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Total Protonic Reversal

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The knock at the door came when Richie was in the middle of talking to Mike about holiday plans. The plans themselves were finished—Richie was the last holdout, having just solidified tour dates through January—but they were circling back to a topic they all brought up now and again: the problem of Patty Uris.

“I think we should,” Richie said, for what seemed like the thousandth time.

“I think we should leave her alone,” Mike said, for what was definitely at least the nine hundredth time.

“It’s just—she sent us his letter. She knows about us,” he said. “It probably made no fucking sense to her unless Stan pulled an Eddie and just threw it all out there.”

“What could we tell her that wouldn’t hurt her?” Mike asked. “We’d just be trying to absolve ourselves.”

“I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind some absolution,” Richie sighed. He was tired and hungry; Mike looked wide awake and healthy as a fucking alligator, and Richie knew he’d better set aside the argument because Mike would demolish him in his fragile state. “Whatever. Eddie’s going to be home soon and the two of you can gang up on me and talk about, I don’t know, fucking rooftop gardening.”

“I’ve got some sage—” Mike began, and Richie was spared having to actually hang up on Mike if he talked about sage by a quick rap at the door, just a beat away from shave and a haircut, two bits.

“Hold that extremely dull thought,” he said, and went to the door. It was late in the day for a delivery, but he had been waiting for fucking ever for Steve to send him a copy of one of his very first big standup gigs, one that wasn’t on YouTube. His objective was twofold: first, Eddie would be delighted and horrified to see what Richie had both worn and said while standing in front of an audience in Austin in 2003; and second, Richie could prove that he, or at least the two dudes writing for him at the time, had anticipated or perhaps even begun the Chuck Norris Facts trend. It was risky, because while he was really, really looking forward to winning this argument, there was every chance Eddie would be so disgusted by 2003 Richie Tozier that he would never want to fuck him again.

Myra Kaspbrak was on his doorstep. His and Eddie’s doorstep. Eddie’s doorstep. Richie’s name was not on whatever devil’s contract Eddie had signed in order to sublet the apartment, but he paid half the rent and electric and all of the cable. It was his doorstep.

“Uh,” he said. His pajamas had seemed perfectly fine when he was opening the door to a delivery person, but suddenly he felt naked in front of a class without his homework, while all his teeth were falling out.

“I was told that this was Edward Kaspbrak’s apartment,” she said. Prim, focused on Eddie, already looking at Richie like he was a cockroach. Prime Mrs. Kaspbrak.

“It is?” he said.

“May I come in?” she asked. “I have some of his things.”

And the thing was. The thing was.

The thing was that Richie had no idea if she could come in or not. It was his apartment and he would have said no, but it was also Eddie’s apartment and he didn’t know what Eddie would say. They had only lived together four months and things were all over the place. It was Eddie’s couch and bed but Richie’s sheets and Richie’s television, Eddie’s plates and silverware, with Richie’s tucked inside the island for the mythical day when they might have company over, and Richie’s framed posters on the walls next to Eddie’s art. Their things mixed well but they weren’t blended, they weren’t theirs yet. The only thing they had picked out together was the silver and gold floor lamp with the Edison bulb, and not coincidentally, it was the thing they both loved best in the entire place.

“Just…one second,” he mumbled, and left the door open while he tried to figure out where the fuck his phone was.

“Are you his roommate?” she asked.

“Kind of,” he said, digging through the pile of papers and magazines and old mail he hadn’t gotten around to throwing out on the desk before he saw the edge of his phone case. He had set it down on the little dish Eddie had for them to drop their keys into when they got home, because he was Eddie and because Richie had lost his keys every single day of his life. Currently, they were wedged into the sofa cushions where they had likely fallen out of his pocket the night before.

“Kind of?” she asked.

“I do live here,” he said, texting Eddie fast ur wife is here with ur shit. do i let her in or do i jump out a window before he looked up again and gave her a huge, uncomfortable smile.

“Well.” She stared at him expectantly, waiting on the other side of the threshold, holding a box. She looked so much like Sonia Kaspbrak that Richie really wanted to take a picture and just compare. Like, he knew. He spent a lot of time fucking with Eddie about it to see that particular insane light in his eyes that said he was five seconds away from strangling Richie with his own hands, Homer Simpson style—one of his top five Eddie looks—but it was one thing to know and quite another to see the resemblance right in front of him. Oh, baby boy, he thought, this has opened up a whole new world. You are Jasmine and I am Aladdin and I am going to take you on a magical journey of motherfucking jokes.

His phone vibrated. She can give you my things or come back later when I’m home, Eddie wrote. Sorry.

“Uh,” he said. “Eddie says you can give his stuff to me, or—”

“No,” she said. “No offense, but I don’t know you.”

“—he’ll be home from work at like six.” Richie wanted to be offended, a little, but if he were her, he probably wouldn’t give anything to a lurching orangutan wearing plaid pajama pants and what he now realized, as Myra stared at his chest, was Eddie’s yellow Acadia National Park t-shirt under a flannel.

“Why is he working so late?” she asked.

“Hot affair with his boss,” he said, and then wished he were dead. “I’m just kidding. I have no idea.”

“I’m going to call him,” she said, looking back warily over her shoulder at him as she left, and Richie shut the door and leaned his forehead against it.

“Damn,” Mike said. Richie had forgotten about him completely. “That was the most awkward thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, we’re sister wives now,” Richie said. “It’s not an easy relationship.”

But he signed off with Mike before Eddie got home, promising they would call him back later, and instead of doing anything he had planned on doing that afternoon, he fucked around on Twitter until he had made himself so anxious about politics that he didn’t even think he could write any jokes about it. He set his phone down and then immediately picked it back up again to tweet, “Did I just out my boyfriend to someone, or do they think he has a creepy roommate who wears his clothes?”

Five minutes later, Bill replied, “¿Porque no los dos?” Richie responded, “Write another seventeen fuckin books about it Bill,” and Twitter, predictably, went a little crazy.

At some point during the promo for his Netflix special, which he had referred to relentlessly as Yes Homo until the production team caved and let him call it that, one of the social media managers—his? His agency’s? Netflix’s? He had no idea—had asked him, “Wait. Are you actually friends with William Denbrough?” and when he admitted that they had grown up together along with Bev Marsh, the entire PR team had launched a persuasion offensive to try to get him to capitalize on it. He told them he would follow them on Twitter and nothing more than that, but he hadn’t reckoned with the deep, pathological need to fuck with Richie Tozier that existed inside every person but especially the Losers.

Within two hours Mike had posted hands down the ugliest picture of Richie’s life, mostly up-nose but also somehow revealing four crooked teeth he didn’t even have, Beverly had reminded him of the time she tried to teach him how to yoyo and he hit himself in the dick, threw up, and cried, and Bill had written, “Harry from Attic Room: 85% based on Richie Tozier,” which, from the reaction, Richie would guess was not a flattering comparison. The entire internet was invited to an international @richtoziersdick dunk-a-thon, and then Ben joined Twitter and it blew the fuck up.

Richie’s only saving grace was that Eddie refused all forms of social media. Even contemplating Eddie on Twitter made him sweat a little. Not because he was afraid of the constant roasting—if that had been his objection, he was surely in the wrong relationship and line of work—but because he was maybe perhaps possibly slightly concerned about Eddie’s privacy. Eddie could take care of himself, but Eddie also had never gone to work and had all his coworkers stare at him because he had been papped walking to get coffee wearing one of Richie’s enormous sweaters, looking like a madman with his hands all over the place while he explained the mortgage crisis to Richie, who kept saying, “Oh, like in Trading Places,” to see how angry he could get. Richie had one rule with his publicist and one rule only: anything goes, except for Eddie. Not a word, not a picture, not a breath of a whisper about Eddie Kaspbrak.

The elevator dinged in the hall, and Richie tried to arrange himself on the couch as if he had done a lot of work all day instead of typing fifteen words and then having pancakes and bacon delivered, followed by flopping around miserably in his pajamas after talking to his boyfriend’s ex-wife.

“Okay, sorry again, sorry a million times,” Eddie said as soon as he stepped through the door and saw Richie. He put his keys in the key dish and then stopped and looked at Richie, who reached under his own ass and fished out the keys that were stuck in the couch. He handed them to Eddie, who put them in the dish and continued. “I told her to come by this week with my stuff but I forgot to mention it because I thought it would be later, and that fucknuts Blake quit without any notice so I got all his cases, like…who the fuck actually calls himself Blake as an adult? Use your middle name or something, bro, fucking Christ.”

As he spoke, he carefully set down his briefcase and took off his suit jacket, hung it on the back of a chair, undid his belt, untied his shoelaces and set his shoes by the door, pulled off his suit trousers and unbuttoned his shirt and lay them both over the suit jacket, and climbed into Richie’s lap with his hands on Richie’s shoulders, looking down at him like he expected a response.

“Blake is the name of a soap opera character who gets into a tragic lawnmower accident and comes back as a different actor,” Richie said encouragingly, tilting his head up for a kiss.

“Exactly,” Eddie said, and kissed him so thoroughly he forgot everything about the day. He made a small, pleased noise into Richie’s mouth. “You taste like syrup.”

“If you’d come home three hours ago, you could have licked it off me,” Richie said.

“Mm, sugar and chest hair,” Eddie said, leaning back on Richie’s knees. “Was it really awkward?”

“What, meeting your ex-wife while wearing your clothes and trying not to invite her in like she was a vampire?” he asked. “Nope, we’re good. We shared a dick. That’s a lifelong bond.”

Eddie did that thing he sometimes did, which Richie normally loved, pushing Richie’s hair off his forehead and turning it into gently cupping the side of his face. “Shit,” he said. “I’m sorry. I should have been here. I told her to come back tomorrow so I can be home. You don’t have to be here though.”

“No, it’s fine,” he sighed. “I’m being a baby.”

“You’re always a baby,” Eddie said. “But I don’t mind.”

He leaned forward and rested his forehead on Eddie’s chest. There was something about Eddie when he got home from work that always got to him, something specifically masculine that he liked and would never be able to articulate, in the way he looked in his undershirt and boxer briefs and his stupid dress socks, the way he smelled like his deodorant and something kind of citrusy that Richie could never identify, the way he complained for a good ten minutes while he stripped himself of the day’s clothes and concerns and pressed himself in close to Richie.

“I felt…like I didn’t belong here,” he admitted.

“Here in this apartment?” Eddie asked. His fingers were light, stroking through the back of Richie’s hair, and Richie closed his eyes in pleasure and nodded. “Why?”

“I don’t know, man, maybe because I felt like I was talking to your mom,” he said. Eddie pulled on his hair, and he lifted his head. “No, listen. I’m not even fucking around with you, although I want you to know that I’m putting five hundred million jokes on the backburner for this conversation.”

“Okay,” Eddie said. His eyebrows were drawn together as always, but he didn’t look pissed. “She looks like my mom, fine.”

“No, not that,” Richie said, slumping back against the couch. “It was like I was hiding something from her. I always felt like your mom knew what I wanted from you. She knew I was…”

“What did you want from me, though?” Eddie tilted his head, putting his hand on Richie’s face again. “Nothing bad.”

He shook his head, remembering the deep, deep grimy shame, the way she had looked at him like he was out to get Eddie. She was watchful every time he was in the Kaspbrak house, not looking at the other boys, always Richie. She knew he would make Eddie dirty and get him hurt if she wasn’t vigilant.

“Look at me, Rich.”

He didn’t want to, but he looked up anyway.

“Nothing you wanted was bad,” Eddie said, firm. “Even if you hadn’t loved me, it wasn’t wrong. But you did love me. You do love me.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know why. You’re a lot of work, Kaspbrak.”

Eddie grinned, the crooked, sweet smile Richie liked best. “In the history of the fucking universe, no one has ever been as much work as you.”

He wanted to smile back, but he really couldn’t. Something in him wanted to retreat—to make Eddie come after him, if he had to admit it straight up, which he very much didn’t want to—and he indulged in it even as he had to laugh at his own melodrama. Yeah, he was fucking sulking like a little boy, but something hurt and he couldn’t figure out what it was, and he wanted to hide in a cave until it went away.

“Hey,” Eddie said, standing and pulling on his hand until Richie stood too. “Speaking of work.”

Richie nodded, relieved. He could already feel his hands tight on Eddie’s hips, holding him down the way he liked it. A good fast hard fuck would get him out of his head, and he wanted, just a little bit, to hear Eddie beg for it the way he sometimes did. There was something about Eddie asking Richie to fuck him, to make him come, please, please, that satisfied him the way nothing else ever could. Eddie wanted him, that was part of it—and he did; even Richie couldn’t talk himself out of knowing that—but it was also something he would never ask of anyone else but Richie. He entrusted it to Richie alone and it was his, it was theirs. That moment when Eddie went from please give it to me, moaning startlingly loud when Richie took his wrists and pinned them hard against the bed, to just biting his lip and making desperate whining noises, foot braced against the bed so he could get it harder, going hot and tight around Richie’s cock, that was something they shared and he loved it so much he almost never mentioned it. It was one of very few things he never joked about. He carried it with him like a talisman.

But when they reached the bed, Eddie nudged him until he sat down and then stood between his legs and said, “I want to make you feel good. Is that all right?”

He shivered, hard and involuntary. “What does that mean?” he asked, though he already knew.

“I want my fingers in you,” Eddie murmured, kissing along his jaw and then down his neck.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s fucking hot, getting to do something you like so much.” Eddie stripped fast and stood between his legs again and Richie reached for him automatically, hands on his ass, looking up at him and wondering why he couldn’t speak.

It made him cringe, all of it, the way he must look and sound, the way he fell apart so fast, but most of all how badly he wanted it. He could cringe himself into the next decade thinking about that particular aspect of his entire shitshow of a sex drive, how he wanted it so bad he shoved it away in a drawer of his mind and refused to think about it. Eddie had touched on it a few times when Richie let him—facedown on the bed, shaking like he was caught in a snowstorm—but he had rolled with whatever Richie was comfortable with and what Richie was comfortable with was never, ever, ever letting Eddie know how easily he could be undone. More than once he had dreamed of going to Eddie, crawling to him on hands and knees and resting his head on Eddie’s leg in a wordless plea, sighing in relief when Eddie laid him out and dissected him as tenderly as he might have kissed him.

“Um,” he said, swallowing too much. “Yeah. I guess. What do you want me to do?”

“Do you need me to tell you what to do?” Eddie asked. “Would that make it easier?”

It was turning him on to even say the words; Richie could tell by the way he started to bite the inside of his lip and his eyes got sort of heavy-lidded, his voice dropping. Richie blinked hard and tried to think about it, but his brain was too jumbled, which was probably an answer in itself. He nodded, shivering again and feeling goose bumps rise on his arms.

“Okay, so take off your clothes and get on the bed,” Eddie said, tugging on his flannel. “On your back.”

“On my—”

“Yes, on your back, come on.” Eddie helped him undress so fast he didn’t have time to even think about what was happening, although he was very gentle about it in the way Eddie was always gentle when he was freaking out a little in bed. He didn’t even try to take off Richie’s glasses, but instead kissed him warm and slow and careful until he was a little calmer—but he was so worked up, his dick was honestly harder than he thought it had ever been in his entire life and he hoped Eddie wouldn’t touch it because he was about one breath away from coming all over himself. He wondered if this was why Eddie sometimes pushed him to let go, because he could see so clearly that however terrified Richie was, it really, really got him.

When he lay back on the bed he couldn’t help the way his hips twisted upward like he was trying to get friction from the air, and tried to stay still. His cock was twitching so hard, though, and he was breathing shakily through his nose, and he expected Eddie to say something, to tease him about it, but he only grabbed the lube and tossed it beside Richie’s leg and crawled onto the bed, slowly pushing his feet apart, an action that always made him even more crazy. He gave a jumpy little moan and jerked helplessly when Eddie slid his hands over the insides of his thighs.

“Put your hands under the pillow,” Eddie said softly, bending down to kiss one of his thighs but not breaking eye contact.

Richie wanted to use them to cover his face and he knew Eddie knew it, and that if he said no, Eddie wouldn’t mind—but he wanted to give Eddie what he wanted, and if there was one thing he knew about Eddie it was that he loved the way Richie sounded during sex. He tucked his hands under the pillow that was under his head and linked them together so he wouldn’t forget himself.

“What do you think about me tying you up?”

He remembered, suddenly, one of his most persistent early fantasies: Eddie tying his hands together and then to the post that held up the hammock, climbing on top of him in the hammock and kissing him.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding too fast. “I want that.”

“Oh, man,” Eddie said, grinning up at him. “I have so many things I want to do to you.”

He went back to kissing the insides of Richie’s thighs, not caring that he was completely destroying Richie from the inside out, between the biting kisses that kept sending electric sparks all over the insides of his legs and the idea of living out that old fantasy. His mouth moved up and Richie watched him, breathing harder and harder, as he got perilously close—

“Ed—Eddie,” he gasped. “You can’t. If you go anywhere near my dick, I’m done. Seriously, I will go off everywhere.”

“I know,” Eddie said, kneeling and reaching for the lube. “Don’t worry, all right?”

“I’m not worried,” he lied. He was so, so worried. Everything was so—he was trembling, really badly, watching Eddie’s fingers, knowing they were about to be inside him and he was going to come so hard that it would wreck him. And if it did—if he did—if Eddie saw him like that

Eddie hovered above him and shifted around, knees on either side of Richie’s thigh so he could stretch up and kiss Richie. His lips were actually quivering, needing to be kissed more than he had realized, and he closed his eyes because he was such a mess, all over. He looked down at his own body and then had to look away again because it was too much, his stomach wet with his own come, cock so hard it was straining away from his body—no doubt that he liked it, no hiding it, because he was absolutely falling apart already and Eddie hadn’t even started yet.

“Hey,” Eddie said, sliding his slick fingers down behind Richie’s balls and almost inside him. Richie moaned fitfully and gritted his teeth together to try to stop, and Eddie stroked the side of his face with his free hand. “Do you know why I like to do this to you?”

He started to shake his head, but Eddie’s fingers teased him and then slipped inside him and he arched up with a strangled, hurt cry, his hands pulling hard on one another under the pillow. The pleasure of it was so strong it always felt like someone had kicked him in the solar plexus and he was floating somewhere in a weird sort of pleasure ether, his body seizing up until he couldn’t breathe because it felt so good, ecstatic pulses rolling along his spine and down his legs and fuck, fuck, Eddie’s fingers, inside him, making him helpless, making him lose control. Being fucked didn’t feel like this. It was good—everything was good with Eddie—but it was like being patted on the back versus being hit with a piledriver.

“Well, why do you like to do it to me?” Eddie asked, kissing him again and again like he couldn’t stop himself. “What is it about that, huh?”

“I want to be the one who gives you everything you want,” he choked out.

“But why?”

“Because I love you,” he gasped. “I love you. I love you.”

Yes,” Eddie said, slipping his hand under the pillow so Richie could hold onto him, and pressing his cheek to Richie’s. His lips brushed Richie’s ear and he whispered, “I love you, that’s why I want this.”

The movement changed the angle of his fingers and when he pressed them into Richie again it was too much—he came and it did wreck him, like a detonation or a dying star, something that would not just tear him apart but actually disintegrate him. His hips shoved up again and again without his control and he dimly felt the pulse of his own come hitting his stomach, and when Eddie began to stroke his cock to finish him off, the fingers of his other hand still inside him, it gathered everything into one bright focal point and he almost reached down to make him stop because it was too much, it was so much, he couldn’t take it—except he wanted to take it, he wanted it, he was shouting so hard his voice cracked and for one moment, just one split second, he understood all that la petite mort bullshit because he thought he might die caught in this pleasure.

Then it collapsed and he was left there trembling on the bed, trying to catch his breath and already halfway to crying because what the fuck, what the fuck. Without thinking, he pulled his hands out from under the pillow to cover his face, and then stuck them back under again once he remembered, but Eddie was already there alongside him pulling him close and saying, “No, you don’t have to do that anymore, it’s all right,” and he pulled his glasses off and shoved his face in Eddie’s neck and cried like a fucking idiot because, again, what the fuck. It was harsh and ragged and awful, and when he hit the stage where his breath began to spasm, he turned into the pillow and went off for so long he almost didn’t understand it when he started to calm. His body still buzzed all over with adrenaline even as he slowed until he was just shaking all over, his skin cold except where Eddie touched him, eyes swollen almost shut.

He pushed at Eddie’s arm a few times in a gesture that he hoped clearly communicated that he never wanted this to happen again and that he wanted Eddie to do it to him every day, maybe.

“What the fuck, man,” he whispered eventually, rolling until his back was to Eddie and hoping he’d curl up behind him, which he did.

“Yeah,” Eddie said, kissing the shoulder nearest to him.

“Can we just, like, erase this entire last half hour?”

“Do you want me to pretend it didn’t happen?” Eddie asked. He rubbed Richie’s back and Richie wanted to nod, but didn’t. “I feel like there’s something you keep wanting from me but you’re so afraid of it, and I think it’s this. I think you can’t stand having me make you feel good, which is fucking me up a little bit because I love it so much, Rich. Jesus, it makes me—like, I didn’t even have to touch my dick. I came when you did. It was that amazing. I just need to know why it feels like you hate it as much as you like it.”

“I do,” he said. He was hoarse and croaky, and he tried to clear his throat, but his voice was shot. “I hate it because I love it. I hate it because I’m embarrassed and because I kind of want to be embarrassed. I fucking hate that—like, everything you just saw, that’s me, that’s…I can’t imagine anything worse than that.”

“I know it was you,” Eddie said. “And I’m telling you, I loved it. I know we fuck around a lot but I don’t love you in spite of yourself, you know. I could do with 150% fewer jokes about my dead mom, fucking seriously, but it’s you. It’s always been you and it always will be.”

They lay in silence for a little while, and finally Richie said, “You should go wash your hands. I know you’re thinking about fucking coliform bacteria or something.”

“Do you get what I’m saying, though?” Eddie asked.

Richie reached for his glasses. “Yeah, like—I just need to turn it over in my head for a while, all right? And I need to get the snot off my face. I’m starting to feel like I bathed in jizz.”

“On that note.” Eddie patted his back and fled to the bathroom, and Richie joined him in a few minutes to shower.

When the knock came at the door, he thought for a moment that it was the pizza delivery person coming back to bring them the garlic dip they always forgot, but Eddie said, “Oh, shit,” and he remembered.

“Shit,” Richie mumbled, upsetting the plate he had carefully set in his lap and almost spilling pepperoni pizza onto the couch. He paused Ghostbusters and turned to Eddie. “Do you want me to go into the bedroom?”

Eddie threw a confused look over his shoulder as he rushed to the door. “What? No. You don’t have to leave. This will take like two minutes.”

But as he opened the door, Richie wanted to be out of the room anyway, although it was far too late for that. He remembered all the one-sided phone conversations he had overheard while they were in Derry, most of which consisted of Eddie saying, “I’m sorry,” and he remembered Eddie telling him how hard it was not to go back to his home with her and how long they had been married—married, Eddie had vowed to stay with her for the rest of his life—and he realized, suddenly, sitting there on the couch rubbing at a little spot of pizza grease on his pajama pants, that part of Eddie belonged to her, that she was allowed to have him in some undefinable way that Richie was not.

“Uh, come in,” Eddie said. “Is that it?”

“Yes,” she said, handing him the box. “All your files, everything in your middle drawer, and the extra hard water filter.”

Richie closed his eyes and let himself be hamstrung for a moment over the idea of the two of them sharing a bureau—she knew how Eddie liked to have his clothes folded, probably; maybe they had picked out the furniture together—before he rolled his eyes and shut it down.

“So,” she said. “This is your apartment.”

Eddie set the box on the island and crossed his arms over his chest. “Myra,” he began.

“Look, you don’t have to say anything. If…you ever want to come home, you can come home. You don’t need to live like you’re in college again. With a, a roommate.” She cast a glance at Richie that said she definitely thought he was a creep who was stealing Eddie's clothes. Dirty, he thought almost without knowing he thought it, and bit his lip.

“He’s not my roommate,” Eddie said, and Richie twisted to look at him fast. Eddie raised an eyebrow at him—Is this okay? the eyebrow asked, or at least Richie devoutly hoped it did, because his responding half shrug was meant to say, Yes, please say the words out loud or I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. “He’s my boyfriend.”

 Richie gave him an amused look that he hoped said, Boyfriend? Is that what you want to call me? Eddie nodded, slowly at first and then, after some consideration, a firm nod.

“Boyfriend,” Myra said, looking back and forth between the two of them. “You have a boyfriend.”

“I have a boyfriend,” Eddie said. “This is Richie.”

Myra put her hand to her mouth for a moment, then tightened her jacket around herself. “I’m going to go,” she said. “If you need anything else, let me know. I have some of your other things.”

Eddie gave her a terse, awkward nod, his lips pressed together, and when she opened the door he held it for her. “I’ll,” he said. “Yeah.”

The door was almost closed when Richie shoved his plate onto the coffee table and jogged out after her. He heard Eddie call his name, but ignored it and caught up to Myra just as she hit the elevator.

“Um,” he said, shifting from foot to foot and wishing he had worn the socks Eddie always told him to wear because it was fucking freezing. “I just wanted to say—you deserve to be happy too.”

She stared at him, eyes widening, and he didn’t know exactly what was going to come out of her mouth but he was betting—he was hoping—it wasn’t going to be a Sonia Kaspbrak special. “Are you saying he’s happy?” she asked. “That you make him happy?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I think I do. But this isn’t a dig, all right, I think you know you deserve—I don’t know what the fuck you deserve, but better than what you had. Like, maybe you could be a doctor, I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience giving career advice to my boyfriends’ ex-wives.”

“You don’t know me at all,” she said. She was still wearing her wedding ring, he saw.

“No, I know,” he said, shivering and putting one foot on top of the other for warmth. “And maybe I’m wrong and you can tell me to go fuck myself, but I don’t think I’m wrong.”

She stared at him again, for what felt like a long time but was probably only a minute or so. He felt that Sonia Kaspbrak energy when she narrowed her eyes, but when she spoke again she said, “Richie Tozier.”

He nodded.

“Did you…kill a man with an axe?” she asked.

“Not according to the police report,” he said, but she didn’t seem to be listening, and he saw her connect one dot to another—that perhaps, perhaps, strangest of all, Eddie might have been telling the truth, and if he had been telling the truth about that, then might it be possible he was telling the truth about other things? Her eyes got huge again for a moment before he could almost see her dismiss it, then bring it out to question again before dismissing it altogether. No. Impossible.

“Tell Eddie if he wants his DVDs, I’m going to have to get them out of the storage unit,” she said, but she seemed thoughtful rather than upset, and when she got into the elevator and he ran for the warmth of the apartment, he felt like he had done more good than harm.

“What the fuck was that about?” Eddie asked. He was sitting on the couch again but hadn’t un-paused the movie or started eating again.

“Only one Kaspbrak left I haven’t banged,” he said. “Wanted to see if I could get the whole set.”

“Dude,” Eddie sighed.

“All right, god.” He sat cross-legged on the couch again, bringing his plate to his lap. “I just said she deserves a nice life. Also, she thinks I’m an axe murderer.”

“You are,” Eddie said.

“I am,” he said, and took an enormous bite of pizza. He reached for the remote, but Eddie stopped him.

“That was nice of you. You didn’t have to do that.”

He shrugged. “I kind of realized I was being a jealous asshole because I wanted you to tell someone about us. Someone who isn’t the Losers.”

Eddie handed him a napkin. “I’ve told people. I told Jack.”

“Jack is a mythical creature to me,” Richie said. “I don’t even know what he looks like.”

“You’ve met him twice,” Eddie said. “Anyway, I didn’t tell Myra because I felt like it would be shitty to rub it in her face, and I don’t talk about my personal life at work, and—you know, you seemed like you wanted to keep our relationship quiet.”

“I do,” Richie said, but it felt like he had lost the upper hand in the discussion somehow. “For your privacy, Eds. Not because I don’t want anyone to know.”

“Well, don’t be so fucking concerned about protecting me,” Eddie snapped. He picked up his pizza and then set it back down again. “Seriously. You don’t have to. I don’t need it.”

“Hey, fuck you,” Richie said, grabbing his hand. “I know that. You know I’m not here to hover over you. I just thought—you didn’t want people to know, so talking about it on Twitter seemed like a bad idea. It’s possible I have some issues with accepting that you even like me.”

“Yeah, and I don’t fucking get it,” Eddie said. He turned toward Richie on the couch and pulled his knees up to his chest. Richie followed suit, the pizza and movie forgotten. “My whole life it seems like I was really obvious about you being my favorite person in the world. I was on you nonstop when we were kids.”

Richie shook his head. “No fucking way. I would never, ever have guessed.”

“Yeah, I think I would have had to hire a skywriter before you ever noticed,” Eddie said. “It’s just like, puberty hit you guys hard, but it took a while for me. It always takes me a while. If we hadn’t moved, I would have figured it out. I was almost there. I just remember one time we were over at Bill’s and your sleeping bag was next to mine, and I looked over at you and—god, it was like I was so sad but so happy at the same time, just because of your dumb fucking face. Like, you were mine. I had these fantasies—”

“Oh my god,” Richie said. “Yes, please. Tell me all your little gross teenage fantasies. I need to know.”

“Not sexy ones, Jesus, I just finished saying I was a little dweeb with no testosterone yet. They were all just like—we were roommates in college, and everyone would know that we were friends, because of course then we’d be really popular and everyone would be jealous because I knew everything about you.” Eddie shook his head. “Stupid little kid fantasies. Nobody would ever be jealous because I know anything about you.”

“Aw,” Richie said, very, very softly because he thought he might get choked up again otherwise. “That’s sweet. Your little Bert and Ernie fantasies. Meanwhile I was daydreaming about dicking you down without even knowing how to dick down my own hand.”

“Like I said, I would have gotten there if we’d stayed in Derry. There was a guy in college. I had a huge crush on him. Tall, class clown type, total idiot. I think my type is big stupid dudes. In retrospect, he was a real asshole—”

“Business major,” Richie agreed.

“—but I wanted his dick. Like, wanted it.”

Richie poked around mentally, trying to figure out whether he was jealous or not. Mostly not, he decided. Should have been my dick, he thought, but that was it. “Why didn’t you get it?”

“No, no way. I never asked anyone out. I didn’t think I’d ever get married. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I always imagined myself living with my mother forever.” He instantly put his hand over Richie’s mouth. “Do not say it.”

“I wouldn’t,” Richie mumbled against his palm. “Dignity forbids it.”

“You’re as dignified as a fart in a museum,” Eddie said, and Richie’s mind went in seven different directions before he focused on the subject at hand.

“How did you even get with Myra, though?” he asked. “You didn’t ask her out. Did you just wake up married to her?”

“Kinda felt like that.” Eddie wiped his hand on Richie’s face. “She used to work as an underwriter, and one time before a big meeting I had this blowout asthma attack and she happened to be there. She helped me through it, and then she just kind of took care of me after that. She started talking about marriage after a few years and I almost left then, but I didn’t. I just let it happen. Completely passive.”

“Well,” Richie said, turning so he was facing the coffee table again. He was never going to finish the fucking pizza, he thought, and then Eddie would toss it out because it had been in the fridge two entire days. “You’re not passive now. You dumped your momwife, you kissed me first, you said you loved me first—”

“Because you are so, so stupid,” Eddie said. He tucked his feet in between Richie’s thighs and inched closer until he could rest his head on Richie’s shoulder.

“You said dumb and hot is your type.”

“I said dumb and tall,” Eddie said.

“Right, dumb, tall, and hot. Anyway, you’re not passive now. Is it better or worse?” he asked.

“Way better.” Eddie sighed. “The best. My blood pressure is so much lower now. Hardly any asthma attacks. You’re good for my cardiovascular health.”

“That’s the dream.” He reached for the remote again. “All right. Should we start it from the beginning?”

“We both know it by heart,” Eddie said, but when Richie tapped the remote, he said, “Yeah, fine, from the beginning.”

He settled into the couch to finish his pizza, and when Eddie pulled out a blanket halfway through the movie, he didn’t even make fun of him because it was the softest fucking blanket known to man. He let Eddie’s fingers stroking his hair make him sleepy, and when the movie was over they did the same thing in bed, Eddie reading a book while Richie rested his head on Eddie’s stomach and dozed off.

Early in the morning he jerked awake and rolled over and Eddie stretched out behind him, an arm around his chest, kissed him behind his ear and down the back of his neck, and murmured hey, babe, don’t worry, soft in sleep but clear. Before a show, he’d tell Richie to get his fucking ass out there and pretend to be funny because they had bills to pay, but afterward, alone with each other and warm in bed, he’d hold onto him and press slow kisses all over his neck and shoulders and listen while Richie talked himself out, unwinding until the adrenaline let him go and he was exhausted. Go to sleep, he’d say when Richie couldn’t keep his eyes open. You don’t have to worry. I’m here. He knew what Richie needed somehow without words, which was good because Richie would never ask for it, and he gave it to him with the same kind of thorough, calm love that Richie felt when he watched Eddie distractedly sip at his coffee, burn his mouth, and say, “Fucking fuck, that’s hot,” every single morning. I’m going to marry that idiot, he’d think with absolute certainty.

Oh my god, I really am going to marry that idiot, he thought when he felt Eddie’s hand rubbing back and forth over his heart, even as Eddie fell silent and slid back into sleep, pulling Richie with him, too happy to dream.