In the interest of complete honesty, Eddie never liked sharing a bed when he got married. He chalked this up to the discomfort of the adjustment, nothing against Myra. For most of his life, Eddie slept in a twin bed by himself, and he never worried about anything except his hands or feet dangling off the edges of the mattress, and any monsters that might be lurking underneath. So it made sense that, once he got a queen-size bed—all that space! What luxury! New and chiropractically interesting positions to sleep in!—a part of him resented having to share it. Eddie was always a little greedy deep down, at heart, so it made sense that he wanted the most, and he didn’t want to share.
But marriage is compromise. Learning to share a bed with another person is difficult, but everyone makes sacrifices to make room for another person. When he asked Myra to marry him, Eddie committed to sharing a bed with her almost every night for the rest of their lives. And if, on those occasions where Eddie traveled for work or Myra went to visit her family and they slept apart for the night, Eddie was secretly grateful for all the space—well, it was a silver lining to being apart. Everyone felt like that. The exchange for the unpleasant break in the routine was the ability to stretch out on the bed, heedless of anything but his own comfort.
So Eddie slept easier without Myra, and when they did share a bed he kept himself to a rigid bedtime—a sleep schedule is important for overall health!—and he possessed his sleep in a way he possessed little else. Myra, whose schedule changed on a biweekly basis to match her shifts at the boutique, tended to be more indulgent with her bedtime, wanting Eddie to stay up to watch a good scene in a movie with her—A Few Good Men! Come on, it’s the best part!—wanting Eddie to lie on the couch with her even though he was feeling tired, wanting other things. Eddie wouldn’t say he decided to fall asleep before she came to bed for any real reason—but if he was still awake when she came in, he didn’t move. He kept his eyes shut. Half of falling asleep is pretending you’re already asleep, he excused himself. He was just trying to exercise good sleep hygiene.
All this is to say that Eddie has never before considered sleep to be a refuge. It was something to be stolen and protective of, and when the crickets moved into the building he was filled with incandescent rage that apparently touched something so deep in his soul the clown was able to use it to frighten him, four-hundred and fifty miles away from Myra and the threat of sharing a bed.
Once again, Richie is different. Richie insists on being different. Can’t help anything else.
He’s not soft. Or he is, he’s comfortable to lie against, but there’s substance to him. Eddie’s sleep has been stiff and painful while he recovers from his surgeries, only able to find a few comfortable positions, but with the bulwark of Richie’s body to brace himself on he’s able to lie at angles that don’t irritate any of his incisions. Richie is solid and safe to lean on, and whether it’s just the accumulation of bone and muscle and fat and body hair or something more intrinsic to Richie—Eddie is too comfortable and satisfied to care. Richie is warm and supportive, and Eddie lets the heat of his body soak through his pajama shirt and thinks, Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be.
He just thought he didn’t like cuddling.
Richie’s careful of his stitches, draping one arm over Eddie’s hipbone instead of over his tender torso. It’s heavy, but Eddie’s pelvis can take the weight the way that his broken ribs can’t. Richie’s breathing is loud but somehow numbing where it whooshes against the back of Eddie’s neck, and Eddie finds himself wanting to match it, wanting to be the same as Richie. It’s soothing.
He goes in and out of sleep. This isn’t surprising—he takes painkillers and sleeps a lot during the day, so he frequently sleeps for maybe three or four hours at a shot at any time of the clock. He’s pretty sure he read somewhere that humans are meant to have a bifurcated sleep pattern anyway—that before electronic timekeeping, humans slept when it was dark, and woke naturally in the middle of the night, and people took that time for themselves. They read by candlelight, or they sat on their porches, or they talked to their neighbors who had similar sleep schedules, or married couples had sex. Then they went back to sleep when they were tired.
Eddie wakes up to find it’s still dark out, and the room is comfortable and sweet around him. His mouth is dry and his heartbeat feels strong and heavy in his chest. Richie is still breathing, loud but shallow. At some point while they were sleeping Richie slid down the mattress. He’s hugging Eddie around the hips, head resting practically on Eddie’s ass.
Jesus fucking Christ. Sleep-hugging bastard.
Well, Eddie’s dehydrated. He moves slowly, levering an elbow under himself so that he can reach out to get his water bottle from his nightstand. He has to slide out of Richie’s arms to do it, and Richie makes a displeased noise in his sleep and wraps his arms more tightly around Eddie’s thighs.
“Come on, Rich,” Eddie mutters.
Richie snorts awake. It’s so similar to the impression of sleep he did in the Jade of the Orient that Eddie finds himself smiling. The mattress shifts as Richie adjusts, sitting up a little.
“Oh,” Richie mumbles. Then he pats Eddie, gently, on one butt cheek.
“Oh, for the love of—” Eddie growls.
He’s not delighted that Richie was using his ass as a pillow; his whole digestive system is such a quagmire right now that he’s almost certain he farted on Richie in his sleep, but he’d rather they both pretend it didn’t happen. Knowing Richie, he laughed about it and will tell Eddie all about it in the morning.
“Let me up, I need my water.”
Richie giggles a little, high-pitched and tired, and releases the arm on top so that Eddie can slide forward out of his grip. It ought to make Eddie feel trapped, but it doesn’t. He gets his knees under him so he can sit up, and when he unscrews the cap on the bottle he can feel the coolness of the water sloshing around inside the plastic.
His eyes have adjusted to the lack of light in his sleep. He can see the big shape of Richie’s body—now reclined on the mattress looking more indulgent than he has any right to—against the pale angles of the sheets. The electric blanket is almost entirely on Eddie’s side of the bed, shoved out of the way, and the comforter is half off the end of the mattress and hanging onto the floor. Over on the other side of the room, Eddie can’t see the dangling spears of the spider plant, but he knows it’s there.
Richie is half-naked. Eddie’s foot is pressed against the plaid flannel of his pajama pants—the fabric is soft and pilled, meaning he’s probably had them for a while. As Eddie drinks his water, Richie adjusts the top sheet, pulling it up over his thighs so it rests at his hips, but he makes no move to cover his bare chest. There’s a notable contrast between the places where he’s more thickly covered in hair and where he’s paler and more exposed.
“Y’okay?” Richie mumbles.
Eddie swallows and sucks at his own coated tongue. Either his mouth fell open while he was sleeping and he drooled—ugh—or the painkillers just have him dehydrated. He tries not to think about his sleep breath when he replies, “Yeah, just thirsty.”
Aside from that, he feels almost pleasant. It’s nice to be comfortable and lazy in bed with Richie, to know that he can go back to sleep when he chooses, or he can lie awake with Richie draped over him and enjoy it.
He drinks again, then screws the cap back on the bottle and sets it down on the nightstand. Then he rolls over, falling into Richie’s gravitational pull on the mattress. He feels for Richie with half-blind hands.
“Come here,” Eddie murmurs. He feels like he has to be quiet so as not to disturb the calm of this room.
He finds the edge of Richie’s shoulder, the roundness where his ball-and-socket joint connects clavicle with humerus. He wraps his hand around it and feels how easily it fits into the well in the center of his palm.
“Up here. Get off my ass.”
Richie snorts. “I’m not on your ass.”
He moves slowly, either through lethargy or not wanting to shake Eddie off, which makes something possessive curl in Eddie’s stomach. He imagines Richie feeling as indulgent as he does, feeling every stretch of muscle as he lowers himself down onto his elbows and then onto his back.
“Yeah, well, can you blame me?”
Eddie smiles incredulously at this, though he knows Richie can’t see him. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “What are you, new? I can and I will.”
He pushes one hand across Richie’s chest—Richie shivers a little, like he also feels how his chest hair tickles Eddie’s palm—to make sure he’s lying flat, and then he lowers his head onto Richie’s chest.
Richie’s body is less thick here—broad as ever, but his real subcutaneous fat and muscle starts lower down. Eddie’s temple rests on the harder press of bone, but it’s somehow comfortable. The part of him that wants to occupy the exact same physical space as Richie is almost appeased by the idea that their skeletons are as close as they can get. Slowly Eddie tips forward, putting his weight at an angle so Richie supports it instead of his body having to hold itself up. He stops when he feels an ache from his chest incision and rotates back a few degrees, shifting closer, and then settles. This position pushes heat all along Eddie’s chest, easing sore muscles and injuries. There’s a faint discomfort from his incisions—he’s probably due for another dose of painkillers—but he can ignore it and focus on how comfortable the rest of him feels.
Richie’s breath blows across his forehead. His voice is very soft when he asks, “That okay?”
Eddie makes a vague affirmative grunt and pushes his face into Richie’s chest.
Richie startles a little, then relaxes. “Fucking bossy,” he says affectionately.
“Comfy,” Eddie replies. He’s aware that he’s smiling, and that if he wants to get back to sleep he’d better relax the muscles in his face, but he’s happy.
Slowly Richie bends one leg to rest the instep of his feet on Eddie’s calf. His toes are very cold—did he have them outside the blankets? Eddie frowns and closes his other leg around it to warm him up. Richie feels good to Eddie, so Eddie’s going to take care of him in turn.
He’s going to try to go back to sleep. But if he just lies awake like this for a while, that’ll be fine too.
He doesn’t dream about the other Eddie, the one out of his It horrors.
He doesn’t even dream about being impaled, but the dreams are definitely memories of Its lair. Everything is dark and sickly green, interspersed with flashes of white—corpsepaint, clown paint, deadlights, horror—and cast in the same frightening and unknowable confusion as the moment after Eddie really understood that something was wrong, that he hadn’t killed It, that his body was struggling to understand the violence done to it and his brain couldn’t keep up.
He dreams of shouting, of red balloons, red paint, red blood as it dripped upward out of Richie’s nose, of looking down at the fence post in his hand and thinking nothing else will work, this is the only thing that might, and it kills monsters if you believe it does.
He wakes violently but quietly, just as It screams and Richie falls to the ground.
He doesn’t know what time it is. Maybe dawn. There’s real light bleeding in from the closed blinds. The spider plant on the dresser looks pallid and threatening. Fucking spider plant.
Underneath him, Richie slumbers on, oblivious to Eddie’s racing heart and gasping breaths.
Slowly, careful not to hurt himself, Eddie sits up. He feels Richie’s lower arm fall away from its curl around his back, but Richie doesn’t stir, gone curiously lax on the mattress. He looks like a broken toy, like something dropped from a height. Vulnerable, in need of protection.
Eddie tries to quiet himself, looking at Richie’s pale dreaming face. His heart rabbits. His shoulders rise and fall, his whole body moving with his breath.
He swallows. He feels almost nothing but his breath—no pain, no thirst, no exhaustion. He’s listening—not for his own pounding pulse, not for Richie’s gentle snore, but for something beyond the quiet shelter of this room.
There’s someone in the house. Something.
Eddie lurches to his feet. Prickles of pain radiate from his knees outward but he ignores them; he stumbles a little bit as he walks toward the door and has to remind himself to go slowly. He needs to be quiet.
He turns the door handle as carefully as he can and, once the tongue of the latch is clear of the frame, releases it and pushes on the wood of the door slowly. It glides open. Eddie doesn’t know if Ben just oils his door hinges frequently or if the house is new enough that everything is just in good condition. He’s grateful for it, though. It’s imperative that he doesn’t make any sound—that whatever is out there doesn’t know that he knows it’s there. That it doesn’t know he’s coming to find it.
He moves slowly. His bare feet are steadier on the carpet that way. He presses into his toes, into his heels; his knees no longer feel like he’s trying to balance on a pair of stilts. He is a steady column—head and heart and pelvis—and he can move himself as quietly as he needs to.
His instincts tell him to leave the door open, but looking at Richie asleep in bed—Eddie imagines wandering away from him and whatever else is in the house coming back this way, finding Richie unprotected. He grits his teeth and pulls the door closed as slowly and quietly as he can.
There’s more light in the hallway than he might otherwise have expected. Richie left the door to his room open, and the blinds as well, so Eddie can see out onto the dark lawn. There are no other cars pulled up to the driveway, no visible footprints on the grass, nobody else moving out there. Eddie rests his fingertips on the white-painted doorframe and breathes as quietly as he can, listening. He’s not sure for what. A voice? Breathing? Footsteps?
There’s nothing. Either it’s not here—in this room with Richie’s abandoned unmade bed and closed closet door—or it’s hiding well enough that it’s beyond Eddie’s ability to perceive it.
Remembering the encounter in the pharmacy basement—the most recent one, the body lunging at him over the scattered needles—Eddie takes a deep breath. His nose whistles a little; his ribcage expands; he feels a stretch in all four sides of his torso, an ache in his incisions, and then the discomfort fades. Then he turns, bracing himself for the attack.
Nothing. There is nothing there. It’s him, in this empty hallway. Just one of him.
He left the door to Ben’s master bedroom closed, though he’s been going in and out of it every day to borrow shorts and sweatshirts for running and then to return clean laundry to the drawers. He opens the door just as carefully as he did the door to his guest room, just as slowly. If something’s inside it’ll no doubt see the handle turning, but he stands with his back to the door as he opens it slowly, creating a barrier between himself and anything beyond that, until it swings wide enough for him to see inside.
Nothing. It’s an empty bedroom. The bed is made; Ben even put clean sheets on it before he and Beverly left.
Eddie stares at it, feeling like he’s both here and not here—back in his house in New York, staring at his own made bed that he shares with Myra.
Just—a place where no one lives.
There’s a cracking sound from the master bathroom. Nothing abnormal—he’s heard that sound before when he’s getting changed to go running in the morning, and he’s never thought twice about it. It’s the sound of tile, the sound of a house settling, just the ambient noise of a building expanding and contracting with the weather.
Unless that’s not it. His head is full of the crack as a claw collides with stone and scatters dust and fragments of rock to a cave floor. His ears ring with the memory of the sound Richie’s bones made when they hit the earth.
He crosses the room carefully, placing each step as close as he can to the wall, where the support is strongest and his weight is least likely to creak on floorboards. He can feel something sharp—it might be where the carpet is stapled into place.
The bathroom door is open. The light is off. There’s no window in here, so Eddie carefully braces himself on the doorframe and leans in to look into the room.
There’s movement, and his heart leaps in fear—but it’s his own reflection in the mirror. He stops and his reflection stops too. It’s identical to him—no trauma-induced trickery here, just light against glass. His reflection looks as wide-eyed and panicky as he does. There’s nothing else in here—no figures in the corners, nobody standing, threatening, in the shower, no one revealed as he slowly leans around the doorway.
He takes another few deep breaths, trying to figure out how he knows they’re not alone in this house. His brain doesn’t want to process that—he’s racing full of adrenaline, his body telling him, Don’t worry about the why or the how, just worry about getting out of this alive. Just worry about you and Richie, getting out of this alive.
He moves quietly out of Ben’s master suite, keeping his feet close to perimeter of the room, his hands bracing himself on the walls as needed. He doesn’t bother closing the door this time—nothing in there to protect—but heads down the hallway towards the bathroom. Sometimes this room makes the same creaking noises as the other bathroom—which is part of why Eddie’s convinced it has something to do with the echoey nature of the tile, the way that sounds aren’t softened by carpet and bedding and other soft surfaces.
One of the taps gently drips. Eddie walks over to the sink, stares at the dial for the faucet, looking for wet fingerprints, evidence that someone has used it more recently than he or Richie could have. But there’s nothing. Eddie closes his eyes, reaches out, and tightens the tap, then moves on. Whatever it is, the threat is not in this room.
He walks out to the living room. The panel blinds are still up; faint dawn light turns the white walls pale gray, keeping most of the house dark and cavelike. The advantage of Ben’s hypermodern glass house is that Eddie can basically see straight from one side of it to the other, barring the dividing walls. He sees no movement, nothing and nobody quickly whisking behind a corner.
He turns to walk down the pseudo-hallway, to check every small room—living room, office, kitchen, dining area—in turn.
He collides with a massive body.
“Fuck!” Eddie gasps, his left arm coming up swinging, elbow and forearm pushing out and upward at throat level.
Richie catches him by the wrist, screaming back, “Shit!” on apparent instinct.
They stand there staring at each other, breathing loud in the quiet dark room. Then Eddie’s spine relaxes, pitching him forward into Richie’s shoulder, unable to hold himself up. He drops his gaze, terrified, his breath shortening into pants, his throat and chest constricting.
“Shit,” Richie repeats, quieter, but it’s too late now. If there’s something or someone in the house with them, it knows they’re up, and it knows where they are.
Finally, finally, Eddie identifies the feeling that has been lying in wait for him within his own body. It’s fear. True fear, evolutionary fear, the fear that wants to keep him alive. And he can’t even speak, can’t draw a full breath.
“Hey,” Richie says. “Hey, hey.” He drops Eddie’s wrist and takes hold of his shoulders on either side of his upper arm, trying to get Eddie to look up at him. Eddie barely has the strength to lift his head, the dread is so heavy in his body. “What’s happening? Eds, come on, talk to me.”
Eddie draws in a panting breath and says, “There’s—” And his throat closes entirely, choking the words before he can get them out. He swallows and tries again. “—something in the house.” He sways in place, Richie keeping him standing at the shoulders, all his confidence and stability, the steel in his spine, gone.
Richie’s wearing his glasses; Eddie can see his eyes sharpen behind them. He doesn’t ask questions, he just lowers his voice and says, “Okay.”
The relief that rolls through Eddie is premature—it has nothing to do with their actual situation. He reaches up and hangs onto Richie’s wrists, trying to contribute to supporting his own weight.
“So let’s leave the house,” Richie says.
This sounds reasonable. Eddie’s so grateful that Richie believes him, is focusing on getting out of here instead of quibbling over whether or not Eddie is right, that he just nods weakly.
“Can you walk?”
Eddie nods. He takes a step forward, towards Richie, getting his feet under him again.
“Okay.” Richie puts pressure on his shoulders, a gentle push towards the door. “Go. I’ll get the keys.”
Fuck. Eddie doesn’t like the idea of Richie staying in the house any longer than they have to, doesn’t like the idea of separating because he knows what happens when they split up, but Eddie’s going to have to move slowly anyway. And Richie can’t wait for him to come with him, if he’s going to get the keys. Where are the keys, anyway?
“Okay,” Eddie whispers.
“Okay?” Richie repeats, and when Eddie nods he releases him.
Eddie stumbles forward, reaching for the banister on the stairs; Richie steps out of the way and moves deeper into the house, towards the kitchen. His long legs take long strides, loud steps; Richie is strong, Richie can run if he has to.
Eddie all but falls down the stairs, his weight on his hands on the safety rail instead of on his feet. He reaches the front door and turns the knob, trying to push it open as quickly as he can.
The door doesn’t open.
Eddie hesitates, checks the deadbolt. It’s locked. The knob and the deadbolt are locked.
He turns the dials and unlocks both, then pulls the inner door open and nearly falls through the screen door. Behind him he hears Richie’s steps, a faint jingle as he whisks the keys into his hand.
Richie catches up with him on the stairs outside, when he’s trying not to pitch headfirst down the wooden stairs to the ground. Richie jumped off this porch not so many days ago, but now he slows. “I’m right behind you,” he says.
“Yeah,” Richie says.
The door was locked, Eddie thinks, his stomach souring, but he moves barefoot down the wooden steps, onto the path to the gravel driveway. He picks across the small sharp stones and the Subaru beeps in front of him, lights flashing and doors clicking as Richie unlocks it. The door was locked.
He wrenches open the passenger door and throws himself down into the seat, landing heavily. Richie does the same on the driver’s side and the weight of his body shifts the car; Richie slams the door shut behind him and looks at Eddie as Eddie reaches out with a numb and shaking hand to close his own door. Richie turns all the way around to peer into the empty backseat.
“Fuck,” Richie says, hitting the button to lock the doors again.
Eddie slumps back against his seat and tilts his head all the way back, feeling like he might faint. “I can’t breathe,” he gasps.
“Okay,” Richie says. “Are you—should I catch your head, or?”
Eddie shakes his head slowly, feeling foggy around the edges. His skin buzzes. His lips tingle. He actually might black out here. He reaches for the seat adjuster and tilts his chair back so he can rest instead of having to hold himself up. His breathing is loud and thin in the confined safe space of the car. “I can’t breathe,” he says again, more urgently.
“You are breathing,” Richie points out. “Like—like the thing about the Heimlich, you don’t do it on someone who’s coughing. You’re breathing fine, man, just catch up.”
“Fuck you,” Eddie spits back.
Richie gives a short laugh. “Come on, I’m in a two-ton weapon. Why the fuck didn’t we try hitting Pennywise with a car?”
The mental image is surprisingly vivid behind Eddie’s eyelids, which tells him that he’s closer to unconsciousness than he’d like to be. He opens his eyes wide to fight it and sees the wisps of smoke at the edges of his vision.
“Hey. Hey, Eddie.”
Eddie lets his head loll so he can see Richie.
“Go like this.” Richie makes his mouth into a tiny round O, like he’s drinking through a straw, and pulls air through it. Then he presses the back of his fist to his lips, holds it there for a few seconds, and drops it. It makes an audible sucking sound, like a using a vacuum extension.
What Eddie wants—what he knows would work—is his inhaler. His garbage inhaler full of water and camphor flavoring, instead of steroids or bronchodilators. But he burned that in a ritual to try to kill a clown from outer space, and all he’s got is here in this car: Richie, and himself.
He presses his fist to his mouth, sucking like he’s pulling from the inhaler anyway. With the seal against his skin, nothing gets in. He holds that until he’s sure his diaphragm has stopped its panicky spasming, and then he pulls his hand away. The air rushes into his mouth, into his lungs, fills him up. His ribcage expands. His throat relaxes.
Eddie stares at Richie. He still wants to pant a little to catch his breath, but now that his lungs are full he tells himself to hold the breath, and then to let it out slowly. The whistle and whoosh from his nose is too loud in this quiet morning.
When he feels steadier, he asks, “Where the fuck did you learn that?”
Richie shrugs. “I took voice lessons.”
Eddie blinks, surprised enough that he shakes his head a little bit. “For what?”
“For public speaking?” Richie says, like it’s obvious. “Did it work?”
It makes sense to Eddie. He used to be comforted and reassured by the weight of the inhaler in his hand, but it was the act of dragging in air—dragging in water, how the fuck did he avoid pneumonia during Maine winters?—that made him feel like the medicine was flowing into him, was solving the problem. He might not have the device anymore, but he can make himself breathe.
He settles back into the passenger seat, a little bit less limp now. He looks toward Ben’s big glass house, with its blinds pulled over the windows, and watches.
Nothing moves. Not even a shadow at the little edges where the blinds don’t quite cover all of the glass.
“What was it?” Richie asks.
Eddie sighs and admits, “The door was locked.”
In his peripheral vision he sees Richie’s head turn towards him, but he doesn’t look back at him.
“What?” Richie asks.
“The door was locked,” Eddie says. “I don’t know why—I just woke up and I knew there was someone in the house. I don’t know.”
Richie pauses. Then he says, “Do you want to call Ben?”
Eddie’s phone is still on the nightstand in the guest room. No, he doesn’t want to call Ben, to admit that he had a nightmare like a child and woke up in hysterics. He shakes his head.
“Come on, expensive as this house is, I’m sure he has a security system.”
“I don’t want to call Ben,” Eddie snaps. He closes his eyes, humiliated and angry at himself for being pissy with Richie.
But Richie, as ever, rises to the challenge, replying back in the same tense and angry voice, “Well, what do you want to do?”
He takes another deep breath, lets the anger pulse through him until it fades, and then he pushes both hands into his hair. “Sorry,” he says, trying to calm himself. “Sorry.” He swallows. “I—it must have been the drugs. I had… dreams when I was in the hospital. Flies landing on me, and… I thought I was trying to host Christmas, and I woke up talking. I don’t know.”
“There are other doors,” Richie says. “I can check the garage door, the back door, if that would make you feel better.”
“It wouldn’t,” Eddie says, and grimaces at himself, trying to keep his rising temper off of Richie. “There’s nothing wrong with the house. It’s just…” He closes his eyes again, fingers pushing through his hair, the heels of his hands flattening across his forehead. His extremities are very cold; his feet are bare and stinging from where he walked across the driveway. He doubts Richie stopped to put on shoes either. The sleeves of his pajama shirt brush against the insides of his forearms and make him shudder.
“Just what?” Richie asks.
“Just something wrong with me,” Eddie replies. “I think I have a fever.”
Richie is quiet for a moment. Then, in a calm voice, he says, “Look at me.”
He lowers his hands and turns to look at Richie, letting his defeat bleed into his posture in lieu of proper apology.
Richie tilts his head as he looks back at him. He doesn’t reach out to try to put his hand on Eddie’s forehead, no caretaking or patronizing gestures.
“If you have a fever,” Richie says, “what do we do?”
Eddie swallows, trying to think back to his discharge papers. “We’ll need to go to the hospital,” he admits quietly. “If it’s over a hundred and one.”
He’s already had one infection in his anterior incision, and they treated it, and he’s been on several antibiotics, which means that if he’s built up resistances it will be a pain for doctors new to his case to treat it. He’ll have to contact Sovereign Light Hospital in Bangor, and probably take his discharge paperwork with him to the ER, and explain what happened. And he’s—tired, now. Now that the adrenaline is draining from his system, leaving him trembly and cold.
“Okay,” Richie says.
He makes no effort to move. He doesn’t start the car, or put on his seatbelt. He just looks at Eddie.
Eddie takes a deep breath. Walking across that gravel is going to suck worse, now that he’s no longer riding an adrenaline high, he’s just full of dread. He reaches for the passenger door, feeling the ache in the incision from his chest tube as he stretches. He unlocks the door and then opens it.
“Let’s go,” he says.
Richie enters the house through the garage door while Eddie lumbers his way up the front steps to meet him at the open front door. Richie is strong, can walk easily, and once killed a trespasser in a public library with an axe. There is no reason for Eddie to be so nervous for Richie’s safety that he holds his own elbows like he’s trying to hug himself, waiting on the porch.
He kissed Richie right here less than twelve hours ago.
The sun is coming up. Everything seems less frightening in the daylight. One of the evolutionary fears of humans, Eddie thinks. It’s not that bad things never happened to him when the sun was out, but he questioned them more afterwards. It always felt natural that terrible things would happen in the dark, in caves, in the sewers, in basements; it was harder to believe that things happened on the street in full view of anyone who happened to look out their windows. Surely he had to be safer under someone’s watchful eye, right?
It asked him, when he was running from Neibolt house, What are you looking for, Eddie? And then it said, If you lived here, you would be home by now.
Whatever the fuck that meant. Like he was supposed to run home for safety? But safety had never been at home, it had been in numbers; it had been in riding his bike with Bill and Richie and Stan, and then with Mike and Ben and Bev; it had been out of the house and into the wild. Richie can take care of himself, but they can take care of each other, too.
Richie appears behind the open screen door and gives Eddie a thumbs up. Eddie nods and opens the door, steps into the house again, lets it swing shut behind him.
“Door was locked,” Richie reports. “By the way, Ben has a vanity plate that says Ben’s Caddy, and I hate it.”
Eddie laughs. The bubbles of it hurt his chest. “I kind of love it.”
“Oh, you want Eddie’s Caddy?” Richie suggests. “Cadilleds?”
“Absolutely fucking not,” Eddie replies.
They walk across the upper level of the house all the way to the dining room, where they can look out the back door onto the porch. It’s just as much a scaffolding in the back as in the front of the house; Eddie has gazed upon it occasionally when he does his daily laps around Ben’s property, but it’s less interesting than the multi-leveled monstrosity in the front.
Richie tries the door and finds the deadbolt locked there too.
“Gonna open the windows,” he says. “That cool?”
Eddie nods and sits down at the dining table, catching his breath. Richie goes to the office to get the remote, and Eddie watches the panel blind over the window in front of him retract, the mechanical grind as every glass pane in the house slowly unveils. The stronger light turns the inside of the house white. Every reflective surface shines.
“I didn’t see anything downstairs,” Richie says, visible from the office.
“I figured,” Eddie says, feeling stupid. Feeling childish. Feeling like the childish one in a room with Richie Tozier.
He grimaces again and pushes his hair off his forehead, surreptitiously feeling to see if his forehead is warm. He can’t tell. His hands are so cold.
“Can you get my thermometer out of my toiletry bag?” He doesn’t think he can stomach the walk back to the bathroom, or the bedroom, wherever the fuck he left it.
“Yeah,” Richie says.
As soon as he goes, Eddie regrets sending him off. He’s left alone in the house again, feeling somehow more vulnerable than he did when he was stumbling around like a paranoid survivalist, looking for home intruders. And to what end? What did he think he was going to do? He can’t even lift his arms over his head.
Richie comes back with the thermometer. It’s still in its plastic case.
“Did you—” Eddie begins, and then stops himself. He knows for a fact he washed it the last time he used it and dried it carefully before he put it back in its cover. He wants to roll his eyes at his own useless pedantry, but instead he just removes the case, hits the power button, and waits for the fluorescent green screen to blink Lo at him. Then he tucks it under his tongue and waits.
Richie stares at him expectantly.
Eddie stares back, unwilling to open his mouth to speak, lest he compromise the ambient temperature of his mouth.
“I don’t know why, but I feel like I should do some sit-ups,” Richie says.
Eddie loves Richie, but he is almost certain that Richie never does sit-ups and hasn’t since gym class in high school. He looks at him incredulously, trying to convey What the fuck? with just his eyebrows.
Apparently either Richie gets the gist or Eddie is just predictable. “I know,” he replies. “I just feel like… an action sequence in a Rocky movie. Like ‘Eye of the Tiger’ should be playing right now.”
Eddie wrinkles his nose. He actually doesn’t really like “Eye of the Tiger”; it was painfully overplayed when he was younger. Come to think of it, Richie was probably at least half of that, being as he was one of the great music curators of Eddie’s life. A lot of eighties and early nineties music gets Eddie to frown and turn the dial on the radio, or to put on a podcast instead. He doesn’t know if he was trying to avoid how those forgotten inaccessible memories made him feel, or if there was a sense of loss in their place. He can’t remember how he felt, and he can’t recreate it now that he knows.
The thermometer beeps. With trepidation, Eddie takes it out, turning the screen so that only he can see it, not Richie. He reads the numbers and blinks. Then he powers the thermometer off and turns it back on.
“I would watch you do sit-ups,” he says, and puts the thermometer back in his mouth.
Richie is giving him an incredulous look now. “What was it?” he asks.
Eddie shakes his head, gesturing at the thermometer in his closed mouth as a reason not to speak.
Richie just groans. “You’re a pain in the ass, Kaspbrak.”
Being deliberately frustrating, Eddie spreads both hands and shrugs, as though to say, Medical emergency, nothing I can do.
“Okay,” Richie says, and lowers himself to the floor. He winces and grunts as he goes; they’re extremely fucking middle aged. Sitting on his butt with his knees bent, he looks expectantly at Eddie.
Eddie raises his eyebrows at him.
“Come hold my feet,” Richie says.
Eddie rolls his eyes so aggressively that his mouth actually opens and the thermometer swings to the other side.
“Come on, I’m an entertainer,” Richie says. “It’s either this or I start singing, and I will sing all the guitar and drum parts of ‘Eye of the Tiger.’”
Despite himself, Eddie gets up from the chair and lowers himself to the ground. He crosses his legs under him and scoots carefully forward, resting his thighs on the tops of Richie’s bare feet. Richie, still sitting up, watches him come closer. Eddie puts his hands on Richie’s knees and looks at him expectantly. Richie sighs through his nose and leans back, lowering himself to the ground. He folds his hands behind his head, and Eddie’s eyes immediately go to his biceps, the tendons in his forearms, the clouds of hair in his armpits.
The thermometer beeps again.
“Hang on,” Eddie says, taking it out of his mouth. He checks the numbers, grimaces, powers the button off, and turns the thermometer back on. He waits for it to say Lo and puts it back in his mouth again.
“Are you gonna count for me?” Richie asks.
Eddie shakes his head.
“I don’t think you’re invested in this at all.”
Eddie shrugs. It was Richie’s weird idea.
Richie breathes in loud through his nose, and on his exhale sits up, body folding easily, chest coming to his thighs. Eddie’s weight is actually insufficient to hold him in place, he’s so big; his feet lever Eddie’s body up and Eddie grabs tighter to his knees in alarm, pushing down with his legs to try to pin them to the floor. Richie seems to delight in looming forward at him like this, getting closer and closer like some demented jack-in-the-box; he gives him a crazy-eyed look and then pulls a face.
He lowers himself back down, then up again. His bare chest brushes Eddie’s cold fingertips. He pauses there, leaning forward towards his knees. “Kiss me,” he says, and pulls the most ridiculous kissy face possible.
Eddie shakes his head. He knows for a fact they both have morning breath.
Richie pulls a dramatic pout, then leans forward even further and pecks Eddie on the nose. His jaw bounces off the end of the thermometer. Eddie recoils, wrinkling his nose, amused despite himself.
Richie makes it to five sit-ups before the thermometer beeps again. Eddie takes it out and checks it, then goes slack in place.
Richie rests his elbows on his knees. “What’s the verdict, Eds?”
Eddie swallows and shows him the screen, where it is showing, for the third time, the clear black ninety-eight point four on the shining green screen.
“I’m not sick,” Eddie says.
Richie grins, delighted. “You are below average!”
Eddie tucks the thermometer into his fist. “I’m—paranoid and drugged, but I’m not sick.”
“’Atta boy,” Richie says. He pulls the fish pucker again. “Kiss me. Celebrate.”
Neither of them has brushed their teeth. “Enjoy my germs,” Eddie says, and pecks his pursed lips in turn.
“They’re delicious,” Richie says, and then wraps his arms around himself and mimes frantic grotesque making out just like he did when he was thirteen, mouth wide open and tongue lolling.
There’s no point in going back to sleep, when Eddie’s alarm will be going off in less than forty minutes. It’ll take him longer than ten to fall back to sleep—he’s almost sure of it, anyway—and if he only gets half an hour, that’ll interrupt him in the middle of a REM cycle. He might as well get a headstart on the day and try to make up for the ridiculousness of the night.
Mankind was made to run from its problems. Eddie is going to hobble from them.
Richie leans over the countertop in the kitchen and stares longingly at the kettle as it begins to boil water for coffee.
If Richie looked at him with that expression, in his current state of undress, Eddie doesn’t know what he would do.
“I’m gonna go get dressed,” Eddie says.
“Can you bring me a shirt?” Richie asks. He turns to look over his shoulder, his expression softening. “This counter’s cold.”
“You don’t have to lay on it.”
“Nah, I wanna see if my nipples can cut granite.”
Every day, God tries Eddie.
He goes back to the guest room, retrieves his phone, and puts on a shirt; then goes to Ben’s master suite—the door still open—and hurriedly dresses in shorts and a sweatshirt. Then he decides he feels weird about rummaging through the basket of laundry he can see in the corner of Richie’s room—damn it, Richie—and instead goes to the Macy’s bag with the leather jacket and yesterday’s black t-shirt in it. He has to move slowly to bend to pick it up, and when he fishes the t-shirt out, he pauses.
It’s very still in this room. He looks from side to side, this time checking to see if the coast is clear.
Is he really going to—? Yes.
He quickly brings the bundle of black fabric to his nose and takes a deep sniff. It smells like soap and aftershave. He allows himself that much, and then he carries the shirt out to the kitchen and sets it on the countertop next to Richie, who is watching the kettle boil despite all idioms saying that it shouldn’t be possible. A watched pot never boils, and all that.
“Thanks,” Richie says, straightening up and reaching for the shirt.
Eddie turns away, because if he has to watch Richie put a shirt on with his hard nipples just out there in the open air he thinks he’s going to lose his damn mind. Instead he starts opening cabinets, looking through them, and closing them.
“Ben’s kind of a jock now, right?” he asks, desperate to force a subject change.
He can hear the faint sound as Richie pulls the fabric over his head, and then Richie asks, “Like, emotionally, or physically?”
“Physically,” Eddie replies, though he’s not completely sure what the difference is.
Ben told them at the Jade of the Orient all about how he took up running in high school. Eddie… doesn’t envy Ben the kind of bullying he got when he moved away, he’ll never forgive any of those kids for it, much less that teacher, but he sort of wishes he’d taken up running at the same time. Wishes that he and Ben had been in the same town, and Eddie had had a reason to run after him—you’re going to trip, your pants are too big, here, and maybe Ben could have showed him how to use an awl to put a hole in a leather belt. He wishes he’d been brave enough to have the fights with his mother that Ben had with his, and he wishes that Sonia could have been placated as easily as Arlene Hanscom was by a sudden influx of salads.
Either way, Ben was motivated by spite, and a fierce and vicious part of Eddie is proud of him for that. But he thinks it’s different from what he’s trying to achieve with his own body now. It’s already so weak and broken that trying to grind it into the ground won’t work. He’s trying to coax it into feeling like his own again.
So Ben is probably not emotionally a jock, anyway.
“Think he’s got a Camelbak?” he asks, opening cabinets again looking for water bottles. He could take a normal one, but this gives him something to do that isn’t watch Richie show off in front of him again, and it’s probably a little more environmentally responsible than the disposable water bottles they’ve been drinking out of the shrink-wrapped case Richie bought them in Bangor. Also they’re running low on those and they’re going to have to refill again shortly.
“Is that a euphemism?” Richie asks.
Eddie is so surprised by this response—though he doesn’t know why he bothers, nothing Richie says should surprise him anymore—that he turns in place to look at him. Richie is dressed again and doubled over on the counter again, leaning on his elbows. The position means that his nipples are, for better or worse, concealed from view. He’s also almost flat-backed; Eddie’s eyes trace the line of his spine to the curve of his tailbone, then down the drape of his flannel pajama pants to where one knee is flamingo-bent against the cabinet.
“Eddie,” Richie says. “My eyes are up here.” When Eddie’s gaze flicks immediately back to his face, he’s smirking.
“Shut up,” Eddie blurts back stupidly. He shakes his head, blinking. “What was the question?”
Richie waggles his eyebrows at him again. “Camelbak. Is that a euphemism?”
Eddie stares at him for long moments, slightly embarrassed to have been caught staring, before his brain makes the connection and he understands what Richie is talking about. Then he’s just disappointed in him.
“You are a gay man,” he points out. The second the words are out of his mouth he fears they were a misstep.
But Richie doesn’t flinch, just grins wider. “Yah-huh.”
Eddie draws in a slow breath through his nose, trying to emotionally steel himself before he guesses, “You’re thinking of cameltoe, aren’t you?”
Eddie tries to think of a threat and blurts the first thing that comes to mind: “I’m gonna get into really good shape so that I can chase you around all the time hitting you with a spatula.”
“I saw that movie!” Richie says brightly. “It was hysterical. My agent would probably pay you for that. You’d become my official personal trainer.”
“Water bottles,” Eddie says. “Camelbak water bottles.”
Richie, disobligingly continuing to be big and tall, turns and starts opening up the overhead cabinets.
Ben does in fact have a Camelbak water bottle. He has several, each emblazoned with logos from various colleges and universities—far too many for Ben to actually be an alumnus from every single one of them. Eddie guesses that they’re projects he’s worked on, or places he’s visited. He fills one with cold water from the dispenser on the fridge and then bites down on the straw to drink from it. It makes his incisors ache, so he keeps the cold off his broken tooth, knowing that can’t end well.
Richie has apparently never seen a Camelbak before. “So it’s like a nipple,” he says slowly.
“What the fuck is it with you and nipples this morning?”
“Would you rather have nipples or cameltoes for eyes?”
“Your mother should have thrown you back,” Eddie says. “Like a catch and release fish.”
“Into what, the uterus?”
Richie laughs so hard that he has to fold down onto the counter again. As the kettle clicks off, its work done, Eddie contemplates that he probably could actually call Maggie Tozier to berate her son. She’s enough like Richie, he remembers now, that she might even go along with the joke. It sounds extremely funny, but also like the kind of card he can only play once, so he resolves to hold it in reserve until a really good moment.
When he calms himself, Richie goes about the process of preparing the French press with the coffee grounds. Eddie finds that he enjoys watching Richie’s hands as they go about the mundane task, even without the influence of his painkillers. When Richie sets a measuring cup down, he opens his hand just slightly more than he needs to, like trying to emphasize the finality of having accomplished the motion. It’s not a deliberate flourish, it’s a remnant of the way Richie talks with his hands. Like he does what he has to, and then he tells himself, Okay.
“Why the cameltoe?” Richie asks without looking around at him.
Eddie is ostensibly completely ready to go for his run, but he’s still standing uselessly in the kitchen with his shins in the wind. “Huh?” he asks stupidly.
“Why the cameltoe?” Richie repeats.
“Oh.” Eddie looks back down at the green bottle with the blue rubber nozzle. “I’m dehydrated.”
His tongue still feels dry, and when he stuck it out while brushing his teeth in the bathroom mirror, he could see the scalloped impressions of his teeth on the sides. He read, once, that that’s a sign of dehydration. He pushed a thumb into his gum until it turned white and then counted the number of seconds it took to refill pink, and concluded that he needs to be drinking more water.
“I think between the Dramamine last night, and—” He gestures at Richie’s sheer bulk, indicating the heat that his body puts off merely by existing.
Richie, not seeing the movement but hearing Eddie’s silence, turns to look over his shoulder at him, eyebrows raised. “And?”
Eddie repeats the sweeping motion.
“And being hot and bothered?” Richie asks, grin appearing suddenly wolfish, his tone delighted and mocking in equal measure.
“GoodbyeRichieenjoyyourcoffee,” Eddie says, and storms as best he can out of the house, with Richie’s cackling smug laughter accompanying him. “Dumbass!” he shouts as the door swings behind him.
Objectively, it’s a bad run.
Eddie starts somewhat optimistically, fueled by general frustration at Richie—and it’s not mean or angry frustration, but almost habitual, his brain telling him that the safest response is falling back into faux-anger the way Richie will expect, because that’s what he does when Richie teases him, and that’s all Richie is doing. Just teasing. He doesn’t know how long he walked around this morning when he was moving slowly and convinced he was about to be physically assaulted, but he’s pretty sure that his heart rate was elevated enough for it to count as exercise, if they’re getting technical. If he knows that his body can support him in what he thought was a life-and-death situation, he ought to have greater faith in it in the mundane task of his daily half-hour of exercise.
And anyway, it’s not like he’s running in the first place, he’s walking. He just thinks he’d like to be the kind of person who runs every morning. He’s always wanted to be that kind of person, actually, and he thinks that if he’d been left to his own devices, he would have become that person far sooner.
Richie seems open to leaving Eddie to his own devices, or letting him do whatever he has to do. He trusts Eddie’s authority on his body and his injuries, and that’s what Eddie needs.
Eddie’s body has opinions about the excitement of the last twenty-four hours. His incisions are letting him know that he needs to take his painkillers soon—even though it’s not time yet, even though he’s up much earlier than he usually is. He was sort of hoping that structure was the scaffolding on which his body would support itself, but he went and upset the schedule by having paranoid nightmares and tearing around the house in the early morning. He supposes he deserves this discomfort.
His legs and lower back are also not happy with him, though that’s probably because he did far more standing yesterday than he has in weeks. There’s an ache in the soles of his feet; his knees are killing him; and his thighs and glutes feel tight and sore. When he stops to take a water break, he pushes the heel of his hand into the small of his back and it feels so good it sends a shock all the way down the lower half of his body, like all he needs is that little pressure to iron out everything going wrong with his spine.
He tries to take longer steps, to stretch out tight muscles. He tries to pronate onto his heel and roll forward onto the balls of his feet to engage his calves. He wishes he could run, certain that the long strides would make his legs and hips feel better. He’s so optimistic about stretching it out—walking it off—that he’d go so far as to say he has a little bit of a bounce in his step.
He’s out of breath by the end of the first lap around the house, when he passes back in front of the front porch to find Richie leaned forward on the patio furniture, coffee mug in hand, clearly doing his sports commentator Voice as Eddie drags his protesting body in a circuit around Ben’s property. Eddie can’t quite hear him, but Richie is clearly talking to himself, eyes fixed on Eddie, the corner of his mouth occasionally stretching into a lopsided smirk, like he just can’t help it. Eddie reaches out his arms to the side as far as he can get them and flips him twin birds, though the fingers of his right hand tremble as he folds them down. Richie’s mouth stretches into a grin and Eddie hears “—coming around the corner, he’s gaining on them!” from the stream of uninterrupted chatter.
He catches Richie talking to himself a lot. Sometimes it’s out loud, sometimes it’s silent the way it was in the hospital room back in Bangor. Sometimes Richie will say something and then lunge for his phone, muttering “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” as he opens up a note. Eddie’s not entirely sure how much of it is Richie’s job—he has ghost writers, but does that mean he doesn’t write any of his own material at all?—and how much of it is just Richie’s personality. He was constantly getting in trouble for muttering to himself in high school, teachers assuming that he was talking back under his breath—and sometimes he was, but sometimes he was talking himself through physics tests, or math proofs, and Eddie was both straining his ears and wanting to kick the back of his chair to shut him up and remove the temptation of cheating.
Richie chatters. Eddie sleeps, and walks, and takes pills, and does breathing exercises, and stretches in his room where Richie can’t see him.
It’s a bad walk. At the end of the first lap, his legs seem to give up on him entirely, like they can no longer be talked into propelling his stupid body around. Forget the easy carriage he thought he had this morning; he feels like a zombie, unable to even stop his toes from scraping on the ground. By the end of the second lap he almost gives up in disgust, but then he checks his timer and sees that he only has eight minutes left, so he staggers his way into a third before the alarm goes off, and then finishes his circuit around the house. He doesn’t bother looking up at what Richie’s doing when he ascends the stairs, just climbs with his head hanging.
“You wanna play chess?” Richie asks.
“No,” Eddie pants. He’s too out of breath for just walking. He thinks he learned somewhere that if you’re walking briskly, you should be able to talk at a normal speaking volume, but you shouldn’t be able to sing. And if you’re running properly and exerting yourself, you shouldn’t be able to talk in a normal speaking voice. He can’t remember where he heard or read it, but it sounds right.
He comes to a halt on the landing halfway up the porch, taking the moment to breathe. His body wants to hunch forward the way inexperienced runners do when trying to catch their breath, but Eddie is actually lucky that his abdominal stitches won’t allow him to bend that far forward. He has to bring his chest up, try to make as much space for his lungs to open as possible, ignore the stitch in his lower left side. He looks at where Richie is playing with the black chess pieces, twirling the queen through his fingers.
No. Richie’s smart. Eddie’s not going to play chess with him.
“You good?” Richie asks.
A little pulse of irritation goes through Eddie at the question. He’s not good, he’s physically infirm and he had a nightmare so bad he dragged Richie out of bed and made him hide in the car from an imaginary intruder. The stairs hurt more than they did last night, and his breath is still coming out of him like a bellows as he tries to form a response.
“Tired,” he says shortly. He puts one hand to the bottom of his incision to brace his ribs, presses the other to the place the stitch is in his side. Normally he’d breathe through it until it eased, or until the little gas bubble in his chest popped, but his lungs have limited capacity now that makes him doubt the effectiveness of that.
Richie sets the chess piece down on the board, uncrossing his knees from their figure four so he can get up. He picks up his mug. Eddie is genuinely concerned about his teeth, with all the coffee he drinks. He wonders if this is a form of rebellion against Dr. Tozier.
“You want breakfast?” he asks, easily enough.
Eddie needs to take his painkillers. “Breakfast would be good,” he says. He wants hot water on his muscles, too, helping his body relax. “I’m gonna take a shower.”
It’s another deviation from their usual routine on this already exceptional morning.
Richie’s eyebrows lift gently but he only says, “Cool. What do you feel like eating?”
Eddie sighs, “I don’t know. Whatever you feel like making.” He shrugs as best as he can, sets his hand higher on the banister, and resumes climbing the stairs.
He hauls his body up two more steps and suddenly feels like he’s broken through a cloud barrier and emerged on a mountaintop. The air seems too thin and cold. Mist fogs over his eyes.
“Fuck,” he says immediately, leaning into the railing and lowering himself to sit on the stairs. He takes another breath and watches another swirl of mist roll past him, trying to decide whether enough blood is getting to his head to allow him to see. “Rich, I’m passing out,” he gasps. He goes further and turns, reclining on the steps, getting his head low.
“Oh, fuck,” Richie hisses. There’s a thud and Eddie hears him move closer on the deck—and then feels his body very close to his, his warmth almost touching him but not quite. “What do you need?”
“Uh, don’ lemme fall down the stairs?” he manages. It comes out in a ridiculous slur of sound. “Or hit my head,” he tries to add, but that’s even more mush-mouthed; he doubts somehow that Richie understood.
For a few seconds, he stops existing entirely.
Then he’s blinking and his vision is clearing as he looks up at the milk-pale sky. Awareness tingles back into his body, making him aware of the hard wooden stairs under him and pressing into his back, of Richie knelt over one of his legs and physically blocking him from sliding.
“Fuck,” Eddie gasps, relieved that the feeling is fading but mortified that this is happening.
“Hey,” Richie says. His voice is too warm, too soothing. It actually helps that he follows it up with, “What the fuck, dude?”
“Eat my shorts,” Eddie says. He closes his eyes again and waits for his head to stop spinning; he can feel sweat on the back of his neck, all the way down his spine to the small of his back. He definitely passed out there. He huffs out a long breath. “Did I fall?”
“No,” Richie says. “You laid down. Do you remember?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says. “Just wanted to make sure—I didn’t hit my head?”
“You didn’t hit your head,” Richie says. “You did rip a massive fart, though. I passed out, but it was just your methane fumes.”
Eddie snorts and kicks his ankle half-heartedly at Richie’s bare foot. “Liar.”
“Would I lie to you?”
“Yes, absolutely,” Eddie says. He opens his eyes.
Richie is frowning at him a little, his mouth almost ready to pull into a pout.
Eddie closes his eyes again, feeling guilty. “I’m fine,” he says. “It happens.”
Richie pauses for a moment, and then asks in an almost laughing voice, “What?”
It’s still a relief that almost nothing is off limits for Richie to joke about. Nothing could be worse than his silent pity. If Richie thinks that this is no more serious than his need to joke about Eddie’s job, or Eddie’s mother, or Eddie’s stoned appreciation for breakfast foods, that means he isn’t treating Eddie with kid gloves. He’s so fucking sick of being treated with kid gloves.
Blearily Eddie realizes he doesn’t know where his—Ben’s—Camelbak bottle got to. He was a little distracted trying not to crack his skull falling down the stairs, exactly like his stress dream. He turns his head to look for it and the world lurches around him, his blood audibly purring as it courses through his temples.
“What?” Richie asks from his perch over Eddie's thigh.
There’s something in there that his brain wants to process, but his body is prioritizing his survival right now. “Water,” he says, overwhelmed by his very physical exhaustion.
Without saying anything, Richie braces his left hand beside Eddie on the stairs and leans across him, reaching up and behind him for the water bottle. He’s very close. Dazedly Eddie looks at the underside of Richie’s chin and his Adam’s apple, feeling bracketed in by his big body. Then Richie leans back and holds the water bottle out to him.
For its part, Eddie’s body doesn’t much like the idea of him moving. He lifts his hand to take the bottle and keeps his elbow almost pinned to the stair, tilting his head only enough that he can drink out of the water bottle without drowning. The Camelbak straw is convenient for this. He’d have to fuck up pretty hard to slosh water all down himself.
Richie sits back on his heels, his thighs still bracketing one of Eddie’s. Eddie’s having trouble placing the look on his face. Something about the angle of his brows, the corners of his eyes. Richie’s mouth is stretched wide in a grin, but he’s always grinning, so that doesn’t tell him much.
“Whaddaya mean, ‘it happens’?” Richie demands, voice broad and flat. There’s a tension there, like he’s getting ready to tell a really good joke, like he’s setting up for a coup de grâce. The part of Eddie that grew up watching in awe as Richie got off the occasional really good one—the kind of joke that laid a whole classroom flat, or that got Bill to break and pound Richie on the back—sits up paying attention, wanting to watch Richie in his element.
But he also recognizes that he, Eddie, is the only possible target. It’s a double-edged sword.
“What, do I have to walk around with smelling salts now or something?” Richie asks flippantly.
“My lung collapsed, asshole.”
He can feel his head, his neck, the faint constant pain in his chest and torso. His legs are mostly offline—not in a worrisome way, just in a way that tells Eddie he’s going to have to move them around to get the circulation going again. He’s aware that, if he hadn’t just passed out, he’d be far more interested in Richie between his legs than he is right now. As it is, he thinks his brain has made the executive decision you can’t deal with that right now and is sort of stopping the implications from hitting him. Richie made himself a physical block so that Eddie couldn’t slide like a ragdoll down the stairs. That’s sufficient gallantry for him.
Richie snorts. “Yeah, I was there.”
Eddie sets the Camelbak down and takes a few deep breaths. His body doesn’t want him to move—wants him to be the ragdoll and just lie here. He doesn’t know how long. It makes him think about Richie, asleep this morning like he was smashed on the mattress. Vulnerable.
So Eddie wiggles his fingers, and then his toes in his running shoes, windshield-wipers his ankles so his feet roll back and forth.
“Everything in working order?” Richie asks.
“Yeah,” Eddie says, hesitant about nodding. He genuinely thinks he didn’t hurt himself when he dropped, and he ought to be grateful for that, but he doesn’t want to just remain prone like an abandoned puppet. He braces his elbows and sits up slowly, feeling a sharp stretch between his shoulder blades and a deeper ache below his navel where his abdominal muscles have to engage. He grits his teeth and allows himself to groan as he sits up, and then he waits, propped up, to see if his brain is getting enough oxygen to allow him to keep going.
If he slips, he will collide dick-first with Richie’s kneecap. As if he didn’t have sufficient motivation to be careful.
Richie doesn’t ask him if he needs help, or even make fun of Eddie as he snarls at nothing trying to get upright. Eddie’s glad that Richie doesn’t offer, but his silence and stillness is almost worrying. Most of him is focused on getting upright with all of his limbs where he expects them to be, but there’s a small part of his brain that thinks, watch. Be careful. And not in the usual way that he watches Richie.
“I’m getting up,” he tells Richie.
“Uh-huh,” Richie agrees, not moving from his place.
Richie’s not sitting on his leg, Eddie has enough room to move so that he can sit up on his ass instead of on his elbows. It’s weird that Richie doesn’t seem to think about the risk of Eddie accidentally kneeing him in the balls, but Eddie’s also not gonna draw more attention to either of their dicks than he has to. Instead he focuses on stacking his ribcage over his pelvis, his head on his shoulders.
He feels okay. More okay than he thinks he should necessarily be allowed to, having just blacked out on the porch. There’s also a faint itch in the back of his throat that he recognizes as a craving for carbonation. Jeez, has he conditioned himself to want Sprite after he passes out?
He reaches up as far as he can towards the railing but that requires getting his arm overhead; now Richie moves, seeing that he can’t do this himself. He slides one foot back and straightens up, offering his shoulder for Eddie to brace himself on. It’s for the best because Eddie has to twist to get his knees under him and come up slowly. Richie holds onto the railing and he lets Eddie hold onto him, and he doesn’t try to help any more than that.
Once on his own feet again, Eddie releases Richie’s shoulder and holds tight to the railing, bracing himself. The wood is a very different texture than the softness of Richie’s t-shirt. He just stands, focusing on whether or not he can stay up. He imagines he can feel the blood vessels in his brain constrict and then relax, but there are no black spots in his vision, nor little white sparks. A headache threatens at the base of his neck, ready to join the one spearing through his whole torso.
“How’s your fight with gravity going?” Richie asks.
“Better than your fight with dressing like an adult,” Eddie snaps back, choosing something at random to pick on.
Richie gives a loud barking laugh and Eddie feels satisfied, turning slowly to ascend the stairs. He feels a little fragile again—his hand is tight on the railing—but he’s pretty sure he can make it.
He hears Richie stepping up after him and the hairs on the back of his neck rise inexplicably. Watch, says that little wary voice inside him again. He doesn’t know who it sounds like—not the nagging voice of his mother, or Myra, not Richie or any of the Losers. Why is it there? What’s he supposed to be watching for?
It’s slow going up the stairs. Eddie feels like a toddler learning to walk. Richie says nothing about his baby steps, but it’s not like he and Richie have any appointments today, any place to go in particular. Eddie has, for all he knows, all the time in the world.
Richie even holds the front door open for him when they get there. Eddie walks more easily across the landing, and then just as slowly up the smaller set of stairs to the upper level of the house. It’s a little embarrassing, how much it feels like a victory to get to the top. He has to brace himself on the banister and take some deep breaths, but for a guy who was in a coma this month, he’s pretty sure he could be doing worse.
Once Eddie’s off the stairs Richie walks past him, taking long strides like he did this morning again. This time it feels almost like he’s mocking Eddie, rubbing salt in the wound. By the time Eddie makes his way to the couch and sinks down onto it, he looks up to see Richie standing over him with a Tupperware container of cantaloupe, fork stabbed into the center of it, and a glass of water in the other hand. These he sets down on the coffee table. Then he looks at Eddie.
“Meds?” he asks.
Eddie nods, taking the moment to catch his breath. There’s a strange pressure between his ears, like his body knows he tried exercising and now wants to punish him for it.
Richie leaves the room again and comes back with Eddie’s prescription bottles. He’s perfectly loud, shaking the house with his footsteps, the rattle of the pills in the plastic containers like maracas. Eddie’s throat tightens against his gag reflex but then he relaxes again. Richie thunks the bottles down on the coffee table and, when they overturn, carefully rights them again. Then he holds up both empty hands.
“Are we going anywhere today?” he asks.
“God, I hope not,” Eddie sighs.
“Cool,” Richie says, and leaves.
Eddie blinks, baffled to see him heading towards the stairs. For a moment he thinks Richie’s about to leave the house entirely, but then he turns and descends into the lower level of Ben’s house again. Nonplussed, Eddie frowns but then turns his attention to taking his medicine. He tips out his dose into his palm and swallows them with water, trying to appease the ache in his chest. He has to shudder as he gulps them down, but then it’s over. He sets the glass back down on the coaster and then realizes he left the Camelbak out on the porch. Stupid of him. He’ll have to get it later.
Richie moves heavily coming up the stairs, pace steady. Eddie turns his head to wait for him and sees the crown of his head appear. He looks almost like a mime in the middle of a performance, head and then neck and then shoulders; he’s holding something, but Eddie can’t see it from this angle because of how his body blocks his right arm. There’s something about the angle of his head relative to his shoulders, something about how he’s carrying his neck—
Richie’s pissed at him.
Eddie feels stupid for taking so long to notice it, and then annoyed at Richie for expecting him to realize and respond—he just passed out, he has some other priorities. Richie says nothing, just swings back into the living room, slides between couch and coffee table, and sits down on the table with his knees spread. The fork in the Tupperware container overbalances and lands with a clatter on the sleek black modern surface; Eddie sees, as Richie rests the thing in his hand on his knee, that it’s a beer bottle. He’s spread wide, like some asshole on a subway—not that Eddie rides the subway if he can avoid it. He’s making himself bigger than he needs to be.
“Okay,” Richie says, voice flat and almost reasonable. “What the fuck do you mean, passing out ‘happens’?”
Eddie stares at him, an incredulous laugh caught in his throat. “You cannot possibly be pissed at me for passing out. I got impaled.”
“Yeah, again, I was there,” Richie says. His tone is biting—this is Richie getting into the swing of things, getting ready to really go after Eddie, working up the momentum. The wind-up, and then the punch. “Kinda remember that. How long have you been passing out?”
Eddie glares at him. “This is the first time it’s happened since the hospital,” he says, and dares Richie to question him about it.
Instead, Richie stills. The slope of his shoulders relaxes. He visibly deflates.
“Oh,” he says.
“Yeah, oh,” Eddie snipes back at him.
He reaches out with his left arm to pick up the container of fruit, rests it on his lap, and then has to lean over further to pick up the fork. Richie notices his wince as he stretches, reaches his free hand down as though to nudge the fork closer, and then interrupts the movement and pulls his hand back. For some reason the conscious decision not to baby Eddie incenses him—the fact that it happened at all is the grievance—and Eddie snatches up the fork with a pointed flourish and a roll of his eyes.
Richie sets the beer down on the floor and puts his elbows on his knees, letting his hands hang down between them. Eddie looks down at the bottle disdainfully. “It’s early,” he points out; it’s not even eight in the morning yet. He stabs a cube of cantaloupe and puts it in his mouth.
The second he bites down, he realizes that he forgot about his broken tooth. The shock of pain from the cold fruit makes him regret his choices. He has to fight hard to maintain his expression of righteous indignation.
Richie ignores it. “Yeah, well, I don’t have great coping mechanisms,” he says. His feet are still bare; he prods at the perspiring bottle on the carpet with a toe.
Mouth full of cold and pain, Eddie coughs out a laugh. “What the fuck do you have to cope with?” he demands around the crushed fruit. He doesn’t taste blood. He doesn’t.
Richie lifts his head to look at him and for a moment he reminds Eddie of nothing so much as Pennywise, with the thin stretched smile and the eyes widened just enough to be threatening. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he asks, his voice pleasant, even amused.
Watch, says that little voice inside Eddie—and suddenly Eddie recognizes it. It’s his own, but small, because he’s maybe thirteen years old. The voice of a child who grew up hunted and now knows to look for danger; the one who’s been silent for decades because Eddie forgot all about him.
It’s horrible. He’s angry at himself for thinking it, because Richie Tozier is not scary, is not a danger to him. Richie would never hurt him.
But he could, Eddie remembers. A long time ago, Eddie genuinely thought that Richie was getting ready to leave Bill to the clown in the sewers, because that’s what Richie wanted all of them to think. He wanted to make Bill sweat. He wanted to be theatrical, so he could be magnificent when he reached for the baseball bat.
“I mean right now,” Eddie says, because he hasn’t forgotten what Richie and the rest of them lived through too. “I told you I was passing out, I told you what to do, I didn’t hit my head, and I didn’t fall down the stairs.” If he were feeling more magnanimous he might say thank you for not letting me fall down the stairs, but his tooth hurts and his chest hurts and he’s sort of angry at Richie for being angry.
Richie spreads both arms wide at the elbows, taking up even more space. Eddie, on the couch, is aware of the half-wall behind him and Richie in front of him. He’s almost boxed in.
“For fuck’s sake, you can’t help passing out, I know you can’t help passing out,” Richie says. “I thought when you said it happens you meant you were blacking out every time you stood up and this is just the first time I was there to see it.”
Eddie’s not blacking out every time he stands up, but it is the first time Richie was there to see it. He doesn’t love that either. He prods gently at his broken tooth as he works the cantaloupe over to the other side of his mouth and bites down on it so quickly that the cold seems to soak from his molar straight into his jaw. It’s miserable. He gulps down the cold cantaloupe.
Richie sits there, his elbows slowly listing toward his knees, his contrition melting away.
“Oh, you fucker,” he says, his voice low and dangerous.
Richie gets quiet, so Eddie gets loud. “It’s not every time I stand up!” he insists. Richie rolls his eyes so Eddie shouts louder. “Hey, I don’t need your help!” he snaps. “I handled it fine on my own, I told you it’s the first time I’ve actually blacked out since the hospital, and considering I was in the fucking shower the last time, I don’t know what the fuck you think you could have done for me.”
As though Eddie’s voice is enough to blast him away, Richie gets up from the table and takes large steps around it, between the two leather armchairs, to stand on the edge of the room. Eddie knows what this means—Richie’s going to match him at every level, is going to be big and loud and furious the way Eddie is now, because that’s what Richie does.
“You passed out in the shower?” Richie demands, slumping forward over the back of the leather armchair so that the sweating beer bottle draws a straight line down the upholstery. “Fucking when? You weren’t allowed to shower in the hospital—you said you haven’t passed out since the hospital!”
It’s a total gotcha, a j’accuse. The fact that Richie’s trying to catch him in a lie makes him angrier.
“I told you, I didn’t pass out in the shower!” he snaps back. “I thought I might, so I sat the fuck down and then it went away!”
With all this shouting at each other, Eddie’s sort of glad Ben doesn’t have neighbors. Eddie can’t draw full breath and his voice isn’t as strong as he might otherwise like it to be, but he’s not doing too badly for himself. He flails his hands uselessly, because he can’t shrug without aggravating his stitches, and his chest and jaw hurt, and the fucking painkillers haven’t kicked in yet.
“I don’t fucking know, right around when Ben and Bev left,” he says. “Does it fucking matter?” It’s been over a week since then, a full week without incident, he’s improving. Can’t Richie see that it doesn’t matter?
Richie brings both arms up toward his head, shaking the beer bottle like he’s forgotten that he’s holding it. He rotates in place like he’s so angry with Eddie that he can’t actually stay still. “Are you kidding me?” he asks again. “What, are you gonna be taking one of your four showers of the day and I’m just gonna hear a thud and it’s gonna be you breaking your neck in the bathroom?”
Eddie’s voice breaks in the middle of the scream and Richie recoils, head bobbing back like Eddie physically struck him. It hurts Eddie’s throat to strain that loud. He throws the container of fruit down on the coffee table and it tips over, spilling juice onto the shiny surface. He doesn’t care.
“I told you I don’t need a caretaker,” he says, so angry his voice is shaking now. “I don’t need a caretaker, I don’t need a mother, I am forty fucking years old, and you fucking said—”
“You know,” Richie says over him. He’s not even shouting. That makes it so much worse, because Richie’s voice is stronger than his, Richie’s voice has always been louder than his, even before he was injured; but it’s because he’s hurt now that Eddie can’t fight back as hard and Richie is taking advantage of that. “You like to act like you’re the responsible adult and everyone’s fucking crazy for giving a shit about you, but then you pull shit like this.”
Eddie feels his nostrils flare as he draws in a breath through his nose. “Like what?” he asks, daring Richie to say it.
Richie, as always, lives up to expectations. “Like hiding things like a fucking child,” he snarls back at him. “I told you, I don’t want to be your mother. So stop making me be your fucking mother.”
It cuts so deep that, for a moment, Eddie is stunned into silence and stillness. Then he laughs from somewhere deep down in that wound, so deep it hurts.
“Oh, is that what I’m doing?” he demands.
“Yeah, that’s what you’re doing,” Richie replies without hesitation. “That’s what you like doing—you pretend like you’re the fucking responsible one, like you have all your shit together, and then you do this shit and make other people have to be the fucking adult, so you can bitch them out for it.”
“You think you’re the adult?” Eddie demands. “You? You went AWOL from your job. You turned off your phone and ignored the real world to play house with me for a month in Ben’s fucking architectural nightmare. Is that what being an adult means to you, Rich?”
Richie laughs long and loud and mean then. At top volume he shouts, “Well, you know what they say about people who live in glass houses!”
For a long moment Eddie waits, processing that. But there’s no way to avoid it: yes, Richie did just make a joke in the middle of a fight.
Before he knows what he’s doing, he leans down with his left hand, grabs the half-full glass of water, and flings the contents in Richie’s direction.
He’s too far away. Eddie’s arm is too weak. Water splatters over Ben’s nice leather chairs.
They both look down at the splash zone. Then their heads snap up at the same time. Eddie is panting, he’s so angry. Fuck exercise, he should have just screamed at Richie for half an hour to get his heart rate up.
Richie is smiling faintly. “Did you just throw a drink at me?” he asks at normal speaking volume. Quiet for Richie.
“Oh, look at that. Your glasses work,” Eddie snipes back.
Richie’s shoulders jerk in a silent laugh. It’s not performative; it looks like Richie’s fighting it. Then his smile softens a little and he shakes his head, his mouth still slightly open. “I fucking—” he starts, and then interrupts himself by jamming the beer bottle into his mouth, hooking the cap behind his teeth, and pulling.
“Oh my god,” Eddie says, horrified. “Oh my god, what are you—?”
Richie pries the cap off with his teeth and spits it into his palm, then takes a swig of the beer.
Eddie has to sit down. His brain whirls with scattered concepts: his own broken tooth, and the possibility that Richie ripped up his gums doing that, and the fact that Wentworth Tozier is a dentist, and the absurd thought that with an overbite like that of course Richie bites off bottlecaps.
He finds his hands are shaking. He sets the empty glass back down on the coaster—there’s a little dribble of water down the side that pools onto the cut stone. For lack of anything else to do, Eddie straightens up the Tupperware container. He’ll need a towel or something, for the juice puddled on the table and the water that Eddie just threw across the room like a heroine in a telenovela or something.
He leans back on the couch. There’s no pain from his anterior incision, but there is a sensation of pressure, a watch it, mister from his own injuries. First he tucks his hands between his knees and squeezes them together so he doesn’t have to watch them tremble; then he slumps forward, pushes his hand over his chin, curls his fingers over his mouth.
Across the room, Richie lowers his beer bottle. He remains there in no-man’s land, safe behind his furniture barricade in case Eddie decides to throw the fork or something. From his position on the couch, Richie’s broad shoulders totally block Eddie’s view of the desk and the chair where they kissed last night.
Richie looks almost slack, somehow. Like the fight’s gone out of him. But is it yielding or giving up entirely?
There’s a long moment where they just blink at each other.
Eddie takes a steadying breath through his nose, feeling his ribs expand as much as they can. Then he asks, “Can I have a sip of your beer?”
Richie stares blankly at him. Then in slow motion his face breaks into a laugh, his eye squinting up. His voice is quiet and almost fond when he says, “If I threw this at you, it would serve you right.” But he still crosses the room, slipping between the big square armchairs, and holds out the beer bottle for Eddie.
Eddie reaches out as far as he can with his left arm and takes it, then inspects the lip of the bottle. There’s no evidence of chipped glass or scratches from Richie’s teeth or blood from his mouth.
“Would serve you right if you hurt yourself doing that, you fucking chipmunk,” he replies. Then he takes a sip. The beer flows bitter into his mouth, full of tiny carbonated bubbles.
He just took a bunch of opioid painkillers; he’s not about to try to get drunk. But he wanted to see if Richie would still let him talk him down like this. If he would still give Eddie what he had without question, whether or not Eddie deserved it.
He hands the bottle back to Richie. Richie takes it surprisingly gently, no whipping it out of Eddie’s hands or making fun of him for his irresponsible mix of medication, an empty stomach, and what tastes like an IPA. Eddie sighs again, leans all the way back on the couch, and covers his face with both hands.
“I can’t believe I just did that,” he admits.
“What?” Richie asks. It’s not just the illusion of pleasantry this time; he sounds genuinely amused. “Bossed me around again?”
“I don’t fight like that,” Eddie mumbles.
Richie laughs again. “I’ve never seen you fight any other way.”
Slowly he sets the bottle down on the coffee table, then braces both hands on it and lowers himself to the ground. He bends his knees in front of him and wraps both arms around them. Eddie is astonished once again by how young he looks, how familiar and cute. He could be thirteen years old, on the ground in the Barrens, ripping up pieces of grass to drop down the back of Eddie’s shirt.
Eddie slots his fingers closed so he can’t gawk at him anymore. “Sorry I threw a fucking drink at you,” he says.
“That was fucking hysterical,” Richie says. “I don’t know what the fuck kind of routine that’s going into, but I’m gonna talk about that one day.”
It wasn’t okay. “I’m still sorry,” Eddie says. He lowers his hands and looks out the window, to the green stillness of the front lawn.
“Yeah, well, sorry I brought your mom into it,” Richie says casually.
“Yeah, that wasn’t okay either.” Eddie turns his head to look at him. “What the fuck?”
Richie’s expression turns almost quizzical, like Eddie is misunderstanding the point and he doesn’t know how to break it to him. He shrugs. “I was trying to hurt your feelings?” he says slowly.
“Yeah, I got that,” Eddie says, and has to swallow down the hysteria and steady himself before he can continue. “That’s why I hurt your feelings back.”
“I don’t have feelings,” Richie insists.
Richie shrugs again, mock-grandiose.
Somehow Eddie feels better. Like this whole thing passed through the room like a windstorm, leaving them quiet and still in its wake. Eddie doesn’t usually think of this after fights. When he argued with his mother she’d press him into backing down and then continue to radiate wounded rage into the shared air. Myra’s temper blew over slowly, nothing to be done about it, and if Eddie said the wrong thing she would snap and ignite again. He’s not used to this—just saying the worst thing he could think of to spit it into the room between them and let each other deal with the fallout.
“How long have you been sitting on that glass houses line?” Eddie asks.
Richie shakes his head. “That was all improv right there, baby, I don’t know what to tell you, I’m fucking good at my job.”
Baby twists at something in Eddie’s gut. Eddie’s not sure if it’s pleasant or not, the way it makes him squirm; so he pulls a face to tell Richie not to do it again. Richie doesn’t react, but Eddie knows he’s watching him, so he saw it, even if he chooses not to acknowledge it.
“Hey,” Richie says, and stretches out one leg long. His foot appears on the other side of the coffee table, pale on the neutral carpet; he prods at the black leather of the couch. Eddie looks down at it like a mouse suddenly skittered toward him from under the furniture.
“Come over here.” To illustrate his point further, Richie pats the floor beside him.
Eddie stares at him. “Why?”
“Just come here,” Richie urges. Then he adds, “Not if you can’t. If you can’t, just tell me to fuck off.”
“Well, fuck off,” Eddie says, already standing up. He stomps around the side of the coffee table as best as he can. He never went along with Richie because he had the best ideas, he went along with Richie because arguing with him about it was usually a good time, and sometimes he stumbled across something that made it really worth it. Sometimes.
He has to brace himself between the seat of a chair with one hand and plant the other on Richie’s shoulder as he sinks down to the floor next to him. His chest strains and relaxes, strains and relaxes. His glutes ache as he pulls his knees up—not as far as Richie, he’s not as bendy, but he can brace them against the edge of the coffee table to hold them up. The soreness in his body is almost meditative. He stretches against it.
“We’re too fucking old for this,” he says, wanting to chalk his difficulties up to age instead of his injuries.
Richie goes along with it. “Don’t I know it,” he says, and toasts Eddie with the beer bottle.
Eddie gives a long sigh and then, on a whim, leans sideways into Richie. He’s surprised how much better he feels, just to be touching Richie at all. He puts his head on his shoulder, trying to show him that he knows Richie didn’t mean what he said. He knows Richie’s thing is putting his foot in his mouth so hard he kicks his own teeth in.
This space after anger is sort of a relief. It’s over and done.
“I don’t think you’re making me do anything,” Richie says.
Richie drinks from the bottle again. Eddie has to look at the boring leather furniture so he doesn’t linger on the way Richie’s lips wrap around the neck. He pulls off with a soft wet sound and says, “I’m just kind of an inherently shitty person.”
“Fuck you,” says Eddie, who is still trying to come to terms with having been kind of a shitty unhappy person for the last twenty-plus years. “That’s not a fucking excuse.”
Richie laughs, nasal and sincere. “God, you and my therapist would have gotten along great.”
“You have a therapist?”
Richie shakes his head. “Not anymore. I told you I did rehab, right?
“Right,” Eddie says, glancing nervously at the bottle in Richie’s hand and then immediately feeling stupid for it. Depressants and accelerants are very different things. He continues to look at the seamwork along the couch cushions.
“I don’t think you’re making me do anything,” he goes on. “I think I’m just shitty, so I…” He shakes his head. “I want you to be in control of yourself, you know?”
“I am,” Eddie insists, despite how that’s so not true that he can’t even watch Richie drink out of a beer bottle.
“No, I mean—you’re in charge of what you need to do. You just—just tell me what you need, and I’ll do it, I don’t care, I’d wipe your ass. I’m not above that.”
Eddie is revolted. “If you ever say that again, I’ll beat you to death with a beer bottle.”
Richie’s mouth twists up into a smirk. “Ah, just how I always thought I would die.”
With the sort of instinctive discomfort of someone who grew up in Derry, Maine, Eddie glances from one side of the room to the other before saying, “That’s fucking dark, man.”
“Point is,” Richie says without commentary, “I trust you.”
And Eddie knows that. Eddie was totally wrong this morning about a possible home intruder, but Richie took his word for it. They sat in the car like idiots with the doors locked, until Eddie could process what was actually happening and calm the fuck down.
Eddie adjusts his head on Richie’s shoulder, feeling the promontory of bone against his temple.
“And it’s not that I’m gonna stop trusting you,” Richie says. “Just please don’t make me regret it.”
Eddie’s heart clenches like a fist. It hurts so much that he has to duck his head, leaning forward and hissing through his teeth with his chin almost to his chest. “Fuck, I forgot you talk for a living,” he manages.
“What?” Richie asks.
Eddie shakes his head and straightens up, breathing until the tightness in his chest eases. “I don’t know. Somewhere you learned to sound reasonable.”
He laughs softly. “You’re probably the first person to say that.”
It’s Eddie’s turn to meet Richie where he is. “I don’t actually give a shit what you do about your job.” That sounds blunter and more apathetic than he meant it to; he winces and course-corrects. “I mean, I care as much as it stresses you out. But—it’s none of my fucking business, and I don’t think you’re shitty for taking some time off.”
“Oh, no, I’m definitely being shitty,” Richie says.
Eddie jams an elbow into Richie’s ribs. He doesn’t have great leverage here, but it’s enough to make Richie sway in place.
“We all almost died,” Eddie says. “I think we’re entitled to a little time off.”
“Oh, those entitled Gen Xers,” Richie laughs. “Those entitled little risk analysists in their little suits, thinking they’re entitled to take a break after a near-death experience, fuck.”
“It was an actual death experience.”
“Yeah, but you couldn’t make it stick, huh, could you, Kaspbrak?”
It’s really fucking dark, but the apple of Richie’s cheek where his smile curls up almost makes it sweet. Eddie rolls his eyes and then lets his head rest on Richie’s shoulder again.
Richie continues drinking. He seems as burned out as Eddie is, gone contemplative now. “Can you do one thing for me?” he asks.
Eddie sort of hopes he’s about to ask for something ridiculous or disgusting, something that Eddie won’t have to take seriously, so there’s no way for him to fuck it up. “Depends,” he hedges.
“That’s fair,” Richie says. “Can you shower with the door unlocked?”
They both process what he just said.
Richie holds up a hand. “Not because I’m a pervert!” he says quickly. “Just—I’m gonna be listening for you to drop now, and if I hear you hit the ground and I can’t get in there to see you’re still alive, I’m gonna freak out and break the door down.”
It’s… not an unreasonable request. If Eddie loses consciousness in the bathroom, he might actually need Richie to break the door down—which is an incongruous and fascinating mental image, when he’s not thinking about the situations under which it might be necessary.
“Can’t you just knock on the door and see if I tell you to fuck off?” he asks. Something about it makes him squirm, unrelated to either previous stabbings he suffered in a bathroom or the idea of Richie barreling through a locked door.
“I figure I’ll do that anyway,” Richie says. “Just—I’m not gonna do anything, I just want to know that—” He cuts himself off.
Eddie can fill in the blanks. “That I’m safe,” he says colorlessly.
Richie makes a frustrated little noise. “I know you’re safe,” he says. “I want to know you’re not gonna drown in the bathtub while I’m being paranoid outside.”
Bleakly he imagines it. His naked body on the bathroom floor, half spilled out of the tub. His blood running into the water, or pooling on the floor under him. Richie walking in to see him sprawled there like a corpse, finishing the job Bowers started back in Derry.
“I don’t want you to find me like that,” he says.
“Uh, yeah, that’s the idea,” Richie says.
Eddie tightens his elbows to his sides and wraps his hands around them, hugging himself a little. “No, I mean—in the shower. I don’t…” He feels like he has to put more distance between himself and Richie, so he takes his head off his shoulder and shifts his weight more toward the coffee table. He’s trying to be subtle. As if Richie won’t notice. The imagined vulnerability is too much for him.
Peripherally he can see Richie watching him, big black eyes peering at him over the brown bottle. “I mean, if I walk in and you’re not out cold, you can throw whatever you want at me, I promise,” Richie says. “Anyone ever tell you, you look like Andrew Perkins? I’m not gonna do the—” He imitates the shrieking strings from Psycho, holding up the beer bottle like he’s wielding a knife.
“It’s not—” Eddie sighs, exasperated. “I don’t think you’re gonna, like, do anything or… murder me, I just—I don’t look good naked, all right?” he explodes, shoving away from Richie.
Richie sets the bottle down in a whole hell of a hurry, catching him by the shoulders and leaning in, holding him in place.
Eddie immediately feels stupid and raw. The quiet in the room is now oppressive and miserable and Eddie’s filling it with nonsense and he can’t stop himself. “Because there’s a fucking hole in my chest and it’s fucking bad enough I can’t get the one on my back by myself, and I am not being unreasonable about it, Stan says he doesn’t like Patty to look at them either, because they’re fucking ugly and—”
“Okay. Okay, we’re having two different conversations here.”
Eddie stares at the coffee table for a lack of anything safer in the room to look at and realizes that Richie didn’t even bother using a coaster. Ben went to the trouble of getting these expensive cut-stone coasters and do his house guests even use them? No. Instead Eddie throws water over his upholstery.
It’s probably lamb leather. Lambs probably died for this furniture and look how Eddie’s disrespecting it.
“We’re not having two different conversations—”
“We fucking are, because I’m nervous about you passing out and drowning, and you’re nervous about me seeing you naked, which I already have done, smartass,” Richie says.
Eddie draws his knees tighter to his chest. His spine doesn’t want to bend; the tops of his thighs don’t even come close to touching his torso. He knows he’s shielding himself like a child. “No, you haven’t,” he mutters. He’s pretty sure he’s only ever been half-naked in front of Richie.
“Dude, I know what happened to you. I saw you get impaled. I’m not—I still fucking tried to grind on you last night, dumbass.”
Wow. From smartass to dumbass in two sentences. Eddie flushes hot at the admission in so many words.
Richie nudges him, keeping his elbow up near Eddie’s shoulders instead of any of the tender real estate of his ribs. It’s probably more consideration than Eddie necessarily deserves. “Hey. Hey,” he says. “If I have to save your life again, I promise I’ll still get a boner over you after. I’m not complicated.”
“Fuckhead,” Eddie mutters, amused despite himself.
“Eddie,” Richie says, and prods him again with his elbow. “Eddie, lie back.”
This gets Eddie to look up at him. Richie’s expression has turned from earnest to up to something; it’s all in the eyebrows. “Why?” he asks, suspicious.
“Just lie back.”
He knows for a fact that Richie will try to provoke him into doing it, just like he provoked him into walking over here. Eddie can’t decide if he wants to make him work harder for it again. He looks at the narrow space around him, trying to see if there’s even room for his head and shoulders on the floor. There is, maybe, if he leans more toward Richie so he lines up between the armchairs.
“Why?” he insists.
“Just because,” Richie says, like a liar.
But Eddie kind of wants to see what happens.
He cautiously relaxes arms and shoulders, leaning back and lowering himself slowly to the floor. The muscles in his back compress as his weight slowly loses the battle to hold itself up.
“Don’t you trust me?” Richie asks sweetly.
“That is the least trustworthy way to ask a really untrustworthy question,” Eddie says. His shoulders make contact with the floor and he consciously relaxes. His knees are still pushed up against the coffee table; his heels are fairly close to his ass. It’s honestly probably a good stretch for his sore legs. “Furthermore,” he says, “you saying that always came before me getting in a lot of trouble when we were kids.”
“No it didn’t, you fucking liar.”
“It so did!” Eddie insists.
“Blah blah blah—were we ever arrested? It was fine,” Richie says airily.
“Your standards are too fucking low,” Eddie sulks.
Richie hasn’t moved much, but now he unfolds his other leg and lets it stretch out in front of him. He leans back and lets his shoulders rest on the armchair behind him. Eddie tenses, but when Richie makes no move to roll closer to him, or to touch him, he relaxes a little.
“Feel better?” Richie asks.
“No,” Eddie says, incredulous. “Why would I?”
“You’re short; I thought you’d feel better if you were closer to the ground.”
Eddie’s abdominal muscles contract immediately, his head and shoulders coming up off the floor. “I am not!” he starts, but Richie rolls over almost on top of him and Eddie has to fend him off, curling up like a pillbug and trying to block him with his knees.
But Richie is big, and he can go deadweight like this, stretched out on the floor and so much bigger than Eddie. He pushes Eddie’s knees to the side and pins them under his broad chest—not painful, just keeping them out of the way, while Eddie tries to swat at him like they’re children again. Richie leans harder on Eddie’s legs and catches one of Eddie’s hands with his, pinning it close to his shoulder and leaning down. Eddie shoves at him uselessly.
“Easy, easy,” Richie says. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
“Fuck you!” Eddie shrieks. “What are you doing? Rich!”
Richie shoves the bottom of Eddie’s sweatshirt and shirt up. It’s still trapped under his hips, but the material rests easily on his stomach—not all the way up his body, not even showing his ribs, but enough to show a stripe of the white bandage taped to his chest. Eddie tries to shove his shirt down, to hide the black bruising at the edges of the injury, but Richie grabs his other hand and pins it to the floor.
Eddie’s breath catches in his chest.
Lying across Eddie’s legs, Richie grins down at him, pinned and exposed and helpless. Eddie’s heart rate starts to pick up, the little voice in his head saying, watch, watch. Not because Richie’s angry or because Richie might hurt him, because he’s not and he won’t. Just because Richie’s dangerous.
Richie’s grin widens and he lowers his face to Eddie’s stomach and blows a massive raspberry just under his navel. It’s so fucking juvenile—and it tickles—and it vibrates all the way across his skin. Eddie’s scream rises into laughter and he gets his lower leg free, swinging it over the trapped other one to kick his heel into Richie’s back.
“Fuck you!” he shrieks. “Get off me! What the fuck!”
Richie takes in a loud breath like he’s gearing up for another one, but he’s laughing too hard. He has to roll sideways off Eddie, letting go of his right hand so he can swing Eddie’s free leg over his head. Wary, Eddie holds up his right foot like a shield. He’s wearing shoes; he has the higher ground, sort of.
“Just keeping you on your toes, Eds,” Richie says cheerfully. “You can take it. You’re tough.”
“I’m going to kick you in the face,” Eddie says. He puts his foot down and waits, tense, right hand hovering over his belly like a shield.
“Watch the glasses,” Richie says. “My insurance will only pay for one pair a year.” He smiles.
Only then does he release Eddie’s left hand so that he can sit up straight, smirk at him, and go back to drinking his beer. Eddie flexes his fingers open and then into a fist, still feeling the phantom scrape of the carpet on his skin.