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When everything in Derry is said and done, Eddie really doesn’t know what the fuck to do. The town seems quiet now, a vulnerable place with memories tucked in every corner. The rot that seeped up through every open crack seems to have faded, and left in its place is just the town where Eddie grew up. It’s where he spent his summers swimming in the quarry with his friends, and spent his afternoons watching movies at the Capitol and fucking around in the arcade with Richie. It’s just a place now, and all the fear has gone out of it.

Still, even if he’s not in a hurry, everyone else is. Stan is the first to leave, giving them all a loving goodbye, but clearly desperate to get back to his wife and his real home. Ben and Bev are running away together, and can’t seem to go fast enough, murmuring poetry into their kisses and whispering in each other’s ears, giggling constantly. Bill looks tired, but he’s technically in the middle of working on a movie that he still needs to write an ending for, and he has loose ends to tie up. Mike wants so badly to finally leave that it’s almost like he’s allergic to the town now, like standing in one place makes him itch. 

And Richie - well Richie has tour dates in Reno. That’s what he says. He says goodbye to Eddie and he leaves, just like that. It seems a little like he’s running away, too, but Eddie doesn’t know what he’s running from. 

Eddie takes his time packing, and he says goodbye to everyone else as they go. Mike is still packing, too, and Eddie has coffee with him the day he leaves, the two of them tucked into a little corner table in Derry’s only cafe. 

“I still remember everything now. Do you? Do you think that’s just because we’re still here?” Eddie asks him, nervous. Regardless of what happened in the sewer, it still feels like Mike is the one of them that might have some answers.

Mike shakes his head. “Bill called me once he got home. We’ve been talking almost every day. I think we’re stuck with each other this time.”

Mike gives him a nervous smile, and Eddie smiles back. They give each other a hug before they part ways, and both of them relax into it, lingering a little longer than they need to, both glad to see each other and know each other and remember - glad to be alive. 

Eddie could have flown home - but instead he drives.

The thing is, he’s going back to New York because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He doesn’t want to stick around Derry alone and haunt all their old places like a nervous ghost.

He feels like maybe he was supposed to die down in the sewer. When Richie yanked at his jacket, and Pennywise speared right through the area by his shoulder, right under his collarbone, it had missed every nearby critical part of his body. An inch or two difference and it would have hit the subclavian artery. Almost anywhere else and it still might have killed him. He was the one of them, the only one left down there, with no real future. All the rest of them have someone or something waiting - Eddie has a loveless marriage that’s more like a trap, and a job it turns out he fucking hates.

With his memories back now, with all the knowledge of his mother and his placebos and his fake inhaler and his friends, it feels like Eddie has been living the last 27 years in sickly, yellow sepia tones. His memories and even the brief time he spent with everyone at the Chinese restaurant shine in his mind in vivid technicolor, and everything else pales in comparison.

He thought he would die, and now he doesn’t have a plan. His life in New York is miserable and cramped and leaves him feeling small, so he puts it off as long as he can.

The drive isn’t long, even with Eddie taking his time. He takes a detour just to drive along the coast and see the ocean, and stops at any given exit or National Forest along the way that strikes his fancy. He’s still home before nightfall.

He hasn’t really given a lot of thought to how he looks since everyone else left Derry. He’s been changing out the bandage on his cheek in a cursory way, ignoring the itch of still-healing skin. He changes the bandages on his shoulder, too, from the larger wound, but that one still aches when he moves his arm too quickly, and he has to be gentle with it.

He doesn’t think about any of this when he goes to his own door and opens it with his key, but of course Myra comes out to greet him and screams like he’s some kind of fucking intruder in his own apartment.

Fuck, at this point maybe he is.

He closes his eyes, and sighs, and tries and tries to keep himself under control so he won’t be cruel.

The thing is, though, now that he remembers, vividly, the way she touches him is just the way his mother used to. Her hands are clammy on his face, and she grabs and twists his head, tuts at him for the way the bandage is placed, pulls him into the bathroom by his arm like he’s a little boy in trouble instead of a fully grown adult man. 

“And where is your inhaler? You’re not even wearing a jacket, you could freeze outside at night, you know how you get in cold weather, it makes you short of breath.”

She pushes him so he’s sitting down on the edge of the bathtub, and he looks up at her, and he feels sick to his stomach.

“Myra, it’s not even a real fucking inhaler. It’s just water and camphor it’s the same shit my mother had some doctor prescribe when I was a kid, it’s just a coping mechanism for my panic attacks. You’re a nurse, there’s no way you don’t know that by now.” 

She steps back and blinks at him like he’d slapped her.

“Eddie-bear-”

Rage starts to rise, and he uses it as fuel as he stands up. “You know, you know that’s what my mother called me, I told you that when we met and you wouldn’t fucking listen. This is just - no. This isn’t happening anymore.” He pushes around her, going straight back to the living room for his luggage. “I’m leaving, Myra. You can keep the apartment, you can keep whatever the fuck you want, but I’m going to take my shit, and I’m leaving.” 

He goes into the bedroom and digs around for some of his favorite shirts, for anything he’s kept since college or even before. He finds a shoebox of old comics and cassette tapes, the only things he’d kept since Maine, hidden in a drawer, and tucks that in his suitcase, too.

As he packs, Myra follows him around the apartment, much like she had before he left for Derry. She screams and cries and begs, and Eddie ignores her while he methodically makes sure he’ll never have to come back.

When everything is packed that he feels like he needs, he goes out towards the door, and places his wedding ring on the kitchen counter.

“I’m sorry, Myra, but this isn’t - you have to know this isn’t good for either of us. You have to know that I’m- this was never normal. It’ll be better this way.”

She’s sniffling behind him, still, and he feels a little sorry for her, genuinely, as he walks out the door. For all her controlling and pushing and snapping, he knows she’d just been afraid, just like his mother had been. He could relate to that, in some small way - but Richie had been right. He’s braver than he thought.

Before he can talk himself out of it, he drives himself to the nearest hotel that won’t completely empty his bank account and checks in.

The room is simple, but nice. There’s a nice, big bed that he’ll have to himself, with a duvet that’s a comforting shade of blue. The sheets are clean and crisp. The whole place smells like air freshener instead of disinfectant and Myra’s perfume. The A/C is just a little too cold, just the way that Eddie likes to sleep, the way that Myra could never tolerate.

He’s alone. It feels like something that’s been tied tight around his chest for the last 27 years has been cut loose, and he takes a deep breath in just to feel his ribs expand, unhindered.

It’s nighttime proper now, and the city’s buzzing with life outside his window. It was difficult to sleep in Derry. Some of that had been the nightmares, and the constant overhanging shadow, but some of that had been the complete and utter lack of ambient noise. Quiet has a tendency of forcing Eddie to be alone with his own thoughts, and that’s something he knows is dangerous - has known for years.

He turns on the TV as a further distraction and bounces from channel to channel. Embarrassingly, in the end, he lands on Comedy Central because one of Richie’s old specials is on. The jokes are truly fucking terrible, but Eddie laughs in spite of himself.

At some point, he finds himself glancing at his phone. Technically speaking, he has friends now. He has phone numbers, for Richie, Bill, Mike, Stan, Ben, and Bev. They even all have a group chat where Mike and Bill asked everyone to check in occasionally, just so they can all see that they still remember everything.

For one wild moment, he thinks about texting all of them to tell them he’s left Myra.

Then he thinks about Richie saying Wait, like, to a woman? and he turns his phone back over, setting it face down on the bedside table.

It’s not a conversation he’s ready to have yet. Not with everyone. Not with anyone. Some part of it had nearly come spilling out to Myra before he left, but he knew she didn’t deserve to be the first one to hear it - not when he’s never even said it to himself.

He leaves the TV on Comedy Central, even when it changes over to someone else who’s less funny than Richie’s writer, which is really saying something.

He falls asleep to the sounds of canned laughter.

He dreams in patches, stops and starts. It wakes him up a couple of times, just the abrupt end of a dream, but it’s easy enough to close his eyes and fall back into another.

When he finally sits up and shakes off sleep, it’s almost noon. He can’t even remember the last time he slept in so late, except he knows that it must have been when he was in college. He’s going to have to go back to work some time this week, or otherwise call in and beg off or quit, but he has a few more days before he told them he’d be back.

He’s using up all his spare vacation time, had asked for all of it just in case. There was no safe time estimate, after all, on how long it took to kill a fucking monster.

A horn blares outside, and shakes Eddie from his stupor. He glances around the empty room, over to his bags. 

He’s really alone. He got out. All this time, and he finally managed to do it.

The realization triggers something, and sitting alone in his hotel room, Eddie laughs. He laughs, and laughs until he cries, and then he catches himself genuinely crying. There’s so much he’s missed, so much time he can’t get back. He’s spent over half of his life forgetting every decent part of himself and trying to bury it, and he aches with the knowledge.

It’s a siren this time that startles him out of his headspace, and it makes Eddie gets up and finally take a shower. As he washes, he has to be careful around the bandages and his shoulder, but the warm water is a balm to his sore muscles and his headache.

He changes into a t-shirt that he hasn’t worn since college once he’s cleaned up. It’s a ratty shirt for a band he never even listened to, and at the time he couldn’t have explained why he bought it if you’d held a gun to his head. Now he realizes that something about it must have reminded him of Richie, even though he didn’t remember. 

It’s soft and a source of comfort as he sits down to make a list of all the things he’s going to have to do in the next couple of weeks.

That first day, he sets up meetings with realtors. He calls his lawyer to get the divorce proceedings in process. He starts searching online, making a list of potential therapists that his insurance will cover. He places a star next to any names listed under the “LGBT friendly” tag and then crosses out all the others.

If he’s going to do all this, he can’t quit his job yet. He needs the insurance, and the money for a security deposit and a few months of rent. He has some savings, but a lot of that will get spent in the divorce. Still, he lets himself think, for the first time, about what else he might like to do if he stops being a risk analyst. No ideas spring immediately to mind. 

None of his appointments can actually be scheduled for today, so he has a full day to himself, to do whatever he wants.

If there was ever a time in the last 20 years that he did something just because he wanted to, he can’t remember it. Museums were full of kids, and Myra hated kids. Movies were more easily watched at home - and were still, then, usually presumed to be too stressful. Work meant long hours and bone-deep exhaustion from all the clients who refused to read Eddie’s risk proposals and insisted he go back over every single detail with them - not that they ever fucking listened when he did.

Of all the options, first Eddie digs out the shoebox he found.

He’d gotten it from his mom’s house after she’d died. It’d been shoved in some corner, tucked away and literally forgotten, and at the time it had seemed like a box of useless junk that he just couldn’t make himself get rid of. Now, though, it has an obvious significance.

There’s a comic that he knows he and Richie used to steal back and forth from each other - which one of them had actually bought it is a mystery. There’s a set of mix tapes with titles messily scrawled on masking tape. A couple of them are Eddie’s own, but one - one is definitely Richie’s handiwork, with little skull doodles and lightning bolts scattered over it in permanent marker. There’s a Thundercats action figure, tickets from the Capitol for Ghostbusters and Lost Boys. It’s Derry, in a box, and it’s suddenly the most precious thing Eddie owns. He tucks everything back in the box for safekeeping, places the box back in his suitcase, and takes a kind of bone-deep comfort in knowing that it’s there.

When he does finally leave the hotel room, he leaves his car parked there. He walks, then he takes the Subway. The line he’s on has its last stop at Coney Island. He thinks of every safety hazard, every artery-clogging sweet and fried thing, every kid covered in germs, and he suddenly knows where he’s going.

It’s a long ride, but he doesn’t care.

The service down in the subway tunnels, especially between stops, is a fucking nightmare, but it doesn’t stop him from breaking down and pulling out his phone.

He drafts a few different versions of the same thing before he finally sends to Richie, I saw one of your comedy specials last night and it was even worse than I remembered

Within minutes, he has a response.

 

blame my fucking writer eds

Oh I absolutely will, you can tell him Eddie Kaspbrak says fuck you

Say it personally to his face

you’ll be happy to know I’m actually trying to write my own fucking material now

 

Eddie blinks down at his phone. He’d never admit it, but he feels like the reason he’d been so rude about Richie’s standup was because he’d always been able to tell he hadn’t written his own jokes. Richie was funny - he still is. He makes Eddie laugh. All of his specials had varied from hollow to kind of gross, and even Richie’s delivery hadn’t been able to save them. Besides, it’s nice to know that Richie’s working on something, too - that they both have their own little projects, working parallel on opposite sides of the country.

 

I’m fucking delighted

yeah okay gimme a break I have to go actually do a show tonight

Break both legs

fuck you too eddie spaghetti

Don’t call me that asshole

 

Richie signs off with a middle finger emoji, and the exchange leaves Eddie smiling the entire hour out to Coney Island. He’s still smiling even as he gets off the Subway and finds the ticket booth.

It’s already late afternoon when he gets there, and he gets to watch all the lights go up as dusk settles in. There are families and couples, people all tugging each other along by the hand. Screams echo across the park, music plays, little game booths jingle and rattle and clang. Everything in sight is bright and colorful and shining, and Eddie feels like he is, too. The smell of fried food leads him to one booth in particular, and he orders whatever he think will be the worst for him.

It’s with Richie still in mind that Eddie eats an entire funnel cake, enough that he feels like he might be sick, and then immediately gets on a roller coaster for the first time in his life. He keeps a white-knuckle grip on the safety bar like he might fly out, and he screams and screams at the top of his lungs, but as soon as he’s back on solid ground, he can’t stop laughing.

He plays one of those stupid rigged games and actually wins, takes the tiny stuffed animal prize and buys himself a bag of cotton candy before he starts back to the hotel.

It feels like maybe he should have some kind of PTSD around the carnival style theme park now, but there’s not a fucking clown in sight and besides - they killed It. They killed It, and Eddie lived, and now he gets to ride things that make his stomach feel like it might fly out of his mouth and eat whatever disgusting garbage he wants and he gets to feel his heart race without someone there to lean over his shoulder and tell him he might die from it.

Back at the hotel, he really does feel a little sore and a little nauseous, but it’s the best fucking feeling he can imagine. He doesn’t take any stomach medicine, and it’s like another piece of the chain unlinks and falls to the ground. Piece by piece, he is tearing down and rebuilding.

The next day, he wakes up late again and calls his office, finally. He tells them that he was injured on vacation, and asks if he can work from home for a while. To his surprise, they actually tell him yes.

All this time he was going into the office, that concrete portal to hell, and he could have just asked to avoid it. Then again - maybe there was a reason he never wanted to be home, before.

Once he’s finished catching up on emails and worn himself out, he goes out again that night just to buy himself an old walkman.

The first thing he puts in is Richie’s old mixtape.

A simple guitar riff comes crackling through the headphones, and Eddie is very abruptly 14 years old again, laying on his childhood bed as he stared at the ceiling and hung on every word, picking apart every song Richie had given to him, unable to stop himself from letting hope unfurl in his chest even when he knew it would never pay off.

He lays down on the hotel sheets, pulling them up to his chin and closing his eyes as The Replacements echo in his ears and Paul Westerberg croons oh, meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime, now I don't care, meet me tonight, if you will dare, I might dare.

Eddie looks up at the ceiling and feels something sliding into place, like he’s slowly finding his conviction.

Every day, Eddie keeps the mixtape on constant rotation. He listens to it while he works, and when he goes out to meet with realtors and tour apartments, while he goes to see his lawyer and while he meets with potential therapist after potential therapist.

That first week, he finds an apartment.

Moving into the new place is easy, because all he has at first are his suitcases. He has to buy all of the furniture and have it delivered. He buys whatever he wants, discovering his own taste as he shops. Most of the pieces are sleek and modern but still retro-inspired, and Eddie finds most of what he wants at the Jonathan Adler store.

It drains a good part of his savings, but in the end he has a place that really feels like his own. Everything is comfortable and practical, with a few strange nicknacks scattered about as conversation pieces, a few hideously patterned pillows that he found he couldn’t say no to. Once everything is delivered, he rearranges it over and over until he’s sweating and his shoulder is killing him, and even if a few pieces end up exactly where they started, in the end it feels perfect.

He wants to send a picture to the Losers, but the thought makes his chest tight again. It gives too much away. He still can’t do it.

The beginning of the second week, he finds a therapist. His name is David.

David thinks he should be talking to other people more, developing a support system. He’s probably right. Eddie had chosen him easily, after the first meeting, because of the horrified way he’d reacted to just one of Eddie’s stories about his mother. Nothing had ever felt quite so satisfying as realizing there was a genuine reason he was so fucked up. Even having forgotten half of his childhood didn’t save Eddie from its lasting effects, and in some ways discovering that there are nice, clinical terms for everything is comforting.

His new apartment is on the Upper West Side, just a few blocks away from Central Park. He can go running every morning pretty easily, taking new paths, seeing all the buskers setting up where they’re scattered around Bethesda Fountain.

At first, running makes his knees click and leaves stitches in his side, and he ends every attempt doubled over and gasping for breath, but he’s still smiling the whole time. On really cold mornings, the air makes his lungs ache and he’s sweating and freezing at the same time, and that little voice that sounds like Myra and his mother both tells him over and over You’ll catch cold, you’ll catch cold, you’ll catch cold, and he runs even harder, like he can outrun it.

When the sun rises and the light catches in the trees, casting shadows on the sidewalks, and people go by with their dogs, or on bikes, it feels like he really can outrun it.

One morning when he’s back from his run, still sweating and just starting up his coffee machine, his phone lights up.

Ben and Bev have sent a picture to the Losers group chat of their hands with matching wedding bands. Apparently, Bev’s divorce has gone through and she and Ben have made it official. Richie sends back a picture of himself flipping off the camera, because of course he does.

Eddie sends a picture of himself giving a thumbs up, not much thought behind it.

Bill and Mike send their own answers, and he’s happy that all his friends are happy, with each other or for each other. It’s a nice way to start his day.

He works on a risk analysis for a banking company contemplating a merger. He listens to the Spotify playlist he made of the songs from Richie’s mixtape. He browses social media, and thinks about getting a pet. 

Within a couple of days, he goes to a shelter and ends up with an orange tabby cat. He decides to name him Lion-O, after the Thundercats character. It feels silly when he does it, something childish that should be shameful, but every time he calls the cat for dinner, he gets another kick out of it. Anyone else probably would have vetoed the name, but no one gets to, now. Eddie had always wanted a cat growing up, and his mother had claimed he was allergic. He isn’t, though, it turns out. He and Lion-O have a comfortable and mutually beneficial relationship, and there is no sneezing involved.

After a week of evenings with Lion-O curled up in his lap, Eddie finally decides to start taking his therapist’s advice. He takes a particularly cute picture where Lion-O is perched on top of the television and sends it to the group chat, captioning it, I know this pales in comparison to getting married, but I did just get a cat

Bev sends a little heart eyes emoji, Ben does too, Mike rates the photo five stars, Stan rates it ten, and Bill sends a picture of his dog, curled up asleep on the couch. Richie is the only one that replies with full-on text, of course, to say mr. allergy prone himself with a pet! never knew i’d see the day

Eddie specifically opens up his texts with just Richie to send a picture of himself flipping off the camera.

Richie sends back the middle finger emoji and Eddie scoffs, and rolls his eyes.

Three weeks after the day Eddie left, Myra finally signs the divorce papers. She’s surprisingly agreeable about it. The arbitration over assets isn’t even that bad, because they had a fairly tight prenuptial. Their apartment is a very nice apartment, so Eddie letting her take it meant that he gets to keep most of his own savings.

Myra does try to argue that he was at fault, tries to catch him in saying that he’d cheated (which, pathetically, he hadn’t), so he gives her a little more money than he strictly speaking had to, just to get the process over with. Fortunately, fault has nothing to do with alimony in New York, and Eddie is able to avoid it easily since Myra technically makes more money than he does.

The entire thing is arranged perfectly, so he never has to see her again. The lawyer’s handling the court dates, and it’s all out of his hands.

Going out to celebrate after an arbitration seems strange, even for him. Instead, he buys a bottle of wine and does what he does most nights; he curls up on his couch with Lion-O beside him.

More often than not when he’s watching TV, he avoids Comedy Central in favor of the classic movie channel. It’s stereotypical to the point of absurdity, the image of Eddie sitting on his couch, his cat curled up next to him, nursing a glass of wine while he watches old Rock Hudson and Doris Day films. With no one else to call him out on it, though, the guilty pleasure loses all its guilt.

One night, the channel has a James Dean spotlight, and Rebel Without a Cause comes on.

His mother had watched a lot of classic films because she felt they were more family friendly or representative of a better, safer time. Eddie had watched quite a few of them with her. It was one of the spare few things they had in common. Sometimes she had smiled in the flickering light of an old Gene Kelly musical, and Eddie had felt genuine affection for her, just for a brief moment. 

Still, since their television tended to stay on that one channel, Eddie had watched plenty of classic films on his own - and none had ever affected him quite the way Rebel Without a Cause had. He’d been 13 years old, stuck at home with his broken arm, and watched Sal Mineo follow James Dean around like a lost puppy. Then Jim asked if Plato was cold, gave him his jacket, and Eddie had found himself clutching a pillow with his one good arm, shivering in the summer heat. That one moment had stuck itself directly in Eddie’s chest, wormed inside and never left.

27 years later, a glass of wine in his hand, and still Eddie sits on his couch and wraps his arms around one of his hideous pillows, and he watches with wide eyes all over again. 

He finishes a bottle of wine afterwards, and regrets it thoroughly in the morning. He skips his run for the first time since he started.

Instead, he goes to his closet and pulls out his own jacket, the one he wore in Derry. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the iconic red jacket from Rebel Without a Cause .

It’s strange, now that everything is back in place, to realize that on some subconscious level he had never forgotten all of these pieces of himself. He had remembered his mother’s forceful control over his medication and tried to find a replacement, he had remembered his own budding understanding of himself in some small way, and some part of him had even remembered Richie - but he’d only had scraps, piecemeal, scattered through his mind. He’d forgotten just enough to feel hollowed out. Whoever had been living for the last 27 years had been someone else, like a shell without all his internal potential. 

The next day, he texts Richie.

 

How goes writing your own material?

mostly it’s just pissing off my agent because it puts my writer out of a job

Fuck that guy he doesn’t deserve a job

thank you as always for your shining support, eds

 

The conversation could end there. Eddie could flip him off and let it lie, and not make himself any more vulnerable than he has simply by texting at all. He feels like David would want him to keep going, though, so he pushes ahead.

 

You want me to say something I will never repeat?

i’m on the edge of my seat

You’re the funniest person I’ve ever met, you don’t need a writer. You’re better off without him

 

There’s no response for one very long minute. 

 

thanks eds.

Tell anyone I said that and I’ll kill you

too late i’m screenshotting it for posterity

 

Eddie sends back a middle finger emoji, since it’s essentially become the way they say goodbye to each other.

Another week passes, and Eddie finds that he can almost call himself well-adjusted. He sees his therapist regularly, he exercises. He spends more of his nights in than out, too, having a glass of wine at home in front of the television and not overdoing it after that night he watched Rebel Without a Cause .

David keeps suggesting that Eddie tell everyone about his divorce and develop a more effective circle of support.

He spends a lot of time tapping at his phone, drafting something and deleting it again. There’s not really an easy way to communicate that he got a divorce but that it’s fine in one small step. It’ll have to be a conversation with all of them.

He has to tell all of them, because he can’t not tell Richie, but texting Richie alone seems dangerous - like it implies something he isn’t fully ready to ask.

A month and a half after he walked out, he finally manages to send something.

 

Hey so since we all just make our life announcements in this group chat, I got a divorce. 

Bev responds immediately. Are you okay? Can we help?

I think it was for the best actually, but I appreciate that Bev. I’m good.

We’re happy for you, then.

 

Presumably she’s speaking for herself and for Ben, and Ben sends a thumbs up shortly after to make that clear. Mike responds after a few minutes, too, with an equally supportive but knowing Good for you.

Maybe it’s not a surprise that Mike realized something was wrong, with Eddie hanging around Derry like he might never leave. He’s always been observant and good that way, not one to push too hard or say too much, but comforting all the same. Eddie’s relieved he can be back to that, now that he’s safely out of Derry’s grasp.

Stan’s fairly fast, too, to say We’re proud of you . In some ways it echoes what the others have already said, but it makes it concise in a way that leaves Eddie smiling, warm and pleased.

Bill finally says, I’m going through something similar, if you do want to talk about it.

It’s news to Eddie, but no one else reacts like it is. Presumably, Bill talked to Bev and Mike separately about it. He’d spent time with each of them in Derry and could have communicated that something was wrong.

Eddie never really got any one-on-one time with any of them in Derry, except Mike. He’d never even really gotten any with Richie.

He sends Bill a quick thanks, and then he waits.

Richie hasn’t responded. It’s the middle of the day, so maybe he’s sleeping, still, or rehearsing or writing.

Hours pass, though, and their little group chat sits empty. Not even a thumbs up emoji.

He paces in circles around his studio, around the couch, then around the counter, then around his bed. For the first time since he moved in, his apartment very abruptly feels too small, like the walls are closing in and there’s not enough floor space because he’s already covered all of it and if he keeps walking in circles he’s going to wear out the hardwood.

Eddie gets dressed and puts on his jacket without knowing where he’s going to end up. He ends up walking by Central Park, wandering along the edge. It’s quiet at night, and he knows it’s supposed to be dangerous, but it seems peaceful like this, all shrouded in moonlight. He follows his walk up to the edge, then picks a direction and just keeps walking.  

He needs to stop somewhere, and he knows that. He pulls out his phone (still no response), and searches nearby bars. There’s one called Suite - the description calls it a “small, friendly gay lounge.”

He’s told everyone now, about his divorce. All of the losers know he’s single, with a cat. They probably know - or if they don’t know, they suspect. At the same time, there’s really nothing to know yet.

He approaches the bar, and it’s small. It looks quiet. Just simple and modern-looking, a sort of square wooden structure with a small overhang, lit up enough to be inviting. If it’s too loud, if anything happens, he can always just duck back out, play the lost tourist.

When he walks in, no one looks over. There’s karaoke going on, someone up onstage, drunkenly mumbling along to some indie song Eddie thinks maybe he’s heard in passing before.

The bartender is behind the bar, wiping it down, and Eddie easily finds an empty barstool, because it’s an odd time on a weeknight.

Eddie knows before the bartender even comes over that he doesn’t want a beer - he wants something stronger. He’s also, though, notoriously bad at drinking hard liquor. Back in college, he’d been terrible at shots or pulls straight from the bottle - strong drinks always burned at the back of his throat, reminded him of his panic attacks and inhaler, which was never a great association to have with something that was supposed to be fun. There was something medicinal about strong alcohol - something about the way vodka reminded him of rubbing alcohol and the stringent cleaning his mother always made him go through. 

Finally, the bartender comes over and Eddie orders himself a White Russian. Someone had told him once that they tasted like alcoholic chocolate milk - and if they were made correctly, they did. It was a smooth drink, easy to get down.

People come and go onstage, performing with varying degrees of flamboyance. Eddie nurses his drink, and then has another. Everyone sits alone or with their friends, and they speak quietly as the music plays on.

It’s all terribly anticlimactic. Between the graffiti in Derry and Bowers and his mother, Eddie spent a good portion of his life feeling like if he ever turned up in a place like this, he might catch something on contact or just burst into flames once he was through the door frame. Instead, he finds himself nodding along to music, feeling loose and comfortable and safe.

Around 2 AM, his phone buzzes in his pocket. He’s effectively drunk, and he’s been trying to make himself get up and leave for nearly an hour. He already closed his tab, but he’s been sitting and watching the performers and leaning heavily on the counter.

It’s not that he’s forgotten about Richie, but it isn’t his first thought until he fishes out his phone and reads the notification. He doesn’t read the preview, just processes the name and then loses all dexterity, fumbling his phone until it falls on the floor. 

“Shit.”

He stands up, then crouches down and fishes his phone out from the space between the barstool and the counter. When he’s standing again, his phone thankfully undamaged, he waves at the bartender and makes a quick, embarrassed exit.

Eddie has no desire to walk all the way back home, so he calls an Uber. He pointedly ignores the little notification flag on his messages while he does it. It’s easy, at first, to slide his phone back in his jacket and tell himself he’s not going to look until he’s home.

Then the Uber still isn’t there, and he’s a little chilly, and the phone is right there in his pocket, against his hand, and his fingers twitch and he can’t stand it, so he pulls his phone back out and looks.

 

noticed you hadn’t been wearing your ring but i wasn’t sure why

 

He realizes that every time he’s taken a picture of his hand to send to Richie or the group, it’s been his left. He flushes a little, partly over Richie noticing, and partly over himself being so accidentally obvious. Then he realizes, too, that it’s a weird fucking thing to lead with.

 

Well now you know, it’s because I’m divorced. Don’t even have the ring anymore I left it when i walked out

congratulations on being a string independent women

fucking dammit i can’t type for shit

Are you drunk?

what’s it matter?

 

Frustrated a little with typing himself, he waits until the Uber arrives, and then calls Richie from the backseat. He actually answers.

“Eds?”

“God, shut up, don’t call me that, it’s either too late or too fucking early.”

“Okay you called me, dipshit.”

“Because I’m drunk, too! Fucking stupid both of us trying to type when it’s the middle of the night and neither of us are sober. We grew up without texting and shit, we can talk on the phone like old people. We’re old people.” 

“Fuck. I mean, yeah. We are. Do you remember when I used to call you? When we were kids?”

“Which ones? The prank calls or the real ones?”

Richie snorts into the phone, and Eddie hears fabric rustling, too, like Richie’s shifting. Eddie wonders if he’s home. If he’s in his pajamas or still in his clothes. Maybe he’s lying in bed, the phone by his side or pressed between his face and the pillow. Maybe he’s already taken his glasses off. Eddie aches, and his mouth goes dry.

“Real ones, Eds. Though the prank calls were clearly comedic genius.”

“Oh yeah, that was so fucking funny that time my mom grounded me because of you.”

“Classic trashmouth, you gotta admit.”

“I don’t have to admit shit. Did you have a point?”

“Oh. Oh, I don’t know. Just talking shit, I’m pretty fucked up - I just remember when I used to call you, when we were like 12, and we’d argue about comics and who could beat who in a fight and whether or not you could make any of the shit from Ghostbusters in real life.” There’s more rustling. “Never called any of the other losers as much as I called you.”

“Well, I mean. We were best friends. We all had each other, but we- I don’t know. I wasn’t crawling in a hammock with anyone else. At least I knew what kind of germs you had.”

Richie laughs again, the noise of it all close against the phone and mostly breath. Eddie sighs a little, even as he tries to stop himself.

The Uber stops, and Eddie gives him a silent nod before he gets out.

“God were such a fucking anal little shit. And you never changed.”

“Oh shut up, I changed. I mean I would have changed. I just - we forgot everything, kind of fucked things up for me.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Eddie makes it up to his apartment and leans back against the door, sliding down until he’s sitting on the floor. “I’ve got my own place,” he says, unprompted.

“Oh yeah? ‘S it nice? I’m sure it’s the cleanest fucking apartment in all of Manhattan. Are you still in Manhattan?”

“Yeah. Like a block away from Central Park. I go for runs now, in the park.”

“You have running shorts? Like those tiny fucking shorts you used to wear?”

Eddie sputters into the phone and scoffs. “That’s not - those were totally normal, it was the 80s, that wasn’t like -”

“Yeah, okay, but none of the rest of us had shorts like that, mine were a perfectly normal length and so were everyone else’s. Just you in those little rainbow short shorts.”

“It wasn’t a rainbow! It was like, yellow and blue or something, just little stripes on the side, I didn’t even get to pick them out.”

“Wore ‘em all the time though.” 

“Fuck you.” Eddie huffs, and knows he’s been uncreative.

Richie sighs.

Lion-O comes over then, meowing as he nudges his head against Eddie’s hand. Eddie scratches behind his ears and sighs, too. “Hey, buddy.”

“Hey?” Richie says, like he’s confused, and Eddie just laughs.

“Not you, asshole, I’m talking to my cat.”

“Oh. Oh, right, you got a cat. You’re not allergic.”

“No, my mom just lied, like she did about everything.” He forces himself to stand up finally, and shuffles over to his closet, grabbing his pajamas so he can change clothes. He puts the phone down on the bed, and on speaker. “What were you doing today, were you busy? You didn’t respond for like 12 hours.”

“Huh? Oh. Right, no, yeah, I was writing. I’m working on shit, you know, writing for my show and it’s. Hard.”

Something about the excuse sounds off, but Eddie just huffs as he finishes pulling on his sleep shirt - the one from college - and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. He picks the phone back up and sits down in his bed. “And then you got drunk.”

“Yeah, cause I got fucking frustrated.”

“Alcohol’s not gonna solve all your problems, Rich.”

“Like you’re not drunk, too, fuck you.”

“Yeah well I didn’t know how anyone was gonna take it, I thought maybe you’d be an asshole, I don’t know, all that shit you said in Derry.”

It’s quiet, for a moment, just both of them breathing into the phone and the sounds of the city outside. Eddie wonders if his drunken mumbling was a step too far.

“I don’t- Sorry. Sorry, Eds. Shit. I just talk shit, you know that, I didn’t mean-”

“No I don’t mean it like that, I just thought if anyone would say shit it’d be you, and you didn’t say anything. It’s fine if you wanna talk shit, I married my mother, it’s fucking disgusting. I got back and I could barely even look at her and she tried to change my bandages and she asked where my inhaler was and I just fucking lost it, I didn’t even unpack, I threw more shit in my suitcases and I left my ring and I was gone.”

“...You left her the day you got back? Wasn’t that like a month and a half ago?”

“Yeah?”

“You left her a month ago and you didn’t tell any of us?”

Eddie hears the subtext of you didn’t tell me , and he’s immediately annoyed. What kind of fucking right does Richie have? Richie ran off and left him. “Well it’s not like anyone fucking asked! I was the last one that left Derry, other than Mike, no one was really checking in just to ask how I was, you didn’t text me, you still never texted me until tonight, I texted you! I know I- I know my job’s boring I know I was a miserable fuck in Maine but I’m still. I don’t know, I don’t know what I’m saying, forget it.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know, Eddie, I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter, I don’t need you to apologize, it’s weird. But it was scary, remembering everything and realizing how much I’d forgotten and how much of myself got left behind - and we’re the only people who know what it was like, the seven of us, and we never even had time to stop and talk about it. And everyone just left, because you all had shit to get back to.”

“I could have stayed. I should have stayed. I’m sorry. Did you have trouble driving with your shoulder?”

“No, it was fine.” Richie’s gotten unexpectedly tender, all of a sudden, and Eddie doesn’t know how to respond or how to handle it. He needed to vent, needed someone to hear him, but now Richie obviously cares about what happened, and Eddie doesn’t know how to pull it all back and put the conversation back where it started. “It still hurts now, though. Sometimes. Not all the time. I can’t even pick up Lion-O.”

“Lion… Eds did you- Did you name your fucking cat Lion-O?”

Eddie realizes what he’s done and blushes. “Uh. I mean-" 

He’s cut off by the sound of Richie’s laughter, loud and unattractive, directly into the phone. It’s distinctive, Richie’s laugh, sort of nasally just like his voice, a kind of gasp in it. There’s an element of it that feels like it hasn’t changed ever since they were kids. It’s one of Eddie’s favorite sounds.

“Shut up, shut the fuck up,” he says into the phone, but he’s grinning, because Richie can’t see him.

“Oh, God, oh my fucking god you named your cat Lion-O, Eds you’re exactly the fucking same, I can’t believe it, you’re my hero.”

“Beep fucking beep, asshole.”

“You can make me shut up but you can’t change the fact that you named your cat after a Thundercat.”

“Could have been the name he came with at the shelter.”

“Oh, yeah, but it wasn’t.” Richie’s finally calmed down a little, just chuckling as he sighs, long and slow. “God that’s the best thing I’ve heard all fucking week.”

“Right, great, glad I could help. I’m getting a divorce, all our other friends offer me support, and you laugh at what I named my cat.”

“Mm, that’s friendship, Eddie Spaghetti.” 

“Oh God, don’t fucking call me that.”

“Sure, Eddie baby, whatever you want.” 

Eddie flushes, immediately, and his breath hitches mid-exhale. That one was rare, even when they were kids. Still, Richie had flirted sometimes back then, told him he was cute, played around. They’re back to normal it seems - or whatever passes for normal in this strange, squirming thing between the two of them that somehow didn’t manage to fade even after 27 years apart. 

“Okay, asshole, it’s like 3 AM and I have work to do tomorrow, I’m hanging up on you.”

“Mmmm, yeah okay go get your beauty sleep for your boring fucking job.”

“I’m flipping off the phone right now, I’m doing it as we speak.”

“Hey. Hey, Eds.”

“What?”

“I’m happy for you. Seriously. I mean it. I’m proud of you.”

Eddie swallows, and his throat is so dry that it clicks. “Thanks, Rich. Now go the fuck to sleep.”

“Aye-aye, cap’n,” Richie says, and then Eddie hears the click of the disconnected call.

He puts down his phone, lays it by his side, and just stays there on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He feels like maybe he’ll never sleep again - but he drifts off within the hour, still thinking about it.

Eddie wakes up in the morning to the sound of his alarm, and he groans as he fumbles around the bed. When he bumps up against his phone, he squints at it, tapping until the noise stops, and then he closes his eyes again. 

It’s possible he falls back asleep, but it’s hard to know how much time passes before Lion-O starts meowing right by his face, demanding to be fed.

Dragging himself from the bed, Eddie goes to the kitchen, feeds his cat, and starts up his coffee. He drinks some water, makes some toast, and takes a pain reliever for his headache.

He doesn’t even try to go running, or get dressed. Instead, he sits at his desk in his pajamas and doesn’t actually start anything work related until it’s almost noon.

At 3 PM, Richie texts him.

 

i feel like a cat picture might cure my hangover

I’m way too fucking old for this

We both are

 

Still, Eddie smiles as he goes over and finds Lion-O curled up in the sunny patch right by the window. He snaps a quick photo and sends it to Richie.

Richie responds with a heart eyes emoji, and Eddie snorts, finding his mood improved even as he has to go back to tapping away at another fucking risk analysis.

From that day forward, Richie texts him pretty regularly. It’s strange to go from almost nothing, their stilted awkward contact of the past month, to this. All it took was one phone call and it feels like they’re kids again, like Richie is the one inevitable constant in his life.

Beyond just Richie, he finally managed to talk to everyone. His friends all know, and they’re happy for him - and no one questioned his reasons, not even Richie. This life with his memories back and with all its wide open possibilities is something he is still growing into, but now his friends are really there with him. He reached out tentatively, and each one of them grabbed his hand. 

It seems obvious - if their friendship could survive facing off against a catastrophic Lovecraftian nightmare clown and a memory-erasing curse that lasted over half of their lives, why wouldn’t they survive distance and marriages and divorce? How could anything small sever their connection?

Eddie finds that knowledge becomes tangible - something small and fragile in his hands that he can nurture and grow until he can hold on and believe it.

When Eddie has another therapy appointment, David is ecstatic. He says over and over how proud he is, and tells Eddie they can reduce their appointments to twice a month instead of once a week, if Eddie wants. It’s a step in the right direction. 

The Losers club group chat becomes a place for routine pet pictures, both from Bill and Eddie. Ben and Bev send their vacation pictures (from a fucking yacht basically, jesus), and so does Mike, and so do Stan and Patty when they head to Buenos Aires. Richie sends updates from his standup tour and pictures of himself looking conked out on his laptop while he tries to write.

Eddie finally sends a picture of his place to everyone, and Bev in particular praises his decorating skills. He extends an open offer to all of them to stay over or drop by if they’re ever in New York.

Richie texts him separately, almost as soon as he says it.

 

so does this mean i can crash with you next time i’m in new york  

Can’t you afford a hotel, mr. rich comedian?

yeah no you should definitely save the couch for me

That’s where Lion-O sleeps and he’s more important than you

 

Eddie gets a middle finger in response and laughs. There is something glowing in his chest, and it feels like that same teenage hope. No definite plans are made, but that doesn’t stop Eddie from pulling out the walkman he bought and laying down on his bed to listen to Richie’s mixtape, Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love lulling him to sleep.

A week passes, and it turns out the first one of them to find their way to New York isn’t Richie - it’s Bill.

He’s still recovering from his own divorce and subsequent feud with the studio he’d been writing for, and his publicist books him an event in New York. He doesn’t need a place to stay, he can still easily afford a hotel, so he just invites Eddie to go out for a drink.

They meet up on a Thursday. The pub is quiet, the weekend din replaced by a relative murmur. The lights are dim, and the whole place smells like fried food and beer. It’s not Eddie’s favorite place in the city, but Bill seems comfortable there when Eddie spots him sitting in a booth close to the door.

As Eddie enters, Bill waves at him, and when he’s close enough Bill pulls him into a hug.

It’s nice how easy contact seems to be for all of them now. Maybe it’s the shared near-death experience.

“So how goes it, Big Bill?” Eddie asks him with a smirk.

Bill barks out a laugh, still self-conscious about the childhood nickname. “God you sound like Richie. He still calls me that, he won’t stop.”

Eddie shrugs. “Old habits die hard.” He taps his thumbs on the table, incapable of keeping himself from fidgeting. “Really, though, how are you? I needed to leave Myra, I’m a lot better off, but it sounded like your situation was a little more complicated.” 

Rubbing a hand over his forehead, Bill sighs. “Yeah, I don’t know. Audra and I hadn’t exactly been seeing eye to eye before I left. Then I ran off before we finished the movie, I kissed Bev while we were all in Derry... We all went through that shit and came out the other side and the more I really thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t go back and be with someone who had no fucking clue about any of it. Does that make any sense?” 

Nodding, Eddie looks down at his own hands. “Of course it does. I mean I don’t think it’s really a secret that my marriage wasn’t - I never loved her, not really. But even without that, as soon as I remembered everything... it felt like I woke up. It was like I blinked and I was living someone else’s fucking life. So I’ve been working on that ever since I got back. It’s shitty. We have this thing that only the seven of us can even try to understand.” 

“I’m sorry, Eddie.”

Eddie looks up, furrowing his brow. “For what?”

“I don’t know, it just feels like I’m responsible somehow - like if we hadn’t all made that promise…”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Bill, you can’t blame yourself for everything.”

At that, Bill cracks another smile. “Mike keeps telling me that.”

“You guys talk a lot?”

Eddie is fascinated to see that Bill gets a little flustered, glancing off to one side.

“Yeah, we uh- we talk on the phone at least once a week. Sometimes more. First it was just checking in, keeping up with what we remembered, but now it’s a habit. I’m… gonna go and catch up with him in person, after I leave New York.”

In spite of the pinch of jealousy, Eddie smiles. “That sounds nice. I’m sure you guys’ll have fun.”

“How about you and Richie?”

It’s the way he says it, you and Richie, that makes Eddie blush. “We text, you know. I think he’s busy with his standup dates and trying to write his own material. He says he’s gonna crash with me if he ever gets up here, I guess we’ll see.” 

Bill grins. “Hey, we should tell everyone else we’re hanging out, send a selfie or something.”

Eddie shrugs, and Bill slides into the booth next to Eddie. He pulls up the camera, and just as he’s taking the picture, he leans over and kisses Eddie on the cheek. Eddie laughs and goes to shove him off, and the resulting picture is- Well actually, it’s adorable. 

If it were Richie in his place, Eddie thinks he’d probably print the picture out just to set it on fire. He laughs, and rubs at his cheek. “You’re a sneaky son of a bitch still, huh?”

“Hey, I’m divorced now, I’ve already kissed Bev, I’ve gotta get creative to work my way around the rest of the Losers Club.”

Eddie laughs at that, snorting into his drink. Then, genuinely, he pauses and looks over. “What about Mike?”

Scoffing, Bill pulls up the group chat and sends the picture. “Let me worry about that.” When Eddie looks, he realizes that Bill has captioned the selfie with a little kissing emoji.

The notifications start quickly, but Eddie makes a decision and shoves his phone in his pocket, ignoring them. Each quiet buzz of his phone gives him a little thrill, a promise that at least one of them is certainly Richie.

He and Bill pass a couple of hours telling stories about their pets and their respective divorce scandals, and then they have to part ways so Bill can wake up early and make it to his lecture.

They share another hug before they each head back, and Eddie gives Bill his own kiss on the cheek, just to be an asshole and push the envelope a little. Bill just laughs and nudges him in his good shoulder. The world doesn’t fall off its axis - it doesn’t even tilt. No one sees or cares or yells anything obscene, because they’re in New York.

Eddie only makes it to the subway before he checks his phone. The group chat is full of jokes and cheesy little messages from Bev and Mike and Ben and Stan - but it’s Richie’s texts just for him that Eddie’s concerned with.

 

so big bill huh?

he live up to the nickname?

 

Eddie laughs, mostly so he can resist the urge to scream.

 

That’s not the reason we gave him the fucking nickname and you know it fucknuts 

Whole thing was his idea

i bet he gets sleeping choice priority over your cat doesn’t he

Yeah he’s in my bed right now

 

For a minute, Richie doesn’t respond.

 

That was a joke dipshit

You wanna call me I’ll prove my apartment is just as empty as it has been since the day I bought it

 

Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, maybe Eddie’s just tipsy, maybe it’s too bold or too much. Still, he’s pleasantly warm and feeling affectionate after the time he spent with Bill, and the idea of talking to Richie and getting to hear his voice again has been all Eddie’s been able to think about since Bill first referenced his phone calls with Mike.

Eddie’s phone lights up while he’s still walking back to his apartment. 

“I’m not even home yet, you fucking weirdo,” is how he answers the phone.

“Yeah, hello to you, too, Eds, what a lovely night we’re having.”

Eddie smiles, but he tries to keep it out of his voice. “I was having a great time, actually. Commiserating over divorce stories is a thrilling way to spend an evening, let me tell you.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”

“Oh yeah that’s absolutely the new euphemism for fucking, it’s all the rage with teens, commiserating over divorce. How are you ever gonna write your own material?”

Finally back at his own place, Eddie heads upstairs. He unlocks the door and keeps the phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear as he gets food ready for Lion-O.

“I mean, you know. Mostly so far it actually just involves me watching the little cursor blink at me in the word document while my agent tells me I’m bleeding money and I’ll probably never get work again,” Richie replies.

There’s sincerity buried in the statement, and Eddie sighs, feeling a little bad for the joke. “Fuck him, Rich. I meant what I texted you that night, you’re gonna be fine. You’ve probably just gotta get out of your own head a little.” Alcohol has a way of loosening Eddie’s tongue, of lowering his abilities of self-preservation, and he knows that from the last time he called Richie - he’s deciding now to just embrace it. “You could always come stay with me for a little while, use it like a writing retreat.”

Richie just breathes into the phone for a moment, and Eddie is terrified he fucked up. “Yeah? You gonna kick your cat off the couch for me?”

“Hell maybe I’ll even get you an air mattress, trashmouth. If you need to get your agent off your back, the floor is all yours.”

“You know what? Just - let me make some calls.”

And just like that, in the morning, Richie’s on his way. He’ll be in New York in just a couple of days.

Eddie goes for the longest run he’s taken in weeks. It’s an easy distraction. The music in his headphones (one of his own mixtapes now), the pounding of his feet on the pavement, the hammer of his own heartbeat, it combines to block out almost everything else. Running narrows him down to sensation in a way that makes everything simpler and keeps his anxiety locked away, at least until he gets home for coffee.

That day he goes out and spends three hours online and at Target debating with himself over the intricacies of air mattresses. He finally settles on a double high model that seems big enough for Richie, who has stayed stupidly tall ever since he shot up in high school. He spends another hour just looking at sheets and pillows until he finally settles on some things that seem comfortable but don’t look too obvious or too new.

He goes home that night and sets everything up.

Richie still doesn’t arrive for two more days.

Eddie calls David and schedules an appointment so that he can get one in before Richie arrives, and then hopefully not need another appointment until after Richie’s left.

It’s not that Eddie hasn’t mentioned Richie before, but because Richie’s visit is all Eddie can think about, suddenly he spends his entire hour-long appointment rehashing old childhood memories with Richie and talking about how often he’s been listening to Richie’s old mixtape and admitting how many times he’s seen Richie’s comedy specials.

Near the end, David stops him. “Eddie, this is all good to know, and I’m glad you’ll be seeing another one of your friends this week, especially one you’re so fond of, but is there something you’re talking around by telling me all this? Is there anything you’re not saying that we need to cover before you leave?”

It’s a technique David uses a lot, stopping Eddie before the end of the appointment to really check in with him. This time, Eddie opens his mouth and finds himself blurting, “I think I’m gay.”

It’s the first time he’s ever said it out loud.

David smiles and nods at him. “Well I appreciate you sharing that - and it’s fine to not be sure. A lot of people and a lot of media may try to imply most people realize at a young age, but it can be complicated.”

Eddie nods, and looks down at his own crossed legs. “I think I knew when I was a kid, I just didn’t want to know, then I- you know, we’ve talked about everything I forgot. I think I let myself forget, for a long time. I didn’t meet anyone, and I forgot how it felt to be really interested in anyone. I think it’s a little pathetic.”

“Eddie,” David says sharply.

Nodding, Eddie sighs. “I know, I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but that is how it feels.”

The alarm on David’s table goes off, and they wrap up. David says all the same comforting, kind things he tends to try and leave Eddie with, and Eddie tries not to just awkwardly shrug it all off, but it’s still difficult. He leaves, and he feels lighter. Not dancing in the street lighter, not like he’s going to go and make any grand declarations to everyone he meets - but he feels like nearly two months of hard work have paid off - because they have.

It’s still easier to come out to David than it is to come out to the Losers. He’ll do it, probably, at some point, but the group chat seems too informal, and he wouldn’t know where to start. It’ll be a while, probably, before he can manage to find the words for each of them.

The day that Richie’s set to arrive, Eddie goes for a short, intense run. He comes home, and takes a shower. He feeds Lion-O. He fluffs the pillows on the air mattress, and remakes the bed. He remakes his own bed. He opens and closes his refrigerator, checking and double-checking that he’s well-stocked on groceries and alcohol. He tucks his walkman in the shoebox, and shoves the shoebox in the back of his closet again. 

A full hour before Richie’s flight lands, he drives to the airport.

Waiting around the baggage claim at JFK makes Eddie feel like he’s going to develop an ulcer. He paces around between the escalators and the stairs, looking up to check, then going to check the arrival board, then pacing back around to the escalators. Rinse and repeat. When the board says that Richie’s flight has landed, Eddie texts him.

 

I’m down at baggage claim whenever you get here

right well if i ever get off this fucking plane i’ll let you know

 

It’s a quick response, and it makes Eddie smile, forcing some of the tension out of his neck and shoulders - just a little.

He stays by the escalators, watching, until someone comes up behind him and wraps hands around his collarbone, right by his neck, and Eddie spins around and almost clocks Richie directly in the face.

“Jesus christ! You’re such a fucking asshole-" 

“Eds, holy shit, you should see your face-”

“Yeah I’d like to see your face, you fucking menace, we’re in New York, you could absolutely just get murdered in the fucking airport you- God, where are your bags, come on and let’s go get your luggage, dipshit, and stop- just stop.”

Richie’s still snickering, and he slings an arm over Eddie’s shoulders like it’s nothing, like it doesn’t make Eddie want to lean into him and pull him into a hug and hold on for an entirely inappropriate amount of time.

He really had been thinking about giving Richie a hug, but now the moment has passed because of Richie’s stupid stunt, and he doesn’t think he could get away with it. He curls his fingers into his palms instead, and takes a deep breath, practically dragging Richie to the baggage carousel as it squeaks and clatters.

A ratty looking duffel bag goes by and Eddie reaches for it at the same time Richie does. Eddie drops his hand immediately and watches as Richie grabs it.

“Right, okay, come on, I’m parked in the deck.”

They walk to the parking deck in complete silence, their elbows bumping into each other every few steps, both of them stepping over for a moment and then falling back in, like there’s a rubber band between them that’ll only let them get so far apart.

Once they’re in the car, Richie sprawls comfortably in the passenger seat and immediately starts messing with the radio, tapping on the touch screen like he feels totally at home. Richie has a tendency of doing this, of finding any space that Eddie leaves for him and forcing his way into it and making himself fit there. It’s the reason RIchie has always been his closest friend whenever they’ve actually known and remembered each other, because Eddie needs someone to ignore all his fucked up neuroses and half-hearted objections. Richie has made an art out of ignoring all that and somehow still seeming like he’s not even trying to.

Richie sings along with whatever comes on, all the way back to the apartment, no matter how much Eddie rolls his eyes or groans.

Finally they make it to Eddie’s building, and up to his apartment, and as soon as Richie gets in the door he whistles.

“This is a nice place you got, Eds! Can’t believe you learned how to decorate.”

“Well I have taste, unlike some people.”

Lion-O comes over, then, brushing against Eddie’s legs before going over and meowing up at Richie. 

Richie crouches down, dumping his bag on the floor, and starts to pet Eddie’s cat. “Hey there, Little Mister Spaghetti, how’s it going?”

“Oh you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Gasping, Richie presses his hands over Lion-O’s ears. “Eds, watch your language in front of your son!”

Ignoring Richie, very pointedly, Eddie goes into the kitchen and sets out Lion-O’s food. This, fortunately, prompts him to abandon Richie. Eddie gives him a scratch behind the ears as a reward, then leaves him to eat.

“Obviously I set up the air mattress for you over here,” Eddie says, picking up Richie’s bag and placing it on the bed. “Since it’s a studio we’re technically sharing a room but assuming you don’t snore like a fucking chainsaw I think we’ll both live - bathroom’s over there, please demonstrate basic personal hygiene and don’t make me wanna kick you out, otherwise stay as long as you want. I can show you around some New York stuff, too, if you want me to.”

“I figured I’d stay until I finish writing the show,” Richie tells him, sitting down heavily on the air mattress, getting a feel for how much give it has. “In the meantime, are you actually offering me a chance to drag you to germ-infested tourist attractions?”

Eddie shrugs, then laughs a little to himself. “Actually, uh- I went to Coney Island by myself like a month ago.”

“Coney Island? Home of every known disease and artery clogging food in the Northeast? Are you fucking serious?”

“I ate an entire funnel cake and rode a roller coaster.”

Richie laughs, and they both grin at each other.

“God, Eds, I can still remember not a single one of us could drag you on anything at the Summer Fair. You swore up and down any ride could kill us.”

“I mean it probably could, Coney Island is probably a little safer than the fucking Summer Fair.”

“Fair point. Still - how was it huh?" 

“It was… Good. It was good.”

Still grinning, Richie walks over just to pat Eddie on his good shoulder and squeeze it, just for a moment. “Proud of you, Eds. Next thing you know you’ll be jumping out of airplanes and shit.”

Eddie snorts. “Yeah, no, absolutely not, but point being I think I can handle some snot-nosed kids or something if you wanted to go to some museums while you’re in town.”

“I’ve never been to most of them, I’m only ever in New York for business.”

“We’ll do that, then.”

Richie nods, and moves past Eddie to look around the kitchen, examining Eddie’s coffee machine, his refrigerator, the things around his sink. Eddie just watches him. It’s funny, because he knows that if he had a chance to be in Richie’s space, he’d do the same thing, stare at every little mundane detail and think about every implication. He wishes Richie would say something, make a dumb comment about the dish soap or something, and he might find out if they buy the same kind or if Richie has something completely different.

Still, even that little detour has Eddie mere moments away from fantasizing about grocery shopping with Richie, so he’s grateful for the interruption when Richie finds the liquor.

“Jesus, Eds, you buy a whole bar?”

“I don’t know what you drink, we lost touch before we started drinking and I’m pretty sure none of us were feeling picky in Maine.” 

“Could have just asked - then again, most of my preferences are just ‘does contain alcohol.’”

“We could always actually go out, but New York bars are always so loud and awful most of the time. Bill knew about that little pub, and I have- a place I go sometimes, but I thought it would be just as easy for us to stay in. If you wanna drink.”

“Eds, if you wanna get drunk with me, you only have to ask.”

“Asshole,” Eddie mutters, going over and taking a bottle of scotch out of Richie’s hands. “We don’t even have to do this tonight, you’re probably at least mildly jet-lagged.”

“No, I’m just like this,” Richie insists.

Eddie sighs, and levels a glare at him. Richie grins at him, and Eddie bites his own tongue to resist the urge to smile back.

Richie’s here - actually here, again, of his own volition. Eddie offered and he came. They have a solid week or two alone together, and that all starts tonight. Maybe getting drunk is a bad idea, maybe Eddie’s been doing it too much lately - but on the other hand, the two of them have so much lost time to make up for, all the teenage debauchery they could have had stolen away from them, all the college visits prevented by lapsed memories. 

Eddie puts down the scotch and picks up the vodka. “I’m making myself a screwdriver, because clearly I need alcohol just to catch up with you.” 

“Fuck yeah.” 

Richie pours himself a glass of whiskey and throws it back like a shot, then makes himself a real Jack and Coke.

Once they both have drinks in their hands, they clink their glasses together with raised eyebrows, and from there it becomes an accidental competition. 

It becomes clear that Richie has a much higher tolerance that he does - which shouldn’t really be a surprise. Still, Eddie finds himself slouched on the couch, feeling warm and honey-slow, while Richie is still pacing around the area in front of the TV, gesturing with the drink in his hand.

Eddie watches him and lets himself smile. There’s a hint of stubble on Richie’s face, there are wrinkles in his hideously patterned button down, and even his jeans are rumpled. That’s the problem with Richie, it was even the problem back in Derry - he always looks so touchable. It’s so easy to feel the phantom sensation of that stubble under Eddie’s fingertips, and sometimes at night or in his dreams it drives him crazy.

“You look blasted out of your mind right now, Eds,” Richie says out of nowhere.

Frowning, Eddie flips him off. “‘M fine, asshole. Be more entertaining, maybe I wouldn’t fucking zone out.”

Richie, like the mature adult he is, sticks his tongue out before he finishes his drink. “You got any music?” he asks.

The idea of getting up sounds like the worst possible thing, but Eddie shoves himself off the couch with a groan and stumbles over to his record player. “Yeah, I’ve got… stuff.”

There’s Bowie, which they both love, but Eddie thinks about the mixtape and it seems dangerous. There’s a Replacements record he found in a thrift shop and bought on a whim. Then, Eddie finally spots his own B-52s record and grins, remembering instantly Richie’s unstoppable love of Rock Lobster.

He starts at the beginning of side A, so it takes a few moments before Richie seems to recognize the first strains of Planet Claire and smiles. “Oh, hey, shit, I love the B-52s." 

“Yeah, I know, dipshit.”

Eddie goes back to the couch and flops down, laying across it now and leaning his head over the lower end to look at Richie, upside-down. Blood starts to rush to his head and he readjusts.

Planet Claire makes for nice enough background music that Richie gets another drink and Eddie just closes his eyes and bobs his head a little from the couch.

52 Girls starts up, and Richie comes over and tugs at his arm. “Hey, hey, Eds, get off the couch before you fucking fall asleep on me.”

“I’m not falling asleep,” he mumbles around a yawn.

Richie shakes him around a little, and Eddie shoves him, and then somehow it turns into both of them dancing, or really yanking each other around to the music, which is close enough to the same thing.

Dance This Mess Around kicks off to a slow start, and Eddie tries to laugh and tries not to fall into hopeless, drunken despair as Richie clutches his heart and sings along while Cindy Wilson asks "Remember when you held my hand? Say, remember when you were my man?

Still, it’s easy to throw his whole heart into it as they both scream “Why don’t you dance with me?” in perfect unison. Eddie might get kicked out of his fucking apartment building, but it’s worth it for every moment of this.

Fortunately, the song speeds up, and then they dance their way right into Rock Lobster, which they both absolutely lose their minds to, dancing as embarrassingly as two 40-year-old men possibly can. Richie does his terrible impressions of every ridiculous fish noise in the song, and Eddie doubles over laughing and falls onto the couch, still tapping his feet in time with the music and nodding his head.

Richie goes over to the air mattress and falls down, too, and the song ends side A, but neither of them get up to flip over the record.

“I’m gonna fucking regret this tomorrow,” Richie groans.

Eddie laughs at him again. “You started this. You encouraged me, you asked for music.”

“We’re both just lucky I didn’t break a fucking hip.” 

“We’re not that old, fuckface.”

“Asshole.”

“Dipshit.”

They crack each other up, and lay there giggling. Eddie wishes he’d had the forethought to collapse on the air mattress. Maybe then they’d be in the same place, inches apart, and their hands could brush and Eddie could have plausible deniability. Then again, Eddie has a terrible feeling he’s going to fall asleep here, right where he landed, and it’s probably best if they don’t share a bed tonight.

“When I was in college,” Richie starts, and then pauses and starts again. “One time in college I cried listening to that song and I didn’t know why.”

It feels like someone reached directly into Eddie’s chest and wrapped a fist around his heart. He blinks up at the ceiling. “I have a shirt I bought in college that’s- it’s a shirt for Violent Femmes, and I didn’t even listen to them, I didn’t remember listening to them, but you did, didn’t you?” 

“Yeah. Yeah I did.”

“I used to wear it all the time. I found it when I moved out, I kept it.”

“It’s fucked up I didn’t get to annoy the shit out of you in college. Can you imagine the shit we could have gotten up to?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to, Rich.” 

“Would’ve been legendary. If you ever came to visit- or I could’ve gone on a road trip, driven across the country to see you. I would have.”

“...I would have, too.”

“Fucking clown. Fucking stupid curse, ruins everything.”

“Ruined. I mean not like we can do all of that stuff, I think I’m already at risk of liver failure, but make a list, or something, and there’s nothing in the way now to stop us from catching up.”

And the only thing that stops him from really imagining it is how tired he suddenly is, but there are glimpses. Flashes of possibility that flit through his mind. Road trips and stupid decisions, camping under the stars, passing bottles of wine back and forth, drinking straight from the bottle. All that stolen youth, made utterly forgettable under the clouded veneer of their own missing memories and the people who could have made it all worthwhile. Maybe together they could steal some of it back. 

“Big list,” Richie mumbles.

“Yeah.”

Eddie does fall asleep right there on the couch, still in his clothes.

When he wakes up in the morning, his mouth is dry and his head is pounding. He stumbles to the bathroom and brushes his teeth before chugging two full glasses of water.

He changes his clothes, puts on his softest polo shirt and a pair of jeans. He also takes a slightly over-the-top number of painkillers.

Richie’s still asleep on the air mattress, looking worse for wear. 

Eddie watches as Lion-O approaches him and nudges at his hand, but when Richie just grumbles, Eddie decides he can distract Lion-O with food and let Richie sleep.

For an hour or so, Eddie manages to get some work done on a risk analysis, but then he finally feels hungry, so he makes himself some toast - plain and simple enough that it won’t upset his stomach.

Either the sound or the smell of the toaster gets Richie up, and he tosses and turns before bolting upright and scrambling for the bathroom. If Richie can eat anything this morning, it would probably be plain toast for him too.

Richie emerges from the bathroom just to grab his toiletries and some clothes and head back in.

Eddie’s finished his own breakfast and he’s half-heartedly working again when Richie steps out, clearly having showered and brushed his teeth and done anything else conceivable to make himself feel better. 

“You look like shit,” Eddie tells him as he pushes a plate of toast over to Richie.

Richie flips him off. “You’re one to talk. We both look like we haven’t slept in a year.”

Eddie shrugs, willing to acknowledge that one’s probably true. He sips at a cup of coffee, wary of what it might do to his stomach, but unable to function without it at this point after the night they had.

Once Richie’s eaten, and they’re both looking and feeling slightly less dead, Eddie speaks up again. “You up to doing anything today? Or would you rather just stay in and try to write?”

Richie snorts. “There’s no way I’m getting any writing done today, we may as well have fun. You wanna drag me to a tourist attraction?”

“Thought we could do the Natural History Museum.”

“Sure, why not?”

It takes some time and coordination to get both of them out of the apartment, and Richie says several separate heartfelt goodbyes to Lion-O, scratching behind his ears and calling him “Little Mr. Spaghetti.” Eddie essentially has to drag him away, pretending to be annoyed with the whole endeavor even as he’s more than slightly relieved that Richie’s so fond of his cat.

He had horrible visions of Lion-O scratching Richie or hissing at him, but he’s been as agreeable as ever, like he immediately recognized Richie as an extension of Eddie. It makes Eddie a little resentful, like Lion-O is giving him away, being too obvious about all the things Eddie has mumbled to him in the otherwise empty apartment. It’s obviously a ridiculous way to feel about his cat, and yet, there he is. Maybe he can blame Richie for bringing it out in him.

They take the subway to the museum, and Eddie gets to watch RIchie marvel at the little tile mosaics by the entrance.

Once inside, Eddie folds the map over on itself and shows it to Richie. “So there are two options here, one is that we start in dinosaurs and work our way down, the other is that we start in North American Mammals and then work our way up, we’ll see most of the best stuff either way.” 

Richie grins at him. “You come here a lot?”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “No, dickbag, I looked at the map online and made a plan this morning. I only ever came here a couple of times on high school field trips. Benefit of being bus distance from Manhattan. I’m assuming you wanna start with dinosaurs?”

“You know me so well.” 

So they muddle through the crowds of children on the lower floors, make their way up, and start with dinosaurs. 

Richie spends most of the time they’re not actively pinned in by children leaning over to speculate to Eddie about prehistoric animal’s dick sizes until Eddie can elbow him hard enough in the ribs that he stops. He only ever stops for a minute or two, but it creates small periods of rest. 

Eventually Eddie turns to him in front of the Titanosaur, cutting off any potential remarks, and asks, “Just to check, are you literally still 12?”

“Obviously.”

“I only wish you’d told me downstairs, maybe we could have gotten you the children’s discount price.”

Richie cracks up, laughing so hard he leans forward a little, nudging his head against Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie just smiles, because Richie can’t see him.

“Oh I missed that,” Richie says when he calms down a little, reaching over to pinch Eddie’s cheek. “You give it as well as you take it, Eds.”

Eddie swats his hand away. “And I did not miss that, fuck off.”

Richie slings an arm over his shoulders as they make their way down to the African mammals.

Even now, there’s something kind of marvelous about the dioramas. The carefully posed animals, the meticulously detailed backgrounds and surroundings. Eddie still remembers the first time he saw them. He’d been a teenager, surrounded by native New Yorkers who had seen the same exhibits probably a thousand times and were by that time disillusioned - but there’d never been anything like this in Derry. Owls captured mid-flight, bears raised up on their hind legs, hyenas stalking distant prey. Animals Eddie had never seen in person, displayed and posed so realistically it seemed like they might spring back to life at any moment.

Looking at them now still brings back a hint of that childhood wonder, and from the look on Richie’s face, he feels the same way.

As a result, the jokes take a backseat for a while, until Richie finds the ‘Greater Kudu’ and mutters, “Imagine being the not-so-great kudu.” 

Eddie, silently, pulls him to the Lesser Kudu.

“Holy shit.”

They both crack up then, and Eddie eventually has to tug them out of the way of a family trying to take photos.

When they finally make it to the Hall of Biodiversity, right outside the Hall of Ocean Life, Eddie pulls Richie to a stop. “Are you ready for what is easily the best part of the museum?”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

Eddie grins, helplessly, as he tugs Richie into the room by the elbow, and Richie gets his first sight of the blue whale. It’s fucking massive, still, now, spans the length of the entire enormous room, and it hangs from the ceiling right at eye level as you enter. It’s the size as much as anything that makes it such a sight to behold, and Richie walks around to get a better angle on it. He’s still staring when Eddie goes over to nudge him again.

“Hey, come on, there’s more dioramas downstairs." 

“Yeah, alright.”

Not all of the underwater dioramas are much to look at - but one of them is. Eddie starts them on the opposite corner of the room, saving it as long as he can before he finally gets Richie to the dimly lit back corner where he can see the squid and the whale.

It’s not just any squid or whale, but a giant squid and a sperm whale mid-fight, the squid’s tentacles wrapped around the whale’s mouth and face, the whole thing shrouded in just enough darkness to sell it. 

“This scared the shit out of me when I was in high school,” Eddie tells Richie, leaning in close.

Richie turns to look at him and then looks back at the diorama. “Well, I’m not gonna judge you for that one, it’s pretty fucking scary. And I mean we’ve seen - you know. It’s still pretty creepy. I kind of love it, but I uh- kind of makes me feel like it might try to eat me.” 

Eddie raises his eyebrows. “You good?”

“Me? Oh, yeah, no, it’s cool, but I feel like if I didn’t know we’re all squared away now - you know one time It used the big Paul Bunyan statue in the square to scare the shit out of me. So this is a similar kind of… Glad that thing’s dead so this can’t come to life and try to eat me.”

“Oh. You wanna go?”

Richie shakes out his shoulders a little and laughs like he’s trying to forcibly ease the tension. “Yeah, let’s- Where’s the museum store? Get me a cheesy souvenir.”

The day isn’t completely ruined, as evidenced by Richie’s absolute joy over all the printed short-sleeve button downs available in the store. He ends up with one with little dinosaurs on it, because of course he does.

He makes Eddie get something too, calls it a housewarming gift, so Eddie gets himself a pair of novelty socks with planets printed on them.

They go out for pizza that night, then go home, feed Lion-O, and they both set up in respective corners of Eddie’s apartment, Eddie on the couch and Richie at Eddie’s desk, and they try to work.

It ends up being a good system, and it’s the basic pattern for their days. Sometimes they spend less time out than others, but most days they have breakfast, go and do something corny that one or both of them has never gotten a chance to do, and then they come home and write and work until they’re both yawning in front of their computers. 

One day, Eddie takes Richie for a walk in Central Park, and they get ice cream and look at the statues and spend some time watching the performers around Bethesda Fountain. Richie suggests they take a boat out, but Eddie vetoes that immediately, having horrible visions of every  way he would likely end up covered in lake water or stuck out in the middle with Richie forgetting how to row.

Richie still convinces him to take a selfie in the park, and they send it to the group chat so everyone knows Richie’s visiting. Richie leans in so they’re pressed cheek to cheek, and everyone else reacts with little smiles and heart emojis, and Eddie tries to fight the urge to tell them it isn’t what it looks like, not yet, because he’s still working up to it. 

Another day, they go to The Met, and Richie does his worst Billy Crystal impression in the room with the Temple of Dendur. He also takes the opportunity in the European paintings to create a scene around whatever’s happening in the painting, making up stories and doing voices only Eddie can hear until Eddie finally breaks down and laughs at one of the stupider ones.

Richie even manages to drag him down to Times Square one day, specifically to go to the Times Square Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Eddie doesn’t know why he says yes, it sounds like the most ridiculous thing imaginable, overpriced and corny. As soon as they start going through the exhibits, though, and Richie starts making Eddie take pictures as he poses with every wax figure in the most absurd pose or pulling some ridiculous expression, Eddie realizes he does know why he came. Richie pulls him into another selfie, both of them standing in front of the giant King Kong face, and Richie’s pretending to be terrified while Eddie tries not to laugh. Eddie makes the picture his phone background.

They even go back out to Coney Island together. Richie looks surprisingly nervous at first, probably from the carnival atmosphere, but the more rides they go on, the more Richie watches Eddie shout and laugh as he grips every ride like he might fly out, the more Richie relaxes. He laughs at Eddie, starts dragging him on things, making him play games. They split a funnel cake before they leave, and whatever was making Richie tense is completely gone.

The entire experience is alarmingly comfortable. Richie is still messy to live with, his clothes spill out of his duffle haphazardly and he never makes up the air mattress, but he’s also conscious of always putting his dishes in the dishwasher. They navigate a kind of unspoken bathroom schedule in the mornings, and Richie even offers to feed Lion-O in the mornings after about his third day there. At night, they have mumbled conversations across the room until they fall asleep, ridiculous arguments about comic books and TV shows or traded memories from the years in between. 

They spend a week and two days like that. 

That night, Richie says, “I think I’m done.”

Eddie looks up from his own work and finds Richie sitting back in his chair, blinking at the laptop in front of him. “Oh! Hey, good job, do you- Uh, do you want me to read it? Or-”

“No, no, God, I just - I have to send it to my agent and stuff, he’ll have to give me feedback, things’ll get cut, I’ll have to go workshop it in actual performance. But as for the actual writing, I think I have a show and enough material to… have a show.”

“Well. Good.” Eddie says, closing his own laptop. “You want to celebrate or something?”

“I should probably fly out early in the morning, so I don’t know if I should celebrate too hard.”

Eddie frowns. “You’re gonna leave tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I mean, stop taking up all your floor space.”

“Right, you’re probably sick of the air mattress, that’s fair.” Eddie clears his throat and stands up. He walks into the kitchen and pours them each a glass of whiskey, then takes them over to the desk. “Cheers?”

Richie picks up his glass and clinks it against Eddie’s. “Cheers.” 

They both drink. “I guess I’ll just drive you to the airport in the morning-” 

“Hey, it’s not that big a deal, I can get an Uber or something.” 

Something has obviously shifted. Richie’s nervous, where he wasn’t before, and finishing the show has put him on edge. Eddie doesn’t know what to do except distract him - doesn’t know the words to say to convince him to stay another night or two when he seems this twitchy.

“If you do want a ride, just let me know.” He sets his glass back down on the table. “You wanna watch a movie or something? I could put on some music.”

“Yeah, sure,” Richie says.

Eddie thinks about asking which one, but instead he just puts on a record, old Bowie, something simple.

There were things he meant to say the entire time Richie was here. Most simply, Eddie had really meant to come out to him. He’d considered telling David a kind of warm up, and he’d done it before Richie came just to see if he could, if the words would come out of his mouth. There’d never been a perfect moment, though, and Eddie was so afraid of disrupting any given moment or Richie’s entire trip, he’d never said it. Now seems like the worst possible time, so obviously he can’t do it now.

He thought about bringing up the mixtape, about pulling out the shoebox and showing it to Richie, letting both of them laugh about it and be just a little embarrassed, but it seems like they only do that together when they’re drunk and have plausible deniability.

With every outing, with every time Eddie grabbed Richie’s arm or they leaned close to whisper in each other’s ears, it felt like they were working up to something. 

Was Eddie wrong?

Narrowing his eyes, he goes over and pulls Richie up out of his chair. “Come on, I’m not letting you sit there and stare at wall when there’s Bowie playing.”

Richie seems to shake out of it and smiles, just a little. “Pretty sure they arrest you for that in New York.” 

“Definitely.” Eddie gets Richie another drink, this time a Jack and Coke, and clinks their glasses together again when he comes back over.

Groaning, Richie tries to set the glass down. “I have to leave tomorrow, I have to start rehearsing-”

“So leave tomorrow - but let me drive you to the airport. I promise to take it easy on you if you’re hungover.”

Richie sighs, and shakes his head, but he’s starting to smile, the corners of his mouth tilting up. “Yeah, alright. Alright, Eds.”

Neither of them drink much, and it’s nothing like the night they spent listening to The B-52s, but Eddie seems to have gotten Richie out of his own head enough that they seem fine again.

They go to sleep by midnight, and they wake up early to get Richie to JFK.

It’s a quiet drive, both of them subdued.

When they get to the airport, Eddie gets out to say goodbye. Richie tries to wave at him, but Eddie goes over to give him an awkward hug, patting him on the back even as he keeps a little distance between them.

They pull apart, and Richie stays closer than he needs to, just looking at Eddie. “You’ll come to the show, right?” he asks.

“Yeah, of course. Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”

Richie nods, and smiles, and then he’s gone. 

Except he texts Eddie as soon as he’s through security.

 

airports suck

 

Eddie snorts. He hasn’t even gotten out of the airport yet.

 

the flight to la is gonna be way too fucking long

us living on opposite sides of the country is never gonna work

do you think lion-o would like la? maybe i should look at places in new york

You’re not sleeping on my floor forever, so you should figure that out

so uncharitable

 

Eddie’s heart feels too big for his chest. He goes home and scratches Lion-O behind the ears, leaning down to look at him. “Do you think you’d like LA? I feel like neither of us would care for that. Richie liked it here, right? I think maybe you could talk him into it.”

Feeling brave, Eddie takes a picture of Lion-O and sends it to Richie, knowing he won’t get it until he lands.

 

He misses you already

 

They text every day after that. Whatever came over Richie the night he finished his act clearly faded once Eddie put any effort into it, and now it’s like they were never apart for almost 30 years. They talk shit and they tease and they flirt, and Richie rehearses his show and complains and then rehearses some more and complains some more.

He sends Eddie pictures - pictures of the stage, pictures of himself pretending to pass out in theater seats, pictures of his agent looking pissed off. 

Eddie sends pictures of Central Park, of his apartment, of Lion-O.

After months of debate with himself, Eddie puts in his two week notice with the company he’s been working for. He has enough savings to cover rent and parking and everything else while he looks for a new job.

He applies at a company where he’d still be doing risk analysis and be able to work remotely, but where he’d be doing it for small businesses and non-profits, and get paid slightly less. It’s not that he’s completely dissatisfied with what he does, now that he’s found a way to make it work, but doing it for banks has still left him feeling annoyed and hollow. Using his skills to help people in some way feels like maybe it’s a step in the right direction, even if he doesn’t want to go back to school or completely change career paths. 

He gets the job.

Bill and Mike send pictures to the group chat of the two of them moving in together. It makes Eddie smile. They’re finally actually all real adults, it seems, for better or worse. They all lived through the worst shit imaginable, and now they’re on the other side and helping each other through. In some way, before Derry, they were 40 but unfinished somehow, like none of them could live their lives properly with the shadow looming over them, even if they had somehow forgotten it was there. Now they have their whole lives ahead of them, properly. 

Richie sends an emoji in response of two men holding hands and Bill and Mike take a picture of both of their hands in frame flipping him off. Eddie laughs.

When Eddie sees David for the first time since Richie came and went, David tells him he looks happy. For once, Eddie knows he’s right. He is happy.

Richie’s first show gets scheduled for early November. He tells Eddie first, then texts the group chat and invites everyone. The show is in Chicago, not LA, because of some deal that Richie’s agent worked out. It means they’ll all be getting rooms in the same hotel, and they all agree to go out to dinner beforehand - Mike makes the reservation.

Eddie runs every day, he takes care of his cat, and he talks to Richie. He pulls the walkman back out and listens to Richie’s mixtape, over and over.

The leaves in Central Park turn colors and start to fall from the trees.

November comes, and Eddie makes the flight out to Chicago. He carefully researches and leaves Lion-O in a boarding kennel that is probably intended for people with more money than Eddie - but Eddie is hardly going to feel responsible if he leaves Lion-O somewhere any less fancy. 

The flight is fine. He lands and takes a car to the hotel. He has plenty of time before dinner to get dressed and to make sure he looks nice enough.

The scar on his cheek has faded a little, so it’s barely noticeable even when he’s basically clean-shaven. He looks well-rested, somehow, even though he was too nervous to get much sleep the night before. His hair is neat, and recently cut.

It’s their first time all being in one place since Derry.

Eddie actually bumps into Bev and Ben in the lobby. She tugs on Ben’s sleeve and they come over, hugging him in turns.

“Eddie! It’s so good to see you! And this suit!” She tugs on the sleeve of his blazer and he flushes a little. He’d wanted to look nice to see everyone, but he’d been a little afraid he was overdoing it with the blazer over a button-down. Ben and Bev are fairly well-dressed, too, though, so he’s not out of place after all.

“Well, I’m no Ben Hanscom,” he jokes, turning to look at Ben.

Ben laughs, and flushes too. “Don’t be ridiculous, you look great, Eddie.”

“Come on, let’s all share a ride to the restaurant,” Bev insists, linking arms with Eddie on one side and Ben on the other.

They get an Uber, and Bev asks the driver to turn up the music while she sings along in the backseat, making Ben blush again as he watches her, and making Eddie crack up. It reminds him why she and Richie were always such good friends.

When they get to the restaurant, Bill and Mike are already there, and everyone exchanges hugs again.

As Bill pulls away from hugging Eddie, he does something similar to Bev, tugging on his suit. “You look good.” This time, though, Bill winks at him, and Eddie shoves at his shoulder.

“Alright, Bill, Mike’s right there,” Eddie says.

Mike hears them, and laughs. He comes over, too, giving Eddie a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You do look a lot better than the last time I saw you. Divorce must be treating you well.”

Eddie shrugs and pats at his healed face. “Pretty sure the fact that I’m not still healing from a stab wound also helps. Thanks, though.”

Stan is the next to get there, and he’s actually brought Patty, so all of them can meet her for the first time. She makes the rounds, shaking hands with everyone while Stan stands beside her, grinning, a hand on her waist. They’re obviously happy - just as happy as Bev and Ben look, too, so Eddie hugs Stan and tells him so.

Stan smiles at him and pats him on the shoulder. “Yeah, it’s good. Being on the other side of all that - it’s more of a weight off of me than I realized. I’m lucky to have her, though. She helps a lot.”

“Whatever he’s telling you, don’t listen to him,” Patty says, walking back over to laugh and kiss Stan on the cheek.

Eddie laughs, but leaves them to it, then. Everyone breaks off into little groups, catching up with each other.

Richie gets there while they’re all still standing around the table, and he enters as loudly as possible, throwing his arms in the air and shouting, “Well helloooooo Loser’s Club reunion!”

“Beep beep, asshole,” Eddie says, but he’s the first one over, letting Richie throw an arm over his shoulders and mess up his hair a little.

“Hey, Eddie Spaghetti. Glad you made it.” 

“Yeah, yeah.”

Everyone else comes over to greet Richie, and Eddie has to step back and let them, taking the opportunity to fix his hair again. For a moment, he gets to stand back and watch, and he gets to see all the people he loves most in the world, all gathered in a room, smiling and laughing and teasing each other.

When they all get seated around the table, Mike has to go and get an extra chair for Patty.

Stan says, “Typical trashmouth.”

Richie scoffs. “You swore up and down you’d never come to one of my shows, how was I supposed to know you’d show up and actually bring your wife? Which, lovely to meet you, by the way, Patty, so sorry about your husband.”

Patty laughs, and Stan looks at her like he’s been deeply betrayed.

Eddie’s sitting right next to Richie this time, unlike in Derry, which mean Richie’s constantly elbowing him and nudging their shoulders together as he talks. Bill and Mike tell travel stories, so Richie tells tales of his time in New York, throws an arm over Eddie’s shoulder and calls him the best tour guide in New York City.

Eddie can’t help but notice that Bill and Mike are sitting in a similar way - Bill has his arm around the back of Mike’s chair, and Eddie tries desperately not to think about what it implies.

Mostly everyone spends dinner teasing Richie about being the man of the hour, and asking questions about how many terrible jokes to expect. 

Too many comments about the show seem to make him nervous, and Eddie reaches over under the table and grabs his hand - squeezes it just for a moment.

Richie looks over at him, and opens his mouth, then closes it and looks at everyone else. “Hey guys, uh- Actually before we get to the show, I wanted to say something.”

“What is it, Rich?” Bev asks.

Glancing away and then back again, Richie laughs nervously. “Right, uh. Well it’s gonna come up in the act and I felt like you guys should know beforehand just so we’re all- I’m gay.” 

Eddie feels himself inhale sharply, and suddenly Richie’s looking over at him, ignoring everyone else at the table. Channeling David, as best he can, Eddie smiles and places a hand on Richie’s arm. “Hey. Good job.”

Bev comes around and pulls Richie into a hug, and Mike just says, “Hey join the club,” and Bill snorts out a laugh.

“What else is new? Somebody pass the rice,” Stan grumbles, but he’s smiling at Richie anyways, a hint of obvious pride in his expression.

Everyone’s fine with it - and it’s good. Of course it is.

Eddie feels a sudden urge to say something, too, but he can’t step on the moment like that, because this is Richie’s moment. Eddie can have his own later - he’ll find it some other way.

In the meantime, obviously it’s going to be fine.

With the dramatic announcement out of the way, they all go back to joking around. Richie seems less nervous, and he reaches out for Eddie even more, if that’s even possible.

They all finish eating, and Richie’s call time sneaks up on them. They split a couple of Ubers over to the venue, and they all wave goodbye to Richie as he heads around to the back entrance. He pulls Eddie aside first, though, just for a moment.

“Hey. Thank you again for coming - I mean it. I’m glad you’re here.” 

It’s essentially impossible for Eddie to hide how flustered he feels, so he just nods. “Yeah, of course. I’m glad I’m here, too.” 

With that, they all have to go to their seats.

Eddie’s sitting between Ben and Stan, wishing desperately he could have had an aisle seat. 

He wants a little bit of room, and he’s grateful that they’re on the front row where he can feel a little less blocked in. There is something fluttering desperately in his stomach - something like hope. He’s becoming more and more certain that there’s something in the show that Richie wants him to hear. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s exciting, too.

Eight-o-clock arrives, and the lights all go down, and the audience goes quiet. 

Richie steps out on the stage. Everyone cheers - the Losers most of all.

“Wow, I really wasn’t expecting an audience this big after I just fucking froze onstage in the middle of my last show, but life is full of surprises, huh? Which, speaking of surprises, hey, let’s get this out of the way, my name is Richie Tozier and I’m a homosexual. This is the first time most of you are finding this out because for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to write that into my act! I have severe emotional problems.”

Eddie cheers, and soon the crowd follows suit, clapping and laughing and whistling.

“Yeah, that’s right, give it up for emotional problems!”

Richie looks down and finds Eddie in the audience and grins at him. Eddie smiles back.

“Yeah, I take - I take some stuff for that now, it’s supposed to be good for me but it also gives me these absolutely crazy nightmares-” and Richie’s off, finding a way to work some of the scariest shit that happened to all of them in Maine into his act.

Bringing a hand to his mouth, Eddie tries to muffle his laughter as Ben looks over at him with raised eyebrows. Richie tells the Paul Bunyan story that he told Eddie in the museum, he makes it into some long twisted-up thing that ties back into his sexuality, and somehow makes a running motif out of calling Pennywise a homophobic nightmare clown.

It’s funny. Genuinely. Eddie’s so unbelievably proud.

Then, Richie moves on.

“So I met this guy in a bar last week - yeah, I know, people are somehow attracted to me, can you imagine?”

Eddie loses track of what Richie’s saying. All can hear is his own breathing as it picks up, and his heart rate. He feels - really, really stupid.

“I get him home-”

It’s active work for Eddie to try and paste a smile on his face, for him to try and not give away how awful and embarrassing and ridiculous he feels all of a sudden. Richie wanted him here to let him down easy. Richie left New York to do the same thing. They are best friends, still, just like they always have been, but whatever secret hopes Eddie had been starting to harbor are being crushed to dust in a fucking standup act. All Eddie can do is sit there and pretend he’s not having a panic attack. Stan looks over at him, and Eddie tries to look back and act normal - and from Stan’s expression, it looks like he’s failing a little.

Thankfully, the show is only an hour long, and all the stuff towards the end was in fact the end.

Most of the crowd filters out quickly, chatting, but as Eddie and the others stand up, Richie’s agent comes up and ushers them all backstage.

Richie’s standing there, fidgeting, looking a little nervous, and the rest of them practically dive on top of him. 

They gather, someone on every possible side, patting him on the back and pulling him into hugs. Mike initiates a big group hug, and Bev or Bill or somebody grabs Eddie and pulls him in, and it would feel nice to be surrounded like that and with some part of him touching each of his friends, except right now it just makes him claustrophobic. His breath is already shallow, and he wants to run and run until his legs can’t carry him, until he gets right to the edge of Lake Michigan and then until he’s underwater. He can’t think of a single thing to say to Richie.

The group hug breaks up and people start saying they should all go for drinks and Ben and Bev are standing together, and so are Bill and Mike, and Stan and Patty, and Richie’s looking at him, and Eddie’s throat starts to close up.

“My flight leaves tonight, actually, I have to get to O’Hare, guys, sorry, I didn’t really plan on-” he starts babbling. It’s a lie, obviously, it’s a gigantic fucking lie, and even Bev can’t help but look a little surprised. 

Bill groans and tries to rib him, teasing and telling him to just change his flight. Eddie tries to grin and shake his head to seem good-natured as he steps backward and starts to turn away.

Richie’s the only one that follows him.

He catches Eddie by the wrist, right by the door. “Eds, hey, come on. Stay.”

Eddie turns, and he catches sight of Richie’s expression. He looks more genuine than Eddie’s seen him since they were down in the sewers together. His brow is furrowed, the corners of his mouth turned up in a hopeful little smile.

Eddie wants, desperately, to kiss him - just to see. It wouldn’t do him any good, though.

“I’ve gotta go pick up Lion-O from the kennel in the morning, I’m sorry,” is what comes tumbling out instead, and then he’s pulled his arm out of Richie’s grasp and he’s turning to leave and he can’t even hear what everyone else says, because if he listens too hard he’ll stay, and he can’t. Not now.

The thing is - his flight leaves in three days, obviously. He knew Richie had an encore show, had visions of how tonight might go differently, but now here he is in his hotel room, desperately trying to reschedule his flight because if he spends another minute in Chicago, his own inflated hopes are going to collapse on top of him and swallow him alive.

No one stops him.

They all went out for drinks, presumably, and so none of them are at the hotel. Eddie packs, and he gathers his suitcases and he pulls them downstairs and he gets an Uber to O’Hare, and then he’s at the airport, through security, drinking in an empty airport bar.

He gets a notification from the group chat, a video of all of them together, celebrating. One of them, Stan maybe, yells, “Wish you were here!”

Eddie sends back a picture of his own drink, a half-hearted caption that reads, Cheers.

The worst part, that Eddie keeps coming back to, is that David is going to be disappointed. Eddie knows he should have managed his own expectations, tried to cope with his panic attack in a more reasonable way and then gone out with his friends. Now, though, he just has his own frustration and David’s and the knowledge of what everyone would think if they knew, all piled on top of him, one weight after another.

They call his flight, and Eddie gets on the plane fairly tipsy.

He wakes up in New York. He gets himself home. He collapses on his own bed, and curls around his pillow, and misses his cat.

In the morning, he does pick up Lion-O from the kennel, two days early, and Lion-O at least meows at him gratefully and nudges his head up against Eddie’s hand. When they get home, Eddie feeds him, and then sits on the floor beside him, petting him, in abject misery.

Soon, Lion-O crawls up into his lap, and Eddie hunches over, pressing his face into Lion-O’s fur. 

“Sorry, buddy,” he mumbles.

Lion-O just meows back at him.

The first call is Bev, which Eddie is grateful for, because he feels like if there’s anyone he can talk to right now, it’s her, alone.

“Eddie, hey! I just wanted to check that you got home alright - none of us realized you booked your flight home so soon.”

“Yeah, I just- I had to get home to my cat, I know it sounds silly, probably. Did you guys have fun?”

“Yeah! I mean, yeah, sure. It would’ve been better with you there. It ended up being a little sad - we’re all a little old for a party, we only had a couple of drinks before we all went home.” She laughs, quietly. “Richie seemed a little let down that you couldn’t stay.”

Eddie snorts, without meaning to. Guilt rises in his throat, but he ignores it. “I don’t think he could have been that heartbroken. I guess in context two third wheels are better than one, but I’m sure he isn’t hurting for company, from the sound of his act.”

“Eddie. I don’t think that’s really fair.”

“I’m not trying to be mean, Bev, I’m just saying I don’t think he missed me that much. He probably had his pick of the bar when you all went home.”

“He came back with us, alone. His room was on the same floor as ours.”

“Then he probably wanted to.” 

Bev sighs, and the phone crackles with it. “You really just- whether you went back for your cat or for something else, you weren’t there. You didn’t see him. If you had been here, I’m sure it would have been different anyways, but he went back to his room looking awfully dejected for someone who’d just turned his whole career around. He missed you. He said so. I didn’t call you for this, Eddie, I called to check on you, but Richie’s my friend, too, one of my best friends, and I’m not going to let you hurt him like that for no reason.”

“I had to get home! How is it my fault he decided to fucking mope around? We all heard him say he met someone, he has other people that can cheer him up, and I had things to do, Bev.”

“Eddie for God’s sake, it was a joke!”

There’s murmuring on the other end of the phone, then, and Eddie knows Ben heard her raising her voice, and besides, Eddie’s had enough of being reprimanded by someone utterly uninvolved - as if he hasn’t been punishing himself enough. He hasn’t been for a run since he got back - he’s been holed up in his apartment for two days, not even leaving for food or groceries. All he’s done is sit on his couch and cuddle with Lion-O and cry while he watches Cary Grant movies.

“Eddie, listen-”

“No, Bev, look. I get it, he was upset, I’m sorry, I guess, but he hasn’t texted or called since I got back. You’re the first one. He invited me to that show because he wanted me to hear it, like he wanted all of us to hear it, and there were things in there that I know he meant for me to hear. He wrote a lot of that show while he was sleeping on my floor! There are- there’s things the rest of you didn’t get, okay? And that’s fine, it’s fine, but please don’t try to make me feel guilty when I just needed - I needed to get home. Please don’t make it worse.”

Bev sighs again, and Eddie closes his eyes, like it’ll protect him somehow. “I’m sorry, Eddie,” she says, and then she’s gone.

He meant to tell her more than that. Too late now, probably.

Bill texts him next, and Eddie tells him he’s fine. He tells Mike the same thing.

Even Stan texts and tells him Patty was sorry to see him go so soon. Eddie texts him a thank you through the growing sense of guilt.

Every hour or so, Eddie opens his texts to Richie, planning to send some kind of apology for leaving, like that’ll compensate, too, for his obviousness, for the way he’d behaved in New York, for his own inevitable unshakable feelings that are still stuck to him and have been for at least 30 years. He can never figure out how to articulate himself.

The facts are that he’s angry with Richie for the way he chose to do everything, in front of all their friends and an audience, but he’s angry with himself, too. He’d seen something that wasn’t there in New York, apparently. All that choking hope leftover from that goddamn mixtape that Richie probably doesn’t even remember making, Eddie had projected it onto all their outings and all the time they spent together and he’d seen something that wasn’t there. 

Richie meets people. He has options. Eddie knows he’s only felt like this once in his life, for one person - and that one person is Richie. Richie saved his life, literally in Derry, and metaphorically by convincing him he could be brave after all. That thought followed him back, and it made him capable of doing everything he’d done since. Part of it has been his own hard work and his own memories, but part of it had been Richie’s encouragement. 

It’s with this in mind that Eddie sits on his kitchen floor like it’s going to hide him somehow and finally texts Richie - something innocuous. Something that says, hopefully, in not so many words, “I hope we can be friends.”

 

I hope the encore show went well.

 

It takes a long time before Richie responds.

 

yeah yeah it was fine. how’s little mr. spaghetti?

He’s fine. Grateful I think for his very short stay in fancy pet jail.

Did you land a special? Book any more shows?

got a netflix deal, we’re filming it sometime next month i think. you should come.

Of course, I’m sure we’ll all come

I’ll try to budget time to go out after this time, since apparently that should have been a given

you should. this time was kind of a wash without you eds

 

There’s another long pause.

 

being a seventh wheel all by myself is real rough

 

Eddie sighs, and stares up at his own ceiling.

 

You know if I ever can’t make it, you could always just take someone else, I’m sure the other losers wouldn’t mind if you brought a guy

 

This time, the gap between texts goes beyond minutes. It’s at least 20. It feels like an hour.

 

right yeah you’re probably right i guess, maybe sometime in the next 27 years i’ll actually meet somebody willing to put up with my shit

 

Eddie aches. It’s a physical thing, starting in his chest and creeping up into his throat. His eyes start to burn, and he knows it’s coming, so he reaches over and tries to coax Lion-O into his lap.

 

Don’t be stupid 

What about that guy you mentioned in your act?

don’t think i’m capable of much else

 

Eddie huffs out an annoyed little sound and starts to send something else, but the three little dots appear to let him know Richie’s typing, and he waits, sitting there on the floor, Lion-O watching him.

 

it was just a joke eds. figured you out of everybody would’ve known it was bullshit

my agent thought it was important to keep some sexual humor in there so i made some shit up

I kept waiting for you to heckle me

 

What is there to say to that? Is there any answer that doesn’t do the equivalent of splitting his own chest open so Richie can see right inside?

Probably should have, he finally sends back.

Richie doesn’t text back. After a while, Eddie’s back and hip start to hurt, and he has to pull himself up off the floor, finally walking over to his bed and settling there, staring into his closet. What would have happened that night, if he’d stayed? Would he have squeezed into the booth at the bar next to Richie, both of them pressed together from hip to shoulder? Would they have talked each other into a drinking competition and ended up utterly drunk? Would the others have stopped them when they were still only tipsy? Would they have practically held each other up on the walk back to the hotel, Richie helping Eddie up to his room, both of them stumbling a little? Would Eddie have asked him in for a drink?

Now, though - now Eddie told him to bring someone else to the next Loser’s Club reunion. Now, Eddie could have told him, could have gone back and said who else is gonna put up with you, that’s my job, pick me, please pick me.

Instead, here he is in his little Manhattan apartment, with his cat, and for the first time it just feels like he’s found a new place to be trapped. 

Before he can talk himself out of it, he calls Richie.

“Eds?”

“Rich, hey, are you- what are you doing?”

“Uh, well- I was about to go out, maybe, I don’t know, grab a drink or something.” 

Panic closes on Eddie’s throat. “Don’t! Just-” There’s no reasonable explanation for this. There’s no plausible deniability. The abrupt 180 absolutely makes him seem completely insane. There’s no way this is going to work. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m just freaking out over nothing, I don’t know why I bothered you! Just we were texting, and I… I’m sorry, God, I’m sorry, you should go! Obviously you should go if you’re going, I’m being ridiculous.”

“Eds, are you okay?” 

Eddie laughs, and he’s sure even Richie can hear the hysterical edge. “Probably not. Do you ever just - do you ever just feel like you are the only one ruining your own life? Like for a long time you blamed other people and maybe they contributed, but in the end it’s just something you did to yourself, like you couldn’t even face the possibility of happiness?” 

“Eddie. Are you home?” 

“Yeah?”

“...If I go to the airport right now, if I can get on the next flight to New York, I can probably get there in 4 hours, maybe less, it’s a two and a half hour flight from O’Hare to JFK-”

“Richie, what the fuck are you-”

“God what the fuck happened to red eye flights, are those just not a thing anymore?”

“Richie!”

“What?”

“Richie, you don’t- I can’t let you fly all the way out here because I’m being crazy, I’m crazy every day of my fucking life, I shouldn’t have bothered you-”

“Bother me. Eds, fucking, come on, you’re my best friend, you mean more to me than anyone on the goddamn planet, bother me.” Richie’s voice breaks, filled to the brim with genuine desperation.

It breaks Eddie. He can feel the burn at the back of his throat again, feel the tears start to gather in his eyes. “I’m sorry I left that night in Chicago.”

“Is that what this is about?”

“Not exactly. It’s complicated.”

“Okay.” There’s rustling on the other end of the phone, and Eddie can’t be sure anymore what Richie’s doing, but he knows that he’s listening.

“Right. So I- I didn’t tell you, while you were up here, we never talk about this stuff we’re so busy talking shit all the time, but I’ve been seeing a therapist. And we- He’s helped me a lot. I’ve been seeing him since I left Myra, so for months now, and obviously I can’t tell him exactly what happened in Derry but he’s still been really useful and I’ve processed a lot and I had this plan for how I was going to do this and tell everyone but you sort of beat me to it with your show and I didn’t want to - step on your toes or steal your moment- Not to imply that’s why I left, just that I’ve been waiting and I- I wanted to tell you first.”

“...Tell me what, Eds?”

“That I’m… gay. I’m gay. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“That’s okay. It’s fine. I’m glad that you told me, but you don’t owe it to me or anything, you know?”

“But I wanted you to know, I wanted to tell you when you were here, I just freeze, it’s like that time in Neibolt, I just fucking freeze, I don’t know why it’s so hard.”

“It’s because it’s hard, Eddie, baby, God it’s not like I’m not 40, I just did the same thing and I still freaked the fuck out, I- you guys were all in the audience, I fucking threw up backstage before the show, that night you were all there.” 

“Rich. Why didn’t you say anything? I could have- I mean any of us could have come back there.”

Richie sighs. “I know, I know that, but you’re right. It’s fucking terrifying.”

“...Do you really wanna come back to New York?”

“I, uh,” Richie laughs, nervously, into the phone. “I’m almost at the airport. I bought a ticket already. Hope you’ve still got that air mattress.”

“Yeah, that’s- We’ll figure it out. Do you want me to come get you from the airport?” 

“If you don’t mind."

“No, God, no, whatever you- Whatever. I’ll be there. How close are you to the airport?”

“Probably another half hour? Then I’ve gotta get through security and try to catch my flight.”

“Right. So I’ll see you in three to four hours?”

“You don’t want me to stay on the phone?”

“Rich, I’ve gotta clean up, my place is a fucking disaster, I haven’t touched it since I got home-”

Richie laughs, really properly laughs, and Eddie smiles.

“Right, that’s my Eds. I’ll see you in three to four hours, then. I’ll keep you posted when I get through security and the plane takes off.”

“...If you sneak up behind me in the airport again when I’m this tired, I might actually kill you.” 

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

They both hang up, and Eddie levers himself up off the bed and heads right for the shower. He cleans up, and fixes his hair. He gets dressed - but in a pair of his more worn-out jeans and that old shirt from college, comfortable things. He pauses for a moment in front of the mirror, wrinkling his nose at the bags under his eyes. He rubs at the scar on his cheek like that’ll make it go away, but if anything it just makes it red and slightly irritated.

There’s no saving the fact that he looks old, and tired. He’s both.

Eddie pulls out the walkman and listens to Richie’s playlist as he tidies his apartment. He wipes down the counters, takes out the trash, makes the bed.

He looks at the air mattress, where it’s tucked in storage.

He leaves it there.

With an hour and a half to spare, he heads for the airport.

This time, while he waits by the escalators, he’s oddly calm.

The airport is quiet, several of the kiosks are closed and unmanned. There’s no hustle and bustle at this time of night, just the eerie, uncanny feeling of emptiness that comes from being in such a frequently crowded space without all its people.

Richie’s flight arrives, and he sends Eddie a text.

 

here, heading your way

I mean it if you try to scare me I’ll kill you

wouldn’t dream of it

 

Some part of him still expects Richie to pull the same shit. Instead, Eddie watches a small group wander down the escalator - and there’s Richie, duffle bag over his shoulder, dark circles under his eyes. He spots Eddie and gives him a tired little half-smile and a wave, and Eddie fights the urge to bolt up the escalator.

Instead, this time when Richie reaches the bottom, Eddie walks over and pulls him into a hug.

He holds nothing back. His face is pressed against Richie’s shoulder, his arms are tight around Richie’s waist, and he’s not trying to angle himself away or watch the placement of his body parts. For a second Richie’s arms hover awkwardly around him, and then Richie’s hugging him back, arms just as tight around Eddie’s back, one hand on the back of his neck, holding him close.

“Hey,” Richie says softly, like he didn’t even mean to.

“Thank you. For coming. You didn’t have to.”

“Wanted to,” Richie murmurs.

People shuffle around them, and the baggage carousel squeaks in the background, and after just a few moments, Eddie forces himself to pull away.

“I parked in the deck again. We should probably head back and try to get some sleep.”

“Yeah. I’m fucking exhausted. Flight wasn’t bad, just - I’m tired.”

“Me too.”

Eddie reaches out and grabs Richie’s hand, and he squeezes it before he starts walking. Richie holds on, and he doesn’t let go, all the way out to the parking deck.

When they’re in the car, and Richie’s bag is tossed in the back, Eddie turns to look at Richie before he even starts to back out of the space. 

In the unflattering light of the garage, Richie’s stubble and developing wrinkles are obvious. The bags under his eyes make him look sick. Eddie has never wanted to touch anyone so desperately in his entire fucking life.

“I didn’t have time to set up the air mattress,” he admits.

Richie looks over at him, and blinks. “Okay.”

“I think we can both fit in my bed, but I can always sleep on the couch if you need me-”

“No. No, bed’s fine for both of us.”

Eddie nods, and places his hand on the gear shift, carefully putting the car in reverse.

For a moment, Richie reaches over and places his hand over Eddie’s, his thumb rubbing gently at the space between Eddie’s knuckles. Eddie shivers, and pulls out with his hand still on the gear shift. He puts the car in drive, and then turns his hand over, brushing his own thumb against Richie’s before he pulls away.

Once they’re out of the parking deck, Richie reaches over to fuck around with the radio. Sometimes he pauses on a channel and looks over at Eddie, and Eddie just wrinkles his nose or shakes his head, and Richie keeps flicking through.

When he stops, it’s on The Replacements’ I Will Dare, and he laughs. “I used to love this song,” he tells Eddie, grinning. 

Eddie laughs, too, but it catches in his throat. “So I- do you remember when we used to make each other mixtapes in high school?”

“Oh God, yeah, that’s so… God wasn’t this on one of them? One that I made for you?”

“It’s the first song. From the summer after we fought It. I- I kept that one, I found it in a shoebox I had in a drawer somewhere. I didn’t know what it was until I came back from Derry, but now I have it, I’ve been… I’ve been listening to it constantly for the last three months.”

“...Eds.”

Eddie blushes. “Do not say anything, trashmouth, I swear to God-”

“What else was on there?” 

“It’s uh- here.” Eddie pokes at the touchscreen, pulls up his Spotify playlists, and puts it on. “I made a playlist out of it.”

So they listen to it together, all the way back to the apartment.

With each song that comes up, Richie laughs and groans, occasionally hiding his face in his hands. “I’m not so much embarrassed by my own taste as much as I’m just fucking embarrassed by what a disaster I was, this is- I mean. Heroes, huh?”

“Pretty sure I put that on one of your mixtapes, too, if that makes you feel any better.”

Richie laughs, shifting against his seat, turning to face Eddie. “I just feel… Obvious.”

And that… Eddie doesn’t know what to say to that. Maybe they’ll just take turns being obvious. “Wasn’t obvious to me. Not then. I thought I was just projecting.”

Eddie listens as Richie exhales sharply. The darkness in the car keeps him from getting a good look at Richie’s expression, and in that moment he’s grateful for it.

“How far away are we?”

“7 minutes, maybe?”

“Right.”

After that, they don’t talk. Eddie goes a little faster than he normally would, and they make it to the apartment in 5 minutes instead of 7. They park the car and Eddie comes around to Richie’s side, but Richie’s already grabbing his bag.

“Don’t need you overdoing that shoulder,” Richie says, brushing a hand over the scar, over Eddie’s shirt.

“It’s usually fine now - hasn’t bothered me in a while. I have to do those physical therapy exercises still, but I don’t have trouble with it.”

Richie places a hand on Eddie’s shoulder, more firmly, and Eddie places his hand over Richie’s, interlocking their fingers before he uses that hand to pull Richie along.

Even at their tired, stumbling pace, they make it to the elevator and up to Eddie’s floor.

Eddie opens the door and Lion-O comes over to greet them, meowing up at them both. Richie is the first one to kneel down, scratching behind his ears in just the right way, the same way Eddie always does it.

“Hey there, little Mr. Spaghetti,” Richie murmurs.

“You’ve gotta stop calling him that, he’s gonna think it’s his actual name,” Eddie tells him, trying not to sound as all-consumingly fond as he feels.

Richie turns and grins up at him. “But it is his name! Maybe Spaghetti Jr.?”

“You’re the worst,” Eddie tells him, even as he smiles and picks up Richie’s bag, taking it over to the bed.

Eddie goes over to the closet, pulls out his pajama pants and goes into the bathroom to change and brush his teeth. 

When he comes back out, Richie’s sitting on the bed and looking at him, just waiting there. Lion-O has gone back to his usual place on the couch.

Eddie takes a deep breath and goes to sit beside Richie on the bed.

“Do you want a drink or anything?” he asks, trying to act like this is in any way a normal situation, where he can pretend to be a normal host.

Richie shakes his head.

They’re sitting so close together that their arms are brushing, and Eddie can feel how warm Richie is, and the soft fabric of his shirt where it brushes against Eddie’s arm. Eddie scoots himself just an inch closer, and they’re pressed together from shoulder to hip, both of them tilted towards each other by the way their weight pulls the bed down.

Eddie doesn’t know what to say. All the words have gone out of him. 

Richie turns so they’re facing each other, and he reaches up, slowly, like Eddie might stop him - as if Eddie would ever stop him again. He places his hand on Eddie’s cheek, and he brushes his thumb over the scar there. 

Eddie’s eyes flutter shut.

“Eds- Eddie,” Richie says.

“Beep beep, asshole,” Eddie whispers, and he reaches out and places his hand on the back of Richie’s neck and pulls him into a kiss, finally.

Their lips meet in the middle, utterly messy. Their noses get in the way, so Eddie tilts his head, but then Richie’s glasses end up askew in the middle, and Eddie isn’t pulling back for anything yet, so he just bites at Richie’s lower lip and then presses his tongue there, staying close and pressing even closer, trying to taste the inside of Richie’s mouth even though his own still tastes like toothpaste. 

Richie is the one to pull back first, and he takes off his glasses, reaching around Eddie to put them on a bedside table before he cradles Eddie’s face in his hands. “Did you brush your teeth first?” he asks.

“Didn’t I already tell you to shut up?” Eddie replies, and he wraps his good arm around Richie’s back, yanking him closer again so they can kiss properly, and this time goes better. Without the glasses in the way, they nail the angle on the first try. Richie licks into his mouth this time, and Eddie parts his lips easily, pushing his fingers up into Richie’s hair, running them through his already messy curls.

Richie pulls back again. “You definitely brushed your teeth.”

“Yeah, cause I knew you wouldn’t, fucking trashmouth,” and Eddie makes him shut up, again, with a real bite to his lower lip, tugging on it a little this time.

When they part, Eddie leans back and pulls Richie with him, so they’re lying back, propped up against the pillows while they keep kissing.

Eddie slides his hands under Richie’s shirt and Richie leans back to take it off almost immediately. He pulls at Eddie’s, too, and Eddie twists so he can help. They both stay there, panting and looking at each other, and then Richie leans down to press his lips to the scar just below Eddie’s collarbone.

First, he’s chaste, but then he licks there, and bites, and Eddie makes a pathetic little whine as Richie sets out to leave a mark.

Eddie yanks him back up, making it so Richie is fully on top of him, and kisses him properly again, and this time he can feel Richie pressed against his hip, and they’re both already fully hard. Eddie pushes his hip up and grinds against Richie, and Richie shudders, pulling back to sigh against Eddie’s mouth. 

“I would - I would say I’m too tired but this isn’t gonna take very long,”

“Yeah, no, not for me either, just-” 

Eddie reaches down and unzips Richie’s pants, and Richie shoves them down his hips and kicks them off as best he can. He presses his hand against the front of Richie’s boxers, feels the shape of him underneath, and Richie bucks forward into his hand. He shifts, then, and presses his thigh against Richie, and gets one of Richie’s legs between his own, and thrusts again.

He muffles his sounds against Richie’s shoulder.

They press, and grind, and eventually Richie slides a hand inside Eddie’s pajama pants and it only takes a few good thrusts and Eddie is closing his eyes and tilting his head back and shuddering all over. He feels Richie go still beside him before he can even stir and try to reach down, and then they both just lay there, panting, Richie’s face still pressed against Eddie’s shoulder, both of them sticky with sweat.

“I’m making you get the washcloth. You should change your boxers. And get me - something, shorts or something, I don’t care,” Eddie mumbles.

Richie groans, but he gets up and does just what Eddie asked. He changes into a different pair of boxers right at the end of the bed, and lets Eddie watch. He tosses a pair of shorts from the closet to the bed, and then goes into the bathroom. Eddie slides out of his pajama bottoms and waits until Richie comes back. Richie brings two washcloths, but he gets distracted, watching Eddie wipe himself off and put on the shorts.

When he looks over, Eddie snorts and grabs the other washcloth, helping Richie clean off before he tosses both of the washcloths over the side of the bed.

“I feel like your obsession with the shorts borders on unhealthy.”

“I think you gave me a fetish, I was like 13, cut me some slack. You were literally my sexual awakening.”

Eddie, unable to fight it, blushes. “Oh, God, shut up.” 

“You signed up for this now, there’s no going back.”

“I don’t know about that, I feel like I could get Lion-O to attack you, kick you out of the apartment-”

“Yeah, I’d like to see you try, you’re still like a foot shorter than me-”

“I’m literally four inches shorter than you, that’s not even half of a foot-”

Richie turns to face him, then, grinning, and Eddie pulls him into another kiss.

“At least there’s one way to shut you up now. Asshole,” Eddie mumbles against his lips. 

“For a moment.”

Eddie sighs, and does an awkward shimmy so they can both get under the blankets. “You know I- When I called you, even when you said you were coming, I didn’t really think-” 

“No, I didn’t either. I wasn’t really planning on this. Maybe something, but not-”

“Makes sense, though, maybe. It has been- you know a really long fucking time.” 

Richie scoffs, and laughs. “Yeah. You do have a point.”

Eddie turns and presses his face against Richie’s shoulder, throwing an arm over his waist. He muffles his yawn against Richie’s skin, and he hears Richie yawn too. “I didn’t set an alarm, Lion-O will probably wake us up, but until then.”

Richie just hums in response, and they both slide easily into sleep.

Eddie wakes up some time after noon, and Richie’s still in the bed with him.

He’s still asleep, his face pressed awkwardly into the pillows, his arm thrown over Eddie’s waist. Eddie shifts, slightly, turning to face him, watching him sleep for a moment. His morning breath is utterly terrible. Eddie leans in, anyways, presses a kiss right below Richie’s eye, then one to the bridge of his nose, the areas always hidden behind his glasses. 

Richie shifts, still mostly asleep, tugging at Eddie a little as he mumbles.

There is not an ounce of guilt or doubt left to be found in Eddie’s mind or body. There’s no panic attack hovering in the wings, not over this. Maybe somewhere down the line, something in particular will set him off, but in this moment he feels utterly and entirely at peace. Not even his shoulder hurts. He closes his eyes again and sighs, feeling the way Richie’s skin shifts against his as his chest rises and falls.

“Eds?” Richie mumbles, his voice still rough from sleep.

“Mm?”

“Hey. G’morning.”

 Eddie blinks, opening his eyes again, and Richie’s smiling at him. “It’s afternoon, technically.”

“Well my body stays on LA time, it’s probably still morning there.”

“Dipshit,” Eddie mumbles, and presses close to kiss Richie gently, just a chaste brush of lips.

Eddie pulls back, and sits up to stretch. Richie watches him, squinting. “God, you’re so hot when you’re all blurry like this.”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie grabs Richie’s glasses from the bedside table and hands them over as he gets out of bed. He walks into the kitchen and sets out food for Lion-O, then starts up the coffee machine. 

After a few minutes, Richie comes up behind him and places his hands on his hips. “You, with no shirt on, in these shorts… you’re a fucking menace.”

“Jesus, Rich, we are absolutely too old for this.”

“Baby, you make me feel like my dick is a teenager all over again.” 

Eddie giggles, in spite of himself, leaning forward and pressing a hand over his face, trying as hard as he can not to encourage Richie and failing oh so miserably. 

Richie kisses at his jaw, right under his ear, and then goes over to throw a bagel in the toaster. “I’ll let you eat first, just let you think about it a little.”

“Mm, while I watch you just destroy a bagel, that’ll be really just. Unbelievably sexy.”

Eddie turns, and he catches Richie waggling his eyebrows.

 On the counter, Eddie catches sight of Richie’s phone, where he must have left it at some point in all the chaos the night before. He taps at it, and finds that the background is a picture of the two of them - the one from Central Park.

“Should we tell everyone else?” he wonders aloud.

Richie comes up behind him and leans over his shoulder. “Yeah, come on, take a picture.”

“Now?”

“Now, yes, come on.”

Richie turns to kiss his cheek, and Eddie opens Richie’s phone and uses it to snap a picture of the two of them. Richie’s eyes are closed, his nose smushed slightly against Eddie’s cheek, and Eddie’s pretending to roll his eyes even as he smiles, just a little.

It’s a good picture.

While Eddie’s still pondering the caption, Richie plucks the phone from his hands. He types Hey Bike, race to the gay wedding altar starts now, sincerely Reddie, and hits send.

Eddie watches him type, and blinks. “Did you just propose? Was that you proposing?”

“Eds, baby, first of all, we’re fucking 40, you’re not getting rid of me again. Second of all, I’ll do it better some other time, please, don’t worry about it.” Richie rubs a hand over Eddie’s bare stomach, just above his shorts, and Eddie shivers with it.

“Fucking ridiculous, you’re ridiculous,” Eddie mumbles, but he turns and kisses Richie right after he says it.

He only pulls away when the coffee machine starts beeping, and when he turns back around, Richie is smiling down at the phone.

“What’d they say?” Eddie asks.

Richie looks up, and shakes his head. “Oh, no, sorry, it’s not even that, it’s just,” he cuts himself off with a laugh. “You remember that night we got drunk, the first night I came to visit, and you told me to make a list of all the stuff we would have done in college?”

He slides the phone over so Eddie can see it, and the Notes app is open, with a list titled MISSED TEENAGE SHENANIGANS.

It was obviously started that night Richie was drunk, because there are obvious typos, but there’s also at least twenty different things just to start with.

Eddie shakes his head and looks over at Richie. “Guess we should get started on this sometime soon, then.” 

“Well. We’ve got time.”

The phone lights up with notifications, congratulations and a Finally from Stan, but Eddie just leans in to kiss Richie again. He could focus on the uncertainties, who’s going to live where, or if Lion-O would mind going on a road trip, but he knows now, with Richie there, the most important things are settled, and they can figure out the rest as they go along. Richie’s right. They have the time now, and the space. They have at least another 40 years ahead of them.