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Eddie flinches when Richie presses the wet cloth to his face. He pauses for a moment, waits until Eddie gives him a tight nod, then continues dabbing at the wound. The muscles in Eddie's jaw clinch with every contact but he remains still.

They tried doing this in Eddie's bathroom first, but the blood on the floor had made Richie's stomach churn, so here they are, Eddie sitting on the closed toilet and Richie on his knees before him, carefully cleaning the wound.

When he pulls the cloth away it's bright red, and Eddie's cheek is still a gaping mess of blood. Richie swallows and blindly grasps for the sterile pad package he left somewhere on the floor. Eddie hasn't changed his clothes, and there's a large reddish brown stain on his chest.

They are purposefully not talking about It, but the threat hangs in the air above them nonetheless. It reminds Richie of an irrational fear he had as a child, out on night drives with his parents; that there was a creature cowering just outside the white circles of the headlights.

"So, Henry Bowers, huh," he says, just to break the silence.

Eddie lets out a shaky laugh, winces when it antagonizes his wound. "I thought that asshole died years ago, but he never even got rid of his mullet." He's trying to minimize his mouth movements, speaking around the hole in his cheek, and it makes his voice come out in a mumble.

"That's great to hear, when I saw Ben and Bev again I thought I was the one who peaked in school, but knowing he's still around to pick on us really puts things into perspective," Richie babbles, struggling with opening the packaging.

Eddie takes the packaging from his hands and rips it open. "Ben and Bev? What about me? Did I peak in school too?"

Richie gives a pointed look at Eddie's polo shirt, almost managing to ignore the dried blood on it. "I don't know, you're the one that's dressed like a divorced father who's behind on his alimony payments. You tell me." He takes the open package from Eddie's hands and pulls out the white square of dressing.

Eddie's eyebrows drop and he mouths Fuck You as Richie slides to the left to get better access to his injured cheek. He gingerly presses the sterile pad to the wound, then fixes it in place with the remaining bandages from Eddie's first aid kit. He smoothes down the edges, making sure the adhesive clings properly to Eddie's skin, his fingers ghosting along Eddie's jaw. A beat, then he slides back and sits on his heels to admire his work.

It's not enough, even Richie with his limited medical knowledge recognizes that Eddie needs to go to a hospital, but they don't have time for that now, so this will have to do.

"I'm starting to think comedy was the wrong career choice for me. Nurse Tozier has a nice ring to it."

Eddie rolls his eyes and gets up to inspect his face in the mirror above the sink, anxiously prodding at the sterile pad. "If this doesn't become seriously infected in five minutes, I'm eating my shoe."

"Aw, Eds, don't say that. You're as good as new." Richie gets up to stand beside him. "Sorry I couldn't fix the rest of this," he gestures towards Eddie's face, "but the doctors told me that's just what your face normally looks like."

"Have you never heard of kicking a man when he's down?" Eddie mutters, and, even though there's no real venom in his voice, Richie bites down on his next joke.

They barely fit into the mirror frame together. Eddie is still small compared to him, like he always was when they were children, and it sends a burst of something down his spine. Fear and affection, in equal measures.

There was a moment in the Chinese restaurant, when he'd looked at Eddie properly for the first time in twenty-seven years —worry-lined face, dressed older than his age— and to his own horror, Richie had realized that he found all of that very sexy. He'd felt vaguely sick.

"I need a shower. Get out."

Richie obliges and wanders down the hallway whilst Eddie takes a shower in his bathroom. It's eerily quiet now that Ben and Bev have left. The door to Eddie's room is still open.

He steps around the discarded shower curtain still lying on the floor, trying not to think about whether the blood on it belongs to Eddie or Henry Bowers.

Eddie's suitcases are neatly placed at the foot of the bed. He opens the one on top, grimacing as a stack of impeccably folded dress shirts comes into sight, and rummages through the contents of the suitcase until he finds an inoffensive grey cardigan and a white shirt.

The whole room stinks of blood, and he's desperate to get out, but a buzz to his right grabs his attention. Eddie's phone is lying next to the TV. When he holds it up, the display lights up and shows nine missed calls from a woman called Myra. His phone background is a picture of Eddie and a woman Richie doesn't recognize. Eddie is smiling at the camera tentatively, almost shyly, looking younger than he does now, and the woman who has to be Myra is beaming next to him. The thought passes through Richie's mind that they look happy, and then he berates himself for it. Who is he to say what they are and aren't? He's barely acquaintanced with the Eddie that's staring at him from the phone, the one that's married and has the most boring job in the world. What does he know?

He looks at the phone for a moment longer, then puts it back and leaves, pulling the door shut behind him.

Eddie with clean clothes on and a bandaged face looks like a whole new person. Richie's eyes glide over his damaged cheek, a weight settling in the pit of his stomach. There will be more injuries before this is through.

"Where are the others, anyway?" Eddie asks and sits on the edge of Richie's untouched bed.

Richie thinks of telling him about the missed calls from Myra, but decides against it. What does he know?

"I think Ben and Bev are searching for Bill. Mike's probably looking up fun Native American ritual icebreakers to do with your estranged childhood friends on WikiHow right now."

Eddie groans and lies back on the bed, his feet sticking out over the end. After a moment, Richie goes and lies down next to him, a handful of space between them on the double bed. There are dark flecks from water damage on the ceiling.

All things considered, it should be titillating, Eddie lying next to him in his bed, but Richie can't even come up with a dirty joke to make. This is just as innocuous as when they were kids, and Eddie would bike to Richie's house and they would lie in his bed together, reading the new comics that his mom wouldn't let him buy. Sometimes Richie would do shrill voices for all the characters and sometimes Eddie would retaliate by pushing him off the bed.

Except— it had never been innocuous for Richie, had it? Even then, although he'd never attached a word to it, he'd secretly enjoyed spending time with Eddie the most, had been more stimulated and hyper around Eddie than anyone else, egging him on and going out of his way to make him laugh.

"You left," Eddie says. It's not a question.

"Yes."

"What made you come back?"

Richie doesn't know how to answer that. Telling Eddie about his trip to the Synagogue would be like putting his fingers in the wound and digging, and he's not sure if he's ready to talk about Stan yet.

There was also that moment when he'd come back to the Townhouse and had found Ben and Beverly crowded around Eddie, face to chest covered in blood. Having the insane realization that Eddie could have been bleeding to death in his bathroom whilst he was busy abandoning his friends for some tour dates in Reno.

Richie turns his head to look at Eddie, pallid and tired. "Are you still thinking about leaving? Because I think none of the others would blame you for it, now that you have a gaping hole in your face."

It's not true, and Richie knows that Eddie knows it's not true. In the same way whatever supernatural force made them all forget and then remember again when Mike called, he knows on some plane that lies beyond cognition that it has to be all of them if they want to stand a chance against It. Their chances were already infinitesimal before Stan killed himself, and he's sure they won't make it at all without Eddie.

That doesn't matter though— there's a part of him that can't stomach seeing Eddie like this, with a fresh hole in his face and deeply frightened. It's stupid, because on a higher functioning level of his brain Richie is aware that Eddie is so much braver than he thinks. And yet.

"Don't be a dumbass. Where would I even go? Drive over to Bangor and get a milkshake whilst Ronald McDonald is busy dismembering you guys?" Eddie says crossly, but there's a forlorn look on his face. Earlier, out of the corner of his eyes, Richie had seen him take out an inhaler from his ruined jacket and place it into his new hoodie, when he'd thought Richie hadn't been looking.

Richie has nothing to say to that. He thinks of the picture on Eddie's phone.

"Do you remember that TV show we used to watch in your room, the one with the kooky FBI agent who was obsessed with pie?" Eddie asks suddenly.

Richie rolls over. "You mean Twin Peaks? You're asking me if I remember Twin Peaks? Is water wet? The new season is coming out next year, I swear if this fucking clown murders me before I get to find out how Annie is, I'll kill the shit out of h—"

"Yes, that one. You used to make fun of me all the time for being so scared of it."

"Well yeah, you were such a wimp."

They had watched it in Richie's bedroom, after Richie and Mike had found an old television set from the 70s abandoned by the road, its screen miraculously intact, and had spent a summer laboriously repairing it. That was also the summer he and Mike had discovered weed, and Eddie's contribution to the project had been alternating between lectures about bedbugs and the fatal consequences of secondhand smoking whilst lounging on Richie's bed.

The three of them had huddled together under the blankets, Richie teasing Eddie whenever he startled, using it as an excuse to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. It had always made him feel a little bit guilty and a little bit happy, like a child caught doing something forbidden by its parents.

"I remember thinking how similar Twin Peaks was to Derry."

"I'm pretty sure Washington and Maine are literally on opposite ends of the country, Eds."

"No, not like that idiot. Similar in the way the town was, with everyone keeping secrets, young people getting murdered, an evil presence just... lurking in the forest. But you know what the big difference was? Between Twin Peaks and Derry?"

Richie keeps quiet.

"People still wanted to remain there. No one ever moved away, they loved it so much, so much murder and misery but they still loved it, and embraced all of the, I don't know, insidious abuse in their community. The FBI agent saw all of the murder and drug deals and wanted to stay there! And I remember, even as a kid, even when I could barely remember anything about the clown or the murders or that summer, I could never understand that. Why stay there, and why not leave. I think, for all of us, leaving Derry was the best decision we ever made."

"I don't know about that, I guess you're right about the leaving Derry part, but, y'know, a childhood is still a childhood, at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, remembering how freaking violent my tweens were when Mike called me was, uh, problematic, but that was never all there was. The Losers, our clubhouse, shit, even the Barrens, that's stuff I'm kind of glad is back, even if it's outweighed greatly by evil killer clown bullshit."

Summers spent fixing up old television sets and reading comics and being stoned out of their minds in the clubhouse, all done in that weirdly intense life-or-death way that childhood friendships tended to be like (although in their case it had probably been more literal than for most). He still wishes he was halfway to Reno, but he realized a few hours ago that all of this overarches him now.

"Listen, my life in New York is far from perfect, I'm aware of it," Eddie starts, and Richie looks down to where Eddie's hand is resting on the sheets before he can stop himself, to the dull gleam of his wedding band, "but I'm doing fine there, I'm doing okay, it's a life. What this is— this is regurgitating stuff I got over long ago, things I've moved past. There is no use in dredging any of that up. I don't need this shit messing me up in the head."

And Richie gets it, because he's been back home for less than 24 hours and it’s already been like going through a marathon of a midlife crisis. But he's back, lying here in Derry, with his first and oldest and bestest friend in the world, both of them half paralyzed with fear, trying to bite back the urge to grasp for him across the sheets. Good and bad, old and new.

The one advantage of the clown, Richie thinks, is that at least there's a concrete way to deal with it.

"You think it would be better to never have remembered this? Any of this? The Losers club?" He wants to add Me?, but decides that would be too selfish. Outside, branches from a tree are tapping faintly against the window.

Eddie looks at him. "I don't know, Richie. I really don't know."

 

 

Beverly is the first to jump, leaping over the edge like she's completely unafraid of falling. Bill takes the leap after her, then Ben and Mike, until it's only Eddie and Richie left on the cliff.

This time, the diatribe Eddie goes on about pollution and bacteria and wound infections is probably not as unreasonable as it normally is. The dressing on his cheek is soaked through with blood and sewer water, and his shirt is torn at the shoulder where Pennywise grazed him.

He still runs over the edge before Richie does. It makes Richie feel stupidly proud and wistful, and he leaps off the cliff before he can think about it too much.

Underwater, Richie lets himself float, keeping his eyes firmly shut. For a moment he is on a distant planet, no sounds reaching his ears, his limbs weightless, drifting. Then he opens his eyes and swims towards the golden rays of light that are piercing through the surface.

The surviving members of the Losers club are spread out around him, all in different states of dishevelment, dirtied and bloodied, but alive, very much alive.

Although this is very different from the last time they were here, an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu floods him, blocking his breath and constricting his chest. For a moment, it feels like if he makes one hasty move, gets up too quickly, this reality will shatter like glass and they will be sitting across from each other as their thirteen year-old selves again.

Richie swims over to Mike and puts an arm around him. "Look at that Mikey, you didn't actually get us all killed."

He shovels a handful of water into Mike's face anyway. Mike laughs and dunks him underwater.

"I wish Stanley was here," Bev says a little while later, floating on her back, palms turned upwards.

The sun keeps on climbing above them, reflecting luminously on the water, and the sky is cloudless and brilliant, as if this is just another day in Derry. It's hard to believe that somewhere below their feet the bodies of hundreds of children are rotting away. Richie wonders whether they still exist in memory, or if Its curse has erased them from their families' minds forever.

"Me too," Richie says simply. He's sitting next to her on the rocks, still up to his waist in water, cleaning the blood from his cracked glasses. He's not sure whose blood it is, hopes it's his own but suspects that it isn't. There was a moment down there, deep below Derry, where he thought his whole world would unravel, that everything was coming apart at the seams.

He looks up, his eyes roaming through the water, and realizes that they're not all together after all— Eddie's missing.

"Be right back," he tells Bill as he gets out of the water, not waiting for his response.

Eddie is easily found. He's leaning against the cliff, close by the lake but hidden from sight by shrubbery. His eyes are closed, and his clothes are so full of dried blood and mud that for an odd second Richie thinks he's looking at a corpse.

Richie doesn't announce his presence, just lets himself stare at Eddie unselfconsciously for a while.

It's funny, he remembers now, with all of his memories slotted neatly back into their place, how much he'd hated all they boys he'd been attracted to in school. Hated them for making his eyes wander, hated himself for being unable to stop staring, in class or in the gym locker room or at the back of the Aladdin. But he never could bring himself to hate Eddie, not ever. His favorite person in the whole world.

"Hey Eds, you're missing out on the party."

Eddie cracks open an eyelid. "Beep beep, Richie."

Richie goes to lean next to him. They are silent for a few minutes, Richie craning up his neck to better feel the sun on his face.

"When It caught you in its lights, I thought you were dead, that you'd never come back," Eddie starts, subdued.

Richie doesn't move. There's a soul-sucking vortex in his mind where the memories of the deadlights are.

"I thought It had impaled you when you saved my life," he offers back. Nothing in all of this, not Pennywise taunting him or Paul Bunyan trying to smash him to bits, had compared to the few moments where Richie had thought Eddie was bleeding out above him, his blood dripping into Richie's mouth and eyes.

Richie wants to say: I wished it had been me. In that moment, I wished it had been me, but it will sound as deranged in his voice as it does in his head.

"God." The utter despair in Eddie's tone makes him open his eyes. Eddie is rubbing at his face violently and scrunching it up, shoulders hunched, and Richie realizes from far away, as if he's still underwater, that he's crying, clear tear stains on his cheeks amongst the muck.

"Hey, hey, Eddie, s'okay," he says and without hesitations takes Eddie in his arms. Eddie lets himself be enfolded willingly and buries his head in Richie's shoulder. He's shivering like a wounded animal, making no sounds at all, which terrifies Richie.

"It's okay, baby, it's okay," he says again, the term of endearment slipping out between his reassurances, but not feeling out of place.

Eddie doesn't look at him, is slowly twisting his head from where it's pressed against Richie's shoulder so that his mouth is travelling up his shirt, pausing and gently pulling away once he reaches Richie's neck. As if being caught in the deadlights has given him clairvoyance, Richie knows what will happen next, but for once, he remains still, anticipates.

Eddie pulls away further to gaze up at him, the skin around his stab wound a sickly purple, his eyes wide and frightened, and stands up to press their lips together. Richie kisses him back in a fluid motion. It feels realer than anything that has happened since the house on Neibolt Street collapsed, Eddie a warm, shivering presence in his arms.

He carefully cups Eddie's uninjured cheek and feels for the tear streaks there. Eddie makes a gasping noise that shatters his heart and slides his mouth open. Richie can hear his own blood rush in his ears and holds him tighter, crowds him against the side of the cliff. Languidly kisses back, in no hurry at all.

Eventually, Eddie breaks away and presses himself to Richie's throat, breathing open-mouthed against his neck. Resting his chin on Eddie's head, Richie further encircles him with his arms in an attempt to get him to stop shivering. It's not exactly cold, but they're still wet from their dive into the lake, a puddle of water forming below them in the grass.

Faint voices start seeping through the foliage. Someone laughing. They extract themselves slowly, wet clothes sticking to their bodies at uncomfortable angles.

"You okay?" Richie asks when they've fully pulled apart, standing opposite of each other as if they hadn't just made out in a haze of dirty clothes and dried blood and sewer water.

Eddie clenches his jaw and nods. He briefly presses a hand to Richie's shoulder, squeezes. "Come," he says and leads him back to the others.

 

 

Ben and Beverly are leaving together, in a way that both of them are playing off as purely platonic and practical, but Richie can't help grinning like an idiot when he helps pack the last suitcase into Ben's car.

Bev sees and slaps his arm lightly. "What's so funny, Trashmouth?"

"Oh nothing, Marsh. Nothing at all," he says and envelopes her in a massive hug. "I'm just very happy for you." She hugs back even harder.

Ben comes out of the back entrance of the Townhouse as they are pulling apart. "Finished?"

Richie beams at him. "Hey, Ben, I know I'm supposed to give you the shovel talk, but I think Bev here has done enough impaling lately that she can take care of herself if you ever decide to be a dumbass."

Bev winks up at Ben and he puts an arm around her waist. It's unfair how good they both look after only a shower and a good night's sleep, as if they hadn't spent the past day wading around in Derry's bowels. How come, out of all of them, Richie is the one that lives and works in LA?

Richie smiles at the two of them, a tender, fluttery feeling in his chest. He doesn't know two better people.

"Were you two assholes planning on leaving without saying goodbye?" A voice comes from behind them, and when he turns on his heals he sees Eddie stepping out of the Townhouse.

"Eddie! We thought you were still passed out in your room, to be honest," Beverly admits.

In truth, they've already said their goodbyes, in one tearful and slightly smothering hug yesterday, after which everyone had fucked off to get a good 12+ hours of semi-comatose sleep. But the longer Richie looks at him, the longer it seems like Eddie hasn't slept at all. He's clean, fastidiously dressed, his hair combed and his gaze clear, but his skin seems almost translucent and there are deep lines below his eyes.

"Unbelievable," Eddie mutters under his breath and comes to stand next to Richie

Together, they watch Beverly do one final check of the car.

"So, this is us then," Ben says once they can't put it off any longer, the four of them mustering each other hesitantly across the parking lot.

Impulsively, Richie leans in and plants a chaste kiss on Beverly's lips, then does the same with Ben, making loud kissy noises afterwards. Beverly giggles as Ben swoons dramatically, reaching over to hold his hand.

Out of the corner of his eyes he can see that Eddie is giving him an incredulous look.

"What? Do I have cooties now?" Richie asks.

Eddie flips him off and Ben and Beverly laugh. They hug Eddie and get into the car, don't stop waving goodbye until their car rounds a corner. And, as stupid as it is in a world of social media and texting, as many times as Mike had assured them that their memories would stay with them, Richie can't help but feel like this is the last time, the final goodbye. His throat constricts and he's anchored in place as the noise of the car abates in the distance.

"They're going to be so good together," he says sagely, as if he has any clues about that sort of thing. Eddie gives a noise of affirmation, eyes still fixed to where the car disappeared from view.

When Richie glances at him, he looks so pale that Richie regrets not having him checked into Derry's hospital after all. They've barely talked since the quarry, the Losers all stumbling home to fall into their showers and beds, getting up at nightfall only to order takeaway (they all voted strictly against getting Chinese food), hug goodbye and then pass out in their respective beds again.

There will be time though, Richie thinks, time to decompress, to talk it out. He's going to take care of Eddie from now on, not in that smothering, self-satisfied way his mother did, but like an adult would do with another adult, and Eddie will take care of him too. The thought spreads through him like warm liquid. Forty years-old, and for the first time since he was a teenager, Richie feels like he's exactly where he is supposed to be.

"Tell you what, why don't you move out to LA with me." He's just spitballing, throwing things out. Eddie could ask him to be his trophy wife in Shithole, Wyoming and Richie would fall all over himself trying to say yes. Maybe it's time for a midlife change in directions anyway, it doesn't matter either way to him. The career that he worked so hard for, his life in LA, all of that seems negotiable now.

"What do you mean?" Eddie's voice is clipped.

Richie laughs. "What, you're not about to tell me that you're moving back to Derry, are you?" he jokes and half-turns towards Eddie. In the split-second before he opens his mouth again, he sees how uncomprehending Eddie's eyes are, and Richie realizes that he has colossally, irrevocably fucked up. Something crumbles away inside him.

"Richie, I live in New York. I'm married."

Usually Richie can play everything off as a joke, but this— this feels like someone is whittling away at his insides with a knife.

"Right. Of course," he says, voice dead. "Sorry. Must have forgotten that, what with all the clown business, and the— oh yeah, the making out."

Eddie whirls around and begins gesticulating wildly. "What the fuck? So you just assume I'm going to come live with you, just like that? I have my own life, you know, as pathetic as you might think it is."

"You only just freaking killed an ancient evil entity and now you're planning on going back to your stupid job and your wife? Are you crazy?" Richie is shaking with how badly he's misread this.

"Fuck. You. I know you think you're so smart, and that you're better than me, and always know what's best— "

"I don't think that!" He sounds hysterical, even to himself. "I think you're just kidding yourself if you seriously believe that this is what you deserve. C'mon man, you can do better than that." There's a pleading edge to his words now, the ground under him falling apart.

"What, with you?" Eddie hisses, and Riche closes his mouth. This is not how he imagined this conversation would go, the two of them yelling at each other in a parking lot.

He swallows, takes off his glasses to rub them on the hem of his shirt. He begins again, in a softer tone: "This isn't—. I didn't mean it like that. Hey, you kissed me. I thought—," The conversation is quickly gliding out of his hands, disappearing from view like Ben and Beverly did.

In his mind's eye he can see the arcade, can see the kids retreating from him after Henry Bowers yelled at him, as if he's carrying something contagious.

"The things that happened to us that summer, you know, they're never going to be okay?" Eddie interrupts him. "You— whatever you do, Richie, you can't redo our childhood, you must know this."

"I'm not trying to— No, wait a minute, you can't talk to me about not redoing our childhood when you're the one still running the fuck away from his problems."

"Fuck you, I'm not running away, I'm coping. I'm moving on."

"Yeah? By going back to your wife, whom I'm sure you love so very much? You killed a crazy serial killer clown and also kissed me and now you're running back to your loving heterosexual marriage? You seriously don't see how messed up any of that is?" He's aware that he's repeating himself, that his arguments are getting thinner by the word, but then Richie never did learn how to shut up and let things be.

"You just—," Eddie struggles with the words then deflates, giving Richie a look that he's too angry to understand. "You don't get it. You don't. I'm not thirteen anymore," he says, as if it's the crux of the matter.

Richie stands frozen in place as Eddie pushes by him, back inside.

 

 

He doesn't go back to comedy, not immediately, does some voice-over work for a documentary instead, then takes on a small recurring role in a sci-fi show. It's nice, feeling completely out of his depths for once. If he fucks it up, there's only himself to blame, not some ghostwriter his manager picked out for him.

After every episode they wrap he has nightmares that the executive producer will call him and fire him on the spot, but when he catches the show on HBO whilst channel surfing a few months later, he decides that it's not so bad.

He hasn't written off comedy forever (and is sure hell would get a few degrees colder if he did), but for the time being he likes disappearing into roles that have nothing to do with who he is as a person. As a comedian, it was always about authenticity, about telling clinically focus-tested stories as if they had actually occurred to him. Supposedly letting the audience in on the very authentic and very ridiculous private life of one Richie Tozier. And so, at thirty-two, at his first show entirely written without his input, Richie had found himself mocking three different ex-girlfriends he'd never had, giggling along as if the memories were still embarrassing.

Richie isn't sure if he makes for a good actor yet, but he throws himself into the work, makes his manager book him acting lessons whenever he has any free time. It's not like he has a private life he's putting on hold.

Eddie gets divorced, or at least awkwardly announces his intent to divorce in the group chat a few weeks later, in a poorly executed attempt to casually bring it up. Mike sends him a thumbs up emoji and Ben leaves him an inspiring text about how much he and Bev support him and will be there for him if he needs help blah blah blah, and all that Richie can think is that it's so soon, that he must have already known he would divorce Myra when yelling at Richie in the parking lot.

So maybe it hadn't been the thought of cheating on his wife that had made Eddie reject him, maybe Eddie just wasn't into it. That paints everything in a different color. When he can't stop himself, Richie sometimes ruminates over it at night, and always reaches the same conclusion. Eddie had evidently been going through some sort of breakdown when they kissed, having been stabbed and almost impaled in the span of 12 hours, and he'd been confused and wanted comforting, and Richie had pressed on from there, hadn't for a second considered that maybe he shouldn't have taken advantage of him like that. That thought reverberates perversely in his head till he can't take it anymore and gets up to work until it gets light outside his windows.

Another change to his life is that he starts going out with men and occasionally sleeping with them too. It's never anything serious, but a confirmation of sorts. This is something he can do now. It's harder than he'd thought— Richie is a semi-famous man living in LA after all, but there are mannerisms, terminology, unspoken rules of conduct that everyone seems to know except for him, as if Richie missed out on the 'how to be gay' class by virtue of being comfortably stuck in the closet for the past few decades.

And then eventually there are so many blind items and DataLounge threads and adolescent girls speculating on Twitter that his manager Kevin texts him: you might as well just come out now and so he does, in an interview with the New Yorker that ends up being very sobering. Though he'd never given it much thought, Richie had always kind of assumed it would come out one day when he was fucking about on a talk show, not in a very serious conversation about repression and homophobia and the state of the industry.

The interviewer, a butch-looking young woman that Richie suspects knows a thing or two about the topic, starts crying silently thirty minutes into their interview.

When the article gets published he has a panic attack, and his manager has to come by his apartment and hold his hand while he's curled in a corner of his bathroom. The next day, Kevin rings him out of bed and sends him a few links; various celebrities speaking out for him, touching op-eds from LGBT publications, coverage on all major news outlets.

Richie reads through them all and then does what he usually never does and googles himself. More messages of support and a Buzzfeed article questioning whether his coming out means he's now uncancelled for all the misogynist jokes he used to have in his shows, which fair.

Most of the Losers call him during the day, telling him how proud they are. Richie laughs it off with them, tells them that this only means he's finally able to make gay jokes without being accused of bigotry. After he hangs up he pours himself a big glass of wine and goes to sit on his balcony.

It's not the being out part that scares him, that was long overdue anyway, and he's tired of being ashamed of himself. It's the other part: the overcompensation, the jokes about hating his girlfriends that got him cancelled on Twitter, the few girlfriends he's actually had.

There's a punch line in there somewhere, about how all stand-up comedians have to overcompensate for being eternal underdogs in real life. But there's nothing to be done about it now, he's been in the eye of the public ever since his first TV appearance at 26, and everything since then is public knowledge.

Only five other people will ever know the whole story, why it took 40 years to come out, but primordial killer clowns are a bit more gauche than what the New Yorker usually goes for, so this is what he has to settle for.

Eddie doesn't call him after his coming out, which Richie expected but still hurts.

There were a few weeks of radio silence after Derry, both of them commenting independently in the group chat but not acknowledging each other. Time heals all wounds though, or so someone told Richie once, and they start ribbing each other in the group chat soon enough, and sometimes Richie tentatively sends him pictures of himself and famous people he's met. Eddie usually responds quickly, insulting either Richie or the other person and making him laugh, but the conversations tend to fizzle out after that.

Richie spent a week hiking with Mike when he visited California, which was fun enough but completely destroyed his legs, hangs out with Bill from time to time whenever he's in town, and was at Bev and Ben's new house for thanksgiving last year, distinctively feeling like a third wheel to the world's most wholesomely nauseating couple. One and a half years on and his online interactions with Eddie are semi-regular, but they've never called and never hung out.

Until one day he texts Richie that he's coming to LA for work and could he please stay over at Richie's place? The hotel prices are insane. Richie's pretty sure Eddie isn't exactly strapped for cash (but then again, maybe divorcing your wife turned you into a pauper), but it's not like he's ever been able to say no to Eddie Kaspbrak.

The day before, he spends all morning hovering his apartment and scrubbing and re-scrubbing his kitchen surfaces in a bout of mania, worrying that Eddie will find it too unkempt. Then he decides that, even if, beggars can't be choosers and he really shouldn't encourage Eddie's various phobias. Five minutes later he's running around with a wet rag to do some more cleaning.

Come evening, he's so jittery that he goes out for a drink to a bar he's never been at before. Except, of course, after one drink he feels miserable and orders another, his nerves completely fried, and before he knows it a pretty blonde man is matching shots with him.

 

 

The tinny ring of his doorbell pierces straight through his dream. Richie rolls over and presses a pillow over his ears, muffling the sound. Someone shuffles around next to him, and then everything is blissfully calm again. Richie burrows back into his obscenely high thread count sheets, definitely the best purchase he's ever made, and dozes off.

Somewhere in his apartment a door opens, and voices float over to him. That's odd, Richie lives alone. He sits up with a start. An unfamiliar voice is now speaking intently.

Richie tumbles out of bed, almost tripping over his sheets in the process of grasping for his glasses on the nightstand. He has to steady himself on the doorframe.

From the open bedroom door, he can see Eddie standing in his living room, holding a suitcase in each hand, and arguing with a man who's face Richie can't place. Eddie notices him flailing by the door and turns to him. It looks like he can't quite decide whether to look amused, belligerent or shocked.

Belatedly, Richie realizes that he's only wearing his boxers.

"Eddie," he says, "Why are you here already? I was supposed to pick you up at the airport, man."

"Yes, you were," Eddie says flatly, "Two hours ago." He gives the other man another suspicious glance.

Richie's head is slowly beginning to clear from its alcohol and sleep induced mist, and he's pretty sure that the man's name is Vincent, and that he's an up and coming soap star. He'd insisted on buying Richie more and more drinks, and Richie hadn't put up much of a fight, flattered by the attention. He's younger than what he usually goes for— Richie may be a man living in LA, but he usually likes keeping it in his own age bracket— but by the point he'd suggested grabbing an Uber back to his place, Richie had been very drunk and very desperate.

Probably-Vincent gives Eddie a charming, wide-mouthed telenova smile, exposing a set of pearly whites that are definitely not his real ones, and Eddie's positively frowning now.

"Shit, man, I'm so sorry, I totally forgot," Richie takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes. "No, that's not true. I didn't forget, I must have slept through my alarm."

"Yes, I can see that," Eddie says.

"Oh, your phone kept on going off this morning, so I turned it off," Vincent tells them with an apologetic shrug. He is, Richie notices, also only wearing boxers.

There's a moment of silence where Vincent is looking between the two of them curiously and Richie is staring at the floor and Eddie— Eddie doesn't seem to know where to look.

Luckily, Vincent seems to have been sent by the social tact gods. "Well, I think I'll head off now."

Richie doesn't even bother to conceal his sigh of relief, and determinedly does not make eye contact with Eddie whilst Vincent is putting on his clothes from where they lie scattered in Richie's bedroom.

"You'll call me?" Vincent asks once he's dressed and standing by the door. Richie has a vague memory of entering in his phone number after the fourth tequila shot of the night. God, he hopes his number doesn't end up on the Internet again.

Richie shrugs and, with a look at Eddie, kisses Vincent on the cheek as he holds open the door. "Maybe," he says.

When they are alone, Eddie turns to him, still looking like he can't quite decide what facial expression to settle on.

"Your boyfriend?"

"Not really. You hungry? I could eat an ox."

"Depends," Eddie says, pointedly looking at the ceiling. "Are you going to put on any clothes?"

 

 

Eddie is studying him over the menu of the corny 60s Diner they went to for brunch.

"What," Richie says.

"You got new glasses."

Richie takes them off to show to him. They are tortoiseshell, very similar to his old ones, except that the frames are a little thinner.

"Shit, yeah. Pennywise did a number on my old ones. You like em? I'm told they bring out the blue in my eyes," he flutters his eyelashes at Eddie.

"Your eyes are brown, asshole, and they make you look like a creepy English professor who hits on his students."

"There you have it, that's another lifelong career aspiration of mine." Eddie throws him a withering look and returns to studying his menu with an air of revulsion. They've already ordered their food, but Richie supposes he likes working himself up over whatever health atrocities are listed on the menu.

His stomach is still unsettled from all the drinking last night, and the lack of food is making him dizzy, but otherwise he's thankfully hangover-free. It's been easy, slipping back into his old routine of antagonizing Eddie until he throws back a biting insult and so forth. He doesn't know what he expected, given that it's their preferred mode of communication 95% of the time. Maybe they can move on from their fight, pretend that it never happened. That makes Richie feel a little optimistic.

The waitress comes with their orders; pancakes and a coffee for Richie and an omelet for Eddie. He's no longer pretending to be allergic to eggs then, Richie notes with interest, but decides not to comment on it.

"So, the guy from this morning," Eddie starts.

"Met him at a bar last night," Richie's grin has a hard edge to it. "Think his name was Vincent." His smile widens imperceptibly when Eddie frowns down at this folded hands on the table.

"You do that sort of thing a lot?"

"On occasion. I'm not really the guy for dating."

"Right, okay, that's fine." Eddie carefully shakes some pepper on his omelet. A group of old ladies rushes past their booth, chattering excitedly. He firmly sets the shaker back down. "Except, Richie, you know what the statistics for sexually transmitted diseases through one-night stands are, especially for— "

"Oh my god," Richie says.

"What? I didn't want to say anything, but I'm sorry I give a shit about your well-being."

"What the hell are you on about? Can you even hear yourself right now?"

"I'm just saying— "

Richie feels panic rising in him. "I don't care, okay, Ronald Reagan? It's none of your fucking business who I sleep with. Geez, you sound like your mom." The weight of that shocks them both into a long silence.

Eddie stares determinedly at his omelet. "You are right. I'm sorry, Richie."

Richie nods mutely and licks his lips. He picks at his pancakes, but his appetite is gone.

"Anyway, what's this work trip of yours all about?" he says, internally cringing at how faux casual his voice comes off.

Eddie, for his part, seems glad for the change in topic. "A conference thing, starts on Monday for three days. I don't even need to present, they just want me for support." He grimaces. "Sorry about inviting myself over like that, the company did offer to book me into a hotel, but that would probably mean communal dinners and going drinking every night with the guys, and that's my own personal version of hell."

"What do risk analysts even do at a conference? 'Cos I'm kind of imagining it as a giant circlejerk of people feeding on each others' various neuroses."

"Ha fucking ha." Eddie pokes at his food with suspicion. "And here I thought comedians blab about their life in stand-up because they're not rich enough to afford therapy."

"Ah, touché Eds. Too be fair though, I can afford therapy, and I haven't done any stand-up since I came back from Derry."

"Yeah, I've heard about that," Eddie tells him with a meaningful look. "Mike's also been telling me that you've been ignoring the others."

That technically isn't true, Richie responds when someone messages or calls him, occasionally drops an emoji in the group chat, dutifully likes all of Mike's nature photos on Facebook. And he did spend the holidays last year with Ben and Bev, and hangs out with Bill all the time— even if he can't exactly remember when the last time was.

"I'm not ignoring anyone, I'm just busy, show bizz and all of that." Maybe he does frequently ring his manager to tell him to send over all the scripts he can get his hands on, but that's just keeping busy. It's better than sitting around in his apartment, lonely and angry for reasons that are beyond him

By the way Eddie remains still, Richie can tell that he's not buying it. "I think he's kind of worried, actually."

"Jesus." He slams down his cup on the table, harder than he'd intended, and Eddie startles. "Is this what it's going to be like whilst you're here? You alternating between accusing me of slutting it up and neglecting my friends? Can't you at least pick one to focus on?"

As soon as the words leave his mouth Richie regrets them. Something about seeing Eddie in person for the first time since Derry has set him on edge, the memory of the stupid kiss Richie knows he'll regret forever burning at the back of his mind.

He expects Eddie to start yelling at him, which is exactly what Richie deserves, but instead Eddie just looks hurt, and that makes Richie feel like even more of an asshole.

Richie puts his head in his hands. "Look, god. I'm sorry I'm being such a grouch. I had a lot to drink last night but that's not an excuse for me to jump you like that." He looks at Eddie through his fingers. "I've fucked this up royally already, can we start over? Pretend I picked you up nice and early at the airport this morning and we had a lovely brunch?" he pleads. "I'm really glad you're here, honestly. I don't want the rest of your stay to be like this."

"Okay, Rich." Eddie hesitates. "I want that too."

"Great. Lovely. Let's blow this place." He throws some bills on the table, Eddie already standing up and waiting for him by the door, their barely-touched food still on the table.

"We have all of today and tomorrow before you need to go to your conference, right? What do you want to do?" he asks when they step outside the dinner, determined to make this right again, to be the best host-slash-LA-tour-guide ever.

"Sightseeing?" Eddie offers.

"Aw, darling, wanna go puke on the Universal Studio rides with me?"

"No fucking way idiot, do you know what public health hazards amusement parks are?"

"Course I do. I've seen Final Destination 3."

 

 

They go to the Getty instead. It's a perfect October day, the sky a pristine blue. Warm, but not warm enough for them to start sweating.

They look at the exhibitions together in silence, and there's something so grown-up about it that makes Richie's heart ache. He and Eddie, spending a Saturday looking at paintings.

Whenever they're together he usually feels like his thirteen year-old self is stuck maneuvering his adult body, like puberty left him by the wayside. This isn't like that at all though, this is him now apparently being old enough that LA sightseeing is museum trips and slow strolls through the garden, not going to the Walk of Fame and getting their pictures taken with Chewbacca cosplayers.

People are probably assuming that they are a couple. It would be only natural; two grown men walking around practically glued to the hip, Richie leaning in close and reviewing the artworks in his best impersonation of a snobby old art critic until Eddie is shaking with laughter.

Outside in the gardens, Richie gets recognized and spends a minute speaking amicably to a polite young couple whilst Eddie stands awkwardly off to the side.

"This happens to you a lot?" Eddie asks once they've said their goodbyes and left.

Richie shrugs. "Getting recognized? Yeah. At least comedians don't tend to get papped much, unless you're at the very top of the game. It's like the general public already knows we are sad fucks who get drunk by themselves on weekdays, they don't need the pictures to prove that," he jokes.

Eddie purses his lips. "I can't believe they would willingly take a selfie with someone who's wearing a bowling alley carpet for a button-up."

"Ha," Richie says and slings an arm over Eddie's shoulder, "brave words from someone who's only recently graduated from exclusively wearing polo shirts." But the joke rings a bit hollow, because Eddie is actually dressed quite nicely in a dark blue bomber jacket and slacks. Something tells Richie that the reason behind this leap in fashion sense is a certain person no longer picking out Eddie's clothing for him. He faintly wonders if Eddie will wear a suit to the conference, and that's a dangerous mental image.

In the afternoon, Eddie lets Richie buy them ice cream, not even bringing up his lactose intolerance. Whilst Richie is fishing for his wallet, Eddie, without asking for permission first, takes off Richie's glasses and wipes them clean with a microfiber cloth.

"What?" he asks when he takes his ice cream from Richie. "They were really dirty."

"Nothing," Richie replies, adjusting his glasses, unable to keep himself from smiling.

A warm feeling blooms in his chest as he watches Eddie eat his vanilla and blueberry ice cream in small bites, like a rabbit. He's so fucking stupid; here's his favorite person in the world and he almost ruined it all this morning in some vindictive attempt to prove that he's definitely over whatever happened between them. Although he really had intended to pick up Eddie prim and proper in the morning, part of him had taken grim satisfaction in seeing him squirm when being confronted with Richie's (mostly imaginary) sex life.

They haven't talked about kissing at the quarry, not in all the time since they've left Derry, as if by agreement that they would both rather leave that mutual digression behind them. One stupid, adrenaline fuelled, holy-shit-we-didn't-die mistake. Richie is fine with that; sure it had meant something to him, but if this is the price to pay for having Eddie in his life, he will pay it.

Still, when they go to Chinatown later in the day, Eddie points at something on the street and Richie's eyes fix themselves to the spot where his ring used to sit, feeling like he's doing something forbidden.

 

 

"It must be so, so hard, hanging out with these LA movie star film bizz people all the time," he pokes a sloppy finger at Richie's chest, "when deep down, although you try to hide it, you're just some bitch from Maine."

Eddie's not drunk, but he's very tipsy, courtesy of Richie daring him to break his personal 'no more than one glass a week' rule.

Richie laughs until it feels like his ribs are going to come bursting out of his chest, Xenomorph-style, and Eddie looks very proud of himself. "Okay, fuck, Edgar, I hope you know that you just completely obliterated ten years worth of very expensive therapy."

They're in some discreet little bar, one of Richie's favorites. It's Eddie's second night in LA, the night before he has to spend all of his waking hours in some hotel's stuffy conference center.

This morning, Eddie, on a mission to make tea for the two of them, had opened a kitchen drawer and discovered Richie's extensive collection of The Big Bang Theory mugs. He'd backed up and turned around, looking like someone had just told him that his childhood dog had to be put down and had refused to talk to Richie for twenty minutes. ("In my defense, I thought it was kind of funny at the time").

This is something Richie doesn't want to lose. He knows Eddie will technically still be there in the evenings, but he'll be exhausted and grumpy, and before he knows it Eddie will be on the plane back home again, and his mugs will go un-criticized and his apartment will be empty, and Richie's not sure what he'll do with himself then.

It's barely any time they've spent together, less than 48 hours really. Richie is too old to be so hung up over this.

"You don't need a therapist, Rich. You just need someone to remind you that you're full of shit once in a while."

"Yeah man, I'm sure the women will love that about you once you get back into the dating scene."

"Shut up, Dickwad, I— women? Why women?"

Richie studies the line of liquor bottles on the bar. He doesn't know what made him say that. The same instinct that told him to get smashed and take someone home the night before Eddie showed up, maybe. "From my very extensive dating-of-women experience, there's nothing that they love more than being told they're full of shit."

"Somehow, I feel like you haven't spent a lot of time around women," Eddie says coolly, then leans in. "Why would you assume I'm planning on dating women in the future?"

"Right, sorry. Forgot Jabba the Hut is the only person that does it for you, Eds."

Eddie ignores that. "You, of all people, should know that I'm done with dating women," he says pointedly, and that shuts Richie up real good.

"Oh, I thought— oh."

"I assumed me kissing a guy was as good an indication as any that maybe all wasn't well in my loving heterosexual marriage," Eddie says dryly.

So maybe messy post-sewer make out is not a thing they are pretending never happened. Richie has no idea what the hell to do with that information.

"Oh, that time?" His tone is casual. "We were both like, covered in sewer shit and you didn't insist that I take a full-body bath in disinfectant fluid before you stuck your tongue in my mouth, so I kinda figured you were going through something—"

Eddie shakes his head and rolls his eyes. The neon backlight in the bar is giving his hair a green shine.

"Ew. And no, going back to Derry, uh, cleared up a whole lot of things for me. Not that I have— but, I think I'm not going back to dating women."

"You too then, I guess."

Eddie glances at him and then quickly looks away. "Yeah, I read that New Yorker article, by the way."

Richie shrugs, thrown off guard, and pulls out the old line: "I only did that so I can't get accused of being a homophobe the next time I make a gay joke."

Even though the response had been generally positive, he's still ambiguous on that article. As emotionally draining as being out can be, he's glad for it, glad that there's no way for him to ever even consider going back into the closet. But there's a difference between being out and between having the childhood crush he's still weirdly fixated on just casually drop on him that he read that story of Richie, twenty and uncomprehending, having a breakdown in a public bathroom after seeing My Own Private Idaho for the first time.

"I never guessed it myself, but all those girlfriend jokes in your shows never rang true to me for some reason." Eddie is staring at the table, his vodka tonic forgotten next to him.

He looks so distant in that moment that Richie is jolted with the absurd fear that he's never going to understand what goes on in that head.

"You're the first person I've told that I'm. You know."

"That you're gay?"

Eddie nods mutely, still looking at the table.

"Hey, Eddie, look at me," Richie touches his cheek to get Eddie to lift his head, the alcohol short-circuiting his response inhibition before he realizes what he's doing. The scar from Bowers' knife is still there, a slapdash white line that bisects his cheek. "I'm proud of you. Trust me, I know how hard this shit is." He retracts his hands quickly.

"Is it easier for you? Now that you're out?" Eddie is searching his face.

He has to think about how to answer that question. The booth they are sitting in is somehow too narrow for the weight of this conversation.

"Honestly? Yes and no. It's complicated. Maybe that was dumb as fuck of me, but when we defeated Pennywise, I thought my life would be so much easier from then on. Like, I finally had all of my memories back, and that put my entire life into a different context. I thought 'Hey! You're gay, that's why all of your ex-girlfriends hated you! But you can fix that and be happy now! Easy!'. But it isn't like that at all, it's not easier. It's so, so fucking hard, and it scares me half to death all the time. All that shit I repressed, it made my daily life miserable, but it also made me safe. Trying to be true to that person, the real Richie Tozier or whatever, is so fucking hard, it's deciding every single morning to open yourself up to other people, to be vulnerable." He stops, uncomfortable, and drowns his entire glass in a single motion. "I'm sorry, this is probably really not what you wanted to hear Eds, but for what it's worth: it's not easy, not at all, but it still beats having none of those memories back by a long mile."

When Richie finishes, Eddie is smiling at him tenderly, his eyes sad and old. Maybe with any other person Richie would assume they pitied him and would be flush with embarrassment, but this is Eddie. Eddie isn't like that. On some fundamental level they always seem to get each other, even when their personalities are diametrical opposites.

And the thing is, despite his embarrassing display from the previous morning, spending time with Eddie is increasingly making him come to realize that he loves him not only in the way he did as a child; innocently and blindly and borderline obsessive, with the fantastical life-or-death intensity that mark childhood relationships, but also in that adult version of love. More cynical and world-weary and real. Knowing exactly where his own flaws are and where Eddie's are, and knowing that they are too old to ever fundamentally change as human beings. But loving him still, in both ways, old and new.

Eddie's voice pulls Richie out of his musings. "What I don't get is how everyone else seems to figure this out so early. What's wrong with us that it took us forty-one fucking years?"

"Derry isn't exactly on America's Top Ten Gay-Friendly Neighborhoods."

"Yeah, but we left! We both left! We got out! Why did it still take forever?"

"Dunno. Maybe killing the clown made us brave, and then we forgot about killing the clown and that made us unbrave. Pushed us back into the closet and kicked the door shut. It was funny, actually, having my memories come back and suddenly remembering exactly where my various hang-ups are from."

"What do you mean?"

"Henry Bowers calling me a fag in the arcade that one time, with probably half of our school in attendance, comes to mind as a particularly memorable instance."

"Jesus." Eddie winces. "He called me all sorts of names too, but for the longest time I thought it was because I was short and had delicate features or whatever. It never even occurred to me until I came back to Derry that maybe it's not normal to live in an essentially celibate marriage with someone who is practically identical to your mother. So fucking stupid." He pauses. "Why do you think the bullies always seem to know? Long before we do?"

"I don't think they know, I just think they throw so many slurs at the wall until one of them sticks. Probability, really. And it sucks, because you don't even know yourself yet, but then an asshole slaps a label on it and you can either accept being a fag forever, or fight it like crazy before it sticks. Make things easier for yourself in the moment. God, no wonder both of us ended up as crazy closet cases." He's surprised by how bitter he sounds. Henry Bowers is long gone, and he's had a while to get over this.

He steals Eddie's glass and finishes the last few drops of his drink. "Sorry, fuck, this whole tourist trip stuff got depressing very fast."

 

 

In his apartment, Richie throws his jacket over a chair and launches himself onto his sofa with a long groan.

Eddie pauses by the door.

"You alright?" Richie asks softly.

"Yeah, it's just been a day... sorry, no offense meant," he waves off Richie. "I loved going sightseeing with you this weekend, but it's been heavy stuff."

"I'll drink to that," Richie mutters. "What is it about being in our forties that makes all conversations about like, the internalization of pre-adolescent childhood trauma? What ever the fuck did we talk about as kids?"

"Probably arguing about how many packs of Skittles you could fit into your mouth at once, or whether the Pod people are real," Eddie deadpans.

Richie decides that he will actually drink to that. He heads over the kitchenette. The content of his fridge is alarmingly sparse, but he finds a half-empty bottle of tonic water and unopened Roku Gin, a wrap party present from the first season of the sci-fi show.

"Want a G&T?" he calls out to Eddie.

A moment of silence in which Richie knows, like clockwork, that Eddie is battling it out with himself, weighing the sweet relief of intoxication against whatever he believes three cocktails on a Sunday evening will do to his liver.

The relief seems to win out. "Sure."

Richie pulls two glasses from his cupboard and gets to work slicing a cucumber.

"I have to be honest, if growing up someone had told me that you'd be the one to have a trendy open-concept wood-paneled apartment straight out of Architectural Digest, I would have laughed until I'd given myself an aneurism," Eddie says once Richie has brought over their drinks and settled back on the couch.

"Why, am I too much of a bitch from Maine for LA flair?"

Eddie searches his face and smiles. "Yes," he says plainly, and they clink glasses. Richie takes a large gulp and lazily puts his legs up on the couch. It makes Eddie wrinkle his nose, which is a win in Richie's books.

Eddie sips carefully at his drink, as if that will reduce its noxious qualities, and Richie's eyes are drawn to his scar again. The only visible reminder of Derry in the room, that it wasn't just a strange shared nightmare they all had.

Some unnamable emotion wells up in him. Here they are, and he's gay and Eddie's gay and divorced, and they messily made out after the emotional high of killing a clown once, and that's that. Eddie will go home in a few days and, god, he supposes Eddie will start dating men after that, and something about that thought breaks his brain open.

"Richie, can I ask you a question?" Eddie scoots over so that he's sitting right where Richie has his sneakers planted on the couch.

"Erm, sure."

"Why aren't you talking to the others as much?"

Richie blinks. Not the question he was expecting.

"It's nothing you guys did, it's just me. I was thinking about what you said when you left Derry, about not wanting to be stuck in the past forever."

"That's not how I meant it at all— "

"Yeah, sure, I know that. Never mind, sorry. That was stupid of me, pushing you guys away. I'm sorry Mike worried. You see how it is, one taste of Hollywood fame and I'm ready to leave all the Maine hicks behind me."

"Richie." Eddie's eyes are insistent on him.

Richie bites back another dumb comment and stares at his feet on the couch.

"Fine, okay. I really did think about everything you said. About repressing, and then about moving on. And I wondered how you could know what repressing something is and what moving on from it is. Where the difference lies, if there is a difference." He runs a clammy hand through his hair. "I guess I still don't know the answer to that one."

The words come out one by one, but once he has started he's unable to stop himself. That's always been Richie's problem: he talks too much.

"Like I said, I did really think having all my memories back and being out would turn over my life for me. But the truth is, I'm still kind miserable, and everyone else seems to be doing just great, so for a while I thought, well, what if keeping my ties to Derry is why I'm still unhappy all the time? Maybe this, all of this pretending that we're still best friends, even though it's been 27 fucking years, is what's the issue. Like, if the time we spent forgetting about each other was a baby, that baby could drink and own legal property now!" He gesticulates, slightly hysterical. "Except, the thing is, I think you guys are still my best friends and the only people that really give a shit about me, and pushing you all away was the dumbest thing I've ever done, and I think only a crazy person could have come to that conclusion, so I still don't know what the fuck my problem is," Richie hisses out and grimaces.

"You're right. That's probably the single dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard you say, and you still on the regular joke about fucking my mom," Eddie says.

"Ouch, Eds," Richie throws himself dejectedly back against the couch. "And here I spent all this time wondering how someone could possibly divorce you."

"Shut up asshole, like, are you stupid? Did someone hit you on the head? What the hell was that part about the 27 year-old baby?"

"I don't like explaining my art," Richie says crossly.

"Richie, we love you, idiot. You know that! And you know that none of us, not even Ben and Bev, have perfect lives. I'm pretty sure Bill is still going to marriage counseling, and I'm a divorcee who only now realized he's not into women!" Eddie's face looms above him.

"Course I know that. I'm just stupid." Richie adjusts his glasses, sniffles.

"Yes, you are. Incredibly stupid."

"You know, if I had told Ben all of this he would have spent ages telling me how great and beloved and sexy I am, and would have signed me up to transcendental meditation classes or something."

"I'm not fucking Ben though, am I?"

"No, you're definitely not. Ben has a very defined set of abs that I have yet to see you pull off." He pauses for a moment to collect himself. "I know you're right. I was kind of in a bad place for a while, lots of stuff to deal with. But it's okay now. Don't worry about me."

Eddie seems to be on the verge of saying something, but then he stops himself. "I get that. I still wish you'd have told me, though."

Except Richie could never have told Eddie, because they've barely talked in the past year, and now that he's here Richie has to stop himself from reaching out to him and touching him all the time.

"I'll tell you next time, Eds," he promises, his mouth corners turning upwards when Eddie doesn't even protest the nickname.

 

 

Half an hour later, Richie is brushing his teeth whilst he's lost in his thoughts, electric toothbrush buzzing against his gums. He shuts it off, spits into the sink and looks up. His fingers curl around the porcelain rim of the sink.

The reflection that looks back at him seems fatigued, definitely middle-aged, a generous stain of toothpaste on the old concert shirt he is wearing.

He decides to make a very foolhardy decision.

"Hey," he says softly as he opens the door to the guest room.

Eddie is sitting on the guest bed, wearing the grimmest-looking grey pajamas Richie has ever seen, his feet bare on the hardwood floor. It's only a single bed, Richie's pretty sure that the realtor was trying to sell it to him as a room for his future offspring, but it has been a guest room ever since he moved in.

"Wanted to talk about tomorrow."

Eddie probably wants to get some shut-eye and recover from whatever emotional minefield the past two days have been, but Richie isn't going to let the evening be. Everything from the past two days seems to be converging on some point beyond his line of sight, and he can't stand the anticipation and the dread anymore. A piece of fortune cookie advice: some things are better out than in.

"Hm?"

"Your conference. It starts tomorrow, right? I still feel bad about yesterday, so I'll get up early and make us breakfast. And drive you." Once he realizes how much of a devoted housewife that makes him sounds like, he adds: "But don't get used to it, Eduardo." He sits next to Eddie on the bed.

Eddie licks his lips. "What if it didn't?"

"What?"

"What if I didn't go. What if I quit?"

"What if you didn't— Eds, what are you saying?" Richie asks incredulously.

"You said it yourself. Lamest job in the world. What if I quit on the spot?" Yet Eddie doesn't look like he's debating it with himself at all. Instead, his eyes are steady on Richie, gauging his response.

"That would be very brave of you."

Eddie nods. "Fuck it. I'll do it. Miserable piece of shit job anyway."

"Holy shit, Eds. You decided that just like that? What's gotten into you suddenly?" He laughs a bit uncomfortably. Eddie being all decisive and resolute is sending all kinds of electric signals to his dick.

Eddie just shrugs, uncharacteristically calm, and that somehow makes Richie nervous again. The knowledge sits heavy in his chest, and he clenches his fists, makes his decision.

"Hey, uh, by the way, I wanted to let you know that I had a really great time this weekend, and I'm still sorry about what an asshole I was yesterday, but this has been great. And I'm glad you're not going to your stupid conference tomorrow. Don't tell any of the others, but you always were my favorite loser, Eds." He leans back on his hands, breaking eye contact, and says in a horribly light and teasing voice: "And I'm, for the record, glad you told me that you chose me as your sexuality-awakening sewer make out back then. That really did it for my ego. I think I'll be fine from now on, no more self-pity and stupid baby metaphors."

Maybe, he thinks, he has an innate self-destructive streak. Something inside him that sees what it wants and then talks it to death.

"You think I would have kissed any other person?" They are still sitting close, not any other way to be on the single bed, but Eddie's voice floats over from far away.

"I mean. Yeah. We weren't exactly in our right minds after spending hours in the sewers getting slapped about by the mid-stage of an animorph transformation. I would have probably planted one on Mr. Ben Handsome himself if I hadn't been sure Bev would have killed me and blamed it on the clown. Wait, I actually did plant one on him."

Eddie's words cut right through his nervous babbling. "Not for me. I wouldn't have. Not anyone else."

Richie laughs, a cynical, breathy sound.

"I don't know if I can believe that. You left afterwards, didn't you?"

There's a long silence in the room after that. On the nightstand, the digital alarm clock is blinking 1:07 AM at him in green letters.

"Sometimes, when you look at me, I feel like you're looking at my fourteen year-old self," Eddie says simply, nonsensically.

Richie has no idea what that means, but it makes his insides curl.

"Why did you leave?" he asks. He used to be deathly afraid of the answer. Not this time though, this time he aches for the answer like an open wound.

"I don't know what else I could have done." Eddie turns his head to look at him. The nightstand lamp is casting deep shadows over his furrows. "That was the single most harrowing day of my entire life, and I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. There was a new hole in my face and I almost got skewered, and was coming to all of these new realizations about myself. I figured I could go home, not forever, just for a bit, to think things over. And I was so scared, because you were right, you asshole, you were right about what you said in the Townhouse. Forgetting and repressing was what protected us, but also what made us miserable." He stops for a moment, knitting his brows together. Eddie's voice is kind and young when he starts again. "I know you think I'm a massive coward, but I just wanted to move on from that shit. Move past Derry."

Richie's throat is very dry. "You're not a coward, I know that. Knew that— sorry, I never meant to say that." He swallows hard.

"I know you didn't. And I'm sorry that I'm so..." Eddie trails off.

"Prissy? Anally retentive?" Richie offers.

Eddie glares at him. "Not how I would have put it. But maybe it was very anally retentive of me to leave you like that, but I didn't know what else to do. Sorry."

Richie nods. He's still nervous, but it's the jittery, light-hearted kind of nervous he usually feels before he has to go on stage.

"I'm going to tell you something. You don't have to do anything about it, you don't even have to say anything at all, but I think that I need to tell you and that you need to know." Richie pauses, steels himself. For many years, this was his biggest secret, the thing he thought would destroy him if it ever came to light. In the orange glow of the bedside lamp it doesn't feel so grave anymore. "There was a time when we were younger, maybe for three or four years, that I was very much in love with you."

Eddie's eyes widen and he sits back, which makes Richie laugh shakily.

"Yeah, guess you never figured it out, even though it was so fucking obvious to everyone else." Half of the truth is out now, so he might as well put all of his cards on the table. "And when we met again I thought— hell, it's been 27 years, I'm long over that, but seeing you in that restaurant was kind of what I imagine getting electrocuted is like. I think some of it is still there."

It's not exactly the most romantic of metaphors, but then again none of this has been like a breezy summer romance.

"We've barely seen each other for almost three decades. We knew each other only for a few years when we were kids, how can you feel like that? You barely know me." Eddie sounds like he's trying to convince himself, his hands holding onto the fabric of his pajama pants almost forcefully.

"The thing is though, Eds, I do know you." Richie pulls up one leg and rests his head on his knee. "I know you hate it when I call you that, except not really, and I know you still insist that you're allergic to peanuts, but I bet you still buy the peanut M&M's whenever you go on a long drive. And I know that there's nothing you detest more in the world than the feeling of wearing wet socks, or the smell of laundry detergent. And I know you never hated your mom, even after all that she put you through, and you married a woman that's just like her because no one ever taught you that truly loving someone more often than not means letting them run head first into danger, no matter how hard that is."

There are so many parts of Eddie that he knows only from when they were kids, with the 27 years in-between a largely blank space that he'll never fill in. But maybe that doesn't matter, maybe you can see the person someone once was and the person they are now and in that see the whole extent of their being.

Eddie's lips are set in a tight line and his eyes are wide and frightened. A terrible moment in which Richie thinks he's fucked it up for the final time. Richie, I live in New York. I'm married.

"Richie," Eddie says, so many different meanings encapsulated in his tone that Richie is still trying to parse them all when Eddie leans over to kiss him.

It's awkward, because Richie's smile is so wide that he's having a hard time pursing his lips.

Eddie pulls back. "What the fuck are you smiling about?"

"Nothing, sorry," Richie says, but he doesn't stop smiling, is still doing it when he leans in to kiss Eddie again.

Eddie wraps his arms around Richie and pulls him down at the foot of the bed, except Richie overshoots by a bit and almost tumbles over Eddie and off the bed. They gawkily maneuver around until Eddie's lying down fully and Richie is hovering above him.

He puts a hand to Richie's cheek. "I always thought it was a giant joke to you."

"How do you mean?" Richie's arms are shaking slightly from where he's braced above Eddie.

"The way things always are for you. Everything's always such a massive joke. First all those jokes about my mom, then you kissed both Ben and Beverly before they left. I assumed— "

Richie shakes his head. "Not any of them. Just you, this entire time." He's so close that he can see Eddie's eyelashes, can see his pupils dilate, and decides that it's the right moment to resume their kissing. He gets down on his elbows, one hand holding Eddie's side, and brings their mouths back together.

Eddie lets out a gasp and curls his hands into the hair at Richie's nape. It makes Richie dizzy, and he has to shift his legs on the bed so that he doesn't lose his balance, uncomfortably aware of how tight his pants suddenly are. Impatiently, Eddie opens his mouth and their lips slide together wetly, Richie's glasses all fogged up.

When they break apart, breathing heavily into the space between them, a crease of worry has appeared on Eddie's forehead.

"I've never been with—," he stops.

"You've never been with a guy?" Richie finishes gently, still a bit light-headed, and then adds, like an idiot, "That's no problem. I've been with hundreds, probably thousands. I'm experienced enough for the both of us."

Eddie glances at him anxiously.

"...That was a joke." Richie resists the urge to bang his face against the headboard.

Eddie exhales, nods. His face falls a little bit. "It shouldn't matter, even if you had been."

"It's okay, Eds," Richie says carefully. He knows what Mrs. Kaspbrak, the former former Mrs. Kaspbrak was like. He gets it. "We can take this as slow as you want, or as fast. I don't mind, either way."

Eddie sits up from under him, leaning against the headboard. A hand touches Richie's jaw, carefully cups it. The kiss Eddie gives him is lingering and sweet, and there's an apology somewhere in there that burns in his chest.

Richie is worried that he might actually pass out with how happy he is, can barely coordinate his movements. Eddie is so pliant and gentle that it makes him want to cry, peppering kisses to his temples and cheek and rubbing circles against his skin.

When Richie dips down to kiss the junction of Eddie's neck, Eddie goes stiff below him with a jerk. Richie leans back.

"Everything okay?"

Eddie is open-mouthed and dazed, his hair a mess and his pajama shirt enticingly pulled to the side to reveal a pale shoulder. He's breathing heavily.

"Good, very good. Just—"

"Too much?"

"A little bit, yeah." He looks away, jaw clenched.

"Hey, Eddie," Richie strokes his thumb against his lips. "Don't worry about it." He kisses him again, softly.

They lie back down together, Eddie shifting so that he's behind Richie, wrapping his arms around him. The two of them barely fit on the bed, one of Richie's arms dangling off the side after he reaches over to switch off the lamp. His own queen-sized bed is standing untouched just a room over, but nothing short of an ill-timed LA earthquake could get him to move now.

Eddie stirs against his back. "You don't worry that this is some fucked up attempt on our side to recreate our childhoods? To pretend like we never got bullied and messed up in the head?" he whispers into the silence. The headlights of a passing car cast a white stripe against the wall. "I don't want to be who I was at thirteen," he adds quietly, like he's telling a secret.

Richie thinks Eddie at thirteen was the bravest person he'd ever met, but instead he whispers back: "Probably, but I mean, who isn't eternally fucked up by their childhood? Maybe it's okay to cling to those good parts, those that made living through it worth it."

There's nothing that can ever fix the trauma of that summer, that can undo Henry Bowers calling him a fag in the arcade and Richie being too scared to look the other boys in the eyes for weeks afterwards. Nothing will bring Georgie or Stanley back, or Adrian Mellon, all those people Derry swallowed up and ate whole. Those are things he will carry with him forever, that will always define the shape of who he is.

But these are heavy thoughts, and he's in Eddie's arms, and Eddie is running a hand through his hair. Eddie, a remnant of his childhood, but increasingly someone from his future too.

It's a testimony to how long his day has been that Richie realizes he's still wearing his glasses when a thought pulls him back from the brink of sleep.

"Eddie, wake up." He pats the arm Eddie has slung around his waist.

"Hrm," says Eddie.

"If you're not going to your conference tomorrow, what the hell will we do all day?"

Richie can't see it, but he suspects Eddie's face, when he retracts it from against Richie's back, is very pissed.

"Seriously?"

"Yes seriously. We did all the cultural stuff yesterday and today. The only thing that's left is Disneyland," Richie says gravely.

"I'm not going on those fucking spinning teacup things with you." The sour edge to Eddie's voice is mediated somewhat by the fact that he's muffled against Richie's shoulder.

Richie laughs quietly to himself and takes off his glasses, placing them securely on the nightstand.