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the years go by like days

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He can hear rain pelting the windows. He rubs his eyes. He must have dozed off. He shifts to sit up properly, touching a hand to the crick in his neck, and frowning at the dusty brown flakes of dried blood that float slowly off his shirt at the movement. He remembers.

He looks at his husband, and swallows at the wave of grief that rises up in his chest.

“Hey, sweetheart," he says.

It’s hard to see his husband like this: his head is shaved from surgery, his skin has a pale, deathly pallor, and his face is distorted, swollen with bruises, and held together with wires, because his jaw was unhinged, and they had to wire it back into place.

They did a tracheostomy to intubate him, because they can’t exactly put a tube through his mouth when his jaw is locked in place.

He takes his husband's hand, and looks at the monitor by the bed, reading his vitals.

The door to the small room opens, and a doctor comes bustling in, rubbing hand sanitizer into his hands. “I assume you’re the family?” He spares a glance at him, and picks up the chart at the end of the bed, scanning it.

“I’m.” Eddie clears his throat. “I’m Richie's husband. Eddie Kaspbrak. Nothing’s changed.”

“It looks like your husband’s vitals are holding right where they were this morning, which is what we want to see."

“I know,” Eddie says. “I’m a nurse.”

“Oh?” He looks at Eddie.

“I know why you put him in the coma, and I know it was a really big risk to take. I know that after you take him off sedation, he might not wake up. And I know if he does wake up, it’s more than likely he’ll have brain damage.”

“Your husband was brought in with a traumatic brain injury, Mr. Kaspbrak. To save his life, we induced a coma. I know this is scary, but I assure you we are doing everything we can for him.”

“How long will he be in the coma?” Stan asks.

Eddie’s gaze whips to where he stands in the doorway. He didn’t realize Stan was there. It looks like he’s cleaned up, showered and shaved and put on a clean blue sweater.

“That’s hard to say at this point, but I’m hopeful that it won’t be for very much longer. It looks like the swelling in his brain has gone down, which is encouraging, and his vitals are steady. I understand he had a pretty tough night last night, however, and we want to give his body the time it needs to recover. I’ll check in again in the morning. If he’s still doing well, we can take him off sedation as soon as 24 hours from now.”

“He coded,” Eddie says.

“Excuse me?”

“He didn’t have a pretty tough night. He coded.”

“Yes,” says the doctor.

“Once you take him off sedation, how long will it take him to wake up?” Stan asks.

“Could be hours,” Eddie says. Before the doctor can say that’s unlikely, he goes on. He knows it’s unlikely. He knows that everything’s gone off the rails. “Could be days. Could be weeks. Could be never.”

“I’m going to be with you every step of the way,” says the doctor.

“Funny,” Eddie says. “This is the very first time I’m meeting you, and I’ve been here two days.”

“Mr. Tozier isn’t the only patient in this hospital. I’m sorry if you feel your husband’s been neglected, and, I promise, everyone is doing the best they can for him. I know you’ve been working with Dr. Riesen up until now, but I’m going to be joining the team, and I assure you I will do everything in my power to save his life.”

“Great,” Eddie says. He knows the doctor has to talk that way, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

It’s a relief when the guy leaves.

Stan comes quietly into the room. “I can stay with him,” he offers. “You can take a shower. Sleep in a bed. Or get a cup of coffee.” He is talking to Eddie, but he is looking at Richie.

“I’m fine,” Eddie says. “I want to be here if . . .” He swallows.

“What do you think is going to happen?” Stan asks. “You’re a nurse. If he were your patient, what would you tell me to expect?”

He sighs. “I’d probably give you the bullshit the doctor just gave me.”

“The doctor made it seem like he’s going to make it.”

“He might,” Eddie says. “If his body doesn’t give out under the stress, he might. But we have no idea what to expect if he wakes up. He might not be able to speak. I don’t just mean his jaw. I mean he might have brain damage, Stan. He might not know who we are, or who he is.” He shakes his head. “His head hit the ground, and who knows what damage it sustained. And it might have saved his life to put him in a coma, but comas aren’t good for your brain.”

“Eddie.”

He pushes to his feet. He can’t be in this room right now.

He sees it again: Richie’s body falling like a puppet with its strings cut, and hitting the ground, and his gut clenches with terror at the memory, at the thought.

He steps out of the room.

Stan follows him. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“It isn’t. I shouldn’t have asked that of you. He isn’t your patient; he’s your husband.”

Nurses hurry down the hallway of the ICU, talking too fast.

They don’t bat an eye at Eddie, and he knows they have bigger fish to fry. He isn’t the only one whose life is going to hell. Bev says it’s the storm, that Derry is flooding, and trees are falling, cars are crashing, roofs are caving.

If the storm doesn’t subside, it’s going to destroy the town.

He breathes in deeply, and breathes out slowly, trying to calm the anxiety that claws at his chest.

“What can I do for you?” Stan asks.

“Nothing.” He shakes his head. No. He needs to eat. “Actually, I’m sorry. Can you get me something to eat? I’ll feel better if I eat.”

“Okay. I’ll go to the cafeteria.”

“Thanks.”

Stan heads down the hallway. Eddie watches him, and thinks Stan, I missed you, and it makes him want to cry. It isn’t right that he just got Stan back, and now he’s going to lose Richie.

He goes back into Richie’s room.

Richie’s arm is broken from the fall, too. It was shattered in three different places, and dislocated. Now it’s in a nice, clean cast, and it’s the least of Eddie’s worries.

He takes Richie’s hand. “Hey,” he says. “I’m here. I’m right here with you.”

His phone buzzes softly in his pocket. He ought to answer it. If it isn’t Bev, it’s Ben or Bill or Mike, or it could be Maggie, too, asking after Richie, or telling him about something Francie’s done or said or wants. He can’t deal with any of them right now.

---

Stan gets turkey bacon wraps for them. They eat them quietly in the room with Richie on the bed in between them. Stan’s phone beeps at him, but he ignores it.

“I didn’t forget about him again,” Stan says. “Richie.”

“What?”

“After we met up in Atlanta, I didn’t forget about him again. I couldn’t. He made a picture of us the background on my phone, and I saw it constantly, and it made him stick in my mind.” He takes a sip of his water. “I saw it after Mike called me. That’s why I came back. I remembered It as soon as I talked to Mike, and I was terrified, and I thought I couldn’t go back, I couldn’t, and I saw Richie’s big, Trashmouth grin, and I thought I have to.

“I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t come back,” Eddie says.

“You would have been fine. It’s not like I did much. It’s not like I could save my best friend.”

It’s quiet.

(His heart fucking stopped when he heard the shout. He believed it was real. He heard Francie scream, and he was paralyzed, believing that she was really in the sewers, and It had her.

“It’s playing with your fears,” Stan said. “She isn’t here. She’s in Florida. She’s safe, Eddie. She’s safe.”

They were separated from the rest of the group at the time.

It was smart.

It knew they couldn’t fight back alone the way they could when they were a group.

“That isn’t her,” Stan said.

He made himself believe Stan. She was safe. But that was when Eddie heard exactly what she was screaming, how she was begging for help, and it wasn’t Eddie’s help she begged for. She was crying for Poppy. It wasn’t playing with Eddie’s fears.

They sprinted.

They weren’t fast enough, though.

The first thing Eddie saw was his own dead, mangled body: his face was a bloody, bloated mess with gouged, empty sockets where his eyes should have been, and his neck at a sharp right angle.

But when Eddie looked past his body, he saw It crouched over something. Someone.

“No,” Stan said, strangled.

It was straddling Richie’s chest, and It had a hand in Richie’s mouth, was clutching his jaw, and It looked up, made eye contact with Eddie, and, with the squeeze of a fist, It broke Richie’s jaw, unhinged it, made him scream in pain.

Eddie knows the moment will play on a reel in every nightmare he has for the rest of his life.)

“If you hadn’t come back, I might have died, too,” Eddie says. “You saved me.”

Stan is quiet.

Stan's phone beeps with another text, and he wipes his mouth on his napkin, getting up, and throwing his trash in the bin by the door. He takes Eddie’s trash, too. He returns to his seat, checking his phone, and putting it back in his pocket, and they sit there in silence.

---

It’s late when Bev shows up with Ben in tow. “Hey.” She’s wearing a flannel of Richie’s for a jacket, and she goes to stand at his bedside, looking at him. “How’s he doing?” She fixes the fold of his blanket.

“Fine,” Eddie says.

She glances at him, and nods, bending to kiss the top of Richie’s head.

“How’s it outside?” Stan asks.

“Bad.”

He sighs. “I was thinking I’d go back to the hotel for the night. I need to sleep. I need to give Patty a call, too.” He rubs his eyes.

“Go,” Bev says. “I’ll stay.”

Eddie can feel her looking at him. “You don’t have to,” he murmurs.

“I do.” She comes to where he’s seated, kneeling in front of him. “You should go back to the hotel, too. Take a shower. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you’ll feel better when you clean up.”

“I’ll feel better when he wakes up.”

She touches his hand. “Eddie.” Her skin looks especially pale next to his grimy, unwashed hand. “You’ll be no good to Richie when he wakes up if you haven’t taken care of yourself.” She gazes at him so intently it’s hard not to look up, not to meet her gaze.

He hates the way she’s talking to him with that soft, placating voice.

“What would Richie want you to do?” she asks.

“He’d stay if it were me.”

“He wouldn’t. He’d try. But I’d manhandle him out of here. You’re stronger than I am, though, which is why I have to cajole you verbally.” She catches his gaze at last. “Please, honey.”

He purses his lips. “Fine.”

She smiles.

He gets to his feet. “Call me the moment anything changes. It shouldn’t. But if it does, I need to be here.” He takes the jacket that Ben hands him, slipping it on.

“I will,” Bev says. “I promise.”

He turns to Richie, and leans in. “I need to clean up,” he murmurs. “I’ll be back soon. I love you. I love you so much.” He kisses Richie’s temple, and closes his eyes, breathing in.

He leaves with Stan in front of him, leading the way, and Ben trailing quietly behind him.

The rain is pounding the pavement in front of the hospital, falling in sheets, and making it impossible to see very far, to hear anything other than rain. The world even smells of rain. Stan says he’ll get his rental, and bring it around for them, and he dashes into the torrent, leaving them waiting in the drop off zone.

It surprises Eddie when Ben lights up a cigarette. “Sorry,” Ben says, noticing.

“It’s fine.”

“I quit years ago. Mostly. But I can’t help it when I’m stressed.” He blows the smoke out of his nose. “Forget the nicotine. It just gives me something to do.”

Eddie holds out his hand before he can think better of it.

If Ben is surprised, he doesn’t show it. He gives Eddie a cigarette and lights it for him, cupping his hand over the little flame until it catches.

Eddie coughs when he tries to inhale. “I don’t smoke much,” he says. The smell clogs his nostrils, though, and that’s what he wants. “That was Richie’s thing. There was a time in college when he was smoking a pack a day. I got him off it slowly.” He takes another drag, and he does it right this time. “And I know it’s disgusting, but I kind of like the smell. It makes me think of Richie. It makes me think of fucking in tiny dorm beds and his awful nicotine breath and having no idea what the fuck we were doing with our lives.” He rubs at his temple.

“You’re lucky,” Ben says.

He knows what Ben means. He’s lucky that he didn’t lose Richie for years like the rest of them, that he wasn’t all alone like Mike was, like Ben was. He knows he’s lucky, because he can’t imagine life without Richie.

That’s the problem, though.

“Do you think we’ll forget again?” he asks.

“I hope we don’t,” Ben says. “We shouldn’t. It’s really gone this time.”

“Right,” Eddie says. “We might, though. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that fact. How do I . . .?” He swallows. “I can’t leave if there’s a chance I’ll forget. But how can I stay?”

“It scares me, too. I’ve spend my life missing people I didn’t know I missed.”

“Yeah.”

Ben is looking at him. “Eddie,” he starts.

“I love you, Ben, but I can stand to lose you.” He meets Ben’s gaze. “I’ve lost you before, and I survived. If I forget you, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Mike, Stan, Bill. It’s the same. I’ve missed you guys, but I’ve been just fine without you. I know that it’s a fucked up thing to say, but it’s true.”

“I get it.”

“I won’t be just fine without Richie. I won’t. And there’s a chance I’m going to lose him twice. He’ll die, and I won’t just have to live without him. I’ll forget him. I can’t leave when there’s a chance that’ll happen. I can’t forget him. But I can’t stay in this shithole. How can I—what, do I bring Francie here? No. I can’t.”

Ben touches his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Eddie says, aware of the tremor in his chin. “I’m sorry, I—”

Ben hugs him.

Ben is a big, burly bear of a man these days, and he nearly lifts Eddie off the ground with the embrace. It’s strange. The only people who’ve ever hugged Eddie so completely like this are Richie, of course, and Bev, and neither of them is built anything like Ben.

He wraps his arms hesitantly around Ben, and shudders. He isn’t going to cry. He needs to keep his anxiety in check.

If he lets himself feel too much, he’ll panic.

Lights flash over them, and the black, rented Camry that pulls up is familiar.

Eddie pulls away from Ben.

Stan is blasting the heat in the car. “I can’t see anything in this rain,” he warns. He drives cautiously, inching them through the storm.

It’s nearly an hour before they actually make it back to the hotel.

He dismisses Ben’s offer to keep him company in his room, saying he needs to shower, and he’ll text Ben when he’s ready to return to the hospital. Before Ben can protest, he shuts the door in his face. He is alone at last, standing in an empty, dark room where the roar of the AC is trying to overpower the sound of the storm.

In the bathroom, he knows why Bev insisted he leave the hospital for a while.

He looks worse than he thought.

His eyes are bloodshot, and his hair is a damp flattened mess. He’s got dark bags under his eyes, a shadow of stubble on his face, and grit on every fucking inch of him. There’s the fact, too, that his clothes have become stiff, grimy rags of sweat and dirt and blood.

He strips, and takes a shower, turning the water as hot as he’s able to stand, and scrubbing at his skin furiously, watching the grime swirl steadily down the drain at his feet.

He scrapes his nails through the soap to clean the crud that was caught in them.

He uses Richie’s shampoo.

He presses his palms to the tiles of the wall, and ends up resting his forehead on the tiles, too, clenching his jaw, and sobbing.

(They overslept the morning they went into the sewer, and had to share a shower.

In the small, cramped space, Richie kneed Eddie in the crotch by accident, and Eddie had to lean his forehead on the tiles, because yes, it hurts, you giant, bony piece of shit, and Richie was trying to get on his knees to kiss it better when they heard Bev shout for them to hurry up.)

Eddie’s chest balloons with panic.

He can’t go back to New York without Richie. He can’t. He can’t lose Richie, can’t live without Richie, can’t, can’t, can’t.

He gasps.

He presses his fingertips into the tiles until they hurt, and tries to focus on the pain. He forces the tension from his back, lowering his shoulders, and trying to relax. He counts three sharp, quick breaths in, holds it, and breathes out slowly.

He finishes his shower, and towels off.

His phone buzzes loudly from the pocket of his pants on the floor.

It’s a series of texts from Tony.

Please tell me this is bullshit. Richie won’t answer his phone. I’m losing my mind over here.

He’s sent a bunch of links.

Eddie clicks on the first to discover it’s to a recent news article. Apparently, SNL’s Rich Tozier is currently in the ICU after sustaining severe injuries in the collapse of a house in Derry, Maine, during a storm that continues to rage. He clicks out of the story with a clench of his jaw.

He needs to return to the hospital.

He checks for injuries he didn’t notice earlier, but doesn’t see anything. He combs his hair and shaves and uses Richie’s weird spray deodorant. He dresses in khakis, a polo, and one of Richie’s old, soft sweaters that’s baggy on him, that he wishes could swallow him entirely.

He throws his clothes from the sewers in the trash, and he text Ben that he’s ready to go.

But as soon as he does, the phone starts buzzing in his hand with a call.

He picks up. “Hi, Maggie.”

“Sweetheart! I’m glad I got you.”

He sits on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry, I’ve been—out of it. I don’t have an update for you. His vitals are steady, which is good. The swelling in his brain’s gone down. I think they’ll take him off the meds that are sedating him soon. I’ll keep you posted.” He swallows.

“Okay.” Her voice is gentle. “Do you need me to come up there?”

“No. I’ll—I’ll keep you updated.”

“Francie wants to talk to you. Is that okay? I haven’t told her anything yet. I can if you want. I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to say, though.”

He squeezes his eyes shut. “No, don’t. Let’s—let’s not tell her anything until we’ve got something more to tell her. Um. You can put her on.” He looks up at the knock on the door, and goes to answer it, preparing to lie to his daughter.

“Daddy!”

“Hey, Princess.” He lets Ben into the room. “How are you?”

“Guess who I met?”

“Who?”

Guess!”

“Cinderella.”

“No!” She giggles. “It was Elsa! I met Elsa! She gave me a hug and took a picture with me and she liked my tiara!”

“Tiara?”

“Grandpa bought it for me! It’s got diamonds and it’s pink and it lights up and I wore it all day long and it was the best day ever! When I grow up, I’m going to live at Disney World!”

“It sounds like you had a fun day,” he says.

“Grandpa let me have a brownie with ice cream for dinner!”

“Lucky duck.”

“I told Grandpa to save some ice cream for you.”

“Me?”

“You’re going to come get me soon.” She says it like a fact, but there’s a small, sad question in her voice. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too. But I’ll be there to pick you up soon.”

“Tomorrow?”

“No, ah.” He clears his throat. “Not tomorrow. Soon. I promise.”

“Okay.” She doesn’t sound reassured.

“You just keep having fun with Grandma and Grandpa. See if you can meet Pumbaa and Timon. They’re Poppy’s favorites, you know. And I’ll be there soon. I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

“Can I talk to Poppy?” she asks. “I want to tell him about Elsa.”

“He’s in the shower. Listen, France. I gotta go. I’m going to give you some kisses over the phone. Extra, too. From Poppy. And I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? Mwah, mwah, mwah. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

He hangs up before he can feel any worse about lying to her.

“She’s with Richie’s parents?” Ben asks.

He nods. “Let’s go.” He doesn’t want to talk about Francie, about how little she is, and she’ll forget about Richie if she loses him now, will have only stories of him, pictures and videos and memories she thinks are her own but are mostly just given to her.

They take Stan’s car back to the hospital, though Stan stays at the hotel for the night.

Bev is reading a magazine to Richie when they get there. “You look a little better,” she says.

“Do I?”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Sorry,” he says. He shouldn’t be nasty to her.

He reads Richie’s vitals on the machines that stand by his bed. Nothing’s changed. He touches Richie’s shoulder, and leans in, kissing his forehead, and murmuring that he’s back.

---

(The hours Eddie spent in the ER with Ben after Richie was wheeled off were the worst of his life.

He was covered in sweat and sewage and blood, rocking in the chair, and fisting his trousers in his clammy, trembling hands, trying to keep from crying, and failing. He saw a doctor, and he heard the words in his head. We did everything we could. I’m sorry, Mr. Kaspbrak. His injuries were too severe. He imagined he heard the sound of a flatline. He replayed what happened in the sewers, and he clenched his jaw to keep his face from crumbling with a sob.

It got to the point that a nurse had to squat in front of Eddie.

He shook his head at her to indicate that it was fine, that it was under control. She put her hands on his knees, though, and told him to copy her breathing. It took her a couple of minutes, but she brought him back from the brink.

He was full of energy, and he was exhausted. He was terrified. He was ready to put up a fight, and save Richie’s life, but there was nothing for him to fight.

“They killed It,” Ben said, and he had his phone in hand, was looking at a text from Bev.

They killed It.

They won, but Richie wasn’t going to live to know it.

How would Eddie tell Francie? Oh, God. How did he tell their daughter that her pops was gone?

“Eddie?”

“I don’t really care,” he said.

Ben was quiet.

He was a silent, steady presence by Eddie’s side for hours, in fact. It was what Eddie needed from him. He couldn’t have handled Ben trying to talk, giving him useless, false assurances that it would be okay, or trying to distract him with conversation.

Eddie didn’t know how long it had been when Bev, Mike, and Stan arrived.

He let Ben talk to them.

He was staring at the floor, trying to stave off the thought of never being held by Richie ever again, and didn’t immediately notice the doctor.

“You’re here with Rich Tozier?”

His gaze snapped up. “Is he dead?” He ignored the blur of tears in his eyes.

“No,” said the doctor. “He isn’t. And I’m going to do everything I can to keep it that way.”)

---

He accepts the cafeteria yogurt parfait that Mike brings him for breakfast in the morning.

Slowly, his friends fill the room.

It’s the first time that all of them have been together since they went into the sewers.

Bev was there all night, lying on the small, frumpy coach with her head in Ben’s lap. Mike arrives early with breakfast. Stan comes back soon after that, and he sits on the chair by the door, quiet, and looking at his phone a lot.

Bill is the last to show up, although Eddie hadn’t thought he’d bother.

“How are you?” Mike asks.

“Exhausted,” Bill says, rubbing at the back of his head.

“Audra?"

He shakes his head. “I don’t know what to do to bring her back. I . . ."

“You could kiss Bev again,” Eddie says. “I don’t know that it’ll help your wife, but you’ve never thought things through before, so I don’t see why you should start now.”

“Eddie,” Bev says.

“It’s okay,” Bill says. “I—I deserve that. I’m sorry, Eddie.”

“It wasn’t Bill’s fault that he was separated from Richie,” Mike says. “None of us were prepared when we went down there for what It would do, for how It would manipulate us.”

“What about when Bill said we should just leave Richie there to die? That was It, too?”

Mike’s eyes widen.

“I wasn’t—” Bill sighs, and scrubs a hand over his face. “I didn’t know what I was saying.” He looks at Eddie, and the apology is written on his face, is a plea. “I was so focused on Audra, and how it was my fault that she was here, that she was in danger, and I—I wasn’t thinking. I love Richie. You know I love Richie. I just wasn’t thinking.”

“You were, though. You were thinking that Richie might not be dead yet, but he would be soon.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, sour. “Me, too.”

It’s quiet.

There’s a part of Eddie that knows he’s being a bully.

If Richie were awake, he’d crack a joke, or he’d rub Eddie’s back, or he’d find an excuse to usher Eddie from the room, and he’d talk Eddie down. You know I love when you’re a brat, he’d say, but you’re scaring the children. He’d tease Eddie until Eddie’s anger deflated, and he relaxed.

Richie isn’t awake, though.

That’s the problem.

How can Eddie forgive Bill for wanting to give up on him, to abandon him?

(He ran at It. He was going to kill It with his bare fucking hands.

It laughed, and leapt up with Richie in tow, hopping to ledge of a tunnel like a fucking kangaroo clown.

But the laughter cut of abruptly when Bev and Bill and Ben came stumbling into the chamber of the sewer. Mike hadn’t made his way back to the rest of them, but he would. And It knew what that meant, knew that It was no match for the seven of them when they were together.

“Do you think he’ll float?” It said, and It dropped Richie from the ledge.

His body hit the ground with a thud.

In a blink, It was gone, and Eddie was falling to his knees by Richie, sobbing, and touching his chest, his face, his neck.

There was a pulse.

But when he cried that they needed to get him to a hospital, Bill said they couldn’t.)

“What happens now?” Ben asks.

“Now?” Stan says.

He nods. “We defeated It. Right? I mean, you guys did. Now that It’s gone, what is everyone going to do? Just go back to your lives? Do you think we’ll forget again?” He looks at each of them.

“I don’t know,” Mike says. “I don’t really have much of a life to go back to, though.”

“I do,” Stan says. “I have a life in Atlanta. Once I know Richie is okay, I’m headed back to it.”

“You aren’t worried you’ll forget us again?”

That’s when a nurse comes in, and stops in surprise at the sight of all of them in there. “I’m sorry,” she says. “We can’t have more than five visitors in the ICU at once.”

“I’ll go,” Mike says, rising to his feet. “I’m helping with storm relief efforts.”

“We’ll call you if there’s news,” Bev says.

He nods.

“I should go, too,” Bill says. “I should check on Audra.”

They leave.

The nurse starts checking on Richie with careful, practiced hands, and she talks to Eddie while she works. She’s kind, and she’s good at her job. She gives him a smile of encouragement when she says that Richie’s doing very well, and she touches his shoulder before she leaves.

“You guys don’t have to stay here,” Eddie says. “I can call you if there’s news.”

“No,” Bev says. “You aren’t getting rid of me.”

“I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

“Right,” she says. “You’re just being a brat, and acting like you’re the only person who cares about Richie. I have news for you. You aren’t.”

“I know I’m not the only one who—”

“But if you’re going to be mean, the least you can do is let me hug you while you bully me.”

“I’m not bullying—”

“C’mere.”

He glares.

She’s undeterred.

He gets up with a huff, and goes to sit on the couch with her. The moment his ass hits the cushion, she’s got an arm around him. He’s stiff in her arms, but she hugs him regardless, pressing her cheek to his shoulder.

It makes his chest go tight.

“I can’t—” He swallows. “I can’t plan what happens next when he’s—”

“I know,” she murmurs. “Baby, I know.”

He squeezes his eyes shut to stave off the tears that are burning his eyes, that are gathering in his lashes.

Ben wraps his arms around the both of them.

Ben was the one who interrupted Eddie’s screaming to say that he’d get Richie out of there, that he’d carry him through the sewers, and he did. He saved him. He carried him out of the sewers, and he got him to the hospital.

Eddie fists a hand in the fabric of Ben’s sleeve to bring him closer.

“Richie’s on SNL,” Stan says.

“What?” He wipes at his eyes. “Yes.”

“He can’t live just anywhere. I can, though. Everyone needs accountants. And I think I would like New York. Patty loves Broadway. So.” He clears his throat. “I say we make that the plan. Richie wakes up, and all of us stick together. Nobody forgets anything. Nobody is alone.” He looks at Richie. “Did you hear that, Trashmouth?”

Eddie looks at Richie, too, like the promise will be enough to wake him up.

He’s sedated, though.

He can’t wake up until the doctors want him to, and even when they do, he still might not. But I need you to, Eddie thinks, and he curls into Bev’s arms.

---

They start to wean him off the drugs that sedate him after he’s vitals have been stable for 72 hours.

In total, he was in a coma for five days.

They aren’t going to extubate him immediately. This is a process. The doctor carefully explains that to Eddie, but he doesn’t need the explanation. He knows. And he isn’t going to leave until the process is finished, and Richie is awake.

He sits by the bed, holding Richie’s hand, and talking to him, checking his vitals.

“Maggie says Francie tried to run away yesterday,” he says. “She made it down the block before they found her. She told them she was on the way to the airport to fly to Maine to see us. Can you believe that? I haven’t told her what’s happened to you. I can’t tell her until I can promise her it’ll be okay. It will, won’t it? I was afraid after you coded. But you’re doing so great. You’re working as hard as you can to get back to me. I know you are.”

He strokes Richie’s hand in his.

His face is now a sickly yellow green from bruising, but the swelling is down, and he doesn’t look quite as terrifying as before.

He’s healing.

“Wake up,” Eddie says, “and I’ll take care of the rest. I’ll help you. If you’re confused, I’ll help you figure things out. If you can’t talk, that’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I’ll help you. You just have to wake up, and we’ll go from there.”

“Can he hear you?” Bev asks.

“Probably,” Stan says. “I’ve done some research. Even if he doesn’t know what Eddie’s saying, he can hear him, and he can recognize Eddie’s voice.”

“If there’s any voice he’ll follow to the ends of the earth,” Bev says, “it’s Eddie’s.”

It knew that, too, Eddie thinks.

He remembers the sight of his own dead, ruined body, and he thinks of what Richie’s last coherent thoughts must have been, how he thought that Eddie was dead, and It was taunting him, straddling him, and laughing at him, shoving his fingers in Richie’s mouth.

To get Richie alone like that, did It use Eddie’s voice?

His face?

Did “Eddie” plead for help?

He looks at Richie. “We defeated It,” he says. “We never have to worry about It again, Rich. It can never hurt us again.” He imagines Richie’s eyelids are fluttering, but they aren’t.

If Richie hears what he’s saying, he doesn’t give any indication.

---

Eddie thinks Bev must have told the group that Eddie needs company, because he’s never left alone.

If Bev isn’t there, she’s made certain that one of the others is.

He watches the news with Stan. He plays a game of cards with Mike. He shows Ben pictures of Francie on his phone, and thinks of how she cried to him on the phone last night because she’s homesick.

(He dozes off while Ben is there, and when he wakes up, it’s to the murmur of voices.

The room is dark, but he can see Bev’s profile in the glow of the corner emergency light. She’s sitting on the sofa with Ben. She’s turned to face him fully, and she’s got her knees at her chest, and her toes tucked under Ben’s thigh, and she’s speaking so softly that Eddie can’t hear what she’s saying, but he can hear a warmth in her voice that he’s never heard before.)

Bill is there for an afternoon, and he starts telling stories about when they were growing up. The memories slowly return to Eddie, too. He laughs until he cries, remembering what a vulgar little shit Richie was at twelve.

Two days pass like that.

Mike is with him when it happens.

Bev is spending the night at a hotel, and Mike’s brought a pizza, and they eat it quietly, listening to the ever constant, comforting pitter-patter of rain on the window.

Mike says his house is flooded, but he doesn’t seem concerned.

“How’s he doing?” Mike asks. “Rich. It’s—it’s normal for it to take this long, right?”

“Yes.” Eddie hesitates. “I saw—I think I saw Richie’s hand twitch. Earlier. It was only a little spasm, but it was something.” The confession makes his heart beat faster. But. Somehow, Mike always puts Eddie at ease, and makes him willing to admit the things that scare him.

“Really?” Mike’s whole face brightens at the idea.

“Yeah.” He nods. “It was a few hours ago.”

“He’s going to pull through,” Mike says, certain. “I know he is.”

Eddie wipes his mouth on a napkin. “I’m going to go to the bathroom.” He kisses Richie’s temple. “I’ll be right back, sweetheart,” he murmurs. He smiles when he’s at the doorway, and he hears Mike tell Richie that he loves his snooty French character on SNL’s Weekend Update.

He goes to the bathroom, and when he’s washing his hands, he looks at himself in the mirror.

He’s certain he saw Richie’s hand twitch.

That, or his eye own was twitching from a cocktail of stress and exhaustion and caffeine.

No, he thinks. I saw it move.

He leaves the bathroom in time to see a nurse go running into Richie’s room. He sucks in a breath, and lurches in shock, only for the realization to sink in, and he breaks into a run, into a sprint.

Richie is awake.

He’s thrashing on the bed. The heart rate monitor is going crazy beside him. Mike is trying to press him flat with an arm over his chest, but it’s clear he’s trying to keep from hurting Richie. The cast on his arm bangs the table. The nurse is trying to talk to Richie, saying that it’s okay, that he needs to calm down before he hurts himself, but her efforts to flatten him against the bed aren’t going much better.

“Move,” Eddie says. “Move!”

“Mr. Tozier, I’m going to sedate you, but I need—”

Eddie tugs Mike out of the way. “I’ve got him.” He grabs Richie’s face, pinning Richie’s shoulders with his elbows, and holding the sides of his head, forcing him to look at Eddie.

“Mr. Kaspbrak, your husband is confused, and he’s panicking. It’s common. I’m going to give him a sedative, and—”

He ignores her. “Look at me,” he instructs.

Richie’s eyes wildly search his face.

“I know you’re scared. But it’s going to be okay. You’re at the hospital.” He keeps his voice soft and level and calm. “You’re intubated, and that’s why you can’t talk. It’s helping you breathe. You jaw is wired shut while it heals, which is why you can’t move it. But you’re going to be okay.” He pauses. “Do you understand what I’m saying? I want you to blink like this twice to say yes.” He demonstrates a slow, exaggerated blink. “Twice to say yes,” he repeats, “and once to say no. Okay? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Richie’s hand plucks at the sleeve of Eddie’s sweater.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” Eddie’s thumbs stroke his cheeks. “I need you to blink twice if you do. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He blinks slowly once, and again.

“Good.” Eddie smiles softly. “Good. Now. Do you know who you are?”

He blinks slowly twice.

“Good! That’s really good, Richie.” He swallows. “Do you—do you know who I am?”

Richie blinks slowly, and it’s his longest, most exaggerated blink yet, and when he does it again, Eddie’s heart leaps into his throat. He knows who Eddie is. Richie’s grip on Eddie’s sweater tightens, too, to say it a whole other way, fisting in the material. There’s a plea in his gaze. It makes Eddie want to cry with joy, because Richie is scared, but he is Richie. He didn’t lose himself when his head hit the ground, when they put him in the coma. Eddie knows the look on his face, can recognize his husband in the expression, and that’s enough for now.

“It’s going to be okay,” he promises.

“I need to sedate him,” says the nurse. “His panic is affecting his vitals. We have to keep his heart rate steady.”

But when she moves in, Richie’s heart rate sours again.

“It’s okay!” Eddie says.

Richie blinks slowly. Once. No, he says.

“I understand,” Eddie assures. “You don’t want to be put under.” And without taking his eyes off Richie, he says, “let’s extubate him.”

“We need to do that when he’s ready to breathe on his own, and we can coach him through it. The ventilator’s been breathing for him. Having him start breathing on his own again isn’t as simple as it seems.”

“I can help him through it.”

“Mr. Kaspbrak, I understand that you’re a nurse, but this is not your hospital. You do not work here. You must know we can’t be liable for decisions you make. I’m sorry. I need to put him under again. Temporarily. I’m not putting him back into the coma.”

He can’t argue with her. He knows it, and he knows why she’s right in more ways than she’s saying.

He isn’t in a state to make decisions about Richie’s health right now.

“They’re going to put you back under,” Eddie says, relenting, “but it’s okay! I’ll be here when you wake up again. Everything is okay. I’m okay. Bev is okay. Stan and Mike and Bill and Ben are okay. Francie is okay. You are, too. I’ll explain everything when you wake up again.”

Richie’s gaze clings to Eddie’s.

“I love you,” Eddie says.

Richie blinks slowly once, twice. Yes.

Eddie shifts slightly to allow the nurse to put the IV back into Richie’s arm. He keeps a hold of his gaze, though. After a beat, he leans his forehead against Richie’s.

Richie’s eyelids flutter.

“I’m here, my love,” Eddie says. “I’m going to stay right here with you.”

The moment Richie’s under again, Eddie’s eyes prickle with tears. He kisses Richie’s forehead. There are times in his life that he’s been too happy for words, and he’ll never forget them, that first time in the dorm and the night they got married and the day the court said Francie was officially their baby. It’s never been like this before, though. He’s never been so happy he feels like he can’t breathe for the joy that fills him.

Richie woke up.

Eddie was able to talk to him, to hold his gaze, and tell him he loved him.

Mike’s hand presses warmly to Eddie’s shoulder. “He’s going to be okay,” he says, a smile in his voice. Eddie turns his head, resting his check on Mike’s hand for a split-second, and trapping it there.

He’s going to be okay.

It’ll take a while before he’s back on his feet. He’ll need a lot of care. They could be in the hospital for weeks to come.

Eddie couldn’t possibly care less.

“I’ll call Bev,” Mike says.

He nods. He can’t take his eyes off Richie, doesn’t want to, is happy to stay right where he is, looking at Richie’s pale, battered face, slack with sleep, and remembering the way Richie’s hand fisted in his sweater. We’re going to be okay, he thinks.

Fin.