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three decades and then some

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”Home sweet home!” Richie shouts as soon as he throws open the door to his LA apartment, holding his arms out dramatically as the handle smacks into the wall. Eddie winces at the sounds, frowning at the other man.

”You’re going to break a hole in the wall if you open the door like that every time you come home,” he says, leaning back into his wheelchair as Richie grabs the handles. The wheels bump over the doorframe, jostling him slightly as he’s enveloped by the dark room.

Richie reaches towards the wall and switches on the light, then hauls Eddie’s bags from the hall and places them beneath the table just inside the doorway, dropping his own duffel beside them. He shuts the door behind them and moves to stand beside Eddie’s chair, leaning his elbow against the handle and gesturing vaguely to the living room. “What d’ya think, Eds?” he asks, a tint of humor in his voice. “All the makings of a bachelor lifestyle, ain’t it?”

”It’s cleaner than I thought it would be,” is the response he gets. “Your couch looks like shit.”

”It is a brown couch, Eddie.”

”It doesn’t match your walls.”

”Okay, one, I don’t have any control over what color the walls are, and two, you haven’t even been here for five minutes and you’re already judging my furniture,” Richie jokes, and Eddie snorts.

”Just wheel me into the bathroom, asshole,” he says, slapping Richie’s elbow from the wheelchair handle. “You can give me the big tour after I take a piss.”

Richie laughs but does as he’s told, pushing Eddie’s chair through the living room and into the hallway, where he flicks on the light. “Last door on the right. I’ll put your bags in your room.” Eddie nods and grabs the wheels of his chair, pushing himself to the end of the hall as Richie turns to grab their bags from beneath the table.

After dropping his own bag into his room, he opens the door to the guest bedroom and throws both of Eddie’s suitcases onto the bed. A cloud of dust billows from the comforter, and he winces. He’ll have to wash the sheets after Eddie unpacks..

”It smells weird in here,” Eddie mutters as he comes into the room, rolling to a stop beside Richie and grabbing for one of the suitcases. He pulls open a zipper on the front and grabs a small bottle of hand sanitizer from it.

Richie chuckles, “Yeah, it tends to get a bit stale when it’s never used,” He watches Eddie pour a generous amount of sanitizer on his palm. “But with the amount of hand sanitizer you’re using, you’ll have it smelling like a hospital in no time.”

”I couldn’t reach the sink, asshole,” Eddie huffs, rubbing sanitizer up to his elbows. “Even if I could, you didn’t have any soap.”

”It was under the sink, you prick,” Richie responds. “Why would I leave out soap in a bathroom I never use? That makes absolutely zero sense.” Eddie hums, and Richie decides it’s the closest he’s getting to an agreement. “I’ll go grab some hangers from the laundry room.”

When he comes back – hangers in hand – Eddie is folding his t-shirts into a drawer, a stack of them in his lap. “Put the nicer clothes and my suits in the closet,” he demands, a shirt held in up in front of his face. “Use the hangers with the clips on them for the pants, that way they don’t get creased.”

”Yes, I know how to hang up pants, Eds,” Richie replies, dropping the hangers on the bed. He grabs a pair of jeans from the suitcase. “Do jeans count as ‘nicer clothes’?”

”No, just the suit pants. Oh, and the khakis.”

”You own khakis?”

”What man doesn’t own a pair of khakis, Richie?”

”Me.”

Eddie turns around to glare at him. “You’re hopeless.”

”I’m hopeless because I don’t own khakis? You wound me, Eds,” Richie jokes, folding the pair of jeans and placing them on the bed.

Eddie shakes his head again and keeps folding the shirts. They fall into routine; Eddie grabs shirts from his suitcase and drops them on his lap, then rolls back to the dresser to fold them. Each time Richie stumbles on a pair of jeans, he folds them and places them onto a growing pile atop the mattress. Once Eddie has both suitcases cleaned of t-shirts, he begins grabbing the piles Richie is stacking and putting them into a different drawer.

Richie shoots a pair of boxers at Eddie the way they would shoot rubber bands at each other when they were kids, his thumbs hooked into either side of the elastic waistband. They smack Eddie in the head and catch in his hair, and Richie can’t help but laugh when he yanks them off with a glare.

”You’re such a child,” Eddie chastises, balling the underwear between his hands and shoving them between his thighs.

”It’s one of my best features,” Richie responds, lining up another pair between his thumbs and shooting those, too.

”What’s your other feature?” Eddie asks, snatching the second pair of boxers from his shoulder with a huff. “Being an idiot?”

”Only for you, Eds,” Richie laughs, foregoing a third shot and instead grabbing one of Eddie’s blazers. He’s hanging it in the closet when a pair of boxers pelts him in the back of the head.

When he turns around, Eddie is still placing his jeans into their designated drawer, but there’s a smirk on his face. “You little shit,” Richie chuckles, picking the boxers up from the floor and lining up a shot. Eddie beats him to it, laughing loudly when the elastic band from the second pair of boxers catches on Richie’s glasses after hitting him square in the face.

It takes them an hour to put away all of Eddie’s clothes. They’re both giggling like they’re twelve again as they scoop underwear off the floor, dropping each pair into Eddie’s lap so he can fold them.

Richie loads the sheets and the comforter into his washing machine as Eddie takes over one of the couch corners, scrolling mindlessly through Netflix with the remote. “Jesus, Richie, do you only watch comedy specials?” he asks when Richie collapses onto the cushion beside him. “Your recommended list is so sad.”

”Just use Hulu,” Richie suggests, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “It’s got better shows.” Eddie nods silently and closes the Netflix app. “Pizza or Chinese? There’s this place downtown that has the best egg rolls, and I have Pizza Hut on speed dial.”

”Chinese. Why do you have Pizza Hut on speed dial? That’s just sad, Richie.”

”If you keep calling me sad, I’m just going to order McDonald’s.”

”You absolutely will not,” Eddie responds, voice deadly serious. “There’s no nutrients in McDonald’s food, Richie; none! You’ll end up getting scurvy or something if you eat tha— Dateline.” He falls silent, leaning back into the couch. Richie places their order and pays with his card, then sets his phone on the couch. They sit in silence for a few minutes, both transfixed on the TV, until Eddie speaks again. “Hey, Rich, could I have a glass of water?”

”In the kitchen,” Richie responds, only half listening. Eddie smacks his arm roughly.

”I am not getting back into that chair just to get water!” he exclaims. “Just go grab it for me.”

Fine!” Richie groans jokingly, standing from the couch and walking towards the couch. “I can’t believe you’re ordering me around my own house.”

”It’s my house now, bitch,” Eddie teases, leaning his head against the back of the sofa so Richie can hear him clearly. Richie chuckles and shakes his head, stepping into the kitchen and grabbing a glass from the cabinet. He pretends not to notice his heart rate speeding up at the words.

 

”Sheets are done,” Richie says, dumping the armload of hot, clean sheets onto Eddie’s lap two hours later.

Dateline is still playing on the TV, but neither one of them had been paying attention. After throwing away their take-out cartons, Eddie had started playing Candy Crush on his phone rather violently – yes, violently – while Richie scrolled through Twitter. Every few minutes he would laugh at a Tweet, and Eddie would pause his game so he could read it, too. Sometimes he would laugh, other times he would just shake his head and return to his game. It was a boring cycle that was almost perfect for them.

”What am I supposed to do with these?” Eddie asks him, staring at the pile of black sheets sitting on his thighs.

”Put them on the bed?” Richie suggests teasingly, and Eddie swallows roughly.

”I don’t… I don’t know if I… with the chair—“

”Don’t worry, Eds, I’m going to help you,” Richie tells him quickly, trying to quench the incoming panic attack clearly forming. Eddie still struggles with the newfound lack of mobility; Richie learned quickly when to cut the jokes about it. “I just need you to hold them so I can push you down the hall.”

Eddie swallows again, exhales slowly, then nods, dropping the sheets onto the cushion beside him and grabbing his chair. Richie hovers beside him as he pushes himself off the couch. He’d gotten better getting in and out of the chair by himself during his monthlong stay at the hospital in Bangor, but Richie still liked to be prepared, even if it was just to calm his own anxieties. Hopefully he wouldn’t need the wheelchair much longer. He starts physical therapy at a rehab center in LA next week, and while the doctors in Maine said he should be able to walk again, he would have to use a cane for the rest of his life. Not constantly, short distances would be fine without it, but if he was ever on his feet for a long time, he would need to make sure he had easy access to either the cane or somewhere to sit.

”Anything is better than nothing at all,” he had told Richie the day he got the news, leaning back against the pillows in his hospital bed. There was a pen in his hand and divorce papers spread on the small tray in front of him.

She hadn’t put up as big of a fight as he thought she would. At first, Richie thought Eddie would back out of the separation entirely. ”I don’t want to hurt her, Rich. No matter how much like my mother she is, I really do care about her.”

Richie had come back from showering at the townhouse later that night and ran into Myra leaving Eddie’s room. It was scary just how similar she looked to Sonia Kaspbrak. He expected a screaming match to break out between them, much like the ones between he and Sonia as they got older, but Myra had just looked at him and said, “I’ll pack up his things and send them to you once I get back to New York.”

Eddie huffs as he lands in his wheelchair, shaking the memory from Richie’s mind. He grabs the sheets from the couch and balls them into his lap, hugging them to his stomach. “Let’s go get these things on the bed so I can sleep.”

Richie makes the bed as Eddie leaves the room to shower. When he’s done, he starts down the hall to his own room, pausing at his door as Eddie calls, “We need to get a seat so I don’t have to sit on the ground.” His voice is muffled by the sound of falling water. “Seriously, Rich, this tub is disgusting.”

”I cleaned it before I went to Derry, asshole!” Richie shouts back, and Eddie groans loudly.

”I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out!” he says back, and Richie sighs, turning from his own bedroom door to push open the one leading into the guest bathroom, leaning against the frame. He can’t see Eddie through the closed curtain, and there’s a thick fog and a strong smell of lemon filling the small room.

”You get out the same way you got in, Spaghetti,” Richie says, and Eddie pulls back one side of the curtain to glare at him. He is, in fact, sitting on the floor of the tub, and there’s a thick lather of suds in his hair.

”I was dry when I got in, you dick.”

”You’re going to get shampoo in your eyes,” Richie smiles, and Eddie’s glare intensifies slightly before he closes the curtain. Richie stands there for a few more seconds before speaking again. “I’m going to change. Yell if you need help getting out.”

”You’ve been on an airplane all day, Richie!” Eddie exclaims as he steps back into the hall. “You need to take a shower!”

”I’ll take one in the morning!” Richie calls back, laughing at Eddie’s protests as he walks into his bedroom. He empties his duffel into the dirty clothes hamper and then throws it into his closet, listening as it hits the floor with a dull thud. He changes quickly, listening as the water shuts off down the hall. There’s a series of thumps, followed by curses, and then Eddie shouts his name.

When Richie walks into the bathroom, Eddie is still sitting on the floor of the tub, his arms folded across his chest and a towel over his legs; the ends are darkened from the pools of water beneath him. He’s glaring at the door as Richie leans against the frame. “Get me out of here,” he says sternly. Richie shakes his head but moves forward anyway, grabbing Eddie under one arm and helping him sit on the raised edge of the tub.

”I’ll go buy a seat tomorrow,” he says, and Eddie nods, adjusting the towel around his hips. Without his arms covering his chest, Richie has a clear view of the mass of scar tissue there. It’s a various mixture of white, pink, and red, and there are small indentions where his staples rest. He’ll have them removed after two weeks of PT, when it’s certain the skin graft won’t be rejected.

”Get out so I can change,” Eddie tells him, pointing into the hallway. Richie does, closing the door behind him. He stays on the other side, just in case.


 

They’re all there – in the sewer – all seven of them.

The clown is there, too, hiding behind the mass of spikes surrounding the crater beneath Derry. Beverly is on his left, her hand shaking where it’s wrapped like a vise around his wrist; Stanley is on his right, not touching Richie, but close enough that their elbows knock together.

”I’ve waited so long for this,” he tells them, voice low and whispery. It laughs lowly, that same demonic chuckle that had plagued Richie every night before he left Derry all those years ago. “I waited twenty-seven years for this moment. Ooh, yes. Twenty-seven years, just so I could take away everything you love.”

Pennywise – It – is looking directly at Richie, peeking at him from between the spires. “I’ll take them, Richie,” It whispers, smiling as drool falls past his lips. “I’ll take them all from you, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to save them.” He giggles as he speaks, and suddenly Beverly and Stan are ripped away from their places on either side of him.

He tries to scream as he reaches for Bev’s hands, grasping for them desperately as she screams his name. Her nails cut into his hand, and he watches helplessly as she slips away and crashes into the wall; something cracks through the air, and he watches her drop to the ground.

”Richie!”

He jerks his head around to see Stan, backed into the wall by Henry Bowers, the axe from the library still buried in the back of his head. He isn’t supposed to be here, Richie thinks, unable to say the words. I killed him. He’s gone. Bowers turns towards Richie over his shoulder, smiling as he tears the axe from his skull and holds it above his head; blood dribbles from his hairline and stains his teeth red. Richie is frozen in place, unable to move or close his eyes, Stan’s name sticking in his throat as Bowers lets the axe fall.

The wall of the cavern shifts and blurs, making Richie dizzy before it stops; for a moment, he thinks he may faint, then his eyes land on Bill, who now stands where Bowers and Stan had previously been. The rock beneath his feet cracks like ice, and he’s staring at Richie with pleading eyes. He says something Richie can’t hear, then rock gives way beneath him; he lands, flailing in deep water. A decaying hand tucked into the sleeve of a familiar yellow raincoat closes around his neck, followed by three more. His eyes are wide and terrified, locked with Richie’s as he’s dragged beneath the water. Bubbles breach the surface as Richie reaches out, trying to get his body to move from where it’s rooted to the ground beneath him. The bubbles and waves begin to slow before finally coming to a halt.

Something tugs on his arm, spinning him away from the hole in the ground until his balance gives out. He slams hard into the ground, and when he regains focus, he’s looking at Mike. The other man is crawling towards Richie on the cave floor, begging for help as burned bodies crawl towards him. Their skin is charred and welted, the little amount of bone left glowing a deep orange. Richie tries as hard as he can to get his legs to move, to reach out for Mike, tears flowing down his face from fear and frustration. He watches one burning hand wraps around Mike’s ankle, jerking him back into the mass of bodies. Flames burst where they hit his clothes and skin, and then he disappears into a pile of groans and screams.

The ground shakes and cracks open beneath him. He watches with tears in his eyes as the rocks and dirt at his fingertips open into a wide hole. At the bottom of it, he sees Ben, tears flowing down his face; he’s clawing at the space above him, nails scratching and bleeding against an invisible force. Richie cries out his name when the first clump of dirt lands, his throat rippling with pain as sound finally breaks free. All he can do is watch as the walls of the hole shake and ripple before finally snapping closed with Ben at the bottom, like a book that had been snapped shut at its center.

”I told you, Richie,” It tells him, his voice right beside Richie’s ear. He can barely hear it over the sound of his own wheezing breaths. “I told you I would take them.”

He regains control of his body long enough to turn his head to look at It. The clown smiles back at him. Beside him – on the ground – is Eddie, one gloved hand over his face; it’s almost a perfect replica of the way Richie and Bill had found them on the first floor of Neibolt that summer.

”No,” Richie moans weakly, throat screaming in protest and tears pouring from his eyes. His breath falls out in gasps. “Please.”

Pennywise smiles, his bottom lips curling as a line of drool dribbles down his chin. “Beep beep, Richie,” he mumbles, voice thick with the desperation of a starving man. Richie watches, his heart breaking, as the fingertips of the clowns gloves make a sharp ripping sound. He screams when blood dribbles from Eddie’s neck.

He sits up so fast that his stomach lurches, gasping in a painful breath. He sits for a moment, the sheets and duvet falling around his hips. His shirt is coated in sweat, and his clothes suddenly feel too hot. He stumbles from the bed in desperation, shedding his clothes as he sinks to the floor, back against the mattress.

He stays there until the nausea passes, then fumbles for his glasses and phone on the nightstand. He sits on the edge of the mattress and pulls up their group chat, sending a short, quick text.

Need a check in.

He waits. Nothing comes through, so he sends another.

Please tell me you’re all alright.

After It, while they were all still in Bangor, Ben had come to each of their hotel rooms with tears rolling down his cheeks. ”I had to make sure you were all okay,” he had explained as he pulled Richie against his chest and clutched. When everyone began leaving, they created a group text with the promise of keeping the sound turned up on their phones. ”This is what we text when we need to check in on each other,” Bev had told him, showing him her phone screen. ”If someone doesn’t answer, we call them.”

His phone buzzes in his hand, once, twice, three times.

Mike: all good here

Bill: *thumbs up emoji*

Bev: *a picture of Ben sleeping with one of Bev’s fingers poking his cheek*

Stan: Is a check-in really a time to use pictures and emojis?

Bill: *frowning emoji*

He waits three minutes, but Eddie never replies. It isn’t surprising; once Eddie is out, he’s out, but panic still crawls into Richie’s gut. He drops his phone on top of the sheets and walks as quietly as he can from his room, freezing once he gets a hand on Eddie’s door. He takes a deep breath, then slowly twist the handle to peek inside.

The curtains are pulled back, pouring in light from the building outside. Eddie lays flat on his stomach, one arm thrown over a pillow beside him. He snores softly, the tip of his nose brushing against his arm. Richie deflates at the sight, letting out the breath he forgot he was holding. Eddie shifts beneath the sheets, and his hand tightens around the pillow case. Outside the window, an ambulance drives by, sirens blaring. He watches Eddie settle, then steps back into the hall, closing the door with a soft click.


 

”I understand that the meeting is big, Steve, but so is this!” Richie exclaims into the receiver, throwing his hand up in frustration. He had just brought Eddie to his first physical therapy session and left him to check in when his manager called, responding to Richie’s text asking him to cancel the meeting with his management group.

”I don’t understand what could be more important than this meeting, Rich!” Steve yelled through the phone. “It is the only thing deciding if you can keep up the rest of your tour! After that fiasco last month, I’m surprised I was even able to talk them into meeting with you!”

The door opens behind Richie, and he turns to see Eddie looking at him through the crack. “They just called me back,” he tells him quietly, then gestures to the phone against Richie’s face. “I can tell them to let the next person in.”

”No, it’s fine, Eds,” Richie replies, hearing Steve gasp on the other line. “I’ll be there in a second.”

”Are you serious, Richie!?” Steve shouts. “You’re asking me to cancel this meeting so you can have a hookup!?” That does it.

”It’s not a hookup, you absolute prick!” he shouts into the receiver, and Eddie winces where he’s still waiting in the doorway. “It’s my best friend’s first day of physical therapy, you asshole, and I want to be there for him. Just reschedule the damn meeting!”

”I can’t reschedule the damn meeting!” Steve yells back. “Fuck, I need a drink. I swear to God, Richie, you’ll be the end of me. Work is your priority; your friend will understand that.” He pauses, sighing. Richie’s blood feels like it’s boiling. “Get to the fucking meeting or you’ll be finding a new manager.”

Richie had doubted keeping Steve on as his manager since his fuck up the previous month when the man had cursed him out in the wings and told him he was making himself a joke. “I think that can be arranged,” Richie replies calmly. “Good luck trying to find someone as dumb as me to work with you.”

Richie ends the call before the man can respond, then pockets his phone. It vibrates with an incoming call, and he ignores it; he takes the door from Eddie’s hand and follows him towards the waiting nurse.

 

”You should have gone to your meeting. I would have been fine on my own.”

Richie shakes his head. “Not a chance in the world, Eds.” He pauses as he brings the car to a halt at a red light. “I’m going to be there for you until you don’t need me, and that means going your therapy sessions, even if it means I have to find a new manager.”

”Can’t say I blame you,” Eddie replies with a shrug. “It’s not like you and your manager were such chums before.” Richie snorts.

”’Chums’? What are you, Eds? Like, seventy?”

”Shut the fuck up, you dick.”

”When is the reunion for your ‘Nam troop? I’d love to hear about your war stories and the way you trudged a mile in the snow with tennis rackets taped to your boots just to go to school every morning.”

”Beep fucking beep, Richie!” Eddie exclaims, slapping Richie’s bicep as the light changes to green.

 

He starts looking for a new manager the next day.

”I know a girl,” Ben tells him during the Losers weekly Skype call. “We went to college together. She was in my communications class.”

Bev’s eyes light up from her place beside him, and Richie watches her grab Ben’s arm on the screen. “Are you talking about Ally?” Ben isn’t even able to respond before she redirecting her attention to Richie, leaning into the camera closely. “Oh my God, Rich, you’re going to love her! She’ll bring you food!”

”She only brings you food, Bev,” Ben says, but Beverly ignores him.

”She comes to visit us every few months because Ben’s the godfather of her baby!”

Eddie makes an excited noise where he sits beside Richie, and he hears similar noises from Bill, Mike, and Stan. “Ben, you didn’t tell us you were a godfather!” Eddie exclaims, smacking his hand against Richie’s cheek and shoving his face out of the camera so he can get as close to it as possible without looking awkward.

”I didn’t think it was important,” Ben responds, and everyone besides Beverly and Richie collectively groan.

Richie sees Stan throw his hands up, almost smacking Patty as she walks into the screen to sit beside him. “Of course it was important, Ben!” he exclaims. “You practically have a baby!”

Despite Eddie’s hand still forcing Richie’s face out of the camera, he can see the look of confusion on Patty’s face. “Ben has a baby?” she asks, her eyebrows furrowed.

”I have a godson,” Ben clarifies, running his hands over his face.

Benjamin!” Patty shouts, and Stan winces beside her as she pushes his desk chair over to lean into the frame. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

”Ben, Ben, Ben,” Richie says quickly, smacking Eddie’s hand away so he can get back to the camera; Eddie slaps his arm as he wrestles his way back into view, a glare on his face. “As much as I love this conversation about your godson—“

”This is not a conversation about my—“

”—I need to know a bit more about this girl.”

He can see Patty lean over to whisper something to Stan, who smirks and shakes his head, then leans over to respond.

”She lives in LA,” Ben tells him. “The last celebrity she managed fired her because she has a kid. Something about conflicting schedules, or some bullshit. I can give you her email, if you want.”

Before Richie can respond, Eddie is shoving his face away again. “Eds, oh my God, stop doing that—“

”Send it, Ben,” Eddie interrupts, reaching around to cover Richie’s mouth with his other hand. “Trashmouth here is an idiot and will probably just say no.” He shrieks, then gags when Richie licks his palm, jerking both his hands away and to wipe them on the couch cushion as Richie leans back into the frame. “You’re such an asshole, Richie, I swear to God!”

”Thanks, Haystack,” Richie says, and the other man smiles. It’s then he notices that Bill has his head down on his keyboard; all Richie can see is the top of his head.

Mike notices, too, because he squints and says, ”Is Bill asleep?”

Sure enough, soft snoring comes from Bill’s end of the call. Eddie snorts beside Richie and covers his mouth with his wrist, and Patty ducks behind Stan’s shoulder to laugh. Bill doesn’t even stir.

”Not again,” Mike groans.

Bev chuckles, “He did say he’s been staying up late writing.”

Richie hums in agreement. He considers shouting to wake Bill up, just to see if he’ll fall out of his chair, but then they all hear someone else walking into the room.

”Oh, not again,” echoes Mike’s words in the exasperated voice of Audra Phillips, and then she’s filling Bill’s screen. She reaches to put a hand on her husband’s shoulder when she sees them. “Oh, hi guys!” she exclaims, and Bill flails, shooting up like a rocket and ramming straight into his wife’s stomach.

”Welcome back to the land of the living,” Patty jokes. Stan snorts, then starts laughing in earnest, and it’s so contagious that they all burst into laughter. All except Bill, who stares at them groggily with the D key stuck to his forehead.

”Honey, I think you need to go to bed,” Audra chuckles, and Bill nods, the key stuck in place. He isn’t looking at the screen, so Bev shoots them all a look that screams, ‘No one say anything.’

”I’ll talk to you guys later,” he tells them, rubbing his eyes. The key holds fast. “Love you all.”

They chorus it back, and Bill ends his line of the call.

”Was that wrong?” Ben asks. “Should we have said something?”

”Nah,” Mike and Stan respond simultaneously.

”It’s funny because it’s not funny!” Bev exclaims around a burst of laughter, leaning back into the cushions of her couch with her hand over her mouth.

Suddenly a notification pops up on Richie’s screen. It says that Bill is calling, and Mike quickly adds the call to the group. When the screen finally comes up, Audra is there leaning towards the camera. “It’s still on his head,” she tells them, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Bill isn’t listening. “I’m not telling him. I want to see how long it stays there.”

Richie laughs. ”Audra Phillips, I love you.” Audra smiles, then ends the call.

The rest of them talk for another hour, and it’s so overwhelming to see all their faces that Richie barely notices when Eddie yawns beside him, turning away from the camera to hide his mouth. “We should all probably go,” Stan says. Patty had left twenty minutes after Bill with a kiss to her husband’s cheek, saying she was heading back to bed. “It’s late.”

”That’s Eastern Standard Time for you, Stanny,” Richie shrugs, and Stan rolls his eyes.

”It’s eleven there, Rich, and you’re old. You should have been in bed three hours ago.”

”Okay, first of all,” Richie counters, holding up his finger, “we’re all old. Second, I take offense to you thinking I go to bed at eight. We go all night long in this house, Stan the Man.”

”That’s bullshit,” Eddie pipes in beside Richie. “He’s normally out by ten.”

”Just because you go to bed at ten doesn’t mean I do, Eds.”

”Oh, really? I guess that explains all the times I’ve woken up to piss just to see you passed out in bed with the TV still on. Seriously, Rich, that runs up the electricity bill; you have to stop doing that.”

Mike claps his hands. “I don’t know about you folks, but I have a very nice bed calling my name, so I’m going to hit the hay.”

”Same for me,” Eddie says, looking towards Richie. “Wheel me to my room?”

”Wheel yourself,” Richie replies, and Eddie glares at him. “Fine! I guess that means I have to go, too. Sorry guys, don’t miss my face too much.”

”Shouldn’t be too hard,” Stan deadpans, but he’s smiling, and there’s no heat behind it.

Richie helps Eddie into his chair as the call ends and pushes him down the hall to his room. When go goes back to the living room to get his laptop, an email notification chimes through the speakers.

From: benjaminhanschom@hansandassoc.org, To: rttm@gmail.com

Here is Ally’s email, as promised. I’ll text her in the morning to let her know you’re reaching out. Bev’s right, you’re going to love her.

Best regards,

Benjamin Hanscom, CEO and Founder of Hanscom and Associates


 

”C’mon, Eds,” Richie encourages, holding his phone at the end of the platform Eddie is standing on; his arms are shaking where they’re supporting his weight on the balancing bars, and there’s sweat on his brow. The nurse beside him clutches his elbow in a weak support.

”Stop talking, you piece of shit!” Eddie snaps back, clearly frustrated. “I can’t focus!”

”Take a few deep breaths, Eddie,” the nurse says calmly, and Richie sees her squeeze his elbow. “It’s only a few steps. You don’t have to go all the way down the platform unless you want to.”

Eddie nods and takes a deep breath through his nose; Richie watches his chest expand before he releases it through his mouth. His jaw clenches, and his left leg begins to shakily jerk forward. It barely moves three inches, but Richie cheers anyway. “Yes, Eddie! Do it again!”

”Shut the fuck up, Richie!” Eddie exclaims, and a few of the other people in the recreation room turn to look at them. Eddie furrows his eyebrows and breathes in again, then out as he starts to move his other leg; it goes just as far as the other one. He does the breathing again – one deep breath through the nose, blows it out through his mouth – and starts to move his left leg. It’s shaking even more than before, but Richie can’t tell if it’s from disuse or nerves. It doesn’t move forward, and Eddie groans in frustration, staring down at his feet. “I can’t,” he mumbles weakly, breathing harshly. “It’s too hard, I can’t do it.”

The nurse shakes her head, moving her hand from Eddie’s elbow to touch the space between his shoulder blades; she places the other one on his bicep, obviously trying to help him hold up his own body weight. “Just focus, Eddie,” she tells him. “You can do it; I know you can. You just have to focus.” Eddie shakes his head, his bottom lip trapped between his teeth. “Yes, you can. You just have to keep trying. Remember, you just have to make it to the center of the platform, then you can stop. Baby steps, Eddie.”

After a few seconds, Eddie nods, shakily breathing in and out again. His leg jerks forward, going significantly further this time. The same happens with his right leg. Then he does it again, and Richie can’t stop cheering for him behind his phone, the screen shaking in his hand as he tries to focus on both taking the video and watching Eddie. The other man moves slowly, his legs shake, and he keeps telling Richie to be quiet, but there’s a smile on his face and his eyes are shiny with tears. When he gets to the center of the platform, Richie expects him to stop; but the nurse takes her hand from Eddie’s bicep – she leaves the one between his shoulders, both for encouragement and in case she has to catch him – and he walks past the red line in the center.

”C’mon, Eds, halfway there!” Richie exclaims, and a few of the other patients and nurses in the room have started cheering, too. A teenage girl with crutches and a missing leg has slowly made her way to the platform, standing beside the nurse and following Eddie as he goes down the platform, encouraging him quietly.

When Eddie takes his next steps, he looks up at Richie with a bright smile on his face. It makes something inside of Richie crack and splinter; he can’t stop crying, and he doesn’t even care that his sniffling and screaming is being caught on the video. He’s just so damn proud. When Eddie finally reaches the end of the platform, a scattered applause fills the room.

“I did it,” he whispers, almost like he doesn’t believe it. His mouth hangs open in shock. He’s drenched in sweat, and his hair is starting to curl where it sticks to his forehead. He looks at the camera, and then to Richie, and the tears in his eyes finally start to fall. “I did it!” he exclaims, laughing loudly, and Richie lets his phone fall to the floor so he can wrap Eddie in his arms, camera still rolling.

”Oh my God,” Richie mumbles, pushing Eddie back slightly so he can hold his face. Eddie keeps his shaky arms around Richie’s shoulders to hold himself up, but he’s smiling and crying, breathing hard. “Oh my God, Eds.”

”Don’t call me that, asshole,” Eddie laughs wetly, jerking his face out of Richie’s hands so he can hug him properly. Richie loops his arms around Eddie’s waist and squeezes, dropping his head to hide his smile in Eddie’s neck.

The nurse is helping Eddie into his wheelchair when Richie sends out the video, first to the Losers group chat, then to Ally.

They respond back-to-back, causing Richie’s phone to vibrate incessantly against the handlebar of Eddie’s chair as he pushes him back to the car. “What are they saying?” Eddie asks, twisting to wiggle Richie’s phone from beneath his palm as they move through the parking lot. Richie watches over his head as he types in the password – Maggie Tozier’s birthday, because of course it is – and pulls up the messages.

”You know,” Richie starts, leaning his elbows on the handles of the chair on putting his chin on top of Eddie’s head as they move to the car, “you could have just asked for my pho—“

”I didn’t realize you were taking a video,” Eddie interrupts. He presses play, and Richie flushes when he hears his own voice screaming from the speakers.

”Yeah, well, someone had the capture the moment,” he shrugs, digging the car key out of his pocket as Eddie keeps a tight grip on his phone. He watches from the corner of his eye as Eddie smiles at the screen; the video is showing his own tear-tracked, sweaty face smiling at Richie over the camera. It ends, and he plays it again. “Okay, Eds,” Richie says once it’s ended a second time, gently taking the phone from Eddie’s hand so it doesn’t fall onto the concrete beneath them. “Let’s go home.”

Eddie nods, and Richie helps him into the car before folding his wheelchair and tucking it into the trunk. “We have to pick up my crutch next week,” Eddie tells him when he gets into the driver’s seat. Richie nods, and Eddie speaks again. “Will you help me walk around in the apartment?”

”The doctor said to go easy, Eds,” Richie responds, frowning when Eddie’s face falls. “I’ll help you, but you have to be completely sure you’re up to it.”

”I am!” Eddie exclaims quickly, inhaling sharply at the sound of his own desperation. Richie watches from his peripheral as Eddie bites down on his bottom lip. “I am up to it,” he continues, voice softer than before. “I’m just ready for everything to be back to normal.”

They stop at a light, and Richie lets go of the steering wheel to grab Eddie’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “It will be,” he assures, smiling at Eddie across the console. Eddie smiles back, squeezing Richie’s hand once and gesturing towards the road. “Light’s green.”

Richie pulls off just as the cars behind him begin blowing their horns.


 

”You know, it’s okay to take a break occasionally,” Richie says, passing Eddie a glass of water where he’s lying on the couch trying to catch his breath. “It’s been two weeks, Eds. It’s not like you’re going to be running marathons any time soon.”

”Shut up, asshole,” Eddie wheezes around the lip of his glass, water running down his chin. “I need you to make my legs stop jumping.”

Eddie’s doctor had told them it would be common for his legs to spasm when he was relearning to walk.

”The muscles will be weak from disuse,” he says, pulling out a laminated diagram of a leg and placing it on the desk. “The more you walk, the more they’re going to bother you. Spasms and cramps are normal; if you stretch before and after you train, you should be able to keep them at from being too bad. If they do start acting up, you should massage your legs to loosen the muscles. Drink a lot of fluids so you don’t get dehydrated – something with electrolytes, preferably – and take regular breaks so you don’t overexert yourself.” He puts the diagram down and shoots Eddie a serious look. “If that happens, you’re back to square one.”

Richie sits beside him on the sofa, pulling Eddie’s legs into his lap. They jerk against his thigh, and Eddie winces, groaning as he puts his water on the floor. “I’m so sick of this,” he pouts, folding his arms across his chest as Richie presses his fingers into his calf.

”You’re healing, Spaghetti,” Richie tells him, leaning over to grab the remote from the coffee table. He drops it onto Eddie’s stomach. “It’s going to be frustrating; you know that.”

”That doesn’t mean I like it,” Eddie grumbles, unfolding his arms to grab the remote and turning on the TV. Richie watches him open the Netflix app. “It’s annoying and it hurts.”

”Yeah, well, you’re ripping your muscles,” Richie tells him. Eddie presses the comedy option on the TV, and Richie groans when he stops on one of John Mulaney’s specials. “No. No, Eddie, you can’t willingly watch my competition.”

”You two are friends, Richie,” Eddie sighs, playing the special and waiting for it to load. “Besides, he’s funnier than you.”

”He is not, asshole,” Richie laughs.

”Yeah, right, Mr. ‘my girlfriend caught me masturbating to her friend’s Facebook page, so now I’m in masturbater’s—‘”

”Yeah, yeah, you’ve made your point,” Richie laughs, squeezing Eddie’s calf to shut him up.

Eddie chuckles, wincing as his leg jumps again beneath Richie’s palm. “I need fucking pain killers,” he says, running his hands down his face as the special finishes loading.

”Sorry, man,” Richie shrugs, rolling his thumbs along the bottom of Eddie’s calf. The other man makes a noise that has his face heating up. “You took a painkiller an hour ago, three more to go.”

”Do that thing with your thumbs again,” Eddie mumbles, ignoring him. Richie does, watching Eddie’s cheeks heat up while he focuses on the special. “Thanks, Richie,” he says softly after a few moments of silence.

”What for, Eds?”

Eddie shrugs, eyes still on the TV. “Everything, I guess.”


 

”…What?”

Richie gestures to the mountain of pillows and blankets on his bed again, a bright smile on his face as he stares at Eddie in the doorway; he’s got one hand on the wood frame and the other on his hip, one eyebrow quirked as he looks between Richie and the bed.

”A sleepover!” Richie exclaims, letting his hands fall and his posture straighten. “Like when we were kids!”

Eddie continues to stare at him like he has two heads. “You want to have,” he pauses like the words he’s about to say are draining his energy, “a sleepover?”

”Why not?” He walks to the door and stands beside Eddie in the hallway, throwing an arm over the other man’s shoulders and smiling triumphantly at the bed.

”Maybe because we’re forty years old?” Eddie replies questionably, wiggling underneath Richie’s arm.

Richie snorts, shaking the other man gently. “Age is just a social construct, Eds.” He shrugs, “Besides, we barely have time to hang out anymore, what with you working again and me—“

”We live together, Richie,” Eddie interjects. “I sleep down the hall. We see each other literally every day.”

”I’m talking socially, Spaghetti,” he replies, pulling his arm back to his side as he moves to go into the room. “Simply being in the same house is not being together. I think Shakespeare said that.”

Eddie snorts, shaking his head. “He most definitely did not.” Richie watches him for a few moments as the room goes quiet, then, Eddie sighs in the doorway, throwing his hands up in defeat. “Alright, you win!”

Richie cheers and moves back to the door, wrapping Eddie in his arms despite the other man’s protests. “Stop it, you asshole, oh my God!” Eddie laughs, slapping Richie’s shoulders. “Let me go, Richie!”

Richie smiles as he relents, keeping one hand beneath Eddie’s elbow until he can regain his balance. “Let me just take a shower and get something to eat,” Eddie tells him, pulling away from his hand as he reaches for his cane where its propped against the wall. “Then we can have this—” he gestures back to Richie’s bed, “—whatever this is.”

 

”You’re absolutely ridiculous,” Eddie says as he makes himself comfortable on Richie’s over-flowing bed, hair still wet from the shower. “We’re going to suffocate in all of this stuff, you know. This is literally a mountain of pillows and blankets; it can’t be safe, Richie.”

Richie shrugs and climbs into the bed beside him, grabbing the remote from the side table. “Alright, Eds, what genre are we going for?” Richie asks, pulling up Netflix. “We got dramas, documentaries, horror—”

Eddie chokes beside him, and Richie tenses when he realizes why. The first advertised movie is a gory, black and white image of a clown. It looks nothing like Pennywise – like It – but Richie’s heart still lurches into his throat at the sight. He chuckles through it, trying not to choke. “Well isn’t that nice?” he jokes. Eddie is still stiff beside him.

”Get it off the screen,” he mumbles, voice hoarse and whispery. Richie can see his hands shaking as they tangle in the sheets.

He flicks down to the next section so the clown disappears, then reaches over to pry Eddie’s fingers from the duvet. “Hey, it’s okay,” he says softly, grabbing Eddie’s hands.

The other man still stares at the TV, all wide eyed and trembling breaths. “Eds,” Richie tries, squeezing his fingers. “Eddie, hey.”

Eddie turns to look at him, but it’s slow; he shuffles to turn on the bedspread, exhaling slowly as he pulls his feet beneath him. His eyes flick back to the TV, then back to Richie’s face, and Richie is suddenly reminded of the first time they fought It, when Eddie broke his arm and that thing had started to grow talons from its fingertips. Richie had been so sure they were going to die that day, killed by It in a fucking crack house. He had grabbed Eddie’s face, trying to find his eyes; he tried to make Eddie look at anything besides the monster that had been in front of them.

”We’re okay,” he whispers carefully. Eddie stares at him, his eyes watery. “Eddie. We’re okay.”

Eddie nods and sniffles, looking down to his lap. “I’m good,” he says, nodding again. “Yeah, I’m good.” He squeezes Richie’s hands. “We’re good.”

Richie nods and separates their hands. “You still up for this?” he asks, and Eddie nods, twisting back into the pillows to look at the TV.

”Just no horror movies.” He still sounds shaken, like someone had punched him in the gut and knocked the wind from his lungs.

They settle on rom-com, one Richie can’t remember the name of after a short game of tug of war that ends with him relinquishing control of the remote to Eddie; he did the same thing when they were kids, arguing over which VHS they were going to watch while they camped out on the ugly, green shag carpet in the Tozier’s basement whenever Eddie would stay over. He always gave up back then, too.

It’s not like he’s paying attention, anyway. He’s too busy watching Eddie’s reactions. Eddie used to give him hell for it when they were kids – would turn to find Richie staring and glare as he whispered, ”What are you looking at, dickwad?” just in case Richie’s parents made a sudden decision to come downstairs and check on them. ”You have something on your face,” Richie would always respond, pointing to an imaginary spot on Eddie’s cheek before trying to focus back on the movie. It had never been a great lie, and it isn’t one now, he decides, because Eddie is turning to look at him with that same pinched expression he always gave and Richie’s heart thuds in his throat.

”What?” he asks, eyebrows furrowing slightly. “Is there something on my face?”

Richie stares for a second, thinking about what excuse to say. He decides not to come up with one and shrugs. “Just looking.”

Eddie snorts. “Take a picture,” he says, turning back to watch the movie, “it’ll last longer.”

Richie tries to ignore the sick feeling that courses through him as the words settle in his mind.

 

He wakes up at three in the morning when a rough kick hits his calf. The glow from the TV tells him The Office had auto played after they fell asleep, and the words ‘Are you still watching?’ cover the still image from the episode that had been playing. He feels the kick again, harder now, and rolls over to tell Eddie to knock it off only to find him asleep.

Eddie had always moved around in his sleep. Whenever they slept near each other as kids, Richie often woke up in the middle of the night to a hand smacking against his face or an elbow digging into his side. He usually found all the blankets tugged off him and wrapped around Eddie, or found everything but the fitted sheet kicked to the floor and the boy beside him star fished, pushing Richie to the edge of his twin-sized mattress. Once, when they were fourteen, Richie woke up with his hand shooting needles and found Eddie rolled on top of his arm. It took him five minutes to wiggle free without waking the boy up.

Now, the sheets and pillows are all intact, and despite the foot jerking into Richie’s leg, Eddie kept to his own side of the bed, wrapped around a pillow. Except, his face is tense and pinched tight, and there’s sweat soaking his hair.

”Eds,” he whispers, reaching over to shake the other man. “Eddie, wake up.”

Eddie’s eyes snap open as he jerks awake, sitting up fast a rod-straight. Richie follows, his heart thudding in his chest as Eddie shrieks and pulls at his t-shirt like the fabric is burning him.

”Eddie!” he shouts, trying to get a hand on the fumbling man. “Eddie! You’re good, Eds; you’re fine! You’re okay!”

”Don’t touch me!” Eddie shouts, one hand clutching his chest and the other batting at Richie’s incoming hands. “I swear to God, don’t touch me!”

”Okay!” Richie exclaims, pulling his hands back. “Okay, I won’t touch you. Eds, you need to calm down.”

Eddie doesn’t seem to hear him. Instead, he jerks his shirt over his head and presses his hands against his scar. “I’m okay,” he mumbles, mainly to himself; his breathing sticks at its quick pace. “I’m okay.”

”Yeah,” Richie tells him. “You’re safe, Eds.”

Eddie doesn’t turn to look at him. He keeps his eyes fixed on the blankets as he croaks, “Will you make sure my heart is beating?”

Something inside Richie twinges, all the air leaving his lungs as he stares at Eddie’s profile. Carefully, he pulls Eddie’s fingers away from his chest and places his own palm there. He feels the rhythmic, racing pulse under his skin, and Eddie reaches to clutch desperately at his fingers. “It’s beating, Eddie,” Richie tells him, and the other man gasps out a breath like he’s been holding it in for twenty minutes.

He falls backwards with a huff into the pillows, still clutching Richie’s fingers and holding his hand against the scar. “I thought I was dying again.” His voice is rough from sleep and screaming, and Richie shuffles to lay back beside him; Eddie’s death grip stays locked around his fingers, pinning Richie’s palm to his chest. He’s so close he can feel the side of Eddie’s head pressing against his own.

”Do you want to talk about it?” Richie asks, and Eddie shakes his head, knocking their temples lightly.

”No,” he replies, staring at the ceiling. “It just… it felt so real, Rich.”

”It’s not,” Richie tells him, pressing his palm flat against Eddie’s chest. The grip the other man has loosens slightly, but he makes no move to pull away. Richie doesn’t see himself letting go anytime soon, anyway. “You’re safe. I promise.”

Eddie nods. “I know.”

The alarm on the bedside table reads four fifteen when Eddie’s breathing finally evens out. Richie keeps his hand against Eddie’s chest even after the man’s fingers go slack, pressing his nose into Eddie’s hair as the steady rhythm beneath his palm pulls him back to sleep.


 

”I think that clown was the best thing to ever happen to us,” Stan says from the seat next to him at Ben and Beverly’s wedding reception four months later. It had been a small, courthouse wedding with close friends and family. Bev hadn’t wanted a second big wedding, and Ben happily agreed, happy to get out of wedding planning. The only reason they even had a reception was because Audra and Patty had banded together and threw it for them.

Richie snorts, watching Bev spin Mike in a circle on the dance floor. “Why d’ya say that, Staniel?” he asks, taking a sip from the champagne flute in his hand.

”Think about it, Rich,” Stan responds, folding his arms across his chest. “If that thing hadn’t come back, none of us would be here right now. Mike would still be in Derry wondering if It was coming back, Bev would still be with Tom, Eddie would still be with Myra, Ben would be drinking alone in his house staring at a name he could barely remember on an old yearbook page, Patty and I would still be in Atlanta, and you would still be wasting away living on a bachelor’s diet of booze and drugs—”

”I’ll have you know that I have been drug free since 2005, you ass!” Richie interjects, punching the other man’s shoulder.

Stan glances at him with a smile. “I’m just glad it happened,” he continues, his face dropping slightly as his eyes land on Eddie swaying with a laughing Patty on the dance floor. “Even if some of the circumstances weren’t great by the end of it.”

”I’ll drink to that,” Richie mumbles, downing the rest of his glass.

”I told Patty,” Stan tells him. “I thought she would think I was crazy.”

”Did she?”

Stan nods. “At first. Then I told her about Eddie, and I told her I had to go to Maine to see him. She told me a few days after we got back to Atlanta that she believed everything.”

”I guess there’s tougher things to believe besides an alien clown that tried to murder your husband when he was thirteen,” Richie jokes, and Stan snorts, shaking his head.

Richie watches Bev kiss Ben’s cheek on the dance floor, then move towards them. She falls heavily into the chair beside Stan with a sigh. ”Having fun, guys?” she asks as she reaches behind them to grab her drink. Richie watches her lipstick smudge the glass as she takes a sip.

”Oh, yeah,” he replies, punching Stan’s shoulder. “Just chattin’ about killer clowns.”

Bev glares, placing her drink down. “No clown talk at my wedding.” She wipes her hands down the front of her dress as she stands, then holds them out to each of them.. “Come on. We’re dancing.”

Richie and Stan both groan as she takes their drinks and pulls them both to their feet.

”Guys!” Mike shouts as Bev pulls them onto the dance floor, pulling away from where he had been dancing with a woman who was almost as tall as he was. He wiggles between them and throws his arms around their shoulders. “I think I’m tipsy,” he laughs, and Stan snorts.

”Maybe just a bit, Mikey,” he agrees, and Mike smiles.

”Looks like the wallflowers are done being wallflowers,” Bill jokes as he and Audra pass them, the two of them locked together in the shittiest tango Richie has ever seen. Richie watches her duck into his shoulder and smile, then burst into laughter when Bill pushes on her hands and dips her in front of all of them. “Welcome to the party,” he winks, then they’re gone, but Richie hears Audra laughing in the crowd.

Ben wraps his arms around Bev from behind and props his chin on her shoulder. “I thought you guys were going to stay at that table all night,” he laughs.

”True losers,” Richie jokes, and Mike laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard.

”Nah,” Ben says, shaking his head against Bev’s shoulder, “losers are cool. That’s why we’re the Losers.”

”The Losers,” Stan echoes, a smile on his face.

“Mind if I steal him away?” Patty chuckles as she and Eddie come to stand with them, linking her arm with Stan’s.

Richie reaches behind Mike to pat Stan’s shoulder. “Have fun, Princess,” he jokes, and Stan holds up his middle finger as he wiggles from beneath Mike’s arm and wraps his own around Patty’s waist. Richie watches him bump their noses together as he backs her into the crowd, grinning when Patty scrunches up her face and smiles.

The song ends, and Mike moves his arm from Richie’s shoulder to smack him between the shoulder blades. It knocks the wind from him, and Mike smiles apologetically. “That’s my cue,” he says, stepping away towards the DJ stand. He shoots them finger guns as Eddie moves to stand beside Richie.

”Why did we agree to let him DJ, again?” Ben asks as Mike climbs behind the stand, swaying slightly.

Bev shrugs, leaning her head against Ben’s where it rests on her shoulder. “I also didn’t expect him to get drunk. All we have here is champagne.” It is at that exact moment that Mike pulls a flask from his coat pocket. When he sees them watching, he smiles and holds up a thumb.

”That explains it,” Ben laughs, and Mike tucks the flask back into his pocket before grabbing the microphone resting on the stand.

He turns a dial on the stand, and the music fades out. “This next song—” he starts in his best impression of a presenter voice, shooting Richie a smile and a wink that turns his insides to jelly “—goes out to the Losers. Bev, Ben, your song’s been played. This one’s for us.” He pauses as he puts his hand on the volume dial. “It’s not from the eighties, but it fits just the same.”

They watch him press a button and turn the dial, and suddenly the intro to Fall Out Boy’s Young Volcanoes blasts through the speakers; they may be old, but they aren’t that old.

Richie hears Ben snort. “Mike, you little shit,” he chuckles, shaking his head. He lifts his head from Bev’s shoulder and looks at her, a wide grin on his face. “Want to dance?” he asks, and she rolls her eyes.

”You know you don’t have to ask,” she smiles, taking Ben’s hand. “Move that tush, Rich,” she orders, pointing at him accusingly.

”Beep, beep, Marsh; what are you? Sixty?” he shoots back, and she laughs. Then she and Ben are gone, and Eddie and Richie are alone.

Richie smiles and looks towards Eddie, who is watching all their friends on the dance floor with an affectionate look in his eyes. He takes the chance to bump their shoulders together, and Eddie looks at him with the smile still on his face. Richie holds out his hand just as the vocals begin. “Care to dance, Eds?”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “Don’t call me that,” he mumbles, grinning as he takes Richie’s hand.

”Two left feet,” his mom laughed as he stepped on her foot for the third time in a row. “That’s your father’s fault.”

Richie frowned, his fingers tightening over her hand as he stared down at the floor in concentration. ”I’ll never get this right,” he groaned in frustration, almost stepping on her foot again as his father’s Elvis record continued to spin on the turntable.

”You just need practice, is all,” Maggie reassured him, sighing when he groaned in response. She stopped and untangled their fingers to kneel in front of him, placing both her hands on his cheeks. He smiled softly when she lifted one hand and brushed his hair out of his eyes, tucking it behind his ear. “Do you want me to tell you a secret about dancing?” she asked, and Richie nodded, the hair she had just pushed back falling right back into his eyes.

Maggie smiled and brushed it back again. “It doesn’t matter if you’re good or not,” she told him softly. “What matters is who you’re with. Your father is the worst dancer I have ever seen; absolutely no rhythm in that man at all—" She pauses when Richie laughs, a smile on her face as she holds his cheeks again, “—but the day we were married, anyone who didn’t know him would think he was a Broadway star.”

”If he wasn’t good at dancing, why would people think that?”

His mother’s lips quirked to the side, but she still smiled, running her hand through his hair and pulling it from behind his ear. “Because that day, your dad knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with me, and he was so happy, the rhythm came to him.”

”I was still pretty awful,” said Wentworth Tozier as he came into the living room, dropping his briefcase beside the door before he kneeled on the floor beside Richie’s mother, reaching up to grab Richie’s elbow. “At the end of the day, being able to dance well won’t matter, son.” He looked to his wife, a small smile on his face. “It’s how the person you’re dancing with makes you feel.”

His parents words came back to him now as he put his hands on Eddie’s waist and spun him around again, laughing when Eddie grabs his shoulders starts doing – a pretty shitty version – of the twist. His eyes connect with Beverly over the top of Eddie’s head, and she gives him a knowing smile.

His parents were right, as usual. It didn’t matter that he was out of step with the song, or that he kept bumping into the other Losers. All that mattered was Eddie, his face flushed from dancing and champagne, laughing brightly as he and Richie moved across the floor.

Richie laughs as Bill’s arms wrap around his shoulders during the chorus of the song. He pulls Eddie against his side as the Losers rush into them, all of them crowding together and throwing their arms around each other as Bev, Mike, and Stan all scream along with the lyrics. Patty and Audra stand outside of their group, their arms around each other’s shoulders as they watch the seven of them.

Bill moves away from Richie and crosses their little circle to grab Mike and Ben instead, slinging his arms around them as he joins into the singing. Bev moves and presses herself to Richie’s other side, linking their arms at the elbows and reaching out to grab Ben’s hand with her free one. He watches Ben grab a fistful of Bill’s shirt. Stan throws his arm around Eddie’s neck loosely, dangling it over his shoulder; his side traps Richie’s hand where it rests on Eddie’s ribs. Mike reaches out to grab Stan’s wrist, still screaming over the lyrics as he throws his arm around Bill’s back. Eddie reaches up to grab Stan’s hand where it rests against his shoulder, leaning heavier into Richie’s side as they huddle together.

He feels like a teenager all over again with all seven of them like this – smiling and hooked together like they hadn’t lost three decades with each other. He realizes he’s the only one not singing along when Bev squeezes his hand, and he tries to join in, but all he can seem to do is laugh as he watches them all.

As the song ends, Bill jerks Mike and Ben forward, and all seven of them fall together in a twisted, complicated group hug. They’re all sweaty and disgusting, each of them a little tipsy, but it feels like home. Richie feels so overwhelmed with love for them that he thinks he might cry.

They separate as Mike Reno and Ann Wilson’s Almost Paradise fills the reception hall. Bev wipes her fingers under her eyes just as tears begin to fall, chuckling as Ben grabs her hand and pulls her into a slow dance. Richie watches the rest of his friends move to their partners.

He turns to ask Eddie if he needs to sit down, but before he can even get the words out, Eddie is grabbing his hand and turning him, putting his free hand on Richie’s shoulder and keeping their fingers intertwined. “I think I have one more song in me,” he whispers, as though he can read Richie’s mind.

”Are you sure?” Richie asks, and Eddie’s lip quirks much like his mother’s did that day he kept stepping on her feet.

”C’mon, Trashmouth,” he chuckles, letting go of Richie’s shoulder to pull his hand onto his waist. “I promise I won’t break.”

Richie still has no rhythm, but never steps on Eddie’s feet. Not once.


 

”My mom and dad are coming to visit this weekend.” Richie watches Eddie choke on the cube of cheese he had just shoved into his mouth.

”Why didn’t you tell me sooner!?” he exclaims, his hand on his chest as he tries to catch his breath.

Richie holds up his hands defensively. “It was a spontaneous decision!” he responds, and Eddie glares. “I’m serious, Eds! They called me while you were buying groceries!”

The other man sighs and rubs his hands over his face, holding them against his cheeks for a moment before dropping them onto the table top. “We have to clean,” he says finally, pushing himself from his chair and moving to the sink.

”The house is fine, Eddie,” he groans, and Eddie shakes his head. “We cleaned last weekend.”

”That was a surface clean, Richie,” Eddie tells him, opening the cabinet under the sink and pulling out various sprays and wipes. He takes a pair of rubber gloves from a package and pulls them onto his hands. “I’m talking about a deep clean.” Richie snorts, and Eddie glares. “Get your mind out of the gutter and grab the broom.”

 

”Baby!” Maggie Tozier shrieks as she walks into the apartment, dropping her bags onto the floor just inside the doorway and throwing her arms around Richie’s shoulders. Wentworth follows her, dropping his own suitcase and wrapping his arms around both of them.

”It’s good to see you guys, too,” Richie chuckles, his arms locked around his mother as his dad holds them all together. “I hate to cut this short, but I’m having trouble breathing.” His dad laughs and lets them go, and his mom only pulls back far enough to grab his cheeks, pinching them between her fingers as she presses kisses over his face.

”We missed you,” she says when she finally pulls away, and Richie smiles.

”I missed you guys, too,” he responds, looking between his parents as his dad reaches around to slap his back lightly.

His mom steps back and looks around the apartment as Richie and his dad move to pick up their bags. He hears her blow out a low whistle as she takes everything in. “Wow, Richie, it’s so clean in here.”

”Yes, Ma, I don’t live in filth,” he tells her, adjusting her purse on his shoulder, and his father laughs behind him.

”I remember when we used to have to force you to clean your bedroom,” he chimes in, looking towards Richie’s mother. “Remember that, Mags? So many clothes and water bottles all over the place; we couldn’t even see the floor!”

Richie shakes his head as he begins wheeling the suitcase towards his bedroom, listening as his parents follow.

He and Eddie had both agreed that letting his parents sleep in Richie’s bedroom was the best option. His bed was bigger, and the room was slightly larger. “Plus, they wouldn’t have to walk down the hall to use the bathroom,” Eddie had told him as they scrubbed the grout from the kitchen tile the night before. “It’s the hospitable thing to do, Rich.”

Eddie wasn’t here now. He had left to pick up dinner from an Italian restaurant down the block so Richie could fill his parents in. He hadn’t told them he had a roommate, and he hadn’t told them it was Eddie; he highly doubted they remembered him, anyway.

”So I have something to tell you guys,” he tells them as they settle into the living room; his mother turns on the couch and leans over the back of it to look at him. His father walks around to sit beside her, copying her movements and grabbing her hand.

”What is it, baby?” his mother asks, a small frown on her face. “You know you can tell us anything.”

”It’s nothing bad,” Richie responds, hooking his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. “It’s just, I have a roommate, right? He got hurt pretty bad about a year ago, and he had to learn to walk again, so all of his stuff is here and he didn’t have time to find another place to stay for the weekend, and—”

Richie knows he’s rambling; it’s a nervous habit he had never really been able to break. He isn’t even sure he’s saying real words anymore when his father holds up a hand to stop him. “Don’t worry, Rich,” he tells him softly before looking to his mother and smiling. “What d’ya say, Mags? The more company, the better?”

Maggie nods, a small smile on her face as she looks at Richie. “What’s his name?” she asks, leaning even more against the back of the couch.

Richie lifts his hand to scratch the back of his head. “That’s the thing,” he tells them. “I don’t know if you remember him, but it’s—“

”Rich, I’m back!” comes Eddie’s voice from around the corner, followed by a rustling of bags and a door closing. “Are your parents here ye—oh.”

Eddie grips the handle on his crutch tightly in one hand and two plastic bags of food in the other as Maggie and Went both turn to look at him. He clears his throat awkwardly and holds up the hand holding his crutch as far as he can without lifting it from the floor. “Hi,” he mumbles, then tightens his fingers around the handle like it’s a lifeline.

Richie moves to his side to take the bags, holding them in one hand and gripping Eddie’s elbow in the other. His dad is staring at the other man in confusion, like he’s trying to place his face somewhere, while his mother stares in shock, her mouth hanging open.

”Ma, Pop, this is—“

”Eddie Kaspbrak?” his mom interrupts, and his dad’s eyes grow wide.

”Oh my God!” Wentworth laughs, standing from the couch and grabbing Maggie’s hand to pull her up with him. “Little Eddie Kaspbrak!” He walks up to him and wraps his arms around Eddie, tapping him lightly between the shoulders; the ultimate dad hug. “Jesus Christ, how could I have forgotten! How’ve you been, kid?”

Eddie chuckles as Richie’s dad lets him go, only to be immediately swallowed in a hug from his mom. “Oh, Eddie, what happened?” she asks as she pulls back, her hands on his biceps as she looks him up and down, her eyes landing on the crutch and then back to his face.

”It was a car accident,” Eddie lies easily. “Another car on the road was hit by a semi and caused a pile-up. I was just unlucky enough to end up in the middle of it.”

”Oh my goodness,” Maggie gasps, touching Eddie’s cheek, almost like she’s trying to prove to herself that he’s real. “I couldn’t even imagine what that was like.”

”Pretty bad,” Eddie chuckles, and Richie feels him wince where their sides touch.

His parents clearly notice, but neither of them say anything. They move to the couch as Richie takes the bags from Eddie and puts them into the kitchen, listening to the murmur of hushed conversation through the doorway.

 

”It’s so nice to see you, Eddie,” his mother says over her dinner that night. “I didn’t know you and Richie still spoke. I mean, as much as I hate to admit it, I haven’t even thought of you since we left Maine.”

Eddie clears his throat, looking over at Richie for a moment before turning back to Maggie. “We didn’t speak before last year, actually,” he tells her, shrugging. “I really didn’t remember anyone from Maine until Mike called us—“

”Mike Hanlon!” Wentworth shouts, slapping his hand against his thigh. “Yes, I remember now!”

”There were others, too,” Maggie states, looking as though she’s just found the crowned jewels at her feet. “God, how many of you were there?” Behind Eddie there’s a picture of all seven of them on the wall at Ben and Bev’s wedding. Richie doesn’t really remember the picture being taken. Richie had said something stupid, and Bev had clapped back something that made them all burst into laughter, and the photographer snapped the photo as they all hung off each other. He had been staring at Eddie when the flash went off, who had a finger pointed in Richie’s face making fun of him for whatever Bev has responded with. He sees the exact moment his mother’s eyes fall on it, and his heart thumps wildly in his chest when she breaks into a smile. ”There they all are,” she gasps, standing from the table. He watches her grab the picture from the wall before she squeezes in between Richie and Eddie, sitting with one leg on both of their chairs as she skims her hand over the frame. His dad stands and moves, too, leaning around his mother and hooking his chin on her shoulder as he stares down at the photo. Richie watches Maggie run her finger over Bev, then Ben and Mike. He listens to her quietly name off each Loser as she skims the picture, smiling when she runs her thumb over Stan’s face and mumbles, “Stanley Uris. I remember you.” Richie watches her smile fall. “I’ll have to go through our things and see if I can find any old pictures.” She reaches out to grab Eddie’s hand, her expression pained. “I can’t believe we forgot about you all.”

Richie watches him smile and squeeze her hand back. “It’s okay,” Eddie tells her, and she sniffles, smiling up at him wetly. Maggie Tozier is the only person Richie knows that is shorter than Eddie. “We didn’t remember each other until Mike called us last year asking if we wanted to come home.”

“You went back?” she asks, her eyebrows furrowing. “You went back to Derry?”

”Yeah, got some pretty nasty scars from that car wreck when I was leaving to go back home,” Eddie says, lifting one finger to his cheek. “I was in the hospital in Bangor for, what, two months, Rich?”

”Basically,” Richie agrees. “The second time he flatlined, they airlifted him out of Derry Memorial.”

”You were there, Richie?” she asks, her eyes wide, and he nods.

”The airport’s in one direction, Ma,” he responds. “We were all heading that way when it happened.”

Richie knows that he’s lied to his parents before, because who hasn’t, but this feels like too much. He wishes he could tell them the truth; how Eddie was impaled by a fucking space clown-spider-whatever saving Richie’s life, both brave and stupid as fuck at the same time. His blood had been all over Richie’s face, his clothes, soaking into his jacket as he lay unmoving just a few minutes later, his eyes open and his chest still.

Richie wishes he could tell his parents about how he was completely sure a part of himself had died in that cave with Eddie, even if he had only been back in Richie’s life for two days. He wishes he could tell them about how ready he had been to stay in that cave and die holding Eddie in his arms – about how he had almost done it – but then Eddie had taken in a heaving breath. The rest of them had been completely certain he was dead before – he hadn’t been breathing – but then he was gasping and choking, weakly mumbling, ”Did we do it?” before he passed out, and that was all it took for Richie and Ben to hook Eddie’s arms over their shoulders and drag him out. Mike’s car had been parked just down the street, followed by Ben’s, and they all piled into them and hauled ass to the hospital as Neibolt collapsed behind them. Richie had kept both hands on Eddie’s chest in the back seat of Mike’s car; he had pressed his forehead against Eddie’s and just begged him not to die, not to leave, not when Richie had finally gotten him back. He had felt so small and scared in the back of that car, completely helpless as Eddie’s life – quite literally – drained out between his fingers.

He still hadn’t told Eddie about the way that day was for him. He hadn’t told any of them about the life he had been so desperately hiding. The clown tormenting him with that fucking song had been too much, and remembering that day in the arcade nearly sent him into a spiral.

He had talked to his therapist about it. Not the song, but the arcade, and all the other times during his childhood where Henry Bowers and his half-witted goons would attack him for something he was trying so hard to keep in.

”I know everyone will accept me,” he told her, pressing his thumb into his palm to try calming some of the nerves racing through him. “It’s just… I’ve kept it hidden for so long, I don’t know how to just do it, you know? I’ve never even said it aloud before. That I’m…”

His therapist nods, twisting the wedding ring on her finger. “I get it. I felt the same way before I met my wife,” she told him. “When I came out as a teenager, my family wanted nothing to do with me. When I moved here, I was nineteen with nowhere to go. I got a job, found a roommate, went to school, but until I met her, no one in my life here knew who I was.” She reached out and took his hand. “You don’t have to tell them if you’re not ready, not yet anyways. If you know they’ll accept you, take all the time you need.”

He planned to tell them, he really did, especially after Eddie had almost died, but his throat had closed and he couldn’t do it. Not then. It had been too soon.

”Well, I think that’s enough excitement for one night,” Went says, tearing Richie from his thoughts. He sees his mom nod, and she stands to rehang the picture.

She leans over and kisses Richie’s cheek, then Eddie’s. “Goodnight, boys,” she tells them, taking his father’s hand, and then they disappear around the corner. Richie hears the door to his bedroom closed, and he silently praises himself for putting his pajamas into Eddie’s room earlier that day.

”At least you don’t have to worry about them not liking you,” he jokes, and Eddie rolls his eyes.

They stay in the kitchen to wash the dishes, then Eddie grabs his crutch from the island and hooks it onto his arm. “I’m going to take a shower,” he tells Richie, pointing a finger at him accusingly. “Do not get on my bed before you bathe. I will make you sleep on the floor.”

Richie gives a mock salute, and Eddie shakes his head.

It was basically an unspoken rule between them at this point that they both leave the doors cracked whenever they shower. It started when Eddie was still in his wheelchair, just in case he needed Richie to help him out of the tub again, and Richie left his open just in case he needed to run out. They didn’t have to anymore – Eddie was no longer a fall risk, and Richie knew he wouldn’t have to run through his apartment completely naked anytime soon. There was just something about the unspoken “just in case” that provided comfort for them.

Richie knew Eddie still thought about Bowers attacking him in the inn. He often found him in the bathroom poking the scar on his cheek in distaste.

He still felt guilt over trying to leave. He had been standing in his room across the hall shoving his clothes back into his duffel when Eddie had rushed into the hall, stiff as a board and covered in black vomit. Richie had followed him into his room, panicked as Eddie started ranting about what happened to him at the pharmacy, and Richie just couldn’t take it. He had rushed out while Eddie was still talking, grabbed his bag, and climbed down the fire escape.

”You’re turn,” came Eddie’s voice from the doorway, breaking Richie’s thoughts. He limped into the room on his cane and propped it against his bedside table before collapsing onto the bed. His pajama pants were too long, and his shirt was too big, and his hair was damp, and his cheeks were flushed from the shower; Richie swallows tightly and nods in response, grabbing his clothes from the top of the dresser and rushing down the hall.

 

”Your parents are probably having sex on your bed.”

”Oh my God, dude, that’s disgusting! Why the fuck would you say that!?”

Eddie laughs loudly as Richie gags behind his hand. “Thanks for putting that thought into my head, dickwad,” Richie groans, punching Eddie’s shoulder as he continues to laugh into the dark room. “I’m going to throw out my entire mattress now. We are burning those sheets Sunday night.”

”That’s a bit excessive,” Eddie chuckles, rolling out of the bed with a groan and opening the window curtains. Richie watches a soft light fill the room, silhouetting Eddie as he places the fabric onto the hooks.

”Do you sleep with those open every night?” Richie asks, their knees knocking as Eddie slides back beneath the sheets.

”I don’t like the dark,” he replies, turning on his side and tucking his hands beneath his cheek. “Too much has happened in it.”

Richie hums, facing him. He shoves one hand under his own pillow and looks at Eddie, who smiles at him crookedly. Now, Richie thinks. Tell him now.

”I’m gay,” he whispers, and, holy shit he hadn’t meant to just announce it. There was supposed to be a lead up, some emotional backstory where he came to his moment of clarity.

He can feel panic starting to rise, but then Eddie untucks his hands and shuffles closer, hooking his arms around Richie’s neck in an awkward hug. Richie holds his breath as Eddie tucks his head beneath his chin, and his heart lurches into his throat when Eddie’s nose brushes against his hair. “You’re still you,” he replies, voice a low whisper, “and I love you no matter what?”

Richie breathes out shakily and throws his arms around Eddie’s torso, holding him tightly and burying his face in Eddie’s neck when tears start to fall. “Richie, it’s okay,” Eddie reassures him as a sob rips from Richie’s throat. “I promise, it’s okay.”

I know, Richie thinks, wanting desperately to say it, but he can’t get it to break through his muffled sobs. I know it’s okay, but it’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.

Eddie strokes his hair as he tries to calm down, his nails scratching lightly against Richie’s scalp in a way that would normally put him to sleep. His body feels like a live wire where he’s tucked into Eddie, and as much as he hates to do it, he untangles himself from the other man and sits up, taking off his glasses and dropping them onto the bedspread as he wipes his hands under his eyes, sniffling pathetically. Eddie sits up, too, leaning over and laying his head on Richie’s shoulder.

”Fuck, sorry,” Richie mumbles, his voice croaking as he tugs at Eddie’s tear-soaked collar with two fingers. “Wasn’t expecting to get so emotional.”

Eddie shrugs, and even though his face is blurry as hell, Richie can see him close his eyes. “It’s a really big thing, Rich,” he replies, reaching out and taking Richie’s hand, linking their fingers against his thigh. “How long have you known?”

”Since I was thirteen,” Richie tells him – completely honest – and Eddie tenses. “Bowers used to jerk my ass around about it constantly when we were kids, and then that fucking clown—“

”The clown?” Eddie interrupts as Richie fumbles for his glasses and pushes them back onto his nose.

” That dickhead attacked me with the fucking Paul Bunyan statue in the park the first time we fought him,” Richie mumbles. “It was a few days after Bill punched me in the face. Then again, when we went back. He, um, he sang a song about how it was my ‘dirty little secret,’ and that you guys would hate me if you knew.”

”Richie—“

”I know you wouldn’t,” Richie interjects quickly, squeezing Eddie’s hand. “Trust me, I know. But I hadn’t seen you guys in three decades, Eds, and knowing the way we grew up, I just…” He swallows roughly. “I just couldn’t take the chance of losing you all again. Not when I had just gotten you back.”

Eddie sits up quickly, twisting around and grabbing Richie’s face between his hands. “You would never lose us, Richie,” he tells him, voice serious and jaw set, and Richie can feel the tears popping in his eyes again.

”I almost did,” he mumbles, poking Eddie’s chest lightly with one finger.

Eddie frowns, letting go of Richie’s face to hug him. “Never again,” he swears, and Richie chuckles weakly. “I promise.”

They said that a lot, he realized. I promise. It had become like their mantra in this house.

When Eddie pulls back, he grips Richie’s shoulder as he readjusts himself on his side of the mattress. “Let’s go to sleep,” he says, reaching up to pull Richie’s glasses from his face. “We can talk about this some more after your parents leave.”

Richie wakes up two hours later to a heavy weight dropping onto his arm and shoulder, and finds Eddie passed out on top of him; his stomach is crushing Richie’s arm to the bed, and his cheek pressed into Richie’s shoulder.

He somehow manages to wiggle his arm free, but he makes no move to push Eddie’s face back into his pillow. He smiles when Eddie immediately wraps his arms around Richie’s bicep, tugging it to his chest in his sleep.

 

”When are you telling everyone else?” Eddie asks him two days later. He’s sitting on the balcony with Richie while he burns through his third cigarette of the night, holding his shirt over his nose.

Richie shrugs. “I don’t know,” he responds, holding the butt between his teeth and leaning his elbows against the rail of the balcony. He takes it between his fingers as a car horn blows in the traffic below. “I’ve been keeping it a secret since I was thirteen, Eds. I didn’t even mean to tell you; not the way I did, anyways.”

Eddie comes to lean against the rail beside him, still holding his shirt over his nose. “I’m glad you did,” he tells him as they both stare down at the traffic. “Even if it wasn’t the way you wanted to, or maybe even the time, but I am really glad you did.”

Richie stubs his cigarette out on the rail then slips the butt into his pocket to throw away once they go inside. “It was the right time,” he tells Eddie, who waits for the last of the smoke to clear before letting his shirt fall. “It just… I wasn’t supposed to just blurt it out, you know? There was supposed to be some big lead up or something.”

”Is it supposed to be that dramatic?” Eddie asks, pulling his sleeves over his hands. “Coming out, I mean.”

Richie shrugs. “I have no idea,” he replies. “I’d never done it before the other night.”

”Sounds complicated.”

”Complicated?”

”Stressful,” Eddie responds, looking towards Richie was a lopsided smile. “I mean, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Just because you like guys doesn’t mean you’re any different. You’re still the same person. Who you fall for… it just shouldn’t be some huge… psychic revelation.”

Richie snorts, looking back at Eddie with the same lopsided smile. “Psychic? Really, Eds?”

”Fuck you, man, I couldn’t think of a better word.”

”You couldn’t think of a better word? Psychic doesn’t even have the correct meaning that you’re implying, dude.”

”I already said dramatic, Richie, I couldn’t say it again!”

Richie chuckles, and Eddie glares at him. “Psychic,” he chuckles, and Eddie punches his arm.

”You’re such an asshole,” he tells him, turning around to lean his back against the rail and crossing his arms. “I honestly don’t know why I’m friends with you.”

Richie moves to stand in front of him, putting his hands on Eddie’s waist. “Because you love me,” he smiles, and Eddie glares.

”Be glad I do,” he replies, “because you’re a dumbass.”

”Yeah, yeah,” Richie says, shaking Eddie lightly before dropping his hands and stepping back. “Love you, too, Spaghetti.”

”Dick,” Eddie mumbles as Richie turns to go inside. He walks into the kitchen and pulls the cigarette butt from his pocket, dropping it in the trash before going into the living room.

Eddie is still on the balcony, but he’s turned back around to look at the traffic in the street. Richie hears sirens go by through the open door. “Coming, Eds?” he calls, and Eddie jumps, turning to look at him.

”I, um,” he stutters, his outline glowing red from the neon bar sign across the street. “I’ll be in soon. Just, um… I need to…” Richie watches him look down to his feet then back up. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Richie likes to think he knows Eddie like the back of his own hand, He knows something is up with him, but he also knows not to push. Are you okay? he wants to ask, but instead he just nods. “Remember to shut the door when you come in,” he chooses to stay, and Eddie smiles, shaking his head.

”It’s a big sheet of glass, Rich,” he chuckles. “I’ll remember.”

Richie nods and watches Eddie turn around. His elbow shifts against the rail, and even though he can’t see it, he knows that Eddie is chewing on the pad of his thumb. Despite his fear of germs, it was always a nervous tick. When they were kids, it was his inhaler that he chewed on. Richie eventually found that without the inhaler, Eddie’s nervous tick had developed into chewing on the top of pencils, or pens, or even his knuckles or his thumb.

It’s hard to walk into his bedroom when he knows Eddie is worrying himself over something on the balcony, and even though he loves to push the other’s buttons, Richie knows when to step away.


 

”Big Bill!” Richie says when he opens the door to his apartment to find Bill smiling on the other side.

He pulls Bill into his doorway and wraps his arm around his shoulders, smiling widely as the other man returns it. “It’s good to see you, Rich,” Bill says as they pull apart. “Where’s Eddie?”

”Work,” Richie replies as he closes the door. “He’ll get back around five thirty or six, depending on how the subway goes.”

Bill nods. “Audra’s finishing getting ready,” he tells him, looking around the living room. Then he says, “It’s so clean,” and Richie groans.

”Why does everyone say that?” he asks, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “I know how to clean up after myself. I’m not an animal!”

”Rich, you were a hot mess as a kid,” Bill replies, putting his hands on his hips. “Your room was always messy and your clothes never matched.”

”Tell that to the kid who wore polos with gym shorts,” Richie mumbles. “Or the one that wore jorts.”

”Jorts were cool in the eighties, Richie.”

”Only to you.”

”Yeah, and like, half the country.”

”That is an overstatement.”

Bill shrugs, hooking his thumbs in his pockets and moving towards the kitchen. Richie watches him pull a half empty bottle of wine from the fridge. He holds it up questionably and Richie shrugs. “What can I say?” he says. “I’m a man of fine taste.”

”Yeah right,” Bill mumbles, putting the bottle back in the fridge and grabbing one of Richie’s bottles from a cheap six pack in the bottom drawer. He pops the cap on the kitchen counter and Richie winces.

”There was a bottle opener in the drawer, man,” he grumbles, walking past Bill and rubbing his thumb across the counter where Bill had opened his bottle. “Be glad you didn’t chip the marble. Eddie would have beat your ass.”

Bill snorts, leaning against the island. “Remember junior year when he got absolutely trashed in the clubhouse and tried to fight you?” he asks, and Richie laughs. Bill smiles around the rim of his bottle.

”’Fight me, and if I win, you have to stop smoking,’” Richie says in his best young Eddie impersonation, crouching down and holding up his fists. “Classic Eddie.”

Bill chuckles, shaking his head and pulling away from the counter. “Hey, did you know there was a key stuck on my forehead during one of our Skype calls?” he asks as they move to sit in the living room, and Richie practically howls.

 

”I said dice the onions, Bill, not chop!”

”They mean the same thing, Eddie!”

”They do not!” Eddie counteracts, marching up to Bill and taking the knife from his hand. “This is a dice, and this is a chop!” He does each one, and even Richie must admit it’s very hard to see the difference.

Bill picks up two of the onion pieces and holds them in front of Eddie’s face. “These look,” he starts, shaking his hands slightly, “exactly the same.”

Eddie plucks the onions from his fingertips and copies Bill’s gesture. He thrusts one hand forward, almost smacking Bill in the nose with his fist. “You’re drunk,” he says, shaking his hand. “This is a cube, and this is just a wonky piece.”

Wonky!” Bill slurs as he jerks the onion from Eddie’s hand. “I’ll have you know—“

”Bill,” Richie interrupts, and both men look towards him. “I’m back with your wife.”

Bill’s eyes light up as Audra walks into the kitchen, and he immediately drops the onion and moves to her, throwing his arms around her waist. Audra laughs and shoves at his head when he buries his nose in her hair. “Hi, baby,” she says, kissing his cheek. Bill smiles dumbly at her. He frowns when she moves across the kitchen to stand beside Eddie, and Richie can pinpoint the exact moment the alcohol hits him. “What are we making?” Audra asks, picking up the knife beside the cutting board and dicing the onions.

”Chicken pot pie,” Eddie tells her as Bill falls into Richie’s side.

”Where’d Audra go?” he asks, looking around the kitchen in confusion.

Richie wraps an arm around Bill’s waist to keep him up. “She’s standing beside Eddie trying to clean up your mess,” he tells him, and Bill’s eyebrows furrow as he looks at the back of Audra’s head, then Eddie’s.

”That’s Ben and Bev.”

”That’s your wife and Eddie, you fucking lightweight,” Richie laughs, and Bill shakes his head groggily.

”Not a lightweight,” he slurs, his head falling against Richie’s shoulder. His eyebrows crease again as he stares Eddie up and down. “Ben, man, when did you get so short?” Eddie and Audra laugh, and Richie shakes his head. Bill looks up at him dopily, his head falling backwards before jerking forward again. His eyes wide, he smacks his lips. “’M tired, Rich.”

”Okay, man, let’s get you to bed,” Richie groans, looking at Audra helplessly when she turns around to snap a picture. Help me, he screams with his eyes, and Audra shakes her head but comes over anyways, slipping Bill’s free arm over her shoulder.

Bill looks at her, and his eyes go wide. “Audra!” he cheers, leaning over to kiss her cheek. It’s sloppy, and Richie has to put all his weight into holding Bill up so he doesn’t completely fall on top of her. “I’m going to throw up.”

Before Audra or Richie can respond, Eddie is coming towards them with a bottle of water. “Do not throw up anywhere but the bathroom or a trashcan, William,” he says seriously, holding the bottle up to Bill’s mouth, who squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head.

”You have to drink it, babe,” Audra tells him, and Bill shakes his head again. He lurches forward between Richie and Audra, and Richie watches panic flash across Eddie’s eyes. Thankfully, Bill doesn’t puke on Eddie’s feet, and instead just groans pitifully.

Eddie looks at Richie like he’s the one on the verge of puking. “Bathroom,” he says, taking a deep breath. “Now.”

Richie and Eddie stand in the hallway, listening as Audra comforts a heaving Bill through thr door. “I didn’t realize he was such a lightweight,” Eddie says, wincing when Bill makes a wet, choking sound.

”He’s even worse than you,” Richie says, and Eddie glares at him.

”You know I don’t drink, Rich,” he says, just as the bathroom door clicks open behind them.

”I should get him to bed,” Audra says, and Richie nods, gesturing to his room.

”Just stick him in there,” he says. “I’ll bunk with Eds.”

”Don’t call me that, asshole.”

Audra nods and helps Bill into the bedroom as Richie follows Eddie back into the kitchen. “How was work?” he asks as Eddie passes him a bowl of slightly shredded chicken.

”It was okay,” Eddie responds, using the knife to swipe the vegetables into the pie crust he had pulled from the fridge earlier that night. Richie watches him swipe his fingers along the blade and winces, suddenly thinking of Stan and how Patty found him in the bathtub, wrists slit and barely alive. He really should call Stan, he realizes, and then Eddie drops the knife into the sink and grabs the bowl of chicken from Richie. “I’m up for a promotion.”

”Eds!” Richie cheers, wrapping his arm around Eddie’s shoulders, who shouts when he almost drops the bowl. “That’s amazing!”

”It’s hardly anything,” Eddie responds, moving to drop the bowl into the sink. “I’ll still be a risk analyst; my pay will just be higher because I’ll be training new hires.”

”A trainer at your boring ass job, Spaghetti. I can now quit my job and live as a trophy wife, my absolute dream.”

”Shut up, Richie!” Eddie shrieks, cheeks flaring as he shoves Richie away from him. He finishes the pie and slips it into the oven, glaring at Richie the entire time.

”What do you have him squealing about now, Rich?” Audra asks as she walks into the kitchen, her hands on her hips.

”Nothing,” Eddie replies just as Richie opens his mouth to reply. “How’s Bill?”

”Sleeping,” Audra responds, jerking her thumb over her finger. “How much did he drink?”

”Like, two beers,” Richie tells her. “He downed them pretty fast, though.”

”Fucking lightweight,” Eddie mumbles, and Richie snorts.

”You’re one to talk.”

”Oh, fuck you, Richie; I don’t drink!”

”Fuck you!”

”Shut up!” Bill’s voice calls from down the hall, slurred and muffled. Audra chuckles, shaking her head.

”Food?” she asks, ignoring her husband’s pained groans in Richie’s room.

”Soon,” Eddie replies, pulling two wine glasses from the cabinet and passing her one.

Richie watches him open the fridge and pull out the bottle of wine Bill had grabbed earlier, unscrewing the cap. “Oh,” Audra mumbles, her face flushed. “Shit, um, fuck, this is part of why we came over.” Richie watches her place the wine glass on the island, spinning her thumbs around each other. She takes a deep breath then looks up at them with watery eyes. “I’m pregnant,” she chuckles, her voice airy.

The room goes impossibly silent. Audra still has her hands clasped in front of her stomach, and she looks nervous.

Eddie breaks the silence. “You’re going to have a baby?” he whispers, and Audra laughs, nodding rapidly as a tear slips down her cheek. Richie watches a smile grow on his face, and his heart stutters as Eddie beams at Audra and runs to pull her into him. “A baby!” he shouts, swaying Audra in his arms. “They’re having a baby, Richie!”

It’s only when Eddie lets Audra go to put his hands on her stomach that Richie realizes he still hasn’t spoken. “Oh my God,” he manages to get out, at a complete loss for words as he stumbles to Audra’s side and throws his arms around her neck. She laughs and reaches up to hold his arms, squeezing them in a way he knows is supposed to be mimicking a hug, since she can’t really move with Eddie in front of her.

He straightens his spine to hug her again, and Richie hears her laughing and sniffling where she’s squished between them. “We’re going to be uncles!” Eddie shouts, and Audra laughs again.

A few minutes later, when they’re eating, Eddie asks her if they had told the rest of the Losers. “Over Skype, right before we came back from Chicago,” she admits with a shrug.

”And we weren’t invited?” Richie asks, mocking offense.

Audra laughs. “You had texted Bill earlier that day asking if we wanted to come over for dinner when we got back,” she says, picking up her fork from where it’s laying on the edge of her plate. “We both wanted to tell you in person. Obviously, we planned on telling you together, but you know Bill.”

”He drinks when he’s nervous,” Eddie finishes for her.

”I wasn’t expecting him to be wasted when I got here, but he’s a lightweight.”

”Ha!” Richie laughs, patting Eddie’s shoulder. “Even his wife agrees!”

”Of course I agree,” Audra chuckles. “He was absolutely smashed at our wedding reception; it was a little sad.”

”Those nerves get him every time,” Eddie says, dropping his fork onto his empty plate. He leans back in his chair and stares at Audra dopily across the table, and if Richie didn’t know him, he would assume Eddie was drunk. “I can’t believe it. The first Loser baby.”

”I’m just letting you know right now,” Richie says, leaning his elbows on the table and pointing at Audra’s stomach, “that kid is going to be so spoiled.” Eddie nods in agreement.

”Oh, I know,” Audra chuckles, putting her hands over her stomach with a small smile on her face. “Bev already said she’s making all the clothes once the baby is born, and Ben and Stan told us they were loading us up at the baby shower. Mike’s already opened a travelling account for when she’s older.”

”You’re having a girl?” Eddie asks, his voice a little choked, and Audra shrugs.

”Just a feeling,” she says, smiling between them, “but we’ll love them no matter what.”

Audra helps them wash the dishes before kissing both of their cheeks and heading to Richie’s bedroom to take a shower and go to bed. After they put the dishes away, Eddie heads to his own room to grab his pajamas before going to take a shower, and Richie sneaks into his own bedroom using the flashlight on his phone to grab his clothes from the drawers. When the light hits the bed, he has to hide a laugh behind his hand when he realizes Audra had shoved two pillows between her and Bill before going to sleep.

He tells Eddie about it when he comes in from the shower, and Eddie laughs. “I can’t blame her,” he says as he climbs into bed. “I wouldn’t want to touch someone who’d been throwing up two hours before, either.”


 

”I’m gay.”

The Skype call goes silent at Richie’s words, and he feels Eddie grab his hand as panic starts to fill him. Then, Beverly grabs her phone and starts furiously typing, and Ben’s eyebrows furrow. “What are you doing?” he asks her.

Bev doesn’t look up from her phone. “I’m booking a flight to LA,” she replies, still typing. “This asshole decided to come out when I couldn’t hug him on purpose.”

And that lightens the mood tremendously. Stan speaks next. “I’m super pissed that you did this over Skype,” he says, and Patty nods in agreement beside him, “but I’m really glad you told us. I wish you would have done it in person so I could hug you. Now, you’re just going to get hit.” Patty slaps his arm, and he sighs. “And I guess I’ll hug you, too.”

”I’m just happy you’re telling us,” Mike says. Richie can see the sun setting in the window behind him. “How long have you known?”

”Since I was thirteen.”

Richard Tozier!” Bev exclaims, slamming her phone down on her thigh. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner!?”

It feels exactly like when he told Eddie. “You know how we grew up,” he tells her – tells all of them. “Where we grew up. When. I just couldn’t tell you guys when we were kids. I couldn’t lose you.”

”You wouldn’t have,” Mike says, and his voice is light but promising. “We never would have stopped being your friend because of your sexuality, Rich.”

”I know that now, Mikey,” he replies, “I do, but I was thirteen and scared. It and Bowers, they used it against me. Then we came back, and It…”

”You don’t have to tell us, Richie,” Stan tells him, and Patty grabs his arm. “We understand why you didn’t say anything.”

”Yeah,” Bill agrees. “We love you, Trashmouth. No matter what.”

”Losers stick together,” Ben says, and the others nod, including Eddie, who is still clutching Richie’s hand.

”The Losers,” Mike nods.

”Flight’s booked,” Bev interrupts, and Richie hears her phone fall onto the table. “Ben and I will be landing at eight.” Ben groans beside her.

”As soon as this call ends, I’m booking us a flight,” Stan says to Patty. She nods, smiling at him and then Richie through the screen.

”Same here,” Mike says. “This is important. It’s worth cutting my trip short.”

”We’ll come over after Audra’s ultrasound,” Bill tells him.

Richie knows he’s smiling like an idiot, and he groans as he starts tearing up. He untangles his fingers from Eddie’s so he can wipe his eyes. “I love you guys,” he sniffles, and Eddie leans over to hug him.

”We love you, too, Trashmouth,” Stan says, and Richie laughs wetly, clutching Eddie’s forearm where it’s wrapped around his neck.

”Why is Eddie not surprised?” Bill asks, and Stan gasps, pointing an accusing finger at them through the screen.

”You told him already, you prick!” he shouts, and Ben laughs. “When!?”

”Like, three months ago,” Richie tells him, and Stan’s face pinches. “Damn, Staniel, what’s the face for?”

”Three months ago,” Stan mumbles, exasperated. “I swear to God.”

”He lives with me, man,” Richie says as Eddie pulls away from him. “I didn’t mean to do it. It kind of just… happened?”

”He cried,” Eddie tells them, and Richie’s jaw drops when they all start laughing,

”I was emotional, Eddie!” he exclaims. “You promised you wouldn’t use that against me!”

”Some promises are made to be broken,” Eddie replies, holding up his hands. Richie shoves him, and he tumbles off the couch.

 

He wakes up to pounding on the apartment door. He fumbles for his glasses on his bedside table and groans as he rolls out of bed. He scratches his head as he walks into the hall, and the pounding on the door starts again, rapid and loud. “I’m coming!” he shouts as Eddie’s door clicks open.

”What the fuck?” he mumbles, eyes squinted and hair wild. His clothes are rumpled and he looks dazed as he rubs his eyes.

He stumbles into the hall in front of Richie, gripping his cane as he steps on the bottoms of his pajama pants. They reach the door at the same time, and Richie unlocks it and starts opening it when it suddenly flies open, almost smacking Eddie in the face. Then, a mess of red hair and sweatpants is flying into Richie’s bubble, hooking arms around his neck, and sending them toppling to the floor.

”I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” Bev chants into his ear as he groans, wrapping his arms around her waist where she pins him onto the hardwood.

”We took a cab as soon as our plane landed,” he hears Ben tell Eddie, who looks like he’d much rather be in bed. Ben looks about the same, despite the time change was only a couple of hours. “I’m probably going to pass out on your couch. Bev made us get to the airport three hours before our flight left.”

”I wasn’t wasting any time,” Bev says, her arms still around Richie’s neck and her head tucked beneath his chin.

”Bevy, you know I love you,” Richie says, squeezing her slightly, “but this floor is killing my back.”

When Bev finally relents and lets him go, she helps him from the floor and he stumbles slightly, trying to regain his footing. Before he really gets a chance, Ben is on him, hugging him just as tightly as Beverly. “It’s really good to see you,” he whispers, and Richie nods, hugging him back and tucking his face in Ben’s neck. “We’re so proud of you, Richie.”

It’s too early for the flood of emotions hitting him, and a muffled, choked sob breaks from his throat into Ben’s shoulder. He feels two more pairs of arms wrap around him, and he’s crying, squished between Bev, Ben, and Eddie. After a few moments, Eddie’s cane knocks against his foot, and he sniffles and pulls back. “Thanks, guys,” he mumbles, and Bev grabs his face between her hands.

”I am so pissed that you told us over Skype,” she tells him, pulling him down slightly to press a long, wet kiss against his forehead, “but I’m too happy to hit you.”

”Stan has you covered,” Eddie says, yawning behind his hand. “I love you guys, and I’m so glad you’re here, but I am going back to bed.”

”It’s eight in the morning, Eddie,” Ben says, and Eddie yawns again. He leans heavily against the cane, running his free hand through his bed head.

”Stan texted me last night and said their plane lands at six,” Richie tells the three of them. “Audra’s ultrasound is scheduled for two, so she and Bill should get here around three-thirty or so. Why don’t we all get a bit more sleep? You guys can take my room.”

Ben and Bev nod, and she hugs him one more time before grabbing her bag and following Ben down the hall. Richie follows Eddie to his room, and watches as he immediately collapses onto the mattress.

”Your legs bothering you?” he asks, and Eddie nods and replies, “Cramps.” Richie watches him sit up to dig his prescription from his side drawer.

“I hate this,” he mumbles, pushing the cap back into place and dropping it onto the bedspread. He collapses onto the pillows and runs his hands over his face as Richie sits on the mattress beside him. “It fucking sucks, Rich.”

”I know, Eds,” Richie replies, squeezing his shin through the sheets.

”Sometimes, I just wish things were back to the way they were before Mike called,” Eddie tells him, his head tucking against his chest to look at Richie. “The way things were before Derry.”

And, yes, Richie can see why he would wish for that. He does, too, sometimes. Thinks about his life before he went back to Derry; the life of touring and talk shows and after parties that ran into the early hours of the morning.

Then, he’ll see the Polaroid pictures Mike gave him when Eddie was still in the hospital, of all the Losers way back when. He’ll see messages in the group chat, or Audra’s ultrasound pictures.

Mike’s traveling stories.

Birds Stan would see in the park that he just had to send them pictures of.

Ben and Beverly’s dog.

He’ll see Eddie, sitting on the couch, eating cereal at the table while he plays Candy Crush on his phone, or he’ll find him lying on the floor in the hallway – because, yes, Richie has found him there before – blasting rock classics from his phone speakers.

Standing on the balcony, wind in his hair as he stares out over the city.

In the passenger seat of the car singing along to shitty songs on the radio.

Humming softly in the kitchen as he cooks dinner.

Richie thinks of all of this when he recalls how his life was before their return to Derry. He sees everything that he lost – that he was so close to losing again – and he thanks whatever unearthly being watching over them that Mike called them. He could have done without the clown, and he would have preferred a peaceful reunion over fighting that fucker again, but he knows that without It, he wouldn’t have this.

”I’m happy things aren’t the same,” he tells Eddie, his voice soft. The other man stares at him with furrowed eyebrows. “If things hadn’t changed… If It hadn’t come back, we wouldn’t have each other again.”

He thinks about what Stan said to him at Ben and Bev’s wedding. I think that clown was the best thing to ever happen to us. Richie shrugs, squeezing Eddie’s leg again. “If it hadn’t happened again, we wouldn’t be the Losers. We’d just be…”

He’s trying to think of a word when Eddie snorts. “We’d just be losers,” he smiles. “Get up here, Trashmouth. But turn off the light first. And close the curtains; there’s enough sun out for light to get in.”

Richie does it all, then falls into the bed beside Eddie and sleeps until Bill starts pounding on the front door.

 

Richie and Ben end up having to go buy air mattresses later in the day when he comes to the realization that there just isn’t enough room to comfortably sleep nine grown adults in his house. When they get back to his apartment, he’s greeted by Stan marching up to him and smacking him on the side of the head.

”True to your word as always, Stanley,” he groans as he rubs his head, and Stan just smiles and wraps Richie in his arms.

”I’m so proud of you, Richie,” Stan whispers into his shoulder, holding him so tightly Richie’s is scared his ribs might break. He wraps his arms around Stan’s neck anyway, holding him back with the same force.

When Stan finally lets him go, Mike is next, throwing his arms around Richie’s shoulders. “Sorry your trip was cut short, Mikey,” he chuckles, and Mike shakes his head, pulling back.

”This was worth it,” the man responds, hugging Richie once more. Then, he’s moving away from Richie, and Patty walks up to him to give him a quick, short hug, telling him that it’s good to see him again.

”All the Losers, together again,” Mike laughs, throwing his arm around Richie’s shoulders and leaning into his side as he takes in the smiling faces in the room. “We’re going to own this city tonight.”

 

They do not, in fact, own the city that night. Instead, they decide to go to an Italian restaurant down the street for dinner, all of them crowding into a large booth shoved into the back corner.

Bev shoves a stick of garlic bread in Richie’s face, and Eddie tosses a piece of lettuce from the complimentary bowl of salad at Stan but accidentally hits Patty in the face. Bill leans over the table and steals a piece of chicken from Ben’s plate once their food arrives, and Audra picks an ice cube from her water and throws it at Mike when he won’t stop slurping his pasta.

”To Richie,” Stan says at some point during the night, holding up his cup with a smile on his face. “For being one brave, but stupid, son of a bitch.”

The family at the table beside them turns and glares, and Richie sees the woman who is obviously the mother put her hands over her young son’s ears. The kid keeps playing on the cellphone in his hand like nothing has happened, and if Richie tears up when their glasses clink together, no one has to know.

He laughs more than he has in months, and when they leave, his throat is sore. Eddie suggests a movie on the way back to the apartment, so they all pile up in the living room to try finding something.

”You’re going to have a special on here one day, Rich,” Bill says as Eddie and Mike scroll through Netflix options.

Bev nods from where she’s lounging on one of the air mattresses, leaning over to tap Richie’s nose.

When he falls into Eddie’s bed that night – because he obviously he wasn’t letting a very pregnant Audra sleep on an air mattress, and everyone else denied taking Eddie’s room – he stares up at the ceiling with what he knows is a dopey smile on his face.

”What’s that look for?” Eddie asks after he finishes opening the curtains. Richie feels the mattress dip when he lays down.

”I’m just,” Richie starts, pausing and turning his head to look at Eddie. The other man has one hand tucked beneath his pillow and the other under his cheek. Richie’s heart stutters in his chest. “I’m just really, really happy, Eds.”

Eddie smiles and reaches over to tap Richie’s nose the same way Bev had earlier in the night. “I’m proud of you,” he whispers, tucking his hand back under his cheek, and Richie feels like he’s just won a million bucks.

If someone were to ask him when he thought he had fallen in love with Eddie Kaspbrak again, Richie wouldn’t be able to pinpoint an exact moment. There were moments, though, that he knew helped with the redevelopment. The first day Eddie walked again, between the bars in a rehabilitation facility gym while Richie screamed and cried as he shot a video for their friends. How he had looked at Richie with those stupid doe eyes, filled with shock as he whispered ‘I did it’ like it was too good to be true. Ben and Bev’s wedding night, when they had danced to Almost Paradise and Richie had felt like he was on cloud nine. The look on Eddie’s face when Audra told them she and Bill were having the baby. The night he came out and Eddie had held him as he cried, reassuring Richie that nothing had or ever would change. Reassured him that no matter what the Losers would always love him; that he would always love him.

Maybe it was before that. Maybe it was the day Eddie had woken up at the hospital, half out of it and so drugged up he could barely form a coherent sentence. Maybe it was the day he had finally been aware enough to recognize all of them, and the first thing he had said was, “No one call my wife.” Maybe it had been the day that he passed Richie the pudding cup from his lunch and told him he looked like shit. Maybe it was the day Myra had walked into the room and immediately began fretting over him, pushing down on his chest so hard that Richie had to pull her from the room so a nurse could check on his stitches. Maybe it was when Myra had walked back in and Eddie told her he wanted a divorce; he told her that he wasn’t fragile, and that he didn’t need anyone to take care of him. Maybe it was the day he signed his divorce papers. Maybe it was the day he told Richie he wanted to go with him to California.

So, no, Richie would never be able to tell someone the exact moment he fell for Eddie, but as he watches the other man doze off beside him, he knows that he would never, ever love someone this much. Even when Eddie did eventually slap him in the face while he slept that night, and even if he had to tuck the sheets around himself to keep Eddie from stealing them, Richie Tozier knew he loved him. He loved him so much that he was afraid his heart would burst.


 

”What?”

”A comeback tour, Richie,” Ally tells him, bouncing her son on her knee as she slides the cream-colored folder across the table to him. “Just in the US, to get you back on your feet. Kind of testing the water again.”

Richie watches her one year old, Jack, slide off her knee and toddle over to him, holding himself up on the table legs before smacking his tiny hands on Richie’s thigh. Richie lifts him into his lap, and Jack grabs his phone from the table. The lock screen lights up to show a picture of the Losers, and Jack babbles incoherently when he sees Ben’s face, slapping the screen.

”I don’t know, Ally,” Richie says, unlocking his phone and pulling up his notepad so Jack can play with the keyboard. “I mean, a comeback show, I understand, but an entire tour?”

”I know it’s a lot,” she says as he scans through the list of venues that were offering to book him. “Lots of the venues are ones you’ve performed in before. They made the most income from your shows and were asking us to get you booked with them again.” She reaches across the table to grab his hand, and Jack screeches at something on his phone. “This could be a really good deal for you, Rich,” Ally tells him, squeezing his fingers.

Jack lifts his phone to Richie’s face, where he has apparently pulled up Richie’s pictures, talking gibberish at a photo of Eddie and Ben. Richie runs a hand through the baby’s blonde curls when he pulls the phone back away. “I know you’ve been writing your own material. This would be a good chance for you to test it out on your audience. You can stop catering to a target audience and just… tell the jokes you want for everyone. At least consider it.”

Richie nods just as the camera shutter begins going off on his phone.

 

”I think you should take it,” Eddie tells him later that night, still in his work clothes as he sits in one of the lounge chairs on the balcony and scrolling through Richie’s photos.

”But it’s a tour, Eds,” Richie replies. “That’s months on the road.”

”And?” Eddie asks, smiling at one of the Jack’s selfies from the meeting. “It’s not like you haven’t done it before.”

Richie falls into the lawn chair beside Eddie, rubbing his hands over his face. “The last time I was on tour was before Derry, and I was booed off the stage.”

”You’ll be fine, Rich,” Eddie replies, passing him his phone. “So, you had one screw up. That doesn’t mean you should stop doing what you love, especially now that you’re writing your own material.”

”Yeah,” Richie mutters, scrolling through the pictures himself. Most of them are shots of Jack’s forehead and eyes. He can see himself in the background of most of them, talking to Ally. He sends one of them to Ben, where all you can see is Jack’s eyes, nose, and forehead. “So you really think I should do it?” he asks after a few moments.

Eddie nods, staring at the bar sign across the street. The light has started to flicker and shake, and the glow isn’t as bright as it was the night Richie’s parents left. “I really think you should, Rich.” He pauses and turns to face Richie, a small smile on his face. “Just remember to save us all a seat when you get your Netflix special.”

”There isn’t a Netflix offer on the deal, Eds.”

”Not yet, anyways,” Eddie replies, crossing his arms and turning back to face the sign.

Richie stares at him for a few moments before picking up his phone.


 

The tour starts a month later on the east coast. Eddie helps him pack his bag – “There’s going to be stylists there, Eds.” Richie says as Eddie tosses another buttondown into his suitcase, to which Eddie responds with, “Shut the hell up and let me pack you respectable outfits, dickhead.” – then rides with him to LAX so he can bring the car back to the apartment. They meet Ally outside of the bag check, and Jack squeals in his stroller as they walk up to them, beating on the tray.

”Hey, Jack!” Eddie exclaims, lifting the baby from his stroller and proping him on his hip. Jack reaches up and smacks him on the forehead, then puts both his hands on each of Eddie’s cheeks, babbling the entire time. “I have no idea what you’re saying.”

”We have a layover in Chicago,” Ally tells Richie, pulling him away from Eddie and Jack when the baby grows signifigantly louder. “From there, we fly into North Carolina. The show is tomorrow at seven thirty – eastern standard, obviously – and then you’ll have two more Friday and Saturday. After that, we’re bussing to South Carolina, Florida, then back up through Georgia. After we hit all the dates out east, we’ll start moving back towards California, where the last show will be.” She glances over towards Eddie and Jack, and Richie follows her eyes.

Jack has his hands wrapped around Eddie’s fingers and is toddling towards the bag check, laughing giddily while Eddie helps him stay standing. When they finally reach their destination, he lets go of Eddie’s fingers one by one to brace himself against a picture of an airplane that’s nailed to the desk. Eddie crouches beside him, pointing at the picture and talking quietly as Jack stares at it with wide eyes. The sight makes Richie’s heart ache.

Ally pulls her phone from her pocket and types something quickly before putting it back. “Obviously you know the dates, so you know when we’ll be moving out of each state,” she tells him, pulling his attention away from Eddie and the baby. “It’s just good to keep a schedule.”

Richie nods as Jack grabs Eddie’s fingers again and they begin walking towards him and Ally. When they reach them, Jack immediately grabs Ally’s pants leg, swaying slightly before leaning his weight against the side of her calf. As she lifts him up onto her hip, an airplane flys overhead, and Jack flaps his arms enthusiastically as he watches it go by, laughing quickly before turning his face in Ally’s direction and sticking out his tongue, blowing a rasberry.

”Taking a plane with a talkative baby,” Eddie says, putting his hands on his hips. “I don’t know how you’re going to be able to stand it, Rich.” As if sensing his words, Jack turns towards him and blows another rasberry.

Ally smiles and Richie scoffs, leaning over and bumping Eddie’s shoulder with his own. “At least he’s not a stranger’s baby,” he replies. “Plus, I brought headphones.”

”Smart,” Eddie nods, jumping when Ally’s alarm suddenly begins to blare from her pocket.

”That’s for us,” she tells Richie, leaning over to buckle Jack back into his stroller and dropping the tray over his legs. “Security check and then boarding. The plane is taking off in two hours.”

Eddie leans over and ruffles Jack’s hair, and the baby blows another rasberry at him, banging his palms against the tray. Ally gives Eddie a quick hug and promises to keep him updated on their schedule, then pushes Jack’s stroller into the airport.

Then Richie and Eddie are alone, facing each other outside of the airport as people rush by to get inside. “Have you assesed all the risks, Spaghetti?” Richie asks jokingly, and Eddie rolls his eyes.

”You’re a dick,” he responds, but he’s smiling.

”Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Richie asks, putting his hands on Eddie’s biceps. “I will call your office myself and tell them I’m a flight risk. They can’t not send their Senior Risk Analyst with that as an excuse.”

”Again, Trashmouth, that isn’t how my job works,” Eddie tells him. He runs a hands through his hair and then falls forward into Richie’s chest, wrapping his arms around Richie’s middle. “I’m going to miss you, you giant asshole.”

Richie hugs him back, even though there is a possibility he may cry. “I’m going to miss you, too, Eds.”

”It’s going to be weird having the house to myself for two months,” Eddie mumbles into his shoulder, and Richie laughs as he pulls back.

He sees Eddie swipe the heels of his palms beneath his own eyes, and he reaches up to ruffle the man’s hair. “Two months,” he whispers, and Eddie smiles as he pulls him back in for one more hug.

 

”You don’t have to be at the venue until five thirty,” Ally tells him as she passes Jack to him from the hallway outside of his hotel room. “I need to go meet with the building manger and the crew. You’ll be introduced to them all tonight, which means I need you to babysit for a few hours until I come back to get you.” Jack gurgles against Richie’s hip, kicking his feet and shoving a fist in his mouth as Ally passes him the diaper bag. “Thank you so much for watching him, Rich.”

”It’s no problem,” he tells her, watching Jack pull his fist from his mouth and reach for her, cooing as slober drips onto the floor. Richie briefly thinks of Eddie and the gagging noise he would make.

Ally just smiles and presses a kiss to Jack’s forehead. “I’ll be back before you know it,” she says.

Jack makes a whimpering noise when the door closes behind his mother, still reaching for where she had been standing; then his gaze finds Richie’s and a smile blooms beneath his eyes. “You’re gonna hang out with me for a while, buddy,” Richie tells him, and Jack shouts, kicking his feet against Richie’s hips.

He sits the baby against the pillows of his bed and drops the diaper bag on the floor before sitting down, too, grabbing the remote and turning on the TV. A news station is playing a story on an aviation museum that had added old war jets to their collection. A picture of one of the planes pulls up on the screen, and Jack starts babbling excitedly beside Richie, shaking his arms to the TV and blowing his fifth rasberry of the day.

Eventually he finds a channel showing cartoons, and the bright colors pull Jack in immediately. Richie scans through his set and fixes a few mistakes when Jack flops over and pulls himself up on Richie’s shoulder to stand on the bed. One of the characters on the TV starts singing the alphabet, and Richie hums along as Jack laughs and attempts to jump on the mattress, bending his knees as he holds himself up.

His phone lights up with a call from Ben, so he answers it and puts it on speaker. “Haystack!” he exclaims when the call connects, and Ben chuckles on his end of the line.

”Hey, Rich,” he replies, and Jack’s head whips around the room to find the source of the voice. “Ally told me you were babysitting Jack, so I figured I’d check up on you guys.”

This is the exact moment Jack realizes Ben’s voice is coming from the phone, and he screeches as he falls onto the mattress beside Richie, reaching for the object with grabby hands. “She hasn’t even been gone twenty minutes, Ben,” Richie replies, locking the phone and passing it to Jack, who slaps the screen and yells again, babbling over him.

Ben laughs, and there’s shuffling on his end of the line that sounds like a door opening. “Hiya, bud!” Jack looks at Richie with wide eyes, slapping the screen again.

”He’s not stuck in there, kid, that’s just how phones work,” Richie mumbles, running a hand through the baby’s curls.

”You nervous for the show tonight, Rich?”

Richie runs his hands over his face as Jack drops the phone onto the mattress. He leans into Richie’s side as he refocuses on the TV screen, babbling occasionally but otherwise silent. “I’m honestly not trying to think about the nerves,” Richie replies, lifting his phone, “but I seriously think I’m going to puke, man.”

”Well, it’s understandable seeing as how bad you fucked up last time,” Ben says, and there’s shuffling along the line again. “But, we all can blame Mike for that.”

”Yeah,” comes Beverly’s voice from the line. “We defintitley blame Mike. Hey, Rich.”

”Hey, Bev.”

”You’re going to be amazing,” Ben tells him. “You’re a natural when it comes to comedy, Rich.”

”Pretend the audience is naked,” Bev chimes in, and Ben makes a noise of agreement.

”I won’t see the audience because of the lights, guys,” he tells them.

”That could be a problem,” Bev tells Ben, then gasps excitedly. “Oh, I know! Pretend one of us is in the audience!”

”Or, or,” Ben says, “put us all on a group call and keep your phone in your pocket!”

”I’m not supposed to do that, Ben.”

”Write it into your set,” Bev says, and he can hear the shrug in her voice. “Or just don’t tell anyone.”

Richie considers it. All of the other Losers on a group call in his pocket. He could keep his phone in his pants so the microphone wouldn’t pick them up, and no one would know they were there except him. The thought instanttly calms him. “Yeah,” he mumbles. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

Bev cheers, and Jack startles against Richie’s side, but then he hears the excitement and starts shouting, too, kicking his feet.

”Jack has the right idea!” Ben exclaims, and the baby slaps the screen again.

 

When Ally gets back to his room, she uses the second key the hotel gave him to get in. Richie is leaning against the pillows watching a true crime docu-series while Jack naps on top of his stomach, a puddle of drool collecting beneath his cheek on Richie’s shirt. “Fun day?” she asks, sitting on the bed and running a hand through the baby’s hair.

Richie nods, his hand on the sleeping child’s back. “Lot’s of crawling,” he tells her. “He liked staring out the window.”

”He usually does,” Ally chuckles as Richie grabs his phone from the bed spread and pulls up a picture of Jack holding himself against the window, watching cars go by on the interstate.

”How was the meeting?” he asks her as she shifts to lay down beside him.

”Everything is worked out,” she replies. “You’ll get there, do a mic check, then the house doors open at six thirty, which gives you an hour till show to get ready and get the audience settled.”

Richie nods, staring at the TV. “Ally,” he says, waiting to see if she’s going to say anything.

”Yeah, Rich?”

”I’m gay.”

She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, but then she covers his hand on Jack’s back with her own. “That’s okay, Rich,” she says. “Just know, right now I’m off the clock. You’re telling me as a friend, not your manager.”

Richie quirks an eyebrow at her. “What would happen if I did tell you as my manager?”

”I would have to tell people,” she tells him. “That way, whenever we book you future shows, venue managers and staff would be aware of it. As much as I hate it, your sexuality in a professional platform won’t be able to stay secret, Rich. Don’t tell me as your manager until you know you’re ready for that.”

He nods, and they fall silent until Jack wakes up an hour later, screeching gleefully when he sees his mother and slapping Richie in the face in his haste to get to her.

 

He keeps his phone in his pocket during the show that night despite being told he couldn’t. No one knows the Losers are on the line, and no one can hear their snide comments and laughter but him.

When he makes it back to his room, they hold their weekly Skype call. “It’s weird seeing Eddie and Richie on two different squares,” Stan says after they praise him for the show.

”Yeah,” Bill agrees, pushing his glasses up his nose. “It is really strange.”

”You guys do realize we aren’t always together, right?” Eddie questions, and Bev snorts.

”It’s like not seeing Ben and Bev on the same screen,” Stan continues, ignoring Eddie;s comment. “Weird.”

”It is kind of weird, Eds,” Richie agrees.

”The only weird part is not being in the same house,” Eddie tells him. “It’s, like, deadly silent here.”

”Awe, Eds, you miss me?”

”I never said that the silence was a bad thing,” Eddie deadpans, and Stan laughs.

”Wow, rude. I leave you with my house and my worldy posessions and this is how you treat me?” Richie jokes.

”I don’t know if the high of tonight is fucking with your head, Trashmouth,” Eddie starts, glaring without any real heat, “but it’s my house, too.”

”It was my house first.”

”Yeah, then I moved in.”

”That’s what I told your mom last night.”

”Shut the fuck up, you didn’t sleep with my mom.”

”I recall many lovely nights with Mrs. K. Not even a clown curse can take those away.”

”Stop saying you fucked my dead mother, asshole!”

”May she rest in peace,” Richie replies, spreading a Catholic cross across his body and folding his hands beneath his chin like he’s praying.

Eddie groans in response, and Stan shakes his head. “God, living together has turned you two back into teenagers,” he mumbles, and Richie smiles.

”Good for us, ‘ey, Eds?” he exclaims, smiling at the other man through the camera. Eddie shakes his head.

”Eddie, move out,” Stan says.

”And transfer again? Or pay these living costs on my own?” Eddie questions, shaking his head. “Trashmouth is practically drowning is cash, I’ll be able to retire by the time I’m sixty if I just live out the rest of my time here.”

Richie feels his neck heat up and hopes the other don’t notice. In retrospect, the idea of Eddie never leaving shouldn’t make his heart beat the way it does. He should feel selfish, he supposes, that he wants Eddie to stay. That he wants Eddie to put any possible future that doesn’t include Richie on the back burner.

”Are you sure you don’t want to get your own place?” Richie asks once the others have left the call. “Not that I want you to leave, because I love having you around, and it would be weird to go back to having an empty house twnety-four seven, especially after eveyrthing that happened, and—“

”Richie, you’re rambling,” Eddie interjects. Richie clamps his jaw shut. “I’m not leaving until you tell me to. The thought never even occurred to me. Have you seen the cost of living here, man? It would be dumb of me to move out when my roommate happens to be a mediocre comedian with enough pocket change to pay off my student debt.”

”And your best friend,” Richie jokes, but Eddie just smiles.

”And my best friend,” he replies softly, and Richie feels his heart melt.

”It’s been a year,” he tells Eddie. “Since It.”

”I know,” Eddie replies.

They both fall silent until Richie says, “Miss you, Eds.”

”I miss you, too, Rich. Call me as soon as your show ends tomorrow. I want to know how it goes.”

”Aye, aye, Cap’n,” Richie mumbles, mocking a salute. Eddie shakes his head, then ends the call.


 

The dates until they reach Georgia seem to fly by. Once they finally make it to Atlanta, Stan and Patty show up outside of their hotel not even an hour after check-in. “We’re showing you the sights,” Stan says, passing him a sandwich bag full of tickets.

”It’s Atlanta, Stan,” Richie replies, staring down at the bag. “There’s no way there’s this much to do.”

”They call it the New York of Georgia,” Patty says, and Richie watches Stan shake his head and mouth ‘No, they don’t,’ behind her head.

”There is a lot to do here, Rich,” he says aloud, throwing his arm around Patty’s shoulders.

”We should take him down Peachtree once it gets dark.”

”We’re not taking him down Peachtree, Pat.”

”What’s on Peachtree?” Richie asks, and Patty smiles giddily, looking at Stan, who shakes his head at her, then at Richie.

”We aren’t going down Peachtree,” he affirms.

His hotel is in midtown, so they walk to the majority of the places on Stan and Patty’s list. They take him to the Fox Theater, show him where the stage door is, then they walk further and end up watching an acapella group busking outside of the Hard Rock Café. After, they uber to Olympic Park and ride the Ferris Wheel. Patty pulls them to the aquarium and the Coca-Cola Museum, which Richie was adamant about at first when he saw the amount of people outside, but then Stan tells him there’s a tasting room full of Coke products from around the world, and that he would get a free bottle as they left, so reluctantly allows Patty to pull him into the line. They Uber to the High Museum of Art, then to the Atlanta Zoo before making their way back to the hotel.

Richie immediately collapses onto the bed, kicking his feet up on the mattress as Patty stretches out beside him. Stan kicks off his shoes and piles into the rolling chair beneath the desk. “What are we doing for dinner?” he asks, spinning the chair around in a slow circle as Patty grabs the TV remote from the bedside table.

”No more walking,” Richie moans miserably in response. “My feet are killing me, Stan. This is Georgia, there is supposed to be nothing here but farms and shit, not this much walking!”

”We’re in Atlanta,” Patty says as she flicks through channels. “The farms are around us.”

”If it’s farms you’re looking for, Rich, head back down south,” Stan chimes in, leaning his elbows on his thighs and holding his chin in his hands. “You drove through some of those towns on the way here.”

”Yeah, Richie,” Patty agrees, turning on a news station and putting the remote down, then shudders. “You passed through Macon.”

”Damn, Patty, what do you have against Macon?”

”Camouflage.”

Stan nods, grabbing his water bottle from where he sat it on the desk. “I have to agree with that.”

”I saw so many people wearing camouflage today, guys,” Richie chuckles, and Patty shrugs beside him.

”Must be from Macon.”

 

”That looks like a heart attack waiting to happen,” Eddie says as soon as Richie answers his phone during dinner, clearly talking about picture Richie had just sent him of his food.

”Stan and Patty said this place was an Atlanta landmark,” Richie responds over the hustle and bustle of the diner said couple had drug him to for dinner. He has to agree that the greasy pile of onion rings and pimento grilled cheese sitting in front of him does, in fact, look death inducing, but he won’t give in and tell Eddie he’s right.

”You’re sitting at The Varsity, Rich,” Eddie replies, his voice muffled from the crowd of people waiting at the counter. “That’s hardly a landmark, even if they are only in Georgia.”

”The amount of people in this place would disagree with you, Eddie.” He watches Patty shove a handful of fries in Stan’s face across the table, and Stan relateates by picking an ice cube from his drink and dropping it down her shirt. “Stan and Patty, too.”

”Stan and Patty what?” Stan asks as Patty shakes the ice cube from her shirt, glaring at her husband.

”Eddie says this place isn’t a landmark.”

”He what?” Patty gasps, patting the wet spot on her shirt with a napkin as she jumps from her seat, snatching Richie’s phone from his hand. “Edward Kaspbrak, I am offended! Restauraunts can be landmarks”

He can’t hear Eddie’s response, but he sees Patty’s mouth drop open as she clenches the phone a bit tighter. “I will fly you out here myself if I have to! No, Eddie, I have never had any health problems caused by the food here. No, Stan hasn’t, either! They have the best onion rings, Eddie!”

Stan glances at Richie across the table, his eyes wide as he whispers, “Good Lord, she’s brought up the onion rings.”

”You don’t like—you know what, I’m giving you back to Richie!” Patty exclaims, before pulling the phone away from her ear and dropping it into Richie’s lap. He watches her move back to Stan and sit in her seat, stealing an onion ring from her husband’s plate and crossing her arms over her chest as she takes a bite. “He said he doesn’t like onion rings,” he hears her mumble, and Stan pats her arm comfortingly before taking a fry from her plate. It’s so domestic, Richie thinks he might throw up.

”She’s stewing,” he tells Eddie when he puts the phone back to his ear.

”All I said was that I didn’t like onion rings!” Eddie responds, and Richie can picture him throwing his hands up in exasperation.

”You don’t like anything greasy unless it’s pizza or Chinese.”

”It fucks with my stomach, Richie!”

”Sure it does, Eds.”

”Screw you.”

”You been reading my dream journal or something, Spaghetti? Because your mom said the same thing to me just the other night.”

”Fuck you, man, stop saying you fucked my mom.”

”But I did.”

”I’m hanging up. Don’t call me when you go into cardiac arrest.”

”Yeah, yeah. Love you, too, Eds.”

”Fuck you,” Eddie replies, and the line dies.


 

The east coast leg of the tour goes off without a hitch, as do the central states, and eventually, they make it back to California. His final show is in LA, so Richie decides to stay in his own home as soon as the bus drops them off from San Francisco. As soon as he walks through the door, he’s smacked by the smell of one of Eddie’s scented candles, and it’s the best he’s felt since he left Ben and Bev outside of LaGuardia after his show in New York.

Eddie pokes his head from the bathroom when he closes the door, already in his pajamas and towel drying his hair when he spots Richie. The towel falls to the floor, and Eddie bolts to him, shouting gleefully as he throws his arms around Richie’s neck. “You’re back!” he exclaims, knocking Richie back slightly. “Holy shit, I never thought two months would feel so long!”

Richie chuckles as Eddie sways them silently, his face buried in Eddie’s neck. When they separate, Eddie smiles brightly and squeezes Richie’s cheeks between both hands. “Be careful there, Eds,” he chuckles, heart thumping wildly in his chest. “Someone might think you actually missed me.”

”I did miss you, fuckwad,” Eddie replies seriously, taking his hands from Richie’s face to shove his shoulders back. “It’s too quiet without you being obnoxious.”

Richie smiles, ruffling Eddie’s hair. The other man groans and swats at his hand. “Now you’re stuck with me,” he jokes, and Eddie glares.

”Unfortunately,” he replies, but then he’s throwing his arms around Richie again, and it feels like Lego blocks sliding into place.

 

He’s sitting on the island in the kitchen forcing a mug of hot water with a slice of lemon down his throat – at Eddie’s persistence, because, “You’ve been on tour for months, Rich, your vocal cords are probably dying.” – while Eddie updates him on work drama as he cooks dinner.

”So Michelle got absolutely wasted when we went out for drinks on Jerry’s birthday,” he says, grabbing the container of garlic powder from above the cabinet and dumping a large amount of it into the pot of noodles he had just drained, “and she told me she’s been sleeping with one of the interns I train.”

”No way,” Richie replies, putting down the mug and hopping from the counter.

Yes!” Eddie exclaims, reaching up to grab another spice tube Richie doesn’t catch the name of. “And now, I’m going to have to tell Kevin and—”

”No, Eds, you’re going to snitch?” Richie gasps jokingly, hooking his arm around Eddie’s waist and leaning against him dramatically. “You know about the universal ‘no snitching’ rule, dude; you’re forty!”

”The universal ‘no snitching’ rule doesn’t apply in the workplace, Richie.”

”But she told you outside of the workplace, while she was drunk, I might add,” Richie replies, leaning in front of Eddie to grab the wooden spoon laid across a pot of what looks like melted butter with a shit ton of spices.

”So, you wouldn’t consider it unprofessional?” Eddie asks mockingly, smacking Richie’s wrist and making him drop the spoon halfway into the pot. “Don’t eat that, dude, it’s not finished.”

”As long as they aren’t fucking at work,” Richie tells him, grabbing the spoon again and sticking it in his mouth before Eddie can take it away. He squeezes Eddie gently with the arm still wrapped around his waist as the other man wrestles the spoon from his hand with a glare. “I don’t think you should snitch. She probably doesn’t even remember telling you.”

”Oh, she definitly does,” Eddie laughs, leaning over to rince the spoon in the sink and then stirring the weird butter concoction. “Can you get me the parmesian cheese from the fridge?”

Richie does, tossing it onto the counter. “What kind of noodles are these?” he asks, moving to stand beside Eddie once more and picking a short, flower shaped noodle out of the pot Eddie is stirring them in.

”Campanelle,” Eddie replies, batting Richie’s hand away for the second time in less than five minutes. “Seriously, Rich, if you keep trying to eat everything before it’s done, we’ll have nothing left.”

”Just like Stan after his bar mitzvah,” Richie replies, wiggling his eyebrows and tossing the noodle he’d grabbed into his mouth while Eddie groans. “Anyway, Eds, this is the first home cooked meal in two months. Let me relish a little.”

”How about you go relish somewhere else so I can actually finish cooking,” Eddie retorts, grabbing the bag of cheese and seperating it into two bowls.

”Or,” Richie starts, walking back to the island and jumping onto it, “I can sit right here and annoy you.”

”Your mere presence annoys me,” Eddie responds without any heat, shooting a toothy grin his way.

”You wound me, Spaghetti!”

”Shut the fuck up and finish your water,” Eddie replies, walking to Richie and grabbing the mug beside him, shoving it back into Richie’s hand. He turns around and moves back to the stove, and Richie stays quiet.

The setting sun is lighting up the sheer curtains hanging over the patio doors, filling the room with soft blue and orange light. It lights up Eddie’s profile like a spotlight, illuminating his hair and creating a glow around his skin and clothes. It leaves a glare on Richie’s glasses that puts a halo around the entire right side of his peripheral vision, and as Eddie moves to grab bowls from the cabinet above the sink, it masks his shoulder.

He feels like a teenager again, just watching Eddie, thinking about all the late-night raids that took place in the Tozier kitchen during those rare sleepovers whenever Maggie and Went had gone to bed. There was one weekend during junior year right before Eddie and Sonia left Derry. Richie had woken up to find him in the kitchen – still in his pajamas – making the saddest pancakes he had ever laid eyes on. Eddie had noticed him, and he had looked so damned proud of those miserable slabs of flour that 17-year-old Richie’s heart had squeezed so tightly in his chest that he thought it would burst.

He feels like that now as Eddie fills up their bowls, a bright smile. And, yeah, they’re both forty now, and Eddie’s cooking skills have grown since the junior year pancakes, but when he turns to hand Richie his bowl – still coated in the setting sunlight breaking through the curtains, for God’s sake – he has the same exact look on his face that made Richie’s heart feel like it was on the verge of collapse when they were younger. He mentally curses when it happens now, smiling as much as he can manage as he takes the bowl from Eddie’s hands.

”I know I said I hated eating in the living room,” Eddie says, sticking a fork in his own bowl and putting a second one beside Richie’s thigh, “but I really don’t feel like sitting in here. Meet me in there whenever you finish that mug so your throat doesn’t actually die.”

As he leaves the kitchen, Richie stares at the spot where he had just been. It takes every ounce of energy in him to tear his eyes towards his almost empty mug, and he feels tears well in his eyes when he realizes that he almost lost this. That fucking clown had almost taken this from him. The TV turns on in the living room, then Eddie shouts to him to tell him that he’s turning on a sitcom, and Richie wipes beneath his eyes as he mentally thanks whatever deity found him decent enough to allow Eddie Kaspbrak a place in his life.

”That suit looks like shit,” Eddie tells him over FaceTime while he’s getting ready for his LA show in his dressing room.

”You look like shit,” Richie retorts, straightening his tie as Eddie rolls his eyes.

”I have to see you wear that monstrosity for an entire hour.”

”Bill and Audra have to see it, too.”

”It’s going to make Audra go into early labor.”

”What’s the baby going to do, Eds, see it through her skin?”

”No,” Eddie replies, and Richie watches him lean back against the seat of the taxi he’s in. “The baby is going to hear me talking to Audra about how terrible that suit looks and will start coming out just to get her mother out of the room.”

Richie puts his hands on the dressing table and leans towards the phone. “The wardrode department picks out my suit, Eds.”

”You have a shit wardrobe department, then,” Eddie retorts, a smirk on his face.

Before Richie can respond, there’s a knock on his door. “It’s open!” he calls, and the handle twists open to allow a toddling Jack into the room, followed by Ally.

”Five minutes to mic check, Rich,” she tells him as Jack walks up to him, grabbing his leg and babbling nonsense. She comes to stand beside him and pulls a wrinkle from his blazer sleeve, then smiles at Eddie on his phone screen. “Hey, Eddie.”

”Hey, Ally,” Eddie tells her, and Jack squeals at the sound of his voice.

”Gotta go, Eds,” Richie says, lifting the baby and putting him on his hip. Jack seizes the opportunity to smack him on the cheek.

Eddie smiles. “You’re going to be great, Rich,” he tells him, and Richie can see the taxi come to a stop in the background. “Even if that suit does look awful.”

As if to back up Eddie’s point, Jack grabs Richie’s tie and balls it in his fist before shoving it into his mouth, making a small, high pitched whining sound. “I’ll take it up with wardrobe,” Richie replies. “From now on, Senior Risk Analyst Edward Kaspbrak will be handling all my clothing for shows.”

”Fuck no,” Eddie replies, leaning out of frame to pay the driver before climbing out of the car. Immediatley, the sound of cheering and car horns bursts through the speakers. “I’ll see you after the show!”

The call ends, and Richie places his phone on the table before following Ally from the room. “How about we let Jack do the mic check?” he asks, and the boy squeals where he’s still propped on Richie’s hip, the end of his tie still in his mouth.

”He’ll just scream into the mic.”

Richie smiles, and Jack uses his free hand to slap him on the forehead. “Exactly,” he tells Ally, then holds the boy tighter as he walks through the wings and onto the stage.

 

”Hello, Los Angeles! It’s so great to be here, especially since I live here, which means I was able to sleep in my own bed last nigt, which was pretty amazing after two months of hotels. Also, I let my manager’s baby scream into this mic an hour ago, and I’m pretty sure there’s still spit on it still.” Richie pretends to stare at the mic and rubs his sleeve over it, filling the auditorium with a loud scratching sound. “Definitley baby spit. Oh, and three of my best friends are in the audience tonight! Hi, guys! Audra, Eds said my suit would make you go into early labor because it was ugly; all I’m asking is please don’t have that baby here, mainly because you still have a few weeks to go and the janitors probably wouldn’t like it.” There’s a weak chuckle around the room. “Alright, everyone I don’t know on a first name basis, welcome to the Trashmouth comeback tour! We’re going to have a great time tonight.”


 

”Oh my God, guys!” Bev exclaims when she walks into Audra’s hospital room two weeks later, covering her mouth with both hands when her eyes land on the newborn sleeping against Audra’s chest.

Richie watches her cross the room from where he stands beside Bill at Audra’s bed side, and she leans over the blocker rail to stare at the baby girl. “She looks like an adorable potato,” Audra laughs, her hand flat against the baby’s back as Bev strokes a manicured nail across her cheek. The baby turns into the feeling but continues sleeping.

Stan comes in next, followed by Patty who is continuously repeating, “Where’s the baby, where’s the baby, where’s the baby?” Ben follows behind them, and Mike shows up a few minutes afterwards. Eddie comes in last, still in his work slacks with his hair whipped wild from the wind outside.

”I love her,” Bev coos as Audra lifts the baby to her. She tucks her into the crook of her elbow and hugs her close, putting her free hand on the girl’s back as Ben moves to stand beside her, crouching slightly.

”You guys made a cute kid,” he says, looking towards Bill, who shakes his head where he’s still standing beside Richie and says, “She looks like a gremlin.”

”She does not,” Mike says as Bev passes the baby to him. “Don’t be mean to your daughter, Bill.”

”No, he’s right,” Eddie says, kissing Audra on the cheek before moving to stand beside Richie. “She definitely looks like a gremlin.”

”She looks like a potato, I’ve already established this,” Audra chuckles as Mike passes the baby to Ben.

”But a cute potato,” Patty says.

”Not like one covered in green spots.”

Stan gives Richie a look from across the room. “What are you even talking about, man?”

“You know when you buy potatoes and some of them are covered in, like, spikes and green marks and shit?”

”Spikes? You mean—“

”They have little hairs,” Richie interrupts, and Stan shakes his head.

”Look at her, Stanley!” Patty exclaims softly as she moves back to her husband’s side, keeping either one of them from saying anything else. She shifts her arm at a slight angle and tucks the baby against her chest as Stan bends slightly to look at her. “Isn’t she precious?”

The Look immediately leaves Stan’s face when he looks at the baby. His eyebrows relax and his eyes soften, and Richie sees his mouth turn up into that rare Stanley Uris smile.

Stan never smiled often when they were kids. It wasn’t like he never smiled, but compared to the rest of the Losers Club, a true, genuine smile from Stanley was like getting heads ten times in a row during a coin flip. It wasn’t impossible, but it was rare. Stan showed affection through sarcasm, eyerolls, and half-witted, dry humor. Sure, there was often the quick raise in one corner of his mouth, but it never lasted more than a few seconds. The only time he ever really smiled was when he laughed, or when something happened that made him genuinely happy, like that day in the quarry right before they fought It the first time. Stan had smiled so much that day that Richie honestly thought he was pouring sunshine from his pores.

Smiles from Stan are still rare, even though they’ve grown. However, they come more often and stay longer now that they’re all back together. Yes, there’s still the sarcasm, and the eyerolls, and the faces, and the awful sense of humor that Richie never will admit he finds funny; however, it was as though affection came easier to Stanley now. Like getting out of Derry – from beneath his father’s and his religion’s overbearing wings – allowed whatever had kept his friend’s true expressions to finally break away.

Richie watches him stare down at the baby, still smiling, and it only grows when Patty helps him take the girl into his own arms.

There are multiple conversations going on around the room. Audra and Bev are talking about everything from her two-day labor to Bev making the baby onesies. Ben and Mike are talking in the corner of the room about the travel fund Mike had set up, and how he had included a few pictures and lists of places he had visited hoping they would spark her interest when she opened the account. Stan and Patty are still crooning over the baby, and Richie smiles when Stan starts whispering to her.

”What’s her name, guys?” Eddie voices from his side, his arms crossed against his chest.

All conversations in the room come to a halt as everyone turns to look at Audra and Bill, who then turn to look at each other with wide eyes.

”How the fuck did we forget to tell them the name?” Audra whispers, though it’s not as quiet as she’s apparently going for, as a nurse passing by in the hallway pauses in front of the open door with a glare.

Bill shakes his head and holds up his hands in exasperation. “Neither one of us has gotten that much sleep in the last week, babe.”

”Guys, what’s her name?” Bev repeats from her place beside the bed, bouncing slightly on her heels.

Audra smiles and looks at Bill. “You should tell them,” she says, reaching up to grab his hand.

Bill nods and smiles at her before looking up and around the room. He takes a breath as he looks at the rest of the Losers, then smiles down at Audra as he says, “Alice Georgina Denbrough. Alice for Audra’s aunt; Georgina for Georgie.”

Bev’s eyes tear up as she drops a hand onto Audra’s wrist, a wide smile on her face. Ben throws an arm around her shoulders, but he’s grinning towards Bill. Mike walks across the room and stands beside Bill, patting him on the shoulder. “It’s perfect,” Richie hears him say, and Bill grins.

”Can I give her a nickname?” he pipes in, and Audra laughs.

”Call her whatever you want, Rich,” she tells him, still laughing.

”You would do it even if we said no,” Bill chuckles, but there’s obvious tears in his eyes as he smiles at Richie. Richie smiles back, wrapping one arm around Bill’s waist.

Stan is still smiling at the baby as he crosses the room towards Eddie. “Do you want to hold her?”

Eddie’s eyes grow wide. “I don’t—” he starts to say, only to be interrupted by Bill.

”It’s okay, Eddie,” he whispers, and Eddie turns his head to look at him. Bill nods and smiles beside Richie. “She’ll be fine. You can hold her.”

Eddie looks like he’s going to piss his pants as Stan passes the baby to him. “Put her head in your elbow and your hand under her legs,” he says as he guides Eddie’s hands. “Okay, now put your other hand on her back.” Eddie does, and Stan smiles again and backs away.

Richie watches Eddie slowly untense as he stares down at the baby in his arms. The panicked look in his eyes never really goes away, but it does slack off tremendously as her face presses into his bicep, her mouth slightly parted as she takes a deep breath before settling.

”Cute, isn’t she?” Richie asks, leaning over slightly to readjust the baby’s hat.

Eddie chuckles weakly, adjusting his arms a bit lower so a bit more of the tension leaves his shoulders. “Looks like a potato,” he replies. Alice stirs again, rubbing her nose against Eddie’s bicep and making a soft sound in her sleep before going still. Richie’s heart physically aches when he sees a little smile grow on the other man’s face, panic fading from his gaze as his eyes soften. “But she’s a cute potato,” he finishes, thurning that smile to Richie.

How he doesn’t black out is beyond him, but he feels the slight flush growing on his neck and cheeks and prays no one notices.

Audra clears her throat on the bed, and Bill turns to look at her where he still stands beside Richie. He sees her eyes flick towards Eddie, followed by a quick nod of her head, and Richie figures out quickly what is about to take place.

”Hey, Eddie?” Bill says, eyes flicking away from Audra. Eddie turns away from Richie to look at Bill, holding the baby just a bit tighter. Richie sees Audra squeeze Bill’s hand when he turns back to look at her, and she nods encouragingly. “We were hoping,” he starts, turning back towards Eddie, who’s eyes are comically wide, “that you would be her godfather.”

Bev gasps across the room and slaps Ben’s arm with both hands.

Eddie’s mouth hangs open, gaping like a fish. “Are you…” he manages after a few seconds, voice croaking. “Are you sure?”

Bill smiles. “You’re my best friend, Eddie,” he says, pulling away from Audra to put his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “Before we met Stan and Rich – before the Losers – we were Bill and Eddie. Building shitty dams; fixing Silver because for some reason you were good at that shit. Remember the day we met Ben, when your inhaler was empty so I had to go to Keene’s to get you a new one? That was when I knew you were my best friend.” His face falls slightly as his eyes fall on his daughter. “We almost lost you, man. My daughter almost wasn’t able to know you.” He shakes his head and looks back to Eddie. “I want her to know you, Eds. I want you to be the one she goes to if anything happens to us.”

Eddie stares at Bill for a moment, and Richie can see tears welling in his eyes as he turns to Audra. “You’re on board with this?” he asks in a choked voice, and the woman nods at him quickly from the bed, chuckling as she wipes tears from her own cheeks.

Eddie’s bottom lip quivers as he looks down at the baby in his arms. He sniffles and laughs wetly, smiling at the girl. “Yeah,” he mumbles, taking his hand from her back to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Bill laughs through his own sniffles and wraps one of his arms around Eddie’s shoulder, leaning their heads together as they look down at his daughter.

”Oh my God, that’s adorable,” Bev says from across the room, and Richie looks over to see her leaning over Audra to get a picture of Bill, Eddie, and Alice.

Everyone else takes out their phones and does the same. When Richie goes to the bathroom a few minutes later, he crops the photo he took into his lock screen. Bill had moved out of the way just as his shutter went off, so only Eddie and Alice fill the screen. There’s a soft look on Eddie’s face as he smiles down at her, his hair flopping into his eyes and wet trails on his cheeks.

It was the best damned photo on Richie’s phone.


 

”Eddie, she’s splashing again!”

”She’s a baby; she’s going to splash, Richie!”

Bill and Audra had dropped her off for their “date night” an hour before Eddie got off work; they had left a rolled-up play mat, a stuffed diaper bag, and a collapsible crib just inside the doorway. Then, Bill had passed her carrier to Richie, dropped a kiss on her forehead –followed by Audra – and then they were gone with a “Call us if you need anything.” He had set the crib up in Eddie’s room, pushed the mat out on the floor, placed Alice on top of it, then sat beside her as she flailed her arms and legs towards the ceiling fan. He was lying beside her when Eddie came in, dangling his hand over her face while she played with his fingers.

Eddie comes back into the kitchen with a cloth rag and the bottle of baby wash just as Alice kicks out her legs with a squeal and sends a wave of water onto Richie’s socks.

”I hate this,” he says, leaning against the island to peel his socks off as Eddie dips the cloth into the water.

”It’s not that bad,” the man responds, pouring a quarter sized amount of soap onto the cloth. He smiles down at Alice and tickles beneath her chin as he rubs the washcloth between his fingers, making her laugh and flail her arms and legs again. “We just made a mistake doing this in the sink.”

Richie tosses his socks into the hamper in the laundry room before moving to stand beside Eddie at the sink. He’s got Alice coated in soap suds that dissolve the more she splashes, and Eddie laughs when she smacks her hand into the water and sends large streaks of water over his work shirt.

”Cover her ears so I can get the soap out of her hair,” Eddie tells him. Richie does. Alice makes a face as soon as his palms are over her ears, and her cheeks turn red. For a moment, he’s scared that she’s going to start screaming, but then Eddie starts rinsing her hair and she closes her eyes, tilting back into his hand where it runs over her head.

”Well, I’ll be damned,” Richie mumbles, and Eddie grins. “You have a magic touch, Eds.”

”It’s a gift,” he replies, pulling his back to grab her towel. Alice frowns when she loses sight of him, and Richie chuckles when she twists her head to look around. She flails in the water when he comes back, squealing happily as he pulls the plug from the drain; Richie deposits her into the towel when Eddie holds it out. “Now, see,” Eddie says to her, wiping the water from around her ears as he wraps the towel around her, “that wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

”Can’t say I agree,” Richie chimes, grabbing the hem of his soaked shirt and pulling it away from his skin. Eddie glares at him. “What? You don’t look any better, man. You rolled your sleeves up and they’re still wet.”

”Yeah, well, cleaning a growing baby means you’re bound to get a little wet,” Eddie retorts, resting Alice against his chest as he turns to the living room. She whimpers against him, curling a tiny fist into his shirt and letting out a noise that definitely means she’s about to explode. “Can you heat up a bottle while I get her dressed?”

Richie shoots him a thumbs up from the kitchen door, and Eddie smiles before disappearing down the hall. He hears her crying start just as he grabs one of Audra’s pre-filled bottles from the fridge, followed by a startled noise from Eddie. “Everything alright?” he calls as he slips the bottle into the warmer, heading for the sound.

Alice’s face is red where she cries on his mattress, kicking her legs as Eddie struggles to get her feet into her onesie. He looks at Richie when he walks in, eyes panicked. “I got you,” Richie chuckles, moving to stand beside him and grabbing a pacifier from the diaper bag. Alice frowns at them around it when she realizes it isn’t her food, but she stops moving enough that Eddie can work with her.

“I hate when she makes that face,” Eddie groans, hands on his waist. Alice stares up at them for a moment before spitting out her pacifier. Richie pushes it back into her mouth. “It makes her look like Bill.”

The first time Richie noticed the similarities between Bill and his daughter, she was a month old. He and Eddie had met Bill and Audra for dinner one night, and Alice had been sleeping in her carrier. He got up to use the restroom and saw her. She had wiggled her arms out of her blanket and had them spread out on either side of her, and her mouth was hanging open, and it was such a carbon copy of the way Bill slept that Richie had laughed and taken a picture.

The bottle warmer beeps in the kitchen, and Alice spits out the pacifier again, clearly fed up with the two of them; her face turns cherry red as she begins to scream. “We hear you,” Richie mumbles, picking her up and holding her against his chest as Eddie runs to grab the bottle. “You don’t have to be so dramatic, kiddo. You don’t get a free pass because your mom is an actress.”

Eddie meets him at the couch, and Richie passes the baby to him as soon as he’s sat down.

”Audra told me she’s started sleeping through the night,” Eddie tells him once she’s started eating; Richie watches her reach up and wrap her fist around two of his fingers.

”I’m not getting her if she wakes up,” Richie states, and Eddie rolls his eyes.

”I don’t even know why you agreed to babysit if I was going to get stuck with all the work.”

”Because I’m the cool uncle, Eds.” Alice kicks him in the chest when he leans over Eddie to poke her cheek. “I’m the one that does fun shit with her. You’re the one that makes sure she doesn’t die.”

”Please never have children.”

 

Alice does wake up.

Untrue to his word and a little dazed, he stumbles into the hall to find Eddie already there and heading for the kitchen.

He jumps when Richie closes his door, holding the baby against his chest with both arms as he spins around to look at him. “Shit, you scared me. Why’d you creep up behind me like that?”

”Why is she crying?” Richie asks, and Eddie rolls his eyes.

”She’s hungry, Rich.”

”It’s two in the morning.”

”Babies eat a lot,” Eddie replies. “Her stomach has gotten bigger, so she eats more.”

”Why is she up now?” Richie asks, and Eddie chuckles. “I’m serious, Eds. We fed her, like, five hours ago”.

He gently rocks Alice in his arms, quieting her cries slightly. Richie watches her bury her nose in his shirt. “She has Bill for a father, doesn’t she?” Eddie jokes, the corner of his mouth quirking up. “That guy eats us out of house and home whenever he comes over. When we were kids, too.”

”He always took all the pretzels when we hung out,” Richie says, and Eddie laughs before moving down the hall. Richie follows him into the kitchen and winces when he turns on the light. He can hear the other man trying to calm the girl as he fumbles to grab a bottle from the fridge.

Richie moves to take her, and her cries almost stop when she realizes she’s being passed around. Her blue eyes lock onto his as soon as she’s in his arms, a pissed off look on her face. “How about we go onto the balcony, kiddo? Get some fresh air and give Eds a chance to make your food?”

Alice whimpers in response, and Eddie leans down to kiss her forehead. “Be careful,” he tells Richie, pointing an accusing finger at him.

”I’m always careful,” Richie retorts, and Eddie rolls his eyes before he turns back to the bottle warmer.

The neon sign across the street makes a low humming noise when he steps onto the balcony. Alice’s eyes immediately look towards it, though Richie assumes all she can really see is the red glow. Car horns are blowing in the street below, the LA nightlife is still going strong. Richie can hear a group of women laughing from the balcony beneath his. A man is singing outside of the bar across the street. Down the block, there’s the sound of police sirens and cheerful yelling. “Probably a bar fight,” he whispers to Alice, but she isn’t paying any attention to him. She has one fist shoved into her mouth and coos softly with the man singing on the street, still staring at the flickering neon sign.

He had sat through many baby book reading sessions with Audra during her pregnancy. While he may not know about her stomach expanding – how the fuck does Eddie know that, anyway? – he does know about her vision and her hearing. She can see across rooms, now, but she prefers lights and things close to her. She can hear everything, and she’ll follow voices. She also has started trying to imitate words, which he noticed when he had said Bill’s name earlier that day and she attempted a “B” sound until Eddie pushed a rattle into her hand.

Below them, people start shouting, and Richie peaks over the railing to see two women locked in a kiss. People surround them, all clapping and cheering, and Richie catches the flash of the neon light on one of the girl’s fingers. “Looks like someone got engaged,” he tells Alice, smiling softly at her when she looks up to him, one hand still in her mouth. He looks back to the women again, who have pulled away from each other and are being passed around a tear-filled group of hugs. A man grabs the hand of the girl with the ring, holding it close to his face to inspect it before throwing his arms around her shoulders. “Should I say congratulations, or would that be creepy?” Alice coos at him, moving her fist from her mouth and making a long, drawn out “E” noise. Richie shrugs, shuffling her a bit higher into his elbow and leaning down to kiss her forehead. “What would you know about being creepy; you’re a baby.”

The group is still beneath them when he peaks over the rail again. The girls have made their way back to each other, holding each other tightly as their friends wrap around them from all sides. He puts his free hand over one of Alice’s ears and presses the other one lightly into his bicep, covering them both as best as he can before he leans over the rail slightly and shouts, “Congratulations!”

All the heads beneath him look up, some in confusion, the others still bright and joyful. He takes his hand from Alice’s ear and waves before putting it back. The girl with the ring holds her hand up towards his balcony and shouts back, “I’m getting married!”

Richie chuckles. Alice shuffles against his chest when he shouts, “Congratulations!” a second time.

”Thanks, balcony guy!” the girl’s fiancée shouts. He chuckles when they both turn away from him to kiss again, and then they wave to him and head off, surrounded by their friends. He uncovers Alice’s ear and her head falls away from his bicep, turning back into his forearm to stare at the sign across the street.

”What are we congratulating?” Eddie’s voice asks behind him, and then he’s shoving the bottle into Richie’s hand.

”Some girls just got engaged in front of our building,” Richie replies, and Alice makes a noise of gratitude when he puts the bottle into her mouth. She fists one hand into his shirt and wraps the other around his fingers.

”Who gets engaged at two in the morning?” Eddie asks, rubbing his fists into his eyes and leaning his head against Richie’s shoulder.

”It was cute,” Richie tells him, and he hears Eddie hum beside him. He looks down and sees the man has his eyes closed, his arms across his chest. “Why don’t you head back to bed? I can put her down when she’s done.”

Eddie shakes his head, squinting his eyes open and moving one hand to push Alice’s hair from her forehead. “I can wait a few minutes.”

Alice tilts her head into his palm as best as she can with the bottle in her mouth, and Eddie smiles at her when her eyes find his. Richie’s heart feels so full that he’s afraid it’s going to burst in his chest, and he’s momentarily tempted to pass the baby to Eddie just in case he goes into cardiac arrest.

”I still don’t see why someone gets engaged at two in the morning,” Eddie mumbles, his fingers still carding through Alice’s waves of brown hair. She closes her eyes, and Richie feels his throat grow tight.

”Maybe it has a special meaning to them?” he suggests, voice choppy. Eddie doesn’t notice, or if he does, he’s kind enough not to point it out.

”Maybe,” he responds, closing his eyes again where his head still rests against Richie’s shoulder.

He feels a sudden overwhelming urge to tell Eddie about their initials on the Kissing Bridge. He hadn’t told him about them. He told anyone about them. They were etched into that town for him and only him; no one else had to know the words scrawled on Richie’s heart – not until he wanted them to.

Eddie hasn’t given him any signs that he may feel the same way. That he may be like Richie, in a sense of speaking. And it’s not that he doesn’t want to tell Eddie how he feels, because he does; he just can’t take the chance of losing him, not again.

Eddie sniffles against his shoulder, and Richie glances down to see his eyes still closed. The only sign that he’s still awake is his unswaying weight against Richie’s side and the hand he still has carding through Alice’s hair.

”Hey, Eds?”

”Hmm?” Eddie hums, eyebrows furrowing.

”I love you, ya’ know?” Richie breathes, and a weight pulls from his chest. Eddie doesn’t realize what he means by those words.

He keeps his eyes closed, but Richie watches a smile grow on his face. “I love you, too, Rich,” he mumbles, and Richie’s heart splinters.

They stand there in a peaceful silence until Alice finishes her bottle, and Eddie chuckles as she starts to drift in the crook of Richie’s elbow. “Let’s get you back to bed, kiddo,” Richie whispers, and she lets out a soft noise against his bicep.

He walks back down the hall to Eddie’s room as the other man closes and locks the balcony door. He places Alice into the crib, and she shuffles as he cards a hand through he hair. “Oh my God, she better sleep in tomorrow,” Eddie mumbles, collapsing face first into the duvet. The bed shakes against his lamp table, and his cane tremors like it may fall. “I’m not waking up before eight.” He moves like he’s going to get under the sheets, then groans and faceplants into his pillow.

”Need a little help there, Eds?” Richie asks. Eddie groans in response.

”I shouldn’t have kept standing,” Eddie mumbles into his pillow as Richie moves to pull the sheets from beneath him. “My legs feel like shit.”

”I did tell you to go back to bed,” Richie states.

”Beep beep, Trashmouth,” Eddie groans, twisting in the bed so he’s lying on his side. He pulls the blankets up to his chin. “I don’t need an, ‘I told you so,’ right now.”

Richie laughs, brushing Eddie’s hair back from his forehead. “Okay, I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell you.”

”You’re an ass.”

”Sure I am, Eds.” Eddie makes a noise into his pillow that sounds like a protest to his words, but Richie can tell he’s already drifting off. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He checks on Alice once more on the short trip to the door, dropping a kiss onto her forehead. Her small tufts of breath hit his cheek when he bends over her, and her fist tangles into his shirt. He pries it lose and kisses her once more before finally moving into the hall.

He’s almost gotten the door closed when Eddie’s voice drowsily calls his name. When he looks back into the room, the other man is leaning up on his elbows, his eyes squinted where he looks at Richie. “Can you stay?”

Richie stands in the door for a moment. Other than Alice’s short breaths coming from the pop-up crib, the room is completely silent. “Rich?” Eddie questions, still staring at him.

He’s shared a bed with Eddie before, but that was only because someone else was in his room. He doesn’t think he should even consider it – sleeping in Eddie’s bed; he’s been spiraling for a while, now – acting weird around Eddie, and Richie knows the other man is starting to notice. He should just say no; he should make up some bullshit excuse that he knows Eddie will be too tired to remember in the morning and go back to his own room.

But the way Eddie is looking at him – eyes all squinted and tired and soft – it breaks that wall holding Richie back. “Yeah, Eds,” he finally replies, moving back into the room and closing the door behind him.

He peels off his glasses on the way back to the bed, dropping them into the gap of the frame. Eddie shuffles beside him once his head hits the pillows until his nose is pressed into Richie’s shoulder, one hand beneath his pillow and the other under his cheek. “G’night, Rich,” he mumbles, eyes closed.

His breathing evens out almost immediately after, and all Richie can hear is Eddie, Alice, and the beating from his own heart. “Night, Eds,” he whispers into the darkness of the room.

All he gets is Eddie’s soft breathing is response.


 

Two weeks later – per his therapist’s request to get his feelings out, if he could handle it – he’s sitting in his bathtub at ten at night with the door to his bedroom and bathroom shut and bolted. He’s holding the phone tightly against his ear, groaning when it goes to voicemail, then dials the number again. His line clicks after four rings, and he immediately blurts, ”I have a problem,” into the receiver.

”Richie, what the hell?” comes Stan’s groggy response. “It’s one in the morning here; why are you calling me?”

”Because I have a problem.”

There’s shuffling on Stan’s end of the call, and Richie hears him faintly tell Patty that Richie needs him and to go back to sleep. The other line is silent for a moment, then he hears a door click. “Okay,” Stan finally says, voice still tired. “What’s your problem?”

”I’m in love with Eddie.”

”No shit.”

”Stan, I’m serious.”

Stan sighs on the other end of the call, and Richie can hear more shuffling. “Richie, I know that you’re in love with him.”

”…What?”

”I said I know,” Stan responds. “I’ve known since we were kids, man.”

Richie can feel his throat go tight. He curls in on himself and breathes for a moment, trying to wrap his head around Stan’s words. “Oh,” he croaks. “Why—who—how did you… How did you know?”

”It was really obvious, Rich,” Stan replies, his voice soothing. “I just never said anything because… Well, honestly, I didn’t think you realized it back then.” He pauses, like he’s carefully choosing his next words. “I wasn’t sure how you would react if I said anything. Then and now.”

”Does anyone else know?” Richie asks, and he feels tears welling in his eyes.

”Ben,” Stan tells him. “We talked about it, once. Right before he left Derry the first time. Maybe Bev, but I can’t be too sure. Oh, and Patty, but she kind of figured it out on her own. She asked me if you guys were together the night Bill fell asleep on his keyboard.”

Richie is hit with the memory of a confused Patty leaning over to whisper into Stan’s ear. Remembers the way Stan had smirked and shaken his head as he leaned over to respond to her. “Fuck,” he whispers, and a tear slips down his cheek.

”Rich—“ Stan starts, cutting off when Richie lets out a sob into the receiver and slaps a hand over his mouth.

”Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” he whispers, dropping the phone into the bottom of the tub and furiously wiping at his cheeks, choking back sobs.

”Richie,” comes Stan’s voice from the phone. “Rich, it’s okay.”

”It’s not,” Richie replies, his voice cracking as he lifts the phone back to his ear. “It’s not okay, Stan.”

”It is, Rich; I promise it is,” Stan replies, voice soft. He no longer sounds tired, but it’s probably because Richie’s blood is rushing in his ears. He can feel his own pulse in his throat. “Look, I’m going to add Ben to this call,” Stan continues when Richie chokes through another sob, covering his mouth again. “I’m going to add him, and we’re both going to be here for you. Can I do that, Richie?”

Richie doesn’t respond, just sobs again. Why is he fucking crying over this? All this was supposed to be was a way to get his feelings out of his therapist’s office, not a damn sobbing session with two of his best friends. The fact that he can’t even figure out why he’s crying is what really pisses him off. Maybe it’s because they already knew, or maybe because he only wanted one of them to know. That’s what he had told his therapist, anyway. Or maybe it because he’s ashamed. Ashamed that he didn’t tell them sooner; ashamed that he feels anything for Eddie at all.

But he isn’t ashamed of loving Eddie, because loving him is the only thing that makes sense. No, what he’s ashamed of is not telling Eddie because he doesn’t want him to leave. He doesn’t want Eddie to find out and leave him alone in this stupid Los Angeles apartment. He was alone for so long before Derry; he can’t go back to that again, being alone. It’s stupid, and it’s selfish, but the thought of telling Eddie – of Eddie leaving once he finds out – that’s something Richie can barely stomach the thought of.

”Rich,” Ben’s voice says into his ear, “Stan added me. Buddy, you need to breathe.”

”I can’t,” he wheezes in response.

”Rich, listen to me,” Stan says. “Everything is okay.”

Richie shakes his head, even though they can’t see it. “It’s okay, man,” Ben whispers. “Richie, you’re okay. You’re having a panic attack. Take a deep breath through your nose, then let it out through your mouth.”

He does, and it’s shaky, but he can basically feel Ben nodding through the phone. He does it a few more times, matching his breathing with Ben’s. “I think I’m going to text Eddie,” he hears him tell Stan, and he can feel the panic growing again. At least his crying has stopped.

”No!” he shouts into the receiver. “No,” he repeats, softer this time. “Don’t text Eddie.”

”Richie, you shouldn’t be alone right now.”

”I’m not alone,” he mumbles into the receiver, wiping the heel of his palm across his cheeks. “I have you guys, don’t I?”

Stan sighs. “You always have us, Rich.”

There’s a long silence where none of them know what to say. “How did you guys find out?” he finally asks.

”Observation,” Ben replies. “You used to push his buttons like it was your job.” He pauses, and Richie pictures him shrugging. “Honestly, Richie, when I saw the way you would look at him… it was like looking into a mirror.”

”You guys were so fucking annoying,” Stan laughs. “I swear to God, man; I wanted to rip my hair out dealing with you two.”

”Geez, thanks so much Stanley. Good to know me trying to hide my feelings frustrated you.”

”I wasn’t so sure they were still there when we went back,” Ben whispers, and the mood is suddenly somber once more.

”They weren’t,” Richie tells him, leaning back against the wall of the tub. “Not at first, at least. But then….” He trails off. It’s still hard for him to talk about what happened to them in Neibolt. What happened to Eddie. The mere thought of it – the remembrance – is like a fist wrapped around his heart, squeezing so tightly that he thinks he knows what It felt like. Crowded against a wall as his heart was ripped from his chest and crushed in front of him.

”But then he was hurt,” Stan mumbles.

”It was awful watching you when it happened,” Ben tells him. “If he had died, I thought you would die with him, Rich.”

Richie chuckles, dropping his head against the splash back linoleum and closing his eyes. “Honestly,” he croaks out, “I probably would have, Ben.”

The call goes quiet again, just them breathing. Then, Stan clears his throat and whispers, “I think you should tell him.”

Richie laughs. “You’re joking, right?”

”No, I’m not,” Stan replies, and his voice is so serious Richie’s laughter dies in his throat. “Tell him, Rich. You can’t keep going like this.”

”My only other option is to ask him to leave,” Richie says. “Go ahead and start the process before the inevitable happens.”

”Where will he go?” Ben asks. “Richie, he needs you as much as you need him. It will kill him if you ask him to move out.”

”He can stay with Bill and Audra until he can find a place,” Richie replies. He opens his eyes and stares ahead at the sink. Water is slowly dripping from the faucet. “I don’t know what else to do, Ben. Stan’s right; I can’t keep going like this. Him being here – being with him all the time – it’s killing me, guys.” He takes a shaky breath, then balances the phone on his knee so he can press his fingers into his eyes. “I’m never going to be able to stop feeling this way about him. Probably ever. Every day, I see him and think my heart is going to burst in my chest; and watching him with Alice… It’s all so fucking domestic that I just can’t—” He cuts himself off and bites down on his bottom lip when tears begin to well in his eyes again. “I can’t keep wanting something I can’t have.”

”Who says you can’t have it?” Stan ask, and Richie feels his chest tighten.

”Why do you say that?”

”Just talk to him, Richie,” Ben says. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

He isn’t sure he hasn’t done that already.

 

Two days later, a storm is raging through Los Angeles.

Don’t do anything you’ll regret.

Who says you can’t have it?

Richie’s head snaps up where he’s sitting on the couch when he hears the front door click open. A crash of thunder rings through the apartment as Eddie stumbles into the hallway, his hair and blazer dripping. “Jesus Christ, this weather suck!” he exclaims, shrugging his suit jacket from his shoulders as he heads down to his room. “I swear to God, it’s fucking with my legs, Rich.”

Richie makes a noise, and not even he knows what it’s supposed to mean.

”What do you want for dinner?” Eddie asks when he walks back into the living room, and Richie turns over his shoulder to see him pulling a sweatshirt over his head on his way to the kitchen. “I think we have some chicken in the freezer.”

”We can always call something in,” he offers, cringing at the tightness in his voice.

Eddie comes back to the doorframe and leans around it, his eyebrows furrowed. “Okay, what’s wrong with you?”

”Nothing.”

”There’s obviously been something eating at you for weeks, man,” Eddie replies, moving to sit beside him on the sofa. “You know you can talk to me.”

”It’s nothing,” he tells Eddie after a few moments.

The other man quirks an eyebrow. “Richie, come on,” he says, reaching out to put his hand on top of Richie’s.

A few days ago, he would have let Eddie do it. Tonight, he wrenches his hand back, jumping from the couch as another clap of thunder shakes the building.

”What the fuck, man?” Eddie yelps, jerking his hand backwards like Richie’s movements had shocked him. “What is wrong with you? You’ve been acting weird for weeks, Rich. I’m just trying to help.”

”I told you, it’s nothing!” Richie snaps. “Christ, Eds, I don’t need your help; you’re not my therapist!”

”You don’t think I know that?” Eddie retorts, throwing his hands out at his sides. “I may not be your fucking therapist, Richie, but I’m your friend! You can tell me when something’s bothering you!”

You’re bothering me!” Richie exclaims, and the room falls deadly silent, filled with nothing but the torrential rain pounding on the windows.

Eddie’s cheeks are red, and he looks like Richie has just slapped him across the face. “What?” he asks, and his voice is so quiet that Richie doesn’t think he would have heard him if he hadn’t seen his lips moving.

God, Eddie,” he groans, dragging his hand down his face. “I told you nothing was wrong when you asked me two weeks ago, but you just keep pushing. I told you I was fine; can you just stay out of something for once?”

He doesn’t know why he’s saying this. Built up frustration, perhaps? Or maybe everything he’s been bottling up is finally coming out in words he can’t control. Maybe everything he’s been feeling is finally coming to light, turned negative by years and months of hiding.

Something in Eddie snaps, and his face heats up in anger. “Stay out of something?” he echoes, exasperated. “I’ve been staying out of shit my entire life, Richie! The only time I’ve gotten involved in anything, I almost died! Twice! I broke my arm when we were kids because I got into something. Then, I got involved again and was stabbed through the fucking chest!”

”Of course I remember!”

”You have no fucking right to tell me what not to be involved in!” Eddie continues, thunder clapping over his words. “I’m an adult who is worried about my friend, for God’s sake!”

”I didn’t ask you to be worried about me!” Richie argues, pointing an accusing finger in Eddie’s face.

”You asked me to live with you, asshole!” Eddie yells back just as accusingly. “That gives me an open invitation to be worried!”

”Then maybe you shouldn’t live here anymore,” Richie tells him, his mouth moving faster than his brain can process his words.

Eddie’s face drains all signs of anger. Too many emotions to follow cross his features, but at the end of it all, he just looks hurt. Richie’s heart squeezes when he realizes it’s the same face Eddie made when that claw went through his chest. “You don’t mean that,” Eddie mumbles, voice weak.

Of course he doesn’t mean it. It’s the last thing he wants, but he can’t keep pretending. He can’t keep living with someone who makes his heart race when there isn’t a fucking thing he can do to push it over the finish line. “I do,” he decides to say, because no matter how much it hurts, he can’t keep living a lie. Not with Eddie Kaspbrak. “I can’t live with someone who’s going to do nothing but parent me. I don’t need you shoving your fucking pills down my throat, Eddie. So, no, you shouldn’t live here anymore.”

Eddie opens his mouth like he’s going to argue, then closes it and laughs wetly. “Fine,” he mumbles, standing from the sofa. His legs are shaking. “You want me out, I’ll go.” He disappears into the hallway, and Richie is still standing in the middle of the living room when he comes back with a haphazardly stuffed duffle bag. He pauses behind the couch, jerking the zipper of the bag closed before looking to Richie. There are tear tracks running down his cheeks, and his eyes are wet.

”I’m—” Richie tries, stopping abruptly when Eddie holds up a hand.

”Don’t,” he starts, “say a single fucking thing.” Richie doesn’t. “You know what’s fucking crazy? I thought maybe you realized; maybe you felt the same.” His voice is choked, like he’s trying not to cry in front of Richie. He shrugs. “Turns out, I’m just an idiot.”

He’s out the door before his words even process in Richie’s head.

I thought maybe you realized. Maybe you felt the same.

Richie’s heart seizes, and his stomach twists into a knot. He’s a dumbass when it comes to social cues; no matter how good his grades were in school, he’d never really been great at reading people or situations. He thought that was different with Eddie. He thought he knew Eddie like the back of his own hand. He’d had the idea of Eddie never returning his feelings planted into his brain for so long that it blinded him to the unspoken truth.

He remembers Eddie the night after Maggie and Went left, chewing on the pad of his thumb on the balcony. He had clearly been thinking – maybe even worried – but Richie hadn’t tried to push. He thinks of the night he got back from tour; how Eddie had rushed to him, held Richie’s face in his hands, threw his arms around Richie and held him like someone afraid of heights holds the bar of a Ferris wheel. He thinks about the night he told Eddie he was gay. He thinks about the way Eddie held him as he cried. He thinks about the Skype call from when he was on tour, when Stan had jokingly told Eddie to move out, and Eddie had told Richie he wasn’t leaving until Richie told him to. He remembers the night they sat for Audra and Bill; he thinks of the way Eddie had dropped his head onto his shoulder when Alice had woken up in the middle of the night. He remembers Eddie’s voice – his face – when he’d asked Richie to stay with him.

He thinks of when they went back to Derry. He remembers seeing Eddie in the Jade of Orient and immediately trying to make him laugh by making his gesture towards Ben. He thinks of the way Eddie had tried to hide his laughter when Richie started the jokes about marrying Sonia. He thinks about seeing Eddie’s face when the others showed up in the library, right after Richie had axed Bowers. He thinks about being attacked by Stan’s spider head in Neibolt before they knew he was still alive; the way Bill had fisted his hand into Eddie’s shirt and screamed, ”You want Richie, too?” He thinks about Eddie, his voice cracking with panic and tears as he stared at Richie still sprawled on the floor over Bill’s shoulder. He remembers shoving and clutching and manhandling Eddie away from the giant tentacle It had shot at them, only to find the three doors that kept his fingers gripped tight around the other man’s wrist. He thinks about seeing Mike in It’s grip, and about how he’d torn away from Eddie, scooped up a rock, and threw it as hard as he could at the creature. Then, he was in the Deadlights, his vision warping from the glowing lights to the sight of what happened next. Eddie hovering over him, a bright smile on his face, then the claw bursting through his chest, narrowly missing Richie’s glasses and spattering blood across his face. Then, he fell, and his vision warped again to see Eddie above him, alive. The Deadlights had felt so real that he hadn’t realized they were the future; he had been so happy to see Eddie alive that it wasn’t until the blood hit his face that he realized it had been real.

He remembers shoving his jacket onto Eddie’s chest and holding it there. He remembers holding onto Eddie’s shoulder as the others went to fight It – remembers feeling Eddie’s blood soaking through the cloth inside of his leather jacket and wetting Richie’s fingers. He remembers Eddie weakly placing his hand on top of Richie’s, his eyes blearily searching Richie’s face and his mouth dripping with blood as told Richie to go help their friends live. ”You better be here when I get back, Eds,” Richie had told him, and all Eddie did was cough weakly in response and look towards the mouth of the cave, where their friends were banding together, shouting insults. He remembers the rage he felt when he finally managed to tear himself away from the dying man, and he’d met his friends and ripped away the claw that had gone through Eddie’s chest.

He remembers the elation he had felt when It was finally dead, then the dread that followed when he remembered Eddie in the cave. He remembers falling to his knees in front of the other man’s body, whispering about Pennywise’s defeat. If he thinks about it long enough, he can recall the way his heart had climbed to his throat. He remembers how terrified he had been, when they reached Eddie and he hadn’t been breathing. He remembers the panic, the anger, the sadness he felt as he stared at the other man’s glazed eyes and just begged for life to show itself. He can hear the choking sob he had let out when Eddie’s chest heaved suddenly. His dazed eyes had connected with Richie’s just before they rolled back into his head. He remembers collapsing in front of the nurses station – after Ben and Mike were forced to hold him back as Eddie was rolled away on a gurney surrounded by shouting nurses and doctors – and looking down at his blood soaked hands, only to find a circle of red around his ring finger that had him doubling over the small wastebasket tucked beside the desk.

He thinks about the first day Eddie walked across the platform during physical therapy. He remembers the wide smile across his face and the tears on his flushed cheeks.

He thinks about the thirty-year-old carving, forever resting on the wooden railing of the Kissing Bridge back in Derry.

He thinks about how badly he regretted not showing it to Eddie.

A clash of thunder rings through the apartment, shaking the floor beneath Richie’s feet. Lighting cracks through the air, illuminating the room through the balcony windows.

Something clatters down the hall, and he nearly jumps out of his skin. It’s not until he begins walking that he registers the tears on his face.

The lights flicker when another clap of thunder bellows through the hall. The door to Eddie’s room is wide open, swinging lightly on its hinges. Richie peers around the doorway to see drawers hanging open. Clothes hang out and scatter the floor, and the closet door rests open against the wall.

It’s then that he sees the source of the earlier clatter. Eddie’s cane is laying on the floor beside the nightstand, the arm hook snapped clean off beside it. On the bedside table, still hooked to the charger, is Eddie’s phone.

Richie’s phone buzzes in his pocket once, twice, a third time before stopping. He pulls it out and sees one missed call, and three texts; they’re all from Bill.

Bill Denbrough: Eddie just called me from a random number. He sounds like a mess.

Bill Denbrough: Jesus Christ, Richie.

Bill Denbrough: What did you do?

He presses the call button beside Bill’s name, and the other man answers on the second ring.

”Do you know where he is?” Richie asks immediately.

Bill sighs. “I don’t know if he wants me to tell you. He’s really upset, Rich.”

”I know, I’m a dumbass,” Richie replies, voicing Bill’s unspoken words. “He doesn’t have his cane, Bill. He was complaining about his legs before… before everything.” The line is quiet as he moves to pick the cane from the floor. “C’mon, Bill, please. I know I was being an asshole, but he doesn’t have his umbrella, or his phone, or his cane, and it’s pouring outside, man.”

”You kicked him out, Rich. You basically called him Sonia.”

”I know, Bill!” Richie exclaims, exasperated. “I know I did, and I fucking regret it, okay? I didn’t want to do it! Just tell me where he is so I can bring him home.”

”Why did you do it?”

”Is that really important right now?”

”Yes, Richie,” Bill replies, frustrated. “It’s important. If you didn’t want to do it, then why did you?”

”Bill—“

”Why did you do it, Rich?”

Richie sighs, sniffling as he collapses onto the mattress, his grip tightening on Eddie’s cane. He pulls the metal into his lap and pushes the hook back on with a small click. He closes his eyes for a moment as another clap of thunder shakes the building, then opens them as tears start to well. He fixes his gaze on the window. Water droplets race down the panes and cast the glow from storm-riddled city across the room. Richie’s hands shake as he lets out a breath. “I love him, Bill,” he manages after a few moments, and his entire body shudders when his eyes fall on Eddie’s phone again. “God, I love him. Please, man.”

He hears what sounds like Audra in the background – listens as Bill whispers something to her. “He’s at the bus stop near that Italian place,” he sighs. “We were about to come pick him up.”

”I’m going to get him,” Richie replies after a pause, grabbing the cane tight in one hand and standing.

”I don’t think—”

”I’m getting him, and I’m going to apologize,” Richie interrupts, putting his phone on the foyer table beside the door and tugging his shoes on. He tugs the phone back to his ear, and Bill is saying something to him but it isn’t registering. “I’ll text you once we get back.” He ends the call and drops the phone. He grabs the first jacket he can from the coat rack and tears open the door. He doesn’t bother locking it as it slams behind him and takes off towards the stairs. It isn’t until his feet hit the sidewalk outside of their building that he realizes the jacket is a replacement for the one he lost in the sewers beneath Derry.

 

He’s drenched by the time he reaches the bus stop, but one look at Eddie proves the other man isn’t any better. His hair is dripping where it’s plastered to his forehead and neck. Richie can’t tell if the wetness on the man’s face is rain water or tears.

His bag is on the bench beside him, and he has his arms wrapped around himself, hands fisted into the sides of his soaked sweatshirt. The cloud of night air and rain hanging over the city has seemed to heighten the chill in the air. Richie can see Eddie shaking where he sits beneath the cover of the bus stop. There’s a woman in nursing scrubs sitting beside him, one hand on his bicep as she speaks to him softly. Richie can’t hear her – because of the distance or the rain, he isn’t really sure – but he can see Eddie shaking his head and saying something back, dragging his fingertips beneath his eyes.

The woman reaches out with her free hand and pushes Eddie’s hair from his forehead, a sad smile on her face as she pats his cheek. He looks at her to smile and respond, and that’s when his connect with Richie’s over her shoulder.

The smile drops from his face as soon as their eyes meet, and he shakily stands like he’s going to try bolting. Richie’s grip tightens on the cane, and he holds it up. “I’m sorry,” he calls over the rain, and thunder cracks through the air. Eddie looks pissed as he pulls away from the woman with an apology and begins his march towards Richie. He looks on the verge of collapse when he finally reaches him.

”What do you want?” Eddie asks, folding his arms across his chest.

”I’m sorry,” Richie repeats, holding out the cane. Eddie stares down at it, then takes it from Richie’s hand, leaning his weight onto it. “I was a total dick.”

Eddie nods, sniffling slightly. “Yeah,” he agrees, using his drenched sleeve to wipe beneath his nose. “You really were.”

”I don’t want you to leave.” He pauses, then says, “I didn’t mean what I said. About pills.”

”That’s not what it sounded like, asshole,” Eddie replies. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Just… just go home, Richie.”

He reaches out to grip the sleeve of Eddie’s sweatshirt, who snatches his arm back against his chest. “I’m so sorry, Eds,” he says as lightning cracks through the air. The woman at the stop is giving them a concerned look over Eddie’s shoulder.

”Yeah, you said that already,” Eddie says, shifting his weight against the cane. “Water under the fucking bridge, Richie. Go home.”

”I came to get you,” Richie tells him, and he knows he’s freezing up and fumbling like an idiot beneath Eddie’s glare, but he’s at a complete loss for words. How are you supposed to tell someone you’ve been in love with them for three decades and not immediately die?

”What if I don’t want to come with you?” Eddie asks.

”I…” he starts, mouth opening and closing like a fish. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

”What, Richie?” Eddie asks, exasperated and shaky. “You just kicked me out, you basically said I was my mother; what could you possibly have to tell me? ‘I’ll send your shit to Bill’s?’ You could have just sent that in a text, dickwad.” Richie doesn’t say anything, just gapes. After a few moments, Eddie rolls his eyes. “If you’re not going to say what you came here for then just leave me alone, Rich,” he tells him, shifting the cane so it’s hooked around one arm and turning to go back to the stop.

Richie can’t let this happen again. He can’t let Eddie Kaspbrak out of his life again. You love him, a voice that sounds eerily like his mother whispers in the back of his mind. You love him, Richie, and you’re letting him walk away.

”I love you!” he calls, just as the rain picks up and another clap of thunder rings out. Water is running into his mouth and eyes, chilling his skin as Eddie turns to look at him.

”What?” he asks over the water hitting the pavement, but Richie can tell he’s heard him once he starts slowly moving back to Richie. He comes to a stop in front of him, close enough that Richie could reach out and grab him. The tips of their shoes brush together, and Eddie stares at him expectantly.

”I love you,” Richie whispers, unsure if the other man can hear him over the pounding rain. “I love you, Eds. So much that it scares me.”

Eddie pulls his bottom lip beneath his teeth and casts his eyes down to the ground. He lifts his free hand and rests it over Richie’s heart; it feels like it’s trying to beat out of his chest. “How long?” Eddie asks, and Richie feels his eyebrows furrow.

”What?”

Eddie looks up to him with wet eyes, fisting his hand in Richie’s soaked shirt. “How long?” he repeats, voice choked.

Richie shakes his head. “A long ass time, Eds,” he tells him. “Since we were kids.” He pauses and takes a shaking breath. “When we went back to Derry, I don’t think those feelings were there at first. Thank 27 years and a fucking memory wipe for that.” Eddie chuckles around what sounds like a sob, and drops his eyes to where his hand is still fisted in Richie’s shirt. “Then you got hurt, and all I could think was, ‘I can’t lose him, because I loved him – at some point, I really fucking loved him – and he’s my best friend; losing him is going to be like I’ve lost a part of myself.’”

Eddie sniffles, and thunder cracks across the sky, followed by a whip of lightning.

”I can’t tell you when those feelings came back, Eds,” Richie continues, “but they did, and they’re so fucking terrifying. Everything you do makes me fall even more in love with you. I didn’t want you to know; I didn’t want you to find out because I didn’t want you to leave.”

”I wouldn’t have,” Eddie interjects, tugging slightly on Richie’s shirt. There’s rainwater in both their eyes, and the wind has started picking up. “I wouldn’t have left, Richie.”

”I decided to just keep it bottled up, that way you wouldn’t find out,” Richie tells him. “Then you noticed something was wrong – because you always know when something is wrong with me, Eds – and I just…” He trails off beneath Eddie’s gaze, tears building in his eyes. “I panicked. I didn’t want you to know, and I was scared you would find out, so it was easier to just have you leave, that way you could hate me for kicking you out instead of hate me for being in love with you.”

There are tears on his cheeks, mixing with the cold raindrops streaming from his hair. Eddie lets go of his shirt and takes a step forward, lifting his cane from the ground so he can put his hands on either side of Richie’s face. “You’re an asshole,” he says, and Richie chuckles, nodding in agreement. “I could never hate you, you absolute dumbass. I told you before, I’m always going to love you, no matter what.”

Richie tucks his head into his chest, knocking Eddie’s hands away as he covers his face with his own palms, choking on a sob. He feels the other man’s arms circle his waist, cries a bit harder when Eddie’s cheek presses into his shoulder. He fumbles, wrapping his arms around Eddie’s neck and burying his nose into soaked brown hair. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, feeling the other man shake his head beneath Richie’s nose.

There’s a screeching of brakes at the bus stop, and Richie looks up to see the woman in scrubs standing. Eddie pulls back slightly, not enough to step out of Richie’s arms, but enough to turn around. The woman is looking at them, one hand on Eddie’s bag. “You getting on?” she calls, gesturing to the bus.

Eddie looks at the bus, then towards Richie, who tightens his arms instinctively around the other man’s shoulders. “I’m good,” Eddie calls back, looking over his shoulder at her. “I’m going home.”

The woman nods, pulling her hand away from the duffel and climbing onto the bus. Eddie pulls away from Richie and wraps freezing fingers around one of his wrists, pulling him towards the covering as the bus pulls away. “I’m sorry,” Richie sniffles again once they’re beside the bench, watching Eddie push his dripping hair from his forehead.

Rainwater beats on the plastic cover above them, and Eddie sighs. “I know you’re sorry, Rich,” he tells him, squeezing Richie’s wrist once before letting his hand fall. “You don’t have to keep saying it.”

He leans heavily against his cane as he moves to grab his bag from the bench. Richie takes it as soon as Eddie’s standing at full height, swinging it over his own shoulder. Eddie smiles sadly at him, reaching up to thumb away the last of the tears gathering beneath Richie’s eyes. “Let’s go, Trashmouth,” he whispers, barely audible above the rain. “We’ll talk when we’re out of this storm.”

Richie follows him, because he can’t help himself; he would follow Eddie to the ends of the Earth if that’s what he wanted. But this isn’t the end of the Earth they’re walking towards. This is their home. Even if Eddie left, that apartment that was once just Richie’s would never be just Richie’s again. It’s a selfish thought, thinking the place that had once belonged to him would never belong to him again. He watches Eddie walk through the rain, the streetlights reflecting on his hair as he limps down the sidewalk. Richie moves to stand beside him, shrugging his damp jacket from his shoulders and throwing it around Eddie’s. It’s terrifying to see the jacket on Eddie’s body again. It just looks so similar to the one trapped beneath the remains of Neibolt. But nothing happens; Eddie doesn’t collapse at his feet; no blood pours from his mouth. Instead, he just smiles, pulling the leather so it’s tight around his shoulders. Better to be selfish, Richie thinks as a streak of lightning flashes across the sky, than to let him go again.


 

There are two boys tucked away behind a locked door and a shuttered window; they’re sat across from each other on top of tartan sheets and a wrinkled duvet. Their heads are bent over yellowing comics with folded corners and cracked spines. On the tan, stained carpet beneath the bed, a black fanny pack rests where it was thrown haphazardly between two worn, scuffed pairs of Chuck Taylor All-Stars; the zipper is halfway open, a pill organizer slipping out, but when the brown haired boy’s watch starts beeping, he makes no move to pick it up. Instead, he presses the button that silences the alarm and looks up to the boy sitting across from him, hair falling onto his forehead as he shrugs and says, “They’re not real, anyways.”

They would stay in their comic books, occasionally getting each other’s attention to point out something. The brown-haired boy would comment on the dirt beneath the other’s nails, who would chuckle and poke the tip of his finger into the smaller boy’s cheek. He would laugh when the boy began to spasm until he was kicked from the bed, and then he would lay on the carpet until the other boy leaned over the edge of the bed with a glare and a flush.

”I hate you, Rich,” the boy would say, laying on his stomach across the mattress so he could keep looking over the edge.

The boy on the floor would lift a hand to tap the other’s nose or run a hand through brown hair, smiling as he responded, “You know you love me, Eddie Spaghetti.”

The smaller boy would attempt to glare, but there would be a lightness peeking through his stony demeanor. “You’re a dork,” he would respond to the boy on the floor, who would sit up and prop his chin on the edge of the bed, a sideways smile on his face. The brown-haired boy would sigh and smile, shaking his head in childish exasperation; the one on the floor would tilt his head so his cheek was against the sheets, and the other would follow, stretching out on his side along the mattress and mimicking the action. He would tilt his head and smile into the wrinkled bedspread as they stared at each other. Eddie would close his eyes and smile like a sap as Richie brushed the tips of their noses together from their places on the mattress, a rosy flush taking over his features as he whispered, “You’re such a dick, Richie.”

It was easy for Richie to imagine the scene. He isn’t dumb; he knows it never could have happened that way in Derry. There was too much fear resting within the confinements of that town for two boys to be in love, even kept behind closed doors. But he can imagine it as he stares at the Eddie of three decades later sitting across from him on the floor of their apartment.

His hair is still damp from the rain, and the tip of his nose is pink from the breeze blowing through the open balcony doors. He pulls on the blanket around his shoulders, watching the droplets disappear just past the balcony railing.

He looks the exact same way he did when they were thirteen, just older. His jaw has squared out, and there are laughter lines around his eyes and frown marks between his eyebrows. His freckles are still there, but they’ve faded as he’s gotten older. There is a mole on his cheek that wasn’t there when they were kids. They aren’t that old by any means, but Richie’s sure if he looks close enough, there would be thin grays mixed into Eddie’s brown hair. He knows there’s some in his own.

“We should probably talk,” Richie tells him, cutting through the thick tension that had settled between them. Eddie doesn’t look at him. It’s the first time either of them has spoken since they made it back to the apartment.

”Can you tell me again?” Eddie asks, so softly the rain outside nearly drowns him out.

”What?” he asks, looking towards Eddie. He’s still staring out the balcony doors.

”Tell me what you said before,” he whispers, pulling his knees to his chest. “What you said at the bus stop.”

Thunder rumbles lowly outside. Lightning illuminates the outline of the city. It’s just the two of them in this room. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.

”I’m in love with you,” Richie replies softly, his voice cracking.

Eddie makes pained noise that comes from somewhere deep in his chest, finally turning to look at Richie over his knees. “Say it again.”

”Eddie—“

Please, Rich.” Eddie’s eyes are pleading and wet with unfallen tears. Water drizzles down his temples where it falls from his still damp hair.

”I’m in love with you, Eds,” he repeats, and Eddie shuffles forward on the carpet to wrap his arms around Richie’s neck.

”Me too, Rich,” he whispers, and Richie feels it when the tears in his eyes spill onto his shirt. “God, how did you never notice?”

He can’t breathe. There’s blood rushing in his ears, mixing with the thudding of his heart. He doesn’t register the fresh tears falling from his eyes, but he knows they’re there when the other man pulls back to wipe them away.

His vision is nothing but Eddie; his damp hair, the tears on his cheeks, a dorky smile on his face, and Richie feels like a teenager again. He gains enough control to reach up and hold Eddie’s cheeks, just as the man had done with him on the street. He swipes his thumb along the tears on Eddie’s face, brushing them away just for new ones to take their place.

”How long?” he asks, echoing Eddie’s question from the bus stop.

Eddie shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he replies, fisting a hand in Richie’s shirt. “I don’t know if it was exactly love when we were kids – hell, I don’t even know if that’s what it is now; I feel like it is – but I don’t—” He pauses, focusing on the hand he has gripping Richie’s shirt, avoiding eye contact. “I just woke up one day, and I felt it.” He takes in a shaky breath. “It scared the shit out of me, Rich. I didn’t know what it meant for me, but I was so sure you felt it, too. I was so sure, but then you told me to leave, and I—"

”That was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Richie interjects, his eyes filling once again as Eddie finally looks up at him. “I’ll never do it again.”

Eddie nods. “I know, Rich,” he mutters, looking back out the balcony doors. “I know.”

They sit content until the tension dies out. Everything is in the open. There are no more secrets between them. Richie feels a weight lift as he stares at Eddie, who watches the rain with a soft smile on his face, knees back to his chest. I can do this now he thinks to himself. I can see him without the fear of him seeing me back.

After a few minutes, Eddie turns away from the balcony doors and shoots Richie a lopsided smile. “Stop staring, you creep,” he chuckles as he stretches to shove Richie’s face back. “Is it going to be like this all the time now? You’re just going to stare at me?”

Richie smiles, leaning back on his palms and stretching his legs out in front of him, nudging Eddie’s thigh with one sock-clad toe. “I always stare at you, Eds,” Richie tells him. “It’s hard not to when you look so much like my first lo—“

”Do not make a joke about my mom right now, you absolute asshole!” Eddie exclaims, uncrossing his legs and kicking Richie’s shoulder with a laugh. “I cannot believe you!”

”Oh believe it, Eds. You have that lovely Mrs. K face that was the star of all my childhood wet dre—“

”I’m leaving,” Eddie interrupts, shrugging the blanket from his shoulders and moving to stand.

Richie follows with a laugh, grabbing the tail of Eddie’s shirt and pulling himself up from the floor. Eddie stumbles backwards with the force, his back slamming into Richie’s chest. He turns on his heel as Richie’s arms go around his waist, a non-heated glare on his face and a piece of hair falling into his eyes where its grown too long. Richie lifts one hand to smooth it back, carding his fingers through short tufts of hair. Eddie’s eyes close when Richie drags his nails along the base of his skull, and his head tips forward when Richie flattens his palm at the space between his shoulder blades.

”Are you sure you want this?” Richie asks, hearing the shaky uneasiness of his own words. Eddie pulls back slightly to look at him, eyebrows furrowed.

”What do you mean?”

Richie swallows around the growing panic in his throat. Eddie is in his arms, his too-big, stupid, doe eyes looking at Richie expectantly. He wants this – my God, does he want this – but he has to make sure. He has to make sure this is more than just the heat of the moment, because he doesn’t think he could handle it if it was anything less than what he feels for Eddie. “Are you sure you want to be with me?” he asks finally, watching the way Eddie’s features soften into a sad gaze. “Are you sure I’m what you want?”

Eddie frowns at him and lifts his hands to hold Richie’s face between his palms. “I may not know what – fucking, I don’t know – label I am,” he starts, and Richie tightens the hold on his waist, “but the one thing I am certain of is that I want to be with you; God knows why, but I do.” He inhales shakily, moving his hands down to Richie’s shoulders. “It may take some time,” he continues, his eyes trained on Richie’s shirt collar. “I’m… I don’t exactly know what I’m doing here, Rich. The one serious relationship I had was absolute shit and I—“

”Okay, okay, don’t give yourself a stroke,” Richie interrupts, moving the hand he’d had between Eddie’s shoulders to his waist.

”Fuck you, Richie, I was trying to have a serious conversation!”

”You’re always having serious conversations, Eds. You were a squirrely little spit-fuck as a kid, none of us really expected that to change,” Richie chuckles, feeling the way Eddie’s entire body heats up when his face flushes. “Seriously, dude. You were wound up like a gym rag in the men’s locker room right before some football jock snapped it against your a—"

”Beep beep, Richie,” he mumbles, folding his arms across his chest. He makes no move to pull away.

Richie smiles and leans forward, moving his arms around Eddie’s shoulders and propping his chin on his hair; Eddie shuffles closer to him, uncrossing his arms to wrap them around Richie’s torso and leaning his cheek against Richie’s throat, gazing outside the open balcony. “I’m completely positive, Rich,” he mumbles, his breath grazing against Richie’s skin with each word. “I completely positive I want this.”

”This feels like a dream.” Thunder rolls lowly outside. “Seriously, Eds. If you told 13-year-old Richard Tozier this would happen to him eventually, he probably would have shit his pants.”

”God, you know how to ruin a moment,” Eddie groans. He falls silent for a moment, and Richie’s heart is beating out of his chest. He turns his head to rest his cheek on Eddie’s hair, following his gaze out the window as they hold each other. “13-year-old Eddie would be losing his shit, too. I didn’t feel it back then – what I feel for you now, I mean.”

”I thought I was sick,” Richie tells him, feeling choked up when Eddie shakes his head. “I thought I was sick because I knew it wasn’t right, and I never said anything because I didn’t want you to be sick, too.”

”You never made me sick,” Eddie responds. He shrugs beneath Richie’s arms as he says, “Other than that one time you gave me the flu.”

Richie laughs weakly at his attempt to lighten the mood. ”Oh yeah, I remember that. I thought Sonia was going to kill me.”

”She wanted to,” Eddie chuckles. Richie moves one hand to push Eddie’s hair back from his forehead, shivering when fluttering eye lashes brush his wrist. “The day you left Derry, she threw out all the comics you gave me. Told me they were infected. I cried for an hour before I found one you had left beneath my bed.”

Richie tilts his head to press his mouth to the top of Eddie’s head. It isn’t necessarily a kiss, but it’s close enough. He isn’t sure he’s ready for that, despite how long he’s waited for this moment. If he kisses Eddie right now, he’ll probably die on the spot.

He doesn’t speak, just lets Eddie go on. “She gave all of our stuff to my aunt when we left. All my tapes, pictures of us – of the Losers. Every single book that wasn’t educational. My Walkman, my bike. If it didn’t fit in the car or reminded her of home, it couldn’t come with us.”

”Do you think they’re still there?”

Eddie shrugs again. “I don’t know. Her daughter may have inherited everything after she died, but there’s no guarantee that she still has it all.” He pauses, tightening his arms around Richie’s waist. “Even if she does, I don’t want any of it. I don’t want anything that reminds me of my mother.”

Richie doesn’t reply. Thunder rolls outside; a streak of lightning flashes across the sky. The rain picks up. Across the street, the neon bar sign flickers once, twice, before resuming its steady hum.


”A date?” Eddie asks, staring at Richie with a raised eyebrow as he makes dinner the next night. “You want to go on a date?”

”Maybe not go on one, specifically,” Richie replies, watching Eddie grab a container of cilantro from the spice cabinet. “Just have one. We can do it here; call in take out, rent a movie.” He shrugs, and Eddie turns to look at him. His gaze almost takes Richie’s breath away. “I want to do this right, Eds.”

Eddie raises his eyebrow again. “Do what, Rich?”

“This. Us.” He pauses, watching for any change in emotion in Eddie’s eyes. God, his eyes. “I just… I want to make sure that this is real. That it’s going to last.”

Eddie frowns, reaching out with one of his hands to grab Richie’s; his feet move involuntarily as Eddie pulls him forward. His heart swells into his throat when Eddie stands on his toes to press a kiss to Richie’s forehead. “It’s real, Rich,” he tells him as he falls back onto his heels. “Promise.” Richie knows the look on his face is pure lovesick, and he relishes in the way Eddie rolls his eyes at it, a small smile on his face. “Help me finish dinner, nerd,” he laughs, shoving a wooden spoon into Richie’s hand.

”Then we can have that date?” Richie teases, but Eddie just smiles and says, “Yeah, Rich. Then we can have that date.”


 

When they kiss two weeks later, it’s a complete accident.

Richie was leaning against the balcony railing burning a cigarette between his fingers. Eddie was standing beside him nursing a cup of coffee, the huge Target mug Ally had given him gripped tightly between both hands, still wearing his pajamas.

There are people weaving in and out of the shops and restaurants on the street below. Richie finishes his cigarette and starts to dig out another one just as the clattering begins on the balcony above them.

”Seems like Amanda and Lonnie are moving their patio furniture again,” Eddie mumbles around the rim of his mug.

”Every goddamn weekend,” Richie says around the butt of his cigarette. “How many times can you rearrange a patio?”

”There going to start playing their furniture playlist any second,” Eddie continues, leaning his elbows against the railing. They both fall quiet as classic rock starts booming above them, followed by more clattering.

”Is that what we’re calling it?” Richie questions as Eddie reaches up to take the unlit cigarette from his mouth. “Their furniture playlist?”

”What else can we call it?” Eddie replies, putting the cigarette into the pocket of Richie’s hoodie. “You going to start fighting with him again?”

Richie huffs, rolling his eyes. “That wasn’t a fight. I was just backing up Amanda.”

”It was a fight,” Eddie replies, smirking over the lip of his mug. “Admit it, Tozier. You push that old man like it’s your job.”

Richie smiles and bumps their hips together. “Lon’s not that old,” he replies. “It’s not his fault people with dark hair gray faster. Besides, he should have known not to put that couch beside the railing. The rain would have ruined the cushions.”

Eddie snorts, watching him from the corner of his eye as he reaches up to twist a strand of Richie’s hair around one finger. “I think you have some wisps in your hair, Rich,” he chuckles, tugging lightly before letting his hand fall back to his mug.

”No way,” Richie replies. He had seen the growing amount of gray along his roots for a couple of weeks. They weren’t that noticeable, really; not unless you were looking for them. “I’m going to stay young and youthful forever.”

”Sure you are,” Eddie replies, lifting his mug to his mouth. He drains it and moves to put it on the patio table, then leans against the rail again. He stares down to the street absently, almost like he’s thinking about going to refill his mug for what Richie knows is the third time that morning.

It’s the perfect chance for Richie to lean over and kiss his cheek. The other man turns, and instead of hitting his scar like he originally intended, Richie’s lips land squarely on Eddie’s.

Eddie’s eyes widen in shock as Richie jerks back, knocking into the table. Eddie reaches out for him, and Richie lifts his hands up protectively. From what, from what, from what? he thinks suddenly. “I’m sorry!” he exclaims as Eddie’s fingers wrap around his wrists. “I’m so sorry, Eds! I didn’t mean—“

Eddie grabs his face between both hands and pulls, stumbling backwards as their lips crash together. Richie fumbles momentarily, trying to figure out what to do with his hands. They find a place on each side of Eddie’s waist, nestled beneath the last ridges of his ribcage. Their teeth clash as they slam into the railing along the balcony, making out like teenagers beneath the school bleachers; the metal groans against their weight, creaking where it’s stuck in the concrete beneath their feet. Eddie tastes like coffee, and Richie is suddenly, painfully aware of the two cigarettes he’s burned through. Eddie doesn’t seem to mind, because when Richie opens his eyes, Eddie’s are closed and his hands are still on either side of Richie’s face.

He doesn’t want to pull away, because now that he’s kissing Eddie, he never wants to stop. He can feel his brain going fuzzy, but he can’t tell if it’s from the lack of oxygen or the fact that he’s finally – oh God, finally – kissing Eddie the way he’s always wanted to. He pulls back once he realizes he’s about to pass out, and Eddie chases him.

”Jesus, Eds, let me catch my breath,” Richie pants around a laugh. Eddie’s lips catch the corner of his mouth.

”Are you seriously out of breath?” Eddie asks, a joking smirk on his face as his hands falls to Richie’s biceps. “Jesus, you’re old.”

”This is all on you, Spaghetti,” Richie replies, pushing Eddie’s hair back from his forehead. He leans down to press a quick kiss above his left eyebrow. “Been taking my breath away since you smacked me in the gut with your bookbag in fourth grade.”

”I never did that.”

”Maybe it was Stan; he had me losing my breath way before I crushed on you.”

Eddie quirks an eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me you crushed on Stan?”

Richie shakes his head, linking his hands together behind Eddie’s back. “Nah, Stan was just a dick to me,” he finally says.

Eddie gives him a lopsided smile and leans up to kiss the tip of Richie’s nose before wiggling from his arms. “You probably deserved it.” Richie watches him reach for his mug before he moves towards the apartment. “You were more of a dick than he was.”

”That’s rich coming from the biggest asshole I knew when we were kids.”

”I was not an asshole, I was just a massive hypochondriac.”

”Still are, Mr. I-have-to-wash-my-fruit-before-I-eat-it,” Richie retorts, and Eddie shoots a glare over his shoulder.

”No more kissing,” he replies before walking the rest of the way into the apartment. “Everyone washes their fruit before they eat it; you just like chancing getting sick from the wax coating stores put on them.”

”What!? No!” Richie whines, sticking his head over the railing. He looks up to where Amanda and Lonnie’s furniture moving music is still playing. “Amanda! Eddie won’t kiss me because I made fun of him for washing fruit before he eats it!”

”Are you snitching on me to our neighbor?” Eddie asks, and Richie looks towards him. He’s standing barefoot just inside the door.

”It’s not like I can snitch on you to your mom, Eds! She dumped me for making out with her son!”

”Beep fucking beep, Richie!”

Richie waits to see if Amanda will respond. Nothing happens, so he glares at Eddie instead.

Eddie rolls his eyes, groaning as he steps back into the apartment. “Yeah, yeah, I’m so mean. Now come brush the cigarettes out of your mouth so I can kiss you again.”

Richie beams at him, rushing from the balcony and catching Eddie around the waist. He yelps and slaps Richie’s chest as they fall over the arm of the couch.

 

They move his things into the master bedroom that night.

 

He gets used to sharing a bed with Eddie. He still steals the blankets and hits Richie awake in the middle of the night with flailing limbs. It’s completely different from the night of Richie’s ‘sleepover,’ when he had kept to his own side of the bed and barely moved an inch.

They don’t sleep huddled together, no matter how hard they’ve tried – and they have definitely tried. If he’s lucky, he’ll wake up with Eddie’s face pressed into his back, though he usually just ends up with a forearm across his face or a bony knee digging into his stomach. He’s figured out what it feels like without Eddie beside him. It isn’t a slap to the face or a kick in the thigh that wakes him up tonight. Instead, it’s the shifting weight of the mattress beneath him and the tug of the sheets he has tucked around him. The weight is there, but it’s slight. He doesn’t have to roll over to know Eddie is sitting up.

Then he hears the sniffling.

”Eds?” he mumbles, looking over his shoulder. He sees the back of Eddie’s head where he’s silhouetted by the light pollution leaking through the window, and that prompts him to roll over the rest of the way. “Are you okay?” he asks lightly, reaching across the mattress to grab Eddie’s shirt, who sniffles in response.

”Just a nightmare,” he tells Richie, turning slightly as he wipes the inside of his wrist beneath his nose. “I’m okay, Rich. Go back to sleep.”

Richie lets go of his shirt to sit up and grab his glasses from the bedside table, fumbling them onto his face with one hand and reaching for the lamp switch with the other. The light fills the room with a slight glow, but it’s all he needs to see the tears on Eddie’s cheeks.

”You’re not okay,” he says, reaching to thumb away the tracks.

Eddie shakes his head but leans into the touch. “Really, I’m fine,” he whispers, giving Richie a weak smile. “It wasn’t that bad.”

”Do you want to talk about it?”

Eddie shakes his head.

”Okay,” Richie continues, letting go of Eddie completely to throw the blankets back. He stands and grabs a t-shirt from his drawer, pulling it over his head as he walks around the bed to stop in front of Eddie; he looks at Richie strangely when he extends a hand. “You’re not going to go back to sleep until you calm down, and I won’t be able to sleep knowing you’re awake, so come on,” he tells Eddie, nodding his head towards the hallway.

Eddie stares at his hand for a moment before reaching out and taking it, grabbing his phone from the bedside table as he stands. “What are we about to do?” he asks curiously as Richie pulls him out of the bedroom and towards the kitchen.

”We,” Richie starts as they walk in, stopping in front of the cabinet and pulling Eddie flush against his side, “are going to make some sleepy-time tea until you feel like going back to bed.”

”Sleepy-time tea?” Eddie snorts around a laugh, reaching up to wipe at his nose again. “Jesus, Rich, you sound like you’re talking to Jack.”

”Jack is two-years-old, Eds, he screeches whenever he is even near a bed.” Richie places two mugs in front of them before letting Eddie go to grab the box of tea bags from the cupboard. “Just saying the word sleep around him makes him go nuts.”

”He’s the devil incarnate,” Eddie mumbles, jumping to sit on the counter as Richie fills the kettle and places it on the stove. “At least Alice is sweet.”

Richie huffs, switching the stove on before moving to stand between Eddie’s legs. “She almost ripped a chunk of my hair out when we met Audra for lunch,” he says, hooking his arms around Eddie’s waist. “You only think she’s sweet because she loves you.”

”Of course she does,” Eddie replies, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Richie’s forehead. “I’m lovable.”

”You sure are, Eds,” Richie replies, watching Eddie pull his phone from the pocket of his pajama pants.

”Come on,” he says, shoving at Richie shoulder as he swipes his thumb along the screen, “let me up.” He stops swiping as he falls from the counter, tapping something quickly on the screen before placing his phone on the marble.

Richie frowns when Eddie reaches over to turn off the stove, but it drops when he realizes there’s music playing softly from the phone’s speakers. “Eds, you cheesy fuck,” Richie chuckles, throwing his arms around Eddie’s shoulders as Berlin fills their kitchen.

”You’re not the only one in this relationship that can be sappy,” Eddie smiles putting his arms around Richie’s middle. He tucks his face into the juncture between Richie’s neck and shoulder, tightens his grip of Richie’s waist a little harder. It’s nice, Richie thinks, nice in a way dancing in your kitchen is never supposed to feel like.

Watching in slow motion as you turn around and say,” Richie sings along quietly, hiding his smile in Eddie’s bedhead, “take my breath away.” He sees Eddie’s eyelids flutter as they sway slowly on the kitchen tile, and he’s suddenly really happy the kettle is no longer boiling. He would probably cry if anything interrupted this moment.

It reminds him so much of that first night, where they stood in front of the open balcony doors and laid their souls bare, wrapped in each other as the rain fell outside. Eddie whispers the lyrics, his breath causing gooseflesh to break out across Richie’s chest. “This is one of the dorkiest things you’ve ever done, Eds,” Richie jokes, kissing the top of Eddie’s head and holding him slightly tighter. “How do you know this song? You don’t even like Top Gun.”

”Just because I don’t like the movie doesn’t mean I can’t like the song,” Eddie huffs, lifting slightly to press a quick kiss to Richie’s mouth. “It reminds me of you.” He shuffles impossibly closer to Richie, dropping his head back onto his shoulder, his face turned into Richie’s neck. “Now shut up and stop ruining the moment.”

Richie smiles, tilting his head just enough that his cheek presses against Eddie’s temple. “I love you, too, Eds.”

Eddie makes a humming noise of agreement, and they stay that way until he yawns and the song comes to an end.


 

”Mikey!” Richie shouts, throwing his arms around the taller man without moving from his bar stool.

”Hi, Rich,” he laughs in response, holding Richie just as tightly. “Where’s Eddie?”

”Working late, that bastard.” Mike chuckles as he falls onto the stool beside Richie, ordering a water as the bartender comes towards them. Richie watches him take a sip once the glass arrives, leaning his elbow on the counter and holding his cheek in his hand. “How you been, Mikey?” he asks, watching as the other man startles around the lip of his glass.

”You know how I’ve been, Rich,” he laughs. “We talk literally every day.”

”I know that!” Richie exclaims, lifting his own glass from in front of him. “How are things with Annette?”

A lovesick smile spreads across Mike’s cheeks.

Annette was Bev’s assistant. They met her while taking pictures at the wedding. Annette had looked at Ben, and right before the shutter clicked on the camera, said, ”Hurt her, and I’ll rip your balls off.” After a talk with Bill and a literal shove from Stan that almost sent him into the drink table, Mike asked her to dance. Richie remembers watching them and thinking, He deserves this more than any of us. When Mike called him that night – drunk off his ass on champagne flutes and butterflies in his stomach – Richie knew.

“I really like her, Rich,” Mike replies softly, lifting his gaze from his drink to look Richie in the eyes.

Richie wiggles his eyebrows, leaning forward slightly. “Things getting pretty serious between you two, then?” he jokes, and Mike laughs, shoving his shoulder.

They split a plate of fries while they catch up, talking about everything from Annette to Bill spoiling his new book in their group chat even after his editor told him not to. “He’s just excited,” Mike told Richie. “At least he figured out the ending.”

”Mike!” comes a voice from behind them as Richie orders a second plate of fries, and he turns just in time to see Eddie barreling towards them – well, barreling as fast as he can with his cane. He launches himself into Mike’s open arms, the metal stick on his arm smacking painfully against Richie’s knee.

”Hi, Eddie,” Mike chuckles as Eddie pulls back from him to take to bar stool on his other side. “How was work?”

”Long,” Eddie replies, his cane clattering where he drops it onto the floor. He reaches over to steal a fry when the plate is set in front of them, then orders his own drink. “So,” he continues, propping his forearms on the table, “where are you headed after this, Mikey?”

Mike shrugs. He’s slowly been making his way across the States, working as a freelance travel writer. He updates the Losers constantly, and makes special trips to see everyone when he can. ”It’s difficult with everyone living on opposite coasts,” he had told Richie on a night where neither of them could sleep, whispering into their receivers.

”We should all just move in together,” Richie had responded, half serious. Their all so dependent on each other at this point, it wasn’t like he was the only one in their group who had brought up the idea. ”Like Full House, except cooler.”

”I think I’m going to head to New York,” Mike finally tells them, smiling at the bartender as he brings Eddie’s drink towards them. “I was thinking of going to see Stan and Patty before making my way towards the city. It’s a long drive, but it’s definitely overdue.” He pauses, taking a fry and holding it between two fingers, shrugging as he pops it into his mouth. “Then, I think I’m going to stay,” he tells them, wiping his hands on his jeans.

”Stay?” Richie questions, watching Eddie’s face soften. “Like, in New York?”

Mike nods. “Ben and Bev are there. They offered to put me up for as long as I need. Plus, Bill and Audra are moving out there in a few weeks” He pauses and chuckles. “I’ll probably try getting a job at a bookstore in the city. You ever seen the bookstores in New York City, Rich? They’re massive, and beautiful.” He shrugs, picking up another fry as he says, “I think I’ll keep up the freelance work, too. The pay is good.”

”Mike, if it was up to us, you would never have to work another day of your life,” Richie interjects, and he means it. They would support their friend for the rest of his life if he let them.

Michael Hanlon had spent his entire life in Derry fucking Maine. He had dedicated three decades to that clown – to that shitty town and the even shittier people who lived there. He didn’t live for himself; he lived for that town, for friends who no longer knew he existed, and for a promise long dead to the six other kids who made it.

Eddie smiles, and Richie watches him lean over to bump his shoulder against Mike’s. “It sounds like a great idea,” he tells him, and Richie’s heart swells into his throat. Then, a shit eating grin spreads across Eddie’s face as he leans over again and says, “You planning on asking Annette out on a proper date when you get there?”

Richie laughs when Mike’s face tenses. “You should ask her to move in when you find a place,” he plays along, standing from his stool and wrapping an arm around Mike’s shoulders. “Pull a Ben and ask her to marry you two months in.”

”I think it was more like two weeks,” Eddie chimes, patting their friend on the shoulder. “You have to beat Ben out, man,” he continues, voice stern and serious despite the way his mouth keeps trying to break out in a grin.

”Eds, grab his phone.”

”Why should I, jackass?”

”We have to text her the marriage proposal, Spaghetti!” Richie exclaims, reaching for Mike’s phone where it sits on the counter. The women beside them are staring, watching with amused grins. “Mikey isn’t going to do it; he doesn’t have the balls.”

Eddie grins, standing from his own stool and pulling Richie away from Mike. He jerks the phone away with a laugh, turning his back to Mike when the man fumbles for his phone. Richie hunches over beside him, chuckling when Eddie swipes the camera open.

”Okay, guys, give it back,” Mike laughs, throwing a fry at the back of Richie’s head just as Eddie takes the first shitty selfie.

”How do you talk to her, Mikey?” Richie asks, turning slightly over his shoulder as Eddie continues making stupid faces at the lens. “We have to make this believable.”

”Do not text my girlfriend,” Mike warns, and Eddie’s head shoots up, his eyes comically wide.

”Did you hear that, Rich!” he bursts, and now everyone in the bar is looking at them. “Our old pal Mikey has a girlfriend!”

”Edward Kaspbrak, give me back my pho—“

Richie watches as Eddie turn on the video option on Mike’s phone, gets so close to the lens only one corner of Richie’s face is visible, and says, “Mike has cooties!” in the most childish voice he possibly can.

Jesus fuck, Richie was in love with this man.

He keeps saying it, and Mike keeps telling him to give it back until his practically crawling over Eddie’s back trying to jerk the phone out of his hand. Richie can’t stop laughing, and neither can the other people in the bar. The bartender looks simultaneously pissed and amused from where he stands behind the counter.

When Eddie finally relents, he stops the recording and drops the phone into Mike’s shirt pocket. “There you go, Mikey,” he beams, patting the other man’s chest. He falls back into his stool with a dramatic sigh, taking his drink and holding it up in a mock solute. “Here’s to hoping she says yes.”

Mike glares at them as the other patrons begin to quiet down, and Richie leans forward to pinch his cheek, chuckling at the embarrassed heat flaring beneath the other man’s skin. “You’re too shy for public spaces, Mikey,” he jokes, and Mike shoves him back onto his stool with a laugh.


 

”Have you ever considered moving east?” Eddie asks later that night, propped against the headboard while Richie scrolls mindlessly through Twitter beside him.

Richie stares at his phone screen for a second before dropping it onto the mattress, holding himself slightly higher on bent elbows to look at his boyfriend. “Not really,” he replies finally, eyebrows furrowing at the look on Eddie’s face. He looks like he’s on the verge of puking, like the question he’s just asked has caused him serious discomfort. “Why do you ask?”

Eddie shrugs, then sighs, sliding down until his flat on his back and staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t know,” he confesses, eyebrows furrowing. “Bill and Audra are moving out there. Getting a house in the suburbs just outside of the city.” He pauses, then turns to look at Richie with a slight shrug and a lopsided smile. “It just got me thinking.”

Richie smiles back, moving from his stomach to lay on his side. He holds his head up in the palm of his hand, then reaches out with the other to bind his fingers with Eddie’s across the man’s stomach. “You want to get a house in the suburbs with little ol’ me, Eddie Kaspbrak?” he drawls in the best southern accent he can manage. He leans forward to push his face in the juncture between Eddie’s neck and shoulder, relishing in the sound of Eddie’s laughter as he tries squirming away. “Why, what would your mother say,” he continues in the accent, “if she knew her only son – her pride and joy – had settled down with the farmer’s boy?”

”What the fuck are you talking about, you weirdo?” Eddie chortles around bouts laughter, twisting his fingers out of Richie’s hold and shoving his face backwards as hard as he can manage.

Richie catches his arm in one hand and rolls, draping himself over the other man, who continues shoving at his shoulders and laughing so hard tears gather in the corner of his eyes. Richie smiles, pressing his face against Eddie’s throat and shoving his arms beneath him, holding him until his laughter calms down. “Get off of me, you truck of a human,” Eddie eventually groans, trying to wiggle from beneath him. “I can’t breathe.”

He sits up with a sigh, running a hand through his hair as he looks down at Eddie, still red faced from laughter and sinking into the pillows beneath his head. His hair has gotten longer, and it curls up slightly at the ends, sticking to the pillow case like the limbs of a tree. He gives Richie a lopsided smile as he reaches up to fist a hand in his shirt, pulling him down for a quick kiss. “I,” he starts as Richie moves to settle into his own pillows, “am never moving to the suburbs.”

Richie reaches out to place a hand over Eddie’s chest, feeling as the rigid bumps of the scar beneath his shirt mix with the light, steady beat of his heart. “Wouldn’t dream of it, babe,” he agrees, watching Eddie smile back before he leans over and switches off the light.

”We can talk about it more,” he proposes into the faint darkness room. “Moving east.” Eddie turns onto his side, the light from the city breaking through the window casting a hue over his face. He moves to cover Richie’s hand with his own, their fingers braiding together over his heart. He’s just close enough that Richie can see him without his glasses. “It would be nice to see the Losers whenever we wanted.”

”Plus, there’s snow,” Eddie adds.

”Yeah,” Richie laughs, shuffling forward to kiss him one more time. “There’s snow.”


 

”I want to tell the others.” Richie looks up to Eddie from where he sits on the floor, watching the other man curl even tighter into the corner of the couch.

”Okay,” he muses softly, pushing his laptop off his knees and reaching up to grab Eddie’s fingers. “Are you sure?”

Eddie nods, his hair flopping onto his forehead where it’s grown too long. “I don’t want to keep hiding.”

Richie feels his stomach drop at Eddie’s words. “Eds, that’s not what this is,” he reassures, pulling himself from the floor and falling onto the cushions beside the other man. “You aren’t hiding.”

”But I am,” Eddie counters, staring at their space where their hands are joined on his thigh. “I am hiding, Rich, and I’m making you hide with me.” He pauses, eyebrows furrowed. “These are the Losers. They’re our friends.” He takes a breath, exhales as he says, “I didn’t know what would happen between that night and now. I didn’t know what I wanted.” He stops again, reaching up to hold Richie’s chin with a soft smile on his face. “I know what I want now, Rich. I know I want to be with you. That’s a part of me I want them to know.”

Richie frowns at him. He looks at this man – this man that was no longer that same scared, neurotic boy he once knew – and he feels his stomach churn.

Richie Tozier from 1988 never would have imagined this.

Richie Tozier – that scared little boy from Derry, Maine – had a string around his heart, one that he had unwillingly dropped into the hands of Eddie Kaspbrak. All he could do was pray that the string wouldn’t be pulled too hard – hope that it wouldn’t pull that aching heart from his chest, laying it bare for the entire world to see.

It was dangerous to be a boy that loved other boys. Richie Tozier from 1988 knew that, and he had been completely certain – every single time he looked at that anxiety filled ball of fire in red gym shorts and a fanny pack – that his own heart was destined to kill him.

”I know your secret…”

”Don’t touch other boys, Richie. Don’t touch other boys or everyone will see.”

”Get the fuck out of here, faggot!”

”Your dirty little secret…”

No. Richie Tozier from 1988 would never have imagined this. He would have hoped, and he would have dreamed, and he would have cried silently to the cheesy ass glow stars on his ceiling for even thinking about that boy who was supposed to be nothing more than a friend.

But this Richie – the one sitting on the couch in his Los Angeles apartment – he could imagine it. He could imagine it, and have it, and he could still be scared of it like he had been back then. He could be so fucking terrified of it that it made him sick, but this time – at least this time, after all these years – he could take that string around his heart and drop it willingly into that same boy’s hands. That boy, who was now a man but still the same, could take that string and pull as hard as he wanted as long as it meant Richie Tozier of the present could love him, because he knew – now – that Eddie Kaspbrak – this Eddie Kaspbrak, who was just a little older with worry lines beside his eyes and a scar over his heart – would give him a string right back.

”Don’t do this for me, Eddie,” he whispers. “If you aren’t ready, they don’t need to know.”

He squares his jaw and holds Richie’s face between his hands, his own face a perfect echo of that day in the sewer. “I’m doing this for me,” he declares. “Let’s tell them.”

Richie searches for any sign of hesitance.

There is none.

You’re braver than you think.

 

”Bill, cough up two-hundred.”

”Stanley Uris!” Richie exclaims, watching as Bill drudgingly pulls two bills from his wallet across the table and passes them to a smug looking Stan. “Did you bet on my relationship?”

”No,” Stan replies, handing one of the bills over to Patty, who looks equally smug where she sits beside him. “Patty did, too.”

”You still bet on it, Stan.”

”Shut the fuck up, Ben, I had one on yours, too.”

Bill nods, lifting his glass mournfully. “He did,” he mumbles. “Got fifty out of me for that one.”

”Bill Denbrough, I am disappointed in you,” Eddie says from his spot beside Richie, arms folded across his chest.

”Not as disappointed as I am,” Bill retorts, putting his glass back on the table. “You think I wanted to be out two hundred and fifty bucks?”

”That’s not what he mea—”

”Babe,” Bev says, squeezing Ben’s arm to stop him. “He knows what he means.”

Richie gestures to himself. “Why are we only talking about my relationship?” he asks.

”We aren’t,” Mike says, gesturing to Eddie with his fork before stabbing at his salad. “We’re talking about Eddie’s, too.”

Stan laughs, and Bill tells him to shut up.

”This really isn’t how I expected tonight to go,” Eddie tells them, and Bev stands to wrap her arms around his shoulders from behind.

”We’re really proud of you, Eds,” she tells him, holding him tight and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “And we all love you so much.”

”Especially Richie, but we’ve known that since we were kids.”

”Shut up, Staniel.”

”Yeah, shut up, bird boy.”

Goddammit, Bill, I told you to stop calling me that!”

”Leave my husband alone, Bill.”

”Thanks, babylove.”

”Guys!” Bev exclaims, exasperated, arms still around Eddie’s shoulders. Everyone quiets and looks to her. “We’re supposed to be congratulating Eddie, who I will hug properly once we’re out of this restaurant.”

”You’ll probably cry, too,” Eddie jokes, but Bev just nods.

”I probably will,” she admits, voice already a little wobbly as she kisses his cheek again before tucking her head into the space between his neck and shoulder. Richie watches her squeeze him tightly.

Bill stands from his side of table and moves, too, wrapping himself around Eddie’s opposite side. Richie hears him whisper, “I love you, and I am so, so, so proud of you,” into Eddie’s hair, and tears gather in his boyfriend’s eyes as he turns his head into their friend’s neck.

”So I get smacked when I come out, but all Eddie gets is a hug?” Richie jokes, and Bev moves to lean her cheeks against the top of Eddie’s head to glare at him.

”You got a smack because you told us over Skype,” she retorts, and he hears Eddie laugh wetly into Bill’s neck.

”It was still a valid way to come out, Molly Ringwald.”

”Yeah, but then I had to wait an entire day to hug you, Trashmouth.”

”So my boyfriend gets all the love because he told you in person?”

”No,” Stan interjects, and Richie looks to him. He’s grinning when he says, “He gets all the love because you’re a dumbass.”

Richie clamps a hand over his heart dramatically. “You wound me, Stanley,” he moans pitifully. “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment?”

Stan shakes his head with a smile and stands, and for a moment, Richie thinks he’s going to join in on the group hug Bill and Beverly have going. Instead, he puts his arms around Richie, squeezing him tightly as he whispers into his ear, “I won’t say I told you so.”

Richie smiles and turns as far as he can to hug him back, holding on just as tightly as the backs of his eyes burn.


 

”Stop.”

Richie stops scrolling as Eddie speaks, his hand freezing as thin fingers wrap around his wrist.

”See one you like, Spaghetti Man?” he asks, and Eddie shakes his head with a smile, pointing gingerly at one of the listings on Richie’s laptop.

It’s a three bed, two-and-a-half bath tucked neatly into lower Manhattan. Eddie slaps Richie’s hands away to control the laptop himself, placing it on his thigh where he’s curled up in the corner of the couch. Richie takes the opportunity to prop his feet on the coffee table and lean his cheek against Eddie’s shoulder while the other man goes through the pictures included with the listing.

Richie watches him flick through them one, two, three times before he finally stops. “What’s the verdict, Eds?” he asks after a few moments, giving Eddie time to – no doubt – run each risk that’s going through his mind.

”Don’t call me Eds,” is the first response he gets, then a soft, “I love it.” Richie leans further into his side, pressing a quick kiss into Eddie’s shoulder just because he can. “What about you? What’s your verdict, Trashmouth?”

Richie looks up to find Eddie already looking down to him. “If you love it, I love it,” Richie tells him, because he really means it. If Eddie wanted to live in the shadiest, trashiest apartment they could find, Richie would follow him there. He’d follow Eddie to the ends of the Earth if he asked him to.

But he doesn’t. He just leans down to kiss Richie’s forehead before sending an email to the realtor.

 

Richie finds Eddie standing in the empty living room. He’s staring out onto the balcony, now devoid of furniture. The neon sign across the street flickers and blinks before falling steady. It’s hard to see its glow during the day like this, but Richie knows it’s there.

He moves to stand beside him, bumping Eddie’s hip with his own. “Penny for your thoughts?”

Eddie smiles at him, hands in the pockets of his jeans. “This is where we started,” he replies, looking back to the balcony. “It feels weird. Leaving it behind, you know?”

Richie follows his gaze to the bar sign across the street.

If he wanted, he could probably remember the way the rain felt on his face that night; he would be able to remember the utter feeling of dread as he stood frozen in the living room, staring at the spot where Eddie had stood before storming out. The clattering of a cane down the hall. The thunder in his ears. The feeling of the carpet beneath him and Eddie arms around him.

”We didn’t start here,” he says, turning his head to look at Eddie beside him. The other man stares back with furrowed eyebrows. “Not really, anyway.” He shrugs. “We started almost four decades ago, Eds. In a shitty little town about three thousand miles east.” Eddie smiles, looking back to the balcony as he leans his head against Richie’s shoulder.

Richie smiles, too, dipping his own head so his cheek presses into Eddie’s hair. “It may not have given us much,” he continues, “and it may have been one fucking terrible place to grow up – with the space clown asshole running around –” Eddie snorts around a laugh – “but at least it gave us each other. Each other and the Losers.”

He feels Eddie’s hand move from the pocket of his jeans, closing his eyes as the other man twists their pinkies together. A promise, one spanning over thirty years and lasting a lifetime. “I love you,” Eddie whispers, so softly it barely reaches Richie’s ears.

But it does, and it makes his chest swell and his eyes water. “I love you, too, Eds.”


 

They fight more, now that they’ve moved. New York means more venues, and more venues means less time, and less time means less communications. That’s what started it tonight. The communication.

Legitimately conversing with other people had always been an issue for Richie. He could talk and talk and talk and make sure the entire room was aware of his presence, but stick in in a serious conversation and he’s a useless as a fish out of water.

He had never had a problem talking to Eddie, but for some reason, these past three months since they left LA have been some of the hardest and longest times they’ve had to go through, and that includes the fighting of the alien clown.

”You have a show tonight?” Eddie asks, arms folded across his chest as he glares at Richie from the doorway of their bedroom.

”Yeah,” Richie replies, pulling his jacket over his shoulders. “Ally booked it a few weeks ago.”

”And you just didn’t talk to me about it?”

”I didn’t think you would mind, Eds,” Richie tells him. Eddie continues to glare at him from the hallway.

He shakes his head, lifting one hand to drag it down his face. He holds it beside his face for a moment, and Richie recognizes the gesture instantly. “Of course I mind, dipshit!” he exclaims, his cheeks blooming red. “This is the kind of shit you’re supposed to tell me about, Richie!”

Richie sighs, mimicking Eddie’s gesture of dragging his hand down his face as he replies, “I really didn’t think it would be this big of a deal, Eddie.”

Eddie throws his hands out in exasperation. “This is your tenth show since we moved here, Richie!”

”And?”

”We’ve only been here for three months!” Eddie groans. “You’ve been doing shows every fucking week; you’re overexerting yourself! It’s stressing you out!”

Richie feels his face grow hot. “This is my career, Eddie!” he shouts back. “It’s my life! I’m not fucking stressed over it!”

”You’re drinking more,” Eddie replies, voice calm and deadly.

”What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” Richie asks, and Eddie sighs, shaking his head.

”It has to do with everything,” he says, holding his hand up as he turns to move away. “We aren’t having this conversation right now. You obviously don’t want to hear it.”

”No!” Richie exclaims, following him into the living room. “No, you brought it up, so we’re having it!”

”Fuck off, Richie; I can’t do this right now.”

”What does it have to do with it, Eddie!?”

Everything, you fucking dick!” Eddie yells, his hands balling into fists as he turns on his heel to look at Richie. “Do you think I like waking up at three in the morning to you beside me smelling like a fucking dive bar!? Do you think I like having to hold your fucking hair out of your face while you puke your guts out after a show!? Do you think I like falling asleep at night – alone – wondering if you’ve gotten so stressed out you’ve drunk yourself to death!? Jesus fuck, Rich! I can’t—”

He shakes his head, words ending abruptly and breaths heaving. Richie watches him collapse onto the couch with his head in his hands.

“My drinking is under control,” Richie tells him, his head swimming at the malice in his voice. “Just because I got out with some friends after a show doesn’t make me a raging alcoholic. I’m a fucking adult. You’re not my protector, Eddie. I don’t need you worrying about me.”

Fuck.

I didn’t ask you to be worried about me!

He doesn’t realize just how close those sentences are until the words are out of his mouth.

Eddie tenses, his hands falling from his face. He’s staring down to his feet. “I know you don’t, Richie,” he whispers. “You’ve told me before.”

”Eddie—“

”Just go do your show.” He turns his head away, and Richie watches his reach up to quickly swipe beneath his eyes. “Have fun with your friends.”

He stays for a few more moments, watching Eddie try to suppress his tears on their couch. The anger he feels is dying like a candle flame someone put their hands around. He expects to feel guilt, but there’s nothing in his chest besides blank feelings and the urge to drink.

”I’ll see you when I get home,” he says as he picks up his bag. Eddie keeps his head turned away. “I love you.”

He receives no response.

He pretends not to hear the choked sobs from their living room as he locks the door behind him.

 

He can’t stop thinking about it. Normally, his mind is blank during a show. He focuses only on the jokes. All his worries are left backstage. Tonight, though, tonight he can’t stop thinking about the fight.

Their fights are rare, and they’re mainly about stupid shit. Those fights can be ended with a quick kiss or an ‘I love you’ that make Richie completely dissolve.

These fights, however. These fights – the ones that turn into screaming matches and silent treatments – usually end with Richie drinking until he can’t feel his face and passing out on the couch while Eddie sleeps down the hall. They won’t end until he’s hunched over the toilet in the morning while Eddie holds his hair out of his face.

He knows he has a drinking problem; he’s had it since he was twenty-five, when his name started showing up on theatre marquees and people began stopping him for pictures in the street. Alcohol was the way he coped, and while he knew it wasn’t ideal, it was the only thing he knew.

Ben told him about his drinking problem. About how he went to therapy and AA, holding up a sobriety chip for Richie to see.

”I stopped after Derry,” he says, tucking the chip back into his pocket. “Tom… well, we all know he was a piece of shit. I didn’t want to put Bev through that. Not again. It was a side of me I didn’t want her to see.”

”Bev knows you would never hurt her, Haystack,” Richie replies. Ben shakes his head.

”It wasn’t that,” he mumbles. “I could never hurt her, even if I was completely wasted.” He pauses, takes a deep breath, then exhales. “I wasn’t myself when I was drunk, Rich. The night before Derry, after Mike called, I went to the top of a building my company was working on with a bottle of whiskey in my hand, and as I looked down at the ground, my only thought was if it would hurt when I hit it.”

Ben stopped. He stopped for Bev, and he stopped for himself. Because he didn’t need alcohol to cope anymore. He had someone who loved him, who would be there for him, and he had the only friends he had every really known – the only friend that ever really knew him. Richie knows he has a problem, but he’s been too stubborn to admit that until now.

”Do you think I have a drinking problem?” he asks Ally after the show, sitting completely still as she wipes the stage makeup from his face.

She pauses in her movements for a moment, staring over the top of his head blankly before looking back to his eyes and nodding solemnly. “I do,” she tells him, wiping away the last of the makeup.

”Why did you never say anything?” he asks, and she shrugs as she replies, “I didn’t think it was my place.”

He nods as she stands from the stool in front of him. “Eddie says I’m stressing myself out,” he tells her, watching her pull her phone from the breast pocket of her blouse. “He thinks I’m doing too many shows.”

”I agree,” Ally replies, typing furiously on her keypad for a few seconds before tucking her phone away.

He furrows his eyebrows at her. “You’re the one booking them.”

”I’m booking them because you asked me to, Richie,” she deadpans, pointing a finger in his face. “I already told you this many shows was a bad idea. You didn’t agree with me.”

”Jesus Christ, you sound like Eddie,” he groans, running his fingers through his hair in exasperation. They stick and tangle in the mounds of hairspray keeping it from his face.

Ally moves back to the stool, dropping a hand on his thigh. “He’s just worried about you,” she tells him, and Richie groans again.

”He doesn’t need to be worried about me.”

”He isn’t doing it on purpose, Rich,” she says. “When someone loves you, they worry about you.”

”I’m not an alcoholic,” he chooses as a response, and Ally sighs.

”That isn’t what this is about, Richie.” She pauses, moving her hand from his thigh to his shoulder. He feels like he’s being stared down by Maggie. “Eddie told me about the accident. About how he almost died.”

A lump settles in Richie’s throat. His foot bounces against the carpet beneath his chair.

”He has his entire life ahead of him, Richie,” she whispers, running her free hand through his hair. Her fingers snag in the stiff strands. “He wants you to be part of it. Don’t fuck it up by being an idiot.”

He’s invited to the bar. Like each night after a show, he accepts the invitation.

He stares at the neon sign for so long he loses track of time, but all he can think of when he sees it is the lament in Eddie’s voice back at their apartment – the way his muffled sobs came through the door as Richie closed it behind him. Guilt settles low in his gut as he stares at that sign.

There’s guilt for his parents, who had to deal with him every night when he first started routinely drinking in his twenties, and there’s guilt for Eddie, who had been putting up with his downward spiral for three fucking months at the expense of his own sanity.

But, mainly, there’s guilt for himself. For all the years he wasted staring down the neck of a bottle, for all the hospital trips he endured just to have his stomach pumped, and for everything he had put on the line just to forget for a few hours.

He swallows down the bile in his throat, hails a cab, and sets a reminder to call his old therapist in California, adding a note that says, Ask for recommendations on substance abuse specialists in NYC.

 

The lights are off in the apartment, but the low hum of the TV in the bedroom reaches him as he toes off his shoes and hangs his jacket beside the door.

He finds Eddie propped up against the bedframe, nodding off while a rerun of Parks and Recreation plays on the television stand.

He startles when Richie enters the room and immediately trips on the leg of their bedframe.

They stare at each other for a few moments before Eddie sighs and gestures weakly to the bathroom. “Aspirin is on the sink,” he mutters, searching for the remote beneath the pillows. The lights outside of their window illuminate the room as Eddie falls to his side. The TV crackles with static once, twice, then falls silent.

Richie stares at his back for a few moments before walking into the bathroom, feeling Eddie’s eyes on him as he drops the pill bottle into the sink’s designated medicine drawer. “I didn’t go out tonight,” he says, staring at Eddie’s reflection in the bathroom mirror.

The other man huffs on the bed, staring towards the window. He clearly doesn’t notice Richie watching him as he wearily replies, “It isn’t any of my business where you go, Richie.”

All Richie can do is nod, running his hand through his hair as he steps back into their bedroom. “I’m going to shower,” he tells Eddie, who simply hums. “Wait up for me?”

”Don’t count on it,” Eddie mumbles, and even though Richie can’t see his face from where he’s pulling fresh pajamas from the dresser, he can here the drowsiness in Eddie’s voice.

However, when he does come back from the shower, Eddie is still on his side staring groggily through the window.

Richie lays beside him on his back, stiff as a corpse for what could have been seconds or hours before Eddie whispers, “Why didn’t you go out tonight?”

Richie stares at the back of his head, watching as the ceiling fan catches and blows on his hair. He shrugs. “I stared at the bar sign for a while, and it was like my life flashed before my eyes.” His eyebrows furrow. “Not, like, the future or any of that bullshit,” he clarifies, staring up at the ceiling as Eddie shifts beside him. He still doesn’t turn over, so Richie keeps his focus on the other man’s hair. “Just… I thought of everyone I hurt when I first started drinking, and I thought of you, who I’m hurting now, and it just…”

He trails off, and Eddie finally flips to look at him. It’s the first good look Richie has gotten of him since that morning, and what he sees builds onto the guilt resting in his abdomen. There are no tears, but Eddie’s eyes are puffy and red. Fuck, Richie thinks, feeling like someone is picking away at his heart with an icepick. Fuck, I did that. I wasn’t supposed to be the one who made him look like that. Not again.

”I’m so fucking sorry, Eddie,” he manages to get out, just before his throat closes up and a sob tears unwillingly from his lips.

Eddie surges forward, pulling Richie into his chest. The angle is so fucking awkward, but Richie doesn’t have the willpower to pull away. Instead, he molds himself against Eddie’s body as much as he can, basking in the safety he feels; in the pure, willing love that is being given to him. “It’s okay, Richie,” Eddie comforts, but the words aren’t landing right now because as far as Richie’s concerned, it isn’t alright. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to figure this out.”

”I’m such a fucking asshole,” Richie blubbers, weak and muffled against Eddie’s t-shirt.

He feels a hand run through his hair, winces when thin fingers catch in his damp curls. Eddie holds him a bit tighter. “You’ve always been an asshole,” he mumbles, brushing through Richie’s hair again. “You’ll be an asshole until the day you die, Rich, but that isn’t going to make me love you any less.”

Those words set off something else in him, and soon Eddie is pushing away from him and grabbing a spare roll of toilet paper from the bathroom. He shoves it into Richie’s hands, then changes his shirt while Richie blows his nose and tries to calm down.

Eddie takes back the roll once he’s done, placing it beneath the bathroom sink before he crawls back beneath the sheets. Richie immediately moves to him, pressing his nose into the juncture of Eddie’s shoulder and neck. An arm drapes over his waist, and he retaliates by wrapping both of his around Eddie’s middle.

”I’m sorry I told you not to be worried about me,” he mutters, and Eddie’s finger tangle in the hair at the nape of his neck. “I know you can’t help it. And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about the show.”

”I don’t blame you,” Eddie replies. “I’m trying so hard not to… to be like…”

Richie moves one of his arms to slide it beneath Eddie’s shirt, pressing his palm to the raised patch of skin on his chest. “You aren’t. You’re not—“

”I know I’m not,” Eddie interjects before he can finish the sentence. “I know, it’s just… sometimes I can’t help myself, Rich. I know you don’t want me to, but it’s my job to worry.”

Richie snorts, pulling back slightly so he can lay on his own pillows. Eddie smiles at him, one hand still on Richie’s waist. He takes the opportunity to reach up with his free hand and trace over Eddie’s temple with his thumb. “I always forget you have – literally – the most boring job to ever exist.”

”My job is important, Richie. Places like Google and Amazon and shit wouldn’t exist without people like me.”

He slips his hand from beneath Eddie’s shirt, barely giving the other man time to fume before Richie’s holding his face in his hands.

”I love you, Eds,” he whispers, voice croaky and tired. Jesus, when did he get this exhausted?

Eddie smiles, shuffling forward to kiss Richie gently. “I love you, too, you gigantic asshole,” he smiles against Richie’s lips, then leans in for one more quick kiss before he turns away to sleep.

Richie smiles, dropping one arm over Eddie’s side and pressing his cheek into the base of the other man’s neck. Eddie fumbles for his fingers and squeezes them gently, lifting their hands to kiss Richie’s palm before he settles.

They’ll be six feet apart in the morning, and one of Eddie’s feet will more than likely be hanging from the edge of the mattress, but Richie keeps his place until sleep finally comes.


 

Bill sinks into the passenger seat of Richie’s car just as the sun starts to peek over the trees.

He places his travel mug in the cupholder, then sighs and practically melts into the seat. “I can’t believe you convinced me to do this.”

Richie reaches across the center console to pat his shoulder, and Bill glares at him. “I really appreciate this, Big Bill,” he tells him, and Bill rolls his eyes, gesturing over his shoulder to the driveway.

”Yeah, well,” he starts as Richie puts the car in reverse, “I’m not doing it for you.” He sinks a bit further into the seat, closing his eyes as he tips back against the headrest. “In all honestly, I think this may be one of dumbest things you’ve ever done.”

”Audra thinks it’s sweet,” Richie retorts as he turns out of Bill’s neighborhood.

”That’s because Audra doesn’t know Derry.”

”The bastard’s dead, Bill,” Richie replies, watching Bill nod in his peripheral. “You know, if you don’t want to go—“

”I’m going,” Bill interrupts, reaching for his travel mug. “The clown may be dead, but the memories aren’t.” He shrugs and sips from his mug. “Besides, I think a visit to my little brother is long overdue.”

 

Without the clown looming beneath its streets, Derry almost seems homely. A group of teenagers huddle over a bench downtown, all laughing at something on one of their phones. Henry Bowers shoved Richie into that bench, once; the fall broke his glasses.

The old ice cream shop is still open, it’s sign remodeled and it’s brick repainted. The front door has been replaced. Sitting on the edge of the sidewalk in front of it is a young couple; the boy holds a cup of vanilla between them, and Richie watches as the girl swipes a glob of the ice cream onto his nose with a bright yellow spoon. Richie slammed an ice cream cone into Mike’s face there, once, and Mike had retaliated by picking the banana from his split and mashing it into Richie’s hair. They were the only two left, and in a month, Mike would be alone.

”Graveyard’s that way,” Bill mumbles, gesturing towards the road that passes behind Stanley’s old church.

”I know I’m a loser, and no matter what, I always fucking will be.”

They find Georgie first. The pristine granite headstone stands strong, and Richie watches Bill crouch in front of it. “Hey, Georgie,” he mumbles, one hand pressed to the small teddy bear engraving beneath his brother’s name. “I’m sorry it took so long for me to visit.”

Richie sits beside him, listening closely as Bill speeds the headstone up with time. He talks about college, about moving. He talks about Audra, and Alice – “You would love her so much, Georgie. I know you would.” – and then comes the clown.

”We got him,” he whispers, pressing both hands to the granite face of the headstone. Richie hesitates before dropping one of his own palms beside Bill’s. “I’m sorry you weren’t here to see it. I’m sorry you weren’t here to grow up.”

A light breeze follows them as they stand, ruffling the leaves that clutch to the tree limb above Georgie’s headstone. Bill smiles up at it, then looks to Richie, gesturing left with his head. Three rows from where Georgie lays, they find their second target.

Frank Kaspbrak’s headstone is a hunk of weathered limestone; the engravings still stand out on its face. Richie takes a place in front of it, staring at the words resting at the bottom of the slab. Loving father, husband, and son. May God be with thee.

”Hi, Mr. Kaspbrak,” Bill mumbles, startling Richie as he sits beside him on the grass. “You may remember me. William Denbrough, Zach and Sharon’s son?” He clears his throat, leaning against Richie’s side. “This is Richie. You didn’t know his parents. I’ll let him explain why we’re here.”

Richie stares between Bill and the headstone. “This is so fucking stupid.”

”It was your idea, Richie!” Bill exclaims, slapping his arm.

Richie winces, slapping back. “Yeah, well, it seemed like a good idea, at first! Now it’s just weird.”

Bill sighs. “Richie, stop thinking about how you’re about to speak to piece of limestone and pretend the man is in front of you.”

They fall silent, Bill against Richie’s shoulder, and Richie staring straight ahead to the engravement. Loving father, husband, and son.

”Hi, Mr. Kaspbrak,” he starts, pushing the awkwardness aside. “Sorry I didn’t bring Eddie with me, but my question is for you and Bill only.”

”Why m—“

”You’ll find out,” Richie interrupts, bumping his shoulder against Bill’s to silence him. He clears his throat. “I’m here today, Mr. Kaspbrak – in this shitty fucking town that I hate with my entire soul – because my mother told me when I was ten that I had to ask the parents for permission before I proposed.” He pauses. “No offense, sir, but your wife was a massive bitch, so I thought you would be my best option.”

The wind blows through the trees again, the faint, broken path of it between the branches mimicking the sound of laughter. Bill reaches out and takes Richie’s hand.

”I love your son, Mr. Kaspbrak. I pretty much always have, even during the thirty years I forgot him. I think there was some piece of me that knew he was out there.” Richie squeezes Bill’s fingers. “You’re not here for me to ask, Mr. Kaspbrak, so I thought you could be my witness.”

”Rich?” Bill questions, his eyebrows furrowed as Richie shifts his body to face him.

”Mr. Billiam Denbrough,” Richie jokes, untangling their fingers to drop his hands on both of Bill’s shoulders, “do I have your permission—” Bill’s eyes grow comically wide “—to ask Eddie to marry me?”

The other man stares at him in shock before stuttering, “Wha-Why are you asking me!?” He gestures to the headstone. “We came here so you could ask him!”

”Can’t exactly get a yes or a no from a slab of limestone, Bill,” Richie replies, holding Bill’s shoulders just a bit tighter. “Before it was the Losers, it was Bill, Eddie, Stan, and Richie; and before it was Bill, Eddie, Stan, and Richie, there was just Bill and Eddie, and Richie and Stan.” Bill stares at him, eyes pooling with tears as realization finally starts to set in. “You’re like the brother he never had, Bill,” Richie emphasizes, “and because neither of his parents are here, I’m asking you.” He pauses, moving his hands to grab Bill’s fingers. “Do I have your—“

”Yes!” Bill screeches, throwing himself into Richie’s arms. “Yes, yes, yes!”

Richie chuckles, patting Bill between the shoulder blades as the other man weeps into his t-shirt. “Damn, Big Bill, glad no one saw that,” he laughs, one arm around Bill’s middle. “They would think I just proposed to you.”

”Shut up; I’m emotional,” Bill sniffles, drawing back to wipe his eyes. He chuckles weakly into his wrist, wiping away at the tracks beneath his eyes. “Please ask him to marry you.”

They leave the graveyard once Bill has composed himself, but they don’t leave Derry until Richie is stepping back into the car from the wooden planks of the Kissing Bridge, the camera already open on the phone in his hand.


 

”Please tell me you’re kidding.”

Ally smiles, handing Jack another Cheeto Puff where he sits between Richie’s knees on the floor. “Not kidding,” she assures him. “Netflix’s CEO contacted me with the deal, and the only thing after that was a response from the venue. They said yes.”

Jack gurgles around his Cheeto.

Eddie bumps their shoulders together from his place beside Richie on the carpet. “Hope you remembered to save us all seats like I told you to,” he smirks, popping one of Jack’s chips into his own mouth.


 

The Losers all sit in the front row, his parents beside them.

Two cameras sit on either side of him in the wings. Three more sit in the bottom floor isles. One on wheels circles the stage, panning between Richie and the audience.

The lights are bright and hot. The stage makeup is starting to run with the sweat on his hairline.

The ring sits heavy in his pocket.

”Anyone here from Maine?” Richie asks into the mic. It’s the end of his set. He listens as he gets back a few whistles and cheers. The cameras are definitely picking up the sweat. “I’m from Maine, and for those of you here who aren’t from Maine, it’s shit.”

Pause for laughter. Ignore the sweat. Ignore how loud your heart is beating.

”I’m from a town called Derry. Google it and you will find one of the biggest shitholes in history. Someone had an episode about it on a true crime podcast last year. Back in the 80s when I was thirteen, this asshat a few years older than me murdered a bunch of kids. I said I would never go back there the day my parents peeled through the town limit.

”And yet, I went back to Maine two years ago for a reunion,” he continues. “There were a group of us while I was growing up in Derry. We called ourselves the Losers Club, because, as the name says, we were huge losers.” He pauses. “Like, seriously. The biggest losers to ever lose. When the show is over, go home and put a Hawaiian shirt and googly eyes on a broom handle, take a picture of it, and you’ll have a free copy of my junior high yearbook photo. But somehow, all but four of us got real famous. For whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe the universe just has a thing for dorky twenty-year olds.”

Pause for laughter. Check for ring.

”Anyway, I go back for this reunion, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I spent my entire childhood with these people, there’s no way they’ve changed that much, right?’” He pauses. “Wrong.” The audience laughs. He sees the people he loves smiling up at him from the front row. “I show up at the restaurant we’re all meeting up, and the first thing I see are two literal Greek gods standing beside the entrance.”

Check the ring, check the ring.

”I go inside, and now I’m thinking, ‘That has to be it. There’s no way the universe would allow more than two hot people to exist in the same Maine restaurant.’ But no, that isn’t true, because I walk in, and there are four more extremely beautiful people!”

He hears Wentworth laughing boisterously.

”I’m looking at all of these people, and I can’t stop thinking about how shitty I look in comparison. Like, here I am, a six foot something mess of a human surrounded by fucking walking, talking Michelangelo sculptures in Maine.”

Pause for laughter. Drink water. Check the ring.

”There was this bridge in our town,” he continues. “Everyone called it the Kissing Bridge, and if your name was on that bridge, then you were the shit. Seriously! ‘Ryan carved Jackie’s name onto the Kissing Bridge! How romantic is that!?’ Not at all, Sophia. It’s a piece of wood, not a guest list for a wedding.”

The lights are so bright. He can hardly see his friends’ faces when he looks to the first row.

”But, like every other kid in my town, I carved a name on the Kissing Bridge. Well, not a name, just two letters.”

Hope the mic doesn’t pick up your heartbeat. Check the ring.

”You see, when I was a kid, I was hopelessly in love with one member of our self-deemed Losers Club,” he says, hoping the shake in his voice isn’t as obvious as he thinks it is. “So imagine my surprise when I walk into this restaurant and find that same fucking kid standing in front of a massive, cheesy ass fish tank, frozen in spot like a statue someone just moved out of the Met.”

Laughter. Water. Ring.

”So I’m staring at this person, and my first thought is, ‘Oh. There’s the reason you could never hold a relationship, Tozier.’ Now, you have to remember, it had been almost thirty years since I’d seen these people. I was 15 when I left Maine; there was no reason I should still be hung up on a childhood crush. That’s just weird.

”So what do I do to cope?” A pause. “I get fucking wasted.”

Laughter. Ring.

”Now it’s time for something rare. Trashmouth is going to get serious. This person was in an accident during our reunion, and if someone had told me I would witness it, I probably wouldn’t have gone back home. If I’m being completely honest, I have never been as terrified as I was sitting in the ER waiting room. We were all scared – all the other Losers – because even though we hadn’t seen each other in nearly thirty years, as soon as we were all in that restaurant, it was like some hole inside of us filled. We were all scared for our friend, this person who we lost once and were probably going to lose again.”

Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. Find Eddie on the front row. Calm your heartbeat.

”But we didn’t. They pulled through after twelve hours on an operating table, then woke up from a medically induced coma almost a week later. Do you want to know the first thing this asshole said to me when they woke up?” Another pause. “’Sorry my last word to you were almost I fucked your mother.’”

He sees Eddie drop his face into his palm. Maggie laughs along with the audience as she pats him on the shoulder.

”And they were! This jerkwad looked at me right before they got into their car and goes, ‘Hey, Rich. I have to tell you something… I fucked your mother.’” He shrugs. “Payback for all the mom jokes I made about their mom when I was a kid, I guess. Bad thing my mom and this person are sitting beside each other on the front row. Ma, you should have told me you got with the source of my prepubescent wet dreams; I could have come to you for spank bank information!”

His mother glares and shakes her head, but he can see her shoulders shaking with laughter.

”So anyway, this person comes back to LA with me, right? The first thing they do is insult my apartment. ‘Your couch doesn’t match your walls,’ they say, like I have any control over my rented apartment having yellow walls. Then, they call my guest bathroom disgusting and berate me for not having any soap, but the soap was under the sink and I cleaned it right before I left for Maine! I may be a horrendously child-like adult, but I know how to clean!”

Laughter. Water. The ring.

”A lot of things have happened since that day. What started out as a revamped crush ended up become, ‘Holy shit, I’m in love with you again.’ I have to be completely honest… it scared the shit out of me. As it turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of, because this person… this person loves me back, guys.”

The audience cheers. Richie picks up on a faint, “Fuck yeah!” from a man in the back of the theatre once the applause begins to die down, and he laughs into the mic. “Thank you, guy in the back! It was definitely a huge ‘fuck yeah’ on my ego!”

Pause. Laughter. Water, ring, water.

”I can’t tell you guys when it ended up becoming love again, but I do have a video that contributed to those feelings. Well, I don’t have it, the guys in the booth do.” He holds up the remote that lowers a white screen behind him. “I do have this, though.” He clicks the button, and the screen begins to fall. “I’m going to show you guys this video, because I don’t think there is a way I can portray our relationship through words.”

The projector lights up the screen. The video hasn’t been played, but a still image of Eddie standing between the plastic bars during PT sits proudly on the screen.

Before Richie can say anything into the mic, the audience roars.

He and Ally had discussed this in length. He would come out to the audience after the video played, pop the question, then post an official coming out tweet after the show was over. However, it seems the audience had picked up on it quickly. His eyes tear up as he listens to people cheering and screaming, and he has to lower the microphone when he audibly starts crying into his palm.

”Shit, okay!” he exclaims once he and the audience have both managed to calm down a significant amount. “Honestly wasn’t expecting that reaction.” He sniffles, wiping beneath his eyes with a laugh. “I do need to apologize to my parents before the guys start the video. Ma, Pop, sorry I didn’t tell you I was gay privately, though I’m pretty sure you always knew.”

He finds his parents in the front row. Maggie has her hands over her mouth, but he can see the pride in her eyes; Wentworth has a similar look on his face, and Richie watches him nod and give a thumbs up, then leans over his wife to punch Eddie’s shoulder. The Losers are smiling beside them, each one of them practically glowing. Mike has a soft look on his face that makes Richie melt inside, the smile on his face mimicking Richie’s father.

If it hadn’t been for that man, Richie never would have been able to have the strength to do this. If he had left Derry – if he had forgotten the way the rest of them did – Richie never would have found the man sitting beside him. He owes the entirety of the past two years to Mike Hanlon, even if the man had to give them to him in the shittiest way possible.

”I have to give all the credit to my man, Mike. If it hadn’t been for him, this wouldn’t have happened. Mike, you’re the reason we found each other; not just me and the fucker sitting beside you, but all of us Losers. I have to admit, I was pissed when you called us back to Derry, but I fucking love you, man.”

Mike’s crying, and Richie sees him mouth back I love you, too.

He signals the booth to start the video, and the auditorium fills with sound. He hears his own words of encouragement, the sound of Eddie cursing him out. He hears himself behind the camera when he starts screaming, watches as Eddie slowly makes his way down the platform. His heart swells the same way it did on the actual day as he watches Eddie cross the center line, making his way down the entire platform. ”I did it,” Eddie whispers on the video, face morphing between shock and utter joy.

Richie watches the as the video shakes and spins as his phone falls to the floor of the training room. The camera is shooting up towards them, and Richie watches himself pull Eddie in. He sees himself push Eddie back to hold his face. There’s a look of pure love in Eddie’s eyes that he didn’t notice that day, too overtaken by his own heart.

The video pauses just as Eddie pulls Richie to him, and the screen goes black. There’s no noise throughout the auditorium as the screen rolls back up. It clicks into place, and Richie holds the mic up.

”If you couldn’t tell from the video,” he starts, “I’m so fucking in love with that man.”

Throughout the cheers that follow is scattered laughter. His mother is audibly crying in the front row, and Richie chuckles, “My mom’s crying. Geez, Ma. I would have shown it to you before if I knew it would get me that reaction.”

Maggie waves her hand at him, turning into her husband’s shoulder to muffle herself.

He touches the ring in his pocket through the material of his pants. “The reason I showed that video is because I wanted all of you to know just how strong that man is,” he says, gripping the mic just a bit tighter as it starts to slip in his sweaty palm. “He’s one of the strongest mother fuckers I’ve ever met, always has been, and I get to fall more and more in love with him every day.”

He walks to the edge of the stage; the camera on wheels follows. He reaches into his pocket and holds it there, fingers gripping the ring. “Two months ago, I went back to Derry; somehow, I roped my good friend and unanimous leader of the Losers Club Bill Denbrough to come with me.” There’s a few shouts from the people in the audience who recognize the name. “It was still an absolute shithole, but I was there for a good reason.”

He looks to his mother. “When I was growing up, my mother always told me when I proposed to someone, I had to ask their parents’ permission.” He hears a gasp from the front row, but he can’t tell who it belongs to. “I never met Eddie’s father, but I did meet his mother. She was – and Eddie gave permission for me to say this, so no one bash me on Twitter after the show – a fucking lunatic.” There’s a few chuckles. “It wasn’t exactly her fault; she had Munchausen real bad, but she was also a raging homophobe, so going to speak to her grave was my last option.

”So, Bill and I are sitting in front of this limestone slab – Bill had met Eddie’s dad when we were kids, before we all became friends – and Bill starts talking like the man is sitting there. I look at him, he looks at me, and I go, ‘This is so fucking stupid,’ because I’m seriously about to ask a rock if I can propose to it’s son.”

He’s so close to the front row that he hears it when Eddie gaps, “Oh my fucking God.”

”Bill goes, ‘Pretend the man is in front of you,’ so I start talking to the rock, and it is by far one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. Seriously, what would you think if you walked past a grown ass man talking to a rock? ‘Wow, that dude is talking to a rock, he’s fucking nuts.’”

Pause for laughter. Hold the ring a bit tighter. Get ready.

He takes a deep breath. “Here’s the thing about asking for a dead parent’s permission to marry their kid: you can’t get a yes or a no. So, I brought Big Bill with me because he was the closest thing Eds had to a brother growing up. I said, ‘Do I have your permission to propose to Eddie?’ and you want to know what Bill said? ‘Why are you asking me? We came here so you could ask him!’”

He chuckles and finds Bill on the front row. He’s switched seats with Mike to pull a sobbing Eddie to his chest, muffling the other man’s cries into his shirt so the cameras don’t pick it up.

”Limestone still can’t talk, you fucking himbo,” Richie jokes, and Bill moves one hand from Eddie’s back to flick him off as the audience bursts into laughter. “Anyway, Bill starts crying so hard you would think I just asked him to be my husband, which his wife would not have liked very much, so I’m very happy there are no paps in Derry. Imagine that headline. ‘Richie Tozier proposes to writer Bill Denbrough in Maine graveyard.’ Audra would have kicked my ass.”

As the audience laughs, he clicks the screen to roll it down again. Bill takes that as his cue and stands, pulling Eddie up with him. Richie watches one of the cameras follow them to the foot of the stage as Eddie attempts to compose himself, one of Bill’s hands between his shoulder blades as he pushes them forward. “I fucking hate you, Rich,” he sniffles as Richie bends to his knees in front of them, and the audience laughs when the mic faintly picks it up. “I’m not getting on that stage, you asshole.”

Richie smiles, moving the mic away so he can say just to Eddie, “You don’t have to.” He brings the mic back to his mouth as he stands. “Booth guys!”

The picture clicks onto the screen as he moves to the stairs leading into the audience.

The Kissing Bridge is old and worn on the screen. Aged carvings blend with newer, fresh ones in the wood. In the dead center of the screen sit two initials, simultaneously thirty years old and new. R+E, etched deep into the history of the place that nearly destroyed them, not once, but two times. It sits as a giant ‘fuck you’ to the shithole town of Derry, Maine.

Eddie is staring up at it when Richie reaches him, eyes wide and full of tears that fall down his face in streams. He turns to look at Richie when he stops beside him on the floor. There’s a bustle throughout the crowd, lighthearted yet heavy. Richie has never felt pressure beneath their eyes; he was a natural in front of them, always had been.

But here he stands in front of the man he loved when he was thirteen – the man he was able to love again when he was forty, who loves him back – and the weight of the room feels heavy on his shoulders on a way it has never felt before.

”I carved that when I was thirteen, three days after you broke your arm,” he tells Eddie, holding the mic up between them. Eddie covers his mouth to hide whatever noise comes out of his throat, his shoulders hunched in. “I love you, Eds. I loved you then, I love you now, and I loved you for all those years we missed in between.” He takes a shuttering breath and can’t bring himself to care when nearly a thousand people and the Netflix crew hear it. “If I had lost you… I gotta be honest, Eds, it probably would have killed me.”

Eddie sniffles and cracks out a barely hidden sob, squeezing his eyes shut. Richie continues, “It may not have been right away. I probably could have made it another twenty years. I probably could have fallen for someone else, eventually, but I would have never been able to love them as much as I love you. You know when a woman dies, and her husband goes a few days later, the doctors say he died of a broken heart?”

Eddie nods, sharp and quick, one hand still over his mouth and shoulders still hunched as he opens his eyes to look straight into Richie’s.

”That would have happened to me, Eds. At some point, even if I found someone else, the hole you would have left would have been the end of me.”

”I love you,” Eddie blubbers, and Richie chuckles along with the audience as the teary words flow through the room. He can pick up all the people he hears crying in their seats.

”Eddie Spaghetti, with permission granted to ask this by our good friend Billiam—” Eddie laughs, and Richie pulls out the ring, holding it up with two fingers “—will you marry me?”

Eddie sobs. The room freezes and quiets, every single person holding their breath.

Richie’s heart is thudding in his throat as he stares down at the man in front of him, who in turn stares back.

His stomach drops and his head spins when Eddie nods viciously, tears streaming down his face as he sobs, “Yes, I’ll marry you, you fucking dick.”

Riche barely has time to make a sound before Eddie grabs his face and pulls him down, the room erupting like an active volcano around them. Their teeth clash like it’s their first kiss all over again, but neither of them have the heart – or the will – to pull away.

Eddie begins to fight for the ring between his fingertips just as Richie begins feeling lightheaded. Richie leans their foreheads together once they finally part, watching with teary eyes as Eddie slides the ring onto his own hand. “I love you,” Richie mumbles, his own tears finally falling. He keeps the microphone away from them. These words are only for Eddie. “God, I’m so in love with you.”

”I can’t believe you went to my dad’s grave,” Eddie sobs, and Richie leans forward to brush their noses together.

Eddie smiles. “Symbolism, Eddie my love,” Richie whispers. “Had to do it to appease Mags, but Bill was the real champ.”

”You would have done it even if Bill said no.”

”Yeah,” Richie laughs, “probably. You know how much I hate following rules.”

”I can’t believe you did this during a fucking show,” Eddie sniffles. The audience is starting to quiet down. “This was being filmed, Richie. Millions of people are going to see this!”

Richie laughs again, trying to stop his own tears. “I was trying to be romantic.”

Eddie doesn’t respond, just pulls him in for another bruising kiss.

”Eds—” Another kiss. “Eddie, baby, I need to get back on stage.”

Eddie presses one last kiss to Richie’s mouth before pushing on his shoulder. “Don’t call me baby,” he responds. “Go kick ass.”

There’s a quiet murmur throughout the audience once he manages to get back onto the stage. He gets a few scattered cheers and claps once he’s in place. “Sorry, I was making out with my fiancé,” he says into the mic.

There’s a burst of quick cheers.

”Before I close out the show with a few more jokes, I want to let everyone know that I am aware many people will think what just happened is a publicity stunt. For a long time, I told jokes that were made for a target audience consisting of straight white men who hate their wives and the gays.”

A few people boo in the crowd, others laugh.

”I didn’t write those jokes. Everything you have heard and seen tonight has been the authentic Richie Tozier. I know I will lose fans for being gay, and Netflix probably isn’t going to like this very much because I didn’t get any of this approved by them, but you know, I’m a romantic, sue me.” It isn’t funny, but he still gets laughs.

He finishes his set fairly quickly once he’s regained composure. “My name is Richie Tozier, thanks for coming out tonight!” he exclaims into the mic, then heads into the wings as the lights go down.

Ally meets him there with a kiss to his cheek. There are drying tear tracks on her face as she says, “That was one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen, and my husband proposed to me after I had his kid.”

Richie laughs and accepts the hug she pulls him into, then follows her to the green room for damage control with the Netflix crew.

 

”That was insane, Richie,” Bev says once he meets them at the end of the autograph line, throwing her arms around him. “Like, that was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.”

”It was a long time coming,” Stan choruses behind her, smiling at Richie over her shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Trashmouth.”

”Alright, Beverly, stop hogging my son!” Wentworth exclaims, pushing Bev out of the way jokingly as he wraps Richie in his arms. His hold is tight and strong, the kind of hug that lifted Richie off his feet as a kid. Wentworth hasn’t hugged Richie like this in ages. “I’m so proud of you, son,” he whispers, for Richie’s ears alone. “So, so proud.”

”I want in,” Maggie blurts, worming her way between their arms so she’s crushed between them.

He has enough of his view unobstructed to see his father reach out and grab Eddie’s arm, pulling him in. He’s immediately shoved into Richie side, a choked yelp escaping him.

Tears fall from Richie’s eyes as he’s surrounded by three of the people he loved most in this world. He hears his mother laugh when he squeezes his eyes shut, jolts a bit when she brushes her fingertips under her eyes. His father pulls back to make room for her, and she moves to a halt directly in front of him and Eddie, gazing between both of them.

”I’m so proud of you boys,” she whispers, hands on either of their cheeks. “We love you, no matter what.”

Eddie leans heavy into Richie’s side just as he notices the movements happening over his mother’s head.

”Stanley Uris!” he exclaims, watching his friend freeze in place. Stan stares back like a deer in headlights, one hand extended towards Bill. Between their fingers is a crisp, hundred-dollar bill.

”Seriously, guys?” Eddie chuckles, wiping at his eyes. “You made a bet again?”

The two men stay frozen for a few more moments, then Stan takes the bill and slips it into his pocket. Bill looks defeated watching it disappear.

Mike laughs and pats his shoulder. “Maybe it’s time to stop making bets with Stan, Bill.”

 

The lights are out. The curtains are open. Eddie has one leg draped over his thighs beneath the sheets, his arms loose where they hold Richie against his chest. He presses his ear against the raised scar above Eddie’s heart, listening as it beats beneath his skin.

”Thank you,” Richie whispers, shuffling as close as he can when Eddie presses a kiss to his hair.

”What for?” the other man asks, voice just as quiet.

The ring on his finger is cold where it rests between Richie’s shoulder blades. “For coming back when Mike called,” he starts, speaking the words into Eddie’s skin. “For saving me from the Deadlights. For staying alive.” He pauses long enough to pull back slightly, staring up to Eddie’s gaze. He moves his hands to hold Eddie’s face. “For loving me back. For saying yes.”

Eddie smiles, leaning down slightly to kiss him. “I love you,” he mumbles against Richie’s mouth.

Richie smiles and kisses him back.


 

There are two boys tucked away behind a locked door and a shuttered window; they’re sat across from each other on top of plaid sheets and a wrinkled duvet. Their heads are bent over yellowing comics with folded corners and cracked spines. On the tan, stained shag carpet beside the bed, a black fanny pack rests where it was thrown haphazardly between two worn, scuffed pairs of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

One day, they would lose each other, but eventually, they would find their way back. They would be hurt, saved, and cry like they’ve never cried before, but they would love, and they would love so fiercely it was like nothing could hurt them; nothing would hurt them, as long as they had each other.

Against all the odds it threw at them, a carving sits on the old Kissing Bridge in Derry, Maine. A carving that holds years of pain, and tears, and laughter, and love. A carving that could show the world just how possible it was to love freely – love openly and with fire. A carving that shows that town just how possible it was for two boys to find each other not once, but twice.

There are two men who lay beside each other on a bed. Their door is unlocked, their window is open; they have no more reason to hide. Not here, in this Manhattan apartment, and not in Derry, the place that was almost the end of them.

Almost, but not quite.