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Third time is a charm

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It had all started like a joke, as it always did between them, and it quickly escalated to serious levels. As it always did between them.

- Come on, Richie. What are you scared of ? It's just a movie ! 

Yes, it was a movie. No, it wasn't just a movie. It was the spookiest, scariest movie Richie had ever seen. That... thing had haunted his dreams for weeks after he had watched it, and even just thinking about it gave him goosebumps. Of course he had opened up to Eddie about it, and of course, Eddie had jumped on it like some overgrown puppy who didn't want to let go of the slipper he was chewing on. 

- Let's go, it's going to start !

And now, Eddie was pulling by the arm. Or rather pulling on his arm and trying to make him move, but since he weighed 50 pounds soaking wet, it didn't work very well. But still, Richie followed, because he may protest and bicker with him, but he'd follow Eddie to the end of the Earth. As long as Eddie wasn’t aware of this, of course. 

He swallowed when he saw the marquise. "The Crawling Eye", it said in large, red letters, and just reading them, his stomach churned and curled on himself. But Eddie dragged him to the counter of the Aladdin, put a few coins on it and grabbed the two tickets. Still holding on Richie's wrist, he went inside, in the hall, far from the comforting warmth of the summer sunlight. It was dark inside, and cool, shadows hiding in the corners, moving around as they did. Eddie, apparently oblivious of the whole atmosphere, pushed the little piece of cardboard in Richie's hand.

- Go and find us some seats, I'll be right back.

And he disappeared towards the concession stand at the other side of the hall. Richie would have very much liked to follow him, hoping that whatever was lurking in the darkness
(oh but you know what's hiding in the darkness, Richie, you do know)
would be scared enough of them being a group
(but he knew that what was hiding there wasn't afraid of them at all)
to attack. But he'd never, ever, ever confess it to anyone. So he did as he was told, walked inside the theatre itself. As usual, he opted for the balcony, making sure that the exit was near and free. They were almost alone up there. Good. At least there would be less witnesses to his inevitable freak-out.

The news reel had already started to roll when Eddie came to sit with him, carrying a bucket of popcorn bigger than his head, or that what it seemed to Richie. He sat beside him, put the bucket on his lap, making sure that it was balanced before offering it to Richie. It was tempting, but it would certainly be a waste, spitting it out as soon as the movie would start. He ate two kernels, to look like he was enjoying it, and focused very hard on the curtain above the screen, like he was fascinated by Eisenhower signing the Space Act.

At first, it went well. The first victim came and went, the heroins tried to investigate in the what passed for the Alps, they ran and screamed as they were chased by the killer. Nothing new, and it was as bad as he remembered. And still, he couldn't even relax and enjoy the wooden acting and the bad special effects. His whole body was tensed in anticipation. Soon, too soon, it would jump out of the fog, at him, and....

He was reaching in the popcorn to grab some, more to get something to do than because he really wanted it, when his hand brushed against something, and he almost screamed. Hey, anyone would have done the same when faced with something one wasn't expecting in a popcorn bucket, especially something that was warm, soft and squishy. 

It took  him four entire seconds spent hyperventilating and frantically searching for a way out to realize that was Eddie's hand. Eddie who was looking at him like he had grown a second head. Richie composed himself a smile and spouted :

- Nice chick, Anne, no ? Reminds me of your mom.... well a third of your mom.

Eddie punched him, dropping a few kernels of popcorn on the floor, but he turned to face the screen again with a muttered "idiot". He hadn't noticed anything weird in Richie's behaviour. Well weirder, of course. Richie tried to sit back and look at the screen, but his train of thought has definitely derailed, instead landing square at "I just touched Eddie's hand in the popcorn" station. What happened on the screen didn't matter anymore, it was just all colours and shapes moving around, sounds blasting through the loudspeakers, a background on which his feelings were dancing, unbridled. He was now extremely aware of Eddie's presence beside him, with his stupid fanny pack full of he didn't know what, and his stupid shorts that looked insanely stupid, and his stupid.... face....

He was feeling hot, now, especially around the cheeks and his ears. It was always so hot in that theatre, would it kill them to open a window ? Except that his feet were strangely cold, and he could feel a cool draft around his legs. So what was happening ? Was he suffering from a fever ? Had he fallen sick ? He had to hide it ; if Eddie learnt that he was sick, he would first gloat about it for two seconds because he always told him to be careful, put socks on and not play everywhere, then run away because what if he was contagious ? His mind played a bit with Eddie visiting him while he was laying in his bed, all pale and wan, slowly holding out ta hand that Eddie stepped forwards to take, his face marred by worry...

Eddie moved, and the fantasy shattered. He was going for popcorn. Richie immediately did the same. Once again, their hands brushed against each other, sending the same jolt of electricity as first time. It danced through his nerves, climbed to his brain and sent it into overdrive, so hard that he felt he was going to be punted out of his seat and directly in the alley. He glanced at Eddie. Who looked so unaffected it was almost unbelievable. As if they didn't just share a shock hard enough to light up all the lights in the room. But maybe Eddie didn't feel it ? Maybe Eddie was the one electrically charged and Richie just happened to give him an outlet. There was just one way to figure it. 

He missed the whole last part of the movie, more focused as he was on trying to touch Eddie's hand again, feel if the jolt happened again. When they got out, he blinked like an owl, surprised to be out of the darkness and into the light again. His legs felt like they were made of jelly, and it seemed as he had spent hours in this movie theatre. Or maybe just seconds, he didn't know. 

They parted at the end of Eddie's street, as usual, with nothing more than a wave and a half-heartfelt joke. That night, Richie spent long, torturous, delicious hours replaying every minute in his mind. 

I should have kissed him, he thought. Even on the cheek. Maybe I will. Next time. That's right, next time.

~*~

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me, ooh
And I'm feeling good

Richie stretches, turns off the phone and throws it haphazardly on the night-stand. But it crashes on the ground with a noise that doesn't bode well for it. He opens his eyes, blinking against both the sun pouring by the window and the myopia. The wall is not the color it should be. The nightstand is not where it should be either. Nothing is as he should. It takes him several seconds to remember where he is now : in a small, one-star motel in the suburbs of Portland, and his phone just crashed from a one-star night-stand typical of a one-star motel. 

He turns, careful not to move too hastily because the beds in one-star motels are typically one-person too... and his skull promptly hits something solid. He grabs his head, swearing profusely. Are they making their fucking pillows out of concrete ? 

- Is that how they say good morning in the strange language they speak in your country, Trashmouth ? 

Wait. He knows that voice. But what is that voice doing in his bed ? And more than that, what is its owner doing in his head ? He squints as much as he can, trying to make sense of what's in front of him. It's a person, alright. With brown eyes and mussed dark hair, and a thin, long face. It looks like Eddie, talks like Eddie....

- You look really funny when you squint.

Richie holds out his hand, pats him in the face, earning himself a "what the fuck, Trashmouth ?". He's solid. He's real. He's in his bed right now, it's not a dream. He dives forwards, embraces him, squeezes him tight, as he's dreamed countless times. But in his dreams, Eddie has never hit him in the chest and squirmed while screaming :

- Stop that, Richie, it hurts !

Richie backs down, bewildered. He looks - squints - at Eddie's face, then lower, where the shirt collar is gaping. The shirt is gaping because it's his, he notices. Eddie is wearing his shirt as pajamas. Is it his birthday come early ? Did a good fairy decide to realize all his wishes ? Is he still asleep ? He pinches himself and swears. No, he's not sleeping. Also there are bandages visible under the shirt, through the too large collar. This explains the pushing away. He remembers, of course, how Eddie was hurt, and everything that followed. He just can't believe it. It happened.

He rolls out of bed and finally retrieves his glasses, which have followed the same way than his phone. The world come back in focus. Richie almost regrets it. The room is exactly as depressing as he thought without glasses, with peeling wallpaper, dollar store furniture, and the remote chained to the wall. A perfect little nest. 

He looks to his side, and lo and behold, Eddie is still there. He looks tired, shadows underlining his eyes, new lines on his face. He hasn't shaved, and his cheeks are eaten by a rogue beard, one of them hidden under a large, white piece of gauze. Eddie with a beard, it's not something that he expected to see one day. It fits him, he thinks. He looks good like that. But he doesn't say it. Instead, he says :

- Come on, loser, get up. We don't have all time in the world.

They don't, he knows, and they almost didn't even get the time they have now. It will be over soon, when he drops Eddie in Manhattan, or as close of Manhattan as he can without getting crazy with the traffic. But they still have time, they'll still have some, and it almost didn't happen. 

Eddie straightens up, slowly, groans. Richie wants to rush at his side and hold him close, but he doesn't. 

- What's wrong, grampa ? Need your walker ? 

- Fuck off, Richie. You're not the one who got skewered.

I was, he thinks, but he doesn't say it because it would be way too sappy, and Eddie doesn't know, he doesn't need to know. It's still his secret. 

- Yeah, of course. Do you want breakfast, or are you not waterproof anymore ? Food-proof ? 

- At least I'm idiot-proof.

Eddie throws his legs off the bed, but he doesn't get up. His hands are closed tightly on the edge of the mattress, knuckles almost white. Richie walks a little closer, looks at him. His face is still pale, but everyone's would, after what he went through. The clammy part, the sweat on his forehead, that is bad news.

- Eds ? he asks. Are you alright ?

- What do you think, Richie ? Do I look alright ?

- No. You look like shit.

- Thank you for your comfort.

Richie fills a glass with water at the tiny sink, brings it to him with two of the pills they gave him at the hospital. Eddie grabs them avidly, but still stops to demand the leaflet first, and reads it from start to fiinish before finally taking them. 

- Better ? Richie asks.

- They need time to act, and you know it.

- Yeah. So... food ? Do you feel like getting food ?

- Only if you find me something better than motel food, because I certainly won't eat it. I don't want another hole in my stomach.

Richie snorts, more just because he's still able to do it than because it's fun. He grabs his pants, his wallet and his jacket, puts them on and in his pocket, and leaves the room with a "don't miss me too much !" thrown over his shoulder. He closes the door on Eddie's half-shouted answer, but it sounds a lot like "fuck you". Things never change.

It takes him a bit of effort to find something pleasant and simple enough that Eddie will both accept and be able to eat. Not that Portland is lacking in the bakery department, but subpar confection just won't cut it. He finally opts for some coffee (sugar and cream on the side), cupcakes that look light and airy enough for Eddie, without peanut butter (remember the allergens !), and some good, greasy donuts for him. Eddie will scream that he only eats bad stuff and it's dangerous for him, but he loves them, and he needs a little pick-me-up. 

As he comes back to the hostel, he suddenly feels scared. What if It still had one more trick up its sleeve ? What if they sent another ghost, or zombie, or lunatic after Eddie, and this time, finished the job ? It probably waited for Richie to left, just to be sure no one would stop It this time. Maybe Eddie is dying as he frets over donuts, and he'll find only his body in the room, and he'll surely lose his mind at the sight of Eddie's body, devoid of life...

He almost kicks the door down, and Eddie
(is lying on the floor, dead)
jumps. He got dressed in his absence, getting rid of the too large shirt for... another too large shirt, but it makes sense with his wound, he doesn't want to be too constricted. He's typing something on his phone, and he glares at Richie when the door hits the wall behind.

- What the fuck ? Are you crazy ? You almost gave me a heart attack !

Richie looks around, but it's still the same shitty motel room. No balloons near the ceiling, no voices in the bathroom, no stupid clown hiding under the bed. Just a very ugly wallpaper, furniture that's falling apart, and sheets that he hopes have seen a washing machine not too long ago. No otherworldly menace here, just the usual ones. 

He sits down on the bed, near Eddie, hands him the coffee and the cupcakes. 

- I thought... he starts.

I thought you were dead, he thinks. I thought you were going to leave me forever instead of just living a few hours from me. I thought It won. He doesn't say it, because he doesn't want to scare Eddie, and he now realizes that it was stupid. It is dead, they killed It, and now they are going to live happily ever after, in one way or another. 

- I thought you wouldn't settle for any cupcakes, since you're so fussy, that's all.

Eddie grabs the pillow to hit him in the face. Then promptly doubles over, holding his side. Richie tries to help him up, but he bats his hands away, and sits up a little better.

They manage to get through breakfast without any other incident, but Eddie is definitely paler than before, which is a feat. 

- Man, you look like shit, Richie finely remarks once more.

- I feel like shit, is Eddie's only answer. 

- I suppose you don't feel up to a few hours locked in a car.

Eddie doesn't even answer, just rolls his eyes.

- Okay. So what do you want to do ?

And that's how they find themselves in the street a few hours later. They'd spent two hours watching the home improvement channel because that's the only one the TV could get, played stupid games on their phones, and took a nap. But after a while, it becomes just too much to stay locked inside this tiny room, and they decide to get some fresh air. 

To be fair, there's not much to get themselves busy outside either, but at least they don't feel confined anymore. They're just walking aimlessly, Richie glancing at Eddie from time to time to make sure he's not fainting or bleeding out or having an asthma attack or... But no, he's still holding up. 

They are crossing the street, when Eddie suddenly stops and points. Richie has to grab him by the arm to make him go the rest of the way under the threats of two drivers, before following his gesture. Then he shakes his head.

- Oh no. Oh no, Eds, no way, I'm not going, you can't make me and fuck you.

- We're going. 

He goes inside the theatre, and of course, Richie follows. He'd like to say he's totally forgotten that movie, pushed it at the back of his mind, but it would be a lie. That... thing has never left him, still giving him goosebumps even years later each time his eyes land on the poster. Of course, he once mentioned it once during an interview (to his defence, he wasn't that sober when it came up), and of course, one of his asshole fans decided to ironically gift him a beautiful copy of the poster, framed and all. He almost vomited all over it when he opened it. It's really sad that the thing mysteriously disappeared during his next move. 

A piece of cardboard appears in front of him. When he makes no move to take it, Eddie sticks it behind his glasses. 

- Be careful, idiot, you're going to smudge them.

- Stop whining, Richie. Let's go. 

He all but drags him to the seats. There's no more balconies in those modern theatres, so they grab two in a row in the middle. Richie still measures the distance between him and the door, but it's way, way longer than in the past. The screen is bigger too, without the heavy curtains that adorned the Aladdin's. But when the darkness falls, and the pictures start moving on the silver screen, it's the same apprehension that catches him around the throat at the first wobbly vision of the fake Alps he remembers so well. It's still the same. The movie quality may be a little better, but it's still the same bad special effects, the same wooden acting that made him laugh so much the first time, the same attempts at drama that fall flat on his face. It even still smells like popcorn. 

Richie glances at Eddie, and of course, he has bought some popcorn, that he's munching on, without even offering him some, that ass. Richie proceeds to overtake some of that popcorn. He's going to endure The Crawling Eye again, he deserves some, dammit ! Eddie doesn't resist. But he reaches into the bucket at the same time as him.

The jolt when their arms touch is as strong as it was twenty-seven years ago. It may not be as strong or pure as a first time, but it's been magnified by all those years of refraining his feelings for Eddie. It's a spark of electricity that jumps up his arm and sets his brain on fire. He doesn't jump away, because he's a grown-ass man and he doesn't react like a kid anymore, but barely. 

He tries to compose himself and will the beat of his heart slower, when he realizes that Eddie is looking at him. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck with a cherry on top. Fuck him sideways with a rusty fencepost. Eddie is looking at him. Their hands touched, he reacted as strongly as ever, and Eddie is looking at him. And he may be a hypochondriac, a loser and a fussy idiot, but he's not a *real* idiot. 

- Richie ? Why are you jumping like that ?

When Richie doesn't answer immediately, he insists.

- It's the movie ? Ah sorry. I didn't think it would be that.... let's go, okay ? I'm sorry.

He goes to get up, but Richie catches him by the arm.

- Stay down.

- Are you sure ? Because you're...

Ah, fuck it. Might as well do it now. He's fucked anyway, better get done with it. 

- I'm okay. Sit down. I... need to tell you something.

On the screen, the mysterious man is stalking the heroine, but none of them is paying them any attention. 

- What ? 

Okay, what is he supposed to tell ? I love you ? Too dry. I've loved you since I was like eight and you sat beside me and laughed at my jokes ? I haven't stopped loving you even if I have to confess that I have forgotten you for like twenty years but you were still at the back of my mind and I've probably dated a lot of men that looked a lot like you ? Too long. And will probably earn himself a punch or a kick. But he needs to do something, and quick, because Eddie will probably not wait until the end of time (or the movie) for him to blurt out something. 

Finally, since the words don't come, he goes to the next step. Not a logical step, but with his fried brain, he does his best. Which is grab Eddie by the shoulders, then by his face, bend down and kiss him. It's probably the most awful kiss in his life. Eddie wasn't ready and tensed immediately, his glasses are squished between them, and it tastes like popcorn. Scratch that, it's the most awesome kiss in his life. Because Eddie.

He lets go after just a few seconds, sits back in his seat. Of course, Eddie is gaping at him. Absent-mindedly, he reaches out to straighten Richie's glasses.

- I'm sorry, Richie blurts. I mean.... forget it. Forget it, okay ? I just... I'm not myself.

- You didn't mean to kiss me ?

- Yes. I... oh gods yes. I've meant it for, like, forever. 

- Oh.

Just that. Oh. And a quieter "oh". Then Eddie goes back to watching the screen.

- We're going to have a lot of things to unpack.

- Tell me about it.

- At the motel room okay ? We finish the movie, and we talk about it.

- Sounds fine.

It's not really fine, of course, Richie would have loved for Eddie to throw himself at him and do lots of unspeakable things to him. But he hasn't ran away or invoked his wife's name, so it's not all bad. Still, he's reconsidering his choices in life and maybe planning a trek in Tibet to find himself and spirituality, when a hand takes his and holds it, squeezing all the air out of his lungs. Eddie doesn't look at him, but he's smiling, slightly. Richie goes back to the movie too, with the biggest grin on his face. They'll need to talk things out, and maybe it won't work out at all, because Eddie has a life and a wife and may not love him back. But for a few more minutes, he's twelve again, and the happiest boy in the world. 

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me, ooh
And I'm feeling good