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1

Before stepping out of the men’s bathroom at ‘Chop Suey, Chinese Kitchen,' Richie Tozier steeled himself.

Returning was hard. The hardest. Because when Richie forgot the Losers, he forgot himself along with ‘em. At least, he would have liked to think so, to account for the choices he made, the life he ended up in. Richie was embarrassed for himself, of himself; not regarding his career or success, just him. His devolution of character. His shame. 

It was scary having remembered the Losers Club at all, given remembering meant to learn he'd forgotten, to learn he didn't know all there was to know about himself . It didn't sit good. One thread had come loose, and he knew that if and when he tugged it, everything (he wasn't sure how much 'everything' even encompassed) would unravel. Flying to Derry felt like a bad dream he'd usually wake in a cold sweat from: a bad dream which felt so real despite nothing making sense. He didn't think he was ready, didn't think he ever would be. Who looks forward to a nightmare? Who can prepare for what they don’t know to expect?

But the show must go on. No one ever said that to him explicitly, the show must go on , but it was a rule of theater and thumb Richie had taken to heart. It was that sentiment which got him through anything, which ultimately propelled him out of the bathroom, into the past and future, into the room Michael Hanlon so kindly had on reserve.

-

Entering the room, Richie could feel the attention, could feel the safe audience-performer dynamic take shape. He would do stuff before people could even think ‘What’s Richie gonna do?’, and that always energized him, had given him character when he wasn’t feeling any. It was how he lived, what he lived for. He was a one-man improv gig.

-

It was in the room reserved by Mike Hanlon that Eddie Kaspbrak remembered It, was knocked on his ass into an asthma attack, and then recovered -- in Richie’s opinion -- relatively quickly. He had caught his breath, only remained a little shaken. Eddie was durable, Richie believed. 

“Gonna take a moment to myself, if you’ll excuse me,” Eddie said, dazed but assuredly. He slinked politely out the door. 

There was a beat of quiet for the first second Eddie was out of the room; then Bev inhaled sharp through her nose, straightened her back, and took a step forward as though by reflex. “I’m going to--”

“The Gentlemen’s Room?” Richie finished for her, both joking and critical. Bev paused and looked at him, puzzled, before he nodded his head in the direction Eddie had gone. Toward the restrooms. “C’m on , Bev, he’s an adult now. Thirty-something years of those things under his belt -- he doesn’t need a babysitter.” Bev's eyebrows furrowed in disapproval and she began to protest, so Richie lifted his hands in defense. “I’m just sayin’ that I think the guy can take care of himself.” But he made his argument nonchalant, diffused it, with a shrug.

“It’s not about him taking care of himself,” she argued back, voice carrying a righteousness that was striking to Richie in its nostalgia. They all seemed to have carried that sort of righteousness in their voice at least once. She looked in the direction of the bathroom again before her tense body language relented. She looked back to Richie. “If I can’t go in there, then you go, Richie,” she commanded in her sensitive, reasonable way. None of the others offered himself but none objected either. So it wasn’t up to Richie. Fine. That was fine. 

"Alright, alright,” he conceded, putting upon a little more reluctance than he was feeling. No point dragging the thing out. 

-

Walking to the bathroom, Richie thought back to how Eddie had been a few minutes earlier, possessed by memory, rapt by and frightened of and responding to something no one else could see. Richie must have looked something like that earlier, in the library-- The bathroom door was in front of Richie before he could ride that train of thought any further. 

Pushing it open, Richie experienced a deja vu that was almost hysterically relieving in its normalcy. It was different from the supernatural doubling of realities he was clocked with when he looked at any of the Losers, when he could see everyone as they were then as adults and as they had been as children. The deja vu Richie was experiencing was simply the reminder of just a little earlier, when it had been him falling apart in the restaurant bathroom. What would he have done if someone ‘checked up on him,’ he wondered.

-

Richie turned the corner into the restroom, and there Eddie was. His back was against the wall parallel to the sinks, chin tucked in, arms crossed. He appeared to have just opened his eyes and lifted his head at the sound of the door. At first his eyes had been startled, but upon recognition, something about him seemed to relax, to lighten. No one else was there.

Eddie cleared his throat. "I really am fine," he said with his almost-whiny drawl. He slid his glasses on. "I've been practicing meditation," he said like an explanation, smiling unconvincingly. 

“Don’t go flattering yourself there, Eds,” Richie clapped Eddie’s shoulder as he walked past Eddie, past the spot at the sink where he’d splashed himself with water earlier, to the line of urinals. “Forgot to take a leak before the flight, now I’ve got’a racehorse situation on my hands.” Lying came so easily. How shameful Richie Tozier was. “You understand.” He unzipped and continued speaking before Eddie could respond (before Eddie could walk out). “Meditation, huh. That work for you?”

Eddie couldn’t have been particularly enthused by Richie’s mode of communication -- the dialog was accented by the echo of Richie’s piss against ceramic -- but only sighed. In Richie’s periphery, Eddie loosened more. “I believe it helps, yeah.” Then Eddie paused, straightening himself with an inhale, and Richie’s back muscles stiffened in premonition. “Uh,” Eddie started, tentative but curious, and already Richie knew he wouldn’t like whatever followed. “How much do you remember, Rich?” Oh, hell. 

The notion of ‘remembering’ sent a certain fury through Richie, sustained and underscored by the basic unease of not-knowing. He thought of the clown, of the library, and his stomach twisted. “Couldn't tell ya, Spaghetti Man,” Richie said at the wall, but it came out defensive and sour. He shook off, zipped up, and headed to the sinks. Clearing his throat, he privately cursed Bev, knowing full well his resentment wasn’t justifiable. 

Eddie was watching Richie. He eased, glanced at Eddie, then sighed, remembering MISSION: COMFORT EDDIE. “How much do I remember...” Richie dragged the words out, lathering soap on his hands. He ran them under the water for a while, didn't meet himself in the mirror (he'd had enough of that guy).

"If you don't want--" Eddie began, but Richie spoke.

"I just don't know, Eds. I dunno what I remember, that's all." He said, milder, and shut off the faucet with a metal squeak. Again in Richie’s periphery, he caught the smudge of his own jaw shifting, setting. He willed himself to loosen up.

Eddie nodded, slow and understanding. Turning toward Richie at the sink, Eddie pursed his lips, looking as though he were about to say something. He paused, then seemed to go with something else. “It’s crazy, right?” he asked, tone artificially light, but not as broken-sounding as it had been just a little bit before. "This is all… it's just insane." But there was a desperation latched onto the words, a quality Richie didn't like. 

"All we gotta do is hear Mike out," Richie reasoned to Eddie as much as to himself. "So we drink some drinks, eat a very nice dinner covered by Mr. Hanlon, crack open some fortune cookies, and maybe -- if we’re lucky! -- get some after-dinner mints too.” He offered the idea like a salesman. “‘n after that, we can be gaily on our separate ways." As he spoke, Richie flicked water off his fingers into the sink, then wiped them on his pants. 

Richie turned, leaned an elbow onto the sink countertop, shifted his weight to his elbow, and faced Eddie Kaspbrak head-on -- alone -- for the first time in thirty years. "No sweat, Eds.” Richie meant to finish there, but he babbled on, brain and mouth having de-synchronized upon sight of the man before him. "I mean, we can’t be accountable for whatever shitfest we got ourselves into as kids.” Richie found his casual slouch on the sink was a good move, because the new eye contact between him and Eddie made Richie feel acutely seen , for a man whose living was made off of audiences. 

The look shared between them felt like its own nonverbal conversation, but one Richie couldn't make heads or tails of. Girly-boy , the thought intruded easily, a knife through butter. It wasn't an accusation, more an excavated memory. That’s what they -- Bowers and them -- would call Eddie, Richie remembered. Girly-boy.

“You’re right...” Eddie said, gaze cast downward and eyebrows scrunched. “You’re right,” he reaffirmed and sighed, head bobbing in agreement. He met Richie’s eyes again, and the smile he gave Richie then was near startling in its sweetness. Eddie was so… funny (sweet-looking), and dorky (handsome), in his jacket and tie. Eddie smiled in such a lovable, lov ing way-- and that was right, Richie's brain supplied quickly and truthfully, everybody there loved each other. 

Man ,” Eddie called Richie happily. Eddie tilted his head and reared back a bit. “Com’ere.” Eddie’s eyes were bright and somehow higher definition behind the clean glass of his lenses. He made a gesture with his arms, an invitation to a hug. He moved closer and Richie stood up from where he'd been leaning but didn’t move forward. He let Eddie initiate, let him pull Richie close; and Richie returned the hug easily enough. 

But Eddie held Richie there, another statement in the nonverbal conversation Richie wasn’t making sense of. And in the several seconds that went beyond the duration of a normal hug, Richie caved, let himself relax into it a little. He held Eddie close, and then closer still, when the smell of dry cleaning and soap crashed into Richie in a wave of sharp, nauseous familiarity. There was something new, too, a scent Richie associated with hair salons. Mousse , he answered for himself, and let his chin rest at the base of Eddie's neck. It had been a while since they'd last… remembered each other, Richie supposed.

“Thanks for checking up on me, Richie,” Eddie said, breaking the quiet with a voice that was soft and sure. The remark, despite its innocuousness, made Richie feel caught. He huffed a self-conscious laugh through his nose in response, then squeezed Eddie tight, once, before patting his back and disentangling them. 

Pulled apart, Eddie smiled again at Richie, but this one was a little different. Like a secret. 

" All- right Spaghetti, let's get this show on the road," Richie said, and steered Eddie, hand on his far shoulder, back to what Richie viewed as solid ground.

-

(It had been annoying, to find out that the most important time of Richie's life had been snubbed from him. It was unfair, even stupid. The back of his mind asked without words whether he had really been living those thirty years, whether he’d been played a fool once again by Shithead the Clown. But if the question didn’t have words, Richie had no obligation to answer with words either.)

-

In Richie’s time back in Derry, the tension never fully left, knotted stiff between his shoulder blades, complemented by a headache at the base of his neck he was attempting to drink off. He wanted to drink off a lot of things. 

But Eddie -- he was something else. Richie last remembered him as the puny asthmatic he'd been at eleven. But now, well. Jeez. He’d grown up just like the rest of them.

To forget and then to remember Eddie Kaspbrak, for all its trouble, at the very least allowed Richie the bright joy of having Eddie back. It was amazingly relieving, made Richie’s laughs simmer at the ends with something unbound, made his chest against all odds feel light. Eddie had his same tics and expressions, his cleanliness and neuroticism, his narrow shoulders and bony fingers and maintained nails; but he also had new things. The first Richie noticed were the stupid glasses Eddie could probably survive without. The second was his… bone structure. His eyes. His smile.

Was it wrong, Richie wondered, to kind of see what people had been talking about? There was nothing bad about being a "girly-boy." All it described was a boy who was girly, and Eddie did have a nonmasculine way about him. And sometimes he called to mind words Richie usually only ever associated with women; words Richie tended to be fond of, words like cute , or pretty , among some others which cropped up at the peak of Richie's inebriety. 

Over the evening, were Richie none the wiser (and maybe even if he weren't), he might have thought Eddie was flirting with him. And when the buzz of the alcohol was fuzzy and weighty enough around Richie's temples, sometimes he might have thought he was… not flirting back, exactly, but doing something sure as hell like it. Giving in for the thrill of it, the joy of it. Richie had been giving in all night, that’s how he got to Derry, that’s how he stayed. But giving into Eddie was different, it made up for all the other consolations Richie had obliged over the evening. It was great. It was fun. It was

Eddie. God. And Richie didn’t look terrible. With the contacts and the plasty and the stache, he couldn't look terrible. But Eddie looked good . And it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting to look like him so much as it was a matter of wanting, full-stop. ‘Cause damn it if Eddie Kaspbrak couldn't turn any man gay, the way he looked (and laughed and frowned and talked and felt, secure and pliant under one arm; the way his voice lilted on a side of nasally that suited him, and Richie knew voices; the way he was always against Richie, always touching, always right there). They kept circling each other like no time had passed -- no, they knew time had passed, and they were making up for it -- and it was driving Richie nuts.

In fact, Richie almost asked the others, would have phrased it like a joke, maybe would have done a bit about calling his optician. ‘We're all seeing the same Spaghetti Man, right? My eyes are fine, my script is ok? I mean, sorry sweetheart,’ he would say this to Bev or Ben, ‘and I do mean it, I’m sorry, but you don't hold a candle to Mister Kaspbrak.’ Except he couldn't think of a joke that would actually make sense to say. What was the punchline? Eddie was hot? A real zinger.

Maybe it should have been fine for Richie to say, classic Tozier chucks, comfortably at a distance as ever. But in a strange, nostalgic way it felt like he'd be divulging something. So he kissed Bev and didn't comment on Eddie's appearance. Richie had always been more scared than any of them.

2

Ben's story around the fireplace in the Derry townhouse was long-winded, his almost campy sexual tension with Bev was a little hard to watch, and Richie was drunk. So Ben dragged on, massaging Bev’s shoulders like there was something to be proven, and Richie’s thoughts careened dreamily elsewhere as he lay prone on the floor.

~

Of course Richie had found Eddie cute back when they were kids: he was the small to Richie's tall. But whenever and however it was that Eddie hit puberty, Richie cursed that he missed it. What may have happened if they'd gone through high school together, let alone young adulthood-- Richie wouldn’t allow himself to fathom it, though he didn’t quite know why that was. The fantasy of it (of Eddie), untapped but tempting, made Richie feel odd with himself, made something ingrained and conflicted roil in him. (Settled like shadows beyond where Richie had control were imagined glimpses of Eddie at the in-between of ‘then’ and ‘now,’ imagined glimpses of a lifetime Richie hadn’t been allowed to see, imagined glimpses of gangly limbs before they fit right, of a delightful smile grown into.) At some point, how Richie felt toward Eddie became its own energy reserve.

-

It had been after the evening progressed, after a few more drinks and scares and gaffs that Richie was decidedly pretty inebriated and pretty happy, as much as he could be. Maybe he couldn't get enough of Eddie, maybe it seemed like Eddie couldn't get enough of him. And how fun that was, to goof around together. To be together. 

To learn Eddie wasn’t married was a victory Richie couldn’t explain. He hadn't been conscious of there being anything to lose, but the revelation swelled something giddy in him. And as the night went on, Richie had trouble believing Eddie was very serious about the “gal” he had mentioned. (Richie didn’t address the thoughts -- thoughts others might consider intuition -- that suggested plainly that Eddie was lying, that it was obvious, that he was obvious -- and then, deeper than those -- that they , the two of them, were obvious.) There was just something in Eddie’s (playful? coy? coquettish?) behavior that suggested that Eddie was not committed to anyone.

-

Reuniting with his oldest, dearest friends so they could get themselves killed  -- what more could Richie ask for at three-thirty in the morning? By the time they'd made themselves comfortable at the townhouse, Richie was more than buzzed, on the floor beside Eddie, sitting in front of Bill Denbrough and a fire. 

Richie couldn't really be bitter, could only afford occasional bemusement. He looked at Eddie, who looked back at him. The flames from the fireplace reflected orange and red in Eddie’s lenses, and the two of them shared a smile. Richie didn't catch who initiated it, and maybe they'd just done it at the same time.

The heat from the fire and the alcohol had made Richie warm. It was the kind of warmth he associated with Northeastern winters; with his folks’ place; with nights spent on his back by their coal stove, eyes shut behind his glasses and teenage mind uncharacteristically still (or maybe his mind had only seemed still in light of his surroundings, of his second home that never felt like more than the set of a show, of the house which echoed emptily even after months of furnishing and renovating). 

And when Richie had been warm and cozy and drifting like that, he would get... sentimental, in his rare way. In the quiet of the house, in the dark nothing behind his eyelids, Richie would know strangely and surely that he had the capacity to love. He would know that he wanted to love something, that he maybe even wanted to be loved. 

The thoughts weren’t about romance so much as they were about the concept of affection, of intimacy -- concepts which evaded Richie except in those stints of warmth.

~

So, his back to the logfire and esophagus freshly burned with whiskey, Richie teased Eddie, messed with his hair, fluffed, ruffled, laughed. 

Richie loved how Eddie responded to him. Every comment, every look, every touch -- Eddie had a reaction to it, for it. And it didn’t matter what the response was, so long as it was Eddie responding. If it was Eddie, it was probably worth it.

Mirroring how Ben and Bev were sat, Richie maneuvered Eddie in front of him, a prize in a claw machine. Eddie had protested with a scolding, tittered ‘hey!’, but Richie couldn’t help himself. He was overcome. He could only compare the impulse with the need to squeeze a cute animal, except Eddie was a human man. 

If this were a woman , the thought tore suddenly and blindly through Richie’s brain, You wouldn’t hesitate .

Richie’s mind scrambled in turn, in an effort to ignore the idea, to forget about it. No use for drunken hypotheticals. (But it was the thought’s almost taunting ring which irked Richie more than anything.) He supposed he was a little envious of Eddie, that he could just live like that-- 

And how does he live? Richie’s thoughts were interrupted. Did they interrupt themselves? What way does Eddie live? His brain insisted. 

As himself, Richie thought in return. Eddie lives as himself.

And what is he, as himself? What do you envy? Richie found his heart was racing, somehow. Would Eddie be able to hear it, would he be able to feel Richie's pulse cross the air between them? What would be Eddie's reaction then? 

“Richie?” Eddie’s voice was gentle, like the smell of his fabric softener. How clean he was. Against the top of Richie’s head, he could feel the smooth side of Eddie’s jaw move when he spoke. 

All the things you would look for in a woman, the thoughts changed tone, felt mocking albeit wholly truthful, he has them.

Eddie twisted and Richie found that he’d pressed his forehead into Eddie's shoulder at some point, had started taking deep breaths, had lost track for a bit. The room around them was quiet but not vacant. What was everyone doing, just watching? Looking on with stupid, senseless sympathy? “Rich?” Eddie’s voice had gained a note of anxiety.

Eddie would make a good wife .

“Be with ya in a sec,” Richie managed to say, unmoving. He took in a big, long breath like he was waking up. He inhaled more fabric softener, felt Eddie shift under him.

A great wife. A wonderful wife, Richie.

"Shit," Richie moaned. He bumped his forehead against Eddie's shoulder a few times, trying to knock some sense into himself.

"Richie…" Bev said somewhere above him in her slow alto, and that was Richie’s cue to back up and off of Eddie.

Sitting upright, Richie's head didn't swim as much as he thought it should have, given how drunk he felt, given how he'd just been out of commission. "I'm fine," he told the room. And he had been right, everyone was just politely looking , is that all they could do? Then, eyes meeting Bev's (he knew her eyes were going to look big and sad, knew her mouth would be in that concerned frown, knew she'd still be in Ben’s fucking lumberjack hands), Richie repeated, "I'm fine!" He felt more lucid just saying it, but that could have been the sobering illusion of angry embarrassment. "Just too much fun in one night for a geezer like me," Richie said. He stretched and got to his feet, making a show of brushing off his pants.

“It’s late anyway, not to mention cold,” Mike offered. The room’s attention fell to him instead. “And we should all really get what rest we can for tomorrow. Isn’t that right, Bill?”

Richie stiffened. So they were really still on that. Now that he was standing, he could see Bill where he’d been behind Richie and Eddie, could see the way Bill had steeled at the sound of his name, could see the way he easily accepted the reins from Mike. Everyone was so serious about this.

Bill’s mouth had only just begun to move when Richie interrupted. “Wait-wait-wait,” he said, reaching a hand out. Attention back to him. “Mikey, please tell me yer not talkin’ that sewer racket again.”

“I am,” Mike said, sans inflection. He looked to each person as he spoke. “Everyone has tomorrow to decide what he or she wants to do. You have another day to check out old sites and recall what you can, and we’ll eventually convene here with our decisions.” Richie didn’t need time to think over what he wanted to do, it was everyone else who needed to really think. He did not care to “recall” anything more than he already had. 

Mike took a breath. “Or you can leave now just as well, and there’s no judgment.” He said it like it were true, and the problem was that it was true. “No one should go into this half-hearted. It’s critical that we understand the extent of what we’re getting ourselves into.” He glanced at Richie, then back to the group, “Or what we’re leaving behind, if that’s what you should decide.”

Bill nodded. Richie kept quiet. He glanced at Eddie, who was still on the floor, rubbing his thumb compulsively over the body of his inhaler. Camphor water . Richie wanted to chuck that fucking thing. He had half a mind to, but relented. Boy could Richie relent lately. Richie the Relenter, available for parties and conferences: he won’t do anything or your money back!

“We don’t have time to waste, but all the time in the world won’t mean anything if we aren’t prepared.” Bill truly spoke like a leader. Prepared for what? Richie wanted to ask. 

What in the world did everyone think was going to happen, and how could they possibly fathom it? It was like trying to wrap your head around death: by nature of the thing, it just couldn’t be done. You couldn’t conceptualize death just as you couldn’t truly conceptualize what It was. Worse than playing with fire, the Losers were playing with the unexplainable. Richie wasn’t a gambling man (excluding major life decisions and poker), but he would bet everything on the odds of The Losers’ untimely demise. Stanley would have understood. Richie was getting tired of all of it, but it wasn’t as though he had zero incentive to stay either. 

“And part of gh-good preparation is being well-rested,” Bill finished. Richie glanced at Eddie again, gauged his noncommittal disapproval, then looked at everyone else one by one. Smart!, the thought infiltrated again where he couldn’t reach. Very very smart. You wouldn’t want it to seem like you looked at Eddie first. Richie cleared his throat. He was still drunk, of course. (His thoughts were never usually so active when he was drunk.) Wouldn’t want it to seem like you care more about him than the others. Richie rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, trying to snap his brain out of whatever autopilot it was on. Like a headache he could get rid of. Sure wouldn’t want it to seem like you have a crush on--

“OKAY,” Richie startled the room, including himself. He could feel the look on Bev’s face again, didn’t even need to see it. “Ahem. Okay.” Richie hated all of this. He hated Derry, hated remembering, hated having to inevitably lose what he just had returned to him -- and he hated It . It, the anomaly. It, which seemed to have dictated the course of his life. Was Richie in control now ? Or was this all just part of… It? Richie turned and walked toward the door. “Well,” he said grandly, “shall we getteth our coveted slumber then?”

Another day was fine. (Another day was going to kill him.)

Richie could postpone his flight.

-

They all went to their respective rooms at the inn.

~

Richie thought it only once, less than fleetingly: that if the group were to be broken into pairs, there had appeared to be a natural order (Ben and Bev, Mike and Bill, and so on). It hadn’t been like that originally, when they were kids. Seven couldn’t be broken up like that, and they wouldn't have let it happen. Their friendship had been very egalitarian, as far as Richie's memory served. 

But the group dynamic shaped itself differently without Stan there, as though it could all only make sense anymore if everyone had someone. Richie wondered what that meant, and then did not return to the thought.

3

By the time Richie had popped his contacts out, early morning light was seeping in through the windows of his designated townhouse room. As much as he would have loved overnight lenses, it had taken him two decades to figure out his soft disposables. And it was only after the week following the nose job -- when wearing his coke-bottles could cost him another several grand, were he to screw up the healing process -- that Richie forced himself to adapt to a more intimate finger-eyeball relationship. He was never very good with eye stuff, it skeeved him out. So he would remove his contacts to sleep, when he didn’t need to see and didn’t need to be seen. 

A tapping on the door broke the room’s intoxicated stillness, made Richie jump a little. Were it not for the budding dawn outside, the room was fairly dim. It was frustrating because it wasn’t dark -- Richie could see that things should be seen -- but there was never enough contrast to kind-of discern anything (as he could kind-of discern things with natural vision in daylight). Richie hadn’t even taken his glasses case out, what would he need his glasses for? Finding the bed? Seeing his inevitable nightmares? He wasn’t opening the door if he couldn’t see. Everyone just needed to go to sleep. He stayed still. 

“Richie?” came Eddie’s voice on the other side of the door, soft to match the quiet of the night. And Richie cursed himself, cursed the simmering, excited way his insides turned at the voice. Richie just needed to sleep, just needed to hit reset. There was another little knock, sharper but no more insistent than the first. Richie didn’t move. He couldn’t do this right now. He shouldn’t do this right now. It was time for bed.
“Richie,” came Eddie’s voice again. Damn it. Was Richie really going to squander this opportunity, let himself be scared of everything forever? There was a pause, then Eddie continued. “Well, I’m pretty sure you’re in there," Eddie said. He kind of sounded like a lamb sometimes, Richie thought absently. “So, ah. Good night, Richie.” 

Richie cursed the bravery being near-sightless instilled in him, as though not being able to see the world around him made the world weaker, not him. It was dream-like in a way. “That’s all,” Eddie was finishing, when Richie rushed to open the door. He did it before he could stop himself, as well as before Eddie could leave. (And how often would Richie have to keep Eddie from leaving? How often would Richie be possessed to hold Eddie back?) 

“Heya, Eds,” Richie said. He leaned against the doorframe, crossed his arms, looked at Eddie’s face like he could see it. Richie thought he could just barely make out the blur of Eddie's features as they contorted in response.

"Don't call me that." Another pause. "Like I said, I just wanted... to say good night.” Eddie sounded half-truthful. Not that Richie was in a particularly apt state to tell or care. “And, you checked up on me earlier, at the restaurant. So I figured I’d, y’know, return the favor.” Eddie paused again, seemed to tilt his head. His tone changed, referring to the present, “Are you alright?”

A frustration had been mounting, tensing Richie’s back as Eddie spoke. Richie, in an outrageously simple problem to solve, wanted to see Eddie and couldn’t. Eddie had his glasses on, so he could probably see that Richie couldn’t see. Stupid. It was a stupid problem.

“Come on in,” Richie stepped out of Eddie’s way, in a combination of inebriated desperation and the confidence of borderline blindness. “Prob’ly shouldn’t be chatting out there anyway,” Richie justified after Eddie shut the door behind himself. “I am fine, just.” Richie cleared his throat. “Can’t see right now, is all,” he explained as he grappled blindly with his bags on the floor. He heard the squeak of old mattress springs compressing as Eddie sat at the end of the bed. Richie eventually rifled out the familiar oblong shape of his glasses case and snapped it open. 

Richie put the glasses on, and for one second, Eddie was a kid. For the time in between a blink, before his eyes adjusted to the new way light was refracting, Richie’s glasses were taped at the bridge and he and Eddie were kids. And then the second was up and they were as they were again: Eddie’s legs reached the floor, Richie’s glasses were the near-mint Ray-Bans he got earlier that year, and they were the old men they’d grown into. 

But “Oh,” Richie grinned, unbidden, at the new, high definition Eddie. At Eddie, whose eyes widened just before his smile caught up, even wider. Despite the drafty cold of the inn’s second floor, Richie’s heart felt tight with affection.

Eddie pointed at him. “Now that is Richie Tozier,” he laughed. And yes, maybe Richie had a few insecurities about being tied to his glasses, but Eddie spoke with such fondness that Richie thought he could have cried.

Too many variables were at play, and Richie spoke before he was even aware of thinking. “Eddie, Eds, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie sat beside Eddie on the bed. (Richie really wasn’t much more sober than he had been right before everyone dispersed, but that thought only occurred to him in the background, where he couldn’t quite reach.) “You look great,” Richie joggled Eddie’s knee in emphasis. Eddie laughed sheepishly, crossed his ankles, looked at them instead of Richie. “I mean, wowza. Who knew you had it in'ya to look so--?" Richie laughed and didn't complete the thought. "I mean really.” His hand seemed to have stayed at Eddie’s knee a second too long. Richie crossed his arms and angled himself toward Eddie. “Seriously, man. Shit.”

Eddie angled himself toward Richie in return, and there was another moment of quiet which Richie did not use to introspect. He used it only to appreciate, to appraise Eddie, as best possible in the dimness. Eddie met Richie's eyes. The two weren't touching each other but they could have been, that’s what the shared look said. Eddie smiled again , big and heartwarming and on the edge of something else too foreign for Richie to label. 

"Rich--" Eddie started, seemed to look at Richie's face a certain way, and then restarted. "Richie…" Eddie sighed. He opened and closed his mouth, looking exhausted but happy, like how Richie felt. Eddie held eye contact, and once more made Richie feel seen. "It's been so cool getting to be around you again." Eddie’s gaze moved, offset from Richie's eyes -- his glasses, Richie realized -- and then back. In the blurry periphery Richie’s glasses could afford him, he saw Eddie's hand fidget at his side. Eddie let the words hang, didn’t follow them with anything else.

"Well Eds,” Richie filled the silence. “I wish I had more chucks for you, but even my supply eventually starts to dwindle." He didn't know why it came out sounding like a prelude and not a conclusion, as though he had things other than chucks to say. 

“I’m with you, you know,” Eddie took on a serious tone. “I don’t-- everything about all of this stuff-- I mean. It’s just-- just,” he reached for his pocket, let his hand linger over the lump of his inhaler. He sighed. “It’s a bad idea, Richie,” Eddie said, looking at him. “You know it’s a bad idea, I know you know. But.” Eddie took an inhaler-less, steady breath, seemed to maybe count the seconds or something. He exhaled. When he next spoke, it was more even. “One more day here, that’s not the worst thing in the world.” He bumped his shoulder against Richie’s. Richie looked at him, for some reason dumbfounded.  

A pause and then Eddie smiled again , big and joyful and charming, and Richie wanted in on whatever was making Eddie look that way. “Alright, what. What’s the goofball grin about.”

“Your glasses,” Eddie said simply, and Richie was momentarily filled with the glasses-related dread he'd grown away from but never out of. “You look cute," Eddie shrugged like it was offhanded, and Richie’s dread transformed to something of equal excitability. Exuberance, maybe. "Which is kinda funny, considering how mannish you are. Actually, maybe--…” Eddie shook his head. “No, I don’t know.” Then, after a thoughtful pause, “I guess you just look like Richie.”

Richie followed his impulse to cast aside Eddie’s last sentence, to follow instead the physical compulsion to speak. “‘Cute,’ you say,” Richie raised his eyebrows, taking less than a beat to respond. The intended smugness of his put-upon voice sounded more genuinely surprised than he intended, but he cast that aside too. Richie was cute? Coming from Eddie ? “‘Cute’!” Richie laughed, unconsciously pushing his glasses up at the bridge. When was the last time he’d been called cute, and not in a subverted sense (as in his mother’s unimpressed ‘Very cute, Richie’)? Shit if he could remember. 

Cute! What a riot! Eddie’s cheeks seemed to flush a little, which only drove home the hilarity of it all. Richie had never found a man as cute as he did Eddie Kaspbrak, hands down. Cutest grown man Richie had ever encountered. Easy. So how funny Eddie’s comment was, even if off-handed.

Then Richie remembered how touchy he and Eddie had been earlier (the whole trip really) and the laughter evened off. He thought about downstairs, in front of the fire. He remembered the smell of Eddie’s fabric softener, the way it had intermingled with the scent of smoke and firewood. Richie thought he could smell the softener from his place on the bed.

“Don’t get a big head, Tozier.” Eddie elbowed Richie, sighed, and then adjusted himself to rest his head on Richie’s shoulder. An arm of Eddie’s glasses dug into Richie but he couldn’t care. “I’m just overtired.” The smile in Eddie’s voice was resonant.

Richie turned his head toward Eddie, which incidentally made Richie’s own glasses ride up onto his eyebrows. Looking down, he could only see Eddie through the blurry sliver of natural vision between glasses-frame and cheek. And still Richie’s heart inexplicably throbbed at the impression of the sight.

He twisted himself a little more, languidly reached an arm around Eddie’s waist to pull him closer. Eddie moved so easily with Richie. Glasses ridden even farther up, Richie let his eyes shut, let himself put his face in Eddie’s hair, let himself breathe. Breathing was normally a neutral experience, but Eddie somehow made it a positive one, a pleasurable one. Fuck, Eddie was awesome. 

Ha-ha, ‘fuck Eddie,’ his brain offered psychopathically. And what an absurd idea it was: fuck Eddie. How funny. What would that even entail, hypothetically? And faced with such an option, would Richie be up for it? Would Eddie be up for it? Sex sounded good. Sex with Eddie-- Richie curbed those thoughts too, tried to focus instead on the non-hypothetical in front of him. But even in the slow placidity of Richie's tired, drunk brain, he could recognize the stirrings of a sleepy hard-on. 

A boner around Eddie would not be unprecedented, shit happens, but a boner caused by Eddie would be new. It was a situation easy enough to avoid when they were with the others, Richie had better control that way, had more things going on. But one-on-one, Richie didn’t have enough distractions. There was no one around to detract from how (human, understood, loved) Eddie made Richie fundamentally feel .

Girly-boy , Richie’s brain reminded him. It would be bigoted, probably, to presume Eddie's femininity was tied to homosexuality; to presume that Eddie was flirting just because he played around in the way he did; to presume a man as clean as Eddie Kaspbrak would ever lower himself for a man as miserable as Richie Tozier. 

And Richie was overtired too, he thought in literal light of the sunrise, which glowed lines of yellow through gaps the curtains couldn't contain. Richie was drunk and overtired and the other thing that had been draining him since he crossed the Derry town line.

"Richie?" Eddie whispered, and Richie could have had a stroke at the sound of it. 

Richie made a sound in reply, not articulate nor motivated enough to try for words. He wasn't sure of anything, was encroaching on very unfamiliar territory. 

Eddie moved his head a little to peer at Richie. "Are you hurting your neck like that?" Eddie asked. Not what Richie was expecting Eddie to say, but Richie didn't have any expectations, not really. He tilted his own head a little so his mouth wouldn't be totally obscured.

"What's it matter when it's you , my dear Eds?" Richie asked before returning his face to Eddie's hair, as natural as going back to sleep. Richie punctuated the sentiment with a kiss on Eddie's head -- nothing special, it just felt appropriate -- and Eddie sighed through his nose. He stayed where he was at Richie's shoulder.

"Don't hurt yourself just for me," Eddie said, fantastically soft. He didn't acknowledge the kiss, so he may not have even felt it. Or he was trying to spare Richie. It didn't matter. "I’m not comfortable either…" Eddie kept his head tilted on Richie's shoulder and it did seem like it would be uncomfortable. "I know this is rare advice for you , Trashmouth, but…" Eddie was taking slow, even breaths, and Richie realized Eddie's pauses were a result of exhaustion. "Speak up sometimes. Y'never know when it might do us both a favor... y’know?"

Richie's thumb was grazing Eddie's lower back in rhythmic back-and-forths, though Richie couldn't recall having moved his hand from Eddie's side. He spoke into Eddie's hair (let the words be muffled, Richie didn't give a shit). "Easier said." 

And in the drowsy black behind his eyes, in the murky puddle of his brain, in the magnetic warmth everywhere he and Eddie touched (real and imagined), Richie knew what to say. He breathed in like taking a drag of a cigarette, like taking a hit of a joint, and let his mind scramble for good with it. "Think I'd do anything for you,” Richie said. He was getting too close to falling asleep to be speaking with his dick -- to be anything but unassailably honest -- and far beneath the fuzziness of everything, that honesty terrified him. With the flat of his knuckles, he rubbed Eddie's back. Richie wanted to touch Eddie more, everywhere, but that would suffice. "Think I'd let my neck snap if it meant staying like this." He let his lips move half-deliberate against Eddie's head, another place they were touching, connected. "Anything, Eds, I fucking…" He didn't complete the thought, let it linger in Eddie's hair. The smell of stale whiskey on Richie's breath tugged him back, closer to reality. "Anything." 

There was a pause.

“We can’t stay here, Richie.”

Richie didn’t respond. Eddie took a breath as a bird chirped outside. Stanny'd know what that was, Richie thought. The Boy Scout bastard. It was a rather surprising thought to have so naturally, considering how long ( thirty years ) Stan's name had meant absolute jack.

~

(It was a papercut of pain each time Richie remembered that Stan was dead. Richie would never get to know how Stan the Man had grown up, not from the guy himself. He had already seemed grown up when they were kids. How much more can someone grow? Does maturity plateau? 

The news of Stan’s death sat oddly. It stung, but didn’t burn. It hurt, but no one would bleed out from it. Because they didn’t know Stan, not as an adult, not like how Richie got to know everyone else again. Had Stan considered that? That everybody sans Mike was stuck with whatever they could remember, that that was the “Stan” they got -- that he was immortalized as the eleven year old birder? 

At first the thoughts were indignant, rhetorical, but then Richie backtracked. Had Stan considered that? He had been so thorough, meticulous. But what good did it do to wonder -- they could never know what Stan had been thinking.)

~

“We gotta sleep, is what we gotta do, Eds,” Richie said, unmoving. He was so far from lucid, was so unfathomably tired, was still so into Eddie. Richie grazed Eddie’s back just a little with his thumbnail, only once, not trying to convey anything, simply taking Mike’s advice: Richie was acting on intuition (which, for him, were his moment-to-moment impulses). And intuition told him to turn his thumb for just a second, to drag it once up Eddie’s spine, just to test it out, to see what would happen. (What could happen?)

"Mm," Eddie hummed in reluctant agreement.

4

When Richie next awoke, he was on his side. Beyond the windows was the steady, insulating patter of springtime rain. Cracks of gray light emerged between the curtains.

“Next time we have sex," Eddie's voice whispered sweetly from behind Richie, startling him. A hallucination, surely. “Do me a favor and keep your glasses off?” Richie turned toward it, expecting nothing, and was instead met with Eddie Kaspbrak, face inches from face, looking somehow strikingly pretty. Beautiful, even. Dimly lit as the room was, and glasses-less it seemed, Richie could still manage to see Eddie’s features articulated like the painted face of a High Renaissance angel. His skin was soft and near-glowing, hair splayed in pretty ringlets against the white of the inn pillow. Eddie brushed his thumb on Richie’s cheek. “You look better without them,” he said, tone unfathomably soft, and then kissed Richie’s lips. 

How insane, for Eddie to make this move, to just thrust Richie into the decision his brain had been furiously, chaotically mulling over.

“I know,” Richie said, dazed, when they parted. It felt like taking on a role in a dream, and he half-suspected that it was a dream. His gaze trailed from Eddie's face to his bare shoulders, skirted to his bare chest. Jeezus. Richie was afraid to touch Eddie, afraid the illusion would disappear. 

There was no way the two had done anything, even if they were sharing a bed. (A memory swirled to Richie’s mind of his face in Eddie’s hair and Richie thought Huh .) But sex? Eddie said sex, unless Richie misheard. That had to have been a joke. But then, Eddie had just kissed him, and as far as Richie could tell they were both stripped. In nervewracking, jarring admission, Richie recognized that he was not opposed to sex with Eddie. Having had sex with Eddie was by no means an impossibility.

"I'll keep mine off too.” Eddie placed kisses at Richie’s jaw as Richie tried to keep up with the conversation, with the actions, with the situation. “Then we can both pretend we’re with other people,” he added with another smile that Richie could feel on his skin. “Easy-peasy.”

"Eds?" Richie’s voice caught in his throat, regrettably cracked. Richie could do comebacks half-asleep, no problem, but usually he could infer what was going on. Foundational comedy involves a premise and a punchline, and Richie was missing the premise. In fact, he wasn’t sure what was going on at all. Why couldn't he remember? He needed to remember. Rain hit the ground outside like static, making it hard to think.

And yet Richie couldn’t help himself, saw his hand reach into Eddie’s hair. Eddie responded to the touch perfectly, leaned into it, moved closer, made a contented sound. He looked into Richie’s eyes with his own hazel ones. And Richie, even without his glasses on, could see everything he needed to see, saw Eddie better than Richie had thought possible, better than he’d ever seen Eddie. Richie’s chest felt tight. He couldn’t recall ever wanting someone so much.

When was the last time Richie was so wholly attracted to someone? He didn’t think he had ever in his life experienced something so pervading. Richie had thought he had known, or could imagine it (Imagine what? Love? Was it love he was thinking of?), but that didn’t compare. Richie could barely control himself, or at least believing so made his crazy impulses easier to act on. 

And this was Eddie Kaspbrak (another man) who Richie was so attracted to. It was Eddie Kaspbrak (another man ) who just kissed Richie wonderfully. They could just do this. They could just kiss each other.

They must have had sex. It added up. Richie had to have forgotten. Maybe.

Then Eddie’s eyebrows furrowed like a mirror cracking, and he spoke like he didn’t want to. “Rich, you’re being weird…” Eddie sat up, back against the headboard, and Richie sat up to match. “You do remember, don’t you...?” 

But hadn’t that been the question of the past day? What did Eddie mean? There was so much no one remembered. “We went over this, bud,” Richie’s voice was groggy, still unpolished for preview. “Memory’s kinda spotty, if you c--”

“Last night, Richie. Making love , Richie,” Eddie articulated, sure and wavering and disappointed. (Far away, Richie was reminded of Sonia Kaspbrak’s pious, fearful voice and her stringent overbearance.) He could have slapped Richie and had the same effect. “Tell me you remember making love last night.”

Richie’s stomach went cold. What? Did he laugh there, was that the cue? But Eddie looked so genuine, so serious, so open. Richie felt sick. There was no way. Richie really didn’t think-- he couldn’t afford to forget something like that, not among everything else he’d lost to the void. Having sex with-- Making love to-- but no way had Richie been that messed up? He could recall Eddie coming into the room, the talking, the touching, the intimacy of the night. And then what happened?

“‘You remember making love last night,’” Richie’s mouth responded, following Eddie’s technical command to tell him such. Richie’s mouth had always been 90% of the problem growing up, the font of ass-chasings and (when he wasn’t fast enough) ass-beatings. The remaining 10% was collateral for breathing, he figured. It couldn’t be helped, he couldn’t be helped. Richie wouldn’t be helped, because without his mouth operating as fast as it did, he would be out of a job. 

But mostly, he just didn’t know what to say. A bewildered silence momentarily befell Eddie, and then he spoke before Richie could try again:

“Are you a fucking idiot?” Eddie asked. The words sounded wrong out of Eddie, like misplaced jigsaw pieces. He looked strange in his anger.

Richie shrugged sheepishly, aware of his culpability. He felt oddly defensive, rightfully guilty, predominantly inept. “...Well ya said to--”

“I know what I said, Richie,” Eddie snapped, unlike he ever had since the reunion. “I just can’t believe...”
“Eds, Eds, hey--”

“You disgust me.” (Hadn’t someone said that to Richie before? A fling from decades earlier, yes. He couldn’t remember why she’d said it, but it was the meanest thing he’d ever been told by someone he liked.) Eddie wouldn’t look at Richie as he spoke, voice high and trembling with hurt. Richie was going to throw up, if not right then, then later. “I was a virgin, Richie. And you forgot ?” Was Eddie speaking -- figuratively? He covered his mouth as he choked on a sob.

“There’s lots of stuff we don’t remember, Spaghetti. It-- could come back.” Richie fumbled through the sentence, nervous to respond readily and sincerely. The it Richie referred to was whatever Eddie was on about, but then Richie reconsidered the statement: It could come back

It’s messing with me , Richie thought wildly. 

“I was so excited to tell Ma--” Eddie looked at Richie then, eyes glistening, lips quivering hopelessly. Richie made a motion to adjust his glasses on his nose only to recall that they weren’t there. But he was seeing Eddie so clearly... “I never moved out, you know. My whole life ended up spent lonely and alone.” Richie was blind as a fucking bat, was he a moron? Looking around at the rest of the room, nothing else was remotely in focus. Of course. “Sound familiar, Trashmouth?" 

Richie was suddenly enraged, insulted on Eddie’s behalf. “You…” 

“You love me,” ‘Eddie’ said factually, smiling wickedly. Richie instinctively backed off of the bed. He was done with it, with It, with all of "it." When he stepped out that door, he was heading to L.A., forgetting everything. The library had been-- bad, sure. Terrible. Terrifying clown, yadda yadda. But Fake Eddie crossed a line. Fake Eddie represented a... blasphemy of universal law. It was blasphemous. 

(Richie wouldn’t give the word credence by thinking it, but he was decidedly drawing the line at magic.)

‘Eddie’ had looked, had felt, had sounded, had smelled, had (it felt obscene to consider in post) tasted like the real thing, but that wasn’t Eddie Kaspbrak. That was a monster. It was a monster. A real-life fucking monster.

Mail me my shit or keep it, Richie thought in instantaneous, one-sided conversation, but I am done, Mikey. Done-zo. Love y’all more than the world, I do, but I am too fucking old for this. We all are. We were in over our heads back then and we should know better now. Richie thought it angrily, headed toward the door, knowing he would never end up saying it.

Eddie stayed on the bed, but his words remained suffocating. “You really love me, Richie." Using Eddie’s image, his voice -- It infuriated Richie, unnerved him, disgusted him. "It's sickening. Sex is one thing, but you've imagined me as your wife how many times now?" Richie couldn't stand hearing the words.

"And who knows what could happen, it’s only been a day, who could tell? Hey, maybe your midlife crisis shotgun wedding won't fall through,” he said it dreamily, ironically, open-ended: a premise. “Oh, except --” and how would the punchline land, Richie wondered dryly, reaching the door, “--in a day I’m gonna be dead in the Derry sewer system. HA! How’s that for a chuck?” Eddie’s face contorted in a way it never would, in a cruel, patronizing laugh.

It was bigger than them. It knew their insecurities, It knew their fears even when they themselves may not. And this ragtag team of Losers-Grown-Up was supposed to do something about it? Cut Richie a break. 

And then Richie’s vision was back to watercolor splotches, Eddie blended beige and grey and blond with the rest of the room’s blues and grays and browns. “Good one,” Richie bit, emboldened again by sightlessness. He didn’t even know where his glasses were. His hands were shaking -- he had no idea how long that had been happening. He grabbed the doorknob.

Looking at Eddie on the bed, Richie felt humiliation flush his face, a burning to contrast the chill he felt everywhere else. He turned the knob and the door wouldn’t budge. Eddie didn’t move, and that somehow freaked Richie out more, made him more frantic to get out. Was this worse than the library? By far. He knew quite surely that his life wasn’t in danger here. He was just being toyed with. 

Richie wasn’t fond of having his worldview radically de- and reconstructed (Stan hadn’t liked that either, Richie remembered, vacant). What was their world if not what they had always known it to be? There were too many possibilities (and for just a second the sensation of a memory flickered on Richie’s brain, of just how many possibilities there were, definitively endless and inarticulable -- Deadlights ). In terms of understanding the world, Richie knew too little to really know anything at all, but too much to ever fully re-integrate with common society.

Where was the real Eddie, even? So we didn’t have sex -- Christ’s sake, of course we didn’t.  

“Richie?” Eddie’s voice said, disconcertingly genuine, twisting Richie’s heart. “Come…--” Eddie's voice cut off with a gasped hitch, then another hitch. “back-to,” he wheezed, “bed.” And then Richie could hear the piston sound of Eddie’s inhaler, tremendously loud, triggered over and over and over.

Richie glanced in the direction of the sound, and saw in the rainy lighting of the room that the beige of Eddie’s blur had been replaced with a fat patch of grey-silver. Tracked down the middle were big orange blurs, and one growing red dot. A growing red dot Richie realized to be a balloon, being inflated with each huff of the inhaler. That would be all for now.

Richie raced to the attached bathroom, slamming and locking the door in time with the rocking vibration of the balloon's gunshot POP . He barely reached the toilet before he puked, and then landed on his knees and puked again. Without his vision, with his other senses amplified, it felt like each retch was draining his lifeforce. Like he was dying. If only.

5

Downstairs, the scent of coffee hit Richie like a punch. 

-

(In the bathroom, Richie had put his contacts in, disattached a shower pole from the wall, and braced himself to re-enter the bedroom. Nothing had been on the other side of the door. The bed was made and his glasses had been sat neatly at the head of the bed. It wasn’t raining, wasn’t even wet outside. The doorway into the hall had already been open when Richie passed through it.)

-

“Richie,” Mike greeted amiably from a seat by the fireplace, and for a second Richie thought he might lose it on Mike. This is your fault, Richie wanted to scream, None of us should be here. No one will go home and now we’re all going to die. We already lost Stan, is that not enough? Even as a thought, he knew he was being unfair, knew that no, the loss of Stan wasn’t enough, but it helped make sense of all the senselessness. Helped make sense of Derry, of It. 

“Mike,” Richie greeted in kind, lingering in the entryway to the parlor. His watch said it was about a quarter after two. He’d been in the bathroom for… a bit. He couldn’t be sure for how long, given that the sun had been no indicator. Years could have passed in there, for all Richie knew with the fucking clown .

Mike was in a button-up and sweater, accented with a blazer. He’d worn the same sort of thing yesterday, and Richie briefly remembered the financial inequity between them, not that he was dressed much better. He cast the thought aside. “Coffee?” Mike asked. On the counter by the entrance (Richie had used that counter the night prior to pour himself a drink which was decidedly not coffee) was a coffee pot and cups. 

“Gonna be a pass for now, thanks,” Richie said, barely intoning. He hadn’t realized how exhausted he was until he actually tried engaging with someone. His second try would be better. “Rest of the gang exploring?” Richie entered the room (the one in which he’d drank too much for the occasion, in which he’d reminisced with the best friends he’d forgotten, in which he’d experienced identifiable, world-shattering attraction to another man). Mike had a newspaper on his lap and a coffee mug on the table beside him. 

“Mm. I was just holding down the fort, as it were.” Mike smiled ruefully. “Besides, every day of my life is spent remembering Derry. I take Memory Lane to get to my day job,” he chuckled, and he was right. It made Richie feel guilty, even when he knew that wasn’t Mike’s intent. “I figure too that it’s best that someone’s guaranteed to be here whenever the others should return.”

“Mikey,” Richie began, friendly. With confirmation that no one else was around, Richie had a better idea of how to act, of how to be. He sat himself on the chair across from Mike. There was an almost formal distance between them, but that was okay with Richie. Mike looked at Richie attentively, conscientiously, curiously, and Richie leaned back into the chair. He had one arm bent on an armrest, was keeping things very casual. “Look. I know you’re real serious about all this,” Richie continued. “I mean, I was there that summer. I get it , man. I do.” He really tried to stress the words, to really get through to Mike.

Spreading his feet and resting his arms on his knees, Richie bent forward. “If you wanna stay, be your guest. Maybe no one’s sayin’ it, so I will: it’s different for us, Mike. I’m sorry, I am, but the rest of us got out of Derry and were better for it.” Mike’s expression remained respectfully impartial, disclosing nothing. “The rest of us have lives outside’a here. The murders are bad, yeah. No fucking shit they’re bad! And you think we’re gonna-- kill this thing?” Richie thought of It, of the library, of the bedroom, of Eddie and love and sex and the POP and the time spent hunched over a toilet and the pain in Richie’s abdomen from hurling so violently, and his fury was reignited. Richie sat upright, itching to keep moving. “I mean, shit , Mike!” Richie slapped down on the leather of the armrest. (‘ You never know when it might do us both a favor, ya know?’ ) “Some of us have got people in our lives.” Mike cocked his head a little and Richie continued. “Bill’s got his movie star, Bev’s got her-- Well. Bev’s got Ben , anyway. And vice versa. And Spaghetti’s got his ‘gal’ and all.”

“And I don't suppose you--”

“Yeah Mike, I’ve got people I love, too.”

There was quiet, and Richie felt his words linger uncomfortably in the air. 

“Like I said before, you’re under no obligation to stay--” Mike began, cautiously and understandingly. But he didn’t understand.

“I like horses, Mikey, and I wouldn’t beat a dead one if I didn’t think I had to. But if I’ve gotta, I will: this shit’s Bad News Bears, Mike. We can’t stay. You could-- I mean, hell, come back with one of us. Leave Derry behind. It all happens here, only here, and if we’re outside--”

“Yes,” Richie didn’t expect Mike to interrupt him, “it all happens here. You’re right, Richie.” Mike sighed. “Life isn’t what we thought it was. That’s what It shows us. Because It isn’t empirically possible.” He followed his words with a pause, looked directly at Richie, and Richie felt a chill up his neck. He crossed his arms. Another silence, charged with implication. "So who says it can't be stopped? Who knows anything about anything? I think we came close back then, and with the proper preparation, I think we can kill It for good." 

Richie couldn't argue with Mike, because he wasn't necessarily wrong. Like the Trolley Problem, there wasn’t a true right or wrong: the answer and its validity was up to the individual. Richie had never been particularly entertained by the Trolley Problem; neither, as it so happened, had Stan Uris. 

Stan had found the “problem” to have an obvious solution , a canon ending: don’t do anything and the trolley will go on whichever path it was destined for. But no one wanted the logical conclusion, they wanted to debate the ethics of it, its philosophical dilemma. 

The Trolley Problem represented something that could only be decided in the moment, fueled by adrenaline, on instinct; Richie didn’t see a point in deliberating what decision one would make. In whatever form the Trolley Problem came to a person, they wouldn’t be ready. That’s what Richie believed. Because instinct wasn't logical, and the circumstances of the Trolley Problem couldn't be universalized. The Trolley Problem was a bullshit waste of time. 

Derry was the Trolley Problem and Richie still didn’t want to fucking bother with it. His life had been fine less than forty-eight hours prior. Emptier maybe, but fine. Fine compared to having to lose shit he hadn’t known he’d even had.

After a frustratingly sympathetic pause, Richie responded, deflating against the back of the seat. “Wh a tever, man.” He stretched his legs out, then used the chair for leverage to twist his back, cracking satisfyingly amidst the hell he was in. 

If Mike was gonna be quiet and visibly contemplative then Richie could do that too. He shut his eyes, let fatigue weigh on him like a sandbag. He sighed, felt the air slide off his mustache, felt Mike’s gaze on him. He looked back at Mike, and with a chest-filling inhale, sighed again. 

Then Richie sat up, composing himself as he rose. “Forget coffee," he spoke, waving the idea off. "You got stuff for a Bloody Mary ? ” 

-

Mike and Richie did not exchange many more words that evening. It was by no means hostile between the two, but having decidedly adopted an “agree to disagree” policy left both with little more to say to the other. In the meantime, Richie lounged around, disinclined to leave the inn until he got to see everybody again. He wasn’t about to muck around in open water, try his luck with another traumatic run-in. Richie had had about enough. He would gladly wait.

6

The atmosphere changed over the Losers' second evening together, like there really was something to prepare for. 

-

When Eddie first re-entered the inn, the morning’s dread washed over Richie in a wave of pin pricks. The sight of Eddie reminded Richie that nothing was trustworthy anymore, nothing was sacred, nothing was real nor unreal. Not in Derry. (Richie desperately hoped it was different somehow, outside Derry; that rules would apply again.) They were living in a nightmare. 

The sight of Eddie also reminded Richie of the other panic of that morning: of the stages of grief and terror he’d barreled through, of his unanticipated sexual identity crisis. Richie had to remember what did and did not happen, and racked his brain until he came to a decision.

Richie decided that he and the real Eddie (it seemed inane to have to separate one ‘Eddie’ from another) had ended their night doing the cuddling stuff. Then Eddie excused himself to his own room so they could sleep. Something had hung dense and palpable between them. That Eddie… that had to be the real one, Richie thought. Hoped.

Eddie from the morning, the homebound virgin (a stupidly petty way of It to try to tarnish Eddie’s character, Richie thought -- so asininely petty that Richie almost wondered what Its aim was) wasn’t Eddie. 

As such, Eddie’s re-entrance was the first time since the previous night, when he and Richie had been all over each other, that Richie was seeing Eddie. Which was thrilling. And in light of the morning’s revelations, terrifying.

Everyone trickled back in a little bemused, a little more (and a little less) something , and Richie kept the mood afloat. They were all exhausted, and both Mike and Bill acknowledged there was nothing to be done about that except to get some sleep and discuss in the morning. 

-

Richie Tozier, by nature, was a creature of convenience. So, same as he had done the previous night, he sat a Bev away from Eddie (the real Eddie) and hoped both idly and desperately that their arrangement would change. Richie would wait so long as Eddie was in the room; Richie would sit and banter and bide his time indefinitely if he had to. Because he was going to talk to Eddie, but it wasn’t going to be on Richie’s terms. He made sure of that. 

Bill was the first to pack it in, saying he’d slept very poorly the night before (Richie couldn’t imagine anyone slept sweet and sound). The rest chatted for a while longer around the fire, giving excerpts from their day, all seeming to leave one thing or another out of their story. Richie said he'd slept in all afternoon, that he may have overdone it with the booze, that he had gotten a nasty hangover. (In actuality, Richie had begun to question how drunk he’d really been at all, if he hadn’t just been misinterpreting his own madness.)

Bev had seemed particularly drained too, and was the second to head upstairs (after an hour, that was). Eddie didn’t hesitate to get closer to Richie, to share a blanket, and Richie had the brief, delirious thought that he wanted everyone else out of the room. Considering Eddie's apparent eagerness, Richie wondered with tentative impartiality if Eddie had felt the same as Richie about the Bev Blockade. If Eddie felt the same as Richie...

(Richie offset the memory of his morning -- of It -- with the memory of Eddie's head on Richie's shoulder just hours before that, and promised himself, for whose sake he wasn't sure, that the Eddie sharing the seat with him was real.)

After a bit of "Boys Talk" (what they told Bev they were going to do after she was gone, but was just repartee about careers and some allusions to politics), Ben and Mike headed up as well. And then it was just Richie and Eddie. 

Eddie was likely the only person who Richie could talk freely with, and even then, Richie was a little on edge, afraid (though unwittingly) of another illusion. Getting fooled like he had been, fooled in the way that takes something from someone, Richie couldn’t trust the world the same. He had learned, unmistakably, that anything goes. He’d learned that life and nightmare were only differentiated by how long they lasted. He’d learned that no holds were barred and he was at the will of the universe. They all were.

Fewer lights were on than the night before, which made the logfire seem more powerful, more vital as the two sat in the parlor’s crackling and popping non-silence. They never needed to talk, but it felt like more got said in the quiet, and Richie wasn’t sure he enjoyed that. He was good at coming up with things to say, but he didn’t know what direction he wanted to head them in.

"You wanna move closer to the fire?" Eddie asked instead, the first thing said since the room was vacated. 

“Yeah, sure thing, buddy,” Richie answered, clearing his throat. His chest fizzed with the same hectic energy as a sparkler. He was nervous, undeniably. But he wouldn't linger on that.

They both stood. Richie thought they would pull the couch forward, but Eddie moved to the floor and sat criss-cross. Looking down at him, Richie was reminded of something from the night before. 

“Where’s your inhaler?” Richie asked neutrally, dropping at a reasonable speed to his knees beside Eddie. (But Richie was too old for that move, no longer as nimble as he used to be, and the impact of his knees to rug-covered hardwood rang dully and regretfully up his femurs.) 

“Right here...” Eddie said, tone inquisitive as he reflexively pulled it from his pocket.

“Thanks,” Richie said, and swiftly grabbed the inhaler from Eddie’s unsuspecting hand.

“Wh--Hey!!” Eddie demanded in surprise, grabbing for it back. 

Richie held it behind himself, just out of Eddie’s range. Eddie propped a hand, fingers pointed down, onto Richie’s thigh for leverage, and Richie had to wonder what he thought he was doing, provoking this. Eddie’s other hand lunged forward, and his left shoulder grazed Richie’s right. Richie hadn’t thought he had been orchestrating anything, but it was all a bit on the nose.

“Y’don’t need it,” Richie’s words came out odd and gruff, maybe a result of his own twisting and leaning, maybe caused by something else. He withheld an ‘Eds’ so as not to patronize Eddie’s potentially unpredictable sensibilities. 

Eddie stalled in surprise, then contemplation, freezing their positions. Richie stayed stock-still. Then he sighed, a short jet of warm air on Richie's cheek. “You’re right,” Eddie said, and brought the outstretched hand back to himself. An awfully quick battle, in Richie's opinion. Eddie straightened and shifted his weight, lifting the hand he had on Richie without quite detaching it: a light, infinitely more problematic touch. “Yeah,” Eddie affirmed. Confidence and other things made his expression steelier in places, like the line of his mouth, or the knit of his eyebrows. “I don’t need it.” 

He and Richie were very close. Then Eddie's gaze shifted up from the inhaler, meeting Richie’s eyes, and they seemed even closer. ( Objects in mirror are closer than they appear , the phrase vacantly and irrelevantly presented itself in Richie’s brain.) They both stayed still, looking at each other and breathing each other’s air. Eddie’s fabric softener and shampoo were impossible to miss then, and for the span of an exhale, Richie’s thoughts stopped. 

Richie had to wonder again what they were doing, (which was countered by a vagrant, infuriatingly legitimate thought which wondered why they weren’t doing more). Eddie’s fingertips, idle on Richie’s thigh as they were, were searing. Did Richie instigate that too? They were too close for who they were, two grown men by a fire. The morning’s half-determined revelations and resolutions kept ricocheting around in Richie’s head, dull shrapnel in a blender. He felt the heavy drumming of his heartbeat.

Would Eddie kiss him tonight? The thought shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, but Richie -- off the deep end, surely -- didn’t swat it away. In a radical change, he let it linger naturally, accepted that it was a thought he could and would have. The reflection of the fireplace fit small and perfectly within each of Eddie's frameless lenses, two tiny Yule Log specials. ( Christmas with Eddie-- but Richie begrudgingly overrode and dismissed the notion, not ready for that emotional rabbit hole.)

Then Eddie's face quivered, and he surprised them both with a laugh (a short, honky sound Richie would decidedly give his life for). Eddie’s expression was hard to read, facial features not aligning with just one identifiable emotion. But he was smiling, which softened his angles. Eddie crossed his arms and Richie noticed a sudden lack as his leg became notably devoid of Eddie's hand.  "Y'know Mr. Keene is the only other person who's said that to me?" Eddie looked at the fire when he spoke. He sat back a little and criss-crossed his legs in his new spot, still fantastically close. His ankles were so slender, Richie noticed dumbly. Eddie pulled off his glasses. “It’s true, I don’t have asthma, I don’t need the inhaler.

“But when you spend your life being told otherwise -- or even, y’know, being told it’s okay , that it’s a matter of believing ,” Eddie continued. “I mean,” he laughed again, dryly but not devoid of humor, “what are ya supposed to do.” There was a finality to the words, like the conclusion of a monologue. His eyes met Richie's again. Without the glass dividing them, the eye contact was raw, unchecked. Just them, Richie and Eddie.

In Richie’s hand, the inhaler felt heavier than it was. He didn’t know what to do with it, wasn’t even sure why he took it in the first place. Just to mess around , Richie justified thinly to himself, and he really had done it to mess around. But what reason was there, without an audience? What did it mean, to play around when no one else could see them? 

Richie cleared his throat. “Well,” he shrugged, and tossed the inhaler blindly behind himself. Eddie’s eyes followed it as it clattered somewhere. “Consider it good as gone, bud,” he said, clapping his hand on Eddie’s shoulder a couple times. (Could he not keep his hands off of Eddie for a second? Was it impossible?) Then Richie cleared his throat again and brought his hands back to himself, cracked his knuckles. “And you can rest easy knowing Rich To-zee-ay, budget analyst to the President, is gonna help get rid of all the stuff you don’t need,” he said magnanimously. He rearranged himself on the floor, loosely criss-crossed his own legs. “Another one, on the house:” He gestured like he was making a good deal, and Eddie watched him, amused and curious. Richie spoke direly. “The sweater vest. Has to go.”

“Hey!”

“We’ll do something about that attitude too,” Richie said professionally. Eddie grumbled and repeatedly whacked Richie’s upper arm in rebuttal. “But Spaghetti, this is for you!” he cried under the onslaught.

“Beep, beep, Richie,” Eddie said, but his voice and eyes were smiling, and Richie felt a million ways.

-

After the heat of the fire got to be a bit much, Richie and Eddie did end up pushing the seat forward and sitting there instead. Richie had an arm around Eddie’s shoulders and Eddie sat half on the couch, his legs over Richie’s lap. It was close quarters and neither remarked on it. 

-

"Your glasses are so great, man,” Eddie said after a bit of comfortable quiet, smiling unabashed and sincere; Richie had of course long since put in his contacts. “I'm glad I got to see you in them again," Eddie said. The words were jarring, almost absurd to hear after the decades Richie had spent distancing himself from his godforsaken glasses. But that's the Richie that Eddie remembered. A majority of Richie’s life had been lived without the glasses, but Eddie (just like all of the Losers, just like Derry and It) was a ghost from the past. “Don’t know if you’d be a Loser without ‘em,” Eddie teased, but Richie thought he might agree.

“Well when you put it that way,” Richie feigned, before nabbing Eddie’s glasses from his casual grip. (Eddie had spent a lot of the time at the inn with his glasses off, in his hand instead of over his eyes, and in an abstract way, the glasses reminded Richie of the camphor water.) Eddie responded with a small, silly noise of surprise and mock-offense -- a hopelessly endearing sound. Richie slid the glasses onto his own face. “This better?” Richie asked with faux earnestness.

"Oh, you can’t take those too!” Eddie whined, but didn’t grab for them. “You're gonna strain your eyes, Rich. Give ‘em back.” 

The prescriptions were laughable compared to Richie’s own. With his contacts in, the addition of the glasses barely changed his vision. The room in front of him seemed off-kilter, and Eddie was out of focus, but not by a whole lot.

Richie twisted himself, his back to the arm of the couch. He used his pointer finger and thumb to cartoonishly adjust the glasses. "How do I look, Eds?" Richie asked, facing Eddie with gawking eyes. “Like a real Loser now?”

“Uh huh, the biggest Loser in the world,” Eddie deadpanned, and how cute that was. Cute, cute, cute, Richie thought with the measured cadence of something remembered. Had he said that before? About Eddie? “Now c’mon already, Rich.” Must have.

Richie realized he was instigating again, figuratively tugging Eddie’s pigtails; it was becoming increasingly difficult for Richie to catch himself. The lack of self-control was reminiscent of his school days, when his ‘attention deficit’ was at its least contained and the phone calls to home were at their most frequent. He surrendered the glasses to Eddie with a flourish.

“If you get a headache, it’s not my fault,” Eddie said, putting the glasses on. “But I do have aspirin on me, should you need any.” Then Eddie frowned in belated afterthought, “And don’t call me 'Eds.’” But the sentiment seemed more like tradition than anything else. By resisting the pet names, Richie thought Eddie might have been playing into how their dynamic had been, or trying to recreate it. And was that not what they were both doing? What they were all doing? The demand rolled off of Richie regardless, water off a duck’s back.

Richie's core felt warm, but he was simultaneously stiff with sobriety and the remnants of physical terror. "We can't stay here, you were right,” Richie said, onto the next topic. He didn’t need a segue, didn’t need to waste time filling the air like he normally would. “We gotta get out of here.” The thought of that morning simmered in the back of Richie’s head, making him briefly ill. “This shit was okay when we were kids, sure, we lived through it . But a Round Two? I dunno.”

“I passed out near McCarron Park today,” Eddie said, shifting his position on the seat. “After all the baseball stuff. I left that part out.”

-

When they were sharing their fairly literal ghost stories of the day (Richie did not share his, would never), Eddie had told the group about his encounter with It. He’d walked to Kansas Street and ended up down by the lot they’d play baseball at as kids. It showed up, because why not? This was Its territory, not theirs. 

At the lot, Eddie had said he’d seen Belch Huggins, the thing from Neibolt Street, and others Richie hadn’t remotely considered until Eddie mentioned them. Then he got away. That was where Eddie’s story ended. 

-

“I couldn’t handle it,” Eddie continued, “I mean, I could , I got away. But what’s that even mean, to ‘get away’? When the thing is in Derry. When It practically is Derry." He was laid on his back like at a psychotherapist, except instead of a chaise longue Eddie was reclined on Richie’s lap. Eddie had ended up there without asking permission, and it was beyond understood that he would not have to.

“We gotta leave, is the meat of it, methinks,” Richie said. “‘Sides, what about your lady back home?” He nudged Eddie’s side with a knuckle, compensated. Richie felt dirty saying it -- at heart he didn’t think it was true, and worse, the foundation of his disbelief was his own biases and projections. “Can’t be out drinkin’ beers with the boys forever.” Richie glanced from Eddie to the fire, allowing Eddie the privacy to think before he responded. 

“Actually,” Eddie started, and Richie’s chest squeezed in apprehension, a thousand thoughts colliding in real time. “The only woman I have at home… is my ma.” He glanced at Richie to gauge his reaction, then continued. “I was going to tell you guys, eventually. It’s not-- I’m not… I mean, sure, I’m ashamed of it. But I just…” Richie glanced down and saw Eddie’s eyebrows scrunched in concentration. “It’s stupid,” Eddie went on, “but it’s like up until now I haven’t really been myself. So yeah, I live with Ma, but is that really me? Was that really me?” He glanced up at Richie, then to the ceiling. Richie moved a curl of hair that was resting on Eddie’s glasses, and could see the gears turning, crunching in Eddie’s eyes. “That’s kind of what’s giving me pause,” Eddie sighed. “Because it’s true, I feel like, when I left Derry, I stopped being me. And for the first time in thirty years I feel right. I have my friends and I’m me.” He looked at Richie, verging on pleading. “Am I making sense?”

Richie ran his fingers through Eddie’s hair: sifted, lifted, then let the locks drop back down. So Richie’s intuition had been right. Part of why he’d chosen to accept Eddie’s lie in the first place was because that was safe. If Eddie was seeing someone (a woman at that), then whatever mixed up way Richie had been thinking was nulled and voided. Eddie’s admission surely carried much more with it than Eddie realized. “Too much.” 

The sight of Eddie looking up at Richie -- all soft eyes and unevenly placed glasses and jawline and cheekbones, glowing and contouring in the light and shadow of the fire -- coalesced with Richie’s memory of the morning; it coalesced with the memory of the night before, and then the dinner before that; it coalesced with the sad life Richie had been leading even before then; and then coalesced finally with the boyhood far before any of that, the boyhood that started everything. Richie ran his fingers through Eddie’s hair again, tranquil. 

With that coalescence too was the sinking hopelessness of their reality. They were going to die, or worse. Those were the outcomes if they stayed. Richie was certain of it.

And Richie was equally certain of something else: Eddie Kaspbrak made Richie feel worth something. Richie was certain because the feeling was so unfamiliar that it had initially startled him, confused him. He was startled again when one of Eddie’s lithe, bony hands (a refreshing cool in the weighty heat of the fire) gripped Richie’s wrist, the one that had been in Eddie’s hair. 

“Richie,” Eddie put his thumb to Richie’s pulse point. A memory came to Richie’s mind of a middle school science class, when everyone had to find their pulse and count the number of beats they felt over a minute. Richie had had trouble finding his and did a (disruptive) bit about being a vampire, undead, heartless, etcetera. He wondered if Eddie could feel the pulse, wondered what the BPM would be.

Eddie looked in Richie’s eyes, kept looking as he pulled Richie’s forearm down, rotated it a little. Eddie swiped his thumb out of the way, over the lines of Richie’s veins. Eddie put the wrist to his lips, gingerly placing a kiss on the smooth skin there. It was infinitesimally light, no more of a peck than Richie had given Eddie’s head the night before. Richie held his breath, feeling on his skin (and had he ever felt anything so tender at his wrist?) the hot trace of Eddie’s exhales, a different sort of warmth than what the fire produced. It was small and concentrated, like the heat of sunlight through a magnifying glass. Their eye contact didn’t break. They were having a conversation.

And then things put themselves into perspective. Everything aligned: the image of Eddie with his mouth obscured by Richie’s limp wrist (no pun intended), the feeling of Eddie’s lips and breath, the notion of the argument Eddie just stated through action. It all fit together. Richie thought in sudden epiphany and complete sureness that love existed and that he understood it. 

“So no gal,” Richie said.

“None,” Eddie shook his head. Their eyes still didn’t break contact, another part of the conversation. 

For Richie’s argument, he (insanely, ingeniously, bravely) pressed his wrist back to Eddie’s lips. Eddie kissed Richie’s pulse point then, held it there a little longer than the first one, then released it with the characteristic click of a parted kiss (a sound which cemented the action and sealed the contract; the shot heard round the world). 

Richie felt bizarre. What he had newly understood about love is that it was something to be experienced, and that he loved Eddie, simply. Love was an experience, a phenomenon, and when Richie looked at Eddie, Richie saw someone he loved. He was experiencing love. He couldn’t parse it any other way.

“Sit up,” Richie said absently, not sure what he was going to do. Eddie had communicated his piece and Richie was overwhelmed, overloaded with what Eddie seemed to be saying. It was mind boggling. When has anyone (let alone Richie Tozier) ever gotten what they wanted?

Eddie did sit up, easily in a way that suggested he did crunches or something, and it figured that he would keep fit. Richie liked that idea. He thought again of that morning, of how bad he'd wanted Eddie. Richie thought of how bad he wanted Eddie once more.

Not knowing for sure whether what Richie was experiencing was real, he happened upon another revelation: if nothing distinguished reality from nightmare, what kept him from living as he would in a dream? Why wasn't he getting and doing what he wanted all the time? For frock's sake, monsters were real and the world was practically ending. 

But what would Richie do in a dream, he haphazardly contemplated. Never in any of his escapades had he been so equally stricken and at ease, so pressed for time and unhurried. Eddie rearranged himself further, hesitating briefly before slowly straddling one leg, then the other, on either side of Richie’s lap. Eddie cautiously placed his hands just above Richie's collarbones, the ends of Eddie's fingers wrapping with the curve of Richie's shoulders.  

Eddie was outlined by the backdrop of the fire, hair glowing white and ears glowing red, shadowed everywhere else. The only reflection in Eddie’s lenses was the displaced image of an old white guy with a mustache, looking tired and intrinsically insecure and terribly fond. Behind the reflection, Eddie’s eyes smoldered with something Richie couldn’t quite name, but which he thought he understood: Eddie had opened the discussion, had made the most significant moves, and it was Richie’s turn to do something overt. Yet his uncharacteristic, awed quiet had only drawn on. Intuition suggested he kiss Eddie, and so it was done.

-

Richie misjudged the angle of the kiss in his eagerness to honor his intuition (presenting itself so spontaneously, it was practically a dare), clacking their teeth together with a blunt, nerve end-y feeling. Neither acknowledged it, with the mutual understanding of respect and nervousness. But they were resilient, adjusting themselves to better fit the other. Richie draped his hands at Eddie’s sides, beginning at his waist (and from the torso and up, they could have been slow dancing). Richie felt almost reverent toward Eddie’s body, both afraid to touch and anxious to explore. 

They learned from each other very quickly (it seemed perhaps that they always did), meshing into the other with relative ease. It felt good and clean and unlike the events of the morning. Eddie was soft but firm (as well as cotton-polyester-y); he had been drinking herbal tea earlier, Richie recalled as they kissed into each other’s mouth. It was hard to believe they were both sober; but the dark and heat and circumstances fostered the ideal environment for bravery. He was sober but drunk on courage, necking Eddie Kaspbrak of all people. Eddie Kaspbrak! Who could have imagined? 

Eddie pulled back first (and Richie very briefly followed, to his vague but passing chagrin), dazedly taking his glasses off and single-handedly folding them to set aside. He looked back to Richie, the lack of glasses further reinforcing Eddie’s essential Spaghetti-ness, and jeezus, it was really happening. Eddie made a move to kiss Richie again and then hesitated. 

"I don't have," Eddie said, lips grazing Richie's, nose bumping between Richie's cheek and own nose, "a lot of experience." Eddie kissed Richie again, pulled away, "But I like you a lot." Eddie's fingers tensed and then released and tensed again at Richie's shoulders. Eddie kissed the side of Richie's lips. Eddie shut his eyes, Richie could feel the tickle of eyelashes on his face. "I like you a lot-a lot, Richie." His voice was whiny as it usually was, but tinged with a different, urgent kind of whine. Eddie kept sliding his hands over Richie's shoulders and then back, evidently unsure what to do with them. ( 'I was a virgin,’ Richie remembered with clinical uselessness.) 

"Mmm," Richie kissed Eddie again, savoring before parting (Eddie followed that time, and how gratifying it was). Richie's hands slid down to Eddie's hips, then to the junctions where hip turned to thigh. Eddie had no clue how good he looked on Richie's lap the way he was -- it was indecent. "Eds, y're so hot," Richie said, mouth on auto-pilot. "Been thinking it since the Chinese place." Richie held Eddie down a little then, pressing their hips together. It felt good, great. Was that all it took? "It's all I've wanted ta fucking talk about."

"Richie…" Eddie's eyes were dark and big and shiny, mouth well-kissed, breaths uneven. Richie had never seen Eddie in such a state of… impropriety, and it suited him. Richie couldn’t have fathomed something so obscenely attractive, not even with the imaginative ammunition of a million girly mags. Getting leverage from Richie's shoulders, Eddie experimentally rolled his hips down into Richie's lap, and it felt awesome. Making out with Eddie -- with the vivacity of teenagers no less -- was awesome. 

The whole process was different with a man than a woman, of course, but the learning curve wasn't unsurmountable. Richie knew how his own dick worked, knew what he himself liked; it was maybe even more fun (more fulfilling? more exciting? more enjoyable?) than with a woman, because Richie had a better idea of what he was doing to Eddie. And how fantastic an idea that was. 

~

(Behind Richie’s eyes -- behind the desire and exhilaration and indulgence -- was the dense, full feeling that comes before tears spill. It was uncomfortable how vulnerable the moment was, how special but fleeting everything seemed in the bigger picture. He had seen it in Eddie’s eyes too, the shininess, the propensity to weep, to grieve inevitable loss. They didn’t know exactly what they were going to lose, but they did know Derry wouldn’t let them go scot-free. What they were doing was more than reprieve, it was ritual. It was their Last Supper -- or last meal. Whichever, it would be their last.)

~

“Richie,” Eddie repeated between open-mouthed kisses. The two of them were becoming increasingly disheveled, increasingly caught up in the other, increasingly dumb with the buzz of arousal. Yet Richie’s thoughts raced. Are we gonna have sex? Is this fine? 

“Spaghetti,” Richie said breathlessly, mustache surely scratching Eddie's lips. He really is so hot. Shit. Eddie grumbled, rolled his eyes, slowed his pace a bit.

“I keep saying na-ah-t--" Eddie began before Richie held Eddie’s hips down, purposefully derailing the thought. Do I need protection? Do we jack each other off? Eddie dug his fingers into Richie's shoulders, able to do nothing more than breathe against Richie’s neck. Am I gay? I love him. "Ohh, I'll kill you, Tih--" he whispered, interrupting himself as Richie handled Eddie by his ass, moving him closer. How fun it all was. Can I fuck him? Is that crazy? “Tozier,” he finished, voice high. We can’t stay here. Eddie followed his statement by ravishing Richie’s mouth, nipping his lower lip, imparting other general salacity. Fuck, I love him. We’re gonna die.

"Uh huh," Richie said. We can’t keep our clothes on. At least our fucking pants, we need to unzip or something , we can’t just blow our loads in our--

 

There was a shout from upstairs, a thump, a cracking sound, something shattering, and like that the night had ended. Everything ended. 

-

The drive to the hospital was quiet.

Of course, what would a Losers Club reunion be without Henry Bowers, the legend himself?

Richie’s head pounded, hands clenched on the steering wheel. Yes yes Mssr. Bowers, right this way my good man. Would you care to sit? Care for a drink perhaps? Stanley couldn’t make it, but thank God we could see how you grew up. Thanks for trying to kill us, it really feels like old times now. Sorry you couldn’t ruin our lives a little more, but hey, be happy to know you blue balled me and Eddie Kaspbrak. Thank you for that. Thank you Henry Bowers. Thanks. They were angry, senseless thoughts; Bowers was dead, what did it matter? But if Richie weren’t angry, he didn’t know what else to be.

7

In the hospital, Richie and Eddie loitered outside of Mike’s room. 

“We aren’t doing this,” Richie said, looked at Eddie, and then amended. “ I’m not doing this, anymore. I can’t.” He leaned against the wall and took a sip of water from a small paper cup. Sitting in a parking garage, Richie’s Cherry Red 1985 Chevy Camaro was surely still warm, after its leisure ride from Derry Inn to Derry Home Hospital. He couldn’t think of a good punchline, even though the whole thing felt like a massive joke. Nothing was coherent. 

“That,” Richie continued, pointing in the direction of Mike’s room (“201” it read, and Richie was just grateful the room number wasn’t 666 or 237 or some other Pennywise bullshittery), “is a sign if I’ve seen one.”

Eddie was quiet, meditative, glasses held in one hand. He was drained, too. Everyone was. Mike worst of all, probably. But while it was everyone else’s spirit that was drained, all that seemed drained of old Mikey was his blood. At least Eddie wasn’t on the inhaler right now -- he appeared preoccupied. But Bill was gone to the cafeteria momentarily, Ben and Bev were out, and Richie needed a word with Eddie. So Richie was going to get his word.

Richie cleared his throat. “Eds,” he said, then took another sip from the paper cup. There was nothing in it now, he realized, but made no indication of that. He walked over to Eddie, antsy. He didn’t know where they stood with each other, hadn’t had time to talk. And with Eddie so quiet, Richie could only throw guesses as to what Eddie was thinking. “Listen, Eds, this whole thing is a suicide mission. I mean, look at Mike. That was just Bowers ! We haven’t even reached the clown. Not altogether. And we shouldn’t. If we know what’s good for us, we won’t.”

“I agree with you,” Eddie said after a little silence. Then he looked at Richie, nodding. “I do. I agree. Our lives exist beyond this microcosm, and we can just leave it behind. We have that option. I think Bev and Ben could even be reasoned with -- but the issue is Bill.” And Richie understood. He’d already known.

Big Bill was their leader. If he wanted something, the Losers were going to back him up. It was just their nature, Richie surmised. But was he an exception? Everyone had at some point been in love with Bill Denbrough. It was just Bill’s nature, then. If they could just get Bill with them on it-- And then an elevator dinged and ponytailed, middle-aged horror novelist Bill Denbrough did not step out. But it soberly reminded Richie of Bill’s potential to appear any minute, any second.

Pressed for time, Richie continued a little hurriedly, “‘Cause, Spaghetti, I like everybody. Never loved anyone more than you guys.” Eddie audibly inhaled and nodded. “And I think we all get it: our lives outside were fine on paper but in practice they blew. Now we’ve got a slice of our life back and we could-- could see how we fare.” Richie put his free hand in a pants pocket, casual. “We could see how we can, ya know, change our lives,” he used his other hand to put his empty cup to his lips. “Now that we’ve all got each other,” Richie finished with a shrug that meant more than a shrug. His face felt hot, as if he’d said something more profane, more explicitly revealing. He drank from his pretend cup and Eddie raised his brows. 

“Would you prefer my inhaler? It's at least got water in it.” 

“Hardy-har, Spaghetti,” Richie deadpanned. If there were more time, he would have congratulated Eddie on getting off a good one, because it was a good one. Richie lowered his cup. Alas. 

Richie leaned in closer to Eddie, thought about what It had said at the townhouse. “What I’m sayin’ is that we are dead if we go in those sewers. I know it.” That wasn’t exactly the truth, but it was close. He shared a look with Eddie. Richie looked as earnest and frantic and hopeless as he felt, and Eddie in turn made an expression as though he really understood.

8

Mike was going to be fine, and everyone was going to go home. The cars were packed with destination: airport in mind. Eddie would help navigate if it came down to it. It was kind of perfect. They never had to turn around, never had to see that shit hole again. 

9

But everyone at some point had been in love with Bill Denbrough.

And when Bill Denbrough gave his monologue in the entryway of the Derry townhouse, Richie had lost. He wouldn't, couldn’t, accept it without a fight, but he had lost. So Richie didn’t join the group hug, kept on the quieter side. But that didn't change that it was over. It was like in his father’s last month or so, how Richie would still fight with his dad, would stay mad to ignore the reality of mortality. It was one of the ways he coped with fear: create distance, don’t show how scared you are, and lie if needed (or even if not). 

10

Everyone packed back in the Camaro, Richie thought he ought to be leading a prayer chant or something. Something to save their souls as Richie acted as chauffeur to their death beds. What’s everybody’s life insurance like? he kept himself from asking. Beep, beep.

The forest-lined, winding road Richie saw in his rearview was empty of cars, of anyone, of any life whatsoever it seemed. The view was less than empty, it was draining; the atmosphere of death had them surrounded (‘ Come out with your hands where It can see them,’ Richie imagined the deathly atmosphere saying in an authoritative voice. Richie chuckled internally -- it was complete nonsense, and reminded him of the offbeat stuff only Stan ever found funny. Richie missed Stan.) 

He tilted his head, shifting his gaze in the mirror from the road to the backseat. To Eddie. He looked small, confined to the mirror. Small and far away, arm behind Bev, eyes on the passing trees, mind surely elsewhere. Richie felt something in his face twitch. He didn’t know what he was going to do, if something happened to Eddie. They had to make it out of there alive. They did it once...

Richie looked back to the road in front of him. That’s where his eyes needed to be. 

-

When they all got out of the car, on the side of the road, about to make the Final Trek, Richie thought a last ditch effort -- one last angry attempt to save their lives -- might be worth a try. And so he tried. He had one explosion left in him, his final fuse to blow. He gave his pitch.

But the efforts weren't enough, they never could be, not with Bill there. And Richie had known that, he’d known as soon as he made good on his promise to return: he wouldn’t be going back to L.A. unscathed and/or alive. Even without his memory fully returned at that point, he’d known. He wouldn’t be going back until he’d been through the sewers, until they faced It again. That was always the plan.

Richie had known he wouldn't be able to turn the ship around, just like how he’d known ignoring his dad’s calls wouldn’t cure him. Richie knew, by the laws of nature, when something was over. And Bill’s leadership was as impregnable as death. 

-

Eddie clapped Richie’s shoulder, looked him in the eyes, and Richie had to recognize that he was past the point of no return. They both were.