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The Woody Woodpecker Incident

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When they get past the state-of-the-art baby gate between Bill’s kitchen and the hall to the rest of the house, Eddie turns Frankie loose so she and Moose can say hello, sniff butts, all that crucial dog stuff.

“Thanks again, guys,” says Bill. “I promise I’ll get someone regular for Moose, but this trip just came outta nowhere and we haven’t clicked with anyone yet.” Bill looks apologetic, Moose does not. He excitedly receives Frankie’s greeting with squeaking yips, and the two start to tornado around Eddie’s feet, the ticking sound of their claws against the tile like hail.

“Just happy to help,” Eddie smiles. Richie volunteered them, in all honesty, but it’s not like Eddie would have said no if Bill had come to him first. If house and dog sitting for week made Bill’s life easier, it really did please him. Bill is as good as his brother, and if the tables were turned, he would help Eddie dispose of a body- and would have probably already done the research to pull it off because of his writing! It doesn’t hurt that Bill and Moose live in a trendy neighborhood near a great beach or that he’s got a rowing machine in the garage that’s to die for, either. Granted, Richie will be doing the bulk of the plant watering and dog care because of his schedule, and Eddie will really only get to appreciate it at night since he works regular hours, but amenities are amenities.

Bill points out the location of the bowls and opens a cabinet that is stocked with bags of dog food, compostable baggies, puppy pads, leashes- the works. “Everything you’ll need is in here except whatever toys Moose has out right now, I guess. Some more in here though, if you get sick of the squeakers and wanna trade out,” he laughs.

Richie nods and dangles a hand low to catch Moose for a thorough scratching. “Who’s gonna give Uncle Richie a run for his loudmouth money, Moose? Is it you?” He kneels down to better pat Moose’s still frogishly proportioned puppy body. “‘Course it is! We’re gonna get into those treats, huh, buddy? Teach you a trick for Bill when he comes back in a few days?”

Eddie thinks he knows the one. “The kiss catch?”

“My signature,” Richie says proudly.

It’s the first bullshit command he taught Frankie after covering the more utilitarian basics like Sit, Drop, Come, etc. He’ll say ‘Frankie, mwah!’, blow her a kiss, and she’ll hop all four feet off the ground and nip the air to catch it. Utterly pointless and utterly adorable. Richie really has done a great job with Frankie, and it's sweet in a dumb, Sesame Street sort of way to return the favor of Bill having been a role model for them by having her along to set an example for Moose.

Bill rattles the baby gate to the upstairs to make sure it’s properly in place. “I’m waiting until we’ve gone a month without an accident to open up the rest of the house, all the time. But if you need to take Moose up for a bath, just keep an eye out he doesn’t kidnap a towel. What else? Uhh, cleaning stuff’s under the sink,” Bill grimaces. “Sorry in advance.”

“Aww, remember puppies, Eddie?” Richie stands back up and folds both hands over his heart, pouting. “Dropping deuces in the kitchen, where the food lives?”

“Yep. Don’t get any ideas, Rich.” It’s been a while since they’ve had Frankie, and as far as Eddie is concerned- the foggier the memory of her housebreaking, the better. It’s all fun and games to visit with someone else’s little monster for a week, but he’s in no rush to get Frankie a full time little henchman. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and flicks open a note app. “So, how much is he eating, of what, and when?”

Bill and Richie just look at each other with snobby expressions and laugh.

“Please, Eddie! I’m the go-to dog guru in our friend group!” Richie says. “Who the fuck do you think wrote up Moose’s daily regimen in the first place?”

Bill grins and leans back against the kitchen counter, where two boxes the size of microwaves sit. “We have a spreadsheet and everything.”

“I’m on top of it, Eds. You just sit around and look pretty for me,” Richie winks. Eddie wrinkles his nose back. Sure, Richie’ll spring to walk and feed the dogs, but Eddie already knows all three of them will end up begging while he cooks for the humans.

“While you’re here you should check out these boxes,” says Bill, slapping the top of one. “My parents sent these over. They’re downsizing. It’s mostly old school stuff only parents want to hang on to but there’s a bunch of class pictures with us, and some junk like that.”

“Interesting, interesting...” Richie rubs his hands together devilishly, immediately taking the invitation to snoop. He folds back the flap of one of the boxes to get a better look.

Bill casts one last thoughtful glance around the kitchen. “I think that’s it!”

“All right, then, Bill,” says Eddie. He digs his hands into his pockets for his keys. “Let’s get you to the airport.”


-



When Eddie gets back, Richie is curled up on the couch in Bill’s writing den with his laptop out and Frankie and one of the boxes from the kitchen at his feet. Moose dozes in his nearby crate, already tuckered out from whatever paces Richie and Frankie put him through. Beside Richie on the couch is a little pile of paperwork that he keeps referencing as he taps away at his computer. Eddie plops down next to him and lays his head on Richie’s shoulder to see what he’s doing; Facebook searching some woman named Linda.

“What’re you doing, looking up old girlfriends?”

Richie snorts. Eddie expects him to come back with some variation on, I could never replace a hot fuck like your mom, but instead he hands Eddie a yellowed piece of paper from the pile. It’s a report card, printed with the usual grid full of subjects and grades. It looks like Bill had a pretty good quarter thirty-odd years ago, except for civics, where it’s marked that his final oral presentation ‘needs improvement’. Dick criticism to give a kid with a stutter, if you ask Eddie.

“I’m trying to find Ms. Ballot. I can’t remember her first fucking name, though.”

“You think she’s still alive?” Eddie squints. It’s hard to retroactively gauge the age of adults he only ever knew when he was nine years old. Ms. Ballot didn’t have glasses or gray hair though- so maybe?

Eddie zeroes in on the neatly signed ‘L. Ballot’ in the corner of the card, that was signed on many a disciplinary note home. It must have been once a week she would pull him aside and stuff a sealed envelope into his take home folder with a grim look. Most of the time he didn’t even know what he had done wrong, though he does remember that once, Ms. Ballot gave both of them lines when Eddie answered a word problem without raising his hand and then Richie told her off for chewing him out. He’s right, he’s just not a robot like you want!

Richie just shrugs. “She kinda gave me a lesbo vibe. I thought it’d be like, cool to tell her we’re married now.” 

Eddie can’t process that train of thought. He can’t get past the ludicrous idea of Ms. Ballot deriving any pleasure from knowing Eddie has shaped up to be a happy, successful adult, partnered or otherwise. He feels himself stiffen defensively, fingers tightening around Richie’s arm. “She fucking hated me,” he says, with sudden bone deep certainty. There was no other explanation for the way she routinely rode his ass, never recognizing how hard he tried. His grades were fine! And she Never. Let. Up.

Richie fixes him with a puzzled look. “Eddie. You were, and I am aware I am crazy fucking biased in your favor, the most adorable, lovable third grader on the planet. I’m sure she didn’t hate you.”

“She was always getting me into trouble. Every fucking week. Even if my lowest grade was a B. And Mom hated her! She’d write some letter home I had to give her and then she’d get all upset, and-“

“Your mom was always...“ Richie clears his throat and changes his mind about what he wants to say. He twists on the couch to face Eddie, pulling up one knee and teetering his laptop on the other. “She didn’t always get upset about the right things, Eds, you gotta remember. She didn’t care that doing your homework with me got you into Honors English, she just hated that I was always covered in scabs.”

I hated that you were covered in scabs,” Eddie points out. Skinned knees and elbows were just as standard a part of the young Richie Tozier Look as glasses and funky printed shirts. He was a mess. Though, it wasn’t specifically the bloody wounds Eddie objected to at the time, so much as the inexplicable heightened anxiety he had about Richie’s well-being above all others, and the confusing impulse to kiss it better.

Richie flicks his knee with a finger. “Fuck off, I grew like, five inches in five months- let’s put you on stilts and see how you do,” he says. “Anyway. My point is- maybe, maybe your mom didn’t like her interfering. You got A’s and B’s and Ballot was still checking up on you, and your mom hated it?” He frowns at Eddie. “Sounds kinda familiar, is all.”

Shit. Mom had always kept anyone Eddie saw a lot of at arm’s length. She couldn’t have treated him the way she did, year after year unless there was no yardstick for an adult bystander to measure him by. Most of his friends she could bully, except for the Losers, and most teachers came and went too rapidly to notice, but now and then there’d be one who was more concerned by his frequent absences than they were frustrated. Class participation had been a sticking point with Ms. Ballot, he remembers. He always did the make-up work that was sent home for him when Mom kept him out of school, even as she told him to rest and not to strain himself- Mommy would look after him, he wouldn’t need top grades and a fancy education, he wouldn't ever need to leave her! Then he would turn in his work upon his return to class and stand there while she graded it, always to the same refrain. This work is acceptable, but if you’d been in class able to ask for help, you would have done even better. She probably would have preferred for Eddie to tough it out in class as much as he would. 

“I- I had a hard time getting along with anyone Mom didn’t like, except-“ Eddie crumples into the couch. His resistance to Ms. Ballot’s help was textbook, wasn’t it? God, this is humiliating. 

Richie nods at him with complete understanding. He could probably see Eddie working this all out like thought bubbles in a comic book. “I know, dude.”

“All this time I thought she was a total bitch,” Eddie sighs. He’s the little bitch!

“Writing lines aside, I liked her,” Richie smirks. He steadies his laptop again and tries another name in the search bar. Lois. “Ms. Ballot was the first person to tell me that she thought my sense of humor was a sign of intelligence,” he adds airily.

“Ah, so she was just delusional,” Eddie laughs and ruffles Richie’s dumb head. He pulls Eddie into a headlock that turns into a side cuddle as they scroll through the search results. None of the Lois Ballots look familiar or live remotely near Maine. “Maybe Lorraine?” Eddie suggests. “Or Laura. That’s a fucking baby boomer ass name.”

“Ooo. Both good.”

Eventually Richie finds a Lorraine Ballot in Augusta who has a familiar penchant for sweater vests, and he needs his elbow back to better draft a message, so Eddie shoves off of him and drags over the box of Bill’s old things to take a look for himself. The first thing he pulls out is one of those wooden note paper rollers, identical to one that hung next to the Kaspbrak kitchen phone for the entirety of the 90’s. He weighs it in his hands like produce in a supermarket.

“See this, Frankie? This is from before everyone had their own cellphone, and you had to take a message, on paper, for other people like some kinda fucking animal. No offense.”

Frankie wags her tail. None taken.

He and Bill and Ben made these things in shop class- or more accurately- Ben had cut most of the pieces while Eddie fretted about chopping off their fingers and Bill painstakingly made sanding blocks. It had been a minor miracle they made it through the class without running one another through the table saw, really. Eddie keeps digging. Beneath the note taker, atop a nest of school papers there’s a baseball glove, a yarn covered monstrosity of a picture frame, and a surprisingly intact Woody Woodpecker doll.

“I don’t remember this guy,” Eddie says, pulling it out. It’s odd. Bill wasn’t the sort of boy who banished all his stuffed animals to the attic when he hit puberty. All the teddy bears and a lumpy elephant named Big that he had played with as a little kid lived in a very open retirement at the top of his dresser, through junior high at least. “You ever see this before?”

Richie glances up from his typing but shrugs. “Maybe it was Georgie’s.”

That would explain it. Something hard to get rid of, but hard to put on constant display. Eddie puts the doll back in the top of the box and pulls out a hand-bound book labeled Recipes. Inside, the faded construction paper pages have ‘instructions’ for classic Denbrough family meals, as told by a Bill who was too young to use a stove. The conviction that a rolling pin could be used to transmute elbow macaroni into lasagna noodles is particularly charming, but what really gets Eddie is the Rude Beer Float.

“I’m never calling it anything else ever again.” Eddie holds up the page to show Richie, complete with a crayon illustration of how to decapitate what looked like a snowman to supply the ice cream scoops.

“Aw shit.” Richie’s face falls. “Now you’ve done it.”

“What?” At first Eddie thinks he means waking Moose, who has just reemerged from his crate. He toddles over on his oversized feet to pester Frankie.

“Ice cream! You made me think about ice cream and now I gotta have it or I’ll die.” One arm raises to Richie’s brow as he swoons back into the couch.

“We’re either gonna have to go out for groceries or go get something for dinner, anyway,” Eddie reasons. “Question’s just where do you want ice cream from?”

An eye peeks open between the fingers of Richie’s hand, still draped over his face dramatically. “I know you had your childlike wonder gland surgically removed and all, Eds, but if I say Main Street, U.S.A will you revoke the offer to get ice cream, or...”

Not the pull Eddie was expecting. He crosses his arms. “Really, Richie? Disneyland? Plaza Parlor is tasty and all, but we could get a pint of Edy’s at Ralph’s and not have to go to the fucking circus for it.”

Richie clasps his hands entreatingly. “I’m prepared to sweet talk you into it. It’s closer to Bill’s than ours. And we have passes. And I’ll drive. And I promise upfront I will not beg to go on any rides-”

Eddie shakes his head, cutting him off. “Nope. If you can’t be honest we can’t bargain.” At this point in his SoCal residency, Eddie is exactly the level of jaded to walk past all the rides, buy a Dole Whip, and bounce while Richie is definitely not. They are both aware of this. Oh, fuck. Dole Whip, Eddie realizes. This will weaken his negotiating position.

The gears turn in Richie’s head and he holds up a few illustrative fingers. “Three rides, you get to pick dinner and... a Dole Whip for my fucking wonderful, generous, super hot husband?”

Eddie whimpers, already outmaneuvered. Damnit Richie. “Jazz Kitchen for dinner. And the Tiki Room counts as a ride,” says Eddie. One of Richie’s fingers goes down. He can’t get within a thirty foot radius and not go in and perform the part of every single parrot any more than Eddie can turn down a Dole Whip. “And I’m vetoing Indiana Jones, right now. That line is always fucking unbelievable.”

“I thought you’d forget about that.” Richie’s eyes dart in quick thought. “But we could still watch Raiders later, right?”

“Fine,” Eddie sighs. He didn’t have anything else in mind for tonight, and he could use a break from their marathon rewatch of Stargate anyway.

“Okay,” Richie holds out his hand to shake on the agreement. “I’ll make a game time decision about the rides.”

This’ll probably backfire when Eddie finds himself stuck on It’s a Small World with a brainfreeze, but Richie’s ear to ear grin is hard not to love. He may not have a dearly held checklist of Must-Dos For A Good Time at Disney, but as with many things, being with Richie takes off the pressure to enjoy himself. If Richie is having fun, chances are Eddie is, too. As they walk the dogs before going out, Richie teases that he has a secret stash mouse ears for each of them in his glovebox, and Eddie threatens to feed them to Moose. He privately hopes Richie’s not kidding just so he has something to slowly give into. That’s Eddie’s idea of a good time, after all.

Once the dogs are all set, they head off.

“You’re in charge while we’re out, Frankie. Mwah!”


-


By the time they make it to the Mad Tea Party, their cups of Dole Whip are empty, the sun has set, and the lanterns strung over the ride are aglow. Just before their teacup starts spinning, Eddie swipes the sorcerer Mickey ears off Richie and trades them for the sequined ones holstered in his back pocket. He clamps the stolen ears on himself with a grin.

“You’re lucky you’re so cute,” says Richie, adjusting. His glasses were knocked askew in the attack. “They do have a jail here, you know. Thief.”

“I know that,” Eddie smiles. He scoots around the close quarters of the seat so he can get an arm along the rim of the teacup, around Richie. “That’s why I won’t let you jerk me off on a dark ride, you fuckin’ creep.”

“Who, me?!” Richie leans against the centrifugal force of the ride to give him an innocent kiss. “You know, any ride’s a dark ride if you just close your eyes, Eddie,” he says sweetly.

He kisses Richie back less innocently, as the whirl of the turntable reverses and slings them closer together. One of Richie’s hands slips between his thighs, long fingers gripping excitedly. Eddie breathes hot on his neck and whispers in his ear, “Then watch out or I’ll staple your fucking eyelids open.

With that he grabs the wheel between their knees and gives it a mighty spin. 

Richie’s hands fly to cover his mouth as his frozen dessert filled stomach lurches.

Eddie had warned him to go one way or the other rather than indulge in both ice cream and Dole Whip, unheeded. “You promised, you asshole!” he muffles.

“Yeah, no, dude. You said-“ Eddie twists the wheel again, “-Don’t spin the wheel too hard. I’m spinning it exactly as hard as the Imagineers will allow in their over-calculated wisdom. That’s not ‘too hard’,” he insists. “‘Too hard’ would be breaking the ride!”

After that it’s a literal arms race, Eddie’s around the wheel, Richie’s around Eddie. Someone’s mouse ears get caught around his ankle- not sure whose, in the moment. They squeeze and squirm and when the ride slows to its end they’re in a dizzy tangle, still giggling and exchanging ice cream cold-lipped kisses until they’re warm again.

Eddie only takes a quick glance at the line for the ride, but it’s sparse enough.

“We could go again, I’ll still count it as your third,” Eddie grins.

The ride sighs to a stop and Richie shrugs with his arms still wrapped around Eddie. A dreamy light reflects in his eyes, from the lanterns. “Nah, that’s okay. I just wanna take you home.”

“See, you do want a fourth ride,” Eddie snickers.

They wobble to their feet and at the last possible moment he remembers to rescue the lost ears as they step out onto the turntable. He fixes them on Richie’s head again while the ride goers switch.

“Mercy buttercups,” says Richie, and that’s when Eddie sees her over Richie’s shoulder.

“Oh my god.” Eddie freezes. “Be cool.”

While little Richie’s Disney fantasy might have included a globe trotting adventure with disguises and funny accents, whip cracks and one shot gun fights, Eddie wished for some reasonable, capable adult to descend from on high and put things right. This is that adult. Mary Poppins glides closer on the arm of her candy striped escort, her frothy white dress and parasol dappled in the pink, green, and golden light from above.

Richie spins around to follow his line of sight. “‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello, what's all this, then?!”

She’s heading right towards them, to take their teacup, Eddie realizes. “Can we... Can I?!... I have to ask her for a picture, do not laugh at me, dickhead.”

Of course, Richie is already laughing. “I’ve never seen you like this.”

Eddie can’t look away, he just slaps Richie in the stomach with the back of his hand urgently until he takes the hint to pull out his phone.

“Go ahead,” Richie shoos at Eddie to make an approach but he wavers. “Oh don't be such a dork, Eds. Hey, M Pops!” Richie waves, since Eddie has obviously been petrified. “D’you mind?” he points at his phone, then at him and stage whispers His name is Eddie!

“Why, of course!” she beams, letting go of Bert’s arm. “What a pleasure to see you again, Eddie.” Her white gloved hands flutter as she makes a curtsy, and Eddie knows intellectually this is probably some aspiring Instagram model/actress from Wisconsin, but he blushes to his goddamn hairline.

“Uh- 'again'?” he stammers.

“Look at you now, all grown up,” Mary Poppins tuts.

“Nah," says Richie. “He’s probably still the same height.”

Eddie stares daggers at him. “Go fu-“ he stops himself. “-Fly a kite, Rich.”

“What a splendid idear!” exclaims Bert.

That gets the smile out of Eddie she must be waiting for. Mary takes his arm for the camera and runs him down appraisingly. “Hmm. Ears straight. Smile bright. Collar buttoned. Everything appears to be spit spot!”

She is practically perfect in every way! Is Eddie getting misty? Oh please, not in front of Mary Poppins and definitely not in front of Richie. Pull it together Kaspbrak!

“This is going on the Christmas card,” says Richie, snapping his camera. “We don’t even do Christmas cards but now we have to, this is so cute. It must be shared. Oh my god are you tearing up?!”

Eddie is not a happy crier, he’s not. He wipes his eye and ah, fuck. “I don’t do this,” Eddie sniffs.

Mary tips her parasol from back over her shoulder to between them and the camera. “Well, you know what I always say when I’m overwhelmed, don’t you Eddie?” she winks.

He sure does. “Thanks. Uhm- and goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Eddie,” Mary says, just as tenderly as could be wished. “Mind you don’t stay up past your bedtime.”

Then with a twirl of her parasol, she’s off. Bert takes her hand to help her into their recently vacated teacup, and Richie takes Eddie’s.

“I take back my earlier comment about your childlike wonder glands,” Richie says, leading them off the turntable.

“I-“ Eddie doesn’t know how to begin to defend whatever strange behavioral wave just came over him. He didn’t start crying over the realization that Ms. Ballot wasn’t actually his mortal enemy. That wasn’t even the real Julie fucking Andrews! “I just liked her magic bag,” Eddie says, finally.

“Is that where the devotion to overstuffed fannypacks came from?” Richie smirks.

“It’s not a crime to be prepared for any situation!”

“Yeah it is! It’s a worse one that’s called premeditation,” Richie points out.

“I’ll premeditate kickin’ your ass,” Eddie grumbles. He slips his arm around Richie’s back and hooks on to one of his belt loops as they head out of the park.

Richie gets him around the shoulders, too. “Just wait til we tell the kids who we met!”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “The dogs, you mean? I’m only clarifying because apparently I fell through a fucking wormhole just now and I can’t be sure what year it is.”


-


When they get back into Bill’s, both Frankie and Moose meet them at the kitchen door, eager to resume their playdate. Though Moose is still in the midst of training, he remembers that he shouldn’t jump when Frankie sits politely.

“Aww, good boy, Moose.”

“Missed you too, Frankie,” says Richie. “We should do Dog’s Day next time it comes around,” he says, more to the dog than to Eddie. “Let you see what all the fuckin’ fuss is about.”

“So both of you can gang up on me and steal my churro? No thank you,” says Eddie, but he drops to give his best girl a good scratch behind the ears. She would never. While he’s bent over something small and white on the floor catches his eye. Polyfil from a stuffed something or other. “Uh oh. Someone’s got a dead toy.”

“Give peace a chance, dudes,” Richie sighs.

At their house this is probably a biweekly occurrence, not a big deal, but since they’re not super familiar with the stuff Bill has, Eddie should check that there isn’t a chokable squeaker box somewhere. He picks the bit of fluff off the floor and follows the now evident trail of destruction down the hall into Bill’s den. First it’s just the stuffing, but when he makes it to the door, he finds the first scrap of fabric. He recognizes the blue color immediately and winces as he checks the box of old stuff they’d been looking through earlier. Woody Woodpecker is gone.

“Frankenstein Tozier-Kaspbrak!” Not that Eddie thinks she’s the culprit- she was pretty good about not making toys out of things that weren’t given to her as such- but it happened on her fucking watch!

Eddie starts scouring the room for the rest of the doll, checking under Bill’s desk, between the furniture, then behind the couch. He’s kneeling on it to look down the back when Richie finally follows him in.

“Oooh, someone just got full-named and it wasn’t me,” he says, rubbing his hands together. Frankie only gets called by her real name when Eddie feels she’s being particularly monstrous, which Richie objects to on the grounds of it being a poor use of literary allusion (Did you read the book or were you too busy staring at the back of my head in class?) but he does love not being the one in trouble with Eddie.

“Those little bastards got Woody! I think I see him...” Eddie struggles to get an arm down between the wall and the couch to pull it out.

Richie cranes over him, then kneels up onto the couch behind him and wraps his arms around Eddie’s waist. “Here, I’ll lower you in like kissing the Blarney.”

“Any excuse to cop a feel, huh?”

Eddie keeps reaching despite Richie’s ‘help’ and pulls out the doll’s mangled little body, which is mostly a head at this point. D.O.A.

“Yikes,” says Richie.

“Ugh, fuck. I feel like fucking shit.”

If they’d accidentally let Moose shred a towel, they’d just make an apologetic Target run, but a vintage doll that belonged to Bill’s dead brother? Almost nothing makes him feel so sick as letting Big Bill down, not even disappointing Richie. Richie could forgive him anything, but Bill held on to shit forever- even if he was under a weird memory curse. For a moment, Eddie thinks he’s gonna puke. Goddammit, he had turned down ice cream in addition to Dole Whip specifically to avoid having a stomachache tonight! He lets Richie hug him for a moment.

“It’s my fault,” Richie says quickly with a squeeze. “I dragged it in here! I should have kept it on the counter or past the gates somewhere. I’ll turn myself in, Eds, just promise me you’ll wait for me-“

“I’m the one who fucking left it in the top of an open box!” It’s sweet of Richie to try and take the blame and to always, always know when Eddie needs a little bolstering, but this was his rookie mistake. He plops down on the couch, clutching the dead doll. “Fuck. Can we replace this? No, right? Like, not if we tell Bill we did. We’d have to just do it and hope it was close enough he didn’t notice...”

Richie adjusts to sit next to him, warily eyeing the bits of Woody that dangle from Eddie’s hands. “You’re suggesting... we buy a ringer on eBay?”

“We have a few days!” Eddie panics. “It’s the least we can do, right?! Maybe he never has to know. Not if we get the same one. We clean it all up-“ Eddie glances back over the edge of the couch. “There’s still bits back there. Get up, get up!” Eddie launches out of his seat and scrambles to the far end of the couch. “Help me move the couch without scratching the fucking hardwood, c’mon.”

Richie grabs the hem of his tee shirt, yanks it over his head and tosses it out the door of the room, summoning a curious Frankie. Is someone trying to play fetch with me, or-?

Eddie stops. “Whatthefuckareyoudoing.”

“Thought I’d take off my shirt first so you can see the gun show?” says Richie, getting up and getting both hands under the other end of the couch. “Is ver heavy,” he Schwarzeneggers. “I will do mos of the lifting for you leetle man, becos you are freaking out.”

“Fuck you! Telling me I’m freaking out makes me freak out,” Eddie practically vibrates.

Richie flashes him his sharkiest grin. “This is why I say this to leetle man. His freak out is ver cute.”

“Remind me not to program you to come back in time to annoy me, thirty-five years from now,” Eddie grumbles. He's too upset to appreciate the way Richie’s shoulders move as they lift the couch up and away from the wall by a few feet, unfortunately.

They dive behind it and scoop up a few errant balls of stuffing, tossing them into the remains of the doll. Richie shoos Frankie as she tries to sample this exciting new delicacy, snapping at disgusting dust bunnies and murdered doll stuffing alike.

“Drop it! We’ll remember this when you ask for a car for your sweet sixteen, young lady!”

Frankie just tilts her head at Richie, one ear flopping guilelessly.

“That’s bullshit, don’t give me that look.”

“I’ll get a ziplock or something before they come back for seconds,” says Eddie.

He takes what’s left of the thing with him to the kitchen and prods at it on the counter, hoping that maybe now he has all the pieces, the damage might not be so bad. But no, it’s a freaky bird headed jellyfish of torn rags. Eddie finds a gallon bag in the pantry to pack it up in, then tucks it away where no dog may disturb it’s eternal rest.

When he returns to the den, Richie has his laptop out again, the out-of-five star ratings of eBay sellers reflected on his glasses. Eddie paces in front of him, spouting off directives. Moose chases him back and forth across the room, blithely unaware of his part in Eddie’s misery.

“And it was at least fourteen inches tall,” he reminds Richie as he scrolls through eBay. He peeks around the computer screen for a moment. “And the hands were like that, not that. Wait, why does a bird have hands?!” Paces some more.

“Would you chill out, dude?” Richie pats the seat beside him, but Eddie doesn’t sit. “I should sort these by who will rush ship,” he sighs.

Luckily there's a seller in San Diego with the right sort of doll, so the shipment will stand a chance of arriving before Bill’s return. Eddie finally stops pacing when Richie clicks the order button. They sweep and vacuum, move the couch back, take the dogs out (despite Eddie’s insistence that walking a dog shirtless in LA only works if its a designer breed), and then and only then does Eddie grudgingly settle into the guest room for the promised screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not that Richie, the requester, pays any fucking attention.

He climbs into bed on all fours and paws at Eddie and pulls away the covers that he has tucked punishingly tight around himself in his continued distress. Without warning, he straight up bites the collar of Eddie’s tee shirt.

“Hey!”

“Hey yourself,” Richie growls and nips at him again. “You can’t be like this until that dumbass doll comes in the mail. I sponge up your high blood pressure, asshole.”

Eddie clamps his hands in the blankets to pull them up again like a shield. “So you’re gonna try and ruin my shirt to relax me?!”

Unable to get to his neck now, Richie straight up licks Eddie’s face. “I’m being a dumb puppy, I don’t know any better.” He pants with his tongue out, and in lieu of a tail to wag, wiggles his butt.

That softens Eddie. Not the licking, Richie did not brush yet, yuck- but the playing. A million years ago they used to tumble around and play puppies, back when they were little and made of rubberbands and didn’t mind getting pounced into the dirt. They’d bark and tug-of-war a jump rope with their teeth until they were exhausted and then puppy pile together in a nest of pillows. This was long before being too close got confusing, of course, and then the long, lonely middle bit. But now? Now, it’s clarifying. The solidity of their bodies pinning each other in place, together where they belong, the heat and the tenderness. He looks up at Richie, smiling down at him and he knows he shouldn’t worry so much. At the very least he can outsource some of chasing his own tail to Richie. When Richie nuzzles his nose to Eddie’s and tugs at the blankets again he stops fighting it.

“Well, I don’t want a naughty puppy,” Eddie warns, the last of his edge wearing away. His hands creep up Richie’s legs to his hips, where he pats him absentmindedly. “Be good.”

Richie whines in the back of his throat. “Don’t want me to tear you apart with my fangs?”

Sort of, but- “Too soon!” Eddie laughs, giving him a swat. “Have you no respect for the dead?”

“Fine, fine, I’ll play nice!” Richie smothers a chuckle against his neck. The scruff of his cheek on his skin makes Eddie tingle.

“Mmmff. Yeah.” His fingers skate up Richie’s flank until they’re off his jeans and on his bare flesh. He strokes the smooth of Richie’s skin and the slightly sunken seams of scars- some that he was there for, and some that he was not. It’s all the same now, under his hands and under his care. Richie is his to keep and caress. “Come do a trick for me, then” he asks. “Catch a kiss.”

The bed bounces as Richie does a knockoff version of Frankie’s jump and snap, making Eddie laugh again, but then he leans down for a regular ol’ people kiss. No theme park dessert could be sweeter. They kiss until Richie forgets he’s a four legged creature and stretches his length along Eddie, touching as much of him a possible with hands and lips and body. When Eddie starts to pull at his fly, he does lapse into some unexaggerated panting, however.

“Roll over,” Eddie tells him. “Roll over and I’ll give you belly rubs.”

Richie immediately crashes down beside him and whimpers until Eddie climbs on top of him. “Took you long enough. I’ve had my shirt off for hours.”

“In my defense, you were being the Terminator. I refuse to condone the robot apocalypse.” Eddie likes a sweet, silly Richie better than a stoic one, any day of the week. He slides his hands up and down Richie’s body in a V, from the delicate peaks of his collarbone to the coarse hair below his navel. Richie closes his eyes and melts into the bed like maybe the world could end, just now, and that would be all right.

The same doesn’t hold for Eddie, though. He’s been a pain in the ass today, and he knows it. And Richie’s been so good to him. About their old teacher, his wheeling and dealing about and at the park, the doll- all of it. He wants to show his appreciation. Eddie slows his hands and rakes his nails through Richie’s chest hair the way he likes.

“Who’s a good boy? It’s me!” Richie asks and answers himself, not risking Eddie’s disagreement.

Eddie can’t help but smile. He’s not wrong. “You are, sweetheart.”

Richie cracks an eye open with a grin. “‘Sweetheart’, huh? You must really be feelin’ it tonight. Usually, if you’re in a good mood I can tell because I’m ‘dude’ instead of ‘dumbass’.”

“You dick,” Eddie chuckles. “Just fucking take it.”

Richie grunts and bucks his hips a little under Eddie, sat astride him. Surprise, surprise, guess who’s already turned on? “I will take it. And by ‘it’ I mean some dick. Unless you want to,” he adds magnanimously. He continues to relish Eddie’s petting, rippling his spine to chase the touch.

“Let me work my way up to blowing you in someone else’s bed, then we can talk.” Eddie leans down and follows the path of his fingers with his tongue.

Richie moans as he takes his sweet time touring a nipple. “To be- fuck- fair, you won’t be talking.”

Well, he’s probably not wrong about that, either. Eddie had already undone his jeans, but now he starts shoving them down, all the while never taking his mouth off of Richie’s stomach. He pulls down his briefs with his chin as much as his hands, nuzzling into the fuzzy trail to his dick and mouthing wet kisses along his hard length.

“Eds,” Richie gasps as he takes him into his mouth. It takes him a few bobs of Eddie’s head before his verbal capabilities reset. “You do what you want,” he says. His fingers land lightly on Eddie’s shoulders and pinch into his t-shirt. “Whatever makes you happy, Eddie. I only want you to be happy. If you stopped right now and sent me to beat off in the bathroom and sleep on the fucking- hnnfuck yeah- couch with the dogs I’d still throw you a parade.”

Eddie pulls off and licks his lips wickedly. “Yeah?” In his effort to play along he didn’t really make Richie wait for it, did he? “Don’t tempt me. We missed the Main Street Electrical so I’m all riled up for one...”

“Okay but don’t though, I don’t mean it- I can’t help hyperbolizing, I’m a comedian,” Richie gulps. He folds his hands, begging. “Please suck my dick I’m so fucking into it, I love you so much, please please.”

“Aww, I would have done it for just two ‘pleases’,” says Eddie. “I’m not supposed to accept tips. Would you like the change back?” He keeps a hand on Richie’s dick, still stroking, but hovers over his soft belly again, breathing on it harder and hotter than he has to, on purpose.

Richie shivers. “Fuck. Just don’t give me a zerbert or I might come on your face,” he warns Eddie.

“Jesus Christ, Richie.” He snorts and lays a kiss on his stomach. “I don’t think I’ve given you a zerbert since the tenth grade. Hey wait a minute-“

“Uhhyeah don’t sweat about the details,” Richie coughs. “Rest assured, the way you do them, zerberts can be very sexy.”

Eddie squints up at Richie over the planes of his strange body- insensibly attuned to perceive even an elbowing from Eddie as pleasure. “Your wiring is so fucked up, man.”

But he did say please!

-

 

Richie claims he can’t come unless Eddie gets naked which must be a ruse because the next thing he knows, they’re sixty-nineing on a towel because Eddie is not remaking the bed and Richie can’t be trusted not to make a mess at this angle. So of course, of course, this one time he manages to give Eddie a perfectly executed heads up (hah) it’s Eddie who comes so spectacularly that Richie’s scrubbing it off his shoulder.

“Next time just fuck me in the armpit, dude, save some time.”

Richie wads up the towel and then drags his body right way around to cuddle Eddie face to face again. He lets Richie smear his mouth with a long kiss, just so long as everyone keep their tongues to their own fucking selves until some Listerine is involved, please. The moment Richie attempts to peek in some tongue he pulls back with a gag.

“Ugh, ball breath,” Eddie shys. He lets Richie kiss his chest and neck, but bites his lips in protectively.

Richie pinches his nose to force him to open his mouth. “Yeah, but your balls,” he accuses, pressing his gross kisses to Eddie’s chin until he opens up.

Eddie’s still too horned up to resist very strenuously. “That doesn’t make it better. Even if I’m better groomed,” he sniffs.

“I don’t really have a choice! I’m not flexible enough to lick my own balls doggy style-“

“-That’s not what doggy style means-”

“-Yeah thanks, as the king of getting fucked doggy style, I’m aware of the euphemism.”

Eddie laughs so hard he accidentally clunks his skull into Richie’s. “I’m sorry, sorry.” He kisses the red spot on Richie’s forehead and rights his glasses, gently. “I just didn’t realize crying every fucking time qualified you as monarch of a thing. Am I the king of watching you drive through a rotary?” That was always a harrowing event. His jaw twinges from smiling so much on top of giving some very enthusiastic head, but he keeps snickering until Richie turns red.

“Fuck off!” Richie shoves Eddie, but not hard enough to break the circle of his arms. “Not every time!” he insists. “Only if- when like, you know. You’re being really romantic about it.”

In Richie’s book Eddie’s every mid-coital utterance of the L word (even in the entirely lewd context of ‘I love fucking your ass ’) is ‘really romantic’. Over the years, Eddie has learned to be sparing so that he can get literally anything done in bed.

“Uh huh yeah right.” Eddie squeezes him tight. Last warning. “I love you,” he says. And he does mean it, he’s not just teasing.

Richie’s mouth drops slightly open like this is a surprise- like it's the first time he’s ever heard it. No matter how many times Eddie says it, it always seems to catch him offguard. Richie swallows back the lump in his throat and then scrunches his face. ”Douchebag!”

Eddie looks deeply into his glassy eyes. “So. Much.”

“That’s dirty pool,” Richie snivels on cue. He clings to Eddie like vine. “You’re so mean, I like, just came. I’m fucking weak right now.”

Eddie takes off Richie’s glasses and folds them away, then kisses his cheeks as he sniffles. “Mmm. I love making you cry, you know. Your tears are my favorite.”

“See! Shit like that is why I say you’re the real evil Frankenstein in this family!”

“Favorite after your laugh-“ Eddie tries to offer.

“Still a psycho thing to say!”

Eddie takes Richie’s wet face in both hands. “I do love you madly. Mad scientist-ly. I should make notes and diagrams for posterity and hook it up to lightning storms so it glows and scares the townspeople. I love you with fucking pitchforks and angry mobs.”

“Omigod ss-stop,” Richie sputters. He gets his arms around Eddie’s neck and launches into a defensive kissing counterattack so Eddie can’t keep talking and utterly demolish him. Too late, though. Richie hiccups into every other kiss, he’s so choked up. His little gasps rock them both, entwined as they are. “Stop loving me so much, you asshole,” he says in breathless surrender.

“Okay.” Eddie brushes Richie’s cheek dry with the back of his knuckles. “I won’t say it at all, and if Your Highness wants prove me wrong, I’ll get a protein shake, you hit the shower and let’s fucking prove it.” With that, Eddie smacks Richie’s butt and rolls out of bed.



-

 

Three days later, Eddie gets back to Bill’s after work and is greeted by a scene out of some dour BBC drama. Richie stands under a single light in the kitchen with his arms crossed, deeply contemplating the ziplock, a torn envelope, and the replacement Woody on the table as gravely as though it's a ransom note.

“Oh thank god,” says Eddie. Bill gets back in late tonight. He wades between the dogs as they show up to acknowledge his arrival so he can knock Richie a kiss on the cheek. “Missed you.”

“Mmm. I extra miss you everyday here, babe,” Richie hums, only slightly budging from his vigil.

Eddie tosses his jacket over a kitchen chair, checks his watch and then stretches his arms out and around Richie from the side. “This is the same time I get home most days, dude.”

But he knows what Richie means. He held down the fort last night while Richie worked. Hanging out in someone else’s turf alone, no matter how good of friends you are, isn’t like being alone at home, where he can see Richie’s favorite muffins in the breadbox next to his gluten-free shit, and go perv on Richie’s side of the bed when he’s out of town. When he has the real thing in his arms, though, he’s always exactly where he wants to be. He sways them a bit, breaking Richie’s trance. 

“And why are you staring at this Woody Woodpecker?” Eddie finally asks. He lets go of Richie when he moves to pick it up.

“This isn't the same doll,” he says, shaking it in Eddie’s face. “It's got the furry part like the first doll but the head isn't exactly the same, it's got hard plastic eyes and the first doll has patch eyes, look.” He holds up Exhibit A from the crime scene for comparison.

Eddie grabs both and looks back and forth between them frantically. “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck that’s super noticeable, right?”

“I’d say so, those things have a certain ballistic property. I used to get grounded for whacking my sister with the googly-eyes end of my My Monster.”

“Brat.” Eddie shoves the replacement Woody back into Richie’s hands so he can open the ziplock and inspect the first doll more closely.

Its eyes are like? Felt and paint, maybe? He doesn’t know shit about fabric if they don’t make I Think I’m Straight, Probably men’s suits out of it, and even then he couldn’t tell you what the fuck plant or animal linen came from. Richie’s more fashion-adventurous, of course, but tacky and oblivious.

“What even is this?” he asks the universe. “What am I fucking looking at? How did they get it on there?”

Richie shrugs. “It was made in the 80’s so I’m gonna assume asbestos.”

The multicolored stuffing that leaks out of hole in the neck of the doll does seem kind of dubious compared to the pure white that Frankie’s dead toys usually hemorrhage. He pulls off some of the hanging threads and bits, like cleaning  gravel out of roadrash. The head looks a lot better off without the dead weight. It gives him an idea. “Could we... harvest the body of the second doll and put it onto the head of the first?”

Richie looks at him, aghast. He hugs the intact but wrong-eyed Woody to his chest protectively. “What you’re suggesting is cannibalism!”

“No, we’re not fucking making them eat each other, it’s a transplant!”

“He doesn’t have a fucking organ donor card in his wallet!”

“Who’s side are you on?!” Eddie cries and throws his hands in the air, which a waiting Moose interprets as the start of a game of fetch. He dashes off down the hall to catch the Woody head, then turns around baffled when it hasn’t actually been thrown. “We don’t have time to debate the ethics of gutting a fucking Woody the Woodpecker doll, because there are none, Richie! And Bill gets back tonight. We need to like, fucking stabilize this patient!”

Richie holds out the doll in front of him, passing the buck. “Well don’t look at me, I don't have the dexterity for that. I can barely clip my toenails without drawing blood! You’re the one who travels with a sewing kit.”

“To fix fucking shirt buttons! That’s all I can do. Home Ec was like a century ago and those sexist motherfuckers didn’t care if guys flunked! As if only girls can sew and cook- I’m a fucking great cook, no thanks to Home Ec!”

“But,” says Richie, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “-Our girl can sew.”

“Shit, Beverly! You’re right.” 

Richie drops the doll on the table again and gets out his phone, tapping away and cranking up the volume as FaceTime rings.

“Hey, man!”

Eddie squeezes next to Richie so they can both get on camera. “Bev! 911!”

“Jesus, Eddie- pump the brakes! Have some fucking phone etiquette.” Richie pulls it away and starts over, while Bev’s tiny face smirks up at them from the screen. “Hey lil’ mama what’s shakin’?”

“Just getting started on dinner. The usual.” Her face turns away. “Hey Ben, come say hi!”

“No, wait! Tell Ben to fuck off,” says Richie.

“Mr. Phone Etiquette, over here.” Eddie grabs the phone to center it again. “But he’s right, we can’t have any more witnesses to this than the three of us.”

“Three of us is already too much, Eddie’ll crack under pressure.”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“Just go into the bathroom or something, Ben’s a total narc.”

Bev furrows her brow, and her surroundings shift suddenly as she moves from room to room. “Did something happen, or not?”

There’s been a murder,” Richie says spookily.

“-of a stuffed animal- it’s fine! But it’s not fine!” Eddie clarifies.

“Okaaay...”

“Listen, so- we’re dog sitting for Bill and we’ve all agreed not to point fingers, but someone-

“-it was me, I was hungry,” Richie interjects.

Someone who is a dog-“

“Eh, debatable.”

“-ate the body of Georgie’s Woody Woodpecker, and we got a new old one on eBay and it’s eyes are wrong and now we gotta figure out how do we put a different head on this doll?” Eddie turns over the whole phone in the direction of the doll way too quickly to be useful.

Richie taps the button that flips the video from front camera to back for Eddie with an indulgent look. “Careful, it’s graphic content.”

Eddie pans the phone over the two Woodys for Bev to see. “I think the old head could go on the new body. Like a transplant.”

“Which is not cannibalism,” Richie confirms, glancing to Eddie for approval. Eddie rolls his eyes.

On the other end Bev squints at her screen. “So, you’re... calling me to fix it? I guess you could mail it-“

Richie shakes his head. “There’s no time for that, we need you to remotely guide us through surgery, Grey’s Anatomy style.”

“They get in trouble literally every fucking time they pull that shit!” Eddie realizes. It doesn’t help that Bev laughs in agreement.

“That’s the only option we have, Eddie!”

“It’s okay Dr. K,” promises Bev. “I promise not to turn you in to the authorities. Uhm. Point the camera at it again. Show me the neck this time?”

Eddie does.

In her Professional Opinion, which Eddie takes very seriously, Bev advises that the easier course of action will be to break off and replace the new doll’s eyes with the old, rather than decapitate the thing and try to pull off a complete swap. She has several reasons for this that make very little sense to him, but who is he to argue with someone who’s sewn Heidi Klum into a dress? He breaks out the emergency repair kit from his toiletry bag, watches the youtube on whip stitching Bev sends him about four times, and does as she says. Slowly. So it’s as nice as he can make it. He even banishes Richie for an hour to go walk the dogs so he can get some quiet in which to concentrate.

When Richie gets back in, he turns the dogs loose and then tip toes up behind Eddie to see how things are going at the kitchen/operating table.

“Almost done,” he reports.

“Oh! That’s actually- huh. I can’t even tell.” Richie leans over Eddie, hunched over his work and hooks his chin over his shoulder. “See, Eddie? You’re such a good little housewife, after all. I think you pulled it off,” he says, knocking on the wood of the table.

“Did you do the laundry yet, by the way?” Eddie asks, speaking of housekeeping. They, ahem, used enough of Bill’s linens that they really should run their own load before they turn the keys back over.

“... Almost,” Richie sighs. “I forgot to switch it to the dryer. BRB,” he kisses Eddie’s head. “Then should we maybe order out and have a funeral for the old Woody or something?”

“Either that or dump it in the tar pits.”



-


“That was kinda fun, you wanna play doctor tonight when we get home?” Richie asks as they lounge in the den after dinner, waiting for Bill. He has his head pillowed in Eddie’s lap and drums his thigh to the Stargate theme while Eddie combs his fingers through his hair.

“We probably won’t get in until midnight. I’m in private practice, that’s way outside my hours.”

“Yeah,” Richie chuckles. “Don’t burn yourself out. I’d hate for you to leave a clamp in someone and have your malpractice insurance go up.”

“Talk to reception, they’ll set up an appointment for you.”

Nice.” Richie rolls on to his back so he can look up at Eddie rather than the TV. “Hey Eddie, if I ever fall through a trapdoor when I’m on stage and die-“

Eddie jolts. “Is that a thing that happens?!” He needs to look at Richie’s rider right now, immediately, and make some adjustments.

“They lock ‘em, it’s fine-“ Richie says a little too quickly to ease his mind. “But yeah, 100% go ahead and give my lungs and junk to a kid with cancer or whatever-“

Oh, that’s where this is going.

“Same,” Eddie agrees.

“-But do not donate my eyes,” he says, batting them at Eddie. “From here on out, I don’t want these eyes to ever see another dick besides yours.”

“First of all,” starts Eddie, “-that seems extreme. I mean, porn, duh, but even in person I can think of extenuating circumstances while camping, medical emergencies, hell, just the bathroom of any fucking place where dudes are drunk...” Not that Eddie is constantly scoping some stranger wang, or anything, he just knows that men are generally fucking animals and will whip it out with the flimsiest of pretexts. He is married to one such animal, after all.

Richie raises an eyebrow. “Right. I just mean- your dick should be the last one ever.”

He’s a tamed animal, at least. Eddie covers one of the hands folded over Richie’s chest with his own. “Okay. Noted.”

“I was trying to be cute.”

“You were being gross.”

That’s my brand of cute.”

“I know,” Eddie says adoringly. “And secondly, who the actual fuck would want your blind ass eyes?!”

Richie sneers at him. “Fuck you! Just for that if you die first, I’m taking yours.” 

“To use?”

“To keep in a jar,” Richie giggles. “So I can still gaze into them longingly.”

Eddie can’t honestly reciprocate that hypothetical, but he can yank off Richie’s glasses and tug him up into his arms and kiss his dumb face all over.

A few episodes of Stargate later, they’ve dozed off, heaped on the couch with Frankie and Moose. When Bill’s Uber drops him off, the door opening in the kitchen wakes the dogs, and they claw and scatter their way down to race in and say hello.

Eddie feels around on the end table behind the arm of the couch for Richie’s glasses. “Richie.”

“Hmm?”

“Get off me.”

Richie clenches his eyes and frowns as Eddie shoves his glasses back on for him.

They turn off the TV and amble towards the kitchen, and Eddie is so relaxed from their nap that he fleetingly thinks that maybe he’ll come clean to Bill, after all.

He smiles and waves despite the luggage in his hands and under his eyes. “Hey! Long time no see!” he calls, ignoring Moose’s meltdown so he can drop his bag on the other side of the gate.

“Hi Bill!”

“Moose, sit!” calls Richie. And he does.

Bill freezes, too. “Woah. That’s pretty handy, Thanks Rich.”

Richie brushes off his shoulder. “Don’t mention it. Seemed more practical than trying to learn one of Frankie’s specials.”

“Have you been good for Richie and Eddie, boy?” Bill kneels to congratulate Moose on his new command. “How was he?”

Eddie glances at Richie and leans casually against the counter where once again, they’ve stowed the two boxes of memorabilia and the imposter Woody, out of dog’s reach. Richie gives him an It’s Up To You look.

“He’s been an angel,” says Eddie.

The Old Testament kind that smite, specifically.

“Aww, then I’m sorry I didn’t bring anything back for you, Moose.” Bill stands back up and thinks for a minute, hands planted on his hips. “Oh, I know what. I had Mom and Dad toss in whatever crappy old stuffed animals of mine were still kicking around for you.”

Eddie steps out of Bill’s way as he goes to grab Woody from the top of the box, his blood boiling. He tries to make eye contact with Richie like, Are you fucking kidding me right now?! but he’s too occupied, eyes darting around the room, probably looking for a fire extinguisher to put Eddie out.

“Go long, Moose!”

Even Frankie looks on in horror as Woody Woodpecker sails through the air, down the hall to the den.

“Okay, well!” says Richie, clapping his hands. “Already put our stuff in the car, and we don’t wanna keep you!”

“Thanks so much!” Bill grabs Eddie, who’s closer and pulls him into a hug. “I really appreciate it.”

“Yeah. I’d never let you down, man,” Eddie forces through gritted teeth.

“We’ll catch up later!” Richie grabs Frankie’s leash off the kitchen table and takes hold of Eddie’s shoulders to drive him towards the door. “Gotta get this one home before he turns into a pumpkin.”

“Goodnight guys! G’bye Frankie!”

As soon as they’re in the car, Richie queues up what Eddie recognizes is his most soothing playlist over the radio.

“Anyway, Ms. Ballot returned my email,” he mentions innocently. “She’s big into pottery now that she’s retired, she said.... two days ago.”

“Oh! Really?” That distracts Eddie for a half a second. But ‘two days’, huh? “You saved that in case I freaked out again didn’t you?”

“Yep. Got super close when the eyes didn’t match, but I believed in you! Anyway, look her shit up on Etsy, it’s-“

Eddie sinks back into his seat as they pull out of Bill’s driveway and head out onto the road. He catches himself smiling easily in the visor mirror. “It’s okay, Rich. You did it, I’m good. Just take me home so I can puppy pile on you in my own damn bed.”

“Aww. You’re not gonna say you love me again are you?” Richie asks. “Not while I’m night driving, please. I wanna put a few more years on these organs before I beef it.”

Eddie just cranks up the music. This playlist is all love songs, anyway.