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Sincerely Yours, The Losers' Club

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It’s 7.10 AM on a Saturday, and Beverly Marsh is sitting in her aunt’s car in front of Derry’s High School, getting chewed out by said aunt.

“Honey, I know, the past three years have been rough on you - first your mother and then your-“ her aunt stops, and winces. Bev stares blankly at the school entrance. “But, you can’t just skip classes,” her aunt says, tone more gentle. “Your education is important. I know you young people don’t want to hear another lecture about the importance of higher education,” she says when Bev rolls her eyes “but it is. Or do you want to be stuck in Derry forever?”

“Fuck, no,” Bev shudders. Her aunt frowns as if she wants to protest, but since her aunt curses like a sailor herself (curtesy of Bev’s grandfather being a Marine) she doesn’t reprimand her. “I just can’t believe they’re making me do a whole Saturday,” Bev adds.

“Well, actions have consequences, Bev,” her aunt says. “I do hope you’re done with skipping any more classes.” Bev sighs. “It’s just a few more months, Beverly,” her aunt says quietly. “Then we’re moving to New York, and you’ll go to college and we can leave all of this behind.”

“Promise?” Bev asks. Her breath doesn’t quiver, or so she tries to convince herself.

“Yeah,” her aunt nods. “Now get out of my car,” she says, smiling at Beverly.

.

Ben Hanscom sighs when he shuffles through the Main entrance of the school building. He can still see his mother’s disappointed look when he told her he’d have to go to detention. And as much as Ben loves his mother, it seems she’s always disappointed in him these days, no matter what for. Either it’s because he doesn’t learn enough when he’s training for the track team, or it’s because he learns too much, and “doesn’t he have any friends to bring over?”, or a myriad of other little things. Just as he’s about to enter the library, where for some unfathomable reason detentions are held, he’s almost overrun by one Richie Tozier.

“Whoa, sorry, didn’t see you there Benny Ben-Ben,” Richie says cheerfully. Richie isn’t Ben’s friend per se, but in a way, Richie is friends with everyone, and knows literally everyone.

“It’s Ben,” he says, but smiles at Richie all the same. Richie smiles back, shaking his unruly hair out of his eyes.

“Ben sounds boring,” he informs Ben. “It sounds like a grandpa. You’re not a grandpa, are you, Hanscom? No,” Richie says, patting Ben’s bicep, which is, if Ben is honest with himself, toned just fine. Ben likes track, but he also likes a lot of other physical activities too, and it shows. “These guns are enough to make any girl swoon, stud,” Richie continues with a weirdly high pitched voice, while pretending to faint.

“Is that supposed to be one of your girl voices? Your talent is even more inexistent than I remember, Dick,” a new voice says suddenly from behind them. When Ben turns, he is faced with Stanley Uris, impeccably put together as always. Richie turns too, but slower, and grins. It’s not the friendly grin he gave Ben just moments ago, but twisted into a grimace.

“Hello, Satan,” Richie says. Stan’s eyebrow twitches slightly. “I was actually impersonating you. I think I got your pitch – well, screech, let’s be honest - just right.” Stan scoffs.

“Oh please, your insults are even worse than when we were eight. At least ‘smelly rectum waffle’ was creative.” Richie’s face is unreadable, but Ben thinks it almost looks fond.

“How can you remember that and forget ‘thou crusty tickle-brained cabbage’, Staniel?” Richie replies, and yeah, there was definitely a fond undertone there. Ben thinks he saw Stan’s lips twitch, but he can’t be sure.

“Oh god, your Shakespearean phase was the worst.”

“Aww, come on Stanny, just admit that you miss all of this,” Richie says while pointing to himself, cheer evident, but he goes pale in almost the same breath, eyes widening behind his glasses. Whatever warmth was to be found in Stan’s face just a second ago was now gone, instead carefully blank.

“Excuse me,” Stan mutters, hurrying past the two of them. Ben stares after him, then turns to Richie, who now looks blank.

“Uh,” Ben says. Richie blinks at him. “You- uh, you are, or, were friends with Stan?” he asks, then winces. He has never been good at making friends. He’s probably just pissed Richie off.

However, Richie surprises him.

“Yeah,” Richie says. “But it was some time ago. Satan and I just - one day, it just didn’t fit anymore and, yeah.” Ben doesn’t really like how quiet Richie suddenly got. As if he’d heard Ben’s thoughts however, Richie bounces back. “But hey, it’s his loss, yeah? Besides, I can tell you and I are going to have a blast today, Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi.”

Ben lets himself be dragged into the library by Richie. He just hopes the rest of the day will be over quickly.

.

Bill Denbrough has been sitting in the library since before 7 AM. It’s a sad state of affairs that he prefers sitting a whole Saturday in detention, and even shows up half an hour early, but Bill prefers this opposed to his parents’ house a million times over. It just felt cold and empty, and mostly, it felt unwelcoming.

Well, except for his little brother Georgie, who, despite everything that had happened to him, is a ray of sunshine. When it’s just him and Georgie, Bill doesn’t feel quite so lonely at home. When his parents are home, it’s different, and Bill doesn’t like it, never has since that summer. He’s shaken out of his trance when the doors to the library suddenly burst open, and Beverly Marsh strides in. She seems startled to see anyone already here, but waves at him, and surprised, he waves back. She quickly decides on a seat in the last row, behind him. When she passes Bill, he can smell the cigarette smoke on her, but also something decidedly floral, which takes him back to third grade, when they did a play together.

He can hear her shuffle for a bit before she gets settled, but he doesn’t turn around. He hasn’t talked to Bev for at least five years, at least not properly. It’s not for any particular reason, it’s just one of these things that happen when people grow up, Bill thinks.

His thoughts are interrupted again by voices near the entrance, and a voice that loud can only belong to Richie Tozier. Bill isn’t exactly surprised that Richie is in detention, but the two voices are joined by another, which Bill vaguely recognizes, but can’t place. When Stanley Uris enters suddenly, Bill is surprised that Stan would even talk to Richie, because the whole student body knows that those two avoided each other like the plague. Stan stops a few feet before Bill’s table, eyes roaming the three tables, before staring at a seat at Bill’s table. Bill knows Stan has a thing with seating arrangements, among other things.

“You can sit here, i- if you want,” Bill says, happy that his stutter was barely noticeable. Stan hesitates, but then he nods.

“Thanks, Bill,” he says, and sits down, leaving a seat between them empty. Bill sort of watches Stan as he gets his things out and arranges them neatly before him. Stan either doesn’t notice or pretends he doesn’t, so Bill is free to stare at Stan’s face, noticing how his curls are artfully tousled. It makes Bill itch for a pen, but before he can act on his urge, two people enter the library, one Richie Tozier and a slightly smaller guy (which doesn’t mean much, because Richie is ridiculously tall), who Bill doesn’t know the name of. He knows his face from homeroom and literature though. He might be new. Richie is walking ahead, awkwardly not looking at Stan, but sort of nods at Bill, before his face lights up.

“Beaverly!” He exclaims, making a beeline for her. Bill turns, just in time to see Beverly huff in amusement. Richie drapes himself half over Beverly, planting a resounding kiss on her hair. Beverly groans, pushing him off of her. Richie contently sits beside her, feet already on the table.

“Come on, Benji, sit with us,” he tells the Ben, that had awkwardly been standing a few feet from the spectacle that had been Richie and Bev. Ben seems hesitant.

“Have you bullied yet another kid to suffer you, Rich?” she asks, turning to Richie.

“Hey,” Richie says. “I’ll have you know I’m a delight,” he tells Bev. “Benny thinks so too. Right, Benny?”

“It’s Ben.” Beverly smiles at him.

“You’re welcome to sit with us, but if this potato,” she waves at Richie, “is bothering you, I’ll beat him up for you.”

“Oh- uhm, that’s not necessary, Beverly,” Ben says. “And, well, if you don’t mind, I-“

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Richie sighs. He scoots over, leaving the middle seat empty. “Sit down.”

“Are you-“

“Yes, I’m sure. Don’t make me beg,” Richie says. “Unless you’re into that sort of thing, of course,” he adds, winking at Ben.

“Leave the poor guy alone, Rich,” Beverly says. Carefully, Ben sits down. Richie immediately slings an arm over Ben’s shoulders.

“This is going to be fun,” Richie says. Ben looks dubious, and, judging from the snort from Ben’s right, so is Bev.

.

Mike Hanlon’s ears are still ringing a bit from the very loud lecture his grandpa had delivered this morning for getting into trouble. It’s not as if Mike goes looking for trouble, but throwing a freshman into a dumpster is where Mike draws the line. It’s not his fault the teacher came around the corner in exactly the wrong moment. He just hopes the kid, Adrian, is alright. Mike knows a thing or two about bigots, but thankfully, his Varsity Jacket protects him from the really awful ones. Adrian however, is just tiny and very gay.

His grandpa doesn’t understand that Mike can’t look away, instead telling him to keep his head down. And Mike would, except that Mike couldn’t live with himself, because if that would’ve been him, he would have liked for someone to punch Henry Bowers for him.

He steps into the library with about five minutes to spare. He’s glad it’s in the school library, which he is familiar with, as he helps out here on his free periods and after school. Loud chatter greets him, which mainly comes from Richie Tozier, who is entertaining Bev Marsh, and another guy, and Mike feels guilty he’s not sure what his name is. Richie answers that for him, though, loudly calling him ‘Ben-Ben’. Bill he knows well enough, because even if Bill’s sort of a loner, they’re both on varsity teams, and they run roughly in the same social circles. Stan Uris he is familiar as well, but Stan is a master of avoiding any sort of human interaction, while still being on top of the hierarchical ladder of this school. It’s a mystery to Mike and everyone else in school. However, that doesn’t stop him from admiring his profile.

He walks over to the tables, hesitating before he picks the seat directly behind Bill, and in front of Bev’s. He waves at Bill, who waves back. Stan barely acknowledges him, but then again, Stan barely acknowledges anyone, so Mike doesn’t mind. Beverly watches him curiously, but doesn’t say anything. The guy next to her - Ben – doesn’t look either, but he’s being pestered good-naturedly by Richie. He doesn’t seem to mind, though. Richie doesn’t stop talking, but his eyes are on Mike for a few moments, before they wander back to Ben and Bev.

Mike gets himself comfortable, and there are barely two minutes left before 7.30 AM, when a small figure enters the library. Mike immediately recognizes the delicate frame as Eddie Kaspbrak. Eddie looks out of place in the stuffy library, bright colored jumper and shorts a stark contrast to the grey and brown hues of the room. He stares at the lot of them, clearly not expecting such a crowd for a Saturday detention. Eddie quickly sits down at Mike’s table, brushing some imaginary dirt off it with his sleeve. Mike then notices that everyone is sort of staring at Eddie, and though Stan hasn’t turned around, his head is slightly tilted, clearly attentive.

The thing is, Eddie is kind of infamous in this school, though neither for being cool or popular. He’s the kid that looks delicate, but will pick a fight with anyone even remotely looking at him the wrong way. He had started picking fights with anyone and everything sometime in seventh grade, and Mike remembers the abrupt change, where Eddie went from a quiet, reserved kid that used to be scared of anything remotely dirty to a hellion. After seventh grade, no one was willing to pick on Eddie however, though it had less to do with his attitude, and more with Eddie’s mother.

What Eddie lacks in height or muscle, he makes up with the temperament of an erupting volcano, which had gotten him in a great deal of trouble as a kid, until he had gone home with an impressive shiner and a bloody mouth. The next day, Sonia Kaspbrak had stormed into the school, dragging her resigned son behind her.

The following screaming match between Mrs. Kaspbrak, the principal and at least three other teachers could be heard through the whole school. Eddie didn’t return for almost two weeks due to some ‘illness’, and when he did return, he was excused from any physical exertion, due to his ‘delicate’ constitution.

After that, everyone had slowly but surely left Eddie alone. It began with the teachers when they started to treat Eddie with trepidation and caution, isolating him further in the process. Students began subconsciously to copy their behavior until no one wanted anything to do with Eddie anymore. Mike thinks to himself that Eddie had to be terribly lonely.

Eddie, now aware of the scrutiny, turns to Bill, of all people, and glowers at him, fist raised, and Mike would find it almost cute, if he didn’t know what damage the kid could actually do when motivated. (Belch Huggins bears a scar near his right eye where Eddie hat actively tried to gouge his eyes out. Not that Mike feels sorry for Belch.) He hears Richie shift, and can see him opening his mouth, but before anyone can say or do anything, the main door to the library opens with a soft sound, and everyone freezes when they see who exactly is about to supervise their detention.

Of course it’s Mr. Robert P. W. Gray.

.

Richie fucking hates Mr. Gray. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that guy, and Richie is no chicken, but everything from the sickly white skin to the manic grin Mr. Gray usually sports screams at Richie to run and hide. Mr. Gray isn’t smiling right now, and Richie doesn’t know if it’s a good sign or not.

“Well, well,” Mr. Gray starts, and Ben shivers next to Richie, shoulders hunching and trying to make himself smaller. “What an odd bunch we have today,” he says in a sing-song voice. ‘You’re odd,’ Richie thinks, but keeps quiet. Mr. Gray advances, before he stops right next to Stan’s seat. Stan looks up, as if against his will, and Mr. Gray smiles down at him, teeth full on display. Richie can’t see Stan’s face, but he can tell Stan is freaked out. Hell, Richie is freaked out as fuck, and Mr. Gray isn’t even looking at him. As if he’d heard him, Mr. Gray speaks again.

“Some old faces,” Mr. Gray continues, gaze wandering to Beverly, then Ben. Then his face shifts to Stan again. “Some new ones, too,” voice lilting in a strange cadence. Then he raps his knuckles loudly against Stan’s desk, which makes Stan flinch. “How exciting!” He says, the odd mood suddenly shifting to a sinister cheer, and walks over to the next row, fixating now on Eddie. Stan’s shoulders slump.

Mr. Gray is now looking at Eddie, and Eddie is looking right back. His face is tilted slightly to the side, and Richie sees just enough of his face that he feels impressed. Because Eddie is glaring Mr. Gray down, as if daring him to talk to him. Spine of steel, that one. Mr. Gray doesn’t say anything, and then his gaze shifts to Mike, who is resolutely looking at the ceiling, refusing to meet his eyes. Fair enough, Richie thinks.

When he finally looks at Richie, Richie is sort of ready, but also isn’t. Because, Richie is a regular in Saturday detentions, and Mr. Gray is here enough that Richie is used to him. At the same time, nothing could get Richie used to those eyes, a deep blue that seems strangely alluring, changing the next moment, glimmering yellow, like a predator.

Like now.

“I was beginning to wonder if you had forgotten about little old me, Richie,” Mr. Gray says, and Richie suppresses his involuntary flinch with some difficulty. “It’s been unusually long, my boy,” and honestly, could that guy get any predatory if he tried. “Did you miss me?”

Richie can feel Bev glaring at him. Richie knows he should keep his mouth shut, but knowing and doing are two entirely different things. Richie is a doer, anyway.

“Of course I missed you, Pee Wee,” Richie says in his best backwater hick voice. “I missed you like Keith Richards misses the clap.”

There’s a beat of silence before Bill snorts, Bev sighs, and Ben makes a choked-off sound. Mike sort of twitches but stays quiet, and Richie sort of sees Stan shift. However, the biggest surprise is Eddie, who starts honest to god to giggle. It’s endearing, and Richie is momentarily distracted by the lovely sound. The moment is immediately broken when Mr. Gray makes a sound, not quite clearing his throat, his face twisted, before it smooths out.

“You’re a funny boy, Richie,” he says softly. “Such a funny, funny boy. I wonder, what you hide behind your- voices,” and this is why Richie hates him. Because Mr. Gray knows where to press to really bruise. “I wonder,” Mr. Gray continues coming closer, and finally looms over Richie, “What makes you tick-tock?” he says, rapping his knuckles in time twice to the last word. Then, he trails his hand over the desk, stepping closer to Ben.

“I wonder what makes all of you tick,” he says, smiling wide at Ben, who refuses to look up to Mr. Gray, much like Mike. And then the creep giggles, a horrifying sound, and moves on to Bev, who by now is grinding her teeth so hard Richie thinks they might break. But she looks at Mr. Gray, which could be a mistake, but maybe not. Beverly is antagonistic towards any figure of authority, and especially the male ones. Richie knows it has to do with her dead father, but they’ve never talked about it. Much like they don’t talk about Richie’s parents either. Or Mr. Gray and how Richie doesn’t like to be alone somewhere narrow and dark.

Mr. Gray makes people uncomfortable by just being in a 20 foot radius but the way he’s looking at Bev makes Richie especially uncomfortable. He knows it must make Bev even more so. Mr. Gray probably knows it too. Gray drums his fingers on the desk right in front of Bev’s hands. She immediately snatches them back, crossing her arms in front of her chest and hunches her shoulders. Mr. Gray looks satisfied and Richie has the sudden urge for a baseball bat. Mr. Gray walks back to the front on the other side, where Mike and Bill sit, slowing both times when he passes them, but Mike is very good at keeping his head down. When Mr. Gray reaches the front and rounds on them, his gaze is intensely on Bill. Richie can tell Bill is looking at Mr. Gray not unlike Eddie had been, but there seems to be almost a silent conversation going on between them, before Mr. Gray turns away, as if disgruntled.

“Well then,” he addresses them all, voice still lilting, but the sinister timbre is gone from it and Mr. Gray looks less like a nightmare and more human. Even the air in the room seems less choking. Richie doesn’t trust the sudden shift for one second. “You will all spend no less than eight hours here. In this time, you will all each write an essay about what makes you all tick,” he says, cheerful, almost bouncing. “What keeps you up at night,” and there’s the sinister timbre, “What fears makes you lie awake at night. Which monsters haunt you,” he says, reverent. The room is dead quiet.

“Uhm,” Ben speaks up. “That’s, well, I don’t want- isn’t it a bit… personal?” he’s barely audible at the end. Mr. Gray leans forward, putting his hands on the table, and Bill and Stan both shift away from the middle, since it’s their desk at the front he’s leaning on.

“Is it?” Mr. Gray asks. “This is detention, Mr. Hanscom. It is not meant to be fun,” he says softly. “You are here because you did something bad,” he continues. “And this is a punishment. All of you,” he says louder, and everyone starts, “You are all here because you did something. I expect a thousand words about your fears by the end of the day.” Richie feels Mr. Gray shouldn’t say the word “fear” with such worship. As if he’d heard Richie, Mr. Gray now looks at him. “And you, you will write two thousand words.” Richie’s jaw drops, and he’s about to say something, (probably very stupid) (again), when Mr. Gray cuts him off smoothly. “Because you are a funny, special boy, Richie,” and doesn’t that just sound wrong. But it works, and Richie clamps his mouth shut. Mr. Gray turns to address them all again.

“I just want to make it clear that an essay is not one word repeated over and over,” he says. “I expect work with thought behind it. I will be looking forward to get to know all of you just a little better.” He looks at all of them in turn. “Any questions?” No one moves a muscle.

And then, because Richie has the impulse control of a chipmunk, he raises his hand. Mr. Gray looks at him as if Richie’s having a stroke. Richie knows he will regret what is about to come out of his mouth, but Richie can’t just let two thousand words sit without any kind of retribution.

“Is it like, a conscious thing that you’re channeling Ronald McDonald? Because I’m pretty sure he’d like his wig back at some point.”

Bev groans, her head falling back, leaving her to look at the ceiling. Ben turns to him and looks at him with a weird mix of fear and admiration. Mike’s staring too, but he looks definitely admiring. Bill is suppressing the bubbling laughter so hard he’s crying. Even Stan turns to look at him incredulously. Eddie is turned fully around, and the look that he’s giving Richie makes him want to squirm, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Mr. Gray looks ready to launch over the tables to strangle Richie. Richie is pretty sure if there were no witnesses, the janitor would have to clean up a body tonight. There’s a sudden shift, and for a moment, Mr. Gray’s eyes shine a brilliant yellow (seriously, what the fuck?) and they all immediately turn around. Richie is pretty much ready to sign his last will. After a beat of utter silence, all Mr. Gray says is,

“That will be a question for another detention, I think. You’re really asking for it today, Richie.” And there’s the creepy smile again, paired with that strange lilt in his tone, the one that makes Richie want to set himself on fire. Mr. Gray continues, “I’ll leave you to it, children.” He turns away, walking off. He stops at the entrance, turning his upper body in a weird angle, that Richie isn’t sure if it’s anatomically even possible.

“I suggest you all behave. Or there will be consequences. And this door stays open, so no funny,” yeah, he’s definitely looking at Richie, “business.” With those words, he walks out the library. Finally, he’s gone.

.

Stan sags like a ragdoll as soon as Mr. Gray walks out. Their freakishly tall teacher is seriously disturbing, and Stan’s just glad he’s finally gone. Two seats over, he sees Bill let out a breath from the corner of his eye. The weird tension left the room as soon as Mr. Gray was gone from it, and the room doesn’t seem quite as claustrophobic like just a moment ago. He studiously keeps his gaze trained on his desk, and he can tell everyone just breathes for a moment. Then, there’s the distinctive sound of a smack.

“YOWTCH! What the fuck, Bev?” He hears Richie’s voice cry out, and, giving in to temptation, he turns around, just in time to see Beverly pull her arm back from behind Ben Hanscom, clearly being the one that had delivered a well-deserved smack upon Richie’s head.

“I could ask you the fucking same, Tozier!” Beverly snaps. She’s clearly pissed off. “Why the hell would you bait him like that, you know he’s like, fucking obsessed with you!” That’s news to Stan, but then again, Richie and him haven’t talked for almost two years. He ignores the twinge in his chest. “I need a fucking cigarette,” Beverly adds, aggressively rummaging through her bag. Ben, sitting left of her, coughs.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he wilts at her furious stare. “I just don’t want Mr. Gray coming back here. Like, at all.” Mike snorts.

“No one wants that,” he says. “I’m sure we’re allowed a break. Sometime,” Mike adds. Beverly exhales, glaring into her bag.

Eddie suddenly pipes up. “There’s a small break room on the upper floor,” he points in the direction. “If you’re quick, Ronald McDonlald will probably never find out.”

“Oh, not you too,” Beverly grumbles, but gets up. “You coming, Rich?” She turns to Richie, who is staring at Eddie (who turned around again and doesn’t notice) with a dopey expression on his face. It takes Stan a moment to place the look, but when he does, he can’t contain the small noise of disbelief. It’s enough to draw Richie’s attention off Eddie. Richie raises his eyebrow - ‘What?’. Stan raises both eyebrows – ‘Really, him?’. Richie raises a shoulder – ‘So what?’ and anyone else would fall for the nonchalance, but Stan literally ate bugs with Richie when they were five, so fat chance. Stan lifts up the corner of his mouth – ‘I don’t believe you,’ but before Richie can answer, Beverly breaks the moment with an impatient sound. Richie immediately scrambles out of his seat. Stan is momentarily surprised how easy it was, how fast they clicked again, and he feels tears sting in his eyes. He wills them away.

“Coming, I’m coming, Jesus, calm your tits,” Richie says, quickly following Beverly. The argument between the two can be heard all the way up to the stairs, before Beverly slams the door shut. Stan turns to his paper again, tapping his pencil against the desk. He followed the conversation between Bill and Mike, who at least are sensible enough to talk quietly. There is a comforting lull, and Stan briefly spaces off, before he hears his name called.

“Huh?” he asks, turning to Mike, who’d asked. Mike smiles at him and Stan suddenly feels a bit light-headed. He turns to Bill, who was looking at him too, and while not exactly smiling, his expression was open and friendly, and it makes Stan just a bit more breathless.

“I just wanted to know if you were going to Cindy’s party next weekend,” Mike repeats. “I mean, it’s less of a party, just a few kids from our year?” he says, turning to Bill, who shrugs.

“Cindy’s folks are o-out of town. I th- think it’s going to be more than ‘just a few kids’.”

“Oh,” Mike says. “Well, are you going?” he asks Bill now. Bill shakes his head.

“No. I- I’m not into the whole partying sh- shtick. And I already h- have plans,” he replies.

“Fair enough, me neither,” Mike replies. He turns to Stan. “I mean, we could still go?” He asks, almost shyly.

“I, well,” Stan starts. His hands are suddenly shaking. Social interactions of any kind make him anxious to the point of a nervous breakdown, at least on bad days, and Stan has lots of those. He hates it, and just wants to be left alone. “I can’t. Sorry,” he tacks on hastily. Mike had asked nicely, after all. He knows he still came of as standoffish, if the disappointed look Mike’s giving him is any indication. He turns away from it.

“We could, maybe, do something else?” Mike asks carefully. Stan looks back again. Mike looks at him in quiet determination. There’s also something else in his gaze, but Stan can’t be quite sure what. Stan is aware he’s staring at him quite unattractively, but he can’t help it. It’s been a long time since so much attention had been on him, and it’s almost like Mike is-

“He’s trying to ask you out, just in case you were wondering,” a bored voice says from behind him. They all turn to look at Eddie. Eddie raises an eyebrow. “What? Stan’s pretty. Not my type, but I can definitely see the appeal,” he says.

Stan turns around to face his desk quickly. This is exactly why he hates interacting with people. He’s never sure how to read situations and it just makes his stomach churn, until he feels like he’s about to throw up, afraid of what people are expecting of him. Stan overanalyzes everything, and it just spirals. But then again, Mike doesn’t seem like the type who says things and doesn’t mean them. Suddenly, Bill scoots a bit closer, and the movement is enough that it draws Stan’s attention again.

“Eddie’s n- not wrong,” Bill says quietly. “I’m sure Mike was b- being serious, too.” Bill’s cheeks are tinted slightly pink.

“Yeah,” Mike says, and when Stan looks at him, Mike is blushing. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he says. Stan sighs.

“It’s okay,” he tells Mike. “I just don’t do-“ he hesitates, unsure how to continue.

“You don’t l- like being around people,” Bill answers for him. When Stan looks at him, Bill looks at him with understanding in his eyes. “To be honest, me ne-neither.” It’s quiet after that.

“I get really nervous when I’m supposed to be socializing with people, and then I mess up, and then everyone thinks I’m weird,” a soft voice says from the back row. They turn to look at Ben.

“Why?” Mike asks. “You seem nice.” And Stan can’t help but agree. Ben was rather new in school, but he seems geniunely kind. Ben grins, but it’s more of a grimace.

“I just- I get really into stuff, sometimes, and I tend to overwhelm people with my enthusiasm, I guess. So, I just keep to myself.”

“That should be the opposite of a problem,” Mike frowns. Before he can say anything else though, he’s interrupted.

“Yeah, but this is Derry. People suck here,” Eddie says darkly. No one disagrees. Eddie turns to Ben. “But Mike’s right, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Uh- thanks,” Ben says slowly. Everyone knows Eddie doesn’t talk to people. Stan wonders if it’s because no one talks to Eddie, either. Suddenly, Ben looks at Stan. “I hope this doesn’t weird you out, but you really are pretty.”

Stan chokes.

“Is everyone gay in this room?” Eddie wonders. Mike smiles amiably at Eddie, and Bill does a half-shrug that could mean either. Stan is studiously not looking at anyone. Ben clears his throat.

“I’m actually straight. Stan’s just-“ he waves a bit awkwardly.

“Really pretty,” Bill finishes. Stan feels like his head is going to explode.

“Stop that,” he says quietly, but with force. Everyone immediately stops, because his tone hadn’t been warm. After a small pause, he sees Bill opening his mouth, but he shakes his head.

“No. Just- just leave it! Leave me alone-“

“Whoa, who got Stanleigh’s panties in such a twist?” Richie’s voice sounds from behind them. Richie’s presence is literally the last thing Stan wants. He gets up so quickly his chair falls over, but Stan needs to get away from everyone now. He all but runs off.

.

Stan leaves everyone in the dust. Eddie honestly didn’t expect such an outburst, from quiet, put together, (pretty) Stanley Uris.

“No, seriously, what the fuck happened?” Richie Tozier exclaims, voice unusually serious. Beverly stands a few feet behind Richie, face curious, but otherwise neutral.

“It’s my fault,” Ben says quietly, face miserable. Richie looks at Ben incredulously. So do the others.

“Yeah, okay, I can’t even pretend I believe that, Haystack. Which one of you fucks did this?” He looks at the rest of them. And, Eddie is totally aware that this is so not the right moment, but damn it the intense look Richie gives them isn’t having Eddie’s stomach in twists and knots in a totally inappropriate way.

“It’s mine,” Mike sighs, handsome features twisted guiltily. “I was kinda, well, trying to ask him to a party. It didn’t go over well.”

“No shit,” Richie says. He looks less angry now, running his fingers through his hair in obvious frustration. His hair is all wild and untamed, and Eddie is fascinated by the way it seems to defy any sort of gravity.

“We all ups- upset him,” Bill adds.

“Yeah, that one is my fault,” Eddie admits. “I thought Stan didn’t realize Mike was hitting on him and I told him, and that he was pretty.”

“We all agreed,” Bill says. Mike and Ben nod in agreement.

“That’s just great,” Richie mutters. Eddie should probably stop getting so distracted by Richie’s freckles. “Look, peeps, you fucked up,” Richie says. “And now I’ll have to do damage control even though Satan and I went separate ways a long time ago, which is fan-fucking-tastic.” Richie starts to follow in the direction where Stan run off.

“What if Pee Wee comes back?” Beverly asks Richie, and Richie stops. His face is carefully blank, which is a far cry from his usually cheerful expression. Eddie likes Richie’s face but not the empty look that came over it at the mention of Gray. Richie hesitates, then grimaces.

“He’ll do what he always does, then.” Beverly looks worried, but doesn’t say anything else. Richie hurries off, and she sits down next to Ben with a heavy sigh.

“Are- are Stan and Richie a- a thing?” Bill asks Beverly. Eddie pretends not to be interested. Beverly snorts.

“No. They’ve got some history, but not like that.”

“Oh, okay,” Mike says. The relief in his voice is palpable. Bill looks at Mike with an unreadable expression, but it doesn’t seem hostile.

Eddie feels that this day is going to give him an actual aneurysm, and it isn’t even 9 AM yet.

.

It’s been years, but Stan’s habits are as reliable as the migration pattern of birds, so Richie knows exactly where he has to go. And indeed, Stan is still in the library, or rather, in the old office at the far back of their stuffy library, crammed under an old desk.

“Go away, Dick,” Stan mumbles, not bothering to lift his face, which is pressed into his knees. Richie rolls his eyes, but walks over anyway.

“No can do, Mr. Birdman,” Richie says in a snobbish voice. Stan swats blindly at him. He squats down next to Stan, poking him. “Budge over.” Finally, Stan lifts his head.

“Are you serious? I barely fit under here, let alone you and I both,” he tells Richie through a wobbling bottom lip. “You’re huge.”

“You’re not exactly a smurf either, Stan,” Richie replies with a grin. He wiggles as close to Stan as humanly possible, one leg going over Stan’s lap. Richie tries to ignore how the close and darkened space makes him feel suffocated. He succeeds, mostly. Stan huffs, pushing at his leg half-heartedly.

“Why do you never do as you’re told,” Stan mutters.

“Bad impulse-control. Besides, I haven’t seen you show this much emotion in a long time,” Richie replies softly. Stan tenses up, trying to push Richie away more earnestly. “Stop,” Richie tells him gently.

“Why the hell do you care all of a sudden?” Stan snarls. Richie just looks at Stan, and he can see all of the jagged cracks in his carefully crafted mask of indifference.

“I always did. It was you that told me to get lost.”

“I never said that,” Stan says, but they both know he’s lying. Richie presses their shoulders more firmly together.

“It’s okay.” And maybe it is, Richie thinks. They were both too young to handle their fallout for what it really had been; a fight that had blown up in epic proportions, and then the drifting away that always happens to people. Both Stan and him were exceptionally stubborn people, so they just had avoided each other until it became habit both didn’t seem able to break anymore, and searching looks in the hallways just became averted glances. Richie barely remembers what their fight had been about anyway.

“No, it wasn’t,” Stan says. “I was being a brat.”

“And I was living up to my actual name,” Richie counters. Stan gives a watery laugh. It sounds like he’s choking.

“Why now, Rich? Why not-“ before, is what he wants to say. And shit, Richie thinks to himself, there are a dozen reasons, and Richie hates doing feelings just as much as Stan does, but Richie can tell that Stan needs to hear this.

“Because we’re both really stubborn pricks,” Richie says. “And we both happen to be here today at the same time, same place. It’s a good time as any to start.” He pauses. “And-“ he suddenly has a lump in his throat because Stan might not ever talk to him again after what he has to say. “Because you’re always alone. You’re like a ghost walking through this school as if you are about to disappear.” Stan’s breath hitches. “Because you’re in detention, and whatever it was, I can tell it’s bad. And - because of this,” he touches Stan’s wrist gently.

Stan pulls his wrist back as if he’d been burned. He cradles it to his chest, breathing labored.

“I- You- You saw-“ Richie lets his head fall on Stan’s shoulder.

“You were my best friend,” he tells Stan, and Stan starts to tremble. “Sometimes it still feels like you are, as if you never stopped to be.”

“You have Bev,” Stan says stubbornly, barely holding it together now, grasping for straws, for some normality. Richie feels that Stan is making this more complicated than it has to be.

“Well yeah, but she’s not you,” Richie says against Stan’s shoulder. After a moment, he adds; “She has tits.”

“Oh my god,” Stan says, then starts to giggle hysterically.

“Isn’t that like, blasphemy, when it’s you that’s saying it?” Richie wonders, and it makes Stan laugh even harder. And then his hysterical hiccups turn to sobs.

Richie shifts, so he’s hugging Stan around the middle, curling around him as much as possible, and lets him cry into his hair.

.

“Better?” Richie asks. It’s been a good while, and Stan has kind of calmed down. He feels blotchy and exhausted, and overall empty, but not in a bad way.

“Yeah. I- Thanks, Rich,” Stan says softly. Richie pats his head awkwardly. They’re quiet again for a few moments, before Richie speaks up.

“Does this mean we’re best friends forever again, Stanny?” he asks in a high-pitched, girlish voice. Stan groans, trying to untangle himself from Richie, who just holds on tighter. It reminds Stan of a Koala. A six feet tall, gangly, very annoying Koala. And the thing is, Stan has a thing about people, which really means that he doesn’t do people, or people touching him. At all. Richie trying to hug him to death should make his skin crawl, but because it’s Richie, it doesn’t.

“Why are you like this?” Stan mourns, finally giving up and letting Richie do whatever he wants. It’s not like Stan actually minds (but he’d rather stab himself in the foot than tell Richie).

“I’m a perfect human being, Stan,” Richie replies. “And we all know you want a piece of this.” Stan elbows him.

“Please,” Stan says. “I’d sooner do the do with Mr. Periwinkle.” Mr. Periwinkle, their homeroom teacher, while certainly nice, was probably around ninety and looks like Jabba the Hut and Yoda had an illicit love-child.

“Ew,” Richie says. “Thanks for that mental image. And besides,” Stan can feel the lewd grin, “I know you’d rather do the do with Handsome Hanlon or Big Bill.” Stan blushes pink, because it seems that not acknowledging each other’s existence for two years apparently doesn’t mean shit when it comes to Richie’s nosiness. But two can play this game.

“Like you would with Eddie?” he asks. Richie jerks in surprise. “You were painfully obvious today. I mean, I half expected you to drop to your knees right then and there, your panting was that bad.” Richie seems momentarily stunned, but recovers quickly enough.

“Well, at least I know what I want, Staniel,” Richie replies in a haughty voice, covering up for the fact he’s as red as a tomato right now. Stan feels very nostalgic. “I know they’re like, stupidly hot, but I don’t think they’d go for a threesome. Haven’t you had a crush on them both for like, years?” The exasperated fondness that Stan had been feeling intensifies, as does his mortification.

“Can we cancel the whole friend-thing right now, please?” Stan asks, to keep up appearances. The statement is pretty much nullified by the fact that they’re cuddled together under a desk. Richie chuckles, about to open his mouth, and suddenly freezes. He cocks his head, as if he’s straining to hear something. Stan is thrown by the sudden change, and is just about to break the eerie silence, when Richie bursts into motion.

“Shit, Stan, you need to get up right now!” Richie exclaims, hastily untangling himself from Stan, pulling him up and out under the desk.

“Wha-“ Stan says, disconcerted. Richie looks almost panicked, trying to drag him away. “Richie what the everloving fuck-“

“Look, we have to get back to our seats now, because Mr. Gray is coming back, and if we’re not in our seats, he’ll eat us alive!” Stan frowns, but lets Richie drag him away anyway.

“How do you know that?” He asks Richie. He can’t see Richie’s face, but he can tell he’s anxious.

“I have developed a sixth sense for the creep. I’ve been in dozens of detentions, and he’s always just- there.” Stan really doesn’t like how off Richie’s voice sounds. “Trust me, it’s never been wrong,” Richie adds.

“I believe you,” Stan says, because he does. Beverly had said something similar earlier, and besides, Mr. Gray belongs in an Asylum, not in a teaching position. He scrubs his face as best as he can, trying to erase any trace that he’s had a meltdown.

“Just keep your head down,” Richie tells Stan when he notices. “He probably won’t even look at you.” And that statement rubs Stan the wrong way.

“Fucking hell, what are you going to do,” and it’s not a question, because he’s known Richie since they were four, and that’s his ‘I’m-deliberately-going-to-fuck-shit-up’ voice.

Richie laughs, but it doesn’t sound quite right.

.

Bev is flicking her lighter absentmindedly, staring at a particularly ugly crack in the ceiling. It’s been almost twenty minutes since Richie had run after Stan. She’s – wary of Stan, not because she dislikes him per se, but because Richie is weird about making friends, and she could never determine how much of that was because of Stanley Uris, or if at all. It’s true that him and Richie got some history, but even Bev isn’t privy to much of it. She became friends after their fallout, and whenever she had tried to ask about it, Richie would start talking, about everything but that.

She looks at the remaining four boys in the library. Next to her, Ben tried to make notes for their assignment, but it evolved into a sketch, which seems to be a pretty accurate blueprint of their school. Bev is impressed. In front of her, Bill and Mike are having a hushed conservation, and Bev doesn’t care enough to really listen in, but it’s obvious they’re discussing something about Stan (and Richie). Eddie is picking at a large scab on his knee (and honestly, who wears shorts in March), also half-listening to the hushed conversation. Bev should probably try and start her assignment, because she does not want to spend another Saturday in detention, especially not with Mr. Gray supervising. Mr. Gray makes her feel disquieted in a way not even her father did.

Just when Bev feels she’s about to die of boredom, footsteps can be heard from a far corner of the library, hastily coming closer, and then Richie slides into view from behind a massive book shelf, dragging a red-eyed Stan behind him. Hers and Richie’s eyes meet, and she knows the look of barely suppressed panic. Richie always had an extra sense where Mr. Gray was concerned, and they dodged a few bullets thanks to it. She quickly puts the lighter back into her pocket, while Richie all but pushes Stan into his seat.

Instead of sitting into his seat, Richie quickly goes for the door, doing something to the hinge. A second later, the door slams shut, while Richie pockets the screws, and makes a beeline for his seat.

The others, first startled by the sudden reappearance and then the noise, start protesting. Just as Mike opens his mouth to ask the obvious question, Richie makes a loud shushing noise.

“Shut the fuck up,” he hisses quietly, dropping into his seat. “Gray is coming.” And aren’t those magic words; Ben immediately turns his doodled-on page to the blank side. Bill and Mike turn and sit up straight, Eddie does as well.

Not a moment too soon, it seems.

Mr. Gray steps through the door, and a blanket of dread immediately covers the library. No one even moves a muscle. Mr. Gray gives the malfunctioning door a glance, before letting it fall shut with a loud noise. He moves towards their seats. Bev is looking at her desk, but she doesn’t need to see the predatory glint in his eyes, as the hostility radiates through the entire room. A quick glance confirms that it’s fixed on Richie. And Bev knows why; Richie is looking at Mr. Gray with a clear challenge.

Bev wants to punch Richie’s glasses off. Didn’t they just talk about trying to play it safe today like an hour ago?

Mr. Gray comes to a halt next to Richie, who shifts, his posture forcedly relaxed, while still looking at Mr. Gray. Bev carefully steals a glance at them, and almost balks. Mr. Gray has a look in his eyes that she has never seen before. It’s not mere annoyance or a carefully veiled threat. He looks at Richie with a burning fury that rivals the sun. And of course, Richie has to make it worse by speaking.

“Yes?” Richie asks, cool as a cucumber.

“Explain,” Mr. Gray says. And shit, the fake sugary tone is completely gone, voice oddly echoing in the room. Bev doesn’t know how Richie manages to not shit his pants right then and there.

“Explain what?” Richie counters. Mr. Gray bares his yellowing teeth in a farce of a smile.

“The door.” Richie looks at the door in consideration.

“Yeah, it’s a door, made of sturdy wood, probably oa-“ Mr. Gray hisses, and Richie shuts up.

“Fix it,” Mr. Gray demands. Richie makes a big show of sighing condescendingly.

“I’m afraid I’m not a repairman, Mr. Gray,” he says earnestly. And Bev has to hand it to Richie, the boy does know how to act. Bev thinks that mostly, Richie believes his theatrics himself. And it would totally fine, but Richie is going to get himself killed at this rate.

“So,” Mr. Gray speaks softly, dangerously. “You are suggesting that the screws just fell out and disappeared?”

“Screws fall out all the time,” Richie shrugs. “The world is an imperfect place.”

Someone giggles. Mr. Gray whirls around to the source. And it’s Stan that he’s glaring at now, because to Bev’s absolute amazement, it had been controlled, dignified Stanley Uris, who had giggled at Richie’s stupid joke. Mr. Gray stalks back to the front, bracing his arms on Stan’s desk. She can’t see Stan’s face, but the way he immediately curls into himself is saying enough. Mr. Gray looks diabolically delighted.

“Is there something you’d like to share, Mr. Uris?” he asks. There is a stretch of silence, in which everyone looks at both of them. Bev wonders if Stan will snitch. She looks over to Richie. He doesn’t look worried, but angry.

“No,” Stan says quietly, but firmly. Mr. Gray stares him down, but whatever he finds makes his mouth turn downward unhappily.

“Are you sure, Mr. Uris?” he asks. Stan nods. “How disappointing. I suppose I might just see you again next Saturday, then.” That’s just unfair, Bev thinks. Again, she looks at Richie, and he definitely seems to think so as well. Mr. Gray turns to look at Bill. “Perhaps you could tell us what happened, Mr. Denbrough? As a stand-up member of our baseball team, I expect you are interested in holding up our school values.”

“Of course, Sir,” Bill replies in a suspiciously sincere tone. “But the door just closed on his own, honest.” Mr. Gray looks like he’s about to combust. Bev mentally applauds Bill. Mr. Gray actually growls.

“Such disobedient children,” he muses, and something in his face shifts, smoothing out into something pleasant. Bev doesn’t trust it for a second. “But Richie here has always been a terrible influence on the people he’s around. Haven’t you, my boy?” Bev feels a cold chill creep up on her spine. Mr. Gray is no-one’s favorite, but the way he talks to Richie always leaves a bad taste in her mouth. And when she looks at Richie now, she can see in the way is face is pinched, that he’s close to losing his bravado. However, he seems almost satisfied with the attention redirected to him again. For some reason, he’s purposefully drawing the attention to himself, more so than he usually does. Then she sees how Richie keeps glancing at Stan, and Bev understands.

What the fuck had happened in the twenty minutes they’d been gone?

Mr. Gray moves away from Stan’s seat, and goes over to stand in front of Richie again. He leans in close, so close they must be sharing the same breath. Richie swallows, or maybe gags, Bev can’t tell. No one pretends to watch their desks anymore. Stan, Bill, Eddie and Mike have all turned around, watching in horrified fascination. Ben next to her has turned to look at Mr. Gray open-mouthed, as if he can’t compute what he’s seeing.

“Your behavior is disappointing, Richie,” Mr. Gray says calmly, almost pleasantly, but he may as well have shouted into Richie’s face. “Disappointing, but not surprising. You think you’re impressing these kids, that you are bitchin’,” he continues, voice velvety, eyes glowing bright yellow. “What a funny boy you are.” He smiles, and to Bev it looks like an abyss of nightmares. “But you and I know you’re just a sad, lonely little child, so afraid- and isn’t that the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The silence after his words is suffocating. Richie swallows again, and Bev desperately wants to reach out and comfort Richie. Mr. Gray stands to his full height, and smiles down at Richie. “That will be another two detentions, Richie,” he says, and Bev resigns herself to another two Saturday detentions (as if she’d ever let Richie be alone with that creep for a full Saturday, let alone two).

Richie swallows, seems to compose himself, and because he’s A Dick, with capitals and everything, shrugs, and mutters;

“Eat my shorts.”

The smug smile falls off Mr. Gray’s face.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Gray begins. His face is twisted in a snarl. How he passes as human is beyond Bev. That’s not a face that belongs in this dimension. “What did you just say to me?” And Bev prays to every deity she’s ever heard of that Richie will keep his mouth shut for once.

Richie tosses his messy hair back from his face. “Eat. My. Shorts,” he says again, more clearly. Clearly, the gods are dead, Beverly thinks.

“You just bought yourself another detention.” Richie shrugs nonchalantly, but Bev can tell it’s false bravado.

“Sure. I’m free the Saturday after that, but beyond that, I’ll have to check my calendar.”

“You don’t need to check,” Mr. Gray says. “You’ll be spending that one here as well. In fact, we’ll keep going. ” Richie bites his lip. Bev hopes this is the end of this circus show.

“I suppose it’s better you’ll spend your Saturdays here, least you end up in prison.” Richie bristles. And that’s just wrong, because the worst thing Richie’s ever done was to spraypaint a wall. “Are you through?” Mr. Gray asks, almost gently.

“No,” Richie says after a pause. Mr. Gray shakes his head in mock-disappointment, but his eyes are glittering with triumph.

“I’m doing you a favor, my boy. In fact, I’m doing society a favor as well.”

“So?” Richie says with barely contained anger, the same anger Bev’s feeling as well. She hopes someone, at any point, will deck Mr. Gray, for treating Richie that way. Mr. Gray smiles.

“That’s another, for good measure. Do you want another?”

“Yes,” Richie presses out. Bev knows at this point he’s just doing it out of spite.

“Deal,” Mr. Gray replies with sinister glee. “Shall we keep going?” Richie opens his mouth, but Ben elbows him. Richie turns his head.

“Cut it out,” Ben whispers. Richie stares at him. “Seriously, stop.” Before Richie can react, Mr. Gray chuckles. Both Ben and Richie turn to look at him. Bev waits with bated breath.

“You should listen to your friend, Richie. Are you done?”

“Not yet, Pee Wee,” Richie bites back. The cheerful expression falls slightly from Mr. Gray’s face. Bev wishes Richie would just stop talking, but she knows him well enough that they passed the point of no return a while ago.

“One more,” Mr. Gray replies. Richie snorts.

“Like I fucking give a shit.” Mr. Gray smiles and leans forward.

“Another.” A mulish silence descends. Bev hopes they’re done.

“How many is that?” Richie asks challengingly.

Apparently, they’re not done. Before Mr. Gray can dish out another detention however, it’s Eddie that answers.

“That’s nine, including the one when you asked Mr. Gray if he was channeling Ronald McDonald, because of the wig,” he says in a fake, upbeat voice. Bev never interacted with Eddie Kaspbrak before, but damn, she’s gonna high five the kid so hard for that. When she looks back at Richie, he looks impressed, mixed with something else.

Mr. Gray looks decidedly less impressed, but doesn’t bother turning around. “Now it’s ten,” he says to Richie. Richie glares.

“Excuse me sir,” Eddie speaks again. “but it’s nine.” This time he says it a bit more forcefully. Mr. Gray finally turns around to stare Eddie down. Eddie, after a short-lived staring contest, looks away. When he turns to look at Richie again, Bev shivers. Mr. Gray looks at Richie like he’s a particularly fat rodent, and Mr. Gray is the cat that just caught a juicy plaything.

“It seems,” Mr. Gray speaks, voice lilting in the weird cadence that makes Bev feel like her stomach is filled with stones, “that you and I are going to spend the better part of two-and-a-half months together, dear Richie.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Richie mutters, clearly sarcastic. He looks at his desk mutinously, and misses the look that crosses Mr. Gray’s face. It’s nothing short of wicked.

“Oh, I’m sure you are,” he says. Richie reluctantly looks up. “I know you want everyone to think that you are a happy, funny boy, not a care in the world. But when we really get down to it, when we get down to your core,” and he leans close again, and Bev doesn’t know how Richie stands it, because she would’ve whipped out her pepper spray in his place and sprayed the motherfucker right into his unnaturally big piehole.

Mr. Gray continues; “Deep down you care so much, about what others might think, that you aren’t able to be yourself, so you hide.” Richie bites his lip so hard it started bleeding. “And I wonder, if somewhere, behind your funny voices and your funny faces, if there is even a shred of the real Richie Tozier left. Or maybe, maybe he is lost. Forgotten.”

Richie looks away, and his entire posture just sort of slumps. Mr. Gray finally gets out of Richie’s space, and then looks at them all.

“I think it would be best if I didn’t have to come back here again unprompted,” he tells them. They all look at him with numb shock. Mr. Gray looks satisfied, and, at fucking last, leaves the room. Everyone relaxes, and the sinister feeling leaves just a few moments after Mr. Gray had left. Then she looks over to Richie again, and suddenly, her heart sinks.

Richie is pale, much paler than usual, except for blotches of pink on his cheek, probably from anger. His eyes are almost vacant, and Bev finds it disturbing. Ben looks at her, and then follows her gaze. After a moment, he elbows Richie again, but this time more gently.

“Hey,” he says to Richie, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Are you alright?” His tone is gentle, and concerned, and Bev’s heart melts a little.

“Sure,” Richie says. Eddie and Mike turn around when they hear his voice. “Just easy peasy lemon squeezy, Haystack.” Bev is about to stand up and drag Richie off for a second time this morning, but before she can, someone else intervenes.

.

Bill is still staring at the closed door that started this whole rigmarole in the first place. He knows that Mr. Gray is a lunatic, and if real life was Detective Comics, then Mr. Gray would definitely be The Joker. The way that he talks to any of them, but especially Richie, is just all kinds of disturbing. Bill feels dirty by just thinking about it. The stunned silence is broken by Ben, who gently asks Richie if he’s alright. Bill barely hears Richie’s reply, he’s still lost in thought.

“What the fuck was that?” Stan hisses at Richie, and that gets Bill’s full attention. Bill didn’t peg Stan to be a person to curse, but then again, there’s not much Bill really knows about Stan in the first place. The words get a reaction from everyone, mostly surprise. Richie looks fondly irritated.

“Yeah, Dick,” Beverly adds. “What he said.” She looks furious. Bill is glad the angry glare isn’t directed at him. “Because you see, I’m now stuck in detention with your sorry ass for two and half months,” she stresses the words viciously, “Because it’s apparently impossible for you to keep your trap shut!”

“Uh-“ Richie begins, but doesn’t get further than that.

“That was a pretty amazing, dude,” Mike tells Richie. “In a completely bad way. He’s pretty much the incarnation of the devil, why would you mess with Gray like that?” Bill knows Mike doesn’t have one evil bone in his body, and he’s just boggled, like they all are, but Richie is getting twitchy by all the negative attention.

“Are you trying to get eaten alive?” Eddie chimes in. “For a moment, I thought he was going to swallow you whole. And not,” Eddie adds hastily with a glare when Richie opens his mouth, “In a sexy way.”

“Yu-hup,“ Ben agrees. “I thought he was going to murder me for simply being a witness.” Richie again tries to reply, but Beverly gets up and goes over to pinch his arm. Hard.

“I told you before not to piss him off again, Rich,” she says. Bill privately thinks he’d probably be more scared to piss Bev off. “Seriously, I told you less than an hour ago. If you piss him off any more he’ll-“

Richie hisses through his teeth. Bev doesn’t continue.

“He’ll what?” Stan asks. He looks challenging, but there is a hint of worry in his voice.

“Noth-“ Richie starts, but Bev talks over him.

“What’s it to you?” She says, also in a challenging voice. Stan jerks back from the hostility in her voice.

“Whoa, he just asked,” Eddie intervenes. “And it’s a fair question.” He looks to Richie, then to Bev. “Why the everloving fuck is Gray so obsessed with Trashmouth here?” He points at Richie, but keeps looking at Bev with both eyebrows raised. There is a short silence.

Then, Stan gasps in delight. Bev looks like Christmas came early. Richie looks as if he’s not sure if he should be insulted or flattered.

“Trashmouth?” Bev asks, bouncing on her feet.

“Uh, yeah, I mean,” Eddie says, and motions to Richie. “Obviously.”

“I can’t believe I never came up with that,” Stan says, mostly to himself. “In all these years, I only came up with ‘Dick’.” Bill is amazed how something so mundane is able to transform Stan’s entire face to the point that it looks otherworldly. Bill is thankful that no one sees the blush on his face. Then Mike quietly clears his throat, and when Bill looks at him, Mike grins a bit ruefully.

Bill blushes harder.

Apart from Mike, no one seems to have noticed. Bev nods to Stan. “I know right? It’s perfect,” she gushes. Turning to Eddie, she says; “You wanna be friends?” Eddie stares at her. She turns to Richie. “I’m replacing you.”

“Rude,” Richie says. Bill can tell he doesn’t mean it.

“As if you’re anything near charming,” Stan retorts.

“Dude, seriously-“ but Richie is interrupted again. Bill winces a bit in sympathy. He knows how it feels to be constantly interrupted, because of his stutter, so he mostly keeps quiet and to himself. People just don’t seem to have the patience to let him finish.

“Back in sophomore year, he literally introduced himself with the words ‘My jaw just had like, the most intense workout, like, if I had to suck someone off tomorrow, I’d blow their fucking minds,” Mike says, grinning at Richie. Richie grins back, lewd. “Then he babbles about how he stuffed about two packs of bubblegum in his mouth for a bet. He told me he won.”

“He had gum stuck between his teeth for the rest of the week,” Bev adds.

“Gross,” Eddie shudders.

“You can make use of my improved jaw muscles anytime,” Richie leans forward, leering at Eddie suggestively.

Gross,” Eddie says again. “No thanks. You probably have rabies.”

Ben starts to chuckle. Richie turns to him betrayed.

“I thought we had something special, Benny,” he says, pouting. “But it turns out you’re like the rest, breaking my soft little heart little by little,” Richie continues, erratic movements underlining his dramatics. Ben shrugs, half-apologetically.

“He hasn’t changed at all, has he?” Stan asks Beverly. Their initial hostility apparently forgotten, Bev sighs.

“Gods, no,” she replies. “Like, it’s impossible to shut him up.” She looks at Richie sideways. “Because sometimes I really wish he had an off-button. For situations like these.” Stan suddenly begins to smirk. Richie sees it a moment before Bev does. His eyes widen.

“Stan, no, don’t you dare-” he starts. Stan talks loudly over him.

“Oh, but he does,” he starts, looking at Richie almost evilly, (Bill still thinks it’s the prettiest face he’s ever seen) “there was one way I had, that worked wonderfully, to shut him up as a kid.” Beverly leans forward.

“Please do tell,” she replies eagerly. Stan grins wider.

“When we were kids, his missing brain-to-mouth filter got us into all kinds of trouble-“

“Is this about the incident with the painting, because I told you like a billion times that I’m sorry-“ Richie interjects. Stan shuts him up with a glare.

“That creepy thing hung in my room for a week,” he snaps. “Anyway.” He turns to Bev again. “You probably know there’s like a point of no return with him.” Bev makes an agreeing sound. “And whenever he was close to approaching that point-“ Richie groans loudly, but Stan is undeterred by that, “I would say ‘Beep, Beep, Richie’. Worked like a charm.” Richie blows a raspberry. Meanwhile, Bev looks dubious.

“Beep, Beep?” she asks skeptically.

“It’s less the phrase, but the timing,” he replies.

“Why are you like this?” Richie bemoans. “Everything was perfect, and you had to spoil it,” he tells Stan dramatically. To Bill’s great surprise, Stan only rolls his eyes. Bill had never seen Stan talk to anybody this comfortably, but being around Richie seems to have a positive effect on Stan.

“I could ask you the same fucking thing, Trashmouth,” he says, testing out the new nickname.

“This is great,” Bev says in a chipper tone. Ben and Mike giggle too. Richie looks a bit too seriously betrayed now.

“G- Guys,” Bill decides to intervene. Everyone’s looking at him now. “Why don’t w- we lay off Ruh- Richie, a bit?”

“YOWZA!” Richie yells loudly. Bill jumps a bit. “I knew I liked you for a reason other than your baby blues, Big Bill,” Richie says and gets up with a flourish. “Excuse me,” he says in a snooty voice to Bev and Ben, nose high in the air. “But I think I’ll go sit somewhere else where I’m cherished and appreciated.” He struts around their tables, nose still high in the air, until he reaches Bill and Stan’s desk. He climbs over the desk, his flailing limbs almost kicking Stan in the throat. Bill is honestly unable to tell if it’s on purpose or not.

Then Richie goes and plops himself into Bill’s lap.

“Uhm,” Bill says. Richie beams at him.

“Hi,” Richie says. Bill splutters, but before he can string a coherent sentence together, Stan leans into his line of sight.

“You know you’re not getting rid of him anytime soon, right?” he asks Bill.

“Ya-hup,”Richie agrees. Behind Richie, Eddie is trying not to glare at Bill. “Hey Bill,” Richie says cheerfully. He leans closer, slinging his arms around Bill’s neck. Eddie is not-glaring harder. “If you’d rather have someone else,” he says in a conspiratorial whisper, loud enough that everyone hears, “sitting in your lap instead, I can totally arrange that.”

Bill almost chokes, and Stan makes a noise like an angry cat. From his peripheral, he can see Beverly opening her mouth, no doubt to berate Richie. However, before anyone can do anything, it’s Mike that gets up, comes over to Bill’s seat, and plucks Richie right out of Bill’s lap. The fact that Richie is something over 6 feet of flailing limbs doesn’t seem to bother Mike at all, and carries him to the empty seat between his own and Eddie’s, like Richie weighs next to nothing, and sets him down. Richie looks somewhat awestruck. So do the others. Bill feels very warm under his collar himself.

“Wbuh-“ Richie gurgles, for once at a loss for words. Eddie snorts, and then Ben starts to chuckle, and then they’re all laughing. Richie laughs along with them.

“That was a bit much, huh?” Richie asks Bill when they’ve stopped screaming with laughter. Bill shrugs; he had mostly been caught off guard, and he didn’t think Richie meant anything by it. For a short moment, Richie looks at Bill with a sharp look, and Bill is surprised by how serious he looks. The look passes just as quickly as it came, a sheepish grin gracing Richie’s features.

“Still, sorry,” he says. Then he turns to Mike, grin turning wicked. “But I gotta say, Mikey Way, that was super-duper hot,” he gushes in one of his girly voices. “But buy a guy dinner first.” Mike winks.

“Well, if you didn’t throw yourself at Bill like some cheap floozy,” Eddie drawls, “I’m sure he would’ve probably considered buying you at least a drink.”

“I’ll have you know I’m not cheap, good sir,” Richie fires back. Eddie smirks.

“Sure,” he nods, “for free then.”

“Ohhh,” Beverly and Ben cheer.

“Listen,” Richie starts, not deterred in the least. “If you want me to sit in your lap, just say the words, sweetcheeks.”

“Sure, if you bathe yourself and your clothes in acid, at the very least,” Eddie replies, eyeing Richie’s pants, that are artfully riddled with holes, and the shirt that has a very dubious stain on it, with clear disgust.

“So you’ve thought about undressing me?” Richie asks, smiling winningly. Eddie gags, but Bill (and everyone else) can see the blush that rises on his cheeks.

“Shut the fuck up.” Eddie says.

“God, it’s like they’re made for each other,” Stan mutters to no one in particular. Now Richie is blushing too, and Beverly claps her hands in delight. Bill chuckles, and then Stan turns to him, and grins at him, and Bill feels like a thousand suns are rising in his chest.

Oh,’ he thinks.

.

The mood is much lighter than it was just ten minutes ago, and Bev sinks back to her seat. For a moment, she watches Richie try to flirt awkwardly with Eddie, and Mike and Bill watching amusedly the small spectacle, while not-so secretly watching Stan, who is watching Eddie’s and Richie’s bickering (flirting) like he was studying an especially big beetle: fascinated, with a hint of (fond) disgust. The same look Bev is probably sporting, because Richie is, for some reason, explaining to Eddie how to throw a perfect loogie. Eddie looks three seconds away from slapping Richie. Bev can relate.

“So,” she says quietly, turning to Ben. He’s obviously startled to be addressed, having absentmindedly doodled on his paper. He smiles at her shyly. Bev smiles just a bit brighter. “What was that I saw you drawing earlier?”

“Um-“ Ben looks unsure to his doodles of circles, and Bev shakes her head.

“Not that,” she says, and grabs the sheet that Ben hid from Gray. “That.” Ben flails and tries to grab it, but Bev is faster. She carefully sets it down in front of her and studies it. Ben hovers beside her, nervous. She looks up to him, and whistles.

“Ben,” she says, “That’s amazing!” Ben blushes at the praise.

“It’s just a sketch,” he mumbles.

“Well, if that’s ‘just a sketch’, then I really want to see the finished work. Are you planning to become an architect or something?”

“Actually, yes,” Ben replies, rubbing his neck. “I really like it.” Bev’s eyes widen.

“Really?” Ben nods. “Then why were you drawing this dump?” She asks, referring to the school. Ben grins.

“I was redesigning it,” he tells her, finally a genuine smile gracing his features. Bev likes Ben’s smile a lot. “I like redesigning things,” he adds. “Because buildings that were built before 1948 in this area were in fact-“

Bev gets comfortable, and lets Ben’s soothing voice wash over her.

.

Mike watches the back-and-forth of Richie and Eddie with mirth. Richie is a master at entertaining people, even when he doesn’t do it on purpose. Mike’s pretty sure Richie is actually trying to flirt with Eddie, and not trying to put on a show; however, it’s backfiring for Richie in a hilarious way. Eddie is a small ball of contained fury, and Richie is pressing all the wrong (right?) buttons.

Then again, there’s a permanent blush high on Eddie’s cheeks, and Mike is pretty sure it’s not just out of anger. In any case, it seems Richie’s trashmouth has met its match in Eddie Kaspbrak. Richie is talking about Eddie’s mother for some god awful reason, when Stan intervenes, clearly having had enough of being only a bystander.

Mike’s only half-listening, but Richie and Stan trade insults as if they’d never done anything else in their life. Eddie’s response to Richie’s foul mouth had been an even fouler mouth and disturbingly detailed death threats; how anyone can think the boy is delicate is beyond Mike. Stan is all dry remarks, hitting home every single time. Richie seems delighted.

It’s like a switch had been flipped with Stan; Stan was known for being detached and aloof; avoiding anything even remotely resembling human interaction like the plague. Honestly, Mike had expected the rejection when he had tried to ask Stan out. And then. all it took to shake things up had been Richie Tozier. And as Mike continues to watch the bickering trio (Eddie had rejoined the conversation and him and Stan were currently roasting Richie for all he was worth; Mike would’ve intervened, but Richie clearly loved their joined attention too much to mind), and Stan looks more comfortable in his own skin than he had the past few years, even despite the red rimmed eyes and hair completely out of place. Richie Tozier must be magic.

Mike shifts his attention shifts for a moment to the desk behind. Ben is animatedly talking about- architecture? Bev is listening attentively, and Mike’s glad she’s giving Ben her full attention, because what Ben had said earlier about feeling ashamed of being enthusiastic about something he loves just wasn’t right. Ben is clearly a sweetheart.

His attention is drawn to Bill, who is getting up and moving over to the information desk. He starts rifling through some pamphlets out of obvious boredom. Mike gets up and moves over to Bill. The other five are too caught up in their conversations to take much notice. As Mike approaches, Bill looks up.

“Hey,” Mike says. Bill nods back, looking at him with curiosity. And Mike knows they’ve never really talked to each other. To be fair, Mike just likes to keep his head down and as a result doesn’t have any real friends here. Bill is even more introverted and talks to people even less.

“H- hey,” Bill replies.

“Pretty wild crowd, yeah?” Bill grins, looking at the middle table, where Eddie just kicked Richie in the shin for trying to touch him with his “dirty, germ-infested paws”.

“Yeah. Uhm, t- thanks for earlier,” Bill says, motioning vaguely towards Richie.

“Sure,” Mike replies. “He can be a bit much, but I think he means well,” Mike says, tilting his head towards Richie.

“I- It’s fine. He’s always b- been nice to me,” Bill shrugs.

“Richie is nice to everyone. Well,” he amends when Bill looks at him incredulously. “His special brand of nice, I guess.”

“He’s a d- dick to half the student b- body,” Bill replies. “But to b- be fair, they’re dicks too.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me,” Mike says darkly, thinking back to the reason why he’s here in the first place.

“I heard whu- what you did,” Bill says quietly as if reading his thoughts. “It’s a- a pity you didn- didn’t break Bower’s nose.”

“I know, right?” Mike sighs. “It was a good punch, too.”

“Bowers is a piece of s- sh- shit,” Bill says quietly, but with force.

“I’m not gonna fight you on this one,” Mike says, slightly taken aback by the dark tone in Bill’s voice. They’re quiet for a few moments. “Are you really busy next weekend?” Mike asks.

“Mh-hm,” Bill hums in an affirmative tone. “It’s game night w- with my brother.” Bill is sporting a very bright smile at the mention of his brother, and Mike is momentarily breathless because he’s never seen Bill smile like that. He shakes himself out of the stupor.

“I didn’t know you got a brother?” Mike asks. “How old is he?”

“He’s ten,” Bill replies. “And you do kn- know of him,” Bill says shortly. Mike frowns, because he’s pretty sure he doesn’t. Bill grimaces. “F- four years a- a- ago, h- he went m- missing,” Bill says pointedly. Mike notices that Bill’s stutter just got a lot worse. Then, the other shoe drops.

“Oh!” Mike exclaims. “I- yeah. I do know of your brother,” he says softly. Bill nods.

Everyone in Derry knew of the case of Georgie Denbrough one way or another. The police had tried to keep it under wraps, but Derry’s gossips have always been like bloodhounds; nothing stays a secret for long. And Mike loves history, past or present happenings, and the disappearance of the younger Denbrough brother had certainly unusual.

Unusual because Georgie had reappeared, alive – minus a limb.

Mike is well aware that Derry has an alarmingly high count for missing people. He even narrowed down the time periods where it happened, but it seems that every adult in Derry is willfully blind to it. It’s not like he had forgotten, more like pushed the thought away. Mike winces, and looks back at Bill. His expression is stony, but also resigned.

“I- I’m sorry,” Bill says. “I didn’t want to- to make y- you uncomfortable,” Bill said.

“Don’t apologize for that,” Mike replies. “I brought it up. But, uh,” he pauses. “We can talk about something else, if you want?” Bill nods, and then grins at Mike mischievously.

“Li- like Stan?” he asks cheekily. Mike’s cheeks darken.

“Like you’re one to talk,” he bites back good-naturedly. Bill shrugs.

“I- I got eyes.” And Mike can only agree.

“So,” he hums. “This is a bit awkward.” Bill looks at him with an unreadable expression. “I mean-“ Bill shakes his head.

“D- Doesn’t have to be,” he tells Mike. Mike frowns, not sure he understands. Bill opens his mouth to continue, when they’re interrupted.

“Watcha talking about?” Beverly asks cheerfully from behind them. Bill and Mike both jump, not having heard or seen her approach. Ben stands next to her, looking at Bev with a bemused expression.

“Well-“ Mike starts.

“We were having a p- private conversation,” Bill says in his stead. “What a- are you doing?” Bill’s tone is friendly enough, but with an underlying tone of ‘none of your business’.

“Fair enough,” Bev says, but the shit-eating grin doesn’t subside. Mike’s pretty sure she overheard at least part of their conversation. “We were actually looking for a book.” She motions between herself and Ben. “What?” She asks when they look at her in confusion. “Just because I bum around school sometimes instead of going to class doesn’t mean I’m illiterate.” She stares them down seriously. Ben coughs.

“N- no, that’s not-“

“Of course we didn’t-“ They both start to speak at the same time. Bev starts to grin slowly.

“Relax,” she says. “I’m just messing with you.” She winks at them.

“Oh,” Mike says.

“W- what kind of book?” Bill asks after a pause.

“Ben was telling me about the old town of Derry, and then he started to talk about the sewer, and now we’re looking for a book that contains a map of the old town,” Bev replies.

“You’re interested in the history of Derry?” Mike asks Ben, surprised. Most teenagers perceive history as a dry subject; Mike is one of a few that participates in class. Ben nods.

“Well, I’m more interested in the architecture,” Ben says. “But I think the history is closely linked with the layout of this town, so.”

“You’ve come to the right person,” Mike grins sunnily at Ben. “As it happens, I help out here sometimes, and I think I know what you need.”

“Really?” Ben asks, lighting up. Mike can see Bev watching Ben with a soft smile.

“This way,” Mike says to Ben, and wanders off. Ben immediately follows, and after a moment of hesitation, so does Bill. Mike looks at him for a moment to long, noting how his auburn hair falls into his blue eyes. Bill looks at him, eyebrow raised. Mike hastily turns away, cheeks heating just a tad.

Turned away, he doesn’t see Bill blushing as well.

.

Richie Tozier is the most infuriating person Eddie has ever met. And Eddie lives with his mother, who is a real piece of work, so that’s saying something. However, he’s as intriguing as he is annoying. Also, Eddie really likes Richie’s smile, but he’d rather stab himself in the foot than tell that to Richie’s face.

“Hey Eddie Spaghetti-“ Richie starts again.

“Stop with the fucking nicknames already, you dick,” Eddie snaps. Richie starts to pout.

“Well, what else am I supposed to call you?”

“I have a name. It’s Eddie, and that’s already a nickname. Use it.”

“But that’s boring,” Richie says. “You’re too cute to not give any nicknames to.” Eddie fights really hard to suppress his blush. It’s a losing battle, so he scowls, hoping that the color on his face is interpreted as anger. “But if you insist. How does Eds sound?”

“That’s even worse,” Eddie bites.

“Edwin?” Eddie glares harder. “Or Edward Spagethward?”

“I’m going to stab you in the throat,” Eddie promises.

“I can’t wait!” Richie laughs. “But we can do some other kind of stabbing if you want-“

“That’s just sad, Richie,” Stan says from the side. Eddie’s glad for the intervention, because he was two seconds away from strangling Richie. Richie turns to Stan.

“Okay, listen Stanley, I don’t interrupt you either when you do your mating dance, so have some curtesy, yeah?” Stan snorts.

“Okay, ‘Chard,” he says. “If that’s what you call a mating dance I’m glad to report you’re going extinct.”

“Oh! I am hurt,” Richie exclaims in a loud voice, standing up. Stan groans quietly. “Shocked! The pain! Death is reaching for me with its cold hands!” His voice is reaching a truly dramatic pitch, and he’s gesticulating with flair. “But alas! The darkness has come! Take me! Take me away!” He falls back into his seat, draping himself over both his and Mike’s empty seat like he was some fantasy damsel in absolute distress.

“Please fucking do,” Stan mutters. Eddie is watching Richie with his mouth slightly open. He turns to Stan.

“Is he for fucking real?” He asks him.

“Unfortunately,” Stan replies, sounding like he regrets all of his life choices. Eddie turns to Richie again, who is still playing dead.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What you should be asking, young Edmund,” Richie says, languidly getting up (Eddie is not watching the flex of his arms, he’s not), “What’s wrong with this situation.” He motions to the empty seats around him. Eddie had been so caught up with bickering with Richie, that he hadn’t noticed when and where the others had gone. He feels embarrassed.

“You scared them all away, Dick,” Stan says. Richie stretches, shirt riding up his abdomen. Eddie can see soft, dark hair trailing down Richie’s stomach and disappearing down his jeans. He swallows, mouth dry.

“Well,” Richie yawns, “If they’re having an orgy without me I’ll be super bummed out.”

“Beep, beep, Richard,” Stan says. Richie rolls his eyes.

“We should get the others,” he says, looking at the door. Stan’s face shifts to something more serious.

“Is he coming back? Right now?” And Eddie knows he means Mr. Gray, but wonders why Stan asks Richie a question he can’t possibly know the answer to.

“No,” Richie says hesitantly. “Not this instant, but-“ Stan gets up.

“I’ll get them,” he says. “If he sees you out of your seat he’ll lynch you.” Richie sits back down.

“You don’t need to hurry,” he tells Stan. Stan nods and leaves. It’s quiet for a few moments.

“Do you want to tell me now why Gray is so damn obsessed with you?” Eddie asks. “And why you’re going all ‘Season of the Witch’ while we’re at it.” The comment earns him a bark of laughter.

“There’s nothing much to tell, Eds,” Richie replies, and Eddie lets the stupid nickname slide, because Eddie might not talk to people much, but he can tell the cheerful tone is entirely faked, now. Instead, he stares at Richie.

“You don’t have to tell me, but you do know the creep has got it out for you, right?” Again, Richie laughs, but it’s quieter.

“Boy, do I ever,” he glances at Eddie, who is looking at him seriously. Richie sighs. “Honestly, I don’t know. I guess I’m just phenomenal at pissing people off.” He grins winningly at Eddie. Eddie rolls his eyes.

“That you are. Doesn’t mean it’s any less creepy.” Richie hums in agreement. “And what about the freaky sixth sense thing?”

“Well,” Richie starts. “It’s like a survival thing. I spend so much time in detention where Gray is supervising, it’s either the ‘freaky sixth sense thing’ or him being glued to my back all the fucking time.”

“So,” Eddie says after a moment of processing what he just heard. “You’re essentially like a mutant, only your powers are super lame.” Richie bursts into laughter, almost choking he’s laughing so hard. His dark, messy curls shake with Richie, and Eddie notices Richie has freaking dimples.

“You’re alright, Spaghetti Man,” Richie says, once he’s calmed down a bit. The words are more than enough to break Eddie out of his daze, and he scowls.

“Shut the fuck up.”

.

Ben is still unclear why Bev insisted they sneak up on Mike and Bill. Bill and Mike are nice, and who they like isn’t any of his business. It’s hard to deny Bev when she get a certain gleam in her eyes though, as Ben found out, so he went along with it. She seems genuinely interested in architecture, enough to drag him out of his seat and get a book about one specific topic about it. It makes him feel giddy, but he resolutely squashes the feeling down. Most likely, she’s just being nice to him out of pity.

Mike is currently talking a mile a minute about the history of Derry, and he knows a lot. Ben is very impressed but also a bit overwhelmed, and is answering where he can. Bev and Bill are only half listening, skimming through one of the few books Mike had handed Ben. Bill seems vaguely interested in some of the information that Mike gives, but seems to be staggering at the information assault too.

Someone clears their throat behind them. Caught off guard, they turn around. Stan stands behind them, waving haltingly at them. Bill and Mike perk up, and now Ben sort of gets why Bev wanted to eavesdrop; the whole situation is just painfully awkward, and usually Ben keeps to himself (not entirely by choice, but still) and minds his own business. All the same, it’s something you can’t help but want to be nosy about it.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Stan says slowly. “But I think we should all go back to our seats. Like, soon.” He emphasizes the last sentence.

“Oh!” Bev says, who seems to be the only one to understand. She hastily closes the books in her arms and grabs Ben’s wrist. “C’mon,” she says, tugging him along in the direction of their desks. Ben knows he must look like a tomato right now, he looks down where Bev’s slender hand grips his wrist surely.

Behind them, the others other two the rest of their stuff quickly and follow.

“Whu- What’s going on?” Ben can hear Bill ask.

“Richie thinks Mr. Gray is coming back,” Stan replies.

“Again?” Mike asks, as they turn around a corner. “It’s been what, a bit over two hours?”

“Sadly,” Bev begins, “Gray is like a dog without a bone when it comes to Richie.” Bev’s beautiful face sports a vicious scowl.

“Why is he so obs- obsessed with Richie?” Bill asks. Bev slows down.

“I wish I knew,” she says, tone gone quiet. “Richie never said anything about it.” Ben hears Stan sigh empathically from behind them. Ben turns to look at him. Stan looks exasperated, but also- worried? And Ben reminds himself that they must have been good friends at some point; good enough that they were able to fall back where they left off in less than half an hour. And Stan still has blotchy cheeks and unruly hair, but he looks almost serene.

They reach their desks, and for once, Richie and Eddie are talking like normal human beings. Richie has already moved to his original seat, Ben gets in his seat next to him.

“Hiya Haystack,” Richie says. “Did you have a good time with Beaverly and the rest behind the bookshelves?” Beverly smacks Richie gently where she passes him on her way to her own seat.

“Hey,” Ben grins at Richie.

“Ohh,” Richie croons. “You’re not as sweetly virginal as you pretend to be, eh?”

“And you’re a real turd, Richie,” Eddie says.

“If by turd you mean hot and steamy, then sure-“ Eddie gags and turns around. Richie smirks. They all settle down, and Ben hides the books, so Gray wouldn’t be able to spot them.

A minute later the door opens. Ben isn’t sure what it is about Mr. Gray, but everytime he enters a room, the air goes putrid and it’s like everything just turns darker. Mr. Gray advances, but for once he seems almost normal.

“Who needs to use the facilities?” he asks them. They all raise their hands.

“Nothing to say?” Mr. Gray asks, looking directly at Richie.

“No, sir,” Richie says, and Ben thinks it would almost sound polite, if only Richie didn’t say ‘sir’ like something particular gross just crawled into his mouth and died. Mr. Gray stares for just a moment longer at Richie, but ultimately, doesn’t react to the tone.

“You all have five minutes,” he tells them. They all scramble out of their seats and make for the door. Ben walks along with Richie, the others already further ahead.

“So, uhm, are you really alright?” Ben asks Richie. Richie blinks at him, but remembers a moment later that Ben has asked him earlier.

“Aw,” Richie says, slinging a gangly arm around Ben’s shoulders. “You’re a real sweetheart, Benny. A true companion of the heart, a champion for those in need-“

“C’mon,” Ben says. Richie rolls his eyes.

“It’s fine,” Richie answers in a tone that books no room for argument. Not that Ben believes him, anyway.

.

After Gray finally left (after vague threats and generally traumatizing each one of them), the time goes by agonizingly slow. They’re all trying to try and pass the time, and Stan is relieved that no one is even attempting to do the absurd essay about their fears, because frankly, he doesn’t want to. Honestly, how does Gray even come up with stuff like that?

Two seats over, Bill is actually snoring. Stan glances at the way Bill’s auburn hair falls into his closed eyes, then hastily looks away. God, but Bill’s looks are just unfair. Mike had wandered off some time ago, muttering something about a book he was looking for, and Stan hasn’t seen him since. Eddie put headphones on a few minutes after Gray left and is now staring vacantly in the distance, occasionally tapping his foot. He looks as bored as Stan feels.

Ben and Beverly got up as soon as Grey’s footsteps faded from the hallway, and went to a secluded corner, looking at some books they’ve brought back earlier, Ben talking animatedly. Stan watches Beverly giving Ben her full attention, and in turn, Ben brightens even further. In short, they’re being disgustingly cute.

“Makes you want to puke glitter and rainbows, right?” Richie asks, sliding into the seat next to Stan, unknowingly echoing Stan’s thoughts.

“Please go away,” Stan says. Richie cackles.

“And leave you to your endless dark and spiraling thoughts? Yeah, no. Fret not, good sir,” Richie says pompously, “Your knight in shining armor hath arrived.”

“There’s no way your parents didn’t drop you on your head as a child because you’re entirely brain-dead,” Stan bites.

“Stan the Man gets off a good one,” Richie cheers. Stan gives a long-suffering sigh. “But really, they’re nauseating, aren’t they?” Richie picks up, nodding towards Ben and Beverly. They’re currently giggling at something Ben must’ve said.

“Disgusting,” Stan agrees. “Almost as disgusting as you and Eddie,” he adds. Richie snorts.

“Please,” he says. “You wish you had my moves.”

“Eddie is this close to actually murder you. When that happens, I’ll gladly stand over your grave and say ‘I told you so’.”

“All part of my grand plan, Satan,” Richie grins.

“What? Wearing him down until he’s easy pickings?” Stan retorts.

“Eh,” Richie says. “At least I’m doing something about my crush. You’ve been moping after Billiam and Mickey for how long?”

“Shut your damn mouth,” Stan hisses, looking frantically at Bill. Thankfully, he’s still snoring. “And you’ve talked to Eddie the first time today, how can you call that a crush? If anything, you’re lusting after him.”

“Doesn’t mean I haven’t seen him around before,” Richie says, voice suddenly soft. Stan takes a moment to really look at Riche; his ridiculous glasses amplify the vulnerable look in his eyes. Stan carefully turns a bit to look at Eddie, who’s still looking bored out of his mind, headphones securely over his ears and looking into the distance. Richie is looking too, expression strangely closed off.

“Oh no,” Stan says. “You’re serious.” Richie looks away. “Rich-“

“Nah,” Richie interrupts, turning back to Stan. “Let’s not, yeah? We’ll see how it goes today.” And Stan can see Richie forcing himself to be cheerful. “But for real; why didn’t you say yes when Mike asked you out?” Stan knows Richie is deflecting, but when he looks at his hands, they have started shaking again. Richie quietly observes him. “It’s still not gotten better. You and people?” Stan shakes his head. “Shit,” Richie says with feeling. Stan snorts. “You know Mike, and Mr. Snooze over here too, are nice people, right? They’re not gonna fuck with you.”

“You think I don’t know that,” Stan mutters angrily. “It’s not like I can just turn it off.”

“Whoa, hey,” Richie reaches out placatingly. “I know. I just meant-“ he trails off. “Just- when was the last time you, talked to someone?”

“What are you, the school counsellor?” Stan growls. Richie can go fucking stuff a sock in his mouth for all he cares.

“Well obviously yours is shit at doing their job,” Richie snaps back. “Look-“

“Oh my god, if I tell you it’s all good, will you shut up about it?” Stan almost yells. Bill stirs, and both look at him. Bill settles down, still snoring up a whole concert. The pent up tension breaks.

“Depends,” Richie says, after a long moment, fight completely gone from his voice. “Is it the truth?”

“Yes,” Stan sighs. “They’re making me see someone, and I think, maybe, it’s getting better, but-“ Richie raises his eyebrows. “It’s part of the reason why I’m here today,” he adds, but unwilling to explain further. Richie seems to notice his hesitation, and doesn’t press Stan further.

“So,” Richie says slowly, “People finally figured out that there’s something going on with you, and then they come up with the brilliant idea to stick you with the worst ‘offenders’ in a Saturday detention to ‘punish’ you or some shit,” Richie sneers. “That’s just peak educational execution. Five gold stars.” God, but Stan had missed Richie. He chuckles.

“This school sucks, but what else is new,” he says.

“Right on,” Richie agrees. “It’s weird that you have no problem with me around, though.”

“Richie,” Stan starts incredulously. “I can’t believe you even have to ask this.” Richie shrugs. Stan shakes his head unbelievingly. “Remember our fourth grade field trip? The one to the Aquafunpark?” Richie nodded slowly. “I got sick during that because you dared me to eat anything past expiration date from your fridge that morning. And there was, like, tons of stuff,” Richie cackles at the memory.

“Yeah, then you puked it all over me on purpose,” he says.

“I did not,” Stan replies, and Richie huffs. They’ve been arguing about this for ages. “My point being, as retaliation for something that was entirely your fault,” he emphasizes, “You made yourself throw up on me.”

“Man, those where the days,” Richie swoons.

“If you ever do something like that again I’ll rip out your arms and beat you to death with them,” Stan threatens. “My point being, you’ve spilled everything to me, literally,” he pauses. “And even then, I didn’t drop you like a bag of dog shit. The thought never even crossed my mind. You were just always – there.” Richie quirks his mouth up a little, but refrains from commenting with what would probably be a completely inappropriate or revolting comment. “It’s like you’re a parasite people can’t help getting attached back to it. You’re just different from any other person.”

Richie is silent for a long moment.

“You’re not trying to profess your undying love for me right now, right?” Richie asks.

Stan grabs his notebook and starts hitting Richie with it. “Ow! Okay, okay, jeez, stop!” Richie laughs, fending off Stan’s assault.

“You’re the absolute worst,” Stan tells him.

“Yeah, but you love me anyway,” Richie laughs.

“I question my life choices every day.” Richie continues laughing, throwing an arm over Stan’s shoulders.

“I’m honored, honestly,” Richie tells Stan, and it’s in a soft enough tone that Stan knows Richie’s being 100% sincere. “Now, if you can suffer me, imagine how great you’ll get along with anyone else in this room,” Richie says. “It’s gonna be a walk in the park. Like, they’re unlikely to wake you up with their dirty underwear thrown on your face, so-“ Stan shudders at the memory.

“Beep fucking beep, Richard.”

.

It’s close to lunch break, and him and Stan had been playing UNO with a borrowed set from the children’s section to beat the boredom. Eddie joined them as soon as Richie came back with the cards, clearly relieved for something, anything, to do. And they’ve been playing for a good hour. Bill woke up some time ago, roused by Eddie’s shouting (cursing Stan and him out for ganging up on Eddie), and damn, Eddie is apparently super competitive and takes no prisoners.

Bill declined joining them when they asked, but Beverly did when she and Ben got back from snuggling reading together. It’s a lively game, and they’re all ruthless. It was shaping up to be one of the best detentions Richie’s ever had. Mike wanders back too, lured in by their shouts of glee (Beverly), death threats (Eddie), and general bickering (all of them), and joins them for the next rounds. Bill seems to finally be awake enough to join in as well, and after some wheedling, so does Ben.

Throughout of it all, Richie keeps glancing at Stan. He seems worlds better today than he looked like for- well, for ages. And it’s taken so little effort to make Stan feel more human, and less detached from everything. Richie feels guilty it’s taken him two years and a Saturday detention to even talk to Stan, because he’s a stubborn dick (no pun intended). Richie wonders if he could’ve helped Stan not get to such a low point in the first place (because yeah, Stan didn’t tell him, but he didn’t have to; Richie has eyes and he can count two and two together just fine).

Then he realizes he lost this round due to his morose thoughts, having missed at least three opportunities to cream one of the others. He refocuses back to the game at hand.

What feels like ages later, when it’s 12.27 PM, Richie gets the crawling feeling he always does when Mr. Gray is near. He stops mid-air, just about to fucking destroy Stan with his 4+ card. They all catch his mood in a few short seconds, and without so much as a peep, gather up the game and their stuff quickly, getting back to their respective seats. Less than a minute after they’ve all settled, the door creaks open and Mr. Gray steps through. Richie feels like Mr. Gray just takes the twilight zone with him wherever goes because he could swear the temperature just dropped like 10 degrees. Mr. Gray’s stare wanders over each of them, slowly, almost intimately. However, his eyes remain blue, and Richie is relieved to see it.

“You have thirty minutes for lunch,” Mr. Gray says. Minus Bev and himself, they all look at each other incredulously.

“Here?” Eddie asks disdainfully.

“Yes, here. Is there a problem, Mr. Kaspbrak?” Mr. Gray asks softly, warningly.

“It’s just,” Mike continues, “Wouldn’t the cafeteria be more suitable?”

“Are you judging my decision, Mr. Hanlon?”

“Uh, no,” Mike stutters. Richie can’t blame him. Mr. Gray is a walking nightmare, literally, in the worst version.

“But Sir,” Bill begins, and Mr. Gray snaps his glare to Bill, who, to his credit, doesn’t flinch. “What a- about something to drink?”

“Yeah,” Bev agrees. “We’re extremely thirsty,” she says in a naïve voice that Richie knows is 100% fake.

“I have an extremely low tolerance for dehydration,” Eddie pipes up. Mr. Gray glares harder.

“Oh, I’ve seen him dehydrate,” Richie agrees. “It’s ugly.”

“My delicate constitution, you understand,” Eddie adds, tone sweet. At the subtle threat of Eddie’s mother, Mr. Gray’s glare lessens.

“Don’t worry,” Richie says. “I’ll go get it.” Mr. Gray looks at Richie like he’d love to choke the life out of him.

“Sit down,” he orders. Richie sits. “If it we’re up to me, I’d have you spend detention in a sewer,” Mr. Gray says, and okay, Richie is man enough to admit he’s freaked out right now. Mr. Gray points at Mike. “You, and-“ his gaze searches them until it lands on Stan. “You.” Stan startles. “Go get everyone something to drink. I’ll return in thirty minutes and I expect you all to be seated and to behave.” Richie is tempted to ask ‘or else?’ but Bev is not-so-subtly staring him down from over Ben’s head, and he refrains. Mr. Gray turns around and leaves. Mike and Stan get up, and follow. Richie makes eye-contact with Stan and mouths ‘Get it, Stan’ with a shit-eating grin. Stan flips him off, but he’s blushing.

They return a few minutes later. Mike looks almost cheerful, and Stan looks for once not like he’s about to puke from nerves. Richie waggles his eyebrows. Stan retaliates by tossing a can of coke aggressively at Richie’s head, which he barely catches. Mike distributes the remaining cans of coke, normally.

It’s quiet for a few minutes, everyone busy with unpacking their lunch. Bev brought sushi and Eddie is eyeing it with clear disgust.

“Is there something wrong with my food?” Bev asks when she notices.

“It’s raw fish,” Eddie says.

“I’m. Aware?” Beverly replies. Eddie scrunches up his nose (cute, cute, cute!).

“That’s so gross, like, there’s a million germs on that,” he points at the innocent sushi viciously, “and you can catch salmonella, and there are tons of cases of people who died-“

“Eddie,” Mike interrupts. “I’m sure it’s fine.” He goes for a calming tone, but it’s clearly not working.

“Just don’t come near me if you eat that,” Eddie says. Bev seems baffled, but shrugs.

“I see Mike has a very nutritious meal,” Richie says. Mike looks at him curiously. “Congrats on the whole food pyramid, Mikey Way. Did your mom marry Mr. Rogers?”

“No,” Mike says in a deadpan voice. “She married Mr. Hanlon.” Stan and Eddie start to giggle.

“At least he’s eating something healthy,” Stan says. “Richie, why is there sugar on your buttered bread?”

“Oh my god,” Eddie says, when he turns around to look.

“Dude,” Mike shakes his head.

“What? That’s healthy, look, sugar is carbs, carbs give you energy,” Richie points out. Mike opens his mouth, but Bev shakes her head.

“Don’t bother. I’m still waiting for the day he’s diagnosed with scurvy, so I can tie him up and force-feed him fruit and vegetables.”

“Kinky,” Richie retorts.

“Bill,” Ben ask suddenly, in a quiet, serious voice. “Is that all you’re having for lunch?” At the somber tone, they all turn to look at Bill, or rather, his desk. There’s a small pack of crackers and an apple on his desk, nothing else.

“That’s-“ Mike starts. Bill doesn’t look at any of them. Mike falters.

“Are you dieting?” Richie asks, before he can stop himself. A second later, he winces.

“Richie, for once in your life, use your brain-to-mouth-filter. I know you have one,” Stan hisses.

“No,” Bill laughs, completely humorless, answering Richie’s question. “I just for- forgot making lunch yesterday, and I- I grabbed whatever this morning.” No one says anything. They can all tell he’s lying.

“Doesn’t your mom- ?” Bev asks, hesitatingly. Technically, they’re all old enough to prepare their lunch themselves, but their parents, or respective caretakers, still took care of it, usually even insisting to do so.

“N- no,” Bill simply says. The uncomfortable moment stretches, no one willing to ask the question everyone wants to know the answer to. Then, Eddie breaks his sandwich in half, wordlessly offering it to Bill. Bill looks shocked, not taking it. Eddie huffs impatiently.

“Take it. My mom puts too mustard on it and I fucking hate mustard anyway.” Bill takes it after a pause.

“I brought a ton of Brownies,” Mike says. “There’s enough for everyone, to be honest.” He takes out a big-ass Tupperware out of literally nowhere, and sets it on the space between his and Eddie’s seat.

“Mike, are your folks trying to fatten you up for slaughter?” Richie asks. It’s a fair question, because Mike is built like a young bull, though he has incredible cheekbones. Somehow, this breaks the tension just enough.

“Richie can’t have one,” Bev decides. Richie looks at her, betrayed. “No,” she says firmly.

“But why?” he whines.

“You’re eating butter and sugar on white bread,” Ben replies in her stead. “Any more sugar and you’ll get diabetes.”

“Ben,” Richie says darkly. “I thought we were friends.” Ben shrugs.

“Eh,” he says nonchalantly. Richie sputters. He can hear the others chuckling, even Stan, the fucking traitor.

“You guys suck,” Richie says, with feeling. He glares at the offending (delicious) brownies he can’t have. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Mike look carefully looking at Bev, who’s busy with her raw fish, before he looks at Richie. Then Mike grins at Richie, and mouths ‘later’.

Richie decides that Mike is an angel right then and there. He grins back.

“I wonder what Gray eats,” Bev says suddenly. They’re all quiet for a moment.

“Probably the s- souls of the innocent,” Bill answers darkly. A startled laugh escapes Stan, and Bill smiles slowly in return. Richie is this close to cooing at them.

“He’s a fucking creep,” Eddie mutters. “I feel like crawling out of my skin whenever he’s in a five mile radius.”

“So, always,” Beverly says. “I’m pretty sure it’s this town in general.”

“Yeah, but Gray is extra creepy,” Ben adds. “It just feels – sinister? Whenever he’s around, I mean.”

“You don’t say,” Richie sighs. “I’m pretty sure he’s a demon from hell, actually.”

“Isn’t that a b- bit exaggerated?” Bill says slowly. “I mean, he’s e- evil but-“

“Nah, Billy boy,” Richie says. “I’m only waiting for him to reveal his horns and tail, that’s all.” Bill looks dubious.

“To be honest, me too,” Mike adds. Richie beams.

“You’re my absolute favorite,” he tells Mike. Mike beams back.

“Don’t encourage him,” Stan tells Mike. “But yeah, I feel like I’m choking whenever he’s in the same room,” he continues, more quietly. Mike looks almost desperate to hug Stan, but doesn’t move a muscle.

“Me too,” Bill says.

“He belongs locked away,” Bev shudders. Ben next to her hums in agreement. The conversation lulls for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts.

“Hey, Bev,” Richie calls. She turns to look at him, eyebrow raised. “You still got that secret stash in your locker?” She stares at him for a moment, before she starts to grin mischievously.

“Why, Richard,” she croons. “This is a spectacular idea.” He answers her smirk with one of his own.

“My good fellows,” he begins, while getting up. “How do you feel about getting high as fuck?”

.

Eddie hates this entire ‘operation’ with a burning passion. He glares at the back of Richie’s head, who is almost skipping down the hallway.

“This is a bad idea,” Stan says to Richie. Richie turns around to look at Stan cheerfully, walking backwards to face him.

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little green plant, Staniel.”

“You’re hilarious,” Stan deadpans. “I’m more worried about Gray catching us, you moron.”

“Well,” Bill says. “Richie has his sp- special sixth sense for him, yeah?” Stan nods hesitatingly. “So he c- can tell when he’s close?”

“I sure can,” Richie pipes up from the front.

“If we get caught,” Eddie interjects, “I’ll tell Gray you blackmailed and kidnapped us.”

“Aw, Eds,” Richie says. Eddie bares his teeth at Richie for the nickname. “You’re cute when you’re pretending not to care about little old me,” Richie continues. “I could just eat you up.”

“Richie, for the love of fuck, stop trying to flirt with the poor guy,” Beverly says. “It’s pathetic,” Richie pouts at her. Eddie’s heart skips a beat.

‘Was he really flirting with me?’ Eddie wonders. He’s glad no one is looking at him, because he’s gaping like a fish. He just thought Richie was teasing, like he did with everyone else, too. Then he scolds himself for getting his hopes up.

“We’re here,” Beverly says, waving at her locker with flourish.

“Are we really doing this?” Mike ask, but he doesn’t sound concerned, just curious.

“I’m not actually blackmailing any of you,” Richie says, while he winks at Eddie. Eddie gets the sudden urge to punch him. “It’s a free country, you can do whatever the fuck you want,” Richie finishes.

“Here you go,” Beverly says to Richie, handing a small bag over. Richie holds it triumphantly, like a trophy, and crows in delight. Then, he hands it to Ben, who looks at Richie in bewilderment.

“For safekeeping, Benny,” he explains. “I mean, I would have totally stuffed it down your pants, but Bev would kill me if I got to third base first- fucking stop hitting me, Molly Ringwald,” he trails of in a yelp. Beverly had just sucker-punched Richie in his ribs.

“How about you stop being a prick,” she snaps right back. Ben looks up, exanimating the ceiling with forced interest, cheeks slightly pink.

“Can we please leave now?” Stan says, sounding two seconds away from murdering someone. Eddie can relate.

“I agree,” Bill says. “We sh- should get back through the cafeteria.”

“No dice,” Richie shakes his head. “It takes much longer.”

“But Gray would be less likely to skulk around there, no?” Mike adds. Richie bites his lip, and Eddie should really stop getting distracted-

“But-“

“I’m going that way,” Stan says, siding with Bill. The others voice their agreement, moving towards the gym. Eddie follows slowly, but looks back.

“C’mon Rich,” Beverly says, putting her hand on his shoulder. Richie sighs, but follows, stance almost defeated.

The trek through the school is relatively quiet, as no one wants to attract Gray’s attention. When they reach the cafeteria, they all groan collectively. Richie kicks at the closed gate in frustration.

“It makes sense that they would close off certain areas on the weekends,” Ben offers meekly.

“Shit,” Richie says. “We only have like, three minutes, before Gray checks on us.” Bev swears.

Great idea, Einstein,” Stan says to Richie. Richie whirls around, for once seeming genuinely angry.

“It sure as shit wasn’t my idea to head back through the cafeteria,” Richie hisses back.

“N- no,” Bill says miserably. “I- it was mine. I’m sorry.” He looks like he’s about to cry.

“Oh man,” Richie says, “I just can’t stay pissed at your face,” he tells Bill. He chews his lips again. For a moment he looks at Eddie, and Eddie doesn’t know how to handle the intensity in Richie’s eyes. He swallows. After a moment, Richie turns to Beverly. A series of complex looks pass between Beverly and Richie in the span of a few seconds. Then Beverly’s eyes widen, and she starts to shake her head.

“Richie, don’t you dare,” she says firmly. “He’ll seriously kill you this time.”

“Eh,” Richie says, going for nonplussed, but it comes out strangely flat. Eddie feels a pang in his chest, and he doesn’t know why. “Just make sure you’re all back in time, yeah?”

“Richie, fuck you-“ Beverly starts, more frantic than angry, but Richie is already taking off, and Eddie understands.

“Oh, no,” he says.

“Is he serious?” Mike asks. “Gray will lynch him.”

Richie starts belting out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody while banging his fists repeatedly against the lockers he passes just as he disappears around the corner.

“Oh, he’s serious,” Stan groans.

“Let’s go!” Ben exclaims.

.

Richie is fucked, and he knows it. In hindsight, running through the school tearing down anything he can reach and yelling “Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango” at the top of his lungs while Gray was out for his hide wasn’t the definition of a good idea. But getting the pot from Bev’s locker had been his ‘Great Idea’, like Stan had pointed out, and he wasn’t going to let the others hang for his shit. His thoughts briefly drift to Eddie’s big, brown doe-eyes, looking- well, not terrified, but something close to it, and those eyes do things to Richie. In this specific scenario, it had made his brain short-circuit, and here he was, ruining the rest of his schoolyear.

I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me,” Richie sings as he reaches the gym, but his voice is quieter now. Gray is onto him now, if the murderous vibes that Richie’s getting are any indication. Idly, he picks up a basketball, and starts shooting hoops, making sure the sound travels.

It’s less than a minute when Richie suddenly exhales, the feeling of dread is intensifying in the pit of his stomach. He sets the ball down slowly, but doesn’t turn around to where the entrance is. He’s about to shit his pants anyway, thanks.

“Richard,” Mr. Gray’s voice speaks from behind him. Richie feels like he’s two seconds away from puking his guts out on the gym floor. However, he forces himself to slowly turn around. Whatever quip he had prepared dies on the tip of his tongue at the sight of Mr. Grey.

Brilliant yellow eyes stare into his own, a look that promises nightmare and darkness. Richie’s knees start to tremble, and he balls his hands into fists, refusing to show weakness. The moment drags on, and neither of them move.

“Oh, Richie,” Mr. Gray sighs, almost benevolently, and moves towards him. Richie remains frozen on the spot, eyes still locked with Gray’s shining eyes. Somewhere in the very back of his brain, he realizes that those eyes are definitely not supposed to belong to a human being. “What is going on in that head of yours?” Mr. Gray wonders, and the calm features of his face are betrayed by his eyes, which are boring into Richie’s very soul, and Richie feels naked. He unthinkingly takes a step back as Mr. Gray comes uncomfortably close. Mr. Gray pauses, and then smiles – if it’s supposed to reassure Richie, it’s having the opposite effect.

“I-“ Richie begins, desperate to say something, anything, but he closes his mouth with a click at the downturn of Mr. Gray’s lips. Mr. Gray suddenly reaches out for Richie’s face, and Richie just stands there, because they did this dance before, and he knows what follows.

“Sometimes,” Mr. Gray begins to say. His fingers settle on Richie’s face, almost gently. Richie is pretty sure he blacked out there for a second. “Sometimes I wonder about you. There is something fundamentally wrong with you.” The grip on his face tightens, and Richie can’t help but gag. Then, Mr. Gray’s hand moves from his face to his neck. He brings his face unbearably close to Richie’s, and Richie averts his eyes. “It’s like you’re so desperate for any kind of attention that you’ll even take fear.” For a moment, Richie swears Gray’s face shifts to something completely alien and disturbing, but it’s gone a second later.

“I-“ he tries again, but the hand on his throat tightens and Richie thinks for a moment that Gray might actually try and strangle him to death, and he doesn’t dare say anything else.

“Quiet,” Mr. Gray croons. He studies Richie for a long time, before he lets go of Richie’s throat. Richie stumbles back, barely catching himself before he lands on his ass. “You’ll spend the rest of this detention secluded.” Richie’s eyes widen, because he had honestly hoped to avoid that room, but Gray’s voice leaves no room for argument. He can feel his eyes starting to sting and his hands have started shaking. “You’re breaking your own records at an alarming speed, Richie,” Mr. Gray speaks up. “It’s what, the third time this semester? If you continue at this rate, we’ll have to consider installing a light in there.” Gray turns away starts to walk out. As if pulled by strings, Richie follows. At the doorway, Gray halts.

“Oh, and Richie?” he asks, voice barely above a whisper. Richie stops in his tracks. “Do not mess with me like that again, or I will burn you out of existence,” Mr. Gray warns, looking at him from the corner of his eyes.

Richie feels like he’s being sucked into a black hole. He can do nothing but nod and follow Gray.

It feels like he’s walking towards his own execution.

.

Bill is pretty sure it hasn’t been more than two minutes that have passed since they all got back, hastily sliding into their seats, but it feels like an eternity. Everyone is nervous and twitchy, not to mention guilty. Beverly looks like she’s about to lose her damn mind, aggressively chewing on her thumb. No one dares to move from their seat or speak, the threat of Gray looming over their heads. Bill feels responsible, because it had been his idea to take a detour, and now Richie is most likely getting lynched while he’s just - sitting here. He bites down on the inside of his cheek, hard.

The door slams open, and they all snap to attention. Bill startles, and accidentally bites the inside of his cheek hard enough to taste blood. Then, Richie stumbles in gracelessly, Gray just a foot behind him.

“Get your things,” Mr. Gray tells Richie, voice for once void of the strange lilting, instead dark and harsh. Richie moves mechanically towards his seat, and Bill can tell by the nervous rustling behind him that they’re all trying to get a look on his face, but Richie studiously doesn’t look at any of them, half of his face obscured by his wild hair. But Bill can see the subtle tremble that shakes his entire frame when Richie passes him. Also, what little he sees from Richie’s face, is that it’s completely void of color.

“Mr. Tozier will spend the rest of his detention elsewhere,” Mr. Gray offers as an explanation, but nothing else. Two seats over, Stan shifts, almost as if he wants to ask ‘where?’, but refrains. From behind him, Bev makes a barely audible sound, full of anger.

Richie doesn’t react to any of this, and Bill has never seen him this subdued. Didn’t even think it was possible for Richie to look so colorless. Gray’s gaze is completely fixed on Richie, and pretty much ignores them all. Then he turns around and leaves without a word. Richie follows, and Bill gets up, chair scraping across the floor, but he cannot decide what (or if) he should do something, because he might make things worse. The moment passes, and the door shuts behind Richie.

It’s deathly silent in the library, all of them completely flabbergasted. Then Beverly slams her fist on her desk and yells “Fuck!”

“What the hell?” Mike asks. No one answers, because no one can make head or tails of the situation. “No seriously. What the hell just happened?”

“Beverly?” Stan asks, turning around to look at her. The rest of them do, too. Bev is still chewing on her thumb, until Ben reaches out and gently takes her hand away from her mouth and holds it in his own.

“I- no,” she says haltingly. “I can’t. Richie made me promise and-“ she squeezes her eyes shut, and shakes her head.

“Beverly,” Bill speaks up. “Wha- what just happened- that’s n- not normal. Any of it.” She looks up at him, but still shakes her head.

“I’ve never seen Richie behave like that,” Stan interjects. “Like, ever.” Stan looks down. “It was- scary.”

“Did that happen before?” Eddie asks. His face is a picture of carefully contained fury, lips thin.

“Yes,” Bev replies, as if the answers is dragged out of her. She looks like she wants to be anywhere but here, and Bill can’t blame her.

“Where is he taking him?” Eddie asks her.

“I’m not- not entirely sure where,” she says. “That usually only happens when he’s alone in detention, and he,” she sighs heavily. “Richie refuses to tell me where it is exactly. Or what happens. But I think it’s somewhere in the basement.”

“Shit,” Stan says. Bev nods in agreement.

“I do know it’s somewhere near the stairs,” she offers. “And-“ she stops.

“And?” Ben asks her, so, so gently, not pressing, but encouraging.

“And since, since this started to happen he,” she stops again, unsure of how to continue. “He started to have a thing with confined, dark places.”

“A thing.” Mike deadpans.

“A- are you s- s- seriously telling me that, that Gray l- locks him away s- somewhere?” Bill asks her. He hates how his stutter gets worse when he’s upset, but he has a hard time even gathering his thoughts, let alone words. Bev looks away.

“But isn’t that-“ Ben halts. The words “wrong” and “abuse” hang in the room, unspoken. Bev snorts, humorlessly.

“It is.”

“Then why the fuck didn’t you two go and tell someone?” Eddie almost yells. Bev looks up so fast that her red hair flies everywhere.

“Don’t you think we tried?” She snaps viciously. “Of fucking course we did, but-“ she shakes her head. “No one wanted to hear it. When he said something, he spent every evening in detention for three weeks.” And Bev looks so, so angry, Bill fears she will catch fire at any second.

“I think I know where he might be,” Mike suddenly says. They all turn to look at him expectantly. “Most rooms downstairs are either big storage rooms, with light, or boiler rooms and such, but,” he raises a finger. “There’s a small room, not much bigger than a broom closet, used for old files from the library.” He shakes his head. “The bulb has been broken for ages.”

“Where is it exactly?” Eddie asks.

“Uh,” Mike says, startled from the intensity in Eddie’s voice. “You know where they store the old gym stuff? The one that’s unusable or outdated?” Eddie nods. “The next room to the left.”

“Okay, thanks,” Eddie says, and gets up. He moves towards the stairs that lead upstairs to the break room. They stare after him.

“Where are you going?” Ben calls out, completely thrown.

“I’m going to get Richie, of course.” Eddie doesn’t even bother turning around.

“What the hell,” Bev mutters, and gets up to follow him. Stan is quick to follow her, and curious, the rest of them start to trudge up the stairs as well. When Bill reaches the room, Eddie is already standing on a table on his tiptoes, tossing the opening to the air vents to the ground.

“Mike,” Eddie says. “If you would be so kind to help me up.” Mike frowns, but moves towards Eddie. “I just need a small push,” Eddie explains.

“Sure,” Mike shrugs, bending down and grabbing Eddie’s legs.

“Are you sure you’ve thought that through?” Bev asks, skeptically. Eddie looks at her.

“Would you rather Richie stays down there for another five hours?” Bev bristles.

“You’re a little prick,” she tells Eddie, but it sounds fond.

“Have y- you done this before?” Bill asks Eddie. He nods at Bill.

“Yeah. The wonders of being small,” he shrugs. “But it’s so fucking dirty in there I usually don’t.” He visibly shudders.

“I’m sure there’s a story behind that,” Stan mutters.

“Uh-huh,” Eddie hums in agreement.

“Well, up you go,” Mike says, firmly grabbing Eddie around his knees and heaving him up with his (very broad, Bill can’t help but notice) shoulders.

“Wait,” Bev says. She reaches into her bag and pulls out her lighter. “I want that back,” she says, and hands over her lighter.

“Thanks,” Eddie says after a moment, when he understands, taking it. He wiggles into the opening with Mike’s help. Then he makes a loud gagging sound. “Ugh, it’s so gross in here.” They hear him carefully moving, further away from them, until he’s gone.

“That was, something,” Stan says.

“You know what I wonder?” Ben asks thoughtfully. “Eddie is light and small enough to fit in there, sure, but what about Richie?”

“H- he is ridiculously huge,” Bill agrees.

“Well, I hope Richie breaks a leg and dies,” Stan says, but everyone and their mother can tell he’s worried.

“Oh,” Bev exclaims in a coo. “Is that human emotion I detect?”

“Yeah, homicide,” Stan replies evenly.

“Let’s get back to our seats,” Mike suggests, effectively averting the oncoming squabbling.

.

Eddie is valiantly trying to ignore all the dust and dirt around him as he crawls forward, but it’s hard. He knows it’s not far now, though, and so he grits his teeth and swipes the dirt in front of him away as best as he can (and how the hell did a peanut-jelly sandwich from three years ago end up here anyway? Gross). It’s been a long while since he crawled through the air vents, but he’s pretty confident he knows where’s he’s going. It’s been getting darker since he reached the basement, and he finally takes out Bev’s lighter.

The light it gives off is shitty at best, but it’s better than nothing. He moves down further, until he’s 99% sure he’s above the room Mike had described. A small part of him can’t believe he’s doing this. He’s never talked to Richie before today but-

But there’s a connection to him he can’t place. To be fair, he feels it to all of the people attending this fucked up Saturday detention, but Richie-

He lets the thought trail off. He can think about that later. He feels around, until his hands catch the right opening to the air vent. He extinguishes the small lighter and puts it back into his pocket. Then he carefully pulls until he opens the air vent. It’s pretty much pitch black without the lighter, and he doesn’t want to accidentally hit Richie with half of the ceiling, so he puts it carefully away next to him, instead of letting it fall down. He fumbles for the lighter again, and ignites it.

His eyes take a minute to adjust to the light. When they do, he looks down, in search of Richie. At first glance, he can’t see him, and wonders if he or Mike guessed the room wrong. He sweeps the room again, when he spots Richie finally, and-

He feels his heart break just a little. Richie is curled in a corner, knees drawn to his chest and head buried in his crossed arms. The lighter gives off barely enough for Eddie to see much but- For someone as tall as Richie, he looks incredibly small, and Eddie feels a renewed urge to eviscerate Gray.

It seems Richie hadn’t noticed Eddie at all.

“Hey,” Eddie says into the silence. Richie startles so violently he bangs his head on the wall. He curses and starts rubbing the spot he hit, straightening himself.

“What the fuck,” he can hear Richie whisper and looks as Richie looks to the door in clear bewilderment. Eddie giggles mischievously. Richie looks finally up, trying to locate the sound. Then, his eyes bug out of skull.

“Hiya, Richie,” Eddie smirks.

“What the fuck,” Richie says again. “Eds?”

“No,” Eddie rolls his eyes. “Your fairy godmother.” Richie chuckles a bit wetly, and when Eddie squints down, he can see half-dried tear tracks on Richie’s cheeks. He feels like punching something.

“Does that mean you’re getting me to the ball?”

“No, but I am getting you out of here,” Eddie replies.

“How in the world did you get into the ceiling?” Richie wonders. “I’m not hallucinating, am I?”

“Well, we didn’t smoke Beverly’s pot yet, so unless you’ve been holding out on us-“

“Alright, alright,” Richie says, and gets up, dusting himself off. He’s trying to act normal, but there is something off about him. Eddie hesitates.

“Are you- are you alright, Rich?” Richie stills, not looking at Eddie. “Because, we’re getting into the air vents again and-“

“Oh fuck me,” Richie sighs. “Bev said something, didn’t she?”

“Well, to be fair, the whole scene back in the library was just- surreal. And- if you’re not fine with it, I can just stay with you, or leave you the lighter, and-“

“I’m good,” Richie interrupts. He finally looks up to Eddie again, and he looks almost soft. Then his face shifts to the familiar grin, and Eddie suddenly can’t help but wonder how many times Richie fakes it. “Besides,” Richie says in a swooning, girl-voice. “I have my knight in shining armor with me, haven’t I? I’ll be sound and safe in your strong, tiny arms.”

“You’re an asshole,” Eddie replies, really glad it’s too dark to see him blush ever so slightly. “You better watch it, or you’ll learn how much damage these ‘tiny’ arms can do.” He raises a fist. Richie grins brilliantly, suddenly much more real.

“So,” Richie says, changing the subject. “I don’t fit in there,” he states. “I’m pretty sure my head just barely fits through, let alone my shoulders.”

“Just do it like- like cats, and align your shoulders so they fit, for fuck’s sake,” Eddie says, exasperated. “And it’s not my problem your head is so inflated it won’t fit through there.”

“Do I look like a cat?” Richie asks, ignoring the jab about his head. Pity, because as attractive as Richie is, he should take pointers for being less of a dick. Pun fully intended.

“True, you’re as graceless as a newborn puppy. My mistake.”

“Oh, but puppies are cute!” Richie exclaims. “Does that mean you think I’m cute?”

“As if,” Eddie replies. “A fucking cockroach is cuter than you.”

“You say the sweetest things, Eddie Spaghetti.”

“I’m leaving,” Eddie threatens. “You got ten seconds to get up here or you can stay here and rot.” Not that he’d actually leave him in this- this prison. From how Richie is looking at him, Richie knows as well, and smiles very softly.

“Yowza,” Richie says. He clambers up on a few boxes, and without much difficulty heaves himself into the opening. Eddie thinks it’s unfair that he’s so tall when Eddie himself is so small. After a bit of a struggle getting wholly through, Richie kneels down in front of Eddie, and beams. “Lead the way, Sir Edmund.”

.

Mike drums his fingers against his desk. It’s been almost half an hour, and he has a feeling that Eddie should’ve been back by now. True, he has no idea how long it takes to navigate through the air vents (and how Eddie even knows how to do this is beyond Mike) but he just has a feeling. In front of him, Stan is almost aggressively clicking his pen, clearly just as restless as Mike – as any of them. Mike notices that Bill’s shoulders are still slumped. Mike frowns to himself. Is Bill this guilty that it’s still eating him? He’d really like to ask Bill, but he’s almost completely shut down, and Mike doesn’t know how to approach him when he’s like this.

Beverly is waiting in the break room for Eddie and Richie to come back, so Mike can’t see or even hear her, but her nervous energy carries down to them. Ben keeps glancing back, but they had all agreed that only one of them should be absent in case Gray decided to come back. Bill had initially insisted to be the one on the lookout, but Beverly told him that she’s a regular in detention anyway – Gray wouldn’t find it odd if she was smoking in the break room.

Suddenly, he hears voices drift from the break room, and they all turn to look. He can hear Beverly’s first, and he can’t make out the words, but she sounds confused. Then, he can make out Eddie’s voice too, and wow, but he sounds pissed – he’s actually yelling, but they’re too far away for Mike to make sense of the high pitched yelling. After a moment, Beverly joins the yelling.

There is an ominous crack sounding through the library. Then, he hears Richie, all of a sudden, yelling “Oh, shit!” - and a part of the ceiling cracks, and falls, and Richie falls with it.

Stan and Ben are half out of their seats, when Eddie and Beverly come running down the stairs. Three seconds later, Richie comes around a corner, disheveled and dusty, but otherwise unharmed. Mike glances to where the ceiling is totaled, and winces. At least, it’s not visible unless you know where to look.

“Sup?” Richie beams at them, completely nonplussed. Stan falls heavily in his seat, either relieved or just done.

“I don’t even want to know,” Stan says.

Beverly and Eddie slide into their seats, both glaring at Richie. Richie turns to Stan to reply, when he tenses up. Mike knows enough about Richie now that he can tell that this is his ‘Gray-is-coming’ face. Without another word, he moves over to Eddie and ducks down.

“The fuck are you-“ Eddie starts, but Richie shushes him, crawling behind Eddie’s seat, and then hides under Eddie’s table. He looks completely ridiculous, trying to fold himself in a space barely big enough for his legs. He presses himself closer to Eddie in an attempt to hide better. Eddie starts to curse at him again, but Richie quickly shakes his head. Eddie goes quiet immediately, and so do the others.

Richie’s sense for Grey is uncanny, as a moment later, the door opens. For once, Mr. Gray seems to be actually harried, which makes him look unhinged and even more of a lunatic.

“What,” he hisses out, voice like shattering glass, “happened?”

No one says a word.

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” Mr. Gray says, composing himself. “What was that noise?”

“Wh- what noise?” Bill asks, and though Mike can’t see his face, because he’s sitting directly in front of Mike, he can tell that Bill’s laying it on thick.

“What do you mean, ‘what noise’?” Mr. Gray asks, angry. “The ruckus!”

“There was no ruckus, sir,” Ben replies, voice absolutely angelic. Mr. Gray looks like he’s about to combust. Mike presses his lips together in an attempt to keep himself from smiling.

“Maybe you could describe the ruckus, sir?” Eddie asks, eyes wide and voice sweet.

“You are testing my patience, Mr. Kaspbrak,” Gray tells him, eyes bright yellow. At the same moment, there’s a noise. They all freeze. Mike can see from his periphery that Richie hit his head in an attempt to sit up. Immediately, Eddie slams his fists on the table. Mike does the same.

Grey looks at them as if they’re insane. “What are you doing?”

“Was that the noise? We’re sorry, we were just-“ Mike begins but trails off, mouth hanging open.

Eddie just let out a squeak that turned into a moan. From what Mike can see, his pupils are somewhat blown, and his face is starting to flush. Everyone gapes at him. Eddie looks embarrassed, but also pissed. He twitches, and Mike sort of can see that Eddie just kicked Richie in what was likely retaliation. Richie groans, but at the same moment Beverly yawns loudly, mostly drowning out Richie.

“I’m very sorry,” Eddie says bashfully. “I have- allergies.”

“Allergies,” Mr. Gray echoes.

“Yes,” Eddie says firmly.

“I am not one of your empty headed peers, Mr. Kaspbrak. Do you take me for one of them?” Mr. Gray asks. His voice is soft, almost loving, but they can see the glint of pure murder behind that expression.

“Of course not, sir.” It’s Stan that replies, voice and posture completely demure. “You are a very- devoted teacher, if the way you hold detention is any indication.” Stan’s tone is completely agreeable, but the words still manage to radiate pure venom.

A few seconds pass, and Mike is pretty sure he can hear crickets chirping. Holy shit, but for that Stan is so quiet, he’s actually a badass. Mike’s heart beats faster, and he’s half-sure that someone is bound to hear.

“Hm,” Mr. Gray interrupts his thoughts. “Very well. I will have to catch you in the act another time.” With that, he turns around and leaves. Mike takes a second to breathe again. To be honest, he’s starting to believe Richie’s theory that Gray is some sort of hell-spawn.

Speaking of, Richie starts to giggle from under Eddie’s table, and though Eddie scoots back to let Richie up, he’s repeatedly smacking Richie wherever he can reach, though not hard.

“You. Are. An. Asshole,” he emphasizes each word with a hit. Richie is laughing, though.

“I’m very sorry Eds, but your thigh looked very inviting. Couldn’t resist those daisy dukes.” He winks at Eddie, who turns red, not from embarrassment, but from anger.

“Pig,” Eddie mutters, turning away. “See if I crawl through a dirty air vent for you again.” At the words, Richie’s face transforms into something almost delicate, a soft smile playing at the corner of his mouth. It makes him look soft, and Mike has never thought he’d ever associate the word ‘soft’ with Richie Tozier. It’s gone after a moment, and Richie moves over to Ben.

“Hand over the goods, my good fellow,” he tells Ben, holding out his hand expectantly. Ben reaches into his pocket, but before he can hand the baggie over, Beverly intercepts.

“Since that’s mine,” she says sternly. Richie shrugs.

“Sure,” he says. “Lead the way, fair lady.” She rolls her eyes, but gets up. When she’s close enough, she looks him over. Richie looks away after a moment. She sighs, but starts walking towards the reading area, where the library had invested in some comfy armchairs and sofas. Richie turns around and winks at them all, before following her.

Richie is good at putting on an act, but Mike can still tell he’s pretty much not okay.

“We’re seriously doing this,” Stan mutters, clearly disapproving. Mike doesn’t like the idea to blaze up in his library of all places, but-

“Fuck it,” he can hear Stan say quietly, as he gets up to follow them. After a moment, so does Eddie, and Ben as well. Bill turns around to watch them leave, before he looks at Mike.

“Might- might as well,” Bill says. Mike exhales.

“I have no idea how to explain any of this to Mrs. Finch,” Mike grumbles. Mrs. Finch is the head librarian, and though she’s generally agreeable, she’s terrifying when someone messes with her library. And there’s a chunk of the ceiling missing, and now they’re about to get high here, too.

Bill starts to laugh good-naturedly, and Mike can’t help but think that it’s one of the most beautiful sounds he’s ever heard –it makes Bill’s face light up, and Mike swallows, looking away for a moment.

It seems he’ll be walking out of detention with two unrequited crushes instead of one.

.

Ben watches with fascination as Beverly rolls a blunt with deft, experienced fingers. They all joined Richie and Beverly in a loose circle. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he feels like should disapprove and walk away and do his assignment, because he’s already behind with homework. But he’d rather spend his time with his- friends? Are they friends now? He chews his lips in thought. Sometimes, it feels like everyone is just sort of humoring him, out of pity or manners. He hopes desperately that it isn’t the case today, because he likes all of them, and- well, he’s honestly a bit lonely. He winces at the thought a moment later. ‘Pathetic,’ a voice in his head says, and though she’s never used that exact word, it sounds a lot like his mother’s voice.

“Hey,” Bev says suddenly, scooting over to him. “You should cheer up. If you’re in a bad mood, this,” she waves the now finished joint in her hand, “won’t be fun.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Yeah, you were,” she interrupts. “So what’s it gonna take for you to cheer up?” she asks him while she hands the joint over to Richie, who starts rustling through Beverly’s bag, until Eddie tosses the lighter he still had in his pocket over. Ben notes that Eddie still looks partially pissed. Beverly follows his gaze, then grins.

“Hey, Eddie?” she asks. Eddie looks up from where he’s glaring at the carpet. “Wanna tell us what happened back there?” Richie starts to smirk, but hastily scoots away when Eddie raises his fist, glare truly on an epic proportion.

“What happened is that Richie is a pig,” he snaps. Beverly waves the comment off.

“Well, I knew that,” she replies, ignoring Richie’s indignant ‘Hey!?’. “I’m curious how he made you do that sound.”

Eddie turns scarlet, choking on absolutely nothing.

“I- he- that’s, ugh,” he stutters. The rest begin to chuckle in amusement.

“I actually didn’t, like, do anything?” Richie interjects. “I was just trying to hide better, and accidentally had my head on his thigh for like, a second.” He turns to Eddie.

Accidentally?!” Eddie screeches. Richie scratches his head, but Ben can see the mischievous grin playing on his lips. “You- and then your hair, you’re- fuck off!” Eddie trails off in a very angry huff, and sinks deeper into the couch he’s currently occupying, scowling ferociously. Richie cackles, and the others join in. Ben feels a bit sorry for Eddie, because whatever Richie did has left Eddie incoherent.

“That’s better,” Beverly tells Ben enthusiastically. “Here.” She hands him the joint.

“Uhm,” Ben says, hesitating. “I don’t-“

“Oh,” Beverly says. “Listen, no one is gonna pressure you, okay?” She assures him.

“Maybe later?” he asks. She smiles at him, before she turns to Mike, who sighs disapprovingly, before he takes the joint and takes a long drag.

“Atta boy!” Richie whoops.

“Ugh,” Mike coughs. “What is that?” he passes the joint to Bill, who doesn’t hesitate to take a drag.

“That’s the good shit,” Richie grins.

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Mike grimaces. Bill tries to hand the joint over to Eddie, who looks like the joint just had personally offended him. However, Stan, who is sitting with Eddie on the couch, reaches out and takes it instead. Bill’s and Stan’s hand brush slightly, and they both startle. Ben can see Richie’s suggestive grin, but he seems content enough not to say anything. Stan takes a puff, but suddenly starts to cough violently, almost dropping the joint. Eddie scoots away from Stan.

“There, there,” Richie says, having reached over and thumping Stan on his back. “First time?” He asks Stan teasingly.

“That is vile,” Stan rasps. To Ben’s astonishment, Stan takes another drag, which goes over much more smoothly.

“I can literally see all of you getting lung cancer,” Eddie says.

“I don’t think you know what literally means,” Stan tells him.

“Besides,” Beverly chimes in. “It’s therapeutic.” She winks. Richie starts to laugh, and Stan hands him the joint, to ‘shut him the hell up’.

“This is just what I need,” Richie sighs contently, taking his time. Now that Ben’s really looking at him, he can see that Richie still looks too pale, although not as bad as he did when Gray had brought him back. And his glasses don’t really do anything to hide the red-rimmed eyes either.

Beverly had stilled at Richie’s words, but she doesn’t look at him, as if she can’t bring herself to. In fact, they’re all sort of not-watching Richie, but none know how to approach the subject. Richie acts completely normal, and yet there is something off. Ben can’t put his finger on it, but it’s in the way he moves, more rigid than before, as if something is restraining him.

“So,” Bill begins. “How did you fall through the ceiling?” Richie blinks, then smirks. Eddie makes a sound like an angry raccoon.

“Well-“ Richie starts, but Eddie interrupts him.

“It’s because he’s an idiot.” Stan next to him snorts.

“That’s rude,” Richie defends. “I can’t help if I was distracted by your pert little-“ Eddie sort of screech-growls, drowning out Richie’s next words. Ben winces at the pitch of Eddie’s voice.

“You’re a dumbass, I told you to keep enough distance so what happened wouldn’t happen,” Eddie stresses. “It’s actually amazing that you’re completely unharmed, come to think of it.”

“I’m just that amazing,” Richie replies, puffing out his chest.

“Amazingly stupid, you mean,” Beverly grins.

“Oi,” Richie whines.

“But what happened?” Ben asks. Eddie sighs.

“I told him to keep his distance because there’s this thing called weight distribution,” he directs the last words at Richie. “And of course he didn’t listen, and like an idiot, he fell through the ceiling.”

“Why were you yelling at him?” Eddie looks at Stan in confusion. “Before he crashed through the ceiling,” Stan clarifies. “You, and then Bev too, were yelling at him?”

“Oh, that.” Beverly shakes her head. “The ceiling was already groaning under his ass and he has nothing better to do than start telling a lame joke.”

“About the blonde chick and the dog?” Stan asks. Beverly nods. Stan turns to Richie. “Richie, that joke sucked in fifth grade, and it sucks now.”

“Excuse you, that joke is great,” Richie replies, clearly offended. He passes the joint over to Bev, who also takes her time. She slowly inhales the smoke, and her red lips stretch to a lazy grin, blue eyes lighting up with amusement.

She’s the most beautiful girl Ben has ever seen.

“How does the- the joke go?” Bill asks.

“Oh no,” Stan says.

“Oh, yes,” Richie crows. “Okay, so, a naked blond walks into a bar, with a poodle under one arm and a two foot salami under the other-“

.

Stan is hanging off the couch, his legs propped up on the back of it, feet hanging in the air. He watches Ben and Bill upside down, while they’re trying to have a race around the library. Mike and Bev are judging, and they do it horribly wrong, messing up the time they’re counting, and then arguing about it loudly.

It’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen. He snickers to himself.

“How are you doing?” Richie asks gleefully, crawling over to him. For a moment, Stan wonders where Eddie went, because he sure as fuck hadn’t noticed him leave.

“Everything’s spinning,” Stan mumbles. Richie hums, and sits on the ground next to where Stan’s head is hanging in the air.

“In a good way? Or are you about to puke?”

“’m good,” Stan replies. “But your face is kinda disgusting anyways.” Richie starts to giggle, and it sets Stan off again. Then Stan almost slides off the couch and they laugh even harder.

“You’re cheating!” Bev yells at Bill heatedly, pushing her hair out of her face. Richie and Stan look over. Bill is running between the shelves, cackling manically. For some reason he lost his shirt, not that Stan is complaining.

“You’re just saying that because Ben is your favorite,” Mike complains loudly.

“Well, you’ve been assigning points to Bill!” She exclaims.

“So?” Mike replies.

So it’s a race and there are no points in a race! It’s the time that counts and your points are invalid, Mike.”

Ben tries to interject, but they don’t hear him.

“This is great,” Richie says. Out of nowhere, he procures a bag of popcorn. “Want some?” he asks Stan, offering the bag. Stan could eat, but suddenly he feels very drowsy.

“I’m gonna sleep,” he informs Richie. He struggles with getting up, until Richie tugs him along. Stan curls into himself, and Richie moves to an armchair, long limbs stretching out. They’re quiet for a time, watching, or in Stan’s case, listening to the others. Stan opens one eye, squinting at Richie. Richie is uncharacteristically quiet, and not because he isn’t saying anything. Stan knows that Richie can, as a matter of fact, shut up if the occasion calls for it. But the way he’s sitting is too lifeless for him; completely lost in thought, not really seeing beyond his glasses.

His buzzed brain has a bit of a hard time forming a coherent thought, but Richie looks grim, face still a too pale and though he always had been gangly, but he somehow looks stretched too thin.

He wants to ask, but his eye falls closed, and he dozes off.

.

Bill stumbles through the library aimlessly. Well, he’s actually trying to find his shirt, but he can’t remember where he had thrown it. When he rounds around a corner, he smacks into Eddie.

“Uh, sor- sorry,” Bill mumbles. Eddie waves the apology away with a shirt in his hand- wait. “Is tha- that my shirt?” He asks.

“Well, it’s certainly not mine,” Eddie replies. Bill makes grabby hands at it, and Eddie grins, handing it over. “You’re in a good mood,” he comments.

“Well, you- you know,” Bill shrugs, putting his shirt on.

“Looks like you were having fun,” Eddie motions back to where Mike and Bev are still arguing over how to properly judge Ben and his’ race. He should probably get back, before they eat each other alive.

“Did you really n- not want to try any?” Bill asks him.

“Well,” Eddie hesitates. “I mean- maybe?”

“But?”

“It’s just. I used to have asthma, or at least I thought I did,” Bill frowns, because he’s not quite sure how you can’t be sure if you have a condition like asthma or not. “And I don’t,” Eddie adds, firmly, though Bill thinks it’s more for his own sake than Bill’s. “But the thought is still sort of stuck in my mind and, well,” he sighs, looking frustrated. Bill understands though.

“It’s o- okay if you don’t want to, but if you do want to try you should go ask Richie,” Bill tells him. Eddie picks at the hem of his shorts.

“Maybe,” Eddie amends.

“Can- can I ask you something?” Bill says. Eddie looks up at him, then shrugs. “Why did you think you ha- had asthma?” Eddie’s face turns dark, and Bill wonders if he just overstepped some boundary by a mile.

“You know about my mom, right?” Eddie asks, voice tight. Bill nods. Seventh grade had been memorable. Bill doesn’t know what exactly happened, but he does remember that Eddie’s mom had practically kicked down the door to the principal’s office with a miserable looking Eddie getting dragged along.

“Uh, sure,” Bill replies.

“She, uhm, well. I always though I must be the sickest boy in all of Derry,” Eddie sighs. “She used to tell me about how sick I was, that I needed medications for this and that, that I had allergies, that I was delicate, when I really wasn’t. And I just went along with it, and it really escalated. Like,” Eddie takes a shuddering breath, and Bill realizes how much it must take for Eddie not to scream out of anger. “She made me stay at home because of a small cut, out of fear it would get infected, told me how I’d have to listen to her or else I’d die of some obscure sickness and I believed her.”

“I mean, sh- she’s your mom,” Bill says, after a beat. He doesn’t know what else he should say. Eddie snorts.

“She had me swallow a dozen pills a day,” he continued. “Gazebos. They were bullshit.” Bill blinks, then hides a smile. “And I found out from Greta Keene, of all people.”

“Greta, the pha- pharmacists’ daughter?”

“Yup,” Eddie confirms. “I was unbelievably pissed, like, I’ve never felt so angry in my life.” He kicks at a shelf. “That was in seventh grade.”

“I remember,” Bill says, because everyone remembered. Eddie had been closed off from other kids in school up until seventh grade, resisting any form of dangerous or physical activities. Then one day, he came to school and just picked a fight with Belch Higgins, of all people. From then on, he had seemed to be on a warpath with everyone until his mother came to school a few weeks later, and Eddie stayed two weeks at home. After that, Eddie seemed subdued, and was excused from gym and any other outdoor activities, and slowly, no one talked to Eddie anymore.

“And, well, that’s the reason I thought I had asthma. And a ton of other stuff, and none of it was true.” Eddie leans on a shelf, before slowly letting himself sink to the ground. He looks a second away from seriously erupting. Bill slides to the ground next to Eddie.

“That sucks,” Bill says with feeling. His own parents weren’t fond of him, but at least they left him alone. “Is she still like that?”

“She tries damn hard,” Eddie mutters. “And sometimes, I just let her, because I just want some peace and quiet from her.” He shakes his head. “I guess that makes me pathetic.”

“No,” Bill says at the same moment, firmly. He gently sets a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “You’re not path- pathetic. Your mom sucks and you des- deserve much better.” Eddie finally looks at him, eyes wide. Then he ducks his head, smiling.

“You’re pretty amazing, Bill,” he tells Bill.

.

“- And then, this idiot,” Bev smiles so hard her cheeks hurt, motioning to Richie who is picking his teeth with her hairbrush, of all things, “Just straight goes and flings himself into the garbage can and rolls away while in it.” Mike and Ben explode into laughter, loud enough that Stan opens one eye and mutters ‘Fuck off’. Richie rolls his eyes good-naturedly at Bev.

“That’s about the only thing that I did this past year that was straight,” Richie whispers to Ben conspiratorially. Mike whistles, and Richie winks at them all.

“Why do you do stuff like that?” Ben asks curiously.

“What? Stupid shit?” Richie asks. Ben nods. “Because- because I can, I guess?”

“He likes the attention,” Stan grunts, sitting up.

“You done with your beauty sleep?” Richie asks sweetly.

“Yeah, you should try it sometime, couldn’t hurt with the way you look,” Stan says back just as sweetly.

“I am a gift from the heavens,” Richie replies sunnily. “Ben would date me, right?”

“I’m sorry, Richie,” Ben says. “But I don’t date people with an IQ lower than a sponge.” Stan, who was drinking from a water bottle, snorts so hard he sprays water everywhere. It all sets them off anew, and they’re all laughing so hard that there are tears in their eyes.

“Hey,” Stan says, after he regains his ability to speak again. Bev can see clearly that he’s still riding on a buzz, but apparently a nap did wonders. “Where’s Bill? And Eddie?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” Bev says. “Ooh,” she exclaims, getting an idea. “We should go look for them, like, a scavenger hunt!” They all cheer, and Ben looks at her with an open expression.

“That,” he begins, “Is the best idea I’ve ever heard!” He smiles at her. She can feel her cheeks warm, thankfully, they were already warm from laughing before. Damn, but Ben was just- genuinely sweet.

“I’m afraid you’re gonna lose this one,” Mike says. “I have to hunt down our chickens every other day back home, and they’re cunning little dinosaurs – with feathers. You guys don’t stand a chance,” he smirks playfully, flexing his muscles. Bev whistles, and so do Richie and- Stan? She watches Stan stumble up, and he must still be pretty buzzed.

“C’mon, you losers,” Stan tells them.

“Loser yourself,” Richie replies, but gets up as well. “Last one to tickle Eddie has to write everyone’s essay!” And with that, he takes off.

“You fuck!” Beverly screams gleefully, and chases after him.

.

“Eddiekins, there you are!” Richie shouts, and barrels into Eddie, who struggles for a moment with his weight, before pushing Richie off him. Bill next to him huffs, amused.

“Don’t fucking call me that, Richie, what the hell,” Eddie tells the other boy, who had just landed on his ass. Richie smiles wide at him, and goddamn, Eddie’s gonna have to make an appointment with a cardiologist, because these heart palpations can’t be normal.

“I won!” Richie grins, getting up again. The rest of their Saturday detention party trots around the corner where Bill and Eddie had been holed up.

“You cheated,” Ben informs Richie sullenly.

“I did not,” Richie replies, appalled. “How dare you insinuate I would sully the holy rules of this sacred sport, my good fellow?” he continues, voice posh and in what is probably a British accent.

“Richie, you tripped Ben and me and pushed Beverly into a bookshelf,” Mike says dryly.

“Yeah, thanks for that, you asshole,” Beverly tells Richie, trying to put her short hair into something resembling order.

“And all of that,” Stan starts, grinning viciously. “Because you wanted to be the first to tickle Eddie.”

“Wait, what-“ Eddie starts, blush blooming violently, but Richie is already on him and starts tickling his sides. “No, Richie- fffffhahs, you fucker-“ Eddie is flailing violently, trying to get away from this gangly-limbed troll, while Richie cackles like a maniac, when Eddie slams backwards into Bill, who starts flailing himself, which results in a heavy thud, and the tickling stops suddenly.

“Oh shit,” Bev breathes, in a tone that shows she isn’t sure if she’s allowed to laugh or not. Stan makes the decision for her and starts laughing hysterically, head buried into Mike’s bicep.

“Oh shit,” Bill echoes her, but it sounds shocked. “Ruh- Richie, are you al- alright?” Eddie stares at Richie, who had curled into himself, face buried into both hands. He hadn’t said anything so far, and Eddie almost takes a step towards him in concern, when Richie suddenly groans, then his head shoots up, and he points one finger at Bill.

“Bill, you fucking broke my nose,” he starts wailing, blood spurting in every direction. Eddie scrambles back, because that’s just disgusting. Bill looks this close to crying, when Mike intervenes.

“Richie, shut up for a moment,” Mike says. “Tilt your head back- like that, yeah. Anyone got a tissue?” he asks, while leaning closer to Richie’s face and assessing the damage. Eddie mechanically hands him tissues which he always keeps in his pockets, watching Richie’s face transfixed. Bill is still hovering. Mike starts cleaning some of the blood off, and then hums.

“Am I gonna live, Doc?” Richie asks. Mike grins.

“Well, the good news is your nose isn’t broken, you drama queen.” Bill exhales in relief next to Eddie. “The bad news is, your face still looks the same.”

“Thanks,” Richie mutters, rolling his eyes. There’s more blood coming from his nose.

“Is- Is that normal?” Eddie asks. “It’s a lot of blood.” Mike shrugs.

“It just seems that way, don’t worry. If he keeps his head tilted up and shuts up for a few minutes he should be fine.”

“Richie, oh my g- god, I am so, so sorry,” Bill says earnestly. Richie opens his mouth, but Eddie hisses at him. He closes his mouth, and instead gives Bill a thumbs up. Mike lays his hand on Bill’s shoulder comfortingly, making Bill stiffen, before he relaxes.

“Don’t feel sorry for him,” Stan says, coming over, and hesitates, before giving Bill’s other shoulder an awkward pat that lingers a few seconds too long. “It’s his own fault.” Richie raises his middle finger at Stan.

“Mayb- Maybe he should sit down,” Bill suggests, but he looks gratefully from Stan to Mike.

“Good idea,” Beverly says, and Ben starts to gently tug Richie down on the floor, and sits next to him, Bev following suit. Eddie kneels down next to Richie, and leans close, tugging the tissue slightly aside. Richie starts to turn his head towards him.

“No, keep your head tilted up, you moron. Did you never have a nosebleed, Jesus,” Eddie snaps. Richie smiles wryly, but obliges.

“That’s definitely gonna bruise,” Ben winces, when he catches a glimpse of Richie’s uncovered face. Eddie hums absentmindedly, gently tracing his thumbs near the bruising around Richie’s nose. When he looks up, his breath stutters. Richie is looking at him with an intense, wide-eyed look.

“Uhm,” Eddie says, quickly releasing Richie’s face. “Just checking, sorry,” he mutters, and sits down. He can feel Richie look at him, but he refuses to look.

“I think you can try to tilt your head down again, Richie,” Mike says slowly, looking from Eddie to Richie.

“Yeah, thanks,” Richie says, still looking at Eddie, while he slowly moves his head. “Huh,” he mutters, finally looking away from Eddie. He gingerly touches his nose, and winces.

“Cheer up, dickwad, it’s an improvement,” Stan says as he sits down, Mike and Bill following suit.

“I love you too, Satan,” Richie says, but he’s sort of glancing at Eddie as he says it, and Eddie suddenly feels like the sun is spinning in his chest.

“This is cozy,” Ben remarks, motioning to the circle they have formed.

“Isn’t it?” Richie replies. “We could make this even cozier, if y’all know what I mean.” He winks and waggles his tongue. Eddie gags.

“First of all,” Beverly starts. “Please never say ‘y’all’ ever again. I’m begging you here. Second,” she smirks, and scoots closer to Ben, slinging an arm around his shoulders, “We’re an uneven number, and I can tell you right here and now you’re gonna be the odd one out.”

“Ooh,” Ben says.

“Hey R- Richie, do you need some ice for that burn?” Bill asks cheekily.

“I don’t know Bill, depends on if you’ll apply it real slow down my back and then my-“

“BIBLE!” Eddie yells. Everyone falls silent and turns to stare at him. Eddie feels himself flush with embarrassment.

“Does it really bother you so much if we talk about stuff like this?” Beverly asks. It isn’t asked in a mocking voice, just curios. Still, Eddie looks down.

“I-“ he begins.

“Are you a prude?” She prods.

“What? No, I-“

“Or maybe,” she talks over him as if she didn’t hear him, “Maybe you pretend to be a prude when really you’re a tease.”

“Beverly, what the fuck,” Richie says, sharp and warningly. “Enough.”

“What?” She replies. “I was just asking.”

“No,” Bill replies. “You are pick- picking on him.” Bill looks at her, mouth drawn tight.

“It’s fine,” Eddie finds himself saying quietly. “I guess I’m pretty much a loser.”

“Well, yeah,” Richie says. Eddie looks at him, hurt. “But then again, we’re all losers here,” he shrugs, before he kicks Beverly, gently. “At least you don’t collect lint like Miss Beaverly here.”

“I do not!” Beverly replies, kicking Richie back.

“Well, yeah, not anymore, you don’t” Richie says. “But seriously, let him be. If he wants to talk, that’s great, if he doesn’t, well, that’s great too.”

“I was just asking-“

“You were being a bitch-“

“Guys, can we please-“

“It’s really no-ones business if he-“

“EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP, I’M RIGHT HERE!” Eddie yells. Dead silence rings through their group. Eddie takes a deep breath, then looks Beverly straight in the eye.

“Listen, you know what?” he asks her, and she looks back at him as if she’s never seen a person before. “Yeah, I guess I’m what you’d call a prude and do you wanna know why?” Beverly is still looking at him, and tilts her head, transfixed. “Because I’m fucking gay and my mother is a psycho and can and will send me to a fucking conversion camp or therapy because she thinks gay people are sick,” he says hysterically. She looks uncomfortable. Sucks for her.

“And as soon as someone so much as mentions anything even remotely related to sex I’m this close to have a fucking asthma attack even though I don’t have asthma.” He breathes out shakily, and runs his fingers through his hair with trembling fingers. “And even there’s no way she could know, I just feel constantly paranoid because what if she does? I’m fucking terrified of her, of her finding out somehow and that’s why I sometimes I just can’t stand it.” He chokes out a laugh that sounds more like a sob. He leans back and finally looks at everyone. “And there’s always her voice in my head, telling me I can’t do this, I can’t do that, because I’m delicate, and sick, and she knows best.” He presses his palms against his burning eyes. “God, I really hate her.” He lowers his arms, but doesn’t open his eyes.

A warm hand suddenly wraps himself around his wrist. He opens his eyes to look at Beverly, who had crawled over to him, and looks at him with such emotion in her eyes Eddie feels like crying from it.

“Eddie,” she says softly. “I know something about shit parents. I-“ She swallows. “I never wanted to make you feel like that. I’m sorry.” Eddie looks away, only to lock eyes with Richie, and it’s like he’s gravity and Eddie’s just hurtling towards the sun. He doesn’t know what exactly what Richie is feeling, but if it’s anything he’s feeling- he looks away, back to Beverly. She squeezes his wrist. “I think you’re a very strong person, Eddie Kaspbrak,” she says gently. Eddie can tell she means every word. He swallows, and can feel his eyes burning again. She scoots back after a moment. No one else says anything, before Stan clears his throat.

“Why are you here today, Eddie? What did you do?” he asks. Eddie pauses, then chuckles weakly.

“Absolutely nothing,” he says. “I just wanted to be anywhere but with her.” Stan looks at him as if he’s insane, so do the others. Then Ben speaks up.

“Honestly, fuck your mom,” he says vehemently. Eddie lets out a startled laugh, and a few seconds later, the others join him. Eddie laughs and laughs, and eventually, he’s sort crying, but also laughing, ugly sobs with hiccupping laughter. And then, Richie who was so vocal but hadn’t said a damn thing for the past five minutes, takes his hand tenderly, and pulls Eddie closer, until their shoulders are brushing.

“Hey, you’re okay,” Richie says softly. Eddie lets out an especially gross hiccup that is paired with some heavy-duty snot running down his chin, and alright, that’s so gross. He pulls away and paws for his packet of tissues. He doesn’t let go of Richie’s hand though. After he somewhat composes himself, he squares his shoulders and holds his head high.

“Okay, square up, people. You guys tell me why you’re here too, quid pro quo.” After a moment, Beverly leans back, and shrugs.

“Skipped class and got caught smoking behind the bleachers,” she says nonchalantly.

“That’s it?” Bill asks her, sounding skeptical. She shrugs, then sighs.

“Well, yes. Hendricks just freaks me out, is all.” She shudders.

“The gym teacher? The one with the pornstache?” Mike asks.

“Yeah,” Beverly replies. “He’s super gross, and he always stares at us girls – no matter what we wear.” Eddie feels very angry for her, all of a sudden. She hesitates. “It- it reminds me of my dad,” she says slowly. The anger bubbles over to fury when Eddie understands. Looking around, the other guys look as helplessly angry as he feels. She absentmindedly picks at her dozens of bracelets. Then she notices the tension in the room, and smiles, all grim and sad, yet somehow satisfied. “It’s an old story, and he’s long gone, don’t worry. He’s, well, he’s dead.” None of them seem to know how to react, or if they even should say anything, but- what do you say to something like that? I’m sorry? Not fucking likely. She plays with her bracelets again nervously, not looking at any of them.

“Okay, so I totally pulled the fire alarm on Thursday and that’s why I’m here,” Richie breaks the silence suddenly, cheerful voice, but there is steel behind his eyes.

“That was you?” Eddie yells. “You’re such a fuck, I almost had a heart attack!” Richie cackles gleefully. He can hear the others starting to snicker, but Eddie literally couldn’t care less.

“Well, sixth period is boring, so,” he shrugs.

“It’s like someone replaced your impulse control with that of a pigeon,” Eddie mutters, massaging his temples.

“Well, I for one am glad. Sorry,” Ben tacks on hastily when Eddie turns to glare at him. “But I have Lit with Palmer, and I hate her. And I was honestly glad school ended early on Thursday.”

“The old ha- hag that looks like an insect?” Bill asks. “Why, what’s u- up with her?” Ben sighs.

“She doesn’t like- well,” Ben stops. “We have poetry month, and I really like poetry, but she just-“ he fidgets. “She says my writing is not how she instructed and, uh, she usually reads my assignment out loud. In front of the class.”

“So what you’re saying,” Mike says after a beat of silence. “Is that in a subject that is mostly subjective, she makes fun of you in front of the entire class, because she doesn’t like it.” He looks calm, but his eyes are dark, brows drawn together. “Her, a teacher, that is in a position of power.”

“Erm- yes?” Ben says haltingly.

“What a bitch,” Bill hisses angrily.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Mike nods. Ben looks uncomfortable.

“I mean, I know I’m not any good, so I guess-“

“No,” Eddie shakes his head. What is up with the teachers at this school? It’s like there’s something in the water that makes them go evil.

“And even if so,” Richie adds, “That still gives her no right. Like, she could simply put a note on your assignment, or ask you to stay back after class.”

“Exactly,” Stan agrees. “Besides, I’m sure they’re not half bad.”

“I, I don’t know,” Ben replies.

“Do you wanna share?” Beverly asks curiously. Ben shakes his head. She looks slightly disappointed for a moment, but smiles. “Okay.”

“Maybe- some other time?” Ben asks her and he kinda looks at her shyly. She gives him a brilliant smile in return. They’re so disgustingly sweet that Eddie feels diabetes making itself home in his blood.

“So, Benny, why are you here?” Richie asks.

“I kinda skipped out on Palmers class,” he replies, before he adds; “Four times this month.” Richie whistles.

“Well, can’t say I blame you there Haystack,” Richie tells him. He flips on his stomach, kicking his legs lazily in the air. “If you need another fire alarm pulled, just holler.”

“That’s nice,” Ben smiles. “But why did you pull the fire alarm? Sixth period can’t be that bad?” He wonders. Eddie’s been wondering about that as well.

“It’s math,” Richie says, with feeling. “Whoever thought spherical trigonometry is an interesting subject for bored as fuck high schoolers needs a chair in the face.”

“What are you gonna d- do, fight the entire educational system?” Bill asks him.

We don’t need no education,” Richie hums breezily. “Why not? I could totally do that. Like, I could do an angry political song about the system-“

“You can’t sing for shit,” Bev mutters.

“Or I can go into politics and change stuff-“

“I will stab myself with a fork if that happens,” Stan says.

“OR,” Richie breezes on as if he hadn’t heard either, “I could, could become, I don’t know, a talk show host-“

“Don’t you have to brush your hair for that?” Mike wonders, turning to Bill, who stifles a snort.

OR I could become a radio talk show host and roast all of the people who were big meanies to me in high school,” he finishes, staring at them pointedly.

“Talking shit endlessly while being able to look like the local cryptid? Richie, I think you’ve just found your dream job,” Eddie says mildly.

“Et tu, Eds,” Richie says snobbily.

“You know, joke aside, I could totally see you doing that,” Ben chimes him. “It’s perfect for you!” Richie blinks at him, blinking. Eddie watches him processing the idea, before he suddenly scrambles up in a vaguely sitting position.

“Ben! Ben, you’re a genius, I could kiss you!”

“Please don’t,” Ben replies, but he’s smiling.

“I can totally see it now,” Richie swoons. “I’d be a fucking genius, I’d win so many awards.”

“For what, being obnoxious?” Mike asks. Richie turns to him, grabbing Beverly’s hairbrush from her bag with flourish.

“Mister Mike “Mikey Way” Hanlon,” Richie cheers in a weirdly deep voice, brush held in front of him like a microphone. “So glad you could join us today on Tornado Tozier’s Terrific Talk Show-“

“Holy shit,” Eddie says. He can’t believe he has a crush on the biggest dumbass in all of Maine. Richie pauses for a millisecond to wink at Eddie.

“-and everyone is dying to know,” he pitches his voice lower, building up tension. “How does it feel to be the hero who punched the biggest asshole of Derry High right in his tremendously ugly face?” Mike laughs. The others are in various states of either pretending not to have heard anything or staring at Richie with awestruck disgust. However, Eddie has to admit Richie would make a good radio host.

“Well, Mr. Tornado Tozier, the Terrific,” Mike plays along and Beverly sighs. Richie slaps her hairbrush against his thigh in delight. “Thank you so much for having me on your famous show, it is truly an honor to meet such a distinguished, professional moderator. As to your question, well, it felt awesome,” Mike says. Richie crows, fist-pumping the air. Eddie hides a smile behind his hand.

“Okay, Mr. Handsome Hanlon,” Richie continues delighted. “Would you be as kind as to describe exactly what happened? Please, be especially detailed when describing how Booger Bowers cried like a little girl.”

“He did, didn’t he?” Mike smirks. Then he sobers. “Him, Criss, Huggins and Hostetter were picking on Adrian. You know, the small freshman kid?” They all nod. Everyone knew Adrian, the poor kid that had been outed as gay pretty much on the first day, and since then had to suffer assholes like Bowers. Adrian usually took it like a champ, but he was very tiny and couldn’t do much against brute force. “They tossed him in a dumpster on Tuesday. I saw, and I just- I couldn’t let them, you know?” Mike asks, and by now they’re all listening raptly. Eddie swallows, because something fond and warm blooms in his chest for Mike. It’s not like how he feels when he looks at Richie, but it’s still something deep, like understanding and admiration.

“I am very glad you punched him,” Beverly says. “He deserves that and more.”

“Hear, hear,” Bill agrees. “I’m just sor- sorry you got detention for it,” he adds. Mike smiles at him, and shrugs.

“Worth it,” he smiles.

“You’re really just a genuinely good person, aren’t you,” Stan asks, head resting on his bent knee. He’s looking at Mike with a strange, solemn expression. Mike stares back with a similar expression.

“I, well, I’m sure anyone would-“ he begins.

“No,” Bill shakes his head. “It was a good th- thing to do.” Now Mike is looking at Bill with much of the same expression he did with Stan, and Stan is also looking at Bill with a searching look.

It’s like watching Cheers, but with all guys, and they’re stuck in a stuffy library. Richie takes a bag of popcorn out from fucking nowhere and offers it to Eddie, grinning conspiratorially. Eddie rolls his eyes, but takes some anyways.

“While we’re at the subject of good things to do,” Richie begins, interrupting whatever it was that was exactly going on between MikeBillandStan, munching on some popcorn. “I heard an interesting rumor the other day, Big Bill.” Bill raises an eyebrow.

“Pray tell,” he says slowly. Richie grins.

“How exactly is it that one asks poor Mr. Lindgren that, and I quote this second hand, but I hope it’s true, “how his parents are related to each other”, because he “couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions were on the sole”, followed by some very expressive curses, which include “disgraceful son of a three-legged ogre”, and many others.”

“You didn’t,” Stan gasps, looking at Bill, horrified and awestruck at the same time. The others stare at Bill, struck silent. Richie is practically vibrating. Bill sighs.

“I did,” he says. Their circle erupts into chaos. “To be f- fair,” he interrupts loudly, “I only s- said it quietly. He- he wasn’t supposed to hear the- the first bit,” he explains.

“The first bit?” Eddie asks, incredulous. Bill looks at him. “Whatever did he do to you?”

“He’s, w- well, he’s been sprouting shit the ent- entire semester,” Bill says venomously. “He’s teaching social studies, l- like it’s the f-fif- fifties or something. And- And he went off ab- about the ‘place of crippled people in society’, and I- I just went off,” he finishes. Bill speaks quietly, but there is a fury behind those words that make Eddie shiver. Ben sits up straighter.

“Did he really?” he asks softly. Bill nods tightly.

“I am so sorry he said that to you,” Mike says. Bill looks at him again, and Eddie feels like he’s missing something vital.

“Sorry for bringing it up,” Richie pipes up from his side, and when Eddie looks at him, he’s looking subdued. Eddie is definitely missing something.

“’s fine,” Bill mutters. “You d- didn’t know, and besides,” he smiles thinly at Richie. “I did punch you in the face like twenty minutes ago.”

“I don’t- is there something I’m missing?” Ben asks. Bill grimaces.

“You don’t have to say anything,“ Mike intervenes. Bill shakes his head.

“I know bu- but, he’s gonna f- find out anyway.” He looks at Ben. “My brother, G- Georgie,” Bill begins, and Eddie thinks at the same time ‘Oh,’ because now he does understand. “He lost his- his arm wh- when he was six. He was kidnapped.”

“I read about that,” Beverly says subdued. “He was the only one-“ she stops, eyes wide.

“He w- was the only child to c- come back,” Bill finishes her sentence. Eddie remembers the string of missing children almost five years ago, remembers dozens of missing posters, all of children, all over Derry. Remembers his mother practically locking him in his room for an entire year out of fear.

“That was a bad year,” Eddie mumbles. Everyone except Ben nods.

“My parents treat me as if- if I don’t exist, sometimes,” Bill says. “I think-“ he takes a shuddering breath, and looks into the distance. Eddie wants to reach out and comfort him, but Mike is already reaching out and lays his hand over Bill’s. “Sometimes, it- it feels like G- Georgie is the only one tha- that still c- cares in that house. I think th- they blame me for G- Guh- Georgie, because I wasn’t- wasn’t there,” Bill finishes quietly.

“Why would they do that?” Stan asks softly, touching Bill’s other hand. “You were what, twelve?” Bill snorts, completely devoid of humor.

“Parents tend to blame their kids for stuff they didn’t do, or can’t change,” Ben chimes in, voice quiet.

“Your mom, too?” Beverly asks him. Ben nods, eyes glistening.

“My mom always finds something wrong with me,” Ben says. “Like, ‘you don’t study enough, Ben,’ or ‘why are you studying so much, don’t you have any friends?’ or, ‘You should do more exercise,’ but then goes ‘Should you really be doing track when you have to do homework?’ and I just can never do anything right in her eyes,” Ben says. “I know she wants only what’s good for me but- I’d wish she’d make up her mind.”

Beverly bumps her shoulder into his. “I know what that’s like. My aunt always goes on about stuff I should be doing, or not be doing, how I’m not ladylike, and ‘What about my future?’, and then blames me for it anyway. I like her but-“

“Parents suck,” Richie says. Stan huffs.

“Your parents are a dream, Richie, shut up.” Richie bristles, before he smiles. It isn’t a nice smile, Eddie thinks.

“They are indeed, Stanley,” Richie says, voice too sweet. “But nothing beats your parents, isn’t that right?” Stan goes white.

“Richie, shut the fuck up-“

“No,” Richie says firmly. He sits up fully, now, and stares Stan down. “You know what, I remember now what our grand tiff from two years ago was about, Stan,” Richie says hotly. Eddie can tell Richie is dead serious, because he hadn’t heard Richie call Stan by his actual name once that day.

“Richie, that’s between you and me. The others don’t need to hear about this,” Stan says in a low voice, eyes flashing. Richie giggles. It sounds anything but amused.

“And that is why you feel what you feel,” Richie replies. “You’re so concerned what everyone thinks about you that you don’t know how to be yourself.” Stan flinches violently at the words, and Eddie really wants to be anywhere but here right now. Looking around, he can tell the others feel the same. “Everyone can tell you what they want from you, your peers, your parents, some fucking old lady in the grocery store for all I know, and you just fucking do it and I don’t know how you’re not tired of it,” Richie finishes, voice now quieter, but still hard.

“But I am,” Stan says after a pause. He laughs, looking up at the ceiling, trying and failing to hold back a sob. “Richie, you have no idea of how tired I am of it all.” He buries his face into his shaking hands. Mike next to him twitches as if he wants to touch him, but Richie shakes his head sharply. Mike falters, and drops his arm. No one else dares to move. Finally, Stan looks up, eyes red and looking so, so sad. Eddie’s heart breaks just a little from the haunted look in his eyes.

“Do you want to know why I am here today?” Stan asks them all.

“Only if you want,” Beverly says gently. Stan snorts.

“I- No, I definitely do not want,” he says, and looks at Richie, who is still looking at him stoically. “You’re a dick, Richie,” he tells him. “You just couldn’t let it rest, could you?” Stan laughs to himself. Richie doesn’t move a muscle. “Nothing to say?” Stan taunts, as a last-ditch attempt.

“C’mon,“ Ben tries, but is ignored. And after a beat where Richie still refuses to react, Stan’s shoulders slump.

“Fine,” he begins, resigned. ”For the record, I hate you,” Stan says, but he’s not really looking at Richie when he says it. Everything last ounce of resistance is gone, and Stan looks incredibly small. “I am failing economics,” he says. “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t matter, not really.” He looks like he’s talking to himself, and not to either of them. “And I can’t fail-“ he cuts himself off, breath trembling. “I’ve never failed anything before. And at home, when I had to tell my parents, my dad-“ he stops again.

“Did he hit you?” Beverly asks, incredulous, angry.

“Ha,” Stan huffs. “I kind of wish he did. No, he- he just looked at me, with his disappointed stare. The one he always has whenever I say or do something unexpected.” Eddie is completely fixed on Stan, as are they all, but he could see Richie twitch at the words. “Whenever I am disappointing him for just being me.” He shakes his head, before he laughs, voice subdued. “And I guess Richie is right about me-“ Richie swallows, looking away for a moment. “Because I can’t stand disappointing anyone. It’s just- it makes me feel like I’ve, I’ve swallowed a thousand needles whenever I think about people and what they’re thinking about me, whatever they’re expecting of me-“ his voice is almost shrill at this point, and becoming more uncontrolled with every more second.

“Stan-“ Richie whispers, and when Eddie looks away from Stan’s frazzled, blotchy face to look at Richie, it feels like someone suckerpunched him. Richie looks almost as devastated as Stan, eyes wide and shining with unshed tears.

“No, fuck you, you started this,” Stan snaps at Richie, furious for a second, before he deflates. “Anyway,” he says, voice under control again. “I- they’ve found – uh, they found a gun in my locker.”

“-What?” Bill asks, shocked. Eddie feels overwhelmed, stomach churning. Beverly and Ben are about to stand up, and Mike clearly doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

“What’s the gun for, Stanley?” Richie asks, deathly calm.

“What do you think,” Stan sighs.

“That’s- You’re not-“ Eddie begins, but- there’s nothing he can say to Stan to make any of it better. They’re all shellshocked, except for Richie, who looks furious, but also resigned. Then, Bill moves in front of Stan, but doesn’t reach out to touch him.

“S- Stan,” Bill says, voice pitched in a gentle hum, as if he’s afraid Stan would run. “I- If you-“ he pauses, considering his next words. “If you f- feel like that- You’re a goo- good person, and I l- like you,” he says, and Stan is shaking his head, as if he doesn’t want to hear it. “Y- Yes you are. The fact th- that you care, is proof enough.” Bill moves his hands slowly to Stan’s shoulders, giving Stan plenty of time to move away. When he doesn’t, Bill gently grasps Stan’s shoulders and looks him in the eyes.

“You’re so important, you don- don’t even know, and y- your thoughts a-are too. And- and your feelings a- are valid,” he says fiercely. “S- so please, don’t.” Stan hiccups. Then Mike reaches out and holds Stan’s hand, so tightly that Eddie thinks it might leave bruises.

“You stupid son of a bitch, Stan,” Richie says. He crawls towards Stan, and Bill moves away. Stan looks at Richie with big, searching eyes. Richie sinks to his knees in front of Stan, and looks at him for a long moment. Then he cradles Stan’s face in his hands and moves so their brows are touching. “If you kill yourself,” Richie says, and he’s the first to actually voice the issue for what it is. Stan exhales shakily. “I will bring you back out of spite, and I will glue myself to your side, literally, and I’ll annoy you so much you wish you were dead.” His voice is remarkably calm, but there’s something strong and unyielding in his tone.

“If anyone would find a way, it’d be you, trashmouth,” Stan says, voice watery.

“You bet your skinny ass I would,” Richie promises. He presses their foreheads together harder for a moment, before he lets go of Stan’s face and leaning back, and just watches him. “How did they find the gun anyway?” he wonders. Stan suddenly looks embarrassed.

“It was a flare gun. It went… off?” He says hesitatingly. Eddie presses his lips together tightly. Beverly squints and looks at a wall, Ben finds his hands suddenly very interesting. Mike presses his fingers on his mouth, looking constipated. Richie is valiantly trying to look solemn, but his mouth is twitching.

However, it’s Bill that starts to giggle. A second later, he slaps a hand in front of his mouth, eyes wide. It sets Eddie of, who tries to mask it as a cough.

“It’s not funny,” Stan says, indignant.

“Honestly, it kind of is?” Richie replies, voice choked, and then he can’t hold back any longer, peals of laughter escaping him. Beverly and Ben start to laugh too. Mike is looking more constipated by the second.

“You guys are the worst,” Stan says, but a smile breaks out on his face, and he begins to laugh, too.

“Hey,” Mike says quietly, after they’ve calmed down somewhat. Stan turns to him. “Do you- Are you better? I mean-“ Stan grimaces.

“I’m- seeing someone for it,” he replies, just as quiet.

“And?” Eddie can’t help but ask. “Does it help?”

“It- hm, kind of?” Stan says. “I think so.”

“Good,” Ben says. “Because I think- I think you- you all are cool people and I would like to, well, see more of all of you?” He almost whispers the last words, shy, looking to the ground. And Eddie realizes, recognizes, he must be lonely.

“You can see more of-“

“Beep, beep, Richie,” Beverly says. When Richie actually does shut up, she high fives Stan. “You’re a genius, Stan,” she tells him gleefully. Richie is rolling his eyes, but he doesn’t seem really fazed.

“So, you- you wanna be f- friends?” Bill asks Ben. Ben shrugs, trying for nonchalant.

“If you want,” Ben trails off. “I mean, you guys have all your circles and friends, I get it, I just-“

“Nah,” Mike says. “I’m pretty sure no one has any real friends here.”

“Oi,” Richie interjects. “Beverly and now Stan again love me, so I have like, two whole friends.”

“You mean we tolerate you,” Beverly rolls her eyes.

“Barely,” Stan adds.

“Well, I don’t have any friends,” Eddie says.

“Me n- neither,” Bill agrees. They’re all quiet.

“We’re really a bunch of losers, eh?” Richie says, not unkindly. “We should totally found a club- the Losers Club!” he exclaims, excitedly looking at them all.

“Does have a ni- nice ring to it,” Bill says dryly, but he’s grinning. Richie beams back.

“Why not?” Mike laughs. “I’ve been called worse.”

“Only if Richie isn’t the leader,” Stan says. Richie raises his middle finger.

“Well, Bill can be the leader,” Ben says.

“Uh, s- sorry, why-“

“I’m voting for Bill too,” Eddie says. Bill is sputtering.

“Are you in, Bev?” Richie asks her.

“If I absolutely have to,” Beverly drawls, as if it’s the worst she could imagine, but her eyes are twinkling.

“Welcome to the Loser’s' club, asshole,” Richie cheers. They all laugh again. Eddie feels like something just settled finally right, somewhere in his heart. He looks around his new- friends?

“So, come Monday, we won’t just- ignore each other?” Eddie asks. The all sober up.

“Not me,” Ben says fiercely. Eddie smiles, thankful.

“We can give this friend – sorry, Loser’s Club thing – a spin,” Beverly says next.

“I’d like to feel less- lonely,” Stan says. Mike hums. Bill nods.

“You don’t even have to ask, Benny Ben Ben,” Richie says, serious. When Eddie looks at all of them in turn, he feels a deep sense of rightness.

“Thank you,” he tells them.

“Well, Eds, you couldn’t keep me away from you if you beat me back with a stick,” Richie says, waggling his eyebrows at him.

“Don’t tempt me,” Eddie threatens. Beverly laughs.

“You’re so small and angry, I love it,” she tells him. Eddie decides to take it as a compliment. “So, what are we gonna do for-“ she checks Ben’s watch by grabbing his hand- “the remaining two hours?”

“Dying out of b- boredom?” Bill suggests.

“Nah,” Richie says, standing up. “We should have a party.”

.

“No, Mike, we are not listening to Wham!, what the fuck,” Richie yells, tossing the offending record in a corner. Mike’s face pinches.

“You’ve shot down every suggestion we’ve made so far, Richie,” he says sternly.

“Well, that’s because none of you have a sophisticated palette in music, you uncultured pigs!”

“I’m p- pretty sure music is absolutely s- subjective?” Bill interjects. Richie throws his hands dramatically.

“No it’s not! Anyway, as America’s future star radio DJ-“

“Tozier the Terrible,” Beverly mutters from somewhere behind him, but Richie is magnanimous enough to ignore it.

“- my choices are clearly superior, and now shoo,” he shoves Mike, who probably only moved because he’s humoring Richie. Whatever.

“Fine, but if I have to listen to like, punk rock, I am strangling you,” Eddie says, as he exits the room.

“What did punk rock ever do to you?” Richie hollers at his retreating back. Eddie raises his middle finger, not looking at him as he retreats. Finally, they all file out, casting dubious glances at him as they do so. Clearly, they haven’t yet come to appreciate his eclectic tastes. He cackles quietly to himself as he finally finds the record he’s looking for.

He exits the door just as the first few beats start to play.

“NO,” Bev groans as she immediately recognizes the song.

“Yes,” Richie pumps his fist in the air, as the melody starts up. “You love this song. Everyone loves this song.” Bill laughs, delighted. “See?” Richie says to Bev. She rolls her eyes, but she’s already nodding her head along to the music.

“I love this song,” Eddie says, next to him. Richie turns to look at him, and Eddie is sort of looking at him with wonder. Dark eyes big. “I- seriously, how did you know?”

“I didn’t,” Richie replies. “But I think you really might be my soulmate,” he adds, unthinkingly.

“Shut up,” Eddie laughs, shoving him. Richie quickly grabs his hand.

“I’m only half-kidding,” Richie tells Eddie. “Hey, do you wanna- dance?” And Eddie, beautiful, easily irritated, wonderful Eddie Spaghetti, squeezes his hand back, still looking at Richie like-

“Well?” Eddie interrupts his thoughts, tugging at Richie’s hand. Richie is seriously considering if he found the other half of his soul. Then he grins, wide and brilliant, and Eddie’s eyes go wide, and he seems almost breathless.

“-Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you,” he sing-shouts at Eddie, who winces at the volume, but laughs, letting himself be dragged along, almost stumbling. “It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you,” he continues, and puts on some impressive dance moves, which only make Eddie laugh so hard he almost falls on his ass.

There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do,” Eddie shouts back at him, face lit up from sheer delight, and honestly, Richie will make sure he wakes up next to this boy the rest of his life to bring him breakfast in bed.

I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AFRICA,” they shout together, laughing so hard there are tears in their eyes. Then Mike is standing next to them suddenly, slinging his arms around their shoulders, smiling so wide his cheeks must hurt.

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had,” he sings along with them. Then Stan is suddenly hanging half around Richie’s neck, and Bev almost makes them fall all over when she barrels into Richie’s back. She holds out her hand to Ben, who follows her after a moment, smiling as he does so. Then Bill tucks himself under Mike’s arm, and-

Richie has never felt so happy and complete his entire life. He almost wants to cry out of the pure joy he’s feeling. Instead he grips whoever he’s touching tighter to him, and jump-sways along with the music, continuing to belt out the lyrics completely off-key.

No one minds.

.

Stan flops onto the couch, next to Beverly, who sat down a while ago, laughing at the others, who are still dancing enthusiastically to what must be the seventeenth repeat of ‘Africa’. Ben had tried to protest after like, the fifth repeat, but had been silenced by the intense glares of Eddie and Richie. Stan is just glad the song isn’t getting on his nerves so far, because if Richie ruins this song for him, they won’t even find pieces of him.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe they’re still at it,” Beverly smiles. “Look at them go.”

“This song is like, magic,” Stan tells her. “No, seriously,” he insist when she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “This song watered my crops, cleared my skin, and cured the world.” Beverly lets out a peal of shrieking laughter.

“You’re actually worse than Richie, do you know that?” Stan gasps.

“Take that back now,” he exclaims. She raises her hands.

“Sorry, sorry, I take it back,” she says. “You know,” she says suddenly, tone serious. “I was always wary of you,” she tells him. His heart beats suddenly faster, and some of the anxiety returns, and he looks away. Then she touches his arm, and when he looks up, her smile rivals a sunrise. “I was completely wrong and I’m sorry,” she says, patting his hand, before she pulls away. “I’m glad for today.” Stan stays quiet for a few moments, mulling over her words. The anxiety disappears slowly.

“It’s been a really weird day,” he settles on saying. She nods.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” she agrees. “Today I walked in here, and I had, like, Richie, as a friend. And seven hours later, I have six.”

“It feels good,” Stan adds. “I- sometimes I forgot that being around people could be like this-“ he waves his hand to where the others are still dancing- “instead of- of what I usually feel, when people are concerned.”

“I think I understand,” she says softly. “Stan, you can, you can come when you feel like the world is trying to suffocate you – I promise I’ll listen.”

“Thanks,” he says, forcing the tears in his eyes away. He’s cried enough this day. Then he does something that surprises her; he touches her hand.

“It feels strange, the seven of us- but right?” Beverly muses. “As if we were meant to come together a long time ago.”

“Yeah,” Stan agrees, because, it’s true, isn’t it? He feels a pull towards all of them, almost as if something is pushing him towards the others.

“Ohh, are we braiding each other’s hair and gossip about our crushes?” Richie asks from next to them, jerking them both out of their lull.

“Well, I think yours ain’t a secret,” Beverly smirks at Richie. Richie halts, before he smiles back just as diabolically.

“Uh,” he raises a finger. “Ditto,” he points at Beverly, “and ditto,” and points at Stan.

“Hey, I didn’t even say anything,” Stan protests.

“No, but I’m sure you would’ve, if Bev didn’t beat you to it.” Stan shrugs, because it’s true. “Budge over,” he tells Stan, nudging at his leg. Stan makes sure he’s occupying even more space.

“No,” he tells Richie. “Go away.”

“Fine,” Richie says, and drops himself ass first over Stan and Beverly. Beverly grunts, trying to shove his legs off her lap, but Richie just goes boneless. Stan shoves at his head, but Richie doesn’t even look mildly inconvenienced.

“Why is someone as skinny as you so heavy,” Stan moans, giving up.

“It’s because I’m full of love, Stanley,” Richie swoons with his eyes closed, sighing like some chick from a soap opera. Stan flicks his nose.

“It’s because you’re full of shit,” Stan retorts. Richie scrunches his nose, but his eyes remain closed.

“Stan,” he says, opening his eyes. “I think I found the One,” he whispers.

“Good Lord,” Beverly says, looking up. “You’re hopeless.”

“Hopelessly in love,” Richie sighs, closing his eyes again.

“Are we snuggling?” Mike asks, coming over. “Because if we are, I’m totally a snuggler.”

“We’re being held hostage,” Beverly informs him. Mike eyes Richie with a raised eyebrow.

“Do I need to pick you up again?” Mike asks. Richie whines.

“But I needed a lap to sob my woes into,” he says. “And because I’ve been struck by Cupid’s dart, I’m afraid I can’t be picked up by anyone but my tiny, furious-“

“Hey,” Eddie says from behind Mike. Richie shrieks. Eddie looks at him weirdly. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing!” Richie yelps. “Nothing at all Eds.” He elbows Stan.

“Uh, yeah, nothing,” Stan says unconvincingly. “Just, talking about the weather, or something.”

“Sure,” Eddie says slowly.

“We were discussing a snuggle circle,” Mike explains.

“Oh,” Eddie says. Richie looks at Mike like he wants to kiss him. Stan flicks his nose (gently, because the bruising doesn’t look any better).

“Do you want to join?” Beverly asks. Eddie shrugs, and slides down in front of the couch that they’re occupying, near Stan’s legs, next to Richie’s head. Richie’s hand immediately settles in Eddie’s nape, As if it was impossible for him not to be touching Eddie in some way or another, not that Eddie seems to mind. Mike sits on the armrest next to Beverly. When Ben wanders over, he sits down on the floor next to Beverly’s legs, and when Bill, the last one, comes over, he sits next to Stan on the other armrest. They stay quiet for a long moment, basking in each other’s presence.

“This was the best detention ever,” Ben speaks up. They all chuckle.

“Yeah, and now we’re all stuck with each other, congratulations,” Beverly grins. “No returns accepted.”

“We could m- make this a regular th- thing,” Bill says.

“What, braid each other’s hair and paint our nails and talk about our feelings?” Eddie asks.

“Well, I have some yellow nail polish that would look amazing on you,” Beverly says, winking. Eddie laughs.

“Sure, why not?”

“Wait, seriously?” Mike asks.

“Yeah. Fuck toxic masculinity,” Eddie replies.

“Hear, hear,” Ben cheers. There’s some tittering laughter, and then Richie speaks up.

“Hey, Bev, what time is it?”

“Uh,” she takes Ben’s wrist again, and Stan would totally congratulate her for being so smooth, because the clock is just hanging above their heads. “It’s something after four. Why?”

“I think I have to go back soon,” Richie hums, eyes remaining closed. His voice is pleasant, but it’s lacking any of its previous warmth.

“Oh,” Bev says, cheerful expression gone.

“Do you really?” Eddie asks. He turns his head towards Richie, expression forlorn. Richie finally opens his eyes, and turns to look at Eddie.

“Well, what do you think will happen if I’m gone when Pee Wee checks on me?” He asks, still infuriatingly calm.

“Well, I don’t have to like it,” Eddie snaps.

“That’s very sweet, Eddie,” Richie says tiredly. “But he’s gonna flip his switch into the Twilight Zone if I’m not there. He’s probably going to town because of the essay I haven’t even started-“

“Shit!” Stan shouts. “The essay!”

“Fuck,” Mike agrees. “He’s gonna lynch all of us. I don’t want to die in school.”

“Don’t w-worry about it,” Bill pipes up suddenly. “I’ll write something, fo- for all of us. I think I have an idea,”

“I’ll help you,” Ben immediately says.

“Th- Thanks, Ben,” Bill smiles, and turns to the others. “See, we got it covered.”

“Well,” Richie says, grimaces. “I got like ten more detentions, I’ll be able to finish mine just fine.”

“Yeah, y- you’re not going to detention alone a- any longer,” Bill says, voice like steel.

“I’ll pepper some smoking breaks in in the next weeks,” Beverly adds. “I’m not leaving you with him alone.”

“I have one more detention he gave me anyway,” Stan says, and squeezes Richie’s arm. “Thanks for that, by the way.”

“I’m sure I can find a reason to punch Bowers again,” Mike smiles, but Stan can see he’s dead serious about it.

“Palmer won’t miss me,” Ben shrugs. “And I certainly won’t miss her.”

“And I can come whenever,” Eddie says, fully turning around to look at Richie. Richie’s eyes are closed again, but this time he’s squeezing them together. Then he laughs.

“That’s very nice, but don’t,” Richie says. “I can’t stop you but, you don’t have to. I don’t want you to.” He moves his glasses away to rub at his face. He sits up, sliding into the small space between Beverly and Stan, and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“We know w- we don’t, but Richie-“ Bill begins. “I- I don’t think you should be alone with Gray anymore.” Richie exhales, not looking at any of them, head bowed.

“It’s fine,” he presses out between clenched teeth. Stan makes an aborted motion to touch Richie’s back.

“NO, IT ISN’T!” Beverly suddenly explodes. Ben and Mike, closest to her, flinch away at her loud volume. “You say it’s fine every time, Richie, but it never is! How long until you can’t stand dark, small spaces at all anymore, huh? How long until that fucking room breaks you?” Richie stands up and whirls around, and Stan has never seen Richie this furious, and this scared.

“Shut the fuck up, Beverly,” he seethes. “It’s none of your business- and especially not of the others.” He says it so resolutely, and yet, Stan can see something very brittle behind the anger.

“I thought we were friends,” Mike interjects. “We all told you our sob stories-“

“Actually, you didn’t, Mike,” Richie interrupts him. “What, mommy and daddy don’t love you? Or are they picture-perfect and you didn’t want to spoil the angst-fest?” he prods, smile almost cruel. Mike’s face falls.

“My parents are dead, Richie.” He enunciates, voice even, arms crossed. “I live with my grandfather.” Richie looks as if he’s been struck. Stan can’t hold back the quiet gasp that escapes him. The others look shocked as well.

“I- shit,” Richie says, deflating. “Oh my god I’m such an asshole.” He rubs his face tiredly.

“You are,” Mike agrees, voice still calm, and Stan honestly doesn’t know how he does it. He would’ve flipped his shit. “But I know you didn’t mean it,” Mike continues. Richie looks at him, incredulous.

“You- what, you’re just gonna forgive me?”

“Well, say sorry first and I’ll think about it,” Mike replies.

“I am sorry,” Richie tells him, after a pause. “I’m not going to make an excuse because that was low, but I-“ he trails off. Mike looks at him steadily, then nods.

“I accept your apology,” he says. “Now, I think you should really tell us what that really was about.” Richie tenses.

“I- do I have to?” Richie asks, dejected.

“Consider it part of your apology,” Mike retorts.

“Maybe-“ Eddie starts, looking at Richie with worry, who is almost as pale as he was earlier. “Maybe he can tell us some other time?” He bites his lip. “I mean, he shouldn’t have to tell us.” And – that rubs Stan absolutely the wrong way. He’s had enough of this.

“No, I think he actually does,” Stan disagrees. “Sit down,” he says, turning to Richie, who looks ready to bolt.

“You’re pretty sexy when you’re all commanding, Stan-“ Richie begins, trying to change the subject, or the mood, or both, but Stan just glares him into submission.

“I a- agree with Stan,” Bill speaks up. “Wh- Whatever’s going down, it’s not good.”

“Please, Rich,” Beverly begs. “Sit down and talk.” Ben and Eddie stay quiet, and Stan isn’t sure if it’s because they don’t want to push Richie or something else entirely. Both seem just as anxious as Stan feels. Beverly reaches out and tugs at Richie’s shirt insistently. After what seems like a small eternity, Richie slumps, and he slowly sits down. Stan turns so he can get a better look at Richie’s face. Ben and Eddie, both still sitting on the floor, scoot closer to Richie, both turning to face him fully as well.

“What do you want me to say?” Richie says after a beat of silence. He leans back, head landing on the backrest, and looks up at the ceiling, conveniently avoiding their searching eyes. “He’s a psychotic prick, I pissed him off one too many times, and now he locks me in a broom closet when I’m especially annoying. The end.” Eddie reaches out and pinches him in the leg, hard.

“Sure, Richard,” Eddie says sarcastically. “That’s why you likely had a panic attack and were as pale as a ghost when I came to get you.” He exhales, and Stan can’t help but wonder how so much anger fits into someone as small as Eddie. “But sure,” Eddie speaks again. “You’re fine,” he hisses that last word like it personally offended him. Richie looks at Eddie, as if betrayed. Eddie stares him down.

“Well, you try and get locked into some must old closet with no light at least once a month,” Richie snaps.

“That’s what we are trying to tell you, asshole,” Stan says loudly. “That’s not normal- any of it. He’s- he’s-“

“He’s a- abusing you,” Bill finishes for Stan. Richie lets out a shaky breath. “And that’s n- not okay.”

“No, shit, Big Bill,” Richie mutters.

“What I really want to know,” Ben says slowly, carefully. “Is why Beverly said it didn’t work when you tried to tell people. I mean, what about your parents? Surely, they-“

“My parents don’t understand it,” Richie interrupts. “They don’t understand me.” Stan frowns.

“But your parents, they’re not-“

“Bad parents? No,” Richie agrees. “They’re not like yours, or Ben’s, or Bev’s or Biil’s. You were right; my parents are a dream,” he laughs voice bitter. “They don’t hit me, or ignore me, they let me be just as I want to be. They feed me, clothe me and want genuinely the best for me without pressuring me into anything I don’t want – but they don’t understand me.” He’s breathing heavily, and Stan wants to desperately tell him to just let go but he feels that Richie needs to get this off his chest without interruption. “The thing is,” Richie continues, voice quiet and strangled. “They’re like, this really quiet couple that like to read in their free time, or go into some obscure museum. I mean, that’s fine,” and Stan begins to dislike that word immensely. “It’s just- they’re so- so composed and then there’s me and they’re stuck with a funny kid and his funny voices and his ADHD,” Richie continues, voice breaking. “I know they love me and look after me, but do they like me? Sometimes I have to wonder-“ he trails off. “Anyway, I- we can’t really bond with each other, I can’t relate to them, and they can’t relate to me, and it’s like- I tell a joke and they think I’m dead serious, and then I tell them the truth and they think I’m telling stories.”

“They didn’t believe you,” Stan says, feeling numb. Richie laughs.

“No, and why would they? You know, Gray doesn’t a- ab – he doesn’t do anything people can see. He’s good.” And god, but that’s even worse. Stan swallows, and gives in to the urge, reaching out and laying an arm around Richie’s shoulder.

“What does he do?” Eddie asks, voice small.

“Ah,” Richie sighs. “It’s nothing worth repeating, Eds,” he tries in a nonchalant voice. The tremble in his frame is indication that it is indeed worth mentioning.

“C’mon, ‘Chee,” Stan says quietly, using the old nickname that got lost when they grew older. Richie blinks at the nickname, before something more sincere passes over his features. “Just tell us.”

“But I don’t want you guys involved in this,” Richie says. “Because I’m not kidding, Gray is something terrible from another dimension or something, and I have fucking nightmares about his weird as fuck glowing eyes and that damn room-“ he breaks off, and takes a few deep, shuddering breaths, head buried in his hands. By now, Beverly had laid her arm around Richie’s lower back, rubbing soothing circles, face open and close to heartbreak. Ben is patting his ankle comfortingly, if awkwardly. Bill and Mike sit too far away to touch, with Stan and Beverly between, but they’ve both leaned forward, almost protectively. And Eddie- Eddie is curled into himself, knees drawn tightly to his chest with his arms, and he looks at Richie with such an intense expression that Stan can’t look at it for too long.

“And w- what does he say to you?” Bill asks softly, yet assertive. “When you’re alone w- with him,” he clarifies. And Stan doesn’t want to know, at the same time he can’t think of anything else, because they’ve seen how Gray looks at Richie, and talk to him, and that’s when there’s an audience around, so what must it be like when it’s just the two of them?

“It’s not so much what he says,” Richie says. “I- I feel like he’s staring into my soul, picking apart every weakness for his fucking daytime amusement-“ he presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, and Stan plucks the glasses away before they fall and shatter. Richie looks so small, with his way to pale face, the faint bruising around his nose, and eyes lost. “And he’s right- everytime he hits the fucking nail on the head, and fuck, how does he just know-“ and then, finally, he sobs. It’s been a long time since Stan has seriously seen Richie cry, and not for the first time, he wonders, how much Richie buries behind smiles and voices and talking, so much talking, but never saying anything.

“I’m going to fucking kill him.”

They all look at Eddie, stunned. Eddie looks deceivingly calm, but in his eyes rages something bright and fierce.

“What- no, Eds, I just told you I don’t want any of you involved-“ Richie begins, sitting straighter and wiping at his eyes. However, that just sets Eddie off, and he jumps up.

Well, sucks for you, Richie, because we already are involved, you gigantic stupid turd,” he shouts at the top of his lungs. “What,” he asks, face twisted, “You think we’re just accepting this? Fuck him, I am going to shove up a five feet cactus up his ass and use him as a piñata, just watch me!” They all stare at him, because that would’ve been hilarious if the situation wasn’t so serious.

“While I don’t want anything to do with Gray’s ass,” Ben begins. “I’m with Eddie. Richie,” he continues, looking at him solemnly. “We’re not about to letting this go.”

“Yeah,” Beverly adds, quickly shooting Ben a smile, before looking at Richie. “We maybe can’t prove shit but,” she pauses. “We sure can fuck him over in other ways.” She nods decisively.

“I’m sure so- someone like him as some bod- bodies buried somewhere,” Bill says.

“Literally,” Mike mutters.

“The point is, Trashmouth,” Stan begins. “We’re going to do something about this, because this ends.” And he’s never meant anything more than this. He’d fight anyone for Richie, for all of the six people surrounding him, because Richie, and they, would too, for him.

“I-“ Richie says, then laughs, and though it’s still watery, it seems more real. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Well,” Stan says, “That’s a first.” His mouth quirks upwards, and then he smiles at Richie, who gives a watery smile back, and he’s so glad this boy is back in his life again, for all of his faults, it’s a grounding thing.

.

“Hey, Stan the man,” Richie trills, grabbing Stan in a headlock. Their round dissolved a few minutes ago, the other returning to their seats, minus Eddie. Bill and Ben are writing, sharing hushed whispers. Stan sighs at the headlock, but this is apparently his life now. Richie lets up after a few seconds, arm casually slung over his shoulder.

“Don’t you have to crawl back?” Stan asks.

“Well yeah, in a moment, but listen,” Richie lowers his voice. “I just wanted to tell you- thanks,” Richie says haltingly. Stan stares at him.

“You literally have nothing to thank me for,” Stan tells him. “Next time some shit goes down-“ he stops. “Well, there better not be a next time,” Stan says firmly. Richie smiles at him in that wry way that tells Stan he’s amused, but in a sad sort of way. “I mean it, Dick,” Stan says, and grabs the wrist dangling from his shoulder.

“Okay, I swear,” Richie rolls his eyes. “Anyway, Staniel, that’s not all I wanted to say.”

“Go on,” Stan says.

“So, today has been totally crazy, right?” Stan hums in agreement. “And us seven – the lucky seven! – we bonded, right?”

“Sure?” Stan says. He doesn’t know where Richie is going with this.

“So, I was thinking-“

“Dangerous, that,” Stan smirks.

“You’re hilarious,” Richie rolls his eyes. “Anyway, I was thinking, crazy days need crazy endings, yeah?”

“Where are you going with this? I’m losing my patience here,” Stan tells him.

“Just hold on!” Richie flicks his ear. Stan flicks his nose and retaliation (still gently, because the bruising looks worse with every minute). “So, how about you do something completely crazy, for once? Well, crazy for you, anyway.”

“… I’m not sure what you mean,” Stan says flatly, though he has a very good idea where this is going. Richie turns to face him, arm sliding off Stan’s shoulder in the process.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you do,” Richie raises an eyebrow. “But fine, be that way. It’s just-“ he sighs, hand raking through his hair. “Listen, do yourself a favor, and just- do something, because these two-“ he points his thumb behind him. “Are absolutely smitten with you, and likely each other, to do squat, so it’s up to you to do something, yeah?”

“But-“ they’re both interrupted by Eddie, who’s yelling for Richie in the distance.

“Stan,” Richie says, serious. “If there’s a day to do crazy shit, it’s gotta be today, okay?” He puts both hands on Stan’s shoulders. “And if they hurt you I’ll beat them up for you.” Stan laughs.

“Richie, you have the coordination of a giraffe on ice. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t beat up a raccoon, let alone a human being.”

“Raccoons are vicious little fuckers,” Richie exclaims. “And besides, it’s the thought that counts?” Stan snorts, but softens.

“Sure, Dick,” he says. Richie grins. He opens his mouth to say something else, before they’re interrupted again by Eddie’s voice, and god, but how does a guy this small produce sounds so loud.

“Well, destiny awaits,” Richie winks, turning away and walking off. “Make good choices, Satan!”

“Screw you,” he yells back.

‘Something crazy, huh?’ he thinks, gaze wandering to Bill, then Mike.

.

“Come on, Richie,” Eddie huffs, tapping his foot. “If you insist going back on time, we need to go now,” he says slowly, mock-patient, as if talking to a small child. Richie, even with his hair that looks like it’s never seen a hairbrush, eyes still red from (sort of repressed) crying and wobbly and nose bruised, looks worlds better than he did earlier that afternoon.

Eddie is still reeling from – from all of it. The whole afternoon was a mess of feelings, good and bad, but he thinks that all in all, it was a good day.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Richie says, walking up to him. “Then again, I’d love to see your panties-“ Eddie kicks at him, but Richie hastily takes a step back. “Sorry,” Richie says, hands raised. Eddie turns away with a huff.

“I’m sure you are,” Eddie says snidely. “Well, come on,” he nods his head to the air vent. “Let’s get going.”

“Yeah okay,” Richie says, less enthusiastic. Eddie turns to him again.

“Do you still have Beverly’s lighter?” he asks Richie, who nods in return. “Good.” He heaves himself up, Richie boosting him up at the start. Richie clambers up after him. They pause for a moment, Eddie willfully ignoring the dirt accumulated in the vents, Richie- Richie most like adjusting to the narrow space.

“Okay, lead the way, Eds,” Richie says, after a few beats.

“That’s not my name, but I guess you’re just deaf,” Eddie mutters, and starts crawling.

“No, just blinded by the view,” Richie cackles, and that’s when Eddie remembers he’s wearing shorts, and Richie is crawling a few feet behind him. He blushes violently, partly in anger, partly in embarrassment.

“God, you’re such a pig,” Eddie hisses, and crawls a bit faster.

“Oink oink,” Richie replies gleefully from somewhere behind him. They go back and forth like this for a long time, and Richie insistent to keep up the banter, but Eddie figures it’s either that or the silence and narrowness of these dirty as fuck air vents, so Eddie’ll take it. After what feels like an hour, they’re back at Richie’s – prison – and Richie has long since lighted Beverly’s lighter, and the vents are bathed in a soft, warm light – much better than the darkness.

“That’s your exit,” Eddie says unnecessarily. Both of their legs are dangling from the opening. Richie looks up, strange expression appearing on his face.

“Yeah,” he says slowly. “I- thanks for doing this. I probably could’ve found my way back myself.”

“Please, you’d have gotten lost and then died, and then your corpse would’ve stunk up the entire school-“ he halts when Richie starts laughing. “But yeah, you’re welcome.”

“So, uh – you probably gotta get back, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie says, sour expression on his face.

“We got some time,” Eddie says, loathe to leave Richie alone down there for even a minute, but-

“Not if you wanna make it back in time,” Richie disagrees, but he doesn’t look happy when he says it.

“I just- I can stay, Richie,” Eddie tries, because- because this is Richie, and someone like Richie should smile a lot, but not like now, not like he’s three seconds away from shattering.

“No, I- it’s gonna be fine, he usually just lets me out without doing anything-“

“Usually?” Eddie interrupts icily. Richie’s shoulders slump. “I think I’m going to stay for a few minutes. It’s not like he can punish me for slinking out of a detention I didn’t have to go to in the first place.” Richie’s lips twitch up.

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he snickers. “Well, I’m not going to complain if you stay.” They’re both silent for a long moment.

“Hey Richie?” Eddie asks softly. Richie hums, looking away from the little lighter, blinking away the dark spots. “Can I ask you something?” He says, hesitatingly.

“You can ask me anything,” Richie replies, voice soft. Eddie swallows.

“I- were you being, you know, serious today, about- I mean, you were-“ he stops. Eddie doesn’t know to ask the question he wants so desperately answered. Richie surprises him, however.

“Are you asking if I was serious when I was flirting you?” Richie asks, looking at the lighter again.

“Y- yeah,” Eddie says, throat dry.

“That depends,” Richie says.

“On what?” Eddie asks, heart hammering in his chest.

“It depends on if you want it to be serious,” Richie says so quietly Eddie almost didn’t hear him.

“Do-“ Eddie clears his throat, beginning anew. “That depends, too,” he tells Richie. Richie looks up again, and Eddie isn’t sure if it’s the light reflecting in Richie’s eyes, or something else, but Eddie can’t look away from the intensity.

“On what?” Richie’s voice is low, warm, and Eddie honestly just wants to roll around in it.

“If you can tell me why – why me, and now, because, before, we’ve never even talked, and yet-“ he trails off.

“And yet?” Richie’s voice coaxes, still soft, but with a hint of something stronger. He leans closer, and Eddie can’t help but shift closer too.

“And yet, it seems like- like you’ve been waiting for something like- this?” Richie is still looking at him with this strange intensity, and it makes Eddie feel exposed, and it makes him feel like he wants to drown in whatever lies behind. Then, Richie smiles.

“Can I tell you a story?” Richie asks.

“You can tell me anything,” Eddie says, echoing Richie, and god, he must sound so eager, he should feel so embarrassed.

“Do you remember, when sometime over a year ago, you tried to stab Patrick Hostetter with a spork for calling you the f-word?” Richie asks him. Eddie frowns, then nods, remembering. Patrick had it fucking coming. “Well, I thought he had it fucking coming,” Richie says, unknowingly echoing Eddie’s thoughts. “The thing is, that day was so unbelievably unremarkable, I thought I might just die of boredom. Then, I’m standing in line behind this tiny dude in the cafeteria, waiting to get my pudding, right?” Eddie nods. “Then, Hostetter walks over, like the fucking gigantic prick he is, but probably doesn’t have,” Eddie snorts, and Richie smiles. “And tries to start shit, and for some reason he picked you, even though literally no one picked on you since seventh grade. At this time, I’m wondering if I actually have to get a teacher, because, I thought, he’s gonna cream that little guy in front of me.” He smiles again, eyes bright. Eddie is sure, at this point it’s physically impossible for him to tear his eyes away from Richie. “And then you- you socked him so hard in the stomach I was sure he was going to puke, and then you grabbed a spork, which by the way, happened to be mine because mine was the closest, and you fucking went for his throat. A pity the lunchlady intervened at that point,” he shakes his head, laughing softly.

“I didn’t know it was you, behind me,” Eddie says, because he can’t say anything else.

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Richie agrees. “I honestly thought I was gonna witness a murder.” Eddie shrugs, because, who knows. “Anyway, you put the spork back on my tray, and marched off, and I was, like everybody else, staring at you, and I thought-“ he pauses, looking at Eddie almost urgently. “I thought; ‘that one, I want that one’.”

“Holy shit,” Eddie says, barely processing.

“I know, right?” Richie says, voice wry. “And since then, I see that boy almost everywhere I go in this damn school, even when I’m pointedly not trying to look for him.”

“Holy shit,” Eddie says again. He wants to ask if it’s true – but one look at Richie and he knows. Because Richie is looking at him so anxious, so serious, and Eddie feels his breath leave him.

“So, Eddie,” Richie says, and it’s probably the first time he’s used Eddie’s given name, and Eddie feels like something is going to explode in his chest. “Do you want me to be serious?” Eddie says nothing for a long time, and Richie’s fidgeting, but he’s trying his best to give Eddie some time to process all of this.

“I think I do,” Eddie says, voice barely above a whisper. And he means it, too.

“Then,” Richie begins, equally quiet, “I was being very serious.”

“Okay,” Eddie replies slowly. “That’s – That’s good.” Richie looks at him, still intent, but there is a faint smile playing around his lips.

“Anything else you wanna know, Eds?”

“No,” Eddie says, ignoring the dumb nickname. “But there’s something I wanna- wanna try to do.”

“Oh?” Richie says, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, just – hold still and be quiet,” Eddie commands. Richie presses his lips together as if he wants to say something, but resists. Eddie’s grateful because he might lose his nerve otherwise. He leans forward slightly, and Richie tilts his head, brows furrowed, but the angle is perfect. Eddie leans in all the way, and presses a tentative kiss on Richie’s neck. He can feel Richie exhale stutteringly, and quickly, Eddie draws back, face burning. He chances a look at Richie the moment he doesn’t feel mortified to death anymore.

Richie looks at him with wide eyes, expression vulnerable and fragile. Eddie thinks Richie’s never looked prettier.

“Why did you do that?” Richie breathes.

“Because I wanted to,” Eddie says, voice stronger than he feels.

“Oh,” Richie says.

“I- I think I have to go back now,” Eddie says slowly. Richie closes his eyes, a small wrinkle present on his brow.

“I think you might be right,” he agrees, and that’s his ‘Gray-is-near’ voice, and Eddie has to swallow down his anger.

“I’ll wait up for you, okay?” Eddie says. Richie opens his eyes again, looking at Eddie wonderingly.

“Yeah, okay,” he says after a beat. He slides through the opening, landing with a ‘thud’.

“Here,” Eddie holds out the lighter. Richie blinks.

“But what about you?”

“It’s better if I don’t see all the dirt and germs crawling up here, anyway,” Eddie shudders.

“I’m pretty sure you can’t actually see germs, but sure,” Richie grins. Then he sobers. “You sure?”

“Yes,” Eddie replies, voice firm, booking no further argument. He slowly stars to close the opening. “I’ll see you in a bit, okay?”

“Yeah,” Richie nods, still looking up at him. Eddie closes the vent agonizingly slow, and he’s this close to just jump down there, but –

He’ll see Richie in a bit.

.

“Thanks for waiting for me, Beverly,” Ben says, smiling shyly. The evening sun catches Beverly’s hair in a fiery red, warm against the cold air, and Ben thinks he’s never seen such a warm color in his life.

“Of course,” Beverly replies, smiling back. “You waiting for your mom?”

“Yeah, she’ll come and pick me up,” Ben shrugs.

“Listen,” Beverly begins, hesitatingly. “If- if your mom gives you any grief-“ she stops, and rummages around her bag. “You call me,” she finishes, handing him a folded scrap of paper.

“Oh,” Ben says dumbfounded, cradling the paper with Beverly’s number close. “I- I’m sure I will. Call you.”

“Please do,” Beverly replies. “You can also call me for anything else- you know, if you want to catch a movie or grab a bite,” she says.

“Uhh, what?” Ben says intelligently, gaping at Beverly. She laughs.

“Ben,” she enunciates slowly. “I want you to take me on a date.”

“But- why?” Ben blinks, and that probably wasn’t the best thing to say, he scolds himself internally. Beverly’s smile dims.

“Because,” she begins. “I think you’re the sweetest and most genuine guy I’ve ever met. Because I want to get to know you better. Because I think-“ she pauses, choosing her next words carefully. “I think you’re special, and sort of- perfect?” Ben opens his mouth, but she raises her hand to silence him. “I mean you’re perfect as you are,” she clarifies.

“Oh. Thanks?” Ben says, looking anywhere but at Beverly. No girl had ever been interested in him and especially not one as stunning, inside and out, as Beverly.

“You don’t have to, of course,” Beverly says. “It’s up to you. But I would love to. And besides,” she grins at him mischievously. “I was promised some poetry.”

“Uh, yeah, I can do that. I mean, I want to do that- go on a date- but it can be a friend date, I don’t know, whatever you want-“ she laughs again, but not at him.

“Ben,” she says. “I do want. And it can be a friend date-“ she steps closer, and Ben can smell cigarette smoke and leather but also something floral and delicate, “-but honestly? I’d rather it’s a real date.” She leans in, and gently pecks his cheek, lingering, before pulling away. “Okay?” She asks.

“Yeah. Okay. More than okay,” he stumbles over his words. She looks amused.

“Hey-“ Mike says from behind them. They both jump. “Sorry to- interrupt?” He says, smirking. Beverly rolls her eyes, but to Ben’s astonishment she’s blushing just the tiniest bit. “I just wanted to give Ben a few books- you know, the one for your personal history project?” Mike continues.

“Oh! That’s great, thanks!” Ben exclaims, taking the books. Beverly looks at him in askance. Ben fidgets. “It’s just something I noticed when I looked up the history and Mike has sort of notes, and we wanna compare.” He trails off.

“Sounds mysterious,” Beverly says, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not sure what it is yet,” Mike says, oddly serious. “Maybe it’s nothing, but – Ben is serving as a set of fresh eyes- if I’m correct-“ he stops.

“If you’re correct,” Ben picks up, “We might be able to shed some light on Derry’s history.”

“Now I’m definitely interested,” Beverly says. “You both gotta tell me when something comes of it.”

“Of course,” Mike nods, before he glances towards the entrance. “Now I- I have to go,” he says abruptly. Beverly turns to the direction Mike is looking, and smirks, looking alarmingly similar to Richie for a moment.

“Oh, you do that,” she tells Mike, who coughs, and hurries off, tossing a quick ‘Bye’ at them.

“Ohh,” Ben says, understanding when he sees Mike hurrying towards where Bill and Stan are.

“Oh indeed,” Beverly giggles, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “If I’m right, Richie owes me twenty bucks, and I’m pretty sure I’m right.”

“Yeah, I’m actually pretty sure you’re right too,” Ben agrees. She turns to him, excited.

“Right? God it was almost painful to watch,” she sighs. Ben hums. A car honks, and Bev adjusts her bag. “That’s my aunt,” she explains. Ben looks over, and a lady in a beat-up Beetle is waving at Beverly.

“Well, then, get home safely,” he tells her. Beverly’s mouth quirks for a second, before she smiles.

“Thanks, Ben,” she says softly. “And- call, yeah?” She says, fiddling with the strap of her bag.

“I- yeah,” he agrees. He watches as she walks off, getting in the car with her aunt, and waves back when Beverly waves him goodbye from the window of the car. Ben just stands, still feeling overwhelmed, but in a good way, and not even his mother’s quietly disapproving face can change how warm he’s feeling inside. Warm like the color of Beverly’s hair, like-

Like winter fire.

.

Since Mike joined up with him and Stan, they’ve all been awkwardly quiet, not-looking at each other. Mike is even shuffling his feet. To Bill’s great surprise, though, it’s Stan who breaks the silence.

“So, you were hitting on me,” he says, looking at Mike. His voice shakes, but it’s firm, too. “And you were hitting on me as well, though subtler,” he turns to Bill, who can’t help but blush. “And,” he continues, tiniest smile on his lips, amused. “You were hitting on each other, too.” Mike and Bill look at each other, then look away, embarrassed. “I think,” Stan speaks up again, slowly, calmly, “I think one of you should kiss me.” There’s a faint tremble shaking his frame, but he sounds sure.

It’s so quiet after that statement that Bill could swear he could hear some crickets chirping. Bill looks at Stan, feeling as if someone pulled out the rug under him. Mike isn’t faring any better, from what Bill can see from the corner of his eye.

“What?” Mike asks, sounding as if he was about to faint any second.

“This,” Stan waves between the three of them, “might work.” Bill had a thought like that too, fleetingly, this afternoon, but, for Stan to bring it up- “But I need one of you to kiss me,” Stan continues. When neither Bill nor Mike move, both completely shellshocked, Stan sighs. “Fine,” he says, “Or, kiss each other first.” Mike chokes on air.

“B- but- but why?” Bill asks. He’s horribly, horribly out of his depth here.

“Easy,” Stan replies, stepping closer. “You like me.” Bill nods. “I think I might like you too,” he adds, and Bill feels lightheaded. “You also like Mike, who I know likes me.” Mike fidgets next to him, but Bill barely pays it any attention, focused completely on Stan. “And I’m like, 98 percent sure Mike likes you too.” Now Bill looks at Mike, who catches his eye, before looking away. “I think I like him as well.” Mike’s eyes grow wide. Stan pauses, and Bill can see how he struggles with his words, and is amazed by Stan, because this must’ve taken some serious guts to do. Without thinking, he reaches out and grabs Stan’s wrist, trying to convey everything he can’t say. Stan looks at him searchingly.

“Won’t you kiss me?” He asks Bill softly, vulnerably, as if disappointed. And Bill- well, he’s not gonna wait for Stan to ask him a third time. He closes the distance between them, free hand carefully cradling Stan’s lovely face. He looks at Stan for a long moment, just looking at him. Stan stares back, eyes wide, waiting.

Bill leans in, eyes closing, brushing his lips against Stan’s and-

Oh. It’s not like they say; it’s not fireworks or electric. Rather, it feels like Bill can see the sun rise for the first time. All warm, awakening, an ocean of colors. Stan whimpers into the kiss, hand falling into Bill's hair, the one Bill was holding on sliding, until their fingers interlace. Bill deepens the kiss unconsciously, pressing even closer and-

“Wow,” Mike breathes out next to them, voice filled with awe. Bill takes a moment to finish the kiss, before taking half a step back. Stan whimpers again, from the loss of contact, and Bill shivers.

When he turns to look at Mike, his breath stutters. Mikes fists are curled tight, but not from anger - his pupils are blown wide, blush bright on his dark cheeks, and the way he looks at them it’s like - it’s like they just laid the wonders of the world to his feet. Bill reaches out and grabs Mike by his shirt, before he can too hard about it. Mike comes without any resistance, swaying as if he’s drunk. His eyes are flitting from Bill to Stan, and back again. Bill pulls until Mike is standing almost unbearably close, heat radiating from his strong frame. They’re all sharing the same breath now. Bill chances a look at Stan, who’s tracing his tongue on his lips, as if- god, he’s chasing Bill’s taste on his lips, and Bill whines. Mike follows his look, and sways again, bracing himself by settling his hand around Bill’s nape. Bill turns to look at him again, and Mike is now so close bill could easily count how many lashes he has.

“Mike,” Stan says, words slurred just the tiniest bit. “You should- should kiss Bill, too.” Bill swallows at the words.

“I- yeah,” Mike sighs. “That’s a good idea. Bill?”

“Uh-huh,” Bill nods, because words are failing him more than usual.

“Okay,” Mike says, and shuffles a bit closer. Their noses are almost touching, and Bill’s breath hitches. Mike gently cradles Bill’s chin, guiding him close, and closes the distance.

Kissing Mike is so different than kissing Stan – Stan kisses softly, almost hesitantly, but thoroughly. Mike is much more – insistent. The hand that isn’t holding Bill’s face settles on his waist, pulling him impossibly closer. Bill feels like someone planted a tree in his chest. It’s rapidly growing, expanding, until there’s no more room left to grow, and it pulls at Bill’s lower stomach. Mike sighs contently into the kiss, and there’s a hint of tongue on Bill’s lower lip, and if Mike wasn’t holding him up, his knees would’ve given in. Bill fists Mike’s shirt, crumpling it up, and it’s almost too much. Mike seems to read him, however, and pulls back slowly, after gently biting Bill’s lip. Bill opens his eyes again, doesn’t know when he’s closed them, and blinks a few times, the haze slowly disappearing.

“Fuck,” Bill says, and he doesn’t even stutter when he says it, too blown away.

“Good?” Mike asks, searching, almost worried, and no – that’s so far from what Bill’s feeling.

“Ve- Very,” Bill assures. Mike smiles, and god, but Mike is so unfairly beautiful.

“I’m glad,” Mike says quietly, between breaths. Bill’s head falls forward, coming to rest on Mike’s shoulder, his fist still twisted in Mike’s shirt. Then, he slowly turns his head towards Stan, whose pupils are so wide, his eyes almost look black.

“Are you good, too?” Mike asks Stan, who looks up to Mike, worrying his bottom lip, and nods. One of Mike arms settle across Bill’s back, who curls himself closer to Mike. Mike’s other hand reaches out, gently tracing where Stan had bit his lip. Stan’s whole body shivers at the touch. “Can I?” Mike whispers, and Stan nods, but doesn’t move, as if frozen. Bill reaches out with his free hand, and grabs Stan by his shirt, too, and gently tugs. Stan steps closer as if in trance, gaze locked on Mike’s face. Mike leans forward, very slowly and carefully, but Stan makes an impatient noise, and meets Mike halfway, hand settling on his chest, near to where Bill’s fist is curled in Mike’s shirt.

Bill wouldn’t be exaggerating when he thinks he can hear the angels sing, watching Mike and Stan kiss. Both are so otherworldly beautiful, Mike, with his strong frame, chiseled face and dark skin; Stan’s golden curls bounce with every movement, and his entire face is beautifully illuminated by the evening sun, glowing. Mike is gentler with Stan as he was with Bill, but just as firm. It’s only when Stan sighs, sort of twitching, when Mike ends the kiss, thumb trailing over Stan’s red lips. Eventually, Stan sinks against Bill, until they’re all tangled together. Mike’s head rests on Stan’s, who’s sort of pressing his brow to Bill’s.

It feels much more intimate than the kisses they shared. They’re quiet for a long time, until Stan starts to giggle, a bit hysterically.

“I don’t know why I did that,” he tells them. Mike lifts his head, giving Stan a bit more room to breathe, and Bill shifts away too. They’re still touching, all of them, unable to let go.

“Are you still good?” Mike asks again. Stan considers the question for a moment, before he nods.

“I think so. “It’s just- I feel like it should be- weird?”

“It’s a bit c- crazy,” Bill agrees. That makes Stan chuckle.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Can I-“ Mike starts, “I mean, where does that leave… us?” He tests the word out, and Bill likes how it sounds.

“Today I was having a good day,” Stan says slowly. “But I won’t- I don’t think I’ll always have good days.”

“That’s o- okay,” Bill tells him. “We’ll take each days a- as it comes.” Stan looks at him, expression grateful.

“Sounds good to me,” Mike says. “But we all want – this?”

“Y- yeah,” Bill nods. Because, god, but does he want.

“Yes,” Stan says quietly, but decisive. They all stay silent, basking in each other’s presence for a few moments.

“We- we could m- meet up, tomorrow?” Bill suggest. Stan clucks.

“I have to catch up schoolwork,” he says, sounding apologetic.

“We could study together,” Mike suggests.

“I’m not sure i- if I’ll be able to study with- with you both around,” Bill admits. Mike looks away, blushing, but also grinning, and Stan coughs amused.

“You’re probably right,” Stan agrees. “Oh, that reminds me; what did you write with Ben? For our assignment?” Bill makes a face like he’s sucking on a lemon.

“Can I t- tell you some other time?” He asks, because, what they’ve written is good, but – not very cheerful, and it’s a good moment.

“Okay,” Stan agrees, easily.

“So, you guys heading home?” Mike asks, changing the subject. “I could give you a ride if no one is picking you up.”

“I wanted to wait for Richie,” Stan shakes his head, eyes flitting towards the entrance. “Just – I want to see if he’s alright.”

“I w- wouldn’t bother,” Bill says. “Eddie’s waiting for him inside.” He grins a bit mischievously.

“Oh,” Mike laughs. “Yeah, I think Eddie’s got Richie covered.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Yeah, no, we’re leaving, right now,” Stan decides, making a face. Bill laughs too. They disentangle, but still linger close to each other.

“Okay,” Mike takes his keys and jiggles them. “Home?” They wander to Mike’s truck, and if their touches are lingering too long, well, who’s gonna see?

.

“Finally,” Eddie says to Richie, when he saunters around the corner. “Are you alright?” Eddie asks, voice quiet. Richie feels his heart fluttering.

“I’m actually okay,” Richie replies. And indeed, Gray had barely said a thing to him when he let Richie out, maybe fifteen minutes after Eddie had left. He’d only stared at Richie, the creepy way he usually did, but Richie had had such a good afternoon, it barely fazed him, for once.

“If you’re sure,” Eddie sniffs, but he roams Richie’s face all the same. “So, are you walking home?”

“Yeah, I told my mom not to bother,” Richie shrugs. “And yours?” Eddie grins deviously, and Richie would honestly follow Eddie to the edge of the world for this smile.

“I told her detention goes until six PM, not five,” Eddie smirks. “So by the time she gets in her car, I’ll already be home.”

“Oh, Mr. Kaspbrak, very rebellious. I love it,” Richie cheers. Eddie shoves him.

“Shut up,” he says, but he’s laughing. “Wanna walk me home?”

“I’d walk you anywhere, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie tells him, and he’s only half joking. Eddie blushes prettily, and mutters something under his breath, looking away. They’re walking in comfortable silence, when Richie speaks up.

“Can I ask you something, too?” He asks, not looking at Eddie. Eddie stops, turning to face Richie.

“What is it?” He asks, voice as soft as back in the air vent. Richie swallows.

“I- what you did, back there, in the vent – you said you wanted to, and I was wondering, do you want to do that again, or was it- an one-time thing?” He fidgets, adjusting his glasses. Eddie just stares at him. “I mean – it’s totally cool if – if not, but-“

“Oh my god,” Eddie says. “Are you serious?” Richie shrugs. Eddie huffs, rolling his eyes. Then he steps closer, determined. “You’re and idiot,” he tells Richie. “And I can’t believe I have – feelings – for you.” Richie feels like the world starts to spin again, when he didn’t even notice it had stopped.

“Oh,” he says, eloquently.

“Yeah, oh,” Eddie says, and while his voice is almost smug, but the blush riding high on his cheeks betrays his attitude. He grabs Richie’s jacket and pulls him down, until they’re face to face, noses almost touching. “Now, are you gonna kiss me or not?”

“But-“ Richie flails a bit, but Eddie holds on, weirdly strong, because Richie can’t pull away. “What about-“ your mom, how you feel about stuff like this? He wants to ask, but Eddie’s already talking again.

“Fuck that,” he says, glaring. “Well?” he says, and tugs again at Richie’s jacket. And Richie, graceful as a newborn foal, stumbles at the pull, and falls onto Eddie.

Or rather, falls right on his face. Eddie hisses, because that definitely had hurt, and pulls away.

“Sorry,” Richie mutters, looking anywhere but at Eddie. Eddie pulls again, though not as strongly.

“Richie,” Eddie says. “If I go home without you kissing me, I’m going to get mad.” Richie composes himself a bit, searching Eddie’s face for any signs of doubts. Eddie is looking at him, eyes big, and holy shit, but Richie couldn’t deny those eyes anything, even if he wanted to. But there’s something nagging him at the back of his mind.

“Eddie,” he begins. “Did you – I mean, have you ever kissed anyone before?”

“W- what?” Eddie asks, clearly not expecting the question. “Does it matter?” Richie winces. That’s a no then.

“It does matter,” Richie insists. Eddie opens his mouth to argue, and Richie holds up a hand to silence him. “No wait. It matters to me, Eds. Your first kiss should be with someone special, somewhere special, not-“ he waves his hand around the sleepy neighborhood. “Not in an empty street with a guy you just met this afternoon.”

“But, you’re not-“ Eddie protests. “You’re not just anyone to me,” he insists, almost pouting.

“God, you’re cute,” Richie mutters, more to himself, but there’s no doubt Eddie heard him, if the choked sound is anything to go by. Richie rubs his temples, and adjusts his glasses. “Okay, listen. How about-“ he stops again, thinking. “How about you and I do something next week – something fun,” he says. Eddie’s eyes go wide. “Something your mom will absolutely hate,” he grins, and Eddie is still looking at him with wonder, but a smile is twitching at the corner of his lips. “And if you still want to then, I’ll definitely kiss you. I’ll rock your world, I promise,” he can’t help but add. Eddie gags.

“Why did you have to say that, you’re gross,” he snaps. Then he catches up with what Richie just told him. “You want to take me on a date?” He asks, incredulous, hopeful.

“Yeah,” Richie nods, rubbing the back of his neck. “If that’s cool with you?”

“Yes,” Eddie says, almost immediately. He looks at Richie with something warm and heavy in his eyes.

“Cool,” Richie says.

“Cool,” Eddie echoes.

“So-“ Richie tries for smooth. “Home?” A strange expression flits over Eddie’s face, not unpleasant, but Richie can’t place it. It’s gone in the next moment.

“Only if you hold my hand,” Eddie tells him, smirking.

“Cool,” Richie says again. Eddie’s smirk grows.

“Did I break you?” He takes Richie’s hand.

“Cool,” Richie repeats. He’s sort of stuck, because he’s this close of having a major freak-out. Eddie cackles.

“C’mon, Trashmouth,” he tugs at Richie’s hand. Eddie’s hand is warm, and kinda small, but strong, and safe.

.

Back at the school, Robert P.W. Gray is rereading the meagre letter for a second time, face twisted, too-wide smile frozen. Unearthly yellow eyes glow in the dark library as they fly over the words again.

“ Mr. Gray,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong. In some cases, it was wrong, in some others, it wasn’t. You asked us what our greatest fears are, what makes us tick. We think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you our deepest and darkest fears, of what defines us. We can, however, tell you, that our greatest fear is to become like you. Because – what makes us really afraid? People like you.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Losers' Club

And it’s subtle, but the shift between Robert Gray, and Pennywise the Dancing Clown happens from one moment to the next. These children, It thinks, oh, if only I had gotten to them before, It laments. But hunting time is over, and won’t be for another two decades. The only reason It isn’t deep in the earth, sleeping, waiting, is because something, a nagging feeling, wouldn’t let It sleep. And when It found this school, this cesspool of angst and fear and dark things, It decided to stay. It’s eyes flit over the PS, written hastily, not in the neat handwriting of either Bill Denbrough or Ben Hanscom. It doesn’t recognize it yet, but it doesn’t matter.

PS: Leave Richie alone, or else. ”

It laughs, a jarring sound, but no one is left here to hear the eerie echo that wanders through the halls.