Eddie dreams. In his dream there’s a tremendous landslide, sludge and mud and dirt and grit everywhere that he can see it, and he’s caught up in it, just a little speck of life in all those bits of earth. He’s frightened, and he opens his mouth to cry out on impulse, desperate to hear another human voice, some sort of reassurance that he isn’t alone, but he’s muffled by dirt in his mouth, dirt everywhere else, swallowing him up as he swallows it, until he’s part of it.
The last thing he thinks about is Richie’s tearful face, hovering over him. Richie’s face ghost-pale as the two of them huddle in front of an empty closet. Richie’s face, brow furrowed, as a little dog sits in front of the two of them and pants. Eddie’s always liked dogs.
The next thing that Eddie is conscious of is Richie, and he’s enormous. Eddie skitters back, boggling up at him, entirely unaware of his own existence prior to this very moment, an instinctive, primal panic coursing through him, because Richie is big and he’s very loud, too.
“I thought you were, like, a ghost. Jesus,” Richie breathes. But everything is enormous, he thinks, now that he’s gotten over that initial panic. The night sky overhead, sure, but the street stretching in front of him too, how the houses loom over him., the biggest he’s ever seen There’s a fire hydrant to the left of Eddie that’s twice his height, nearly, although he’s on all fours, so it’s hard to tell—
—and that’s strange. Eddie peers down at himself and, with a start, realizes that he’s a dog. A little white dog, specifically. He remembers dying, and then something in between, and now he’s like this.
What the fuck, he thinks.
On the stoop in front of Eddie Richie slumps to a sitting position, still clutching at his heart. He probably has high blood pressure, Eddie thinks, irritated. High cholesterol, with all the shit that he eats. He probably doesn’t take care of himself—and now, Eddie sees, Richie looks the worst he’s ever seen him.
Richie’s always been pale, more or less, but he’s the one who looks like a ghost, wan and waxy even from the harsh light that the streetlamps cast off. He hasn’t shaved in a while, an unfamiliar sight for Eddie—although to be fair, Eddie’s only known him as an adult for less than a week. He hadn’t been able to grow much facial hair when he’d been a teenager, Eddie remembers now. More than Eddie could, but not much beyond it, prickly patches of stubble scattered across his face at random like grass on a blighted lawn, something he’d maintained smugly for about a week in a demonstration of his purported manliness until Stan had delivered to him such a devastating insult in relation to it that he’d shaved it one morning without a word. Eddie can’t remember what he’d said—Stan’s still a little foggy in his memory—but it had been brutal.
He’s able to grow more of a beard now, but that should be obvious—he’s not the boy he was anymore. His shirt has a red stain splashed across its front; blood, Eddie thinks wildly at first, although rationally, he knows it’s red wine. It looks like an old stain, and it’s almost certainly set. Richie ought to have washed the shirt immediately after it had happened. It’s a big stain; something well beyond the (expansive!) bounds of Tide To Go territory.
Eddie misses his Tide To Go. He wishes that dogs had pockets.
Richie cocks his head, looking down at him. It’s freezing cold out—the fall has clearly passed, probably months ago. Eddie can feel that in his paws. “You’re kind of cute, actually,” Richie says, offering up a hand for Eddie to sniff.
I’m not cute, Eddie says. I’m Eddie. Eddie Kaspbrak. You fucking asshole. You idiot. I’m forty and I’m a risk assessor. Much to his dismay, though as it turns out, although the concept of being reincarnated as a little white dog isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, the concept of being reincarnated as a little white talking dog is. It all comes out as barks, something that makes Richie crack a smile, and he breaks into a laugh as Eddie zips around in a little circle out of sheer frustration.
“Okay! Okay,” Richie grins, holding up his hands. “Settle down. C’mere.”
He offers up that hand again, and Eddie eyes it warily before edging forward as his curiosity wins out. He sniffs at it and a number of facts barrage his senses; Richie’s a smoker, he’d eaten some pizza recently, he’s wearing way too much shitty cologne. Or maybe he’s wearing a normal amount of shitty cologne, and it’s overwhelming to Eddie’s dog olfactory senses. Eddie has no fucking clue; he’s new at this. He’s never been impaled by a clown spider leg and reincarnated into a little dog body before.
“Someone’s probably missing you,” Richie says softly, and as his fingers come around to sift through his fur, looking for a collar, Eddie goes still.
Richie’s condo gives Eddie the sense that there’s something deeply and profoundly wrong with him. Firstly, he wears his shoes inside. There are five Big Mouth Billy Bass-es mounted on the wall as soon as they get into the living room, peering down at Eddie in a council of silent judgement, a lot of effort for a single dumb joke (did Richie mount them himself?). There are clothes strewn across the floor, everywhere. There’s a single staggeringly expensive couch (or it appears to be) two chairs, and, mysteriously, three worn-out bean bag chairs that look at least forty years old and disgusting. The table in front of the expensive TV is piled high with take-out containers.
“Are you hungry?” Richie calls from the kitchen. “What do dogs eat?”
Dog food, Eddie thinks, irritated, except—he is hungry, and he’s not going to eat dog food. He refuses. He will starve, and he will die again, and perhaps he’ll be reincarnated again, maybe as an even smaller dog this time, but he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Eddie trots into the kitchen, which is kiwi green and similarly horrible. Richie doesn’t have dog food, as it turns out, so Eddie’s finally granted a small mercy, the first one he’s had recently. Instead, he’s holding up what appears to be a cooked hamburger patty, with lingering bits of ketchup and mustard, apparently retrieved from the styrofoam container sitting on the counter. It’s still warm, more or less—Eddie can smell it, and suddenly, there’s nothing more that he’s ever wanted in his entire life more than he’s wanted than that lukewarm hamburger patty.
“Is this good? Can you eat this?”
Yes, Eddie says. Barks. He doesn’t like to eat much red meat but he’s too hungry to care, and when Richie sets it on a plate on the ground, Eddie swallows half of it within two seconds. Richie crouches next to him to watch him as he eats the rest.
“I guess you can,” Richie says. “That was my dinner, so you’re welcome.”
Of course that had been his dinner. Richie seems like the type who’d default to takeout, entirely unaware of the alarming amount of sodium that’s industry standard. Although—now that he thinks about it, Richie had been able to cook, more or less, when they’d been kids, especially once his mom had gotten sick, and presumably he’d retained that skill as an adult.
Maybe he’d fallen out of practice. Eddie thinks of the pile of takeout containers on the coffee table by the tv, out there in the living room.
Suddenly, Richie’s apartment doesn’t just feel ugly; it feels lonely, too. There’s a calendar stuck to the fridge, still flipped to SEPTEMBER 2017.
There’s something wrong here. You lived, dipshit, Eddie thinks tersely, sitting back on his haunches so that he can cock his head, studying him. You won. You got out of there. Why are you still such a fucking mess. The clown is gone.
Maybe, Eddie thinks, this is the clown’s last trick. Bring back Eddie as a dog so that he can helplessly bear witness to Richie’s sad little life. Eddie’s never met a clown with such a profoundly shitty sense of humor.
“I have to do the rounds tomorrow, I guess, to see where you got out from, you little shit. You’re welcome for that, too. My neighbors already think I’m a freak. Now they’re going to think I’m a dog thief,” Richie murmurs, dryly, as Eddie finishes the rest of the hamburger.
Once he’s done, Richie scoops Eddie up. It’s alarming to be scooped up, at this size, and disorienting; it paralyzes Eddie, actually, which works in his favor, because he’s at least a thousand feet off the ground when Richie straightens and he’s pretty sure he’d probably die (again) if he’d managed to wriggled his way free and Richie dropped him.
There’s no danger of that. Richie holds him closely, cradling him carefully to his chest like he’s worried that he’ll break him, and pads back out into the living room so that they can head up the stairs.
Eddie remembers now that Richie had been tender with animals. He’d seen him cry once in his teens, when Stan’s cat—who had been particularly fond of Richie—had to be put down. She hadn’t been his, but Richie had liked her so much.
Richie’s bedroom is more of a disaster zone than the living room is. It’s big and spacious—because every room is big and spacious, it actually seems like it’s an expensive property—and Richie’s made the aesthetic choice to utilize that space by carefully covering what appears to be every bare square inch of floor with wrinkled novelty t-shirts and loudly patterned button-ups.
“I hope you don’t have fleas,” Richie says, and sets Eddie on the bed anyway, which is insane person logic. Eddie doesn’t have fleas, but Richie doesn’t know that, and if he did have fleas, then Richie would have fleas in his bed now. Eddie huffs with frustration but Richie isn’t looking at him; he’s dressing down for bed instead, and Eddie averts his eyes respectfully.
The sheets smell like Richie. Eddie doesn’t want to think about the last time he washed them, but he doesn’t mind it, not really. Maybe that’s the dog brain part of him, an appreciation of familiar human smells. It makes him want to trot around in a circle, and he does—once, then twice, then three times—before settling down and curling up in a comfortable spot on the mattress.
“I hope you’re housetrained, too,” Richie calls, voice muffled through his shirt as he tugs a t-shirt on. “If you’re going to piss on something, don’t piss on anything nice.“
I would have to leave this condo to find something nice to piss on, Eddie thinks sullenly. He’s housetrained, anyway, obviously—in fact, he has every intention of figuring out how to use the human toilet like this, so help him god. There are certain lows that he refuses to lower himself to, even as he is now. Richie can think he’s a fucking MENSA dog for all he cares.
Richie’s changed into a threadbare t-shirt and boxers and he shuts out the lights before he climbs into bed, relaxed and easy like he’s not joining a strange animal that he’d found on the street in front of his house all of half an hour ag—not that Eddie is strange, or an animal, but Richie doesn’t know these things.
It’s a few minutes in the dark before Richie reaches for him tentatively, like he’s frightened that he’ll bite, and when Eddie doesn’t, he pulls him in close, tucking him up against his body. He presses his face to Eddie’s soft fur, and although Eddie can tell he hasn’t fallen asleep yet, he’s quiet.
Eddie doesn’t have the heart to pull away, even if this is sort of undignified. There’s not much he can do to prove his personhood right now, anyway—he’ll have to figure that out tomorrow.
When Eddie was little, his mother would whisper to him every night as she’d tucked him into bed, voice honeyed with sympathy: Things will be better in the morning—a puzzling sentiment, because she’d really said it to him every night, regardless of how the day had gone, but sometimes, he’d found it to be familiar and reassuring, a relief to hear.
He thinks it to himself now. He thinks it to Richie, too, although he’s not sure why, until he falls asleep.
As Richie sleeps like the dead, well past the alarming hour of eleven AM, Eddie spends his first few waking hours assessing the situation, and he comes up with three statistically significant ways that this will end.
- The worst ending is: Eddie is trapped as a dog until he dies forever, probably within less than eight years, judging from the average lifespan of a dog of his size, and assuming he’s a middle-aged dog just like he had been a middle-aged human.
- The middling ending is: This is some kind of weird hallucination and Eddie’s actually moments from death.
- The happiest ending is: Somehow, Eddie will be able to become human again.
Eddie is a risk assessor by trade, even if presently he doesn’t look like one. He’s grimly cognizant of ending one to the extent that he isn’t going to focus on it too much unless it seems like it would be useful to. Ending two is entirely irrelevant because if it’s true there’s nothing he can do about it.
He has to hope for ending three, although he doesn’t like the somehow. Somehow could just be a transformation that will occur in due time, like once it’s the full moon or something, as though he’s a really stupid looking werewolf. The only other animal transformation myth he can think of is the Princess and the Frog, and he has no idea how he’d travel back to New York like this in order to let Myra give true love’s kiss a shot, a plan of action that he regards with a dramatic and very complicated sense of skepticism.
At twelve thirty, Eddie begins to suspect that Richie had fallen into a coma.
Richie had clutched him to his chest at some point during the night but he’s loose-limbed with sleep now, and Eddie wriggles himself free. Unsure of what to do, he paws at Richie’s arm; when that doesn’t work, he barks three times, but Richie’s dead to the world.
Eddie’s eyes fall on the uncapped medication bottles scattered on the bedside table. If he were a human, he would frown.
Instead, he pads down to the foot of the bed and latches on to one of Richie’s ankles with his little sharp teeth until he lurches awake, gasping and sweaty. He nearly kicks Eddie off the bed entirely, actually, but Eddie nimbly darts to the side just in time.
“What time is it,” Richie mumbles sleepily. He feels for his glasses on the bedside table and squints over at the clock there; twelve forty-three. “Oh. Early.” With that, he flops back down, prone again, and Eddie’s patience runs out.
Not early, Eddie barks, tersely. Late. Who sleeps this much? Have you ever heard of the concept of sleep hygiene? You’re going to be wide awake at like, two in the morning—
“Alright!” Richie groans, sitting up. “Okay. I’m up. God, you’re yappy. Are you hungry? Is that it?”
Eddie’s not starving —he’d eaten late—but it seems like it’s something that’ll get Richie up and out of bed, so he hops down to the floor and trots over to the doorway, pausing to look back at Richie pointedly.
“How have you been here like, five hours and you’re running my shitty life already,” Richie grumbles, stifling a yawn. “Are there type-A dogs? Is that a thing?”
Eddie circles behind him and follows him down the stairs as he goes, close at his heels to make sure that he keeps up his momentum until they get to the kitchen, where Richie diligently boils and cuts up a hot dog and wonders aloud, if this is like, cannibalism before putting it on a plate for Eddie to eat.
Hot dogs for breakfast. Being a dog sucks, Eddie thinks gloomily, thoughts thick with visions of steel-cut oatmeal and green juices and honeydew melon, although his new taste buds have decided that hot dogs are actually just fine. His mind is the same, unfortunately, and he has to keep himself from thinking too hard on macros and his sodium intake and whether or not hot dogs are gluten-free, because he’s already got a fragile grip on everything like this and he thinks he’d lose it entirely if he did. He’d spent forty years knowing his body, every little thing about it, maintaining it carefully, like a temple, and now he doesn’t know the first thing about it. In fact, he has no idea if dogs can even have gluten allergies.
Richie pours himself some cereal. “I guess we gotta figure out who you belong to, buddy,” he says, peering down at Eddie as he scarfs down bits of hot dog. “It’s too bad. You’re growing on me.”
Richie takes a picture of him and departs, apparently intent on going door-to-door with said picture in order to see if anyone’s lost a dog, which is a little bit sweet of him. He could just drop Eddie off at the pound, and for obvious reasons, Eddie’s grateful that he doesn’t.
Luckily, he has something to keep him busy. Eddie is resourceful; he’s a problem-solver, and he knows that the imperative here is to clue Richie in on. He spends the two hours that Richie is gone diligently tugging the shirts on his living room floor into letter shapes—first an E, then a D, then another one, et cetera, until he’s more or less spelled out his own name in Richie’s dirty laundry, a tremendous effort for a little dog with little muscles and short little legs.
It’s not perfect. It’s crooked-looking, and it’s hard to get a good sense of how crooked it is from his vantage point, as low to the ground as he is, but he does a decent job of it, and as soon as he hears the key in the lock, he sprints over to the door, jumpy with anticipation. When Richie shoulders the door open, Eddie circles him and barks.
“Wow! Hi doggie,” Richie laughs, and Eddie sprints over to the living room, pausing to make sure that Richie is following. “What’s that, boy? Jimmy fell down the well? Or—oh.” Richie pauses, framed in the living room door. “Shit.”
Eddie wags his tail hopefully, but much to his dismay, it’s not because he’s read Eddie’ message. It’s just because Richie’s phone is ringing, buzzing in his pocket.
Not now, Eddie barks, irritated. Not the fucking phone. This is important. Focus. Don’t answer that.
But Richie listens to him just about as much when he’s a dog as he had when he’d been a human, so naturally, he answers it. “How’re you doing, man! How’s Florida?” he says, and Eddie realizes, with a start: Mike.
It’s the first time he’s thought about the others, something that sends a spike of guilt through him. Had they all survived? If they hadn’t , were they dogs now, too? Eddie thinks of Ben as a big, friendly Golden Retriever, and that would be kind of cute, actually, if it didn’t involve Ben’s spirit being trapped in the body of a fucking dog like Eddie’s is now, with no apparent means of un trapping himself.
“Did you find a clown there too?” Richie quips, and—no, no no, with mounting horror, Eddie watches as Richie bends to scoop up some of the clothes he’d so carefully arranged to spell out his own name. Frantically, Eddie skitters over to him, barking himself hoarse, but Richie’s undeterred, and he tosses them into one of the four laundry hampers tucked behind the couch. “Ssst,” he shushes Eddie absently, before continuing on. “A Floridian clown? Is that what this is about? You can call me on, like, non-clown business, you know, I love to hear from you, Mikey—”
Of all the times for Richie to decide to tidy up. Now? Eddie watches hopelessly as EDDIE becomes EUCIE. He can hear Mike on the other line, although it’s not clear what he’s saying, and Eddie desperately wishes that he was here right now. Mike wouldn’t have missed this. The concept of the spirit of his dead friend being trapped in the body of a white miniature American Eskimo/Pomeranian mix wouldn’t exceed Mike’s threshold of weird shit that’s possible—in fact, he’s pretty sure that Mike probably thinks about weirder shit like, three times a day.
“Oh, you know. I’m fine! Same stuff,” Richie says, covering his other ear with his hand. “Yeah! Oh, the barking, it’s...I got a dog, actually. I think it’s a dog, anyway. It might also be an anthropomorphic cotton ball.”
Richie had gotten a dog? Eddie peers up at him, puzzled and a little hopeful. No luck with the neighbors, which means that Eddie isn’t, er, occupying an existing dog, probably, and—if Richie’s really decided to keep him, that means he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to catch Richie up to speed on the situation.
Richie decides to leave Eddie’s message at CLCIC—insult to injury, he hadn’t even fucking finished the clean-up job—and collapses onto the couch. “I said I’m fine, Mike,” Richie says, and there’s an edge of irritation in Richie’s voice now, usually something that happens when he’s about to get mean. “I told you I was fine. I’m great.” But it’s gone as quickly as it arrived, and Richie scratches at his chin as he continues on. “Super swamped, actually, I’ve got like, fourteen million things in the pipeline. No, not the tour. We cancelled it completely, you know, we’re reworking the material just to see what happens. Nothing dramatic.”
In the hopes of hearing Mike better, Eddie hops up on the couch; it’s hard, with his current proportions, but he manages it, although it’s not much of a help. He can hear him, but it’s still not clear.
Eddie misses him. He misses all of them, he thinks sadly, and he only realizes that he’s whining when Richie’s hand comes down to stroke his head.
“I haven’t heard from her, no. Ben’s handling all that shit. Better bedside manner,” Richie says a little shortly, and Eddie’s ears prick up as he hears something about Myra, but—much to his frustration, Richie interrupts Mike, drowning him out entirely. “Read anything good recently? I never learned how to read, personally speaking, but I’ll put it on my list if it has pictures…”
Eddie wonders what they’ve told Myra. Or anyone, really. It makes sense why they’d been in contact; he’d told her he was seeing some friends from his hometown, and she’s almost certainly looked through his call history by now. She’d probably done that while he’d still been alive, even.
Maybe he’s a missing person. Being like this makes him feel like one, a little bit, so at least that’s accurate, Eddie thinks as he leans into Richie’s touch as he pets him absently, angling his head so that Richie can scratch him behind the ears.
“Oh, Bill always worries,” Richie scoffs. “I’m great. Post-clown nirvana like the rest of you guys. He should worry about his book. If he’s going to do a write-what-you-know thing about Derry, please tell him to give me a six pack, and...make me Swedish, or something, just for color. And give me a hot girlfriend, like, some midlife crisis shit, a twenty-five year old.”
Eddie can hear Mike laugh.
I love you, man, Eddie hears Mike say finally—the only thing that’s come through clearly enough for him to hear. I’m here and I love you too, Mike, Eddie broadcasts, desperately. I love all of you and I’m a dog. Please fucking help me.
Mike doesn’t have dog ESP, though, because the next thing Eddie hears is Mike saying his goodbyes. Subdued, and defeated, at least momentarily, Eddie rests his head on his front paws.
“You too,” Richie says. “Talk to you later. Bye.”
Richie thumbs the call off, and sets his phone aside. “Same old shit with them,” Richie says, with forced cheeriness, before lapsing into a silence. Eddie wonders what he’s thinking about until he speaks up again, glancing down at him curled up at his side, finally giving him his full attention.
“Good news: it’s not clear that you belong to anyone, which means that I’m going to do the American thing and decide that you belong to me now,” Richie says, and Eddie breathes a little dog sigh of relief, although if Richie picks up on it, he doesn’t say anything. “I have to think of a name, though.”
Richie lapses into silence again as he mulls that over.
“Would it be funny if I called you Pennywise, or would that be, like, going too far?” he wonders, but he’s barely gotten it out before Eddie’s giving his hand a sharp warning nip. “Okay! Okay. Jeez.” He pauses, tipping his head back, deep in thought, before he gives it another try.
“You kind of look like a Norman.”
Richie doesn’t call him Norman. He calls Eddie a number of things, over the course of the next few weeks—Anthony, Weasel, Caligula, Little Fucker, the last of which when coined when Eddie’s attempt to break into Richie’s phone so that he can tap out a frantic message to Richie results in the phone being erased due to the number of lock-out attempts. He buys Eddie a pink safety collar that stretches (lest Eddie inadvertently hang himself, as dogs apparently do), and some toys and a little dog bed that he never uses, preferring to spend his nights curled up in Richie’s bed with him—just so that he can get Richie up at a reasonable hour, he tells himself.
Eddie lets him take him on walks. It’s good to be out in the world, for the both of them, even if it means that he has to suffer the indignity of a leash—because life as a dog, it turns out, is one indignity after the next, whether that’s the two days that Richie tries to get him to eat dog food (unsuccessfully), or the sheer number of times that Richie hoists him up into the air to waltz around his kitchen with him to the radio, or the fact that Richie’s convinced that Eddie adores fetch.
And Eddie learns that Richie has a small little life, sort of. He talks to the Losers on the phone, occasionally, but no one visits, apart from his manager, twice, and it had ended in a shouting match each time—I can’t get you work if you don’t give me anything, Richie. He goes to the store, and he spends time on his computer, and he takes Eddie on walks, and he sees a movie once in a while, but that’s it. It gives Eddie plenty of time to carry out a number of attempts to communicate with Richie; as it turns out, inexplicably, Richie doesn’t own a single pen or pencil, and when he knocks a bottle of wine over in an effort to shatter it and use its contents to paint out a message to Richie, Richie overlooks it completely in the shock from the mess, and it ends in (first) a wrestling match in order for Richie to drag Eddie out from under the couch and (second) the utter humiliation of a bath in the sink.
Richie starts to cook, though, which is good. And Eddie takes full credit for that one, actually—it’s the end result of the hunger strike that Eddie goes on when Richie tries to make him eat dog food. In fact, Richie panics, and brings him to the vet, an experience that Eddie has blocked from his memory entirely. It ends in a diagnosis of Eddie being a picky eater, and Richie deciding to give home-cooked dog food a try: ground chicken, brown rice, zucchini, spinach, occasionally some other interchangeable protein. It’s bland, but it’s good for him, and Richie eats the leftovers because it’s easy, and the mountain of takeout containers on the coffee table begins to diminish.
One night, a strange man comes over to Richie’s apartment, short and dark-haired, about thirty. A friend, maybe, Eddie thinks from his vantage point, curled up on the chair by the heater, the best spot in the living room—until Richie offers up a hand to shake as soon as the door is shut.
“Hey. So, uh, I’m Greg,” Richie says, nonsensically.
“I don’t think so,” the guy says with a grin, reaching out to clasp his hand in a lingering touch. “Who would’ve thought. Secret’s safe with me if mine is with yours, anyway. Where do you want to do this?”
Eddie hates him, the smug way he says it, how he’s dressed, how Richie flushes and looks uncomfortable. He jerks his head towards the stairs.
“This way,” he says, and the the two of them head upstairs as Richie had directed, the stairs creaking behind them until finally there's silence.
Eddie hops down from the chair and cocks his head, listening, and it occurs to him after three seconds that they’re probably doing drugs up there and he has to stop it.
Because why else would a strange man show up late at night—ten PM—like this? Why else would Richie be using an assumed name? Why else would the man be referring to secrets? As Eddie climbs up the stairs, his nerves jump in intensity with each step, skyrocketing when he gets to the top and sees that they’re in the bedroom and the door is closed.
Eddie doesn’t think. He sprints towards the door and launches himself at it with a loud thunk —it stands, obviously, but the sound is jarring, especially as he begins to bark, frantically, jumping up to scratch at the door with tenacity and determination.
It’s three seconds before the door is tugged open with such a force that Eddie nearly bowls over completely. He’s met with the sight of Richie, shirtless, stripped down to his boxers, and he just has enough time to wonder in great bewilderment which drugs require getting naked for before the other shoe drops.
“Everything good?” the guy from before calls from behind Richie—he’s sitting on the bed, and Eddie still hates him. “What the fuck is that?”
“My dog. Shit. Sorry, man, he, uh—I’ve never seen him like this,” Richie says, bewildered. He crouches down to hold out a hand for Eddie to sniff, and Eddie dances out of reach, still in shock. “What’s wrong?”
The guy comes up behind him and peers down at Eddie. Eddie goes stiff, ears flattening. Fuck you, he barks. Fuck you. Fuck off. You suck.
All it gets him is a laugh. “So not only is Richie Tozier a total closet case,” the guy says, with a snort. “He has a little Pomeranian, too? That’s kind of playing to stereotype, isn’t it? You could try to be a little less obvious.”
Richie laughs, but it’s forced; something’s made him uncomfortable, and Eddie can see it in his body language, from his head to his toes. Stiff shoulders, a clenching of his teeth. He pauses, and Eddie can see him thinking something over before he sighs, glancing back to his guest.
“Uh, look, man. I’m sorry to do this, but...I think this a mistake. Totally not you,” Richie says hastily, holding up his hands placatingly, and the guy is startled enough to let him usher him out of the bedroom. “Me, if you know what I’m saying, it’s just, uh, this isn’t the right time, I think. You know, I’m going through some shit right now—”
He picks Eddie up as he talks. Startled, Eddie twists in his grip, but he’s unable to wriggle free before Richie tosses him—gently—into the bedroom and closes the door.
Eddie scrambles back to the door, where he flops down nose to the crack in it, ears pricked, listening intently as they head downstairs. Some sort of argument ensues, but he can’t make out what it is, and eventually, he hears the door slam.
It’s ten minutes or so before the door cracks open, and it’s Richie again, this time with a beer in hand. Eddie wags his tail but Richie pads past him in order to flop down on the bed.
Richie sighs, and takes a swallow of his beer before pointing it at him. “What the fuck was up with you? You hated that dude,” he muses, but when Eddie trots forward, he offers up his hand for pets, and Eddie permits it. “Do you think there’s a dating app for people with homophobic dogs?” Richie wonders, before looking back down at him.
There’s a pause. Richie smiles, thinly. “Not so homophobic, I mean,” he adds quietly. “You like me.”
It hangs in the air. Eddie had known it, as soon as he’d seen the two of them in the bedroom, but now that Richie’s said it explicitly, it hits him all at once—Richie is gay. Richie is gay. How had he not known? How had he not realized? He hadn’t known him as an adult, obviously, but he’d known him as a kid, and he ought to have known it then.
He’d never known Richie to have secrets. Richie had been loud, boisterous, incapable of holding anything back, to his detriment, or so he’d thought, and Eddie wonders now which other secrets of Richie’s he doesn’t know of.
“Okay!” Richie exclaims, giving Eddie a final pat, and the moment passes. “I think I’m gonna jerk it, so vete.”
Gross, Eddie thinks, and though Richie reaches for him, presumably in order to pick him up and put him in the other room, Eddie doesn’t need a formal invitation to get lost, thank you very much. He darts off the bed, hopping to the floor and then down the hallway, and then down the stairs, too, just for the extra distance.
Bev visits in a week. Her hair has grown out, long and red and lovely, and the happiness radiates from her like the sun, so much so that both Richie and Eddie squint just at the sight of her.
“Who died?” Richie mutters, and Bev laughs, pulling Richie in for a hug.
“Oh, Richie,” she sighs, holding him tightly, a long, lingering embrace. Eddie has to look away. “It’s been forever.”
She releases him, pulling back to survey him before her eyes fall on Eddie curled up on the couch behind him. Gasping, she drops her things to the floor and crouches.
“Oh!” Richie, who’s shutting the door, twists to glance back at Eddie, who’s already hopping down off the couch to trot over to Bev’s proffered hand. “His name is—hey.” Richie whistles. “C’mere, Eddie—”
Nearly to Bev, Eddie skids to a halt, stock-still as the shock courses through him. It’s the first time he’s heard his name in what feels like an eternity, and why hadn’t he said anything, how long has Richie known —but the strangest thing is that Bev doesn’t seem phased. In fact, her mouth thins; something like worry flashes across her face. Maybe disappointment, too. “Beep beep, Richie.”
“Too soon?” There’s a grin (a grimace?) frozen on Richie’s face, and he flashes it at Bev before bypassing the two of them altogether to collapse on the couch, kicking his feet up on the coffee table. “Sorry. I haven’t named him yet, dunno if I will. Really I just need something around that’ll eat me whenever I end up keeling over in here. Nature’s clean-up. I’d rather not leave a mess, personally speaking, and I bet no one’s going to find me for weeks—”
“Beep beep, Richie,” Bev says, and this time, her voice is sharp enough to make Richie go still. He looks down at his hands.
“Alright. I’m done. Tough crowd,” he says, shortly, and there’s a shift then, like a veil settling back into place. He looks up. “So what’s new with you? When’s the wedding?”
There’s half a second’s worth of a delay, and a frown from Bev, before her face smooths over, too. “Ugh. That’s, like, a point of contention, let’s not even get into it,” she says, bending to scoop Eddie up. Eddie whines, tail wagging, and licks at her chin; Bev laughs, delighted as she settles on the couch next to Richie.
Eddie had missed her, sorely, and he lets her hold him curled up like an infant in her arms, even though he never lets Richie do that, as his personal preference is to be held a little bit more securely. “I want to go to City Hall. Ben wants to go to France. We’ll have to meet in the middle.”
“I think that’s in the ocean, probably, so that’ll be hard,” Richie mutters, eyeing Eddie with a little bit of a wounded look. Tough shit, Eddie thinks, without sympathy.
“Well, you’ll have time for swimming lessons,” Bev says with a shrug, setting Eddie down so that he can curl up in her lap. She smells faintly like men’s cologne—expensive stuff at that, Eddie’s pretty sure he recognizes it. Le Labo. Maybe Santal 33. “It’s pretty far out right now. What about you? Anything new, apart from the dog?”
“Oh, uh. Not much, really?” Richie ventures. “I cancelled my tour. I’m taking some time, I think, it’s good to have a little bit of a break.”
Bev smiles, but there’s a hardness to it. “Taking some time to do what?”
“Things,” Richie says guardedly.
Nothing at all, Eddie barks, and Bev glances down at him, distracted, before she returns her gaze to Richie. “Did you see Bill and Mike at Disney?”
“No. On Instagram?
“They went and they just did the Haunted Mansion and Pirates like, four times, and then they left.”
“No,” Richie repeats, with a half smile, a genuine smile. Eddie’s learned his face, more or less, within the past few weeks. “Bill wouldn’t go on Small World? I told Mike I’d venmo him three hundred dollars for a picture.”
“Mike says he tried,” Bev says, with a shrug, and the two of them lapse into silence. Richie had been smiling, but it fades, little by little, as he begins to realize that he’s being studied. “How are you doing?” Bev asks gently, and Richie looks down at his hands with a scowl that’s gone as soon as it crosses his face.
“You know, that’s funny,” Richie says, with forced, prickly cheeriness. “You sound like Mike. And Bill. Not Ben though, actually. Ben just sent me, like, twelve adult coloring books for mindfulness.”
Bev’s frown deepens. “Are you going to answer my question, or are you just going be an asshole?” she asks, bluntly. She’d been stroking Eddie—it had been nice, actually, she has nimbler fingers than Richie—but her hand stills.
“What do you want me to say?” Richie takes off his glasses and huffs on them before wiping them clean with his shirt, a nervous tic he’s always had, ever since he was a kid. “I am okay, Bev. I’m fine. I’m alive. I’m here. I’m ready for the next forty years of my shitty life.” He pauses, like something’s just occurred to him, and points them at Bev—or maybe it’s a jab. “Hey, how’s the yacht?”
“Richie,” Bev says, reproachfully.
“Beverly,” Richie says, his tone a mockery of her own.
“I know what you’re doing,” Beverly says, calmly. “You want us to fuck off. Guess what? It’s not going to be better if you’re alone. It never is.”
Richie drops his gaze to his hand, again, still clutching his glasses. New ones since the pair he’d had in Derry, Eddie realizes now, and he wonders why. “How the fuck do you know?” he mutters, and Beverly narrows her eyes.
“How do you?”
“You don’t know shit,” Richie snaps. “You got to ride off in the sunset. Ben did. Mike did. Bill did. Someone had to draw the short straw. How the fuck do you think I am? I’m great, Bev. Fantastic. Wonderful. Every day’s like Christmas and the Fourth of July.”
Bev looks at Richie, and for a moment, Eddie has a vision of Beverly Marsh, aged 13, the weight of her gaze, how impassive she’d been, like a concrete wall—but peering straight through to whoever she was looking at nonetheless. “He wouldn’t want this,” she says, finally.
“Maybe he would,” Richie mumbles. “I left him.”
And Eddie is shamed. He’s thought it occasionally, in ugly, passing meanness over the past few weeks: you left me. They’d all left him, and when Eddie thinks about dying, as he does occasionally, that primal, gripping terror—it’s easier to focus on blame than it is to focus on the weight of his own mortality.
“He wouldn’t have wanted you to die, Richie,” Bev says, softly.
And as Bev says it, Eddie knows that it’s true. He wouldn’t have wanted them to die. Even if he had a chance of surviving his injuries—which he hadn’t, Eddie knows the human body, knows his own best of all—he wouldn’t have wanted any of them to risk themselves to save him, and finally, that knowledge settles over him, and it’s like a weight is lifted off of his shoulders. Like he can breathe again.
Eddie hops off of Beverly’s lap and climbs onto Richie’s, tail wagging forlornly. She’s right, Rich, Eddie thinks desperately, peering up at him. Don’t be an idiot, why the fuck would I want that. You were right to leave me. If you use your brain for just a second—if you think about, realistically speaking, what would be involved in dragging me out of there—
“I don’t give a shit about what he wanted,” Richie says tersely, and Eddie knows he’s thinking of the Deadlights and Eddie’s heroics, but Richie’s hand comes down to stroke at Eddie’s soft fur, so. Maybe he’s helping. He hopes so.
“Well, tough, because he got it,” Bev says firmly. “You’re here. You’re alive. You’ve just got to hang in there. You’re strong, Rich, I know you can do it.”
Richie pauses, and for a second, Eddie fears that he’s going to escalate—until Richie smiles at Bev tightly, and reaches over to give her knee a pat.
“Thanks, Bev,” he says with a half smile. “Anyway. Can you tell Ben thanks for the one with all the horses?”
Bev studies him, but doesn’t push; it’s like time starts again, and Eddie can feel Richie relax as she moves on, business as usual. “He loves that one, too,” she sighs. “I told him they were great and he thinks I really like them so he’s started to give them to me when he’s done filling them in. I don’t know what to do with them so I’ve been putting them up in my office. It’s sweet, but everyone at my office thinks I have, like, a weird horses thing now…”
After Bev leaves, hours later, even if the tone of the conversation had lightened—even if she’d stayed for hours—as soon as she’s gone, it feels like a gloom has settled over Richie’s place. Richie ignores him when Eddie tries to entreat him into playing fetch to distract him; instead, he putters around the house restlessly, half starting some projects, half finishing some others.
There has to be a reason for all this, Eddie thinks, as he watches Richie burn his hand on a piece of toast. Eddie had died, and now he’s here—not here in general, within the land of the living, but the first thing he’d seen when he’d come back had been Richie. Of all the places for Eddie to be returned to, it had been the street in front of Richie’s place. He has no idea why he’s a dog, specifically, but there’s something to be gleaned from where he’d been even if what he is remains obscured.
Maybe, Eddie thinks, he’s here to help him. He thinks of Richie relaxing underneath him on the couch as he’d stroked him—and maybe that’s it. He can’t fix Richie’s life but he can make it better, or at least he can try.
Eddie is a problem solver as much as he’s a problem forseer—always been, and he is now, even like this.
The question of what happens after he solves this particular problem, though, unsettles him, and it’s easier for Eddie to neatly file it away under worry about later, so he does.
Eventually, Richie’s restlessness fades, and he collapses on the couch. He pats his chest hopefully and Eddie trots over to hop up onto the couch and onto Richie.
Richie wraps an arm around Eddie, his attention shifting to his phone in his other hand.
“Maybe they’re onto something with this happily ever after shit,” he murmurs, after a pause. “You know. Maybe it would be good to have like, a real human connection, whatever you want to call it. Something new. Unrelated to Derry.”
From his vantage point, Eddie can see that Richie is pulling up a dating app, one that Eddie is entirely unfamiliar with, because he’s been married for ten years. Present tense, he’s pretty sure—there’s no divorce by default clause that kicks in once one’s spouse turns into a Pomeranian.
Not that Myra would know that. Myra probably thinks he’s dead, and that ought to hurt him, that thought, but Eddie finds that he’s relieved as he thinks about it, and a sense of guilt settles over him. Myra, he knows, isn’t a bad person. Overbearing, arguably controlling, but—he’s an adult, and he’d made his choice, and he shouldn’t be pleased to be able to take the coward’s way out of their marriage here, but all this has given him a lot of distance, and a little bit of clarity, enough to know that he’d been profoundly unhappy for so long that unhappy had become his normal.
Eddie thinks of the boiling frog parable, uneasily.
“I guess I should probably change my username, huh,” Richie continues, and Eddie turns his head to look at Richie’s phone screen. BIGD1CKGREG, he reads, and alright, that’s it, he moves scramble off of Richie just as Richie laughs and catches him. “No! Don’t go, you’re right, I don’t think that like, screams long-term or commitment, either, I was, uh, focused on other shit when I thought about it—here. How’s this?”
Eddie is quite literally a captive audience right now, so resigned, he watches Richie tap out a new username, which is: BOBAFETTFOREVER.
Eddie is not impressed. You’re only going to get messaged by, like, total losers, but if that’s what you’re after—
—And maybe that is what Richie is after, Eddie realizes. Who Richie needs. Someone to laugh at his stupid jokes, someone who’s able to tell him that his Jawa impression is objectively terrible. Someone to make sure that he doesn’t fuck up his sleep schedule until he gets his days and nights mixed up, and someone who likes reality TV that’s just on the perfect cusp of shitty/enthralling too.
“Do you think I can be, like, uh,” Richie ventures haltingly. “Happy. Ever again?”
Eddie thinks of the Jade of the Orient. Before Mike had dropped what was probably the world’s worst buzzkill on them, historically—the hour or two they’re spent drinking together, Bev’s stories about her shitty luck with the world’s worst roommates, Bill loosening up enough play the part of their Geometry teacher in Richie’s retelling of the time they’d convinced her that Ben was Richie’s father on the phone. How, precisely, the book club for seniors that Mike had tried his very best to moderate had ended in a fistfight between a pair of eighty year olds.
Eddie hadn’t known that he could be happy like that—or maybe he just couldn’t remember it. And the longer he spent in Derry that second time, even through the thick of all that fear, the terror, the tremendous weight of the responsibility set on the Losers’ collective shoulders, he’d thought, in passing moments, about what returning to his gray little life with Myra would entail after all of this. He’d hoped—furtively, secretly—that it would change, now that the spell had been lifted. If he lived through this.
And he hadn’t, but Richie had.
You could, Eddie thinks, with a low whine, giving Richie’s knuckles a reassuring lick. You could if you let yourself, Richie, if you stopped being so stupid about all this. I know you could. You told me I was braver than I thought I was, and you are too. You’re brave enough to be happy after all the shit we’ve been through. If you’d let yourself.
He can’t hear him obviously—that’s not how this works, Eddie knows that by now—but Richie cracks a smile as he looks down at him like he can, and that’s enough. Eddie wags his tail.
“I mean, you’re totally biased,” Richie scoffs. “What the fuck do you have to worry about? You don’t pay taxes. You live here rent-free. I cook for you! God, I wish I was a dog.”
Beep beep, asshole, Eddie thinks, mouthing at Richie’s finger with a warning growl. Richie laughs, and ruffles his fur.
Two weeks later, Richie goes out on a date. Eddie knows it’s a date because he changes his clothes four times, and he’s anxious enough about it to ask his dog how he looks—not that his dog has much of an opinion either way, as it’s pretty clear to his dog that they’re all different flavors of horrible—and, also because Richie explicitly tells him he has a date.
“He’s a lawyer,” Richie explains as he leans over the bathroom sink, rubbing shaving cream into his face. “I’m a murderer! Tale as old as time.”
Eddie hates lawyers, he thinks from where he sits on his dog bed, gnawing at a chew stick. He’s never taken a stance deliberately on them either way, but actually, now that he thinks about them, he can’t stand them. They argue too much, and they work too much. Myra’s brother had been a lawyer and he’d been an asshole.
But he’s not going to be negative about this, he reminds himself, reluctantly. This is a good thing. On The Richie Tozier Scale of Social Activity (TRTSoSA), this is peak. Richie’s gone to three non-Loser adjacent social functions that Eddie can think of, off the top of his head, and two of them had been business meetings with his manager. This will be good for him, no matter how it goes.
And Eddie hopes it goes well, obviously.
Richie’s in good spirits when he leaves, which is a good sign, but as soon as he’s gone, a loneliness settles over the house—because Richie’s sheer physical presence is another houseful of people in itself, how he bangs the cabinet doors shut, how he snores, how he sings in the shower, poorly.
Eddie doesn’t know what to do with himself, because there’s not much he can do. The frequency from the TV gives him a dog headache. Fetch is a two person game. Richie’s computer is locked down. He doesn’t own a single book.
As it turns out, being a dog without a human around is pretty boring.
Myra had a cat when they’d moved in with each other—sweet Harold, a ginger tabby, who slept during the day and woke at night when the two of them came home from work. Eddie and Myra had joked about it—what a life! How sad!—but Eddie feels a deep kinship with Harold now, from wherever he is in the cat afterlife, because the only thing he can think of to do is sleep.
So Eddie sleeps.
When Eddie wakes up, he’s himself again. He springs up out of his chair.
“Holy shit!” he exclaims, looking at his hands. His opposable thumbs. And his voice—he’d always hated his voice, how nasal it was, but he loves it now, because it means that he can talk, which means that he’s not a fucking Pomeranian anymore.
“Hi, Eddie,” a man across from him says, and finally Eddie’s surroundings begin to register.
He’s in a white-walled room. Green, dingy chairs line the perimeter—there are a few tables with well-thumbed-through magazines scattered across it, Seventeen and Highlights and Reader’s Digest. At the front of the room there’s a panel in the wall with a sliding glass window, and with that detail, Eddie realizes with a start he’s in a doctor’s waiting room.
He’s not alone. There’s a stranger across from him—about his age, glasses, curly hair, a magazine in his hands. Cross-legged, peering at him over Bird Psychology, like Eddie’s just interrupted his reading session.
Eddie hesitates. “How do you know my name?”
“It’s me,” the guy says and god, there’s something familiar about him. “St—”
“ Stan!” Eddie exclaims, before Stan’s even gotten half of it out, and surges forward until he has to stumble to a halt in front of him awkwardly. He wants to hug him—it’s Stan! Stanley Uris!—but Stan seems quite content where he is in his chair, so Eddie settles for an awkward little shoulder pat as he stares, drinking in the sight of him. “You look like I thought you would!” he decides, not quite able to keep the grin from his face.
“Thanks,” Stan says, for some reason. It hadn’t been a compliment necessarily, but it’s how Stan would respond, and that makes Eddie laugh.
“What are you doing here?” Eddie asks, before pausing, as something dawns on him, his grin fading. Oh. ”You...I’m dead, aren’t I,” he says, slowly. “I died in my sleep. This is the afterlife.”
Stan peers up and around him, like he’s just noticed where he’s sitting. “This is a doctor’s waiting room.”
“Okay, but like. Not really. This is some metaphorical shit, obviously, Stan, I’m not dumb,” Eddie says, and as he says it, a frantic, nervous unease begins to ramp up underneath his skin. He’d died in his sleep. He’d died in his sleep, and Richie will come home and find him there, and Richie can’t have that, not now, not when he’s finally on an upswing. “I can’t be dead, Stan. I can’t. I need—Richie, he—”
Stan holds up a hand and Eddie falls silent. “You’re not dead,” he says. “You’re sleeping.”
Eddie frowns. “So this is a dream?”
“I didn’t say that,” Stan says with a touch of smugness and god, of course he would love this shit, being a mysterious vessel of God, or whatever he’s supposed to be here. “I’m here to help you.”
“Uh, okay,” Eddie says, skeptically. “How are you going to do that.”
“Eddie.” Stan sets Bird Psychology down in his lap, and folds his hands on top of it. He takes off his glasses and sets them in his lap too, holding Eddie’s gaze as Eddie stares back, wide-eyed, until finally, he speaks. “Are you gay?”
Eddie blinks. “Am I what?”
Stan leans forward. “ARE YOU GAY,” he repeats, loudly, and Eddie claps his hands over his ears, stumbling back.
“Jesus! I mean, I heard you, I’m just—why the fuck are you asking me that, you can’t just, like, summon me to doctor’s office limbo and ask me if I’m gay. What the fuck, Stan,” Eddie hisses, ignoring the shrill alarm sirens in the back of his head, abort mission, we are under attack. “Why do you say that?”
Stan sighs, like Eddie’s being deliberately vexing. “Do you want a list?”
“You couldn’t get it up on your wedding night,” Stan says firmly, and Eddie goes red. “You told Myra it was because you were allergic to Egyptian cotton, which was a lie.”
“What! How did you—how the fuck do you—that’s private stuff, stay out of my head, asshole—”
“You blew your college roommate twice because you thought he looked like Rivers Cuomo. I don’t really see it. I think you were desperate and it was just the glasses, honestly.”
“Stan! Stanley. Hey. Stanley Uris. Shut the fuck up, I swear to god, I will kill you again—”
“You don’t want Richie to like his date because you’re jealous,” he says, and that shuts Eddie up for a good few seconds.
He stares. “What? I’m not jealous. I want him to be happy,” he says slowly, and Stan nods.
“That’s correct. The second part, I mean.”
Eddie scowls. “How could I be gay? I was married. To a woman. And Richie…”
“And Richie...” Stanley urges, watching him intently, like he’s a director giving Eddie a cue.
And Richie. Eddie remembers his unhappy marriage; he remembers how elated he’d been at Jade of the Orient, himself again, finally. And the past few months—living with Richie—
—it hasn’t matched those first few hours at the Jade of the Orient, not when he’s like this, not himself in an entirely different way, but Eddie realizes, with a start that it’s easy to say that he’s been happy here too, close to Richie like this, waking up with him, and going to sleep with him, and then doing it again the next day. And the next.
There’s a wistfulness that’s settled across Stan’s face as he watches him. Eddie’s hands have balled into fists; his heart is pounding in his chest.
“It doesn’t matter,” Eddie says, bitterly. “I’m—if I was, I couldn’t tell him. I can’t do anything about it, so.” Eddie pauses, in the interest of giving Stan the opportunity to interject if he has any other wisdom to impart. A spell he’s supposed to do, or something, something that will turn him back into himself. But Stan keeps quiet. “You can’t tell me what happens next?” he ventures hopefully. “How I can fix this?”
“I can’t,” Stan says, with genuine regret, and Eddie knows he’s telling truth. “But I can tell you that I think it’s good to be honest. Even if it’s just with yourself.”
That sounds like some fortune cookie bullshit, Eddie thinks, sourly, and that must be obvious from the expression on his face, because Stan’s mouth twitches with a smile.
But of a sudden, Eddie starts to feel lightheaded. Or just not quite here ; like he’s starting to become untethered, and he knows then that his time with Stan is up.
“Wait!” Eddie calls desperately, reaching down to catch Stan by the shoulders, like clinging to him will keep him here. “Stan. Before I go. Were you—did your life suck after Derry? Was it bad for you, too? Were you ever happy?”
For the first time, Stan’s the one who looks thrown. He hesitates, like he’s doing a calculation in his head, until finally, he reaches up to grip Eddie by the forearm, the warmth from his hand bleeding through Eddie's sleeve. “Can you do me a favor, Eddie?”
“Anything,” Eddie answers, just as fast.
“I want you to find my wife—her name is Patty—I want you to tell her about me. When I was a kid. Everything you can remember,” Stan says, firmly, and in his peripheral vision, Eddie can see that the waiting room is gone, apart from Stan’s chair. “The good stuff, the bad stuff, all of it. She never knew.”
“I will!” Eddie says desperately, his eyes stinging. “I will. But there was never any bad stuff, Stan. There was nothing bad about you. You were the best— ”
The front door slams, and Eddie wakes with a start. He’s on Richie’s bed, and it’s pitch black outside—one AM, Eddie notes from the clock. He’s disoriented, and it’s not just from sleep—and he knows that Stan had been right, that hadn’t been a dream, because it’s crystal clear in his memory like it just happened.
He can hear Richie’s keys jingle as he tosses them into the bowl, and then the creaking of the stairs as he mounts them, two by two. Just one set of footsteps, and Eddie is relieved to hear it in a way that makes him feel twice as guilty as it did before, because now he knows why.
Richie looks drunk and happy, and although he’s been the former plenty over the course of the past few months, the same can’t be said for the latter, which makes what he says next confusing.
“That was a bust,” Richie declares, as he shrugs his jacket off. “I mean, not really, he was, like—I liked him! He liked me! He wants to see me again.”
The jacket goes onto the floor, where Eddie’s learned that it lives, and Richie collapses onto the bed next to Eddie—shoes on, gross. He rubs at Eddie’s ears absently, which feels pretty good actually, and Eddie leans into his touch.
“But I don’t know. It’s dumb, but I realized I’ve been thinking that...when I have my shit together, when I’m dating someone who, like, knows how the stock market works, then that’s when I can be like...surprise, everyone, I’m gay!” Richie exclaims. “And I’m doing it the right way!”
He’s really drunk, actually. Eddie can smell it on him, better than he ever could as a human, and he can smell—gin, tequila, mostly beer. Cigarettes, too, which is disgusting, and Eddie knows that it’ll linger in his fur after he’s done petting him, but it’s not enough to get him to move.
“And that’s what I’ve been waiting for. But that’s kind of fucked up, to do that to him,” Richie continues, gesturing in the air with his free hand. “To make him, like, some shitty comedian’s coming out prop. He wouldn’t want that. And I wouldn’t want that. That’s not what I want.”
Richie quiets then, and the seconds tick by. His hand has gone still. Eddie wonders what he’s thinking until he speaks again.
“But I can’t have what I want, obviously, so maybe someday I’ll be okay with the next best thing?” Richie says, finally. “I don’t know. Not tonight, though. I guess.”
There’s another silence for so long that Eddie wonders if he’s fallen asleep, but when he looks up, Eddie sees that Richie’s eyes are open, fixed on the ceiling. There’s a peculiar blankness there in his face, but it’s almost familiar—and with a start, Eddie realizes why it looks familiar. Why it looks wrong.
He thinks of Richie hanging in the air.
Hey! Asshole, Eddie barks, and when Richie props himself up to look at him, his eyes are a little glassy, although that clears up when he blinks.
I know you have no way of knowing this, you aren’t going to understand this, but—it’s me, Eddie. You’re good, Richie. You’re too good to spend the rest of your life like this, stuck like this. Listen, I’ve been happier these past few months with you than I ever was as an adult, when I was married, until I saw you again in Derry and I remembered you, and...and I saw Stan just now, he’s just like you would think he would be, and something he said...it made me wonder, if maybe all of this is because—
—and Richie’s laughing, which wouldn’t have been Eddie’s ideal response, but since ‘Thank god I learned how to speak dog at the bar!’ is well beyond the realm of possibility, Eddie doesn’t mind it as much as he ought to. It means that Richie is happy at least, and that’s better for him than whatever frame of mind he’d been in before.
He’s slightly less gracious when Richie tips his phone screen to show him the video that he’d taken of Eddie’s impassioned speech, which—from Richie’s perspective—had been a little white Pomeranian barking his head off. Eddie looks absurd.
“You’re ridiculous,” Richie laughs, and Eddie hops off the bed, because he does have an ounce of dignity. “Like, what the fuck was that all about. I’m going to put some sad music over it and put it on Instagram. What should I call it?”
Go fuck yourself, Eddie thinks sullenly, but maybe a little fondly too.
“Heartbreaking...dog...monologue,” Richie reads out slowly as he types. “There we go.”
Bill visits next week. He and Richie live close, actually—and what are the odds of that—but he’d been away with Mike on their road trip for the past few weeks. Mike’s wrapping some things up in Derry before he comes out to join Bill in LA, which is a thought that leaves Eddie cold, Mike out there in Derry, all alone. Even if he’d be the best of them all at handling that, although he shouldn’t have had to become that way.
“How are you doing, Rich?” is the first thing that Bill asks, with that particular inflection. As soon as Eddie hears it, he knows it’s a mistake, and sure enough Richie’s face goes dark.
“Great,” Richie says shortly, with a smile that doesn’t quite his eyes.
Bill isn’t a dog person, something leaves Eddie in agony, because Eddie loves Bill. He gives Eddie a polite caress before abandoning him to sit in the chair across from Richie, even as Eddie trails after him, tail wagging hopefully.
It’s me, Eddie, Eddie thinks hopefully, like that will make him change his mind, but he isn’t going to push it, especially because Bill is wearing black jeans and Richie almost certainly doesn’t own a lint roller.
Bill studies Richie with an air of skepticism. “Are you sure?”
“Uh, last I checked, yep,” Richie says, voice tight and clipped—but they’re not quite past the point of no return yet, it seems, because Eddie can practically see Richie tell himself to settle. It’s almost like he resets before continuing on, even if the lightness in his tone comes off a little forced. “How was Disney? Heard you were too much of a pussy to go on Small World. The teacups just don’t go that fast, Bill.”
“It was fine,” Bill says. He doesn’t laugh at the joke, or address it at all, really, and a silence settles between them as Bill peers down at his hands, like he’s working himself up to something, until—eventually—he does. “Listen, Rich,” he ventures.
Don’t, Eddie thinks, desperately.
“I came by because we’re worried about you.” Once Bill gets it out, his confidence mounts; he sets his shoulders, looks up to meet Richie’s gaze, clear-eyed and determined. “It’s not a joke, Richie. I know it’s been hard for you—”
“Well, you don’t know shit, Bill,” Richie says, with a mean, ugly sort of false cheeriness, and Eddie knows they’re well past the point of no return now.
It’s not enough to throw Bill off—instead, it appears to spur him on, if anything. He takes in a deep breath. “Georgie...” Bill begins.
“Georgie,” Richie echoes, in a snide impression of how Bill had said it, and Eddie’s heart sinks. “Georgie, Georgie, Georgie, shut the fuck up about Georgie. Georgie was thirty years ago, man, Eddie died nine months ago.”
It’s a shock to hear his name again, this time a slap in the face—not even in jest, like he’d said it earlier, but raw, dripping with hurt.
Bill doesn’t look shaken. He looks like he’d expected this, actually, and he keeps his eyes on Richie as he speaks. “Let’s not do this, Rich. I’m only—”
“I saw Eddie die, right there, and...and you did it,” he snaps, accustory, and Bill is stiff in his chair, now grim and silent. “ All of us did it. I mean, in Neibolt, you told him he could have let me die, he could have killed me—” His voice drops into a mockery of Bill’s. “Why don’t you be braver, Eddie, why don’t you take some fucking risks, for Christ’s sake? Because this feels like the perfect time to give that a try! While we’re trapped in the fucking underground clown lair!”
Richie rises up out of his chair as he continues, shoulders tight with tension as he gestures. “Oh, and Bev.” He pauses to laugh joylessly before continuing on, the words spilling out as quickly as he can say them. “That this kills monsters bullshit, Eddie, your fucking...imagination will keep you safe! Guess what, Bill? That’s grade school garbage. Fairy tale bullshit. He bought into it because he was an idiot, and he was so fucking thrilled that to do it. I mean, you should’ve seen his face before he got fucking impaled.”
Eddie barks at Richie before he can think about it, sharp and high with fear, but it’s like he’s not in the room at all; all of Richie’s attention is locked onto Bill, and Bill’s onto Richie.
“And I told him he was braver than he thought he was.” Richie’s voice breaks, and he has to pause to draw a breath, shaky like a sob. It makes Bill stand, bringing up his hands like he means to reassure him, until he halts, unsure. “And all of you made me leave him down there. And he was alone. And no one fucking knows what happened to him except us. It’s like he never existed, except we all know he’s rotting down there with the rest of them. I mean—”
Something twists in Richie’s face, and suddenly, there’s an expression that Eddie’s never seen before—not meanness, he’s seen that, but cruelty, even as his eyes are wet with tears. “Too bad he didn’t just kill himself like Stan did when Mike called him. At least he’d get a fucking funeral—”
Bill hits Richie in the face. It’s not hard, but the sound makes Eddie jump and Richie reel back, clutching at his jaw, eyes wide behind his glasses. For a second Eddie fears that this’ll go the same way as it did when they were kids, that Eddie will have to jump in to break them up somehow, drag Richie back by the leg of his pants, or something, but they’re both frozen, stone-still, equally shocked, as it appears, Bill ghost pale as he clutches at the hand he’d used.
It lasts for minutes, or maybe hours, an eternity, but the silence ends when Richie laughs, hoarsely.
“Jesus Christ, Bill,” Richie manages, testing at his jaw gingerly. He takes off his glasses, wipes the tears from his eyes with the heel of his palm. “This is some David and Goliath shit. You’re the size of an ant, I could kill you.”
Bill flushes, still frozen with his hand curled into a fist. “I’m sorry. Richie, I shouldn’t’ve...I don’t know why I…”
“I’m being an asshole,” Richie explains, and sits down on the couch heavily, before burying his face in his hands. He keeps them there when he speaks, voice muffled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any of that shit, I just—I don’t know if I can do this, man. Any of this. For much longer. I wish it had been me.”
Something softens in Bill’s face, finally, for the first time that evening. This time he sits down next to Richie on the couch, not quite touching him, but close.
“I wasn’t going to talk about Georgie,” Bill explains, firmly. “I was going to talk about m-me. Richie, I think—”
Bill takes in a deep breath, and Eddie sees the boy he’d been, the hero, even through the thick of all the grief and sadness that had suffocated him in Derry, long before it had Richie in its monstrous throes.
“You can’t leave this be,” he says. “It’ll rot you from the inside like—like an infection. You don’t want to think about it because you know it’ll make you hurt more. And it will, Rich, god. It’ll be the worst hurt you’ve ever had, every day, when you wake up, when you go to sleep. And then it’ll be a little less of a hurt. And less, and less, and—it never goes away completely, but. Some of it will. Until you’re better than you are now.”
Richie drops his hands, sniffling. He takes off his glasses and sets them aside; they’re fogged up from crying, and he wipes them on his shirt, with shaky hands. Bill settles his hand on Richie’s knee and continues on, quietly.
“When I think about Georgie now I think about waiting at the top of the stairs with him on Christmas morning, before our parents woke up, and I think about how much he liked to watch me play baseball, and—I think about when he learned how to ride his bike for the first time. And I think about how he died, yeah, but it’s not the only thing. He was more than the way that he died. It took him a day to die, but for six years, he was alive.”
Bill hesitates, searching Richie’s face, before continuing on.
“And I think...the other thing is that. I think you’re not like this about Stan. And you loved Stan, we all did. But Eddie was different, for you, and I think—I think you know why, Rich.” Richie keeps his eyes on his glasses, clutched in his hands. “And I’m not sure you can heal anything unless you’re honest with yourself about it. You can’t go to the doctor with a broken arm and tell him you have a stomachache.”
“Poetic,” mumbles Richie, after a pause, and Bill laughs.
“Kind of heavy handed.” He squints. “A little purple.”
Richie takes in a breath. “I don’t think I’m okay,” he confesses quietly.
Bill smiles faintly, and gives Richie’s knee a reassuring rub. “Maybe not. But I think you will be.”
Richie looks up at Bill, finally, and there’s some uncertainty there, Eddie can tell that Richie hasn’t believed him with his whole heart, but there’s some hope in his face there, and maybe that’s a start. He wipes his nose with his sleeve and sets his glasses back on his face. “Can we tell everyone I won this time? It was close, more or less.”
Bill frowns. “What?”
“The fight. You won last time, it was embarrassing.”
“I mean...I don’t know. This time I hit you once and you started crying.”
“That was unrelated crying and you know it was,” Richie says, and he sounds like himself again finally, and maybe that’s why he smiles next, glancing over at Bill. “Thanks, Bill. It’s good to see you.”
Bill pats Richie on the back. A manly, reassuring pat, a solid thump that Eddie can hear. “You’re gonna be okay, Rich.”
Richie’s quiet the rest of the night, and Eddie is too. Richie’s place feels bigger than it normally does, but maybe it’s just because they keep to separate parts of it; it feels like Richie wants to be alone, and Eddie needs it, too, because he’s got a lot to make sense of in his head.
The distance doesn’t help much. It’s time to go to bed eventually, and Eddie’s no less bewildered than he’d been a few hours ago. By the time he skulks into the bedroom, Richie is already dressed for bed.
“What a fucking mess,” Richie sighs, setting his glasses down on the bedside table. It’s pouring rain outside, heavy, each drop like distant thunder, although there’s that too, rumbling in the distance. “I saw you try to go after Bill. When he hit me, I mean. I think you have guard dog potential, as long as only, like, babies and small children try to break into my house. No offense.”
Eddie gives Richie a look, unimpressed, but he hops up on the bed anyway—he’s exhausted, and they hadn’t even gone on a walk that day with the weather. Maybe tomorrow, Eddie thinks, they’ll go to the park—
“I never told you about Eddie, did I?” Richie ventures softly, and Eddie’s thoughts scatter as he goes still.
“He was one of my best friends when we were kids,” he continues, haltingly at first, in bits and pieces. “And we sort of, uh. Fell out of touch, I guess you’d say? It’s a little bit of a bizarre story, there was this clown who gave us all brain damage, you know how it goes—but I saw him again, recently, right before he died.”
Richie ducks his head to peer at his hands, looking for a scar that isn’t there, Eddie knows.
“And, I mean. When we got back to Derry that first time I looked at Bill, and I remembered our shitty science fair project, the one that was, like— do fish dream? Like two eleven-year-old idiots could realistically prove that either way. And I looked at Bev, and I thought about when we got stuck in detention and she decided that we were going to break out of it by jumping out the window when the teacher wasn’t looking and it was, like, the second floor, so I sprained my ankle, and we lied about it. And I thought about when Ben made us all go to Steel Magnolias and he cried at the end, and we all pretended that we thought he cried because he thought it was really funny. And I remembered when Mike knew exactly what to do when Stan’s cat had kittens under his patio, and the dumb names he gave all of them.”
There’s another murmur of thunder. Richie glances out the window, and draws in a deep breath—a little shaky—before continuing on.
“And I looked at Eddie. And I thought...I didn’t think about any of the stupid shit that we did together, I just thought...oh!” Richie cracks a smile, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I love him. I’m in love with this guy. All my life, I’ve been in love with this guy, and I forgot about it. And it’s stupid—I couldn’t have had him, he was married, or whatever, if he’d lived I would’ve been doing this, like shitty pining anyway, just, but he died before I could tell him, because it never felt like the right time.”
Richie’s smile fades, but not entirely. He’s misty-eyed.
“And now there’s never going to be a right time,” he says softly. “Because we ran out of it.”
Eddie looks at Richie sitting on the bed, shoulders rounded, hands twisting in his lap, mouth thinning as he tries not to cry. He remembers what Bill said: it’ll be the worst hurt you ever had, and Eddie aches.
He climbs up into Richie’s lap. Richie’s hands go slack, and he lets him tuck himself in close, as close as he can, steadying himself on his front paws so he can nose at Richie’s face with a low whine, giving his cheek a reassuring lick. Richie bends his head to rub his nose into his soft, white fur, hands coming up to loosely embrace him as he buries his face into him.
And Eddie thinks, with every ounce of his heart and his spirit: I love you. I’ve always loved you, and I’ll love you always, and then I’ll love you after what comes next, whatever it is. I wish you could know. I wish I could tell you.
Richie pulls back a little to give his forehead a kiss, face cupped in his hands, and things happen very quickly after this.
There’s a rumble of thunder followed by a spectacular crack of lightning, a bright, blinding flash that floods the room with light. Richie swears, springing up in fright, sending Eddie abruptly tumbling to the ground.
“What the fuck,” Eddie gasps, scrambling back on the floor; he’d landed hard. “Jesus Christ. Was that lightning, or a fucking flash grenade—”
Richie stands in front of the bed, looming over him like he usually does, but something’s changed now. He’s white as a sheet as he stares down at him, eyes wide as saucers, and he opens his mouth, reaching out a trembling hand—and then snaps his mouth shut, snatching that hand back hastily like he’d been burned.
Eddie looks down, and holds up his hands. His hands. His chest, his arms, his fingers—
“Oh!” Eddie squeaks, lurching to his feet, or trying to—he’s spent nine months on all fours, and his balance is off completely, so it takes a second. “I’m...it’s me! I’m back! Holy shit, I…”
Is he dead, he wonders, delirious with happiness. This has to be the afterlife. Ending one—the one he’d been least sure of, the fairy tale ending, the happiest one. But it can’t be the afterlife, he thinks as he casts a frantic look around him. Richie’s room looks exactly the same as the room he’s spent nine months’ worth of nights in, and this doesn’t feel anything like Stan’s doctors office did. It feels real.
It takes him a second to realize that Richie is talking.
“No,” Richie mutters, shaking his head, stumbling back, and then back further, until he’s caught in the corner. His eyes are locked on Eddie—misery has replaced the shock in his face. “No, no, no, I can’t do this, I can’t, just—fucking eat me now, I’m done, I don’t care.”
Eddie—now more or less balanced and upright, albeit a little wobbly in the knees—stares at him, perplexed, until realization dawns on him, quick and sudden.
“What the fuck!” he hisses. “Why would I be Pennywise, why the fuck would Pennywise want to be your dog for nine months, idiot, that’s like, the shittiest fucking long con I’ve ever heard of. What, you were playing normal fetch with Pennywise? You were taking Pennywise to the park? You put that stupid dog shirt on Pennywise and he bit you three times—”
“It’s you,” Richie breathes, a flicker of hope in his face, the first time Eddie’s really seen it since Derry. He edges in closer. “Eddie, it’s you, how did you—what did you—why were you—”
“I don’t know!” Eddie says, reaching up to clutch at his chest. It’s seamless, solid, unbroken, not even scarred. “I died, definitely, I remember that, I remember what happened, uh...after, Neibolt—it collapsed, and…”
Richie is suddenly stricken. “We left you,” he croaks. “While you were still…”
“No!” Eddie interjects hastily. “No, Rich, I was gone then, I remember it because I was, uh...outside my body, sort of? It’s hard to explain.” It’s hard to think about, even. It feels like a distant memory, or something far more distant than that—a story he’d read in a book, maybe. A lifetime ago, at least. “I thought about the dog,” he adds, haltingly. “In the closet. The one we saw. So maybe...I don’t know. There’s no logic to it.”
“You were my dog?” Richie asks, edging in closer, finally, like he’d just remembered that he can move. “For nine months? Why didn’t you say anything?”
Eddie narrows his eyes, because really, that’s the greatest insult of all. “Fuck you, dude. I tried to! Like, three hundred times, you didn’t listen—I’ve never met someone who’s more oblivious in my life. I couldn’t write you a message, you don’t even own a single pen! Or a pencil! Like, oh, look at me, Mr. Hollywood, I’m totally digital—”
“Eddie!” Richie laughs. “Eds. Come here.”
Richie doesn’t give him the time to do it himself, because he’s already tugging Eddie into an embrace as soon as he says it, one hand coming up to cup the back of his head, fingers threading through his hair. It feels like forever since anyone’s touched him like this—an age ago, a body ago, in another life, and it feels important, now, that Richie’s the first one to do it. Eddie squeezes his eyes shut, and buries his face in the crook of Richie’s neck. He’s not going to cry.
“I’m naked,” he mumbles, his voice muffled, and he feels it this time when Richie laughs again.
“I don’t care.”
But there’s something else. Be honest, Stan urges him, and he takes in a deep breath—centers himself—and speaks again, pulling back a little so that he can peer up at him. “I love you.”
Richie freezes. He blinks down at him, and stares, abruptly pale again, like he’d been back when Eddie had turned. “What?” he ventures, after a hesitation, like he’s convinced he’d misheard.
And Eddie thinks of himself, finally, the little boy that he’d been—the one who’d carefully painted out a V over the S on the word scribbled cruelly across his cast, defiant. LOVER, right there, for everyone to see. He takes in a deep breath.
“I think I’m back because I love you, Richie. I think that’s it,” he says, with great determination. “Fairy tale bullshit.”
“What?” Richie says again, hoarsely, and he’s crying, so Eddie just kisses him, because it’s easier to explain it that way.
They wind up on the balcony after that. Richie’s given Eddie a horrible t-shirt of his to wear, and a pair of shorts with a drawstring that Eddie has to pull tight. They’ll go straight into the dryer after this—things are going to change around the house now that Eddie can operate a washer/dryer again—because it’s still dreadful out, pouring rain, leaving the two of them soaked as they lean against the side of the balcony, peering out over the empty streets, flooded with the light from the streetlamps, dim through the haze of the rain as it comes down.
The thunder and lightning’s settled down. As a dog, Eddie had never been allowed out on the balcony. Richie had been convinced that he’d try to fling himself off of it, not being able to know any better, and it’s a shame, because Eddie loves it, particularly now—especially with the rain, because it reminds him that he’s alive and himself again as he tips his face up to it to catch the drops, stinging his face with the cold. He grins, and he can taste them.
“Patty, huh,” Richie says, thoughtfully. “Patty Uris? Did she take Stan’s last name?”
Eddie glances over at Richie. He hasn’t taken his eyes off of Eddie once, apart from when Eddie had told him to turn around while he’d changed (“You realize I just saw your actual dick, Eddie—” “I don’t care—”). “No clue,” he says.
“Mike probably has her number,” Richie says. “I bet. God, he’s going to love this shit.” They fall into a silence, and Eddie knows that they’re probably thinking about the same thing. “Should we call the others, then?” Richie ventures, finally. Almost reluctantly.
And Eddie, he’s surprised to realize, feels the same thing. He misses them all, profoundly and deeply—he needs to see them again in a way that he can feel in his bones, in a way that makes his palm ache with phantom pain, but he wants to cling to this moment here for a little bit before everything changes.
“Tomorrow,” he decides, and Richie smiles.
“Hey,” he says, after a pause. “Lean in for a second.”
“What?” Eddie asks, obliging him anyway, and Richie’s hands come up to fumble with something at his neck. He hadn’t even noticed it—he’s become so used to it, over the course of the past months, but when Richie’s hands come away, Eddie can see the pink collar he’d put on him so long ago. The week after he’d found him.
“You don’t need this anymore, I guess,” Richie says, studying it in his hands, the pendant that hangs from it—no name, just Richie’s phone number. He closes his fist over it. “You were a good dog, you know,” he says, suddenly, peering back up to Eddie. He looks faintly ridiculous; the rain has plastered his hair to his head, and Eddie’s sure he looks about the same. “Even if we didn’t get the, uh. Happy ending here. You were good for me.”
“Thanks,” Eddie says, and he’s touched, in a way that surprises him. He slides his hand along the wet railing until his hand comes to rest on Richie’s as he keeps the collar held close in it, and it’s freezing cold. Bad circulation, he thinks. Or maybe just the rain. Richie squints at him.
“So you think if I kiss you now, you’ll turn back into a dog?”
“I don’t know,” Eddie says thoughtfully. “Maybe you ought to try. And we’ll find out.”
Richie’s grin widens. He reaches up with his empty hand to cup Eddie’s jaw, dragging the pad of his thumb across his cheekbone—and leans in and kisses him.
It’s not like their first kiss—that had been a kiss to prove something, to tell a truth. This one is Richie kissing him because he wants to kiss him, and Eddie kissing him back because he wants to be kissed—slow and clumsy, open-mouthed, eager. Eddie shivers from the rain, and Richie crowds in closer, pressing him flush to the railing as he kisses him, as close as he can, like he can’t bear to leave any little bit of distance between them.
Eddie arches against him too, and Richie dips a hand underneath the back of Eddie’s shirt, rucking it up a little as he presses his palm to the bare skin of Eddie’s back. Still cold—it probably is poor circulation—but Eddie can feel his palm warm as it soaks up his heat.
“Nope,” Richie says breathlessly, once he pulls back, just barely enough to speak. “Still you. How about that.”
Still him. Finally him, after a long absence, a long regression. Eddie lives—not just after nine months, but after twenty years, alive again like Richie is, here in the rain.
“Still me, and still you,” Eddie mumbles. And when Richie looks a little perplexed, missing, for once, the joke, Eddie laughs. “How about that,” he declares, before he kisses him again.
And as it becomes flagrantly apparent throughout the course of the evening, any number of kisses, out there in the rain or otherwise, aren’t enough to change a single thing.