as soon as Ben puts the car into drive Eddie gets incredibly motion sick and has to put his head in Bev’s lap.

“What the fuck?” he groans.

Ben drives carefully, trying not to stop and start or take sharp turns. Richie peers over the back of his seat and watches Bev petting sympathetically at Eddie’s hair.

“Okay, we gotta call your fucking doctor,” Richie says.

Eddie takes a deep breath. He doesn’t want to think about eating food, so he just focuses on the frozen aspect of the frozen yogurt, the idea of putting something cold into his body. He would eat ice cubes right now, in fact. And then for the ache in his body—

“Can we buy an electric blanket?” he mumbles into Bev’s knee.

“I’m sure we can,” she says.

Ben didn’t hear him. “Huh?”

“Electric blanket.”

“Ooh,” says Ben, sounding genuinely intrigued.

“You hurting, sweetie?” Bev asks.

He thinks that if he didn’t have a hole punched through his body, he’d ask her to rub his back. That’s always done more for him when he’s feeling truly out of it than hair-petting. But also that’s way too intimate and he’s not going to ask Bev to do that, no matter how lousy he feels.

“It’ll stop when we get out of the car,” he says. “I got motion sick in the elevator too.” That is okay to say, because motion sickness is a response to stimulus and not a genuine illness.

There is a moment of silence where he can hear everyone considering the logistics of Eddie climbing three flights of stairs in his current condition. The idea of Ben Hanscom just hoisting him and carrying him up the stairwell is, fortunately, amusing in the way a cartoon is amusing, instead of humiliating. He wouldn’t want it in real life, obviously, but the mental image is funny.

The mental image of Richie carrying him is not funny. And not even because the last time Richie carried him anywhere Eddie was actually bleeding to death.

At that moment Eddie remembers that he’s not allowed to sweat, so an electric blanket is probably not a great idea. He immediately starts trying to bargain with himself—what if he just lies on top of it, like a lizard on a hot rock? Then can he get the blanket?

Then he remembers that he’s a goddamn adult and he can just buy the blanket and he doesn’t have to justify himself. He can just get out from under the blanket when he gets too hot. He can make those decisions.

Ben makes a left turn and Eddie tries to stifle his groan from the vicinity of Beverly’s knee.

Then Eddie remembers that, oh yeah, he has no goddamn money at the moment either, so never mind that.

And that’s basically how the car ride to the frozen yogurt place goes.

They don’t wait for Mike and the Urises to arrive. The second they walk into the little frozen yogurt outlet in the strip mall, Eddie sits down at one of their tables—they all look like aluminum patio furniture, but also like they’re supposed to look like aluminum patio furniture, and everything is extremely shiny and vaguely futuristic—and Richie walks up to the counter and asks, “You got bottled water?”

“Yes, sir,” says the tiny androgynous person behind the counter, who sounds as dead inside as Eddie feels.

“Two, please.”

And then Richie’s coming back over and handing Eddie a cold bottle of water. Eddie cracks the cap and sips it, imagining Sarah telling him to pace himself. It smells sweet in here but it’s still vaguely chilly. He knows he’ll be fine. He doesn’t even think he’s going to puke in this frozen yogurt store.

“Are you okay?” Patty asks when they arrive, because Richie’s definitely hovering.

Annoyed, Eddie grabs Richie by the hem of his t-shirt and yanks him down into the chair beside him. And Richie lets him, which is a whole different thing, because Eddie’s holding the bottle in his left hand so he has to pull with his nerve-damaged right, and he knows he’s not very strong, and Richie’s pretty big, but as soon as he works out why Eddie’s messing with his clothes he just drops into the chair.

Like gravity is increasing on him.

“Just motion sickness,” Eddie replies.

Patty looks around at all of the stainless-steel panels that promise to release cold bacteria-laden milk solids. “Do you want to eat?”

Well not right now. “I’ll give it a minute,” he says.

At which point Richie pokes Eddie in the neck with the bottom of the second cold bottle of water, and Eddie closes his own throat so he doesn’t moan out loud. Instead a weird stifled little sound comes out of his nose, and Richie grins and lays the side of the bottle flat against him, hand almost resting on the back of Eddie’s neck.

Eddie can’t look at him. He doesn’t have the energy to do that right now.

Stan slides into the booth across from Eddie, puts his elbows on the shiny square tabletop, and props his chin on his hands to look at him. Eddie raises his eyebrows at him in return and waits.

“So do you want us to stay?” Stan asks, voice low and calm.

Eddie frowns a little because at first he thinks he means in this frozen yogurt store—which obviously, Eddie wants everyone to stay, he doesn’t want to ruin anyone else’s time and he is absolutely getting something junk-food-adjacent in his stomach at some point this evening. Then he realizes that Stan’s asking because he wants to go back to Georgia.

“No,” Eddie says, shaking his head. His jaw touches the cold plastic, just lightly. “I mean—I’m surprised you guys stayed this long, actually.”

Stan makes finger guns at him. “It wasn’t all you. My mental health is not that great.”

“I’ll drink to that, bro,” Richie says.

“Don’t fucking call me bro,” Stan replies, and then winces.

“Fig newton?” Eddie asks.

“Fig newton,” Stan agrees calmly. “Patty’s taken off work, but she has to go back soon. And I want to stay with her, but if you need—”

Eddie, feeling very young with his childhood best friends around him, sticks his tongue out at Stan. Stan interrupts himself. Richie makes a little huffing sound like he’s laughing. The only thing they need is Bill there, looking blue-eyed and long-suffering again, and suddenly they’ll be back at a cafeteria table in the fourth grade.

“I’m fine,” Eddie says. And considering everything that’s happened to him—yes, he is, he’s doing very well. He died, and he’s up and walking around and going for frozen yogurt, which on average assessment of how well people do after they die, is something like ten-thousand percent better. He glances to the side at Richie, who’s rolling his eyes, and looks back at Stan.

Stan hunkers a little closer on the table, knowing that Eddie is getting ready to say something serious.

“Are you fine?” Eddie asks.

Because the worst possible thing happened to Stan when he was alone in Georgia, and that’s the only thing giving Eddie pause—not that Stan’s walking away from him and back to his life; Bill did that and Bill’s fine and Eddie doesn’t hold it against him because why would he?—but because Patty works during the day, and Eddie’s afraid of what will happen when Stan’s alone in Georgia again.

“I’m fine,” Stan says, and then frowns. “I think my mother-in-law is coming to visit?”

Richie makes an “oooh,” sound, not at all like Ben being excited by the idea of an electric blanket in the car. More like they’re in middle school and someone has just gotten summoned to the principal’s office.

Stan rolls his eyes. “Shut up. My mother-in-law is very nice.”

“Yeah.” Eddie swings his knee out and bangs his thigh into Richie’s, just making a point. “Like you know anything about mothers-in-law.”

“It’s my father-in-law who’s out to get me,” Stan replies seriously, before Richie can make the expected your mom joke. “He keeps cursing me out in Yiddish, like I don’t know what the f-f-f-f—” He stalls out, grimacing hard, and then glances to where Patty is looking over her options for frozen yogurt. He lowers his voice to a whisper. “—fuck—”

“Okay, Big Bill,” Richie says, and Eddie experiences déjà vu so strong that he gets a little lightheaded, trying to work out if this is actually the third grade and he’s listening to William Denbrough try out a swear for the first time.

Stanley just gives Richie a cold disappointed look, which is also painfully familiar. “—he’s saying,” he finishes, as though Richie had never interrupted.

Eddie frowns. “Are your parents still alive?”

“Dad is,” Stan replies, the same coldness in his voice as on his face, which tells Eddie exactly how that relationship is.

Richie voices what Eddie’s thinking. “Oooo-kay.”

Stan ignores this, looking over Eddie’s shoulder at Patty again. He raises his voice slightly and calls, “Babylove, do you need the—”

“Nope,” Patty replies immediately. “We need this.”

Stanley grins and drops his gaze to the tabletop in front of him, and it’s such a private affectionate look that Eddie suddenly feels a great wrench in his chest, like psych, you are hurt pretty badly, actually, and he loses his breath a little for just a moment. Then it passes.

“Haystack,” Richie says, and Eddie looks around at him to find that Richie is staring at Ben from across the whole shop, frank disbelief on his face. “What the fuck, man?”

Ben turns around, his little paper cup in hand, and just about sneers back at Richie, if Ben Hanscom were capable of sneering, which Eddie suspects he is not. “What?”

No sugar added?” Richie reads, which is impressive because Eddie can’t read the sign from this distance.

Ben glares back at him. “Yeah?” he demands.

Richie tilts his head to the side like he’s exasperated and sighs, “Come on, man.”

Thank god they and the cashier are the only people in this restaurant, because they are being extremely annoying right now.

“What’s your problem, Richie?” Bev demands.

Richie still has one hand holding an increasingly warm bottle to Eddie’s neck, so he gestures with the other as he says, “My problem is that the man can get all the sugar he wants, and I do mean sugah—” Eddie’s stomach twists and he grimaces, not sure if this is revulsion or attraction or both. “—and he heads straight for the cold milk.”

Eddie glances over his shoulder to look at the cashier. They have leaned down on the counter much like Stan, braced their elbows, and appear to be watching the whole exchange like it’s a spectator sport.

Bev puts her hands on her hips. “Let people like what they like! What are you, the yogurt police?”

“No, but that sounds like something you’d have to give a credit card number if you wanted to watch it online, so I know my next career move now, thank you,” Richie says.

Eddie shrugs him and his bottle away. “Stop being weird and go get some yogurt.”

“I don’t know if I can, now that I know I’m gonna have to watch Haystack eat a frozen dairy confection,” Richie said, almost throwing the last words across the shop.

“What?” Eddie asks, completely lost.

Richie turns to him and with an expression of surprising seriousness says, “When you buy like a tub of ice cream, you gotta check on the side and make sure it’s real ice cream. If it says frozen dairy confection, it’s not as sweet, the texture’s all wrong when you go to scoop it, it’s just a big disappointment. And as a big disappointment, I know these things.”

“Are you deranged?” Stan asks. “Why do you know that? Why do you care about that?”

“Because I’ve just realized that what I want to be when I grow up is the yogurt police, keep up, Stantonio,” Richie replies. He leans back in his chair, drops the bottle onto the table, and splays both hands over his own stomach. “Do I not look like a man who prioritizes real goddamn ice cream?”

Eddie is…  reasonably certain that the point Richie is trying to make here is about his weight, but. Richie looks good. Big and solid and soft, and his t-shirt is tight enough that Eddie can see a slight dip in the fabric over his navel, and Eddie wants to touch him so badly, to knock Richie’s hands aside and grab him instead, that he has to stand up and go look at frozen yogurt flavors.

The motion-sick nausea is gone; instead he can feel his heart beating too fast, it’s all emotional. The more space he puts between himself and Richie the easier it is to breathe.

Mike is the only one being quiet in this goddamn restaurant, including Eddie himself, so Eddie walks up next to him and leans on him. Mike looks down at him, looking pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of the top of Eddie’s head midway down his upper arm.

“What the fuck is a Dole Whip?” Eddie asks quietly, staring at the big silver levers now that he can read their signs.

“It is—” Mike stops as though confused and then says, “You know, I know it’s tropical, but I have no idea what’s in it.”

Eddie pulls out his new phone and looks up Dole Whip on Wikipedia. Apparently the term is trademarked—which this frozen yogurt flavor sign is electing to ignore. Dole Whip (also known as Dole Soft Serve) [1] is a soft serve dairy-free frozen dessert created by Dole Food Company in 1986.

Dairy-free?” Eddie reads aloud. “Oh fuck that.” He walks away from the offerings in violation of Dole Food Company’s trademark. That’s not even a frozen dairy confection. Eddie just got out of the hospital. He also skips the no sugar added, nonfat, and low-fat options, because he’s on a mission, and that mission is hedonism.

There are a lot of fruit flavors. Like, an abundance of fruit flavors. It’s a whole damn fruit salad up in here. Eddie stares at the different options, feeling like he’s trying to access a strategic part of his brain that just keeps sending back 404 errors. It’s frozen yogurt. There is no wrong answer. The universe is not going to punish him for making a bad decision.

Patty walks up to him, pink plastic spoon sticking out of her mouth. She has a medium-sized cup full of pink and blue swirls, sprinkled with what looks like big pink fish eggs on top. Eddie stares directly down into her fro-yo.

“What is that?” he asks.

“Cotton candy,” she says, which answers only one of his questions. “Do you want to try?”

Eddie is trying to improve, but he’s not at a state in his life where he can just share a spoon with Stan’s wife. He thinks he could maybe share a spoon with Bev, but only because her blood is literally going around in his circulatory system right now. “What are the pink things?” he asks.

Patty’s face lights up and Eddie immediately becomes suspicious. “They’re tapioca pearls,” she replies. “They’re strawberry flavored.”

This is new to Eddie. He doesn’t know what a Dole Whip is. He has vague memories of his mother consuming Cozyshack tapioca pudding. He has no idea how one would transmute a cassava root into pearl form, or how it would become strawberry flavored.

What he does know, is that cassava as a plant sometimes contains cyanide, and he immediately becomes obsessed with consuming this one-time poisonous topping based on that alone.

“I’m gonna need all of those,” Eddie says without explaining his reasoning. He’s supposed to have protein and calories, too. There’s a peanut-butter frozen yogurt, but he contemplates the tapioca pearls and their strawberry flavor and weighs whether or not he’s in the phase of his life where he will without hesitation combine strawberry and peanut butter. Is that like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in frozen yogurt form? Or is it gross?

He contemplates the topping bar. The tapioca pearls are labeled “strawberry poppers” and are also available in a mango flavor. Eddie contemplates that sign for several seconds, wondering what the fuck the popping is about and whether he’s committed to a strange new snack food too soon. There’s also fresh fruit, pieces of candy bars, peanuts, sprinkles, assorted gummy candies, whole animal crackers, assorted movie-theater candies, cookie dough, brownie bites, cheesecake pieces, something labeled “marshmallow topping” that is clearly this trademark-infringing frozen yogurt shop’s answer for Marshmallow Fluff, and a little sign indicating that there’s hot fudge and whipped cream at the register.

Patty follows him in his investigation.

“Why are the walnuts wet?” he asks, looking at the little sign reading “wet walnuts.”

Richie would make a dirty joke. Patty tilts her head to the side and then shrugs, spoon still sticking out of her mouth. Did Stan marry an adorable cartoon character? How old is Patty, really?

“Are you and Stan the same age?” Eddie asks, more for his own curiosity than for any real need to know.

Patty pops the spoon out of her mouth and nods. “He’s a year older.”

So Patty’s thirty-eight, because Stan skipped a grade to end up in their class back in the day. Eddie remembers it all at once without ever having realized he’d forgotten it.

“You don’t look thirty-eight,” he says, because she doesn’t, she has this perpetually youthful glow, and he has the vague idea that women like to be complimented on their skin or something. Patty has nice skin. That’s a thing, right?

“Neither do you,” Patty replies, which makes Eddie laugh. “How old are you?”

He grins. “I’m forty-one in November,” he says.

Her eyes pop. “No,” she says, as though in disbelief. Maybe she’s like Eddie and trying to fumble through this social interaction by telling him how young he looks too. Eddie grins and tries to slide down the topping bar to inspect the raspberry sauce, see if it’s congealed or anything—and collides immediately with Richie.

“Whoa!” Richie visibly moves to steady him but his hands are full, and Eddie can identify the moment he remembers he can’t put a hand on Eddie’s back, because he falters. In that moment, Eddie grabs hold of the sleeves of the leather jacket and gets his balance back. Richie stands there, arms around Eddie in kind of a parody of a hug like a big stuffed animal or something.

“Jesus, Richie, warn a guy,” Eddie says. To cover how flustered he is, he releases Richie’s sleeves and sets about adjusting the way his jacket hangs over his chest, fussing with the zipper placket so he looks a little neater and a little bit less like he’s crashing into people in a frozen yogurt shop. His knuckles touch Richie’s chest. Eddie had to get up because Richie joking about his body fat was overwhelming, but there is not a lot of give there. He looks soft. His chest is pretty goddamn firm.

This was the worst idea for concealing how flustered he is. In fact, the situation is worse. Richie is right there, almost with his arms around Eddie, smelling like leather and heat under the sugary scent of this shop. He scrapes an imaginary bit of fluff off Richie’s shoulder with the palm of his hand—God he loves this jacket; holy shit he needs to take his hands off of Richie—and looks over his shoulder before taking a step back, just in case he’s going to bump into Patty. But Patty is standing at a distance that respects other people’s personal space.

You know. Like a normal human being.

And if Eddie’s being half as weird as he feels like he’s being, Patty has a stellar poker face. This is likely, because Eddie’s being really weird and she’s married to Stanley Uris.

“Hm,” Richie says noncommittally, and then he holds out one of the things in his hands to Eddie.

It’s a paper cup. The largest size they have, in bright lime green to differentiate from the pink and orange of the small and medium sizes. Patty has a small. Richie has picked up two large cups for their frozen yogurt and now he’s eyeing the topping bar speculatively, giving Eddie most of his side profile, his eyelids contemplative under the glasses.

Eddie realizes he completely on autopilot accepted the cup and looks down at it so he stops staring at Richie. “What is this?” he asks.

Richie blinks twice, short little lashes fluttering, and then turns to look back down at Eddie. “Were you just gonna put your chin up against the dispenser and—” He tilts his head back and mimes pulling the lever so frozen yogurt pours directly into his mouth. It is not hot, Eddie tells himself firmly. Richie’s tongue is lolling out. It is not hot.

“I—” The idea of having to respond to that in the English language is just out of the question, so he ignores it and says, “I’m putting this back, I’m getting a normal-sized amount of ice cream.”

Richie straightens up and grins. It’s not his usual congenial grin. Eddie’s… a little intimidated by the way his face changes; this smile says I know something you don’t know, and since at the moment the only thing Eddie can think about is how mad he is that the stupid condescending grin is still so goddamn charismatic, he feels his face burn in return. He should take another step back, Richie’s way too close, Eddie’s brain is full of the smell of leather. He can’t take a step back. He is absolutely convinced in this moment that he cannot yield even a little bit of ground to Richie, and he has no idea what he thinks will happen if he does, but—

“Okay,” Richie says. Easy. Calm. Not fighting him.


“Did you—” Eddie looks down into the white bottom of the paper cup and back up. “Did you lick it or something? What’s the joke? What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Richie says, but Eddie can see so many of his teeth, that stupid fucking overbite. What is he doing?

Eddie narrows his eyes at him. “What?” He moves to twist to look back at the cashier’s counter. Something pulls in the middle of his back and he loses his breath. Please don’t let that be a stitch.

He doesn’t know what his face does but he immediately hears Richie going, “Shit, you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Eddie spits back, mostly honest. He inhales slowly, breathing through the pain. It’s tolerable. He can manage it. He goes back to trying to make his point, moving his feet to turn in place and look at the cashier’s counter. The cashier is on her? his? their phone now, and by all accounts appears to be praying for death. Eddie can’t blame them. Next to the register, there’s a scale. “They charge these by weight, Richie, I’m not getting the super fucking expensive ice cream.”

“Frozen yogurt,” Richie corrects, because he’s an asshole.

Eddie has a brief fantasy about being a completely uninjured martial arts practitioner in the peak of his health and strength so that he can roundhouse kick Richie in the chest.

He wouldn’t do it. But it’s a fantasy. He’s allowed to have that kind of fantasy in the frozen yogurt store. He’s overheating in the frozen yogurt store.

He needs some frozen yogurt immediately.

“And why not?” The smugness has vanished off his face and Richie genuinely looks confused by Eddie’s decision.

“Because—” He grimaces and leans in a little more so he can say quietly, “—because I don’t have any money with me and I’m not gonna make someone buy me like a thirty-dollar frozen yogurt, obviously.”

Richie’s confusion intensifies. His nose scrunches, his brows furrow, his mouth goes wide and flat as he frowns. “Why not? I’m buying.”

“You’re—” All the air goes out of Eddie again.

Mike walks up to the counter and pays for his non-trademarked Dole Whip, looking quietly content in the way of Mike Hanlon. He has a medium-sized cup, and it’s full of yellow soft serve studded with maraschino cherries. Eddie always loved the way that those looked, really, how bright the red. He rarely ever ordered anything with them. Sometimes a Manhattan in a bar, with one of the cherries resting round at the bottom. No milkshakes or anything—too unhealthy, too frivolous, couldn’t justify them.

Eddie’s in a difficult position. Because he had a sneaking suspicion that it was either going to be Ben or Richie paying his way here, but Ben suggested the venue and Eddie doesn’t want to be like, No, Richie, you can’t buy me a big frozen yogurt, I’m going to make Ben buy me a slightly smaller frozen yogurt. It’s just not acceptable behavior.

But also there’s a part of him that’s maybe thirteen years old and heard Richie talking smugly about the time he took Beverly to the movies—and complaining about how Ben tagged along “but it’s okay because he’s gonna pay me back, he said.”

Eddie looked up over his comic book and squinted at Richie and asked almost suspiciously, “You’re not gonna make Bev pay you back, are you?”

He told himself that it was because Bev had the same shivering anxiety about asking her parents for money that Eddie did, because his mother always wanted to know why he wanted it, when she could give him anything he needed. And his mother was always saying Bev was dirty—well, Eddie looked at her bike and her clothes, which Eddie got the sense were pretty for girls but were definitely worn in and made over and restyled—and decided it was more about Bev working with what she had. But he told himself, in that moment, he was anxious because he wanted to know if Richie was gonna hold money over Bev’s head, which was dicey in a way it wasn’t with Ben.

Richie, thirteen and cocky with his beer-bottle glasses, gave Eddie a condescending look, but there was something proud tucked in the corner of his mouth. “Of course not,” he said, which was how Eddie knew Richie had taken Bev on a date, and that was why he was mad that Ben came along.

And Richie’s bought Eddie a lot of stuff in the last week or so and hasn’t said anything about Eddie paying him back. This doesn’t mean anything, but Eddie’s brain gets stuck, sometimes, and this is so much more interesting to obsess about than the pasteurization of the milk products in this store.

“Uh,” Eddie says, staring down at his empty frozen yogurt cup. “Why?” he hears himself ask, and then fantasizes about being a martial artist in the prime of his life so he can roundhouse kick himself in the face.

Half of Richie’s face scrunches up, eye closing in something way more skeptical than a wink. “Uh, how often did you buy me ice cream when we were kids?” he says, like it’s obvious.

Oh. Oh, of course.

Relief and disappointment. Eddie covers both by snarling, “Because you were always blowing your money on bullshit like yo-yos you didn’t know how to—to—” What the fuck is the verb that goes with yo-yo?

“Yo?” Richie suggests drily.

“—and magician kits,” Eddie finishes.

“That magician kit was not bullshit, we got so much use out of that cauldron,” Richie says. He lifts his chin in the direction of the frozen yogurt dispensers. “Go on. I’ll lean over your shoulder and judge your choices.”

“You’re really selling this experience,” Eddie says.

He stands in front of the frozen yogurt options, watching Mike return to the table with his Dole Whip and cherries. He takes a seat at the table next to Stan and leans across to talk to him. Stan appears to be saving a seat for Patty. Bev stands at the counter and talks to the cashier, and the cashier turns and nods and starts doing something with a blender, and Ben goes to stand next to her. Their shoulders touch.

Eddie takes the brief reprieve to just stand by himself. He doesn’t feel lonely, exactly, not in a room with almost all of his closest friends, but he feels kind of overstimulated, which doesn’t bode well before he goes off on a food adventure. But he’s not so out of it, weighing the pros and cons of chocolate ice cream versus brownie batter frozen yogurt versus maybe he should try the chocolate peanut butter and the strawberry after all? There’s strawberry frozen yogurt. He notices Richie trying to sneak up behind him; his body is attuned to Richie like while he was in the hospital they installed a fucking radar.

“What do you want?” Richie whispers directly into his ear.

Eddie jerks, but it’s not out of surprise, it’s because Richie’s breathing on him. He glares at him and then sighs. “I don’t know. There are a lot of choices. Kind of want everything.”

Richie nods like this is reasonable and then proceeds toward the end of the display of soft serve dispensers. Eddie watches him go mechanically through the levers, putting just a blot of yogurt in the bowl, fussing with the cup as he pulls it away from the dispenser so that he gets a curling peak. Getting both brownie batter and chocolate is weird enough, but it’s not until he moves onto the pomegranate that Eddie caves and goes, “What are you doing?”

“Getting everything,” Richie replies without looking up, concentrating very hard on lemon frozen yogurt pouring into his cup of abominations.



“There are, like, a lot of flavors here.”

“Thirty-three,” Richie replies, sounding happy about it.

“That’s—” Eddie grimaces. “How old are you? Are you a child? Are you playing with the soda machine at Burger King? You may not have it your way.”

“You said you wanted everything.”

He's trying to have it Eddie’s way?

“I can get my own ice cream.”


Eddie barely restrains himself from yelling fuck you across the frozen yogurt shop. From the way that Richie turns to look back at him fuming and grins—that same fucking smug smile again—he’s pretty sure he gets the point across anyway.

“I’m not eating that,” Eddie announces.

“Okay,” Richie says indifferently.

“I’m getting my own yogurt.”

“Of course.”

Eddie watches him float over toward the coffee-flavored frozen yogurt and just cringes. This is gonna be a mess. “Don’t bother with the no sugar added or the nonfat or the low-fat ones, I’m supposed to be eating lots of calories.”

“Yes, my liege.” Richie continues his unspeakable work.

Eddie keeps watching and, when he moves to a new group of dispensers, says, “I just don’t want to waste it.”

“Anything you can’t finish, I’ll eat,” Richie says. “I will be your goat. Your garbage disposal.” He looks over his shoulder at Eddie again and jerks his head toward the wall of choices. “Go on, get what you want.”

At the table once everyone’s paid up, Bev looks at Richie’s towering monstrosity of frozen yogurt. Instead of horror—which is the look that Ben is still wearing—she looks more like Stan. Just disappointed.

“You better eat fast,” Stan says, visibly judging both Richie and Eddie.

This thing is going to be disgusting at the bottom. Just a melted swirl of, like, Oreo and pineapple and cotton candy.

Eddie has his strawberry and chocolate peanut butter, with his cookie dough pieces and the tapioca pearls. He understands now why they were labeled poppers. He feels almost appalled by the discovery, but he can’t stop eating them. He is kind of responsible for the thirty-dollar frozen yogurt, which is a dangerous leaning tower studded with gummy bears, something called unicorn bark, and “make sure you get some maraschino cherries. More maraschino cherries than that, come on,” as Eddie had commanded.

Richie is eating it. He’s using more table manners than Eddie has ever seen him employ in his life: carefully scraping tiny bits from the sides with his spoon. Eddie suspects he’s trying not to completely consume any particular flavor until Eddie gets a chance to try it, which makes him feel repulsed, guilty, and kind of swirly inside all at once.

“I don’t think you get to comment, since you didn’t even get froyo,” Richie says, lifting his chin in the direction of Beverly’s root beer float.

Bev loudly slurps from her float so that the straw gurgles, her eyes defiant. Ben’s expression of horror and revulsion dissolves into amusement.

“I know I said I was going all-out,” Mike says, something just sad in his voice. “…But I should have clarified I was doing that in, like, an adult way.”

“That looks really good,” Patty tells him. Eddie doesn’t know if being encouraging is a reflex, but Mike seems to accept it, looking plenty happy with his nondairy frozen dessert.

Stan is sitting there with a small sensible cup of vanilla in front of him on the table. He’s holding the insides of both wrists to the cup and seems to be making no effort to eat it, despite having added fruit and nuts to the top.

Eddie eats more strawberry poppers and catches Stan’s eye, then glances down to the cold pack he improvised, then looks back up.

“They’re so fucking itchy,” Stan groans, head sinking low in something like defeat.

Eddie sits up straight. “I know, right?”

“Do you remember when I had chickenpox? Sorry, do you remember when Richie gave me chickenpox?”

“You’re welcome,” Richie says.

“Yes,” Eddie says, because his mother had pulled him out of school for the week and placed him in quarantine, and he didn’t even have it. He remembers sneaking out with Bill to go spy through Stan’s window and seeing him sitting in his room, looking dead-eyed and pale and speckled with blisters.

“This is worse,” Stan says. “It was easier not to scratch then.”

“You’re telling me,” Eddie says, gesturing at the fucking hole in his chest with the hand not holding his frozen yogurt spoon. He’s afraid to even touch it, afraid he’ll scrape something and open up a blood vessel, afraid he’ll get another infection—and he knows that while the itching means it’s healing, his body knitting itself back together, the parts of him that need healing are so deep down he could never satisfy that desire to scratch, he would never be able to reach.

Into the ensuing silence, Mike says slowly, “You know, guys, I’m really glad we can all bond like this. I’m really glad we found each other.”

Richie and Bev begin giggling. Ben cracks a smile.

Stan leans sideways into his wife. “Sorry.”

Patty is eyeing the Leaning Tower of Froyo speculatively. “Can I try it?” she asks.

Richie’s eyebrows shoot up and he glances automatically at Eddie, then turns back to her without waiting for a response. “Uh, yeah?” The obvious implication is Can’t see why you’d want to, but Patty doesn’t seem to mind. She leans over and sinks a spoonful into the multicolored swirl, hooking a gummy bear and a piece of unicorn bark in the process.

Everyone actually leans toward her a little bit to watch her eat it. Mike actually leans across the space between their tables to get a good look at her face.

Patty chews the gummy bear, swallows, and then gives her verdict. “It’s not bad.”

“Not bad!” Eddie cheers, and clinks his frozen yogurt cup against hers.

Stan looks at Richie, betrayed. “This is what you do to people,” he says.

Richie pops a maraschino cherry into his mouth and nods solemnly.

Chapter Text

The thing about taking two multi-hour naps in one day is that it takes Eddie’s tentative sleep schedule, curated by nurses hauling him bodily around a hospital ward eight times a day, and subjects it to a nuclear strike from orbit. Eddie wakes up when his electric blanket powers off on the timer—fire safety!—feeling pleasant and better rested than he has in a long time.

It’s one in the morning.

He sits up—lying on the blanket instead of under it was a successful experiment—and reaches out for his bottle of water. It is basically empty. He drains the rest of it and saves it for a recycling bin or something. Are there recycling bins in this hotel? There should be recycling bins in this hotel. It’s 2016.

He feels okay. Still wishes he could take a shower, but not bad. That same quiet not bad that he felt in the caverns, when he realized that all the feelings of dirt and filth and wrongness—it was never from inside him after all, it was external, it was skin deep, it wasn’t inside him—and he was fine all along. Now he’s greasy and kind of smelly and definitely itchy and he needs a shave—but his friends are here, and that was always the best he’d ever felt.

Maybe he shouldn’t be alone with his thoughts in this hotel room. It tends to get him in a bad way.

He definitely wants more water and he’s still working through a urinary tract infection on top of all his other problems, so he creeps out to the living area through the bathroom, like keeping close to the mini-fridge will make him less likely to wake Richie.

Richie snores, the hypocrite. Eddie keeps his eyes on target—fridge. Water. Sweet hydration—and does not allow himself to look over at Richie, but the fact that he finds the snoring kind of cute means he’s definitely too far gone. He tries to be subtle about the sudden electric roar of the fridge and its bright light, but Richie’s breathing doesn’t change its rhythm.

Eddie leans back against the kitchen counter, bare feet cold on the linoleum of the kitchenette, and drinks water.

Richie is a pale shape under the sheets of the sofa bed. He took two of the pillows from the bedroom and Eddie, in his button-down flannel pajamas, kind of figured that would be the last he would see him for the night. Eddie’s like, reasonably sure that Richie wouldn’t sleep naked in a hotel suite he was sharing with someone else, but his back is to the door and to Eddie and the sheet is pulled down to like the middle of his back. He is definitely at least half-naked. Richie sleeps curled around the squashed pillow, shoulders hunched and rising like mountains from the sofa bed itself, white curve of his spine visible most of the way down. There’s not a lot of light here—Eddie’s still blinking the afterimage of the inside of the minifridge away—but Richie’s not just a little hairy, he’s significantly hairy, and the palms of Eddie’s hands are like if you petted him it would be rough and textured and probably tingle afterward, go on, do it.

He doesn’t. He just holds the chilled water, condensation wet on his hands, and watches the gentle movement of Richie’s breathing. And listens to the not-so-gentle snuffling snores.

He goes back to bed before he starts to feel really creepy—he can still hear Richie from behind the closed door—and he turns on the bedside light and flicks the electric blanket back on and lies on the bed, letting the heat soak into his bones. He grabs his phone and checks the time again—nearly quarter to two—and is just lazy for a little bit. At this hour, with no one else awake or needing anything from him, it feels deliciously indulgent.

He didn’t dream this time. That’s nice. He glances automatically to the carpet by the bedside as though to see the scraps and loose hair the leper left, but of course there’s nothing.

He didn’t dream about Richie either, and that’s good too. As far as he knows he’s never talked in his sleep, but that would be his luck. Richie would never let him hear the end of it if he somehow cottoned on that Eddie was dreaming about him. And the lucid dreaming—he has an idea that he should feel bad about that one, but it’s harmless imagination, and completely G-rated.

You know. Aside from the very presence of a gay person earning a higher rating from the, what, the film review board? Is that a thing? Or is he thinking about McCarthyism now? He’s pretty sure that there’s one board that does ratings for movies, and another board that used to watch movies and then arrest their directors for communist sympathies or the homosexual agenda.

Anyway, his sleep and dreaming are weird now, which should not surprise him considering the opioid painkillers he was prescribed. He has a vague idea that he’s following in a long line of medical tradition. He thinks a little about that horrifying scene in Gone with the Wind where the soldier is screaming for the doctors not to cut off his gangrenous leg and thinks, Boy, if that guy had a little of this stuff…

So that’s the mood he’s in, as he opens up the Wikipedia app on his phone. A little hazy and unnerved, pretty warm and comfortable, with Richie providing white noise in the next room. Out to answer the all-important question: What did thirteen-year-old me know about leprosy?

He suspects the answer isn’t much. And more stuff wrong than he got right.

His wander through Wikipedia tells him his assessment was basically correct: there’s all kinds of things that Eddie just made up out of thirteen-year-old anxiety. The way the eyes shifted; the cheekbone collapsed. The straining tight skin. That’s not leprosy. Eddie remembers it in the way that the worst things that ever happen to you stay in your mind, where good things fade or get written over. That’s what happens when you shy away from the mental image.

This time Eddie grabs it by the throat and stares it down. Puckered absence of a nose. Missing upper lip, twisted lower hanging open with a thread of drool.

Leprosy is just a bacterial infection. A long term one, causing nerve damage—Eddie’s right hand spasms closed and then open again where it lies next to him on the mattress—and eventual analgesia. And if you can’t feel your hands and you injure them, you might not notice. You might lose fingers when the wounds get infected and you don’t know, your eyesight’s degrading, you can’t read the flavors for the frozen yogurt in the shop—

Eddie closes his phone entirely and takes some deep breaths. He lets his phone thump onto the nightstand and pulls his right hand up in front of his face, turning it over and around. No scratches, no swelling. He uses the fingernails on his left hand to pinch at his right hand, squeezing the pads of his fingertips, making sure he feels it.

His hand is cold. When he makes a fist it feels weak—muscle weakness—but he can feel the little cold points where his fingers touch his palm. He didn’t realize that there was a heat difference between his palm and his fingers, but it makes sense, the surface area of skin related to heat loss and—

Richie’s gone quiet in the next room. Eddie hears him say something indistinct, and then nothing.

“Richie?” Eddie asks. He doesn’t raise his voice. Says it like he might if Richie were… across the room.

If Richie were on the other side of the bed, Eddie would whisper it.

Richie says nothing, because he doesn’t hear, because he’s asleep in the next room.

Eddie rolls onto his side and tucks his cold hand under his pillow so that the heat of the electric blanket will soak into it. He can feel it. He would notice if it got hurt.

He tries to tell himself to sleep but, as per usual, his body doesn’t want to listen to his commands. So he just lies there, staring at the ceiling, listening for Richie’s snoring to start up again.

You don’t have leprosy, dumbass.

You don’t have leprosy.

You don’t have leprosy.

“You don’t have leprosy,” Eddie mutters to himself, and picks up his phone again.

The incubation period of the disease, on average, is five years. Symptoms may occur within one year but can also take as long as twenty years or even more to occur.

He puts the phone down again and gets up from the bed. It is a more athletic endeavor than he’s proud of. He gets up on the left side of the bed and paces around to the window, bracing himself on the TV unit as he goes, making it wobble dangerously, pausing to stop and wonder if he’s about to knock over this TV in this hotel room registered under Richie’s name, because on one hand that would be extremely fucking funny and on the other hand kill him.

And if you do have leprosy—so what? You’re asymptomatic. You have some bigger problems. It might not even be a problem for the next twenty years. You could be sixty and someone would say, “Hey, Edward, we’ve noticed that you have leprosy, would you like some multidrug therapy for that?” And you’ll be sixty years old and you’ll sit back in your armchair—the government assigns you an armchair when you turn sixty—and you’ll say, “Nah, not really, because even if you cured me I would just do the same thing I’ve done for the whole rest of my life, which is fuckall.”

Eddie pauses on his quest to peer out the curtains at nighttime Bangor.

That got dark pretty fast.

He doesn’t have leprosy. He’s got a hole punched through his chest and some broken ribs and a number of incisions and definite nerve damage in his right arm, and probably an untreated panic disorder, and a prescription for opioid painkillers that might result in dependence based on his history with medication, but probably not considering how jazzed he’s been about experiencing pain lately. He doesn’t have leprosy.

Why the fuck was he so afraid of leprosy as a kid?

It wasn’t leprosy you were afraid of, it was AIDS.

Yeah, but why?

There are bright lights in the parking lot, shining down on all the cars. Eddie can see Mike’s truck, and if he squints maybe he can imagine a shape in the back of Ben’s car that might be Silver.

When they met up at the Jade of the Orient, Bev said, “Eddie, tell me you became a doctor,” but Eddie never did anything with all his fear of disease. He never set himself to fighting it. Instead he told himself that he harnessed all his fear, that he made it useful, that he enabled himself and others to look at the world logically and calculate the likelihood of bad things happening. Maybe if he’d sat down with the Merck manual or The Hot Zone or decided he wanted to dedicate his life to stopping the spread of infectious disease, things would have been different. Maybe he’d walk in like Bill did, secure in the knowledge that he was at the top of his field and wildly successful by any metric. Bill’s one of the best-selling authors in the world. Bill’s married to a literal movie star.

Bill was, like the rest of them, desperately unhappy.

He remembers that the electric blanket is still on and that it’s a hazard, especially when no one is using it, so he creeps over to the bed again slowly and fumbles for the switch to turn it off.

His mother never would have paid for medical school. Eddie would have had to do premed at a state school, probably, to qualify for scholarships, and then he would have had to fight tooth and nail to get into med school, and his mother would have had a fit at the time he spent studying and doing his medical internship and the system of being placed at hospitals—any hospital! Anywhere in the country! He could have gone anywhere! He could have left her.

And then when he became a doctor—let’s say one that specialized in infectious disease—

He covers his face with his hands.

Travel medicine, tropical medicine. Diagnostics. Patients with HIV and other immunodeficiencies. People who needed him. People Eddie could have put his needs aside for and stood up for and been brave for—it was always so much easier to be brave when someone else needed him, when Richie was in the deadlights and nobody else was gonna get him out, when they were all lost and they needed a guide, when the onus wasn’t on him and his limitations and his fears. I’m doing the fucking Mashed Potatoes all over It and I’ve got a broken arm! He could have been so much more than he was.

He gets up and walks back to the window. Beyond the light pollution of the city—not so strong in Bangor as it is in New York, obviously—it is a clear black night. He feels like there ought to be rain, some kind of condensation so that he can press his hand to the glass and watch it fog around his fingers. But nature is a higher power and has never given a shit about what Eddie Kaspbrak wants.

And instead of being somebody who does something for others, who makes a difference in the world, who makes other people feel better—Eddie gives corporations a chance to shut needy people down. Eddie warns them off bad investments. Eddie’s a form of regulation in a chaotic world, a logical perspective that looks past emotional influence, it’s Eddie’s job to put aside sentiment and be the bigger person, Eddie has a suit and a tie and a big manly car and a wife in an apartment and Eddie’s an adult now, this is part of growing up—

Is he crying?

Instead of tears he feels a flush of heat in his nose and his sinuses and he presses his hand to the bridge, a little astonished. He’s not crying but he could, if he let himself.

Go on. Go out there. Shake Richie awake and sit down on the edge of the sofa bed and tell him ‘I hate my life and my job and myself and I want to change things, I want to go back in time, I want to do better, I want to have meaning, I want to be a better person than I am, I want to feel good about being alive.’

Watch Richie staring back at you, sleep-fuzzy and confused and completely unable to see without his glasses on. And at least half-naked. And say, ‘Eds, what the fuck are you talking about?’

Because what does Eddie think he’s going to do in Bangor at—he checks the clock on the nightstand again—two-thirty in the morning, with a nice big ventilation gap cut into his torso and his ribs a set of busted windchimes and none of his own money?

He puts his forehead against the window. While it doesn’t oblige with the condensation, it is blissfully cold.

I don’t have leprosy.

And what if I did?

And maybe the Yellowstone caldera will erupt tomorrow and none of this will matter anyway.

But Eddie actually died. Not only did he live forty years of his life emotionally unfulfilled by everything he became, he died unhappy. And he doesn’t want to do it again.

“I’m gonna do something,” he tells himself, under his breath. “I’m gonna do something.”

So of course, in the morning, he can’t get up.

It’s an embarrassing realization. He goes to sit up on his elbows and his head reels and he thinks he’s going to black out, so he relaxes his muscles and gives himself a few minutes to recover from the headrush. Sometimes that happens. Eddie’s a man of a certain age, he’s definitely dehydrated, and sometimes a little bit of adjustment happening in the morning is normal.

So he lies awake on his pillow for a little bit, gradually feeling his pulse sink into the rest of his body all the way down to his toes. It makes him feel a little bit better about his circulation problems, makes him feel like the rest of his body is all on his team for once.

And he rolls onto his side and lifts his head and the room spins and he is forced to put his head back down.

He goes to take a deep breath but the pain is like getting punched in the back. It almost knocks the breath out of him again. He lets it out in a short little sigh, reaches for his water bottle, and takes a few sips to steady himself. Little sips, as Sarah would tell him. Then he sits up.

Every muscle from his neck down to his waist aches. He reaches up and puts the big joint of his thumb into his trapezius at the side of his neck. It’s hard as cable wire. In fact, his whole musculoskeletal system feels like that, like it could come through his skin at any moment.

“What the fuck,” he moans, pushing his knuckles in hard, and then he remembers Richie.

Richie is apparently lying in wait or something in the next room, because the next thing Eddie hears is him calling, “Eddie?”

Please no. Please no.

“Yeah?” Eddie manages.

“You up?”

“No, stupid, I’m in a REM cycle right now.” Then he grimaces at himself. That was a reflex. And bad temper. There’s no reason to snap at Richie first thing in the morning, Richie hasn’t even done anything, it’s all Eddie’s problem.

He hears footsteps outside the bedroom door and—

“Don’t come in!” he says hurriedly.

The footsteps stop. Eddie imagines he can see little shadows of Richie standing on the other side of the door.

There’s a moment of quiet and then Richie asks, “You jerking off?”

“No, dickwad,” Eddie says, floundering around for the shirt to his pajama set. He took it off when he lay down on the electric blanket, knowing that fully-dressed he would just start sweating. He finds it, gets his arm through one sleeve, and realizes it’s inside-out. His arms protest at being made to operate at this level of panic so early in the morning. “I’m naked. Don’t come in.”

“Hot,” Richie says through the door, impossible to tell if he’s being sarcastic or not.

Which he has to be. Right?

But what if he’s not?

Eddie stills in the process of turning his shirt right-side out and looks around as though for a camera. Is he being punked?

“So Stan and Patty are getting ready to leave for the airport but they wanted to see you before they go. I was gonna wake you up in like half an hour if you didn’t on your own.”

“Hang on,” Eddie says, because he’s a grown-ass man and he’s not going to have this whole conversation through the door. He gets his arms through his pajama sleeves, gasps a little as he pulls the shirt up over his shoulders because ouch, and swears to himself as he tries to rapidly do buttons with his clumsy fingers. Once he’s decent he says, “Okay, you can come in.”

“Nobody gets in to see the wizard! Not nobody, not no how!” Richie says, because he’s Richie, and then he twists the doorknob and the door opens.

Eddie realizes his mistake almost immediately.

Richie just kind of leans there in the doorway, looking like a college kid. His hair is sleep-ruffled and fluffy, his eyes are bleary behind his massive glasses, and he’s wearing a t-shirt and boxers. They’re patterned with tacos and hot sauce, because of fucking course they are. He looks—and Eddie hates himself for thinking this—fucking adorable. It’s despicable. Richie’s a forty-year-old man. Eddie is almost certain he hasn’t brushed his teeth yet, but there he is, holding one of the hotel-provided mugs and letting the smell of coffee into the room.

And Eddie is on a bed. He might be dressed in his blue-and-white pinstriped armor again, but he’s definitely on a bed, and he definitely feels vulnerable.

“Oh my god,” Richie says slowly, staring back at him, and Eddie has the horrible irrational fear that Richie has suddenly gained the ability to read minds. But then Richie just says, “What are you wearing?”

Eddie looks down at himself. There’s nothing wrong with his pajamas. They’re sensible and warm and not made out of any ridiculous material. It’s not like Eddie brought a set of monogrammed silk pajamas when he had the vague idea he was going to die in Derry.

Which he did, apparently, though it still doesn’t feel real. How odd that Eddie has the satisfaction of being right and none of the ability to enjoy it.

“Pajamas,” he replies, helpfully pointing out the blindingly obvious. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

Richie ignores the question and puts his free hand over his mouth. “Did they not come in the feetie pajamas version? With the butt flap in the back? Is there a little hood you can pull up over your head and just coze in?”

How the fuck does he manage to make coze sound lascivious? The tacos and hot sauce bottles have faces. They appear to be flirting with each other; little hearts sitting between the pairs. Eddie’s not looking.

Eddie blinks at him and settles into a glare. “You know what really drives me insane?”

“Thirty-percent off linens and whites sales at Macy’s?” Richie suggests, sipping his coffee.

“That you are a man who is medically permitted to take a shower. And you still insist on looking like that.”

Richie grins, sudden, startling. “Oh, rush me to the burn unit, Dr. K, that’s some hot stuff.” He sips his coffee again. “Do you need to borrow anything? Shirt? Social Security card? Jockstrap?”

Eddie stares at him, not thinking about jockstraps at all, before he says, “Tell me you don’t carry your social security card around with you, that’s way harder to replace than anything else in your wallet if it gets stolen.”

“Man, I don’t even know where my social security card is,” Richie says. “Are you getting up or are you napping for half an hour before the Stanley and Patricia Uris Goodbye Tour?”

Right. Because Eddie’s on a bed. He could just… lie back down. Richie could look at him, from the doorway, while he lay prone on a bed. Which he’s done before, but this time Richie would be aware that Eddie’s looking back at him, and…

He takes a deep breath and says, “I need my painkillers. And a shirt. And I’m gonna lie down for half an hour.”

“’Kay,” Richie says indifferently. “You need more water?”

More water would be helpful when Eddie’s fighting the urge to vomit up all his pills. He nods a little vaguely, kind of surprised that Richie offered.

“Cool,” Richie says. “After that I’m gonna take a shower, because someone destroyed my self-image, so take a piss while you can. And there’re bagels, if you want them. And little travel tubes of cream cheese, it’s fucking gross.”

He turns away from the door. They made the exchange of suitcases last night, Richie dragging Eddie’s suitcases into the bedroom as he dragged his out to rest beside the couch. Eddie watches his back as he goes, knowing for a fact that Richie did not sleep with a shirt on last night. It was dark, but his eyesight’s not that bad.

He hobbles through the Jack and Jill to the wetroom and grits his teeth while he uses the toilet. He hopes his urinary tract infection is mostly gone, but he’s still got a course of antibiotics to finish, because when people don’t finish their antibiotics you get antibiotic-resistant superbug urinary tract infections and technically Eddie has already had one of those. So he’s going to choke down the pills. He tells himself this sternly in a mental voice that is definitely his own, neither Sonia Kaspbrak’s nor a dream leper’s.

Richie appears in the wetroom while Eddie is slowly and agonizingly washing his hands. “Okay, I’m gonna—you okay?”

Eddie looks up and makes eye contact with Richie in the mirror. Richie looks spooked, his lips pulled back from his teeth in kind of scare-grimace. Eddie lets himself look at his own reflection.

He’s pale as fuck, he’s still broken out all over his face so he’s bright white with irregular red splotches, and there so many bags under his eyes he can shop reusable at Whole Foods without guilt. And half of his face is swallowed by his truly terrible beard, which he needs to shave, but he can’t do because he has limited functionality of his right hand and a new deep suspicion of shiny objects.

And he’s in a lot of pain.

“I’m gonna lie down,” Eddie says. “Wake me up in half an hour.”

“Okay,” Richie says, looking dubious. “The, uh, meds and stuff are next to your bed, the shirt’s laid out. If you need longer, man, I’m sure that’s okay.”

“Half an hour,” Eddie says. “I want to see Stan.”

And if he still feels like this in half an hour, once the painkillers are working their way through his system—he’s gonna have to cave and make Richie take him back to the hospital.

Half an hour later the entire world is looking much better. Eddie’s body has been drugged into submission, and he’s kneading idly into his neck and shoulders with the knuckle of his left hand. He didn’t realize until he put the shirt on that the swirling green pattern is not abstract feathering, it is a bunch of very small lizards layered overtop one another.

“What makes the cream cheeses gross?” he asks.

Richie’s hair is still wet from the shower. He’s wearing a dark gray t-shirt under a blue button-down patterned with small turtles, and he absolutely didn’t dry himself off properly when he dressed because there are small patches of wet where the fabric touches his skin. And he smells like hotel shower products, all of which seem to be variations on the same almond theme, which means Eddie’s kind of taking deep breaths to catch the sweet smell layered on top of the warm dark animal scent that is Richie.

At least Eddie realizes he’s high this time.

“Because it’s in a tube, man, come on,” Richie says, which seems like an arbitrary complaint about a fermented semisolid dairy product. “I’ll take you down to the hotel restaurant if you want, like, real food, they have omelets and shit.”

Eddie is not getting in that elevator until he has to. “Tubes are gross?”

One of Richie’s hands comes up and brushes over his hair, checking if it’s dry. Richie needs a haircut. The length is okay, but it’s getting straggly on the ends, and Eddie’s sure it would be healthier if Richie would just take care of it a little better. It’s not that far from the curls he had when they were in school, once he grew out of that bowl cut.

“Are you eating a bagel?” Richie asks.

Eddie might. He wants to see why tubed cream cheese is gross first.

Richie leans down on the other side of the table and picks up a tube of cream cheese. He holds it up between them. “Okay. Watch closely now.”

He waggles the fingers of his other hand over it like he’s nine and showing off his Intro to Magic kit. Eddie leans in a little closer to look. Richie pinches the packaging where it’s indicated. He has nice fingernails, Eddie thinks stupidly, watching them. Trimmed carefully close, far neater than Eddie ever remembers seeing them when they were kids. There’s a hangnail threatening just under the nailbed on his thumb, though. Eddie feels inexplicably put out by that, as if a hangnail is something he could defend Richie from.

“Presto change-o,” Richie says, and when he tears open the packet of cream cheese a little pale liquid dribbles out of the grey plastic.

Eddie stares at the cream cheese and then back up at him. “That’s it?” he asks, but memories are coming back—Richie pulling faces over an open jar of peanut butter at the Tozier house, gagging as he stirred it with a knife. Eddie finds himself grinning almost accidentally. “You’re forty years old and you still can’t stand oil in your condiments?”

“It’s in a tube! You can’t mix it back in!”

Eddie grins wider. “You’re a big baby.”

Richie opens his mouth in a caricature of offense. “I’m a big baby?” he demands. “How many naps did you take yesterday, big man?”

“I’m drugged!”

“We bought you a blankie.”

It’s a really nice blanket. Eddie is very satisfied and far prefers it to the hotel bedspread. He leans down at the table and presses harder at the other side of his neck.

Richie’s voice is soft when he asks, “You okay, man?”

Eddie takes a deep breath and admits, quietly, “I’m in pain.”

“Okay,” Richie says. He drops the cream cheese on the table because at this point neither of them knows why he’s holding it, but he looks at Eddie like he doesn’t know what to do. “Are your meds helping at all?”

“Yes,” Eddie says.

He might be having a little bit of a fantasy right now, thanks to Richie’s blatant scalp massage in the hospital, about Richie nudging Eddie’s hands aside and sinking his own knuckles into Eddie’s shoulders. But Eddie’s pretty sure he would make some graphic noises if that happened and he’s not gonna put himself in that situation.

He remembers though. How good it felt. How his brain shut down and just focused on that, and nothing else. It felt like meditation of some sort—the mindfulness the office mental health point people (which is a stupid thing to have in an office, as if Eddie wants to tell Kim from marketing about his problems) were always pitching at the annual regional conference.

“What do you need?” Richie asks. “We’re gonna meet Stan in the lobby, if that works. We can go get basically whatever.”

Eddie considers, then decides, “Bagel,” and reaches for the gross tube of cream cheese.

He’s eating the bagel when Stan and Patty come into the lobby with their luggage. He doesn’t get up from his armchair—he’s trying to save that until he has to—but they both smile at him as they make their rounds of the Losers. Patty’s almost a full foot shorter than Mike but she hugs him with enthusiasm, and that’s fun to watch, her just vanishing into Mike.

“How’d everyone sleep?” Stan asks. He looks tired and slightly rumpled, his curls thick and wild. His shirt is wrinkled. It’s not the Stanley Uris that Eddie ever expected to see grow up—if he ever thought about what they’d look like as adults, which he can’t say he did beyond that one conversation with Beverly before the Oath—but Eddie’s a little relieved that Stan’s not so unbending and rigid now. He’s glad he has that.

“Captain Eds has had one nap today already,” Richie reports, because he’s an asshole.

“Richie’s afraid of cream cheese,” Eddie announces.

That gets more funny looks than Richie’s comment, for obvious reasons, so Eddie feels triumphant as Richie hurriedly explains about oil and how packaging prevents stirring, scowling at Eddie the whole time.

Patty looks at Eddie eating and makes a small sound of dismay. “Oh, Eddie. I thought you’d be on my side about the bagels?”

Eddie blinks at her.

“Aside from my parents, that’s what I miss most about New York,” Patty says mournfully.

Eddie remembers their one-percent-bagel conversation in the hospital. “I don’t know any better. I’ve never enjoyed food before,” he says honestly.

Ben seems to visibly twitch, his eyebrows hiking up as he looks around at Eddie, but he averts his gaze almost immediately.

“He can start with Maine bagels and work his way up,” Stan suggests to Patty.

Mike clears his throat.

Everyone remembers that Mike has never left the state of Maine.

“And Mike!” Patty says hurriedly. “You’re going to see all kinds of amazing things! Would you send us postcards? Stanley, did you give them our address?”

Stan grimaces. “I can text it.”

Patty frowns a little, apparently confused.

Mike says, “I have it, don’t worry. I can definitely send you postcards.”

“That’s because Mike’s a stalker,” Richie stage-whispers.

“Oh, Richie, your Google alerts are never boring,” Mike replies.

Despite this obviously being a joke, Richie makes a show of preening, combing his fingers through the hair at the back of his head a little fussily, which makes Bev laugh and Eddie quickly look down at his bagel so he doesn’t stare.

“And you have to come visit if you come to Georgia,” Patty insists, and then looks around at Bev and Ben. “You too.”

“Maybe,” Bev says, hugging Patty in turn. Patty is a full four inches taller than her. “We haven’t decided our route yet. I think we’re going to kind of play it by ear?” She looks around at Ben as though for confirmation. Ben smiles and shrugs.

Eddie glances at Richie and finds that something odd is happening with him and Stan. While the others talk, Richie has Stan half-folded into a hug, but Stan is looking up at him with an extremely familiar expression: what the fuck did you just say, Trashmouth?, a key emotion for anyone acquainted with Richie. On Stan it’s wide-eyed and exasperated and somewhat furious, and he looks thirteen years old again. It’s pleasantly nostalgic.

It’s Richie who’s breaking the script. Instead of being gleeful about getting a reaction out of Stan, he looks like he’d like the floor to open up and swallow him whole. He glances at Eddie out of the corner of his eye, averts his gaze immediately when he sees Eddie staring back, and then leans down a little to whisper in Stan’s ear.

Annoyed at being left out and suspicious that they might be discussing him right in front of him, Eddie asks at full volume, “What’re you guys talking about?”

Patty, Mike, Bev, and Ben all turn around to look at them. This was Eddie’s desired effect, but Richie goes rigid and Stan releases him, still glaring.

“Gossiping about B-b-big B-b-bill,” Richie lies. Eddie can tell. Richie wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught talking about Bill, and Stan wouldn’t look half-irate about it.

“Oh really?” Eddie asks. “What about?”

Stan folds his arms over his chest and looks back at Richie. “Yeah, Trashmouth,” he says. “Share with the class.”

“I don’t have to do anything unless she tells me,” Richie says, pointing at Patty.

Patty is frowning, an odd look on her face. After a long pause, she says slowly, “I don’t understand why you call him that.” There’s a strange pressing tone in her voice.

“It’s because he swore so much as a kid,” Stan says. “Using all the dirty words, saying just bad jokes. Trashmouth.”

“No, not you,” Patty says, and folds her arms over her chest. Stan starts smiling. “You, Richie.”

Richie blinks several times, looking like he’s trying and failing to reset correctly. “Big Bill?” he asks. “Maybe you’d have had to see him back in the day, but it only got ironic once he never broke five-eight—”

“That’s not how you said it,” Patty interrupts. She shifts her weight and Stan’s expression relaxes suddenly, glare just evaporating and being replaced by a kind of shocked and gleeful open-mouthed smile.

Richie looks blank and then says, “Oh, the stutter?”

“Yes,” Patty says. “Do you always talk about him behind his back like that?”

Yeah, Richie, do you always talk about him behind his back like that?

Eddie finds himself mirroring Stan’s expression as Richie, forty years old, gets chewed out by the teacher.

“Sometimes I say it to his face, too,” Richie offers, unfazed.

“Hmm,” Patty says. It’s a tiny sound. It conveys fathoms of how unimpressed she is. “Do you always make fun of people with speech impediments?”

“I—” Richie blinks again and produces a string of incoherent gibberish that ends in him looking to Stan for help. Stan grins wider and shakes his head, leaving Richie to drown.

“Oh my god, Patty,” Bev says, and lays her hand on Patty’s shoulder. Patty looks around at her, expression softening. “It is time to induct you into the Losers Club with the sacred words.”

Patty’s disapproving posture drops at once and she looks bemused. “Okay.”

Eddie watches, feeling darkly satisfied, as Ben and Mike, “Beep beep, Richie!”

Richie looks at the floor with a thousand-yard stare. “Am I being bullied?” he asks very softly.

Patty hugs Eddie too, telling him not to get up as he moves to rise from his chair and pressing her cheek to his. “And you have to come to visit too,” she tells him seriously, hands on Eddie’s shoulders. “Promise?”

Eddie feels a little bit trapped in the chair with Patty pinning him like that. “Uh, promise,” he manages. Her hands are very warm. He’s cold again. “Thank you for, uh.” For giving Stan back. For accepting that we’re his friends and not turning us away. “Listening,” he manages.

Patty’s expression shifts a little. Eddie is reminded—oddly, considering she’s standing right next to her in this little semicircle in the lobby—of Bev. Bev determined. Bev pulling back the cup on a slingshot with certainty in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she says in an undertone. “For him.”

Stan also leans down to hug Eddie goodbye, but there’s a faint threat in his face. “We’re gonna talk,” he says to Eddie.

“Okay?” Eddie asks, not sure what there is to talk about exactly.

“I love you,” Stan says in the exact same tone.

“I love you too?” Eddie says, wondering why Stan sounds like he’d like to beat him up.

Stan grabs either side of Eddie’s head and stamps his greasy hair with a kiss.

Eddie cringes. “Noooo, I’m not allowed to shower until tomorrow, don’t smell me.”

Stan points a finger at Eddie and gives him a ferocious look. Then the Urises leave the hotel.

The remaining Losers have breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Richie has a second cup of coffee while Eddie scowls at the menu.

“Do you want tea or anything, Eddie?” Bev asks.

Eddie hates tea. He’s never thought about it until now, but he hates it. “Not allowed,” he says instead. “Dehydrating.”

“But you’re supposed to be packing in the calories?” Mike asks, as though checking to make sure.

Eddie nods.

“How about hot chocolate?” Mike suggests.

There’s a heartbeat where Eddie just processes the possibility, and then he sits up straight and nods ferociously. Bev laughs, Ben gives a quiet smile, and Richie—surprisingly—doesn’t say anything to tease, just watches with unveiled amusement, like he’s in a joke that Eddie doesn’t know.

It’s kind of irritating, actually. Like a little grain of sand, just sitting there, grating. A six-foot-one grain of sand.

Eddie is definitely still stoned when the waiter comes by, and he gets a little lost watching people put in their orders, not really understanding that the waiter is looking at him expectantly until Mike goes ahead and orders two hot chocolates.

“Do you want whipped cream?” the waiter asks.

“You know we want whipped cream,” Mike says, as Eddie nods.

“Do you want the hot chocolates extra hot?”

Eddie, shivering, has never loved anybody the way he loves this waiter.

That’s all he orders. Ben keeps giving him anxious glances as Eddie sits there and slowly melts into his hot chocolate, but Eddie doesn’t really mind. Nobody’s pressuring him to order something he can’t eat right now. At one point the table goes silent and he looks up to find everyone looking at him with various amused expressions. Richie is full-on smirking.

“Hmm?” Eddie asks.

Richie’s mouth works a little, lip twitching. “Good hot chocolate?” he asks.

Eddie squints at him. “Why are you being…?” he starts, then frowns deeper trying to come up with the word.

Richie’s face changes. Goes blank, all of a sudden, like he’s turned off his whole personality. Suddenly there’s a complete stranger staring at Eddie from the other side of the table. Big guy, solemn eyes behind the guard of glasses, his mouth a flat line. “Being what?” he says, voice several notes lower than normal.

Nobody says anything. Bev, in the middle of cutting triangles out of her omelet, sets her fork down.

Eddie has no idea what the fuck just happened.

Then Richie smiles. It’s neither a nice smile nor a threatening smile, but at least it’s recognizable as his. “Being what?” he repeats on a rising note, his voice gentler.

Feeling out of his depth, Eddie winds three fingers of his right hand through the handle on the mug. They’re all that will fit through this tiny loop. The heat through the ceramic warms his knuckles.

“So suspicious,” he says, mulish, aware he’s being sulky and childish and hating it.

There’s a moment while they all process that. Mike exhales slowly and the steam from his mug billows around his face.

And then Richie’s back, grinning a Richie smile and eating his home fries with maple syrup like an animal. “Suspicious?” he says, his voice innocent in a way that means he wants Eddie to know he’s up to something. “Why, whatever are you talking about, Eddie my love?” His open vowels tend toward the Southern, like he’s about to burst into an I do declare.

Eddie’s mouth is thick with chocolate and froth from the whipped cream. He should have ordered water too, just to clear it. He’s sure that his words will come out slow.

“You’re like at the lunch table in high school again,” he complains. “Whispering with Stan and when I catch you at it you’re just like—” He beams in his best impression of an adolescent Richie Tozier, chin lifted and teeth bared. “‘Your hair looks nice, Eds!’”

Richie’s reaction is over the top, but in a Richie way instead of a performative way. He laughs so hard he snorts, which they always made fun of him for in high school, so Eddie sincerely doubts it’s on purpose. “Is that me?” he manages. “Was that me? Did you just—”

“You’re just taking hits left and right on impressions,” Mike observes. “First Stan, now Eddie.”

“I know, fuck me, right?” Richie says. He drinks from his water. There’s a flush on his face. Eddie watches the ice cubes collide with each other in the glass, hears the little atonal clinks. Richie gulps and sets the glass back down, and there’s a little ring of condensation on the table.

Eddie looks up from the tabletop to see Ben watching him. Part of him that feels uncomfortably caught—though doing what, Eddie doesn’t know—wants to snap back with the what are you looking at? But it’s slowed by mixed pharmaceutical intervention and hot chocolate with whipped cream. He feels like a kid on a snow day or something. Instead Eddie meets Ben’s gaze and tilts his head to the side, wordless inquisition.

“Pretty accurate,” Bev offers. She’s not wearing makeup; her eyelids are lavender and pink with tiredness. She looks the kind of soft that Richie does without his glasses.

Eddie has never had brunch with his friends before. It feels incredibly indulgent all at once.

“Well, before I was baselessly maligned,” Richie says, playing faux-wounded, “I was planning our itinerary. So if I look suspicious, Eds, it’s only because you’re not used to what I look like when the gears are grinding.” He waggles an index finger toward his own ear, indicating the mechanisms of his mind.

Eddie squints at him again. “What did Stan say?”

Richie’s eyebrows go flat, annoyed, though Eddie can’t quite tell if it’s with him or with Stan. “Stan was asking me please not to steal his wife away, it can be so difficult at his age with a dick like—” Richie makes an obscene gesture with his thumb. “—to find anyone—”

“Okay, okay.” Ben reaches out, puts a hand over Richie’s, and pushes it down to the table. “The man’s not here to defend himself.”

Eddie considers for long moments before he settles on a reference that pleases him. He raises his hot chocolate to his mouth with both hands. “Fine, then. Keep your secrets.”

Instead of responding to the joke—which Eddie knows he gets, Richie’s still a big honking nerd—Richie just sighs a little and says, “I was going to go meet your drug dealer—”

“Are you talking about the pharmacy?” Eddie interrupts, resigned.

“—and see if either of your scrips are ready. But I think in order to fully embrace my new suspicious aura I’m also gonna commit some white-collar crime and maybe some unethical journalism practices. I’ll decide on the way. Do you want anything from the drugstore?”

But he doesn’t ask Eddie if he wants to come with him. Eddie’s not sure what he would answer if given the option. On one hand, he’s not moving any faster today than he was yesterday, and technically he feels worse. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to be confined to the hotel.

Where are you? Eddie thinks clearly. Come back.

Kiss me, I’m sweet.

“No,” he says instead. “I’m okay.”

Richie gives him the bored expression, eyelids half-shuttered, looking about ten seconds away from death. It reminds Eddie forcibly that there’s no point in even approaching politeness with Richie. It’s a foreign language to him.

And on the off chance that Eddie’s prescriptions are ready today instead of tomorrow, they could be on the road soon. Eddie could wake up in the morning and take a shower and then get in the car and drive away from Maine and—not never come back, but he’ll get a three-week reprieve before his follow-up.

“Okay,” Eddie says, trying to think through his cloudy head. He squints one eye shut, trying to force a level of focus that will make his higher thinking come online. “Motion sickness meds.”

“Are you still having the ear—”

“Yes,” Eddie says.

“Ear?” Mike asks.

“There’s fluid in my ear,” Eddie says, because that’s not an illness, that’s simply a location problem. Eddie cannot remember ever getting lost in his life, so he doesn’t have a lot of patience for his body parts doing so. If a liver cell migrated up to his stomach and started trying to grow a new liver there, he would be equally irritated.

Ben frowns. “I’ve had that. Don’t you have to get that dried up with meds?”

Richie switches gears, head turning as stiffly as an automaton. “How’d you get that?” he demands.

Ben responds to the interrogation with typical Ben Hanscom nonchalance. “Airplane. Back in like 2005. I kept getting woozy on elevators and in cars.”

“I’m not woozy,” Eddie says, but he doesn’t clarify that it means he almost spat up a bagel in the elevator on the way down to the lobby this morning.

Richie fixes Eddie with a stare. “Was it happening before the whole—” He waves a hand to indicate It and everything after.

How’s Eddie supposed to know? He was drunk most of the time he was here, which means that he was hungover for the rest of it. Everything wrong with him he kind of chalked up to drug and alcohol interactions.

“You were pretty sick in the car on the way to the frozen yogurt shop,” Bev reminds him.

“I wasn’t sick,” Eddie snaps.

Everyone goes quiet. Bev’s eyebrows lift. Ben turns from Richie to Eddie and blinks slowly. It’s all the worse because there’s no reproach in his gaze, but Eddie can feel it.

“Sorry,” Eddie says. He shakes his head. “Sorry, it’s not—”

“I get it,” Bev replies.

“I don’t—I didn’t mean.”

“I,” Bev repeats, her voice a little more insistent, “get it.”

Richie says, “If we go back to the hospital you don’t have to tough out a ten-hour car ride where you want to puke your guts out.”

“No,” Eddie says, and scowls down at his hot chocolate, a little mad at them for detracting from his brunch experience. Brunch is a meal for trust-fund college kids, anyway. Eddie’s an adult and he shouldn’t be doing things like making up meals or eating breakfast for dinner or—

Actually breakfast for dinner sounds fun, so long as Richie isn’t putting maple syrup on top of things in front of him again. Violating some kind of meaningless rule. Eddie’s forty and trying to rebel against authority and maybe he’ll start with some pancakes. It would be okay if Richie put maple syrup on pancakes.

He needs ibuprofen for his muscle aches, because there will be times when his prescription painkillers wear down in their effectiveness before he's scheduled for another dose and Eddie’s muscles are screaming knots despite the electric blanket that functions as a full-body heating pad. And—he wants junk food, too. Not that he’s banking entirely on the variety available at a drugstore, but his brain is full of Swiss rolls and gross pie things from gas stations and chocolate-covered gummy bears, which sounded heinous the first time he heard of them but now sound intriguing, except he’s not very hungry right now.

He requests Advil and snacks.

Richie raises his eyebrow. “Snacks?”

“Snacks,” Eddie confirms, and refuses to clarify.

Richie doesn’t even make a joke out of it, just accepts his shopping list, pays for his breakfast—and Eddie’s hot chocolate—and goes to the drugstore with Mike.

Ben says, “So when you say you’ve never enjoyed food.”

Eddie is back on the couch in Ben and Bev’s hotel suite. They were nice enough to go with him up to Richie’s room—using the spare keycard Richie dropped on the table in front of Eddie as he departed—to fetch the electric blanket, and now Eddie’s wrapped in it like a burrito with it on a solid two, trying to cook himself down into some kind of limp noodle. Bev sits in the center of the couch, leaning less and less subtly into the warmth of the blanket—which is good, because every time Eddie touches her exposed shoulder her skin is cool and he’s getting worried about her. On her other side is Ben, who is by now looking at Eddie speculatively and completely ignoring A League of Their Own on the hotel television.

Eddie’s not sure what Ben’s getting at or how he should respond to it. What is there to say about it?

“Fat, grease, and salt were the enemy,” he says. “No fast food, no take-out, no pizza delivery. Mom cooked, and she cooked little portions, and she barely ever ate what she made—”

Unkindly Eddie thinks of the snack food lining the cabinets in the kitchen and how those are Mommy’s treats for working hard, okay, Eddie-bear? When you’re a grown-up with a grown-up job you can treat yourself too, and you’re a growing boy, you need healthier fare, but he never had, and for the longest time it was because he assumed he’d reached a certain level of being a grown-up where he no longer wanted them.

“No restaurants. Organic this, organic that, no bovine growth hormone, no GMOs, none of those—those chickens that can’t stand up under their own weight.” He grimaces. “Well-done meat. No salmonella, no parasites, no Monsters Inside Me, no tapeworms, no dairy, no nuts, no gluten, no soy.”

Ben is looking at him like he’s also trying to mentally divine a menu there based on the things Eddie’s telling him, using the process of elimination. Eddie knows it’s a struggle; he’s been there. “Vegetables?”

Sometimes,” Eddie says, because vegetables are a loaded topic too. Chemicals on them, pesticides. Mushrooms grown in animal fertilizer with dirt and god knows what else clinging to them in their little foam containers. Careful labels on everything in the fridge with the date it was bought and the date it had to be thrown out. Myra worked fast food when she was a teenager and still talks about her Serve-Safe certification. Eddie’s kitchen should have had her accreditations framed on the wall.

And when Eddie didn’t have the time or the inclination to wait for his homemade lunch to heat up in the office microwave, sometimes he went down to the cheese and wine store on the corner outside the office and bought a sandwich. They made them to order right there in front of him, soft bread rolls and roast beef folded carefully and the neatly-placed wedges of cheese and a salty pickle spear tucked into the bag for him. Eight dollars. Eddie tried only to pay cash for it, afraid that Myra would look at their accounts and see a charge for a liquor store and assume he was hiding something far more devastating than an overpriced sandwich.

Ben’s are better, anyway.

“That’s kind of how it’s been for me,” Ben says quietly. “Salad and salad mixes, and Weight Watchers, and…” He grimaces. “I bought half a cow from a local farmer this summer and I’m gonna be eating my way through it for like the next year.”

Eddie has the vague impression that that’s good, because it’s better for the environment to buy locally and factory farming is an abomination for which mankind will have to answer one day. But he’s anxious at the same time—even though the meat in question is nowhere near him and it’s not like Ben is requesting he eat it or anything—about whether local regulations are as rigid as state or federal, and under what jurisdiction small cattle ranchers fall, and how often private butcher’s shops are cleaned, and—

“But I haven’t liked eating much in a while either,” Ben says, calmly interrupting the beginnings of Eddie’s smile.

“Me neither,” Bev says. Eddie turns his head to look at her. She’s watching the baseball smack into Geena Davis’s palm with the ghost of a smile.

Eddie remembers, suddenly, a game that they played outside Keene’s pharmacy, just the three of them. Well, and some little squeaker who couldn’t beat Bev at pitching pennies, so he spat your mother’s a whore! at her and then ran for his life when Ben just roared at him and charged. Eddie understood, in that moment, everything that his mother had always slyly implied about Beverly Marsh, as Bev started to cry. He’d had no concept of it beforehand, despite hanging around Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, but just the way that dumb kid threw it at Bev, he understood.

My mother is not a nice woman.

That was an interesting thought to have. Sonia Kaspbrak took care of Eddie, and that was nice of her, wasn’t it? There were some parents who didn’t take care of their children at all—and Bill suggested, sometimes, that this was what his parents were turning into, too busy looking at the empty space Georgie left behind. But Eddie understood then that Sonia wasn’t like the other mothers—not like Mrs. Uris, who invited the boys in and only calmly and quietly admonished them for their language when they got too loud; or like Maggie Tozier who would allow things to build only so far until she would say, That’s it, Richard, it’s time for your friends to go home, and Richie would beg and plead and Bill and Eddie would creep out awkwardly and Stan would march out without even a hint of discomfort on his face, Thank you for having me, Mrs. Tozier. You’re welcome, Stanley.

And at the same time Eddie felt terribly guilty, because if he thought that his mother wasn’t a nice woman, what did that say about him as a son? Nice sons didn’t think those things about their mothers—didn’t disagree with their mothers the way Eddie did, quietly, in his head, almost constantly for years, until it built up and built up and—

“You wanna order room service?” Bev asks.

Over an hour later Richie comes back with a knock on the door. When Ben goes to let him in, he finds Bev and Eddie crouched around a plate like animals hoarding a kill. He stops just inside the doorway and takes a deep breath like he can smell it.

“What the hell is that?” he asks, reasonably.

“Irish nachos,” Bev says. “Waffle fries with cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream, salsa, and pickled jalapeños.”

Richie whistles, too loud for a hotel room, and takes a few more steps inside, lifting his head to inspect the tray on the table as though its secrets can only be divined from a distance. Then he looks at Eddie with half a grin on his face, mouth open, that fucking overbite.

“You’re eating pickled jalapeños?” he asks.

Eddie, mouth still sour and burning, nods.

Richie crosses his arms and leans onto the back of one of the chairs. “I don’t know if I believe you.”

“Eat a dick,” Eddie suggests, which makes Richie snort laughing and Bev giggle. He reaches out and grabs one of the waffle fries, cheese pulling away from the mass in strings, and crams it in his mouth. He tries to chew on the side that doesn’t have a stab wound in it, because while he thinks it’s mostly healed, that’s a mistake he’ll only make once.

It’s disgusting. It’s also fucking delicious, sour and hot and savory and tangy and starchy. There’s a thread of cheese hanging off his lower lip and he sticks out his tongue to catch it. The potatoes crush up soft in his teeth. There’s definitely something wrong with the tooth that was part of his stab wound, because heat and cold both make it ache—but the sheer joy of eating something this weird and probably bad for him is enough to put that aside almost entirely. He swallows, his mouth still watering.

Richie has a perfectly bland look on his face, though his eyebrows are slightly raised. He brings up both hands and begins a slow clap. “Somewhere, eleven-year-old Eddie is having a shitfit,” he says calmly, clapping arrhythmically.

Eddie wrinkles his nose at the suggestion and reaches for his water to rinse some of the burn out of his mouth. “What do you mean, ‘somewhere’? We know exactly where.”

“What happens in Derry stays in Derry,” Richie says.

There’s a faint sinisterness not just to his words but also his tone, and Ben looks around at him with a creased forehead and faint frown.

Bev says, “No, that’s what we’re trying to avoid, Richie. We did that for twenty-seven years.”

“Oh, my mistake,” Richie says, lowering his hands. He waggles his eyebrows at Eddie. “Trade you good news for a fry.”

“Irish nacho,” Eddie says. “And it better not be about my mom.”

“I wouldn’t say your mother is good news, I’d say she’s great news, because my dick is—” His voice cracks down into a booming Tony-the-Tiger growl. “—gr-r-r-r-eat.

Eddie grimaces, trying to hide the short jerks of his chest as he stifles a laugh, and turns to Bev to confer.

“No nachos for you,” Bev says. Eddie nods.

“I don’t see any nachos here,” Richie says. “I see a bunch of white people on some waffle fries. And I don’t think any of you are even Irish.”

Eddie frowns, quickly doing a rundown of possible origins of the Losers’ last names. Bev’s recuses herself from the discussion by eating more loaded fries.

“Did you leave Mike at the store?” Ben asks drily.

“Yeah, you know him, he’s so little and sneaky, he just slips away.”

Richie plants an elbow on the table next to Eddie and leans all the way across to grab a fry. His shoulder eclipses most of Eddie’s view of the room, and the smell of leather comes over him again—mixed with something chemical. Eddie doesn’t know if it’s because it’s a newer leather jacket—and also fuck Richie for going out and buying a second leather jacket while Eddie was in the hospital, because wow—or because he was hanging out in a drugstore for a little bit. Richie is almost delicate as he extracts a fry from the heap on the plate, carefully balancing its scoop of salsa and sour cream, the trailing ends of threads of cheese, and the jalapeño that stands in a little dot on top, like a crown. He opens his stupid wide mouth and crams the whole thing inside, looking like a python eating an egg.

And then he talks with his mouth full.

“Nah, he said he was going to a camping store, and I offered to go with him, but—” Richie chews two or three times and Eddie can see the moment that the heat from the jalapeño hits him because his eyes pop a little and he covers his mouth with his hand. “Damn,” he says, still muffled, and reaches out for a second one before he’s even finished chewing. He pulls the fry out as carefully as if he’s playing Jenga and holds it in his hand—stupid big hand with the stupid long fingers and the big sharp joints of his knuckles. “—but I think he realized how many tent jokes I would make and he declined my offer.” Richie looks down at the plate in something like bewilderment and then looks around at Ben. “I’m gonna need like two more plates of these.”

Eddie elbows him in the side. He gets Richie under the ribs where he’s soft; Richie hisses and leans away from him.

“So that I’m not stealing from you!” Richie protests. “Look, you’re little, it’d be a crime to take food out of your mouth—you too, Bev, you’re like a doll. Haystack.” He surveys Ben almost speculatively. “You can fight me for the fries.”

“Nachos,” Ben corrects. He’s smiling a little, looking amused by Richie in general.

“I’m not fucking little,” Eddie grouses.

Which Richie responds to by putting one hand on top of Eddie’s head and ruffling his disgusting greasy hair so hard it feels like an open-handed noogie. “Cute, cute, cute,” he sings, and it’s such an old gesture that Eddie grits his teeth and feels like a child all at once, like what he should do next is lunge at Richie and try to take it out of his hide.

But Eddie’s hurt. And either Richie would be nice about it—would let Eddie wrestle him like they’re kids again, which considering the little red scab across the bridge of Richie’s nose seems likely—or Eddie would manage to land himself back in the hospital.

It’s just not fair. Eddie feels breathless with the sheer unfairness of his life and his body and the entire world, and he can’t even take it out on Richie.

Richie is chewing with his mouth open again. How is Eddie attracted to this man? It’s like he was a kid and his brain and body decided, Okay, that one, and decided that no matter what Richie did Eddie would follow him around and berate him for it and love him.

“So do you want your drugs or what?” Richie asks. “That’s the good news. Your scrips are in. You are a relatively free man.”

Eddie does, in fact, want his drugs. He wants his drugs not so he can take them but so that he can say he’s checked all of the boxes on the list of things he has to accomplish before he can leave the state of Maine and drive, guilt-free, into the sunset with Richie Tozier.

Or—into upstate New York. Also with Richie Tozier. For three weeks.

Eddie feels small and grouchy so he wears the unplugged electric blanket like a cape over his shoulders into the elevator, the cord coiled in his hands. He feels like a goddamn hobbit, but it’s weirdly comforting in a way, like he’s wearing a Halloween costume or something, like he’s not himself. Like all of this is happening to someone else.

He holds onto the handrail and leans against the wall and grits his teeth hard as his head swims to the movement of the elevator.

“Is this the kind of situation where me being distracting is helpful, or the kind of situation where if I talk you’ll knock my teeth in?” Richie asks pleasantly.

It’s two floors. It’s a very short elevator ride.

“Rich, literally everything you do is distracting,” Eddie says. “You are inherently distracting as a person. You possess all of the qualities of an excellent distraction, which was why you were always lookout when we were kids, and somehow you still managed to be really bad at doing it on purpose.”

“Oooh, compliment me more,” Richie coos.

Eddie flips him off with the hand holding the knotted power cord. Richie smiles back at him, pleased as ever to be insulted. Eddie lowers his finger and looks at the floor so he doesn’t have to look at Richie beaming reflected in the mirrored walls.

“I’ll try the Dramamine,” Eddie says. “It should help with the motion sickness.” That’s what it’s for. He can practically taste the sour bitter chalkiness on his tongue already, and then he feels pressure on the back of his tongue.

Please no.

The elevator doors open and Eddie lurches out under his blanket cape, walking as quickly down the hall as he can manage. He’s stiff from the neck down, basically—pain stretching up from his ribs and his chest wound into his shoulders, and then down from his back into his hips and thighs and calves and feet because he’s unused to walking around, because apparently a couple of weeks in the ICU is enough to cause muscular degeneration on at least some scale, and he has to move slowly, but he moves deliberately.

“So I wanted to talk to you about travel plans,” Richie says as he unlocks the door with the keycard, oblivious to impending disaster. As always, he holds the door open for Eddie, hand placed high up on it so that Eddie can walk under his arm.

A pulse of certainty shoots from Eddie’s stomach to his throat. He walks into the hotel suite without responding, throws the blanket onto the couch—which Richie folded up into a couch again at some point—and walks into the bathroom. He closes the door. When he hits the switch for the light the vent starts automatically, and the whirring noise is good, but he has no illusions about whether it will be loud enough, so he switches on the shower that he’s not allowed to use and lets the water pound like hail into the porcelain tub.

He throws up. It’s bad, so soon after eating that he feels like everything barely hit his stomach, and then he keeps retching, standing up with his right forearm braced against his torso so that the contractions of his muscles don’t hurt his chest, his broken ribs. He puts his left hand on the wall behind the toilet and tries to hold himself up, but with that weird certainty through which the body preserves itself, all of his weakness seems to fade away in the actual act of vomiting.


No, no, no.

“Don’t—” Eddie chokes, gags, dry heaves, and the door opens.

He should have locked it. Stupid. He should have locked it.

He fumbles automatically for the flusher because he doesn’t want Richie to see, tries to force out the words Get out but it’s like talking in a dream, and he keeps gagging and spitting and his mouth and nose and throat burn.

Richie’s hands close on either side of his head and hold him up. Pressure on Eddie’s temples, weirdly comforting at the same time as it’s humiliating.

“I gotcha,” Richie says. He’s standing behind Eddie.

Eddie doesn’t want to be had, Eddie wants to do everything himself for maybe the first time in his life, and he can’t because his body’s out of his control—he thought he could get it under his control, once he wrested it out from other people’s grips, but it turns out he wasn’t enough in the first place, and—

He’s crying. He’s definitely crying. His eyes are running and his sinuses are swelling. He gags, coughs, spits, and grimaces.

He’s still nauseated. That’s what tells him it’s something inherent to him, not food poisoning or the like—not that it’s even been long enough since he ate for him to have food poisoning, unless it was the hot chocolate or the bagel—

Eddie starts giggling.

Richie appears in his peripheral vision, head tilting sideways to look Eddie in the face, and Eddie closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see his expression. “What?”

“Cream cheese,” Eddie manages.

There’s a pause, and then Richie’s broad triumphant voice, too loud for this little room: “So are you saying I was right?”

“No—” His voice feels like it’s trying to come out of a pinhole, like there’s no room for him in his body at all. He shakes his head, still laughing. It hurts his ribs. Everything hurts his ribs, and his chest. Why did they discharge him at all, if he’s not fit to be walking around like this? His closed eyelids burn. “—I’m saying—” Raspy all the way. “—but what if you were?”

“Truly a sign of the apocalypse,” Richie agrees. His voice fills up the space, him and the refilling toilet and running shower and over their heads the humming vent. Eddie can barely believe that Richie can hear him in the first place, and then he wonders what if Richie’s lipreading him, and he hates the idea of Richie looking at his mouth right now. “You done?”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says, and it comes out… wrong. Sincerer than Eddie’s ever said it—angry, but not mean. Just helpless. It’s like if Eddie fell on his face in front of Richie and pounded the ground because he was furious at himself, choked with self-pity, and Richie just had to stand there and watch. He opens his eyes—tears roll out like horses out of the gate, stinging like acid—and flushes the toilet once more.

Ben spent money on that room service. What a waste.

Eddie rips off a couple of squares of toilet paper and wipes his mouth and blows his nose, jerking his head as he tries to duck out from under Richie’s hands. It’s not effective—Eddie’s unsteady and has to brace himself on the doorframe, because now he’s done his whole body is trembling, shivering, weak and cold—but Richie releases his head.

“Was that the elevator?” Richie asks.

“I don’t fucking know,” Eddie says in his stupid delicate voice. “It could have been the elevator. It could have been the meds. It could have been my stomach capacity. It could have been the first fucking rich food I’ve had in my life—it could have been any number of things, because I’m fucking broken, all right, Richie? I don’t know.”

“’Kay,” Richie says calmly in his bright accepting tone, like this is all part of the game. Richie asks a stupid question, Eddie rips into him for it, Richie goes into paroxysms of delight over being abused so.

Eddie’s not playing. Eddie is weak and small and stupid and self-pitying and he thinks that if he and Richie were actually fighting, Eddie would be going for blood right now, but Richie’s not the problem. Eddie’s the problem.

“You want to lie down?”

“No,” Eddie grumbles, but he doesn’t have a choice. Not the bed—not where he dreamed of the leper, peeling off its skin and revealing all along where the problem lay. Not where he’ll be vulnerable. He lurches back out to the kitchenette and yanks one of the many bottles of water out of the minifridge. There’s a second sink in the kitchenette, a big industrial metal number that Eddie swishes and spits into, feeling sick. Then he staggers over to the couch and collapses down on top of his abandoned blanket.

He puts his face into it. It’s a heavy artificial fiber, and he can feel the wires inside it. Like a kid, he feels comforted.

Richie is still standing just outside the bathroom doorway. Eddie can feel him watching him, and he hates him for it, just a little.

“So I have a proposition for you,” Richie says.

Eddie sighs. “Really?” he asks, muffled.

“Yeah, that’s what I was saying before you had some kind of allergic reaction to my presence.”

Eddie snorts. He doesn’t have any allergies; and it’s so like Richie to make this about him, an extension of the offer for distraction in the elevator. He feels mixed familiarity and irritation, added to the childish swirl of everything is terrible in his head.

“So I know you want to get on the road tomorrow,” Richie says.

If Richie suggests they go back to the hospital, Eddie really will start shouting. He’s always hated I told you so’s, and they rarely came from Richie’s direction—usually Stan or Bill, actually, which was enough to send Eddie into furious stomping tantrums when they were in grade school. He can feel himself regressing, back to someone who hated being small and hated being weak and hated being babied or pitied, and so lashed out when he was scared.

He feels something click into place in his head. A faint memory.

Scared, Eddie-bear?

“And Ben so kindly offered to allow us to crash what is clearly a honeymoon phase of him and Bev having wild monkey sex in his cottage in the forest, where I’m sure no murders have ever happened,” Richie goes on.

Eddie doesn’t have the energy to respond to that, obscene as it is.

“But that’s ten hours in a car.”

“And?” Eddie manages.

“So,” Richie says, “what if instead of doing ten hours all in one shot, we did five hours tomorrow, and then five hours the next day, and paced ourselves?”

Eddie doesn’t really know what happens to him when he hears that.

All his shivery weakness goes away, but the cold stays there. It settles on his skin, almost, forming a patina. Metal, implacable.

Slowly Eddie slides his forearms under him on the couch and lifts his head and chest up from the cushions so he can look at Richie. He has to move slow—he’s not really frightened about popping stitches right now, though he suspects he probably should be—to balance his weight and make sure it lands on his hips, not on his broken ribs. He reaches out and braces his left hand on the arm of the couch to hold himself up.

Richie is leaning against the far wall, his leather jacket still on. With his crossed arms he’s posed like some kind of bad boy from a teen movie. The anxious look on his face ruins it.

Eddie’s eyes feel swollen and his cheeks feel raw and he should definitely brush his teeth.

“No,” he says. It comes out stronger than he thought his voice would allow right now. He’s almost relieved.

Richie’s eyebrows lift. His anxious look smooths out, becoming cool in turn. Matching Eddie’s tone. Mimicking him.

Eddie doesn’t want to have to justify himself right now, but he strongly suspects that Richie’s not going to say anything, is just going to keep looking at him sprawled pathetic on the couch—which is where Richie slept last night because Eddie put him out of his own bed.

“I’m not slowing down Ben and Bev,” he says. “Bev wants to get away as bad as I do, if not more. I’m not making her wait any longer.”

Richie shakes his head. “You and me,” he says. “Separate car. Ben and Bev basically get a headstart, get to christen every room in what I imagine is Ben’s impeccably designed house—”

“Beep,” Eddie says. The air in his lungs feels hot.

Richie falls silent. Eddie doesn’t even have to give the second beep. Richie’s left eyebrow flicks minutely higher, turning his gaze challenging. His chin lifts slightly. Portrait of Richie Tozier, combative but listening.

Eddie takes another breath. It’s hard, with his chest restricted like this. Feels kind of good to struggle for it, actually. He takes strength from that.

“Tell me what you were actually going to say about our travel plans,” he says. “Before I puked my guts out.”

Richie blinks once, expression shifting to surprised, like Eddie wasn’t going to put the pieces together.

“Uh, I was gonna say—” He tilts his head back, gaze flicking up toward the ceiling like he’s trying to remember his exact phrasing. “‘You remember how you fucked my mom and never called her back, you son of a bitch? Well, karma’s coming around and his name is Richie Tozier, I’m kidnapping you and taking you to Connecticut.’”

It’s such a stupid thing to say that Eddie believes him immediately, believes that’s what Richie was gearing up to say as they were walking into the suite. It’s also completely not what he was expecting. Several things slot to place in Eddie’s mind—that Richie’s parents are alive, living in Connecticut and “doing white people things,” as Richie put it; that Connecticut is something of the midway point between here and New York; and that Richie’s been texting his mother. That Richie had a very publicized breakdown and then, presumably, went off the grid. That Richie said Maggie Tozier was asking for proof of life.

“Oh,” Eddie says. The iron melts out of him. It’s unnecessary. Self-involved of him. Childish. Temper tantrum.

“Yeah, oh,” Richie scoffs.

Eddie takes a deep breath, sits up all the way, and releases it. His lungs still feel tight. He doesn’t know whether that’s the stress or just the materials he’s working with right now.

“Rich, if you wanna go see your parents, you don’t have to take me with you,” Eddie says. “You can just—I mean—” He doesn’t really understand healthy relationships with your parents, so he takes a shot in the dark. “—if they’re important to you and you want to see them, you can just go. You don’t have to, uh.”

Oh, somewhere in there Eddie made a mistake.

Richie points like a hunting dog, body coming off the wall and snapping to attention like he’s about to cross the room to get to Eddie, but he doesn’t. Not because there’s a table in the way, either. The perpetual slouch goes out of him and Richie is once again big and broad-shouldered and now he’s alert and focusing all his attention on Eddie.

“Don’t have to what?” he asks. His tone is gentle. He’s not smiling; he’s just showing his teeth. Oh god.

This is the second time he’s done this today, Eddie says, trying to make sense of an emerging pattern. What did Eddie do that triggered that response? What’s it building towards? What defused Richie earlier at the table?

He has no idea. He has no choice but to answer Richie’s questions.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” he says, because it’s the truth. “If you—” He almost grimaces when he says it but he pushes through it. “—want to get back to your life, you can. You don’t have to worry about me.”

And why wouldn’t he? Richie has a great life: he’s semi-famous; he doesn’t owe anything to anybody; he doesn’t even seem to care much about his work, based on his inability to recognize his own material from the mouth of a fan. And—Eddie swallows, watching Richie practically shift the light balance in the room with the force of how hard he’s staring at Eddie—he’s sure there are people waiting for him.

Richie doesn’t date. Doesn’t do relationships; doesn’t get involved in the emotional baggage, and Eddie comes with a whole hell of a lot of baggage, literal and figurative. He’s not gonna want what Eddie has to offer, if Eddie ever gets around to spitting out the words when he’s not half-comatose and drugged to the gills. There’s a sunk cost fallacy and then there’s—whatever this is. Just because Richie has sunk a lot of effort into taking care of Eddie (ugh), fulfilling whatever stupid whims he has—it doesn’t mean he has to. He can just cut loose and walk away and go back to his life, and Eddie can—can go to New York with Ben and Beverly and go about the work of trying to figure out who the hell he is in the absence of all the structure he’s been growing around for the last few decades.

Richie does not move in the wake of this statement. He stares at Eddie, his closed mouth stretching wide and thin. Furious.

And then he storms toward the door.

Something in Eddie buckles—don’t leave me! I knew you would leave me! I always knew you would leave me!—and he recoils from it, revolted by his own response. He almost wants to say If you have to go, then go, but this is Richie’s hotel room, Eddie’s the one who should go, but Eddie can’t, and he’s forcing Richie out, and—

Richie turns around, shoulders basically level with his ears, standing in front of the door. His jaw is clenched. Eddie can’t hear his teeth grinding—fuck, they never turned off the shower in the bathroom—but he knows what that pulsing muscle or tendon or whatever the fuck it is means.

When Richie speaks, his tone is deceptively calm.

“I thought we worked this out,” he says.

Eddie has no idea what that means, because he knows there are ample other things he has to work out with Richie and at the moment the matter of what’s settled is kind of difficult for him to focus on while he’s trying to manage the shifting gears of whatever Richie is doing. Apparently this is reflected in Eddie’s face, because Richie goes on.

“That I’d go with you,” he says.

I’d go. Not I’m going.

“I mean—I’m not gonna hold you to that, if you…”

Richie seems to swell with anger, chest expanding so much that Eddie almost expects to hear the leather jacket creak. “If I want to go back to my precious little life, yeah. Thanks for that, Eddie, for cutting me that favor. Before I go, can you do me one more?” Eddie blinks but before he has time to calculate a response for that, Richie asks, “Can you tell me where the fuck I can get another Eddie Kaspbrak?”

It’s so venomous that Eddie reels back a little. Richie’s always been good at that—good-natured to a point, and then he cuts where it’ll hurt. Eddie swallows around his numb tongue, trying to find some of that steel he had earlier, but it’s gone.

“Because this one’s broken?” he asks, voice too high and too vulnerable.

For a moment they stare at each other across the suite.

Then Richie exhales and blinks slowly and his shoulders slump a little, no longer ready to huff and puff and blow the house down.

“Because you fucking died,” Richie says. “You died, Eddie. You were dead. You—” He waves a hand, fingers twirling in a way that makes Eddie think of bugs flying away or something, and then he jabs at his own chest. “—but I knew you were dead, Eddie. You didn’t know, but I knew.”

“Why the fuck is me dying about you now?” Eddie demands.

Richie seems to be physically shaking now. “You—” He holds both hands out in front of him, cupped toward each other like he’s holding Eddie’s head again, like maybe he’d like to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. “—you died, and I thought, ‘That’s it,’ and then you came back, and then you died again, and I thought, ‘Shit, that’s for sure it this time,’ and you still came back, you fucking indestructible little monster. Why the fuck—” He presses his hand to his mouth hard.

“Richie,” Eddie says. He sounds defeated. Maybe he is. “I am so tired.”

Richie lowers his hand and lets out a breath. “Fuck my life,” he says. “I’m going with you, literally wherever you let me. You wanna go back to Derry and dig your phone out of the fucking cave-in? Stupid idea. I’m in. You want to go do fucking astronaut training in the desert? Okay. You don’t—you—” More flailing, more reaching out, grabbing something that’s not there, almost pleading. “—you don’t get fourth chances, Eddie.”

Eddie realizes that his stinking mouth is open, his jaw hanging useless with shock.

Richie doesn’t want to go back to his life either. And while technically all of them had a near-death experience or two, Eddie’s was definitely the biggest. And sometimes just that catalyst is all that you need.

In the wake of that, Richie goes slack and leans back against the door and fidgets a little, pushing at his hair with his hands. “Also, I don’t know what part of ‘come with me to my parents’ place’ made you think, Ah, yes, this guy’s trying to dump me like a sack of hot trash.”

Eddie grits his teeth and wraps one arm around himself and closes his mouth and presses the knuckles of his numb hand to the line of his lip and tries not to cry again. “I don’t want you to have to.” His voice cracks. Fuck.

“Have to what?” He sounds like he genuinely doesn’t understand.

“I don’t want—” Swallow, choke it down. “—I don’t want you to have to hold my head, I don’t want you counting out my pills, I don’t want you to—to give up your bed, or to—I don’t want you to think—I don’t want you to be her.”

And Richie.

Richie fucking Tozier.

He leans one elbow casually on the door and drawls out, “Sugah, I caught a lot of things from your mother, but responsibility ain’t one of ’em.”

And Eddie is kind of teetering on a thin line of tears, so it’s no surprise that when he starts laughing—not giggling, full-on belly-laughing, painful, out of control, can’t breathe, can’t catch his breath, empty lungs—his eyes leak and tears carve tracks down his face, across the still-healing wound on his cheek. They drip off his chin. He’s never cried like this in his life, his jaw clenched, his nose running, his chest still gasping out hysterical laughter in something like convulsions. He pitches sideways into the arm of the couch and covers his head.

“Take right now, for instance,” Richie says. “Right now, I’m clearly endangering your health. There’s a lot more where that came from.”

Eddie can’t even get a breath into tell him to shut up, and honestly he doesn’t want to.

“And,” Richie says, “I don’t care that you just puked up everything you’ve eaten since the Clinton administration, don’t get comfy on my bed there. What, you think you can have everything in the room because you caught a little case of death?”

“Patty said I can do whatever I want,” Eddie gasps out.

“Teacher ain’t here, is she?”

“Thought you said you’d do astronaut training with me.”

“Did I say astronaut? Sorry, I just meant ass.”

Eddie can’t breathe and it doesn’t even matter. “What does that even mean?”

“Oh, honey, if you have to ask.” Richie loses some of the luxurious vowels of his taunting voice and asks in something like real concern, “Are you all right?”

Eddie nods and waves a hand for him to keep going. “They do that in the desert?”

“Yeah, it’s training because the sand gets everywhere.”

Eddie wraps both arms around his ribcage to brace himself, opens his mouth wide, and takes some gasping breaths. It feels like he has a sucking chest wound. Wonder why that might be.

“I knew you watched the fucking prequels,” he manages, once he’s gotten his breath back.

“How?” Richie demands, sounding genuinely baffled. “You keep saying I knew this, I knew that—fucking how? And everybody watched the fucking prequels.”

“Because you’re coarse, you’re irritating, and you get everywhere.”

“Do you know memes?” Richie demands. “Who are you?”

What the fuck is a meme? Eddie leans back against the couch and yawns hugely. “Eddie fucking Kaspbrak, apparently.”

“Apparently,” Richie agrees. He’s still hovering in front of the door, but now he’s self-conscious about it, doesn’t know how to hold his arms once he’s done raging. He sniffs and then asks, “So do you want to come to Connecticut with me? I’ll let you say gross things about my dad, now you’re out and proud.”

“Tempting,” Eddie says dryly. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes.

“Come on, the man said open wide professionally for like forty-years, he’s low-hanging fruit. And if you fall asleep like that you’re gonna get a crick in your neck.”

“Fuck off,” he replies. Fairly pleasantly, he thinks.

“I’m just saying, just because I just vowed to follow you anywhere, don’t think you’re getting the Magic Hands services for free.”

“Do not fucking touch me.

Richie laughs, and it’s fine, because he’s just Richie. Eddie can’t get another Richie Tozier either.

Chapter Text

Eddie dreams again.

Not the leper or the leper-him hybrid again, mercifully. Instead it’s—not a nice dream, but a neutral dream. A little absurdist in nature. Absolutely the sleep paralysis happening again, with how he knows he’s dreaming but feels too foggy to come out of it.

The whole room in lush dark blue light and Richie’s on the other side of the bed with him. Eddie knows it’s a dream because he can’t see him—he just knows it’s him, in the weird way that you know things in dreams—and Richie looks more like a vague pale shape than anything else, defined by the negative space around him. And he’s talking in a low voice—lower than Eddie’s used to hearing out of him, he thinks—and it goes on for a bit, before Eddie realizes what he’s saying is, No. No, you can’t. Stop. Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before. And if you leave. If you leave. I just, I remember things better with you! I do, look! P. Sherman, forty-two… forty-two—

Eddie wakes himself up with the incredulous thought, Is that Finding Nemo?

He’s pretty sure it is, but he’s too tired and sleep-heavy to reach out and grab his phone and check it, and honestly that’s probably for the best. When he drifts off again Richie is still there and mumbles only nonsense that evaporates as soon as Eddie wakes up. The electric blanket shut off in the night—as well it should—and he’s shivering instead of sweating. He awkwardly rolls under the sheets, in the warm spot he made with his body over the hours, and closes his eyes again.

Then he remembers that he can take a shower today.

They said forty-eight hours after his release. But—his brain rapidly rationalizes—it’s not like they timed his discharge from the hospital relative to the time of day he received his injury. Forty-eight hours, give or take a few, is acceptable; it’s just two days. Right? Right. He gets up, shuffles over to the window, and checks that the sun is actually up before he gets his hopes up. It is. He’s in the clear.

His chest hurts and he moves like he’s wading through molasses, his legs aching all the way down from the hips. But he feels wired in a way he can’t remember feeling before—not when Mike called, that was full of dread and a sort of nihilistic I mean, I survived this car wreck, by that measure I am doing great. He can’t remember feeling excited for something good instead of something bad.

And that’s pretty indicative of how his adult life has gone so far, isn’t it?

Gingerly he pokes his head out of the bedroom door, ready to yank it shut again in the event that Richie’s awake. Richie’s not going to be awake, it’s like seven-thirty and it’s Richie, why would he be awake? If Richie’s sleeping there will be no reason to warn him that Eddie’s about to occupy the shower and he can just (figuratively) jump in without explaining himself.

As expected, Richie is asleep on the sofa bed, which takes up most of the living area, the very end of the metal frame resting just shy of the TV unit. One foot hangs over the edge of the bed, twisted carefully in the sheet as though Richie can’t stand to have his feet bare and exposed. His other leg is bent at the knee so his legs form a figure-four, and he seems to have graduated from hugging a pillow in his sleep to trying to suffocate the pillow to death under his own weight, based on how it’s crushed under his body.

Eddie stares for several long moments at his exposed back—his spine is like a channel down the center instead of a ridge of bone, because it’s bracketed by long thick muscle on either side and isn’t that interesting, how big Richie is, the rise and fall of his ribcage in time with the faint huff of his breath?—before he two things occur to him simultaneously. Nothing so clear as words, just concepts, coming too fast for him to process them: he could be naked and I could be that pillow.

And then he whips the door shut so fast he almost takes his own nose off.

The slam is deafening in the early morning hush of the suite. There’s a scream of springs in the next room and Richie, sounding bleary and crazed, asks, “Eddie?”

“Nothing!” Eddie says, which is definitely not the correct response. He rests his head on the door and bares his teeth at himself, resisting the urge to hang onto the knob and rattle the door just to get some of his fury at his own idiocy out.

“Uh… okay,” Richie says. There’s a slightly more moderated creak of the springs from the sofa bed, and Eddie stands there uselessly until he hears the moderated deep breathing that means Richie’s asleep again.

Stupid. Very stupid.

Eddie sits on the bed with his feet on the floor and does some axillary stretches. They’re not quite as his discharge papers instructed him to—he should be sitting in a chair that will help his posture and help him hold himself up—but he has an idea that physical exertion is a better idea when it doesn’t involve actually throwing things in the suite or frantically shaking a door or other things that will probably wake Richie up again. Because he does not need to be witnessed in this, the weirdest mood he’s ever been in.

The exercise does help him realize that he definitely overexerted getting out of the hospital. His shoulders feel like steel cables ready to come through the skin, and not in a satisfying you’re in good shape kind of way, but in a you are dangerously dehydrated and your lactic acid buildup is borderline irresponsible. He gives up when a shooting pain through his broken ribs knocks his breath out of him and then he drains the remainder of his bottle of water.

Shower. He just wants to take a shower, to focus on getting clean. Not in a frantic way trying to fight off rising panic, but just to wash off the whole hospital stay. He can’t wash off the last twenty-seven years of his life, but that interminable hospital stay feels like a good place to start. Like a way to manage the whole thing.

He used to try to take a pill for any odd little bad feeling that popped into his head, into his body, into his stomach, into his guts. It’s time for him to find something else to do.

He walks into the jack and jill bathroom to brush his teeth at the sink and gets blindsided by the sight of his stitches in the mirror. Looking at himself, at his own body, every day for most of his life means that he’s immune to the constants, but the glaring changes seem unconscionable. Like the pimples that have yet to calm down because he’s only been able to wash his face four times in the last two days, and that’s the half-assed job he’s done while trying not to make the long healing line on his face angry. Or the beard that is showing how difficult it is for him, at forty, to grow facial hair like an adult.

But mostly the stitches. He knew he was going to have trouble with the stitches—the vivid dream about the leper coming in and showing them off was a giant waving red flag that Eddie mostly ignored due to exhaustion and recurrent hypochondria. Now he’s distracted by them.

He can’t look at them and think of anything but barbed wire. It’s not that they look menacing or painful in any way—and they’re not—but something about the fiber of the stitches freaks him out. Barbed wire in places it shouldn’t be. Wound around a baseball bat in an art installation, or pulled free from a fence and left to hang on the ground. Something dangerous you could catch yourself on and have to get a tetanus shot.

It occurs to Eddie that he probably had a tetanus shot when he was in the hospital, probably while he was still in intense pain and going in and out of consciousness, but he should probably look at his records and his itemized medical bill to make sure that was done. He thinks it’s every ten years you have to get one? It would be nice to knock that off his to-do list for the next decade. And Mike probably also had a tetanus shot, because that blade Bowers was wielding—old and familiar as it was—could not have been kept in immaculate clean conditions for thirty years. Come to think of it, did Ben get a tetanus shot back in 1989? He should have gotten a tetanus shot. He probably needs another one, since Bev mentioned It cutting him in the mirror.

They ought to get group discounts on tetanus shots, is all Eddie’s suggesting.

In comparison to the thick stitches—done very neatly and symmetrically on the crooked line of the incision—the square white bandage underneath looks clinical and contained and tidy. It does not look like a manhole cover over a seeping horror. It looks like a bandage.

Eddie blinks at his own chest once, slowly beginning to identify the flaw in his plan. He turns slowly, looking over his shoulder, to examine the identical surgical site on his back—the row of stitches closing the incision above and below, and then the big square bandage Stan carefully applied.

He has never been able to get his right hand to the middle of his back even when he was a kid at his most flexible, and right now it’s out of the question. He has broken ribs and another incision from where his intercostal drain was placed under his arm, and he can’t get that arm over his head without walking it up the wall. And even if he did—now he can’t grip with his cold clumsy fingers.

Experimentally, he puts his left hand behind his back and tries to reach up to the bandage. He can get there, sure. But can he pinch the corner of the adhesive between his fingers? Can he peel it away carefully without disturbing his stitches? Can he hold that stretch for as long as it will take?

Signs point to no.

“Fuck,” Eddie says under his breath. He feels that he’s earned that one.

For a long moment he really does weigh the pros and cons of texting Ben to come up here and pick the bandage off his back so that he can take a shower. This inclination towards Ben is driven entirely by Stan’s report that Ben helped him clean up in the hospital bathroom. Eddie’s order of preference starts with Stan and then accepts Stan’s recommendations.

It’s still seven-thirty in the morning. There is no way that Eddie’s going to wake Ben up for this. The worst thing that could happen is that Ben would do it, and then they would both know that Eddie asked him to, and that would be sitting between them as Eddie borrowed Ben’s house to hide from his divorce and also the rest of his entire adult life.

There is one logical solution to this problem. It’s a real Occam’s Razor type of situation.

There are no words for how much Eddie does not want to be logical right now. Forget doing his job, putting his feelings aside as part of his duty. Eddie is now inclined to be selfish—because of course he is, this directly affects him—and he does not want to have to confront the swirl of dread that comes from the idea of Richie seeing his bandages—of Richie taking off his bandages—and what’s under them, and the stitches that, now he’s looking at them in the mirror, remind him more and more of animal teeth biting into something instead of holding his skin together. He does not want Richie to see him being held together by literal thread, tough and mean as that thread is.

And why’s that, Eddie? a perfectly normal Manhattan-inflected voice asks in his head. It’s him. He’s somehow giving the thousand-yard stare into the mirror and also standing immediately beside himself, arms folded across his own chest (his stitches) and prompting himself to be honest.

He gives up and puts his head down on the bathroom counter. It is probably not granite, but it is very cold, and it suits his purposes right now.

Because it’s not that Eddie doesn’t want Richie to see him naked.

It’s that this is not how Eddie wants Richie to see him naked.

Even at home, Eddie hated taking off his clothes. Hated being naked in front of Myra—always feeling like he was committing indecent exposure in his own home or something, with his flaccid penis up between his thighs like a stupid little acorn and his chest exposed and vulnerable. Myra never made any mention of it either—she moved through their apartment like she didn’t see it, like it was unexceptional, and somehow the fact that she didn’t make a big deal out of it flustered Eddie worse than being caught naked at all. It went from I am embarrassed to be seen naked to I am embarrassed to be embarrassed to be seen naked, because I shouldn’t feel that, because there’s nothing inherently sexual about nudity, there’s nothing inherently sexual or appealing about my body at all, and even though I’m standing here bare-ass naked with my dick hanging out I don’t have to worry about starting anything, because Myra will never get the wrong idea. There is nothing to start. Neither of us will ever be in the mood ever again.

And it’s not that Myra’s lack of response to his nudity was incorrect in any way, really. He doesn’t know what he would have wanted her to do differently, except to not walk in on him when he was changing clothes at all, but that wouldn’t be fair because he couldn’t expect her to give him a wide berth in her own home either. They lived together.

Myra was self-conscious about herself in a different way, needing the lights out on those rare infrequent attempts they had sex, suggesting they try different positions if it would help but blushing and then admitting she was nervous about how undignified they were. Gasping and holding her clothes up in front of herself when Eddie accidentally opened the door on her dressing, so that Eddie closed the door again immediately and apologized. The apologizing never bothered Eddie, because her body was hers and she got to decide who looked at it and when, but it always felt like so much more of a violation to walk in on her than for her to walk in on him. Eddie supposes that, in the back of their minds, they had this idea about what men need, the idea that Myra’s nudity was sexual where his comical—which is ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous.

And Eddie has kind of always felt insufficient as a man, unable to get it up for his wife when it was time, unable to come in a timely manner that would get every encounter over with as soon as possible, when they were both wincing with how uncomfortable they were. He doesn’t know where the idea about men’s needs slipped into both their heads, but Myra brought it up once when they were talking about their sex life: I know that men have… urges… And so Eddie did his best to pretend to have urges, of literally any sort, sexual or impulsive or athletic, and the only one he managed to keep up with on his own was just frantic jogging every morning, like he could run away from the shame of pretending to be asleep beside his wife and feeling the slight shift of the mattress as she worked her hand down and gave herself what she needed, because he could not. Eddie has never had needs, never allowed himself to have needs. Food and sex and sleep and water and shelter and exercise were all scheduled and regimented carefully in their proper allotments, in what was healthy and seemly and reasonable.

And now Eddie’s coming up from what feels like a thirty-year nap to discover he has been ravenous this whole time.

The guy at the office who unbuttoned his shirt down to the third button the summer that the air conditioning was busted, and Eddie got tunnel vision staring at his collarbone. (Eddie visited an optometrists and had his eyes checked, then his GP to make sure his brain was processing visual input correctly.) A man in a suit at Starbucks who overpoured and spilled creamer over his hand, cursing to himself under his breath and sucking the web of skin between his index finger and thumb clean, and Eddie, who was only picking up a coffee for the receptionist because she expertly deflected Sonia when Sonia called to see why Eddie was ignoring her on his work phone, felt a pang in his guts so sharp that for the rest of the day he kept jabbing himself in the abdomen to see if his appendix was failing. A classmate in college who offered Eddie sympathy for—something, Eddie doesn’t remember what—and bent down to hug him, folding Eddie up against his narrow lanky frame.

He can look at Beverly and recognize she is beautiful—objectively, Beverly is beautiful, square-jawed and dreamy-eyed and looking like a painting. Patty is also beautiful in a way that’s more unusual and interesting—cat’s-eye glasses and broad smile and bright eyes, especially looking at Stan.

Myra told him that it would help their marriage if they exchanged compliments more frequently to make each other feel more appreciated, and he did not lie when he told her that she was beautiful, pink face and gold hair in contrast to her sharp black and white work clothes. He can see now that Myra was going for the kind of polish that Bev subverted effortlessly by showing up in a blazer with the knees of her jeans ragged. Myra won’t leave the house without her lipstick on, chasing that look that New York businesswomen have, polished with her hair carefully straightened. Eddie knows that smell, walking into their bathroom in the mornings as the Vidal Sassoon iron heated, as Myra peeled eye masks off her cheek bones. She put a lot of work into looking nice and she deserved to feel appreciated for it, so he told her that she looked nice and felt good about saying it because it made her smile and he meant her face and not her breasts or other things that men who didn’t care about women as people would comment on. He cared about his wife as a person so much. He didn’t care about her body at all. He felt evolved.

And then there’s Richie.

Richie’s shirts are not ugly but they are riding a very fine line and if Richie were less audacious as a human being he would look ridiculous. He should look ridiculous. He couldn’t walk into a meeting room wearing those shirts; no one would take him seriously. He doesn’t dress like that onstage—in the airport on his phone Eddie rapidly discovered that actually looking at Richie wearing a blazer made him feel ill in a way he couldn’t quite quantify, like his brain was trying to reconcile two images laid just slightly offset from each other, and now he has no idea if it was because he remembered Richie at thirteen and watching an adult Richie deliver clearly hollow words was just too far into the uncanny valley for him or if it was because he really, really likes Richie in a blazer, which is something to investigate much, much later.

His hair looks like that, and when he’s feeling particularly out of sorts instead of playing with it or pushing it out of his face like when he did when he was a kid, he sinks his fingernails into his scalp and scratches rapidly like he has lice, parody of idiocy. Eddie looked at his shoes at the Jade of the Orient and he doesn’t know why now any more than he did in the moment, and they were almost midway between a sensible brown shoe and a sneaker, with a red sole and orange laces. It’s a strange juxtaposition between forty-year-old man that no one takes care of and Hollywood-adjacent C-list celebrity trying to appeal to a hipster crowd. Eddie knows he showers every morning because he hears him, and somehow he still looks like if someone drew a possibly rabid raccoon as a person.

And Eddie wants him.

Wants to wear his clothes, wants to push his hands into Richie’s hair, wants to just fucking grab handfuls of him, wants to wait until Richie’s done singing to himself while he brushes his teeth (which he also does every morning, and it’s annoying, and Eddie loves it) and then kiss him without bothering with mouthwash. It’s completely outside any concept of attraction Eddie has ever understood. He doesn’t know how much this is affected or restrained by the cocktail of drugs in his system—he doesn’t know how much that prior concept of aesthetic appeal is affected by his fondness for sedatives and his deep refusal to allow himself to look at other men either. When Eddie was a kid he wanted to be around his friends all the time, he didn’t want playtime to ever end, he just wanted to be in their company all the time—and now Eddie wants to be next to Richie as often as possible, but next to isn’t enough, he wants to be closer. He wants to lean up against him. He wants him to be warm; he wants to be dazed with the smell of him and his stupid leather jacket—you’re forty—in his lungs; he wants to wrap his arms around him and feel how much space Richie takes up; wants to crawl into bed with him and feel him sleep-hot and sweat-damp, wants to tuck his cold hands under his body and make him hiss and squirm because Eddie’s fingers are like ice cubes, wants to pull him down on top of him and squeeze at his back like he’s at a pottery wheel or something, wants him heavy. His body no longer recognizes the laws of physics: in his deepest, most sleep-unhinged desires, he wants to try to occupy the same space as Richie and fail, so that they can sit smashed together trying to resolve it, compressed, too tight, what would that feel like? You want to be touched so bad, what would that feel like? Would that be enough? What if there is no enough and you chest-burster claw right through him trying to get to it?

Where the fuck does sex enter into that? It’s too big. Eddie can’t possibly try to solve that need with any one action, any one thing, any insert Tab A into Slot B. That’s not a normal feeling, not a normal hunger, not something his body knows how to hold—if it is even possible for a human body to feel that and not just give out, which Eddie’s not sure of right now.

There’s an itch behind his very back molars and he hooks one finger into his mouth, pad of his fingertip resting on the gum way in the back, the knuckles and phalanges resting in the sharp wet grooves of his teeth. He gnaws down experimentally—is that it? Do you just need to feel like you bit off more than you can chew, and then you’ll be happy?

It doesn’t help, and then he just feels stupid for sticking his finger in his mouth. When he takes it out there are little red dots pressed into the knuckles, and a long line under the biggest one from his incisor.

His dick is still completely offline. He doesn’t know whether he’s more upset or relieved by this, because on one hand, a boner is basically the last thing he needs right now, but on the other hand, it would be nice to know that his body can live up to at least one expectation. He suspects he’s going to have to wait for the pharmaceutical intervention to wear off and some of the aching pain in his chest to ease up before his body can even think about diverting blood flow. But what the fuck is all that frantic desire if it has nothing to do with actual arousal? He can’t jerk off until the weird impulse to bite something (no, it’s definitely a someone, his brain volunteers helpfully) goes away. This is not his body being a problem to be solved; this is Eddie turning without looking and smacking face-first into a wall and being concussed.

That’s the problem. Eddie is sexually concussed.

And the more immediate, practical problem, is that Eddie cannot exist in a room, feeling all of those things with their vague hungry direction towards Richie, while Richie peels a bandage off his back. He can’t. Interesting as it is, distracting from his own revulsion by his body as it is, there are two possible outcomes: Richie feels the same way, which Eddie is not equipped to handle in any capacity; or Richie doesn’t, and Eddie is emotionally primed to take absence as rejection right now, and something in him will curl up and die. And if, the first time Richie sees him naked, Eddie’s riddled with black twine and has a hole punched through his torso, how will Richie ever want him in any other capacity?

And he just wants to take a fucking shower.

He stands up straight—his ribs ache from the pressure of his own bodyweight anyway. He washes the saliva off his hand. He brushes his teeth carefully and avoids the stab wound in his cheek, the reason he forgoes the mouthwash, which makes him mad because he’d really feel better if he could scour with the little travel bottle of mouthwash right now, fuck Henry Bowers, Eddie’s glad Richie killed him, that racist homicidal mouthwash-ruining motherfucker.

He turns and tries to get his left hand to creep up his own back. It doesn’t work—somehow his whole wrist and forearm are in his way, and he has no idea how the angle is supposed to go. It’s out of the question. Eddie had a wooden backscratcher back home. In an abstract way, he misses its power.

“You’re fucking forty,” he tells himself in the mirror, and goes to get a towel from the wetroom.

Richie is still asleep when he walks out. Eddie hovers in the kitchenette for a little bit, towel clutched at his collarbone so it fans over the rest of his chest. It would be ridiculous for him to go back into the bedroom and put on his pajama shirt, only to take it off again so that Richie can get to his back. He briefly entertains the idea of asking Richie to remove the bandage from under the shirt, but the idea is ludicrous—Richie wouldn’t be able to see what he’s doing and Eddie would have to stand there like he was letting Richie get to second base. Don’t make it weird, he tells himself. It won’t be weird if you don’t make it weird.

“Richie,” Eddie says.

Richie jerks awake and looks around at him blearily. He says nothing but his eyes are wide, soft and vulnerable without his glasses, and his expression says I am very startled. He just stares at Eddie for a long moment.

Unsure, Eddie repeats, “Richie?”

Richie blinks hard and says, “Yeah.” He wipes at his face with the heel of his hand. Then he seems to come online, blinking hard and shaking his head. “You okay?”

“I need help,” Eddie says. He strings the words together like cars on a train, trying to keep it as simple as possible.

Richie gets an elbow under him and sits up properly, twisting around and drawing his knees up. The sheet gives up and slides off his shoulder, pooling in his lap. Eddie ruthlessly keeps his gaze on Richie’s face. “You hurt?” Richie asks with increased urgency. Of course he does.

“No,” Eddie says, and watches Richie visibly relax.

Richie does that. Richie asks him if something’s wrong and Eddie says no and Richie believes him. The concept makes Eddie feel like someone has just walked up and punched him hard in the sternum.

Richie reaches out to the coffee table where it’s pushed against the wall and grabs his glasses. He blinks one eye shut when he puts them on, like he’s afraid he’s going to poke himself in the eye with one of the swinging legs. Eddie has to resist the urge to take a step back, to put more space between him and Richie once Richie’s glasses are on and he can see.

It’s only weird if you make it weird. This is a perfectly normal medical request.

“Whaddaya need?” Richie asks, his voice still sleep-gravelly.

Eddie swallows. “There’s a bandage on my back. I can’t reach it. I need to take it off before I can take a shower.” There’s no actual request in there so he grimaces a little and asks, “Can you get it?”

Richie stares at him for a long moment like he’s processing that.

If he just stares at Eddie long enough, Please is gonna come out of Eddie’s mouth and then he’s gonna have to commit seppuku in the bathroom.

Then Richie says, “Yeah, sure, man.” He moves his legs to get up from the sofa bed and Eddie—maybe moonwalks back into the bathroom. He does not really feel himself moving his feet. The only other logical assumption is that at some point a motorized walkway manifested in the hotel suite, delivered Eddie to his destination, and then immediately vanished again. There is a small part of Eddie that thinks death would be a great way out of this, and then a vastly larger part of him that thinks FUCK YOU FOR DOING THIS TO ME YOU FUCKING CLOWN.

Richie comes into the jack and jill wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and boxers. The t-shirt is illegible but has some kind of logo on it for what might be a boat cruise or something. He was definitely not wearing the shirt about a minute ago.

Eddie stands in front of the sink, feeling trapped-animal feral.

“Don’t look at my stitches,” he says quickly.

Richie nods, nervously making eye contact with Eddie in the mirror—which makes sense, because Eddie absolutely looks liable to lash out and bite him. Actually, is far more likely to bite than Richie could possibly anticipate.

“Okay,” Richie says, blasé, cool.

Eddie feels vastly uncool. “So it’s kind of like a sticker, and I can’t reach it, but, uh, there are stitches, under the bandage, and they’re, uh.” Ugly.

Richie blanches and leans back a little. “Is the bandage supposed to come off?”

Eddie stares at him, distracted from his own discomfort. Richie bought the bandages. “Yeah?” he says, nonplussed.

“Like—if you pull it off, is it gonna rip out your stitches?”

The very idea of that gives Eddie phantom pain strong enough to make him shudder. “No!” he says. “The adhesive doesn’t go on the stitches, there’s, like, very little crossover.”

“And it’s okay to get them wet?” Richie asks. “Is this like a—you’re gonna take a shower and suddenly there are gonna be two dozen other Eddies that gotta avoid bright light that I’m not allowed to feed after midnight?”

Eddie stares at him, feeling vastly tired. “Yes, Richie,” he says. “I’m a gremlin.”

“Oh, you’ve already eaten after midnight?” Richie asks. “Because with the big brown eyes I thought you were a mogwai, but that would explain the, like, everything about you.”

The movie Gremlins has bothered Eddie for years, and bothers him significantly enough that he’s okay with Richie bringing it up. As a distraction that is neither imagined physical pain nor Richie himself, it’s pretty good. He’s forty. He should be able to move through the world without encountering references to Gremlins. He still routinely finds himself nose-down in Cinemasins’ “Everything Wrong with Gremlins (in less than 8 minutes),” quietly fuming. It’s like as soon as the thought pops up in his head he can’t let it go—like his hatred of Gremlins and not understanding why he hates Gremlins is like poling the hole where a tooth used to be in his gum.

But now he remembers. Richie was fucking obsessed with Gremlins from like age ten onward. And Critters. And Ghoulies. And Ghoulies II. And Hobgoblins. And Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which Eddie was obliged to go see with him in 1990. They only had enough money between the two of them for one popcorn and one soda (it was Richie’s money; Sonia did not give Eddie an allowance because an allowance meant that he would have money for activities that did not involve her, but sometimes Eddie found change swept into corners in the school hallways). Eddie simultaneously knew that soda was bad for him and felt that Richie should be banned from having custody of the soda, so he held it and Richie put the popcorn in the cupholder between the two of them and every time Richie wanted a sip on the soda instead of whispering to Eddie to pass it he leaned across Eddie to slurp directly from the straw, and Eddie hissed and swatted at him and—

God I hate that movie,” Eddie groans.

—and every time Gizmo appeared on the screen Richie whispered in his ear, Look, Eds, it’s you!

Richie looks at him with big wounded eyes, like Eddie has just kicked a mogwai in front of him. “But why?”

Eddie grits his teeth. “The father has no concept of the basic law of supply and demand. Mo-gwai is literally Cantonese for ‘demon.’ The first person to die is the only black person in the whole movie. For some reason a mysterious Chinese man shows up and makes an environmentalist argument? How did the old people survive being crushed with a snowplow? And, of course, you made me watch it forty times.”

“But Eddie,” Richie pleads. “Gizmo.”

Like that’s an argument.

“Why haven’t you had enough of demons?”


“There is all of one nice mogwai and all the other mogwai beat up on him. I don’t know why you want to watch that.”

Instead of responding in words, Richie purses his lips into a little O and starts warbling in a way that’s immediately recognizable as the mogwai song.

“I fucking hate you,” Eddie growls, shoulders hunching. Richie breaks immediately and starts laughing, which means that he got what he wanted out of the interaction. Eddie stares at Richie’s toothbrush with its crazy bristles and the Sensodyne toothpaste—which he has definitely not used today. That should be fine. Eddie’s just gotta focus on his anxiety around his stitches, and the fact that Richie hasn’t brushed his teeth yet today, and his unstoppable resentment for Gizmo. Those are manageable things. Everything about this is stupid. It’s fine.

He rests one hand on the sink and keeps holding the towel to his chest, adjusting it a little so that his nipples are covered. God, this is dumb. He almost misses the hospital.

Richie seems to have stalled out near the mirror, unsure how to proceed. “So should I take off my glasses?” he asks, brows raised and eyes wide, looking at Eddie in the mirror.

Eddie cannot switch gears that fast. “Why?”

“So I can’t see your stitches.”

“Can you see enough to take off the bandage without your glasses on?” Eddie’s not really considering it, but it feels like kind of an obvious step that Richie’s forgetting.

“Uh, probably, you’re not that pale.” Richie takes half a step closer and the air in the room reduces by about half. He reaches out like he’s going to touch Eddie. All of Eddie’s skin wakes up, waiting for it, but the contact doesn’t come. “Does it hurt?”

Eddie is torn between the idea that he should express appropriate gratitude to Richie for doing him a favor and also that if he plays like he’s mad then Richie will have no idea what’s actually going on in his head. Instead he errs on the side of Stan Uris: irony so sharp it can cut. “Does the hole in my thoracic cavity hurt?”

“Does taking off the bandage hurt?” Richie asks, rolling his eyes. “I know Stan did it for you, but like, Stan’s Stan and I’m a fuckup.”

This is not that hard. Richie is just making things difficult.

“Have you ever removed a Band-Aid in your life?”

He hears Richie smile, little wet click of his teeth and subsequent warmth in his voice. “Nah, I’m a pussy, I just wait for them to fall off.”

“Ugh.” Eddie doesn’t have to fake his disgust. “People like you are the reason that Band-Aids float around in public pools. You should be jailed.”

“Sometimes I don’t bother with the Band-Aid and I just freebleed out there.”

Eddie frowns and looks up, thinking how silly Richie would look with a Band-Aid between his eyes instead of that little red line. “Is that a thing?”

There’s a choked laugh in Richie’s voice that makes Eddie sure the answer is Yes, but not in the context that I’m using it. “Freebleeding? Yeah, man.”

Eddie’s just gonna move on from that one. He adjusts his hand on the edge of the sink. “Just pull it off. Don’t put pressure on it or, like, on my back.” His ribs hurt. “And don’t look at the stitches.” He knows how conspicuous they are. “Or the wound,” he adds, a very real concern occurring to him. “You’ll throw up.”

“I will not.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Richie gives a short laugh and then says, voice uncharacteristically serious, “Okay, I’m not looking at your stitches, but does the adhesive or does it not go over them.”

Eddie takes a breath. He’s getting anxious here waiting for Richie to literally and figuratively pull the Band-Aid off. “A little bit.”

“And you promise I’m not gonna, like, pop them or…?”

He cringes again. “Well, I really hope not.”

Richie’s voice cracks up half an octave. “Oh, good! No pressure.”

“Yes, I just said, don’t apply pressure,” Eddie says, which makes Richie laugh a little nervously. The next thing Eddie knows, there’s a faint scratch on his back and he startles.

Richie whips his hand away immediately, like only with three feet of distance between it and Eddie’s body can it be trusted. “Did that hurt?”

“No, you just didn’t warn me.” He adjusts his grip on the towel—his fingers ache from behind held in one position for so long—and on the edge of the sink. Then he draws in a breath, feeling his ribs expand.

“Did you or did you not ask me to help you?” Richie demands.

“This is not my fault.”

“What fault?”

Eddie ignores him. Barring any truly massive fuckups, which anyway can’t compare to the experience of being impaled by a demon clown, this shouldn’t be so bad. He stares down at Richie’s dry toothbrush. “Okay, go ahead.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Richie quips, scratching again at the corner of the bandage. Eddie can feel when he gets a corner of it because the little scratch stops and Richie adjusts how he holds his arm. Eddie can feel the adhesive pulled taut against his skin. “So when you say Band-Aid—”

“Don’t just yank it off,” Eddie says. “Careful over the stitches, then once you’re clear, just pull really fast.”

That’s what I needed to know,” Richie says, carefully peeling at the top of the bandage. “The stitches I’m not allowed to look at?”



“Just don’t, all right?”

Richie scratches delicately at the opposite corner of the bandage now. Eddie’s so itchy all the time, it’s like torment. If Richie would just sink his nails into his back and drag them down, he thinks he would just dissolve over the sink.

Or maybe Richie would step in just a little bit closer and press up against him. Soft fabric of his t-shirt against Eddie’s side, hipbone pressing into Eddie’s flank high up on his thigh. Warm.

Richie puts on a vaguely mystical dialect, voice dropping low. “Your wish is my command.”

Peeling the bandage away from the stitches feels terrible. Not painful, really, or at least not pain that’s anything more than an irritant. Getting the suction cups from the heart monitor off his chest was so bad that Eddie yelped every time he got one free; this is just weird—it’s not weird if you don’t make it weird!—and worse he can hear the adhesive slowly yielding its grip on his skin.

“Roger, we are clear for takeoff,” Richie says, which makes Eddie blink. “Ready?”

He spreads his feet a little to brace himself and his left foot collides with Richie’s toes. Neither of them make any effort to move away. Eddie is thinking—takeoff? as in bandage takeoff?—and getting slowly madder and madder the funnier he finds it.


Richie pulls. There is a shocking absence of pain, his nerve endings reeling as his brain processes the tearing sound that cuts through the little room. Eddie gasps more as a way to fill the void and looks back up at Richie’s reflection in the mirror.

Richie’s eyes are wide and his face is classic I fucked up. Eddie waits for him to say Oh, sorry, you’re geysering blood back here, but instead Richie asks, “Was that okay? Did that hurt? I’m not looking.”

Eddie’s skin feels cold now in the stinging wake of the bandage. He blinks once, relieved, and then nods. “Didn’t hurt.”

Richie visibly relaxes, shoulders slumping a little as he sinks deeper in the slouch he uses to stay at Eddie’s eye level. Eddie doubts it’s even conscious, really—Richie’s back has got to be killing him, and he’s pretty sure if the stoop were on purpose Richie would have complained about how Eddie being short is bad for his spine or something.

“Oh, good, I was waiting for it to start, like—” He gestures his index finger wildly and makes short hissing sounds, indicating arterial spray hitting him in the face.

Eddie snorts. “It’s fine. That’s good, I’m good now. Thanks.”

“Right.” Richie looks down, not to Eddie’s back as he fears, but to the bandage still hanging from his fingers.

Eddie lunges for it immediately. “Don’t look!” He’s supposed to check it for fluid and the like, and make note of colors and smells, and he does not want Richie making any observations. He turns so that his back is to the door instead of to Richie and—

Richie is somehow closer than Eddie realized, despite standing within range of touching him. Eddie gets hold of the used bandage and whips it out of Richie’s hand—disaster averted?—and then becomes very aware of the towel between them.

Because Eddie’s half-naked. And his fingers, tired of clutching at the towel in the same position for so long, are practically screaming. And Richie is close enough to eclipse the door into the wetroom entirely, broad shoulders blocking that exit, seeming to take up twice as much space because of his duplicate in the mirror to the right. Richie’s no longer using the mirror to make eye contact with Eddie, instead staring straight down into his face. Somehow eye contact without the intermediary feels unadulterated in comparison, like the intensity doubles. The chill of the small room reminds him of the hospital and Richie is close enough that Eddie can feel the warmth he’s putting off, like a force field around him: just one step nearer. And Richie just looks him in the eye.

Eddie opens his mouth to say something, hesitates, and then closes it again.

Richie asks, “Can you get the one on your chest?”

His breath is sleep-bitter when he speaks, and it helps Eddie to remember he’s on a mission here.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, and takes half a step back. The end of the towel sways against his legs. He can also get the one under his arm from where his intercostal drain went, it was just that one, and now they can be done with this.

Richie doesn’t move. “Do you need to put the bandage back on when you’re done?”

“Uh, not sure yet,” Eddie manages, unwilling to admit that that’s dependent on the fluid on the bandage, which he will not be inspecting until Richie leaves.

“Okay.” Richie takes a step back into the doorway, looking just as weirdly hesitant as Eddie feels, and Eddie has no idea why. “If you do—I’ll be out here, then.” He steps backward into the wet room, then seems to become aware how ridiculous what he’s doing is and brings his arms up to wave in front of him mysteriously as he walks backwards out of the bathroom. He closes the door and everything.

Eddie stands there, then gives up and throws the towel down onto the countertop. What the fuck was that? What the actual fuck was that?

Take your shower, his survival instincts remind him ruthlessly.

When it comes to water pressure, the hotel showerhead errs on the side of “trying to power wash your useless man nipples straight off your body.” Eddie checks this before he gets in, having the foresight that blasting his injuries directly with a firehose might be bad for them. He adjusts the showerhead so that it’s pointing high instead of at his body, then curses to himself when his ribs inform him that he has exceeded his allotted range of motion.

It doesn’t stop him from outright moaning once he gets under the hot water. The spray drums on the back of his skull and he tips his head back into it so it soaks the crown of his head and wets his hair down. Hot water runs down the back of his neck and his shoulders. It’s warm. He feels warm for the first time since the hospital.

Showers are not places for indulgence, in Eddie’s world. In the fifth grade Eddie brought home a permission slip for a presentation which Sonia promptly refused to sign, and Eddie was the only child sitting by himself absently playing with yarn and doodling on his notebook, and then Bill, Stan, and Richie came back and Richie practically leaped into Eddie’s lap and asked Did you not go because you don’t have a DICK, Eddie? at top volume, which meant that Richie had to take a different note home to have his parents sign. But almost immediately after that Sonia sat him down and explained to him calmly that he was getting big now—those were the words she used, getting big, not growing up or getting older—and that meant he was vulnerable to certain kinds of illnesses he hadn’t been before, and that if he was going to take a shower he had to strictly time it so that he didn’t catch a chill.

(To this day, Eddie does not know why his mother thought he would be less inclined to jerk off in the bathtub than in the shower. Maybe she was relying on his natural revulsion at the idea of stewing in his own semen. Maybe as far as she was concerned baths were for babies and if her baby was in a bath nothing like that would even occur to him.)

Bill, blushing, and Stan, clinically, explained to him what he missed in the presentation anyway, and Richie made up a lot of stuff that Stan quietly disabused Eddie of by showing him a book his parents had given him. Then Bill stole a romance novel from a locked chest in his mother’s closet and they all bent their heads over that, Eddie dealing with fascination and revulsion, and later he went home and kind of idly tried one of the things described and accidentally discovered masturbation on his bedroom floor when he should have been sleeping. But the one thing that never changed is that Eddie learned how to take military showers—wet the whole body, step out of the spray, lather up, and rinse. Eddie is fairly certain that if he had gone so far as to turn off the water while he was soaping his mother would have been pleased by his strict practicality.

And showering every morning was part of his careful routine in New York, too—wake up, go jogging, shower, get ready for work, drive to work. The cardio dragged his heart rate kicking and screaming into something approaching wakefulness; the shower was the most energizing thing he did all day. He missed that while he was in the hospital—the conscious awareness that his brain was coming online, that he was coming into his faculties.

The water clears his head like it hasn’t in weeks. He has to squeeze his little travel bottles of face wash, shampoo, and conditioner with his left hand because his right hand doesn’t have the grip strength, but it’s fine. He has to tilt his head down to wash the hair at the crown of his head, and then tilt all the way back to guide his hands up the back of his neck, but it feels really good. He closes his eyes and opens his mouth and lets suds run over his face. He can taste it, just a little on his lips, bitter and clean.

The hospital recommended a certain kind of scentless soap to wash his injuries with, and also warned him not to go sticking his fingers in the hole in his chest. It’s basically an antibacterial hand soap, which means it comes with a pump; he squirts some of the orange stuff into his palms and then carefully cleans across his stitches, around the edges of his injury. He can’t get the stitches on his back so well—and he wishes he had a scrubber of some kind, because his shoulders also broke out while he was in the hospital banned from bathing—but he feels pretty okay about it. He does not inspect the shower curtain for mold; he does not think about Richie’s scalp massage or the little hotel-brand soaps and shampoos in here that Richie has clearly been using or the stray strands of black hair abandoned in the corners of the tub; he just cleans up and then tilts his head back again and lets the water run over him.

He should get out and get ready for breakfast; they’re saying goodbye to Mike before he sets off on his road trip of the national parks.

Just a little longer, though.

He’s in there long enough that his fingers prune, and isn’t that interesting to see when it’s not because he’s been scrubbing? He thinks he read something somewhere about it being an evolutionary advantage, giving humans a better grip on things when their hands are wet. Eddie thinks that’s interesting—here is one more thing your body knows how to do without you. Here is one thing you can trust your body to do on its own. Just for you.

When he gets out he pats his surgical sites carefully with the towel and then leaves them to air dry, which means wandering around naked in the bathroom and bedroom for a little bit as he rubs down his hair and legs. He sees that Richie left another shirt for him folded on the TV unit and shuffles around taking his pain meds, putting on clean underwear, applying moisturizer to the part of his face unencumbered by beard before he inspects it.

When he does, he demands out loud, “Oh, what the fuck, Richie?”

Richie in the next room starts laughing, which makes Eddie, mostly naked, both self-conscious and incensed at once. He starts to dress, putting on pants and socks and shoes before he goes for the shirt. He puts it on because he has to and he buttons it up to his throat, and then he storms out to confront Richie.

Richie is still hanging out in the long-sleeved t-shirt and boxers, clearly waiting for his turn in the shower because Eddie took a full fifteen minutes, and he looks nothing short of gleeful when Eddie walks out, which means he did this on purpose.

“Look,” Richie says between guffaws. “I just kind of threw everything in my duffel, you should be glad I have this many shirts to choose from. It’s that one or we’re gonna have to go buy you shirts until I can get to a laundromat.”

So it’s Richie’s fault that Eddie joins the Losers for breakfast wearing a shirt patterned with little skulls. He wrangles his old white zip-up hoodie over it and tries not to sulk, because he’s determined not to let this get in the way of being clean at last. Given the choice between wearing a dirty shirt or wearing this shirt, he’s going to have to stick with the skulls, but he feels like he’s really leaning hard into the whole mid-life crisis thing. Like the next thing he should do is go out and get a lip piercing.

Bev, also perpetually dressed in black and white, appraises him when he sits down. “Your hair looks so good!” she says.

Fluffy, is what Eddie’s hair looks like. He hardly even minds, despite that normally he has to tame it down before work. He sits down heavily at the table, braces his elbows on it, and holds his chin in his hands. He feels content enough he could go back to sleep. Quiet, in a way.

“Have a good morning?” Bev asks. Ben is sitting beside her, tracing around the rim of his coffee cup with his finger.

“That was the best shower I have had in my whole life,” Eddie says.

Richie looks around at him, expression dubious. “Now I feel weird about using it after you.”

Bev snorts and Eddie swats absently at Richie but not with any real intent to maim.

“You look nice,” Ben says earnestly.

“I like the shirt,” Bev says.

Eddie pulls a face.

When Mike comes down to the restaurant to join them—immediately visible over the partition celebrating their table from the rest of the restaurant, just because he’s so tall—he slides into the booth beside Eddie, drops one of those reusable grocery bags onto the bench beside him, and then considers Eddie’s chest.

“It’s Richie’s shirt,” Eddie says defensively, just to get that out there. Eddie does not own this shirt. Eddie is not responsible for this shirt.

Mike nods, mouth twisting up contemplatively. “I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

Eddie went to business school, but at least he recognizes that Mike is definitely quoting. The others around the table—artist, artist, and theater kid—are all focused on him, watching.

“He hath borne me on his back a thousand times,” Mike recites. “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?”

“I’ll show you some gambols,” Richie says, and Bev reaches out and puts her hand over the back of his and hushes him.

“Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her to this favor she must come.” Mike smiles, his teeth very white. “Make her laugh at that,” he says, his voice warm.

In the silence following, Ben begins quietly applauding, a careful golf-clap in the restaurant.

Richie says, “Jesus fucking Christ, Mike, can you pick a fucking comedy?” He pulls his hand out from under Bev’s and thunks his elbows down onto the table so that all the silverware rattles.

Bev shoves Richie’s shoulder and says, “It’s his goodbye brunch, he can quote whatever Shakespeare he wants.”

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Richie says. “I’ve never heard that rule before. And it’s all of our goodbye brunch.”

But it’s not, really, because Mike is leaving the group again and going off to do other things, and the four of them are trucking out to New York by one way or another. Eddie feels a little pang at the idea, some faint stirring of guilt—Mike has been alone for so long and now he’s going off to be alone again?

“What else can you do?” Ben asks, staring at Mike in open admiration.

Half of Mike’s face scrunches up in a wink. “Thus have I, Wall, my part discharged so. And, being done, thus Wall away doth go.”

Ben blinks. “Holy shit, Mike.”

Richie covers his face with both hands and peeps through his fingers. “I’m not cultured enough for this group.”

Eddie, feeling the odd one out, kicks him under the table. “You recognized it.”

“Everyone knows ‘Alas, poor Yorick’!” Richie says, surprisingly defensive. “It’s not weird!”

Eddie did not know that was Alas, poor Yorick. “He didn’t say, ‘Alas, poor Yorick’! Otherwise I would have known what the fuck he was talking about!”

“It’s the only thing you say to a skull!”

“That’s ‘to be or not to be’!”

“What did you think he was talking about, Eddie?” Bev asks.

Eddie feels something shift unsteadily in his stomach—not nausea, but a distinct feeling of I’m being made fun of, but I don’t know how. It’s been a long time since he felt like that—he’s spent most of his adult life cultivating the kind of persona that means his coworkers would never do that in front of him, and he didn’t expect to hear it from Bev.

Mike says, “So I have a gift for you.”

Eddie looks around at him and is somehow surprised when Mike is looking back at him instead of at anyone else at the table. “Me?”

“Yes,” Mike says.

Which is when Eddie remembers that he still has Mike’s mittens. He goes digging for them in his pockets, but they’re in his jacket, not in his zip-up sweatshirt. “I have your gloves,” he says. “Don’t leave, I have your gloves, I can go get them.”

“No,” Richie says loudly, “I’ll go get them, because I am your manservant and you are stoned.” He makes to get up from the table, completely ignoring the waiter approaching their table and looking bewildered.

“You can keep them,” Mike says.

Eddie stares at him. “No, I can’t. You have arthritis.”

“You can,” Mike says. “I’m good. That’s not your present.”

Eddie, flabbergasted at the idea of there being more, opens and closes his mouth like a fish. Mike grins and turns to the bag on the bench beside them.

“Where’s my present?” Richie demands.

“I’m sorry, did you die?” Mike asks without looking up.

Richie gives a weird barking laugh and settles in his chair again, apparently no longer willing to run and grab Mike’s gloves since Mike has formally bequeathed them. Eddie doesn’t push him on it only because he feels weird about sending Richie to fetch things for him.

Mike sets a shiny metal bottle down on the table in front of Eddie. “So this is a water bottle,” he says. “Very tight lid, no leaks, so that you can keep hydrating like it’s your job.”

“It is my job,” Eddie says almost automatically—which is better than announcing to the table that he has a urinary tract infection.

Mike smiles and his whole face scrunches up when he does it, looking genuinely pleased at Eddie’s joke. “And this—” He sets a thermos down on the table next to the water bottle. “Is the best thermos I’ve ever found. They had them at the camping store and I thought, Eddie needs one of these. I get up and I put my coffee in it at four-thirty, and it’s still hot when I drink it at two.”

“Why are you up at four-thirty?” Bev asks.

Richie asks, “Why don’t you drink your coffee for nine and a half hours?”

“Library-in’ ain’t easy,” Mike replies. “So. They need to be washed, but they’re dishwasher safe. Do not microwave them.”

“I would not microwave them, they are clearly made of metal,” Eddie says, tapping at the water bottle with a fingernail so it dings.

“I was talking to Richie.”

“Babe, I am a microwaving expert,” Richie says. “Nobody eats more TV dinners than me.”

Eddie pulls a face. Partially at the idea of Richie nuking Hungry Man meals sadly in Los Angeles—which does not fit in at all with his concept of Richie’s celebrity lifestyle but seems perfectly on-brand for the boy he once knew in Derry—and partially at Richie casually calling Mike ‘babe.’

“Thanks, Mike,” he says, and then, uncomfortable, rushes on into, “Hey, what’s the deal with microwaves?”

There is silence for a long moment, and then Richie repeats in a loud theatrical voice, “Hey, what’s the deal with microwaves? Because if I’m looking to make waves—” Accompanied, of course, by some obscene rocking in his chair. “—I’m serving yottas at the least.”

“Jesus Christ,” says Mike under his breath, and then looks up at the ceiling as though to apologize to God Himself. Ben frowns and takes out his phone.

“Because there’s all this hoo, radiation is bad for you, microwaves leak, blah blah blah, and I am just getting a sense of perspective, and also I can’t cook so I’m gonna be stuck with him—” Eddie jerks his thumb at Richie, appealing to Ben, Mike, and Beverly as reasonable human beings. “—and if Richie gives me cancer I’m gonna be pissed.”

Ben reports, “Yotta is the metric prefix for ten to the twenty-fourth power. Unfortunately, it checks out.” He sets his phone down. “Microwaves are not dangerous.”

“If I’m gonna give you cancer, at least it’s gonna be one of the fun ones,” Richie mutters.

That Eddie can’t ignore, turning to stare at him in horror. “What the fuck could that possibly mean?”

Richie just grins.

“Even if microwaves were dangerous, a leaking microwave doesn’t produce nearly enough radiation to damage a human,” Ben says.

Eddie takes a few deep breaths to let that process and, mercifully, the waiter appears in the lull in the conversation. He does not need to go look that up. Ben is extremely trustworthy. He makes good sandwiches. Eddie is okay with the idea of putting his safety in Ben’s hands, indirect as it is.

He orders an eggs Benedict, even though egg yolks are very dangerous materials. It’s the American government’s fault. Not enough evidence that salmonella vaccines are effective, Eddie’s entire ass. He’s gonna fight the whole Food and Drug Administration barehanded. He killed a demon alien; why the fuck not? He’s actually a little angry about it, as he eats his benedict, scowling.

“Honey, is your breakfast okay?” Bev asks.

“It’s delicious. I wanna kill the government,” Eddie says.

Richie presses his palm to his mouth and looks at Eddie, clearly smiling.

“What?” Eddie snaps.

“No, Eds, go on. The treason is cute.”

“I am not cute and I bet Bill’s having safe British eggs right now, because they vaccinate their fucking chickens.”

He’s never had hollandaise sauce before. It’s very rich. It’s delicious. He can’t finish it because his stomach is so shrunken thanks to his time in the hospital and all of his meds. He does shake out two Dramamine pills onto the table and hork them down with cold water. They’re chalky and start dissolving the instant they hit his tongue, and they’re bitter and disgusting. Eddie tries to get the taste out of his mouth first by drinking more water, and then by resting his fork in the sauce from the Benedict and then sucking it clean.

A number of text alerts go off around their table. Bev checks her phone. “Bill says he’s not eating eggs right now, but that someone on the set keeps pushing ‘egg mayo sandwiches’ at him.”

“That sounds disgusting,” Eddie says, which is how he knows he’ll end up trying it if he ever visits Bill in England.

“I think it’s just egg salad,” Bev says.

“Disgusting,” Eddie repeats.

“Do you want a hot chocolate?” Mike asks.

They drink hot chocolates. Midway through his Eddie feels suddenly as though he’s been struck over the head and says, “Whoa,” as the Dramamine kicks in.

“All right?” Mike asks over his mug.

Eddie nods, feeling faintly lightheaded. “Dramamine. Sleepy.”

“Guess we’ll split soon, then,” Mike says.

“The breaking of the fellowship,” Richie says mournfully.

“Nah,” says Ben. “You have my axe.”

Everyone contemplates whether Ben is the Gimli of the group. Eddie waits for the conversation to turn to Richie calling him a hobbit, because it will, and leans his forehead against Mike’s upper arm. Mike doesn’t seem to mind, continuing to sip his hot chocolate.

“Don’t get lonely,” Eddie instructs him in an undertone. “Don’t allow yourself to get lonely. The second you think you’re getting lonely, you need to come find us, all right?”

“All right,” Mike replies, voice warm with his smile.

“What the hell is that?” Eddie demands.

He has a limitation on how much weight he’s allowed to lift, because of the hole in his torso. So Ben and Bev came up to their hotel suite and Bev chatted with him while Richie and Ben hauled both Eddie’s suitcases and Richie’s duffel down to the car. Eddie was expecting the douchey rental car that Richie showed up to the Jade of the Orient in.

Instead it’s a Subaru. Eddie did not realize that was the vehicle they were heading towards until Richie hit the unlock button on his keyfob and Eddie heard all the doors click and looked around like the car pulled a gun on him.

“Yeah,” Richie says, casually throwing a peace sign. “Came with free Birkenstocks. Also the government has me on record as a lesbian now.”

“What the fuck?” Eddie demands. Drug-induced sleepiness means he doesn’t have the stamina to really get into this issue, despite it being a big thing he absolutely needs to get into. He’s carrying his own electric blanket—folded, like an adult this time, instead of wearing it like a cape. “Where the hell did you get that?”

“Bought it,” Richie replies calmly.

“You—” Eddie sways and has to brace himself on the Subaru. “You bought—you bought a car?”

“Yeah.” Richie yanks open the driver’s door and climbs in, which means that Eddie has to climb in to continue arguing with him.

“You just—you just went out and bought a car?” Eddie demands. “When?” Surely not while Eddie was in the hospital, or he wouldn’t have borrowed Mike’s truck to pick him up. There have been gaps of time over the last couple of days where Richie went into Bangor to do things and Eddie either slept or hung out on Ben and Bev’s couch, but Richie has not mentioned a car.

“I dunno, before Stan left,” Richie says. “I made him come with me.”

“You just bought a car. You took Stan and you bought a car.”

“Yeah, he drove me.” Richie indicates the center console. “Do you want your seat warmer on, or?”

“No!” Eddie snaps at him, because he’s perfectly capable of turning on a seat warmer himself and also he’s not allowed to sweat and if he gets cold (and he’s always cold, that’s part of why being in the shower this morning was so great) he has a blanket literally on his lap right now. “Why did you buy a car?”

“Because I couldn’t take the rental to New York.”

“I—” Eddie feels like he can’t even see straight. “You just went to a dealership and bought a car for the convenience.”

“I mean, it’s used,” Richie says. “But it’s in pretty good condition, I think. You can look at the CarFax if you want.”

“You—” His chest is collapsing in on itself. He leans back against his seat and takes some deep breaths.

Richie seems completely unbothered by this, putting the key in the ignition and turning the engine over so the Subaru rolls to life under them. Then he waves at Ben on the other side of the parking lot. “Can you get your seatbelt?”

“Yes.” This car is not as tall as Mike’s, and the seatbelt is about level with Eddie’s ear. He reaches for it with his left arm and buckles up without it being too agonizing. He adjusts the folded stack of the blanket on his lap. “I can’t believe you just bought a car. You didn’t have anything to trade in.”

“I paid cash,” Richie says.

“You did what?”

“I only had about nine thousand, I had to go used,” Richie says. Eddie’s mouth opens at nine thousand dollars and does not close. “But the salesman agreed it was in pretty good condition, here.” He holds his phone out to Eddie so Eddie can inspect the CarFax report for the vehicle. There is one record of work done on it to repair damage to the rear right quadrant of the body, but no record of an accident, and Eddie didn’t notice anything weird about the back of the car when he was approaching it. “We had it detailed and everything, but it was pretty clean when I did the test drive, too.”

“I—you—” Eddie’s body can’t hold this kind of stress. He can feel sleep coming over him like a curtain. He’s not passing out, he’s just having some kind of nap attack. He points a finger at Richie. “I’m gonna fall asleep, because I’m stoned, but we’re gonna talk about this when I wake up, all right?”

“Oh, counting on it,” Richie says, smirking a little. He takes his phone back, plugs it into the auxiliary cord, and pulls up Spotify. “If I play music will it keep you up?”

Even the sheer force of Eddie’s rage cannot keep him awake right now. “No. Just don’t play, like, heavy metal and I should be fine.”

“Easy listening for Eds, got it.”

What comes on is definitely “I’m Ready” by Fats Domino. Eddie, remembering vividly watching Gizmo the mogwai dance to this in the theater with Richie, slowly turns toward Richie with his eyes wide open and murderous. Richie says nothing but flutters his eyelashes at him expectantly, waiting for him to comment. Eddie turns back to face front.

Bev and Ben are watching them instead of getting into Ben’s car. From the smile on Bev’s face, she knows they’re arguing. Eddie waves at her and she waves back. Silver is visible tucked into the trunk behind her head. Richie waves at her and begins forming a complicated series of hand gestures, at which Eddie tilts his head all the way back in the seat and closes his eyes.

He’s out before they even hit the highway. Apparently nothing beats the way truly bone-deep relief relaxes your system, and Eddie can’t remember ever being as relieved as he is to put Maine behind him.

He doesn’t know how long it takes, but he wakes up later because Richie is singing. Jackson Browne is playing on the iPhone, melancholy and smooth; and Richie is singing along, but unlike Richie normally singing, where he matches every note and intonation of the singer—a perfect mimic as always—he seems to be spilling over every line. His voice drives. It pitches flat and sharp in different places—not always, just often enough to be noticeable.

He’s not singing along. He’s just singing. “While the veterans dream of the fight, fast asleep at the traffic light.”

Eddie doesn’t know why, but he closes his eyes again, shy about being caught observing this moment in a way he wasn’t shy about catching him talking to himself in the hospital room. If Richie had just been mimicking, he wouldn’t be shy at all. This, though, sounds like he’s catching Richie in the middle of something deeply personal. Richie honest, instead of performing.

“And the children solemnly wait for the ice cream vendor.”

Eddie thinks, We’re both. Some of the urgency of his drugged sleep has melted away a little with the foggy comfortable time he lost, but he can still hear with his ears and see the strange ghosts tossed up by his dreaming brain—Eddie in maybe the third grade, sneaking out the screen door on a summer day while his mother napped in the front room in front of the TV—closing the door so quietly! He oiled it himself earlier in the week—and Richie and Stan and Bill holding Silver waiting for him outside, Richie sucking down a Tweety Bird ice cream with the gumball eyes and holding an unopened Screwball in the other hand for Eddie.

Richie’s voice slows down and mellows, luxurious, stretching out the words, and it reminds Eddie of nothing so much as can you teach me how to dance real slow.

“Out into the coo—oo—ool of the evening strollllllls the Pretender,” Richie sings. Buttery as sundown in the summer, walking almost deserted streets, picking over the curbs and running his thumb over the new hardening scabs on his legs, scratching his mosquito bites raw, grass so green it made Eddie ache. “He knows that all his hopes and dreams begin and end there.”

There’s pressure in Eddie’s chest and the first thing he thinks is the habitual Oh shit, asthma attack, but it’s too low down. It’s not a breathing problem with his chest, it’s crushing pain, almost like heartburn, behind his wound. He waits for the surge of panic that should rightfully accompany it, the realization that he should have gone back to the hospital like Richie was urging—but then it releases. Like someone stuck a hand in his chest and squeezed his heart, just once.

Richie goes on singing: “I’m gonna find myself a boy who can show me what laughter means,” and Eddie understands all at once, with the weight of a coin dropping into a wishing well, that it’s not his injury. It’s Richie. It’s just fucking Richie, it’s Eddie being stupidly in love with Richie, this is what being in love feels like.

Eddie realizes he’s going to kiss him. Not right now—he’s still drugged to the gills and half-asleep and Richie is operating a motor vehicle—but it’s going to happen. He can feel it coming like planets sliding into alignment: slow, inevitable, the collision course. His heart gives a second smaller pang at the idea; there’s a sharp ache in his mouth under his tongue. Soon.


Chapter Text

Eddie wakes up and he’s warm. Not hot, not sweaty, nothing that’s gonna make him anxious about his incisions or his injuries. When he glances down he sees that Richie didn’t flick the seat warmer on while he was out (Eddie would yell at him for that; he said no already), and the electric blanket is folded on his lap, more puff than actual protection from the elements. The sun’s coming in through the window. Part of his brain begins to panic, trying to assess whether he can feel that reflective glow coming off his skin telling him he’s going to have a sunburn, whether you can get sunburned through a car window. He should know that by now, right? He should know whether you can get sunburned through a car window. But he can feel the sun on the back of his hands, on the side of his neck, cooking warm through the sleeves of his hoodie, sinking down into his bones.

He’s clean. He’s… comfortable. That’s what this is. This is comfort. And he’s in a car with Richie Tozier, and he’s heading out of Maine.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Richie singsongs. Only when he turns down the volume on the speaker does Eddie realize that the music he’s listening to is—dear god—“Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.”

“What the fuck, Richie?” Eddie demands.

“You’ll have to be more specific,” Richie says, voice lapsing down into the serious and clinical. “There are so many objectionable things about what I am and what I do.”

He blinks a couple of times and his vision fogs over; he’s definitely dehydrated. He blinks again, trying to clear it, and grabs the bottle of water in the cupholder. It’s unopened. He doesn’t remember putting it there. He braces the bottle between his thighs and cracks the cap with his left hand. “Stripes,” he says, and drinks.

Richie cackles. “Well, you’re awake. I was having to entertain myself, and I can’t do that the way I usually do, I’m operating a motor vehicle—” Eddie’s tired, but it’s Richie, he gets the joke; the illustrative pump of his hand is completely unnecessary.

Eddie swallows a mouthful of bottled water and says, “Jesus Christ.”

“So here we are,” Richie carries on doggedly, unencumbered by Eddie’s exaggerated disgust.

“I’m pretty sure that would be a crime.” They’re in a Subaru. They’re pretty low to the ground. People in tall vehicles—like, truckers, could see in. Truckers don’t want to see Richie’s dick.

The fact that it’s the very pinnacle of unsafe driving goes without saying, of course. This is all hypothetical.

“Yeah, can you see me not doing it?” Richie asks. His smirk looks like it’s out of control; one corner of his mouth is twitching a little. There’s something almost like a dimple tucked into his nasolabial crease, indentations within indentations. Eddie can see his crooked tooth from here.

Eddie tilts his head all the way back against the seat and sighs. “I’ve changed my mind. I want to ride with Ben.”

“Too late!” Richie crows. “Everyone wants to ride with Ben, but you’re trapped. There are childproof locks on the doors and everything.”

This offends Eddie almost more than the implication that Richie would jerk off while operating a moving car. “I’m not a child.”

Richie makes a noncommittal noise in his throat. “Uh, you’re short like one.”

Eddie flounders for an insult related to Richie’s appearance, because his brain is torn between five-nine is the average height in the world and holy shit Richie is built like a rectangle, what am I supposed to make fun of about that? He swallows and says pointedly, “You look like you emptied the chamber of a vacuum cleaner and glued what you found to your head.”

Richie’s cackling scales up into a shriek of laughter. Eddie immediately gets concerned that he’s the one operating the car. When they were kids Eddie always knew when he’d gotten off a good one because Richie would go boneless with his hysteria, and often silent. Depending on who was misfortunate enough to be within reach he would slump onto them, trying to hold himself up and, with the inevitability of someone drowning trying to clasp onto their rescuer, drag them down onto the ground with him. They had all been that person at one time or another—Bill, good-natured and tolerant, letting Richie sprawl across him; Stan, snapping Oh no you don’t, get off me, and shoving Richie away and Richie, too limp to press his point, would lie there heaped on his own limbs like a leafpile in fall; or Eddie, saying No! No! Richie! Not again! Richie! and Richie would fall on him with the weight of a collapsing skyscraper and pin him and Eddie would shriek at him and beat at him with the sides of his fists and kick, and Richie would laugh harder, seemingly unable to draw breath, until Eddie thought Richie was dying on top of him and made Bill drag him out by the wrists.

“I’m quitting my job,” Richie says, wiping at his eyes. “You be the comedian.”

“Absolutely not,” Eddie says. He closes his eyes again, though not because he’s tired. He screws the cap back on the bottle without looking, just because having any kind of open bottle in a moving car makes him nervous. The fingers of his right hand feel numb, but he holds the plastic cap between his knuckles and rotates it in place. “I have self-respect.”

“Do you?” Richie asks. “That’s new.”

And fuck him for that, since everything Eddie’s done since he’s woken up has been about walking the fine line of self-respect. Self-respect while coming out, self-respect while another man carries him to the bathroom, self-respect while choking down pills. Richie knows how much this bothers him.

Eddie, without thinking twice about it, reaches out and thumps Richie across the upper arm. The backs of his hand hits Richie in the bicep; his fingers hit just the edge of Richie’s chest. It’s completely automatic, a relic of an age where engaging with Richie just meant a certain amount of grappling—Richie folding his arms around Eddie’s shoulders, leaning on him, driving his knuckles into Eddie’s scalp, picking him up off his feet, wrapping his arms around Eddie’s knees and making Eddie collapse to the ground. Eddie opens his eyes and looks at his hand with surprise. He’s forty years old. He doesn’t think he’s struck anyone—anyone—since he entered the adult world.

But he’s not an adult, really, when he’s with Richie, is he? He’s an adult overlaid with the seven-year-old boy who met this kid with giant eyes behind his glasses on the playground.

Where is Eddie? When is he?

Richie is still laughing. “You’re here in a car with me,” he says, answering at least one of the questions without knowing. “How much self-respect can you have?”

Some of Eddie’s ire stills and fades. It wasn’t a dig on him in the first place—of course, of course, Richie knows where to cut where it’ll hurt, but he’s never maliciously cruel. Insensitive, sure, but he’s not gonna actually try to humiliate Eddie. And everything that Richie says comes back around to self-deprecation eventually. As if Eddie would actually drop Richie and hop into the backseat of Ben’s car, and sleep the ten hours to New York. As if a secret guilty part of him isn’t thrilled just to have the excuse to sit next to him.

Eddie rolls his eyes and says none of what he’s thinking except, “Where are we?”

“Still in Maine,” Richie says apologetically. “You were only out for about an hour.”

Eddie turns to focus on the road signs. I-95 is regrettably familiar, though he’s glad to be heading south on it this time. “295 coming up?” he asks Richie.

“I forgot you did that,” Richie murmurs, almost under his breath. At a normal volume, before Eddie can ask what that’s supposed to mean, he says, “Yeah, any minute now.” He yawns as though bored. “I’m fading, switch the playlist.”


“Playlist,” Richie repeats. “Look for ‘Songs That Never Fail to Make White People Beyond Turnt.’”

Eddie says again, “What?” for completely different reasons.

Richie lets his tone pitch into whiney. “Come on, Eddie, I’m driving responsibly, I need the energy boost.”

Eddie picks up Richie’s phone from its awkward perch under the dashboard and looks at the GPS app. There’s a little banner underneath the live map that shows what’s playing on Spotify; “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” has shifted to a song called “I Like It” that Eddie doesn’t recognize. He taps on the banner and he gets a warning about operating a phone while driving, to which he hits the I’m a passenger button (as though the app has any way of verifying that) and enters in Richie’s passcode. The playlist that’s currently running is titled “Girlfriend in a Coma.”

“Oh my god, Richie, are you still hung up on fucking Morrisey?” Eddie demands.

He remembers that from the 1988 school year—the Smiths had just broken up, and none of them had any idea what to say to Bill—at forty, Eddie still doesn’t know what to say to someone whose brother has just been murdered, so how could he have been expected to know at twelve?—and half the time they were too afraid to go to the Denbrough house and see Georgie’s room in its perfect timeless preservation. The rest of them had minded Georgie less than Bill had, it seemed, and every one of them remembered in vivid detail all the times Bill had said Go away, Juh-Georgie! and Georgie shouted back I’m gonna tell Mom! and ran back to the house, and then the kid was dead. Kids were dead all the time in Derry; kids were missing; but Bill was broken up, and none of them knew how to be broken up then. Richie seemed to be trying it out, that year, lying on the floor in Eddie’s room with his hands folded behind his head, the volume turned all the way up on his Walkman so Morrisey played tinny through the headphones. And you’ll never see your home again/ Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.

Inexplicably, Richie says in a deep metallic Voice, “How your backyard barbecue going, the Smiths? Pretty good, it doesn’t seem.”

“What the fuck?” Eddie asks, and Richie breaks out of the Voice and gives a full belly-laugh that fills up the car the way a mushroom cloud balloons into the air and then expands.

He clicks out of the playlist and looks at the array that Richie has available, genuinely curious. Growing up he always figured that Richie had his finger on the pulse of everything music—he talked about staying up recording things off the radio—and then they met Mike and Mike knew all about rock and roll. Between Mike’s height and his effortless grin and his wisdom and the way he looked at Bill Denbrough like he understood him, Eddie used to wonder what would have happened if Mike went to their school with them, if he’d have had the patience for their little pack. Richie was cool, but Richie was just cool to them, cool in a secret way that belonged to Eddie, in a way that snuck up on them over the course of years; Mike was cool from the beginning, and Eddie was a little jealous of him, a little jealous of the way he and Richie were always passing tapes back and forth. Getting to look at Richie’s playlists now feels a little bit like opening a vault—even if he is a grown man who voluntarily listens to “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.”

Richie’s playlists are inscrutable from their titles. “Girlfriend in a Coma.” “Into the Ocean.” “SMOOTH.” “Weepinbell.” “Metal Sound.” “Mail Goblin.” “Freezer Tetris.” “Do This Anymore.” “Real Quick.” “A Bit of a Reputation.” “Not a Good Person…” “Skeleton You Are…” Eddie can’t even credit these to song names. One is just titled “Valentina Tereshkova.”

“Is that the first woman in space?” Eddie asks, thrown.

“Who?” Richie asks.

“Valentina Tereshkova?”

Prost,” Richie says, cracking down into a Russian accent.

More. “He Doesn’t Look a…” “Stop Lying.” “Thankful for Spiders,” and what appears to be its sequel, “Thankful for Knorr Pasta Sides.” “Here for the Cheddar.”

“What cheddar?” Eddie asks.

“I had a gig in Vermont,” Richie says.

Eddie stares at him. “What happens in Vermont?”

“Cheese,” Richie replies, as though it’s obvious. “Of the cheddar variety.”

“Fire On The Mountain.” “I have to tell you a…” “Phlebotomy.”

“That’s what I play when I have a blood draw!” Richie says brightly, seeing Eddie linger on this last. Eddie opens it up and sees that it is all, indeed, puns on hearts, blood, and variations thereon. “Drops of Jupiter” is on there, as is “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)” by Fergie.

“Is this what you listened to while you were donating me blood?” Eddie asks.

“Yes,” Richie says, “and then I started crying along to Herman’s Hermits, and Bev took my phone away.”

Eddie has no idea how seriously to take that claim. “You are a nightmare person,” he says, instead of saying Thank you for your blood and also for saving my life. “And you are forty. I’m pretty sure you are legally banned from saying ‘turnt.’”

“I didn’t make that one,” Richie admits. “I found it online. Come on, it’s full of road trip staples.”

“Road trip staples?” Eddie asks, skeptical, and when he opens up the playlist he sees that the first track on it is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” “Oh no.”

“Eddie,” Richie says.

“No, no, no.”

“Eddie,” Richie wheedles.


“Eddie,” Richie whines.

Twenty minutes later, Eddie is surprised to learn that he does know the song “All the Small Things” by blink-182, just because he only recognizes the chorus. Eddie doesn’t have enough breath in his body to sing along, but he doesn’t mind Richie bellowing along, and he gives it his best shot. He’s never been the best singer anyway.

They stop at a rest area in New Hampshire, because it’s about time for lunch. While the Dramamine means that Eddie isn’t hungry, he suspects that if they wait for him to get hungry before they stop and eat something, Richie will be ready to resort to cannibalism by the time that they get to his parents’ house.

Eddie feels no input from his innards at all—no nausea in his head, his throat, his stomach, his bowels—and this is such a pleasantly alien sensation that he immediately gets anxious about his dependence on pills again. He told Bill to throw them all out for a reason. He has ibuprofen, Tylenol, and his painkillers and antibiotics. He also has a powder laxative he’s supposed to mix into his beverages at mealtimes, but so far he’s been able to avoid the indignity of having to do that in front of other people. The texture makes him think he’s drinking, like, those silica packets you get when buying a new suitcase, melted on a stove.

He stresses a little bit, once he’s out of the rest area bathroom, considering his options. He’s dependent on Richie to buy his lunch (and his dinner, and his breakfast tomorrow, and in fact every meal until he can sit down in front of a computer and work out what’s going on with his bank, because he does not believe that a prepaid cell phone is a secure method of organizing one’s finances), and he’s tempted to just tell Richie to buy two of whatever he’s getting, eliminating the pressure of choice. Then he stares from the Starbucks to the McDonalds to the Popeye’s to the Sbarro. Sbarro is a safe choice, right? Eddie could just have a slice of pizza and call it a day. He’s trying to broaden his horizons, but he doesn’t think he’s ready to try eating red meat from a fast food place; he and Myra watched Super Size Me once upon a time and, while he read many criticisms about the misrepresentation of the scientific method done in that film, it all kind of blended together with what little he remembers of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle from college. He is unable to differentiate between his reasonable health concerns about fast food and his intrusive thoughts that some of the meat in his burger might be human.

He’s trying to get over his hypochondria. Replacing it with a phobia of accidental cannibalism will not improve his mental health.

Hands come down on his shoulders and he startles; he can smell the artificial cherry scent of the pink soap from the men’s room. He almost tilts his head back in relief at confirmation that Richie washes his hands—it’s not that he thought Richie didn’t wash his hands, but Myra talks about her past in foodservice sometimes, explaining how washing hands after shaking hands with men is standard protocol, and Eddie immediately adopted that as another reason not to touch other men more than he had to shake hands in a business setting.

He does tilt his head all the way back to look up at Richie, reminded of the way Richie would just grab him in high school, trying to startle him. “Uh-uh,” he says calmly at Richie’s broad smile. No dice. Eddie has lived through the most terrifying thing a human being (seven human beings) can live through. Richie’s gonna have to try fucking harder, or bust out the psychological horror, or threaten Eddie with a Big Mac if he wants to get a reaction out of him.

Richie puts on an exaggerated pout and then sticks just the tip of his tongue out at Eddie, a childish gesture curiously understated considering Richie’s usual showmanship. Eddie’s entire body flushes hot and he looks straight ahead, staring at the line for Starbucks.

Should he decide where he’s eating based on line length? That would be practical, right? And his stomach has shrunken that maybe he just wants something small. He’s trying to make serious decisions here, all right? What’s Richie distracting him for?

“Hey,” Richie says.

Eddie does not tilt his head back to look up at him again; it would feel too much like baring his throat. “What?” he demands.

Richie’s hands, still on Eddie’s shoulders (big, touching his collarbone, almost touching the side of his neck, what the fuck does he need such big hands for do not think of possible answers to that), slide down and tighten on Eddie’s sleeves, and then he physically turns Eddie in place. Eddie goes along with it for reasons he can’t articulate, except that it was always easy to let Richie manhandle him when they were kids, because Richie was immune to Eddie’s reprimanding slapping hands, and Eddie is obviously regressing.

Eddie twists his head to try to get a read on what Richie’s doing from his face. Richie is hunkered down into the perpetual stoop he has when interacting with Eddie, trying to get at his level. There’s an almost manic look behind his eyes, the same excitement with which he spat back Fuck you! at the restaurant in Derry, the joy of falling back into a comfortable pattern like a well-worn pair of shoes; and the twist of his mouth is almost triumphant.

He brings Eddie to a standstill and leans down so his chin is on Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie leans his head back so Richie’s not quite so in his face, bewildered, before he thinks to look in the direction Richie has pointed him.

It’s a Cinnabon.

Eddie makes a little involuntary noise deep in his throat.

Richie loses it completely, nearly falling over; he tries to steady himself on Eddie but Eddie hisses a little at the sudden weight and Richie lets him go almost immediately, reaching out to brace himself on one of the little square tables. Eddie blushes for reasons he doesn’t fully understand as innocent passersby look around at the crazy man yukking his head off in the rest area.

“Stop it!” Eddie hisses. “Shut up! Stop!”

Richie has tilted forward and is clutching at his own chest and seems to be trying to get his breath back. “Oh my god,” he gasps. “So I know what you’re having.”

“I’m supposed to have protein,” Eddie hisses. He wants to fold his arms over his chest but he’s leery about putting pressure on his surgical site; he’s about due for another dose of painkillers and he’s trying not to make it angry.

“I will buy you protein bars,” Richie says. “I will get you a thing of protein powder and one of those gallon tanks of water and you can lick at it like a little hamster all the way to my parents’ place, but you have to eat a cinnamon bun. You have to.”

Eddie, who has previously been a big believer in supplementing one’s diet with the vitamins and nutrients necessary, is now accustomed to swilling powder laxative mixed with bottled spring water out of a hotel coffee cup in the middle of the night when no one is there to see his shame.

“Protein powder is disgusting,” he says, a hard stance he has never felt the urge to take before despite his affinity for hard stances.

“So not that,” Richie says. “I’ll go out into the wilds of the greater Boston area and bring you back a cow you can eat raw, I do not care. Tell me you do not want a cinnamon bun.”

“Uh,” Eddie says.

Richie grins at him.

“I shouldn’t,” Eddie says.

Richie grins wider.

The cinnamon bun is so huge that Eddie has serious concerns about his ability to finish it on his shrunken stomach—or worse, what if he does finish it and it exceeds his stomach capacity but he can’t tell because of the Dramamine and he throws up without warning in Richie’s new car? He unwinds it very slowly and eats carefully, remembering Bubble Tape. Richie brought it to school one day and Eddie—who never got junk food or things from the check-out display at the grocery store because his mother had opinions on what was healthy for young boys—got very excited, because usually when Richie brought a treat to school he was willing to share, until Richie opened up the big plastic puck it came in and revealed he had taken a bite out of the side of the roll. You can have a piece, Richie told him, grinning widely, like he expected to turn down the segment of tape marked by Richie’s teeth marks, Richie’s saliva. Eddie glared at him and took two strips, looking at the odd flat shape of his incisors and how it had crushed the gum in the middle of the wheel.

Richie also gets a cinnamon bun, just aggravating Eddie’s feelings of we are apparently not adults after all. And to make it even worse, he’s ignoring it in favor of scrolling through his phone, his glasses pulled low on his nose, his chin tilting his head down, holding the phone up high in front of his face so he can see it. Eddie remembers seeing press photos of Princess Diana; Richie is absolutely Princess Diana-ing at his phone right now. If Richie’s taking photos of himself Eddie’s going to mock him within an inch of his life.

“Okay, so Maggie’s texting me,” Richie says.

This does not surprise Eddie, since they’re going to Maggie Tozier’s house.

God, is Eddie going to have to call Richie’s mother by her first name to her face? Is he going to have to interact with her and accept that she’s opening her home to him in his hour of need, knowing that in a dire and extremely inappropriate moment he said to Richie I fucked your mother? Is Eddie going to have to meet the Toziers for the first time as an adult with a serious injury, a horrible itchy beard, a still-healing cheek wound, wearing their son’s clothes?

Is it too late for Eddie to shave and buy a suit and pretend he’s Edward Kaspbrak speaking again? He never had any problem calling Myra’s mother Judith. It was how she introduced herself. She fed him chicken-noodle soup and told him how nice it was to finally meet one of Myra’s boyfriends, which made Myra blanch but say nothing. Later she explained to Eddie (furiously kicking off her shoes and flinging them across the apartment) that there were no other boyfriends and Judith knew it and this was all her being a passive-aggressive bitch who always moved the goalposts as soon as Myra came in sight of them.

God. Not only does Myra probably hate him, he’s kind of anxious about how her family’s taking the news. Not because he cares about them as people—Myra was frequently enraged by her mother, her much older sister, a niece who’s an evangelical Gnostic Christian; and Eddie of course had no desire to talk about Sonia, so they had a real self-contained relationship that slowly began stifling the life out of Eddie—but because Eddie cut and ran, and who does Myra have if not him?

Fuck, he’s going to have to call her.

“So do you want to get dinner on the road?” Richie asks him. “Because we’ll probably get there around like four, so we can either eat at old man standard time, or my parents can—” His voice drops into a Voice, inexplicably low and hoarse: “—start making a casserole. Does Eddie like chicken? Which of your little friends was the one who wouldn’t eat chicken?

Oh fuck Richie’s parents want to cook for him? And Eddie hates chicken—or more appropriately, the chicken farming industry. He hates Big Chicken.

“No,” Eddie says immediately. “Do not—do not let your parents cook for me. Listen. Look at me.”

Instead of putting the phone down Richie moves it to the side like a slide transition and stares up at Eddie from under his short black eyelashes. Eddie reconsiders his life choices, momentarily stunned.

He fumbles back to his intended purpose. “Do not let your parents cook for me,” he says. “Do not. Not today. Not tomorrow. No.”

Richie grins suddenly, his face going soft under the glasses, his eyes big and black. Something wrenches in Eddie’s chest. “Guess I’ll tell Maggie you hate her cooking,” he says, raising his phone again, eyes going half-lidded again as he focuses on the screen.

“That’s not what I said! That’s not what I said!” Eddie grabs for the phone with his icing-sticky fingers, and Richie laughs and holds his wrist in the air, twisting in his chair to play keep-away. “They didn’t invite me, they’re not allowed to put themselves out for me, do not let them cook for me.

Once he gets Richie to concede (smirking, “okay, okay”), the cinnamon bun is really good. He can only manage about three quarters, but he saves the last small central whorl of the roll in the little box container. It’s always the softest, sweetest, best part.

Richie turns the music off basically as soon as they cross the Massachusetts state line. Eddie, who has been getting more and more nervous since they entered New Hampshire, is secretly a little relieved. Richie’s not a terrible driver, but once the Massholes enter the arena he chokes up on the wheel and sits up straight for once in his life. He hates Priuses, is appropriately impatient with minivans, and cusses out an Audi A4 that deliberately drives at a pace to prevent him from switching lanes. At one point he mutters, “Oh, Corolla,” and inclines his head in a way that makes Eddie think he’s about to thump it on the steering wheel, just giving up.

The closer they get to the city, the closer bumpers get. It’s after three PM on a Tuesday; their Subaru has it a little bit easier than everyone trying to exit the city on their approach, but when they cut sideways around Worcester (which Richie says loudly every time he sees a sign for it, all too much enthusiasm: “WUSS-TAH!”) they get stuck in the rest of the corporate rush. Eddie starts stomping on his imaginary brake and contemplates taking another Dramamine, just while they’re here, to knock himself out through the state of Massachusetts. Then he decides that would fall under the umbrella of “abusing medications for other than their intended purpose” and is, regrettably, out of the question.

Actually Richie doesn’t do terribly. Eddie has high standards for driving, and the fact that he was recently in a car accident while driving while talking on the phone has not changed that at all. He isn’t sure how Los Angeles traffic compares to New York traffic, but he’s certainly of the opinion that Boston traffic is entirely lawless; that people make up lanes where they don’t exist; that instead of waiting their turn like every other motherfucker in this city they try to bend their cars like they’re trying to bend bullets in that movie with Angelina Jolie and somehow it all seems to work. Eddie is furious about Boston drivers both on behalf of the city of New York and the laws of physics.

Richie says nothing but he grits his teeth and leans forward in his seat and occasionally mutters extremely uncreative insults to himself. Eddie watches the little muscle pulsing near the corner of his jaw and eventually becomes aware of a smell very much like hot metal. At first he assumes that this used car that Richie paid cash for is about to catch fire, Eddie should have bothered him more about the car when he got in, he should have, he should have.

Then he realizes that it’s Richie. This is Richie stress-sweating. He has a certain smell.

Eddie’s body, surprisingly, has no input on whether a sweaty metal-smelling Richie is more or less appealing than a cool space-invading leather-smelling one, because it is too busy involuntarily clenching his hands on his electric blanket and his Cinnabon container and sliding his feet into the corners of his footwell, looking for pedals. Eddie’s brain decides it’s a good time to stop thinking about Richie’s jaw muscle and just to tilt his head back and recount the reasons he’s glad he’s alive, and not think about getting into an accident in the Greater Boston Area or the awkward phone call he’s going to have to make to his wife sooner rather than later or how he’s avoiding checking his email because he’s afraid that Erika fired him in his admittedly unexcused absence or whether Richie’s parents are going to assume Richie has brought a vagabond with him. Thinking about Richie sweating makes Eddie worry that he might start sweating, so he turns up the air conditioner and points all the passenger vents more effectively at himself, and Richie says nothing as the temperature in the car slowly trends toward the sub-arctic.

When they get clear Richie’s mouth opens and he sighs and slumps back a little in his chair, and then he glances at Eddie. “We made it!” he says, and then does a double-take, looking at Eddie for a longer moment, and then starts laughing.

“Eyes on the road!” Eddie snaps at him. “What?”

“Oh my god, you look like I took you on a rollercoaster,” Richie says. “You have crazy hair and everything.”

Eddie, well-aware of his hair’s tendency to become fluffy when it’s clean, self-consciously pushes his fingers through it. “Fuck off,” he says. “I can’t believe you bought a red car. Don’t you know they get stopped more than any other car? Combined?” He can’t actually remember if the combined statistic is true, but he knows that red cars are stopped most frequently by police.

“Nobody actually gets stopped for traffic offenses in Massachusetts,” Richie says.

“That is not true,” Eddie says hypocritically.

“It is true. As long as your car doesn’t touch another car, it’s the wild wild west out here, and you don’t wanna see my hand where my hip be at.”

Richie reaches out and punches the power button for the speakers, and they wait for a few moments while the system tries to identify the aux cord. Eddie watches the screen, watching it flick one by one through sources before landing on AUDIO CD and then spitting out a track number.

“Did you bring CDs to Derry?” Eddie asks, just making sure.

Richie glances at him and then at the screen in a neatly-executed double take. “No,” he says.

The speakers warble, “Advances in Geriatric Medicine: Disk Three of Eight.”

Eddie bursts out laughing. Richie bypasses laughter and goes immediately into silent convulsions, his hands tightening on the steering wheel like it’s a life raft, his head sinking down as he strains to keep his eyes on the road while also doing his can’t contain the hilarity of the situation and also remain upright routine.

“I guess now we know why your used car was in such good shape,” Eddie says.

Richie gasps, “Text Stan. Text Stan right now.” He draws in a breath and then says airlessly, “Oh my god what’s that doctor going to do when he realizes he’s missing a whole twelve-point-five percent of the latest advances in geriatric medicine.”

It’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. “Kill one in eight patients,” Eddie replies seriously, and waits.

Richie, clinging to the steering wheel, grinning so hard it looks like his teeth have to hurt, squints and blinks as his eyes water. “I’m driving. I’m driving,” he begs, his voice all have mercy.

“But he’s in geriatric medicine, so no one will notice,” Eddie portends ominously. It’s not a Voice; but if he were to do a Voice, which he isn’t, he’d be going a little bit for spooky fortune teller. “It’s our duty to listen to this CD so that we can save them.”

Richie howls and slams the power button for the speakers. “Put on the fucking music, I don’t wanna spend any more of your nine lives. Fuck.”

Trees line the highway. Eddie has never driven on Connecticut-66 before, but it’s activating old parts of his brain the way that driving into Derry did that first time. Here are towns you can drive through. Here is a little narrow pizza place with an inaccessible parking lot. Richie’s no longer even bothering to follow the GPS; he knows where he’s going.

“How often do you come see your parents?” Eddie murmurs. He doesn’t know why he’s getting so quiet, but something about the gray and green of the surroundings makes him feel like coming home from church on Sundays, knowing that if he’s quiet and he eats his lunch his mother will fall asleep in front of the TV and he can escape out to the Barrens. Something about the safety of the woods, so close by.

“I’ve been here like twice since they moved,” Richie says, frowning. “And that was, like…” His brow furrows hard, squinting at the road like he’s doing the math in his head. “Oh fuck, ’95?”

“Really?” Eddie asks. He’s trying to remember when they actually left Derry. Eddie went off to college the fall after he graduated high school, so that has to be something; and he knows that the Denbroughs left before that, sold the house and moved on and Eddie never heard from his old best friend again until he walked into the Jade and saw Bill in front of the fish tank. When was that? Ben was gone long before that, he did high school somewhere else; and Bev, after the whole thing with her dad, Eddie’s pretty sure she became a ward of the state or moved in with an aunt or something. But Eddie doesn’t remember the last time he saw Richie.

He decides to stop pushing that particular mental bruise. He’s afraid to know the last time he saw Richie. The last things they said to each other. Whether they cried.

The man in question has a faraway kind of look in his eyes now they’ve relaxed. “Christ, yeah,” he says. “I’m pretty sure it was ’95. Fuckin’ shit.”

He turns onto Connecticut-85 and drives. Trees. Eddie looks at them—big old stands of pines, dark green as though to spite the turning of the seasons. It makes him think of Mike out in Yellowstone to see the changing of the leaves; Mike was always there, to the very last moment. Mike’s dad got sick in their very last years of high school, when Eddie was eighteen and hiding his scholarship applications from his mother, and Mike was walking around as volatile as he’d ever been, unlike himself, and Eddie didn’t know what to do. He’d lost a dad at three; what did he know? Ben lost a dad in Vietnam, but he wasn’t there to consult. And—Zack Denbrough had died, Eddie remembers suddenly with startling clarity; that was why the Denbroughs had left, just Bill and Sharon in the end. Just a boy and his mother.

Richie slows and hits his turn signal. There’s an old movie rental place up on the left, with its windows boarded shut but the film reel art around the crest of the building still vivid. Eddie thinks of B-movies again, of Gremlins. Behind that lot there’s a grocery store; Eddie automatically turns his head to look at the sign as Richie guides the car past that particular turn. A bank. A dental office.

“Is that your dad’s place?” Eddie asks. “I mean—was that your dad’s place?”

“God, for a while, yeah,” Richie says. There’s a big window sticker of an anthropomorphized tooth and toothbrush that’s visible even from here. The name on it now is—

“Is that Dr. Molere?” Eddie asks, incredulous.

“Yep.” Richie pops the P; it makes Eddie think of Greta Keene snapping her bubble gum.

“Did you know about this?”

“No, I didn’t fucking know about this, don’t you think I would have made the Dr. Molere joke already?”

“Your dad got replaced by a Dr. Molar.”

“Serves him right for all the wisdom teeth he yanked. Someday the tooth fairy will do all our jobs, Eddie, and we will be slaves in the bicuspid mines.”

Eddie cringes reflexively, imagining the thump of the pick like something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He knew that whatever Dr. Tozier did during dental examinations, it wasn’t all counting his teeth and congratulating children on growing the full set, but he always managed to close his eyes when that sharp little metal implement came out. Eddie knew that if he made a fuss, his mother (in the chair in the corner, fanning desperately at herself with a trifold handout) would make a bigger fuss, and Eddie didn’t want that, couldn’t afford the consequences.

They drive on. It’s a series of narrow residential streets beyond that, all the families served by the long strip of a grocery store. A white picket fence comes up on the left, but it doesn’t bracket a house, it brackets a round pond full of weeds. There’s an old-fashioned white archway with a metal gate in front of it, but there’s a padlock hanging on it. He doesn’t know why but he shivers and tucks his hands under the electric blanket.

“You good?” Richie asks him. “You can fuck around with the AC if you want, I don’t care.”

“How far are we?”

“Like three streets.”

Eddie will make it.

At some point Richie mutters, “Fuck, I think it’s this one” and turns left onto another residential street. Then he says, “Yeah, this is it, they still have the goddamn deer. Look.”

Up on the right, toward the very end of the road before it vanishes into the woods, is a big square planter box. Eddie can’t see what’s growing there, but he sees two small deer standing very still beside the mailbox, and as they draw closer he realizes from their stillness that they are statues. He wonders if the Toziers got very into lawn art from 1995 onwards, but Richie makes no move to guide the car into the driveway of that particular house, and Eddie realizes they’re driving into the woods.

Not so far, though. Richie turns right just after the deer, after a narrow strip of pine trees separating the standard suburban cookie-cutter house from… what Eddie strongly suspects to be Richie’s parent’s house. There’s a big outbuilding garage straight up ahead from this narrow path, and on the left is a massive lawn.

“Richie,” Eddie says. “Do your parents keep bees?” Because there are two bee boxes there, standing on either side of a tall garden planter. Wire trellises stand empty of tomatoes.

“Yeah,” Richie says, and then starts laughing. “Hey, do you remember how you said you had birth control you were saving for my sister? Because Went and Maggie went out and got like a hundred and twenty thousand of them, go stick your dick in that hive.”

“Fuck you!” Eddie says automatically.

The gravel driveway is long and well clear of the bees. As they creep up toward the garage, a gray-haired man creeps out from behind the house, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest.

Holy shit, Eddie thinks, because he understands suddenly what Richie’s going to look like at seventy.

He has no real memories of what Wentworth Tozier looked like when Eddie was a kid, but now Eddie can see the similarities between him and the man Richie grew to be. Dr. Tozier’s face is thinner, more rectangular to Richie’s square, and a little rounded in the face and cheeks from fat. Ruddy, almost, though that could be from cold. The hair on the top of his head has mostly given up, but on the sides it’s pale gray and kept very neatly. He’s barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a navy T-shirt, and his glasses are very like Richie’s except for how thin and rounded the wire frames are. But he has the same slashing brows, the same chin and jaw. The same inexplicable height.

Richie parks the car and rolls the window down. “The fuck are you doing out here? Don’t you have, like, Minnetonkas or something?”

“Ah yes,” Dr. Tozier says, and Eddie startles at how hard it is to hear him over the muted sound of the engine, because his voice is hoarse, hoarser even than you expect from an old man. Exactly as hoarse, in fact, as the Voice Richie did at the rest area. “The kind of respect I come to expect from my son, throwing himself on me for sanctuary.”

Richie grins and tilts his voice up into something Eddie finds old and familiar. “I brought my laundry. Can Eddie stay over?” He cuts the engine.

In the sudden quiet, Dr. Tozier leans forward a little. He doesn’t step onto the gravel, but he does peer into the car to look at Eddie. “Edward Kaspbrak,” he says, and Eddie’s almost startled to hear his full name out of the man’s mouth. “Well, you look just the same. What’s with the beard?”

Eddie resists the urge to cover his own face with his hands. “Your son kidnapped me. Please call the FBI.”

Richie snorts and gets out of the car. He and Dr. Tozier exchange a perfunctory hug, Richie uncharacteristically careful as though his dad is fragile, Dr. Tozier with no such compunctions, slapping Richie on the back. Eddie, awkwardly, unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out, leaving his electric blanket and his square little Cinnabon box on his seat. When Dr. Tozier straightens he’s almost of a height with his son, and Eddie realizes with a shock that there’s a hole at the base of Dr. Tozier’s throat with a little plastic device in it. He’d guess that at some point Dr. Tozier had a tracheotomy.

When Dr. Tozier turns to Eddie, he covers the hole with a fingertip. “They don’t take my calls anymore, they just assume I’m using a vocoder. Last time I tried to report on what Richie was doing I was almost framed for the Zodiac killings, so.” He shrugs.

“I hear they got Ted Cruz for that,” Richie says.

Dr. Tozier snorts, and when he does that he looks and sounds identical to Richie. “That’s right.” He tilts his head toward the house; Eddie realizes he’s standing not on grass, but on a path of round stepping stones set in the yard. “Come on in.”

Eddie looks to Richie and Richie jams his hands deep in his jacket pockets before following his father. Eddie follows his lead. Dr. Tozier leads them up to a back porch with multiple stories, up four stairs, and into the back door.

“The front’s swollen shut,” he says. “Weather. We finally got central air, though.”

“Oh, just in time for October?” Richie asks.

“Couple years ago, wiseass,” Dr. Tozier says. He holds the door open and calls inside, “Maggie my love, I’ve brought you a gift.”

Richie blanches as he steps in onto a thick wool weather mat, and Eddie looks at him sharply but Richie doesn’t seem to notice.

“Are you regifting after forty years?” Mrs. Tozier asks, coming into the kitchen. “Did you labor thirty-six hours for it too? Hi, Richie.” Eddie’s startled by how tall she is; he knows that when he was a kid all adults looked tall, but Mrs. Tozier must be at least five-eight, standing eye level with him. She leans around Richie and grins at him. “Eddie Kaspbrak, don’t you look just the same.” She holds her arms out.

“Eddie’s had surgery, Ma, don’t break him,” Richie says, and Eddie’s inexplicably relieved to hear him call her by anything other than her first name.

“I’m fine,” Eddie snipes back.

Mrs. Tozier immediately raises her arms and clasps the back of Eddie’s head instead of his torso. She presses her temple to his and then lets him go; Eddie looks at Richie in something like alarm, but Richie has gone tight-lipped and pale. Mrs. Tozier holds Eddie at arm’s length, inspecting him. “The beard is new,” she allows.

“That’s what I said!” Dr. Tozier says, closing the door behind him.

“That’s not what you said,” Richie says immediately.

Eddie wonders if he should apologize for his facial hair. He should have just bought a Conair trimmer or something at the drugstore—now that he’s confronted with the consequences, he can only think of all the non-blade options available to him.

“Can’t hear you,” Dr. Tozier says without missing a beat. “Enunciate, Richard.”

“Enunciate this,” Richie suggests, and flips his dad off. Eddie is horrified, ready to grab Richie by the sleeve and drag him out to the car, apologize for bothering the Toziers, call Ben and explain that they’ll get there around nine or ten, maybe.

“I’ve missed you,” Dr. Tozier says seriously. “Who else can I rely on for wit as precise as throwing a lump of fecal matter at someone?”

And Richie—laughs. A real laugh, too, one of Eddie’s laughs. He puts his hand on the door behind him and begins trying to toe out of his shoes instead of unlacing them like a reasonable person. Making himself comfortable. Eddie absolutely can’t bend over to unlace his new shoes, and he’s not going to ask Richie to do it for him, so he regretfully does the same. He hasn’t walked far enough in these to leave any stains or marks on the back of the fuzzy red material, he’s pretty sure, and sneakers are meant to be forgiving.

The kitchen is very white and very 1980s; all the appliances are black and glossy, and there’s a wall of glass bricks separating the glass-topped dining table in the corner from the next room. Eddie can hear music playing—Rod Stewart?—from deeper in the house.

“Eddie, you’re in the blue room,” Maggie says. “There’s a little step at the base of the stairs, will that be a problem?”

“No,” Eddie says. “One step’s fine.”

“I would put you in the purple room, but I can’t do the stairs with my knees,” she says, as though Eddie has a blueprint of the various rooms in the house and their advantages and disadvantages. “Richie, you’re in the basement.”

“The Richard Tozier suite,” Dr. Tozier quips, fingertip held to the base of his throat again.

“Does it have a bathroom yet?” Richie asks.

“No. Pee outside.”

Richie shakes his head, making a small tch sound. “Not a suite then, old man. You got central air but not a bathroom?”

“You are welcome to use the storm doors should the urge take you in the night,” Dr. Tozier says. “Just remember not to piss into the wind.”

Mrs. Tozier shakes her head. “You’re in fine form tonight,” she says. “Eddie, I’ll show you your room. Do you have a suitcase?”

“Does he!” Richie says. Eddie feels inexplicably betrayed. Dragging two and a half suitcases into Mrs. Tozier’s house seems rude now. Eddie glares at him, and Richie holds up both hands. “I got it,” he says, turning back toward his abandoned shoes. “’Scuse me, Went.”

“I don’t need it right now,” Eddie says, feeling a surge of panic at the idea of being left alone in the house with Richie’s parents.

Richie shrugs as though it’s all the same to him. Mrs. Tozier waves a hand and beckons him out of the kitchen.

There’s a carpeted living room immediately behind the kitchen, the height of the room suddenly lifting up into loft ceilings. Eddie looks up at the lights.

Richie says what he’s thinking. “How do you change those bulbs?”

“Wait for my son to come home and put him to work,” Dr. Tozier says.

Mrs. Tozier is smiling. There’s a big leaf-patterned couch and, pressed up next to the stairs, an end table decorated with—

“No,” Eddie gasps automatically, leaning down slightly to inspect a picture of what is definitely baby Richie on Santa’s lap. His hair is bowl-cut but still flyaway, and his round glasses sit crooked on his face, which is so chubby-cheeked that it looks like his mouth won’t close properly, sitting there half-parted in a little goldfish pout. Eddie experiences a chest pain—a quick ache that fades almost immediately.

Richie leans over him to look at what he’s inspecting, then groans. “Ma, it’s September!” The frame has little dangling candy cane charms along the top. The Santa looks very authentic, actually, in his red velvet vest and with his gold wire-frame spectacles.

“You can decide how you decorate in your own home, Richard,” Mrs. Tozier says crisply. To Eddie she says, “There’s more where that came from.”

“Oh god,” says Richie.

“No god here,” Dr. Tozier intones. “Only Maggie May. You’re lucky we don’t have pictures from a bris to show off.”

What is a bris? Eddie starts giggling a little hysterically, bracing his hand on his chest and standing up straight to do so. “Hang on, hang on,” he says quietly, and gets out his phone to snap a picture and send to the group chat. Then he turns to Maggie. “Okay, I’m ready.”

The blue room is so named because it is painted blue and has a nautical theme. There’s a row of white bookcases to the left, and Maggie says, “Here are more embarrassing photos of Richie. You might be in here somewhere, actually,” as she floats over to them. Eddie glances at what looks like a small mountain of pillows stacked on the bed—all white with navy patterns, one with a fish, another with an anchor, another with what looks like a pair of crossed oars—and then follows her.

There’s a tiny Richie from a pre-glasses era, apparently flattened into a leaf pile. One of his feet is elevated into the air, the grippy rubber sole of it clearly visible; Richie’s massive buck teeth are balanced on his lower lip as though he’s not sure about this whole thing. Eddie gets a picture of that too and feels his phone buzz as comments start coming in, but he’s watching Maggie hmm around, inspecting. There are collections of books on the shelves—what looks like a complete set of Charles Dickens, a bunch of broad Calvin & Hobbes collections stacked up behind a photo of a very small Richie standing next to a very ugly snowman, looking delighted. Maggie’s in this one, her hair dark brown and voluminous. When she smiles into the camera Eddie can see that her left eye does the thing that Richie’s does, crinkling further than the other. He gets a photo of that one.

“Oh, no, it’s just the cat,” Maggie says apologetically. “It was at one of your little friends’ birthday parties, I thought you might be there in the background. Here.” She taps what is admittedly a pretty good picture of Richie—before It, but after Eddie met him in the second grade, maybe ten if you split the difference—in a blue tie-dye shirt, looking up from under his eyelashes at the camera, what looks like a long white cat hanging over his shoulder.

Eddie takes a photo, something scratching at the back of his memory. He’s pretty sure that the Denbroughs didn’t have a cat. When he sends this one to the groupchat he asks, Stan, was that your cat?

“Who are you sending those to?” Maggie asks.

“Uh, Bill Denbrough and Stan Uris, actually,” Eddie says.

She smiles suddenly. “Yes, Richie said all of you got back together and had your own little reunion. I am sorry that you got hurt,” she says, glancing down at Eddie’s chest; Eddie guesses that Richie gave her the same spiel as the hospital but he decides not to respond in too much detail. He has a vague memory of showing up to Richie’s house to bring him homework from missed classes and being the reason that Richie’s parents figured out he’d skipped school. Maggie’s face pulls into a faintly doubtful grimace. “Doesn’t seem very… auspicious,” she says.

“You could say that,” Eddie concedes.

“Or,” Richie says brightly, looming in the doorway so that he takes up the whole space. He blocks the light coming in from the living room; he’s huge and dark and—casual, with the way he puts his elbow on the doorframe. His sock feet—

He’s wearing weed socks. They are bright yellow and decorated with green patterns of five-leaved weed plants. Eddie hates him again, a little.

Oblivious to Eddie’s rapidly shifting opinions, Richie goes on, “You could say that he was astronomically lucky. All the docs kept coming in and looking at him while he was asleep, it was fuckin’ weird.”

“Oh, Richie,” Maggie sighs. She looks around to Eddie. “So will this work?”

Eddie has several seconds where he does not understand what she means before he realizes she’s asking whether he’ll be comfortable in the room. “Oh,” he says, almost startled. “Yes, this is great, thank you so much.” He almost calls her Mrs. Tozier and thanks her for having him.

She smiles. “Good. Come on out here and tell us what you’re up to. Did you eat on the road? We were thinking about just ordering pizza.”

It is very difficult to conceal the sheer fuckery of what Eddie Kaspbrak is up to from Dr. and Mrs. Tozier. Eddie carefully deploys the understatement and more than once looks to Richie for help as he tries to engage without admitting to coming out or his impending divorce proceedings. Weirdly, neither of the Toziers ask if he’s gotten married; Eddie knows that Richie’s been texting with his mother but doesn’t know if Richie has warned them off asking any Myra-adjacent questions, or whether Richie would have the tact to do that in the first place.

At one point Eddie admits that he hates his beard and everyone in the room lets out a sigh of relief—except Richie, who starts cackling. His parents ignore him.

“It’s not that you couldn’t look nice in a beard,” Maggie hedges. “It’s just that it’s in a bit of an awkward state.”

“Like when Richie was sixteen,” Went adds. “Every time he talked it was like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of your dirtbag mustache.’”

Richie snorts but looks unoffended by this reminiscing; as well he should, as a man who not only can grow an adequate beard, he has a five o’clock shadow by ten in the morning.

“I told you not to call it that,” Maggie says. “When you call it that, it’s child abuse.”

“Arrest me for emotionally belittling my dirtbag son,” Went says, which makes Richie chuckle more and lean back in his chair, like let me have it.

Maggie, on the couch, is inspecting Richie’s face. “I know that facial hair is trendy these days,” she says doubtfully, “but you always look so nice clean-shaven, Richie.”

“Ma, I can’t be shaving like once every six hours,” Richie says. “It hurts my face.”

Went sits up and his hand flies to his throat in his eagerness. He and Richie chorus at the same time, “It’s killing me!” Then Went leans back in his big squashy armchair and says, “Not the most graceful setup.”

“It’s all about the enthusiasm,” Richie replies easily.

Eddie feels… trapped. Simultaneously on the spot and awkwardly tucked into the background in the light of the Toziers’ enthusiasm. “I, uh,” he begins, and then looks to Richie for help as to whether he should explain the whole stabbed in the face thing to justify his terrible beard.

Richie seems to be on the same wavelength as him, because he crosses his legs in the his armchair and leans forward. “Hey, remember Henry Bowers?”  he asks, voice suddenly loud and bright in exactly the way that Henry Bowers’s name never made people feel.

Maggie frowns. “Was that one of your school friends?”

“No,” Richie says, just as cheerful. “He was the kid who chased me all the way to Freese’s department store in the sixth grade because he and his friends were going to kill me. Him and—Victor Criss, do you remember him?”

“And why’d he chase you?” Went asks immediately.

Richie’s gaze flicks up contemplatively over his glasses and he bobs his head a little, contemplatively. “Because I called him Bananaheels when he wiped out in gym class.” The corner of his mouth draws up crooked, like he can’t decide whether the memory of the laugh he got was worth the immediate consequences.

Went sighs and adjusts his glasses with one hand, holding the other to his throat to speak. “Richie, you were always getting in fights. Which was weird, because you didn’t seem to be very good at them.”

“They outweighed us by like a hundred pounds,” Eddie offers quietly, looking down at his sock feet. The coffee table in the living room is also glass-topped, but it’s shaped like a cabinet, so the contents of the top drawer are on display. At the moment it’s just the green velvet lining, but Eddie watched Maggie pull leaf-patterned coasters out when she asked Eddie if he’d like something to drink.

“Which was weirder,” Went agrees, “because in all other aspects of your life, Richard, you were very intelligent, but in this one you seemed to fulfill Einstein’s definition of insanity.”

Richie’s face goes extremely still and—polite. That’s the word. Richie’s putting on a nice face, putting on a mask. Instead of picking at all other aspects as Eddie expects him to, Richie puts on a storyteller kind of voice and goes on.

“So the day we graduated from eighth grade,” Richie says. “Bowers got held back again, which makes sense, because he was dumb as, I dunno, a can of refried beans. And he decided it wasn’t his fault, he pinned it on the new kid in class who wouldn’t let him cheat off him, and that happened to be my buddy Ben Hanscom. Do you remember Ben?”

Maggie’s gaze has flicked up and to the side, but not in an eye-rolling way, in the way of someone searching for a memory. She shakes her head. “No.”

“He was the little round kid you could have fired out of a cannon,” Richie says drily, and mimes a massive stomach.

Eddie gets a strange impression of him holding court, what with the casual drape of his elbow over the back of the armchair, the splayed fold of his knees. Maggie sits on the couch adjacent to him, knees tucked tightly together and listening, and Went sits in his own armchair in much the same pose as Richie but with a skeptical eyebrow raised. They mirror each other—Richie’s right arm slung on the back of his chair, Went’s left. Eddie, opposite Maggie across the room on the loveseat, touches his knees a little closer together just to feel the bones come into contact for a moment, then relaxes.

“So Henry Bowers chases my friend Ben down after school lets out, and he and Belch Huggins—he’s the kid who liked to hold Eddie down and burp in his face, in case you don’t remember him—” Richie jerks his chin in Eddie’s direction and Eddie feels himself go tense with scrutiny and mortification, but Richie goes on. “—and Victor Criss—you know, you really should remember Victor Criss, he only broke my glasses three fuckin’ times—”

“And how many times did you break your glasses?” Wentworth asks, his tone low and flat as though everyone in the room should know the answer. “Richie, we love you, but when you were a kid nothing was your fault, even when you decided to shut your eyes and walk into a fireman’s pole.”

Eddie, who remembers that incident, winces.

“Oh, yeah, totally,” Richie says. “Hey, Went, out of curiosity, how many times did I break my glasses by punching myself in the face?”

Silence. Eddie, falling back into years of watching Richie wind Stan up until Stan finally exploded and ripped Richie to shreds, mentally awards one point to Tozier the younger.

Wentworth sits up a little bit and presses his fingertip to the little valve at the base of his throat. It’s called a stoma, he explained to Eddie; he had a complete laryngectomy ten years ago and he’s been in remission ever since. “Richard,” he says. There’s tiredness pressed into the downward slant of his eyelids, the prominent external fold. “You’re forty. You want to tell me why you’re getting all fired up over this?”

Richie pauses and then says, the arch tone gone out of his voice, “It will become clear as the story goes on.”

Wentworth’s eyebrows go up and he leans back in the chair, half a smile on his face as he indulges. He gestures with his free hand. “Then by all means, go on.”

Richie lets his arm slide off the back of the armchair and shrugs his shoulder a little bit, like he’s shaking something off. “So Henry Bowers decides to teach my friend Ben a lesson by taking his flick knife and carving his name into Ben’s stomach.”

Maggie gasps. “No, he didn’t,” she says quickly, swatting at the air like she can push the words physically away, as if Richie would lie about something like that.

“Oh yes he did,” Richie says just as fast, his timing perfect. “Ben was one of the ones I saw this morning in Derry, he’s driving right now but if I get him on the phone I’m sure Bev will take a picture of his goddamn abs and you can see the scar yourself. He only got as far as the H before Ben got away but it’s still there.”

Maggie’s eyes are wide but Wentworth has gone almost wooden-faced. Eddie presses his heels a little further into the carpet, bracing himself to see if Richie, at forty, is about to get reprimanded for talking back to his mother.

“Henry Bowers,” Wentworth repeats.

Richie nods, inclining his head, the corners of his mouth tucking up a little bit in something less than a smile but more than a grimace.

“The one who killed his father with a flick knife?” Wentworth asks.

Maggie covers her mouth with both hands, elbows tight to her sides as she draws in on herself. “Oh, god, and little Georgie Denbrough?”

Richie smiles, though it’s not funny, and puts his index finger in the air. “Ding ding ding,” he says. “Do I gotta ask why you remembered that one, Dad? Did all the dads in town get nervous?”

“I have seen you injure yourself on a fork and a frozen hamburger patty,” Went says. “If you were going to commit patricide, I was reasonably sure your clumsiness would give me a chance to escape.”

Richie does seem to find this genuinely funny, eyes scrunching up and everything as he chuckles. Eddie sits on the loveseat across the living room, gaze sometimes flicking to the TV unit with the old-fashioned speaker system. They’ve moved on from Rod Stewart. Eddie doesn’t know for certain who the current singer is but he’s pretty sure it’s Celine Dion. He remembers that scar—Richie coming into school with a bandage on either side of his hand and explaining he’d been trying to pull a frozen hamburger patty out of a pack of six, and punched the fork right through his hand in the process. Eddie was horrified at the possible thought of cross-contamination and had Richie down as died of mad cow disease at ten.

“Is that what you talked about?” Maggie asks, looking from Richie to Eddie. Eddie feels caught in a way by the aghast expression on her face. “You just all got together and hashed out growing up with a serial murderer?”

“Yes and no,” Richie says. “Because the thing I didn’t tell you over the phone, Maggie May, is that while we were in Derry having our little reunion, Henry Bowers escaped from the mental institution out by Shawshank—do you remember that?”

“Juniper Hill,” Wentworth says quietly.

“Yeah, that one,” Richie agrees. “And he decided that he was going to finish the job by killing my friend Mike Hanlon, because it’s not enough to grow up a serial killer, he had to be a racist serial killer.”

Eddie is starting to feel lightheaded just sitting here drawing in breaths. He’s pretty sure Richie’s not about to confess to manslaughter in front of his parents, but the fact that he’s starting with Mike makes Eddie nervous. Are you okay? Ben asked, and Richie turned around and said No I’m not okay, I just killed a guy.

“Mike stayed in Derry,” Richie says, seemingly suddenly aware that this backstory is necessary now. “Became a librarian. Figures. But.” He grimaces hard. “Bowers goes looking for Mike and happens to run across Eddie here first.” He indicates Eddie like an exhibit in court.

Maggie’s mouth is open. Quietly she says, “You said it was a collapsing building.”

“Oh Jesus,” Eddie says quickly, because he doesn’t want to have to explain to the Toziers that no, it’s not like Bowers drove a spear through him or anything. “He caught me in my hotel room and he stabbed me. Completely different thing.” He gestures at his own cheek, where he knows the red line is clear, the immediate vicinity of the beard seeming to shy away from it. “In the cheek. Not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal,” Wentworth repeats. “An escaped mental patient stabbed you in the face and it’s not a big deal.”

Maggie says, “Richard, if you’re making this up—”

“Look it up, Ma, you know I don’t write my own shit, I promise you I could not make this up,” Richie says. He holds up one pinkie finger as though offering to make a solemn vow. That wasn’t how he promised things to Eddie when they were kids, Eddie made him spit-swear, clasping hands and hocking loogies simultaneously, explaining that spit was blood but clear. It was the most serious promise that either of them ever made until Stan cut their palms with the broken bottle.

“Did he get your gum?” Went asks, looking at Eddie with a look of almost disgusted concern. It’s extremely similar to Richie’s; Eddie tries to answer while dealing with the déjà vu of having Richie copy-pasted slightly to the right in this room.

“Yeah,” he admits.

“Tooth?” Went asks.

Eddie nods.

“Let me see,” Went says, getting up, and Eddie, not knowing what else to do, gets up as well. Went shuffles him over toward the lamp on the end table and physically turns his head toward better light; he tells Eddie to bite down so he can see the lineup of his teeth. “Oh, yeah,” he agrees, looking in Eddie’s mouth. “Hang on.” He opens the drawer in the end table and pulls out something small; he presses a button and reveals it to be a penlight.

“Oh my god,” Richie says, sounding every inch the embarrassed teenager—and there are a lot of inches.

Not like that.

Absolutely not like that while Richie’s dad is literally holding Eddie’s chin.

Went whistles and asks in a whispery airless voice—because one hand’s operating the penlight and the other is holding Eddie’s face in position—“Did you get that looked at yet?”

Eddie shakes his head. “No, sir.”

Went’s nose wrinkles as he inspects it. “Not if you were in the hospital, I guess.” He rolls his eyes. “You shoulda had that pulled already. Is it hurting you?”

“I am on a lot of painkillers,” Eddie admits.

Went starts chuckling—it’s soundless, like Richie in his hysterics, and Eddie is thrown for a moment before he clicks off the penlight and covers his stoma again to speak. “Yeah, I guess after a crossbeam going through you, your threshold for pain might be a little different. You were always tough, though. That one—” He points at Richie. “—cried the second you threatened to put him in the chair. You were good, though; you behaved.”

“I did not,” Richie says. “What are you talking about? I did not.”

“My little bleeder,” Went says fondly. To Eddie he says, “Sorry about sticking my hands in your mouth. If you want I can call Molere down the road, see if you can get that taken care of. It shouldn’t be bad, should just be the laughing gas.”

Eddie, alarmed at the prospect of sudden dental procedures, says, “Uh, I think I’d have to call my doctor to see how what she gave me would interact with nitrous oxide?” And he doesn’t currently have access to his insurance card, because that, along with everything he needs to identify himself, was lost somewhere in his wallet under Derry.

“MAOIs?” Wentworth asks. “Methotrexate? Eldepryl? Don’t answer that. Can you brush that?”

“That, uh, hurts a little.”

“A little, he says.” Went grimaces. “You ought to be rinsing with salt water. Call your doctor. Trust me, you want that taken care of. If you want to stick around a little longer, I’ll see if I can talk Molere into it. If not.” He gives the same one-shouldered shrug that Richie gave and then sits back down in his armchair. “So what the fuck happened to Bowers?”

Richie, whose watching my father perform an unlicensed medical examination face is bland and somehow sad, shrugs one shoulder. “Dunno. Police came to talk to us at the hospital. Didn’t have any news for us.”

And Eddie almost believes him. Eddie knows for a fact that Henry Bowers is currently buried in the floor of a subterranean clubhouse in Derry, and saw the body on the floor of the public library, saw Mike on the floor bleeding and Richie reeling. And if Eddie didn’t know these things, he would believe Richie when he lies.

“Where did it happen?” Maggie asks. “In the house? Was he in the house with you?”

The call is coming from inside the house! Eddie thinks gravely, not remembering any movies but instead remembering the spooky urban legends Richie terrified them with in middle school. He and Bill would go back and forth—Bill loved them, but Richie loved performing them, doing the singsong voice of animated dolls or growling Psychoes can lick hands too, Eddie, and then lunging for Eddie to hold him down and lick his hands. Eddie slapped Richie across the face when Richie sucked on his fingers, not sure why it tickled, and slept with a light on in his room for over a week.

“At the hotel,” Eddie replies softly, trying to be serious. He knows that when he said Bowers is in my room his voice was twisted with incredulity that this was really happening, that everything was happening to him all over again, that he couldn’t get away. Bev was horrified, trying to squeeze the hole in his face shut with her fingers. Is it bad? Blood running down his neck like Bowers had made good and slashed it after all.

“Jesus,” Maggie says, looking at Eddie in something like horror. Maybe just horror. Maybe horror through the lens of a spectator, of someone wandering after the fact—Are you okay? No, I’m not okay, I just killed a guy! Horror by proxy. “Eddie, are you okay?”

Eddie’s a little startled by that and glances at Richie. Richie’s still wearing his liar’s face, quietly observant. He looks back at Maggie, at what looks like her sincere concern. If Eddie tells her yes, will she believe him?

“Oh, I’m fine,” he says. “I mean—” He smiles automatically, trying to placate, trying to de-escalate, it was a big problem for him when he was early in business meetings and being put on the spot, he went to a performance coach who told him not to do that but he finds in this moment he doesn’t care so much about that. “I’m fine,” he says.

“Jesus,” Maggie says again, as Wentworth looks on, eyes very solemn and blue, wearing almost the same watchful face as Richie.

Discussion of injury flows into discussing their medical problems; it’s already been established that Wentworth had laryngeal cancer that resulted in a full laryngectomy. Richie seems to enjoy doing his father’s voice very much, and Wentworth seems more patiently amused by this than Eddie would expect a parent to be.

“So we decided we were going to get tattoos in celebration of his remission,” Maggie says to Eddie.

Richie groans and averts his gaze, looking down at the green seat cushion.

Eddie sits up a little straighter. “Who’s we?”

“It was Richie’s idea,” Maggie says.

Something shorts out in Eddie’s brain and he tries to keep it off his face. He’s never thought of himself as particularly interested in tattoos—Myra is certainly disdainful of them, talking in a self-satisfied way about how now being a person without tattoos is the rarity, though Eddie has no idea what the statistics on that are; as if the rarity of tattoos is what makes them popular. All Eddie knows is that he’s far too afraid of needles and bloodborne illness to ever want one himself, but.

He doesn’t think so much about the actual tattoo—he’s seen a lot of Richie in the last couple days, and by process of elimination is working out where a tattoo might actually be, and if he really sits down and asks himself if Richie has a tattoo on his ass in front of Richie’s mother he’s just going to go insane. But. The idea fits, somehow. Eddie can’t really imagine Richie peeling out of his clothes and showing Eddie his ink and—ahem. Richie actually having a tattoo on his person, but he can imagine Richie in a tattoo parlor. Admittedly, Eddie has very little concept of what a tattoo parlor might look like on the inside, aside from the big glass-front ones in the city, but he can imagine Richie shouldering his way out after a session, leather jacket once more in place, smelling of smoke and—

Eddie turns his head to look at the actual Richie to remind himself they’re in Richie’s parents’ living room, not in a fantasy world where Richie’s the bad boy from an after school special. “You have a tattoo?”

Both of Richie’s parents are grinning. Richie tilts his head all the way back on the armchair and covers his eyes with one hand and pretends to be dead.

“No,” Went says. “He set up the appointments and helped us pick out the design—”

“It’s just the ribbon,” Maggie says. “Head and neck cancers are burgundy and white, there’s a big umbrella.” She folds one arm across her body and pats her own left shoulder. “I won’t show you, I don’t want to scandalize you.”

“I won’t show you, I don’t want to traumatize you,” Wentworth says. He looks at his son again and says, “He chickened out in the parlor.”

Eddie is delighted. “Did you really?”

After his mother went first,” Went adds.

“Dad, I’m very happy that you lived, do I have to inscribe it on my skin to prove it?” Richie asks from under his hand. “Is it not enough to share your DNA?”

“You suggested it,” Went says.

“I don’t like needles!” Richie says. “How do you think I avoided the slippery slope to heroin? It was fear!”

“Went was talking about the anesthetic he uses in his practice,” Maggie says, apparently unfazed by Richie’s oblique reference to cocaine usage. “And about giving the shot in the roof of the mouth—” Eddie winces a little but Richie gives a full-body shudder that the armchair doesn’t seem big enough to accommodate. “—just winding him up a little, and Richie threw up.”

Very, very different from Eddie’s fantasy of cool Richie. Eddie looks at Richie and waits for him to emerge from where he’s trying to pull the I can’t see you, you can’t see me trick. Slowly Richie lifts his hand and raises his head just enough to make eye contact with Eddie.

“You know I’m telling everyone about this, right?” Eddie asks.

Richie drops his head back again. “Oh, yeah.”

Once Eddie’s and Went’s medical issues are gone over, Maggie reveals that she’s had bilateral knee replacement surgery. Richie seems heartened by this shift in topic and begins chanting, “Show us your scars! Show us your scars!” while drumming his fists on the arms of his chair.

Maggie looks up at Eddie. “Do you want to see my scars?” she asks.

Eddie feels a little hysterical. “Sure,” he says.

She rolls up the legs of her capri pants to her knees and shows the room the thick, short, straight white lines cutting down across her patellas. “And they feel much better,” she says, rolling her cuffs back down again.

“My mother’s the bionic woman,” Richie says.

The pizza from the local place is thin-crusted and speckled with herbs on top. Richie insists on them getting two pizzas—“Ma, look at me. Look at Dad. You could have married a shrimp. But you didn’t, and now you have to put up with ordering two whole large pizzas when I come visit you once a decade. Ma, look at Eddie—you’re not gonna tell Eddie he can only have three pieces of pizza, are you? Ma, I will pay for the additional pizza, please, I’m starving.”

“We were so happy when you moved out,” Went says gravely. “We both got two extra slices.”

Eddie didn’t think he was very hungry, probably because of the Dramamine still in his system, but as soon as he smells the food—Went has to go pick it up, since apparently this little place doesn’t do delivery—his mouth floods so hard he’s in danger of actually drooling. His stomach gurgles threateningly, so loud that Richie starts laughing.

He only eats three slices of pizza anyway. Any more seems like tempting fate. While Went was out picking up the pizza Richie went back out to the car and brought in the luggage, dragging Eddie’s suitcases without complaining across the house and into the blue room, while Maggie asked Eddie once again if he’d like anything else to drink—tea?

“Eddie doesn’t like tea, Ma,” Richie says, as though he knows that Eddie would feel too awkward to refuse.

Apparently tea after dinner is part of the Toziers’ ritual; once the remaining slices of pizza have been crammed into the refrigerator, Went sits up and looks at his wife. “Tea?”

“Please,” she says.

Went looks at Eddie. “Tea?”

Maggie interrupts. “Eddie doesn’t like tea, Went.”

“Are you heat sensitive?” Went asks, which devolves into a discussion of the pros and cons of various toothpastes. Went looks pleasantly surprised that Eddie uses Sensodyne, which satisfies a part of Eddie that still craves medical approval.

“Sure likes hot chocolate, though,” Richie says.

Maggie sits up. “Oh! We have some hot chocolate mix, that—” She snaps her fingers several times, like catching an errant thought is akin to striking a lighter. “—the gift thing in the cupboard, from the white elephant.”

“The white elephant?” Richie repeats, voice thick with skepticism. “At Christmas? Ten months ago?”

His mother ignores him. “It’s fancy, it’s like, Ghirardelli or something. Went, do you remember?”

“I do not,” Wentworth says cheerfully. “I hate those parties; you always let those women hug me.”

Maggie scoffs. “I don’t let them hug you, they don’t ask me.”

“She said, ‘But Maggie says it’s okay to give him hugs.’”

“Why would I say that’s okay? Those are my hugs, I’m not about to invite the old biddies of card club to steal them.”

“They are your hugs,” Went says. “You should be charging them every time they steal them; either money or with legal consequences.”

Richie sits there listening and then tilts his head to the side. “Did you just suggest that Mom pimp you out?”

“Yes, I did, son,” Went says serenely.

Maggie looks at Eddie and says, “So, would you like some hot chocolate?”

“Yeah, Eddie, would you like some ten-month old hot chocolate mix that my mother prostituted my father to acquire?” Richie asks.

“She hasn’t prostituted me yet,” Went says. “Otherwise we would be able to offer much better hot chocolate.”

Eddie realizes that Maggie is still waiting for a response, apparently unbothered by the double act going on in the room with them. “Um, I’m okay,” he hedges, shrinking a little into the loveseat.

“It’s no trouble, we’re going to make Richie fix it anyway,” Went says. This seems to be news to Richie, who looks around as though surprised. “That’s the point of having adult children.”

“Oh—” Maggie stands. “Richie, did you say you had laundry?”

Richie stares at her. “Why are you getting up? I’m forty. I can do my own laundry. Sit down, that’s the point of having adult children.” He hasn’t taken his duffel bag down to the basement yet, just left it in front of a door that Eddie guesses must lead downstairs; and he gets up and swings it over his shoulder. Maggie sits back down, apparently satisfied. “What kind of tea do you want?”

“French vanilla decaf,” she says promptly. “It’s in the cabinet to the right of the microwave.”

“Decaf Irish breakfast,” Went adds.

Richie leans in the entryway to the kitchen. “Eds?”

Eddie glances around to find that Maggie and Wentworth are both watching him. “I really am okay,” he says.

“Okay, but you better not be being polite with me,” Richie says, walking into the kitchen and disappearing from sight. “God knows these two aren’t.”

Maggie begins humming and then jumps up, saying, “Ooh, I know what I want to listen to,” and goes to switch the disc in the CD player. Soft guitar strumming begins. A strange, flat, childlike woman’s voice sings.

“Truly an anthem for the ages,” Went says, his voice so serious that Eddie understands he’s being deeply sarcastic. Maggie ignores him, humming along and obscuring the words. Wentworth sits up a little straighter and speaks louder, finger pressed over his stoma. “Mags?”

There’s a clatter from the kitchen. Everyone stills, waiting to hear what, if anything, Richie broke. There’s a backtrack of someone whistling in this song.

“It comes in a sock monkey mug?” Richie says. “Fuck that, I’m drinking the hot chocolate.”

Went seems to relax, looking from Richie’s general direction back to Maggie. “As I was saying before my son interrupted me,” he says. “Would you like some ice cream?”

Maggie’s mouth puckers into a pleased little O.

Apparently taking that as acceptance, Went looks at Eddie. “Would you like some ice cream? We have cherry vanilla.”

Eddie is… strongly tempted. “Is Richie getting that too?”

“Yes, Richie’s getting that, too,” Richie almost shouts from the kitchen. “Richie’s getting the tea, Richie’s getting the ice cream, Richie’s changing the light bulbs, Richie’s laying the tile.”

“If I trusted in your home repair skills I’d make you fix the leaky pipe under the sink,” Went says.

Maggie looks at Eddie. “I remember his college apartment,” she says seriously. “Instead of fixing the showerhead he duct-taped half a Solo cup to the wall to catch the leak.”

“Oh my god,” Eddie says.

“That was a group decision and I can’t be held personally responsible for it,” Richie says.

“In this court you can,” Went says.

There’s a clatter of more dishes from the kitchen. “Eddie: ice cream?” Richie prompts him.

He feels weird about coming into the Toziers’ home and eating their ice cream. Ordering pizza is one thing, but in his head ice cream is like a resource that they’ve stocked up on, and one that Maggie clearly enjoys.

“It has whole Maraschino cherries in it,” Maggie says, smiling like she’s trying to tempt him.

Eddie likes Maraschino cherries. “Yes, please,” he calls to Richie.

Richie comes back out some minutes later with two bowls of pink ice cream studded with Maraschino cherries, spoons standing straight up in the middle. He hands one to his mother and one to Eddie, then points at Went.

“I couldn’t,” Went says seriously. “I’m a dentist.”

“Retired,” Richie says. “Now if you yank someone’s teeth out, you just go to jail.”

“Oh,” Went says, as though this is news to him. “Well, in that case, since I can’t have the joy of yanking out teeth—yes, I will have some ice cream.”

It’s very good. Eddie eats his ice cream while the Toziers let their tea steep on their leaf coasters and Richie waves a sock monkey mug at him from across the room. It’s… comfortable. Eddie feels like he’s slotting into place in some kind of established ritual, like it’s so powerful it goes on with or without him, and he’s just surprised there’s room for him in it.

Richie says no more about Derry that night, and neither of his parents ask why they went to a condemned house instead of to the police to report a stabbing.

Chapter Text

Eddie tires quickly, but apparently so does Wentworth Tozier. At a certain point in the evening’s conversation he yawns—the deep groaning yawn of dads everywhere, Eddie remembers it not just from Bill’s and Stan’s dads but also from Wentworth himself some thirty years ago, now performed from the trachea instead of the mouth. Richie begins giggling immediately and, mouth still open, Went flips him off with his free hand. He seems to gulp for a moment and Eddie has a wobbling anxiety about whether he’s about to watch Richie’s dad vomit casually in this living room, and then Went says in guttural tones that seem to come from somewhere else, “This disrespect. In my own home.”

Richie leans all the way back in his armchair and tilts his head back a little bit. Eddie’s gaze falls automatically to his Adam’s apple and realizes that Richie is mimicking his dad, swallowing air. Then Richie sits up straight and puts on a bright face. His mouth doesn’t open, but he definitely emits the sound, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star!”

Eddie is so alarmed his feet come up off the floor like he’s seen a mouse. Richie clocks him immediately, grinning with more teeth than most humans consider polite for mixed company. Went seems to share Eddie’s confusion, having jerked his head back as though to increase the distance between himself and his son without actually getting up.

Maggie claps her hands together. “Can you do it again?” she asks.

Richie, happy to show off, appears to swallow more air before singing, “How I wonder what you are!” with his mouth shut.

Maggie applauds again. “Did you learn that from a book?”

“A friend,” Richie says.

Eddie and Wentworth both stare at him. Slowly Eddie lowers his feet back to the floor and says, somewhat quietly in the room, “I either need to go to bed or to start drinking.”

“Seconded,” Went says. He points at Eddie with his free hand and Eddie freezes in place on the loveseat. “Don’t go anywhere,” he says, and gets up.

Eddie looks around at Richie for some clue as to what’s about to happen, but Richie looks unconcerned, still preening. Well, he’s not actually moving, but from the self-satisfied tilt of his head Eddie knows that’s what he’s doing. Went walks around the couch, behind it, and up the stairs. He hears a door open. Eddie has time to wonder whether he’s just entered into some kind of bizarre hospitality pact where he has to remain on the loveseat until Went comes down again in the morning, when Went tromps back down the stairs, his steps heavy.

Richie turns his head to look at his dad as Went steps clear of the railing. “Oh god,” Richie says, looking away, his head thumping back on the cushion of the chair. Eddie has seen that face countless times on teenage Richie, and its recurrence just makes Eddie feel like he’s digging up Richie out of a time capsule.

Went comes back around the couch, walks across the living room, and then presents Eddie with an array of plastic-wrapped toothbrushes.

“Dad,” Richie complains.

Eddie does not move, wondering whether his toothbrushing skills are so egregiously subpar that Wentworth, a professional, was offended and is trying to convey this by giving him a toothbrush, as a sort of do better gesture.

“I think you’re an aggressive brusher,” Wentworth says, covering his stoma again so his voice comes out hoarse but kind, the way that sometimes Eddie’s anonymous peer reviews say that Eddie is bright and competent but he can’t take criticism, as if Eddie cares what his peers have to say. “You’re wearing down your gums. If you were my patient, I’d refer you to a periodontist for a gum graft.”

Eddie has no idea what that is and he is horrified at the prospect. Like a skin graft? For the gums? Someone else’s gums in his mouth? Eddie will do whatever he has to to prevent that from happening.

“So this is a Nimbus,” Went says. “They’re very soft toothbrushes. The bristles are very fine, so it’ll hurt your gums less. And it’ll make brushing that—well, not painless, but less excruciating.”

Eddie blinks once before he admits, “Less excruciating would be an improvement.”

“There you go.”

Went holds his hand out a little further, prompting Eddie to take one. Eddie is forty years old and he’s too old to choose a toothbrush based on color instead of bristle softness or effectiveness at removing plaque, but Wentworth is a retired dentist, and Eddie’s going to have to believe that Wentworth has done the research for him, meaning he’s free to be frivolous. He takes the red one.

“Thank you,” he says.

Instead of replying Wentworth smiles a Richie grin, one whole half of his face scrunching up, and then he walks back around the couch toward the stairs. He leans over the back of the couch to kiss Maggie on the top of the head. “Good night,” he says. He walks a few steps further and then reaches out and presses his knuckles into the top of Richie’s head. Richie winces. “Good night.”

“Bastard,” Richie says.

Went snorts and goes upstairs, waving as he does. “Good night, Eddie.”

Eddie waves back at him. “Good night,” he says dumbly, and then looks down at the toothbrush in his hand. His throat hurts, all of a sudden, as though he might cry, and he doesn’t quite understand why. He looks over at Richie.

Richie is slumped in the chair in a way that’s going to hurt his back in the morning, his head at an unlikely angle with his jaw propped on his hand. He looks at Eddie for a long moment, eyes narrowed in something like contemplation, and then looks at Maggie.

“When do you turn into a pumpkin, Ma?” he asks.

Maggie smiles and shrugs. She looks very young in that moment, like a girl from an old-timey TV show kicking her feet on a porch swing. “Whenever,” she says, looking from Richie to Eddie. Her pleased face has the same narrowed eyes as Richie’s thoughtful face. “What time do you want to get on the road tomorrow?”

Richie reverses his slouch to lean the other way, still contemplative, glancing at Eddie. “It’s like, what, five hours?”

“On I-90 West,” Eddie confirms. Ben, being a responsible person when not attacking underage werewolves with lawn garbage, provided them with ample instructions, a street address, and what Eddie strongly suspects are global positioning coordinates. Eddie very much appreciates Ben. He glances down and checks his phone, oddly satisfied to see a number of notifications in the group chat, at least some of which definitely have to be about Richie’s baby pictures.

Richie looks back at Maggie. “Yeah. So not too early. We don’t have a set time to arrive or anything, so whenever we’re both up and ready to go.” He shrugs, not quite the same gesture as his mother. Maggie shrugs narrowly, shoulders hunching in on each other; Richie shrugs in a way that takes up space.

Eddie sits there awkwardly, knowing that what Richie is saying loosely translates to I’m waiting on Eddie. Which is fine, Eddie tells himself. Sleep is very important for healing, and he’s still waking up at appropriate morning hours, which is impressive considering how long he spent in the hospital with no daily commitments other than the staff carrying him around every two hours to prevent blood clots. And now that he’s here, he doesn’t need to set an alarm to be sure he gets to say goodbye to Stan and Patty or Mike or Ben and Bev. He just needs to sleep and heal, because he’s injured, and his body needs the rest.

It’s fine, he tries to tell himself. He has a funny idea—mostly learned from his hospital stay, from hobbling back and forth to bathrooms and poor Nathan standing at the sink giving him as much dignity as the situation will allow—that there are things his body needs, and Eddie may not be happy about giving them to it, but if he doesn’t, his body will take it. Something about a deep animal impulse for survival, responses that his body knows how to trigger that Eddie doesn’t. If we run out of blood, we will crash. If we crash on the table, but they apply more blood and electricity, we can make a life out of that. If Stan breathes in our mouth and Richie beats our heart for us—well, that’s not quite as good as doing it ourselves, but those two are almost us anyway.

“I think I’m going to go to bed, too,” Eddie offers. He has the feeling that Richie and Maggie both saw this coming. He looks at Richie and says, “I’m not going to set an alarm, so whenever…?”

Richie nods, the rapid bob of the head that felt so familiar in the restaurant and helped superimpose the familiar frog-faced kid on the unknown square-jawed man. “Yeah, go for it. It’s Chez Marguerite. We’re on island time, buddy.”

Buddy. Eddie almost grins at that. He thinks he remembers that in the hospital he was angry at Richie for calling him that, but here at Richie’s parents’ house it feels almost like a stamp of approval, like a title. Under these terms does Edward Kaspbrak take shelter in our dwelling, and let all who see him know he is: buddy.

“The bathroom’s down that hall on the left,” Maggie says. “Towels are in the closet directly across from it, and there are bottles of water in the fridge. Also if you need to get up in the middle of the night and eat something, there are Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and jelly.”

Richie whistles. “Really pulling out all the stops, Maggie.”

“Someday, Richard, when you have a grown-up house, you too can eat Ritz crackers in bed.”

“The height of luxury.”

On that note, Eddie retreats to the blue room and the implied safety of his array of suitcases, his new red toothbrush in hand. He notices with faint surprise that Richie also brought in his electric blanket and left it folded on the foot of the bed. Eddie sets his plastic-wrapped toothbrush down on it and opens up his toiletry case, retrieving his toothpaste, his face wash, his night medicine.

Richie and his mother are still talking when he creeps back out to get ready for bed, but they’ve lowered their voices now—not in a way that suggests they’re discussing something secret, but in a way that suggests they’re trying to be considerate. If Eddie listens hard—as he picks his way to the bathroom—he can hear mechanical wheezing from upstairs. Wentworth uses some kind of breathing machine.

“—heard you were going to be in New York, so of course that was my first assumption.”

Richie says, his tone curiously flat, “Why would that be your first assumption? She’s married with a kid.”

“I know she’s married with a kid, we’re friends on Facebook.”

“You’re—” Eddie has the unique experience of hearing Richie’s voice break, not tearful, but as though he’s too appalled to speak. Eddie glances over his shoulder as he enters the bathroom, but Richie’s not paying attention to him. Eddie doesn’t know who they’re talking about, so he brushes his teeth and tends to his other ablutions. The new toothbrush is excellent. It is as soft as promised.

There’s a little bit of fluid leaking out of his incision site. There’s no visible stain on the skull shirt (Eddie forgot he was wearing the goddamn skull shirt), but there’s definitely a damp patch. He grimaces as he sniffs at it. It doesn’t smell good, but it doesn’t smell rancid or like rot or anything. He turns to look at it in the mirror, and the bruising is spectacular but he can’t see any swelling or redness around it either. Probably because his whole torso is still black and eggplant purple.

He curses himself in the mirror a little bit and then leans out of the bathroom. “Hey, Rich?”

Richie is leaning forward in his armchair, his expression extremely serious as he talks to his mother. They both look around at Eddie, who holds the skull shirt up in front of his chest as if that’ll help with anything. Richie’s face immediately smooths out. “Need a hand?”

Maggie Tozier’s expression is politely inquiring.

“Uh, yeah,” Eddie admits. He swallows. “Don’t look at the wound, I don’t want you to puke.”

Richie gets up and Eddie hears his knee pop from all the way over here. Richie grimaces and stretches, arms up over his head, his hands laced together and pushing toward the ceiling.

Maggie Tozier looks a little alarmed. “Did that hurt?”

“Yep,” Richie says. He lets his arms fall. “I’m getting old, Maggie.”

“You inherited my knees,” Maggie says gravely.

Richie chuckles and walks over to the bathroom. Eddie resists the urge to shut the door a little further as he waits, self-conscious not just about what he’s asking Richie to do for him, but also about Maggie Tozier patiently waiting in her living room for her son to come back.

“I have emotional responses other than vomiting,” Richie murmurs. He nudges Eddie off to the side and rolls up his sleeves to wash his hands without being asked. Eddie watches him wait with his fingers under the water for a few seconds, waiting for it to properly heat, before he soaps up.

“Like what?” Eddie asks Richie’s forearms. 

It’s hard not to. Richie scrubs up to his elbows, streaks of white suds against black hair. Eddie jerks his eyes back up before Richie can notice him staring, but Richie’s brow is furrowed in concentration as he leans down and tries to fit his whole elbow in the tiny round sink so he can rinse. Eddie can see the reflection in the tripartite mirror over the medicine cabinet—very high placed. The Toziers are all tall.

Richie chuckles again, his voice low. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he intones. He turns back and holds out one hand in Eddie’s general direction. 

Eddie stares at him, nonplussed, for several moments before he realizes that Richie’s reaching for the towel on the rack behind him.

Eddie takes one step backward and out of the way. “Crying?” he asks, thinking of nothing so much as Richie’s “Phlebotomy” playlist.

Richie laughs. “Yeah.” He reaches out for the box of bandages and pulls one out in its white wrapper. “All right, turn around, show me the target.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Eddie says, turning anyway.

“How am I supposed to say it?”

“I don’t care how you say it, don’t look at it.”

“You just told me not to say it like that! We both know that’s physically impossible, I kinda gotta look unless you want this sucker covering your mouth.” Richie has a point under all the sass: the injury has a kind of gravitational pull for the eye, like a black hold in Eddie’s torso. There’s a plasticky stretching sound as Richie peels the backing off the bandage. “Is this gonna hurt you?”

Eddie swallows. “I mean, it needs to be secure. You can’t just, uh. You gotta put it on so it stays on.”

“And the overlap on the stitches is fine?” Richie’s voice is casual, almost clinical about it.

Eddie cringes. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Incoming.” Richie presses the bandage onto his back. Eddie feels him run a fingertip across the top edge of the bandage, and then down along the left side. It doesn’t hurt exactly, but Richie is by definition pushing a bruise. Eddie makes a face as Richie repeats the move across the right edge, then along the bottom. “All right, will that work for you?”

“Should,” Eddie says, revolted at the very idea of Richie seeing his wounds. For a moment he considers asking Richie if he’s doing laundry and if he could throw the skull shirt in with it, but Eddie’s probably going to have to go at it with stain remover just because he knows what’s on it. “Thanks.” He starts to pull his hoodie on over his bare chest. The hoodie seems to have missed most of the drainage, and for that Eddie is grateful.

“No problem,” Richie says. Eddie’s grimacing as he tries to pull the sleeves up onto his shoulders. “Are you sleeping in that?” he asks, incredulous.

“No,” Eddie says. He glances at the door and then at Richie—who is not making eye contact, but staring in the vicinity of Eddie’s belly button. Sheer anxiety propels Eddie into getting the hoodie up into place and he hisses in pain.

Richie’s head snaps up and he makes eye contact with him, one brow raised. “Did that hurt? Why are you doing that if it hurts?”

“Your—” Eddie glares at him and then looks at the door again. “Your mother’s out there.” He’s not even happy with Richie seeing him like this, he’s not going to subject Maggie to it.

“Ah, yes, and if there’s one thing we know about my mother, it’s that she’s never seen a shirtless man before,” Richie says, before raising his voice slightly. “Hey, Ma?”

“Fuck,” Eddie mumbles, grimacing hard enough to close his eyes.

“Yes?” Maggie calls back, perfectly pleasant.

“Eddie’s half-naked, avert your eyes.”

“Okay,” she says just as brightly.

Eddie hisses at Richie, “Fuck off.”

Richie holds up both his hands. “Fucking off,” he says. He steps backward out of the open bathroom door and goes. Eddie finds himself staring into the dark hallway, at the closed door behind which lurks the basement, where Richie will be sleeping.

He dreams about it. Not It for once, not really. Instead he’s outside his body, watching himself sleep, shirtless on the electric blanket like a lizard warming itself on a hot rock. He can dimly feel that the arm pinned under him is going numb, but rolling onto his front or back is still too painful for him to sleep through.

Instead he turns—not in bed, but standing beside it in the navy dark of the blue room—and crosses the room. There’s no reflection in the glass doors of the Ikea bookcases; he feels carpet soft under his feet as he walks to the door. There’s a slight step up out of the room. He opens the door very slowly, backing up and making room for it, and then carefully steps up.

There’s no answering jolt in his chest as he shifts his weight. He has sensation, almost—the texture of the carpet, the cool of the doorknob under his fingertips—but no feedback from his body. He closes the door gingerly behind himself. This bottom stair creaks under his weight. Without a conscious decision to do so or real understanding of why, he steps closer to the wall. He knows it will make his steps quieter, that floorboards don’t creak there, but he doesn’t know why it’s important. There’s a tiled patch between the stairs and the swollen-shut front door. If he were awake his toes would curl away from it, it’s so cold.

Is he going outside? Is he sleepwalking? Is he having an out of body experience, astral projecting? Why not, at this point? After everything, why not.

But he turns right down the hallway and moves slowly, slowly, back onto the carpet. In the space between couch and stairs; past the narrow table with its identical lamps with their silk shades and the photo of Richie, the frame adorned with candy canes. A bowl with round ceramic orbs in it, decorative, like baubles for a Christmas tree but heavy-looking. A basket with knitting. He has a lot of time to consider them, he moves so slowly. So, so slowly. Trying not to be heard.

There’s a photo of Richie on the wall. High school graduation. Richie by himself in the driveway of the Tozier house, grimacing at the camera. Taken after he got tall, but before he got broad, so he’s still gangly and curly-haired, but his jaw’s gone square and sharp, his face gone heavy rather than narrow and pointy. An in-between Richie, wearing his ugly yellow cap and gown.

Eddie doesn’t remember him. He remembers the ordeal that was acquiring the cap and gown, the practice graduation all the seniors had to sit through when they were bussed to Bassey Park, the ordeal of trying to alphabetize themselves after twelve years going to school together—thirteen for the morning kindergarten class. Eddie remembers walking to his place in the line and thinking Bill would go there… Ben would go there… Mike would go between them, if he ever went to our school. In fact there were a lot of those moments, mournful moments thinking of where people long gone belonged, because Derry ate its children. Not all of them ran away. Not all of them got to run away, they were devoured entirely, blood sacrifice, open season. Eddie Corcoran, Betty Ripsom. Hell, even Patrick Hockstetter, dangerous animal though he was. Georgie Denbrough, who never made it to the fourth grade. Consumed whole.

He turns right into the hallway. The doorway to Maggie’s room—the Toziers don’t share a bed anymore, and part of Eddieis surprised by that, since he’s had no cause to doubt their devotion since his arrival at their house—is closed. The doorway to the bathroom is open, another dark shadow in this dark hallway. The door to the basement is closed. He knows it’s the door to the basement; it’s a little too high, the gap between it and the carpet a little too large.

He opens it and…

Stares down into the basement of Keene’s Pharmacy.

He wonders, sometimes, if he ever actually went down there. If Keene—despite being an absolute quack of a pharmacist, filling prescriptions with camphor and water like that wasn’t a total waste of everyone’s time, groping at Eddie’s face and making noises about cancer despite the fact that he’s a pharmacist and not a dermatologist but at least having the decency to break it to Eddie, the decency to tell him that his mother was full of shit and so was the doctor she sent him to—if Keene left the door unlocked for little boys to stumble down into; if Keene actually left the door unlocked for thin delicate men to wander down into and it wasn’t a total hallucination. Walking home covered in vomit indicates yes; but why would there need to be needles in the basement, stored in such a non-sterile environment? Why would there need to be a medical chair or a—a slab, or whatever it was? Why a curtain? What if it was all a farce made up by It? Eddie’s worst fears, now having an open house.

Eddie steps forward and his foot takes a long time to hit the unfinished stair. It’s a steep stairwell, very narrow. And he can’t stop himself from leaving the safety of the carpet in the Tozier’s house and descending into hell once more. His chest doesn’t hurt at all. He wonders if, in his dream, he’ll get winded walking back up the stairs.

Then he realizes he isn’t breathing at all. The way he sometimes dreams of swimming underwater and tries to hold his breath, but discovers that in his dream the air is right there for him when he needs it, whether he knows it or not.

There’s a hard turn in the stairwell that his body follows without his permission or his desire or his prompting, and he sees the filthy unfinished basement, the scattered medical equipment (bet they don’t have an intrusive spectrometer, Eds!), the drawn curtain. Eddie’s eyes search, looking for the leper, looking for It, looking for the trick, the trap, and his feet keep moving forward. He can look in whatever direction he pleases, but he can’t stop himself from walking forward, from approaching that raggedy curtain.

He hears breathing.

Not his, he knows he isn’t breathing right now. But he hears it, hears fast, deep breathing. Someone or something panting. The monster of his childhood, lurking under one of the shelves?

“Ah,” someone moans.

Eddie stills there, bare feet on the dirty dangerous floor. The almost oily texture of it, under the accumulated dried filth. He stares at the pale green curtain, at the metal rings on the railing, at the distance between the setup and the ceiling itself (but not loft ceilings. How do you change those lightbulbs?). He knows what the dream wants—wants him to reach out and draw back the curtain and see, wants him to be entranced, wants him to be horrified.

The next sound that comes from behind the curtain is a long scaled-out “Mmm!” The voice is deep. It’s a man’s voice.

Eddie whips his head around, knowing, waiting, and sees—not the leper, but himself, standing there in his red hoodie and his blue polo, his cheek unmarked except by that possibly cancerous mole Keene just manhandled. The other him has his arms crossed over his chest and looks completely unconcerned by what he’s hearing, maybe a little skeptical. He looks like—if he were the kind of man to lean, which he isn’t—he might rest his back against the wooden shelves and listen, waiting for it to be over. That’s what Eddie does during sex. He waits for it to be over.

The man behind the curtain moans again, “Mm, ah, ah—!” before lapsing back into panting.

And Eddie feels furious.

He rounds on himself, crossing the narrow room, about ready to shove him up against the wooden shelving. The other him doesn’t recoil and Eddie slows, wanting to keep some space between them, not ready to reach out and grab him by the throat.

“Fuck you,” Eddie says. “Fuck you, leave him alone. Get the fuck out of here, what are you doing?”

The other Eddie looks back at him and raises one eyebrow. “What are you doing here?” he asks.

Eddie coughs out a laugh. “You think I want to be here?”

The “Ahn” from behind the curtain nearly splits the room in half. It rings in Eddie’s ears.

“Yes,” the other Eddie replies calmly, as unimpressed as he is with any one-on-one meeting where someone tries to express quality concerns about his work, right before he rips into them and explains to them that just because they think it’s possible doesn’t mean that the software agrees with them.

Eddie shoves him and the other Eddie smacks back into the shelving. A jar of syringes rattles and falls to the ground; neither of them pay it any attention. The props are pointless now.

“It’s none of my fucking business,” Eddie snaps back at him. “I don’t have time for this.”

The other him smiles like he knows a secret Eddie doesn’t. Eddie’s not used to that look on his own face, that enigma of expression. It looks kind of stupid, he thinks. “You’ve got a lot of time. You're on island time!”

“I’m not doing this,” Eddie says, and turns to leave.

The other Eddie grabs him by the wrist. “You want to,” he says, and suddenly his face breaks into a grin. Blood wells from his cheek and mouth and spills down his neck, staining the collar of his polo shirt. “You’ll do it for free,” he says, voice twisting, becoming less than him.

Eddie hits him. Just reaches out and slaps him across the face. Blood spatters; he feels it make its impact—his cheek, his nose, his lips. He balls his hand into a fist and wipes the back of it across his mouth. It leaves a long smear. Eddie thinks of tissues with Myra’s blotted lipstick, left in the bathroom trash can.

The other him smiles and there’s something odd about his face, too. The point of his upper lip has to be more pronounced than Eddie’s. Maybe it’s exaggerated by the blood spilling out of his mouth. It runs down his neck. Eddie feels a phantom itch, rusting over his own throat, his collarbone.

“What do you want, Eds?” the other Eddie asks. “What are you looking for? If you lived here, you’d be—”

Eddie hits him again. Blood sprays again. Eddie doesn’t care—this is him, his blood is clean, it’s always been clean, he knows it, he’s always known it. Eddie slaps him once more and then releases him, taking a step back.

The man behind the curtain moans, “Oh. Oh, Eddie.”

“Fuck yeah I’ll do it for free,” Eddie snaps back at the other him. “I’ll suck all the dicks I want, I don’t care—but this isn’t that kind of dream, and this isn’t what I want, and when I have it it’ll be mine, you—” He makes a fist of his hand, at last, and swings for the other him.

And the other Eddie swings in kind and punches him in the chest.

He feels the pressure before he feels the pain—his ribcage buckling, the responding pressure on the other side of his chest as the blow goes all the way through him, his lungs popping, his blood spurting. And only then does the pain hit him, and he falls away, onto the needle-flecked ground, and the rings clatter as the curtain slides back, and—

He wakes up, his chest on fire with how it’s aching, how it’s itching. He’s afraid to move, knowing that if he does he’ll throw up, maybe immediately, but also afraid that if he doesn’t move he’ll fall back to sleep and be right back there, in the pharmacy basement. He’s afraid to breathe too hard for fear of how it’ll agitate his chest.

There’s a small white trash can on the other side of the nightstand, he remembers. He takes as deep a breath as he can manage and then he rolls over quickly, quick as he can with his torso in the state it’s in, and grabs it, flips it upside down to dump out anything in it, and then turns it to hold under his chin.

Nothing happens. Eddie pants, sweating, for several long moments. He hurt something in his side when he reached for the garbage can, he realizes now as his body makes its protests known. He braces the trash can on his knees and inclines his head and leans over it, trembling.

You’re sick, his body informs him.

“Fuck off,” Eddie whispers.

But he gets up and walks—quietly, but reasonably paced—to the Toziers’ bathroom, mindful of Went snoring upstairs and filling the loft ceiling with the sound of his breathing and his whirring and clicking machine. The door is open; he closes it quietly, turns the light on, and kneels in front of the toilet on a small plush rug placed there.

He tries to be quiet about it, but some things can’t be helped. He can control how loud he is, but everything outside of his body is out of his own control.

He doesn’t know how long it is before he hears a gentle knock at the door. He thinks, Oh god, Richie right before Maggie asks, “Hello?” and then he remembers that her room is right next door.

Eddie swallows, gulps, tries to get his throat under his control. “Sorry, Mrs. Tozier,” he says.

“Are you decent?” she asks.

Eddie should have locked the door. “Yes, ma’am,” he replies. He barely gets the ma’am out.

The door opens. Eddie is conscious of the smell, the volume, the late hour, the fact that he’s still retching, the fact that he’s shirtless and his stitches and bandages are basically on display. He can’t even look up at her, his eyes are streaming too badly.

“Any blood?” Maggie asks him.

Oh god. He checks and then shakes his head.

“Good,” she says. “I’ll bring you some water.”

“You don’t have to,” he chokes out, breathless.

“You need some water,” she replies easily. She brings him back a bottle from the kitchen and stands there as Eddie flushes the toilet, cracks the lid of the bottle, and rests there with his temple pressed up against the bathtub as he takes little sips. He rinses his mouth and spits in the still-refilling bowl.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.

“Don’t be, honey, it’s not like I have work in the morning,” she says.

Eddie takes the trick out of Mike’s book and puts the cap back on the water so he can hold it to the back of his neck. He can’t keep his eyes open and he’s a little relieved by that, in a way, he’s so ashamed. And he can hear heavy footsteps on stairs, someone else he woke up and coming toward him, and he’s in hell.

There’s a creak as a door opens and then Richie asks quietly, “Everything all right?”

“Eddie’s not feeling well,” Maggie replies calmly.

Eddie doesn’t look up.

“I got him,” Richie says. Eddie hears him stepping into the bathroom. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t open his eyes, just tries to pretend this isn’t happening. “You all right, Eds?” Richie asks. His voice is thick with sleep.

“Peachy,” Eddie replies, editing out the profanity only out of courtesy to Maggie Tozier.

Richie gives a faint huff of laughter. “Think you’re gonna go again?”

“I don’t know, maybe,” Eddie says. There’s no nausea that accompanies the thought; he feels shivery and weak, but at least done for now. But he’s absolutely not going to risk vomiting in Maggie Tozier’s blue room, so he’s going to hang out here for a little bit.

“Okay,” Richie says, and then Eddie hears him settling down, back sliding down the wall, joints clicking as he folds his knees. He does open his eyes at this and look at Richie in something like horror. Richie’s wearing pajama pants, red and black plaid. Eddie does not know where those came from, or where they were when Richie was hanging out in his boxers in the hotel room. Richie catches him looking and flexes his toes so that they pop. Eddie winces. Richie smiles, heavy-lidded. He’s not wearing his glasses.

“Can you even see me right now?” Eddie asks, his voice acid-thin.

“Nope,” Richie says, popping the P. “Who are you? What are you doing in my parents’ house? I know krav maga.”

“You do not,” Eddie says, eyes closing again.

“I know of it,” he insists.

Eddie allows himself to laugh a little at that—nothing that reaches his lungs, just a faint jostling of his whole body.

“Tired?” Richie asks.

Eddie nods, not wanting to admit how his sleep was interrupted.

“You want to go back to bed?”

“No,” Eddie mumbles. He’s reaching the point where overexertion means he’s weak and shaky and cold now, and he’s missing his blanket, but he’s afraid to go back to the guest room. At least so far he hasn’t done any damage—everything is contained and neatly cleaned away, barring odors. His throat is raw. He starts to shiver.

“Okay,” Richie says. “Come here, man. Come on.” He puts a hand on Eddie’s shoulder and Eddie opens his eyes a little to realize that Richie’s trying to tug him over toward him, and Eddie is… too tired to fight it. He goes from propped upright against the Tozier’s bathtub to the other way, leaning all the way across the bathroom floor to put his head on Richie’s thigh.

“Is this even good for your knees?” Eddie asks, eyes shut. The pajama pants are flannel and clearly old, studded with little fuzzballs. He can smell laundry detergent. If Richie sneezes he’ll probably accidentally knee Eddie in the face.

“You know, I think I’ll live,” Richie says. His fingers push into Eddie’s hair.

Eddie discovers small parts of him were resistant only when they go totally limp, giving in and putting all his weight on Richie’s leg. When he blinks his eyes open just hazily he stares at the cabinet under the sink and tells himself this is fine, and closes his eyes again.

“I can go get you a pillow if you want,” Richie offers. “Maggie puts seven of them on her beds. She read in HGTV magazine that eight is too many. I asked.”

Eddie tries to raise his head to look around for Maggie. “God, I’m so sorry,” he mumbles.

Richie snorts. “Did you do it on purpose?”

“People still have to apologize for things they do accidentally,” Eddie says.

“I guarantee you that my mother will laugh at you if you try,” Richie says. “I guarantee it.”

“And sorry for waking you up,” Eddie adds. He should get up and brush his teeth.

Richie cards gently through his hair. “And if you apologize to me again,” he says, “you don’t want to know what I’ll do.”

“You’re not scary,” Eddie mutters.

Richie laughs; Eddie can feel the little muscle impulses all the way down his body, though his legs barely move at all. “I’m really not,” he agrees.

At some point Eddie feels Richie shake him awake, feels him say, “All right, buddy, let’s go,” and hook him under the arms. Eddie gasps when Richie’s hand comes too close to the site of his intercostal drain; Richie’s hand whips away just as quickly. “Sorry, sorry,” he murmurs.

“S’okay,” Eddie mumbles. He knots his hands in Richie’s dumb T-shirt and hangs on. There are surfaces to brace himself on—the bathroom sink, the tub. He holds on to Richie, and Richie groans as he straightens himself up, and Eddie blinks blearily. He’s falling back to sleep standing up, the sleep is so heavy on his eyelids and in the back of his brain. He gets intermittent flashes of their bare feet, turned toward each other’s on the fluffy white rug.

“You good?” Richie asks.

Eddie feels a touch across his forehead and has to pipe up, defend against this image of Sonia Kaspbrak checking him for a fever.

“’M not sick, I’m drugged,” he insists.

“I know. Believe me, I know,” Richie says, and leads him back out of the bathroom, down the hall. “Watch your step here.” He holds Eddie’s elbows and Eddie blindly takes the step up, hears Richie open the door to the blue room, lets Richie guide him back to the step down. “There we go.”

Eddie hangs on until Richie turns in place and then Eddie feels the thump of the bed against the backs of his knees. He sits almost accidentally, releasing Richie’s shirt before the pull on his arms can hurt.

“Is this how you sleep?” Richie asks, finally looking at the still-made bed with the electric blanket stretched across it.

“Not allowed to sweat,” Eddie mumbles. He pitches forward, puts his forehead somewhere in the vicinity of Richie’s solar plexus. “I’m really sorry,” he says.

Richie is soft. There’s a faint give to his stomach that Eddie finds pleasant and comforting—the idea that Richie will give this far and no farther; the idea that Eddie could reach up and grab him and he’d be so solid, so warm. He smells so good.

Richie shushes him. “Go back to sleep, Eds.”

But it’s the sleeping that Eddie’s apologizing for—the sleeping and the dreaming and the brusque fantasy of what Richie might say, how Richie might breathe. Eddie hooks his fingers in the hem of Richie’s T-shirt. “Don’t go,” he says. And in it is tangled up don’t leave me, I always knew you would leave me and climb in, live in my sheets, be warm, be solid, be real, let me hold you, hold me, I want you and don’t go back down there, you don’t know what’s down there.

Richie’s hand gently detaches Eddie’s from his shirt, and a faint push on Eddie’s right shoulder propels him down to the pillow again. “I won’t. I’ll be on the couch if you need me, all right?”

Eddie doesn’t need, he just wants; he just wants because deep down maybe he’s always been selfish, maybe he always takes from people but then claims he can’t be blamed for it because it wasn’t something he asked for, like he didn’t seek it out, like—

He lets go, his head full of I always knew you would leave me, Eddie! and he can’t tell if the dream is Sonia or Myra.

Eddie wakes up in pain. This is not new to him, but this time it’s not his body trying to transmit the information you’ve been stabbed again to him. His entire body throbs. He lies there on the bed, the flatsheet pulled up over his back, having rolled at some point in his sleep to prop his body up on his left shoulder and his right knee. His left hand is tucked under his stomach, helping keep the bulk of his injuries off the actual mattress. Eddie is kind of impressed that his sleeping body did that without his prompting—that it moves to defend itself.

Then he remembers that he definitely didn’t pull the sheet up over himself, so Richie must have, and he remembers how mortifying last night was, and then he does his best to curl up like a pill bug despite his limited mobility.

Oh god. He woke up Richie’s mother, he was half naked, he has a stunning number of bruises and stitches on display, and he threw up in front of her. And she was very nice about it—Eddie doesn’t know if, in her position, he would have the wherewithal to be nice about someone causing that much of a disturbance at that hour—but Eddie doesn’t know that he gave her much of a choice.

And then Richie came in—which meant he was making enough noise to wake Richie downstairs too, which means he probably also woke up Wentworth upstairs, which means he disturbed the entire house—and just… sat up with him. Let him fall asleep on him and waited to see if Eddie would throw up again, and he didn’t, so what if Richie thinks he was taking advantage of the situation and just wanted to curl up on his knee like a kid, after Eddie made such a fuss about Richie treating him like a patient, treating him like a child…

And then Eddie asked him to sleep in the bed with him.

“Fuck,” he mutters into the pillows. There were seven on the bed; Eddie quietly removed the decorative fish pillows and set them on the floor next to the bedside table, and now he only has four to whisper his agonies into. He knots his clumsy right hand into a fist and punches at one, punctuating each blow with “Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, fucking hell, goddamn, fuck.”

For some reason punching the pillow doesn’t change anything about his immediate situation. His fist chooses to provide him with some bodily feedback for once, informing him that these pillows are pleasantly stuffed. They’re nice guest pillows, not the flat nonsense you put out because you don’t know how to get rid of them. Eddie feels worse and pats the pillow almost apologetically before letting his hand fall to the side.

What time is it, even?

He rolls over to check his phone and actually does drop it in shock. It’s after eleven. He has less than one hour of morning left to him, to pack up and apologize to the Toziers and get on the road. They won’t arrive at Ben’s until five at the earliest, maybe closer to six depending on which route Richie takes, which they still haven’t discussed. They should have discussed that last night. At the moment Eddie is about ready to cram everything in his suitcases and high-tail it out of the state of Connecticut.

But he’s also a grown man, and not a teenager who humiliated himself in a high school cafeteria. And he’s gonna have to get up.

Eventually. Maybe when his ribs stop trying to kill him. Hoo boy, this hurts. He searches idly with one hand for the break—no one has shown him X-rays of his own damn chest, which considering he knows he has to have had like a million while he was out, seems like an oversight—but he knows it’s where the sharp pain comes from, when he breathes or coughs or laughs or—god forbid, sneezes. The stab wound is a dull and constant pain, much like the bruises around it, but deep inside his body.

He feels… fragile. Thinking about his breathing too much has never been good for him—gave him that pinhole trachea sensation, his throat closing up, you’re going to fucking die, Eddie. Now he can’t get a breath, but the issue is so much deeper down. An inhaler—even a functional inhaler—what’s that gonna do for his dented and punctured torso? He feels like a can of stewed tomatoes, dropped off a shelf and onto a spike. How’s a little spray of water and camphor gonna compete with that?

He used to get gas bubbles in his chest all the time when he was a kid—no idea why, just part of being alive—but he remembers how afraid he was of pain in those days, because he had no experience with it and his mother told him every day (every. Day.) how afraid she was of him getting hurt. He knew that if he breathed in the bubble would pop and the pain would be worse—sharper, scarier—in that second, and then it would fade, but he was afraid of the hurt, so he just breathed shallowly until the pain came in at him with its fuzzy edges and then he backed away from it, hyperventilating. Sometimes he wouldn’t even notice that the gas bubble had gone away on its own because he was too afraid to breathe deep enough to feel it.

Pain is… less frightening now. He knows what obliterating pain is now—pain in the sense that it whites you out, pain in the sense that it collapses the walls of arteries and veins and capillaries, nothing to rebuild there, but somehow your body still tries to tell you something’s wrong. I know, he says to his body. I know, and it’s gonna be okay.

It’s gonna hurt, and it’s gonna be okay. Not even but, the “being okay” part of it is not a consolation prize, not something that he earns for his pain and his hurt, not a conditional or a contrary thought, not a balancing scale. Two parallel lines. The I hurt doesn’t interfere with I’m okay. The I’m okay doesn’t diminish the I hurt.

I’m not bad.

Eddie takes a deep breath and feels the sharp shooting pain from the center of his chest. That’s not the stab wound—It didn’t have the decency to hit him symmetrically, the stupid fucking thing—it’s where Richie’s hands pushed down on his chest and his rib separated from his sternum, cartilage and bone. By the time Eddie woke up the bruises in the shape of Richie’s palm—Richie and Stan trying to hold his life in his body, his blood, his soul—faded brown and green and yellow, broken blood vessels coming back in all the colors of spring. Now the bruising is concentrated down and slightly to the side, creating a frame for the stab wound.

He can’t look at that. He knows it’s a puncture wound; he knows it went all the way through him; he knows that if he has to contemplate a new hole in his body and the ideas of where he was sewn up and reconstructed (thank you, Sovereign Light Hospital) he’ll have a vasovagal response. That’s not weakness, that’s just his body going Hey, we’ve noticed something is really, really wrong, and we’re gonna have a response to that that we feel is appropriate, so buckle up, motherfucker. Eddie can get pissed at the way his asthma attacks—panic attacks used to happen randomly, but considering he literally died from what It did to him, he’s gonna cut his body some slack when it comes to the survival impulse regarding the impalement. Panic attacks just make him feel like he’s dying for no good reason. Eddie has a lot of feelings, and now that he’s forty he’s going to have to learn how not to die from them.

Oddly this cheers him. He may have humiliated himself in front of Maggie Tozier, and possibly Richie’s dad depending on whether or not he woke up, and definitely Richie himself—but he won’t die of embarrassment. And he doesn’t think he’s having a panic attack either, so that’s a plus.

He picks his phone up off the mattress and checks his notifications. There are several messages in the group chat—responses to him sending Richie’s baby pictures over—and then one message from Richie Tozier.

if you’re gonna shower wait a bit the hot water refills really slow

The timestamp on this message says it came in just after nine in the morning. Which means that Eddie has officially slept later than Richie. Eddie is beginning to understand that he might never have been an early bird as he believed, he just had an intensely regulated sleep schedule that, as soon as he broke it, now seems as distant as the moon. But he always took some level of pride in seeing sunrises—balm for the early riser—and now the knowledge that he’s running behind Richie of all people grieves him.

He lets his head thunk back down onto the perfectly fluffy pillow. Would it be better or worse if Richie acknowledged… any of what happened last night? Or does he, like Eddie, not know where to start? Or, and this last one seems unlikely, has Richie at last acquired a sense of decorum that stops him from having difficult conversations over text message?

Yeah, probably not. Eddie sees two options before him: one, that Richie pretends that it didn’t happen, writes it off as a side effect of Eddie’s injury and drug delirium, just like Eddie waking up post-surgery to tell him he loves him, and Richie’s going to pretend his kindness never happened either, just like calling Eddie sweetheart and kissing him on the forehead.

Or—and this one is the acute pain, compared to the aching itching chest pain of pretending it didn’t happen—Eddie’s going to be trapped in a car with Richie for the next five, possibly six hours. Cars create a false sense of intimacy—the necessity of not looking in each other’s faces, the motion allowing people to feel they’re moving forward in a conversation, making progress, making great strides.

In other words: Eddie’s choices are the unstoppable force of Richie’s new (used) Subaru, or the immovable object of Richie’s emotional opacity.

He opens the group chat and almost spitefully reads through the Losers’ mass hilarity at Richie’s baby pictures. Stan confirms that, yes, that is his cat.

Ben Hanscom: What was its name?

Stanley Uris: Phyllis.

There are coos and heart images over Phyllis Uris the cat (god, what a terrible name), and a your mom is so pretty! from Bev, and at some point Richie stormed in with yeah yeah yeah yuk it up do the rest of you even have baby pictures

William Denbrough: Yes, but they’re all extremely depressing.

The air goes out of Eddie’s chest like he’s been kicked in the stomach, which was probably what Bill intended. He can’t imagine having a sibling—can’t imagine an ally in the house with him and his mother. Even his father is an obscure memory, too faint to have left an impression, in the way that his presence shaped Sonia’s behavior like a rock in a stream. And a younger sibling, like Bill had—well, Eddie put up with a lot from his mother, but he think he’d probably have had an ulcer by sixteen, trying to run interference between her and someone else, someone smaller, someone who needed him.

That’s part of why being in the Toziers’ house as an adult, conscious to these dynamics, feels so alien. Maggie scolded Richie frequently in front of his friends, and Eddie always went rigid when it happened, but either the issues seemed to blow over quickly or Bill, Stan, and Eddie were asked politely to leave. Maggie never wailed over him in front of his friends; Maggie sent them away as Richie’s punishment or because they were distracting, but she never blamed them for what Richie did and claimed it was their fault for corrupting him or getting him dirty, and she never seemed to have an issue with them the next time Eddie saw her. She was… nice. To Eddie, to the rest of them. She was a nice mom.

It’s part of why the conversation from last night sits so ill with him. He had half a mind to call Mike last night before he went to bed, turning the phone over in his hand, listening to the hushed and indistinguishable voices of Richie and Maggie talking in the next room. Mike said that the residents of Derry are experiencing consequences for the first time, and isn’t that interesting? Except it seems to result in Mike getting shit on at his job for something that isn’t his fault, and the Toziers seemed… oddly calm with the idea of raising a child who was bullied by a mass murderer. Not someone who went on to be a mass murderer, either. Someone who actually was a mass murderer at the time he was bullying Richie, as far as either Dr. or Mrs. Tozier know. Wentworth asked Richie what he had done to make Bowers chase him, and Richie had plenty of inciting incidents—Richie was always drawing attention to himself—but not always. Bowers and his gang never needed the excuse, but they liked it when Richie gave it to them.

Eddie startles when he reads further down and discovers that Patty Uris is in the group chat. The little display of contacts—no photos, all gray circles—is too tightly packed for Eddie to have counted them, but now he opens it up and checks. All six of the other Losers, and Patricia Blum Uris. Audra Phillips is not in the text chat. Eddie doesn’t know why that fills him with relief, but it does.

What Patty has sent looks like a phone camera’s image of a photograph from an album; there’s a glare on it that looks like plastic film. It’s of Stan, blond and skinny and tall for a toddler, holding a broom. He’s wearing a blue T-shirt, a diaper, and a single blue sock. There are several little emoticon images attached to the photo.

Richie Tozier: patty uris run away with me

Patricia Blum Uris: No thank you!

Stanley Uris: Eddie, you know what you have to do.

Eddie snorts a little as he reads it. There are a number of broad photo binders on the shelves in this room, but Eddie has a sense that going through them would be a kind of violation. Photographs set out on display are one thing, but he’s not about to go rummaging through the family albums, especially not after how he embarrassed himself in front of Maggie last night. He might never be getting invited back, but he’s not gonna dig himself any deeper either.

Fortified with the knowledge that humiliation won’t kill him and the image of baby Stan, Eddie resigns himself to taking a shower and gets up. He doesn’t want Richie to have to pick the bandage off him again—disgusting—but he definitely broke out in a cold sweat while he was vomiting last night, and he’s already slept at least eight hours with it cooling and drying over his stitches and injury. He has to wash himself. And he needs a clean button-down shirt.

Eddie texts Richie: I need a clean shirt and you to get the bandage on my back, can you meet me in the bathroom? He even hears the loud ding from beyond the bedroom door as Richie’s phone receives the text message.

The animated ellipsis bubbles while Richie types his response: can do pikachu

Eddie stares at that, wondering what that’s supposed to mean and trying to imagine Richie saying it out loud. Is it a question? He feels like it should be a question. Where does the intonation go? Is Richie making a lewd joke about Pikachu?

Whatever. Richie will show up in the bathroom or he won’t.

Eddie puts his pajama shirt back on, grabs his toiletry bag—shampoo and conditioner, special soap for his incisions, pills—and clean pants, underwear, and socks, and opens the door to the blue room like he’s getting ready to jump off a cliff.

Wentworth Tozier is immediately visible in the armchair in the corner. “Good morning, sunshine,” he says, so uncannily like Richie that Eddie is momentarily shaken. His voice is hoarse, but the intonation is exactly the same as Richie used in the car.

“Good morning,” Eddie replies awkwardly, averting his eyes. His progress across the living room is excruciatingly slow. He can’t see Richie from this angle, but he can see Maggie Tozier sitting at her glass-topped kitchen table. There are three curlers in her hair, just on the crown of her head instead of on the sides, and Eddie’s almost embarrassed to see them so he just fixes his gaze on Richie’s graduation photo and continues on his quest. He can hear Maggie and Richie talking clearly enough.

“Oh wait, he’s awake,” Maggie says, and there’s the scrape of a chair across the floor. Eddie recoils as she comes out of the kitchen and says, “Good morning, Eddie!” but she’s not making a beeline for him, she’s walking toward the TV unit where the CD player and its speakers are kept.

“Good morning,” he says again, and swallows. “I’m, uh, sorry about last night.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Maggie says. “If you’re up, that means we can play music without worrying about waking you. You needed the rest after that, I figured.” She stoops and hits a few buttons on the machine. “Get ready, Rich.”

“Oh hell yes,” Richie says. Eddie has no idea what that means and whether he should be heading for cover.

A very familiar piano riff rolls out of the speaker.

“What,” Eddie says flatly, completely involuntarily.

The piano riff rolls again.

Richie shouts, “Whoo!” from the kitchen as Bob Seger starts up.

“No, no, absolutely not,” Eddie says, not meaning to be rude about Maggie’s taste in music, but he knows what’s about to happen, and he’s absolutely right.

Richie skids out of the tiled kitchen and onto the carpet, trips, and falls into the leg-spread position from Risky Business. His entrance is late, he can’t get his knee high up enough for the kick and turn, but he tries.

“No,” Eddie says loudly, and points at Richie as Richie beams at him, mercifully fully-dressed. “No, no, no, fuck you, you are forty years old, this is 2016, I’m taking a fucking shower. Fuck you.” He points once more at Richie, who looks delighted, and then remembers Maggie and Wentworth still in the room. He lowers his hand, clears his throat, and says, “Thank you for your hospitality,” before he creeps toward the bathroom as fast as he can.

Richie’s laughter is completely out of time with the music and it cuts through the door just as clearly.

By the time that Eddie lets himself fall into the passenger seat of the Subaru, he’s been awake for maybe an hour and he’s freaking exhausted. The Toziers do not exist in silence, and Maggie had music on shuffle—an eclectic mix, less than half of which Eddie recognized—so Eddie could hear the mechanical switching of CDs in the player. Wentworth reiterated his offer to pull some strings with the local dentist community to get Eddie’s tooth seen to. And to cap it all off, Richie breezed in and pulled the bandage off Eddie’s back as casually as Eddie might unzip Myra’s dress when they got home from a formal event, left him the watch shirt on the closed toilet seat, and then threatened to cook breakfast for him.

It’s a lot. Eddie has to eat before he can take his prescriptions, but he took the Dramamine on an empty stomach, and he’s just waiting for the sudden fuzziness to hit him like a blow to the back of the head.

Richie closes the trunk of the car and comes back around to say his goodbyes to his parents. Eddie feels awkward watching that, so he looks into the side mirror for lack of anything better to do as Richie hugs his mother. They were arguing about music streaming services back in the house, and Eddie doesn’t know what to do with a Richie who’s solicitous to others—fixing tea, scooping ice cream, assuring his mother that he would pay for her to have premium accounts if it meant she would stop using a CD player in the year of our lord 2016 (Richie’s words; Wentworth said drily, “5576 in the year of my lord, thanks”; Richie: “I can’t count that high”), brandishing a spatula at Eddie and threatening to cook for him.

It’s—not surprising, or it shouldn’t be surprising, considering how Richie’s been all but waiting on Eddie hand and foot since even before he got out of the hospital. It’s just that watching him do the same for his parents—for his relatively healthy parents—makes Eddie feel simultaneously better about it and worse. Better because it means that Richie’s not taking pity on Eddie; but worse because it makes Eddie… a little jealous. He can’t wash his hair without thinking about Richie’s hands on his head in the hospital; the idea that this might just be who Richie became after twenty-seven years apart, that he would do this if, for instance, Ben had been injured in the final showdown with It…

It’s a messy knot of feelings and Eddie doesn’t have the emotional strength to tease the whole thing out, but his brain is desperate for anything to focus on other than the blistering embarrassment of his interactions with Maggie and Wentworth Tozier. So it picks over Eddie’s selfishness, comparing and contrasting Richie’s casual just helping you out, bro moments with Sonia and Myra’s babying, testing the possibility that Eddie seeks this out because he likes being taken care of despite all his protests, because something in him craves it—

Wentworth Tozier knocks on the window. Eddie blinks and, because the car’s off and he can’t roll the glass down, opens the door slightly.

“Just wanted to ask you what route you’re taking,” Wentworth says calmly, bracing his elbow on the side of the car and holding a fingertip over his stoma. The angle looks uncomfortable, but Eddie can’t get up so they can communicate like two adult men instead of one stooping dentist and one child.

“I-90 West,” Eddie replies, unsure why he’s being asked this instead of Richie. The shotgun position is traditionally the navigator’s role, but everyone knows that Eddie’s going to fall asleep basically as soon as the car starts moving, and Eddie is honestly kind of looking forward to it.

Wentworth nods but asks, “Not 17 West?”

Eddie shakes his head. “That’s like, over fifty miles longer.”

“But the tolls,” Went says. “Do you have money for the tolls?”

“Yes,” Richie says calmly over the hood of the car.

“Cash?” Wentworth presses.

“Yes, we have cash for the tolls—how do you think we got here, old man?” Richie asks.

“Do you need more?”

“Where was this when I was eleven and begging for movie ticket money?”

Wentworth straightens up. “I just want you to be safe.”

“I promise, we will be extremely safe,” Richie says. “With Eds in the car, there’s no way anything even remotely fun could happen.”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says automatically, and then cringes. “Sorry.”

“No, you’ve made your position quite clear,” Wentworth says, apparently unfazed. He takes a step back from the car. “Just wanted to check.”

Maggie crouches and waves at Eddie through the windshield. Eddie waves back. Richie gets into the car and adjusts the seat position relative to the pedals, despite the fact that no one but him has driven the car. Maybe he got leg cramps from driving yesterday. The fact that Eddie can’t offer to take a shift, to pull his own weight, is frustrating, but it’s nothing new. When Richie turns the key in the ignition something unknots in Eddie’s gut and he leans back a little in the chair.

Richie reverses and slowly guides the car out of the drive. Eddie doesn’t even have anything to complain about regarding his technique or his mirrors. There are little red reflective markers posted up and down either side of the driveway. Maggie waves the whole way, and Wentworth stands with his arms folded across his chest as Richie slowly turns and gets them back on the road.

Turning onto the road with the pond, Richie asks, “So do you want to stop at a diner, or do you want to get breakfast at a gas station?”

Eddie considers the pros and cons of a gas station breakfast. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet,” he says.

“What, eating?”

“No, eating at a gas station.”

“Diner it is,” Richie says. He doesn’t put his hands together, but he does the I Dream of Jeannie head wobble again. As you wish.

About an hour after breakfast—brunch, really—when Eddie is feeling pleasantly sleepy without the urgency, and Richie has a playlist called “Maybe Not” on in the background, subtle and mellow, Richie pipes up. “Can I ask you something?”

Eddie goes alert the way you do when you fall asleep too fast and your body worries that your dropping heart rate means you’re dying. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting—Did you want me to sleep in the bed with you? or Are you okay with my parents considering all the weird shit that happened with your mom? or Hey, when you said you love me, did you mean…?

“Yeah,” Eddie manages, the word coming out of him with the same sucking tension as a clog releasing from a drain. The Dramamine is working, so his brain’s not as clear as it might be, but he doesn’t feel nauseated or anything.

“Why do you think It chose us?”

That’s not what Eddie expected. Not at all. He shouldn’t feel relieved when talking about the evil space clown, but he kind of does, in a secret guilty way. And to think he was sulking earlier about Richie’s reluctance to talk about anything of substance, and now he’s grateful for it.

“I mean,” Richie says, filling the silence as Eddie considers, “It had to appear to the others, too. That was Its thing—Mike talked about—about his dad seeing it at the Black Spot, and about the Bradley Gang shootout, It was there, It appeared to—and Bev said that It attacked Hockstetter as… as leeches or something—it’s not that It was only tormenting us, is all. It’s not like we were special there.”

Eddie has been dwelling on the meaning of special today but this is worse, somehow.

“And we were all only children, except Bill,” Richie says. “But Bill was always—”

He takes one hand off the wheel and gestures, indicating Bill’s general exceptionalism. Eddie nods, understanding—Bill admitted in a way that he treated Eddie like a little brother, like Georgie once Georgie was gone. But Eddie never felt like that—he remembered going along with Bill to pick up Georgie from the grade school on their way home, just part of the stop, just part of what you did if you wanted to walk home with Big Bill, so Eddie biked along and watched Georgie clamber up behind Bill on Silver and wrap his little arms around his shoulders, and Bill took it so for granted that it looked like Georgie was an extension of him, just something Bill had to do to make sure all of himself got home. Georgie was always happy to see them, happy to see Bill’s friends, happy to be included: Hiya, Eddie! How are ya? And Eddie felt shades of that sometimes, just happy to run with Big Bill.

He never felt like his inclusion was that effortless, that automatic, with anyone except the Losers. That’s why he loved them as ferociously as he did—being caught alone was one thing, but being caught by bullies, by monsters, by whatever the world could throw at them was never so bad. Eddie was scared for himself, certainly, but he was always furious whenever anyone messed with the rest of them.

He remembers, dimly, Richie falling silent mid-taunt, his eyes rolling back up in his head and his jaw falling open, and realizing what had happened, and thinking, You fucker, you bitch, put him down, he’s mine. I’ll show you.

“And it was weird, for parents back in the seventies, to just have one. I mean, not my parents, I was the reason they stopped,” Richie quips, unable to take himself totally seriously, “but I know Mom always wanted a daughter, and I don’t know why they didn’t try.”

“I don’t know what I’d have done if I had a brother or sister,” Eddie says softly. He thinks about it sometimes, usually in the moments when he and Myra are dwelling on their inability to have children. Thinks about the exemplary model of parenting set by Sonia Kaspbrak.

He would have died in that house, he thinks. Eddie’s not a man’s man, he’s a doormat, you can walk all over him, but if he had someone who belonged to him like that… He doesn’t think he could have stood around and watched them be devoured. Bill certainly didn’t. And it wouldn’t have mattered, in the moment, if Sonia only ate her children because she loved them. Eddie would allow things to happen to him that he’d never tolerate happening to someone else. He’d have done whatever he had to in order to get them out, and then he’d have stayed and played the dutiful son to Sonia to make up for it.

“I’d have been smothered in my sleep by the time I was six,” Richie says confidently, like he’s thought about it before. “I think even if I had a sister, like as soon as that girl was walking she would have been like, ‘I’ve had enough of this fucker’ and done what she had to do for the good of humanity.”

Eddie stares at him. Richie’s still gazing out the windshield but his eyes are far away. Mercifully the interstate looks relatively clear; they might even get to Ben’s before dinnertime at this rate, though Eddie’s not about to jinx them by voicing the thought out loud.

“I think we had to be lonely,” Richie says. “To fight It. I think we had to—to be ready to—to kill for each other, at thirteen. You remember when Ben and Bev and Mike came in.”

Eddie does—the sudden feeling of rightness, of something snapping into place, pieces made to fit. Ben and Beverly and Mike belonged, in the way that some kid pulled from their class just wouldn’t fit. Losers for life, and all that.

Eddie wonders how he can just have come from that house, with those congenial parents who behave just like him, and no doubt be dwelling on the childhood he hasn’t thought about since he actually experienced it, and conclude that he was lonely. Eddie was lonely, in that house with Sonia. Frank wasn’t even a ghostly presence; he wasn’t making jokes to Eddie, there was no established back-and-forth. Eddie feels like he barely spoke in his house except to say Sorry, Mommy, I love you, Mommy for the first eighteen years of his life. Richie was allowed to have friends over, provided he behaved, and the boundaries for what constituted acceptable behavior were far wider for Richie than they ever were for Eddie. Hell, Eddie just cussed Richie out in front of his parents over no greater provocation than Bob Seger, and the Toziers are still being nice to him.

“I wasn’t lonely,” Eddie says. Not where it mattered, anyway.

Richie glances at him quickly, not turning his head all the way. Eddie looks at the shape of Richie’s nose, the newness of it in three-quarters view, and something in his chest tightens down possessively. Kiss him, Eddie thinks, but it’s not the moment.

“No?” Richie asks. “I figured that was the teenage condition. Nobody understands me, everybody hates me, I’m actually…” He shrugs, falling out of his faint whine. “…Luke Skywalker and I’m about to be caught up in the adventure of a lifetime because of who I’ve actually been the whole time.”

Eddie frowns at him. “You were never Luke Skywalker,” he says.

Something in Richie’s face goes sharp and alert and watchful, though he’s still not looking at Eddie. It’s the you’ve set me up for a punchline and I’m waiting to take it face. “Who was I?” he prompts, voice tilting like he knows the answer already.

Eddie can’t remember having a crush on Harrison Ford when he first saw the Star Wars movies, but he absolutely knows that Richie wants to tease him about it. “Chewbacca,” Eddie replies calmly. “You got like really hairy in high school, dude, it was fucking horrific.” And tall and his voice changed and he made weird noises with the slightest provocation.

Richie, happy as ever to be roasted by Eddie, laughs, but it’s not his out-of-control, Eds gets off a good one laugh.

“And I don’t think the bad guy chooses the hero,” Eddie says. “Darth Vader didn’t pick Luke.”

“Technically, Darth Vader made Luke,” Richie says. “Probably not with that intention, but like—It definitely made Bill.”

And that’s true. If It hadn’t taken Georgie Denbrough, Eddie doesn’t know what would have happened to Eddie. Maybe they’d all have known that something was wrong in Derry, but they’d have put it out of mind the way that everyone in Derry did when one person wronged another, when a kid went missing, when it was revealed that the Corcoran kid hadn’t gone missing at all but had been done in by his stepfather because he knew that he’d be able to get away with it. Maybe Eddie would be—

—would be in an office building in New York right now, at his job, getting ready to go home to his wife and eat dinner in silence; because if It had never happened to him, Eddie would have the exact same life he had when he forgot about It, except he’d never have had those crazy spurts of unknown bravery. There would have been no need for them.

He’s not grateful for It, so much. But he thinks he understands a little bit more about who he is in the dark than most of his coworkers know about themselves. Growing up in Derry was a life-or-death situation, and most of the population doesn’t know much about that on any given day. That’s the kind of thing that happens to soldiers in war zones or women pursued on their walks home at night. Eddie grew up hunted and now he’s remembering this about himself. Now he knows what he does when caught.

Would any random child plucked off the street—not one of the Lucky Seven—would they have reacted the same way? If it was the rest of the six of them, but Eddie was swapped out for some random kid…

He can’t even remember their names, now. Could he have been replaced so easily?

“I mean—do you think it was anything we did?” Richie asks. “That made It come after us? Do you think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, do you think it was because we were never at home, do you think it was because we went off by ourselves, do you think…?” Richie shrugs. What makes a monster hunter at thirteen?

What’s Richie saying? That It should have killed the other kid? The kid who didn’t listen to his mother and walk home from school with a buddy and adhere to the curfew and stay at home when it rains because you could get sick going out in weather like that, look what happened to the Denbrough boy?

The muscle pulses in Richie’s jaw and Eddie understands all at once: And why’d he chase you? Richie, when you were a kid nothing was ever your fault.

Eddie almost says, It wasn’t your fault! You were eleven!

But that’s not the kind of response Richie’s looking for. Eddie has the curious sensation of coaxing some injured animal toward him so he can get it to help, like a feral cat or a fox or something. If Eddie just grabs for the wound Richie’s gonna startle away, misdirect, make a joke out of it. And now, for my final trick: I will disappear.

“No,” Eddie says with certainty. Too certain.

Richie glances at him again, expression dubious.

“No,” Eddie says again, remembering the way he’d just be trying to walk to class and Belch Huggins would descend on him. It wasn’t because Eddie dressed in shorts and pink polos, because when he tried dressing differently in high school that didn’t make a difference, didn’t stop the kids whispering that he was a sissy, a queerboy, as if that meant anything at ten years old, as if any of them had even the nerve to reach out and hold someone else’s hand at ten years old, boy or girl. “It was just… what we were. We were kids, It ate kids, It tried to eat us. It wasn’t anything we did, it was just… The remarkable thing,” Eddie says, changing his tactic mid-sentence, “is not that It went after us, it’s that there were seven of us It couldn’t kill. That we just happened to be those kids who…” He shrugs, awkward, and hurts himself, and hisses a little under his breath.

Richie doesn’t react to his little pained sound, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t hear it. “Who were willing to die for each other,” Richie finishes. “And that we grew up, and were still willing to die for each other.”

“Yes,” Eddie says, remembering Bill yanking Mike out of the way, remembering Richie grabbing Eddie by the wrist and running away from the doors, remembering Ben throwing himself on the teenage werewolf, remembering Bev closing one eye and taking aim with the slingshot as they all screamed her on, remembering Stan taking off his cardigan and pressing it to Eddie’s chest, heedless of the danger around them. “Yes.”

“Bad fucking luck for It, then,” Richie says quietly.

“Yes,” he says again. Something in his chest hurts, far deeper than anywhere It could ever manage to dig. The hurt of soap on a wound, cleaning it out, getting it ready for healing. “Good for us, though.”

Richie doesn’t turn his head, but his eyes flick towards Eddie. The corner of his mouth curls a little. That same watchfulness still lurks in his expression. Eddie feels good, feels happy, the opposite of lonely after all these years, but he doesn’t know why there’s still that faint edge of something in Richie’s face. “Yeah,” he says, his voice tinged sardonic. “Good for us.”

Chapter Text

As soon as they come in sight of Ben’s house, both Eddie and Richie incline their heads in a slouch to peer at it from under the windshield. They look at it for long moments—Ben’s car parked outside in the driveway, Silver leaned up against the front steps. It is without a doubt the right place.

“Huh,” Richie says aloud.

Not that there could be any doubt that it’s the right place. Richie can follow directions adequately, though Eddie read them off his phone just in case the GPS made a mistake. Every time there was a slight differentiation between what Ben texted him and what the friendly AI voice suggested Richie do, Eddie narrowed his eyes at it in suspicion. Richie made I, Robot jokes. Eddie knows he watched that during his Academy Award phase, but he doesn’t think he’s watched it since, so his memory tried to supplement the blanks with what context clues Richie provided him, and after a certain point Eddie started to suspect Richie was making shit up to fuck with him.

Moreover, they know that it’s definitely Ben’s house, because they can see into it, because the house is all glass on one side. Just big windows. Eddie is fascinated, but in the same way that moves him to rubberneck when he sees car accidents, despite knowing that distracted driving is extremely dangerous.

“And he’s… an architect,” Eddie says slowly.

The visibility isn’t great in every room of the house—Eddie assumes that there are rooms, that Ben’s cabin in the woods isn’t just one massive sleek-chic studio apartment—but where the lights are on he can see in clearly. And—yep, Ben’s waving at them.

Richie parks the car with less attentiveness than Eddie would prefer, but it’s hard to blame him because they’re both staring at the affront to privacy that Ben calls home. As soon as he switches off the engine Richie leans back in the driver’s seat and just stares.

“Are we sure that Ben’s, uh… good at his job?” Richie asks. “Because, like, I saw the reviews for the BBC tower, I just figured that was everybody hating skyscrapers, but it looks like…”

“Did Ben really want to be a glassblower?” Eddie asks, craning his neck. He saw the BBC tower stuff too and paid it very little mind, just noting how shiny and metropolitan it looked, and that the critics seemed entirely too vehement in their responses—like the judge from Pink Floyd’s The Wall screaming that Ben’s tower filled him with the urge to defecate. It was a public building, a publicity thing.

This is a house. Where Ben lives. And Eddie understands why the house is in the woods, because otherwise Ben’s “hermit architect” schtick would be instead extremely public.

“Are we sure he’s an architect?” Richie asks. “Because I don’t want to be a bitch about this, but that’s a rectangle.”

Eddie tilts his head and looks at the edges of the building. “It’s more of a lozenge?” he offers.

In his peripheral vision, Eddie sees Richie turn his head very slowly, as though Eddie has just announced that he kind of likes Ben’s greenhouse for people.

“Because of the corners,” Eddie says, blushing despite himself. “They’re rounded. It’s like a—shut up, it’s not a drug thing.”

“A drug thing?” Richie repeats, the beginnings of a laugh in his voice. “Because if I was gonna say a drug thing about Ben’s house, I’d say that he should be supplementing his income growing weed, man, look at that, look at all the sun, nobody’s gonna come out here and bust him.”

“How much do you think he pays to heat it in the winter?” Eddie asks. All the glass means it has to be so subject to ambient weather; it must be blistering in the summer, too. Ben can’t possibly stay here during the winter, he has to have other houses in warmer climes, you just can’t live like this in a New England winter.

“Is Bev moving in with him?” Richie asks. “Because, like, she’s a redhead. She is going to get sunburned indoors here.”

Ben opens the front door and immediately Eddie plasters a big smile on his face and waves. In his peripheral vision he can see that Richie is doing the same thing.

“Do you hate it?” Eddie asks through his gritted teeth.

“I kind of hate it,” Richie replies, tense tone suggesting he’s doing the same thing.

“Oh boy.” Because if Richie thinks there’s something to make fun of here, he’s not going to keep quiet about it. And Eddie’s not ready to be rude to Ben about the house that he’s generously letting him stay in while he gets back on his feet, but he also knows that Richie’s going to make him laugh about it. He reflexively puts a hand on his chest, preparing for the pain.

“What?” Richie asks immediately.

It takes Eddie a second to realize that Richie thinks he’s in pain now. “Nothing,” Eddie says.

But Richie doesn’t push. Ben’s coming down the steps, and Bev is following. They get out of the car and a deep ache in Eddie’s knees makes itself known as soon as he stands and puts his weight on his feet. Also his ass is numb. He’s never had pins and needles in his ass before.

“Hey,” Ben says brightly. “How was your trip?”

Bev asks, “How many baby pictures did you smuggle out of the Toziers’ house?”

Eddie smiles at that and accepts the hugs they gingerly dispense to him. He’s never been touched so frequently, let alone by so many people. It’s still awkward—he isn’t really sure how to hold his shoulders when Ben approaches him with outstretched arms, isn’t sure how to receive affection so much—but it’s kind of nice too. Clearly they don’t want to hurt him, they’re very careful with the strength of their arms and where they place their hands, but every time Eddie feels something along the line of his spine relax. Like he could lean into them, if he wanted. It’s new.

“If you want to see pictures of me in a bathtub or naked in the backyard, you can just ask,” Richie says. For a moment Eddie makes the completely natural assumption that Richie is offering to take nude photos of himself now, but then Richie goes on: “Mags got real into scrapbooking in like 2005. There’s like, a display of me as a four-year-old committing public indecency. She put a leaf sticker over my dick.”

Eddie snorts at the idea of Maggie censoring baby pictures like Roman statues, but winces at the same time. “I don’t think you should call a four-year-old’s penis a dick,” he says.

“Well, pardon me, Dr. K, but I think if anyone gets to decide what I call my junk, it’s me,” Richie says.

Bev starts giggling suddenly and they all look at her. She looks down at her bare feet—her toenails are painted navy—in something like shame. “Little Richie,” she almost whispers.

Eddie holds his chest to brace himself, laughing.

“But it turns out, I’m taking suggestions,” Richie says, switching gears immediately. He looks around at the group and then says, “Oh shit, Little Richie and Big Ben.”

“And we’re done with that,” Ben says diplomatically, turning to Eddie. “How do you feel?”

Eddie scrunches his eyes shut and grits his teeth and trembles with the effort not to laugh out loud and aggravate his broken ribs. This results in vague snuffling snorting noises. He’s afraid to open his eyes to see Richie’s smug expression. “Fine,” he manages, his voice high.

“Hey, Ben, so, did you design this house? And was it a way to try to sublimate a desire to have sex in public places? Because like—”

“Eddie, we’ve missed you so much,” Ben says flatly. “And Richie, you’ll be sleeping in the car, right?”

Eddie gives in and laughs, leaning on the Subaru to support himself. When he opens his eyes little black dots spark over his field of vision and then clear after a moment.

He’s considering the logistics now. If Ben and Bev are taking off to… the Bahamas, or Switzerland, or wherever people go to hide from their abusive husbands while filing for divorce (he might be thinking of offshore bank accounts), he’s gonna be here in this glass house with just Richie. Which is something that he’s been considering with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety since Richie first proposed the idea, but now he’s considering that having no human contact other than a professional comedian might actually kill him.

God, his chest hurts. And he’s stupidly tired considering he’s done nothing all day except sit in the car and digest biscuits and gravy from the diner.

The biscuits and gravy were very good. He doesn’t want to know what’s in gravy, but it tasted really good in the moment. He’s adding breakfast gravy (not to be confused with Thanksgiving dinner gravy) to his new list of approved foods.

Everyone is looking at him with a certain amount of concern that they all quickly try to diguise when they realize he can see it.

“I’m fine,” he says. “Thanks for letting us stay.”

“Of course,” Ben says, blinking in something like surprise. Like he would just let anyone walk in off the street and into his shiny shiny house. Like opening doors for people is second nature to him.

God, is it just Eddie who grew up selfish? Is he missing something here? He knew that as a husband he kind of sucked, but between Richie and Ben he’s starting to wonder if he’s missing out on some serious empathy/generosity gene. With that in mind, he insists on grabbing his toiletry bag and his electric blanket out of the car.

“You don’t have to,” Ben says, like he’s going to serve as bellhop on top of everything else.

Eddie squints at him, daring Ben to take his belongings out of his hands.

Ben holds up both hands in the universal sign for get down with your bad self, crazy person.

Bev makes him feel slightly better, because she grabs Richie’s duffel and when Richie says, “Uh, Molly Ringwald, you—” she just beeps him and follows Eddie.

There’s no safety railing around the deck itself. Eddie’s just happy that there’s a rail on the stairs, because he definitely needs it. He touches Silver’s handlebars with a fingertip as he passes. Just to say hi, kind of; or maybe for luck.

He’s maybe three steps into hiking up the stairs before he realizes that Bev is very close behind him. “Oh, sorry,” he says, shuffling to the side so if she wants to walk around him she can. He knows he’s moving slowly.

“Nah, I’m good,” Bev says, and Eddie realizes that she’s following him in case he slips on the steps or collapses.

“Bev, if I fall on you, I’m big enough I’m gonna hurt you,” he says, alarmed.

Bev’s tone is extremely unimpressed. “You think you’re gonna collapse?”

“No,” Eddie says quickly.

From the car, Richie shouts, “Maybe she just wants a look at that ass, Kaspbrak!”

Eddie twists around and lets go of the railing so that he can flip Richie off.

It’s a short flight of stairs. Eddie ascends it without a real problem, but he does have to set his toiletry bag down on Ben’s deck table and sit in one of his deck chairs when he’s up there. He holds the electric blanket in his lap, convinced in some way that because a blanket is an indoor thing that if it touches the outdoor furniture it will become unsuitable for its purpose. There are heating coils in it so he doesn’t know how to clean it.

“Taking a break?” Bev asks.

He nods.

“You good?”

He nods again.

“Gotcha.” And that’s it. She ascends the last little flight of steps, opens the front door, and drops Richie’s duffel in the entryway. Eddie can’t decide if that’s because she’s fulfilled the letter of her generous assistance with bringing the luggage inside or because everyone has the urge to hover around him.

He looks at the surface of the table. Ben has a little chess set resting there. There’s no overhang on his weird architectural house to protect his furniture from rain. He really hopes that Ben has some kind of presentation that explains his house to laypersons, because Eddie feels a lot like he did when Mike busted out Shakespeare at the hotel restaurant yesterday—like he’s the uncultured businessman in a group of artists.

He takes his phone out and texts the group chat. Made it to Ben’s, he says, just so that Bill, Mike, Stan, and Patty are all updated.

Patty replies first: Thank you for letting us know!

Eddie hears the answering buzzes and dings from Ben’s, Bev’s, and Richie’s phones. Richie gets both of Eddie’s suitcases in his hands and complains theatrically as he drags them up the stairs, but he doesn’t seem to have a real problem hauling them, or fending off Ben who appears to be half-jokingly half-incredibly-seriously trying to take one from him. Eddie watches this like a spectator sport, gets self-conscious about being seen looking at Richie’s biceps, looks back down at his phone, and then remembers that if there’s a spectacle going on he’s allowed to look. So.

“You look flushed,” Ben says when he comes up the steps empty-handed (Richie put his weight on both Eddie’s suitcases and fended Ben off with one leg, which Eddie didn’t think Richie was flexible enough to do at his age considering how he failed at the Risky Business spin this morning).

“I don’t have a fever,” Eddie says so quickly that it doesn’t sound like he’s concealing unprecedented attraction for an adult man who just threatened to Karate Kid crane-kick another adult man. It sounds like he’s concealing an infection in one of his massive life-threatening wounds, while ten hours away from the medical treatment familiar with his case. He feels his face prickle and averts his gaze to look around at the deck. “Did you design this house?”

“Yes,” Ben says easily, and Eddie recognizes that mixture of pride and embarrassment. It’s not like Richie loudly calling Ben gorgeous at the table at the Jade of the Orient; it’s more like the nonchalance with which Ben admitted to building an entire clubhouse complete with rafters and floorboards, just in his free time between school letting out in June and the fourth of July. Eddie is wondering if he can blame whatever magical powers gave Stan psychic abilities for Ben’s instinctive construction abilities, because it explains why all of Eddie’s expectations about how long construction should take are “unreasonable” and “laughable.”

Eddie can’t say he likes the house now, but it’s very modern and very elegant. Not quite Eddie’s masculine ideal, but certainly closer to the idea of the billionaire CEO, “the Most Interesting Man in the World” from Dos Equis campaigns, the successful entrepreneur. There were times when Eddie aspired to it—the sleek style, the cleanliness of it, the unbroken visual lines—but if he’s honest, he always felt like he was thinking too hard about it and that diminished any of the “effortlessness” that seemed to be a requirement. He told himself that real men didn’t care about interior decorating that much, and that Myra’s tastes—similarly polished, classic, black and white—meant he could probably leave it to her.

God, Eddie has such fucking issues. Is he gonna have to go out and figure out what clothes he actually likes, not just the ones he feels he’s supposed to wear? Is he gonna have to—

Yes, he is going to have to figure out how to decorate an apartment or a house, because he doesn’t have one to live in and all of his furniture is at the mercy of his wife, who is probably very angry with him right now.

“Holy shit, man,” he says to Ben, because at the moment he doesn’t have a compliment that feels sincere, and he’s not gonna lie to him. It is impressive that Ben builds houses, that Ben took something that was—what, a sketch on paper?—and willed it into existence. Eddie’s never done that, not that he can remember. Ben creates. Ben builds.

Ben gives a shy little smile, hearing the approval.

Richie thunks both suitcases down onto the deck at the top of the steps. “Behold, Eddie Kaspbrak, sat for ten hours for the opportunity to sit directly outside Ben’s house,” he says.

“Fuck you, Trashmouth,” Bev says immediately. “He’ll sit where he fucking wants.”

“Yeah, I’ll sit where I want!” Eddie agrees, though he knows Richie’s picking a fight just because he’s wound up and antsy from the long car ride, and apparently playing keepaway with Ben hasn’t gotten it out of his system. If Richie wants to play, he’ll play.

Richie doesn’t even go for the obvious, he just says, “Dick joke, dick joke,” and then starts hauling the suitcases up the next two stairs into the house. Bev holds the door open for him, and he gives her an overdramatic wink.

Eddie stands up, there’s a swooping sensation in his head, and he staggers into Ben.

“Whoa,” Ben says, hands coming up to hold Eddie at the elbows. “You okay?”

“Little concerned about the lack of safety rails,” Eddie says through the dizzy spell.

“Hey, what the fuck?” Richie says, not unkindly from behind them.

Eddie doesn’t turn around to look at him, wondering if this will go away or if he needs to sit back down. Is it a blood clot? Is that a thing? His legs feel fine, and the fact that they split up the drive into two legs instead of one long ten-hour trip means that’s less likely, right? He’s sure that he knows the statistics on circulatory problems in long haul truck drivers, he just… can’t remember them right now.

Hands touch his shoulders and Eddie jumps badly. “Shit,” Richie says practically in Eddie’s ear. He’s so fucking handsy, Eddie doesn’t know what to do with it, Ben in front of him and Richie behind him. He tilts his head back and looks up into Richie’s big concerned eyes, and then Eddie fucking gives up and slumps back to put his weight on Richie. He looks sturdier than Ben. “Are you passing out?” Richie asks.

“No,” Eddie says. “Give me a fucking minute, why do you think I was sitting down, asshole?”

“Eddie,” Ben says gently. “Can I touch your forehead?”

Eddie does not want his temperature taken, and palm to face isn’t an accurate measurement of it either. “No, thank you,” he says.

“There’s a thermometer in the first aid kit,” Ben says, glancing up toward the door in what Eddie has to assume is Bev’s general direction.

“I do not have an infection,” Eddie says, voice pressed out thin and higher than it would be otherwise. He swallows. “I just stood up too fast. I’m fine now.” He straightens up away from Richie—he knows he doesn’t have a fever, because Richie feels warm. “Let’s go in the house, I need some water.”

There’s concern in Bev’s face—she’s still holding the door—but she says nothing. Eddie climbs the two steps up to the house, Richie practically on his heels, and internally kicks himself for not doing the polite thing and letting Ben lead them in so he can show them around. Whatever. He needs to be on a couch, like, immediately.

It really looks like the house is one big rectangle. Eddie is confronted with a second small set of stairs leading up onto a landing, and then a regular-sized set of stairs on his right that leads to a lower level. They are, of course, architecturally attractive floating stairs that you can easily lose a sandal or a slipper on. Eddie is just relieved that there are any railings to them at all—simple dark wood slabs like the steps themselves.

“Okay, so it’s a split level,” Ben says. “But most everything is upstairs, Eddie, so you don’t have to worry about that. I was thinking you can take the guest room up here and then when Bev and I leave you can have the master suite; the bathroom’s nicer.”

It looks like Ben has taken “open concept” and run with it. On the left Eddie can see all the way back into what looks like a kitchen—not a big kitchen, but that’s definitely some kind of stainless-steel appliance tucked into a corner. He grabs hold of the railing and hikes up to the first level to look around.

On the right is a living room. The couch is long and low, black leather with alternating black and white throw pillows stacked across it. It’s at least the width of a twin-size bed.

I’ll be on the couch if you need me.

Eddie shivers a little and finally spots the collapsed blinds to the side of the floor-to-ceiling window—big panels like the ones he’s accustomed to in office buildings, but instead of descending from a height it looks like they can be pulled manually. He’ll have to ask about that—he knows that the ones that unfold from the top of the window frame get stuck on their motors a lot, so the idea of being able to manually darken your room is a good one, but what if they’re also supposed to be automated and Eddie just rips one out of its track? Also, how has that couch gone so long without being sunbleached? It still looks glossy.

The entryway leads into what strikes Eddie as kind of a home office sort of thing. If Ben’s an architect and his home is part of his portfolio, it makes sense that he wants the parts of it on display to be professional and presentable. Inset cabinets bracket either side of a painting that looks like a crane under some kind of swamp tree. Eddie stares at it for a long moment, the black and white obscurity.

“Hey, Ben, I didn’t know you were Asian,” Richie says. Eddie turns around to find he has lifted something off of Ben’s desk, a little statue that could be either a lion or a dog and probably really is neither. If Richie were within arm’s reach Eddie would swat at him again—what if the statue’s not Asian?—but Eddie is also getting real generic Asian vibes just from this crane painting.

Ben looks a little sheepish, rubbing at the back of his neck with a hand. “I’m not, I just did some work in China with a Japanese firm, and then we went to some awards in Thailand. Completely different aesthetics—the Thai awards were fun—but some of the stuff I picked up while I was traveling.” He points at the little statue in Richie’s hand. “The dragon’s from the year I spent in Nanjing.”

Eddie frowns down at the nondescript white cabinets with their birch tops. “Didn’t Bill have a grandma from Korea?” he asks, trying to access deep memory.

Bev and Ben, having met Bill far later than them, frown, but Richie turns around to look at Eddie, his eyes suddenly wide and his face breaking into a grin. “Oh my god, Mrs. Sunny!” he says.

“That was not her name,” Eddie says. “You’re being racist, that was not her name.”

“That’s what she told me to call her!” Richie says. “She had, like—” He holds out one hand and curves his fingers so that his pinkie and thumb point down and his other three fingers reach out. “—old people claws, she like, patted the back of my hand and said some shit about my glasses.”

“She did not,” Eddie says preemptively, taking out his phone and texting Bill to head this off before it becomes a thing. Was one of your grandmothers from Korea? Why is Richie calling her Mrs. Sunny?

There are a number of floating ellipses before Bill sends back THE TURTLE SHIP!!!

Eddie has no idea what that means but he happens to look over across Ben’s office—he doesn’t even have his desk pressed against a wall, it’s just out in the middle of the room, like a man who truly has no cares in the world—and land his eyes on a giant golden turtle statue.

“What the fuck, Ben?” he asks.

Richie has spotted it too and is cautiously stepping over it to straddle it, then crouching as though he’s going to sit on the turtle and ride it.

“That won’t support your weight,” Ben says casually. He walks past Eddie and Richie without concern about what they might do to his belongings and into the kitchen.

Automatically Eddie looks to Bev for support. She’s still standing by the stairs, her hands clasped loosely behind her back. Eddie thinks of her in her black and white when she arrived at the Jade of the Orient. She’s wearing a faded maroon sweatshirt now. Her hair’s still the brightest thing in the room—including the turtle statue.

Richie is mercifully not sitting on the turtle statue, just hovering over it as close as he can get without his legs giving out. Eddie looks at his thighs in his jeans, blushes, and returns to staring at the crane painting. Something about the vegetation and the way it hangs off the bird—like the bird itself is the trunk of the tree—reminds Eddie of that plant they called bamboo in the Barrens. At least four potted houseplants cluster in the sink directly under the canvas, the tips of their leaves crispy and brown.

Whatever Ben is doing, there are cabinets and what sounds like fridge doors opening and closing. He returns moments later and holds a glass of water out to Eddie. Eddie takes it, a little startled. The water is cold and he sips it gratefully.

“You can take a seat if you want,” Ben says. “Make yourself at home.” He glances at Bev when he says that, but Bev seems to be content to lean on the stair rail and watch Eddie and Richie look around. She has a contemplative expression that makes Eddie immediately self-conscious, though he doesn’t understand why. He sits in the rolling desk chair more for self-preservation than anything else.

Bill texts him: Sorry, that was something else, yes I did have a grandma from Korea. Her name was Eun-ji, I don’t know why Richie’s calling her Mrs. Sunny.

“Bill says you’re being weird,” Eddie reports.

Richie stands up from his straddle of the turtle statue. “Bill’s being weird,” he says sullenly, himself at ten again. He looks over at Bev. “Is it your turn?”

“Bill is being weird,” Eddie agrees, but that’s unrelated. What the fuck is a turtle ship?

Bev smiles at Richie. “I think I’m good,” she says.

Richie raises his eyebrows and tilts his head and says, “Oh, got enough riding in today already?”

Ben turns around immediately and points at Richie like his extended finger is a knife he’s suddenly drawn on him. “Watch your mouth, Richie,” he says, voice gone harsh.

But Bev puts one hand under her chin and says dreamily, “No, by all means, let’s talk about it. You start, Rich.”

Richie opens his mouth once, closes it, opens it again, and produces a stream of nonsense syllables that baffles Eddie more than perhaps any sound Richie has ever produced in his life. Then he turns, walks out of the room and into the next one (lightly defined by the wall that seems placed specifically so that Ben can display his canvas of a building under construction). The next thing Eddie hears is cabinets opening and closing.

Eddie blinks and looks at Bev, who looks extremely satisfied.

“Or we could hang out on the couch?” Ben offers.

Eddie enjoys the leather couch. It is as wide as the bed he grew up in. If he tucks his elbows in and stares up at the ceiling he remembers strongly those early days as a toddler when he thought that falling asleep was only possible if he was lying on his back. He wonders if that has to do with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—if that was something that Sonia Kaspbrak feared when he was born, if that was documented in the 1970s, and if she tried to ingrain that on him; or if it was just his own childish misunderstandings, like his conviction that wolves were more similar to cats than dogs. He flops on his back and pries his shoes off with his toes and lets them fall to the floor.

“Tired?” Ben asks.

Eddie nods. “The body makes microadjustments to keep you upright in a moving car.” He puts both hands on his own abdomen and imagines the muscles that have to move to keep him relatively dignified at sixty miles per hour.

“Also Richie’s exhausting?” Bev suggests.

“Also Richie’s exhausting,” Eddie says cheerfully, grinning and tilting his head back to look for Richie.

Richie slumps morosely into the living room, all sullen why can’t I ride the turtle statue and guess I’ll go fuck myself, then. He’s pouting in a way that’s a parody of sadness, which means he’s definitely trying to conceal how he’s a little bit bummed out for real. When Eddie looks up at him like a cat some of his frown softens a little and he throws Eddie a sad-eyed call me handsign and drops into one of Ben’s square armchairs.

“So that thing on your counter,” he says, tone descending.

Bev’s eyes widen and she grimaces as she sits down on the couch next to Eddie. Ben looks down at the floor.

Eddie immediately suspects that that thing is probably something more significant than whatever teasing Richie is naturally inclined to do. He looks around at them, looking for some other kind of facial cues.

Bev rests a hand on Eddie’s head like he’s some kind of horse that needs gentling. “We got Stan’s suicide note in the mail while he was gone.”

Eddie feels like he’s been punched. His numb right hand jerks up to shield his injuries, reflexively. “He—to Ben?”

Ben swallows and continues staring down at the floor. “Yeah,” he says.

Oh. That’s…

“But he’s fine,” Eddie says. “Right? It was just—he probably put it in the mail and then…” Then went upstairs to kill himself, and Patty didn’t realize it because she was a little busy saving her husband’s life. “He’s fine, right? Did you tell him?”

“No,” Ben says.

And then Stan came to Maine and saved Eddie’s life—which sounds impossible but so much of their lives has been impossible. Thinking about it makes Eddie start to shake a little bit, as though with cold. A world without Stan Uris.

“We can call him. Can we call him? Why don’t we call him?”

Bev checks her phone and says, “He might be having dinner right now.”

“He has had a lot of dinners in his life,” Richie points out.

So they call Stan. Bev puts him on speakerphone.

The line clicks and they hear Stan demand, “What,” as flatly as if they’d banged on his door in the middle of the night. There’s laughter in the background and Patty’s voice saying Stanley with something just short of reproach.

“Sorry, is it a bad time?” Bev asks.

Stan’s voice relaxes. “Sorry, Bev, didn’t check caller ID. Uh—is it urgent?”

“Hi, Stanley!” Richie hollers.

In the wake of that, Bev says apologetically, “You might be on speaker.”

“Yeah, figured that out,” Stan replies. There’s a sigh and then he says, “I’m putting you on speaker. Patty’s here.”

“Do you have a girl over?” Richie asks. “Does Stan the man have a girl over?”

Stan snorts. “It’s her fucking house, dude, she put down the—sorry, baby.”

“It’s our house,” says Patty. “Hello, Richie.”

The group gives a chorus of hellos for Patty.

“So Stan’s a kept man,” Richie observes.

Patty says calmly, “I’m keeping him.”

Ben covers his mouth with both hands and looks at the other three with big eyes that suggest he’s seen something so cute it’s making him feel aggressive. Ben is a romantic.

Eddie thinks anxiously about his own finances, about when’s the appropriate time to ask Ben for access to his computer so that he can get started with ordering new bank cards, and probably a checkbook. Shit, his checkbooks are back in the apartment in the city. He’s never known Myra to be spiteful about their shared finances—but, in all fairness, Myra has never known Eddie to be gay. He feels as though their marriage has just lost a lot of its safety provisions. That’s what happens when you no longer trust someone.

“So I saw you finally got to Ben’s place,” Stan says. “Bev, how are you liking it?”

Everyone looks at Bev. Eddie watches Ben school his features, which means that her response matters very, very much to him.

“It’s very nice,” Bev says. “Out in the woods. Feels very hidden.”

That’s the opposite of what Eddie felt when they approached, but he doubts Bev would sugarcoat it if she felt unsafe. He reasons that if they draw the blinds at night (please tell him that Ben draws the blinds at night), it would feel very hidden. Like shutting out the world.

Unbidden, his eyes go to Richie.

Richie is in the chair with his typical bad posture, head stooped slightly despite that he’s sitting down now. He smiles a little bit as Stan talks, but there’s no crinkling at the corners of his eyes, which seem very far away instead of here in this room with Eddie.

And Ben and Bev. Of course.

Stan is describing how his last three days have gone since they got back to Traynor and Patty went back to work. “—of Patty’s kids is having some trouble at school that the substitute wasn’t really equipped to deal with, we think.”

“But the other kids were so great about it,” Patty says. “I’m really proud of them. They were like, ‘Rebecca’s a boy!’ and kept going back to the things we talked about. Sometimes I’m really proud of kids’ absolutist thinking. You tell them something is wrong once and how to respond to it, and they remember. But we’re having his mom in later this week to discuss what happened—she’s really nice, but I’m thinking she might want to take it to the administration to discuss a unified approach for handling Rebecca’s specific case. We’ve got another kid in the class who has some extremely dangerous dairy allergies and fortunately the nurse is ready to go to bat for him when necessary, and I’m thinking that might be a good place to start.”

“And John from the office stopped by today,” Stan says. “So that was nice. He’s… a weird guy.”

“John from the office?” Richie asks.

“Yeah, John from the office,” Stan agrees.

“Oh, John from the office,” says Richie.

“Weird how?” Bev asks.

Stan is quiet for a moment, and then he says, “Okay, so you know how the laws of the world don’t make sense anymore?”

Well that's certainly one way of prefacing a conversation.

“If they ever made sense?” Ben replies, smiling slightly.

“Yes, that,” Stan says. “I’m trying not to think about it. But… some of the stuff John said. I don’t know. It sounded like he’d been there before.”

Everyone is quiet for a moment.

“Not the suicide thing,” Stan says, because none of them else is willing to speak the word into existence. “I mean—maybe the suicide thing. I don’t know. That’s not my business. But. It felt like he knew. Bev, you know how it felt?”

Eddie looks at Bev, at her lowered eyes. She’s staring down at her own knees instead of toward the phone screen, and her face has gone shuttered and sad. “Yes,” she says, her voice soft but serious.

Eddie doesn’t know if Stan’s asking because Bev, in a way, witnessed his suicide attempt, perhaps even more graphically than Patty, or because Bev was in the deadlights and lived with the consequences for years. He looks to Richie again, also recently in the deadlights, blood coming out of his nose. Richie’s smile has slid off his face and he’s staring at the phone as though it is Stan and Stan’s face.

“You know how it felt,” Stan repeats. “I mean—you all know, but.”

“Yes,” Bev agrees again.

Ben asks, “Stan?”

There’s a soft noise, as though the phone on the other end of the line is being moved, and then Patty says, “Still here.” There’s something like a determined calm to her voice.

“Patty,” Bev says, speaking up a little.

“Yes,” Patty says.

“I’m sorry. It was.” Bev swallows and looks away. “Maybe the kind of thing you don’t talk about over the phone.”

“I won’t lie, my heart’s gonna jump every time Stanley gets a phone call for maybe the rest of our lives,” Patty says. “But eventually we’ll reach the point where the pings will just go into our brain interfaces, and then I can calm down.”

There’s the sound of Stan giggling a little hysterically on the other end of the line. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” he says. “I—we should make dinner.”

“Should we let you go?” Bev asks.

“Should they let us go?” Stan repeats.

It becomes clear to whom he’s directing the question when Patty replies, “No, you can stay, we’ll make dinner with your friends. I used to do that in college, it’s fun.”

Ben says, “Oh, what do you guys want for dinner?”

Richie and Eddie look at each other. Eddie, who ate breakfast around noon and has taken an antiemetic, is slowly getting the sense that he might actually be hungry. They have no idea what Ben has in his fridge.

“We went grocery shopping this morning,” Bev says.

“I eat a lot of salad,” Ben confesses. “But Eddie, you should have something with protein. There’s flank steak in the fridge? And shrimp?” He gets up and walks across the house, presumably to the kitchen.

“I miss shrimp,” Stan says sadly.

Richie cracks up. “Did you just grow up to be a forty-year-old slut for shrimp, or what?”

“I don’t like that word, Richard,” Patty says sharply.

Richie seems to get stuck a little, his face freezing up and his shoulders stiffening. He swallows once and seems to deliberately make himself relax. “Sorry, Patty.”

Eddie feels bad watching him, but he knows that’s not a great word to use, especially in a room with women. The idea of Richie joking about Stan being a slut for shrimp is funny; if he were to joke in that same way about Bev, Eddie’s pretty sure that Ben actually would hit him, and Richie would deserve it.

“That’s okay, just don’t use it anymore,” Patty says. “We’re having salmon burgers.”

Richie’s eyes flick sideways across the room at Eddie and Bev, but whatever’s going on in his head is unreadable. Eddie feels the same discomfort he always got watching Richie get sent out of the room in school.

“Oooh, burgers,” Bev says.

“Salmon burgers?” Richie repeats skeptically.

“I need cheese on my burgers, man,” Stan says.

There is more talking. Apparently Stan usually cooks during the day while Patty works, and then they have dinner together in the evenings. Bev looks at Eddie to see if he wants to get up and follow them into the kitchen or if he’d rather hang out on the couch, and Eddie, remembering the rolling chair in the office, follows. Stan describes some of his go-to recipes—apparently he and Patty eat a lot of fish, which makes Eddie a little anxious about Stan’s mercury levels but he has to assume that Stan has that in hand.

“I can do burgers,” Ben says, staring into his fridge. “I have, like, no bread though, it's all in the freezer because I buy it and never eat it—can you do a burger on an English muffin?”

“I feel like I’m eating in college again, but like, classy,” Richie says, peering around Ben to look into the fridge. “Is that a burger patty?”

“That’s a mushroom,” Ben replies.

“That shit is huge, man!” Richie says. “Bev, get a picture of that mushroom and show Stan.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, Trashmouth,” Bev says sweetly, and kisses Richie on the cheek as she goes to get a picture of the big mushroom.

“I have pita pockets?” Ben says, tilting his head. “Hang on, I know I have recipes around here somewhere.”

Eddie spins in place on the rolling desk chair, tucked as he is into the corner. After a moment his phone goes off and he checks it to see that Bev has posted a picture of the really big mushroom to the group chat.

“Shrimp burgers? Do you like shrimp burgers?” Ben asks.

“Are you just bullying me now?” Stan asks.

“Stan, isn’t that a huge mushroom?”

“That’s a pretty average-sized Portobello mushroom, Richie.”

“I don’t eat vegetables, I don’t know these things.”

Eddie makes a small despairing sound.

Ben comes over to him and shows him about twenty different burger recipes he pulled up from a website. “This one has coleslaw—do you like coleslaw?”

Eddie has no idea if he likes coleslaw or not. He’s a little intimidated by the prospect. “Ben,” he says. “Thank you for letting me stay here. Please do not make me make any decisions.”

Ben smiles at that and says, “Bev, I need a decision-maker.”

Bev crosses the kitchen—Stan is still arguing with Richie about the size of Portobello mushrooms—and leans over Ben’s shoulder. Very reasonably, Bev’s only question is, “Eddie, will you eat that?”

“I will eat that,” Eddie agrees.

“That’s what she said,” Richie says helpfully.

“Richie, I don’t care about your opinion, so I guess we’re having shrimp burgers,” Ben says. Stan laughs in the background.

Richie whistles. “Haystack got hot and sassy.”

“Beep beep, Richie,” Bev says.

Eddie volunteers to be in charge of the food processer and rather aggressively pulses a bunch of raw shrimp until the gray mixture is obliterated into small enough pieces to make a patty. If anyone notices that Eddie’s taking out his jealousy on shellfish, no one comments on it. Ben serenely folds the raw shrimp—which Eddie refuses to touch—into a mixture of red pepper and Sriracha. Richie is banned from touching anything mayonnaise or mayonnaise-adjacent, because they’re all a little concerned that he might ruin this dinner for them. Bev assigns him to knife duty to stop him from taking more pictures of the inside of Ben’s fridge, and Eddie discovers that Richie can do the thing chefs do on cooking shows, where he puts the heel of his hand on the back of the knife and fires it down over the cutting board rapidly. Unlike the TV chefs, Richie’s resulting vegetables are extremely irregular in shape and size, but Eddie still starts to worry that he might start sweating just from watching.

Bev sits on top of one of the counters and supervises, phone balanced on her thigh. Ben seems happy enough with this outcome, and Eddie manages his anxiety about sitting on surfaces where food is prepared by telling himself that if Bev stays where she is, no one will use that counter anyway, so there’s no risk of contamination. No one’s chopping vegetables in Eddie’s chair, after all. She swings her feet a little as she perches there, handing Ben tasting spoons as necessary and throwing them into the sink when he’s done with them.

“You okay?” Richie asks Eddie.

Eddie blinks and becomes aware that he’s clutching his chest again. He lowers his hand and clears his throat. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he says.

He’s never cooked with anyone before. Strictly speaking he’s not really cooking now, but he at least managed the food processer, and watching all of that shrimp just get annihilated was really cathartic. He’s used to people cooking for him—it used to be his mother, with her carefully bland, carefully portioned food served to him lovingly at the table (during puberty they really had an out-and-out Oliver Twist moment when he was so hungry he asked for more, but instead of throwing Eddie out of the house Sonia cried and Eddie went to bed hungry to prove that her love was enough for him); and then it was Myra wanting to cook for him to show that she cares. Eddie’s too impatient to be good at cooking, he thinks—he’s happy to slap something together, but on the rare occasions he’s home by himself to make prepackaged pasta and sauce or something he always turns the heat up too high trying to get things to cook faster, always burns things trying to cook them the maximum prescribed amount to be sure he reaches the correct internal temperature and kills the bacteria. He’s never had hot homemade food served to him without a side of guilt or the point someone else needs to prove, and he’s never enjoyed cooking to eat with other people.

Richie’s hands move almost elegantly as he sweeps scallions and sweet red peppers into a bowl. Then he frowns and pokes at some stuck to the cutting board with the tip of the knife. “Ben, gravity’s broken.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Rich,” Ben says.

Richie’s responding giggles have a curious echoing quality and it takes them all a moment to realize that’s Patty giggling on the other end of the phone.

“Oh, you like that?” Richie says loudly, looking pleased. “You like gravity jokes? Come on, Mrs. U, I’m trying to learn my audience.”

Stan makes a noise like chhchhchhchhchh on the line and Patty bursts out laughing.

“Gotta one-up me,” Richie says.

“I’m her favorite,” Stan says.

“Go wash your hands,” Patty admonishes Stan.

Richie yells, “Whoa, what are you two getting up to on the phone?”

When Patty speaks again her voice is disapproving. “Don’t be ridiculous, we would ask all of you first.”

There is silence as everyone considers the implications of that.

Then Stan bursts out laughing, so loud he crackles over the line. “Bev, take a picture of Richie’s face!”

Bev slides off the counter and tries to get a picture of Richie’s expression as Richie ducks and tries to hide from her.

“I’m holding a knife! I’m holding a knife!”

“Yeah, but you don’t know how to use it,” Eddie points out.

“Betrayal!” Richie says, spinning as he tries to dodge Bev in this tiny kitchen. “Perfidy!”

Ben covers the patties and tucks them into the fridge, looking satisfied.

When the sun goes down Ben pushes a button and the blinds slide over the windows all at the same time, so Eddie’s glad he didn’t try to pull one by hand. This does make him concerned about the level of automation in Ben’s home, though. There’s a panel on the fridge that looks electronic but he hopes doesn’t have Internet access. If this is a Smart house Eddie might lose respect for Ben as an architect and a homeowner, but he’ll still respect him as a chef.

Ben and Bev each have a beer with dinner; Richie drinks coffee because he apparently has no caffeine sensitivity. Richie seems very impressed with Ben’s locally-purchased coffee blend, which Ben reports is ethically grown and sourced from his local farmer’s market.

Eddie can imagine Ben at a farmer’s market quite easily. For some reason the idea doesn’t seem to gel with the general design of the house around them. It would have to be an upscale sort of farmer’s market, where people sell designer lemonades and very few farmers actually man their own tables.

The shrimp burgers are not bad. They say goodnight to Stan and Patty so that they can eat their dinner in peace, and then Richie and Bev quibble about the definitions of what constitutes a burger and what constitutes a patty in a pita pocket. Richie and Bev each eat two. Eddie eats his entire burger very quickly and decides that coleslaw, prepared with Ben’s reduced-calorie mayo, is acceptable.

“You’re being quiet,” Ben tells him in a lull in the conversation, which is how Eddie knows he’s really being quiet.

Eddie shrugs a little. “I don’t know, man, these uneven vegetable pieces are really cutting down on my enjoyment of the meal.”

Bev snickers into her dinner.

Instead of playing mock-offended, Richie just grins. “Cutting down,” he repeats, miming a chop with the blade of his hand, and Eddie tilts his head back because he did not mean to make that pun. Richie laughs at Eddie’s exasperation.

“Just tired,” Eddie says. “Dinner was good.”

“Yeah, now sing ‘Be Our Guest,’” Richie requests.

Ben obligingly hums a few bars instead of telling Richie to fuck off, because nobody does hospitality like Ben Hanscom.

After dinner Ben grabs Eddie’s suitcases as though they’re no less convenient to wield than a couple of grocery bags—Richie openly gawks and Eddie glares at him until he puts his eyes back in his head—and leads Eddie to the guest room. Ben has gone to the trouble of folding a bath towel, a hand towel, and a washcloth and stacking them on the dresser for him. The furnishings are all dark wood and very modern, and the linens are very white. Everything smells pleasantly of lemon Pledge, which does make Eddie feel very welcome. The bedroom is hidden behind a wall, not a floor-to-ceiling window, which goes just as far into making Eddie feel better. It turns out that Ben is eccentric, but he’s not a monster.

“So the bathroom is in here,” Ben says, leading him down the hall on the tour. It’s fairly large; Eddie immediately observes that there are no overhead cabinets to hide his toothbrush from the threat of toilet plume in, but there’s a small wall shielding the toilet from the sinks, or perhaps the sinks from the toilet. Eddie can carry his new toothbrush to and from the bathroom each time he needs to brush, that’s fine. The shower is a bathtub-showerhead combo with a sleek white curtain around it; Eddie tries to discreetly check the curtain for discoloration, but this also looks fine. Eddie gets the strong suspicion that Ben has never had guests here.

He might be the first person to use this bathroom.

“And there are more clean towels in here,” Ben says, opening a little closet opposite the toilet. Then he opens the cabinet under the sink and shows Eddie the first aid kit tucked carefully away. “So if you need anything else, just let me know—or, after we leave, you can call me.” He frowns. “Or message me. I don’t know how that works for international travelling, usually I don’t need to talk to people unless I’m working with them.”

He then takes Eddie back to his room and shows him where all the electrical outlets are, shows him an outlet for a phone charger in his bedside lamp, and generally looks very anxious and solicitous and maybe a little too excited to have people here.

“Uh, Ben,” Eddie asks, wondering what’s the gentlest way to phrase this. “Am I the first person to stay in this room?”

“Yes,” Ben says. “But it’s okay, I washed the sheets today and Bev and I made the bed fresh, it’s not like a showroom.”

That’s nice to know. Eddie grabs a handful of his electric blanket and rubs the material back and forth over his palm, just for something to hang onto. He wants to ask Ben why he made multiple guest rooms in the house he’d be living in by himself, but he’s afraid to accidentally convey to him that there was no reason for him to hope for company or anything.

“Did you ever feel like you were doing things, but you didn’t really know why you were doing them?” Ben asks. Eddie thinks of Richie’s rainy-day money, which he never used in Derry but then spent all at once on a used car. “I just felt like I’d need the space one day.”

Eddie tries to imagine what it must have been like for Ben to get up every day, wander through his big glass house and know that there were empty rooms. It reminds him faintly of the period dramas that Myra likes—the scene from Pride and Prejudice where the staff closes up the house and swing sheets over all the furniture. Ben mentioned that he traveled a lot for work, and Eddie wondered if that was how he treated this house, if he had people come in and close it for the season.

“Do you have other houses?”

Ben nods. “I’ve got the one out by Omaha. Internet connection’s not so great there. I’ve been remoting in to work from here, so I’ve been pretending to be professional.” He shrugs. “Like half the year I spend out there trying to brainstorm. I don’t really design so much here, I just try to let that part of me take a rest.”

Ben is giving Eddie his rest house. Eddie feels struck.

“Uh,” he says, and swallows. “I need to get on the computer and work things out with my bank. Can I do that tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Ben says. “I get up pretty early and run. I’ll have to write the password down for you, I can’t remember it unless I’m at the keyboard, but that’s no problem.”

Eddie feels a little relieved. It’s well past business hours now, but tomorrow morning should be fine. He’ll set an alarm and everything. “When do you get up to run?”

Ben tilts his head to the side. “Like seven?” he says. “I get up, run, eat breakfast, take a shower.”

“How far do you run?”

“There’s a little track kind of in a loop around the house,” Ben says. “It goes through the woods so the dried leaves can be kind of slippery certain times of the year, but I kind of wore it out, so it’s pretty safe. I just go around that.”

“Can I walk it?” Eddie asks. He’s supposed to be doing thirty minutes of light exercise every day, and he’s already missed out on a day of stretches. He’ll have to do that with his hand towel before he goes to sleep.

Ben nods. “Yeah, it’s fine if you watch where you’re going. If you want to get up I’ll walk a lap with you, just to, like, guide you.” He shifts a little in place like he’s stretching. “I haven’t been running since… Yeah. I’d probably better start slow.”

Eddie nods. He used to run back at home—not out on the sidewalk, but in their apartment building’s gym on the ground floor, usually late at night so he wouldn’t have to deal with other people being there and he could wipe down the equipment with his own disinfecting wipes without being judged. But now part of him thinks that a nice walk through nature is probably a good place to start. A good change of pace.

Ben brightens. “Oh, and I called the pharmacy, your… spirometer-thing arrived, I can run and pick it up tomorrow.”

Another knot in Eddie’s gut unwinds. “Oh good, thank you,” he says.

So. He’s all set up to recover here. It seems like everything’s in place and the only thing that remains is for him to do the work.

All right. Not bad.

Chapter Text

Eddie wakes up when his alarm goes off in the morning and groans because he feels like he’s been hit by a truck. For a moment he reconsiders his prescribed thirty minutes of exercise, though he knows it’s still a good idea, especially because he spent most of yesterday sitting. Does he have to be as worried about blood clots after the surgery?

He gets up and creeps out into the hallway to sort of test the atmosphere of the house, see who’s awake and everything. Ben opens the door to the master bedroom, smiles when he sees him, and quietly closes the door behind him in a way that suggests he’s trying not to wake Beverly.

Eddie doesn’t know why confronting the reality of Ben and Bev sharing a bed embarrasses him, but it does. It’s not any of his business whether they’re sleeping together—he tries not even to think too hard about the statistical likelihood that they’re having sex (which is high, he will admit, though he really shouldn’t make these assumptions, considering he’s been in a sexless marriage for over three years). Maybe something about the level of scrutiny. Eddie’s still a little afraid of being looked at and known in return.

“Can you get my bandage?” Eddie whispers.

Ben nods like that’s just part of being a good host, and they go into the bathroom. Ben washes his hands and carefully removes Eddie’s bandage from his back, and Eddie thanks him and admits he doesn’t have any clothes suitable for exercise.

“I can loan you some shorts?” Ben offers.

Eddie doesn’t have compression underwear suitable for wearing under athletic shorts, but he doesn’t know if there’s a good option between Ben wears underwear when he jogs and lets bacteria build up in them or you are about to borrow an article of clothing that has touched Ben Hanscom’s dick. So Eddie resolves to wear underwear anyway. Ben’s shorts are perfectly respectable, going down almost to his knees and cut loose enough that Eddie shouldn’t have a problem.

Eddie still can’t put on a t-shirt comfortably, but he imagines waking Richie up to borrow another button-down from him and immediately rules that out. Between the choice of making his incisions angry by trying to pull a shirt over his head, wearing the watch shirt a second day in a row to exercise in, and waking Richie up to borrow a shirt from him that he’s only going to sweat in and need another when he’s done, he decides to recycle the watch shirt. The skull shirt is still in his suitcase, but he’s worried that the drainage from his injuries might have dried into a stain and he wants to wash it himself—and bleach it himself, if necessary.

He takes a quick shower and is out in five minutes. It takes him longer to dress than it does to clean himself, and that’s because he’s mostly focused on taking care of his incisions. He’s going to have to take a second shower later, and that’s when he’ll worry about his hair and the rest of his body. He is at the moment a walking wound.

When he comes out, Ben is sitting in the living room, lacing up his shoes. He looks almost surprised to see Eddie this soon.

“How do you feel?” Ben asks.

Eddie can’t take his pain medication until he eats something, so he feels sore. But taking a shower is always the most energizing part of his day, so while he’s not exactly enjoying existence right now, he’s very aware that he’s existing. And he has vague ideas about being more mindful, just as a person.

“Hurts,” Eddie replies brightly.

Ben doesn’t seem to know what to make of that.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asks.

“Oh yeah,” Eddie says.

His phone is in the pocket of his hoodie, which is zipped up over the watch shirt to cover his shame. He’s ready to hit start on his half-hour timer so that he can count his exercise for the day. Then he’ll eat some breakfast, do some banking, take a second shower as soon as Richie gets up and Eddie can borrow a clean shirt, and then go to the pharmacy to pick up his incentive spirometer. At some point, he’ll give up and check his email and see what Erika, his direct supervisor, has to say about his Hi! I’m alive! message.

And then he’ll have to call Myra. But he doesn’t know if he wants to do that while Ben and Bev are still here. Maybe he’ll wait until they leave, and then do it one morning when Richie’s still sleeping. If he can count on himself to get up when his alarm goes off.

Ben talks while they walk, and Eddie doesn’t know why that surprises him. He’s in his own space now; it’s a relief that he feels comfortable enough to talk.

“Are there things you need or want from the store?” Ben asks. “I mean—you can come with me, we can pick up groceries if there are things you want. I can buy bread.”

Eddie blinks at him, distracted by the plod of his feet through the dirt and the crisp leaves. Part of him doesn’t want to get dirt on his new shoes that Richie bought for him—they’re nice, soft red with a funny suede-like texture and white trim, and the fact that Richie bought them makes Eddie’s insides squirm as much as the idea that, after all this time, Richie remembered his favorite color. Eddie decided that red was his favorite color when he was ten. Before that it was purple, but one of the kids on the playground told him that purple was only for girls, and Eddie went home feeling wounded but decided that red was second-best, and he could just like purple secretly.

Maybe Eddie should start wearing more purple?

Anyway, Eddie doesn’t know why Ben seems to think that he and Richie are incapable of going to the store on their own.

“Is the grocery store really far away?” he asks.

Ben shakes his head, shrugs, and sticks his hands in the pocket of his own sweatshirt. He always wore those big sweatshirts when he was a kid; with Ben dressed like that, the pair of them surrounded by trees on either side, Eddie feels like he’s in a space between time as he understands it. He can’t decide if this is good or bad for the timer in his pocket telling him when he can give up and go back to the house, but god damn it, he’s going to get his half-hour in.

“I feel a little weird about leaving,” Ben says. “I know Bev needs to leave. I know. I’ll go with her, that’s not even a question.”

Eddie nods.

“It’s a little like Bill leaving,” Ben admits.

He understands. Bill was the first of them to leave, having pressing commitments far more high-profile than the rest of them, after they defeated the great evil and won the day. Eddie remembers the clutching panic he felt in his chest at the idea that Bill might be the first of them to forget, and how sad would that be, when Bill was the nucleus of their friend group for so long? How sad and cruel.

But Bill didn’t forget, and then Stan and Patty left, and then Mike peeled off from their little group out to see the world as he deserves after all this time. Eddie can understand some anxiety about breaking their group down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Well, Eddie can understand basically any form of anxiety, but that’s neither here nor there.

“On the plus side,” he says, panting, “if we all start forgetting, you’ll have Bev. And you’ll come back, and there will be these two strange men in your house, and you’ll either remember us or call the cops on us.”

“Which will be rough,” Ben says, “seeing as you have no ID.”

Eventually Eddie decides that the path is plenty clear enough to go on his own, and lets Ben get started with his daily run. He doesn’t like the idea of holding Ben back from what he would normally be doing. Ben assures him that he’ll make a few laps, so it’s not like Eddie will be alone in the woods.

Ben does lap him at least twice before Eddie completes the circle back to the house. He yells “on your left!” each time, though he passes Eddie on the right. It’s very confusing at first, because Eddie naturally leaps to the right to get out of Ben’s way and they very nearly collide, but Ben stops and steadies him. By the time Eddie’s done his ears and nose are stinging with cold, and his hands are happy to be tucked into the pockets of his hoodie.

We need to sleep, his body tells him helpfully. Like, now.

He doesn’t think he’s sweating too hard and, while he’s a little bit concerned about keeping his incisions clean, he’s definitely going to sweat in his sleep anyway. So instead of getting on the computer and trying to get some work done, he goes back to the guest bedroom and strips out of his exercise clothes, almost all of which are borrowed or provided by someone else, and falls asleep in his underwear under the sheets.

They are very nice sheets. As is evident from the rest of the house, Ben has expensive tastes, and Eddie can respect that. That’s the nice thing about making it out of Derry and making a name for yourself. Eddie feels like after the hell they went through, the universe owes them a few nice things.

He becomes aware of a knock at his door and sits up a little, pulling the sheet up to his chin. He’s confused, having woken from a dream where he stole a sandwich from a work meeting and had to flee his office with the sandwich while sirens blared in the background, but he couldn’t run fast enough. “Hello?” he says quietly, confused.

The door cracks open just a little bit. “I have a shirt for you,” Richie says.

Eddie becomes extremely aware of his nakedness, despite that he’s perfectly hidden in the bedding. “Okay?” he says.

This is not an invitation to come in, but Richie opens the door a little bit wider anyway, creeps in as gingerly as someone as large as him can, and places a folded button-down shirt on the dresser. Eddie remains still, as though Richie—despite having his glasses on—is one of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs and can’t see him unless he moves. Richie sets the shirt down carefully and then glances at the bed, and for a moment the two of them just stare at each other.

Richie clears his throat. “Didn’t mean to wake you,” he says. “Ben said you were up, so.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, and then becomes aware of how breathy his voice is and wants to pull the sheet up over his head to hide. He swallows. “Fell asleep.” The sheets cling to him with the ghost of his own warmth; he can feel the weight of the comforter sliding over his chest as he breathes, too gentle to irritate any of his injuries. He feels like his skin is alive, like somehow Richie walking in switched on a radar and now his body’s just waiting to see what Richie’s going to do.

“I’ll let you get back to it,” Richie says, backing toward the door. He’s barefoot on the hardwood and looks curiously vulnerable. As he puts his hand on the doorknob he pauses again and then grins. “Your hair,” he says, voice warm and teasing, and then he steps out of the room and pulls the door shut behind him.

Eddie waits for the sound of Richie padding away down the hall before he turns over, presses his face into the pillow, and groans so long that his voice breaks in the middle.

When Eddie wakes up again—this time from hazy almost-hallucinations of Richie walking back into his room and climbing into the bed with him, this time in varying states of dress and undress—he finds that it’s noon. Not eleven. Noon.

This in itself is almost as distressing as the guilt he feels from the quasi-sexual dreams he suspects he willed himself into having and the eerie feeling of knowing that he should be hard but he isn’t. And he needs to have breakfast, because he needs to take pain medication, because when he inhales it feels like something in his chest is resisting and trying to punish him for daring to respire.

Richie really did leave a shirt for him on the dresser—that wasn’t part of a dream. Eddie doesn’t know if that is good or bad. It’s the turtle shirt, and Eddie braces himself for more jokes about Ben’s turtle statue.

Who just has… a statue? Like, on the floor? Not on display, but perched there on the rug in the space Eddie would put a dog if he had one?

But the shirt is clean and it smells like detergent and Eddie only presses his nose to the collar and breathes in for a few seconds before he decides that a) any scent of Richie he might catch would be from his imagination and b) he doesn’t have time for this, he has to go eat so that he can take his meds. He dresses and brings his pill bottles out to the main room with him.

Richie is on the couch this time, his knees hooked over the armrest so that his shins and bare feet seem to form a barrier to anyone trying to enter the space. “Hey, Spaghetti,” he says, voice sounding oddly hoarse and creaky. His arms are folded behind his head. He’s forty and he seems to have no idea how to sit like a human being.

Eddie’s punctured, winded body tells him that the ideal thing to do would be to stand between Richie’s knees and just fall on him. Just drop directly on top of him. Crush him. See what Richie does.

“I picked up your thing,” Ben says. He’s dressed now in a sweater and for some reason has his pants rolled up to his calves. He, too, is barefoot. Eddie looks down at his own socks and wonders if the gray carpet is really that appealing. It looks shaggy in a way that should make it hard to clean. Bev is sharing an armchair with him, turned so that her back is pressed to his side. Ben looks quite comfortable despite that Bev seems to be slowly pushing him out of the chair.

“My thing?” Eddie repeats, sleep- and pain-confused.

“Your thing,” Ben repeats, and for some reason lowers his chin, holds both hands in circles under his chin, and blows down into them. If Eddie’s being generous, it looks like he’s miming playing the clarinet. If Eddie allows the little Richie voice in his brain to take over, it looks like he’s miming sucking a dick.

“My spirometer?” Eddie asks.

“Your medical bong,” Richie says. He reaches out and puts one bare foot on Eddie’s hip.

Eddie turns his head towards him so slowly and stares at him so fiercely that Richie retracts his foot and indeed hikes his knees up toward his chest entirely, bracing both feet on the arm of the couch. Eddie cannot deal with this right now.

“I need to eat,” he says, and gestures with his pill bottles. The pills inside rattle and something deep in Eddie’s brain reacts like a dog faced with a can full of pennies, wanting to shrink away from it. “Now, ideally.”

Ben stands up immediately and says, “I got it. Can you do fruit?”

“I can do fruit,” Eddie agrees. He’s grateful for the rapid suggestion instead of last night’s humming and hawing over dinner.

Ben walks across the house toward the kitchen and Bev, without looking up from her phone, slides backward to take full occupancy of the chair. Richie, still in his extravagant position on the couch, seems to scowl as Ben goes by.

“Move over,” Eddie tells him.

Richie immediately braces both feet on the armrest and pushes himself back along the couch to make room for Eddie to sit. Eddie stiffly rounds the corner and sits. Richie’s feet hover in the air and his scowl has shifted into a guilty doubtful look.

“Oh my god, put your feet on my lap, I don’t fucking care,” Eddie says, maybe a little more aggressively than the situation warrants.

Bev looks up for that, which makes Eddie feel self-conscious. Richie settles his feet almost meekly in Eddie’s lap.

“You can move them when I start eating,” Eddie says.

Richie’s feet are very pale and marked with sparse, straight dark hair across the tops and down to a point. The big toe has a faint showing, and the rest of his toes are so bare in comparison that they seem fish-belly white. His second toe is longer than his biggest one, but it’s not very noticeable because of how they gently curl. Eddie looks at them dispassionately, surprised by his indifference, his lack of revulsion. People’s feet are objectively disgusting. They’re in socks all day, just collecting bacteria. Or they’re in sandals, wearing down and collecting calluses.

Richie’s feet are not gross. They’re not hot—and Eddie feels a weird sense of relief at that, the idea that he’s allowed to look at Richie’s feet without feeling uncontrollable lust—but they’re not gross. They should be gross. Why the fuck aren’t they gross? Why can’t Richie just have some fucking gross feet like the rest of them?

So maybe Eddie’s a little quietly angry about that, and then he figures out that Richie’s feet aren’t hot but his ankles definitely are. Apparently Eddie’s into bony ankles. Secretly he’s been a Victorian this whole time. There’s a bare hollow under the outside of Richie’s ankle that Eddie wants to touch to see if it’s as soft as it looks, but he’s not going to do that.

Ben brings him a collection of fruit salad in a Tupperware and, despite it being a very nice selection, Eddie eats it like a hyena on a carcass, crushing grapes in his teeth like they’re bones.

It’s suspicious, how easily the bank stuff goes. He gets on the website with his usual username and password, clicking No when the site asks him if he wants it to remember this device, and then the matter of marking his previous cards Lost or Stolen is simple. The issue is that it wants to send the replacement cards to his old address, to the apartment he shares with Myra. When he tries to indicate that this is not the address he wants them to go to, the site directs him to get on the phone with customer service.

Swearing the whole time, Eddie goes in and dials the number on his new prepaid cellphone. While he’s on the line, listening to the smooth jazz (which always ratchets up his temper more than any other genre of music, just from this association with customer service) and the frequent interruptions to remind him of other products that his bank would like to make available to him, Bev creeps into the room and perches on one of the countertops. Then, of course, this phone number is not a number that they have on file with his account, so he has to enter in his date of birth and the last four digits of his social and wait a while longer.

Bev sits on the counter and swings her bare feet. Her toenails are painted very dark blue. Myra favors lighter, more neutral shades, though she has trouble resisting glitter. When the polish starts to chip the glitter tries to peel off her toes with the rest of it and sometimes just becomes very sharp. Eddie remembers lying in bed with her at night, her half asleep and accidentally scratching him with the glitter in her nail polish.

Is it Eddie who has the issue going around with bare feet? Is this a thing that everyone else is accustomed to and it’s just him who has the issue? He wheels around from the computer, phone still pressed to his ear, and turns his back to Bev, the canvas with the crane, and the four plants slowly rehydrating in the sink. Instead he stares at the golden turtle.

The customer service representative comes on the line and asks him how they can help him today.

Eddie takes a deep breath. “Okay, so what I need is replacement credit and debit cards sent to an address not on my file.”

There’s a pause. “Okay,” says the representative.

“Because I’m filing for divorce from my wife, and I don’t want her to have my new address, but I’ve recently lost my wallet and phone and I’m trying to replace these essentials.”

Eddie is aware of how sketchy this sounds. Honestly, if his bank allows him to do this without giving him too hard a time, he’s going to judge them a little bit. Just because it reflects on their security. Eddie’s story is true, and surely there must be other customers in similar positions without the interference of a demon clown from outer space, but if he gets through this whole process with what he wants, he will feel proportionally less safe about leaving his money with them.

It does not surprise him when the representative has to consult their supervisor.

Over an hour later, Eddie and his bank have come to the following agreement: that he will provide them with a copy of his identification as soon as he can (he knows there’s a scanned image of his passport somewhere in his email inbox, from various arguments he had with HR, and he can send that over) and that they will provide him with a new debit card as soon as they receive that. They will send it to Ben’s address, which is fortunately still in the state of New York and at least makes it marginally less complex. They will allow him to open up his own account in his own name, which Myra will not have access to, but they will not allow him to transfer more than two thousand dollars per day from of his shared account with her until they are directed to by an order from family or divorce court. They will freeze his credit cards, but they will not issue him new ones until the cards are paid off. And—and this is important—they will add his new phone number to his user account, and it will not be visible to Myra.

All in all, while Eddie’s somewhat disappointed that everything isn’t being done exactly the way he wants exactly the moment he asks for it, it’s pretty reasonable. Bev is messing with something on her phone but still watching him; he can see her smile a little out of the corner of his eye when he says something too overtly exasperated. He has no idea where Ben and Richie are, or how he lost them in this big glass house. And he was made to provide all of the code words and security phrases that he agreed with the bank when he became a member, so he could feel less secure.

When he hangs up he sets his phone down on the desk and looks at Bev.

Bev laughs.

Eddie makes a disconsolate exhausted noise.

“Is that it?” she asks.

“No, I have to fix my driver’s license,” he says. He goes to the website, looks at the requirements and finds that he’s allowed to have his replacement driver’s license sent to a temporary address, and then looks around. “Do you think Ben has a printer in this place?”

Ben has a printer. He comes up from the lower level of the house with the printer in his hands and goes about plugging it in, connecting it to the internet, and downloading the software necessary to make it work. Eddie is a little bit horrified not just by this Smart printer with internet access, but also that Ben doesn’t keep it in the place where it would be most convenient for him to use it.

Then they discover that Ben does not have paper.

Ben closes his eyes and says, “I’m so sorry.”

Eddie, already flustered from the time on the phone with his bank and the frustrations of navigating a DMV website, bites his tongue to stop from asking Ben why the fuck he has a printer but no paper.

“I will go get you some paper,” Ben says solemnly. “I’m just… gonna have to wait a bit.”

Not understanding, Eddie blinks at him.

“I can drive,” Bev says.

Eddie glances from her to Ben and back, still confused, before he realizes that Ben has been drinking. Which answers the question of where Richie is.

“I mean—it’s no problem,” Eddie says. “It’s gonna take ten days for it to get here anyway, and I’m going to have to put the thing in the mail.”

“Right, yes, the mail,” Ben says. “I can show you where the mailbox is.”

Eddie looks out the window and down the long drive leading toward the main road. “I’m gonna have to wait a bit for that too,” he confesses, because his thighs are sore.

“That’s fine,” Ben says. “Sorry, I should have asked if we were going anywhere else today.”

But it’s not like Ben can be expected to anticipa