Work Header

Now What I'm Gonna Say May Sound Indelicate

Chapter Text

The thing about taking two multi-hour naps in one day is that it takes Eddie’s tentative sleep schedule, curated by nurses hauling him bodily around a hospital ward eight times a day, and subjects it to a nuclear strike from orbit. Eddie wakes up when his electric blanket powers off on the timer—fire safety!—feeling pleasant and better rested than he has in a long time.

It’s one in the morning.

He sits up—lying on the blanket instead of under it was a successful experiment—and reaches out for his bottle of water. It is basically empty. He drains the rest of it and saves it for a recycling bin or something. Are there recycling bins in this hotel? There should be recycling bins in this hotel. It’s 2016.

He feels okay. Still wishes he could take a shower, but not bad. That same quiet not bad that he felt in the caverns, when he realized that all the feelings of dirt and filth and wrongness—it was never from inside him after all, it was external, it was skin deep, it wasn’t inside him—and he was fine all along. Now he’s greasy and kind of smelly and definitely itchy and he needs a shave—but his friends are here, and that was always the best he’d ever felt.

Maybe he shouldn’t be alone with his thoughts in this hotel room. It tends to get him in a bad way.

He definitely wants more water and he’s still working through a urinary tract infection on top of all his other problems, so he creeps out to the living area through the bathroom, like keeping close to the mini-fridge will make him less likely to wake Richie.

Richie snores, the hypocrite. Eddie keeps his eyes on target—fridge. Water. Sweet hydration—and does not allow himself to look over at Richie, but the fact that he finds the snoring kind of cute means he’s definitely too far gone. He tries to be subtle about the sudden electric roar of the fridge and its bright light, but Richie’s breathing doesn’t change its rhythm.

Eddie leans back against the kitchen counter, bare feet cold on the linoleum of the kitchenette, and drinks water.

Richie is a pale shape under the sheets of the sofa bed. He took two of the pillows from the bedroom and Eddie, in his button-down flannel pajamas, kind of figured that would be the last he would see him for the night. Eddie’s like, reasonably sure that Richie wouldn’t sleep naked in a hotel suite he was sharing with someone else, but his back is to the door and to Eddie and the sheet is pulled down to like the middle of his back. He is definitely at least half-naked. Richie sleeps curled around the squashed pillow, shoulders hunched and rising like mountains from the sofa bed itself, white curve of his spine visible most of the way down. There’s not a lot of light here—Eddie’s still blinking the afterimage of the inside of the minifridge away—but Richie’s not just a little hairy, he’s significantly hairy, and the palms of Eddie’s hands are like if you petted him it would be rough and textured and probably tingle afterward, go on, do it.

He doesn’t. He just holds the chilled water, condensation wet on his hands, and watches the gentle movement of Richie’s breathing. And listens to the not-so-gentle snuffling snores.

He goes back to bed before he starts to feel really creepy—he can still hear Richie from behind the closed door—and he turns on the bedside light and flicks the electric blanket back on and lies on the bed, letting the heat soak into his bones. He grabs his phone and checks the time again—nearly quarter to two—and is just lazy for a little bit. At this hour, with no one else awake or needing anything from him, it feels deliciously indulgent.

He didn’t dream this time. That’s nice. He glances automatically to the carpet by the bedside as though to see the scraps and loose hair the leper left, but of course there’s nothing.

He didn’t dream about Richie either, and that’s good too. As far as he knows he’s never talked in his sleep, but that would be his luck. Richie would never let him hear the end of it if he somehow cottoned on that Eddie was dreaming about him. And the lucid dreaming—he has an idea that he should feel bad about that one, but it’s harmless imagination, and completely G-rated.

You know. Aside from the very presence of a gay person earning a higher rating from the, what, the film review board? Is that a thing? Or is he thinking about McCarthyism now? He’s pretty sure that there’s one board that does ratings for movies, and another board that used to watch movies and then arrest their directors for communist sympathies or the homosexual agenda.

Anyway, his sleep and dreaming are weird now, which should not surprise him considering the opioid painkillers he was prescribed. He has a vague idea that he’s following in a long line of medical tradition. He thinks a little about that horrifying scene in Gone with the Wind where the soldier is screaming for the doctors not to cut off his gangrenous leg and thinks, Boy, if that guy had a little of this stuff…

So that’s the mood he’s in, as he opens up the Wikipedia app on his phone. A little hazy and unnerved, pretty warm and comfortable, with Richie providing white noise in the next room. Out to answer the all-important question: What did thirteen-year-old me know about leprosy?

He suspects the answer isn’t much. And more stuff wrong than he got right.

His wander through Wikipedia tells him his assessment was basically correct: there’s all kinds of things that Eddie just made up out of thirteen-year-old anxiety. The way the eyes shifted; the cheekbone collapsed. The straining tight skin. That’s not leprosy. Eddie remembers it in the way that the worst things that ever happen to you stay in your mind, where good things fade or get written over. That’s what happens when you shy away from the mental image.

This time Eddie grabs it by the throat and stares it down. Puckered absence of a nose. Missing upper lip, twisted lower hanging open with a thread of drool.

Leprosy is just a bacterial infection. A long term one, causing nerve damage—Eddie’s right hand spasms closed and then open again where it lies next to him on the mattress—and eventual analgesia. And if you can’t feel your hands and you injure them, you might not notice. You might lose fingers when the wounds get infected and you don’t know, your eyesight’s degrading, you can’t read the flavors for the frozen yogurt in the shop—

Eddie closes his phone entirely and takes some deep breaths. He lets his phone thump onto the nightstand and pulls his right hand up in front of his face, turning it over and around. No scratches, no swelling. He uses the fingernails on his left hand to pinch at his right hand, squeezing the pads of his fingertips, making sure he feels it.

His hand is cold. When he makes a fist it feels weak—muscle weakness—but he can feel the little cold points where his fingers touch his palm. He didn’t realize that there was a heat difference between his palm and his fingers, but it makes sense, the surface area of skin related to heat loss and—

Richie’s gone quiet in the next room. Eddie hears him say something indistinct, and then nothing.

“Richie?” Eddie asks. He doesn’t raise his voice. Says it like he might if Richie were… across the room.

If Richie were on the other side of the bed, Eddie would whisper it.

Richie says nothing, because he doesn’t hear, because he’s asleep in the next room.

Eddie rolls onto his side and tucks his cold hand under his pillow so that the heat of the electric blanket will soak into it. He can feel it. He would notice if it got hurt.

He tries to tell himself to sleep but, as per usual, his body doesn’t want to listen to his commands. So he just lies there, staring at the ceiling, listening for Richie’s snoring to start up again.

You don’t have leprosy, dumbass.

You don’t have leprosy.

You don’t have leprosy.

“You don’t have leprosy,” Eddie mutters to himself, and picks up his phone again.

The incubation period of the disease, on average, is five years. Symptoms may occur within one year but can also take as long as twenty years or even more to occur.

He puts the phone down again and gets up from the bed. It is a more athletic endeavor than he’s proud of. He gets up on the left side of the bed and paces around to the window, bracing himself on the TV unit as he goes, making it wobble dangerously, pausing to stop and wonder if he’s about to knock over this TV in this hotel room registered under Richie’s name, because on one hand that would be extremely fucking funny and on the other hand kill him.

And if you do have leprosy—so what? You’re asymptomatic. You have some bigger problems. It might not even be a problem for the next twenty years. You could be sixty and someone would say, “Hey, Edward, we’ve noticed that you have leprosy, would you like some multidrug therapy for that?” And you’ll be sixty years old and you’ll sit back in your armchair—the government assigns you an armchair when you turn sixty—and you’ll say, “Nah, not really, because even if you cured me I would just do the same thing I’ve done for the whole rest of my life, which is fuckall.”

Eddie pauses on his quest to peer out the curtains at nighttime Bangor.

That got dark pretty fast.

He doesn’t have leprosy. He’s got a hole punched through his chest and some broken ribs and a number of incisions and definite nerve damage in his right arm, and probably an untreated panic disorder, and a prescription for opioid painkillers that might result in dependence based on his history with medication, but probably not considering how jazzed he’s been about experiencing pain lately. He doesn’t have leprosy.

Why the fuck was he so afraid of leprosy as a kid?

It wasn’t leprosy you were afraid of, it was AIDS.

Yeah, but why?

There are bright lights in the parking lot, shining down on all the cars. Eddie can see Mike’s truck, and if he squints maybe he can imagine a shape in the back of Ben’s car that might be Silver.

When they met up at the Jade of the Orient, Bev said, “Eddie, tell me you became a doctor,” but Eddie never did anything with all his fear of disease. He never set himself to fighting it. Instead he told himself that he harnessed all his fear, that he made it useful, that he enabled himself and others to look at the world logically and calculate the likelihood of bad things happening. Maybe if he’d sat down with the Merck manual or The Hot Zone or decided he wanted to dedicate his life to stopping the spread of infectious disease, things would have been different. Maybe he’d walk in like Bill did, secure in the knowledge that he was at the top of his field and wildly successful by any metric. Bill’s one of the best-selling authors in the world. Bill’s married to a literal movie star.

Bill was, like the rest of them, desperately unhappy.

He remembers that the electric blanket is still on and that it’s a hazard, especially when no one is using it, so he creeps over to the bed again slowly and fumbles for the switch to turn it off.

His mother never would have paid for medical school. Eddie would have had to do premed at a state school, probably, to qualify for scholarships, and then he would have had to fight tooth and nail to get into med school, and his mother would have had a fit at the time he spent studying and doing his medical internship and the system of being placed at hospitals—any hospital! Anywhere in the country! He could have gone anywhere! He could have left her.

And then when he became a doctor—let’s say one that specialized in infectious disease—

He covers his face with his hands.

Travel medicine, tropical medicine. Diagnostics. Patients with HIV and other immunodeficiencies. People who needed him. People Eddie could have put his needs aside for and stood up for and been brave for—it was always so much easier to be brave when someone else needed him, when Richie was in the deadlights and nobody else was gonna get him out, when they were all lost and they needed a guide, when the onus wasn’t on him and his limitations and his fears. I’m doing the fucking Mashed Potatoes all over It and I’ve got a broken arm! He could have been so much more than he was.

He gets up and walks back to the window. Beyond the light pollution of the city—not so strong in Bangor as it is in New York, obviously—it is a clear black night. He feels like there ought to be rain, some kind of condensation so that he can press his hand to the glass and watch it fog around his fingers. But nature is a higher power and has never given a shit about what Eddie Kaspbrak wants.

And instead of being somebody who does something for others, who makes a difference in the world, who makes other people feel better—Eddie gives corporations a chance to shut needy people down. Eddie warns them off bad investments. Eddie’s a form of regulation in a chaotic world, a logical perspective that looks past emotional influence, it’s Eddie’s job to put aside sentiment and be the bigger person, Eddie has a suit and a tie and a big manly car and a wife in an apartment and Eddie’s an adult now, this is part of growing up—

Is he crying?

Instead of tears he feels a flush of heat in his nose and his sinuses and he presses his hand to the bridge, a little astonished. He’s not crying but he could, if he let himself.

Go on. Go out there. Shake Richie awake and sit down on the edge of the sofa bed and tell him ‘I hate my life and my job and myself and I want to change things, I want to go back in time, I want to do better, I want to have meaning, I want to be a better person than I am, I want to feel good about being alive.’

Watch Richie staring back at you, sleep-fuzzy and confused and completely unable to see without his glasses on. And at least half-naked. And say, ‘Eds, what the fuck are you talking about?’

Because what does Eddie think he’s going to do in Bangor at—he checks the clock on the nightstand again—two-thirty in the morning, with a nice big ventilation gap cut into his torso and his ribs a set of busted windchimes and none of his own money?

He puts his forehead against the window. While it doesn’t oblige with the condensation, it is blissfully cold.

I don’t have leprosy.

And what if I did?

And maybe the Yellowstone caldera will erupt tomorrow and none of this will matter anyway.

But Eddie actually died. Not only did he live forty years of his life emotionally unfulfilled by everything he became, he died unhappy. And he doesn’t want to do it again.

“I’m gonna do something,” he tells himself, under his breath. “I’m gonna do something.”

So of course, in the morning, he can’t get up.

It’s an embarrassing realization. He goes to sit up on his elbows and his head reels and he thinks he’s going to black out, so he relaxes his muscles and gives himself a few minutes to recover from the headrush. Sometimes that happens. Eddie’s a man of a certain age, he’s definitely dehydrated, and sometimes a little bit of adjustment happening in the morning is normal.

So he lies awake on his pillow for a little bit, gradually feeling his pulse sink into the rest of his body all the way down to his toes. It makes him feel a little bit better about his circulation problems, makes him feel like the rest of his body is all on his team for once.

And he rolls onto his side and lifts his head and the room spins and he is forced to put his head back down.

He goes to take a deep breath but the pain is like getting punched in the back. It almost knocks the breath out of him again. He lets it out in a short little sigh, reaches for his water bottle, and takes a few sips to steady himself. Little sips, as Sarah would tell him. Then he sits up.

Every muscle from his neck down to his waist aches. He reaches up and puts the big joint of his thumb into his trapezius at the side of his neck. It’s hard as cable wire. In fact, his whole musculoskeletal system feels like that, like it could come through his skin at any moment.

“What the fuck,” he moans, pushing his knuckles in hard, and then he remembers Richie.

Richie is apparently lying in wait or something in the next room, because the next thing Eddie hears is him calling, “Eddie?”

Please no. Please no.

“Yeah?” Eddie manages.

“You up?”

“No, stupid, I’m in a REM cycle right now.” Then he grimaces at himself. That was a reflex. And bad temper. There’s no reason to snap at Richie first thing in the morning, Richie hasn’t even done anything, it’s all Eddie’s problem.

He hears footsteps outside the bedroom door and—

“Don’t come in!” he says hurriedly.

The footsteps stop. Eddie imagines he can see little shadows of Richie standing on the other side of the door.

There’s a moment of quiet and then Richie asks, “You jerking off?”

“No, dickwad,” Eddie says, floundering around for the shirt to his pajama set. He took it off when he lay down on the electric blanket, knowing that fully-dressed he would just start sweating. He finds it, gets his arm through one sleeve, and realizes it’s inside-out. His arms protest at being made to operate at this level of panic so early in the morning. “I’m naked. Don’t come in.”

“Hot,” Richie says through the door, impossible to tell if he’s being sarcastic or not.

Which he has to be. Right?

But what if he’s not?

Eddie stills in the process of turning his shirt right-side out and looks around as though for a camera. Is he being punked?

“So Stan and Patty are getting ready to leave for the airport but they wanted to see you before they go. I was gonna wake you up in like half an hour if you didn’t on your own.”

“Hang on,” Eddie says, because he’s a grown-ass man and he’s not going to have this whole conversation through the door. He gets his arms through his pajama sleeves, gasps a little as he pulls the shirt up over his shoulders because ouch, and swears to himself as he tries to rapidly do buttons with his clumsy fingers. Once he’s decent he says, “Okay, you can come in.”

“Nobody gets in to see the wizard! Not nobody, not no how!” Richie says, because he’s Richie, and then he twists the doorknob and the door opens.

Eddie realizes his mistake almost immediately.

Richie just kind of leans there in the doorway, looking like a college kid. His hair is sleep-ruffled and fluffy, his eyes are bleary behind his massive glasses, and he’s wearing a t-shirt and boxers. They’re patterned with tacos and hot sauce, because of fucking course they are. He looks—and Eddie hates himself for thinking this—fucking adorable. It’s despicable. Richie’s a forty-year-old man. Eddie is almost certain he hasn’t brushed his teeth yet, but there he is, holding one of the hotel-provided mugs and letting the smell of coffee into the room.

And Eddie is on a bed. He might be dressed in his blue-and-white pinstriped armor again, but he’s definitely on a bed, and he definitely feels vulnerable.

“Oh my god,” Richie says slowly, staring back at him, and Eddie has the horrible irrational fear that Richie has suddenly gained the ability to read minds. But then Richie just says, “What are you wearing?”

Eddie looks down at himself. There’s nothing wrong with his pajamas. They’re sensible and warm and not made out of any ridiculous material. It’s not like Eddie brought a set of monogrammed silk pajamas when he had the vague idea he was going to die in Derry.

Which he did, apparently, though it still doesn’t feel real. How odd that Eddie has the satisfaction of being right and none of the ability to enjoy it.

“Pajamas,” he replies, helpfully pointing out the blindingly obvious. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

Richie ignores the question and puts his free hand over his mouth. “Did they not come in the feetie pajamas version? With the butt flap in the back? Is there a little hood you can pull up over your head and just coze in?”

How the fuck does he manage to make coze sound lascivious? The tacos and hot sauce bottles have faces. They appear to be flirting with each other; little hearts sitting between the pairs. Eddie’s not looking.

Eddie blinks at him and settles into a glare. “You know what really drives me insane?”

“Thirty-percent off linens and whites sales at Macy’s?” Richie suggests, sipping his coffee.

“That you are a man who is medically permitted to take a shower. And you still insist on looking like that.”

Richie grins, sudden, startling. “Oh, rush me to the burn unit, Dr. K, that’s some hot stuff.” He sips his coffee again. “Do you need to borrow anything? Shirt? Social Security card? Jockstrap?”

Eddie stares at him, not thinking about jockstraps at all, before he says, “Tell me you don’t carry your social security card around with you, that’s way harder to replace than anything else in your wallet if it gets stolen.”

“Man, I don’t even know where my social security card is,” Richie says. “Are you getting up or are you napping for half an hour before the Stanley and Patricia Uris Goodbye Tour?”

Right. Because Eddie’s on a bed. He could just… lie back down. Richie could look at him, from the doorway, while he lay prone on a bed. Which he’s done before, but this time Richie would be aware that Eddie’s looking back at him, and…

He takes a deep breath and says, “I need my painkillers. And a shirt. And I’m gonna lie down for half an hour.”

“’Kay,” Richie says indifferently. “You need more water?”

More water would be helpful when Eddie’s fighting the urge to vomit up all his pills. He nods a little vaguely, kind of surprised that Richie offered.

“Cool,” Richie says. “After that I’m gonna take a shower, because someone destroyed my self-image, so take a piss while you can. And there’re bagels, if you want them. And little travel tubes of cream cheese, it’s fucking gross.”

He turns away from the door. They made the exchange of suitcases last night, Richie dragging Eddie’s suitcases into the bedroom as he dragged his out to rest beside the couch. Eddie watches his back as he goes, knowing for a fact that Richie did not sleep with a shirt on last night. It was dark, but his eyesight’s not that bad.

He hobbles through the Jack and Jill to the wetroom and grits his teeth while he uses the toilet. He hopes his urinary tract infection is mostly gone, but he’s still got a course of antibiotics to finish, because when people don’t finish their antibiotics you get antibiotic-resistant superbug urinary tract infections and technically Eddie has already had one of those. So he’s going to choke down the pills. He tells himself this sternly in a mental voice that is definitely his own, neither Sonia Kaspbrak’s nor a dream leper’s.

Richie appears in the wetroom while Eddie is slowly and agonizingly washing his hands. “Okay, I’m gonna—you okay?”

Eddie looks up and makes eye contact with Richie in the mirror. Richie looks spooked, his lips pulled back from his teeth in kind of scare-grimace. Eddie lets himself look at his own reflection.

He’s pale as fuck, he’s still broken out all over his face so he’s bright white with irregular red splotches, and there so many bags under his eyes he can shop reusable at Whole Foods without guilt. And half of his face is swallowed by his truly terrible beard, which he needs to shave, but he can’t do because he has limited functionality of his right hand and a new deep suspicion of shiny objects.

And he’s in a lot of pain.

“I’m gonna lie down,” Eddie says. “Wake me up in half an hour.”

“Okay,” Richie says, looking dubious. “The, uh, meds and stuff are next to your bed, the shirt’s laid out. If you need longer, man, I’m sure that’s okay.”

“Half an hour,” Eddie says. “I want to see Stan.”

And if he still feels like this in half an hour, once the painkillers are working their way through his system—he’s gonna have to cave and make Richie take him back to the hospital.

Half an hour later the entire world is looking much better. Eddie’s body has been drugged into submission, and he’s kneading idly into his neck and shoulders with the knuckle of his left hand. He didn’t realize until he put the shirt on that the swirling green pattern is not abstract feathering, it is a bunch of very small lizards layered overtop one another.

“What makes the cream cheeses gross?” he asks.

Richie’s hair is still wet from the shower. He’s wearing a dark gray t-shirt under a blue button-down patterned with small turtles, and he absolutely didn’t dry himself off properly when he dressed because there are small patches of wet where the fabric touches his skin. And he smells like hotel shower products, all of which seem to be variations on the same almond theme, which means Eddie’s kind of taking deep breaths to catch the sweet smell layered on top of the warm dark animal scent that is Richie.

At least Eddie realizes he’s high this time.

“Because it’s in a tube, man, come on,” Richie says, which seems like an arbitrary complaint about a fermented semisolid dairy product. “I’ll take you down to the hotel restaurant if you want, like, real food, they have omelets and shit.”

Eddie is not getting in that elevator until he has to. “Tubes are gross?”

One of Richie’s hands comes up and brushes over his hair, checking if it’s dry. Richie needs a haircut. The length is okay, but it’s getting straggly on the ends, and Eddie’s sure it would be healthier if Richie would just take care of it a little better. It’s not that far from the curls he had when they were in school, once he grew out of that bowl cut.

“Are you eating a bagel?” Richie asks.

Eddie might. He wants to see why tubed cream cheese is gross first.

Richie leans down on the other side of the table and picks up a tube of cream cheese. He holds it up between them. “Okay. Watch closely now.”

He waggles the fingers of his other hand over it like he’s nine and showing off his Intro to Magic kit. Eddie leans in a little closer to look. Richie pinches the packaging where it’s indicated. He has nice fingernails, Eddie thinks stupidly, watching them. Trimmed carefully close, far neater than Eddie ever remembers seeing them when they were kids. There’s a hangnail threatening just under the nailbed on his thumb, though. Eddie feels inexplicably put out by that, as if a hangnail is something he could defend Richie from.

“Presto change-o,” Richie says, and when he tears open the packet of cream cheese a little pale liquid dribbles out of the grey plastic.

Eddie stares at the cream cheese and then back up at him. “That’s it?” he asks, but memories are coming back—Richie pulling faces over an open jar of peanut butter at the Tozier house, gagging as he stirred it with a knife. Eddie finds himself grinning almost accidentally. “You’re forty years old and you still can’t stand oil in your condiments?”

“It’s in a tube! You can’t mix it back in!”

Eddie grins wider. “You’re a big baby.”

Richie opens his mouth in a caricature of offense. “I’m a big baby?” he demands. “How many naps did you take yesterday, big man?”

“I’m drugged!”

“We bought you a blankie.”

It’s a really nice blanket. Eddie is very satisfied and far prefers it to the hotel bedspread. He leans down at the table and presses harder at the other side of his neck.

Richie’s voice is soft when he asks, “You okay, man?”

Eddie takes a deep breath and admits, quietly, “I’m in pain.”

“Okay,” Richie says. He drops the cream cheese on the table because at this point neither of them knows why he’s holding it, but he looks at Eddie like he doesn’t know what to do. “Are your meds helping at all?”

“Yes,” Eddie says.

He might be having a little bit of a fantasy right now, thanks to Richie’s blatant scalp massage in the hospital, about Richie nudging Eddie’s hands aside and sinking his own knuckles into Eddie’s shoulders. But Eddie’s pretty sure he would make some graphic noises if that happened and he’s not gonna put himself in that situation.

He remembers though. How good it felt. How his brain shut down and just focused on that, and nothing else. It felt like meditation of some sort—the mindfulness the office mental health point people (which is a stupid thing to have in an office, as if Eddie wants to tell Kim from marketing about his problems) were always pitching at the annual regional conference.

“What do you need?” Richie asks. “We’re gonna meet Stan in the lobby, if that works. We can go get basically whatever.”

Eddie considers, then decides, “Bagel,” and reaches for the gross tube of cream cheese.

He’s eating the bagel when Stan and Patty come into the lobby with their luggage. He doesn’t get up from his armchair—he’s trying to save that until he has to—but they both smile at him as they make their rounds of the Losers. Patty’s almost a full foot shorter than Mike but she hugs him with enthusiasm, and that’s fun to watch, her just vanishing into Mike.

“How’d everyone sleep?” Stan asks. He looks tired and slightly rumpled, his curls thick and wild. His shirt is wrinkled. It’s not the Stanley Uris that Eddie ever expected to see grow up—if he ever thought about what they’d look like as adults, which he can’t say he did beyond that one conversation with Beverly before the Oath—but Eddie’s a little relieved that Stan’s not so unbending and rigid now. He’s glad he has that.

“Captain Eds has had one nap today already,” Richie reports, because he’s an asshole.

“Richie’s afraid of cream cheese,” Eddie announces.

That gets more funny looks than Richie’s comment, for obvious reasons, so Eddie feels triumphant as Richie hurriedly explains about oil and how packaging prevents stirring, scowling at Eddie the whole time.

Patty looks at Eddie eating and makes a small sound of dismay. “Oh, Eddie. I thought you’d be on my side about the bagels?”

Eddie blinks at her.

“Aside from my parents, that’s what I miss most about New York,” Patty says mournfully.

Eddie remembers their one-percent-bagel conversation in the hospital. “I don’t know any better. I’ve never enjoyed food before,” he says honestly.

Ben seems to visibly twitch, his eyebrows hiking up as he looks around at Eddie, but he averts his gaze almost immediately.

“He can start with Maine bagels and work his way up,” Stan suggests to Patty.

Mike clears his throat.

Everyone remembers that Mike has never left the state of Maine.

“And Mike!” Patty says hurriedly. “You’re going to see all kinds of amazing things! Would you send us postcards? Stanley, did you give them our address?”

Stan grimaces. “I can text it.”

Patty frowns a little, apparently confused.

Mike says, “I have it, don’t worry. I can definitely send you postcards.”

“That’s because Mike’s a stalker,” Richie stage-whispers.

“Oh, Richie, your Google alerts are never boring,” Mike replies.

Despite this obviously being a joke, Richie makes a show of preening, combing his fingers through the hair at the back of his head a little fussily, which makes Bev laugh and Eddie quickly look down at his bagel so he doesn’t stare.

“And you have to come visit if you come to Georgia,” Patty insists, and then looks around at Bev and Ben. “You too.”

“Maybe,” Bev says, hugging Patty in turn. Patty is a full four inches taller than her. “We haven’t decided our route yet. I think we’re going to kind of play it by ear?” She looks around at Ben as though for confirmation. Ben smiles and shrugs.

Eddie glances at Richie and finds that something odd is happening with him and Stan. While the others talk, Richie has Stan half-folded into a hug, but Stan is looking up at him with an extremely familiar expression: what the fuck did you just say, Trashmouth?, a key emotion for anyone acquainted with Richie. On Stan it’s wide-eyed and exasperated and somewhat furious, and he looks thirteen years old again. It’s pleasantly nostalgic.

It’s Richie who’s breaking the script. Instead of being gleeful about getting a reaction out of Stan, he looks like he’d like the floor to open up and swallow him whole. He glances at Eddie out of the corner of his eye, averts his gaze immediately when he sees Eddie staring back, and then leans down a little to whisper in Stan’s ear.

Annoyed at being left out and suspicious that they might be discussing him right in front of him, Eddie asks at full volume, “What’re you guys talking about?”

Patty, Mike, Bev, and Ben all turn around to look at them. This was Eddie’s desired effect, but Richie goes rigid and Stan releases him, still glaring.

“Gossiping about B-b-big B-b-bill,” Richie lies. Eddie can tell. Richie wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught talking about Bill, and Stan wouldn’t look half-irate about it.

“Oh really?” Eddie asks. “What about?”

Stan folds his arms over his chest and looks back at Richie. “Yeah, Trashmouth,” he says. “Share with the class.”

“I don’t have to do anything unless she tells me,” Richie says, pointing at Patty.

Patty is frowning, an odd look on her face. After a long pause, she says slowly, “I don’t understand why you call him that.” There’s a strange pressing tone in her voice.

“It’s because he swore so much as a kid,” Stan says. “Using all the dirty words, saying just bad jokes. Trashmouth.”

“No, not you,” Patty says, and folds her arms over her chest. Stan starts smiling. “You, Richie.”

Richie blinks several times, looking like he’s trying and failing to reset correctly. “Big Bill?” he asks. “Maybe you’d have had to see him back in the day, but it only got ironic once he never broke five-eight—”

“That’s not how you said it,” Patty interrupts. She shifts her weight and Stan’s expression relaxes suddenly, glare just evaporating and being replaced by a kind of shocked and gleeful open-mouthed smile.

Richie looks blank and then says, “Oh, the stutter?”

“Yes,” Patty says. “Do you always talk about him behind his back like that?”

Yeah, Richie, do you always talk about him behind his back like that?

Eddie finds himself mirroring Stan’s expression as Richie, forty years old, gets chewed out by the teacher.

“Sometimes I say it to his face, too,” Richie offers, unfazed.

“Hmm,” Patty says. It’s a tiny sound. It conveys fathoms of how unimpressed she is. “Do you always make fun of people with speech impediments?”

“I—” Richie blinks again and produces a string of incoherent gibberish that ends in him looking to Stan for help. Stan grins wider and shakes his head, leaving Richie to drown.

“Oh my god, Patty,” Bev says, and lays her hand on Patty’s shoulder. Patty looks around at her, expression softening. “It is time to induct you into the Losers Club with the sacred words.”

Patty’s disapproving posture drops at once and she looks bemused. “Okay.”

Eddie watches, feeling darkly satisfied, as Ben and Mike, “Beep beep, Richie!”

Richie looks at the floor with a thousand-yard stare. “Am I being bullied?” he asks very softly.

Patty hugs Eddie too, telling him not to get up as he moves to rise from his chair and pressing her cheek to his. “And you have to come to visit too,” she tells him seriously, hands on Eddie’s shoulders. “Promise?”

Eddie feels a little bit trapped in the chair with Patty pinning him like that. “Uh, promise,” he manages. Her hands are very warm. He’s cold again. “Thank you for, uh.” For giving Stan back. For accepting that we’re his friends and not turning us away. “Listening,” he manages.

Patty’s expression shifts a little. Eddie is reminded—oddly, considering she’s standing right next to her in this little semicircle in the lobby—of Bev. Bev determined. Bev pulling back the cup on a slingshot with certainty in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she says in an undertone. “For him.”

Stan also leans down to hug Eddie goodbye, but there’s a faint threat in his face. “We’re gonna talk,” he says to Eddie.

“Okay?” Eddie asks, not sure what there is to talk about exactly.

“I love you,” Stan says in the exact same tone.

“I love you too?” Eddie says, wondering why Stan sounds like he’d like to beat him up.

Stan grabs either side of Eddie’s head and stamps his greasy hair with a kiss.

Eddie cringes. “Noooo, I’m not allowed to shower until tomorrow, don’t smell me.”

Stan points a finger at Eddie and gives him a ferocious look. Then the Urises leave the hotel.

The remaining Losers have breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Richie has a second cup of coffee while Eddie scowls at the menu.

“Do you want tea or anything, Eddie?” Bev asks.

Eddie hates tea. He’s never thought about it until now, but he hates it. “Not allowed,” he says instead. “Dehydrating.”

“But you’re supposed to be packing in the calories?” Mike asks, as though checking to make sure.

Eddie nods.

“How about hot chocolate?” Mike suggests.

There’s a heartbeat where Eddie just processes the possibility, and then he sits up straight and nods ferociously. Bev laughs, Ben gives a quiet smile, and Richie—surprisingly—doesn’t say anything to tease, just watches with unveiled amusement, like he’s in a joke that Eddie doesn’t know.

It’s kind of irritating, actually. Like a little grain of sand, just sitting there, grating. A six-foot-one grain of sand.

Eddie is definitely still stoned when the waiter comes by, and he gets a little lost watching people put in their orders, not really understanding that the waiter is looking at him expectantly until Mike goes ahead and orders two hot chocolates.

“Do you want whipped cream?” the waiter asks.

“You know we want whipped cream,” Mike says, as Eddie nods.

“Do you want the hot chocolates extra hot?”

Eddie, shivering, has never loved anybody the way he loves this waiter.

That’s all he orders. Ben keeps giving him anxious glances as Eddie sits there and slowly melts into his hot chocolate, but Eddie doesn’t really mind. Nobody’s pressuring him to order something he can’t eat right now. At one point the table goes silent and he looks up to find everyone looking at him with various amused expressions. Richie is full-on smirking.

“Hmm?” Eddie asks.

Richie’s mouth works a little, lip twitching. “Good hot chocolate?” he asks.

Eddie squints at him. “Why are you being…?” he starts, then frowns deeper trying to come up with the word.

Richie’s face changes. Goes blank, all of a sudden, like he’s turned off his whole personality. Suddenly there’s a complete stranger staring at Eddie from the other side of the table. Big guy, solemn eyes behind the guard of glasses, his mouth a flat line. “Being what?” he says, voice several notes lower than normal.

Nobody says anything. Bev, in the middle of cutting triangles out of her omelet, sets her fork down.

Eddie has no idea what the fuck just happened.

Then Richie smiles. It’s neither a nice smile nor a threatening smile, but at least it’s recognizable as his. “Being what?” he repeats on a rising note, his voice gentler.

Feeling out of his depth, Eddie winds three fingers of his right hand through the handle on the mug. They’re all that will fit through this tiny loop. The heat through the ceramic warms his knuckles.

“So suspicious,” he says, mulish, aware he’s being sulky and childish and hating it.

There’s a moment while they all process that. Mike exhales slowly and the steam from his mug billows around his face.

And then Richie’s back, grinning a Richie smile and eating his home fries with maple syrup like an animal. “Suspicious?” he says, his voice innocent in a way that means he wants Eddie to know he’s up to something. “Why, whatever are you talking about, Eddie my love?” His open vowels tend toward the Southern, like he’s about to burst into an I do declare.

Eddie’s mouth is thick with chocolate and froth from the whipped cream. He should have ordered water too, just to clear it. He’s sure that his words will come out slow.

“You’re like at the lunch table in high school again,” he complains. “Whispering with Stan and when I catch you at it you’re just like—” He beams in his best impression of an adolescent Richie Tozier, chin lifted and teeth bared. “‘Your hair looks nice, Eds!’”

Richie’s reaction is over the top, but in a Richie way instead of a performative way. He laughs so hard he snorts, which they always made fun of him for in high school, so Eddie sincerely doubts it’s on purpose. “Is that me?” he manages. “Was that me? Did you just—”

“You’re just taking hits left and right on impressions,” Mike observes. “First Stan, now Eddie.”

“I know, fuck me, right?” Richie says. He drinks from his water. There’s a flush on his face. Eddie watches the ice cubes collide with each other in the glass, hears the little atonal clinks. Richie gulps and sets the glass back down, and there’s a little ring of condensation on the table.

Eddie looks up from the tabletop to see Ben watching him. Part of him that feels uncomfortably caught—though doing what, Eddie doesn’t know—wants to snap back with the what are you looking at? But it’s slowed by mixed pharmaceutical intervention and hot chocolate with whipped cream. He feels like a kid on a snow day or something. Instead Eddie meets Ben’s gaze and tilts his head to the side, wordless inquisition.

“Pretty accurate,” Bev offers. She’s not wearing makeup; her eyelids are lavender and pink with tiredness. She looks the kind of soft that Richie does without his glasses.

Eddie has never had brunch with his friends before. It feels incredibly indulgent all at once.

“Well, before I was baselessly maligned,” Richie says, playing faux-wounded, “I was planning our itinerary. So if I look suspicious, Eds, it’s only because you’re not used to what I look like when the gears are grinding.” He waggles an index finger toward his own ear, indicating the mechanisms of his mind.

Eddie squints at him again. “What did Stan say?”

Richie’s eyebrows go flat, annoyed, though Eddie can’t quite tell if it’s with him or with Stan. “Stan was asking me please not to steal his wife away, it can be so difficult at his age with a dick like—” Richie makes an obscene gesture with his thumb. “—to find anyone—”

“Okay, okay.” Ben reaches out, puts a hand over Richie’s, and pushes it down to the table. “The man’s not here to defend himself.”

Eddie considers for long moments before he settles on a reference that pleases him. He raises his hot chocolate to his mouth with both hands. “Fine, then. Keep your secrets.”

Instead of responding to the joke—which Eddie knows he gets, Richie’s still a big honking nerd—Richie just sighs a little and says, “I was going to go meet your drug dealer—”

“Are you talking about the pharmacy?” Eddie interrupts, resigned.

“—and see if either of your scrips are ready. But I think in order to fully embrace my new suspicious aura I’m also gonna commit some white-collar crime and maybe some unethical journalism practices. I’ll decide on the way. Do you want anything from the drugstore?”

But he doesn’t ask Eddie if he wants to come with him. Eddie’s not sure what he would answer if given the option. On one hand, he’s not moving any faster today than he was yesterday, and technically he feels worse. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to be confined to the hotel.

Where are you? Eddie thinks clearly. Come back.

Kiss me, I’m sweet.

“No,” he says instead. “I’m okay.”

Richie gives him the bored expression, eyelids half-shuttered, looking about ten seconds away from death. It reminds Eddie forcibly that there’s no point in even approaching politeness with Richie. It’s a foreign language to him.

And on the off chance that Eddie’s prescriptions are ready today instead of tomorrow, they could be on the road soon. Eddie could wake up in the morning and take a shower and then get in the car and drive away from Maine and—not never come back, but he’ll get a three-week reprieve before his follow-up.

“Okay,” Eddie says, trying to think through his cloudy head. He squints one eye shut, trying to force a level of focus that will make his higher thinking come online. “Motion sickness meds.”

“Are you still having the ear—”

“Yes,” Eddie says.

“Ear?” Mike asks.

“There’s fluid in my ear,” Eddie says, because that’s not an illness, that’s simply a location problem. Eddie cannot remember ever getting lost in his life, so he doesn’t have a lot of patience for his body parts doing so. If a liver cell migrated up to his stomach and started trying to grow a new liver there, he would be equally irritated.

Ben frowns. “I’ve had that. Don’t you have to get that dried up with meds?”

Richie switches gears, head turning as stiffly as an automaton. “How’d you get that?” he demands.

Ben responds to the interrogation with typical Ben Hanscom nonchalance. “Airplane. Back in like 2005. I kept getting woozy on elevators and in cars.”

“I’m not woozy,” Eddie says, but he doesn’t clarify that it means he almost spat up a bagel in the elevator on the way down to the lobby this morning.

Richie fixes Eddie with a stare. “Was it happening before the whole—” He waves a hand to indicate It and everything after.

How’s Eddie supposed to know? He was drunk most of the time he was here, which means that he was hungover for the rest of it. Everything wrong with him he kind of chalked up to drug and alcohol interactions.

“You were pretty sick in the car on the way to the frozen yogurt shop,” Bev reminds him.

“I wasn’t sick,” Eddie snaps.

Everyone goes quiet. Bev’s eyebrows lift. Ben turns from Richie to Eddie and blinks slowly. It’s all the worse because there’s no reproach in his gaze, but Eddie can feel it.

“Sorry,” Eddie says. He shakes his head. “Sorry, it’s not—”

“I get it,” Bev replies.

“I don’t—I didn’t mean.”

“I,” Bev repeats, her voice a little more insistent, “get it.”

Richie says, “If we go back to the hospital you don’t have to tough out a ten-hour car ride where you want to puke your guts out.”

“No,” Eddie says, and scowls down at his hot chocolate, a little mad at them for detracting from his brunch experience. Brunch is a meal for trust-fund college kids, anyway. Eddie’s an adult and he shouldn’t be doing things like making up meals or eating breakfast for dinner or—

Actually breakfast for dinner sounds fun, so long as Richie isn’t putting maple syrup on top of things in front of him again. Violating some kind of meaningless rule. Eddie’s forty and trying to rebel against authority and maybe he’ll start with some pancakes. It would be okay if Richie put maple syrup on pancakes.

He needs ibuprofen for his muscle aches, because there will be times when his prescription painkillers wear down in their effectiveness before he's scheduled for another dose and Eddie’s muscles are screaming knots despite the electric blanket that functions as a full-body heating pad. And—he wants junk food, too. Not that he’s banking entirely on the variety available at a drugstore, but his brain is full of Swiss rolls and gross pie things from gas stations and chocolate-covered gummy bears, which sounded heinous the first time he heard of them but now sound intriguing, except he’s not very hungry right now.

He requests Advil and snacks.

Richie raises his eyebrow. “Snacks?”

“Snacks,” Eddie confirms, and refuses to clarify.

Richie doesn’t even make a joke out of it, just accepts his shopping list, pays for his breakfast—and Eddie’s hot chocolate—and goes to the drugstore with Mike.

Ben says, “So when you say you’ve never enjoyed food.”

Eddie is back on the couch in Ben and Bev’s hotel suite. They were nice enough to go with him up to Richie’s room—using the spare keycard Richie dropped on the table in front of Eddie as he departed—to fetch the electric blanket, and now Eddie’s wrapped in it like a burrito with it on a solid two, trying to cook himself down into some kind of limp noodle. Bev sits in the center of the couch, leaning less and less subtly into the warmth of the blanket—which is good, because every time Eddie touches her exposed shoulder her skin is cool and he’s getting worried about her. On her other side is Ben, who is by now looking at Eddie speculatively and completely ignoring A League of Their Own on the hotel television.

Eddie’s not sure what Ben’s getting at or how he should respond to it. What is there to say about it?

“Fat, grease, and salt were the enemy,” he says. “No fast food, no take-out, no pizza delivery. Mom cooked, and she cooked little portions, and she barely ever ate what she made—”

Unkindly Eddie thinks of the snack food lining the cabinets in the kitchen and how those are Mommy’s treats for working hard, okay, Eddie-bear? When you’re a grown-up with a grown-up job you can treat yourself too, and you’re a growing boy, you need healthier fare, but he never had, and for the longest time it was because he assumed he’d reached a certain level of being a grown-up where he no longer wanted them.

“No restaurants. Organic this, organic that, no bovine growth hormone, no GMOs, none of those—those chickens that can’t stand up under their own weight.” He grimaces. “Well-done meat. No salmonella, no parasites, no Monsters Inside Me, no tapeworms, no dairy, no nuts, no gluten, no soy.”

Ben is looking at him like he’s also trying to mentally divine a menu there based on the things Eddie’s telling him, using the process of elimination. Eddie knows it’s a struggle; he’s been there. “Vegetables?”

Sometimes,” Eddie says, because vegetables are a loaded topic too. Chemicals on them, pesticides. Mushrooms grown in animal fertilizer with dirt and god knows what else clinging to them in their little foam containers. Careful labels on everything in the fridge with the date it was bought and the date it had to be thrown out. Myra worked fast food when she was a teenager and still talks about her Serve-Safe certification. Eddie’s kitchen should have had her accreditations framed on the wall.

And when Eddie didn’t have the time or the inclination to wait for his homemade lunch to heat up in the office microwave, sometimes he went down to the cheese and wine store on the corner outside the office and bought a sandwich. They made them to order right there in front of him, soft bread rolls and roast beef folded carefully and the neatly-placed wedges of cheese and a salty pickle spear tucked into the bag for him. Eight dollars. Eddie tried only to pay cash for it, afraid that Myra would look at their accounts and see a charge for a liquor store and assume he was hiding something far more devastating than an overpriced sandwich.

Ben’s are better, anyway.

“That’s kind of how it’s been for me,” Ben says quietly. “Salad and salad mixes, and Weight Watchers, and…” He grimaces. “I bought half a cow from a local farmer this summer and I’m gonna be eating my way through it for like the next year.”

Eddie has the vague impression that that’s good, because it’s better for the environment to buy locally and factory farming is an abomination for which mankind will have to answer one day. But he’s anxious at the same time—even though the meat in question is nowhere near him and it’s not like Ben is requesting he eat it or anything—about whether local regulations are as rigid as state or federal, and under what jurisdiction small cattle ranchers fall, and how often private butcher’s shops are cleaned, and—

“But I haven’t liked eating much in a while either,” Ben says, calmly interrupting the beginnings of Eddie’s smile.

“Me neither,” Bev says. Eddie turns his head to look at her. She’s watching the baseball smack into Geena Davis’s palm with the ghost of a smile.

Eddie remembers, suddenly, a game that they played outside Keene’s pharmacy, just the three of them. Well, and some little squeaker who couldn’t beat Bev at pitching pennies, so he spat your mother’s a whore! at her and then ran for his life when Ben just roared at him and charged. Eddie understood, in that moment, everything that his mother had always slyly implied about Beverly Marsh, as Bev started to cry. He’d had no concept of it beforehand, despite hanging around Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, but just the way that dumb kid threw it at Bev, he understood.

My mother is not a nice woman.

That was an interesting thought to have. Sonia Kaspbrak took care of Eddie, and that was nice of her, wasn’t it? There were some parents who didn’t take care of their children at all—and Bill suggested, sometimes, that this was what his parents were turning into, too busy looking at the empty space Georgie left behind. But Eddie understood then that Sonia wasn’t like the other mothers—not like Mrs. Uris, who invited the boys in and only calmly and quietly admonished them for their language when they got too loud; or like Maggie Tozier who would allow things to build only so far until she would say, That’s it, Richard, it’s time for your friends to go home, and Richie would beg and plead and Bill and Eddie would creep out awkwardly and Stan would march out without even a hint of discomfort on his face, Thank you for having me, Mrs. Tozier. You’re welcome, Stanley.

And at the same time Eddie felt terribly guilty, because if he thought that his mother wasn’t a nice woman, what did that say about him as a son? Nice sons didn’t think those things about their mothers—didn’t disagree with their mothers the way Eddie did, quietly, in his head, almost constantly for years, until it built up and built up and—

“You wanna order room service?” Bev asks.

Over an hour later Richie comes back with a knock on the door. When Ben goes to let him in, he finds Bev and Eddie crouched around a plate like animals hoarding a kill. He stops just inside the doorway and takes a deep breath like he can smell it.

“What the hell is that?” he asks, reasonably.

“Irish nachos,” Bev says. “Waffle fries with cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream, salsa, and pickled jalapeños.”

Richie whistles, too loud for a hotel room, and takes a few more steps inside, lifting his head to inspect the tray on the table as though its secrets can only be divined from a distance. Then he looks at Eddie with half a grin on his face, mouth open, that fucking overbite.

“You’re eating pickled jalapeños?” he asks.

Eddie, mouth still sour and burning, nods.

Richie crosses his arms and leans onto the back of one of the chairs. “I don’t know if I believe you.”

“Eat a dick,” Eddie suggests, which makes Richie snort laughing and Bev giggle. He reaches out and grabs one of the waffle fries, cheese pulling away from the mass in strings, and crams it in his mouth. He tries to chew on the side that doesn’t have a stab wound in it, because while he thinks it’s mostly healed, that’s a mistake he’ll only make once.

It’s disgusting. It’s also fucking delicious, sour and hot and savory and tangy and starchy. There’s a thread of cheese hanging off his lower lip and he sticks out his tongue to catch it. The potatoes crush up soft in his teeth. There’s definitely something wrong with the tooth that was part of his stab wound, because heat and cold both make it ache—but the sheer joy of eating something this weird and probably bad for him is enough to put that aside almost entirely. He swallows, his mouth still watering.

Richie has a perfectly bland look on his face, though his eyebrows are slightly raised. He brings up both hands and begins a slow clap. “Somewhere, eleven-year-old Eddie is having a shitfit,” he says calmly, clapping arrhythmically.

Eddie wrinkles his nose at the suggestion and reaches for his water to rinse some of the burn out of his mouth. “What do you mean, ‘somewhere’? We know exactly where.”

“What happens in Derry stays in Derry,” Richie says.

There’s a faint sinisterness not just to his words but also his tone, and Ben looks around at him with a creased forehead and faint frown.

Bev says, “No, that’s what we’re trying to avoid, Richie. We did that for twenty-seven years.”

“Oh, my mistake,” Richie says, lowering his hands. He waggles his eyebrows at Eddie. “Trade you good news for a fry.”

“Irish nacho,” Eddie says. “And it better not be about my mom.”

“I wouldn’t say your mother is good news, I’d say she’s great news, because my dick is—” His voice cracks down into a booming Tony-the-Tiger growl. “—gr-r-r-r-eat.

Eddie grimaces, trying to hide the short jerks of his chest as he stifles a laugh, and turns to Bev to confer.

“No nachos for you,” Bev says. Eddie nods.

“I don’t see any nachos here,” Richie says. “I see a bunch of white people on some waffle fries. And I don’t think any of you are even Irish.”

Eddie frowns, quickly doing a rundown of possible origins of the Losers’ last names. Bev’s recuses herself from the discussion by eating more loaded fries.

“Did you leave Mike at the store?” Ben asks drily.

“Yeah, you know him, he’s so little and sneaky, he just slips away.”

Richie plants an elbow on the table next to Eddie and leans all the way across to grab a fry. His shoulder eclipses most of Eddie’s view of the room, and the smell of leather comes over him again—mixed with something chemical. Eddie doesn’t know if it’s because it’s a newer leather jacket—and also fuck Richie for going out and buying a second leather jacket while Eddie was in the hospital, because wow—or because he was hanging out in a drugstore for a little bit. Richie is almost delicate as he extracts a fry from the heap on the plate, carefully balancing its scoop of salsa and sour cream, the trailing ends of threads of cheese, and the jalapeño that stands in a little dot on top, like a crown. He opens his stupid wide mouth and crams the whole thing inside, looking like a python eating an egg.

And then he talks with his mouth full.

“Nah, he said he was going to a camping store, and I offered to go with him, but—” Richie chews two or three times and Eddie can see the moment that the heat from the jalapeño hits him because his eyes pop a little and he covers his mouth with his hand. “Damn,” he says, still muffled, and reaches out for a second one before he’s even finished chewing. He pulls the fry out as carefully as if he’s playing Jenga and holds it in his hand—stupid big hand with the stupid long fingers and the big sharp joints of his knuckles. “—but I think he realized how many tent jokes I would make and he declined my offer.” Richie looks down at the plate in something like bewilderment and then looks around at Ben. “I’m gonna need like two more plates of these.”

Eddie elbows him in the side. He gets Richie under the ribs where he’s soft; Richie hisses and leans away from him.

“So that I’m not stealing from you!” Richie protests. “Look, you’re little, it’d be a crime to take food out of your mouth—you too, Bev, you’re like a doll. Haystack.” He surveys Ben almost speculatively. “You can fight me for the fries.”

“Nachos,” Ben corrects. He’s smiling a little, looking amused by Richie in general.

“I’m not fucking little,” Eddie grouses.

Which Richie responds to by putting one hand on top of Eddie’s head and ruffling his disgusting greasy hair so hard it feels like an open-handed noogie. “Cute, cute, cute,” he sings, and it’s such an old gesture that Eddie grits his teeth and feels like a child all at once, like what he should do next is lunge at Richie and try to take it out of his hide.

But Eddie’s hurt. And either Richie would be nice about it—would let Eddie wrestle him like they’re kids again, which considering the little red scab across the bridge of Richie’s nose seems likely—or Eddie would manage to land himself back in the hospital.

It’s just not fair. Eddie feels breathless with the sheer unfairness of his life and his body and the entire world, and he can’t even take it out on Richie.

Richie is chewing with his mouth open again. How is Eddie attracted to this man? It’s like he was a kid and his brain and body decided, Okay, that one, and decided that no matter what Richie did Eddie would follow him around and berate him for it and love him.

“So do you want your drugs or what?” Richie asks. “That’s the good news. Your scrips are in. You are a relatively free man.”

Eddie does, in fact, want his drugs. He wants his drugs not so he can take them but so that he can say he’s checked all of the boxes on the list of things he has to accomplish before he can leave the state of Maine and drive, guilt-free, into the sunset with Richie Tozier.

Or—into upstate New York. Also with Richie Tozier. For three weeks.

Eddie feels small and grouchy so he wears the unplugged electric blanket like a cape over his shoulders into the elevator, the cord coiled in his hands. He feels like a goddamn hobbit, but it’s weirdly comforting in a way, like he’s wearing a Halloween costume or something, like he’s not himself. Like all of this is happening to someone else.

He holds onto the handrail and leans against the wall and grits his teeth hard as his head swims to the movement of the elevator.

“Is this the kind of situation where me being distracting is helpful, or the kind of situation where if I talk you’ll knock my teeth in?” Richie asks pleasantly.

It’s two floors. It’s a very short elevator ride.

“Rich, literally everything you do is distracting,” Eddie says. “You are inherently distracting as a person. You possess all of the qualities of an excellent distraction, which was why you were always lookout when we were kids, and somehow you still managed to be really bad at doing it on purpose.”

“Oooh, compliment me more,” Richie coos.

Eddie flips him off with the hand holding the knotted power cord. Richie smiles back at him, pleased as ever to be insulted. Eddie lowers his finger and looks at the floor so he doesn’t have to look at Richie beaming reflected in the mirrored walls.

“I’ll try the Dramamine,” Eddie says. “It should help with the motion sickness.” That’s what it’s for. He can practically taste the sour bitter chalkiness on his tongue already, and then he feels pressure on the back of his tongue.

Please no.

The elevator doors open and Eddie lurches out under his blanket cape, walking as quickly down the hall as he can manage. He’s stiff from the neck down, basically—pain stretching up from his ribs and his chest wound into his shoulders, and then down from his back into his hips and thighs and calves and feet because he’s unused to walking around, because apparently a couple of weeks in the ICU is enough to cause muscular degeneration on at least some scale, and he has to move slowly, but he moves deliberately.

“So I wanted to talk to you about travel plans,” Richie says as he unlocks the door with the keycard, oblivious to impending disaster. As always, he holds the door open for Eddie, hand placed high up on it so that Eddie can walk under his arm.

A pulse of certainty shoots from Eddie’s stomach to his throat. He walks into the hotel suite without responding, throws the blanket onto the couch—which Richie folded up into a couch again at some point—and walks into the bathroom. He closes the door. When he hits the switch for the light the vent starts automatically, and the whirring noise is good, but he has no illusions about whether it will be loud enough, so he switches on the shower that he’s not allowed to use and lets the water pound like hail into the porcelain tub.

He throws up. It’s bad, so soon after eating that he feels like everything barely hit his stomach, and then he keeps retching, standing up with his right forearm braced against his torso so that the contractions of his muscles don’t hurt his chest, his broken ribs. He puts his left hand on the wall behind the toilet and tries to hold himself up, but with that weird certainty through which the body preserves itself, all of his weakness seems to fade away in the actual act of vomiting.


No, no, no.

“Don’t—” Eddie chokes, gags, dry heaves, and the door opens.

He should have locked it. Stupid. He should have locked it.

He fumbles automatically for the flusher because he doesn’t want Richie to see, tries to force out the words Get out but it’s like talking in a dream, and he keeps gagging and spitting and his mouth and nose and throat burn.

Richie’s hands close on either side of his head and hold him up. Pressure on Eddie’s temples, weirdly comforting at the same time as it’s humiliating.

“I gotcha,” Richie says. He’s standing behind Eddie.

Eddie doesn’t want to be had, Eddie wants to do everything himself for maybe the first time in his life, and he can’t because his body’s out of his control—he thought he could get it under his control, once he wrested it out from other people’s grips, but it turns out he wasn’t enough in the first place, and—

He’s crying. He’s definitely crying. His eyes are running and his sinuses are swelling. He gags, coughs, spits, and grimaces.

He’s still nauseated. That’s what tells him it’s something inherent to him, not food poisoning or the like—not that it’s even been long enough since he ate for him to have food poisoning, unless it was the hot chocolate or the bagel—

Eddie starts giggling.

Richie appears in his peripheral vision, head tilting sideways to look Eddie in the face, and Eddie closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see his expression. “What?”

“Cream cheese,” Eddie manages.

There’s a pause, and then Richie’s broad triumphant voice, too loud for this little room: “So are you saying I was right?”

“No—” His voice feels like it’s trying to come out of a pinhole, like there’s no room for him in his body at all. He shakes his head, still laughing. It hurts his ribs. Everything hurts his ribs, and his chest. Why did they discharge him at all, if he’s not fit to be walking around like this? His closed eyelids burn. “—I’m saying—” Raspy all the way. “—but what if you were?”

“Truly a sign of the apocalypse,” Richie agrees. His voice fills up the space, him and the refilling toilet and running shower and over their heads the humming vent. Eddie can barely believe that Richie can hear him in the first place, and then he wonders what if Richie’s lipreading him, and he hates the idea of Richie looking at his mouth right now. “You done?”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says, and it comes out… wrong. Sincerer than Eddie’s ever said it—angry, but not mean. Just helpless. It’s like if Eddie fell on his face in front of Richie and pounded the ground because he was furious at himself, choked with self-pity, and Richie just had to stand there and watch. He opens his eyes—tears roll out like horses out of the gate, stinging like acid—and flushes the toilet once more.

Ben spent money on that room service. What a waste.

Eddie rips off a couple of squares of toilet paper and wipes his mouth and blows his nose, jerking his head as he tries to duck out from under Richie’s hands. It’s not effective—Eddie’s unsteady and has to brace himself on the doorframe, because now he’s done his whole body is trembling, shivering, weak and cold—but Richie releases his head.

“Was that the elevator?” Richie asks.

“I don’t fucking know,” Eddie says in his stupid delicate voice. “It could have been the elevator. It could have been the meds. It could have been my stomach capacity. It could have been the first fucking rich food I’ve had in my life—it could have been any number of things, because I’m fucking broken, all right, Richie? I don’t know.”

“’Kay,” Richie says calmly in his bright accepting tone, like this is all part of the game. Richie asks a stupid question, Eddie rips into him for it, Richie goes into paroxysms of delight over being abused so.

Eddie’s not playing. Eddie is weak and small and stupid and self-pitying and he thinks that if he and Richie were actually fighting, Eddie would be going for blood right now, but Richie’s not the problem. Eddie’s the problem.

“You want to lie down?”

“No,” Eddie grumbles, but he doesn’t have a choice. Not the bed—not where he dreamed of the leper, peeling off its skin and revealing all along where the problem lay. Not where he’ll be vulnerable. He lurches back out to the kitchenette and yanks one of the many bottles of water out of the minifridge. There’s a second sink in the kitchenette, a big industrial metal number that Eddie swishes and spits into, feeling sick. Then he staggers over to the couch and collapses down on top of his abandoned blanket.

He puts his face into it. It’s a heavy artificial fiber, and he can feel the wires inside it. Like a kid, he feels comforted.

Richie is still standing just outside the bathroom doorway. Eddie can feel him watching him, and he hates him for it, just a little.

“So I have a proposition for you,” Richie says.

Eddie sighs. “Really?” he asks, muffled.

“Yeah, that’s what I was saying before you had some kind of allergic reaction to my presence.”

Eddie snorts. He doesn’t have any allergies; and it’s so like Richie to make this about him, an extension of the offer for distraction in the elevator. He feels mixed familiarity and irritation, added to the childish swirl of everything is terrible in his head.

“So I know you want to get on the road tomorrow,” Richie says.

If Richie suggests they go back to the hospital, Eddie really will start shouting. He’s always hated I told you so’s, and they rarely came from Richie’s direction—usually Stan or Bill, actually, which was enough to send Eddie into furious stomping tantrums when they were in grade school. He can feel himself regressing, back to someone who hated being small and hated being weak and hated being babied or pitied, and so lashed out when he was scared.

He feels something click into place in his head. A faint memory.

Scared, Eddie-bear?

“And Ben so kindly offered to allow us to crash what is clearly a honeymoon phase of him and Bev having wild monkey sex in his cottage in the forest, where I’m sure no murders have ever happened,” Richie goes on.

Eddie doesn’t have the energy to respond to that, obscene as it is.

“But that’s ten hours in a car.”

“And?” Eddie manages.

“So,” Richie says, “what if instead of doing ten hours all in one shot, we did five hours tomorrow, and then five hours the next day, and paced ourselves?”

Eddie doesn’t really know what happens to him when he hears that.

All his shivery weakness goes away, but the cold stays there. It settles on his skin, almost, forming a patina. Metal, implacable.

Slowly Eddie slides his forearms under him on the couch and lifts his head and chest up from the cushions so he can look at Richie. He has to move slow—he’s not really frightened about popping stitches right now, though he suspects he probably should be—to balance his weight and make sure it lands on his hips, not on his broken ribs. He reaches out and braces his left hand on the arm of the couch to hold himself up.

Richie is leaning against the far wall, his leather jacket still on. With his crossed arms he’s posed like some kind of bad boy from a teen movie. The anxious look on his face ruins it.

Eddie’s eyes feel swollen and his cheeks feel raw and he should definitely brush his teeth.

“No,” he says. It comes out stronger than he thought his voice would allow right now. He’s almost relieved.

Richie’s eyebrows lift. His anxious look smooths out, becoming cool in turn. Matching Eddie’s tone. Mimicking him.

Eddie doesn’t want to have to justify himself right now, but he strongly suspects that Richie’s not going to say anything, is just going to keep looking at him sprawled pathetic on the couch—which is where Richie slept last night because Eddie put him out of his own bed.

“I’m not slowing down Ben and Bev,” he says. “Bev wants to get away as bad as I do, if not more. I’m not making her wait any longer.”

Richie shakes his head. “You and me,” he says. “Separate car. Ben and Bev basically get a headstart, get to christen every room in what I imagine is Ben’s impeccably designed house—”

“Beep,” Eddie says. The air in his lungs feels hot.

Richie falls silent. Eddie doesn’t even have to give the second beep. Richie’s left eyebrow flicks minutely higher, turning his gaze challenging. His chin lifts slightly. Portrait of Richie Tozier, combative but listening.

Eddie takes another breath. It’s hard, with his chest restricted like this. Feels kind of good to struggle for it, actually. He takes strength from that.

“Tell me what you were actually going to say about our travel plans,” he says. “Before I puked my guts out.”

Richie blinks once, expression shifting to surprised, like Eddie wasn’t going to put the pieces together.

“Uh, I was gonna say—” He tilts his head back, gaze flicking up toward the ceiling like he’s trying to remember his exact phrasing. “‘You remember how you fucked my mom and never called her back, you son of a bitch? Well, karma’s coming around and his name is Richie Tozier, I’m kidnapping you and taking you to Connecticut.’”

It’s such a stupid thing to say that Eddie believes him immediately, believes that’s what Richie was gearing up to say as they were walking into the suite. It’s also completely not what he was expecting. Several things slot to place in Eddie’s mind—that Richie’s parents are alive, living in Connecticut and “doing white people things,” as Richie put it; that Connecticut is something of the midway point between here and New York; and that Richie’s been texting his mother. That Richie had a very publicized breakdown and then, presumably, went off the grid. That Richie said Maggie Tozier was asking for proof of life.

“Oh,” Eddie says. The iron melts out of him. It’s unnecessary. Self-involved of him. Childish. Temper tantrum.

“Yeah, oh,” Richie scoffs.

Eddie takes a deep breath, sits up all the way, and releases it. His lungs still feel tight. He doesn’t know whether that’s the stress or just the materials he’s working with right now.

“Rich, if you wanna go see your parents, you don’t have to take me with you,” Eddie says. “You can just—I mean—” He doesn’t really understand healthy relationships with your parents, so he takes a shot in the dark. “—if they’re important to you and you want to see them, you can just go. You don’t have to, uh.”

Oh, somewhere in there Eddie made a mistake.

Richie points like a hunting dog, body coming off the wall and snapping to attention like he’s about to cross the room to get to Eddie, but he doesn’t. Not because there’s a table in the way, either. The perpetual slouch goes out of him and Richie is once again big and broad-shouldered and now he’s alert and focusing all his attention on Eddie.

“Don’t have to what?” he asks. His tone is gentle. He’s not smiling; he’s just showing his teeth. Oh god.

This is the second time he’s done this today, Eddie says, trying to make sense of an emerging pattern. What did Eddie do that triggered that response? What’s it building towards? What defused Richie earlier at the table?

He has no idea. He has no choice but to answer Richie’s questions.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” he says, because it’s the truth. “If you—” He almost grimaces when he says it but he pushes through it. “—want to get back to your life, you can. You don’t have to worry about me.”

And why wouldn’t he? Richie has a great life: he’s semi-famous; he doesn’t owe anything to anybody; he doesn’t even seem to care much about his work, based on his inability to recognize his own material from the mouth of a fan. And—Eddie swallows, watching Richie practically shift the light balance in the room with the force of how hard he’s staring at Eddie—he’s sure there are people waiting for him.

Richie doesn’t date. Doesn’t do relationships; doesn’t get involved in the emotional baggage, and Eddie comes with a whole hell of a lot of baggage, literal and figurative. He’s not gonna want what Eddie has to offer, if Eddie ever gets around to spitting out the words when he’s not half-comatose and drugged to the gills. There’s a sunk cost fallacy and then there’s—whatever this is. Just because Richie has sunk a lot of effort into taking care of Eddie (ugh), fulfilling whatever stupid whims he has—it doesn’t mean he has to. He can just cut loose and walk away and go back to his life, and Eddie can—can go to New York with Ben and Beverly and go about the work of trying to figure out who the hell he is in the absence of all the structure he’s been growing around for the last few decades.

Richie does not move in the wake of this statement. He stares at Eddie, his closed mouth stretching wide and thin. Furious.

And then he storms toward the door.

Something in Eddie buckles—don’t leave me! I knew you would leave me! I always knew you would leave me!—and he recoils from it, revolted by his own response. He almost wants to say If you have to go, then go, but this is Richie’s hotel room, Eddie’s the one who should go, but Eddie can’t, and he’s forcing Richie out, and—

Richie turns around, shoulders basically level with his ears, standing in front of the door. His jaw is clenched. Eddie can’t hear his teeth grinding—fuck, they never turned off the shower in the bathroom—but he knows what that pulsing muscle or tendon or whatever the fuck it is means.

When Richie speaks, his tone is deceptively calm.

“I thought we worked this out,” he says.

Eddie has no idea what that means, because he knows there are ample other things he has to work out with Richie and at the moment the matter of what’s settled is kind of difficult for him to focus on while he’s trying to manage the shifting gears of whatever Richie is doing. Apparently this is reflected in Eddie’s face, because Richie goes on.

“That I’d go with you,” he says.

I’d go. Not I’m going.

“I mean—I’m not gonna hold you to that, if you…”

Richie seems to swell with anger, chest expanding so much that Eddie almost expects to hear the leather jacket creak. “If I want to go back to my precious little life, yeah. Thanks for that, Eddie, for cutting me that favor. Before I go, can you do me one more?” Eddie blinks but before he has time to calculate a response for that, Richie asks, “Can you tell me where the fuck I can get another Eddie Kaspbrak?”

It’s so venomous that Eddie reels back a little. Richie’s always been good at that—good-natured to a point, and then he cuts where it’ll hurt. Eddie swallows around his numb tongue, trying to find some of that steel he had earlier, but it’s gone.

“Because this one’s broken?” he asks, voice too high and too vulnerable.

For a moment they stare at each other across the suite.

Then Richie exhales and blinks slowly and his shoulders slump a little, no longer ready to huff and puff and blow the house down.

“Because you fucking died,” Richie says. “You died, Eddie. You were dead. You—” He waves a hand, fingers twirling in a way that makes Eddie think of bugs flying away or something, and then he jabs at his own chest. “—but I knew you were dead, Eddie. You didn’t know, but I knew.”

“Why the fuck is me dying about you now?” Eddie demands.

Richie seems to be physically shaking now. “You—” He holds both hands out in front of him, cupped toward each other like he’s holding Eddie’s head again, like maybe he’d like to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. “—you died, and I thought, ‘That’s it,’ and then you came back, and then you died again, and I thought, ‘Shit, that’s for sure it this time,’ and you still came back, you fucking indestructible little monster. Why the fuck—” He presses his hand to his mouth hard.

“Richie,” Eddie says. He sounds defeated. Maybe he is. “I am so tired.”

Richie lowers his hand and lets out a breath. “Fuck my life,” he says. “I’m going with you, literally wherever you let me. You wanna go back to Derry and dig your phone out of the fucking cave-in? Stupid idea. I’m in. You want to go do fucking astronaut training in the desert? Okay. You don’t—you—” More flailing, more reaching out, grabbing something that’s not there, almost pleading. “—you don’t get fourth chances, Eddie.”

Eddie realizes that his stinking mouth is open, his jaw hanging useless with shock.

Richie doesn’t want to go back to his life either. And while technically all of them had a near-death experience or two, Eddie’s was definitely the biggest. And sometimes just that catalyst is all that you need.

In the wake of that, Richie goes slack and leans back against the door and fidgets a little, pushing at his hair with his hands. “Also, I don’t know what part of ‘come with me to my parents’ place’ made you think, Ah, yes, this guy’s trying to dump me like a sack of hot trash.”

Eddie grits his teeth and wraps one arm around himself and closes his mouth and presses the knuckles of his numb hand to the line of his lip and tries not to cry again. “I don’t want you to have to.” His voice cracks. Fuck.

“Have to what?” He sounds like he genuinely doesn’t understand.

“I don’t want—” Swallow, choke it down. “—I don’t want you to have to hold my head, I don’t want you counting out my pills, I don’t want you to—to give up your bed, or to—I don’t want you to think—I don’t want you to be her.”

And Richie.

Richie fucking Tozier.

He leans one elbow casually on the door and drawls out, “Sugah, I caught a lot of things from your mother, but responsibility ain’t one of ’em.”

And Eddie is kind of teetering on a thin line of tears, so it’s no surprise that when he starts laughing—not giggling, full-on belly-laughing, painful, out of control, can’t breathe, can’t catch his breath, empty lungs—his eyes leak and tears carve tracks down his face, across the still-healing wound on his cheek. They drip off his chin. He’s never cried like this in his life, his jaw clenched, his nose running, his chest still gasping out hysterical laughter in something like convulsions. He pitches sideways into the arm of the couch and covers his head.

“Take right now, for instance,” Richie says. “Right now, I’m clearly endangering your health. There’s a lot more where that came from.”

Eddie can’t even get a breath into tell him to shut up, and honestly he doesn’t want to.

“And,” Richie says, “I don’t care that you just puked up everything you’ve eaten since the Clinton administration, don’t get comfy on my bed there. What, you think you can have everything in the room because you caught a little case of death?”

“Patty said I can do whatever I want,” Eddie gasps out.

“Teacher ain’t here, is she?”

“Thought you said you’d do astronaut training with me.”

“Did I say astronaut? Sorry, I just meant ass.”

Eddie can’t breathe and it doesn’t even matter. “What does that even mean?”

“Oh, honey, if you have to ask.” Richie loses some of the luxurious vowels of his taunting voice and asks in something like real concern, “Are you all right?”

Eddie nods and waves a hand for him to keep going. “They do that in the desert?”

“Yeah, it’s training because the sand gets everywhere.”

Eddie wraps both arms around his ribcage to brace himself, opens his mouth wide, and takes some gasping breaths. It feels like he has a sucking chest wound. Wonder why that might be.

“I knew you watched the fucking prequels,” he manages, once he’s gotten his breath back.

“How?” Richie demands, sounding genuinely baffled. “You keep saying I knew this, I knew that—fucking how? And everybody watched the fucking prequels.”

“Because you’re coarse, you’re irritating, and you get everywhere.”

“Do you know memes?” Richie demands. “Who are you?”

What the fuck is a meme? Eddie leans back against the couch and yawns hugely. “Eddie fucking Kaspbrak, apparently.”

“Apparently,” Richie agrees. He’s still hovering in front of the door, but now he’s self-conscious about it, doesn’t know how to hold his arms once he’s done raging. He sniffs and then asks, “So do you want to come to Connecticut with me? I’ll let you say gross things about my dad, now you’re out and proud.”

“Tempting,” Eddie says dryly. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes.

“Come on, the man said open wide professionally for like forty-years, he’s low-hanging fruit. And if you fall asleep like that you’re gonna get a crick in your neck.”

“Fuck off,” he replies. Fairly pleasantly, he thinks.

“I’m just saying, just because I just vowed to follow you anywhere, don’t think you’re getting the Magic Hands services for free.”

“Do not fucking touch me.

Richie laughs, and it’s fine, because he’s just Richie. Eddie can’t get another Richie Tozier either.