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Now What I'm Gonna Say May Sound Indelicate

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Eddie wakes up when his alarm goes off in the morning and groans because he feels like he’s been hit by a truck. For a moment he reconsiders his prescribed thirty minutes of exercise, though he knows it’s still a good idea, especially because he spent most of yesterday sitting. Does he have to be as worried about blood clots after the surgery?

He gets up and creeps out into the hallway to sort of test the atmosphere of the house, see who’s awake and everything. Ben opens the door to the master bedroom, smiles when he sees him, and quietly closes the door behind him in a way that suggests he’s trying not to wake Beverly.

Eddie doesn’t know why confronting the reality of Ben and Bev sharing a bed embarrasses him, but it does. It’s not any of his business whether they’re sleeping together—he tries not even to think too hard about the statistical likelihood that they’re having sex (which is high, he will admit, though he really shouldn’t make these assumptions, considering he’s been in a sexless marriage for over three years). Maybe something about the level of scrutiny. Eddie’s still a little afraid of being looked at and known in return.

“Can you get my bandage?” Eddie whispers.

Ben nods like that’s just part of being a good host, and they go into the bathroom. Ben washes his hands and carefully removes Eddie’s bandage from his back, and Eddie thanks him and admits he doesn’t have any clothes suitable for exercise.

“I can loan you some shorts?” Ben offers.

Eddie doesn’t have compression underwear suitable for wearing under athletic shorts, but he doesn’t know if there’s a good option between Ben wears underwear when he jogs and lets bacteria build up in them or you are about to borrow an article of clothing that has touched Ben Hanscom’s dick. So Eddie resolves to wear underwear anyway. Ben’s shorts are perfectly respectable, going down almost to his knees and cut loose enough that Eddie shouldn’t have a problem.

Eddie still can’t put on a t-shirt comfortably, but he imagines waking Richie up to borrow another button-down from him and immediately rules that out. Between the choice of making his incisions angry by trying to pull a shirt over his head, wearing the watch shirt a second day in a row to exercise in, and waking Richie up to borrow a shirt from him that he’s only going to sweat in and need another when he’s done, he decides to recycle the watch shirt. The skull shirt is still in his suitcase, but he’s worried that the drainage from his injuries might have dried into a stain and he wants to wash it himself—and bleach it himself, if necessary.

He takes a quick shower and is out in five minutes. It takes him longer to dress than it does to clean himself, and that’s because he’s mostly focused on taking care of his incisions. He’s going to have to take a second shower later, and that’s when he’ll worry about his hair and the rest of his body. He is at the moment a walking wound.

When he comes out, Ben is sitting in the living room, lacing up his shoes. He looks almost surprised to see Eddie this soon.

“How do you feel?” Ben asks.

Eddie can’t take his pain medication until he eats something, so he feels sore. But taking a shower is always the most energizing part of his day, so while he’s not exactly enjoying existence right now, he’s very aware that he’s existing. And he has vague ideas about being more mindful, just as a person.

“Hurts,” Eddie replies brightly.

Ben doesn’t seem to know what to make of that.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asks.

“Oh yeah,” Eddie says.

His phone is in the pocket of his hoodie, which is zipped up over the watch shirt to cover his shame. He’s ready to hit start on his half-hour timer so that he can count his exercise for the day. Then he’ll eat some breakfast, do some banking, take a second shower as soon as Richie gets up and Eddie can borrow a clean shirt, and then go to the pharmacy to pick up his incentive spirometer. At some point, he’ll give up and check his email and see what Erika, his direct supervisor, has to say about his Hi! I’m alive! message.

And then he’ll have to call Myra. But he doesn’t know if he wants to do that while Ben and Bev are still here. Maybe he’ll wait until they leave, and then do it one morning when Richie’s still sleeping. If he can count on himself to get up when his alarm goes off.

Ben talks while they walk, and Eddie doesn’t know why that surprises him. He’s in his own space now; it’s a relief that he feels comfortable enough to talk.

“Are there things you need or want from the store?” Ben asks. “I mean—you can come with me, we can pick up groceries if there are things you want. I can buy bread.”

Eddie blinks at him, distracted by the plod of his feet through the dirt and the crisp leaves. Part of him doesn’t want to get dirt on his new shoes that Richie bought for him—they’re nice, soft red with a funny suede-like texture and white trim, and the fact that Richie bought them makes Eddie’s insides squirm as much as the idea that, after all this time, Richie remembered his favorite color. Eddie decided that red was his favorite color when he was ten. Before that it was purple, but one of the kids on the playground told him that purple was only for girls, and Eddie went home feeling wounded but decided that red was second-best, and he could just like purple secretly.

Maybe Eddie should start wearing more purple?

Anyway, Eddie doesn’t know why Ben seems to think that he and Richie are incapable of going to the store on their own.

“Is the grocery store really far away?” he asks.

Ben shakes his head, shrugs, and sticks his hands in the pocket of his own sweatshirt. He always wore those big sweatshirts when he was a kid; with Ben dressed like that, the pair of them surrounded by trees on either side, Eddie feels like he’s in a space between time as he understands it. He can’t decide if this is good or bad for the timer in his pocket telling him when he can give up and go back to the house, but god damn it, he’s going to get his half-hour in.

“I feel a little weird about leaving,” Ben says. “I know Bev needs to leave. I know. I’ll go with her, that’s not even a question.”

Eddie nods.

“It’s a little like Bill leaving,” Ben admits.

He understands. Bill was the first of them to leave, having pressing commitments far more high-profile than the rest of them, after they defeated the great evil and won the day. Eddie remembers the clutching panic he felt in his chest at the idea that Bill might be the first of them to forget, and how sad would that be, when Bill was the nucleus of their friend group for so long? How sad and cruel.

But Bill didn’t forget, and then Stan and Patty left, and then Mike peeled off from their little group out to see the world as he deserves after all this time. Eddie can understand some anxiety about breaking their group down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Well, Eddie can understand basically any form of anxiety, but that’s neither here nor there.

“On the plus side,” he says, panting, “if we all start forgetting, you’ll have Bev. And you’ll come back, and there will be these two strange men in your house, and you’ll either remember us or call the cops on us.”

“Which will be rough,” Ben says, “seeing as you have no ID.”

Eventually Eddie decides that the path is plenty clear enough to go on his own, and lets Ben get started with his daily run. He doesn’t like the idea of holding Ben back from what he would normally be doing. Ben assures him that he’ll make a few laps, so it’s not like Eddie will be alone in the woods.

Ben does lap him at least twice before Eddie completes the circle back to the house. He yells “on your left!” each time, though he passes Eddie on the right. It’s very confusing at first, because Eddie naturally leaps to the right to get out of Ben’s way and they very nearly collide, but Ben stops and steadies him. By the time Eddie’s done his ears and nose are stinging with cold, and his hands are happy to be tucked into the pockets of his hoodie.

We need to sleep, his body tells him helpfully. Like, now.

He doesn’t think he’s sweating too hard and, while he’s a little bit concerned about keeping his incisions clean, he’s definitely going to sweat in his sleep anyway. So instead of getting on the computer and trying to get some work done, he goes back to the guest bedroom and strips out of his exercise clothes, almost all of which are borrowed or provided by someone else, and falls asleep in his underwear under the sheets.

They are very nice sheets. As is evident from the rest of the house, Ben has expensive tastes, and Eddie can respect that. That’s the nice thing about making it out of Derry and making a name for yourself. Eddie feels like after the hell they went through, the universe owes them a few nice things.

He becomes aware of a knock at his door and sits up a little, pulling the sheet up to his chin. He’s confused, having woken from a dream where he stole a sandwich from a work meeting and had to flee his office with the sandwich while sirens blared in the background, but he couldn’t run fast enough. “Hello?” he says quietly, confused.

The door cracks open just a little bit. “I have a shirt for you,” Richie says.

Eddie becomes extremely aware of his nakedness, despite that he’s perfectly hidden in the bedding. “Okay?” he says.

This is not an invitation to come in, but Richie opens the door a little bit wider anyway, creeps in as gingerly as someone as large as him can, and places a folded button-down shirt on the dresser. Eddie remains still, as though Richie—despite having his glasses on—is one of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs and can’t see him unless he moves. Richie sets the shirt down carefully and then glances at the bed, and for a moment the two of them just stare at each other.

Richie clears his throat. “Didn’t mean to wake you,” he says. “Ben said you were up, so.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, and then becomes aware of how breathy his voice is and wants to pull the sheet up over his head to hide. He swallows. “Fell asleep.” The sheets cling to him with the ghost of his own warmth; he can feel the weight of the comforter sliding over his chest as he breathes, too gentle to irritate any of his injuries. He feels like his skin is alive, like somehow Richie walking in switched on a radar and now his body’s just waiting to see what Richie’s going to do.

“I’ll let you get back to it,” Richie says, backing toward the door. He’s barefoot on the hardwood and looks curiously vulnerable. As he puts his hand on the doorknob he pauses again and then grins. “Your hair,” he says, voice warm and teasing, and then he steps out of the room and pulls the door shut behind him.

Eddie waits for the sound of Richie padding away down the hall before he turns over, presses his face into the pillow, and groans so long that his voice breaks in the middle.

When Eddie wakes up again—this time from hazy almost-hallucinations of Richie walking back into his room and climbing into the bed with him, this time in varying states of dress and undress—he finds that it’s noon. Not eleven. Noon.

This in itself is almost as distressing as the guilt he feels from the quasi-sexual dreams he suspects he willed himself into having and the eerie feeling of knowing that he should be hard but he isn’t. And he needs to have breakfast, because he needs to take pain medication, because when he inhales it feels like something in his chest is resisting and trying to punish him for daring to respire.

Richie really did leave a shirt for him on the dresser—that wasn’t part of a dream. Eddie doesn’t know if that is good or bad. It’s the turtle shirt, and Eddie braces himself for more jokes about Ben’s turtle statue.

Who just has… a statue? Like, on the floor? Not on display, but perched there on the rug in the space Eddie would put a dog if he had one?

But the shirt is clean and it smells like detergent and Eddie only presses his nose to the collar and breathes in for a few seconds before he decides that a) any scent of Richie he might catch would be from his imagination and b) he doesn’t have time for this, he has to go eat so that he can take his meds. He dresses and brings his pill bottles out to the main room with him.

Richie is on the couch this time, his knees hooked over the armrest so that his shins and bare feet seem to form a barrier to anyone trying to enter the space. “Hey, Spaghetti,” he says, voice sounding oddly hoarse and creaky. His arms are folded behind his head. He’s forty and he seems to have no idea how to sit like a human being.

Eddie’s punctured, winded body tells him that the ideal thing to do would be to stand between Richie’s knees and just fall on him. Just drop directly on top of him. Crush him. See what Richie does.

“I picked up your thing,” Ben says. He’s dressed now in a sweater and for some reason has his pants rolled up to his calves. He, too, is barefoot. Eddie looks down at his own socks and wonders if the gray carpet is really that appealing. It looks shaggy in a way that should make it hard to clean. Bev is sharing an armchair with him, turned so that her back is pressed to his side. Ben looks quite comfortable despite that Bev seems to be slowly pushing him out of the chair.

“My thing?” Eddie repeats, sleep- and pain-confused.

“Your thing,” Ben repeats, and for some reason lowers his chin, holds both hands in circles under his chin, and blows down into them. If Eddie’s being generous, it looks like he’s miming playing the clarinet. If Eddie allows the little Richie voice in his brain to take over, it looks like he’s miming sucking a dick.

“My spirometer?” Eddie asks.

“Your medical bong,” Richie says. He reaches out and puts one bare foot on Eddie’s hip.

Eddie turns his head towards him so slowly and stares at him so fiercely that Richie retracts his foot and indeed hikes his knees up toward his chest entirely, bracing both feet on the arm of the couch. Eddie cannot deal with this right now.

“I need to eat,” he says, and gestures with his pill bottles. The pills inside rattle and something deep in Eddie’s brain reacts like a dog faced with a can full of pennies, wanting to shrink away from it. “Now, ideally.”

Ben stands up immediately and says, “I got it. Can you do fruit?”

“I can do fruit,” Eddie agrees. He’s grateful for the rapid suggestion instead of last night’s humming and hawing over dinner.

Ben walks across the house toward the kitchen and Bev, without looking up from her phone, slides backward to take full occupancy of the chair. Richie, still in his extravagant position on the couch, seems to scowl as Ben goes by.

“Move over,” Eddie tells him.

Richie immediately braces both feet on the armrest and pushes himself back along the couch to make room for Eddie to sit. Eddie stiffly rounds the corner and sits. Richie’s feet hover in the air and his scowl has shifted into a guilty doubtful look.

“Oh my god, put your feet on my lap, I don’t fucking care,” Eddie says, maybe a little more aggressively than the situation warrants.

Bev looks up for that, which makes Eddie feel self-conscious. Richie settles his feet almost meekly in Eddie’s lap.

“You can move them when I start eating,” Eddie says.

Richie’s feet are very pale and marked with sparse, straight dark hair across the tops and down to a point. The big toe has a faint showing, and the rest of his toes are so bare in comparison that they seem fish-belly white. His second toe is longer than his biggest one, but it’s not very noticeable because of how they gently curl. Eddie looks at them dispassionately, surprised by his indifference, his lack of revulsion. People’s feet are objectively disgusting. They’re in socks all day, just collecting bacteria. Or they’re in sandals, wearing down and collecting calluses.

Richie’s feet are not gross. They’re not hot—and Eddie feels a weird sense of relief at that, the idea that he’s allowed to look at Richie’s feet without feeling uncontrollable lust—but they’re not gross. They should be gross. Why the fuck aren’t they gross? Why can’t Richie just have some fucking gross feet like the rest of them?

So maybe Eddie’s a little quietly angry about that, and then he figures out that Richie’s feet aren’t hot but his ankles definitely are. Apparently Eddie’s into bony ankles. Secretly he’s been a Victorian this whole time. There’s a bare hollow under the outside of Richie’s ankle that Eddie wants to touch to see if it’s as soft as it looks, but he’s not going to do that.

Ben brings him a collection of fruit salad in a Tupperware and, despite it being a very nice selection, Eddie eats it like a hyena on a carcass, crushing grapes in his teeth like they’re bones.

It’s suspicious, how easily the bank stuff goes. He gets on the website with his usual username and password, clicking No when the site asks him if he wants it to remember this device, and then the matter of marking his previous cards Lost or Stolen is simple. The issue is that it wants to send the replacement cards to his old address, to the apartment he shares with Myra. When he tries to indicate that this is not the address he wants them to go to, the site directs him to get on the phone with customer service.

Swearing the whole time, Eddie goes in and dials the number on his new prepaid cellphone. While he’s on the line, listening to the smooth jazz (which always ratchets up his temper more than any other genre of music, just from this association with customer service) and the frequent interruptions to remind him of other products that his bank would like to make available to him, Bev creeps into the room and perches on one of the countertops. Then, of course, this phone number is not a number that they have on file with his account, so he has to enter in his date of birth and the last four digits of his social and wait a while longer.

Bev sits on the counter and swings her bare feet. Her toenails are painted very dark blue. Myra favors lighter, more neutral shades, though she has trouble resisting glitter. When the polish starts to chip the glitter tries to peel off her toes with the rest of it and sometimes just becomes very sharp. Eddie remembers lying in bed with her at night, her half asleep and accidentally scratching him with the glitter in her nail polish.

Is it Eddie who has the issue going around with bare feet? Is this a thing that everyone else is accustomed to and it’s just him who has the issue? He wheels around from the computer, phone still pressed to his ear, and turns his back to Bev, the canvas with the crane, and the four plants slowly rehydrating in the sink. Instead he stares at the golden turtle.

The customer service representative comes on the line and asks him how they can help him today.

Eddie takes a deep breath. “Okay, so what I need is replacement credit and debit cards sent to an address not on my file.”

There’s a pause. “Okay,” says the representative.

“Because I’m filing for divorce from my wife, and I don’t want her to have my new address, but I’ve recently lost my wallet and phone and I’m trying to replace these essentials.”

Eddie is aware of how sketchy this sounds. Honestly, if his bank allows him to do this without giving him too hard a time, he’s going to judge them a little bit. Just because it reflects on their security. Eddie’s story is true, and surely there must be other customers in similar positions without the interference of a demon clown from outer space, but if he gets through this whole process with what he wants, he will feel proportionally less safe about leaving his money with them.

It does not surprise him when the representative has to consult their supervisor.

Over an hour later, Eddie and his bank have come to the following agreement: that he will provide them with a copy of his identification as soon as he can (he knows there’s a scanned image of his passport somewhere in his email inbox, from various arguments he had with HR, and he can send that over) and that they will provide him with a new debit card as soon as they receive that. They will send it to Ben’s address, which is fortunately still in the state of New York and at least makes it marginally less complex. They will allow him to open up his own account in his own name, which Myra will not have access to, but they will not allow him to transfer more than two thousand dollars per day from of his shared account with her until they are directed to by an order from family or divorce court. They will freeze his credit cards, but they will not issue him new ones until the cards are paid off. And—and this is important—they will add his new phone number to his user account, and it will not be visible to Myra.

All in all, while Eddie’s somewhat disappointed that everything isn’t being done exactly the way he wants exactly the moment he asks for it, it’s pretty reasonable. Bev is messing with something on her phone but still watching him; he can see her smile a little out of the corner of his eye when he says something too overtly exasperated. He has no idea where Ben and Richie are, or how he lost them in this big glass house. And he was made to provide all of the code words and security phrases that he agreed with the bank when he became a member, so he could feel less secure.

When he hangs up he sets his phone down on the desk and looks at Bev.

Bev laughs.

Eddie makes a disconsolate exhausted noise.

“Is that it?” she asks.

“No, I have to fix my driver’s license,” he says. He goes to the website, looks at the requirements and finds that he’s allowed to have his replacement driver’s license sent to a temporary address, and then looks around. “Do you think Ben has a printer in this place?”

Ben has a printer. He comes up from the lower level of the house with the printer in his hands and goes about plugging it in, connecting it to the internet, and downloading the software necessary to make it work. Eddie is a little bit horrified not just by this Smart printer with internet access, but also that Ben doesn’t keep it in the place where it would be most convenient for him to use it.

Then they discover that Ben does not have paper.

Ben closes his eyes and says, “I’m so sorry.”

Eddie, already flustered from the time on the phone with his bank and the frustrations of navigating a DMV website, bites his tongue to stop from asking Ben why the fuck he has a printer but no paper.

“I will go get you some paper,” Ben says solemnly. “I’m just… gonna have to wait a bit.”

Not understanding, Eddie blinks at him.

“I can drive,” Bev says.

Eddie glances from her to Ben and back, still confused, before he realizes that Ben has been drinking. Which answers the question of where Richie is.

“I mean—it’s no problem,” Eddie says. “It’s gonna take ten days for it to get here anyway, and I’m going to have to put the thing in the mail.”

“Right, yes, the mail,” Ben says. “I can show you where the mailbox is.”

Eddie looks out the window and down the long drive leading toward the main road. “I’m gonna have to wait a bit for that too,” he confesses, because his thighs are sore.

“That’s fine,” Ben says. “Sorry, I should have asked if we were going anywhere else today.”

But it’s not like Ben can be expected to anticipate Eddie suddenly needing a printer. Eddie’s just happy that he has one.

“Can I borrow eighteen dollars to replace my driver’s license?” he asks. “I’ll pay you back.”

“Of course you can,” Ben says easily.

Later, when Ben has sobered up a little and insisted on going to get printer paper at two PM on a Wednesday, Richie comes up from downstairs. He is still, inexplicably, drinking coffee, despite the time of day. Eddie is somewhat horrified for his teeth, though they don’t look particularly stained.

“Is it that good?” Bev asks, somewhat amused.

Standing at the top of the stairs, Richie looks nonplussed, until Bev jerks her head pointedly and he looks down into the coffee cup. “Oh!” he says. Eddie wonders if there’s some kind of liquor in there and feels absurdly jealous that everyone can drink but he can’t. “I mean, it’s not bad.” He throws himself down onto the couch and bounces Eddie in the process, like they’re sharing a trampoline; Eddie seizes the edge of the couch to hold himself steady. “So Bev.”

“So Richie,” she replies.

“Does Ben have a past as a bartender, or…?”

“Ben drinks,” Bev says calmly.

It takes a moment for that to settle in and then Eddie immediately feels like a heel for being mad about his medical bans.

Richie just nods. “With you?” he asks.

“I haven’t seen him binge except for that first night,” she replies. “We talked about it.” She says that like she’s closing the book on the subject.

“Okay,” Richie says, and looks at Eddie. Eddie is staring at his fingers where they’re holding the mug, how large his knuckles look. He can only fit two of them through the handle. He holds the mug out to Eddie. “Do you want?” he asks.

Eddie looks up at him, startled. In general, the answer to the question does Eddie want has recently been proven to be a resounding yes. He is indifferent to this coffee. “Is there booze in it?”

“There is no booze in it,” Richie says. “It is cold, though. I can microwave it.”

Eddie pulls a face and Richie grins and takes a sip, apparently unbothered.

“I think we’re going to buy tickets,” Bev says quietly. She’s not looking at them; she’s sitting sideways in the armchair again, her head turned toward the massive window.

All the furniture in here really ought to be sunbleached. If Eddie cared a little more he would look at the back of the couch to see if the leather is a truer black where it’s hidden against the wall.

“To where?” Eddie asks, instead of busying himself with creeping on Ben’s furniture.

He knows this isn’t a fun getaway, knows that Bev has to be anxious about being in any one place, but deep down he always wanted to travel. Not to see the sights or to become more cultured, but just to go. Not even to say he had gone, but just to feel it. He heard once that you can get anywhere in the world within seventy-two hours, and the part of him that took three attempts before he finally moved out of his mother’s place always wanted to believe it.

“Oh,” Bev says quietly. “Just—anywhere, I think.”

“Pick the cheapest tickets?” Richie asks. He puts his feet up on the table. Eddie glances down at his ankles where they’re exposed from his jeans and then away again.

Bev smiles. “Maybe.”

Eddie has a strong suspicion about why they haven’t bought tickets already, and it has to do with him. He feels grave and a little guilty and says nothing.

“The nice thing about having all my memories back,” Bev says, her face suddenly brightening, “is that at least I know I have friends that he doesn’t know about.” She grins like it’s funny, like she might start laughing. There is genuine joy on her face.

“Ancient child-eating alien magic: good for hiding contingency plans from yourself,” Richie says, in what is definitely a Voice, though Eddie doesn’t recognize it. He picks his left hand up and ruffles at his hair, making it stand up wildly in the front. “Aliens.”

Bev laughs, so she gets the reference. Eddie feels once again out of the loop, but while he would normally demand Richie’s coffee or shove his feet in his lap or something else to get his attention, in this moment he already feels uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny on him.

“I don’t want you to put things off because of me,” Eddie tells her.

Her eyes flick to him and her face softens. “Honey, that’s not it. We only got here yesterday.” She crosses her legs. “To tell the truth, I think Ben’s excited about having guests.”

“You think?” Richie asks.

“We went grocery shopping,” she says. “It was… really nice. You guys won’t have to restock for a while.”

Eddie imagines himself and Richie at the grocery store, except for some reason they’re teenagers and Richie is trying to climb in the cart. Is that a thing that happened? It feels like it might have been a thing that happened. He looks at Richie, trying to see if he shares this train of thought, but Richie’s frowning in Bev’s direction. Not like he’s displeased by her, but almost like he’s looking through her, maybe out the window.

“He bought beets,” Bev adds.

Richie’s face collapses and suddenly he’s back in the room with them. “Aw, man, I don’t know what to do with beets,” he says. “What am I supposed to do with all these goddamn vegetables?”

“Do you have scurvy?” Eddie asks.

“I do not have scurvy,” Richie says.

“Because if you don’t eat vegetables, you will get scurvy.”

Richie holds his coffee cup off to the side and shimmies his shoulders like a go-go dancer. “No, but I can shiver your timbers if you let me walk your—” His pirate Voice is not good. It just sounds Scottish. And he can’t even get all the way to the end of his joke before he collapses laughing, just watching Eddie’s face.

“Bev, I’ve changed my mind,” Eddie says loudly, over Richie’s hysteria. “If you go, one of us will kill the other, and I don’t know which.” He might have the disadvantage of injury, but he’s pretty sure that if he just says something completely bananas it’ll incapacitate Richie for long enough that Eddie could finish him off.

Not like that.

Maybe like that.

God, Eddie has to call his wife soon.

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Bev says, because she’s stone-cold, but she smiles a little as she says it.

They make dinner again that night, as a group, and then while Richie is on another round of mocking the giant golden turtle statue—named Goldie, now, “to go with Silver”—Ben and Bev buy plane tickets online. They discuss their destination in murmurs. Eddie is sure they would tell them where they’re going if they were to ask, but if Bev feels safer not telling, he’s fine with that. He takes Ben’s smaller houseplants out of the sink one by one and replaces them around the house where they’ll get adequate light.

“Not the spider plant,” Ben says, looking up. “That one needs indirect light.”

Eddie considers this and then quietly steals it and puts it on the dresser in the guest room.

The morning that Ben and Bev leave for what Richie is calling “Location Redacted,” Eddie faints in the shower.

His half an hour of exercise is fine. His stretches aren’t comfortable—there are positions in which he’s never been able to link his hands behind his back, and up until now he’s been okay with that—but he’s doing them. The incentive spirometer is not ordered from Amazon, which makes Eddie feel better about using it; and while he definitely plateaued a bit in his progress since he left the hospital, he has every intention of working back up to it. His debit card is on its way, he printed out the DMV forms and his utility bills for proof of identity to get his replacement driver’s license mailed to a temporary address, and Bev has provided him with a list of New York divorce lawyers that her own New York divorce lawyer recommended.

It strikes him as deeply unfair that they should both have been living in this city all this time, and never run across each other. It’s not that Eddie really hangs out with big-name fashion designers every day, but it just seems unfair that they were made to forget each other and they were right there all this time. It’s a big city, but it’s not that big a city. Eddie runs into Myra’s friends on a regular basis.

So he feels that he’s making a good start on his recovery, and that if he has two and a half weeks to go, he ought to be increasing exponentially every day. He can call his doctor’s office and ask for recommendations in this area, and maybe see about getting started on his formalized physical therapy out here.

He gets up in the morning, showers, puts his DMV application in the mail, and then watches Ben literally run circles around him for half an hour. Ben is nice about it. Eddie manages two and a quarter laps around the whole house and when his little alarm goes off he turns around and walks the quarter lap back to the house instead of completing a full two laps. But that’s about two and a half laps in total, and that’s not bad. He pants as he walks back and has to take a seat on the steps up to the deck before he can make it back into the house, but then he manages both little sets of stairs in one agonized shot.

He makes it to the kitchen—why the fuck is Ben’s kitchen so far away from the other spaces in which living is done? He has almost all the rooms lined up like cars on a train, so why not shove the office on the very end as the caboose?—and gulps down cold water, disregarding Sarah’s command for little sips in favor of trying to physically cool the burning in his chest and throat. He eats more fruit—Ben has so much goddamn fruit, it’s going to be impossible for Richie to get scurvy here—and then he goes to take his second shower of the day. He’s a grown man of forty and he can’t be sleeping in until noon every day.

Ben’s shower is acceptable. The bathtub is clean and it even has a rubber safety mat in the bottom, despite it clashing horribly with the sleek square apparatuses in the room. Even the toilet is not quite ovular in shape, though it is at least a reassuring clean white, devoid of dust.

Eddie wonders if Ben has a cleaning service that came in while he was gone or whether he did a full clean of his house in anticipation of Richie and Eddie arriving. Based on the condition of the plants, he suspects that the latter is more likely. Eddie feels a little guilty about that but he is very much enjoying the results.

The hot water is very good, too, coming on almost instantly and without any strange sulfuric smells like you get in some rural areas. The shampoo and soap suds up easily, which means that the water softness is good too. He lets the water drill on his skull until he feels some of the lingering tension in his jaw and spine relax.

He doesn’t know how long he’s in there, but it can’t be very long. Still, it takes him longer than it should for him to realize that that’s not just steam fogging up his vision. Right around the time that the little sparks appear, his optic nerve demanding his attention, he realizes that he doesn’t have to be worried about the ventilation and moisture level in Ben’s guest bathroom; he’s passing out.

“Fuck,” he whispers, and lowers himself to lie on the rubber safety mat in the tub. He gets his head down and his legs and arms in the recovery pose and just lies there for a bit. The water isn’t directly hitting him in the skull now, and it’s marginally cooler down here. He turns his head a little bit, then reaches out a foot and hits the little mechanism that changes from shower to bath with his heel. The tenor of the running water changes. Eddie breathes.

There’s still conditioner in his hair. He managed to wash his incisions—he’s still doing a better job on the front one than on the back, but that’s a hazard of not being able to see behind him—with the unscented soap that the doctor recommended, and now he’s careful not to let either his chest or back touch the sides of the tub.

Okay. Breathe. This is fine.

Slowly he, on hands and knees, creeps around in the bathtub like something out of a horror movie and holds the top of his head under the faucet. The conditioner gets kind of blasted out of his hair. It’s very efficient. Eddie closes his eyes and breathes through his open mouth and thinks thoughts about how little water is required to drown someone, and then shuts the water off entirely.

Then he continues to lay in the tub. It’s not porcelain, he reflects, looking at one of the sleek grooves carved on the inside to give it a random hydrodynamic shape. It’s plastic, but it’s meant to look like porcelain. The drain burbles and, while he never had any trouble with voices in the pipes (he never needed a monster when he was already in his mother’s house), he thinks of Bev’s bloody bathroom.

There’s a little row of tiny complimentary toiletries lined up on one corner of the bath. Richie stole them out of the hotel.

He tries to assess whether he’s had enough to eat this morning—yes, he filled his stomach, and while fruit might not be the protein that his doctor recommended, it does hold him over for hours. Something about the long breakdown of it releasing energy over a period of time. Maybe he should have waited until he was a little further in the digestion process before he tried to take a shower—but he just wanted to stop himself from falling back asleep, and he wanted to get cleaned up before he had to face Richie and Bev.

Mostly Richie, he tells himself sternly. He doesn’t necessarily care whether Bev sees him sweaty and falling apart from trying to take a simple walk outside. To be fair, he shouldn’t care whether Richie sees him gross after exercising, because Richie literally carried him out of a sewer, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Stupid. So stupid.

He has to have drunk enough water—he’s so hydrated, he’s deathly afraid that the heavy medications that knock him out in the middle of the night will make him piss himself in his sleep, especially since he’s still taking medicine for the goddamn UTI—and he definitely turned the shower up too hot. Eddie exists in a perpetual state of dry skin despite Myra’s pushing enough Gold Bond lotion to do advertisements for it, because he would bathe in lava if given the opportunity. Maybe he stood under the water for too long, and if he’d been in and out within five minutes he wouldn’t even have noticed.

Probably just overexerted himself. He doubts he’d have this problem if he had taken the hot thorough shower before exhausting himself pacing around Ben’s house. He feels okay now, lying here at the bottom of the bathtub—he can see this white plastic bathtub perfectly fine, can read the lettering on the stolen complimentary toiletries perfectly fine, and this shower curtain is nice and clean.



He’s not ready to run any marathons here, he’ll admit that much. He should drink some more water and go lie down on a surface intended for such things—probably go back to bed, actually. Naps for medical reasons are very different from just going back to bed until noon with reckless abandon.

But he’s a little afraid to get up. Falling in the bathroom is so much worse than just getting lightheaded in the shower. His brain is full of the Call! Don’t Fall! pamphlets from the hospital, and very aware of how naked and vulnerable he is.

And pushing himself up on this wet surface is going to suck, despite the rubber safety mat. He can already tell that his arms are not going to thank him for it.

He reaches up and turns the dial of the faucet to cold, then opens the spigot up just a little. A narrow ribbon of cold water streams out and he holds his face under it, feeling like the protagonist in a movie about a man trying to survive in the wild. He’s not ready to drink unfiltered water straight from the tap, but splashing some cold water on his face is just a good move in general.

Then he shuts the water off, gets up on his knees, and crawls out of the bathtub. There’s a plain bathmat on the floor in front of him, and he’s glad for it, not wanting to see the way he would slip on the tile without it. He braces himself carefully on the side of the bathtub and levers his legs out one at a time, and then his upper body. The closer he is to the floor, the better he feels about his odds.

This is fine, he tells himself as he crawls around the bathroom, gladder of its cleanliness than he ever has been about any bathroom in maybe his entire life. This could have been so much worse. He could have fallen in the shower and bashed his head in and been naked when whoever heard the crash came to find him. If they heard the crash. Otherwise he could have just lain there with the hot water going cold over him until someone came in to figure out why he was taking so long in the shower and not responding to their knocks and calls. Maybe he would have broken his neck on the way down. Maybe he would have survived Pennywise, only to die because he slipped in the shower.


He feels furious. He uses that to drag the towel down from the hook, wrap it around himself, and lever himself cautiously up using the counter to support his weight.

And he still hasn’t accomplished any of the things that he wanted to do.

It’s fine. Ben suggested that he move into the master bedroom when he and Bev go, and the shower in there has a bench. He assumes it’s a walk-in, not that Ben’s architectural weirdnesses just extend to installing random benches in bathtubs.

Sex bench, the voice in his head that sounds like Richie volunteers helpfully.

What if you did faint, Eddie? says the alien voice that sounds like himself but not. What if you did faint, and you died in the shower, and after all of these things you did to try to get your life better, you never even got started?

So Eddie goes back to his guest room, wrapped in a towel. He finishes off his water bottle, he sits on the bed, he checks the clock to see how likely it is that Bev and Richie are up and can hear him.

And he calls Myra.

More accurately, he texts Myra. He knows that she won’t pick up for a strange number, especially since he told her that he wants a divorce and for all he knows she might be trying to dodge any lawyers he sends after her. He writes, Myra, it’s Eddie and sends it, and then waits.

The phone rings almost immediately. That’s good—Eddie was a little worried that she would have the opening shift at work and not see his message for a while, and Eddie would wait hours for her to get back to him, and then by the time she did he would have lost his feeling of having built a defense out of frustration and self-pity and no more. He picks up.

“Oh my god, Eddie?” she asks. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” he replies.

“Do you need help? Do you need me to come get you?”

He takes a deep breath, feeling the little stab of pain from his ribs, and says, “No,” in a tone that means that nothing’s changed since the last time they talked.

He can tell she gets it, because she’s silent for a long moment. Then she says, “What the fuck are you doing, Eddie?”

Myra doesn’t curse often—has a certain idea about what is ladylike and what is not, but has moved beyond that in the past when she’s really frustrated with her mother or her sister’s family. But he doesn’t think he’s ever heard her drop an f-bomb before. Certainly not directed at him.

“I don’t hear from you for—for ages, after you just run out of the house and you won’t tell me where you’re going, and then you drop something like that on me out of the blue—do you know how worried I was about you? I thought you were dead. I didn’t know what happened to you.” Her voice is low and venomous. Eddie opens his mouth to interrupt but she pushes on. “And then you’re in the hospital, which is exactly what I was afraid of—”

No, she just said she was afraid of him being dead, he thinks with something like amusement but too bitter.

“—and you won’t tell me what the fuck is going on, and you won’t give me a number to call you, and say you want a divorce? If anyone should ask for a divorce it should be me, considering you abandoned me.”

Eddie has looked at a lot of how to file for divorce in New York articles today, and he says, “We have to be living apart for a year before you can file for divorce on grounds of abandonment.”

Myra is silent.

“Then again, we haven’t had sex in three years, so you could file for constructive abandonment,” he adds. “I wouldn’t contest that.” Obviously.

Myra explodes.

“Is this about sex?” she demands. “Are you—are you trying to prove some kind of point because we haven’t had sex? Because you could have said something before whatever the fuck this is—”

Actually, he’s oddly proud of her for cursing him out. It’s preferable to her tears. Eddie will always take her anger over tears.

“—before running away like a teenage girl who didn’t get her way, goddamn it, Eddie, if I felt like you wanted me this wouldn’t be a problem—”

Oooh, that one hit. Eddie grits his teeth.

“Myra, I told you I’m gay,” he says. “We shouldn’t be married because I’m gay.”

Actually, they shouldn’t be married for a lot of reasons, but that’s probably the biggest one.

“You’re not gay!” Myra shouts back. “That’s a cop-out, Eddie, you just don’t want to do the work of a real relationship, you never have, you never put in your weight in therapy, you—”


“—and now you’re forty and you’re just—just like that guy in your office who—”


“—I’ve seen the posts he’s made with that woman on a motorcycle of all things, like he doesn’t have two children who have to—”

“Myra,” Eddie says. “I should not have proposed to you, because it wasn’t fair.”

The long silence is what he always imagined would happened if he ever hit her. Not that he ever hit his wife—not that he would ever hit his wife—but sometimes when they were fighting and her tears were rolling he would think, God, you’re really hurting her, you’re just as bad if you raised your hands to her, comparing this Myra to a Myra in another world who staggered back from him, stunned.

Fair?” she says. “You want to talk about what’s fair? Okay, let’s talk about that—because you are the one trying to make the unilateral decision to end our marriage, and I don’t think that’s fair. Marriage is hard, Eddie, it isn’t easy, everyone who stays in a marriage long term says that it’s a choice, that you have to do the work, and I’ve been trying to do the work, Eddie, but I can’t carry this for both of us.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Eddie says. “I’m asking you to stop.”

He hears how tight her voice is coming out and knows she’s going to start crying. He tries to steel himself for it in the silence between his words and her response.

“I don’t want to stop,” she says, her voice breaking. “I don’t want to stop, I don’t want to, please, I love you, you married me, we said that we’d be together for the rest of our lives, please, Eddie, this isn’t fair.”


“And that’s my fault,” Eddie says. It’s not sarcastic, not the way she was spitting at him just moments ago—because it is his fault, he could have put a stop to this years ago, put a stop to it before it even started, he just wasn’t ready to face it. “But Myra, I don’t think we were happy.”

“Why don’t you love me anymore?”

He closes his eyes. This is hard to say. It’s probably the cruelest he’s ever been to a person. “Myra, I can’t love you that way. It’s not your fault. I just can’t.”

She sobs once. “You said you did. You said.”

“I didn’t know,” Eddie says, because he genuinely didn’t. He might have told himself strictly where his eyes were and were not allowed to go, but there was a time when he genuinely thought that this was what love was, for him. It never got beyond a superficial level; it was allowing someone to take from him the things they needed, it was having a partner in the world and moving through it together and making compromises and putting aside the things about her that annoyed him because there were surely things about him that annoyed her, and that was just what marriage was.

It’s not what he wants. It’s not this all-consuming thing that seems to cut to the quick of him, makes him stupid, makes him put rationality aside.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

There’s a silence on the other side of the phone and then hitching breaths. “Did you—did you—did you cheat on me? Is there someone else? Is that why you ran out?”

He swallows. “I have never cheated on you,” he says, his voice stronger. “I have been faithful to you for our entire marriage, Myra, I swear.”

He hears her crying—that gasping out of control hee-hawing breathing from when she’s really down. “I don’t—I don’t believe you,” she says, her voice a little harder in turn.

“I don’t blame you,” he says. “It’s true. You can go get tested if you want, you’re the only person I’ve ever slept with.”

“Then how can you be gay?” she wails. “How can you know, if you’ve never slept with a man?”

This irritates him. “I don’t know, Myra, how could you commit to marry a man despite being a virgin?” he snaps back.

She gasps on the other end of the phone and then comes back with her previous vehemence. “Don’t you dare throw that in my face like it’s a bad thing, don’t you dare.”

He knows she’s sensitive about how old she was when they finally got married. Her mother—admittedly, Judith is kind of a bitch, though Eddie would never say that out loud—went so far as to call her a spinster to her face, though she was only thirty-two when Eddie finally gave in and proposed despite his better judgment. But she was proud of having waited—said lots of things, deeply satisfied, to her sister about being glad she waited for the right man, about being glad she finally found him, and now…

“Please don’t do this to me,” she says. “Please don’t do this to me—Eddie, I’m forty, I’m old, I make minimum wage, I don’t even own my own car—what am I supposed to do? I need—” Another gasping breath. “—I need your insurance, I need you to keep the apartment, I need you, and you need me too, you need me to—to cook for you, and to keep things clean the way you like them, and to keep you calm, and—Eddie, please, you don’t have to love me, but you’re my best friend. You’ve been my best friend for so long, you can’t do this to me.”

“I have to do this,” Eddie says. “It’s not fair to you.”

“No, you’re not being fair to me!” Myra shouts. “Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor here—you—you have a good job and money and you’re in the prime of your life, and you’re hanging me out to dry—if you leave me, no one’s ever going to love me, Eddie.”

“They will,” Eddie says. He swallows. “You might not believe me now, but there’s somebody out there for you, Myra.”

“There isn’t! You think I don’t know all of those stupid platitudes? I waited so long, Eddie. I waited so long, and you can’t—you can’t—”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry I did this to you. But we have to stop, Myra. We’ll be better off without each other, I’m sorry, I have to do this.” And he ends the call.

She tries to call him back twice while he’s blocking her number, and then he does it and he sets the phone down on the bed beside him and covers his eyes.

There’s a knock on his door. Eddie wakes up and realizes that he’s still wearing a towel. “Don’t come in!” he says quickly.

“Are you jerking off?” Richie asks.

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I’m naked, hang on.” He rolls off the bed and goes to the dresser to start digging out clothes.

There’s a soft sound of someone leaning against the door. “Tell me more,” Richie says, voice teasing.

Eddie looks up and finds his face in the mirror. Instead of flushed from Richie’s joking, he looks deathly pale. He returns his attention to opening his drawers. “Sorry, I’m sneaking your sis—brother out the window right now.”

Richie laughs. “God, I hope not, we’re on the second story.”

Eddie steps into his boxers, loses his balance, and catches himself on the dresser. The spider plant is judging him. “It’s a split level.”

“So we’re on the one-and-a-halfth floor.”

“That’s not a thing,” Eddie says. “How did you pass math?”

“With flying colors, baby,” Richie says.

“Uh-huh. What’s thirteen squared?”

There’s silence for a moment.

“You better not be looking that up on your phone,” Eddie adds as he wrestles his way into one of Richie’s shirts.

Another thud against the door. “Come on, the teachers always said we’d never walk around with a calculator in our pockets, and we do, it’s our job to use it, to stick it to them!”

“Can’t, too busy sticking it to your dad,” Eddie replies. He gets his pants up over his hips, buttons and zips them shut, and tugs to open the door.

Richie stumbles backwards into the room, catching himself on the doorframe. He straightens himself up, looking at Eddie like you didn’t see that. “You could not handle Went,” he says.

“This conversation has taken a weird turn,” Eddie says. “And it’s all your fault, I’d just like that on the record.”

“You made it weird.”

You made it weird!”

Richie’s blocking his way out of the room. Eddie doesn’t know what to do with this—he’s not gonna shove past him, not with his ribs and shoulders feeling as horrible as they do. He stares at him for a long moment, waiting for Richie to explain why he woke him up. Richie gives him a once-over, his gaze lingering on Eddie’s thighs where his own oversize shirt hangs down. Probably getting ready to say something smug about Eddie’s height.

“Did you need something?” Eddie prompts him.

He looks back up. “Ben and Bev want to leave for the airport. I told them that I’d wake you up if you weren’t already up and moving. Because they were scared of walking in on you naked.”

The way he says it is lascivious, stretching it out like it’s a toy to play with. Eddie knows that he should be reacting some way right now—either blushing or getting turned on or whatever—but instead he just raises an eyebrow at Richie.

“I can be naked if I want,” he says.

Richie sleeps in boxers, Eddie really doesn’t feel he has room to talk. In fact, Richie owes Eddie financial compensation for emotional damages brought on by seeing Richie in boxers.

Richie takes a step back out of the room, his hands going up to rest on top of the doorframe. Eddie remembers him doing that when they were in high school—celebrating his growth spurt by leaping up and slapping the top of the door. He was definitely making fun of how short Eddie was then. Now—Eddie doesn’t know what he’s doing. He looks curiously on display there, hanging with his arms up like that. Eddie keeps his eyes rigidly on Richie’s face.

His expression suggests he’s completely at ease. “Good for you, Eds,” he says. “Quit your job. Join a nudist colony. Live the unexamined life.” He takes another step back and actually lets Eddie out of his room.

“Speaking of my job,” Eddie says. “I got an email from my boss.”


“And she asked for a doctor’s note.”

Richie throws his head back and starts laughing so hard that he slumps into the wall. Eddie ignores him and keeps going, walking toward the common areas to find Ben and Bev.

Bev is standing on the stairs. She’s wearing no makeup, so her eyes look extremely large and heavy-lidded; Eddie thinks immediately of dragons and then cannot understand why. When they come around the corner, making their usual ruckus, she looks up. “Huh?”

“Eddie’s nine years old and has to bring a doctor’s note to the principal’s office!” Richie cackles.

“My boss,” Eddie explains shortly. He looks out the massive window to see Ben coming up the deck. He’s not just the only uncultured one here, he’s also the only one who’s not self-employed. “I may have imagined, for a moment, sending her a shirtless picture and asking if that counted.”

Richie slides down the wall.

“Then you would have a different problem,” Bev says, her tone far more reasonable than her words. “You might as well try it. You got impaled; you should be allowed to play the I got impaled card.”

“Oh my god,” Richie gasps from the floor. “Oh my god, do it, see if you can get out of work because your boss is like oh, Edward Kaspbrak hits the gym.”

“Of course I’m not going to do that,” Eddie says as Ben opens the front door.

He smiles as soon as he sees Eddie. “Hey, you’re up.” Then he looks at Richie, who appears to be experiencing his death throes. “What aren’t you doing?”

“Sending his boss topless pictures,” Bev explains succinctly.

Weirdly, it’s Ben who blushes over that. “Oh,” he says. “I think that would be harassment.”

“Yes, I know it would be harassment,” Eddie confirms. “HR doesn’t like me anyway.”

There was an incident where a new employee was brought on and, when she introduced herself to Eddie, he asked if she was the summer intern. In his defense, she had a very round face and he genuinely thought she might be in college, but once Heather pointed out to him how that could be construed as a sexist comment, Eddie conceded that he might have fucked up a little bit there.

Not in those words.

Good, Heather said. And while I have you here, we need to talk about your conduct with the interns. If it had been litigious conduct with the interns, he would have been able to refute it very easily, as he has never so much as been alone with one of them, but apparently more than one of them had complained about his general attitude over the years. Heather then had to explain to him that interns frequently feel that they can’t complain about established employees in positions of power over them, and that is why none of them ever confronted Eddie to his face.

The compromise is: Eddie has never had an intern and never will, and he sends Heather a fruit basket every Christmas for making certain of that with Erika. The rest of the HR department can go screw themselves. Heather’s the only one he likes; and that’s why Myra doesn’t like Heather.

Richie is still giggling. “Of course they don’t,” he wheezes.

“Car’s ready,” Ben says brightly. “Is there anything else you guys need before we go?”

“A loving father figure,” Richie says morosely.

Ben climbs the stairs, crouches seriously in front of Richie, and places a hand on his shoulder.

“I love you, kid,” he says.

Richie throws himself to the floor, holding his stomach, cackling.

Eddie says, “Richie, you’re the only one here with an alive dad worth speaking to.”

Richie apparently can’t respond, too busy gulping like a fish.

“I’ll be your dad,” Bev says. “I think I’d be pretty good at it.”

Richie claws himself up to a sitting position using Ben’s leg. Ben sways dangerously and steadies himself on the banister. “Okay,” he sighs, sounding winded. “Bev’s my dad now. I’m only getting you Father’s Day cards from now until forever.”

“That’ll be fun trying to find at Christmas,” Bev says.

“I’ll stock up.”

“Good luck,” she says. “It’s already September.”

“Life finds a way.”

Ben reaches out and hugs Eddie—carefully across the shoulders again. “I have keys for you,” he says. “So you can lock up if you need to go out. And if it snows, the garage door opener is in the desk, you can pull the car in.” He releases Eddie and frowns at the floor, eyes unfocused as he considers. “Is there anything else?”

“No, we’re grown men.” Richie stands up. “Give us your house and all your worldly possessions.”

“Okay,” Ben says easily, and hugs Richie.

Bev climbs up the stairs and hugs Eddie in turn. “Good luck,” she whispers in his ear. “Have fun.”

When she releases the hug, Eddie leans back a little, perplexed, to stare into her face. What does she think is going to happen here? Eddie has a hole through his chest. How much fun does she expect him to have?

“Daddy,” Richie requests, holding his arms out. When he hugs Bev she seems to vanish into his chest. “Be safe. Don’t get arrested in a foreign country. Especially not if you’re going to the Netherlands; I’m still not allowed back in the Netherlands. Well, not those Netherlands.”

“Oh my god,” Bev says, pushing him away, but she’s laughing.

As their car pulls out of the driveway, Eddie watches from the window and turns to Richie. “Are they going to the Netherlands?” It’s not that he’d be offended if they told Richie and not him. He’s just surprised, is all.

Ben’s Netherlands!” Richie shouts, and then holds his hand out for a high five.

Eddie leaves him there in favor of hanging out with Goldie the golden turtle statue.

Being alone in the house with Richie feels… weird. Not the way that being in a car with Richie felt weird; that was an almost expected form of weirdness, the knowledge that they had ten hours and about six hundred miles to kill together. They had a goal in mind. Something to accomplish. People to see, places to be.

Now Eddie’s goals are very abstract, and almost all very long term. Accomplishing his list of things to do as soon as he got to Ben’s house made him antsier than he was before. He’s going to have to call Dr. Fox at Sovereign Light Hospital (or maybe the whole surgery department?) tomorrow to get them to fax a doctor’s note to his office, like he’s not a grown-ass man who reliably gets to work early and stays late and has done so since he started at this goddamn company, but that’s something to do during business hours. Everything else seems to be things he can’t accomplish either on his own or in the rapid time he’d like to: get a divorce. Grow back part of your chest.

Make a move.

Richie is worse. Eddie has no idea what’s going on in his head, but he’s just as easily bored as he always is, and now his major form of entertainment is Eddie. He’s not overbearing—he’s not nursing Eddie, which is what Eddie was afraid of, what Eddie specifically asked him not to do—but his eyes are always on him. If Richie gets up, he asks Eddie if he can get him anything. He vanishes into the kitchen and Eddie hears the fridge door open, hears long moments where nothing happens, and then Richie asks, “What do you want for dinner?” as if Eddie has any better answer to that than he did on the first night they got here.

“Beets,” Eddie says.

“God, you’re an ass,” Richie says affectionately.

Eddie feels deeply afraid that Richie is going to cook for him, but he can’t figure out how to stop it from happening. Ben lives in the middle of nowhere.

He texts Ben: Is there a pizza place that delivers to you?

He gets a reply quickly. It has been so long since I ate pizza

So that’s a nonstarter.

And at any moment, Eddie’s afraid he’s going to say something to fill the awkward silence—how can there be silence when he’s in a room with Richie Tozier? I started to faint in the shower this morning. I called my wife; I’m really going through with it. I want you to sleep in my bed with me.

“I mean, I can probably cook, dude, but it’s gonna suck,” Richie says. There’s something awkward and apologetic in the way he hovers in the archway to the kitchen; something almost forlorn about the way he holds his arms. “Like, it will not be up to the standards of New Adventurous Cuisine Eddie.”

Eddie blinks at him. “I’m here with you,” he says. “How high do you think my standards are?”

Richie’s face brightens at once with his laugh. “Yeah, yeah,” he says.

Eddie thinks and then remembers that Ben went out again. “Did Ben buy bread?” he asks, hopefully.

They grill cheese for dinner. It’s a team effort. Eddie can stand long enough to butter bread, and even if he couldn’t, he can easily do that from a chair. Richie gasps theatrically when he looks in the fridge and says, “Holy shit, Ben has some real cheese in here.”

“Okay, the point of a grilled cheese is to get the cheese all melty, so you have to—”

“Dirty talk it; gotcha.”

Cut it in thin slices,” Eddie says. “Not like whatever hack job you did with the burgers—”

“Those were not burgers, those were pita pockets,” Richie says. “Relax, man, I can grill cheese. I can go further than that—do you want bacon on it? Slice of tomato? Make it a full-on melt?” He leans further into the fridge, head vanishing; Eddie looks at the peaks of his shoulders where he’s hunched half in the appliance. “I think this is deli meat,” Richie says, and then there’s another long pause. “Ham,” he reports.

“Are you eating it?” Eddie asks, horrified.

“Like, a little bit.”

“Oh my god.”

They eat melts, not grilled cheeses, and Richie doesn’t even pretend to whisper seductively to the sandwiches; and they watch TV on Ben’s Netflix account on the TV downstairs. Eddie understands why Richie asked if Ben was ever a bartender: there’s a fully-stocked bar, complete with cabinets, with little lights, with rows and rows of different kinds of liquor. It looks nicer than some bars Eddie went to when he was in college. Not that that’s hard; Eddie had no money and he was going out of some overdue teenage rebellion.

Eddie doesn’t know what the sheer variety available means—is it better or worse if there’s a wide variety of different kinds of drinks? It has to be better, right? Like, there’s a lot of it, but it means that Ben hasn’t drunk his way through it all, which would worry Eddie more.

He doesn’t know anything about addiction, not really, not in real life. Dependence, certainly, but he’s never…

He almost asks Richie, but he doesn’t. He almost says something to Richie about what happened today, but he doesn’t. Instead he watches the weird sitcom on the opposite side of the couch from Richie, and slowly he tilts his head back and starts to nod off to the sound of Ted Danson mispronouncing a woman’s name, and then the next thing he knows he’s slid sideways into Richie and is half asleep on his shoulder, full and warm and comfortable.

He doesn’t know how long it is before Richie shakes him awake and says, “Come on, man, time for bed.”

Eddie thinks dazedly of Ben’s suggestion that he take the master bedroom while he’s gone, but maybe that was really just about the master bathroom in general. He doesn’t know if Ben and Bev changed the sheets before they left, and while he kind of figures that they did based on how carefully Ben prepared his house for guests, he doesn’t want to be bothered with it now.

He lumbers up the stairs and comes to a halt, and realizes that Richie’s behind him only when he crashes into him. Eddie almost topples over and Richie catches him, arm looped around his waist directly across his navel. Eddie gasps and clings to the railing, right hand coming up and holding onto Richie’s elbow.

“Shit, sorry,” Richie says. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, you almost knocked me over, dumbass,” Eddie says, disgruntled.

The idea of needing to be caught is frustrating, but in his defense it’s only because Richie collided with him in the first place. He can walk up a flight of stairs. Two flights of stairs, technically, counting the break for the landing.

“Sorry,” Richie says, and lets him go. “You threw on the brakes pretty hard there.”

Eddie has made some… less reserved social overtures, recently, than he might have otherwise when he was a little more alert. But he’s not going to admit to Richie that he stopped at the top of the stairs because what he thought was where’s Richie going to sleep?

He makes it to the next morning before he completely loses it.

He’s learned his lesson, as far as his body is concerned. If he’s going to work out, benign as a short walk around the house might be, he has to rest after. He needs to take cooler showers. He should be doing that anyway, just in the interest of his tissue damage. So he quickly rinses the sleep-sweat off his incisions, creeps into Ben’s room and rifles through his drawers until he finds some running shorts he can borrow, and then he goes out early in the morning to get his exercise over with for the day.

Not the stretches. The stretches are something he’s going to have to do later. And the incentive spirometer. He’s been making little notes on the back of his discharge papers, keeping track of what he’s putting into his recovery in the hopes that it means he’ll get more out of it. Not that the documentation will really affect anything; he just wants to be able to hand his doctors a bunch of data when he gets back for his three-week checkup and says, Okay, I’ve done this so far, how long until my body starts working again?

But it is working, he’s sure of that, because he feels something. His steps might be small and labored; he might start breathing deeper and have to slow his pace before he’s even into the woods and out of sight of the house; but he can still move. If he can’t run, he can walk. If he can’t walk—he thinks of clambering out of the bathtub yesterday—he can crawl.

He doesn’t want to crawl.

His feet are heavy and the red shoes that Richie bought him carry him through the dirt and fallen leaves and his hands are curled as warm as they can be in the pockets of his hoodie—which he really ought to wash, now that he knows that Ben’s washing machine is downstairs. He can’t lift his arms over his head to get a stretch in, but he straightens his back as much as he can and feels the responding ache in his chest. It’s early morning and the plant life around him makes the air seem damp.

He feels good. Everything seems pale green and frosted. There’s still dew on the grass and leaves. It’s better than being in New York City right now. He remembers one Saturday when he was maybe in the fourth grade, when he woke up before his mother did, grabbed a green apple from the bowl downstairs, and went out to the Barrens in a sweater and overalls. How tart the morning tasted.

He’s in a relatively good mood despite the slog, coming out of the woods ready to end his first lap, and then he rounds the corner of the house and spots Richie.

Richie is on the deck chair sitting next to the little chess set, his coffee mug in hand, idly playing with one of the black pieces. From this distance Eddie can’t see which one. His head snaps up immediately when Eddie comes into view, and he sets the chess piece down and waves at him.

Eddie does not for a moment believe that Richie is out here for the express purpose of playing chess against himself.

He does not wave back; instead he changes his course from the loop that would take him around Ben’s running route one more time and goes to stand at the foot of the wooden stairs up to the deck. He could shout from a greater distance, but it would hurt his chest, and he’s short of breath anyway.

“What are you doing?” he demands.

Richie gives him a bemused look, eyebrows hiking up, mouth flattening and his lower lip pushing out. He’s wearing the red and black flannel pajama pants Eddie saw at his parents’ place, and the long-sleeved T-shirt with the yacht or whatever on it, and his leather jacket. His hair looks crushed at the top of his head and fluffy around the sides.

He glances back at the chess set. “Somehow I’m losing,” he says.

Eddie refuses to be swayed by a sleep-rumpled Richie, however appealing. “You don’t have to keep tabs on me.”

Richie puts his mug on the table next to the chessboard and holds both hands up in the air. Don’t shoot. “Whoa, dude, I’m not keeping tabs on you. I live with you. Sometimes you are not in the same room as me and I notice that no one has insulted me in a little while.”

“Let me rephrase,” Eddie says. “Do not keep tabs on me.”

Richie blinks once, twice. Then he says, “I feel like you didn’t hear what I just said.”

“What are you doing out here?”

He knows—he knows it’s so Richie can keep an eye on him, because Eddie’s injured, Eddie’s delicate, Eddie’s liable to faint. He didn’t tell Richie about the fainting yesterday, but Richie’s already asked him once if he’s about to pass out, so he’s suspicious. Eddie glares at him, letting the humiliation that came from lying curled naked in the empty bathtub give him strength.

He watches Richie slowly shift gears, going from bewildered to—not defensive, but bracing himself. Settling into the place from which he can guard and parry. His eyebrows relax; his expression goes a bit harder.

“Drinking my fucking coffee, Eds,” he says: a deliberate jab. Eddie knows the next step, it’s for him to respond with don’t call me Eds, but he waits instead. Richie goes on. “I am enjoying the fresh air at the price of whatever ridiculous amount of money Ben paid for the property here. You know there’s a lavender farm out here somewhere? Who farms lavender?”

Eddie doesn’t let himself get distracted, doesn’t take Richie’s peace offering. “And it has nothing to do with me walking?” he challenges. He hasn’t talked to anyone but Ben about his exercise, and that was for logistical reasons, mostly. He’s surprised that Richie would get up this early, so it can’t be a coincidence.

“You walk inside too,” Richie says, voice bland, infuriating.

“You fucking know what I mean.”

“Look, princess,” Richie says, ratcheting Eddie’s temper up by a good three notches, “if I wanted to keep tabs on you, I could chase you through the woods at the heart-pounding pace of a zombie shamble. I could open the blinds in Ben’s fucking glass house and Panopticon your shit. Excuse me for enjoying a goddamn morning in upstate New York while I drink this coffee that was ethically grown and watered with the tears of libertarians, fuck.”

“Do you think I’m about to just keel over in the woods?” Eddie demands. Do you think I’m fragile? Do you think I need to be protected from everything, including myself?

“Yeah, Eddie, I think if you went AWOL and passed out in the woods and I didn’t notice for four hours, it might negatively impact your goddamn recovery. I think you might be a little pissed at me. I think that would be warranted, unlike whatever the fuck it is you’re doing right now.”

Eddie points at him. “I don’t need a babysitter. I don’t need a nurse, I don’t need a mom, I don’t need someone in the crow’s nest looking out for me, I can take care of myself.” He did, yesterday. He handled the problem, and it was fine.

“Get back to your fucking walk, then,” Richie says. “I’m not the one stopping you! Go on! I don’t care! You can run five miles or you can lie on the lawn and jerk off, what the fuck, you’re a grown-ass man! Ignore me!”

Richie knows goddamn well he’s impossible to ignore.

“I am prescribed thirty minutes of exercise every day,” Eddie says, taking deep breaths despite the way his chest is tightening up. “This is part of my recovery, I am perfectly capable of it, I have done it before, I’m not about to black out, and I don’t need to be taken care of!”

Richie leans all the way back in the deck chair, crosses a leg over his knee, and picks up his mug. “Does thirty minutes of prescribed exercise come in a pill bottle too?” he asks.

Eddie’s mouth falls open and he flounders for a long moment while Richie pointedly sips his coffee. “What the fuck?” he demands, tone completely different.

Some of the mulish look on Richie’s face dissolves away, but he folds his arms across his chest and doubles down. “I’m not caretaking,” he says. “I’m the last resort, fucker, just fucking text me if you fall in the woods and can’t get up, what is the fucking problem here?”

Up until right now Eddie was pretty sure he could demand that Richie go back in the house and leave him to his walk, and that Richie would go. He would probably open the blinds again and creep on him from Ben’s house full of windows, but he would listen.

Eddie did not expect the pill thing. That and the way that Richie is settling himself in his chair means that he’s not getting off the deck anytime soon, just to be an asshole about it, just so that Eddie doesn’t get to win.

He points at Richie. “I’m doing great,” he says. He can feel sweat drying in his hair.

“Good,” Richie snaps back at him.

Eddie, as always, responds to the tone Richie’s setting and hikes it one level of intensity higher. “I’m tough as fucking nails, I’m alive, I’m coming along great, I am capable of walking for half an hour, humans are pursuit predators, I was made for this shit.”

“I know!” Richie says, and then pauses. “Well, not about the pursuit predator thing, I don’t know what the fuck that means.”

Eddie ignores that and presses his point, feeling Richie trying to back down, trying to walk back what he said. He’s not gonna let him. “You don’t fucking act like it,” he says. “From, like, the first night at the Jade, it was all, ‘Eddie’s so small, Eddie fits on a barbecue, Eddie, you need to get off WebMD, Eddie, are you okay? Like I didn’t have Ben fucking Hanscom in front of me trying to fight a bat, I was fine, I’m fucking fine. You’re always—always—”

Richie stands up very quickly and Richie is big, up on the porch looking down at Eddie. At first Eddie thinks, oh shit, I got him, Richie’s pissed, but he doesn’t go into that quiet stillness he lapsed into at the hotel restaurant. He slams his coffee cup down onto the table so hard that Eddie expects it to break, and then he grins widely, almost grotesquely. It does not meet his eyes.

“Always what?” Richie demands, half a laugh in his voice—but it’s a mean laugh, all Hey, Bananaheels. Eddie looks away, his heart thudding in his ears, his hands going shaky as he tucks them back into his pockets. “No, you wanted to talk, I’m always what? What am I always?”

He looks back up at Richie, at how wide his grin is, at how bright and dark and sardonic his eyes are behind his glasses, and he understands all at once, that Richie is not just angry at him. This is not a blow that Eddie has dealt him in kind—Eddie is on the verge of something and Richie is scared of it.

He swallows. “Holding my hand,” he says loudly, clearly, before he can stop himself. Richie’s hand on his sleeve as they ran away from the doors; Richie’s constant slump so that he can look Eddie in the eye despite still being taller than him. “You’re always holding my hand.”

Some of the fervor dies within him. Richie’s smile slides off his face and he glares at him, colder than Eddie’s ever seen him.

Eddie likes Richie holding his hand, wants Richie to let go of the sleeve of his jacket and wind his fingers with his, wants to hang on just to hang on, not because they’re terrified. And he knows he’s being unfair, because Richie has never put up with Eddie’s shit past what amused him—he laughs as he hands Eddie a black coffee he knows he’s gonna hate, but he also shines a flashlight in Eddie’s eyes to make him let go of an inhaler he doesn’t need, and—

“What about it,” Richie says. It’s not a question. His voice is low and dangerous.

Eddie blinks once against a sudden wateriness in his eyes. It’s never been like this. His nose and ears sting in the cold. “You know what,” he says, matching Richie’s tone as best he can. He can’t go back now; he’s there. “You fucking know what about it—I—I woke up out of a fucking coma to tell you I love you, and you laughed at me, so don’t act like—like—”

This is not what he set out to complain about. This is not about him asserting himself; this is not the familiar and comfortable and fun verbal sparring. These are real swords. They could kill each other.

Richie’s face doesn’t change at all. He doesn’t even blink.

And Eddie has just turned and showed Richie the biggest vulnerability he has.

He knots his numb hand into a fist. Something is roiling in his gut, something made up of the squirming pleasure with which he heard Richie say sweetheart and the despair with which Richie laughed it off; and Bill saying that he loved him like a little brother; and Mike tucking mittens onto his hands; and the humiliation of having to throw himself on Ben’s mercy because at forty years old he’s made so many mistakes that he practically has to go into hiding to undo them all.

“I saved you first,” Eddie says. “You saved me, but I saved you first.”

And he’s not weak and he’s not small and he’s not delicate, he’s strong, he survived death, he’s big and bold and brave as Big Bill ever was, as the Losers ever made him feel, and of all the people in the world he needs Richie to know that, Richie should know that.

Richie breathes slowly and his breath turns to vapor in the morning air. Eddie thinks of something animal, something large and dark and dangerous, but only because it’s cornered.

He can’t look at him anymore and he lowers his eyes and sees Silver. The bike is leaned up against the wooden steps, reflective paint still shining between larger patches of rust, Mike’s playing cards still jammed in the spokes.

He grabs the handlebars before he knows what the fuck he’s doing, before he can even think about it. Silver’s heavy as he drags it away from the steps, as Richie breaks from his statue impression and says, “The fuck?” but Eddie can manage it. It’s a friendly sort of weight, familiar, the heaviness of years, and as the wheels turn it eases, something about the redistribution of force, of gravity, of resistance.

Where are we going? Silver seems to ask, like a big friendly dog. I’m game.

Silver was named after the Lone Ranger’s horse. Bill was apeshit for the Lone Ranger, playing Wild West and gunslingers and yelling three two one draw! as he pointed finger guns across the playground at Eddie. He never stuttered when he shouted Hi-yo, Silver, away! And away was where Silver went. Eddie never rode double on Bill’s bike or—God forbid—up on the handlebars like Georgie sometimes did, but there were times when he thought he might have liked to. Richie went around with his cheek pressed into Bill’s back and Eddie thought darkly, possessively, that must be nice, but his mother would lock him in the house all summer if she ever heard of Eddie doing such a thing. All the adults agreed that Silver was too much bike for that boy, too big. Bill only ever grew to be two inches shorter than Eddie is now. When Bill came to get him outside the pharmacy Eddie stepped up onto that rear wheel like it was nothing, because it was nothing, nothing at all to put his hands on Bill’s shoulders and no one to stop them. They sailed along, they went fast, nothing could beat them, nothing could catch them.

He wants some of that, in a way. He wants to be big, to be undefeatable, to be the guy everyone looks up to. He wants Richie to look at him like that, to see him like that, not weak or delicate or broken or numb or drugged. He just wants to be alive and have the wind racing past his ears, tugging at him, unable to keep up.

He pulls Silver clear of the stairs and slings his leg over the side and onto the far pedal, easy as anything, easy as stepping up behind Bill. It’s like Silver moves of its own accord, like Silver’s something alive under him, but for once in his life Eddie’s big and strong and brave enough to keep up.

What he does not account for is that no one has mowed Ben’s lawn for him while he was away in Derry on what he thought was a suicide mission.

The grass tangles the wheels. Eddie feels the snag and pushes harder against it, remembering that it was always harder to bike through grass but that it could be done. The mechanics seem to want to work with him but they slow and get hopelessly caught, and when his right foot drives down on the pedal the bike stops moving. Eddie can’t get his foot up and clear on that side, and he topples over, his left leg dragging Silver on top of him. His numb right hand swings out to catch him and the jolt of his weight drives all the way up into his arm, his shoulders, catching the worst of it before he rolls onto his back and lies there in the grass.

He made it maybe fifteen feet. Tops.

There’s a hammering sound of feet on wood, then a pause, then the crushed sound of Richie landing on the lawn. Within seconds he’s leaning over Eddie, face just as panicked as Eddie remembers when Richie was under him and wearing Eddie’s blood.

“Fuck,” Richie says, eyes wild. “Are you okay?”

Eddie lets his head loll back in the grass. Is he okay?

He closes his eyes. He starts to laugh.

What else can he do? The pain is exquisite, stretching all the way down from his throbbing shoulder toward the right side of his ribcage, aggravating the bruising on his torso. For all he knows, he tore a stitch in his incision when he threw his arm out like that. The pain pulses in time with the pounding in his head and the laughing makes both of them worse, but he can’t stop. It’s fucking hysterical. He’s an old man and he wiped out on the lawn and it wasn’t even doing something impressive, it was riding a bicycle, which is something you’re so intrinsically supposed to remember how to do that there’s an idiom about it in the only language Eddie speaks, fuck! It’s the simplest slapstick humor he would have lost his shit over when he was seven years old and watching cartoons, except it isn’t even interesting, it’s just pathetic. He’s back to the start.

“Did you land on your back?” Richie asks. “Did you hit your head—come on, Eddie, give me something to work with here—your stitches—you crazy son of a bitch.”

This last comes out exasperated rather than worried, affectionate, and Eddie laughs harder because he loves him.

He gently gets his left leg high enough to swing clear of Silver, sliding apologetically out from under it. Silver is heavy on the grass, one of its wheels giving an aborted half-turn and then giving up. Eddie wonders if he’s going to have to apologize to Bill for this. He has to put his right elbow down on the ground to lever himself up, and he moans when he does it. It hurts, it hurts a lot to push up, but he does it, he’s strong.

“I’m not bad,” he tells Richie, and laughs more at the dumbfounded look on his face.

He doesn’t mind being a crazy son of a bitch, doesn’t even mind the way his laughter is jostling his broken ribs. He can’t fault Richie for that. Richie’s kneeling next to him looking like he might be getting ready to run a field concussion test on him, but Eddie’s not broken, and he’s not scared. So he reaches out with his left hand, the one with feeling in it, and spreads his palm over the nape of Richie’s neck, and half uses his weight to pull himself up, half reels him in.

Richie opens for him the second their lips touch and that makes something in Eddie’s gut twist in pleasure. He steals the little gasp right out of Richie’s mouth. Then Richie’s pushing forward, kissing him back, and Eddie goes hot and shaky with relief, anesthetic as anything, getting what he wants, finally.

Richie’s hair is soft in his fingers and Eddie can feel the shape of his hairline where it tapers down the back of his neck, the little knot of bone at the top of his spine, the way his head thrusts forward when he moves his jaw, catching Eddie’s lower lip. Richie kisses him like he means it and Eddie feels dizzy and hungry and he needs it, this is it, this is fucking everything, yes. He tightens his grip on the back of Richie’s neck and tries to shift his weight off his hand pressed into the dirt; he grabs Richie’s shoulder and Richie makes a short soft sound into his mouth. Eddie goes a little lightheaded chasing it, getting up on his knees and tipping Richie’s head back with the force of how they’re kissing, the tips of their noses brushing together, mouths opening wider. Eddie slides his tongue along Richie’s lower lip and Richie makes another sound—longer, throatier thanks to the angle, to how Eddie’s holding him open. Eddie has to get closer to him. He pushes down harder, trying to get their shoulders closer, their chests.

Richie tucks his chin down and breaks the kiss. “Eddie.”


Eddie chases him, gets their lips back together, nudges Richie’s head back to the angle he had. He doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to answer questions, he just wants this: Richie’s breath hazy and labored and hot against his skin, Richie so open and vulnerable with his throat exposed to him, Richie moaning in his mouth. He slides his hand up the back of his head to hold him—he loves his hair, loves how clean and light it feels, loves how he can feel Richie’s shoulders shift with a shiver when he does it. A hand touches Eddie’s knee and he thinks yes, thinks please without ever actually thinking of where it’s going.

Richie breaks the kiss again. “Honey.” His voice is so soft, so hushed.

“No, I want—” Eddie kisses him again, slides his tongue behind Richie’s teeth, and Richie lets him. He tastes like black coffee. Eddie likes it better than he ever has.

The sound that comes out of Richie’s throat is a whine, and then he breaks it off when he pulls his head back, leaning away from Eddie. Their mouths split apart with a wet sound and Richie says quickly, like he’s afraid Eddie won’t let him get the words out, “Honey, I know, there’s a fucking bike in the way.”

Oh. Eddie opens his eyes and looks down at Richie’s face—the flush over it, the shine on his lips that’s no doubt Eddie’s saliva. That shouldn’t be hot but it is. He gets a determined look as he grabs Eddie by the hips with both hands, fingers catching in the waistband of Eddie’s borrowed shorts and twisting to get a better grip, and then he lifts Eddie up by Ben’s athletic shorts. Eddie startles at the sudden constriction, at the unexpected pressure against his soft cock, and he fears for the integrity of the fabric, but then Richie’s hauling Eddie and his trailing legs clear of Silver and pulling him up into his lap, and Eddie doesn’t actually give a fuck about the borrowed shorts anymore.

Eddie says, “Fuck,” when Richie sets him down on top of his thighs. One of his hands braces the small of Eddie’s back—he’s on a slope here, held up by the way he’s clinging to Richie and the strength of Richie’s hands, and if Richie lets him go or leans forward he could topple them both into the grass and lie on top of him, push him down, kiss him like that, fuck. Eddie leans forward instead, flatting himself against Richie, Richie’s head already tilting back to kiss him again. His glasses reflect the sun and Eddie himself where he obscures the light.

It’s good. It’s really good. Richie’s mouth is soft and relaxed because he wants it, wants Eddie, pushes back into it when Eddie lips at his mouth. Their teeth click like they’re teenagers but Eddie doesn’t mind; he knows Richie, knows his rhythms and the way he pushes and pulls, and part of him just wants to bite down on Richie’s lower lip to feel it soft between his teeth. Then it occurs to him that he can, so he does. Richie definitely moans for that, as Eddie tests the give with his incisors and then kisses it gently, sweetly, runs his tongue across it to lick Richie’s wounds for him.

Richie tightens the hand still locked on Eddie’s hip and hitches him higher to stop him from sliding. God, this is good, Eddie’s solar plexus up against Richie’s chest, letting his back arch forward so he can get closer. he thought he wanted to be so close they occupied the same pace, too close to breathe, too close for the laws of physics to know what to do with them. So he tries for it, free hand sliding down and holding onto Richie’s shoulder, pushing under his arm to hold himself up better and to find the shape of Richie’s scapula under muscle, to run his thumb across the bone plate and feel where it gives into soft skin. He thought the attraction was too big to encompass something as simple as sex, and now he feels it—that aspect of this want tangled up in the sheer joy of being on Richie, of knowing he wants him too, of the span of him under his hand and pressed up against him and the taste of him, the stroke of his tongue against Eddie’s. Eddie wants to devour him, wants this full encompassing feeling, this settled and satisfied and hot feeling not just around him but inside him, filling up his stomach, strong holding him up and heavy in his gut.

Richie’s lips pull at his for a few seconds before he tilts his head back and says, voice strained, “Eddie, baby, my knees.”

For a moment Eddie’s brain whirls with nothing more coherent than if he wants me to touch his knees, I’ll touch his knees. Then he remembers that they are both forty years old and Eddie’s currently resting a buck fifty on Richie’s knees, and that Richie himself is sitting on his ankles. Their joints can’t handle this.

He lets go of Richie’s hair and puts a hand on his collarbone, leaning back so that Richie can slide him down to the ground. Dew from the grass sinks into the seat of Ben’s shorts and Eddie cringes a little. Then Richie’s getting his knees out from under him and grimacing and rolling his eyes as he puts his feet flat on the ground. He reaches out for Eddie and Eddie goes to him without conscious thought, pressing his slick mouth against Richie’s with more enthusiasm than accuracy. Stubble grates his lower lip and he shivers, adjusting. Richie holds one hand between Eddie’s shoulders and throws himself backward onto the ground like he’s giving up, dragging Eddie on top of him.

They should have done this a million years ago.

It’s undeniably a more suggestive position, Eddie between Richie’s legs like this, and Eddie can’t get hard right now but Richie clearly can. The knowledge makes heat pulse through Eddie’s gut, little shocks of it running from his pelvis down the insides of his thighs to his knees. When they breathe their stomachs touch, inhalations swelling them like balloons. Eddie feels curiously lightweight and hollow against Richie’s solidity, against the realness of him between Eddie and the ground.

This is real. This is real, this is it, Eddie can have this, it’s okay, Richie’s kissing him back, Richie’s shaking a little but holding him back just as tightly. Eddie’s heart races and his head spins and he realizes he’s definitely hyperventilating. Passing out in Richie’s mouth would be mortifying, so he lifts his head to break the kiss and focuses on breathing steadily. The ache of his ribs is present, but Richie is warm pressed up against him.

Richie looks at him from behind his glasses, eyes dazed and half-lidded, lips slightly parted. When he sees that Eddie is just trying to catch his breath, he strokes a finger along the side of Eddie’s neck. Eddie shivers as he draws little swirls there.

“What were we talking about?” Richie asks, voice as low as Eddie’s ever heard it while he’s still being him.

Eddie barks a sharp laugh that aches along his breastbone. He tucks his chin, looking down at Richie’s Adam’s apple, his collarbone. He leans down, settling over him, and idly grazes his lips across the exposed skin. Richie’s knees go tight on his thighs and then relax.

“I told you that I love you,” Eddie says. He tries to keep his voice soft and it’s easy here, in this close little space between them. “And you said, ‘Sweetheart, they’ve got you  on the good drugs, don’t they?’” When he does Richie’s Voice he lets it go as lazy and hot as he feels, stretching out into something approximating Richie’s sweet and condescending drawl. Then he plants a kiss like a stamp on Richie’s throat. Mine.

“Oh,” Richie says airlessly.

A wobble of uncertainty goes through Eddie’s stomach. Richie pushes a hand through Eddie’s hair, carding it and then resting so that Eddie can lean his temple up against the heel of his hand. It’s tender, being held up like this. Sweet. Some of his anxiety eases.

“Of course I love you,” Richie whispers, and Eddie’s chest tightens down. “Of course.”