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Now What I'm Gonna Say May Sound Indelicate

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Eddie tires quickly, but apparently so does Wentworth Tozier. At a certain point in the evening’s conversation he yawns—the deep groaning yawn of dads everywhere, Eddie remembers it not just from Bill’s and Stan’s dads but also from Wentworth himself some thirty years ago, now performed from the trachea instead of the mouth. Richie begins giggling immediately and, mouth still open, Went flips him off with his free hand. He seems to gulp for a moment and Eddie has a wobbling anxiety about whether he’s about to watch Richie’s dad vomit casually in this living room, and then Went says in guttural tones that seem to come from somewhere else, “This disrespect. In my own home.”

Richie leans all the way back in his armchair and tilts his head back a little bit. Eddie’s gaze falls automatically to his Adam’s apple and realizes that Richie is mimicking his dad, swallowing air. Then Richie sits up straight and puts on a bright face. His mouth doesn’t open, but he definitely emits the sound, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star!”

Eddie is so alarmed his feet come up off the floor like he’s seen a mouse. Richie clocks him immediately, grinning with more teeth than most humans consider polite for mixed company. Went seems to share Eddie’s confusion, having jerked his head back as though to increase the distance between himself and his son without actually getting up.

Maggie claps her hands together. “Can you do it again?” she asks.

Richie, happy to show off, appears to swallow more air before singing, “How I wonder what you are!” with his mouth shut.

Maggie applauds again. “Did you learn that from a book?”

“A friend,” Richie says.

Eddie and Wentworth both stare at him. Slowly Eddie lowers his feet back to the floor and says, somewhat quietly in the room, “I either need to go to bed or to start drinking.”

“Seconded,” Went says. He points at Eddie with his free hand and Eddie freezes in place on the loveseat. “Don’t go anywhere,” he says, and gets up.

Eddie looks around at Richie for some clue as to what’s about to happen, but Richie looks unconcerned, still preening. Well, he’s not actually moving, but from the self-satisfied tilt of his head Eddie knows that’s what he’s doing. Went walks around the couch, behind it, and up the stairs. He hears a door open. Eddie has time to wonder whether he’s just entered into some kind of bizarre hospitality pact where he has to remain on the loveseat until Went comes down again in the morning, when Went tromps back down the stairs, his steps heavy.

Richie turns his head to look at his dad as Went steps clear of the railing. “Oh god,” Richie says, looking away, his head thumping back on the cushion of the chair. Eddie has seen that face countless times on teenage Richie, and its recurrence just makes Eddie feel like he’s digging up Richie out of a time capsule.

Went comes back around the couch, walks across the living room, and then presents Eddie with an array of plastic-wrapped toothbrushes.

“Dad,” Richie complains.

Eddie does not move, wondering whether his toothbrushing skills are so egregiously subpar that Wentworth, a professional, was offended and is trying to convey this by giving him a toothbrush, as a sort of do better gesture.

“I think you’re an aggressive brusher,” Wentworth says, covering his stoma again so his voice comes out hoarse but kind, the way that sometimes Eddie’s anonymous peer reviews say that Eddie is bright and competent but he can’t take criticism, as if Eddie cares what his peers have to say. “You’re wearing down your gums. If you were my patient, I’d refer you to a periodontist for a gum graft.”

Eddie has no idea what that is and he is horrified at the prospect. Like a skin graft? For the gums? Someone else’s gums in his mouth? Eddie will do whatever he has to to prevent that from happening.

“So this is a Nimbus,” Went says. “They’re very soft toothbrushes. The bristles are very fine, so it’ll hurt your gums less. And it’ll make brushing that—well, not painless, but less excruciating.”

Eddie blinks once before he admits, “Less excruciating would be an improvement.”

“There you go.”

Went holds his hand out a little further, prompting Eddie to take one. Eddie is forty years old and he’s too old to choose a toothbrush based on color instead of bristle softness or effectiveness at removing plaque, but Wentworth is a retired dentist, and Eddie’s going to have to believe that Wentworth has done the research for him, meaning he’s free to be frivolous. He takes the red one.

“Thank you,” he says.

Instead of replying Wentworth smiles a Richie grin, one whole half of his face scrunching up, and then he walks back around the couch toward the stairs. He leans over the back of the couch to kiss Maggie on the top of the head. “Good night,” he says. He walks a few steps further and then reaches out and presses his knuckles into the top of Richie’s head. Richie winces. “Good night.”

“Bastard,” Richie says.

Went snorts and goes upstairs, waving as he does. “Good night, Eddie.”

Eddie waves back at him. “Good night,” he says dumbly, and then looks down at the toothbrush in his hand. His throat hurts, all of a sudden, as though he might cry, and he doesn’t quite understand why. He looks over at Richie.

Richie is slumped in the chair in a way that’s going to hurt his back in the morning, his head at an unlikely angle with his jaw propped on his hand. He looks at Eddie for a long moment, eyes narrowed in something like contemplation, and then looks at Maggie.

“When do you turn into a pumpkin, Ma?” he asks.

Maggie smiles and shrugs. She looks very young in that moment, like a girl from an old-timey TV show kicking her feet on a porch swing. “Whenever,” she says, looking from Richie to Eddie. Her pleased face has the same narrowed eyes as Richie’s thoughtful face. “What time do you want to get on the road tomorrow?”

Richie reverses his slouch to lean the other way, still contemplative, glancing at Eddie. “It’s like, what, five hours?”

“On I-90 West,” Eddie confirms. Ben, being a responsible person when not attacking underage werewolves with lawn garbage, provided them with ample instructions, a street address, and what Eddie strongly suspects are global positioning coordinates. Eddie very much appreciates Ben. He glances down and checks his phone, oddly satisfied to see a number of notifications in the group chat, at least some of which definitely have to be about Richie’s baby pictures.

Richie looks back at Maggie. “Yeah. So not too early. We don’t have a set time to arrive or anything, so whenever we’re both up and ready to go.” He shrugs, not quite the same gesture as his mother. Maggie shrugs narrowly, shoulders hunching in on each other; Richie shrugs in a way that takes up space.

Eddie sits there awkwardly, knowing that what Richie is saying loosely translates to I’m waiting on Eddie. Which is fine, Eddie tells himself. Sleep is very important for healing, and he’s still waking up at appropriate morning hours, which is impressive considering how long he spent in the hospital with no daily commitments other than the staff carrying him around every two hours to prevent blood clots. And now that he’s here, he doesn’t need to set an alarm to be sure he gets to say goodbye to Stan and Patty or Mike or Ben and Bev. He just needs to sleep and heal, because he’s injured, and his body needs the rest.

It’s fine, he tries to tell himself. He has a funny idea—mostly learned from his hospital stay, from hobbling back and forth to bathrooms and poor Nathan standing at the sink giving him as much dignity as the situation will allow—that there are things his body needs, and Eddie may not be happy about giving them to it, but if he doesn’t, his body will take it. Something about a deep animal impulse for survival, responses that his body knows how to trigger that Eddie doesn’t. If we run out of blood, we will crash. If we crash on the table, but they apply more blood and electricity, we can make a life out of that. If Stan breathes in our mouth and Richie beats our heart for us—well, that’s not quite as good as doing it ourselves, but those two are almost us anyway.

“I think I’m going to go to bed, too,” Eddie offers. He has the feeling that Richie and Maggie both saw this coming. He looks at Richie and says, “I’m not going to set an alarm, so whenever…?”

Richie nods, the rapid bob of the head that felt so familiar in the restaurant and helped superimpose the familiar frog-faced kid on the unknown square-jawed man. “Yeah, go for it. It’s Chez Marguerite. We’re on island time, buddy.”

Buddy. Eddie almost grins at that. He thinks he remembers that in the hospital he was angry at Richie for calling him that, but here at Richie’s parents’ house it feels almost like a stamp of approval, like a title. Under these terms does Edward Kaspbrak take shelter in our dwelling, and let all who see him know he is: buddy.

“The bathroom’s down that hall on the left,” Maggie says. “Towels are in the closet directly across from it, and there are bottles of water in the fridge. Also if you need to get up in the middle of the night and eat something, there are Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and jelly.”

Richie whistles. “Really pulling out all the stops, Maggie.”

“Someday, Richard, when you have a grown-up house, you too can eat Ritz crackers in bed.”

“The height of luxury.”

On that note, Eddie retreats to the blue room and the implied safety of his array of suitcases, his new red toothbrush in hand. He notices with faint surprise that Richie also brought in his electric blanket and left it folded on the foot of the bed. Eddie sets his plastic-wrapped toothbrush down on it and opens up his toiletry case, retrieving his toothpaste, his face wash, his night medicine.

Richie and his mother are still talking when he creeps back out to get ready for bed, but they’ve lowered their voices now—not in a way that suggests they’re discussing something secret, but in a way that suggests they’re trying to be considerate. If Eddie listens hard—as he picks his way to the bathroom—he can hear mechanical wheezing from upstairs. Wentworth uses some kind of breathing machine.

“—heard you were going to be in New York, so of course that was my first assumption.”

Richie says, his tone curiously flat, “Why would that be your first assumption? She’s married with a kid.”

“I know she’s married with a kid, we’re friends on Facebook.”

“You’re—” Eddie has the unique experience of hearing Richie’s voice break, not tearful, but as though he’s too appalled to speak. Eddie glances over his shoulder as he enters the bathroom, but Richie’s not paying attention to him. Eddie doesn’t know who they’re talking about, so he brushes his teeth and tends to his other ablutions. The new toothbrush is excellent. It is as soft as promised.

There’s a little bit of fluid leaking out of his incision site. There’s no visible stain on the skull shirt (Eddie forgot he was wearing the goddamn skull shirt), but there’s definitely a damp patch. He grimaces as he sniffs at it. It doesn’t smell good, but it doesn’t smell rancid or like rot or anything. He turns to look at it in the mirror, and the bruising is spectacular but he can’t see any swelling or redness around it either. Probably because his whole torso is still black and eggplant purple.

He curses himself in the mirror a little bit and then leans out of the bathroom. “Hey, Rich?”

Richie is leaning forward in his armchair, his expression extremely serious as he talks to his mother. They both look around at Eddie, who holds the skull shirt up in front of his chest as if that’ll help with anything. Richie’s face immediately smooths out. “Need a hand?”

Maggie Tozier’s expression is politely inquiring.

“Uh, yeah,” Eddie admits. He swallows. “Don’t look at the wound, I don’t want you to puke.”

Richie gets up and Eddie hears his knee pop from all the way over here. Richie grimaces and stretches, arms up over his head, his hands laced together and pushing toward the ceiling.

Maggie Tozier looks a little alarmed. “Did that hurt?”

“Yep,” Richie says. He lets his arms fall. “I’m getting old, Maggie.”

“You inherited my knees,” Maggie says gravely.

Richie chuckles and walks over to the bathroom. Eddie resists the urge to shut the door a little further as he waits, self-conscious not just about what he’s asking Richie to do for him, but also about Maggie Tozier patiently waiting in her living room for her son to come back.

“I have emotional responses other than vomiting,” Richie murmurs. He nudges Eddie off to the side and rolls up his sleeves to wash his hands without being asked. Eddie watches him wait with his fingers under the water for a few seconds, waiting for it to properly heat, before he soaps up.

“Like what?” Eddie asks Richie’s forearms. 

It’s hard not to. Richie scrubs up to his elbows, streaks of white suds against black hair. Eddie jerks his eyes back up before Richie can notice him staring, but Richie’s brow is furrowed in concentration as he leans down and tries to fit his whole elbow in the tiny round sink so he can rinse. Eddie can see the reflection in the tripartite mirror over the medicine cabinet—very high placed. The Toziers are all tall.

Richie chuckles again, his voice low. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he intones. He turns back and holds out one hand in Eddie’s general direction. 

Eddie stares at him, nonplussed, for several moments before he realizes that Richie’s reaching for the towel on the rack behind him.

Eddie takes one step backward and out of the way. “Crying?” he asks, thinking of nothing so much as Richie’s “Phlebotomy” playlist.

Richie laughs. “Yeah.” He reaches out for the box of bandages and pulls one out in its white wrapper. “All right, turn around, show me the target.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Eddie says, turning anyway.

“How am I supposed to say it?”

“I don’t care how you say it, don’t look at it.”

“You just told me not to say it like that! We both know that’s physically impossible, I kinda gotta look unless you want this sucker covering your mouth.” Richie has a point under all the sass: the injury has a kind of gravitational pull for the eye, like a black hold in Eddie’s torso. There’s a plasticky stretching sound as Richie peels the backing off the bandage. “Is this gonna hurt you?”

Eddie swallows. “I mean, it needs to be secure. You can’t just, uh. You gotta put it on so it stays on.”

“And the overlap on the stitches is fine?” Richie’s voice is casual, almost clinical about it.

Eddie cringes. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Incoming.” Richie presses the bandage onto his back. Eddie feels him run a fingertip across the top edge of the bandage, and then down along the left side. It doesn’t hurt exactly, but Richie is by definition pushing a bruise. Eddie makes a face as Richie repeats the move across the right edge, then along the bottom. “All right, will that work for you?”

“Should,” Eddie says, revolted at the very idea of Richie seeing his wounds. For a moment he considers asking Richie if he’s doing laundry and if he could throw the skull shirt in with it, but Eddie’s probably going to have to go at it with stain remover just because he knows what’s on it. “Thanks.” He starts to pull his hoodie on over his bare chest. The hoodie seems to have missed most of the drainage, and for that Eddie is grateful.

“No problem,” Richie says. Eddie’s grimacing as he tries to pull the sleeves up onto his shoulders. “Are you sleeping in that?” he asks, incredulous.

“No,” Eddie says. He glances at the door and then at Richie—who is not making eye contact, but staring in the vicinity of Eddie’s belly button. Sheer anxiety propels Eddie into getting the hoodie up into place and he hisses in pain.

Richie’s head snaps up and he makes eye contact with him, one brow raised. “Did that hurt? Why are you doing that if it hurts?”

“Your—” Eddie glares at him and then looks at the door again. “Your mother’s out there.” He’s not even happy with Richie seeing him like this, he’s not going to subject Maggie to it.

“Ah, yes, and if there’s one thing we know about my mother, it’s that she’s never seen a shirtless man before,” Richie says, before raising his voice slightly. “Hey, Ma?”

“Fuck,” Eddie mumbles, grimacing hard enough to close his eyes.

“Yes?” Maggie calls back, perfectly pleasant.

“Eddie’s half-naked, avert your eyes.”

“Okay,” she says just as brightly.

Eddie hisses at Richie, “Fuck off.”

Richie holds up both his hands. “Fucking off,” he says. He steps backward out of the open bathroom door and goes. Eddie finds himself staring into the dark hallway, at the closed door behind which lurks the basement, where Richie will be sleeping.

He dreams about it. Not It for once, not really. Instead he’s outside his body, watching himself sleep, shirtless on the electric blanket like a lizard warming itself on a hot rock. He can dimly feel that the arm pinned under him is going numb, but rolling onto his front or back is still too painful for him to sleep through.

Instead he turns—not in bed, but standing beside it in the navy dark of the blue room—and crosses the room. There’s no reflection in the glass doors of the Ikea bookcases; he feels carpet soft under his feet as he walks to the door. There’s a slight step up out of the room. He opens the door very slowly, backing up and making room for it, and then carefully steps up.

There’s no answering jolt in his chest as he shifts his weight. He has sensation, almost—the texture of the carpet, the cool of the doorknob under his fingertips—but no feedback from his body. He closes the door gingerly behind himself. This bottom stair creaks under his weight. Without a conscious decision to do so or real understanding of why, he steps closer to the wall. He knows it will make his steps quieter, that floorboards don’t creak there, but he doesn’t know why it’s important. There’s a tiled patch between the stairs and the swollen-shut front door. If he were awake his toes would curl away from it, it’s so cold.

Is he going outside? Is he sleepwalking? Is he having an out of body experience, astral projecting? Why not, at this point? After everything, why not.

But he turns right down the hallway and moves slowly, slowly, back onto the carpet. In the space between couch and stairs; past the narrow table with its identical lamps with their silk shades and the photo of Richie, the frame adorned with candy canes. A bowl with round ceramic orbs in it, decorative, like baubles for a Christmas tree but heavy-looking. A basket with knitting. He has a lot of time to consider them, he moves so slowly. So, so slowly. Trying not to be heard.

There’s a photo of Richie on the wall. High school graduation. Richie by himself in the driveway of the Tozier house, grimacing at the camera. Taken after he got tall, but before he got broad, so he’s still gangly and curly-haired, but his jaw’s gone square and sharp, his face gone heavy rather than narrow and pointy. An in-between Richie, wearing his ugly yellow cap and gown.

Eddie doesn’t remember him. He remembers the ordeal that was acquiring the cap and gown, the practice graduation all the seniors had to sit through when they were bussed to Bassey Park, the ordeal of trying to alphabetize themselves after twelve years going to school together—thirteen for the morning kindergarten class. Eddie remembers walking to his place in the line and thinking Bill would go there… Ben would go there… Mike would go between them, if he ever went to our school. In fact there were a lot of those moments, mournful moments thinking of where people long gone belonged, because Derry ate its children. Not all of them ran away. Not all of them got to run away, they were devoured entirely, blood sacrifice, open season. Eddie Corcoran, Betty Ripsom. Hell, even Patrick Hockstetter, dangerous animal though he was. Georgie Denbrough, who never made it to the fourth grade. Consumed whole.

He turns right into the hallway. The doorway to Maggie’s room—the Toziers don’t share a bed anymore, and part of Eddieis surprised by that, since he’s had no cause to doubt their devotion since his arrival at their house—is closed. The doorway to the bathroom is open, another dark shadow in this dark hallway. The door to the basement is closed. He knows it’s the door to the basement; it’s a little too high, the gap between it and the carpet a little too large.

He opens it and…

Stares down into the basement of Keene’s Pharmacy.

He wonders, sometimes, if he ever actually went down there. If Keene—despite being an absolute quack of a pharmacist, filling prescriptions with camphor and water like that wasn’t a total waste of everyone’s time, groping at Eddie’s face and making noises about cancer despite the fact that he’s a pharmacist and not a dermatologist but at least having the decency to break it to Eddie, the decency to tell him that his mother was full of shit and so was the doctor she sent him to—if Keene left the door unlocked for little boys to stumble down into; if Keene actually left the door unlocked for thin delicate men to wander down into and it wasn’t a total hallucination. Walking home covered in vomit indicates yes; but why would there need to be needles in the basement, stored in such a non-sterile environment? Why would there need to be a medical chair or a—a slab, or whatever it was? Why a curtain? What if it was all a farce made up by It? Eddie’s worst fears, now having an open house.

Eddie steps forward and his foot takes a long time to hit the unfinished stair. It’s a steep stairwell, very narrow. And he can’t stop himself from leaving the safety of the carpet in the Tozier’s house and descending into hell once more. His chest doesn’t hurt at all. He wonders if, in his dream, he’ll get winded walking back up the stairs.

Then he realizes he isn’t breathing at all. The way he sometimes dreams of swimming underwater and tries to hold his breath, but discovers that in his dream the air is right there for him when he needs it, whether he knows it or not.

There’s a hard turn in the stairwell that his body follows without his permission or his desire or his prompting, and he sees the filthy unfinished basement, the scattered medical equipment (bet they don’t have an intrusive spectrometer, Eds!), the drawn curtain. Eddie’s eyes search, looking for the leper, looking for It, looking for the trick, the trap, and his feet keep moving forward. He can look in whatever direction he pleases, but he can’t stop himself from walking forward, from approaching that raggedy curtain.

He hears breathing.

Not his, he knows he isn’t breathing right now. But he hears it, hears fast, deep breathing. Someone or something panting. The monster of his childhood, lurking under one of the shelves?

“Ah,” someone moans.

Eddie stills there, bare feet on the dirty dangerous floor. The almost oily texture of it, under the accumulated dried filth. He stares at the pale green curtain, at the metal rings on the railing, at the distance between the setup and the ceiling itself (but not loft ceilings. How do you change those lightbulbs?). He knows what the dream wants—wants him to reach out and draw back the curtain and see, wants him to be entranced, wants him to be horrified.

The next sound that comes from behind the curtain is a long scaled-out “Mmm!” The voice is deep. It’s a man’s voice.

Eddie whips his head around, knowing, waiting, and sees—not the leper, but himself, standing there in his red hoodie and his blue polo, his cheek unmarked except by that possibly cancerous mole Keene just manhandled. The other him has his arms crossed over his chest and looks completely unconcerned by what he’s hearing, maybe a little skeptical. He looks like—if he were the kind of man to lean, which he isn’t—he might rest his back against the wooden shelves and listen, waiting for it to be over. That’s what Eddie does during sex. He waits for it to be over.

The man behind the curtain moans again, “Mm, ah, ah—!” before lapsing back into panting.

And Eddie feels furious.

He rounds on himself, crossing the narrow room, about ready to shove him up against the wooden shelving. The other him doesn’t recoil and Eddie slows, wanting to keep some space between them, not ready to reach out and grab him by the throat.

“Fuck you,” Eddie says. “Fuck you, leave him alone. Get the fuck out of here, what are you doing?”

The other Eddie looks back at him and raises one eyebrow. “What are you doing here?” he asks.

Eddie coughs out a laugh. “You think I want to be here?”

The “Ahn” from behind the curtain nearly splits the room in half. It rings in Eddie’s ears.

“Yes,” the other Eddie replies calmly, as unimpressed as he is with any one-on-one meeting where someone tries to express quality concerns about his work, right before he rips into them and explains to them that just because they think it’s possible doesn’t mean that the software agrees with them.

Eddie shoves him and the other Eddie smacks back into the shelving. A jar of syringes rattles and falls to the ground; neither of them pay it any attention. The props are pointless now.

“It’s none of my fucking business,” Eddie snaps back at him. “I don’t have time for this.”

The other him smiles like he knows a secret Eddie doesn’t. Eddie’s not used to that look on his own face, that enigma of expression. It looks kind of stupid, he thinks. “You’ve got a lot of time. You're on island time!”

“I’m not doing this,” Eddie says, and turns to leave.

The other Eddie grabs him by the wrist. “You want to,” he says, and suddenly his face breaks into a grin. Blood wells from his cheek and mouth and spills down his neck, staining the collar of his polo shirt. “You’ll do it for free,” he says, voice twisting, becoming less than him.

Eddie hits him. Just reaches out and slaps him across the face. Blood spatters; he feels it make its impact—his cheek, his nose, his lips. He balls his hand into a fist and wipes the back of it across his mouth. It leaves a long smear. Eddie thinks of tissues with Myra’s blotted lipstick, left in the bathroom trash can.

The other him smiles and there’s something odd about his face, too. The point of his upper lip has to be more pronounced than Eddie’s. Maybe it’s exaggerated by the blood spilling out of his mouth. It runs down his neck. Eddie feels a phantom itch, rusting over his own throat, his collarbone.

“What do you want, Eds?” the other Eddie asks. “What are you looking for? If you lived here, you’d be—”

Eddie hits him again. Blood sprays again. Eddie doesn’t care—this is him, his blood is clean, it’s always been clean, he knows it, he’s always known it. Eddie slaps him once more and then releases him, taking a step back.

The man behind the curtain moans, “Oh. Oh, Eddie.”

“Fuck yeah I’ll do it for free,” Eddie snaps back at the other him. “I’ll suck all the dicks I want, I don’t care—but this isn’t that kind of dream, and this isn’t what I want, and when I have it it’ll be mine, you—” He makes a fist of his hand, at last, and swings for the other him.

And the other Eddie swings in kind and punches him in the chest.

He feels the pressure before he feels the pain—his ribcage buckling, the responding pressure on the other side of his chest as the blow goes all the way through him, his lungs popping, his blood spurting. And only then does the pain hit him, and he falls away, onto the needle-flecked ground, and the rings clatter as the curtain slides back, and—

He wakes up, his chest on fire with how it’s aching, how it’s itching. He’s afraid to move, knowing that if he does he’ll throw up, maybe immediately, but also afraid that if he doesn’t move he’ll fall back to sleep and be right back there, in the pharmacy basement. He’s afraid to breathe too hard for fear of how it’ll agitate his chest.

There’s a small white trash can on the other side of the nightstand, he remembers. He takes as deep a breath as he can manage and then he rolls over quickly, quick as he can with his torso in the state it’s in, and grabs it, flips it upside down to dump out anything in it, and then turns it to hold under his chin.

Nothing happens. Eddie pants, sweating, for several long moments. He hurt something in his side when he reached for the garbage can, he realizes now as his body makes its protests known. He braces the trash can on his knees and inclines his head and leans over it, trembling.

You’re sick, his body informs him.

“Fuck off,” Eddie whispers.

But he gets up and walks—quietly, but reasonably paced—to the Toziers’ bathroom, mindful of Went snoring upstairs and filling the loft ceiling with the sound of his breathing and his whirring and clicking machine. The door is open; he closes it quietly, turns the light on, and kneels in front of the toilet on a small plush rug placed there.

He tries to be quiet about it, but some things can’t be helped. He can control how loud he is, but everything outside of his body is out of his own control.

He doesn’t know how long it is before he hears a gentle knock at the door. He thinks, Oh god, Richie right before Maggie asks, “Hello?” and then he remembers that her room is right next door.

Eddie swallows, gulps, tries to get his throat under his control. “Sorry, Mrs. Tozier,” he says.

“Are you decent?” she asks.

Eddie should have locked the door. “Yes, ma’am,” he replies. He barely gets the ma’am out.

The door opens. Eddie is conscious of the smell, the volume, the late hour, the fact that he’s still retching, the fact that he’s shirtless and his stitches and bandages are basically on display. He can’t even look up at her, his eyes are streaming too badly.

“Any blood?” Maggie asks him.

Oh god. He checks and then shakes his head.

“Good,” she says. “I’ll bring you some water.”

“You don’t have to,” he chokes out, breathless.

“You need some water,” she replies easily. She brings him back a bottle from the kitchen and stands there as Eddie flushes the toilet, cracks the lid of the bottle, and rests there with his temple pressed up against the bathtub as he takes little sips. He rinses his mouth and spits in the still-refilling bowl.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.

“Don’t be, honey, it’s not like I have work in the morning,” she says.

Eddie takes the trick out of Mike’s book and puts the cap back on the water so he can hold it to the back of his neck. He can’t keep his eyes open and he’s a little relieved by that, in a way, he’s so ashamed. And he can hear heavy footsteps on stairs, someone else he woke up and coming toward him, and he’s in hell.

There’s a creak as a door opens and then Richie asks quietly, “Everything all right?”

“Eddie’s not feeling well,” Maggie replies calmly.

Eddie doesn’t look up.

“I got him,” Richie says. Eddie hears him stepping into the bathroom. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t open his eyes, just tries to pretend this isn’t happening. “You all right, Eds?” Richie asks. His voice is thick with sleep.

“Peachy,” Eddie replies, editing out the profanity only out of courtesy to Maggie Tozier.

Richie gives a faint huff of laughter. “Think you’re gonna go again?”

“I don’t know, maybe,” Eddie says. There’s no nausea that accompanies the thought; he feels shivery and weak, but at least done for now. But he’s absolutely not going to risk vomiting in Maggie Tozier’s blue room, so he’s going to hang out here for a little bit.

“Okay,” Richie says, and then Eddie hears him settling down, back sliding down the wall, joints clicking as he folds his knees. He does open his eyes at this and look at Richie in something like horror. Richie’s wearing pajama pants, red and black plaid. Eddie does not know where those came from, or where they were when Richie was hanging out in his boxers in the hotel room. Richie catches him looking and flexes his toes so that they pop. Eddie winces. Richie smiles, heavy-lidded. He’s not wearing his glasses.

“Can you even see me right now?” Eddie asks, his voice acid-thin.

“Nope,” Richie says, popping the P. “Who are you? What are you doing in my parents’ house? I know krav maga.”

“You do not,” Eddie says, eyes closing again.

“I know of it,” he insists.

Eddie allows himself to laugh a little at that—nothing that reaches his lungs, just a faint jostling of his whole body.

“Tired?” Richie asks.

Eddie nods, not wanting to admit how his sleep was interrupted.

“You want to go back to bed?”

“No,” Eddie mumbles. He’s reaching the point where overexertion means he’s weak and shaky and cold now, and he’s missing his blanket, but he’s afraid to go back to the guest room. At least so far he hasn’t done any damage—everything is contained and neatly cleaned away, barring odors. His throat is raw. He starts to shiver.

“Okay,” Richie says. “Come here, man. Come on.” He puts a hand on Eddie’s shoulder and Eddie opens his eyes a little to realize that Richie’s trying to tug him over toward him, and Eddie is… too tired to fight it. He goes from propped upright against the Tozier’s bathtub to the other way, leaning all the way across the bathroom floor to put his head on Richie’s thigh.

“Is this even good for your knees?” Eddie asks, eyes shut. The pajama pants are flannel and clearly old, studded with little fuzzballs. He can smell laundry detergent. If Richie sneezes he’ll probably accidentally knee Eddie in the face.

“You know, I think I’ll live,” Richie says. His fingers push into Eddie’s hair.

Eddie discovers small parts of him were resistant only when they go totally limp, giving in and putting all his weight on Richie’s leg. When he blinks his eyes open just hazily he stares at the cabinet under the sink and tells himself this is fine, and closes his eyes again.

“I can go get you a pillow if you want,” Richie offers. “Maggie puts seven of them on her beds. She read in HGTV magazine that eight is too many. I asked.”

Eddie tries to raise his head to look around for Maggie. “God, I’m so sorry,” he mumbles.

Richie snorts. “Did you do it on purpose?”

“People still have to apologize for things they do accidentally,” Eddie says.

“I guarantee you that my mother will laugh at you if you try,” Richie says. “I guarantee it.”

“And sorry for waking you up,” Eddie adds. He should get up and brush his teeth.

Richie cards gently through his hair. “And if you apologize to me again,” he says, “you don’t want to know what I’ll do.”

“You’re not scary,” Eddie mutters.

Richie laughs; Eddie can feel the little muscle impulses all the way down his body, though his legs barely move at all. “I’m really not,” he agrees.

At some point Eddie feels Richie shake him awake, feels him say, “All right, buddy, let’s go,” and hook him under the arms. Eddie gasps when Richie’s hand comes too close to the site of his intercostal drain; Richie’s hand whips away just as quickly. “Sorry, sorry,” he murmurs.

“S’okay,” Eddie mumbles. He knots his hands in Richie’s dumb T-shirt and hangs on. There are surfaces to brace himself on—the bathroom sink, the tub. He holds on to Richie, and Richie groans as he straightens himself up, and Eddie blinks blearily. He’s falling back to sleep standing up, the sleep is so heavy on his eyelids and in the back of his brain. He gets intermittent flashes of their bare feet, turned toward each other’s on the fluffy white rug.

“You good?” Richie asks.

Eddie feels a touch across his forehead and has to pipe up, defend against this image of Sonia Kaspbrak checking him for a fever.

“’M not sick, I’m drugged,” he insists.

“I know. Believe me, I know,” Richie says, and leads him back out of the bathroom, down the hall. “Watch your step here.” He holds Eddie’s elbows and Eddie blindly takes the step up, hears Richie open the door to the blue room, lets Richie guide him back to the step down. “There we go.”

Eddie hangs on until Richie turns in place and then Eddie feels the thump of the bed against the backs of his knees. He sits almost accidentally, releasing Richie’s shirt before the pull on his arms can hurt.

“Is this how you sleep?” Richie asks, finally looking at the still-made bed with the electric blanket stretched across it.

“Not allowed to sweat,” Eddie mumbles. He pitches forward, puts his forehead somewhere in the vicinity of Richie’s solar plexus. “I’m really sorry,” he says.

Richie is soft. There’s a faint give to his stomach that Eddie finds pleasant and comforting—the idea that Richie will give this far and no farther; the idea that Eddie could reach up and grab him and he’d be so solid, so warm. He smells so good.

Richie shushes him. “Go back to sleep, Eds.”

But it’s the sleeping that Eddie’s apologizing for—the sleeping and the dreaming and the brusque fantasy of what Richie might say, how Richie might breathe. Eddie hooks his fingers in the hem of Richie’s T-shirt. “Don’t go,” he says. And in it is tangled up don’t leave me, I always knew you would leave me and climb in, live in my sheets, be warm, be solid, be real, let me hold you, hold me, I want you and don’t go back down there, you don’t know what’s down there.

Richie’s hand gently detaches Eddie’s from his shirt, and a faint push on Eddie’s right shoulder propels him down to the pillow again. “I won’t. I’ll be on the couch if you need me, all right?”

Eddie doesn’t need, he just wants; he just wants because deep down maybe he’s always been selfish, maybe he always takes from people but then claims he can’t be blamed for it because it wasn’t something he asked for, like he didn’t seek it out, like—

He lets go, his head full of I always knew you would leave me, Eddie! and he can’t tell if the dream is Sonia or Myra.

Eddie wakes up in pain. This is not new to him, but this time it’s not his body trying to transmit the information you’ve been stabbed again to him. His entire body throbs. He lies there on the bed, the flatsheet pulled up over his back, having rolled at some point in his sleep to prop his body up on his left shoulder and his right knee. His left hand is tucked under his stomach, helping keep the bulk of his injuries off the actual mattress. Eddie is kind of impressed that his sleeping body did that without his prompting—that it moves to defend itself.

Then he remembers that he definitely didn’t pull the sheet up over himself, so Richie must have, and he remembers how mortifying last night was, and then he does his best to curl up like a pill bug despite his limited mobility.

Oh god. He woke up Richie’s mother, he was half naked, he has a stunning number of bruises and stitches on display, and he threw up in front of her. And she was very nice about it—Eddie doesn’t know if, in her position, he would have the wherewithal to be nice about someone causing that much of a disturbance at that hour—but Eddie doesn’t know that he gave her much of a choice.

And then Richie came in—which meant he was making enough noise to wake Richie downstairs too, which means he probably also woke up Wentworth upstairs, which means he disturbed the entire house—and just… sat up with him. Let him fall asleep on him and waited to see if Eddie would throw up again, and he didn’t, so what if Richie thinks he was taking advantage of the situation and just wanted to curl up on his knee like a kid, after Eddie made such a fuss about Richie treating him like a patient, treating him like a child…

And then Eddie asked him to sleep in the bed with him.

“Fuck,” he mutters into the pillows. There were seven on the bed; Eddie quietly removed the decorative fish pillows and set them on the floor next to the bedside table, and now he only has four to whisper his agonies into. He knots his clumsy right hand into a fist and punches at one, punctuating each blow with “Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, fucking hell, goddamn, fuck.”

For some reason punching the pillow doesn’t change anything about his immediate situation. His fist chooses to provide him with some bodily feedback for once, informing him that these pillows are pleasantly stuffed. They’re nice guest pillows, not the flat nonsense you put out because you don’t know how to get rid of them. Eddie feels worse and pats the pillow almost apologetically before letting his hand fall to the side.

What time is it, even?

He rolls over to check his phone and actually does drop it in shock. It’s after eleven. He has less than one hour of morning left to him, to pack up and apologize to the Toziers and get on the road. They won’t arrive at Ben’s until five at the earliest, maybe closer to six depending on which route Richie takes, which they still haven’t discussed. They should have discussed that last night. At the moment Eddie is about ready to cram everything in his suitcases and high-tail it out of the state of Connecticut.

But he’s also a grown man, and not a teenager who humiliated himself in a high school cafeteria. And he’s gonna have to get up.

Eventually. Maybe when his ribs stop trying to kill him. Hoo boy, this hurts. He searches idly with one hand for the break—no one has shown him X-rays of his own damn chest, which considering he knows he has to have had like a million while he was out, seems like an oversight—but he knows it’s where the sharp pain comes from, when he breathes or coughs or laughs or—god forbid, sneezes. The stab wound is a dull and constant pain, much like the bruises around it, but deep inside his body.

He feels… fragile. Thinking about his breathing too much has never been good for him—gave him that pinhole trachea sensation, his throat closing up, you’re going to fucking die, Eddie. Now he can’t get a breath, but the issue is so much deeper down. An inhaler—even a functional inhaler—what’s that gonna do for his dented and punctured torso? He feels like a can of stewed tomatoes, dropped off a shelf and onto a spike. How’s a little spray of water and camphor gonna compete with that?

He used to get gas bubbles in his chest all the time when he was a kid—no idea why, just part of being alive—but he remembers how afraid he was of pain in those days, because he had no experience with it and his mother told him every day (every. Day.) how afraid she was of him getting hurt. He knew that if he breathed in the bubble would pop and the pain would be worse—sharper, scarier—in that second, and then it would fade, but he was afraid of the hurt, so he just breathed shallowly until the pain came in at him with its fuzzy edges and then he backed away from it, hyperventilating. Sometimes he wouldn’t even notice that the gas bubble had gone away on its own because he was too afraid to breathe deep enough to feel it.

Pain is… less frightening now. He knows what obliterating pain is now—pain in the sense that it whites you out, pain in the sense that it collapses the walls of arteries and veins and capillaries, nothing to rebuild there, but somehow your body still tries to tell you something’s wrong. I know, he says to his body. I know, and it’s gonna be okay.

It’s gonna hurt, and it’s gonna be okay. Not even but, the “being okay” part of it is not a consolation prize, not something that he earns for his pain and his hurt, not a conditional or a contrary thought, not a balancing scale. Two parallel lines. The I hurt doesn’t interfere with I’m okay. The I’m okay doesn’t diminish the I hurt.

I’m not bad.

Eddie takes a deep breath and feels the sharp shooting pain from the center of his chest. That’s not the stab wound—It didn’t have the decency to hit him symmetrically, the stupid fucking thing—it’s where Richie’s hands pushed down on his chest and his rib separated from his sternum, cartilage and bone. By the time Eddie woke up the bruises in the shape of Richie’s palm—Richie and Stan trying to hold his life in his body, his blood, his soul—faded brown and green and yellow, broken blood vessels coming back in all the colors of spring. Now the bruising is concentrated down and slightly to the side, creating a frame for the stab wound.

He can’t look at that. He knows it’s a puncture wound; he knows it went all the way through him; he knows that if he has to contemplate a new hole in his body and the ideas of where he was sewn up and reconstructed (thank you, Sovereign Light Hospital) he’ll have a vasovagal response. That’s not weakness, that’s just his body going Hey, we’ve noticed something is really, really wrong, and we’re gonna have a response to that that we feel is appropriate, so buckle up, motherfucker. Eddie can get pissed at the way his asthma attacks—panic attacks used to happen randomly, but considering he literally died from what It did to him, he’s gonna cut his body some slack when it comes to the survival impulse regarding the impalement. Panic attacks just make him feel like he’s dying for no good reason. Eddie has a lot of feelings, and now that he’s forty he’s going to have to learn how not to die from them.

Oddly this cheers him. He may have humiliated himself in front of Maggie Tozier, and possibly Richie’s dad depending on whether or not he woke up, and definitely Richie himself—but he won’t die of embarrassment. And he doesn’t think he’s having a panic attack either, so that’s a plus.

He picks his phone up off the mattress and checks his notifications. There are several messages in the group chat—responses to him sending Richie’s baby pictures over—and then one message from Richie Tozier.

if you’re gonna shower wait a bit the hot water refills really slow

The timestamp on this message says it came in just after nine in the morning. Which means that Eddie has officially slept later than Richie. Eddie is beginning to understand that he might never have been an early bird as he believed, he just had an intensely regulated sleep schedule that, as soon as he broke it, now seems as distant as the moon. But he always took some level of pride in seeing sunrises—balm for the early riser—and now the knowledge that he’s running behind Richie of all people grieves him.

He lets his head thunk back down onto the perfectly fluffy pillow. Would it be better or worse if Richie acknowledged… any of what happened last night? Or does he, like Eddie, not know where to start? Or, and this last one seems unlikely, has Richie at last acquired a sense of decorum that stops him from having difficult conversations over text message?

Yeah, probably not. Eddie sees two options before him: one, that Richie pretends that it didn’t happen, writes it off as a side effect of Eddie’s injury and drug delirium, just like Eddie waking up post-surgery to tell him he loves him, and Richie’s going to pretend his kindness never happened either, just like calling Eddie sweetheart and kissing him on the forehead.

Or—and this one is the acute pain, compared to the aching itching chest pain of pretending it didn’t happen—Eddie’s going to be trapped in a car with Richie for the next five, possibly six hours. Cars create a false sense of intimacy—the necessity of not looking in each other’s faces, the motion allowing people to feel they’re moving forward in a conversation, making progress, making great strides.

In other words: Eddie’s choices are the unstoppable force of Richie’s new (used) Subaru, or the immovable object of Richie’s emotional opacity.

He opens the group chat and almost spitefully reads through the Losers’ mass hilarity at Richie’s baby pictures. Stan confirms that, yes, that is his cat.

Ben Hanscom: What was its name?

Stanley Uris: Phyllis.

There are coos and heart images over Phyllis Uris the cat (god, what a terrible name), and a your mom is so pretty! from Bev, and at some point Richie stormed in with yeah yeah yeah yuk it up do the rest of you even have baby pictures

William Denbrough: Yes, but they’re all extremely depressing.

The air goes out of Eddie’s chest like he’s been kicked in the stomach, which was probably what Bill intended. He can’t imagine having a sibling—can’t imagine an ally in the house with him and his mother. Even his father is an obscure memory, too faint to have left an impression, in the way that his presence shaped Sonia’s behavior like a rock in a stream. And a younger sibling, like Bill had—well, Eddie put up with a lot from his mother, but he think he’d probably have had an ulcer by sixteen, trying to run interference between her and someone else, someone smaller, someone who needed him.

That’s part of why being in the Toziers’ house as an adult, conscious to these dynamics, feels so alien. Maggie scolded Richie frequently in front of his friends, and Eddie always went rigid when it happened, but either the issues seemed to blow over quickly or Bill, Stan, and Eddie were asked politely to leave. Maggie never wailed over him in front of his friends; Maggie sent them away as Richie’s punishment or because they were distracting, but she never blamed them for what Richie did and claimed it was their fault for corrupting him or getting him dirty, and she never seemed to have an issue with them the next time Eddie saw her. She was… nice. To Eddie, to the rest of them. She was a nice mom.

It’s part of why the conversation from last night sits so ill with him. He had half a mind to call Mike last night before he went to bed, turning the phone over in his hand, listening to the hushed and indistinguishable voices of Richie and Maggie talking in the next room. Mike said that the residents of Derry are experiencing consequences for the first time, and isn’t that interesting? Except it seems to result in Mike getting shit on at his job for something that isn’t his fault, and the Toziers seemed… oddly calm with the idea of raising a child who was bullied by a mass murderer. Not someone who went on to be a mass murderer, either. Someone who actually was a mass murderer at the time he was bullying Richie, as far as either Dr. or Mrs. Tozier know. Wentworth asked Richie what he had done to make Bowers chase him, and Richie had plenty of inciting incidents—Richie was always drawing attention to himself—but not always. Bowers and his gang never needed the excuse, but they liked it when Richie gave it to them.

Eddie startles when he reads further down and discovers that Patty Uris is in the group chat. The little display of contacts—no photos, all gray circles—is too tightly packed for Eddie to have counted them, but now he opens it up and checks. All six of the other Losers, and Patricia Blum Uris. Audra Phillips is not in the text chat. Eddie doesn’t know why that fills him with relief, but it does.

What Patty has sent looks like a phone camera’s image of a photograph from an album; there’s a glare on it that looks like plastic film. It’s of Stan, blond and skinny and tall for a toddler, holding a broom. He’s wearing a blue T-shirt, a diaper, and a single blue sock. There are several little emoticon images attached to the photo.

Richie Tozier: patty uris run away with me

Patricia Blum Uris: No thank you!

Stanley Uris: Eddie, you know what you have to do.

Eddie snorts a little as he reads it. There are a number of broad photo binders on the shelves in this room, but Eddie has a sense that going through them would be a kind of violation. Photographs set out on display are one thing, but he’s not about to go rummaging through the family albums, especially not after how he embarrassed himself in front of Maggie last night. He might never be getting invited back, but he’s not gonna dig himself any deeper either.

Fortified with the knowledge that humiliation won’t kill him and the image of baby Stan, Eddie resigns himself to taking a shower and gets up. He doesn’t want Richie to have to pick the bandage off him again—disgusting—but he definitely broke out in a cold sweat while he was vomiting last night, and he’s already slept at least eight hours with it cooling and drying over his stitches and injury. He has to wash himself. And he needs a clean button-down shirt.

Eddie texts Richie: I need a clean shirt and you to get the bandage on my back, can you meet me in the bathroom? He even hears the loud ding from beyond the bedroom door as Richie’s phone receives the text message.

The animated ellipsis bubbles while Richie types his response: can do pikachu

Eddie stares at that, wondering what that’s supposed to mean and trying to imagine Richie saying it out loud. Is it a question? He feels like it should be a question. Where does the intonation go? Is Richie making a lewd joke about Pikachu?

Whatever. Richie will show up in the bathroom or he won’t.

Eddie puts his pajama shirt back on, grabs his toiletry bag—shampoo and conditioner, special soap for his incisions, pills—and clean pants, underwear, and socks, and opens the door to the blue room like he’s getting ready to jump off a cliff.

Wentworth Tozier is immediately visible in the armchair in the corner. “Good morning, sunshine,” he says, so uncannily like Richie that Eddie is momentarily shaken. His voice is hoarse, but the intonation is exactly the same as Richie used in the car.

“Good morning,” Eddie replies awkwardly, averting his eyes. His progress across the living room is excruciatingly slow. He can’t see Richie from this angle, but he can see Maggie Tozier sitting at her glass-topped kitchen table. There are three curlers in her hair, just on the crown of her head instead of on the sides, and Eddie’s almost embarrassed to see them so he just fixes his gaze on Richie’s graduation photo and continues on his quest. He can hear Maggie and Richie talking clearly enough.

“Oh wait, he’s awake,” Maggie says, and there’s the scrape of a chair across the floor. Eddie recoils as she comes out of the kitchen and says, “Good morning, Eddie!” but she’s not making a beeline for him, she’s walking toward the TV unit where the CD player and its speakers are kept.

“Good morning,” he says again, and swallows. “I’m, uh, sorry about last night.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Maggie says. “If you’re up, that means we can play music without worrying about waking you. You needed the rest after that, I figured.” She stoops and hits a few buttons on the machine. “Get ready, Rich.”

“Oh hell yes,” Richie says. Eddie has no idea what that means and whether he should be heading for cover.

A very familiar piano riff rolls out of the speaker.

“What,” Eddie says flatly, completely involuntarily.

The piano riff rolls again.

Richie shouts, “Whoo!” from the kitchen as Bob Seger starts up.

“No, no, absolutely not,” Eddie says, not meaning to be rude about Maggie’s taste in music, but he knows what’s about to happen, and he’s absolutely right.

Richie skids out of the tiled kitchen and onto the carpet, trips, and falls into the leg-spread position from Risky Business. His entrance is late, he can’t get his knee high up enough for the kick and turn, but he tries.

“No,” Eddie says loudly, and points at Richie as Richie beams at him, mercifully fully-dressed. “No, no, no, fuck you, you are forty years old, this is 2016, I’m taking a fucking shower. Fuck you.” He points once more at Richie, who looks delighted, and then remembers Maggie and Wentworth still in the room. He lowers his hand, clears his throat, and says, “Thank you for your hospitality,” before he creeps toward the bathroom as fast as he can.

Richie’s laughter is completely out of time with the music and it cuts through the door just as clearly.

By the time that Eddie lets himself fall into the passenger seat of the Subaru, he’s been awake for maybe an hour and he’s freaking exhausted. The Toziers do not exist in silence, and Maggie had music on shuffle—an eclectic mix, less than half of which Eddie recognized—so Eddie could hear the mechanical switching of CDs in the player. Wentworth reiterated his offer to pull some strings with the local dentist community to get Eddie’s tooth seen to. And to cap it all off, Richie breezed in and pulled the bandage off Eddie’s back as casually as Eddie might unzip Myra’s dress when they got home from a formal event, left him the watch shirt on the closed toilet seat, and then threatened to cook breakfast for him.

It’s a lot. Eddie has to eat before he can take his prescriptions, but he took the Dramamine on an empty stomach, and he’s just waiting for the sudden fuzziness to hit him like a blow to the back of the head.

Richie closes the trunk of the car and comes back around to say his goodbyes to his parents. Eddie feels awkward watching that, so he looks into the side mirror for lack of anything better to do as Richie hugs his mother. They were arguing about music streaming services back in the house, and Eddie doesn’t know what to do with a Richie who’s solicitous to others—fixing tea, scooping ice cream, assuring his mother that he would pay for her to have premium accounts if it meant she would stop using a CD player in the year of our lord 2016 (Richie’s words; Wentworth said drily, “5576 in the year of my lord, thanks”; Richie: “I can’t count that high”), brandishing a spatula at Eddie and threatening to cook for him.

It’s—not surprising, or it shouldn’t be surprising, considering how Richie’s been all but waiting on Eddie hand and foot since even before he got out of the hospital. It’s just that watching him do the same for his parents—for his relatively healthy parents—makes Eddie feel simultaneously better about it and worse. Better because it means that Richie’s not taking pity on Eddie; but worse because it makes Eddie… a little jealous. He can’t wash his hair without thinking about Richie’s hands on his head in the hospital; the idea that this might just be who Richie became after twenty-seven years apart, that he would do this if, for instance, Ben had been injured in the final showdown with It…

It’s a messy knot of feelings and Eddie doesn’t have the emotional strength to tease the whole thing out, but his brain is desperate for anything to focus on other than the blistering embarrassment of his interactions with Maggie and Wentworth Tozier. So it picks over Eddie’s selfishness, comparing and contrasting Richie’s casual just helping you out, bro moments with Sonia and Myra’s babying, testing the possibility that Eddie seeks this out because he likes being taken care of despite all his protests, because something in him craves it—

Wentworth Tozier knocks on the window. Eddie blinks and, because the car’s off and he can’t roll the glass down, opens the door slightly.

“Just wanted to ask you what route you’re taking,” Wentworth says calmly, bracing his elbow on the side of the car and holding a fingertip over his stoma. The angle looks uncomfortable, but Eddie can’t get up so they can communicate like two adult men instead of one stooping dentist and one child.

“I-90 West,” Eddie replies, unsure why he’s being asked this instead of Richie. The shotgun position is traditionally the navigator’s role, but everyone knows that Eddie’s going to fall asleep basically as soon as the car starts moving, and Eddie is honestly kind of looking forward to it.

Wentworth nods but asks, “Not 17 West?”

Eddie shakes his head. “That’s like, over fifty miles longer.”

“But the tolls,” Went says. “Do you have money for the tolls?”

“Yes,” Richie says calmly over the hood of the car.

“Cash?” Wentworth presses.

“Yes, we have cash for the tolls—how do you think we got here, old man?” Richie asks.

“Do you need more?”

“Where was this when I was eleven and begging for movie ticket money?”

Wentworth straightens up. “I just want you to be safe.”

“I promise, we will be extremely safe,” Richie says. “With Eds in the car, there’s no way anything even remotely fun could happen.”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says automatically, and then cringes. “Sorry.”

“No, you’ve made your position quite clear,” Wentworth says, apparently unfazed. He takes a step back from the car. “Just wanted to check.”

Maggie crouches and waves at Eddie through the windshield. Eddie waves back. Richie gets into the car and adjusts the seat position relative to the pedals, despite the fact that no one but him has driven the car. Maybe he got leg cramps from driving yesterday. The fact that Eddie can’t offer to take a shift, to pull his own weight, is frustrating, but it’s nothing new. When Richie turns the key in the ignition something unknots in Eddie’s gut and he leans back a little in the chair.

Richie reverses and slowly guides the car out of the drive. Eddie doesn’t even have anything to complain about regarding his technique or his mirrors. There are little red reflective markers posted up and down either side of the driveway. Maggie waves the whole way, and Wentworth stands with his arms folded across his chest as Richie slowly turns and gets them back on the road.

Turning onto the road with the pond, Richie asks, “So do you want to stop at a diner, or do you want to get breakfast at a gas station?”

Eddie considers the pros and cons of a gas station breakfast. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet,” he says.

“What, eating?”

“No, eating at a gas station.”

“Diner it is,” Richie says. He doesn’t put his hands together, but he does the I Dream of Jeannie head wobble again. As you wish.

About an hour after breakfast—brunch, really—when Eddie is feeling pleasantly sleepy without the urgency, and Richie has a playlist called “Maybe Not” on in the background, subtle and mellow, Richie pipes up. “Can I ask you something?”

Eddie goes alert the way you do when you fall asleep too fast and your body worries that your dropping heart rate means you’re dying. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting—Did you want me to sleep in the bed with you? or Are you okay with my parents considering all the weird shit that happened with your mom? or Hey, when you said you love me, did you mean…?

“Yeah,” Eddie manages, the word coming out of him with the same sucking tension as a clog releasing from a drain. The Dramamine is working, so his brain’s not as clear as it might be, but he doesn’t feel nauseated or anything.

“Why do you think It chose us?”

That’s not what Eddie expected. Not at all. He shouldn’t feel relieved when talking about the evil space clown, but he kind of does, in a secret guilty way. And to think he was sulking earlier about Richie’s reluctance to talk about anything of substance, and now he’s grateful for it.

“I mean,” Richie says, filling the silence as Eddie considers, “It had to appear to the others, too. That was Its thing—Mike talked about—about his dad seeing it at the Black Spot, and about the Bradley Gang shootout, It was there, It appeared to—and Bev said that It attacked Hockstetter as… as leeches or something—it’s not that It was only tormenting us, is all. It’s not like we were special there.”

Eddie has been dwelling on the meaning of special today but this is worse, somehow.

“And we were all only children, except Bill,” Richie says. “But Bill was always—”

He takes one hand off the wheel and gestures, indicating Bill’s general exceptionalism. Eddie nods, understanding—Bill admitted in a way that he treated Eddie like a little brother, like Georgie once Georgie was gone. But Eddie never felt like that—he remembered going along with Bill to pick up Georgie from the grade school on their way home, just part of the stop, just part of what you did if you wanted to walk home with Big Bill, so Eddie biked along and watched Georgie clamber up behind Bill on Silver and wrap his little arms around his shoulders, and Bill took it so for granted that it looked like Georgie was an extension of him, just something Bill had to do to make sure all of himself got home. Georgie was always happy to see them, happy to see Bill’s friends, happy to be included: Hiya, Eddie! How are ya? And Eddie felt shades of that sometimes, just happy to run with Big Bill.

He never felt like his inclusion was that effortless, that automatic, with anyone except the Losers. That’s why he loved them as ferociously as he did—being caught alone was one thing, but being caught by bullies, by monsters, by whatever the world could throw at them was never so bad. Eddie was scared for himself, certainly, but he was always furious whenever anyone messed with the rest of them.

He remembers, dimly, Richie falling silent mid-taunt, his eyes rolling back up in his head and his jaw falling open, and realizing what had happened, and thinking, You fucker, you bitch, put him down, he’s mine. I’ll show you.

“And it was weird, for parents back in the seventies, to just have one. I mean, not my parents, I was the reason they stopped,” Richie quips, unable to take himself totally seriously, “but I know Mom always wanted a daughter, and I don’t know why they didn’t try.”

“I don’t know what I’d have done if I had a brother or sister,” Eddie says softly. He thinks about it sometimes, usually in the moments when he and Myra are dwelling on their inability to have children. Thinks about the exemplary model of parenting set by Sonia Kaspbrak.

He would have died in that house, he thinks. Eddie’s not a man’s man, he’s a doormat, you can walk all over him, but if he had someone who belonged to him like that… He doesn’t think he could have stood around and watched them be devoured. Bill certainly didn’t. And it wouldn’t have mattered, in the moment, if Sonia only ate her children because she loved them. Eddie would allow things to happen to him that he’d never tolerate happening to someone else. He’d have done whatever he had to in order to get them out, and then he’d have stayed and played the dutiful son to Sonia to make up for it.

“I’d have been smothered in my sleep by the time I was six,” Richie says confidently, like he’s thought about it before. “I think even if I had a sister, like as soon as that girl was walking she would have been like, ‘I’ve had enough of this fucker’ and done what she had to do for the good of humanity.”

Eddie stares at him. Richie’s still gazing out the windshield but his eyes are far away. Mercifully the interstate looks relatively clear; they might even get to Ben’s before dinnertime at this rate, though Eddie’s not about to jinx them by voicing the thought out loud.

“I think we had to be lonely,” Richie says. “To fight It. I think we had to—to be ready to—to kill for each other, at thirteen. You remember when Ben and Bev and Mike came in.”

Eddie does—the sudden feeling of rightness, of something snapping into place, pieces made to fit. Ben and Beverly and Mike belonged, in the way that some kid pulled from their class just wouldn’t fit. Losers for life, and all that.

Eddie wonders how he can just have come from that house, with those congenial parents who behave just like him, and no doubt be dwelling on the childhood he hasn’t thought about since he actually experienced it, and conclude that he was lonely. Eddie was lonely, in that house with Sonia. Frank wasn’t even a ghostly presence; he wasn’t making jokes to Eddie, there was no established back-and-forth. Eddie feels like he barely spoke in his house except to say Sorry, Mommy, I love you, Mommy for the first eighteen years of his life. Richie was allowed to have friends over, provided he behaved, and the boundaries for what constituted acceptable behavior were far wider for Richie than they ever were for Eddie. Hell, Eddie just cussed Richie out in front of his parents over no greater provocation than Bob Seger, and the Toziers are still being nice to him.

“I wasn’t lonely,” Eddie says. Not where it mattered, anyway.

Richie glances at him quickly, not turning his head all the way. Eddie looks at the shape of Richie’s nose, the newness of it in three-quarters view, and something in his chest tightens down possessively. Kiss him, Eddie thinks, but it’s not the moment.

“No?” Richie asks. “I figured that was the teenage condition. Nobody understands me, everybody hates me, I’m actually…” He shrugs, falling out of his faint whine. “…Luke Skywalker and I’m about to be caught up in the adventure of a lifetime because of who I’ve actually been the whole time.”

Eddie frowns at him. “You were never Luke Skywalker,” he says.

Something in Richie’s face goes sharp and alert and watchful, though he’s still not looking at Eddie. It’s the you’ve set me up for a punchline and I’m waiting to take it face. “Who was I?” he prompts, voice tilting like he knows the answer already.

Eddie can’t remember having a crush on Harrison Ford when he first saw the Star Wars movies, but he absolutely knows that Richie wants to tease him about it. “Chewbacca,” Eddie replies calmly. “You got like really hairy in high school, dude, it was fucking horrific.” And tall and his voice changed and he made weird noises with the slightest provocation.

Richie, happy as ever to be roasted by Eddie, laughs, but it’s not his out-of-control, Eds gets off a good one laugh.

“And I don’t think the bad guy chooses the hero,” Eddie says. “Darth Vader didn’t pick Luke.”

“Technically, Darth Vader made Luke,” Richie says. “Probably not with that intention, but like—It definitely made Bill.”

And that’s true. If It hadn’t taken Georgie Denbrough, Eddie doesn’t know what would have happened to Eddie. Maybe they’d all have known that something was wrong in Derry, but they’d have put it out of mind the way that everyone in Derry did when one person wronged another, when a kid went missing, when it was revealed that the Corcoran kid hadn’t gone missing at all but had been done in by his stepfather because he knew that he’d be able to get away with it. Maybe Eddie would be—

—would be in an office building in New York right now, at his job, getting ready to go home to his wife and eat dinner in silence; because if It had never happened to him, Eddie would have the exact same life he had when he forgot about It, except he’d never have had those crazy spurts of unknown bravery. There would have been no need for them.

He’s not grateful for It, so much. But he thinks he understands a little bit more about who he is in the dark than most of his coworkers know about themselves. Growing up in Derry was a life-or-death situation, and most of the population doesn’t know much about that on any given day. That’s the kind of thing that happens to soldiers in war zones or women pursued on their walks home at night. Eddie grew up hunted and now he’s remembering this about himself. Now he knows what he does when caught.

Would any random child plucked off the street—not one of the Lucky Seven—would they have reacted the same way? If it was the rest of the six of them, but Eddie was swapped out for some random kid…

He can’t even remember their names, now. Could he have been replaced so easily?

“I mean—do you think it was anything we did?” Richie asks. “That made It come after us? Do you think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, do you think it was because we were never at home, do you think it was because we went off by ourselves, do you think…?” Richie shrugs. What makes a monster hunter at thirteen?

What’s Richie saying? That It should have killed the other kid? The kid who didn’t listen to his mother and walk home from school with a buddy and adhere to the curfew and stay at home when it rains because you could get sick going out in weather like that, look what happened to the Denbrough boy?

The muscle pulses in Richie’s jaw and Eddie understands all at once: And why’d he chase you? Richie, when you were a kid nothing was ever your fault.

Eddie almost says, It wasn’t your fault! You were eleven!

But that’s not the kind of response Richie’s looking for. Eddie has the curious sensation of coaxing some injured animal toward him so he can get it to help, like a feral cat or a fox or something. If Eddie just grabs for the wound Richie’s gonna startle away, misdirect, make a joke out of it. And now, for my final trick: I will disappear.

“No,” Eddie says with certainty. Too certain.

Richie glances at him again, expression dubious.

“No,” Eddie says again, remembering the way he’d just be trying to walk to class and Belch Huggins would descend on him. It wasn’t because Eddie dressed in shorts and pink polos, because when he tried dressing differently in high school that didn’t make a difference, didn’t stop the kids whispering that he was a sissy, a queerboy, as if that meant anything at ten years old, as if any of them had even the nerve to reach out and hold someone else’s hand at ten years old, boy or girl. “It was just… what we were. We were kids, It ate kids, It tried to eat us. It wasn’t anything we did, it was just… The remarkable thing,” Eddie says, changing his tactic mid-sentence, “is not that It went after us, it’s that there were seven of us It couldn’t kill. That we just happened to be those kids who…” He shrugs, awkward, and hurts himself, and hisses a little under his breath.

Richie doesn’t react to his little pained sound, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t hear it. “Who were willing to die for each other,” Richie finishes. “And that we grew up, and were still willing to die for each other.”

“Yes,” Eddie says, remembering Bill yanking Mike out of the way, remembering Richie grabbing Eddie by the wrist and running away from the doors, remembering Ben throwing himself on the teenage werewolf, remembering Bev closing one eye and taking aim with the slingshot as they all screamed her on, remembering Stan taking off his cardigan and pressing it to Eddie’s chest, heedless of the danger around them. “Yes.”

“Bad fucking luck for It, then,” Richie says quietly.

“Yes,” he says again. Something in his chest hurts, far deeper than anywhere It could ever manage to dig. The hurt of soap on a wound, cleaning it out, getting it ready for healing. “Good for us, though.”

Richie doesn’t turn his head, but his eyes flick towards Eddie. The corner of his mouth curls a little. That same watchfulness still lurks in his expression. Eddie feels good, feels happy, the opposite of lonely after all these years, but he doesn’t know why there’s still that faint edge of something in Richie’s face. “Yeah,” he says, his voice tinged sardonic. “Good for us.”