Two months after he saved Eddie, Richie drowned in his own condo pool.
Technically, it was a co-op. Richie's real-estate agent had been very emphatic about this. Richie's real-estate agent had also been checking for dust, if you knew what he meant. A lot of open houses were the legacy of Los Angelians who had lived in tinsel bubble before popping it with blow. When they popped off (usually from the blow), real-estate agents tended to beat the relatives to their stash— There was no one to sniff after your fortune if you never made Fortune.
Richie's old dealer had been in the housing game. Got most of his product that way. Richie would have been tempted to sniff around himself if he hadn't been clean for five years. (Bourdon didn't count.)
Richie was high when he fell into the pool, but only on Ambien, fuck you very much. (Bourdon still didn't count.)
Technically, he stepped into the pool, but each step was just a series of controlled falls, as Stan had been fond of saying, the depressing fucker. Richie was either sleepwalking or so out of it that he didn't notice the fifty-foot infinity pool. By the time he woke up, there were more important things to worry about, like why Eddie was kissing him.
Richie spat up a mouthful of chlorinated water, pretty much ruining the kiss, and Eddie sat back on his heels.
"Oh, fuck. Oh, thank fuck. Oh…"
Richie couldn't make out the rest. It might have been a sob.
"You've got to get him to a hospital." That was Ben.
Ben was in Nebraska. Like five hours away. Richie couldn't have been dead for five hours. No way could his brain cells take the hit. The plural was generous to begin with.
Eddie was in town, a little getaway from crowds of New York. Richie had said, "But there are almost as many people in LA." Eddie had said, "But they're not real."
Richie had gotten him a room at the Hollywood Roosevelt and forwarded the confirmation emails so he wouldn't have to see the look on Eddie's face.
"No," he said. "No hospital. It'll be on the cover of— Do magazines still have covers? It'll be on the homepage of People."
"Oh, thank god," said Eddie, even though previously he had been thanking fuck. That was an entirely different spiritual experience. Richie was about to inform him as much when Eddie added, "Shut up and breathe."
"No hospital," Richie said instead, in addition, in case they didn't know he was serious. It was always anybody's guess. Including his.
She sounded tiny. Tinny. Both.
They weren't five hours away by phone. Not even five seconds. Telephones actually communicated information faster than the speed of sound, because fiber optic cables transported signals at the speed of light. Richie had only been dead for… If Omaha was like 1,125 miles away from LA and the speed of light was 186,300 miles per second, then he'd only been dead for like... .006 seconds, plus however long it took Eddie to dial, which was probably a while, because his hands were shaking.
Satisfied, Richie passed out again.
Richie had been looking forward to creating a Losers group chat once he stopped actively avoiding his friends. Imagine his disappointment upon learning the official Losers group chat had been created to discuss him. At least they sent him an invite.
Mike made a Group Chat
Mike invited Bill, Ben, Bev, Eddie, and Richie to the group chat
Richie changed the group’s name to Losers Keepers
Richie changed Mike’s name to Magic Mike
Richie changed Bill’s name to BIG Bill
Richie changed Ben’s name to Ben Handsome
Richie changed Bev’s name to Molly Ringwald
Richie changed Eddie’s name to Squidward
Squidward has left the group chat
Mike invited Eddie to the group chat
Richie changed Eddie’s name to Eddie Spaghetti
Eddie Spaghetti: I’ll allow it.
Magic Mike: You’re getting off easy.
Richie: thats what she said
Magic Mike: You had an idea, Eddie?
Eddie Spaghetti : Yeah.
Eddie Spaghetti : I’ll stay with Richie.
Richie: that is nOT necessary
Eddie Spaghetti : Just until we can the sleepwalking under control.
“The sleepwalking” was a euphemism for his A) Ambien addiction, B) Alcoholism, C) Suicide attempt, or D) All of the above. Richie didn’t know which charges he was facing, because they kept using a fucking euphemism. They might as well have left him out of the group chat altogether.
It turned out Richie didn’t like group chats. Intervention aside (and he’d never been a fan of surprise parties where the surprise was it wasn’t a party), there was something ineffably fucked up about all the Losers on one side, and him all alone. Gray and blue. Out of the blue, and into the black.
That was a Neil Young song. Richie did like Neil Young. Mostly he liked music. Radio.. Comedy. Things he didn’t have to see. His vision had always sucked. Even his hindsight was myopic.
Richie: and how does your wife feel about that
Eddie Spaghetti: It doesn't matter.
Eddie Spaghetti: We're separated.
Eddie Spaghetti: I don't have a new apartment yet, so you'd actually be doing me a favor.
Richie: im sorry
Richie: why didnt you tell me
Eddie Spaghetti : You were avoiding me.
Richie: i waS buSY
Eddie Spaghetti : Well?
Richie: well what
Eddie Spaghetti : Can I stay with you?
Richie: do i get a choice
Eddie Spaghetti : Of course you do, dipshit. It’s your condo.
Molly Ringwald: Whatever. Answer teh man Rich
Molly Ringwald: The answer is yes in case you didn’t know
Molly Ringwald: Unless you want me AND ben AND the dog AND
Molly Ringwald: I’m thinking
Richie: ill be fine
Richie: ill just fill the pool with packing penis nuts
Magic Mike: No one’s autocorrect would do that.
Richie: wanna bet?
Eddie Spaghetti: I wouldn't take that bet, Mike.
Eddie Spaghetti: Richie hasn't eaten a legume since 1993.
Eddie Spaghetti: That's why he has the musculature of a pool noodle.
Richie was too busy laughing at that to defend his honor. Eddie gets off a good one. His phone made a different kind of ding, and he checked his texts.
There were two. From Eddie. Outside of the group chat.
Come on, Richie. It’s just me.
Richie laughed even harder at that. He left the texts unanswered and returned to the group chat.
Richie: fuck you squidward
"I could just tie you to the bed," said Eddie. "Shut up."
Richie hadn't said anything, but only because Eddie was currently standing next to the aforementioned bed, looking down at him, and that was new. Mostly the Eddie looking down at him part.
They had shared beds before, and floors, and couches, and hammocks, and on one memorable occasion, a holding cell, but that was then, and this was throwing Richie for a fucking loop.
Eddie had also looked down at him before, when he was on Richie's shoulders in the quarry or knocking him out of the clubhouse hammock, but there was something Richie couldn't pin down about the holistic enchilada of laying in bed, in his boxers and "Meme Daddy" T-shirt, while Eddie stood over him, in a pajama set so pressed it might as well have been a suit.
Richie managed a belated eyebrow waggle. He didn't want Eddie to worry.
"I said shut up. I'm serious. Or we could sleep in shifts."
"If you want to wear a nightgown, be my guest." Richie did his best Lumière voice, which was also his worst Lumière voice.
"I know what you meant. Don't worry about it, Eds. The sleepwalking was probably just a side effect of the Ambien and I'm sober as a baby tonight. I have a perfectly serviceable guest bedroom right down the hall. Sheets have never been used, and it was vacuumed… before I moved in, but no one's used it since, so how dusty could it be?"
"That is not how dust works," said Eddie. "Will you be able to sleep without the Ambien?"
"Well, yeah," Richie shrugged. "That's what I got the heroin for."
"No, although when I did No Shave November, the resemblance was uncanny." No Shave November really rolled off the tongue better than Seasonal Affective Disorder Depression Beard. "Either take the guest room or get in already. If it helps, I stopped wetting the bed when I was thirty-two."
Eddie gave him so much side-eye that it looked like he was caught in the Deadlights. Richie didn't know why he was playing the devil's advocate. The devil definitely had enough of those (and they also worked for Myra, from what he had understood of the dinner conversation, which was not much— Richie only spoke enough Legalese to get them out of that holding cell).
Forget the fact that he hadn't shared anything with Eddie since they were kids— an accidental boner would be the least of his problems. Richie wasn't having trouble sleeping. He was having trouble staying awake.
The Ambien was last in a long line of solutions, including caffeine pills, 24-Hour Energy, Death Wish Coffee, Rockstar Xdurance, and SpazzStick caffeinated lip balm. He hadn't tried cocaine, but he was starting to think it would be healthier.
Finally, when he couldn't stay awake any longer, Richie mixed Ambien and bourbon, hoping the storm in his autonomic nervous system would keep him from hitting REM stage sleep.
Of course, Eddie has always been Richie's hardest drug. When morning rolled around, he woke up, rested, refreshed, and not retching. He also woke up with a boner.
Richie would have gone to the bathroom and rubbed one off in the name of friendship, but there was a small problem. Eddie was draped across his back, all that compact muscle practically pinning Richie to the bed. When he tried to detangle the Gordian knot of their bodies, Eddie just clamped down harder, like particularly aggressive massage chair.
Like any neophyte comedian, Richie had tried the tablecloth trick once in his youth and broken Maggie Tozier's favorite Fiestaware pitcher.
This time, he only broke his nose.
"What the fuck?" Eddie shouted.
"What are you complaining for?" asked Richie. "At least you had something to land on."
Technically, so had he, but it was his boner. He might have broken that too.
Richie rolled over. Eddie was on his feet, fists raised, ready to fight off whatever had woken him. It was so adorable that Richie's boner tried to set itself. He pulled the duvet into his lap.
Eddie glared at him. "Your nose is bleeding."
"Oh, that old thing," Richie said. "I've had it for years."
Eddie glared harder, and Richie adjusted his duvet.
"Richie Trashmouth Tozier," Eddie said, angry and serious, like that was Richie's real middle name. Then he sighed. "I'll get the first aid kid."
"I don't have a first aid kit," said Richie, since Eddie probably wouldn't count an industrial-sized bottle of Tylenol and three wet wipes.
Eddie was already digging through his luggage.
"Right," said Richie. "I knew that."
"Stop tilting your head back," Eddie said, without turning to face him. Now he was rummaging through his first aid kit— a big nylon bag printed with the American Red Cross logo and the words FAMILY FIRST AID KIT. "That'll just make you swallow blood. How many times have I told you that?"
"I wasn't tilting my head back," said Richie. "I'm just looking up at you. Which is still weird, by the way."
Richie shook his head, getting drops of blood all over his "Meme Daddy" T-shirt. These days, he got most of his clothes from Shifty Thrifting— a website that made T-shirts based on the weird ones found in thrift stores. His collection made a lot more sense post-amnesia. Like, "I'm probably thinking about clowns," and, "My heart says yes, but my mom says no," and, "GOBLIN." His personal retrospective favorite was, "I have to apologize for my behavior. I've had a difficult past few lives."
Eddie palpated his nose, and only for Richie would a broken nose be an erogenous zone.
"Well, it's not broken," said Eddie.
"So I guess you didn't sleep."
"Like a drunk baby," Richie assured him. "But. Not. Because I was sober."
"As a baby," Eddie reminded him.
Richie made a finger gun. "Exactly.
Eddie silenced his fingers gun. "Did you really sleep?"
"Really, really," he said, in his best/worst Shrek voice.
Eddie sighed. "So falling out of bed was just…?"
Either Eddie sighed again or he was having another psychosomatic asthma attack. He dropped to the floor so he could shove a bottle of nasal saline spray up Richie's nose. Not even that was enough to kill his boner.
Richie looked up at Eddie, who was hovering above him, haloed by white light, like an angel or a dentist.
Then he wasn't.
Long enough in Derry and you learned tricks to get blood out of your clothes. For most stains you could use warm water and soap, but with blood you had to use cold water, because at high temperatures the hemoglobin would become denatured and stick to the fabric. The denaturing of this particular protein was irreversible.
Ben may have been the slowest, but Bowers caught Richie more than anyone else. It was only on purpose most of the time.
There was blood on Richie's Sheriff Woody shirt. (It didn't look exactly like Woody's shirt, because while Richie's sporadic sense of shame didn't apply to his hyperfixation on cartoons with homoerotic subtext, he really couldn't pull off a bold check.) Eddie wasn't even around to take the blame.
Eddie was dead meat. Not much meat, but very dead. He would be for another however long before the scene reset or woke Richie up.
Canon Richie woke up in the sewers, just in time to roll Eddie out of the claw's way. The cut in his own gut was nothing. A scratch. This was death by a thousand gaping stab wounds.
"I think I killed It!"
This was what he saw in the Deadlights. This was what he saw every night.
No matter how many times he woke up to Eddie's frowning face, Richie could feel the visions slinking beneath the surface of his sanity, like a dead girl's shoe swimming in greywater.
The denaturing of this particular protein was irreversible.
"I think I killed it for re—"
Richie came back to his senses, for lack of a better word, in Eddie's arms. His head was perfectly positioned to hear Eddie's heartbeat, fast but steady, pumping blood only where it belonged. Eddie's arms were wrapped around his back, one hooked up to cup the back of Richie's skull, like he was a baby that couldn't support his own head. Short, manicured nails, scratched rhythmically against his scalp, keeping time for the quiet mantra, "It's okay. You're okay, Rich. It's all over now. It's dead. You're okay. You're going to be okay. It's—"
Richie would have thought he was dreaming, except his dreams had never been so nice.
Eddie let him up, slowly, almost reluctantly. Richie wasn't looking forward to this conversation either.
Richie expelled air and a sound he wouldn't admit to, but at least he didn't expel his dinner.
He'd fallen asleep on the couch, waiting for Eddie to get home. Eddie had returned to New York for forty-eight hours, minus two five hour flights, which was apparently the minimum time necessary to finalize a divorce and pack up a life. Forty-eight hours used to be a warmup for Richie— his record was five days, but he had been spoiled by solid eight-hour nights with Eddie in bed beside him.
Eddie had refused his offer of a dramatic airport reunion (and ride) because they'd been texting for two nights straight, and he was afraid Richie would drive them into The Los Angeles River (which was ridiculous— the Los Angeles River was nowhere near LAX).
"You saw me die in the Deadlights," said Eddie.
Richie made a run for the toilet, skidding the last foot on his knees, like one of the rockstars he listened to in college. It was one of the few things he remembered about college, but that was just the drinking.
He didn't know Eddie was behind him until a damp cloth ran unnecessarily over his mouth and chin. Richie was a professional— he hadn't gotten a single drop on his "Big Chungus" T-shirt.
Eddie handed him a capful of ACT with fluoride.
Richie swished and spat. Brushing would only rub his stomach acid into the enamel. He had gone Incognito to browse pro-bulimia websites for advice. They also warned against spicy food, which Richie had already learned the hard way. It was like giving Satan himself a BJ.
Eddie's hand was ghosting down his back, not-so-surreptitiously measuring weight-loss by his protruding spine. "I'll take that as a yes."
Eddie brushed a thumb over his sweaty temple. "Don't call me that."
He helped Richie up from the bathroom floor and led him to their bedroom. "Come on. I didn't get a chance to finish the movie I was watching on the plane. Have you seen Toy Story 3 yet?"
"No," Richie lied.
"You're lying," Eddie said easily. "Wanna' see it again?"
Eddie kept up a running commentary, so Richie could take off his glasses. It was like closed captioning meets Mystery Science Theater 3000 with footnotes on Earring Magic Ken, and his voice was so solid Richie felt like he could reach out and touch it.
At the end of the movie, Richie cried so hard he almost puked again, but that may have had more to do with Eddie's arm around him, knuckles rubbing soft circles on his shoulder. He fell asleep waiting for the bloopers.
"I'm sorry," Eddie said the next morning, when Richie finished jailbreaking the refrigerator.
A Losers Skype session had been scheduled for 9:00 AM PST (because they were the furthest west). Richie only agreed because he took Losers meetings seriously— more seriously than he took work meetings. His and Eddie's collective devices were gathered in a circle around the kitchen table, so there was one screen for each Loser (except Stan, but Richie secretly thought of him as the KitchenAid).
"Sorry for what?"
Eddie shook his head, his eyes liquid brown as Richie's coffee and even more bitter. "When I came home and you were sleeping, I was upset, because it meant that you didn't need me anymore."
"I'll always need you. I mean— As a straight man. Not a— I mean, like, for jokes..." Richie trailed off, hunching forward, like a wind-up doll that had run out of up.
"Will you?" Eddie asked, seriously.
"Of course," said Richie, shame vanishing in the wake of Eddie's need for reassurance. "You're my biggest Loser. I mean— Not like the show. That would be Ben."
Speak of the Angel, and he would appear. The Handsomes appeared on Eddie's Pad Pro. They were sharing a deckchair. Richie immediately began thinking of them as a single unit.
"Hi, Benverly," said Richie.
Benverly made a face.
"How'd the divorce go, Eddie?" asked Mike (Eddie's work phone). He was staying at a motel somewhere near Mount Hood, on his way up the Pacific Crest Trail. They were all planning to meet in Portland (the West Coast one) to launch Richie's Working Title tour later that month.
"What? Oh, fine," said Eddie. "Richie—"
"Big Bill!" Richie greeted, loud and a little betrayed.
"Hi, Richie," said Bill (the fridge). He always called from a different room in his house, and they all looked like a home office. Even the kitchen. There was a fax machine next to the toaster. Richie didn't make fun of Bill for having a fax machine. He was a professional. (He usually just asked Bill to fax him a piece of toast.)
"What were you going to say, Eddie?" asked Mike.
"Eddie overheard me moaning his name in my sleep and instead of offering to take care of my morning wood, he decided to accuse me of having recurring nightmares about his death. I honestly think that might be even more narcissistic, Eds."
"Actually, I was going to tell them you didn't take out the trash once while I was gone," said Eddie. "Besides, you didn't moan my name. You screamed it."
There was still a sex joke in there (there was a sex joke everywhere if you looked hard enough), but Richie was busy getting his newly-sensitive gag reflex under control (good thing he was single).
He must not have gotten total control over his mouth, because the next thing it said was, "We left you there."
"Let's give them a moment," said Bill. He got up from his computer desk, and left whatever home office he was in. There was the brief sound of Audra yelling at the TV before the door shut behind him. The rest of the Losers followed his lead, even when Benverly had to get in a lifeboat.
"You didn't leave me anywhere," said Eddie. "I'm right here."
"Sure." Richie scoffed. "Assuming this is real, and I'm not trapped in the Deadlights, living out a Technicolor hallucination of my greatest fantasy just to have it cruelly snatched away."
Not sleeping had really opened up his schedule for paranoid delusions.
"Greatest fa— Wait," said Eddie. "Is that why you flipped us?"
"Why'd you think I did it?"
Eddie was the only person he knew who could smile and frown at the same time. Not even different corners of his mouth. His whole mouth.
"I thought you were going to kiss me."
"You were straddling me, Richie."
"You started it! I mean—" Richie did a Voice just to hide how high his had gotten. He felt thirteen years old again, and honestly, nobody deserved that.
"That's because I was going to kiss you."
"I mean— What?"
"I was going to kiss you," Eddie repeated himself, slightly louder, like he genuinely thought Richie hadn't heard him. "That's why I thought you were going to kiss me. I thought you wanted to be on top."
"I don't mind if you're on top," said Richie's mouth.
"Good to know."
Eddie could do the smile thing with his eyebrows too. They were somehow both both furrowed and raised at the same time. Like fucking magic.
"Now stop trying to distract me," said Eddie, even though Richie was pretty sure it hadn't gone down like that. "Why didn't you tell me you were having nightmares?"
"I didn't want to give them to you."
"Well, unless you've got Deadlights in an orifice I don't know about, that's unlikely."
"You didn't know how close you came to dying," said Richie.
"Of course I did. I'm a catastrophizer." Eddie sighed. "I can't believe you just passed up an asshole joke. My nightmares are about you, Rich. When you got—" He sighed again, but this was a short, sharp thing, like the opposite of a gasp. "Being near you helps me sleep too."
"No, what's gonna' give me fucking nightmares is knowing how close you came to dying, again, and just because you didn't want to- What? Bother me? Since when has that ever been a deterrent for you? You spent our entire—"
Richie kissed him.
He pulled back before Eddie even had a chance to reciprocate
"I'm sorry! I didn't kiss you to shut you up— That's a horrible trope and usually misogynistic, although not in this case, because we're both guys, but—"
Eddie kissed him to shut him up.
He gave Richie time to reciprocate, even though it meant waiting for him to stop smiling first. Eddie climbed into his lap, and for once Richie didn't mind looking up at him, although he wasn't looking for very long.
When Eddie eventually pulled back, he said, "Did you just catch up to the part where I talked about kissing you?"
"We were conversing. I was asking questions, and you were answering them. You were contributing to the conversation, as much as you ever do."
"I think you underestimate how little thought goes into what I say," Richie said solemnly.
"Is it safe to come back yet?" Bill was standing back in front of his computer, hand over his eyes.
"Seriously?" Eddie did the eyebrow thing again. He was still in Richie's lap, which hid his boner from everyone except Eddie (who didn't seem to mind, unless that was an inhaler in his pocket).
Bill tentatively removed his hand, before pulling out his phone, no doubt informing the other Losers their new It Couple wasn't in flagrante delicious.
"Well, you guys do have the longest unresolved sexual tension, like, ever," Bev said, sliding back into Ben's lap.
"Captain America and Bucky Barnes," said Richie.
"You're assuming they didn't have sex pre-serum," said Eddie.
"Wait," said Richie. "Are we talking MCU or comics?"
"Ew, Bucky was like, fifteen in the comics!"
"There was still homoerotic subtext. Like Batman and Robin."
"Every comic has homoerotic subtext," said Eddie. "They're called tights."
"Alright, get out, Losers," said Richie. "I can no longer restrain myself. I must have him now."
"You've never been able to restrain yourself," Eddie said primly. "I'll just have to do it for you."
"What is your obsession with tying me up, Kaspbrak?"
Mike wrinkled his nose. "How—"
"Google it, Michael. I am not teaching you about the bees and the bees," said Richie. The last of his shame seemed to have vanished when he realized Eddie Kaspbrak like-liked him.
Richie wanted to shout it from the rooftops, which actually wouldn't stand out in LA, because his co-op had a rooftop pool and all that water really carried the acoustics. He wanted to march at Pride and rallies for a Golden Girls reboot, or whatever it was gay people did when they weren't too busy hating themselves.
All this time, all those fucking years, people were throwing him ropes, and Richie just sat there, tying them into a noose.
Now he had the Losers, and none of them cared he was gay, except Eddie, who cared a lot (that was definitely not an inhaler in his pocket).
Mike smiled that Jedi Knight smile of his. "How come Eddie didn't know out about the nightmares if you've been living together this whole time?"
"I don't have nightmares when he's there."
"That's just 'cause you're too busy stealing the blankets," said Eddie.