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"The nightmare is that there are two worlds

The nightmare is that there is only one world, this one" 

--Susan Sontag

 

1992

“What do you think you’ll do,” Richie asks Eddie, “when we leave?” 

From up atop City Hall, the tallest building in downtown Derry, you can’t see the whole city. It’s not a very impressive city and it’s not a very impressive building, so they’re not high up enough to see their parents’ houses or much of anything else. 

It took ages to persuade Eddie to do this, one last hurrah to celebrate the end of the summer and mourn the beginning of another school year. Richie kept at it, though, and if there’s one thing he’s proud of it it’s that Eddie usually goes along with most of his stupid plans, if he keeps at it. So Eddie agreed to sneak out way past curfew, long after their parents were asleep, and climb the fire escape up here to get to the highest point in town. 

“I don’t know,” Eddie says. He’s looking out at the horizon and Richie is looking at him. 

When they were younger they used to have all kinds of wild stories they told each other about what they’d do when they left Derry. Kid stuff, really; Richie would be a famous actor or a rock star and Eddie would be a pilot or a brain surgeon or something. Kid stuff, but Richie hasn’t really given up on it. 

Richie has two parallel versions in his head of what he’ll do when he leaves Derry. One of them involves being some kind of famous comedian, in movies or on Saturday Night Live, and it got him through a lot of tough times imagining that, the classic revenge fantasy of someday speeding back over the Derry city limits in a Ferrari to prove everyone wrong. The other version was the one he thought about less often, only when things were truly unbearably bad, the version in which he told someone his secret and it was okay and in some far-off place like the West Village or Christopher Street he might even kiss someone before he dies. 

He knows they don’t go together, though. If he ever gets one, that means he can’t have the other. And he can’t really picture still being friends with Eddie in either version, but this is a failure of the imagination, because they’ll never not be friends. Richie won’t let that happen. 

Eddie never talks about leaving Derry at all anymore. 

“You have to have some idea,” Richie says. “I mean, you could do whatever you want.” 

“Sure.” He says it like he doesn’t believe it. 

“You could still be an astronaut, Eds, it’s not too late,” Richie says, gesturing up at the night sky overhead. “Or, wait, I think there’s a minimum height for that, so they might not let you.” 

“Shut the fuck up,” Eddie says, lightly. “There’s a maximum height for astronauts, and it’s like five-ten, so you’re the one who’s not gonna be able to go to space, asshole.” 

They’re sitting side by side on the edge of the roof, knees almost touching. Eddie is wearing socks short enough that Richie can see the sharp, protruding bone of his ankle. It makes him feel like some kind of Victorian pervert that he has maybe a slight thing about Eddie’s ankles. It’s just that they look delicate, breakable, but Eddie runs faster and longer than anyone else in their grade now and so they must be infinitely stronger than they look, like everything else about him. 

Richie wants to touch him, wants to all the time, wants to see if he could encircle Eddie’s ankle between his thumb and forefinger. Eddie would probably shove him off the roof. 

“That’s messed up, that they’re discriminating based on height,” Richie says. “I mean, when we finally make contact with the babes from Star Trek —“ 

“The babes from Star Trek?” 

“Yeah, you know, the green ones,” Richie says. “I’m sure there’s life out there, right? Millions of planets, one of them’s going to have some green alien babes.” He doesn’t know why he’s saying the word babes so much. He doesn’t know anyone who actually calls women that, he’s pretty sure. 

Eddie rolls his eyes. “Please don’t tell me you actually believe in aliens.” 

“I don’t know.” He doesn’t mention that they’ve technically seen, up close and personal, way weirder shit than just aliens. They don’t talk about that. “I don’t think believing in that is any weirder than, like, believing in God.” 

“Hmm.” Eddie’s quiet for a moment. “Do you?” he says. “Believe in God?” 

They can see five churches from here, plus Stan’s synagogue, and they might as well all have signs out front specifically forbidding Richie Tozier from entering the premises. “Not really,” he says. “Not like, a god who’s involved in our lives and gives a shit about what happens to us. If there’s a god then we’re like… turtles on our backs in the middle of the highway, and he’s not turning us over.”

“That’s a weird fucking metaphor, Rich,” Eddie mutters. He uncrosses his legs and lets them swing over the edge of the building and then lies back, looking up at the stars above them. “I’d like to think there’s something , you know?” 

“Yeah.” Richie falls backwards so they’re lying beside each other, watches out of the corner of his eye as Eddie stares up at Orion or whatever. 

“But you’re right,” Eddie says, “whatever it probably doesn’t give a shit about us.” 

He turns and looks at Richie then; lying beside each other like this there’s no difference between their heights and the eye contact is so direct and deliberate that Richie’s breath catches. 

“Um,” he says. 

“Do you ever think about what you’d do,” Eddie says, “if no one would ever know about it?” 

His eyes are dark and unblinking. No one knows they’re here, right now. No one is going to come looking for them. “Sure,” Richie says. “I mean, I think about—“ 

He’s about to make a stupid joke, not sure what it will be because sometimes he doesn’t think all the way through to the end of a sentence before he starts it, but he doesn’t get that far because Eddie kisses him. Briefly, like he thinks if he only does it for a moment Richie might not notice. 

“Eds?” he says quietly. 

Eddie doesn’t answer. His eyes are closed now. 

In that moment the universe is a much vaster place than it ever has been before, and more things are possible than Richie had ever believed. 

Then Eddie says, quietly, “Sorry,” and he’s looking away again. “I just wanted to… I just wanted to see.” In response to Richie’s continued, frozen silence, he mumbles, “I don’t think we should do it again.” 

Richie’s fingernails bite hard into the skin of his palms, and he knows that the brave thing to do would be to ask, to tell Eddie he can’t pretend it didn’t happen, to say something out loud that echoes how painfully his heart is beating. 

“Okay,” he says. “It’s getting late, we should go home.” 

This is how the story goes: there are seven kids in a little town in Maine and some very bad things happen to them, some of them related to the ancient evil living underneath them and some not, but they go up against the evil and think they win. Really, though, they just strike a bad blow and the thing that gets taken away from them in exchange is the worst thing possible: each other. They go off to every corner of the country and they forget the bad things and they forget how to fight and all of them, especially the kid in the coke-bottle glasses who can’t keep his mouth shut, get their lives all wrong. 

Or — or maybe it went a different way. Like this: there are seven kids in a little town in Maine and some very bad things happen to them, some of them related to the ancient evil living underneath them and some not, but they go up against the evil and think they win. It’s hard to tell, but they don’t forget each other afterward. They stay in touch, and when one of them needs a friend the others are always there, and they make pretty decent lives out of their pretty awful memories. 

This is what Richie Tozier remembers. 

1995

Winter on the campus of Syracuse University is warmer than winter in Maine, but not by much. 

“He is honestly such a dick sometimes,” Eddie says, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his coat, voice a little muffled by the scarf he’s wearing wound around his face. 

“Who, Bill?” 

“Yeah, Bill. Oh, I got one story published in a literary magazine and now I’m too fucking important to worry about finals. Like, his parents still pay for his tuition, so.”

Eddie has a single room at Syracuse because he’s too much of a control freak to live with anyone else; Mike and Bill live down the hall from him. The plan, which the seven of them made senior year of high school over a series of long-distance phone calls, was that they would all go to college on the east coast. And they would all go to college; Mike got a scholarship, Bev is working two jobs to afford tuition. 

Richie was the only one who hadn’t complied with the plan, because he’d gotten an acceptance letter from USC and known it was maybe his one chance to get some kind of meaningful distance from everything about his life so far. 

So far, he has not successfully gotten enough distance not to visit the first chance he got. 

They just came from a party, if you could call it that, in the dorm room of some girl Mike and Bill are friends with. It was all English majors drinking vodka out of plastic cups and talking about something called the death of the author and also flirting with each other in various combinations. The parties Richie went to at USC involved a lot more yelling and beer pong and people falling off of roofs, but he could tell Eddie felt even more out-of-place than he did. 

Richie thinks he kind of gets it. They were all hanging on Bill’s every word, all those aspiring great American novelists, and they used to be the only people who did that. The only people who seemed to notice Bill was meant to be somewhere better, to be someone more impressive than a quiet, stuttering kid who hung out with losers like them. Now they’re out of Derry and other people finally see it, and it’s like the irritation you feel when everyone else finally catches on to this band you’ve been listening to for years. 

“I swear,” Eddie says, “you tell those people you’re a business major and it’s like you committed a crime.” 

“A crime against joy,” Richie says seriously. He had read the Communist Manifesto the previous month and thought that it made some compelling points, but he didn’t think Eddie was ready for it. 

Eddie, mouth invisible under his scarf, scowled at him with just his eyebrows. 

They get to the door of Eddie’s building and he holds it open for Richie, already pulling off his scarf so he can talk unobstructed. “I don’t think it’s so fucking wrong to want to learn a practical skill set,” he says. “When we’re like, thirty, all of you are going to be asking to borrow money from me and Stan and we’re going to say no. We talked about it.” 

“Ouch,” Richie mumbles, and trails after Eddie as he keeps talking all the way back to his dorm room. 

A little while later, Richie is trying to fall asleep in a sleeping bag on the hardwood floor of Eddie’s room. 

“Hey, Rich,” Eddie says into the darkness, and Richie startles. “Why’d you go to California?” 

Richie winces. He can’t explain this, not in terms Eddie will accept, that will make him stop asking about it in a way that’s like pressing on a bruise. “Would you believe me if I said it was the only school I got into?” 

He can practically hear Eddie’s glare. “No, I wouldn’t, because if you could get into USC you could get into Syracuse or any other fucking school on the east coast and we could’ve all been within normal driving distance of each other like we promised, so.” 

Richie’s gotten this speech already, from both Ben and Beverly. They were hurt by it and Richie felt guilty about that, about being the first one to leave. But it’s reality, that they’re going to drift apart, and he thought this might make it easier. 

He thought he might be able to force it. 

“Listen,” Richie says to the ceiling, “I — I have to tell you something.” 

“Oh my god,” Eddie says. “Can you not phrase that like you’re dying?” There’s a moment’s pause, and then he adds, talking faster now, “Are you sick, because warm climates don’t actually cure any diseases, man, that’s bullshit —" 

“I’m not dying, can you calm down for one minute?” Richie swallows hard against the lump in his throat. 

He’s thought about how to do this, what it would sound like if he ever did. He doesn’t think he wants to keep it a secret forever, but what is he supposed to do, just say it out loud? 

Everyone probably thinks Richie is the type of person to say whatever he’s thinking out loud, no filter between his brain and his mouth. They don’t know how long he’s been biting his tongue to keep from saying the wrong thing, talking just to fill the silence that’s left behind when he doesn’t say what he means. 

“It’s nothing bad,” he says. “It’s just, uh. Well, I made out with this guy Alex who lives on my floor.” 

It seems better to say it this way, something that happened instead of an unalterable fact. Safer. He squeezes his eyes shut and waits for Eddie to respond. 

There’s a moment of silence, and then a light flips on. Richie opens his eyes and Eddie is sitting up in bed with his bedside table lamp on, looking down at him. “What?” Eddie says in a small voice. 

“Uh, you know. I just wanted you to know that like, I don’t want things to be weird, but that’s kind of why I moved to California.” 

Eddie’s eyebrows are doing the worried thing where they almost meet in the middle. “Because of some guy that you kissed?” 

“Not because of him. I met him like a month ago.” Richie huffs out a harsh breath and closes his eyes again. “Just because I felt like, you know, if I didn’t get as far away from home as I could I would never. I don’t know. Do anything about it.” 

There’s another long moment of silence, and then Eddie says, “But I kissed you.”

For a second Richie thinks he’s misheard him. “What?” 

“I kissed you!” Eddie sounds incredulous, and when Richie opens his eyes, he’s scowling. “And — and I waited for you to say something—“ 

“Hold on —“

“And I thought maybe when we went to college it would be different but you went to California and you didn’t even ask me if I wanted to—“ 

“Eds.” Richie hopes his voice isn’t shaking. “You said, you said that we shouldn't do it again.” 

It’s then that he realizes Eddie actually is shaking, slightly, his chest heaving with unsteady breath. Richie springs to his feet and goes over to him, puts a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. Are you okay? You need your inhaler?” 

“I don’t have it anymore,” Eddie says through gritted teeth. He takes deep breaths, steadying himself, drawing his knees up to his chest. Richie retracts his hand and tries to catch up to what exactly is going on. Eddie still has a little bit of a furious look in his eyes, he thinks. 

“I was scared,” Eddie says eventually. “I still am, I guess.” 

And Richie wants — he wants to kiss Eddie again, of course, wants to wrap his arms around Eddie’s nervous, curled-up frame and keep him close forever if possible, but mostly he wants to not pretend anymore that this isn’t what he wants.

“Well. Me too. But if you wanna keep score that was a way better kiss than Alex from USC.” 

Eddie laughs, briefly. “It was what, two seconds?” 

“Best two seconds of my life, Eddie my love,” he says, because if it has the cadence of a joke maybe Eddie won’t catch on that it’s the truth. 

He’s just looking at Richie, though, eyes all wide and dark and maybe not so worried now. “You wanna do it again sometime?” Eddie says. 

Richie lets himself reach out, his fingers curling over Eddie’s knee, and it occurs to him faintly that it’s amazing how easy this is. They’re best friends, have always been on the same side. There’s nothing dangerous about the two of them, not here, alone in Eddie’s dorm room with snow falling all around. 

“I’d like that,” he says, and they meet in the middle somewhere, their noses bumping together slightly, Eddie’s hand reaching out to correct the angle of Richie’s jaw and then to hold him in place for a long moment. It doesn’t have to be the opposite coast to be the further away from Derry Richie’s ever been. 

1998

Their first apartment in New York is small, with a dishwasher that doesn’t work and a blinking neon strip club sign right outside the bedroom window. But it’s theirs, so it’s fucking paradise. 

It’s all they’ve talked about over the past two years, late-night phone calls that weren’t idle fantasies about theoretical futures anymore but something like concrete plans. 

“We’re like adults now,” Eddie says, on their first night there. They’d spent most of the day dragging boxes and furniture up three flights of stairs. Richie could tell Eddie wasn’t thrilled with the building, which was undeniably grimy and smelled like cigarettes even though tenants weren’t supposed to smoke inside, but he’d handled it with grim determination and air freshener. “Is that crazy or what?” 

“You are,” Richie mumbles. “I promise I’ll get a real job someday, Eddie.” 

Richie has a communications degree and an unpaid internship at a radio station in addition to a poorly paid gig stocking groceries and a series of open mic nights he has to actually pay to perform at. He thinks he could get good enough to be one of the guys on the radio, babbling about local weather and celebrity gossip in between songs. 

He knows Eddie is kind of insecure about the amount of money he’s making after switching from business school to do nursing, and Richie’s kind of insecure about the fact that there’s no way they could’ve paid for Eddie to go to med school and the fact that he’s the reason Eddie’s mom isn’t sending him money anymore, not that it was much in the first place. 

“Come on, don’t do that,” Eddie says. 

They’re lying together on a mattress that’s just barely big enough for both of them, Weezer’s Blue Album playing quietly through Richie’s ancient stereo. Eddie reaches over and takes Richie’s glasses off, pulls him forward by the shoulder until they’re face-to-face and their noses are touching. Richie can’t help grinning at him, darting forward to kiss him. 

“We’ll work it out,” Eddie says sincerely. “Look at us, we made it here, didn’t we?” He kisses Richie again, teasingly, and Richie throws an arm around him to pull him closer. “‘Not bad for a couple of kids from Derry.” 

“You’re right, Eds,” Richie agrees, “if they ever let me do one shift on the air I’ll be the most notable public figure in the history of the county.” 

For a moment Richie’s almost giddy with how improbably happy he is, being here like this with his favorite person in the world, legs all tangled together, with Eddie smiling back just as broadly as Richie is smiling at him and “Buddy Holly” playing through the speakers. 

“I don’t care what they say about us anyway,” he sings along inches away from Eddie’s face, and Eddie laughs at him, presses his mouth to Rihie’s in the middle of the next line. 

It’s bizarre to think, now, that Richie was uncertain a few years ago about how his life would turn out. Maybe he still doesn’t know the details, but he knows the most important thing. He’s known it since they kissed for the second time. Every phone call on the pay phone in the lobby of his dorm, late at night when there was no one to interrupt them, only made it more true. Of course just because you loved someone didn’t mean you would be with them forever — Bill and Beverly had dated long-distance through high school before breaking up as soon as they got to college — but somehow Richie was certain it would be different for him and Eddie. 

Not everybody gets lucky enough to love somebody like this, he’s sure of that, and Richie’s going to hold onto it and he knows Eddie will too — that’s all. 

“I’m really happy we’re here,” he tells Eddie quietly, pressing hands into his sharp hipbones, and Eddie smiles so genuine and bright. 

The memories swirl together, frantic and fast-paced and too many of them to catch in his hands. 

There are memories of working late nights at a local Top 40 radio station, falling into bed at 4 a.m. There’s Eddie complaining about the long hours at his own job and kissing Richie on the forehead before he leaves for work and there’s the two of them making dinner together, falling asleep on the couch watching Seinfeld reruns, walking their dog in the sweltering California summer. There’s Eddie crying like Richie has never seen him cry before when they get the first phone call from Derry in years, informing him that his mother has died, and then holding tightly to his hand at the funeral where he doesn’t cry at all. There’s a series of screaming fights on fire escapes in two apartments about Richie’s inability to quit smoking and Eddie’s hypochondria. There’s making up after those fights, apologizing in between kisses until they don’t remember who was in the wrong. 

Their friends are there, too, all of their lives intertwined instead of diverging off in seven different directions. They’re all together, even when there’s physical distance between them. The emotions run together, too, but the thing that’s always there is love. 

2002

Richie remembers Eddie coming home from one of his twelve-hour shifts in the ER, complaining about all the elderly patients who asked him if he was married. 

“They all probably want to set me up with their granddaughter or something,” Eddie says, looking both exhausted and irritable. “And Dr. Brennan asked me today, too, if I was married and I said I wasn’t and he said if I had a girlfriend I should bring her to the Christmas party, and it’s just—“ 

He’s pacing around their kitchen a little bit. Most nights after this shifts Eddie lets Richie cook him dinner and sits with his eyes closed for a few long minutes until he wants to talk about his day, but sometimes he has bad nights. Richie knows a single day in the hospital must be more stressful than a year of Richie’s bullshit job playing Top 40 songs and babbling about call-in contests to win concert tickets. 

“You can tell them about me,” Richie says. “Or not, if you don’t want to.” 

“I will eventually,” Eddie says. “I just think — we would be married by now, right, if we…” He trailed off, shrugging. 

They’ve been living together for years, and it’s not like Richie hasn’t thought about it, but it still surprises him that Eddie might think about it too. “Do you want to get married?” 

Eddie looks at him disbelievingly. “Obviously,” he said. “I mean, when we can. As long as you don’t think it’s like, bourgeois conformism or something.” 

He’s echoing the words of Richie’s college friends, the ones who smoked clove cigarettes and thought marriage as a goals was an imitation of heterosexual ideals, and it makes him smile that Eddie remembers. It is vitally important, however, that Eddie not think there was any reason on earth, practical or ideological or otherwise, why Richie wouldn’t want to marry him. 

Maybe it’s dumb sentiment or Hallmark card bullshit, but Richie has always liked the idea of making a vow, of everyone knowing that you’re serious enough about a good thing to swear to it. Marrying Eddie wouldn’t be an imitation of anything; it would be a promise to each other and a stubborn refusal to the rest of the world to be talked out of it. Like initials carved into wood in their distant hometown. 

He follows Eddie into the kitchen, where he’s starting to rummage through the fridge in search of leftovers, and silently kneels down on one knee, waiting for Eddie to notice. 

“Oh, Jesus,” Eddie says when he turns his head. 

“Eddie Kaspbrak,” he says, and Eddie is laughing at him, a little, “will you please, when it is legal, reinforce the capitalist institution of marriage with me and make me the happiest bourgeois conformist in the world?” 

Eddie tugs him to his feet, and Richie felt the joking bravado melt away. Eddie’s expression is serious, and for a moment Richie is ready to apologize for not saying it more seriously until Eddie kisses him, hard. 

“Yes,” he said. “Anytime, anywhere, yes.” 

2008

Ben and Beverly’s wedding is the first time in a few years all of them have been together, physically, at once. The last time, Richie thinks, might’ve been Stan’s wedding, since Bill had to go and elope to Paris without telling anyone like the literary drama queen he was. 

They’re all together for this, though. Richie begged to be allowed to officiate the ceremony or at least to DJ, but they talked him down to being Bev’s best man, which was a pretty good compromise because he got to do the toast. 

“Rich,” Eddie says urgently as Ben’s mom is wrapping up a weepy speech, “let’s remember that this is our best friends’ wedding and not a tight five at the Comedy Store, please.” 

Richie is aware that he’s grinning maniacally and also that everyone is quite possibly just now remembering his toast at Stan’s wedding, his masterwork. No one had a better memory for embarrassing childhood anecdotes than Richie Tozier. Patty loved it, though. 

“Don’t worry, I got this,” he tells Eddie, who doesn’t look reassured. 

When Richie makes it to the front of the room with his microphone in hand, he can see Beverly grinning and giving him a subtle thumbs-up. Next to her, Ben is less subtly dabbing at his eyes. 

“Hey, everyone,” Richie says. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richie, I’m the second-best man.” 

“I’ve known Ben and Beverly since we were kids. You might not be able to tell because they both grew up into such hot, normal adults, but they were both real nerds in middle school. When I met them, Beverly wore six scrunchies on each wrist as bracelets and Ben once made me watch ‘Pretty in Pink’ four times in a year. He definitely thought he was Duckie, but I still say there’s no way that kid was really into girls.” 

He can see Ben laughing at that, shaking his head ruefully at the memory. 

“I knew Ben loved Beverly when we were thirteen, because thirteen-year-olds are not subtle. But I didn’t know they were going to get married until later. So I’m gonna tell that story, because I think the statute of limitations on any crimes has run out. I was visiting Bev when she was in grad school, and she had been dating this guy who was a real piece of work. What was his name, Beverly, Todd?” 

“Tad,” Beverly yells back. 

Tad ,” Richie says contemptuously, “can you believe that? She hasn’t always had such good taste, folks. So I went to Boston to see Beverly and she tells me she caught this guy Tad sleeping with their sociology TA. And I’m not going to let her get away with moping around all weekend over this lacrosse team moron, so I tell her, Bev, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re just going to smash a carton of eggs over the guy’s windshield, you’ll scream about him, you’ll feel better. So that’s the plan, we pelt a dozen eggs at this guy’s shitty car, and after we’re done I ask her if she feels better. And Beverly — and this is why she’s my hero, this is why she’s my role model — she takes out a knife and slashes the front two tires, and she says, ‘Now I do.’” 

Beverly raises her hands into the air in acceptance of a round of applause and a few wolf-whistles, grinning from ear to ear.

“Later that night, though, we’ve enjoyed some illicit substances I won’t mention in polite company, and Beverly turns to me and she says, ‘Men are the worst,’ which I fully agree with, and then she says, ‘I wish I could just date someone like Ben.’ And I can't believe this. I’m sitting there with my mouth open in shock and I’m like, ‘Beverly, you can. Literally, I’ll call him right now and we’ll see what he says.’ And she laughs at me! She says, ‘Come on, Richie, we’re best friends.’”

He pauses for the audience reaction, letting the microphone drop to his side and casting a can-you-believe-that look to the assembled crowd. 

“I know!” Richie crows, swinging the microphone back up. “She said that to me! About a man I knew perfectly well had been in love with her since the day I met him. And this is years before she and Ben even started dating, but I knew at that point they were going to get married. Okay, I don’t want to oversell my powers of prescience here, but I knew they should and it would drive me fucking — sorry, Ben’s mom — fucking crazy if they didn’t.” 

He lets himself look over at Eddie then, and Eddie is smiling irrepressibly, raising his hand just enough to discreetly flip Richie off when their eyes meet as Richie says, “And if you can marry your best friend, the person who’s been there for you in your worst moments and who loved you when you were a middle school social outcast, you should do that. That's the person who really knows you.” 

When he looks back at Ben and Beverly, both of them are crying a little; Beverly wipes away a tear and starts to applaud. 

“Alright, that’s my time! I’ve been Richie Tozier, tip your waitresses, I’ve got business cards if there are any talent agents in the audience.” 

After Ben and Beverly’s first dance, Eddie is the one who pulls Richie out onto the dance floor, his eyes still softer and more affectionate than they normally are in public, whirls him around in a circle to the dulcet tones of New Kids on the Block. Beverly comes up behind them halfway through the song, puts an arm around each of their shoulders, and before Richie knows it the rest of their friends are surrounding them as well. Mike spins Stan in a circle and Bill is doing some of the whitest, most embarrassing dancing Richie has ever seen and he can’t stop laughing, leaning against Eddie to hold himself up. 

Richie has a brief and powerful sensation that everything in the universe is correctly aligned, and for a moment, before the song changes to the Backstreet Boys and Bill whoops with joy, he thinks inexplicably of a turtle. 

2012

“They’re never going to let us have a kid, you know,” Eddie says on a Saturday morning, frowning at the screen of his laptop where Richie knows he’s been checking for updates from the adoption agency. Richie looks at him over the comics section of the newspaper, which he always faithfully reads after handing Eddie the business section, and frowns. 

Eating breakfast together still feels like a novel ritual. They never used to do this; for years, Richie hardly ate breakfast at all, when he was doing late-night shifts on the radio and Eddie was doing overnights at the hospital. They both have better shifts now — Richie’s listeners are tuning in for classic rock radio on their commute home from the office instead of battling insomnia at 3 a.m. — and it’s nice, although Richie always did think it was kind of romantic to come home to each other while most of the world was still asleep. 

Eddie’s never been a morning person, though, and for him these are prime agitation hours. 

“It’s still a little early to say that, Eds,” Richie replies cautiously. 

“Well, they’re not going to.” Eddie says this with the certainty he has about so many things, good or bad. No glass is half-empty with Eddie; it’s either completely full or there is no chance of anyone getting him any water and he’s going to die of thirst. “I don’t care what anyone says, they definitely still discriminate against gay couples, even in New York, even if you’re both white with a decent dual income, and we definitely said too much in the interview.” 

“Too much about what?” 

“About my childhood,” Eddie says with a sharp hand gesture at nothing. “About, like, shit that happened to us.” 

Richie folds up the newspaper and reaches for his hand. 

“Hey, come on,” he says. “We told them the truth. They asked for our philosophy on parenting, right? We just told them what it was and where we got it.” 

They’re at the age where kids are the big topic of discussion even among their gay friends — everybody’s talking about adoption or surrogacy or if not, then proclaiming that they never want children because it’s a hassle or it’s heteronormative.

They talked about it when Eddie first started to get a yearning look in his eyes whenever they saw another couple with a baby in a stroller, and it was sort of a surprise to Richie to realize that he wanted that, too. He wanted it for them, anyway, to be able to do that together, to give some kid who’s on their own in the world a chance at a better childhood than they ever had. 

None of their friends from Derry have kids, which is a strange coincidence that verges on uncanny the way things always have with them. Ben and Beverly decided against it, Richie knows, and Mike and his longtime girlfriend are far too progressive and academic for marriage, let alone children. He doesn’t know if Bill and his wife want kids someday; they might be too busy with various book tours. 

But Stan and Patty have been trying for years, to no avail. Stan is the one who warned them about the long and difficult and heart-wrenching process of trying to adopt. Richie hadn’t realized before then that he and Patty had basically given up on having kids the old-fashioned way. 

“Maybe we’re just not supposed to be parents,” Eddie says, and Richie can tell he’s thinking of the same thing. “Any of us.” 

“Look,” Richie says, “we haven’t been trying long enough to give up. If adoption doesn’t work out we can try something else, like surrogacy or something —“ 

“That’s not what I want,” Eddie says, an unhappy twist to his mouth. “It’s basically just paying some poor woman to have a baby for you. And I just thought — you know, that there are kids out there who need good parents. And we could be good parents.” 

Richie still doesn’t know if he would be a good dad, not instinctively. He’d have to pick it up on the job somehow, muddle his way through like he does with most things. But Eddie, who is so good with the kids at his office, who comforts them so expertly when they come in for shots and listens to them talk about dinosaurs or Disney princesses like there’s nothing more important in the world, he’d be a natural. 

Someone should get to have him as a parent. It would just be unfair, otherwise. 

“We’ll keep trying,” Richie says. 

There are other conversations about it, other arguments, other attempts with other agencies that go nowhere. The universe is working against them, Eddie declares, and there are times when he’s really miserable about it. It hurts him worse than it hurts Richie, which Richie feels bad about, but he tells him, “It’s not that I don’t want it, it’s just — I don’t need anything else, to be happy. Just you.” 

And Eddie smiles sadly and he says, “I can live with that.” 

They get a second dog.

2016

Mike calls, from Arizona. 

He got a tenured professorship there a few years earlier, in the ill-defined field of American studies, which means he writes about the history of America being fucked up. He’s an expert in this topic. 

The rest of them, they try to forget about Derry. It’s been years since Richie and Eddie have spoken about it, even between the two of them. They decided a long time ago on looking forward, not back. Mike keeps up with it, though, says he’s going to write a book someday. Mike has a Google alert for Derry, Maine while the rest of them have tried to forget the ZIP code.

And Mike calls them from Arizona. Richie answers the phone, in the middle of an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and he says, because he still likes to, “Tozier-Kaspbrak residence, Tozier speaking.” 

“Is Eddie there?” Mike says, sounding grim. 

“Yeah, he’s right here. Are you okay, man?” 

“I need you to put me on speaker, please,” Mike says, and when he does: “It’s back. I’m sorry, but we have to go home.” 

Eddie’s face goes pale, his eyes wide with horror, and Richie is immediately sick. 

A couple years back, Richie listened to a handful of episodes of this true crime podcast everyone kept recommending. The weird blend of comedy and human tragedy felt familiar; it reminded him of his childhood more than anything had in years. There was a phrase the hosts used that had stuck in his mind: the less dead . It was some kind of law enforcement term, he thought, for the people who went missing and wound up dead without attracting much notice. Drifters, homeless people, drug addicts, kids back when they were still allowed to ride their bikes late at night and before all the pictures on milk cartons. Gay men estranged from their families, anonymous in some big city far from home, their deaths brushed off by the police as part of a risky lifestyle. 

Richie was pretty sure the podcast made him act weird and paranoid, and there was only room for so much paranoia in one relationship, so he stopped listening. But he still thought of that phrase sometimes. That was who died in Derry, Richie had thought, the less dead, and maybe anyone who died in Derry was less dead, less mourned, less looked-for than they would be anywhere else. At thirteen, that illusory missing poster had scared him worse than anything else, already convinced that he would be one of them, dead and just as quickly forgotten. 

“I can’t do this,” he tells Eddie in the parking Iot of the Jade of the Orient, where they’d all grimly agreed to meet for dinner, to discuss what had to be done. “We could just… go home. All of us. It doesn’t have to be us.” 

Eddie, whose face has been grim with resolve since they got the phone call, shakes his head. “Yes it does,” he says. “There’s nobody else. We promised.” 

Of course they promised when they were thirteen, and Richie meant it. But he promised himself many more times, almost daily between the ages of eleven and sixteen, that when he left Derry he would never come back. Until now, he never has. 

Eddie looks over at him, sitting in the passenger side of their car curled in on himself, trying desperately not to get sick again. Eddie looks at him the way he always has, like he knows Richie completely, and that’s been comforting instead of terrifying for a long time. Since they left Derry. 

“It’ll be okay,” Eddie says softly. He covers Richie‘s hand with his, where Richie is gripping the steeling wheel tight. “I promise.” He smiles, a little shakily but genuine. “It’s the losers’ club, right? It’s us.” He means, we’ve always protected each other , and Richie believes him. 

This is what Richie Tozier remembers, this and a thousand other things, some of them important and some of them mundane. He remembers the versions of his friends he never lost touch with and the versions he did, he remembers being alone and he remembers having six people who cared in the way families care for each other, he remembers an empty chair at the Jade of the Orient and he remembers Stan sitting beside him, hands shaking but present and alert, nodding along. 

He remembers walking into a restaurant and seeing Eddie for the first time in years, and he remembers walking into that same restaurant together, Eddie’s hand holding tightly to his because they knew that they would do this together, the way they had everything else. 

The memories converge at this point: he’s underneath Derry, the town he spent his whole life running away from, and he turns his head at the wrong moment and that’s it. Deadlights. And the inside of his mind isn’t his own anymore. 

And then, a few moments or twenty years later, he’s falling onto his back and he’s looking into Eddie’s face above his, and Richie doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not.

He can’t look away from Eddie, doesn’t see the spider claw coming, but someone else does. He hears Beverly’s scream and sees her barreling toward them, knocking into Eddie’s body with the full force of her own, and they both fall somewhere out of sight. 

Richie scrambles to his feet, frantic, disoriented, dodging madly away from the spider’s claw. “Eddie?” he hears himself calling. “Beverly?” 

He sees her red hair, through the crevice in the rock, and they’ve fallen some further level down. Richie throws his body after them without thinking, lands mostly on his knees, and — 

Eddie ,” Beverly says desperately. “He hit his head. Oh god, he’s unconscious.” He hears a sob catch in her throat. “Oh, Eddie — I’m sorry —“ 

It’s instinct, to kneel over Eddie’s body, and they just did this in reverse moments before. It’s instinct to press a hand to his injured cheek, like that pain might wake him up. There’s blood streaming from his head, there’s blood on Richie’s hand a moment later, and he’s — 

He could be dying, his Eddie, his — 

Richie looks down at his own hands. There’s no wedding ring. There’s blood, where that would be, there’s Eddie’s blood on his hands, and he knows then that it wasn’t real. 

The actual clown-killing part is easy, once they figure out the trick. They kill it, and then they make it out. Six of them, Richie reminds himself, only six of them went down there, and six of them make it out. One of them is still bleeding and unconscious, head falling forward onto his chest as Ben picks him up effortlessly in the fireman’s carry, but they get him out. 

Nobody asks Richie what he saw until Beverly does, three days in. 

Three days into their little hospital vigil, three days of the five of them trying every trick they have, as a group of four wealthy people used to getting what they want and one amateur paranormal investigator with a knack for talking people into things, to persuade someone to let them see Eddie. They are not allowed to see Eddie. The person who is allowed to see Eddie is his wife, whose name and telephone number were printed neatly on a little card in Eddie’s wallet, safe and dry because Eddie sealed it in a plastic bag before putting it into his pocket and heading for the sewers. Because of course he did. 

She got the first flight in from New York when the doctors called and she has decreed that none of them are allowed anywhere near the hospital room where Eddie is lying unconscious. Richie can’t blame her, rationally, because she is the person Eddie married and whose phone number he sealed inside his wallet and the rest of them are, as far as she’s concerned, nothing to Eddie at all. Could be vagabonds who wandered in from their latest child-killing ritual, who are responsible for getting Eddie injured while trying to induct him into Derry’s hottest cult. 

Irrationally, Richie absolutely hates her for it. But on a third level, which he can’t even comment on the rationality of, he doesn’t think he could see Eddie’s face at all, especially not still unconscious like he was down in the cistern, without doing something insane. Like maybe he’d just start screaming and not be able to stop — something like that. 

None of the five of them, the five who are left, have broached the topic of leaving yet. Whatever happens, whatever the outcome is, they have to be there for it. That’s the Losers’ Club Guarantee, Richie thinks. We will not miss another death

So Beverly finds him in his motel room, the third night, drunk halfway out of his mind. Trying to get drunk enough to forgot about what he saw and about Eddie, lying unconscious in a hospital room, and about his publicist’s many, many unanswered phone calls. 

“Give me the bourbon, Rich,” Beverly says, looking threatening. 

Richie shakes his head and hugs it closer to his chest. 

She sighs, and then she crosses the room to sit next to him on his unmade hotel bed. 

“Look,” she says. “As someone who — as someone who knows a thing or two about getting drunk to avoid dealing with things, you have to stop this before you put yourself in the hospital too.” 

“Do you think we could get adjoining rooms?” Richie says. He lets Beverly take the bottle away from him and she pats him on the knee, where he’s sprawled with his head sort of propped up by a mountain of pillows. 

“I saw him die, in the deadlights,” Bev says after a moment. “I saw him die a few ways, but that was one of them. I didn’t remember it soon enough.” 

“But he’s alive,” Richie says, trying not to add for now. “So that’s — better than nothing.” 

“Do you want to tell me what you saw?” she asks, gently. 

He doesn’t, not really, but at the same time — how can he not? 

“I remember things that aren’t real,” he says. 

“Things like my dreams?” she says quietly. “Bad things?” 

“Things about us, like some other life where, where none of us forgot each other.” It feels impossible to keep his head up and he lets it fall forward, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyelids. “Not bad things, that’s — that’s the worst fucking part.” He laughs hollowly. “We were happy, Beverly, that’s what I saw.” 

He remembers the other Beverly, who wasn’t a famous anything and didn’t care much about fashion. She kept her hair short and didn’t wear makeup. She went to school for social work and got a good job at a nonprofit, married Ben — who wasn’t an architect but had a decent little contracting business — and never had bruises down her arms like she has now. 

Richie remembers this: he and Eddie got married in 2011, the first day you could in New York, standing in line outside the courthouse with all the other couples who were excited and triumphant and still a little scared it would be taken away from them, like it was in California. 

They’d gotten a domestic partnership years before, because Eddie’s worst fear was that one of them would end up in the hospital and the other wouldn’t be allowed their rightful spousal power of life-or-death decision-making and some obscure Tozier or Kaspbrak relation would be contacted by telephone to make the decision to pull the plug. 

(“Would you want me to?” Richie had asked years ago when they’d discussed this — memories without memories, like Inception or some shit. “You know, to tell them to turn off the life support if you were in a coma.” The possibility had been vaguely horrifying, but also distant — they were still in their twenties then, which felt like being immortal. 

“Jesus, no,” Eddie had said. He shook his head like he was shaking the idea away. “No, I want to live. I don’t care what kinda machines they have to use, tell ‘em I wanna live.”)

So they had the domestic partnership paperwork and they were basically married already, even though Richie still said “boyfriend” instead of “partner” or “husband” and they hadn’t gone out and bought rings. Richie had always, optimistically, believed this would happen, and he was holding out for full legal status. He hadn’t daydreamed as a kid about settling for domestic partnership. 

“Do you remember,” he asked when the news came through, “when we decided to get married?” and Eddie’s eyes went soft and distant. He nodded. 

Anytime, anywhere, yes.

“Well,” Richie said. “Offer still stands.” 

They hadn’t prepared much of anything in advance, so they wore the same suits they’d worn to Ben and Beverly’s wedding three years before and joined the line outside the courthouse without telling anyone they were going. 

“Our friends are going to be so upset that they missed this,” Eddie muttered, tugging on his tie, and Richie leaned over to fix it for him. 

“We can have a real wedding later if you want,” he said. “A huge shindig, where we invite everybody we know and they all have to get us kitchen appliances we already have. Whatever you want.” 

They both cried during the brief ceremony, and they posed for a series of photos taken by an elderly lesbian who told Eddie he looked just like her nephew, and Richie cried again during her equally brief wedding to her partner of fifty years, who said, “I never dreamed we’d get to have this, you know.” 

I did, Richie thought, looking into Eddie’s grinning face and taking his hand to run down the courthouse steps together as an actual, genuine-article, legally married couple, and he cried again that night when Eddie held his face between his hands and looked him right in the eye and said with real wonder in his voice, “I can’t believe you’re my husband.” 

The thing was that the actual, genuine-article Richie Tozier has never been that happy in his life. He’d have taken the deadlights visions of horrible death over this any day, he thinks, but then that fucking clown must’ve known that. Must’ve known exactly how to get at him. 

Did Eddie have that conversation, he wonders, with Myra? That long-ago illusory talk about life support, about pulling the plug, about how Eddie, who was always so headstrong, wanted every chance to cling to life by any means necessary? Or was that not what he wanted at all? Did the real Eddie tell her, the person he really married, to let him go? 

“I don’t know what it was,” he tells Beverly. “It wasn’t real, but it felt real.” 

Like an alternate universe, he wants to say, or some kind of Good Timeline that Richie has landed firmly in the Bad Timeline version of. He’s like a cautionary-tale version of himself whose life has been fucked up by Marty McFly. 

Beverly looks away from him. “It’s probably just something it used to hurt you, Rich,” she says. 

“But what if it wasn’t?” he says. “What if —“ 

He can’t confess his real fear to her, which is that maybe he is still in the deadlights; maybe this is all an illusion and he’s still stuck in it, will remain trapped in that moment possibly forever. He can’t tell her, especially, that there’s a part of him that hopes this isn’t real, that his real life isn’t the one he’s screwed up so irrevocably badly. 

“I’m just worried about Eddie, I guess,” he says in a small voice. 

She frowns in sympathy. “I know, honey, we all are.” 

“I don’t know what I’m gonna fucking do if he dies,” he tells Beverly, suddenly frantic. “I don’t know how I’m going to — to…” 

He’s sobbing before he can finish the sentence, and she pulls him into a fierce embrace. “I know,” she says. “I know.” 

Eddie doesn’t die in the hospital. 

Richie thinks he should’ve known Eddie would be too stubborn to die. Eddie would not go gently into any good night. Richie loves that about him, his refusal to budge an inch when he doesn’t want to. Eddie can be completely wrong about something and know it and still insist for weeks that it’s the absolute truth. 

At least, that’s how he used to be, but he must still be at least a little like that because he doesn’t die even though, he tells them all, the doctors were surprised by that. Surprised by how quickly he woke up. 

“‘Things were not looking good for a while there,’ that’s what they said,” Eddie relays. “But honestly, I feel fine.” 

He looks pale and small in his hospital gown.  there are dark bruises under both of his eyes and they shaved off the side of his head to treat the injury, with the effect that he looks more sickly now than he ever has. But he’s smiling. 

Richie made a lot of promises, mentally, when he was back at the townhouse. They were promises to a god he didn’t really believe in, but he felt like the effort had to be made. If Eddie is okay I will go vegan and donate all of my money to Greenpeace, he’d thought, and if Eddie is okay I will become a devout evangelist for whatever religion you want, just give me a sign about the right one. If Eddie is okay I will tell everyone I have always been a complete fraud, and I don’t care if all the guys at the Ice House hate me

He’d thought, at various points, both that if Eddie didn’t die he would tell him how he felt, had always felt, and that if Eddie didn’t die he would leave him alone forever and never breathe a word of it. So how is he supposed to know if one of those deals worked? 

“You’re sure?” Bill asks dubiously. He’s hovering protectively next to the on-call button like he might need to press it at any moment. “I heard someone say something about a brain bleed…” 

“I’m fine,” Eddie says decisively. “My doctor says I’ll be okay to leave tomorrow. I’m sorry I couldn’t talk to you guys sooner, it’s just been…” He winces. 

“She should’ve let us see you, Eddie,” Beverly says, and her voice isn’t angry, but it is very firm. 

“I know,” Eddie says. His expression of confidence falters. “Believe me, I told her that.” 

It should feel better than it does, all of them back together again and alive, but there’s all this uncertainty and unresolved tension hanging in the air and it makes them morose. 

When everyone else leaves for dinner with promises of coming back as soon as they can, there’s no need to discuss whether Richie is going with them. He stays in his chair at Eddie’s bedside and Bev squeezes his shoulder, briefly, on her way out. 

“I’ll be okay on my own,” Eddie says, when he realizes Richie isn’t leaving. “Really.” 

“I know, it’s just—“ Richie’s drumming his fingers against the plastic arm of his chair, uneven and anxious. “I just wanted to say thank you, you know. Personally. For like… saving my life.” 

“Oh,” Eddie says. He blinks, mouth twisting into a surprised frown. “I don’t — it wasn’t, like—“ 

“You sound like you’re about to say it wasn’t a big deal, and I hope you know that’s bullshit. It absolutely was.” 

Eddie smiles, a little. “Yeah, okay. You’re welcome. But don’t go around acting like you owe me a Wookie life debt or something.” 

There are tears prickling at Richie’s eyes, and he resolved that he wouldn’t cry, he really did. He was right to think that looking st Eddie would hurt — it does, like he’s staring at an optical illusion that won’t resolve itself into a coherent picture. His glasses always screwed with those things. There are too many versions of Eddie in his mind now, in his eyes, and he’s going to keep seeing them after he looks away. It’s impossible to be normal around him when he can remember them as so much more than they are now. Right now, they’re practically strangers. 

“Okay,” he echoes. “I’ll just buy you a pizza or something. Pretty much an equal exchange.” 

Eddie’s smile fades a little to something more worried. “Look,” he says. “Thank you for visiting, seriously, but you should go catch up with everyone. Uh, Myra’s gonna come back soon and she’s really not a fan of you guys at the moment, so.” 

And Richie thinks, feeling guilty for it at the exact same moment, of thirteen-year-old Eddie with his wide worried eyes, checking his watch compulsively to make sure he made it home at the time he was expected. 

“Sure,” he says. “I’ll see you soon.” 

When Eddie gets out of the hospital, they go the the quarry. The six of them — there were six of them that summer, before Mike. It was an uneasy little group then, with the new additions of Ben and Beverly. They weren’t a complete unit yet. But that was a fleeting moment, when they were. It’s gone forever now. 

Eddie won’t get in the water — his stitches are still healing — so Richie sits beside him on the edge of the cliff, feet dangling over the edge and their friends splashing around below them. They watch Beverly pull Ben into a kiss and lose her balance, both of them falling into the water together. 

“Ah, young love,” Richie sighs, affecting a high-pitched voice and fluttering eyelashes. 

“Yeah,” Eddie mutters. He looks morose. 

“Kinda always thought it would be her and Bill,” Richie says, not above gossiping about their friends if it might make Eddie look a little less unhappy. “You remember that summer? Lethal levels of meaningful eye contact when they thought we weren’t looking.” 

It’s true, but he’s also sure Ben and Beverly will work out. He’s seen them together. They’re getting back on track, maybe, getting back to their Good Timeline. 

“Bill’s married,” Eddie says, like this has ever stopped anyone. 

“So’s Beverly, dude. I don’t think she’s too concerned about that right now.” 

Eddie looks at him sharply. “You know that’s different. Bill’s wife is probably a good person. I’m sure she’s a good person.” 

“Yeah, I’m sure she is,” Richie agrees. He stole a shrimp cocktail from under her nose at an awards afterparty once; he’s hoping Bill doesn’t know about that. 

The weird thing is that in whatever deadlights vision he had, Bill wasn’t married to Audra Phillips. He was married to somebody else, a perfectly nice woman named Melissa who wrote mystery novels, whose face Richie can picture vividly even though he’s pretty sure he’s never met this person in real life. And that doesn’t make any fucking sense, does it? If the whole thing was just some kind of creation of his subconscious, desperate brain, wouldn’t it have just subbed in the image of Audra? 

Do you remember Melissa? he wants to ask Eddie. It wouldn’t make him look terribly stable if he tried to explain that one, he doesn’t think, but his sense of reality is shaky right now. 

“So what about you?” he says. 

Eddie gives him another sharp, scolding look. “What about me?” 

Bill and Mike are splashing each other, laughing like they’re kids again, and it’s weird, because Richie feels incredibly old. 

It’s funny: when he got back to Derry he had wanted to leave immediately. He hadn’t been able to remember one good thing about the place, when he got back, only able to think that if he stayed there he would inevitably die there. And in his deadlights vision, if he’s calling it that, he hadn’t ever gone back to Derry voluntarily despite remembering it. 

But there’s a sour taste of nostalgia in the air now that the worst is over; all of the best memories keep coming to mind without the accompanying sting of the worst that followed. Maybe there was a time when he was happy here, genuinely, before adolescence and everything that came with it. Or maybe he just misses the person he was as a scabby-kneed kid who always talked back when he got hit. If he’d remembered, he thinks, he could’ve taken some of that with him. 

“Well, are you gonna go back to New York?” he asks. “With her?” He doesn’t want to say her name. 

Eddie doesn’t snap at him. He doesn’t even look at him directly. “No offense, Rich,” he says, sounding tired, “but when you get married you make certain promises to someone, and I don’t think you really understand—“ 

He says it like Beverly said it, like the idea of Richie Tozier participating in the holy sacrament of matrimony is laughable. 

It’s true, of course. The closest he ever came to making a promise was carving a pair of initials into the wood of the kissing bridge. But he remembers, that other life. It still feels real enough to touch. 

“You’re right, I don’t,” Richie says. “It’s the fuckin’ twenty-first century, man, half the people I know are on their third divorce. You don’t have to do shit that makes you miserable.” 

Eddie blinks at him, and he looks so honestly confused by it, by this idea, that Richie’s chest aches. “I don’t know what else to do,” he says. 

“Anything else, man,” Richie says. “Like, anything.” 

Eddie’s eyebrows are knit together in worry like they almost always are now. 

The sky is wide and blue above them and almost all of them are together. It doesn’t have to be the way it was before, he wants to say; they don’t have to be constrained by the decisions they made when they didn’t know any better. 

He’d like to believe he’ll do things differently. 

“It’s not that easy,” Eddie says, and Richie doesn’t contradict him because the thing is, he’s right. It’s not. 

The nights before he leaves Derry, Richie is terrified that he’ll forget.

Maybe it’s a convenient excuse, but he’s sort of blaming everything on the memory loss at the moment. It was hard to break out of your old patterns if you didn’t even remember why you had formed them in the first place. 

If he had done things differently, could he have been happy? Maybe not with Eddie — that wouldn’t have possible, he’s pretty sure, as anything other than a cruel deadlights trick — but with someone else. If he’d let himself admit that what he wanted more than applause was a way out of loneliness, maybe he could’ve found one. 

If he forgets again he’s going to lose all that, all that knowledge that he has the potential to be different or even want to be, and that’s fucking scary. 

They all go out together the night before most of them are leaving Derry. Eddie’s wife doesn’t come with them, and Eddie looks genuinely happy to be there. 

“Does the new Mrs. K give you a curfew?” Richie asks, just for the sake being an asshole, and Eddie sticks his middle finger up for a brief moment. 

“Hey, do you have to go call your girlfriend? The one from your stand-up sets? I bet she and her hot friend with the implants are really worried about you,” Eddie says, and, ouch. No one can say he doesn’t know how to dish it out. 

“So, hey,” Richie tells him after a few rounds of drinks and toasts to Stan Uris, while Ben and Bev are giggling at each other and Bill and Mike are competing over the little box of Trivial Pursuit cards really terrible bars leave on the table, “I’m going to be in New York for a while.” 

Eddie looks alarmed. “What? Why?” 

“I have an apartment there,” he says, trying to sound casual about it, “and Bev’s gonna need a place to stay in the city. I told her I could stay with her for a while until Ben’s done with his skyscraper or whatever.” 

It’s not fully honest — Richie knows Beverly wants to keep an eye on him probably at least as much as she wants some kind of incompetent bodyguard. And he’d like to think he would have accepted even if Eddie didn’t live in New York, but it’s… well, it’s an incentive. And he has all these memories now of New York, good ones, and it feels on some level like where he’s supposed to be right now. 

Eddie doesn’t say anything. He looks vaguely troubled over the top of his glass of vodka soda. 

“You know, in case someone needs to kill her ex,” Richie adds, “since I’ve already committed one justifiable homicide. No need for Bev to get her hands dirty.” 

“Richie!” Eddie hisses. “You can’t joke about shit like that!” 

The whole Bowers thing has sort of retreated into a corner of Richie’s badly shaken subconscious, though Mike has assured him no one will be finding the body. Richie’s pretty sure he’s just not going to deal with that one for a while. Therapists probably have to tell the police about that kind of thing. 

“Okay, okay, sorry, but look, I’ll be in the city. Come on up and see me sometime,” he adds, affecting Mae West. 

“Right,” Eddie says, his hand holding onto his drink as tightly as it was to his wineglass at the Jade of the Orient. “I will.” 

In his dreams, the last night in Derry, Richie sees the turtle. 

He can’t seem to get his mind around the exact appearance of the thing. The turtle is small and infinitely large at the same time. Richie thinks, fleetingly, that even if he had a reference book with pictures of every type of turtle there is, this one wouldn’t look like any of them. It’s more like the idea of a turtle, like the archetype on which all turtles are based. 

Then he doesn’t think anything at all, because the turtle is speaking into his mind. 

You are tired and unhappy. I made a mistake, the turtle thinks; its tone, if thought can have a tone, is matter-of-fact. I see that, and I will take it away from you.

Richie tries to ask what it means, but he can’t open his mouth to speak.

I tried to show one of you the possible futures when you were together and it did not help. I tried to show one of you his past when he was alone and it did not help, it thinks, and Richie knows instinctively that it’s talking about Beverly and Stan. I hoped it would help you to show you the things that had not been. But I see I was wrong. The time for my intervention has passed. You will leave this place and you will remember only what was. 

“Wait,” Richie manages to say, “what if that’s not what I want? What if I want those memories?” 

He doesn’t know if it’s true, exactly, but part of him panics at the idea of having them torn away. There’s no answer from the turtle, only stillness and silence. 

“Are they real?” Richie demands. “Real like, like an alternate universe? Is that what you showed me? You have to tell me, fuck, please, it isn’t fair.” 

You will have what you need to move forward , the turtle thinks. My champions, my brave children. There will be no more looking back. You will be free. 

The words come with a feeling of benevolence that washes over him like a wave, but Richie doesn’t have it in him to feel at peace. Instead, there’s only confusion and anger, and when he wakes up moments later, a pounding headache that stays with him all day. 

Richie and Beverly turn out to be pretty good roommates. Well, she’s Skyping with Ben a lot of the time, which doesn’t exactly help with Richie’s general sad-sack approach to his life, and she’s out at work or meeting with lawyers a lot of too. Usually when she comes home Richie really wishes he could kill her husband. Maybe in a less violent way, poison or something, but he’d deserve it. 

Richie’s worried about how it’ll look, the two of them living together, but the paparazzi haven’t found them yet. Bev says she doesn’t care what anyone thinks anymore. Maybe she means it, but Richie would really prefer to avoid that particular rumor. The only facts on the “personal life” section of his Wikipedia page are that he got a DUI in 2012 and is a fan of Bruce Springsteen, and he’d rather not add “rumored to be dating Beverly Marsh.” It’ll screw up his narrative, if he ever figures out what that is, plus Tom Rogan might kill him first. 

They get along well, though. They get stoned and eat frozen pizza and watch Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beverly calls it “teenage regression,” and Richie’s been doing basically the same thing since he was an actual teenager, but it’s nice. 

Richie answers the door and all of Bev’s phone calls so she doesn’t have to, and he learns to speak a little more softly and warn her before he turns the corner into a room. In return, she stops him from drinking too much and listens to him talk about his weird, blood-soaked dreams. 

The memories are fading fast. They started to as soon as Richie drove across the Maine state line, and it was an unstoppable snowball effect after that. It’s mostly just impressions now. Not like he lived it; more like it’s a movie he saw once, and increasingly like a movie he saw when he was high. 

He tries to replay the memories sometimes, or to at least hang onto the feelings he associates with them, but nothing sticks except for the vague impression of unfamiliar happiness. 

Bev shows him some of her sketches, of the new stuff she’s working on, and Richie squints in confusion at the sharp lines and jarring, strange silhouettes. 

“I mean, I know I’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for the last week, Bevvie, but I don’t really get it,” he says. 

“It’s weird, I know,” she said a little sheepishly. “I think I’m just sick of making something that’s — consumable, you know? I don’t know if I’ll ever make these clothes, but I want to make something ugly. I just think… not everything has to be easy to look at.”

Richie can’t picture what the outfits would look like on a model and he isn’t qualified to have any opinion about fashion, but he says, “No, dude, I like that. It’s avant-garde.” 

“Ooh, someone watches Project Runway,” she says teasingly. 

Richie laughs. It occurs to him dimly that he has a good opening, that Beverly wouldn’t judge. “I sort of dated somebody who worked in fashion, for a while,” he says. “I tried to learn the terms. To impress him.” 

Bev doesn’t look surprised. She smiles at him. “Did it work?” she says, and he feels so grateful to her for not making it a thing . She gets it, he thinks, that sometimes the biggest things are the ones you want to talk about the least. 

“Not really, no.” He looks at Beverly’s sketches and he thinks he sees the appeal. He wouldn’t know how to make something that wasn’t consumable if he tried. 

The next day, Bev goes out and returns with a sewing machine and bolts of cloth, and Richie starts trying to write again. 

Richie doesn’t heat from Eddie for a little bit after they get back to the city. Ben talks to Beverly every day and Bill is always sending voice memos to the group chat because he’s apparently too busy to text and Mike tells them all he’s going to South America to do an ayahuasca vision quest, which you just have to accept as sort of par for the course with him, but for a while it seems like Eddie might disappear into the faceless crowd of New York finance bros from whence he came. 

He calls eventually, though, sounding a little shaken. “Did you get that letter from Stan?” he asks after a few social niceties. 

“Yeah,” Richie says. Patty Uris had called Beverly to ask for everyone’s addresses, which was one of the most uncomfortable conversations Richie had ever overheard. He and Beverly hadn’t known what to make of the letter; it had rattled them both, the calm with which Stan had written almost worse than if it had seemed obviously disturbed. “It was, uh. Good to hear from him, I guess.” 

“Just like Stan,” Eddie says, sounding distant. “Had to get the last word.” Richie hears him clear his throat awkwardly. “Look, I was wondering if you and Beverly wanted to have dinner? If she’s not up for going out somewhere I can bring takeout.” 

So that’s what he ends up doing, bringing a number of containers from a neighborhood Greek place that’s honestly too high for three people. And, Richie notices delightedly, he’s eating food again, meat and cheese and bread included. 

“Well,” Eddie says when Richie points this out, “I read that you’re supposed to do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Richie snorts. “Where’d you get that, Pinterest?” 

“I like Pinterest,” Beverly chimes in, elbowing Richie in the ribs. 

“Yeah, I’m aware it’s pop psych bullshit,” Eddie says dismissively, “but it’s good advice if you’re afraid of fucking everything.” 

He does seem different now, Richie thinks, than he did before the clown died. Or maybe specifically before he came so close to single-handedly killing it. Eddie’s scar is almost healed, no more bandages, and he wears it with a kind of new confidence. 

“It’s weird to think that I could’ve run into you any time, Eddie, all the time I was in New York,” Beverly says. “Imagine if we’d just seen each other in line for coffee or something like that?” 

“Oh, you wouldn’t have looked twice at me,” Eddie says. “Famous fashion designer Beverly Marsh. No one at work believes that I know you.” 

“Did you tell them you know Rich Tozier?” Richie says, leaning over to steal one of Eddie’s falafel chips. Eddie scowls at him and swats his hand away. 

“I would never tell anyone I know you,” Eddie says. “I would never endanger my professional reputation by associating it with yours.” 

Richie’s aware that he’s doing it, the whole pigtail-pulling thing that probably dates back to the third grade, but he doesn’t really want to stop. Is it normal to feel this way about someone you’ve only known as an adult for a short period of time? 

He likes the person Eddie grew up to be, he thinks. Eddie’s prickly and intense and weird, but that’s Richie’s kind of person anyway. He likes to think they might’ve been friends if they’d met sometime in the in-between years, if Eddie had come to one of his shows and heckled him from the audience and stuck around afterwards to let Richie buy him a drink. Something like that. 

“I was in New York a lot too,” he says. “You know, Eds, we totally could’ve met, I was in your neighborhood.” 

“You were?” 

“Yeah, in 2011. Little thing called Occupy Wall Street?” Eddie rolls his eyes at him, which is pretty unfair because Richie did go for a week — yes, he slept in a hotel, but he’s a public figure and you had to take precautions. “I’m sure you were right down the block as a member of the one percent. I actually think I might’ve seen you there.” 

Eddie’s eyebrows crinkle in a way that means he’s kind of falling for it. “You did?” 

“Yeah, you came up to the barrier one day, and you said, what was it?” He puts on a trace of a voice. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good —“ 

Beverly bursts into laughter. Eddie’s ears are turning red. 

“What tax bracket are you in, Trashmouth?” he demands. “I know you make more fucking money than me.”  

“God,” Bev says, “you too really haven’t changed at all.” 

They talk about nothing in particular the whole night, the three of them, and then when Eddie’s pulling his coat on to leave he turns to Beverly and says, “Hey, I just want you to know — I know I haven’t been the best about keeping in touch the past few weeks, but if you need anything, you just let me know, okay? I know you’ve probably heard that from a lot of people and it doesn’t, uh, mean a lot, coming from me —“ 

God, he’s so good, Richie thinks; always was, always willing to put himself between schoolyard bullies and his friends, even when his friends were all bigger than him and there were worse consequences for Eddie than anyone else if he came home with a black eye. 

I love you runs fleetingly through his head, that echo of the old well-worn thought as familiar now as a comic read a hundred times over until the ink bled and stained his hands. Not for the first time since they’ve seen each other again, but it’s starting to feel more serious. Like it might stick. 

It’s reassuring, in a way. Even the pain of it is reassuring, because it means he’s capable of a kind of feeling he didn’t know, for more than two decades, he could ever access, as if the part of him that could feel those things was left behind in Derry. Even seeing Eddie again for the first time at the Jade of the Orient, there’d been a slight giddy thrill mixed with the sick adolescent embarrassment of it all. 

“Thank you, Eddie,” Beverly says, wrapping her arms around him. “I might just take you up on that.” 

Richie doesn’t get a hug goodbye, thankfully, he gets a slap on the shoulder and a promise to get together again soon. After Eddie leaves, Beverly gives him a wide-eyed knowing look. 

“Don’t say a word, Marsh,” he tells her, “I’m not a Sex and the City character and I don’t want to talk about boys.” 

“There’s no way you’ve ever seen Sex and the City,” Beverly says, “but by the way you’re such a Miranda.” 

Richie’s been watching back a lot of his old stand-up when Bev isn’t home. 

In his more depressive moments he used to seek out the worst criticism of himself online; there was something oddly comforting about having his worst thoughts about himself reflected back by internet strangers. Now, he’s just cutting out the middleman, watching himself on YouTube perform bits about college safe spaces written for him by a 24-year-old named Nathan. He knows it’s awful, the self-loathing version of trying to suck your own dick, but he can’t stop doing it. 

“Are you, like, proud of your books?” he asks Bill over the phone. “Because I’m not proud of my shit. I know it makes money but it feels like I should be at least a little bit proud of it.”

Bill laughs a little. “I don’t know, Richie, I don’t exactly write high literature,” he says. “And I guess I agree with most of the criticism. But I always felt like I was writing honestly.” 

He’s so goddamn earnest, even as a big Hollywood screenwriter. Richie can picture him sitting in a dorm room surrounded by other wide-eyed English majors, talking about literary theories; the image is very vivid and he isn’t sure where it came from. 

“My stuff’s not honest,” Richie says. “Like, not at all. But that’s not really — everybody talks about being authentic, all that shit, but I think maybe that just means not all that funny.”

“So don’t be funny for a while?” Bill says, like it’s simple.

Richie sighs. “I don’t know Sometimes I think Stan would’ve been disappointed in me.” 

“What do you mean?” Bill says, cautious.

What he means is that he recently met one of Beverly’s only real friends in the city, a woman named Kay who quit fashion design to become some kind of feminist blogger, and he could tell as they were speaking that she already hated him. He couldn’t blame her. And before he went back to Derry, he signed autographs after shows for a couple of guys in MAGA hats and he didn’t say anything and he nodded along when the comic who was opening for him said that hey, if Trump was elected, it would be good for some jokes, right? 

“I mean when we were kids we were, you know, losers . We were the underdogs. And Stan thought we would all grow up to be better people because of that. But I’m not,” Richie mutters, staring up at the popcorn ceiling of the apartment. “I’m just some asshole and there’s a picture of me at every shitty pizza place in Derry, man, and that’s not—“ He starts to say that it wasn’t what he wanted, when he was a kid, but that’s not true exactly. He wanted it more than anything. It’s just not right, not how it was supposed to be. 

“There’s one of me, too,” Bill says gently. He’s silent for a moment, and then he says, “My wife doesn’t think I’m good at writing women characters. She says they’re all basically the same. But I’m trying to get better at it.” 

Richie laughs, harsher than he meant to, catching a little on a dry sob. “Well, she sounds like a smart woman. I miss him, Bill.” 

It’s not right, he thinks. Not for Stan, or for his wife — his widow — alone in Atlanta because of something she’ll never understand, or for the rest of them. It had all gone badly wrong somewhere, maybe in 1989 when Beverly left them, maybe sometime after, a moment that passed by all of them in silence, unnoticed until it was too late. 

“Yeah,” Bill says. “So do I. But it’s not —“ He stutters a little, for the first time in a while, tripping over his words. “It’s not too late for the rest of us. I don’t think.” 

Richie pushes his glasses up on his forehead, presses his palms to his eyes so he won’t start really crying. “Yeah. I hope not.” 

Beverly goes to visit Ben in Nebraska a couple months after Derry. It’s a slow point in the divorce proceedings and there was a photo on TMZ of Richie and Bev getting coffee together with a highly suggestive caption, and it was a good time to get some space. 

“I’m sorry,” Richie told her before she left, “I can, you know, release a statement or whatever.” 

It wouldn’t help anything unless he told the actual truth, and he almost wanted Beverly to ask him to, to put out a press release saying he wasn’t sleeping with Beverly Marsh and he hadn’t wanted to kiss her in the summer of 1989 and didn’t everyone already know why? 

“Don’t worry about it, Rich,” Beverly said instead. “They’ll forget about this in three days.” 

It’s lonely without her, Richie realizes after she’s gone, and then he realizes he’s been lonely in a background ambient way for years 

She’s only been gone for a few days when Eddie turns up on Richie’s doorstep. 

“Hi,” he says sheepishly when Richie opens the door. Richie just stares at him for a second, because Eddie’s carrying an overstuffed shoulder bag and his eyes have dark circles under them and it looks like he left home without taking the time to carefully apply whatever product he uses to keep his hair firmly in place, which he never ever does. 

Eddie elbows past him into the apartment without waiting for Richie to say anything. “My wife kicked me out,” he says, viciously and bluntly, “if it’s not obvious.” 

Richie stares at him, wide-eyed. “Oh, shit,” he says stupidly. “What did you do?” 

Eddie laughs hollowly. “What did I do,” he says. “You sound like my fucking marriage counselor, dude, does it have to be my fucking fault?” 

“Sorry,” Richie says, coming up short on anything else to say. “Do you wanna, uh, get drunk?” 

Eddie seems to take a long moment to consider it, and then he nods, once and precisely. “Yes,” he says. “I want to do that.” It sounds like he’s trying out the way it sounds. 

So they drink. Richie keeps offering Eddie different kinds of mixed drinks he knows how to make from his bartending days, and Eddie keeps saying he hasn’t tried any of them and accepts whatever Richie makes him. He’s drinking them quickly, the kind of drinking you do when you want to stop thinking about something, and Richie figures he has the right. After a few rounds, he’s wide-eyed and a little wobbly, even though Richie’s matching him drink for drink and barely feeling it. 

“You okay?” Richie says, not really sure about his sense of what is normal vis a vis alcohol. 

“I’m fine, man,” Eddie says. He’s sitting on the couch in the least relaxed posture possible, knees pulled up to his chest. “I haven’t actually been drunk in years.” 

Richie remembers Ben’s recent three-month chip from Alcoholics Anonymous and is suddenly nervous. “How come?” 

“Medications.” Eddie says the word like it’s poisonous. “Not placebos either. The real shit with side effects and interactions. For so much psychiatric bullshit that I don’t know if I even have because it could’ve just been my repressed clown memories.” He sighs and takes a long drink of the gin and tonic Richie made for him. “I stopped taking them. That’s why she’s upset with me, because she thinks I can’t handle anything without drugs, and I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. But I just—“ He makes a frustrated, slashing hand gesture. “Feels like I’ve been totally numb for years, you know? Like. Literally and metaphorically.” 

Richie’s thinking about how he hasn’t been totally unmedicated since his twenties and kind of doesn’t think he ever could be again. “You shouldn’t take shit if it makes you feel worse,” he says tentatively. 

“No, you’re right,” Eddie agrees. He looks over at Richie sitting next to him and unfolds his tightly curled limbs a little. “Hey, do you remember the first time we got drunk?” 

“Of course, dude. Bill’s dad’s stolen whiskey, winter break.” 

Eddie smiles. “God, it tasted awful. We got away with it, though.” 

They trade memories like that for a while — remember the secret code we invented in middle school so no one would be able to read the notes we passed to each other in class? Remember that time you dared me to jump my bike over the creek in the middle of winter and I ended up falling through the ice? Or the time we got caught going through Mr. Ehrlich’s desk looking for the answers to the midterm? That was funny, though, wasn’t it? We were a good team back then, weren’t we? 

At some point, Eddie stops shrinking in on himself and throws an arm across the back of the couch, leaning toward Richie. He’s got an intense look in his eyes and he’s maybe had too much to drink, but when he asks Richie to make him something else and Richie suggests that they should take it slower, Eddie raises his eyebrows in contempt and says, “I know what I’m doing.” 

Richie brings him a Manhattan, in honor of his Wall Street job, and Eddie accepts it gratefully. 

“I don’t know how you talked me into any of that shit,” Eddie says, “the stuff we did back then. I don’t know what I was thinking.” 

Richie sprawls out across the couch next to him, as casual as he can be while remaining extremely, vividly conscious of not touching him. But Eddie doesn’t seem to have any reservations about that, and he shoves both of his feet under Richie’s leg, sparking a kind of long-buried sense memory of when this was a level of physical contact that made him feel like his skin might melt off. 

He used to be able to touch Eddie with at least feigned casualness. Sometime in the intervening years, though, he became a person who hardly touches anyone at all. Richie knows his height is one of the few things about him that is, objectively speaking, attractive to people, but he’s still spent ages hunching his shoulders trying to take up less space. He does it on stage too; he didn’t always, he used to stand up straight and bounce around the stage with the mic in his hand. But now it’s kind of part of the act, the whole self-deprecation thing. 

He feels himself bending, trying to make himself smaller, while Eddie leans closer to him. He doesn’t know what to do with his limbs anymore now than he did in eighth grade. Just another thing he should’ve grown out of by now. 

“Now you’re just rewriting history, Eds,” he says. “Half of the trouble we got into was your idea. And the other half was mostly Bill’s, I accept no blame for his pursuit of the, like, teenage death drive.” 

Eddie laughs at that, even though it’s more true than funny. It’s not a full, sincere laugh — Richie is sort of a connoisseur of those — but it’s still pretty good. 

“Do you remember,” Eddie says quietly, “when we climbed onto the roof of city hall, that one summer?” 

Richie’s heart thumps at the mention of it, his skin suddenly slightly clammy. He chastises himself, mentally, for reacting so strongly to the memory of a long-ago kiss, so brief and unlikely he wondered if it had been real at all. Hadn’t he remembered things that weren’t real? He was sure, vaguely, of that. 

“Yeah,” he says. “I do.” 

“I kissed you,” Eddie says, matter-of-fact, and Richie’s pretty sure he stops breathing for a second then. 

“Yeah, buddy, you did,” he manages. 

Eddie’s eyes are unfocused, looking at some point over Richie’s shoulder, but then they snap to his face and they look suddenly sharp and clear. 

“It was a nice kiss,” he says. “My first one. And I didn’t even remember.” 

Richie’s head is spinning in a way that’s not related to alcohol. He’s thinking about Eddie’s eyebrows. God, has he ever been attracted to anyone else's fucking eyebrows? Does he even notice them? 

“Yeah,” he says. “I had this memory of cutting my lip in college making out with someone with braces. Wish I’d known that wasn’t actually my first pass at it.” 

“Oh,” Eddie says. “Was it…” 

Just get it over with , Richie thinks. His palms are sweating. “Yeah, it was a dude. I’m gay, but I guess you knew that. Back then, anyway, ‘cause you, uh.” In the last refuge of someone who truly doesn’t know what to do with his hands, he finishes his drink and then unnecessarily adjusts his glasses. 

Eddie is leaning toward him a little bit more. It’s definitely invasion-of-personal-space territory. “I didn’t know for sure,” he says. “I guess I just wanted to know what it would be like.” 

“Yeah, I hear a lot of guys are doing that before they get married these days,” Richie says, and he hears how mean-spirited it is to say about a teenage kiss meant in the most innocent way possible, flinching before Eddie has the chance to. “I mean — shit. Sorry.” 

“Fuck off,” Eddie says unhappily. “You know it wasn’t… I wasn’t trying to…” 

“I know,” Richie says. “I’m being an idiot, sorry.” 

“You’re not an idiot,” Eddie says with conviction. “Hey.” He grabs ahold of one of Richie’s hands, holding onto him by the wrist. “Hey, Rich?” 

Richie starts to say something, but before he can actually respond Eddie leans unsteadily all the way toward him, all the way into his space, and kisses him on the mouth. 

Beverly told him, back at the townhouse while Eddie was in the hospital, that she’d kissed Bill, once, a few days earlier. Just to check, she said, to see if there was anything still there, and apparently there wasn’t. It just felt wrong, she said, like trying to force something that didn’t fit. 

This is nothing at all like that. 

There’s a brief flash of deja vu at first — the ghost of that kiss in 1992 and the other ones, the false memories he can’t grasp the specifics of anymore — and then that’s gone and he’s just thinking about this. Eddie kisses him gracelessly, open-mouthed, without any hesitation, and it feels like falling off a cliff. No, it feels like jumping into the water at the quarry, hand in hand. Eddie doesn’t seem to notice that Richie’s glasses are digging into his cheek or that he’s breathing like he’s been punched in the gut. 

It takes him a few seconds to start kissing back, and a few seconds after that to remember why he shouldn’t and to pull back, leaning away when Eddie leans further forward, looking at him with his big dark eyes. 

“Come on, Eddie,” he says, trying to sound less wounded than he feels. “We’re not going to do that.” 

Eddie’s eyebrows look confused. He is, Richie realizes, many degrees more drunk than Richie is. “Why not?” 

“Because you’re wasted and you’re married, dude, are those good enough reasons?” 

“I don’t know if I should be married.” Eddie’s frowning at him, almost defiantly. Richie is exhausted by it, by having to say no to him. 

“Let’s talk about that later,” he says. “Look, you can have the guest room, there’s clean sheets, you can stay and we can. You can sleep it off.” 

Richie springs to his feet, trying to get away from Eddie’s sad eyes. “I’m gonna get you a glass of water,” he says, and then practically runs into the kitchen and has to stand over the sink, holding the sides and trying not to throw up. 

He tries to imagine how terrible this would sound if he said it out loud to someone else. Hey, what does it mean if someone kisses you right after having a fight with his wife because he stopped taking psychiatric medications? Okay, but what if he kissed you before, like 24 years before? What if maybe you kind of love him still, or again, or whatever? Is that the kind of thing that’s going to ruin your life? 

It takes him so long to calm down and actually fill a glass with filtered water that when he gets back, Eddie is already asleep, his face pressed into the arm of the couch. Richie considers waking him up and trying to steer him to the guest room, but he ultimately can’t face it. He drapes a blanket around Eddie’s small, sleeping form and leaves the water where he could reach it. 

He has the same dream that night as always: Paul Bunyan, Henry Bowers, Eddie bleeding out under his hands. It’s getting really fucking boring always being scared of the same things. 

In the morning, Richie stumbles out of bed with a feeling of unshakable dread in the pit of his stomach. He’s not sure what would be worse, for Eddie to already be gone or for him to be waiting for Richie, wanting to have a conversation. If he walks into the living room and Eddie is still asleep on the couch Richie won’t even be able to look at him. 

Eddie’s sitting in the kitchen, at the small table Richie bought from IKEA and assembled ineptly because Beverly was staying with him and he needed more than two pieces of furniture. He looks tired, Eddie, sipping coffee silently from one of Richie’s mugs, the one with the Tasmanian Devil on it. His hair is a mess and he bites his lip when Richie walks in and says, “Hey. I made coffee.” 

“Thank you,” Richie says, and can’t think of what else to say. He pours himself a cup of coffee, sits down in the other kitchen chair. It’s a small space but he’s careful that their knees don’t touch. 

“Thank you for letting me stay,” Eddie says. “Sorry about last night.” 

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it,” Richie says in a halfhearted Southern accent, the ghost of a joke without the actual content of one. Eddie scowls at him. 

“Well,” he says. “I’ll, ah, go home today and we’ll see how things go, I guess.” He looks at Richie as if awaiting his approval of this plan.

Richie’s good at not saying what he means, but not that good. “Didn’t you say you didn’t think you wanted to be married?” he says, and watches Eddie’s hands tense around his coffee mug. 

“I think if I were going to do it over, we probably shouldn’t have gotten married,” Eddie says, “but I don’t know if that means we shouldn’t stay together. Does that make sense?” 

“No,” Richie says. “Not even a little bit.” 

“Well, we rely on each other,” Eddie says. “She — she has my best interests at heart, you know, and I care about her.” 

“Sounds like everything you need in a romance,” Richie says, and Eddie scowls at him but not as fiercely as he should. He looks so tired. 

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, “she might not even want to see me anyway.” 

It’s not fair to make assumptions about Mrs. Myra Kaspbrak, because Richie doesn’t know her, but he knows Eddie and so he makes assumptions anyway. He knows that worried look in Eddie’s eyes. 

He thinks he could be good for Eddie, if they were together, which is an insane thought because he has zero positive relationship experience. If he had to call in references, he would not be able to do it, but then he hasn’t exactly picked people who were interested in investing in a long-term mutually profitable partnership. He feels so irrationally convinced that it could be different now, with Eddie, that he wonders if maybe that’s what the turtle in his half-remembered dreams wanted him to understand. 

“If you need a place to stay,” Richie says, and shrugs. Eddie doesn’t say anything, just nods slightly. He doesn’t stay for long, though, and after he leaves Richie doesn’t hear from him for days.

Beverly comes back to the city with Ben in tow, and before Richie knows it they have their own place in Brooklyn. It makes sense; it’s looking like Beverly’s legal battles are going to drag on for months if not years, between the divorce, the restraining order and attempt at criminal charges, and the company. Of course she’d want something that isn’t temporary, that feels like home. 

Richie still eyes the boxes of her things with creeping sadness, that feeling from the years just following 1989 of being inexorably left behind. 

“You’re going to be just fine,” Beverly tells him, and then she offers to set him up on dates with “people” she knows from work if he’s ever interested in that, and maybe Richie should say yes but he doesn’t. 

Life keeps going, at a sort of frantic pace. Bill finishes his movie, Mike gets back from South America and goes to visit Bill in California, Richie gets reverse-fired by all the people he pays to maintain his brand and reputation after weeks of not responding to phone calls, which feels like a perverse accomplishment.

Eddie tells him a few days after the whole Incident that he’s staying by himself in an apartment in Manhattan and he’d like to get lunch sometime, if Richie is interested. He doesn’t exactly keep Richie updated on the intricacies of his relationship status or make any formal announcements, so Richie is trying not to think about it too hard. 

About once a week he meets Eddie for coffee downtown, during Eddie’s lunch break, at Pret A Manger because Eddie, all grown up, is the kind of guy who feels better getting what’s basically fast food if it sounds kind of European. He sits across a tiny plastic table from Eddie in a crisp, precise business suit, Eddie illustrating all his work travails with wild gestures. He’s good-looking in such a specific, sharp, middle-aged way. He looks a little like the antagonist in a Hallmark Christmas movie. It drives Richie crazy. He watches him and just thinks, on a mindless loop, I love him. I love him. 

Currently, Eddie is telling Richie about his latest step in the apparently extensive self-improvement-slash-rebellion process, which involves joining a rock-climbing gym.

“You should come with me sometime,” Eddie says. “It’d be good for you.” 

The mental image of how this would go is literally unbearable.

“Are you kidding me, man? I would dislocate my shoulder immediately. I don’t know how you can do this stuff.” 

Eddie rolls his eyes at him. He’s eating some kind of salad with lentils, which is very Los Angeles of him. He’d fit right in, Richie thinks. “It’s just like, small steps,” Eddie says. “You have to do things differently every day if you want to improve your life.” He says it a little mockingly, but it’s the kind of sarcasm you put on when you’re trying to cover for the embarrassment of actually believing something.” 

“I thought you weren’t going to therapy anymore.” 

“I used to go to therapy and a psychiatrist and marriage counseling. Now I just go to therapy. Way better.” 

Richie files away that information about the marriage counseling, like he’s been filing away for weeks now that Eddie is still wearing his ring. 

“Everything I could do to improve my life is pretty one-small-step, one-giant-leap stuff,” Richie says. “Drastic measures and all that. If you’re worried I’m not impulsive enough, I don’t know what to tell you, man, I’ve definitely always had the opposite problem.” 

“You make a lot of irresponsible celebrity choices? Shaving your head like Britney Spears?” 

“Last time I felt like I needed to make some kind of dramatic change in my life i just bought a sports car,” Richie says. “That way everyone could tell I was having a midlife crisis and we’d just have that out of the way up front.” 

“It’s a nice car,” Eddie says a little wistfully. “You look like an idiot driving that thing at our age, though. You might as well get a motorcycle.” 

Richie remembers suddenly that Eddie was, back in the day, a blossoming little Car Guy. He had those Matchbox cars when they were little, and he read car magazines when they were teenagers that contained no half-naked models of either gender. He used to talk all the time about this car his dad owned that had been sitting in his garage for years — a convertible, he said, though Richie was pretty sure he’d never actually seen it with his own eyes — that he was going to be able to drive when he turned sixteen. 

“I had a motorcycle in my twenties,” Richie tells him. “Sometime I’ll have to tell you about how I crashed it.” 

Eddie’s eyes go a little distant. “I can’t believe I wasn’t around to witness that,” he says, and he sounds genuinely disappointed. 

Richie hates that he can kind of picture it. He was a complete disaster with the bike — he bought it off some guy on Craigslist and didn’t have a license to drive it anywhere — but he still would have tried, at twenty-five, to get Eddie to ride with him, the way they used to do when they were kids. Maybe Eddie would have actually been good at steering it and Richie would have hung on with his arms around his waist. 

Probably not good, he reminds himself, to think about that. 

“You should get a nice car,” Richie tells him. 

“I have a nice car.” 

“No, you have an ugly, expensive car, that’s not the same thing. I’m talking about a car that you can lean on the hood of and it makes you look like you’re in a sexy photoshoot.” Eddie does the eye roll again, the dramatic one that involves slightly tossing his head. Richie’s obsessed with it. “Hey, whatever happened to your dad’s car, anyway? You were always talking about that. Didn’t I move away before you got your license?” 

Eddie sighs. “Yeah, you did. My mom sold the car the second I got it, of course. I never got to drive it. I got a practical sedan in college.” 

“It’s not too late, dude,” Richie says. “You could buy that car now if you wanted to. What’s the point of having money if you’re not gonna use it to relive your lost teenage years?” 

Eddie looks unexpectedly serious about it, picking at a loose thread in the sleeve of his suit jacket. “Myra would hate it,” he says, in a tone that’s inscrutable to Richie. 

“Is that still a reason not to do shit?” 

“No,” Eddie says. “No, I guess not.” 

It would be insane to try to track down the actual car, although Richie offers to give it his best shot. 

He also offers, when they find what they’re looking for, to play the part of Eddie’s financial advisor who is trying to talk him out of making another capricious purchase, just to see how the salesman will respond. Eddie’s actually willing to go along with it until they get there, at which point the sales guy immediately recognizes Richie Tozier. 

He spends the whole transaction addressing Richie, enthusing about what great shape the car’s in and how they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore, even after Richie points his thumb at Eddie and says, “Hey man, he’s the one with the checkbook.” 

“We’ll take it,” Eddie says eventually and abruptly. “I’ll take it. It’s exactly what I was looking for.” 

They do it as a trade-in, with Eddie’s battered Escalade making up some of the value of the pristine 1974 Chevy, jet black, not a scratch on it. 

“It looks exactly the same,” Eddie says a little reverently, running his hand across the hood. “Just like my dad’s.” 

It’s a sexy car, it must be said. It’s not Richie’s 2015 Mazda, which he won’t admit that he has no practical use for in New York City, but there’s something to be said for a certain old-school charm. Even if the car is, slightly, older than them. 

Eddie looks good driving it, on the trip back to the city. They’re far enough out for the drive to involve long, empty stretches of highway, and he drives like a maniac, pushing the speedometer up as high as he can, weaving between lanes whenever they pass another car. His leather-gloved hands are tight and steady on the steering wheels, and he’s grinning like a kid racing his soapbox car down a hill. 

The car doesn’t, of course, have any USB plugins — Richie’s going to have to track down some cassette tapes for him. In the meantime, he plays “Born in the USA” at top volume over his phone’s tinny speaker, more pleased than he could express when Eddie doesn’t object and nods his head along to the music. 

“You still think this is relatable, don’t you?” Eddie says. “You think you’re a real, what’s their names. Jack and Diane.” 

“Eddie, that’s not Springsteen. That’s John Cougar Mellencamp, dude.” 

“You think you’re him, though.” Eddie is grinning, looking exhilarated and amused. “Like you had some kind of union railroad job.” 

“I was in a union when I was a busboy, okay?” Richie says, feeling himself involuntarily smile so wide it almost hurts. “I’m authentic, I’m working class.” 

“Richie Tozier, voice of the people,” Eddie says loftily. 

They used to listen to this album in high school, sitting in the back of Mike’s ancient truck and drinking stolen beers. There was something about the chorus of “Born to Run” that made Richie feel almost powerful, even as he was also half-sick with longing for things he couldn’t have. 

When they get closer to the city, traffic grinds almost to a halt again. Eddie sighs in irritation and Richie clicks off the music. “Hey, this was a good investment, man,” he says. “Can you imagine what our lives would’ve been like if you’d had this thing in high school?” 

“Probably pretty much the same, Rich,” Eddie says. He’s smiling more than he has, Richie thinks, since — well, probably since Derry, and who knows how long before that.

“No, this would’ve absolutely changed your life. You could re-enact ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ in this thing without breaking a sweat.” 

“Maybe I would have actually gotten laid in high school,” Eddie says, and Richie bites back the joke he would make if he didn’t mean it: oh, baby, all you had to do was ask

“Not too late for that either. This is the kind of car that makes divorcees attractive to twenty-year-olds getting art degrees. Total babe magnet.” His California drawl is out of practice, but not terrible. 

Eddie looks over at him out of the corner of his eye. “I’m not divorced yet,” he says. 

Richie’s not so bad at reading signals that he misses the way Eddie looks at him, like he’s asking for permission for something. It makes Richie’s heart want to tear itself out of his chest. 

Richie thinks, stupidly, of the Meatloaf song instead of any poignant and thematically appropriate Springsteen lyric. It runs through his head all high-pitched and repetitive: do you love me, will you love me forever, do you need me, will you never leave me and it’s crazy, it’s meant to be crazy, but it’s kind of what he thinks now, looking at Eddie. He wants to hold onto him, extract promises from Eddie that he has no business making. 

It’s true what he said about his impulse control. Richie’s never really denied himself anything he wanted before, not in the sense of moderating his intake of creature comforts or holding himself back from impulse purchases of stupid shit that he wants on eBay. But he thinks he has to deny himself this, at least right now. That’s the thing about knowing what you want, he thinks; it’s harder to talk yourself into believing you could settle for less. 

“Yeah?” he says. “You’re doing that?” 

Eddie nods, once, precise. “I have to,” he says. “I’ve been putting it off. It’s hard, you know, the day-to-day shit. Not like throwing a spear or, or stabbing someone.” 

“That was easy for you?” 

“Relatively speaking,” Eddie says. He’s still talking casually, but his eyes are focused ahead of him; he doesn’t look over at Richie. Richie’s eyes wander to his hand curled around the gear shift, the tension in his fingers. “If you — look, I wasn’t thinking of it this way consciously. I’m fucking terrified of dying. But if you die, you don’t have to stick around for anyone to be disappointed in you.”

“Eddie.” Richie hears his voice pitch upwards, sharp and worried. “Don’t — I would’ve been extremely fucking disappointed with you if you’d died, okay? I would never have forgiven you for pulling that shit trying to help me.” 

He doesn’t know what he would’ve done, if Eddie had died in Derry. Maybe he never would have made it outside that town again either — it seems unthinkable that it could have been any other way except for like this, but it was close, wasn’t it? The kind of close where people say “there must be someone looking out for you.” 

“I know,” Eddie says. “That’s, uh. That’s why I had to do it.” 

Richie doesn’t know how to ask him what that means. He thinks about reaching out and taking Eddie’s hand, but the small distance between them seems unimaginably far. 

“You wanna know something?” Eddie says, his voice soft, looking straight ahead. 

“Sure, Eds.”

“I could only do any of it because of you. Because you told me I could be brave. When I woke up in the hospital I was — I was glad I was alive. But it would’ve been okay if I wasn’t. If I saved you.” 

“No, Eddie, that’s what I’m saying,” Richie says, knowing his voice is breaking slightly. “It wouldn’t have been okay with me.” 

Eddie laughs a little, and his smile when he looks back over at Richie is small but genuinely enough that it hurts. “Probably good that we’re both alive, then,” he says. 

The traffic is still moving at a snail’s pace, and there’s something about the whole situation that makes Richie desperate to be honest with him, to say stupid vulnerable things about how happy it makes him just to be around Eddie and watch him do things like eat falafel and drive his very own midlife crisis car. That he wants to be Eddie’s midlife crisis pretty badly, but he also wants to marry him, and he has a bad feeling the two desires are in conflict. 

“You seem like you’re doing a lot better,” he says instead. “I — that’s good. It seems like.” 

“I am. Are you doing okay?” He says it like he knows the answer. 

“Look,” Richie says, “I’m going to do my big scary thing soon too, okay? I’m gonna get over that hurdle eventually, so don’t — don’t be too worried about me.” 

“It’s not just one scary thing and then it’s over,” Eddie says, sounding agitated. “It’s just, it’s probably going to be scary things forever, you know?” 

Richie’s thinking about the doors under Neibolt and whether Eddie got it, the whole closet metaphor that was really too clever by half coming from the child-eating clown. He thinks Eddie might get it, though, which is — weird, to consider. 

“Maybe,” Richie says. “Not all the time, though, I don’t think.”

He plays John Cougar Mellencamp the rest of the way back into the city, thinking about kids from the middle of nowhere running off to the big city and whether there were still any drive-in theaters in New York State and whether everyone else is just pretending they talk about outgrowing their first love. 

Richie meant it when he said he would do it eventually, the major capital-letters Scary Thing. 

The thing is, he’s kind of out of reasons for putting it off. Anything other than complete silence is at this point going to be good for his career. He can’t quite talk himself into believing that the worse-case scenario isn’t that bad — Derry is evidence enough that isn’t true — but the worst-case scenario is unlikely, and every day it seems less worth it to make decisions based on that. 

Richie doesn’t have an agent or a manager or a PR agency anymore — it turns out that for those people to want to work with you, you have to be doing work, or at least answering some of their phone calls — but he could get new ones. He wants to work again, really, but it just kind of feels like he can’t while he’s still in New York. Like it’s a kind of dream state he hasn’t totally woken up from.

So he figures he’s gotta start making steps toward it, trying like Eddie does to do the things that scare him. He tells the rest of the losers first, those that don’t already know. They’re all cool about it, of course; they treat it like news even though it’s probably not. This is what it feels like, Richie thinks, to have friends who actually love you unconditionally, who don’t just find you amusing to have around. It feels pretty fucking good.

He calls his parents after that, which goes perfectly fine. They don’t seem surprised by it, but they don’t say they already knew, which some part of Richie was dreading. They also don’t apologize, and he thinks maybe that’s what he really wanted — a years-overdue “I’m sorry” for every time he came home from school with broken glasses or got detention for a fight he didn’t start and no one pressed him about what was going on. 

It’s okay, though. He’s starting to feel like holding onto a little anger, directed at the rest of the world in general, isn’t such a bad thing. 

He doesn’t want there to be any apologies in the statement he eventually posts online, but given the last decade of his work, there sort of have to be. He goes through a bunch of versions of it, changing the phrasing over and over again, more than he ever does with the jokes he’s writing right now and then never looking at again. 

Eddie is the first person he calls once he ultimately does post the thing on Twitter, leaning into the full screenshots-of-the-notes-app cliche. Of course Beverly and Bill are ones with experience being public figures, but it’s Eddie’s opinion he wants, even if neither of them has exactly articulated why. 

“It was really good,” Eddie says over the phone. He sounds sincere, earnest even, and it makes Richie feel oddly triumphant. “I liked what you said about feeling like you had friends now that would want you around no matter what.” 

“That’s you guys,” Richie says, “obviously.” 

“You know,” Eddie says, “I know it’s not, uh, great for you in a lot of ways, but it must be nice to just be able to get it all over with, right? You only have to come out once and then for the rest of your life people will just know your whole deal from looking at your Wikipedia page. 

“Ugh, please don’t remind me,” Richie groans, even though he’s actually kind of looking forward to the update to his “personal life” section. 

“Yeah, okay. I just think it would be a relief in a way. You don’t have to think about it with every person you meet for the rest of your life.” 

“You thinking about this a lot?” Richie asks, trying to be delicate.

Eddie huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, I think about it sometimes.” 

Around all of the losers, Richie feels the strange sensation of something he hadn’t experienced in his previous adult life — of being with someone who’s from the same place. Someone who could trade local references and call back old childhood memories, and Richie had barely thought about those are things people did before but it was a sudden relief to be able to do it now. Around Eddie, the sensation was even stronger, as if they weren’t just from the same place but somehow grown from the same soil. Eddie understood, and Richie finds that he isn’t afraid of being understood, not anymore. But maybe there’s a part of Eddie that still is. 

Eddie doesn’t talk about it anymore after that. Richie remembers making the same bargain with himself when he was sixteen, after that first kiss, and even a little bit when he was on his way back to Derry and just getting his memories back — if he says something, you can tell him, but no fucking way can you say it first . It’s always better to have some tentative, uneasy grasp on their relationship than to push him away and not to have it at all. So as long as Eddie’s not saying anything, Richie figures he isn’t either. 

The plan was always to go back to Los Angeles eventually. When Beverly’s divorce goes through, Richie really makes himself consider it. She doesn’t need him around anymore, if she ever did, and there’s nothing keeping him in the city, strictly speaking, except. 

Except, except, except. 

They all throw Bev a party for the occasion. Bill and Mike fly out just for the event and Bev’s friend Kay is there too, looking at Richie with slightly less suspicion than before the notes app screenshots. Richie buys Bev a divorce cake from a bakery in Brooklyn that mostly sells boozy cupcakes. They make it special, a little fondant figurine of a redhead in a wedding dress kicking the groom off the side of the cake. 

“I love it,” Beverly says sincerely, and bites the head off of her fondant ex-husband.

Richie nudges Eddie in the ribs. “You want me to get one of those when your marriage is officially null and void, Eds?” 

“I think if you did it the other way around it would actually just be misogynistic,” Eddie says, deadpan. “When mine goes through I’m just going to get drunk.”

There is no alcohol at Beverly’s divorce party, since it’s attended only by an intimate group containing one recovering alcoholic and a couple other people with unlabeled Issues. Richie weirdly enjoys the wholesomeness of that, drinking soda out of Bev’s fancy glassware. 

“Hey, we should be celebrating Richie, too,” Ben says, once everyone’s had time to heartily congratulate Bev and get in the standard round of work-and-relationship updates. “That’s a big step, man.” 

“Oh, I guess,” Richie says. He feels nervous about it all over again, talking about it out loud and in person. “I mean, it’s weird, right? Everybody congratulating me. Apparently this whole thing is even good for my career.” 

“Are you going to ever actually perform some of that stuff you were writing?” Bev says. 

“Ah, probably soon. Probably should get a new agent first and not just start showing up at open mic nights”. He fiddles with his glasses, hyper-aware that Eddie is looking at him. “I might move back to LA, I don’t know, it’s where I know everyone.” 

Bill toasts him with a long-stemmed of Sprite. “It’d be nice to have you around,” he says sincerely. 

Richie notices, though, that Eddie is still looking at him after the conversation has moved on. 

At the end of the night, when Richie says that he should be getting home, Eddie cuts in with, “Yeah, I should too. I’ll walk you to the station, Rich.” He’s kind of been hovering at Richie’s elbow all night, and though it’s a small group of people and Richie is trying not to attach too much significance to these things, it’s pretty noticeable. Richie doesn’t think they actually would be going home the same way, but he doesn’t say anything.

Eddie follows him out into the street, relatively quiet at this time of night and on Beverly’s street, not enough people around to distract from the two of them. Richie tries telling a story about Wil Wheaton messaging him on Twitter, but it falls a little flat when Eddie apparently isn’t interested in pursuing the fruitful conversation topic of which Next Generation actors are actually good. 

Eventually, there’s a silence that probably feels much longer than it actually is, and then Eddie breaks it. 

“You’re thinking about moving back to LA?” 

And okay, if Richie’s being honest, maybe he said it a little bit to try and get a reaction out of him. To try and provoke Eddie into saying something that would indicate how he’s feeling, because Richie’s a coward where it counts but he’s been waiting so long for Eddie to make the first move that he might not recognize it if he saw it. 

Still, he doesn’t quite know how to actually confront any of that. Not out loud. 

“It’s the right thing for my career,” Richie shrugs. “I mean, NYC’s fine but the New York comedy scene is really different from the LA scene. Love the thin pizza and the grimy basement clubs and everything but I miss my hotel minibars.” 

“Right, that must be tough for you,” Eddie says snappishly. He’s glaring, steadily, not at Richie but at a point directly in front of himself. 

“Come on,” Richie says. “Bev doesn’t need me around anymore and the only reason I came to New York in the first place was because I was too fuckin’ freaked out to be alone in my house. I feel like it’s time to start making decisions again.” 

“Making decisions,” Eddie says. “Yeah.” He pauses for a moment, and then they’re just standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, kind of blatantly staring at each other. Eddie’s eyes always look sort of wounded, when he’s sad or angry or even just neutral, and it’s always Richie’s instinctive reaction to make him laugh, which isn’t going to work right now. That’s not the way out of this. 

The way out of this is probably to just tell him the truth, which is not instinctive at all. But maybe it’s the only way out of this awkward in-between place. Even if Eddie doesn’t want to hear it, Richie thinks, he’ll understand needing to do the things you’re afraid of. 

“Look,” Richie says, “I’m sorry, I hate doing this shit and it makes me feel like I’m going to sweat my fuckin’ skin off, but you know how I feel about you, right? You know I’m crazy about you, and I have been, like, always, and I guess I just. God, this is embarrassing to say.” 

Eddie’s still just staring at him, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his coat. “No, it’s okay, you can say it,” he says, in a voice that sounds strained but maybe, if Richie isn’t deluding himself, almost hopeful. 

“Okay,” Richie says. He takes a deep, steadying breath. “Okay, like, where is this going? Because I want it to go somewhere, man, and sometimes it feels like you do but I don’t know, Eddie, I wish you’d just tell me what you’re thinking.” 

Eddie looks like he’s frozen to the sidewalk, and Richie waits for him to snap, to start panicking or yelling at him or maybe just turning to walk away. “Oh,” Eddie says, “um.” He looks conflicted for a long moment, but then he seems to steel himself and even square his shoulders a little bit. “I’m sorry,” he says. “That hasn’t been — that’s not my intention. Do you want to get dinner sometime?” 

Richie’s brain goes completely blank for a moment, He’s pretty sure his mouth actually falls open slightly. “Uh, get dinner or get dinner?” 

“The second one where you say it with your meaningful eyebrow thing. Jesus, don’t make me ask you again.” 

This is a better outcome than Richie could possibly have imagined, if he had taken more than a second to imagine the outcome. He feels like characters in musicals probably do before they start spontaneously performing a choreographed dance and singing a song about being in love. 

“That was so anti-climatic, Eddie,” he says. “That was like, ending of Crystal Skull level. Attic Room by Bill Denbrough level.” 

Eddie’s grinning, even as he’s ducking his head and not quite meeting Richie’s eyes anymore, looking at him almost shyly out of the corner of his eye. “Beep beep, Richie, can you give it a rest while I’m trying to ask you out?” 

Shit, that’s what’s happening, isn’t it? What an insane, monumental realigning of the universe. 

“Yeah, I’d like to get dinner sometime. You pick the place and I’ll dress nice and everything. I’ll wear cologne.” 

“Yeah, you better,” Eddie says fiercely. “Don’t embarrass me.” His voice isn’t precisely angry, even though it has the intonation of anger; Richie recognizes it by now as Eddie just being intense, Eddie having emotions bigger than he knows what to do with, and it makes Richie’s chest swell with pride. 

And then Eddie says “come here” and Richie takes a step forward to him before Eddie enfolds him in a sort of awkward hug, arms around his waist like they’re at a middle school dance. For a moment Richie just stands there, frozen, but Eddie shows no signs of letting go, so he rests his chin against Eddie’s shoulder and squeezes back, not wanting to think about letting go. 

“I’ll stay in New York for as long as you want me to, you know,” he tells Eddie’s shoulder. “I can make it work just fine from here, I don’t have to go anywhere,” and Eddie, face pressed against Richie’s shoulder in return, nods slightly. 

When Eddie does pull back he clears his throat, awkwardly, not looking directly at Richie. His face is as flushed as Richie is sure his must be, and it’s all a little ridiculous, a little adolescent, but that’s only right, isn’t it? They’ve earned that. 

“Okay,” Eddie says. “I’ll, uh, talk to you soon. I’m glad you said yes.” 

Richie laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m glad you asked.” When he walks away, he’s surprised that his feet touch the ground. 

“I don’t believe a word of that story about Harrison Ford, just so you know,” Eddie says. “I’m going to keep believing he’s a fuckin’ stand-up guy, and you can keep your E True Hollywood Story to yourself.” 

“You can’t handle the truth,” Richie scoffs. “You know he’s not Han Solo in real life, right? It’s important to me that you know that.”

Eddie elbows him in the ribs. 

“Ow, c’mon, Eds!” Richie protests. “You gotta wait until the second date for that kinda thing!” His voice sounds manic and giddy but he’s not trying to restrain it, not really. 

Richie is still trying to process the events as they occurred. They went out to dinner and they had drinks at the bar while they were waiting for their table. It was awkward, at first. Eddie picked the restaurant and it was a nice place — Richie had never quite shaken the feeling that he didn’t belong in nice restaurants, no matter how many he’d been to, always wanting to look for ketchup bottles and put his elbows on the table. It was a French restaurant with candles on the table, a for-real romantic date spot, and there was Eddie sitting across from him wearing a crisp blue shirt and a grey suit jacket, put together in a way Richie didn’t think he ever had been in his life and truly, unfairly good-looking, and with nothing to do except focus on Richie talking to him for the whole evening. 

It was awkward at first, of course, but then Eddie opened the menu and starting deliberately mispronouncing the French words to make Richie laugh, and then they started arguing about politics and Richie’s Bernie Sanders impression was apparently so funny that Eddie nearly knocked over a wine glass and was glared at by a man at the next table over, and then it was good. 

They split a dessert — Eddie’s idea, and maybe this was something people did all the time and it was juvenile of Richie to see it as terribly intimate, the kind of thing people did after they had been married for years. He hasn’t split a dessert with anyone since — well, since he was a kid, sharing sundaes with Eddie. 

When they got the check, the waiter slid it to Richie; he’d been smiling like he recognized him all night. But Eddie moved faster and snatched it out of his hand, and then expertly dodged Richie’s attempts to grab it back. “I’m paying,” he said, “I asked you,” like it was settled law. 

“Are you gonna expect something in return?” Richie said, putting on a leer, but Eddie just smirked at him. 

“Maybe I will.” 

Now, they seem to have silently agreed on Richie walking Eddie back to his apartment — getting even on the chivalry — and Richie feels like a jolt of electricity every time their elbows brush against each other. He thinks about holding Eddie’s hand, wonders if it will at some not-too-distant point be okay to do that. Richie could, now, without worrying about the consequences. 

“You didn’t actually have to dress up,” Eddie says abruptly. “I like the way you usually dress.” 

Richie’s wearing his most “look professional at this meeting and don’t embarrass yourself” white-shirt black-suit combination. He’d spent a considerable amount of time debating whether to wear a tie and ultimately hadn’t, which was a fucking relief because Eddie wasn’t wearing a tie and miscalulating that might have killed him. 

“It’s a nice place, Eddie, I wasn’t gonna show up in one of my beer logo t-shirts. I guess I can next time if that’s what you’re into.” 

“I am,” Eddie says. “Kind of into it.” 

I’m into you, Richie thinks, I’m into being able to see your collarbones where your shirt is unbuttoned just a little bit and I’m into the fact that you tipped like thirty percent to make up for your insanely specific order

“My socks have pineapples on them,” he says instead, “if you wanna see them later.” 

Eddie smiles at him, looking genuinely delighted by that. “Well, I was gonna ask you up for coffee,” he says, and Richie abruptly realizes they’re standing in front of Eddie’s very nondescript building. “But I guess we don’t have to be subtle about it.” 

There’s an odd formality to walking into Eddie’s apartment building together, pressing the button for the elevator. Richie stands there with his hands hanging by his sides, trying to think of something normal to do with them. But when the elevator doors close on them Eddie turns to him and he’s got this look on his face almost like he did when they were kids about to get into some kind of trouble, like when he was driving his new car ninety miles an hour down the highway, and it makes Richie nervous in the best possible way. 

Eddie flicks one light on when they get through the door, but it’s still fairly dark in the entryway: mood lighting, no pretense of making coffee. Eddie looks at Richie expectantly — waiting for him to make the first move, Richie realizes. This will be the first time he’s kissed Eddie instead of the other way around. 

“Third time’s the charm,” Richie says, and leans down to kiss him. 

He does it gently, wouldn’t know how to do it any other way with Eddie, and Eddie is smiling against his lips, taking tiny steps forward until they’re leaning into each other.  

“C’mon,” Eddie says, “I want you to touch me,” and Richie’s going to be thinking about him saying that for so long, that’s going to play on repeat in his head forever, and it might not even be the best thing Eddie says tonight. Richie pulls him closer, looping an arm around Eddie’s waist, and Eddie’s hands are gripping his shoulders hard. Richie skims a hand through Eddie’s hair — soft, like he knew it would be without whatever hair gel he uses sometimes — he bends slightly further to kiss Eddie’s perfect collarbone and Eddie laughs, high and thrilled, his fingers gripping the back of Richie’s neck. 

“You know,” Eddie says, “for a long time this was the thing I was the most afraid of.” He doesn’t have to explain what he means; Richie knows, as well as he knows himself.

“What about now?” Richie asks. 

“Now I’m not afraid at all,” Eddie says, and pulls him back down into another kiss. 

For the next month Richie thinks, constantly, about how to tell Eddie that he loves him. He thinks about it while they’re alone together, while they’re with their friends, while he’s in meetings that are really too important to not be paying one hundred percent attention to. He can manage about ninety percent attention without doodling hearts in the margins of his notes. 

He almost says it, constantly, every time Eddie touches him casually — kissing him to the corner of the mouth, reaching up to smooth his hair into place, the little adjustments he’s always making to Richie’s clothing that aren’t really necessary, straightening his coat or fixing his collar in a way that feels both playful and possessive. 

He would say it in some dramatic way that would fully convey the depth of his feelings and the number of years he’s spent feeling the absence of them like the uncanny non-presence of a missing tooth. Or maybe he wouldn’t be able to do that and he’d have to result to something faux-casual — hey, Eds, I love you, you know? — and hope that Eddie understood. He just thinks that if he doesn’t say it soon it might become unbeatable. 

Ultimately, it’s a Saturday morning. Eddie stayed over the night before and now he’s sitting in Richie’s kitchen, spreading his terrible all-natural peanut butter on toast that Richie made for him. He’s wearing a t-shirt that’s too big for him, his hair sticking up in a bunch of different directions. He doesn’t put as much effort into getting it to lay flat anymore.

“What do you wanna do today?” Eddie says. “Everyone at work is talking about that movie with Ryan Gosling where he plays the piano. It looks kinda stupid though. Do you want to go see the new Star Wars?”

“I love you,” Richie says, stupidly. 

Eddie’s already wide eyes go wider, and Richie feels like the whole world has suddenly been put on mute. He can only hear the ringing in his own eyes while Eddie’s perfectly contented facial expression morphs into one that looks almost horrified. 

“Shit,” Richie says, “I didn’t mean to say that, that was too soon, I’m sorry. Can we just — can we just pretend you didn’t hear it?” 

Eddie sets down his knife and his half-eaten piece of toast very deliberately. “Listen,” he says, “I have to tell you something.” 

Fuck , Richie’s brain blares at him at top volume, fuck fuck fuck . Richie’s heart has sunk so fast and so hard it feels like he’s swallowed a lump of concrete. He should leave, he thinks; he’s in his own apartment, but walking out would still probably improve the situation.

“Is that your version of ‘we need to talk,’ because everybody already knows how that ends.” 

“No, it’s not my version of — this isn’t me, fuck, I just need to tell you something.” Eddie’s chewing on his lower lip, looking as nervous as Richie’s ever seen him. “Look, you know in, uh, Neibolt, and then at the hospital, I was unconscious for a long term.” 

“Yeah,” Richie says. “I remember that pretty vividly, dude.” 

Eddie gets up and starts actively pacing, which is a thing that for the most part people only do in movies but that Eddie does in real life, when he’s nervous, and he’s nervous right now, Richie thinks, because he’s about to tell Richie he just doesn’t feel the same way and this really was midlife crisis bad-decision-making and it’ll all be over. Richie stays absolutely still where he’s sitting, not even moving his hands. 

“Okay, so I had this — I don’t want to say dream. It wasn’t like having a dream. It was like when people say they died on an operating table and they had a vision of going to Heaven and seeing their dead grandpa or Jesus or some shit. Except it was like, it lasted longer than that, way longer than I was out, like it was — years. Fuck, decades.” 

Richie’s staring at him, temporarily lost for words. “Oh,” he manages, voice sounding strangled and foreign. 

“It was like this whole other life,” Eddie says. “Not even like I was watching it happen. Like I was living it. I don’t remember a lot of now, but I remember all seven of us being together. And you and me were — well. Together, I guess, for a long time. Since we were kids, basically.” 

He looks at Richie pleadingly, waiting for a response, but Richie can’t say what he knows he has to say. The words just aren’t coming to him; he’s suddenly reliving the past few months through this new lense, in vivid color, and it makes him feel like he’s getting hit by a train in slow motion. 

“I know it sounds crazy!” Eddie’s getting agitated, waving a hand in a violent slashing motion, and Richie wants to say no, you’re not crazy but somehow the words just won’t come.

“I remember that I woke up in the hospital and I didn’t fucking know what was real and I looked at my wedding ring and I thought, that’s going to be there either way, you still don’t know,” Eddie says, his voice cracking. “And I wanted it to be you, Richie, I wanted it so badly, I wanted that to be my life and when I realized it wasn’t and when I thought about the bullshit fucking awful choices I made in my real life—“ 

Richie gets up from his chair then, feeling almost sick with the amount of emotion running through him, but he can’t just keep sitting there and watching Eddie talk like that, he can’t. He takes a few steps toward Eddie, who looks like he’s almost frantic, reaches out to take his hand. Like he did underneath Neibolt, on the worst day of his life, except then he was still afraid and he held onto Eddie by the wrist, but he holds his hand now, lacing their fingers together. 

“Hey,” Richie says, “it’s okay, it’s okay.” 

“It’s really not,” Eddie says, a little snappishly even as Richie can see that he’s losing the battle not to cry. Richie puts his arms around him, holds onto him, and Eddie’s quiet for a moment, breathing harshly. 

“I saw it too,” Richie says after a moment. 

Eddie pulls back to look at him in shock. 

What?” 

“I never told you what I saw in the deadlights,” Richie says carefully. Well, I saw that too. Or like, something similar, I don’t know if the details all matched up. But it was like living through years of some other life. Full high-definition virtual reality. And I don’t remember much of it either, but. I think it was the same stuff.” 

“You and me…” Eddie trails off, like he didn’t reference it himself moments before, with that wedding ring comment that’s rattling around in Richie’s head like a grenade about to explode.

“Yeah,” Richie says gently. He touches Eddie’s face, cups his cheek in his hand where it fits perfectly, and Eddie doesn’t pull away from him. “I remember being really happy.” 

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” Eddie says. 

“Uh, it sounds insane, dude. A giant turtle told me we were married in a previous life? Yeah, I wouldn’t join that cult.” 

Eddie laughs, a little hysterically. “Everything that happens to us sounds insane! I told you and I thought you would think it was a drug-induced hallucination!” 

“No,” Richie says, “I would’ve believed you even if I didn’t see it. Hey, I gotta sit down, I’m like, shaking.”

They return to their chairs at Richie’s breakfast table, where they were just minutes ago before everything was so radically different. Or maybe it isn’t different at all? Eddie reaches out and grabs Richie’s hand again, placing it on the table between them where he can hold onto it. 

“Wait,” Eddie says, “if we both saw it does that mean it was… real? Like a parallel universe or something? Like… string theory?” 

“Not what string theory is, man, but I don’t know. It could be. I thought it was something Pennywise did to fuck with me, but then I talked to the turtle. You see the turtle? I saw him in a dream afterwards.” 

“Yes,” Eddie says, eyes wide. “The turtle… Not right away, but it I think he talked to me. I think he told me he was sorry he couldn’t help more, but I wouldn’t remember. I shouldn’t remember, I think that’s what he said.”

“Yeah, me too. Well, obviously that’s some kind of supernatural whateverfuck. Like the clown but not evil, just a, like, weird but chill reptile. And I  think he was trying to help us. He didn’t say if it was real in some way, but it was like — he thought it would help, and then he realized it wouldn’t so he took the memories away. He said something about trying to help Beverly and Stan too, but not doing it right.” Richie shrugs. “I really think he was trying to like — matchmake us. Arranged marriage. Fuck.” 

Eddie cracks up laughing at that, throwing his head back like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard, and Richie has to laugh too. It is pretty fucking funny, the absurdity of it all. Not exactly relatable, not exactly anything that can go in the next set, but man, there is something about the universe fucking with you to this extent you have to be able to laugh at. 

“Do you wish you remembered?” Eddie says, more seriously, when they’ve both stopped laughing. 

“No, not really. I think it would, uh, it would make me too fuckin’ crazy. It already kind of did, seeing you when we were back in Derry. Now it’s like — when we came back here, it was more like just knowing I was, I don’t know. Capable of that. Loving you.” 

“Oh,” Eddie says. “I guess that’s not really — how I reacted, at first.” 

“Yeah, man.” Richie tries to keep his voice light, playful. “I noticed the distinct lack of you throwing yourself into my arms. What happened there?” 

They’re still holding hands, even though their palms are both sweating and Eddie’s is cold and clammy, which weirdly gives Richie hope. If he hasn’t pulled away yet, that must mean that he doesn’t want to — well, pull away. 

“When I saw you guys again for the first time I thought I was going to tell you,” Eddie says. “That I had some kind of insane divine vision that we should be together. But then I couldn’t do it and I got — I got stuck on this idea that if that was the life I was supposed to have then everything I did for twenty years was a complete waste of time and if I admitted that it was like, I don’t know, giving in. So I tried to change it enough so I could just feel okay and move forward and be happy. But I wasn’t ever going to be happy if I just kept tweaking things and taking different pills and staying married. You know? I know that after I kissed you.” 

Richie looks down at the table, suddenly embarrassed by the memory. “Sorry for not, uh. Sorry for not being cooler about that.” 

“No, please. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have done anything the way I did, I guess, but I just… it made me crazy, you know, trying to figure out what I wanted. What I wanted, and not what I should have wanted or what I would have when I was thirteen or if I had like, a perfect life where I was never afraid or ashamed of anything, you know?” 

“Did you figure out what that is?” Richie asks, wincing at how hesitant and small his voice sounds, but Eddie smiles at him, the kind of smile that changes his whole face, makes him look softer, laugh lines and dimples and all. 

“Yeah.” Eddie takes a deep breath, like he’s steadying himself. “It’s you, Rich. And it would be ever if there were no turtle visions involved, ‘cause you’re — you’re the person I always want to talk to and I feel like you understand everything I’m saying when nobody else does and I like that you always still want to get in trouble with me, you know? You want me to do dangerous shit and buy a totally impractical car and you want me to tell you how to fix your life like I have any fucking clue. And I look at you and I just want — I want — you know?” 

“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Richie says, squeezing his hand tighter. . 

“Good,” Eddie says, “because I love you. I really love you.” 

That’s it for Richie as far as sitting still on his own side of the table — he stands up so quickly he almost knocks the thing over, but by the time he gets over to Eddie he’s standing up too, and he takes Richie’s face in his hands, pulls him down to kiss him, once and then over and over again. Richie’s definitely crying now, getting tears on Eddie’s face, but he doesn’t seem to mind. 

“Yeah, you too, Eds,” Richie says when he gets slightly more of a grip on himself, holding onto Eddie with both hands twisted into his shirt. “And I hope you know I wouldn’t trade this for anything else, right? I wouldn’t have anything to say to some other version of you who didn’t go through, like, twenty years of bad shit. I don’t even talk to people who were happy in their twenties. They don’t know shit about life.” 

Eddie laughs. His eyes are kind of shiny with tears, but he looks happy, Richie thinks, as deliriously happy as Richie feels, and he realizes that he doesn’t doubt it, that Eddie loves him. At any other point in his life he might have, it might have bounced off of him like so many people’s attempts at genuine connection had, but he feels that it’s true now. It settles underneath his skin, warm and glowing, and he knows that when he needs to hear it again, Eddie will say it. 

“Yeah, fuck those guys, right?” Eddie says. 

“Fuck ‘em,” Richie agrees.

“And the turtle too, a little bit.” 

“I think he was doing his best,” Richie says. “Maybe just not the most emotionally competent, but who is?” 

“We are,” Eddie says. “That’s the most I’ve talked about my feelings in my whole fuckin’ life. You better take me to see Star Wars so I can forget about that shit and just look at explosions.” 

Richie kisses him again, just because he can, just because there’s nothing he’s holding back anymore and no reason not to. “Yeah,” he says, “we can do that. Later.” 

Eddie winds his arms around Richie’s neck, pulling him even closer. “Later,” he agrees. 

It’s Eddie’s idea to go to One World Trade, the furthest-up you can get in New York. He didn’t tell Richie where they were going beforehand, kept saying it was a surprise — “a good surprise, Rich, don’t look so fuckin’ nervous about it.” At the observatory, Eddie is leaning so far toward the plate glass window, craning his neck to see further down, that Richie instinctively clutches his hand a little tighter. 

“Is this part of your whole facing your fears schtick?” Richie asks. “Because I don’t remember you ever being afraid of heights.” 

“No,” Eddie says. “I guess I never was. This is — you remember when we snuck onto the roof of city hall, right?” 

“Yeah, of course,” Richie says. “Our first date.” 

Eddie rolls his eyes, fondly. “If that’s how you remember it.” 

“‘Course it is. I should’ve brought you roses.”

“You’ve got plenty of time to make up for it,” Eddie says, casually, and doesn’t that still feel like a miracle, that they can talk casually about the future, about having one, together. “It was the most romantic thing that ever happened to me, man. You wanting to sneak out and do something like that with me. I could barely think about what life was like outside of Derry back then, you know? But I think I would've gone anywhere you asked me to.” 

He gestures down at the cityscape below them, spread out in every direction. Even from up here it almost looks infinite. Richie’s sixteen-year-old mind would’ve struggled to comprehend it. “And we made it here,” Eddie says. “Even if it took a long time.”

“I came here for you, you know,” Richie says. “And for Bev, but even if she hadn’t asked I probably would’ve followed you here.”

Eddie leans against his side, warm and comfortable. “I know,” he says. “And if you want to go somewhere else, back to LA or wherever you want, I’d go with you.” 

Richie thinks about it for a moment, and realizes there’s only one place in the world he actually wants to go. “Would you go back to Derry with me?” he says. 

He never told Eddie about carving their initials, all those years ago. He’d gone by to check that they were still there, before he left town, thought about finding a knife to carve them deeper into the wood and make sure they stayed there for another twenty-seven years, but it felt wrong. It would feel right, he thinks, if Eddie were there to do it with him. 

Eddie wrinkles his nose. “You want to go to Derry?” 

“Just for a little bit,” Richie says. “There’s something there I want to show you.” 

Richie’s read about multiverse theory, this stuff that’s so theoretical it feels like it’s a little removed from the category of science, closer to science fiction. There are supposed to be infinite possible worlds, worlds for every variation that could conceivably have happened; for everything you can think of, there’s a universe where it’s true. He can’t quite wrap his head around it. It’s strange enough to think about all the people in all the apartment buildings in New York City having lives and emotions that are just as complex — if maybe not quite as weird — as his. He can’t think about all the other Richie Toziers who might be out there, living lives that are incredibly different from his or as similar as only diverging at having asked for milk in his coffee this morning. 

He’d like to think that in most of the possible worlds where he knew Eddie — and he doesn’t like to think about possible worlds where he didn’t — he would have carved those initials into the kissing bridge, no matter what else happened. 

“I’ll go,” Eddie says. “If you want to.” 

This Richie Tozier probably isn’t the best possible version of him or the worst version, all things considered, but in that moment, holding onto Eddie’s hand, he’s incredibly grateful this is the universe where he ended up.