This guy is not Eddie Kaspbrak. Like, presumably he is – at least he fuckin’ claims to be – but he doesn’t feel like it, not to Richie, and no offense, but he would know. He’s known Eddie for a million years, since they were both snotty little kids, and sure he forgot, but – he still knows him. He does. Maybe he wasn’t quite sure at first, but then there were all of those playful moments; his hands in Eddie’s hair, and yeah he knew that Eddie was still. His, you know, friend. His fellow Loser. Whatever.
But the point is that this new man also calls himself Eddie Kaspbrak, and maybe that’s even true. Richie doesn’t just read sci fi in pulp mags; he reads the actual science stuff, too. He knows about theories of multiverses, or at least he’s heard of them. And besides, it’d be awfully bold of him to rule out magic as a factor considering – y’know. Considering everything.
But it’s hard. Like, for his brain, it’s hard. This guy just isn’t anything like Eddie, is the thing. Maybe he has some...Eddie-adjacent traits. He’s Eddie-esque, if you will. But he certainly ain’t any version of Spaghetti Man that Richie recognizes, and Richie would like to think he knows Eddie’s hidden depths. At least some of them. Again and again, he keeps thinking of that little kid with a pouty face and hair that flopped limply over his forehead, and the guy in front of him sure as Hell isn’t that kid. He’s got these big ol’ doe eyes but he’s as mean as a viper. Honestly, Richie would be kind of into the dichotomy there, except that this isn’t the Trek episode with two Captain Kirks, it’s the one where Kirk beams away and is replaced by a guy with major anger issues. Richie eyes the new Eddie with some curiosity. At least he probably really is just from the alt-future, and isn’t a space fascist?
“What?” Not-Eddie says, touchy, his voice coiled-up and snappy. “The fuck are you looking at?”
“Fucking nothing, man, chill,” Richie says, his eyes rolling in their sockets against his will. He hadn’t meant to actually stare. “Jeez-us.”
“Pardon me, ” Eddie says, through clenched teeth that are really Too Much – “if I insist on any sort of safety precautions! Fuck! I know 1990 was a Goddamn mess, but like –”
“Oh, fuck off,” Richie says. He literally does not care that Eddie has insisted on seat-belts. It had not even crossed his mind, because, well, he’s a little distracted. The jab at the year bugs him, though, more than he’d expect. He’s not particularly fond of 1990 as a year in his life, but he’s oddly defensive – of his time, of his existence. “I’m the one who has to fucking live in it, man.”
“Yeah,” Fake Spaghetti snaps. “Except I do too, now, again, and I’d really like to keep living!”
“I’m sure you have a lot to go back to,” Richie says, the sarcasm obvious in his tone. Vaguely, he wonders if what Eddie had said about himself is true of this guy, too. He’s certainly got a bunch of pent-up shit, so it wouldn’t be like, surprising.
The new Eddie Kaspbrak says nothing. He’s so quiet, in fact, that Richie looks back over at him. He’s frowning, and it’s pulling his whole face down, tugging at the bloodied dirty bandage taped over his cheek. Oooh-kay then.
Richie mulls over something comforting to say. Everyone is busy in their own heads with their own worries, and they’ve left it up to him to care for Falseghetti. Which is… fine. He can do that.
“Hey,” he says eventually. “We’ll get ya back, okay? I want my proper Eddie, anyway.”
“I’m sure he’s absolutely fucking pining away for you, too,” new Eddie says, but there’s no venom in it. His eyes glance vaguely in Richie’s direction and then away. Richie doesn’t respond; he just hums a little and stretches his arms up and behind his head. He’s not really sure where this is going, but he’ll wait it out. If this is Eddie – and it does seem that he is Eddie, whether Richie likes that or not – he may as well get used to it.
The hospital is kind of a bust. Richie acknowledges that it was definitely a good call to get Eddie 2.0’s face cleaned up, and they’ve done that, so now everyone’s just loitering outside Mike’s hospital room waiting for Bill and Audra to get back from Audra’s check-up so they can all go in together. He’s been listening to Eddie-the-Second bitch about his wet jeans and sock feet for what feels like twenty fuckin’ years.
“He Who Is Not Spaghetti Man,” Richie says, looming towards Eddie, “Please, calm thyself. After talking to our esteemed colleague Michael, we shall return to the illustrious Derry Inn, and get you some fucking shoes, okay?”
Eddie blinks wordlessly for a moment at him. Finally he manages, “What the fuck was that accent?”
Richie shrugs. “Dunno. It doesn’t have a name.”
“It doesn’t have a – fuck. Who am I kidding? Of course they have names!” Eddie 2.0 tosses his arms up in the air in defeat, and Richie would take that as a win, except he doesn’t stop talking, so, it’s not much of one. “And do not tell me you seriously call him ‘Spaghetti Man’?”
“What’s wrong with Spaghetti Man? It’s funny.”
“It’s fucking stupid! You’re forty years old!”
Richie laughs. “So are you, man! What’s he call you, then, Edster? The Richie that is apparently so much better than yours truly.”
“Not Edster, ” Eddie-but-mean says. “That’s for damn sure. Look, new rule, okay? No nicknames.”
Well, at least he’s hilarious. If they’re gonna be stuck with him for who knows how long, at least Richie’ll get a laugh or two out of it.
“You’ve been calling me ‘Fake Richie’ for the past two hours, man.”
“Well what else am I going to call you?”
Richie shrugs as dramatically and pointedly as he can. “I don’t know, dude. Maybe my name?”
Eddie stares at him. He’s got a very impressive stare. “Richie?” He says, pronouncing the word like he’s never heard it before.
“That’s the man.” Then to show he can play nice, he adds, “Eddie.”
For a moment they just look at each other. Eddie has his arms crossed tightly over his chest, and Richie does feel a little bad that he’s been wandering around in sock feet. Richie sort of tips his head towards him, because this is the moment where usually he’d ruffle Eddie’s hair or something but he’s pretty sure if he tried that now this dude would literally bite his fingers clean off. Eddie doesn’t crack a smile, but he frowns in a calmer sort of way. Richie’ll take it. Glancing around at Ben and Bev – who have apparently decided to just let them duke it out – he offers them an awkward ‘what-can-ya-do?’ expression. He’s luckily saved from further action by Bill and wifey’s triumphant return.
Speaking of the couple, Bill-and-Audra is weird. Audra’s pretty and English and well-spoken and Bill is like, an average-looking American man with a ponytail. As an average-looking American man with a mustache, Richie isn’t gonna judge, but it’s a stunning indictment of heterosexuality. Or maybe Bill’s just really good in bed – Oh, that’s gross to think about. Richie brushes the thought away, wincing.
“Is everything good, Bill?” Ben says. “Mrs. Denbrough?” He adds, politely. Ew.
Luckily for Richie’s sanity, that just makes Audra laugh. “Oh, please, we’re all friends here, right? Just call me Audra. I’m so sorry we missed being properly introduced.” She sticks her hand out and makes an only-slightly-awkward circle through all of them. When she gets to Eddie, he stares at her for a long moment.
“Sorry,” he mutters, eventually, shaking her hand. “Uh. Eddie Kaspbrak.”
Audra smiles at him, and Richie glances over their heads at Bill. Good luck selling that one. Bill mostly just looks tired, which is fair.
After being assured of Audra’s continued well-being – the docs couldn’t find a single thing wrong with her, apparently – the merry band traipses into Mike’s room. He’s well enough now that they’re all allowed in at once, even if the nurse seems highly disapproving. Richie winks at her and her scowl deepens. Ah, well. Can’t charm ‘em all.
It’s Bill who takes the lead, though, just like it was Bill who went in to see him before. Mike’s propped up in bed with tubes in his nose, which is scary, but he’s looking up at Bill with something resembling awe on his face.
“My God,” he says, and his voice is a little scratchy. “You – you did it.” It’s not a question.
“Yeah,” Bill answers, softly, “w-we did.”
A tear tracks down Mike’s face; it makes Richie suck a breath in. He’d really wanted to cry after everything, after he saw Eddie fall and caught him instead. He hadn’t, though. He’s not much of a crier.
“Oh, Hell, Bill,” Mike says. “I wish Stan was here to see this.” Another tear joins the first, and Mike’s eyes drift ‘round the room. Audra gets only mild surprise, but Eddie –
“Where’s Eddie?” Mike says, very urgently.
If only this were a comedy sitcom instead of a fucking horror story. Here’s where Eddie pops back in, right? I’m right here Mike! Did ya miss me? Oh, but even in his head that seems like a dirty clown trick instead of anything good.
No one seems to want to explain. Audra looks perplexed, which is funny.
“Yeah, so,” Richie says, stepping forward. Mike’s piercing gaze shifts to him. “About that! It’s a good thing you’re laying down already, Mike. ‘Cause, uh… Eddie’s right here.”
As he says it, he grips Eddie by the upper arm and pulls him gently forward. He has surprisingly impressive biceps.
Eddie is, for once, silent.
“What?” Mike says, all sleepy-drugged confusion.
“We don’t know what happened, Mike,” Beverly says, gently. She sits lightly on the side of Mike’s bed, and takes his hand up in hers. “We all got out – we killed It and we all got out. It was...it was a miracle, I guess,” she says like she wasn’t the one to shoot the damn spider where it hurt. “We got out of its lair, we were standing by the lake. It was beautiful. But then Eddie –” she looks away from Mike and up at the rest of them, then, at a loss for words.
Richie looks at Eddie, who’s staring at Mike with a desperate intensity. He doesn’t know what to say, either.
Ben comes to Bev’s rescue because of course he does. “It just happened out of nowhere, Mike,” he says. “You should’ve seen it! One minute we were with Eddie, the next minute, this other guy was standing in his place. Except that this guy says he’s Eddie, too, and he knows different versions of all of us. Like an alternate universe or something.”
Mike’s throat works for a moment, his face blank as he works to contemplate this new hurdle. Eventually he just says, “Really?”
It’s Eddie himself who answers that. “Yeah,” he says. “Hi, Mike. I’m Eddie Kaspbrak, and I’m really hoping you might be able to help me get back home.” He pauses. “Also,” he adds, sort of wincingly. “Home is 2016. So, uh. There’s that.”
They all just sort of sit there, then, and let poor wide-eyed Mike try and process all of that. It’s not that funny, but Richie kind of just wants to laugh, and laugh, and never stop laughing long enough to actually get worried.
Things get awkward, serious, and tense, and Richie hates all of those things so he retreats. He does not explicitly say, Bye, I gotta go hide in the bathroom because you guys are talking like real Eddie might not come back, but it is what he’s thinking. There’s nothing even in his stomach to throw up, and yet. And yet!
The shitty old Derry hospital is still kind of shitty and old despite the new machines, and Richie is just kind of wandering, vaguely, hands in his pockets and trying to look casual. There’s a sign above the corridor that seems to indicate that there could, potentially, exist a little boy’s room down that way, but when Richie makes the turn, he sees a whole lotta nothin’; just a long stretch of white walls.
He blinks at the walls, warily. They’re really white, too-white; not the beige or blue-ish shit that’s everywhere else in this place. And the lights are bright. Up ahead, a door opens, and a man steps out.
Oh, fuck, Richie’s brain says, because it’s Eddie.
The real Eddie, he means. Eddie looks tired; his hair plastered to his forehead awkwardly with water or sweat, and he’s not wearing his jacket. He’s holding a little paper water cup in one hand, the sort that you’d get in a waiting room.
Richie opens his mouth to say something, but before he can even shape his lips around the first syllable of ‘Spaghetti’, Eddie turns towards him, and his eyes widen; the paper cup slips out of his hands and falls towards the floor. His mouth opens, too.
Richie blinks. He literally just blinks, that’s all, and then when he opens his eyes again, Eddie’s gone. Oh, fuck, indeed. The lighting’s changed, too, and he sees that there is a restroom down the way.
Richie swallows. He swallows again. He blinks a few more times, and bites his lower lip, hard. Crying is stupid, and pointless, and he’s either losing his goddamn mind or he just saw a really fuckin’ important clue.
Richie washes his face in the bathroom and slaps himself roughly on the cheek a few times, because again, crying is pointless. Then he sucks it up and wanders back to the Losers.
“Miss me?” He tries, in the doorway of Mike’s room. When he steps in, Audra’s gone, it’s just Mike and Beverly chatting quietly while Ben and Eddie sit in separate chairs; Bill beside the bed flipping through what looks to be one of Mike’s notebooks. Eddie makes him smile; he’s not sat in the chair so much as perched upon it.
“Richie!” Beverly says, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mizz Marsh, why wouldn’t I be?” Richie says, deciding the best course of action is to play dumb. Beverly lets it slide, which he’s grateful for.
“Where’s the wife?” Richie asks Bill in a convenient conversational shift.
“At the Inn,” Bill says, looking up. “She’s tired, and scared, and she never even… m-met Eddie. So.”
“Yeah,” Richie says. “Fair enough. Well. Anyway.” He pauses, and tries to think of something else to say. He fails. “Uh, on that topic, I may have or may not have seen Eddie.”
Everyone just kind of looks at him, including Eddie 2.0.
“I mean, like,” Richie waves an extravagant hand in Eddie’s direction. “Regular Eddie. Spaghetti Man.”
“Our Eddie?” Mike says, and sits up in bed fast enough that it looks like it hurts.
“Yeah,” Richie says. “Uh. It was kind of like...a vision, or like I saw a ghost, so maybe I’ve just finally cracked, but – it was like the whole corridor changed, like I was seeing…” Uncharacteristically, he struggles for words. “I don’t know. Like I was seeing where he was, too.”
Eddie 2.0 stands up from his chair, like he’s overcome with energy. The look he’s giving Richie is intense, but Richie tries to return it in kind.
“What did it look like?” Eddie says. “The hospital.”
Richie shrugs. “Didn’t see much. He was just in the hallway, so I didn’t see any crazy future tech. It was bright, though. Really bright lights and too-white walls.”
Eddie chews his lip. Then he heaves a sigh. “I’ve never actually been in Derry General as an adult,” he says. “I guess I don’t know any more than you what it looks like. But that sounds like modern hospitals.”
Modern. Right. Richie really doesn’t know what to say.
“I think it was him,” is what Richie lets out, eventually. “I think I really saw him. And he saw me.” That’s something, right? It’s gotta be. He thinks but does not say.
“Yeah,” Eddie says, surprising just about everyone. “I – uh. Fuck. I saw my Richie, too.”
Everyone’s stares shift focus very quickly.
“What?” Eddie says, irritable.
“Explain, dude,” Richie says. He means it to come out gentler than it does. Oh well.
“I saw him,” Eddie says, the scowl on his face scarier than most things Pennywise ever tried. “In the hospital too, I think, because he was clearly being examined by someone, but – he saw me, I saw him, then he was gone.”
Richie swallows. So, it’s the same.
“It was awful,” Eddie says. “I couldn’t even talk to him.”
That’s the most vulnerable thing New Eddie’s said yet, by a longshot. Richie wants to be vulnerable in return, but he’s got no idea how.
“Yeah,” he says, eventually. “I couldn’t either. But you saw him, though.” He says what he’s thinking. “He’s safe.”
“Yeah,” Eddie allows, even though his eyes are still burning a hole in Richie’s head. “He is. I guess.”
“He was –” Eddie breaks off. “Fuck!” he says, after a long pause. “He was getting examined, you know? I’m just worried.”
Doesn’t sound like much, just worried, but maybe Richie’s a little concerned too because there’s a scary hardness to Eddie’s stance and to Eddie’s everything; he doesn't know what to do if the other man gets all closed-up on him again, not when they need him functional.
“Eddie,” Beverly tries, “I’m sure he’s fine –”
“But you don’t fucking know that,” Eddie says, and yeah, there’s definitely the aggression there that Richie feared. “Do you?”
They don’t. Eddie’s right.
“He was by himself,” Eddie says, tightly. “He – I was here, in Mike’s room, when he saw me, but he didn’t have anyone with him –“ Eddie drops off the sentence and shrugs, helplessly, like he knows the situation is broken but has no idea how to fix it.
“Yeah?” Beverly prompts, gently.
“I need him to be okay,” Eddie says. “You – you don’t get it. I need him to be okay. Alright?”
“Of course, Eddie,” Beverly says, but Eddie cuts her off, seemingly enraged by her gentle tone.
“Yeah! Of course! Because he’s my friend and I don’t even know you people!” As he gets more animated, his hands fly into the air, making angry, expressive movements. “God! This is so fucked up – I should be there with him. I could, I could – I –” Eddie cuts himself off, his hands still at eye level.
Richie’s been chewing his lip for the whole conversation, but he can’t let it sit forever. He tilts his head in Eddie’s direction. “You can’t do anything from here, new-Eddie.”
“Fuck off! I know!”
“I’m just saying. Ya gotta relax, man. The other Losers will take care of him. We didn’t just leave you out to dry, did we? You really think so little of your friends?”
Eddie blinks up at him, but eventually his hands drop. He crosses his arms tensely over his chest. “Of course not. I mean – he’s in the hospital…”
“There you go,” Richie says. Fuck, he’s tired. He wants this over with, and he wants to sleep for at least a solid ten hours. “Anyway, we don’t know that there’s even anything wrong with him. If he got stuck in the Deadlights, like, me too, and all I feel is that I could use a nap. And also a shower.”
Eddie sighs. “I don’t think it’s the same.” He looks at Bill with a piercing intensity, presumably thinking of Audra.
“Well shit, Bill’s wife is A-okay too.” Richie shoves his hands into his jacket pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. It’s all starting to hit at once; the exhaustion and the grossness of the dried sweat and sewer-muck on him. He can see it in his friends’ eyes when he looks around. Ben looks half-asleep in his little plastic chair, and Bill’s not even pretending to still be looking at Mike’s journal.
Eddie runs a nervous hand over his face. “Yeah,” he says, eventually, and the anger has gone from his voice. (Richie thinks he’s starting to get it – that Eddie gets mad and snappy, but he can’t hold the intensity of the feeling for long. It’s sort of how he remembers Eddie being as a child, honestly.)
“And yeah,” Eddie says, again. “I really don’t want to be wearing this shit for a minute longer.” He gives a harsh little almost-laugh.
“Alright,” Bill says, softly, and everyone turns to see him stand up. “Back to the Inn, then. We can shower and sleep and regroup.” He makes an aborted move towards Eddie, like he wants to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder or something, but then thinks better of it. Good call.
He turns back towards Mike instead, grasping the other man’s hand tightly before letting go. “Back soon, Mikey,” he says, voice fond. “Rest up.”
Mike nods and gives them all a tired smile, and Richie wants to make some sort of gag as they file out of the door, but he can’t think of a single goddamn joke. He’s all out. Such an occurrence has, occasionally, been known to happen.
Derry General emerges from between neat rows of trees – a mostly unsuccessful attempt at making its grounds look less austere and better funded – without Richie having quite managed to stop clinging to Eddie’s jacket and shoes. It’s probably a bad sign for his sleep-deprived brain that he’s started debating the likelihood that they might be able to swing some kind of summoning ritual using these things as a medium.
Maybe if we stick them in a tub of water they’ll grow into you, he thinks a little desperately, like those dinosaur growing capsules, those sponges?
If Eddie were here, he’d have something to say about that theory. You make it sound so idyllic for something that would actually be really fucking disturbing to look at.
And that wouldn’t help them put this Eddie back where he belongs, anyway.
“Hey,” Richie says, like, Hey! I just had this idea this very moment and definitely didn’t waste any time actually thinking about it!
He nudges Bill’s knee out of the way of the seatback pocket in front of him and digs out Eddie’s phone and wallet, plus his own – “Come on, Richie, it’s going to be literally disgusting down there, just leave it” – and Bill’s raised eyebrow says all there is to say about how little Eddie would approve of anyone touching his things with unwashed sewer hands.
Or of Richie casually lending them out to some guy just because he has the same name.
Then he can pop up right here, right now, and say something about it himself, Richie thinks.
“Guessing yours is either long-gone or irreparably water damaged,” he actually says . As he’s passing Eddie’s phone to Eddie, Kind Of, the screen lights up, and Richie catches a glimpse of a missed-call notification, a number somewhere in the double digits – 23? 33? – and –Kaspbrak.
He doesn’t even have a real wallpaper, Richie can’t help but notice. It’s one of those default ones, just a starry sky, and Richie doesn’t know why, exactly, but that saddens him a little more than the thought of Eddie’s wife blowing up his phone more and more desperately without ever getting any response from him.
“Sooooo you might as well borrow our Eddie’s shit while you’re here.”
“What is this?” this Eddie wonders. Richie’s never seen anyone hold a phone the way this guy does; he full-on clamps his hand around the top of it and doesn’t readjust even after Richie’s reluctantly released his own grip on it.
“Eddie’s phone,” Richie says again, eyeing it a little nervously. “Not gonna say he wouldn’t mind if you borrow it, but it’s almost like it’s yours, anyway, so…” He hopes that’ll be enough to ensure that Eddie’s double takes really good care of it for as long as he has it.
“Oh,” Eddie says, a little surprised. He turns it over in his hand. Richie meets Beverly’s eyes up front as Mike pulls them into an open parking spot by the emergency entrance.
Beverly, who graciously offered to make the great personal sacrifice of sharing the front passenger seat with Ben so Bill, Richie and Eddie could take the back.
He can guess they’re both starting to wonder the same thing, and then of course blonde, bespectacled Eddie looks up from the device and asks, “I’m sorry, but how do I… open it?”
Jesus, he’s literally trying to find hinges on the thing like it’s a goddamn flip phone.
Bill reaches over and shows him the power button – for all the good it’ll do, considering that none of them knows the passcode and this Eddie’s fingerprints probably aren’t any more identical to their Eddie’s than any other part of him is. But hell, at least it can make emergency calls and show him what time it is.
He and Bev climb out, followed by Ben and Mike.
“Alright, who’s gonna ask?” Richie says. Inside, Bill is patiently, if a bit perplexedly, explaining the concept of a touch screen.
“Hey, Eddie?” Ben begins delicately once they’re all on their merry way inside. It’s an easy agreement to reach in perfect silence; he’s bound to be the best of them at breaking difficult news. “Can I ask what year you think… uh, what year it is in your Derry?”
Eddie, to his credit, looks a little apprehensive when he says, “It’s 1990.”
Ben nods slowly. “Okay. So you’ve probably noticed some things are pretty different around here, right?”
“A little,” Eddie says, eyeing the phone in his hand. “Your clothes, and – well, and this. Why? What year is it here?”
“It’s 2016, dude,” Richie says, and then because he can’t help it, “Our Eddie must be so pissed right now.”
Pissed or scared out of his mind. Richie can’t think of anything worse than having to relive some of those years, but then, he has his own reasons for that.
“Twenty-sixteen,” Eddie repeats, a little breathlessly. “Oh. Okay.”
“Well, look at it this way,” Mike offers, his enthusiasm noticeably forced. “You get to see how much better medicine’s going to get in twenty-six years, right?”
“And how much more expensive,” Richie snarks.
Eddie offers them both a strained smile, and that’s all. There’s no expository retort about the top ten best ways to reduce an E.R. price tag, no playful suggestion that they steal a few choice drugs on their way out just to ensure they get their money’s worth, not even a ‘you got that right’ snort.
They get checked in and then stiffly hunker down for the inevitable wait. Richie doesn’t expect them to call him back as quickly as they do, and that’s still something like twenty minutes after Mike disappears with Bill in tow.
Richie’s clothes could probably stand up by themselves; getting up to follow the nurse who’s come to collect him feels like crawling out from under a thin sheet of ice. He’s surprised that the motion isn’t accompanied by a sharp crack.
Instead, there’s the rustle of similarly damp and dirty clothing as Eddie gets up to follow him.
He stops dead when he realizes Richie is staring and not moving.
“Oh,” he says, glancing around like he doesn’t remember standing up. “I just…”
“Uh,” Richie mutters. “I mean, Mike did promise you a chance to see what it’s like around here?”
It’s not exactly an invitation, or Eddie just doesn’t want to tag along badly enough to interpret it as one. He hovers in place, his long, slender fingers tugging uneasily at wet fabric.
“I can stay here if you’d prefer,” he hedges.
“It’s up to you.”
“I don’t want to impose,” Eddie adds. “But – well, Mike has Bill with him. I thought…”
Before Richie can come back with another unhelpful ‘whatever you want’ type answer, Beverly leans forward to give the corner of Eddie’s coat a light tug. She keeps her grip there until Eddie returns to his seat.
“I’ll just keep him,” she announces decisively. “We can chat, and you,” she says to Richie, “can go by yourself.”
The and you’d better make sure they cover all the bases is implied.
Ben and Eddie give him twin looks of wide-eyed concern-bordering-on-guilt, but Richie’s not gonna be the one to break up their waiting room party.
“I’ll be on my best behavior,” he promises, finally turning to let the harried-looking nurse lead him off to some exam room.
Behind him, Ben calls, “But if you need anything, call us, okay?”
“Sure thing, Benny!”
The “exam room” turns out to just be a curtained-off corner of a bigger room-slash-hallway. Richie tries to peek around some of the pale green drapes in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Mike or Bill, but to no avail. He can’t even hear them over every other voice, beep, hum and clatter of metal.
If he actually had a serious head injury, the noise would probably be driving him crazy.
After asking him a few questions – “So, tell me about what happened,” “Are you experiencing any pain?” and so on and so forth – the nurse leaves him in a vinyl-padded chair that somehow manages to be less comfortable than the ones in the waiting room.
True to Derry form, the space directly across from him is unoccupied, curtains wide open and exam table prepped for its next hapless occupant, should they ever bother to put one there.
That occupant arrives a lot more suddenly than Richie could have expected, like the Wicked Witch of the West with less smoke and more… weirdly outdated medical equipment? There’s an adjustable lamp that looks remarkably like the one Richie’s dad used to have in his office – probably still does – and a literal radiator beside the bed where before there wasn’t anything. The curtains have changed from green to pastel blue. It’s kind of like a movie projection of a flat wall on the curtains; if Richie really looks, he can still see what he was seeing a second ago.
He stops trying to look when he recognizes one of the people gathered around the bed.
Someone must have fixed up his cheek; the rest of him is still just as dirty as Richie himself, but the bandage on the left side of his face is fresh.
Richie springs to his feet. The clatter of his own flimsy metal chair hitting linoleum drowns out Eddie’s name, but there must be something even louder than that competing with him for Eddie’s attention, because he doesn’t turn to meet Richie’s eyes. He doesn’t seem to be looking at anything, except maybe his hands in his lap. He’s hunched over them; Richie can see the tension in his jaw and the way he’s not fully on the chair at all.
He thinks, distantly, that all that teeth-clenching must be pulling uncomfortably at Eddie’s stab wound.
Eddie is so still that Richie’s eyes are drawn to the flutter of tree leaves visible through blinds half-covering a window that wasn’t there a moment ago – and then, to the man in the bed.
He’s talking, Richie realizes. He’s talking to the brunette who’s sitting beside him on the blankets. Richie just can’t hear it, or the dry rasp of pages turning as the man across from her flips through a book with a blank cover.
He takes a step forward, almost into Eddie’s line of sight, and Eddie jolts upright. He turns more fully toward Richie, and his eyes go wide.
Richie watches Eddie’s mouth form the shape of his name – Rich— He watches him stand and pick his foot up – still absent the shoes that are now sitting in Mike’s car outside – to meet Richie in the middle.
He watches him vanish as suddenly as if he’d never been there at all. No blue walls or blankets, no bedridden patient and no Eddie.
Richie whirls around and finds himself face-to-face with a dark-haired woman whose name tag identifies her as a doctor. She gives him a long, wary look before glancing at the still-empty space across from where he was presumably supposed to be waiting for her. Richie takes an instinctive step back toward his overturned chair but doesn’t bend down to pick it up yet.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” Richie says. It’s Jade of the Orient all over again, except this time he doesn’t have the convenient excuse of a murderous space clown to fall back on, and a doctor sent to evaluate him for a concussion is going to want an actual explanation for whatever the hell it looked like he was just doing.
The fact that his phone is still tucked away in his pocket makes the excuse of a call less than believable, so Richie falls back on an even lamer one. “I thought I heard my friend,” he says. “Disgustingly tall, has a pretty nasty gash on his arm?”
The doctor – Melissa Harris, according to her name tag – looks unconvinced, although whether that’s because she doesn’t think he’s serious about Mike or not, he can’t tell. Richie almost wishes she’d actually call him on it, but instead she gestures coolly at the exam room and closes the curtain behind them while Richie rights his chair as casually as possible.
She asks him all the same questions the nurse did, and then she runs him through a whole gamut of tests, patiently explaining the purpose of most of them even after Richie stops asking.
The whole thing takes forever and culminates with a questionnaire that almost makes Richie laugh out loud. It seems like a good sign even before the doctor politely comes back to inform him that there’s no evidence of traumatic brain injury and that they can order an MRI or CT scan “out of an abundance of caution,” but that she feels “reasonably comfortable” sending him home with a friend who can check in on him from time to time.
“With injuries like this, it can take a while for symptoms to manifest,” she explains. “So if you notice anything strange over the next twenty-four hours or so, don’t hesitate to come back here.”
She lists a few examples: balance or memory problems, nausea, shortened attention span—
“I don’t think that could get any shorter if it tried,” Richie tells her, grinning wide.
That earns him a forced pity laugh, which Richie takes to mean he’s at least forgiven for hallucinating too loudly in Dr. Harris’s understaffed ER. He takes the printout she hands him before he heads out. Even without Eds around to worry about him, he figures Beverly might still want to see physical proof that he didn’t just spend the last hour or more smoking on the roof.
He finds Ben and Bev waiting with Bill and Mike, which seems unfair; Mike was actually hurt and his thing still went faster? Richie would complain about that, but he can’t resist letting the first words out of his mouth be, “So, the good news is I’m probably not psychotic.”
There’s no Eddie in sight, blonde or otherwise; he must have wandered off to explore their brave new world. Richie probably would, too, if he woke up in the 2040s.
“What?” Ben wonders. “Why would you be?”
“You mean apart from everything we’ve seen in the past… forty-eight hours?” Bill says. He still raises an eyebrow at Richie. “So, they didn’t find anything wrong?”
“Nothing that wasn’t already – no,” Richie clumsily interrupts himself. “And you know you’re probably fine if no one wants to try to get more money out of you by running a bunch of fancy brain scans, right?”
Beverly doesn’t look entirely satisfied, so Richie spreads his hands palm-up and says, “Come on, if I’m fucked up, Eddie Mark II is probably twice as bad. Can modern science explain what time traveling does to your brain?”
Speak of the visitor from another dimension – no sooner have those words left Richie’s mouth than the slap of his dorky rain boots alerts them all to his return.
“Guys,” he gasps, and whoa, he’s not just out of breath; he looks like he’s seen a ghost.
That’s probably a little too convenient to be a coincidence.
“What’s wrong?” Beverly is the first to leap to her feet. Fortunately, most people in an ER waiting room have bigger things to worry about than a group of worked up forty-somethings, or Bill and Mike would probably be herding them out the door right now.
“You saw something,” Mike guesses. “Something bad?”
“No,” Eddie says with surprising force. “I saw Richie. I saw him in Derry. In our Derry, in the hospital.”
“You mean you switched places again?” Ben says hopefully. “With our Eddie?”
“No,” Eddie repeats. “No – I don’t know. I only saw him. Richie.”
Beverly is also the first to notice Richie’s hands make tight fists around his papers. Bless her heart, she doesn’t actually say anything about it, but her searching look is enough of a cue by itself.
“Uh,” Richie says, addressing Eddie instead. “Yeah, I don’t think you two switched places, unless there’s actually three of you running around. Derry General ain’t much, but it doesn’t look as fuckin’ antique as what I saw.”
If that offends Eddie, he doesn’t let it show.
“You mean, y-you saw Eddie,” Bill says slowly.
“But you saw him somewhere else?” Bev clarifies.
“Yeah, well. Would you believe they got him to go to a fucking hospital without shoes on? Your friends are in for an earful,” Richie laughs. Danger, Will Robinson – his eyes are starting to burn with the threat of tears. Working around an increasingly tight throat, he adds, “He saw me, too. We couldn’t hear each other. He was too far away.”
“Twenty-six years far,” Eddie says glumly. Or just sympathetically, maybe. Richie can’t get a very good read on this guy. “I think my Richie tried to call me, too. I couldn’t hear well enough to be sure.”
“What were each of you doing when this happened?” Ben asks.
“Yes,” Mike agrees, gesturing approvingly at him. “If we can figure out what opened up a – a connection, or something, we might be able to recreate it intentionally.”
Richie exchanges a look with Eddie. He looks a little calmer, at least, but his eyes are still puppy-dog wide behind his glasses. He could almost give their Eddie a run for his money. It takes some of the edge off, treating this less like a failure to bridge a gap and more like a place to start.
Except… “I wasn’t doing anything. Literally, I was just sitting waiting for a doctor. And Eds, he was with – uh, Mike, probably? You mentioned he was in the hospital, right?”
Eddie nods. “Did he look okay?”
“For a guy in a hospital bed, I guess,” Richie says. “But, Mike, what are we supposed to do with that?”
“Well… were you thinking about him?”
Play dumb, Will Robinson. “Bold of you to assume I think.”
“I was,” Eddie says easily. “But I wasn’t doing anything, either. Just walking. We were both in a hallway. But I know it was the hospital. I would recognize it.”
Richie considers what his Eddie must have seen looming up behind him. A bunch of scary-looking machines, an exam table, and Richie still dressed in the same filthy clothes he’s been wearing since yesterday. Jesus. He wishes he could send a telegraph his way. I’m fine, by the way, our friends are just worrywarts.
“So they’re in the same place, kind of,” Mike muses. “That could mean something.”
“I think so, too,” Eddie says. “But what do we…?”
Beverly sighs. Beside her, Ben yawns. “Well, if I know Eddie, I’d say he’s probably wanting a shower and a clean pair of shoes right about now. If we’re done here, maybe we can think about heading back to the townhouse?”
Eddie smiles, although the concern doesn’t quite fade from his features. “I do want that.”
Richie has to admit they’re probably right, but that doesn’t mean it feels right. He kind of wants to tear up every floorboard and off-white linoleum tile in this place in the hopes that it’ll help him catch another glimpse of his best friend. Maybe if he asks really nicely, they’ll even call him via intercom, like malls do for lost kids’ parents.
“C’mon, Rich,” Ben says. “We can’t fix this while we’re all running on fumes.”
“Fine,” he relents, mostly because Eddie is looking at him again, and it’s obvious how exhausted he is. They all are. “But I reserve the right to wake you all up with an airhorn if you’re not up and at ‘em first thing in the morning.”
Sleep really does a body good, and Richie’s feeling nearly-cheerful and certainly well-rested. He’s hopeful, even! Amusingly, their time apart has apparently not calmed Spaghetti 2.0 in the slightest.
“I don’t see why you can’t just wear his shoes,” Ben is saying. He says it in a gentle, friendly tone, but it’s obvious to anyone who’s listening and who knows him that he’s annoyed. Personally, Richie is finding it pretty fuckin’ funny.
“Because,” Eddie says, like he’s explaining things to a two-year-old, “they aren’t mine, and they do not fit me.”
“Just shove a sock into the toes,” Richie suggests, mostly because he knows it’ll piss Eddie off. It does.
“Richie?” Eddie says.
“Yeah?” Richie says, trying not to grin too obviously.
“Go fuck yourself!” Eddie hisses, and Richie laughs out loud. This guy really is fuckin’ great.
“No, really,” Eddie says, and his eyes are wide, his eyebrows pressed together. His lips are so thin it looks like he doesn’t have any to begin with. “I don’t want to wear someone else’s shoes! Look, I don’t have money right now, but I can use his, because he’s probably using mine –”
“Okay, hold up, no one’s using Spaghetti’s money –”
“We switched places! It’s my money! I want new fucking clothes!”
“Uh,” Ben says, awkwardly attempting to step between them. “You’re pretty close in size to Bill, maybe you could –”
“Fuck that,” Eddie says, with more passion than Richie necessarily sees as crucial. “I’m not wearing his fucking clothes, okay? Is it so crazy to not want to wear another man’s shit?”
“We don’t think you’re crazy, Eddie,” Ben says, gently. “It’s okay, you can –”
“Yeah,” Eddie says, grimacing. “I fuckin’ can! ”
And honestly, there was no real argument there, so – that’s that. The Losers’ Club can go clothes shopping. How hard can that be? Richie thinks, and then grins to himself, because there really are so many ways this can actually go terribly wrong.